Tag Archives: Washington DC

Working Mom – Making the “Right” Choices? A Look Back.

               Female lawyer working in office

A Chanukah gift from my sister arrived yesterday – a book called “Becoming Grandma” written by the TV journalist, Leslie Stahl. The timing of the gift was impeccable as my husband and I just returned from four fun, albeit diaper-change-filled, days taking care of our two grandkids while their parents spent a few nights away. I saw the author’s photo on the cover of the book – and was reminded of a draft blog post (see below) I wrote but never published. I’m still not sure if it was Leslie Stahl who had the seat next to me on the plane that day in 1990  – but seeing her photo prompted me to revisit the choices we make as working moms (and for some of us, working grandmothers.) And to think about the consequences of these choices.

Looking back, I still wonder if I made the right choices. Maybe Leslie Stahl or whoever she was on the plane wonders too?

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Life presents many choices – and one of them is whether or not to read a women’s magazine on a an airplane.

Some years ago when I was a Young Mom I took a late afternoon shuttle flight from New York City back to Washington, DC. I was returning from a business trip, traveling solo. A rare thing in my Young Mom days.

On the plane I found a seat and glanced to my right. My seat-mate was a Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person. I no longer remember her name.

Immediately I thought, “Here’s my chance.” 

I will make a casual but clever remark which will lead to an intelligent conversation with another adult (defined in my Young Mom days as someone who (a) did not wear diapers and (b) was not related to me by marriage –  a successful, talented woman, one who loves the news, all things media, as much as I did – and still do.

Or – I could just flip through the pages of The New Yorker magazine that I had brought with me on the plane –  and the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person will no doubt look my way, see me reading an Intellectual Magazine and initiate a thoughtful chat.

We would likely end up conversing all through the flight and as the plane taxied to the terminal, we would exchange business cards and talk about getting together in a week or two.

But being a Young Mom I had also brought another magazine on board with me.

Should I open up my women’s magazine and catch up on my Young Mom required reading such as: “10 Tips for Tantrum Free Toddlers”- OR should I stick with the New Yorker?

 I chose “10 Tips for Tantrum-Free Toddlers.”

About ten minutes into the flight the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person looked my way and glanced at the magazine on my lap.

By then I had moved on to “8 Exciting Easy Recipes for Week Night Dinners.” She turned her well-coiffed head and ignored me for the rest of the flight.

So I never got to find out if the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person and I would have hit it off. Probably not.

In my Young Mom days I always felt like I had dual personalities – a Mom at home and a Lawyer at the office but never the twain shall meet. We were advised to low-key the Mom thing if we wanted to be successful at work.

A young partner at my first law firm once “helpfully” suggested to me that I should reduce the amount of kid-related decor in my office.  Too many photos of my kids and their crayoned pictures sent the message that I cared more about spending hours with my family than billing time for my clients.

Why was it, I wondered (although I didn’t dare say this aloud) acceptable, if not outright admired, for men to show off their Dad sides? If a male lawyer in my office decided to leave early for soccer practice, he would be lauded as a “family man.”

Funny, isn’t it, how the term “family woman” doesn’t exist?

But if I had to do it again – reflecting now on 30 plus years of working mom status (where is my badge?), I’d probably make the same choices. The office display of family photos and kiddie-drawings. Leaving mid-day to go to the school play. Not missing a school conference.  Taking criticism from certain of my male law firm colleagues when they “caught” me by the elevators, exiting the office at 6:30 p.m. and asking – “taking a half-day, Nancy?”

And not feeling guilty about reading a women’s magazine on an airplane, no matter who had the seat next to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Careers, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Reading, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women

10 Days Later: Not The “New Normal”

election-signs

 

I told myself that I would not – would definitely not – write any kind of post-election blog post. However, if you are reading this post now, I must have changed my mind. But I will keep this short.

After nearly 10 days of reflection, I have a three-fold mantra – –

1. Change Happens.

2. We Can Deal With It.

3.  It’s Not the New Normal.

No matter which “side” you were on before the presidential election on November 8th, you may still be in shock. Shock that your candidate won – or shocked that your candidate lost.

Either way – see #’s 1, 2 and 3 above.

What did “we” learn from the election results?

That “we” who have always lived inside the Washington, DC bubble had no clue how people in other areas of our country were feeling – or what they were really thinking.

My husband’s family is from Detroit and we visit there, so I knew the U.S. economy was not sailing along on a wave of prosperity everywhere. But it did come as a surprise to me that so many voters felt disenfranchised and wanted change — especially since that promise of change arrived in the form of a bombastic, erratic and narcissistic candidate who seemed to say aloud whatever (often outrageous and deeply offensive) thoughts he was thinking.

I may be in the minority here – but let me go out on a (hopeful? delusional?) limb, I don’t think that our POTUS-elect really, deeply, truly in his inner soul actually believes in the anti-minority, anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant horrific statements that he and his followers uttered during the course of the campaign.

I think instead that he developed as his campaign took off an uncannily awful instinct to appeal to the lowest common denominator that exists in all of us – some of us more than others – that makes us fearful of people who look differently, who act differently, who make more or who have more than we do.

And once he realized he had this appeal and that it could be used to swell the size of his “base”, it was like a vote-getting spigot he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – turn off. Which led to some very ugly actions and words.

How can this spigot be turned off? That will not be easy. But it is what we must do going forward.

Just this week we’ve seen signs that bigotry and hate speech are still rising up. In the middle school in the town next to mine, swastikas were drawn on the wall of the boys’ bathroom. In a middle school! And racist slogans were written on the wall of a nearby church.

This CANNOT become the “new normal”.

I believe that people of good faith will always be in the majority, whatever political party is in power, and that they will loudly condemn and take actions against these hate speech and incidents.

I may still be in election-shock but I’m looking towards the long-term. Living in/near DC since my long-ago law school days, I have seen many administrations come and go. None like this, of course.

But this too shall pass, as my wise husband likes to say. And while it is passing – as quickly as possible, please – I plan to speak out – maybe even more loudly (which is already pretty loud) – against evidence of anti-Semitism (because that hits me most personally) and against bigotry of all kinds.

Change has happened. We can deal with it. So long as we do not – EVER – let the spigot of hate that bubbled up during the campaign become the new normal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leaving A Support Group After Leading It: Parenting & Young Adult Mental Health

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“If you founded the parents’ group, then why did you stop attending?”

A legitimate question I could not readily answer.

That question was posed to me in the Q and A after a Mental Health talk I gave a few weeks ago.  I had been invited by a Northern California synagogue to speak as part of their open-to-the-community “End The Silence” series on mental illness. They asked me to talk about the parents’ support group I started – and led for 6 years –  at my own synagogue in DC.

If you’ve read this Blog, you may have come across my post from September, 2014 – titled a “Different Kind of Kvelling” where I first mentioned our P/YAWS – short for “Parents of Young Adults Who Struggle.”  The Washington Post then published a version of my post in its @OnParenting section – and word spread.

One of my life goals (truly) is to foster the creation of support and strategy sharing groups for parents of young adults who struggle with mental health challenges such as anorexia, anxiety disorder, bipolar, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia at synagogues throughout the U.S.

So I was thrilled to come to California to explain why I started our P/YAWS group, how we ran our meetings and why our network of parents had been so helpful to me and to many others.

Many hands raised with questions during the Q and A session – most I could easily answer, but when asked if, after I stopped leading the group, I remained a regular participant, I stopped to consider. I gave a short response, which I forget (blame it on the bad cold I was getting over that night).

Now that I’m back home I’ve been pondering the real reason I no longer attend our P/YAWS meetings.

At first – so I tell myself – I didn’t attend because I wanted to give the parent co-facilitators who replaced me some space to develop their own style. Running a group like ours isn’t easy. Parents come with heavy hearts and worried minds. Sharing stories is painful. We support each other, offering ideas for doctors, therapists, meds, local and distant treatment programs and strategies to use with challenging young adults. Tears flow, laughter too; sometimes everyone wants a chance to talk, sometimes people want to talk too much. There is a different rhythm to each meeting. My personal “weapon” of choice was a strong sense of humor – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but it seemed to work. The group thrived.

And it continued to thrive without me.

After I stopped going to meetings, I was surprised at how relieved I felt.

For years I had been carrying around in my own heart and head everyone’s else’s stories. I could facilitate the back and forth based on what I knew –  I would ask S. how her son was doing on his new med or remind C. that the last time she came to the group, her daughter had been hospitalized, how was she doing now. Not being the sole person in charge freed me up to let go of the knowledge weighing on me of other participants’ pain.

The more I thought, the more I realized didn’t want to go to the group anymore, even as a participant.

In part because I didn’t want to scare anyone away.  Mental Illness happens on a spectrum. When a new parent comes to his first meeting, it can be because their young adult son has just had to leave college because of a mental health crisis. That parent is confident that there will be an effective medication, a promising therapy and that next semester their child will be back in school. And sometimes it works out that way. Our group has had many successful “graduates.”

But for those of us on the longer-term, “work in progress” path, our stories are more like roller coasters than linear tales of successful coping. I didn’t want the new parent to listen to my longer-term narrative and fear that their trajectory would resemble ours. It might or might not.

P/YAWS has been amazing for me and my husband. We could not have gotten through all that we did without it. From a wisp of an idea to a thriving monthly group for eight years, I’m proud of my role. It was through our group that I learned that a parent can only do so much. Most young adults with mental illness can change, can grow into stability but the parent cannot do it for them. Your young adult child has got to want it more than you do.

For now I’ve facilitated all I want to; I’ve encouraged, I’ve supported, I’ve shared plenty. I’m not letting up on my plan to prod other synagogues to create groups similar to ours. The need is clearly there.  But I’m going to be on a hiatus from participating around the table. Let others speak, share and be comforted. I’ve had my turn, time to sit back for a while in silence (unusual for me!) and apply the lessons I learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, College, College, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Talking, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Find a Career that Makes Your Eyes Light Up: Advice for Recent and Not-So-Recent Graduates

bowl of candy on desk

So, is there anything about law firm life that you miss?” asked my old friend, Tom, a big deal partner at a DC law firm.

We stood chatting late in the evening at a wedding reception a few weeks ago. Guests gathered by the dessert table; I was debating between the little parfait glasses filled with chocolate mousse or the fruit tarts. Or both.

No, not really,” I responded without giving his question much thought, my mind more focused on the tiny red velvet cupcakes as another option.

Tom tried again, “Really? Nothing at all about practicing law that you miss?”

O.K., so we were having a real conversation here, not just a polite inquiry among haven’t-seen-you-for-awhile old friends.

I countered, “Well, I did like advising clients. I always liked telling people what to do.”  I laughed,  “And I liked the paycheck. So did our mortgage company.”

Pause for a moment of silence while I recalled the thrill of my first sizeable law firm paycheck.

I also liked the candy. I miss that.” I told him.

You miss what?” Tom asked, with a puzzled look on his face.

(perhaps they didn’t have as much candy at Tom’s law firm as they did at mine?)

So I explained. “You know, the candy in the bowls that people kept on their desks.”

Every afternoon around 4:00 p.m. I would take a break and do a “power walk” around our law firm’s small office, stopping for brief chats with colleagues and staff and to select my daily rewards for making it through most of the work day. Susan could always be counted on to have a seasonal assortment, candy corn, turkey-shaped chocolates or peeps. Ned specialized in mints. David shared Tootsie roll pops.

The thing is that I don’t really even like candy.

Likely, though, that Tom doesn’t rely on candy as a work-day incentive. He is the kind of lawyer who loves what he does. I did not.

I thought of my conversation with Tom the other day while reading an essay by novelist Jonathan Odell, offering excellent, if unexpected, advice for graduates titled –  “Never Get Good At What You Hate.”

Odell, who left a successful corporate career at midlife to become a writer, reasons that if you do become good at a job that you don’t much like, then you will be asked to do more of it. And the more you do of it, the more you will be asked to do, and the more unhappy you will grow.

I recognized myself in his essay. I, too was very good at a career I didn’t much like. I didn’t hate it – I just didn’t love it. And what made it harder for me was being surrounded by colleagues who really loved being lawyers.

How could I tell?

Their eyes lit up when they talked about a new project, they relished a tough legal debate, they eagerly worked those long hours –  all because they had found that love for the law that bypassed me.

My law firm colleagues, Tom and my Dad, too, (now age 92, still practicing law at a firm he founded) – – they all share that gut level passion for the law that I lacked.

Over my lawyering years it became increasingly obvious that I was getting very good at what I didn’t like to do. It made me feel like an imposter, and while I hoped that no one around me noticed – I am sure that they did.

After 33 years of working hard, becoming a partner, earning the respect of my terrific clients –  it was only through the “luck” of having a defective heart valve go seriously awry 2x, that I was involuntarily de-lawyered.  I suddenly had all the time in the world to consider what I really wanted to do – return to my childhood passion, writing that does not involve any legalese.

Which makes me (if not my mortgage company) very, very, very happy. My eyes now light up (so my husband and friends tell me) when I talk about my latest writing projects.

I offer this cautionary tale for recent and not-so-recent graduates to ponder. And a question: how can you possibly know at age 22 or 25 – or at 58 or 62 what you will really like to do if you haven’t had the chance to do it?

Try this test with a few close friends. Let them sit in front of you. Then tell them about a few different work/life paths you’ve been considering.

Which one will make the work day go so fast that you won’t need candy as a mid-afternoon reward?

Which one will make your eyes light up?

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Job, Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Careers, College, friendship, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, New Grad, Semi-Retired, Women in the Workplace

“Opening Day” or Just Another Monday in April?

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Of the many annual events on my calendar, one stands out – “Opening Day” – the day in April when professional baseball leagues begin their regular season.

Nearly all of my friends, relatives and other human beings with whom I come into regular contact are big baseball fans.

And I am not. Never have been. May never be.

For me “Opening Day” marks the beginning of my lonely season. The season when most people I spend time with in the DC area talk incessantly about baseball – and I am unable to join in.

A conversation in which I cannot participate is very difficult for me. As you may have gathered, I have opinions on all topics and like to offer them to others, whether requested to do so or not.

My unwelcome opinion is that watching baseball is both boring and tedious, two cardinal (oh, wait, isn’t that the name of a team?) sins. I prefer to watch sports that move more quickly. And have more transparent rules.

  • Like college football. Every ten yards = a first down.
  • And college basketball = the ball goes in the basket and the score board changes.
  • Add in rowing, in which my daughter participated in high school (she was a coxswain). When the first crew boat goes over the line = that team wins the race.
  • All action, speed and easy to follow.

Just as the cherry blossom trees on the mall make their annual appearance so does my early spring willingness to try to learn why I should like baseball.

Last week I recruited two of my most fervent baseball fan friends to help me to overcome my dislike of America’s Pastime.

What is it, I asked my old college pals, Martha and Paula, that makes you so hot about the sport that leaves me so cold?

Martha traces her love of baseball to her New England childhood, recalling summer afternoons in her backyard “slathered in baby oil and listening to the Red Sox on the radio.”” And years later as a Mom, Martha kept up with her teen son’s favorite team finding it “a great conversation starter when every other topic elicited mostly grunts.”

Then she tells me about how much she loves debating baseball strategy and understanding its’ legalistic complexities.

(Have I mentioned that Martha also is a lawyer?)

I have heard this many times before. Allegedly, as a lawyer, now a semi-retired one, I should find baseball fascinating because of its intricate rules.

(Can I state here, for the record, just to allay your fears, that I do have many friends who are not lawyers? Although it is not easy to have non-legal companions in DC, I work at it.)

My friend Paula, yes, also a lawyer, came to love baseball later in life.

As an adult, the minute I started practicing law, I needed something major to distract me. Reading, my other primary form of entertainment, didn’t demand the same level of anger, joy and mastery of arcane facts.”

O.K., I get it. You don’t need to keep hitting me over the head to prove that baseball and the law share an affinity. But when I practiced communications law, as that technology rapidly changed, so did the laws and rules that went with it.

Unlike in baseball. Where nothing ever seems to move with alacrity.

Martha gets a tad testy when I complain to her about the s-l-o-w pace of a baseball game.

Are you kidding me? Is the pace of a Mozart concerto too slow? The game is poetic. It’s a thinking person’s game.”

Ignoring the part where Martha implies I am not a thinker, I remind her that even those at baseball corporate agree with me on the pace problem.

When Major League Baseball adopted changes this February intended to speed up the games, I cheered. A new rule will require hitters (a/k/a the ones with the bats) to keep one foot in the batter’s box (self-explanatory, although I don’t really see it as a box, more of a semi-circle maybe?) between pitches with several exceptions.

And pitchers and batters will only have up to 40 seconds from the announcement of the batter’s name (how long can it take to pronounce someone’s name?) to the time the first pitch is thrown.

Will the game of baseball finally become sufficiently fast to retain my wandering attention?

Probably not, the experts say. So I throw out one last wild pitch to my pals:

“Why can’t I love baseball the way that you do?”

Martha.Because of your constant need for speed? Maybe you just haven’t learned enough about the game to appreciate it? Or maybe you are just WRONG?”

I prefer Paula’s more measured response.

Paula: “Frankly, Nancy, I can’t explain it. You are otherwise a woman of intelligence and taste.”

Yes, Paula, I am  – and I am also a good closer.  Call me the Drew Storen of the essay world. (get it, Nats’ fans?)

 

THE END.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under College, Female Friends, friendship, Lawyers, Women, Writing