I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be happy to see the back end of this week. Holy lord, what a fakakta mess this world is sometimes. I know that adversity and horror and sadness and the unexplained senselessness of it all has always been with us and most likely things aren’t “worse” than they have other been, but the 24/7 news cycle makes it worse…but still, it can really just take the goddamned wind out of you. I will be more philosophical soon, I hope, but right now I just want a time machine. And since that isn’t likely to present itself in my kitchen at this hour, I want to close this chapter forever. ONWARDS.

I had my first couple of “real work” days this week, as I’ve otherwise been totally doing nothing at the office. It’s kind of appalling. For those of you who don’t “get” law firms, and in particular law firms like the one I’m at, they are dreadfully managed, if they are managed at all. The partners bring in work from clients and push it down on associates, who they purportedly supervise and train. In reality, you’re often lucky to get five minutes of a parter’s time when you have a burning, serious, this-could-get-us-sued-if-we-fuck-it-up question. At the firm I was at in NYC, they had an assigning partner, and until I left that firm I never knew what a smart, sensible thing it was. The assigning partner was the guy or woman to whom all partners made their requests for associate assistance. A new file would come in, the partner who got the file would call the assigning partner, and the assigning partner would be the one to look at every associate’s file load and dockets and decide who was in a good position to take on new work. If the partner with the file tried to sneakily go off and staff his or her file by contacting an associate directly, and the assigning partner got wind of it, the staffing decision would be unwound. They took this seriously. It sounds a bit weird and unnecessarily formal, possibly, but at least this way you had a fair chance of getting new files as they came in and there wouldn’t be too many situations where some associates were billing 80 hours a week while others were billing 10. 

At my “new” firm, there is no such structure. Partners are free to contact whichever associate they like to assign work. Partners like it this way, I’m sure, and it would actually not be the worst thing ever if you actually articled at that firm and went on to work there as an associate. That way, you’d naturally be exposed to everyone at the firm from day #1 – everyone always wants articling students and they are always busy, because their hourly rate is relatively cheap and clients don’t want to pay for more senior, experienced associates if they don’t want to. That way you build up your pipeline of work and have your usual “go to people” when things aren’t busy.

This is a dreadful system if you are a lateral from another firm, especially if you came over mid-career (as I did) and from another jurisdiction (as I did). It is far, far more difficult to “sell” a mid-level associate to partners and clients. My hourly rate is almost $600…no lie. It is madness, and FWIW not all that much less than I was being billed out at in NYC! The partners, most of whom don’t know me, stick to the mid-level associates that they do know, and if they have to reach out to the unknown pool of people, they tend to pick more junior people than me for cost reasons.

This is bad for me for a number of reasons. Yes, I get paid a generous salary no matter how many hours I work, but I do have a target of 1600-1800 hours a year. That breaks down to 150 hours a month that I’m supposed to bill – not work, but bill (so if I’m sitting around at the office waiting for someone to give me something to do…that doesn’t count). I haven’t come close to that number, ever. And it isn’t my fault. I never turn down work. I’m always available if necessary. I want to do well and show everyone how awesome I am to work with, and the people who do work with me have lovely things to say. But it isn’t enough. If I don’t bill, they can’t afford me. End of story.

It’s a weird world, private practice – and it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. And I have no answers. Nothing positive to say to people joining the profession, that’s for sure – I can’t even give myself effective pep talks anymore! It’s discouraging but in a way I almost feel glad that the decision is almost being made for me, you know? Life can be infinitely more complicated when you have all kinds of decisions to make! But knowing as I do now that private practice doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for me, I find it easier to pull away and keep working on my Plan B.

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Today was my first day back at work after my mat leave with Hil. Maybe it hasn’t quite hit me yet, but I am not anywhere near as devastated as people seem to expect me to be? It’s all – “How do you feel about going back?” How do I feel? Well…I’m a bit terrified about getting put on some crazytown trial or certification motion or something, but I’ve always felt that way. Way before kids and mat leaves were on the horizon! In fact, back then having to unexpected work late into the night or on a weekend or vacation felt more like a personal affront or irritation. Like, ugh! I was going to have FUN and now work is bullshit! Now, I’m more like, ugh, now who is going to do the laundry/make the dinner/fix the lunches/get the kids!? My job prevents me from doing other work, is all.

But really, how do I feel? Well, right now it’s kind of the best gig in the world, because it’s not in my house, I have an excuse to do my hair and make up, I drink hot coffee in silence, and I read articles written by smart people and actually can comprehend a sentence or two out of them. It’s basically all a novelty now, and it’s great. It’s definitely not a thing of dread or horror. Mat leave is great in its own way, but it also has many moments of being dull and depressing in all its sameness and rote work. Just like any work, I suppose. That’s why it’s called “work” and not “an 8+ hour extravaganza of happiness and fulfillment served up five times a week for the rest of your life.”

I know I’m not alone in feeling like I need something other than just being around my kids all day and keeping house to feel occupied and fulfilled, but it still feels kind of strange to be open about it. Like showing your actual enthusiasm for work is outing yourself as a freak who wouldn’t rather be caring for her children…and yes, obviously, we should all be serene and confident in our choices and let all the commentary roll off our backs and whatever, but truthfully, no one is impervious to feeling sensitive about their parenting choices from time to time. Of course I’ll miss my kids. Of course I’ll wonder if they are being well cared for (they are) and whether they miss me (they do, within reason) and whether it wouldn’t be better if they had me or J at home all the time, every day, forever and ever (I am pretty certain that the answer is a firm no to that one).

But all these things – the doubts, the questions, the stress, the craziness of trying to make it work every day, even when your heart isn’t really in it and you’re wondering, always wondering, is this what we should be doing? – are still not a reason to stop working altogether, and I can’t help but feel like that’s kind of the implicit message we women keep getting. Like even in well-meaning debates about retaining women in the workforce and flex time and part time and off ramps and all the rest. It almost plants the seed of stepping back when really, should that be a women’s issue or even a discussion for ambitious women? Do men really contend with the same? I’d argue no. Sheryl Sandberg discusses this in her book – those of you who have read it will remember the analogy to a man and woman running the same race. When the race gets tough, the man hears messages of encouragement – “You can do this!” “Almost there!” “So close!” – whereas the woman is essentially given permission to stop. “You don’t really have to do this!” “You can stop!” “This isn’t that important, it’s just a race!”

Have you ever heard of a man being counseled to just give up when things at work get tough? Do they get the condescending lectures about how the kids are just soooo important and little right now? A Facebook friend today put up a joke in her status about how she was going to quit her job to be a stay at home mom. Most of us “got” that it was a joke right off the bat, but there were a number of “That’s so wonderful! Good for you! The kids are only ever little once!” type of responses as well. On another Facebook post from a few weeks ago, a different friend mentioned it was her first day back from maternity leave. She wasn’t mopey or depressed-sounding or anything, just sharing her news of the day. Most people treated it as such and wished her a great day and transition, that kind of thing. And then someone came along with their big sad face emoticon and their comment that “Sorry to hear that! I think we had it right back when the mom stayed home with the kids! May be old fashioned but that’s what I believe.” I had some itchy fingers there, let me tell you, but obviously sat on them. Like, eff you. First of all, asshat, plenty of women do still stay home, as do men, so it’s not like it’s some relic of the past or entirely impossible for the people who want to do it. Why even go there, you know? 

And bright and smart and lively and all that good stuff, and I’m sure I was exactly, exactly the same at 4. But my god. I would give a substantial amount of money for someone to come over and talk to her all day long because that’s what she wants. All. Day. Long.

If I get up from the table while we’re playing, for seriously a nanosecond: “Mommy, you’re supposed to be playing with us.”

If I try to sneak off to the bathroom, she’ll follow. No pause in the chatter.

If am trying to change a diaper, same. No break in volume or speed or consistency.

If I put on a video for a bit of a break (FOR ME), she narrates the whole thing with her thoughts and observations.

I’ll be in the kitchen and she’ll chase me around. “I want to watch the Lorax too. Mummy when will our hummus and crackers be ready. It’s taking a really long time. You know my favourite part of the Lorax? You don’t know? It’s the part where that woman’s dress changed colour and she was dancing. That was my favourite part. I also like that song at the end of Tangled, the one that goes doo doo doo, doo doo. Doo doo.”

Are there professional child talkers out there? Wait. Those would be therapists, wouldn’t they?

I’ve been sort of kind of joking about how it’s the toddler sending me back to work. God – I suppose he isn’t even a toddler anymore, being closer to 3 than 2. But lord love a duck, I’ve been pushed to the brink of insanity and worse over the last month or so as he’s been just appalling to deal with. 

Fortunately for him, he sometimes crosses over feral jackass to being surprisingly charming and funny. You need some backstory for this one. Recently, he’s started hitting, and mostly just Ava. It’s just f-cking super. If anyone ever tells you to have your kids close together because there own’t be any jealousy issues, immediately slap them in the face for me. Maybe this isn’t jealousy but just bitter hated, but whatever it is, the fightingohmygod. Awful. Ava, of course, has perfect the art of the tattletale, even having a particular tone and pitch to her laments: “Cole hit meeeee. Cole hit me agaaaain.” We would intervene of course, but also snicker at this, and sometimes imitate. What?

Then Cole started repeating it. “Cole hit meeee.” Which was funny enough, but today I figured out that he has interpreted this statement to the appropriate opening for any complaint of any nature where he expects your intervention and assistance. For example:

“Cole hit me dropped my peeeeas.”
“Cole hit me I’m stuck.”
“Cole hit me [inaudible whimper whimper].”

So awesome. Poor chicken! He’s met with grief the last two weekends, blood included. The first time, I came upon him in the living room with red liquid spread all over the floor. He’s cheerfully yelling, “Is red paint! Paint! Is red paint!” And I’m like, moronically thinking, we have red paint in the living room? OH SHIT! He was bleeding from the foot, totally obliviously.

I’m back at work April 1. I know, crazy, right? There hadn’t been much thought of that but as I sort of thought it might go down, I kind of suddenly decided it was time to move it along. I’m so lucky that the spousal unit is taking parental leave for a few months. Yes – that exists!

Not only does this shock non-Canadians, but most Canadians don’t know that both parents have the right to parental leave. Ontarians do anyway – check the Employment Standards Act! You can only access the statutory payments for a total of 52 weeks but if you don’t mind taking unpaid time off, you have the benefit of job protection for longer than a year. And this is amazing because it can be a total bitch finding childcare for even a one year old. Many centres don’t have space for “infants” and instead begin their programs at 18 months. I would have been in a total jam for childcare, so we put our heads together and decided that we’d take the risk of J becoming an instant persona non grata at the office and taking the leave that he’s entitled to. Fab, right? I think it will really take men in senior level positions sticking their necks out like this for it to become normal and accepted practice.

And no, this isn’t some kind of new insight. But it’s worth repeating to myself as I look over yet another year of hardly any blog updates.

I always feel like I need something to share before I write.

Mistake. Don’t wait until you feel you have something to share before you share it. As you write it, it may feel more rewarding or somehow comforting to feel like you have some kind of insight or cohesive explaining theory of the things going on around you – some kind of beginning (observation), middle (exposition) and end (meaningful conclusion) that trick you into believing you have some kind of control over the random insanity that is your life.

But the funny thing is that later-you, who is really the only person reading this blog, won’t come back and think, wow, profound insight. She’ll just find you mildly ridiculous and eagerly go on to the important stuff, the details of your life that you slowed down to think about and memorialize. Like how Ava (4) is going through an amusing and cringe-inducing phase of dressing as a bag lady/Johnny Depp every morning – complete with thin, ugly summer dress, homemade bead belt, felt hat, wild hair and stockings – because it makes her look like a “beeyoooooteful princess.” How Cole (2.5) is enjoying contradicting anything coming out of my mouth, which was funny the first billion or so times – “No milk! The milk is all done! No Thomas! The Thomas is all done! No all done! The all done is all done!” How Hilary is firmly entrenched in a three hour waking cycle overnight but preserves herself from being written out of the family will by perpetually looking at me like I’m some celebrity. Seriously, is there anything more heart warming than a baby who follows you around the room with stars in her eyes? Darling girl.

Yesterday I heard of a co-worker who had a baby after me being back at the office. For the first time I felt really legitimately privileged to have this time at home, not because it always feels like a privilege, but because it’s a gift of time at least. I can hold them close just a bit longer and sort all the rest out later.

Seriously, there is nothing to see here if you think I’m going to be giving out advice or encouragement about having three kids. Hah! Catch me. I’m even afraid to answer when people ask how it is, having three kids. I still feel like a total fraud at it, anyway; with Prima and Secundus happily stashed away at daycare five days a week, I can hardly give a realistic account of what it is really like for many women who are home all day, every day, with small children.

You know – if anything, I’m living the dream. I have the “work” of one baby during the day, coupled with the lackadaisical attitude of a seasoned mom. No more will I spend my days in interminable power struggles with a baby who won’t nap. She’ll just come along for the ride as long as possible and if napping occurs – super. (And note: she actually is taking a nap right now. By herself. In her bassinet. She only does that maybe once a day but it is enough time to usually sit down for a minute and do the kinds of chores that don’t really lend themselves to being tackled with a baby on your hip.)

I did have a flashing moment of clarity today on the having three kids phenomenon though, one that I thought was perhaps worth sharing. It’s my profound observation that…everything keeps on going. Seriously. Could you imagine? Your life is changed forever-ever and you don’t even have a minute to slow it all down and take it in, because all the other parts keep on moving.

It all hit home hard today when I came downstairs in the morning and discovered the kids gone to daycare…with Pink Minnie lying abandoned on the floor. I literally stopped in my tracks. Pink Minnie cannot be at home when Prima is at daycare. Oh no. This is bad. She has never slept without Pink Minnie, save the horrible day that will live on in infamy when we lost the original during a cross-border trip. (She was hastily replaced by substitute Pink Minnies of different sizes that she already had in her room, and ultimately replaced by one that was pretty much identical to the original…desperate times.) I almost ran to my phone and messaged my husband – “DID YOU FORGET SOMETHING TODAY?” (The subtext being “dumbass,” obviously. Would have been redundant to actually say it.)

No, he wrote back, immediately knowing what I meant. She didn’t want to take Pink Minnie today. She wanted a different stuffed toy.

A different…toy? What sick joke is this? But it is only too true. Apparently the time has come for her to throw away childish things, thankfully only to replace them with other childish things, but seriously. She’s 3.5. I didn’t know she was going to change. Or at least, maybe I did, but I didn’t think it would be so…obvious. I thought this stuff was supposed to sneak up on you, so that you could ignore it, only to have it hit you like a ton of bricks at some later date when you flip through albums, skimming over years in an instant. And then I remembered that Josh mentioned Secondus had flung Pink Lovey out of his crib the other night – another epic event. I half don’t believe this actually happened. My husband is getting old and I’m sure there’s some vision loss happening there, because what the f—? Secondus can’t sleep without Pink Lovey! He has, however, come to think of it, been changing a lot too…all of a sudden the boy who couldn’t be bothered to look at us when we called his name (triggering fears of autism on the part of a pediatrician!) is chatting up a storm. He’s been asking for “help please” and “water please.”

So there you have it. Having three kids has taught me nothing so far, other than the fact that when my attention is otherwise occupied, my children are going to grow up and before I know it they will be translating Virgil and preparing college applications at the kitchen table. In other words, there is no time to think about further profundities.