Tags: BigLaw, iPhone, maternity leave, stay at home mom
My “vacation memo” has been distributed; my out-of-office message is on, directing all inquiries for the next six months to my secretary. And, in a stroke of brilliant timing, my firm announced on Tuesday that it finally would support iPhones, so I was in line at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Apple store to (finally! finally!) acquire one. The tech guys finished configuring it literally five minutes before I left yesterday. I’m not due back until mid-August (though I was told that if I wanted to push it until after Labor Day, that was fine too!). It felt very strange walking out that door, toting seven volumes of Tax Code regulations (which I’m sure will sit untouched in my home office for six months, but you never know…). I felt sort of — dispensable. But I am, and that’s OK. I’ll miss my work friends quite a bit — a group of smart, interesting people who have kept me laughing and functioning for the past year and a half. I won’t miss the not infrequent uncertainty that comes with the job: self-doubt and second-guessing — all self-imposed — about my abilities as a tax lawyer. In the end, though I truly like my job and my firm and being a lawyer. I’m grateful I graduated from law school in 2008 (and not 2009!) and was fully and gainfully employed during the past year-and-a-half of utter upheaval in the BigLaw world. And that my firm has such a generous maternity leave policy. I’m so lucky, I know, to have this upcoming time, this new beginning.
Now what? I guess I wait for this baby, but I’m actually not at all impatient. I vaguely remember labor and labor pains and think I’ll be ready for those this time around. The baby’s room is set up, all his little clothes have been washed in Dreft. But he’s not expected for another week or so. I wanted to begin my leave early, however, so that I could have time with my Little Bug. A week or so to focus on her, read her books, make her lunches, ballet dance around the family room, etc. I’m trying not to feel too emotional about uprooting her from her position of absolute adoration. I know she’ll love her brother, and as many of my friends have told me upon having a second child, “Your heart expands.” I know this will be true, but I can’t quite comprehend it yet.
I’m a bit at loose ends today, then. No one has any expectations of me today, other than my family. No assignments are due, no clients or partners await me. Our beloved nanny, Janet, had her last day with us yesterday. She, too, is moving on, to a family with a newborn who will thrive in her love just as my Bug did (a family who can give her more hours than I possibly can over the next six months!) She has been taking care of Buggy since she was six weeks old (and I had to begin my third year of law school) and Buggy loves her immensely. I am so grateful to her for enabling me to walk out the door every day to work without a second thought about my daughter’s care. But for now it’s just me, and Buggy, and Tim, waiting for our little boy.
Thanks to the new iPhone (again: hooray! I know everyone else has had one for months/years but can I just say how amazing it is?), here’s a bit of a photodocumentation of Day 1 of my new life:
Extra snuggling in mom and dad’s bed, watching “Little Bear” (as I didn’t have to be out the door at 7:30!)
Then mom heads to, where else…
Tags: The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, Gwen Bell
Before you start thinking I have a major crush on Gretchen Rubin (which I do — a major career crush), based on my last few posts (I’ve previously written about her here, here, and here. And here.), I wanted to share my thoughts on her book, The Happiness Project, and why the book attracted me so instantaneously. (Actual reviews can be found all over the Internet — my favorite so far has been by Gwen Bell, here, who puts the book into a larger, Buddhist-oriented perspective.)
This is a bluebird of happiness, of course.
Rubin is a lawyer-turned-writer. If you are not an attorney, you nevertheless might be slightly impressed that she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. If you are in fact an attorney, you’re probably more impressed that she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal (I mean, that is as good as it gets in terms of law school credentials!) Obviously, she’s smart and probably inclined towards perfectionism. She loves to write, she has an interest in the law, is driven, and she’s a mother of two. So I can relate personally to many of her motivations.
But the book is decidedly not written for a narrow audience and is relevant for anyone who has wondered, “Why do I seem anxious and ill-at-ease in certain situations?” or “Why do I feel like I’m wasting time worrying about small things?” or “How can I enjoy my life more?” She tackles such questions in what is probably for her a characteristically logical way: devoting each month of the year to examining a certain area of her life and then figuring out how to make herself happier in it. Even if you are not quite as logical, you’ll benefit from her extensive research into studies and literature and psychology — it’s interesting to read about areas such as parenting, marriage, energy, career, pursuing a passion, and friendship on macro level through the prism of becoming happier in them — even if you yourself don’t feel the need to make any major life overhauls.
Just as Rubin herself states that she finds personal anecdotes and shared stories as helpful as abstract anthropological studies, however, her own accounts of how she tried to become happier in these areas of her life were what drew me in. She devotes the month of February, for example, to her relationship with her husband. Her husband, as it turned out, wasn’t that pleased when Rubin tried to dump her anxieties on him right before they went to bed, and would rather watch TV sitting next to her on the couch than gaze into her face for a heart-to-heart. Rubin cites some studies that show that, really, women are best suited for face-to-face conversations with other women and men often are satisfied simply being in the presence of their partner — to them, side-by-side movie watching is as intimate as a dinner a deux. This is probably basic Men-are-from-Mars/Women-are-from-Venus stuff, but it was gratifying for me to see it explained both logically and personally. When Tim and I are finally tucked in bed at night is when I want to turn to him and talk, and I try to do so while he is trying to read and decompress, and he doesn’t focus on me, and then I get upset. After reading this particular chapter, I mentioned Rubin’s conclusions to Tim, and he immediately replied, “I could have told you that.” Of course he could have — but because Rubin has not only read studies and dozens of other accounts of relationships, but candidly examines her own interactions with her husband, her analysis was enlightening to me. And reassuring. For Tim, lying next to me in bed reading is contentment, and if I want to talk through my day with him, maybe I can rethink the time and place to do it. This is not to say that spouses shouldn’t make concessions to each other and strive to be active listeners, but it did suggest to me that there is a whole body of scientific, anthropological, and anecdotal evidence out there to support a slight change in my habits that would result in a desirable outcome for us both. My need to be listened to could be satisfied earlier in the evening (perhaps over dinner) and Tim could read in peace.
Rubin is more organized than I would ever be with her personal “commandments” (which range from “Be Gretchen” to “always carry a sweater” to “act how you want to feel”) and resolutions charts, but I already have gleaned a few tips from the book. For example, her “one minute” rule would greatly improve the quality of life around our house. I’m very clean (hate dirt) but I am not neat (I leave things strewn about, cabinet doors open, toilet paper off the roll, etc.). The one-minute rule suggests that if something takes less than a minute to do — do it! (“I could have told you this!” I hear Tim saying…) I’ve been trying to implement it. Were I Rubin herself, I’d mark off on my chart every night whether I have done so. Not sure if I’m there yet, but at least I have this intention in the back of my head.
She also thoroughly examines the importance of sleep — the lack of which makes us less inclined to do things that make us happy (play with our kids, read a good book, exercise). Duh, we all know this, but, on top of the usual summaries of studies on the importance of sleep, Rubin’s lighthearted account of how sleeping more improved other areas of her life was inspiring. While we’re often aware of good ideas in the abstract, seeing them applied can be hugely motivating. As a result, I’ve tried to get to bed earlier (knowing that, if I’m shooting to be in bed by 9:30, I really have to start the process at 8:30) and have tried to limit my reading in bed to 15-20 minutes. Has it worked? Well, two out of three nights I have committed to doing so it has — but last night I got entangled with Twitter and the Internet and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (more on that book when I finish it — wow!) — and then it was 11 p.m. And I feel like crap today, and as a result have eaten like crap and am totally unmotivated to exercise — so there you go.
Of course, Rubin is a full-time writer who works out of a home office and has the flexibility to put her resolutions into action. One of her specific resolutions, for example, is to create a house full of memories for her family, which includes making homemade books with her kids. I had to fight to not get overwhelmed by this chapter (how would I ever find the time to make homemade books, assuming I like crafts — which I do not – in the first place?!). I already feel slightly guilty that I am horrible about documenting our family life, and Tim and I often talk about how we really should have baby books and albums. But neither of us has the time — or, more aptly, the inclination — to do so (because if we were so inclined, we’d find the time, right?). Thinking about it only makes me anxious. So, if I’m going to follow the advice in the book, I have to remember to “Be Kathryn” — I hate crafts, and I enough relatives take photos, etc., of Little Buggy that should she decide some day that she wants a photo album I could figure out a way to get it done. Still, I had to remind myself several times while reading the book that there is no way that a person not writing this particular book for a living can actually do all of these things. Instead, the self-improvement junkie in me has to remember that Rubin’s actions are suggestions, inspiration, and context.
This is not, I should note again, a self-improvement or self-help book. It really is quite personal, but I think even Rubin’s reading lists would be interesting to anyone (not just overachieving lawyer types!) — she cites everyone from St. Therese of Lisieux to Samuel Johnson to Elizabeth Gilbert. In short, yes, I’m totally impressed by Gretchen Rubin’s resume, but more impressed that she used her obvious intellect and attention to detail to create a book that goes beyond what seems to be a rash of “I spent a year [cooking Julia Child] [living by the Bible] [fill in the blank]” books and, instead, examines the philosophical roots of happiness and then applies them truthfully, rigorously, and critically to her own life.
Tags: day care crisis, Happiness Project
My New Year has gotten off to an inauspicious start, at least work-life-balance-wise – my nanny did not return (still has not returned) from her vacation, without even a phone call. I’m pretty sure I know what happened: she was supposed to return Sunday night, via Miami, but all the flights were cancelled due to snow and a terminal evacuation in Newark. Her phone goes straight to voicemail, and her mailbox is full. I’m sure she is beside herself at not being able to contact me — she’s probably still stuck in Miami. Still, I’m worried. And am trying to be more worried than annoyed.
By 8 a.m. yesterday it was clear she wasn’t going to show up. Backup daycare at work was full. My mother-in-law graciously agreed to watch Little Buggy at her house (20 minutes away) from 10-3, but that still left a good chunk of my work day uncovered. My solution was to let my office know I”d be working from home and throw some Magic Schoolbus DVDs in my iMac (for some reason, my 2.5 year old loves these movies. Maybe she’ll be a scientist like her aunt and uncle?) and let her watch as much as she wanted. Of course, I felt super guilty about this, but a friend at work, whom I had emailed earlier in the day to vent, told me: “This is one of those days where so-called ‘good parenting’ practices meet reality.”
My work got done, and I tried, thanks to my devouring of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, The Happiness Project (about which I’ll write more when my day care crisis is over!), to act how I want to feel. I wanted to feel calm about this unplanned development and happy that I didn’t have to put on real clothes (any day that a woman who is 36 weeks pregnant can wear sweatpants is a blessing!) or go into the office in day-after-holiday-vacation traffic. And, you know what? It worked. Buggy and I had a leisurely breakfast, fun car rides to and from Grandma’s singing Christmas carols (still her favorites — she has no concept that Christmastime has come and gone!), and cooked dinner together. Sometimes you have to throw expectations completely out the window in favor of reality, and the trick to happiness, I suppose, is making the best of that reality.