Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Tortured Poetry

Law School 3L year, 2007

I have so many pictures from the last two weeks as I've been launched back into the real world. It's been so busy it's hard to imagine that only a month ago I still had a uterus. Now I'm back to very much full time hours, multiple great, active cases, two work trips done with NY and DC scheduled for next week, cute Spring outfits ready to go thanks to a recent visit from Bonnie, squezing in walks before work (or after), and not having nearly enough time to blog or finish the TV shows I started. I write all these great posts in my head while I walk along the lake and I never get to write them down. So tonight, while Cora is finishing her "energy efficient house model GT project" to her insane perfectionist standards (I thought I had high standards, then I had Cora and learned that my standards are garbage), I am determined to get this one thought written down.

And that grand, incredible, must-blog-it thought is this: I really like "I Can Do It With a Broken Heart" by Taylor Swift from The Tortured Poets Department.

TTPD is not my favorite album of hers, but I do really like a few of the songs and this is one of them. It just speaks to me. And while I was walking today (after 9.5 hours at the office and before picking up Cora from swimming while James took Claire to the doctor to get a pink eye diagnosis), and listening to it on repeat, I realized why:

'Cause I'm a real tough kid, I can handle my shit
They said, "Babe, you gotta fake it 'til you make it" and I did
Lights, camera, bitch smile, in stilettos for miles
He said he'd love me for all time
But that time was quite short
Breaking down, I hit the floor
All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting, "MORE"
I was grinning like I'm winning, I was hitting my marks
'Cause I can do it with a broken heart.

This is working mom life to me. Maybe it's all life, but I've experienced most of mine as a working mom and this is it. I am a tough kid. I do handle my shit. Lights, camera, bitch smile now rocks through my head before every Zoom call. I may not wear stilettos much anymore, but there are days when I'm walking out the door in my business clothes and I'm leaving one metaphorical mess or another behind me and it's just that: lights, camera, bitch smile. This is my job, it pays for our life and everything in it, and sometimes you have to walk your stilettos right around an emotional teenager, an annoyed spouse, a sad bulldog, and/or whatever else you know you're going to have to pick right back up when you get home again.

I've been pretty head over heels in love with James since 2001 so the romantic heartbreak I think our goddess Taylor is alluding to doesn't hit with me, but I have absolutely had pieces of me shattered on the floor with my emails chanting MORE. I've been grinning like I'm winning, I've been hitting my marks, and I've been doing with with a broken heart.

I've been in important on-the-record testimony in another city while a child was blowing up my phone, sobbing and terrified, in a full-blown previously unknown mental health crisis. I've had mornings when I have to leave things with James unfinished, both of us annoyed, neither of us able to fix it in the hectic morning rush and hating, absolutely hating, knowing that my marriage, which is the often taken-for-granted absolutely-rock-hard foundation of my life, is shaky and weird and I simply cannot fix it right now. I've missed things: not any big things, but plenty of little ones. I've worked through family drama, personal spirals, health issues, and more. We all do. We can do it with a broken heart.

I love my job. I mean, I wouldn't do it if I didn't both need money and get paid, but I do genuinely like it. I love being a counselor to my clients. I like the statutory certainty of the federal securities law framework combined with the persuasiveness of case law and regulatory interpretation. I like the order of working in my own office, I like spending most of my days reading and writing things, and I like being around other adults pretty much all the time. I love business development- I love speaking and writing in my area of expertise, and I genuinely enjoy making connections with people in the market. But it's hard. The actual work is hard, but FAR more than that is the hard of doing it while the rest of your life is being lived in and around you.

I never want to focus on the negative, and I don't. But I've found it's important when I mentor our younger associates to let them know that yeah, this feels hard because it is. I have missed things. I have had really hard moments where I was a better lawyer than a mom for that short time block, and while it makes me sad, I'm also still certain it was the right thing to do right then. None of us are doing this perfectly. We need to judge in broad strokes, and in my quiet moments of reflection, I do think I'm a good lawyer who serves her clients well, and I do think I'm a good wife and mother to the people who matter the very most to me.

But it's hard. And sometimes you're doing it with a broken heart.

Law Firm Partner Retreat, 2024


  1. Such a beautiful post. As the breadwinner also, it resonated with me about being "lights, camera, smile" and sometimes being better at my job than a wife, sister, daughter. Being an honest and caring mentor will help your protegees prepare and accept themselves as they launch their careers. Thank you!

  2. Fellow law firm partner here (although I’m winding into retirement). I still remember getting a call on a Saturday morning from a client that had a huge in the newspaper type emergency. I had to go onsite for 16 hour days 5 days in a row until the issue was resolved. It happened the day I was supposed to make Christmas cookies with my kids. Missing that precious annual event haunted me for years, yet if I ask them about it now that they are adults, they don’t even remember. It’s really hard sometimes, especially during the teen years. Not sure if you can do this, but if you happen to attend a conference close to a weekend that is in a fun location, see if you can bring your husband or kids along and turn the trip into a long weekend. I used to relish my hotel room alone time during work travel, but once in a while having your spouse or a kid along can be fun.

  3. And those one to one time periods can be really nourishing for everyone.

  4. Wow - you articulate all the feels so perfectly here. Fellow teen-mom, wife, law-firm partner here and I feel all of this so acutely - doing just enough in all my worlds while never feeling like I'm doing any one thing great makes me feel so weary. Bitch smile on and I'm off to listen to that TS song as I didn't catch that through my initial listen through the new stuff.

  5. So well said! My husband and I work in the same industry (asset management) but he's a PM that doesn't travel and I am the client facing person who also has the "lights camera bitch smile" feeling much of the time... I just had lunch with a colleague that retired last year (at 53!!) and we talked about travel and how much of a strain it puts on relationship (I've taken on his travel as I barely traveled before he retired). It was nice to talk to someone who understand (his wife had a big job too but didn't travel much). We have a rock solid marriage but wow, being away consistently when we have young kids (3 and 6) is really tough sometimes. And he definitely has the harder time back home managing the kids (really, the toddler). Anyways, it's nice to feel "seen" by this post!

  6. I love any combination of Taylor + working mom life so I'm here for this! As a primary breadwinner who enjoys her job and leading the team but also has moments of wishing it was easier and I had more time for lots of things including ME, this resonates so much so thank you for articulating it.

  7. This made me cry while I was reading it. I'm not sure I've ever read a more true thing

  8. I can definitely relate to this feeling. I often wonder why men don’t seem to feel this angst though?working motherhood comes with that extra side helping of angst.

  9. Oh man. I'm a physician and this HITS hard. Luckily, I'm not a transplant surgeon or something truly irreplacable but, still. I have had to leave sick kids and a tired spouse in the morning and feel terrible about it and then its 'lights camera bitch EMPATHIZE' 15 times in a row in the clinic.
    I think you nailed so well, something I've been struggling to express: "FAR more than that is the hard of doing it while the rest of your life is being lived in and around you."
    I appreciate and respect my job, and the trust people put in me, I try to do my absolute best. But even for me, my job is still just a job. Every night when I get about 2 blocks from home in my evening commute, this big wave of feeling of 'ahhh, I'm back in my REAL life now' comes over me.
    I fantasize about somehow having a job that doesn't make me feel like I'm ripped in half or moving between two different universes, but I'm not sure its actually possible.

  10. Beautifully written and so very true. I don’t comment often but I’ve been reading for years and am so thankful for all you share with us. As a full time working mom in a high pressure job with two very medically complicated kids, I feel everything you’ve said here. I will never forget fielding work call after work call from next to my 18 month old’s bed in the ICU - from colleagues who knew where I was and figured I could just handle it because I always do. You are amazing and an inspiration and we are grateful for you!

  11. Surgeon mom here. I love how you write. I’m a long time reader and have been following you for years. You really need to write a book. Only downside is you’ll prob not update the blog as much :) I feel your words to my core. And I so appreciate your honesty. It’s such a hard life. Some days I’m so proud of what I do. And other days I want to quit and pop out a few more kids, while baking sourdough bread from scratch. Keep doing great things and keep sharing with us!! You’re amazing

  12. Oh goodness I feel this so, so much. As the breadwinner in my family I naturally lean towards prioritizing my career while my life as you so aptly stated it, happens in and around it all. Most days I feel like I’m killing it at work and am on shaky ground at home. My husband reassures me constantly that “the kids are alright” (a phrase we often repeat when we gaze upon them playing, etc.) but I can’t help feel like I’m not doing enough at home. I know that feeling of leaving home in a mess and showing up at work having a few minutes before my first mtg of the day and then being off to the races from there. On the other hand, I love nothing more than sharing my joy in working with my kids. We hosted a huge work event last weekend and my husband brought the kids by (before guests arrived) to see what my team had been working on. I like knowing my paycheck keeps our household afloat, when my mom didn’t always work outside of the home and didn’t always have a handle on our home’s finances. Which is all to say that I don’t foresee the balance tipping towards home any time soon, but perhaps the compromise is shutting down feelings of guilt and accepting what is, knowing each season will bring something new to navigate.

  13. Gosh, so many feels on this. I had a “big” job (not quite huge law firm partner job, but still a high pressure job) I left last year while I take time to reevaluate and figure out what to do next. The pressure is real. For me, the breaking point was being the “on call” parent as my husband’s job has little flexibility and while being high pressure, my job could more easily accommodate schedule changes, kid problems, etc. If’s just hard.

    I am enjoying the lack of pressure, but miss being around adults and feeling good about what I’m doing. My career gave me much more immediate feedback than parenting does…it was easy to measure results and feel accomplished. This is a really great post and appreciate it so much.

  14. I‘m not crying, you’re crying 😭

  15. Oh wow, Rebecca, this is so well said. This song came on while I was driving to work last week, and I unexpectedly burst into tears because it hit me the exact same way. This song absolutely captures motherhood - holding it together when shit hits the fan to keep everyone else going. Oof.

  16. OMG I love this song for so many of the same reasons and am constantly telling myself “I can do it with a broken heart” and “I can handle my shit”. Might have listened to this on repeat during a 30 minute drive…total therapy. This post came at the right time. I’m a CPA at a company that recently went public and I’m seriously considering taking a step back in my career, we meet with our financial advisor next week. Your post comes at a wonderful time and gives me much to think about. Thank you!

  17. I can also relate to this (so much!). I think it's necessary to put on the bitch smile sometimes, and it's a useful skill. But I also don't really believe that the world should be built this way, and I see in our younger adults (I'm a college professor) a rejection of that way of doing things. As I mother an anxious daughter, I'm also very conscious of the messages I'm sending to her. I don't want her to feel that she has to do professional life with a broken heart, but I've been so fully bought into this way that it's difficult to guide her toward alternatives.

    1. Recently turned breadwinner here and love all of this convo. Megan it gives me so much hope that you think the next gen is/will reject this because I agree that we are in a world that bows down to the corporate endlessness much more than society/humans should, and I hope society as a whole recalibrates a bit. Also as the mother of a young toddler daughter I wonder what this model will look like to her years from now but I don’t know. So totally hear the whole difficult to guide her into having more (good) options than we did - the eternal feminist battle right.

  18. Thank you for this. I can completely relate as our family breadwinner with three young kids and knowing the pressure of balancing it all. Am not a big Taylor Swift listener but will need to check it out.

  19. This sums it up SO well. I am leaving tomorrow morning for a week-long work trip. My daughters are almost 4 and almost 2. The older one is in a phase of asking me not to go to work several times a week. It also doesn't help that my husband is their primary caregiver 2x a week becuase childcare where we live (UK) is so expensive so they only go 3 days a week. I very much feel like the "left out" parent sometimes! I want to go on this trip but have so many mixed emotions. Thank you for these reflections.

  20. ! Reading this after the infamous graduation speech last weekend dropped - this is the rule way Taylor’s lyrics should be quoted when discussing moms. Not by some terrible man who referred to her as just a “girlfriend”. The audacity. I love my children dearly but I also love my job and never feel more “me” than doing my work (I’m a librarian/archivist in a very large special collections at a university) it’s work I dreamed of as a kid, got the education for growing up and I feel so lucky to do now. But it totally still requires days to put on that smile and push through (and honestly so do some days at home with the kids 😅)

  21. CPA here and mother of 2, one of which has special needs….I’m a real tough kid. I can handle my shit! And everyone else’s shit! My son was recently hospitalized for mental health crisis, then IOP for 2 months, now ABA for….indefinitely….and this song is my anthem. Turns out he is autistic in addition to the mood disorder and ADHD that I already knew about. My job as a mother is so much harder than my paid job. ..Try and come for my job!