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Advice to (New) Mom-ttorneys

congrats

Recently a friend-of-a-friend asked me for some advice since she had just both passed the bar to become an attorney as well as found out she was pregnant.

I wanted to say “congratulations” to the baby and “oh, I’m sorry to hear” to the bar passage – but instead, I came up with this list, which I hope will find its way to her somehow. I usually don’t do advice in my blog, because the only topics I’m really qualified to opine upon are either irrelevant (“don’t try to wax your boyfriend’s face”) or scientifically unsound (“you’ll get severe stomach cramps if you sleep in a crop top”). But because this woman is about to have a baby and become a work from home attorney – she wants to start up her own family law practice – I feel like I need to warn her pass on some words of encouragement.

Top 10 Advice for New Work-at-Home-Moms:

10. Flexible work arrangement = baby first, work second, and mom third. This is bad.

I’ve talked to a lot of WAHMs, moms with a flexible work schedule, moms who telecommute, and moms who own their own businesses, and they all agree – you end up working 24/7 when you work from home. Work begins to bleed and consume all of your waking moments that aren’t occupied by your offspring. Document review and phone calls are scheduled around nap times. Briefs are written late into the night, and police reports are read in bed, in the dark, so as not to awaken the ticking time bomb that is your child.

But you’ll burn out that way. What they say in parenting books about “setting boundaries” or “creating routines” needs to be applied to your work. Try something like “no work emails after 10pm” or, at least, “no squinting at client emails/texts at 2am in the dark while nursing.”

9. Expect your views on your career to change.

Assistant Branch Manager looks pretty good too.

It’s only a title.

I never expected to give up my practice, but I’ve pretty much all but done just that – and I’m much happier now than I have ever been.

Also – I never thought I would consider going back to work as a government attorney, but the temptation of great coworkers, a steady paycheck, and top benefits are extremely alluring once you have a family. Stability and good companionship are underrated when you’re a mom.

8. Also underrated when you’re a mom? Sanity.

bad day

Your attorney/mom friends will be much more sympathetic than this.

Solo practice can be very lonely, and at the same time, so can motherhood. Although I often think “ain’t nobody got time for dat,” I find myself infinitely recharged after spending time with my friends, especially attorney friends who can relate to my complaints about judges or clients or baby DAs.

Also, I used to think mom groups were dumb. I don’t know why I thought that; I just did. I now love spending time with a select group of mom friends because, again, they know exactly what I’m going through. As a new mom/new attorney, you’ll need that support from people who’ve been there, done that.

7. Be selfish.

Which brings me to being “selfish” enough to take some time for yourself. Otherwise you’ll seriously go batsh*t crazy. Right now I’m blogging this from the parking lot in front of a Skate Depot because after a day where I took Tiny Boss to gymnastics and the children’s museum and was rewarded with only a 20-minute-nap all day, I could not spend one extra second with him anymore. As soon as his dad came home, I was out the door.

I did this even though I know my son prefers I stay home with him and not his dad. It’s a developmental age thing, I’m told.

I did this even though I know that if Tiny Boss wakes up, which he is wont to do, he’ll cry incessantly for me until, well, he stops and accepts the fact that Dad is the one who’s going to give him milk and lull him back to sleep to the sounds of the Imperial March hummed in baritone.

And do I feel a little guilty for not giving my son “the best,” or at least, what he wants? Yeah, I do feel a little bad. But mind over matter, I know he is fine, and so here I am, blogging to you fine folks in my car, using stolen wifi.

6. Write down all your ultimatums – and thrown them away.

hundredpercentYes, this includes things like breastfeeding, cosleeping, baby food-making, sleep training, and anything else that has to do with parenthood.

The number one lesson I’ve learned from being a mother – never say never. Your own flexibility and open-mindedness will surprise you. Have I thought about trying the cry-it-out method with my second, still unborn child? Yes, even though a year ago I was convinced Ferberizing a kid would turn her into a psychopath, or worse, Donald Trump. Will I do it to my second, still unborn child? Probably not. But still – never say never.

5. You can’t have it all.

Nope, you can’t have it all – there will be some things that you’ll give up, even if you think now that you’ll never do it. For me, it was working out regularly – as well as regular hair highlights and manicures. Nothing like pushing a human being out of your crotch in front of a room of strangers to rid you of most of your vanity!

4. Set realistic goals and expectations.

tumblr_inline_mpa7m7vTV51qz4rgp#5 and #4 kind of go together. In all honesty, the learning curve is steep for both lawyering and parenting. You’ll have self-doubts about your abilities at both. But you’ll be fine when it comes to the mom thing, at least.

3. Get help where you can. 

In the beginning, let others take care of you. I once read that lawyers have a hard time taking physical cues from their bodies because we become extraordinarily talented at making counterarguments – especially with ourselves – and also focusing on analyzing and interpreting facts rather than listening to how we feel. For new attorney moms, my advice is to make sure to say yes to the people who want to help – whether it’s to bring you food, or wash your dishes, or to watch the kid for a couple of hours so you can take a nap. Which brings me to . . .

2. Don’t be a control freak.

perfectionist

You don’t have the luxury of being a perfectionist in your work anymore when you’re a WAHM. I can’t stress this enough.

1. Ignore everything I just said. 

For one thing, everything I’ve just written about is much easier said than done. Also, everyone will give you advice, but you’ll mostly pave your own way by finding out what works for you.

awesome

Yes, mom-ttorney, you are awesome.

And lastly, and most importantly, you will be fine at being a mom, and somehow the lawyer part will work itself out. And trust me – at the end of each day, when you look at your baby for one more time before you go to bed and wake up in two hours to make sure she’s still alive/to feed her, you’ll know without a doubt that yes, it was all worth it.

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It’s 3am and I’m up again, a decision I’ll probably somewhat regret tomorrow. Tiny Boss is over a year old, still breastfeeding, and wakes me up at night. I actually don’t mind  because it gives me a chance to write, and I love writing (I say this now – ask me again tomorrow in the afternoon when I’m dying to get a second cup of coffee).

Too bad when I get the writing bug, all too often I’m drawing a blank. Like I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about. Kind of like those people you know who just talk for the sake of talking.

shutup

But then I found this.

No seriously, I found this. Well, my friend sent it to me. It’s seven writing tips from Hemingway.

Most of these tips are applicable to all writers, not just those writing fiction, as well as other creatives – concept artists, copywriters, designers of all varieties.

So I’ll take the first prompt: “To get started, write one true sentence.”

I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.

This quote kind of sums it up for me – “If you want to make God laugh, tell him all your plans.”

Things were so much more black and white, cut and dry, when I was in college. I could literally list the things I was into, and do them. Environmentalist? Don’t eat meat. Believe in fair labor? Get arrested with 53 other students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in an “anti-sweatshop protest” (the mission was a bit more specific than this, but that’s another post, another time.)

Ironically, the first police report I ever read was my own.

Ironically, the first police report I ever read was my own.

I went straight into law school after college. I don’t know what exactly I was thinking, but it was something like, “if I go to law school, I’ll have the power to start really changing things up.”

It wasn’t a very well thought out plan though. Skip ahead 10 years later, after three years of law school, the bar exam, and changing jobs every two years.

That’s when Tiny Boss came, and life hasn’t been the same since. In some ways, nothing else matters. But now he’s a toddler, and time is speeding up, and I’m feeling that pressure to do something with my life. And I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.

Being a lawyer (mostly) sucks.

I’m not alone here. Lawyers aren’t the happiest bunch when it comes to job satisfaction, according to the American Bar Association, and me, and Forbes magazine, which lists “associate attorney” as the number one most unhappiest job. There’s even a book, The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, that explores why so many attorneys are unhappy.

Maybe it’s because, according to the American Bar Association, “only 16 percent of lawyers found that their jobs afforded them the ability to contribute to the public good as much as they expected when they entered the profession.” Maybe.

The book also purports to offer “more fulfilling paths to careers in the law.” Ha! We’ll see.

According to the American Bar Association, lawyers also have more pessimistic personalities than the general population

According to the American Bar Association, lawyers also have more pessimistic personalities than the general population

Mommyvision

I often say that I see the world through the lens of a mother – in a sense, every child is my child. When I see a skinny baby in the bathroom of a courthouse, I wonder if she’s sick or diagnosed with failure to thrive. When I struggle with the NPO guidelines that dictate fasting before surgery – not an easy task to refuse to feed your infant or toddler – my heart aches in a way it never did before when I think of the millions of mothers who watch their children slowly die of starvation and malnutrition.

Yes, every child is my child.

I watched a little girl crossing the street the other day with her mother. When she finished crossing, she ran back to the stoplight so she could press the walk buttons. Going both directions. I laughed, because as a mother, I appreciate the little things that make a kid happy.

A couple years ago, a good friend of mine told me once that she didn’t want to have kids because she didn’t want them to grow up in this world. At that time, I was puzzled, because I couldn’t grasp the thought of not having kids simply due to the state of affairs of the world. But I understand her now, because I worry a lot more about pollution, cancer, sustainability, abuse, and just humanity in general. Yet at the same time, I still believe my child will make this world better.

And me, now that I’m a mom, I know I should make this world better too. But how do I do it? Some days I barely have enough energy to get through the day. Not to mention the whole lawyer thing.

This is probably my longest post yet, and part of it is because I’ve been up for over three hours and I’m finally starting to feel it. So I leave you with this:

“As parents, it’s not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” – L.R. Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day

2-year-itch

Every two years I switch jobs. Not consciously; just happens. It’s been two years since my last job change…

I live in a suburb of LA. Most nights, in bed and squinting in the dark, I read the local news on KTLA because I have the app on my phone. It’s horribly depressing. I don’t know why I do it. Maybe because I’ve always been interested in crime ever since I was younger, or maybe it’s my past job as a deputy public defender. KTLA is second only to PE.com in sensationalistic stories on crime.

Tonight I read a story about a couple that starved their baby to death. It was hard to read because I could picture it so well – the baby strapped in her car seat, set in front of a television on the third floor of the couple’s house and forgotten for 16 hours. It’s both unthinkable yet a believable scenario. I think about how upset my son gets when no one responds to his crying immediately and 16 hours just breaks my heart.

After having a child, I can no longer easily read these types of stories – crimes against children, sick kids, kids facing starvation around the world. Every time I read one of these stories, I wonder if there is something I can do to make things better.

When I was between the ages of 16-27, I wanted to “save the world.” I first became vegetarian, much to my mother’s dismay, and didn’t eat meat throughout most of high school and all of college. I campaigned for abortion rights (“reproductive rights”), ran for and was elected to student government at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was arrested at an anti-sweatshop sit-in. I went to law school to get into politics, although that part wasn’t that well thought out. During law school I decided I wanted to be a public defender. I did become a public defender, and did a pretty damn good job at it, till I burned out.

After that, I lost my passion for social justice/do-gooder work and actually sort of lost my way. For the past four years, I’ve been struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve wanted to (in no particular order) be in advertising, be an entrepreneur, get my MBA, go into HR, apply to art school, become a famous writer. But none of that has materialized. Instead, I became a mother – which is the most important job of all.

Interestingly enough tonight, before reading this sad story about the dead infant, I had been thinking about what to “do” next, and coming up with a new plan but it was hard so I never sat down to actually do it. But I suppose now’s the time.

What do you want to be when you grow up and what did you become

Day 8 of blogging and it’s actually getting harder to write. This is due largely to the fact that even though I want to make writing my craft and my (paid) trade, I still treat it secondary because I’m used to my regular routine of working and taking care of Raynor. I keep meaning to make it my priority and try to get it done early on in the day, but I never seem to remember until it’s midnight, Raynor is finally sleeping out of my arms and I’m thinking about my bed.

I never thought my blog would be so much about my baby and motherhood, but it really has become the most important thing in my life. Blame biology or my neurotic habit of obsessing over what I cherish, but I know Raynor is going to be number one in my life, probably forever.

But I too, still have dreams.

“I had dreams once too, you know.” Peanut Butter

I mean, the whole point of this 30-day exercise is to get back into writing, and to warm me up for my first class at UCLA Extension coming up in July. But maybe this writing thing is just another fleeting fancy of mine, brought on by postpartum hormones and being largely confined to our rocking chair. After all, here are some other careers I’ve wished I’d had:

Doctor (until chemistry class in high school)
Doctor Without Borders doctor (sometime in 2000)
Astronaut (4th grade, until I read that you needed perfect vision to be an astronaut and my dreams were crushed)
UN Ambassador
Owner of a dog walking business
Veterinarian (on and off throughout life)
Artist (on and off throughout elementary school, but Tiger Mom squelched that by saying all I could do to make a living as an artist was to be an art teacher)
Journalist (high school through college)
Politician (college)
Film maker
Photographer
Public Defender (law school, did this for two years)
Lawyer (law school, and post-law school for about two years before realizing what an unfortunate career choice I’ve made)
Ad copywriter (most recently. still want to do this.)
Tina Fey
Krav maga instructor (2005)
Yoga instructor (2010)
Snowboarding resort worker (every winter)
Law professor (120 seconds sometime in 2010 after I left my firm)
Stuntsman/attend ninja training school here in LA (5 seconds)
Costume designer (every time I go to comic con)
Pole dancer (um, nevermind)

I just realized that I actually did have a career in law and I wanted a career in law. Not bad. Now I want a career in writing. Let’s see where this takes me.

Deux

Today is Day Two of my 30 day challenge, and one of the few times I’m publishing a visible blog. I’ve been doing some research on “how to be a writer.” (in quotes because it seems like one of those things that can’t be taught, although I’m sure I am wrong about this and a million writing coaches and instructors will be sending me hate mail, or at least spamming me with comments. Please?)

One of the tips was to attract an audience. Thus, a visible blog post.

I use words like “thus” and “heretofore,” or even “notwithstanding” a lot because I’m a lawyer. Ok, not really. But I figured I better work in my attorney background if I’m going to try to get some readers.

Being an attorney may have been a terrible career choice, but I can’t say I’m unhappy with my life. I have a three-year-old son and a loving husband, Vanilla (not his real name). I’ve got an awesome dog, PeeBee (her real name, and short for Peanut Butter/Paddington Britches) and one that is just so-so, Dexter.

PeeBee is perpetually downtrodden and mistreated, or so she would have you believe. Dexter is as loyal and affectionate as he is a little scoundrel. We’re a happy family. I just got a little nervous writing that because in my experience, life is not a constant but a series of waves, like the ocean, always changing yet always the same.

But I digress. Back to being a lawyer. It’s a difficult job with substantial stress. It’s even harder when your husband has an awesome job as an artist at one of the all-time top video game companies. He gets to shoot nerf guns at work and look at naked women for “reference.” I have to deal with clients who I can’t even tell you about because it’s protected by attorney-client privilege, but just the thought of them sometimes can make my chest tight.

I became a lawyer initially because I wanted to help people and I wanted to go into politics. This was in 2002, freshly ejected from the University of Wisconsin where I had lived in a co-op, been vegetarian including no Skittles (gelatin), wore only recycled clothing to avoid sweatshops, conducted and participated in sit-ins and die-ins, among all sorts of other wonderful student activism/nonsense. The school I went to, however, was not terribly progressive, and I basically drank my way through my three years. I became a public defender, which was what I decided in law school was what I had wanted to do, and kicked ass at it before getting burned out after only two years. Two more years at a private civil firm made me go a little crazy, as well as my participation in a LGAT slash cult.

But all that led me to where I am today, working from home as mostly an immigration attorney, a full-time mother, and an aspiring writer. A couple years ago I had made three wishes, written them down on a piece of paper, folded it in half and drawn the infinity symbol on the back. I carefully placed this paper into my wallet as instructed by Macncheese. She’s not a witch or anything, but she does get what she wants.

Now that I’ve accomplished two of those wishes, now’s a good a time as any to start on that dream. On time is late, as they say in the cult I used to be in.

Hello, Day Two.