Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Time To Fight

I want to yell.  I want to scream.  I am so very angry.  This just isn't fair.  Instead, I sit here calmly, waiting for the next chapter of my life, this drama, my career to unfold. 
I knowingly chose to return to work part-time.  I was and am fully aware of how part-time attorneys are viewed in my office: we are less than others, we are not committed to the work, we are no longer team-players.  I know the attitude.  I know the views.  But those attitudes, those views?  They are wrong.  My commitment does not wane because my desk is now adorned with pictures of a beautiful son, and I choose to spend Fridays at home with him.  My commitment and willingness to work is not less because it is easier to breastfeed an actual living, breathing baby than to hook myself up to a machine. 
But because I became pregnant, took the maternity leave offered and am now utilizing the Firm's part-time policy, I am less of an attorney.
The liason from the home office called me yesterday.  She had already spoken to the Partner in my office.  She spoke with trepedation in her voice.  She asked whether I was ready to return to the office on the fourth day, perhaps I was ready to come back full-time?  No, I am not.  According to the partner, my return on the fourth day was not up for discussion, but it was "fine" for me to stay part-time for a little longer.  His statement, his attitude, his belief is not in accord with Firm policy.  He will not follow Firm policy.  According to him, I already "agreed" to return.  No.  I did not.  I will not. 
And now I am faced with this:  Do I fight?  Do I try and stand up?  Do I say:  "The Firm has a policy.  The policy is designed to help attract and retain women and mothers.  You will follow the policy."  Do I yell: "I am not less because I am a mother.  I am not less because I 'only' work 40 hours per week."  
I know that if I stand, if I fight, I am burning bridges. 
And that pisses me off.  I should not have to fight for what the Firm has already agreed to, what the Firm acknowledges is good policy.  I should not have to defend that women are not less because we are mothers. 
I refuse to stand on the sidelines any longer.  I refuse to allow the powers-that-be in my office to continue to hold their antiquated views over every woman's head, an ever-present and silent threat to our careers.
Maybe I will burn this bridge.  I do not want to.  I want to be treated fairly.  I want to be judged by the quality of my work and not my anatomy. 
I will fight.  It is time for me to move on anyway.  And if I do not fight, who will?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thing 2

Before the Monster (our 100 pound, year old puppy) and the little man, Thing 1 and Thing 2 dominated our lives. Thing 1's story is for another day, but for the moment know that she was an english bulldog, born in 2001 and was one hundred percent J's dog. Thing 1 was a sweetheart who lived on the softest piece of furniture she could find.

About half-way through law school, I decided I wanted a dog of my own.  A dog that would love me like Thing 1 loved J.  The fall of my third year of law school, I began the search for Thing 2. I debated breeds, researched breeders, called breeders and owners. Around Thanksgiving, I found the breeder.  She was located twelve hours away, had glowing references and health clearances.  I was a poor law student, so I picked up a job to pay for the puppy and related expenses.

Thing 2 was born in January.  For eight weeks, I lived for the pictures of Thing 2 that we received from the breeder.  I watched him grow from a tiny little puppy into an adorable fluff-ball.   Finally, the week arrived to pick-up Thing 2. I planned all week.  I did our final puppy shopping: adorable toys, a puppy dog bed (that lasted all of a day), puppy shampoo and rug shampoo.  I was ready.

J and I got up at three in the morning to make the twelve hour drive to the breeder's house.  I remember sitting in the breeder's kitchen, waiting for the puppy -- my puppy -- to be brought from the down stairs puppy den.  I saw the door open, and a twelve pound ball of fluff attacked my face with a flurry of kisses.  Finally, Thing 2 was mine, and after two seconds, I was completely wrapped around his paw.  Then, Thing 2 got the hiccups and settled into my lap as we received instructions on his care.

Thing 2 slept in my lap the entire ride home (and then refused to sleep when we finally got home).   I remember looking down at him and being deliriously happy with my new puppy. That semester, I rigged my schedule to be home more. I would race home to spend time with Thing 2.  I would walk him through our neighborhood as he pranced and fawned at the attention from everyone.  He would get scared easily as a puppy and would race to me for comfort.

Thing 2
That summer, I studied for the bar cramped into a small room in our new apartment. Thing 2 stayed by my side.  He would cuddle at my feet while I studied, waking only at lunchtime with  high-pitched yawn.  In those final few weeks before the bar, when I was stressed beyond belief, Thing 2 was the only living thing I could stand.  He didn't seem to mind me repeating over and over various rules of evidence or the elements of crimes.  After the bar,  he was delirously happy when I spent three days sleeping in bed with him beside me.

After I started at the firm, he would wait up for me on nights that I had to work late. When I walked through the door, he would snort at me, walk upstairs and then ignore me. The next morning he would be sitting in front of me, just waiting for me to wake up.   I had been forgiven.

Thing 2 loved to sleep next to me on the bed. He loved to go to my family house in the country and tear around the yard and then collapse in a heap. He was the typical younger brother to Thing 1. He would wait for her to fall asleep and then pounce or sit on her head, depending on his mood. When I would get sick, he never left my side. Even though he easily weighed 105, he thought he was a lap dog and would huff down on my lap whenever I sat on the ground.

When I finally became pregnant last summer, he was gentle and more protective. He loved me like Thing 1 loved J, and I loved him right back.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Set-Up: An Update

Some assignments ask that you make 2 + 2 = 4 in three hours when you really need five or six hours.  I get those assignments.  We're biglaw attorneys and cranking out a high quality work product quickly is part of the job.  I may get flustered and a bit stressed, but I can do it and have done it many, many times.  

Some assignments ask that you make 2 + 2 = 9.  (This can also be the "guess what I'm thinking game.")  Those beasts are trickier and always land you in hot water one way or another.  This non-billable research project is of that variety.  I can't answer the question.  I've tried.  I've run it by other associates.  They agree.  I've spent hours upon hours on the question.  I am no where.  I have run back to the partner with results, only to be told they are insufficient.  Try harder.  So I do.  I try harder.  I spend more time, more energy, more resources.  I show my results, yet again.   

Last night, I received an email from the partner:  insufficient.  I clearly had not spent the time or energy.  I mentioned that I had billable work that was going undone.  It didn't matter.  I needed to try harder.   And now, I cannot help but believe that this project truly is a set-up.  A set-up for failure right in time for review season.   

Now, I anticipate the conversation at my review:  "The project did not go well.  I slacked off.  I did not use my resources well.  I am insufficient."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Inner-Jerk

The stars aligned this morning, and I managed to make it down town thirty minutes before I had to be in the office.  Thirty minutes to myself that I did not anticipate or plan.  It was blissful.  Since I had the time, I decided to grab a cup of expensive coffee.  The line was short and I was soon waiting for my lovely coffee.  

The barista making the coffee was in her grove: checking the cups, steaming milk and moving the cups along.  The song playing in the store changed and she started singing.  She appeared happy.  I found it endearing.  And then something in my head snapped: she was happy at her job.  I am not.  She was genuinely enjoying what she was doing at that moment.  What was endearing became annoying.  I became grumpy, took my coffee and trudged into the office.  

A few years ago, a guy left our office for a clerkship.  A month before he left, he began transitioning one of his cases to me.  One day, he came into my office, closed the door and said:  "I'm not sure what it is about this place, but if you stay for any length of time, it turns you into an a$$hole."  

He was right.  Something about the environment brings out the jerk in people.  The people who survive in our office, who last more than a year, we all become a bit of a jerk.  I've written about snapping at the delivery guy.  I have seen a senior associate be condescending to a waitress, just because he could.  I have seen support staff scream at junior associates over truly mundane matters because that member of the support staff was herself just torn up and down.  Maybe it is self-defense.  Whatever it is, I am not a fan.  I'm not a fan of it in others, and I hate when I see my own inner-jerk come out.  But most of all, I do not want my son to see that part of me.  I want that part of me to go away for good.  There is a time and a place to be a jerk, to bring out one's inner b, but it should not be a routine way of dealing with others, with life.  And it most definately should not be evoked simply by seeing others be happy in their jobs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Set-Up

My biglaw firm has a formal policy that allows women to return from maternity leave on a part-time schedule. Because I do not want to disclose which biglaw firm I work for, I do not want to give too many details about the policy. Suffice it to say that I am supposed to be able to set my own schedule for a set period of time and I am not supposed to be penalized, for advancement purposes, by using the policy. Right.

A month before I returned from my maternity leave, I sent an e-mail to the leader of my practice department. In line with the policy, I requested to return to work part-time. I didn't come up with my proposed schedule out of thin air. It is actually one of the suggested schedules in our attorney manual.

In response to my proposal, I received an email saying that we needed to discuss "this." The partner was NOT receptive. at. all. My favorite part of the conversation eWas when he said that the firm was "trying to be family friendly, but he was concerned that I was setting a bad precedent." Whuh?! He concluded the conversation with the not-so-subtle threat that if I returned part-time, I would be relegated to document review and research projects (I am a mid-level, almost senior associate).

After the call, I wish I could say that I was surprised, that I was blind-sided by his demeanor and the way he was handling the issue. I was not surprised. I was angry and pissed as hell, but not surprised. I talked with other associated who had returned from maternity leave part time, and they had received the same reception.

For the last few months, I have not heard a word from the partner, until yesterday. He called. He asked if I had time. I told him what I was working on. His response: so you're not that busy. He had a project. A non-billable research project.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Still Hungry

Being pregnant, an attorney (especially at biglaw) and working is tough.  So is being a mom, an attorney and someone else's source of food.  And, its tough in ways that no one warns you about:

I'm hungry.  All. The. Time.  We have a catered lunch every day at my office (sounds great until you realize that the reason lunch is catered is so that you don't leave the office. ever.).  Everyone thinks its cute when a pregnant lady brings two heaping plates full of food to her desk.  And then goes back for more.  But its not so cute when you aren't pregnant any more.  When you return to work, there are no longer any visible signs that your body is STILL sustaining the life of another.  But you are.  As a result, you are HUNGRY and you eat the same amount you did in your last trimester.  Everyone who thought it was cute before, now looks at you with a mixture of pity and confusion.  Pity, because they think that you forgot that you are no longer pregnant and shouldn't be eating that much.  And confusion because somehow, you are not continuing to gain weight like you did in your last trimester.  And keep in mind that this is not a hunger beast that can be ignored.  The beast demands to be fed.  NOW.  Which is why I have left over fudge in my desk that I keep eating.

The Apparatus.  Breastfeeding the little man has been an amazing experience, and I am so glad that I stuck to it during the early, very tough moments.  I don't have the same affinity for the boob machine.  It makes weird noises.  When combined with a day's worth of milk, its heavy.  It is seriously expensive.  It has so many parts, all of which must be cleaned (I slack and use the cleaning wipes, but I'm kind of convinced I'm eventually going to give the plague to LM because I don't clean everything properly).  This leads to my least favorite part of pumping: the schlepping.  The pump accompanies me on the T.  The pump gets carried around the office.  The pump accompanies me on any business trips.  Did I mention that its heavy?

I take it from my office to the mother's room.  And then I have to figure out how to clean the parts that I should have cleaned at home the night before, but was too tired to even care about at that point.  The kitchen?  Dudes could ask questions about all the parts.  I know I should be proud of nursing and answer with conviction if they ask, but in reality?  I would rather avoid the whole topic with the dudes in my office.  Expectant momma?  I will share all I can, in a heartbeat.  So this leads me to dodging around the office with my pump parts, trying to find warm soapy water.  After two months of this routine, I already hate the thing. Oh, and did I mention that the apparatus bites?  Literally, the thing bites me.  It hurts.  I want to yell at it, but I'm already concerned about the weird noises coming out of the mother's room.     

The Awkwardness.  Every three hours, I stop what I am doing, get up from my desk and trudge to the mother's room.  If its the first or last pump of the day, I need to bring my purse with me to transport the apparatus.  If I should skip or delay the mandated break?  Leaking, which is even more awkward that trying to excuse yourself from a meeting or even casual conversation to go pump.  

If you tell a dude that you have to go pump, in my experience you get one of two reactions.  One, the dude turns a bit white, mubbles for a sec, and then pretends that you are a grenade about to go off and they must get out of the room.  Two, the dude looks at you intrigued and asks weird questions:  why did you decide to breastfeed?  how does it feel?  I asked J about this.  He said that upon mentioning breastfeeding, a guy immediately imagines your boobs, knows that you are going to have your boobs out in the office, feels a bit excited and then weird, because its breastfeeding, so then tries to pretend it didn't happen and leave the room.  Immediately.  Hence, reaction one.  Reaction two is a dude who may honestly be intrigued but doesn't know any better than to shut up.  For the record, two was a partner in my office to another mom.  That same partner is the same one who exercises in all spandex at the company gym.  He's just weird.  Anyway, there is always one more potential piece of awkward out there:  getting caught in the act.  While I have been tempted to pump in my office so that I could keep working, the idea of a dude knocking and walking in on me hooked up to the apparatus is enough motivation for me to get out of my seat and trudge to the mother's room.
Breastfeeding is wonderful, but tough.  Pumping, oh pumping.  Rewarding but even tougher.  I have made it to eight months.  I can make it four more.