New Views and Embracing Limbo
I used to practice law full-time in Chicago. Full-time law practice in Chicago generally means working more than 40-hours per week, though often times the hours were not nearly as long as they felt. My daughter Sadie was born in 2009, and after a generous maternity leave I returned to work. I hauled my breast pump and my ambition and my 17 framed pictures of Sadie to my office when I returned from leave.
I sat on the 35th floor overlooking Millenium Park, and the view was stunning everyday. Once I figured out that full-time law firm life was not going to be compatible with my desire to see my children on a daily basis without having a heart attack trying to get home before the nanny had to leave, I decided to cut the cord on my law practice. (And, incidentally, I had my son, Simon, who arrived 18 months after Sadie, and I couldn’t fathom another round of pumping at the job and racing home to see 2 kids instead of just 1.)
Welcome to my free fall.
Here’s the view from my office now:
I chase after Sadie (2.5) and Simon (15 months), and sometimes (if I am in a cheery mood and had a big enough breakfast) I let them chase me. I haven’t been anywhere near a 35th floor in months, though last night I had a dream about my former boss– in my dream he was having an affair with his secretary who happens to be a 230-pound black lesbian, so I woke up confused.
It’s been over a year since I had clients and briefs and court appearances. I have a closet full of corporate clothes that are hanging in limbo just like me. I do teach a legal writing class one day a week, which I tend to minimize, but it’s not insignificant to the 10 students who are expecting me to teach them a thing or two about writing in the legal field.
When I think about the decision to take a break from full-time career-path work, I think about all the people who have called me brave. I suppose bravery was part of it. Any kind of change requires a certain amount of bravery. It was also brave of me to entrust my daughter to a nanny everyday so I could go work for 9 hours. All mothering decisions require bravery. Probably all parenting decisions do, but I speak as a mother.
Here’s what I don’t tell people. It’s easy to look at my decisions and think that I left my practice because I was running towards my children and motherhood. It’s more complicated than that. Actually, I was running away from work that didn’t satisfy me and that I could no longer pretend I cared about to the level that a client who pays for my labor deserves. I was senior enough that doing a mediocre job was not sufficient, and I wasn’t sure where my mal-practice insurance stood. I was tired of pretending.
As I was running away from law firm life, I ran smack into these two little kids that I gave birth to. They were here; I was here. Now we are finding out way together. I learn a little bit about mothering now and then, and they learn how to say the alphabet or go pee-pee on the potty. In truth this time “at home” with them has been about finding myself as a mother, but just importantly as a person outside of mothering. Beyond mothering. For months I was asking myself, “where is my ambition? what about all my alleged potential? where does that part of me live now that I am running to music class and playgroup and racing to be sure everyone gets his or her nap?”
I am starting to see surges of my old ambitious self peek out. It’s tentative. It’s different. It’s less about what achievements I can add to my armor against the world and more about what can I create. Motherhood has instilled a fierce desire to be generative in a host of new ways: writing, blogging, creating partnerships, reaching out. Even teaching is about birthing the next generation of lawyers. I feel a new energy pulsing forth inside of me that is a potent mix of my former ambitious-get-to-the-head-of-the-class self and my newer giving-and-sustaining life self.
I still think of myself as “in limbo,” but I now see that limbo is a place with plumes of energy and light and creativity and inspiration. I am certainly grateful to Stephanie Saye for introducing me to this project which is a lovely addition to my limbo.
It’s going to be a great week!