No Lemonade at the Law Firm

NLW LAwyer

Some years ago I had a corner office.

I had been a partner in our law firm for long enough so that when a new corner office opened up, it could be mine. Yes, it was in a back corner of our building on K Street in DC. Overlooking an alley. Birdseye view of the trash trucks coming in and out.

But lots of light. And a bit of privacy. The best part was the privacy.

I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty making my daily call checking in with my kids after school or taking a break to call a friend.

One of my closest friends at the time, Sharon, was a pre-school teacher. She wore smocks with paint smears and told funny stories about parent-teacher conferences.

We did not wear smocks in my law firm.

Sharon also got to take summers off  from her job.

At my law firm we did not have summers off.

One afternoon in June or July, in between revising one fascinating document and  before moving on to another, I called Sharon at home.

When she answered, I could tell she was in her backyard. The one with the creative herb garden and the adirondack chairs; I could hear the sounds of kids playing. If I listened hard enough, I could probably have heard birds singing and the sounds of the guy cutting his lawn next door.

We didn’t have many birds singing inside my law firm.

From the slight remove of my corner office, I could  hear the sounds of ringing phones, my colleagues reassuring clients – “Yes, I will look into that right away.” and the mail cart periodically rumbling by.

Sharon said to me, “Hold on a second, I’m just pouring some lemonade for the kids.”

Could she make me feel any worse?

We did not have lemonade in my law firm either.

Nor kids.

I liked practicing law.  The best part of being a lawyer was getting to know my clients; I enjoyed finding solutions to their problems – helping smart, creative people run their radio stations.

But summertime, kids playing in the background, fresh lemonade in glass pitchers with small frosty glasses? No, we didn’t have that in our law firm.

When I graduated from college in 1974, the women’s decade of the prior decade had left its impact.

The messages given to us at my all-women’s college sounded like this:

“You are a woman!”

You can do it all!

“You can have it all!”

So many of us chose, as I did, to go on to graduate schools where male students had largely dominated. We were part of that first wave of women encouraged to enter law, med and business schools in larger numbers. Vaguely we assumed we would get married, have families and have careers with all of the pieces of our lives falling magically into place.

At age 22 or 23, we were not long-range thinkers.

No one mentioned during law school orientation that we would not get summers off. Or that the career choices we made in our twenties would affect us years later in unforeseen ways.

My kids are now twenty-somethings.  They tell me that it was good that I was working full-time while they were growing up. Better than having me home, they claim. I could only pester them to do their homework by phone, and not more annoyingly (their word) in person every day after school.

So from September to May each year, I was pretty much fine.

The kids went to school, did their school work.

I went to the office,  did my office work.

We each had our jobs to do.

But every year come mid-June, I would begin to chafe at being encapsulated inside a glass office tower while summer happened outside.

A summer I couldn’t hear. Or enjoy with my kids, except on much-anticipated summer vacations.

Unlike my friend, Sharon, I would have made a lousy pre-school teacher. I don’t look good in a smock nor do I have much patience for choosing finger paint colors.

My legal career suited me.

But regrets? Yes, a few.

Mostly the knowledge that all of our choices as working moms came with trade-offs that we never could have known at the time we made them.

And not being able to serve lemonade to the kids playing in the backyard on sunny summer days was one of mine.

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9 Comments

Filed under Law firm life

9 responses to “No Lemonade at the Law Firm

  1. Linda Silver Bufano

    Don’t think much has changed since you went through it Nancy! But, very well said. Thank you!

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  2. There’s always a trade-off isn’t there? I had that same sort of pressure and almost 2/3 of the way through my doctoral program I quit. My professor was furious, a few of my female classmates felt I was betraying them but I have no regrets. It’s hard to look back now and say, ‘if only’. I worked and for a period of time I stayed home with my sons, but I also chose a career in the social services field that was less male-driven and much more understanding of the family life.

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  3. Alice Agatston

    Thank you for sending. I felt kinda sad at the end. Without directly identifying what was missed, it was felt. At a Smith gathering at the college, before my 10th reunion, someone in charge wisely said “You can have it all, but not at one time.” It appears to be true. I am finally doing my work full-time. I am so glad you are writing NOW. It makes a big difference to have so much life experience to have gut direction and not be swayed by anything other than genuine instinct.

    No Lemonade is a nice understatement. Humor helps the digestion.

    Love, Alice

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  4. So poignant. I had the same conflict although I didn’t go back to work FT until my youngest was in 5th grade. But it tore me up to miss school activities and after-school events and yes, the lazy days if summer.

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    • Thanks, Helene.
      My daughter read the post and told me it had a “melancholy” tone. I thought it was poignant, as you did, but maybe my daughter sensed my deeper feelings??

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  5. I never stopped working full time and although I am still enjoying my career, I wish I had more flexibility to spend those special moments with my sons.

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  6. Martha

    I recently came across your website and read some of you stories. This one is dear to my heart because I know exactly the feeling of being in the office during the summer and not being with the children. I never doubt that I could have a family and career, but, never imagined the personal sacrifice I had to make to make this happen. No one told me and I never asked. I thought this was the only way. As I got older and had more leverage in my career, I simplified my life, worked smarter, gained more flexibility to spend more time with our children. All of this happened with my new acceptance that promotions will be on hold while my husband and I raised our kids. It has been 8 years, still employed, and not regretting the decisions I made. I thank God for the wisdom imparted to me when I re-set my priorities. I still work through the summers, but, I make sure to arrange my schedule to go home, make lemonade and hear what the kids are talking about with their friends. I truly feel alive and blessed. You are an inspiration to people who want balance in life.

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  7. I free-lanced from my home and didn’t go back to the glass-walled office until my kids were in almost in high school, so I’m not wistful for that frosted lemonade pitcher. But I was taken with your comment about the decisions we made as young women coming of age in the Brave New World of career options and the consequences of those decisions. Many for better but some for worse. Life is full of trade-offs we didn’t know about.
    BTW, my kids, like your daughter, told me they were glad I went back to working full time in a glass office downtown. They no longer wanted my “support” in getting them thru their homework and other responsibilities. I think it helped them mature–even if I hated being locked inside on those rare, gorgeous summer days.

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