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Beloved and I took the girls on vacation this past week, which was school vacation week here in New England.

Originally, we were going to go to Spain – primarily Barcelona – but then the Economic Downturn hit the law firms, and our previously-thought-to-be-predictable bonuses were scaled back.  Fortunately, mine was not scaled back by much – we were still able to take care of most of our NEEDS.  It was scaled back enough, however, to make me feel that Spain was imprudent.

So we went to D.C.

We had wanted to take them for a long time, but many things were in place to make this year perfect:  Well, of course, Obama.  Also, E is doing key parts of American History in 7th grade this year.

J seemed considerably less excited leading up to the trip.  We couldn’t get her engaged in the travel books to say what she wanted to do – she kept saying ‘mm, yeah, that’ll be fine.”  So we were a little worried on that front.

We were also a little worried because this was (oddly) our first real “tourist” vacation with the girls.  We’ve gone on weekend trips, and we’ve gone to Disneyland.  But otherwise, the heavy travel that Beloved and I have done has been while they’re with the Ex.

Well, it was a resounding success.

We had a blast.  Oh, pictures, you say? I’ll give you pictures.

Washington Monument @ sunset, after a storm

Washington Monument @ sunset, after a storm

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

Pandas!

Pandas!

White House

White House

And, um, Escalators.

And, um, Escalators.

We did pretty darned close to everything while there (6 days).  It’s easier to list what we did NOT do:  The Jefferson Memorial; the Aquarium; Georgetown.  We did (I think) every Smithsonian museum that was open, the major monuments, the White House Garden Tour (see Michelle, Malia & Sasha’s veggie garden):

White House Veggie Garden

White House Veggie Garden

We also were able to watch the Senate in session, which was high up on E’s list.  It was both our most frustrating and most rewarding experience.  We’d gone all over D.C. — the White House, the museums, the Supreme Court building — and been through many security systems.  To all of these locations, we’d brought our metal (beautiful) water bottles, and in all of these locations, it was okay.  Actually, we thought it wouldn’t be okay at the White House, and so we left our bags in the hotel (2 blocks away), but others had brought theirs and it was okay.

But the Capitol Building was different.  We waited in line for a long time in the morning to get into the building.  When we finally got to security, one of the very official military-esque security guards barked at J to go outside and dump her water and said “have that guard out there check it before you come back in.”  We went outside and dumped them and asked the other barky military man to check them.  He laughed at me and said, “I just saw you dump it, it’s fine.”  So we went back in.  But then the barky military man who was looking at the x-rays told us we had to throw them away.  No bottles or cans in the building.

We were sad.  Beloved was even a little indignant, but I attempted to talk him out of it.  He and J ended up sitting outside the building with our precious (beautiful) water bottles while E and I went back in to see if we could figure out what was going on with the tickets I was told were on reserve for us.  Turns out the info I had was all screwy (thanks Kerry-staff), and what we really wanted (Senate Gallery Passes) had to be picked up at Kerry’s office – across the street.

We did follow through, and were very glad of it.  We were able to see the Senate in session (Beloved went to a photography exhibit elsewhere, with the water bottles) – although we missed the exciting debate over the “Truth Commission” – and the girls almost peed their pants when John McCain walked in to the chambers and engaged in the (unpopulated) debate.  We had fun seeing how many senators we could identify, loved watching the procedure of the vote (where the senators walk in, stand at the top of the steps and just wave at the woman doing the roll call  — she sees them, calls out their vote, and they turn around and walk back out).

The girls also had a lot more tolerance for museums than I thought they would.  J was a lot more into the art than I think she expected to be.  We stuck with modern art, for the most part, and the girls were happy.

We walked a lot, and packed our days full.  I am thrilled with how the girls held up, and think they’re definitely more than ready for a Europe trip.  Hopefully next year …

But in the meantime, we are definitely due for a BEACH vacation. One where we sit in a chair and read a book for 6 days straight.  I’m already choosing a rental in the Outer Banks for August.  Now I just have to see if I can swing another solid week off of work, especially since there’s an October trial looming ….

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E was a grouch tonight.  She didn’t really start off that way, but come dinner time, she was snapping at her sister and was the proud owner of a rather unattractive sneer.

after about the 15th eye roll, i asked her, “What is bothering you right now?”

Her response?

“I don’t know! [sorta snarky]  Nothing’s really wrong, but for some reason, everything is irritating me. [snark gone]  I don’t know why.”

I said, “wow, that was refreshingly honest.  Thanks.”

If she can maintain this transparency through her teenage years, I will survive.  I can talk to J instead when E is feeling that way.  I can eat my chili in silence.  I can respect the fact that she is a mass of roiling emotions and hormones and growing-up-ness, as long as she’s honest over rude.

After that interaction, she mellowed out, and we conversed normally for the rest of the meal.

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The Scene:  Harried working mom on her way home after a 12+ hour day, about an hour longer than she planned with.  The mom is wrought with guilt, feeling the pressure of months of a heavy work load.  She is concerned that her family is starting to get sick of it.  At the same time, said Mom is kinda tickled over her new iPhone, and is fussing with it in the backseat of the taxicab when she receives a text from her daughter:

E:  When are you coming home?

M:  I should be there by 7:30. Why?

E:  I just wanted to know.

M: Are you mad?

E:  No.

M:  Sorry that I’m running late.  It was a busy day.

E:  It’s okay.

M:  Are you sure?

E:  MOM!  I’m watching Heroes!  Stop texting me!

M:  So, here I am, feeling guilty that you’re missing me because I’m working too much, and in reality, you just want me to stay gone long enough for you to finish your television show?

E:  That about sums it up.  Now can you stop texting me?

Harumph.

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Beloved is in graduate school.  He attends a pretty cool low-residency program in Vermont specializing in children’s literature.  He’s doing really well, and is accomplishing VERY long-standing goals.  However, we (you may have noticed) do not live in Vermont.

Because it is low-residency, he only has to attend school twice a year, for 10 days.  January and July.

Last January, I was such a baby-lawyer, I could barely open my eyes.  I was a little busy, and it made me nervous when he was gone.  What if something comes up?  What if I get a new assignment?  But it was fine, and I think I left at 4:30 every day.

Last July – the girls were in the Middle of the Country with the Ex, and Beloved and I had already started our moving process.  There were no difficulties.

This January – total different picture.

I’m fully engaged in a case that is culminating this month in every way.  Discovery is closing, summary judgment is being filed, experts are being hired, court hearings are happening.  It’s insane.  INSANE.  And I’m heavily involved in every aspect of it.

I was already nervous – that getting out of work at a reasonable hour was going to be difficult.  Of all months, this is the one where deadlines happen.  I was nervous.

Then, ha ha!  What made me think I knew what nervous was?

It looks like I have the great honor of traveling to a very different part of the country to tend to one of the many aspects of the case that is my Life, even though it’s a bit beyond my seniority level.  It just so happens to be during Beloved’s absence (and over days that are (a) a national holiday, and (b) inauguration day.  Feh.)

At first, it looked like it was just one day, and it was a day that was a school holiday, so I knew that the kids would be fine with friends.  Then it ended up two days, and two long days – long enough that once you add in travel, it may affect 4 days.  Yikes.  Beloved’s only gone for 10 days — I’m having issues for HALF of them?  Unbelievable.

I was going to post about how my decision to make my community one of my many priorities with my time becomes oh-so-valuable in times of need.  I have friends that I can ask for a hand – friends who I’ve given a hand to in the past, and who know that I’m an active and engaged member of our community.

But now, it seems like my needs are too big, and instead, I’m turning to family.  I’ve begged my mother to (re)arrange her work schedule so she can come while I’m gone.

E is mad at me – she overheard me talking to a friend who is my back-up plan, and insists that I hadn’t told her the whole story about next week before telling the friend.  She is mad about the options I have considered for her while I’m gone.  Some friends are out of favor, and others are just plain old “annoying.”  Humorously, she thinks she should be left home alone.

It was hard not to laugh at that one.

All in all, the stress levels are high.  I keep thinking about how, in the past, I’ve looked forward to certain things – or dreaded them – and then they happen.  And before I know it, it’s behind me.

I keep telling myself … it will be January 22nd before I know it.  Beloved will be home, and this difficult time will have passed.  i have a lot of friends.  I am very lucky.  The girls are well-loved, and people are happy to be supportive.  We live in an awesome community, where people are nearby and hyper-willing.

It will be okay.

And I will miss my Beloved.

And I am sad that I should be more supportive, and excited with him about his exciting time, and instead, I’m kinda on the verge of tears over my own stress and fears.  He gives so much, and deserves better.

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[This post has been sitting in draft-form since mid-December … largely because of the things explained here – I was too busy to finish it.  I find myself coming back to continue the theme, but realized I hadn’t followed through on starting the theme.]

I’ve read on several blogs that us lawyer moms are too close-to-the-chest with the reality of our work-life balance issues.  I have always hesitated to say much in that regard because my job is important to me, and I’m not willing to have a bitch-fest in a public forum.  Not that I’ve had much to bitch about, really, for the most part.  I also don’t think “oh, things are going so well!  I come home at 5:30 every day!” sounds all that genuine.  Even though for almost my entire first year, it was true.

Now, however, I am willing to share my recent challenges.  I am challenged because the case I am working on is in the throes of a discovery deadline.  I am challenged because this is what I went to school to do.  It is no fault of my firm or the partners and senior associates that I am working with that the opposing party filed a motion to compel that required our response the Monday after Thanksgiving.  Everybody on my team (a small one) is working as hard as I am – likely harder.  The senior people are certainly juggling more cases than I am, and they are adding in a ton of travel on top of the things we’re doing together that have me running ragged.

The past few weeks (or so) have been hectic, chaotic, harried, stressful and generally insane.  I feel like the first year of easy-breezy first year associate life came to an abrupt end somewhere in October.  Or so.  Or maybe before – I’m not really sure, because it’s all a blur.  

A big reason for the all-out chaos, however, is because I refuse to put certain things aside.  E was in a play during this madness, and I prioritized that.  Not only attending the play (all 4 performances), but fulfilling my commitments and responsibilities  to pitch in to the parent-run event.  I was completely unwilling to let her – or my community – down.  I informed the partner and the associate that I work with early in the week, and assured them that I was willing to work late nights (at home, after the play) and early mornings in order to make up for the lost time.  

In retrospect, I could have worked during the play, late nights, and early mornings, and done a better job.  But I don’t for a second regret that I kept that time sacred.  

I have been exhausted.  Before the holidays, I had been functioning on very little sleep during the weeks.  I was setting my alarm for 5 and 6 a.m. on the weekends, and parking myself and my research at our dining room table for the entire day.  Or at least until the latest possible moment before stopping to cook dinner for dinner guests, or to dress for a holiday party.  

During the holidays, despite making very early announcements that I planned to take the week of Christmas off (because my sister was coming to town), I ended up working almost every day that wasn’t a real “holiday.”  The stress levels were high, and there was a lot going on.  

So I guess now I know what it really means to be a lawyer.  To juggle at a frantic pace, to see 7:30 or 8 p.m. as a perfectly reasonable dinner time for a family of four …  and a couple of times, to miss dinner time (as many times in the past month or two as I had in the entire last year).  And now, to top it all off, travel is starting to creep in as a possibility on a regular basis.  

It’s been tough.  But I knew that going in, and I enjoy having work that keeps me mentally engaged.  I also am more than aware of the fact that layoffs in law firms are becoming almost routine, and I’m grateful to have this job.  I do not think it’s irrational to work my ass off right now in exchange for a feeling of security and stability.  I hold onto the reality of peaks and valleys.  Once we hit our deadline on January 30th, I may find myself twiddling my thumbs.*

And, as always, I can’t really talk about my comfort level with the situation without talking about Beloved, and his daily presence.  The girls are not alone – they are not knocking around an empty house.  If that were the case, I would be much less comfortable.  But instead, they have help with their homework, they are helping him and learning to cook, they are working on projects.  

Anyway.  These are my balance struggles.  Which I should likely keep dumping onto this forum, rather than whining to everybody in my day-to-day life about how busy I am.

* which could also be read as: putting all my time and attention to the school play that I am PRODUCING.  What the heck?

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[not for the feint of heart]

Last night, E and I were sitting on the couch in our living room.  We had gone out to see Twilight with friends, then to Starbucks for a post-movie warm drink (so why the kids ended up with frappucinos is beyond me …)  We got home after 10.  I was so tahd.  I had a a tough day at work.

Because I am not all that traditional in my beliefs about “appropriate conversations with your kids,” I said, “E, I got my period today, and I have cramps.”  She said, “oh, poor mommy.”  And I said, “do you know when that means I will NEXT get my period?”  She did some quick math in her head, and said, “oh!  the 25th!”  And I said, “of what month?” and she said, “Decemb … oh, that sucks.”

Beloved and I have been enjoying an increased intake of green beans lately.  Law school is over, the stress of a first year at a new job is over, life is a little steady (even though he is in school …)

But we don’t like messy grean beans.

And so, on this Thanksgiving, we will be having some green beans in the traditional cream of mushroom soup with dried onions on top.  And that is it.

Sorry, Tranny-head, for the boring green beans post.  But I think it still counts.

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The beauty in my house.

1)  Beloved’s optimism.  He is not, by nature, an optimistic boy.  He was not, since March, an Obama fan, as I was.  But now – he’s just full of (sorry …) hope and excitement.  He loves what he’s seeing, and i love seeing him UNcynical about the way of the world.

2)  J’s sense of humor.  She is a very funny bird, and even after some tears and a minor catastrophe over a loose molar that she won’t wiggle and that may very well be impacted … she can crack jokes and make us all laugh until we want to pee our pants.

3)  E’s Mandarin skills.  How strange to have your offspring pick up a pen and create such very different language on a page.  I can’t believe how quickly she became so confident with her pen dashing across the page making … (to me) pictures.  She spent the later part of the evening writing out sentences for me in  Mandarin characters, phonetic Mandarin, direct English translation, and conversational English translations.  Wow!  (The best part may be how much she loves it, and that this activity was something SHE chose to do, and had fun with.

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