help

A while ago, someone asked me to write about how we keep balance in our lives, as two lawyers with four kids and three pets and two houses.  The answer is that we don’t.

The big one has just started her senior year. This means ACTs, college applications, a job, 5 AP classes, cheerleading, and a driver’s license. She needs our help with almost all of these things.

Boo has started her freshman year of high school.  She has a set of friends that are all a bit entitled, and a bit fast.  The kind of entitled and the kind of fast where they are allowed to traipse around New York City at 14 years old with no adult, after having each received $100 of spending money from their parents.  She recently burst into my office while I was working, without knocking, and said, “Can you give me some money? I’m in a hurry.”  I did not give her money.  She needs to learn to navigate these friendships without becoming an asshole. She needs our help with this.

Our older youngest boy is in 7th grade now. We don’t think his reading and writing are where they should be, and he is having a hard time making friends. He seems lonely, and he seems sad. He needs help figuring out why the reading and writing still haven’t clicked for him, and he needs to find his place in the social nightmare that is middle school. He needs our help in this hard time, or at least some extra attention and love.

Bumby is 2 and a half. He starts preschool tomorrow.  He alternates between shouting “I don’t like you mama! I can do it ALL BY MYSELF! GO AWAY!” and crying, clinging to my legs, and swearing his love for me, begging me not to leave him with Dada (his babysitter). His language is so developed that it is hard to remember that he has no logic and no impulse control. He is afraid of being dropped off at school; he is afraid of new friends. Sometimes he wakes in the night and calls for us, just to know we are there. He needs our help.

My wife’s job has been all-consuming for about the last year now, as she works in a highly regulated industry that has become incredibly unpredictable under Trump. She has been working late, and when she isn’t, she basically talks about nothing but her job.  She needs mental and emotional support, and doesn’t have much capacity for the day-to-day house chores.

I have been picking up lots of slack, and feeling under-appreciated. We have had two toilets break in the last week (Bumby was very excited to tell the plumber that the toilet was “TOTALLY FREAKING OUT”).  A friend has gifted us a piano that they no longer use, and I have to find someone who can move it to our house but also our credit cards are up to the max and we can’t afford to pay someone $500 to move a free piano right now, and yet I very much want to get Bumby lessons next year so we should take advantage of it (first world problems, I know). I got slammed at work on a deal for a European client, meaning lots of early morning conference calls, and my wife can’t help me cover the childcare because of her own demanding job.

For example: During a conference call last week, while I had no childcare and had plopped Bumby in front of PJ Masks on Youtube, the plumber left to go get parts and water started pouring through the ceiling from the broken toilet upstairs.  I put the phone on mute and mopped it up, and put a bowl under the leak. As soon as I sat down again, I got a text from the school that it was on lockdown due to a “suspicious person attempting to gain admittance.”  I frantically tried to reach the kids to make sure they were okay while also actually paying attention to the work call, which was actually kind of important and required me to speak and take notes. (The kids are fine, the person was caught by local police.) Bumby hit a button on the computer that caused his show to minimize, and started shouting for me.  Also the dog had refused to poop that morning and started barking at the door for a walk.  I got an email at the end of the call from my boss that said, “Will you follow up on all open points, please?”

We are drowning.

We had our 5 year wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  Through various complicated logistical arrangements involving 4 different childcare providers, we cobbled together a way to have a night away, sans kids, for the first time since Bumby was born. It was heaven.  We were us again.  We window shopped, and went on a sailboat ride, and drank a whole bottle of wine before dinner even started.  We ate at 10pm in a restaurant that did not have high chairs.  I felt like I looked at my wife at one point and felt like, “Who are you? You look vaguely like the woman who has been living in my house, but you actually look at me, and see me, and smile at me.” I’m sure she felt the same. In a way, this has made it all worse, because the contrast is so stark.

We need to figure this shit out, starting with ourselves.  Long, long ago, before Bumby, before the dog, when we had only one house and thought our life was so fucking complicated, we were lying in bed one weekend morning (HAHAHAHA your life is not complicated if you can lie in bed in the morning!) and we said to each other, with solemn straight faces, that our relationship was the most important part of our life.  The parental relationship, we told each other, is the bedrock of the family. The kids feel okay when the adults feel okay. You can’t take care of them when you’re not taking care of yourself. All of those kinds of things. And for those reasons, we were not going to give up our date nights, even though her ex was telling the kids that the fact that we left them with a babysitter once a month meant we did not love them.

This past weekend was like a record-scratch. We remembered this moment, and this conversation, and the sad, trite truth of it. We worked all day on closing up the beach house for the season while bickering with each other over details and alternatingly disappearing for an hour or so to go manage our jobs, and after Bumby went to bed, we poured ourselves glasses of cheap red wine, and we talked to each other.

We sorted through lots of tangled up crap and hurt feelings, and put our date nights back on the calendar. The entitled middle child is going to babysit for us — at a discounted rate — and that will be the only spending money she gets. Grandma is going to tutor the big brother, giving him adult attention and help with his writing at the same time. The oldest one is going to have to do some of this college stuff on her own, because for god’s sake she’s about to be living by herself in less than a year. Also, we will suggest she drop one of the AP classes so she can actually have some sleep and some fun her senior year. We will put Bumby to bed earlier so he is better able to cope with the changes in his life, and give ourselves some more time together in the evenings.  My wife is going to take Bumby to school on Thursday mornings so I can go into work early, and do a few loads of laundry each week.  We budgeted a way to pay off our credit cards just in time to rack them up again for Christmas.

Then we went to bed ourselves, with dishes stacked in the sink and 37 unread emails.  Things looked a bit better in the morning.

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who says you can’t go home? (or: listen to your gut)

Back in March of last year, one of the partners I did about half of my work for quit my law firm and went to another firm. I was in the middle of dealing with a move and Bumby having pneumonia. I totally couldn’t deal.  When I emerged from the fog just a bit, I lawyered the problem. I did a pros and cons list for each firm.  I made a five year plan.  When I stepped back and looked at it, I came to the conclusion that I needed to move to the new firm.  There were lots of reasons, which all looked very good on my lists.

The problem, however, was that my gut was screaming “DON’T DO IT” the entire time I was analyzing it.  The partner who was remaining at my old firm was a guy I just like much better than almost anyone I have ever worked with, although he is close to retirement age.  I had friends at my old firm. I was pushing myself to view “no female partners” at the new firm as a good thing because I knew it meant they would love to make a female partner, but it still felt like such a red flag, even though everyone I met was very nice and did not seem particularly sexist (you know, any more than usual guys you work with).  I cried every day from the day I gave notice until I started at my new firm, which was right after Memorial Day.

Anyway, not that surprisingly, I have regretted my decision pretty consistently for the last 8 months.  I could go into the reasons, but the bottom line is just that I was miserable. I work for two reasons (other than the paying-the-mortgage type reasons). One is because I actually really like being a lawyer. The other is because I am a happier person when I talk to people other than my wife and kids.  The work at the new firm was boring, and I had no friends. And I had no idea how to go about getting better work, and no way to make friends, because the associates were super unfriendly. So I went through about a three month process of pining for my old job before I finally took a page out of Bumby’s book.  When he gets into stuff, he comes right up to me and says, “I made a big mess. I need help!”  Well, I had made a big mess, and I needed help, too.  It strikes me over and over again how simply he views the world, and how often that is the best approach. He doesn’t lie. He asks for what he needs. He tries to do it himself but has no shame in admitting he needs help.  When he’s hurt, he cries and reaches for someone to hug. He says “I love you” all the time.  Sometimes, things are not that complicated. My two year old pretty much has it all figured out.

So I scheduled lunch with the guy I liked so much from my old firm, and asked for my job back. He said he would need a few days to talk to other partners at the firm and see if they thought they could keep me busy and what the reception was in general. Less than 24 hours later, he called me and said they’d be delighted to have me. Less than two weeks after that, I had cleared conflicts and had an offer letter in hand. When I gave notice, my boss at my new firm said that he actually thought going back was going to be a good move for me, after hearing my complaints about the new firm.

I start on Tuesday at my new/old job. I am looking forward to female mentors, friends in the office, and work that I find interesting again. My gut is feeling much better about this job move than the last one.

killing it

I work part time. Mostly, I feel like this is a nice balance. But the word “balance” is a little misleading. It’s more like a seesaw than a tightrope. Over the summer, I was slow at work. I had lots of time to get stuff done around the house, and lots of time with the kids (including Bumby). I was able to take time off when he was sick, deal with the sleep deprivation caused by his weird clingy phase, and meet him at the pool when I could get out early.  I forced the older kids off the couch and into engaging activities (like looking at their phone by the pool, rather than on the couch.)  I was killing it on the mom front. But work was suffering. I wasn’t busy enough to feel like I was involved, I had just switched to a new job and didn’t know anyone, and my boss was irritated with me a few times.

The last month, things have gotten much better at work. I got a bunch of great feedback from a new partner I had not worked with before. My hours were high, and I was really engaged on a couple of interesting projects. I was killing it. But I was totally disengaged as a parent. I often had to plop Bumby on the floor with a toy and hope he would stay quiet while I tried to revise an email, and I worked frantically every time he went down for his nap. Sometimes, I would hear him wake up and be so frustrated, because if he had just slept a little longer, I could get a document out.  I was late getting home, so on my in-office days I would sometimes spend only 15 minutes with him before he went to bed.  Once, he fell off a rock because I was trying to take a conference call while also helping him climb the rock (because if he couldn’t climb the rock, he would scream, and I would be busted). Also, I left my 11 year old at football practice for a half hour (at 8pm, at the field by the freeway) because I was stretched too thin and messed up the carpool schedule.  My non-work hours were getting totally swallowed up by work, and Bumby  and the other kids were suffering for it.

So I dug in. I refused to work over the weekend, other than when Bumby was napping. I watched the debates and edited a document at the same time so didn’t have to miss them (and the chance to provide color-commentary to the older kids while we watched).  I declined invites for two calls this morning, and took Bumby to music class and on a bike ride to the park instead. We had a great morning, and I did not yell and he did not cry, not even once.  He did not fall off of anything high or play with any sharp objects.  I cleaned the kitchen and scheduled some home maintenance work during his nap instead of working.  And then, when the babysitter got here and my scheduled work hours started, I sat down at my desk to discover I had made an embarrassing mistake in the document I worked on last night, and the partner who gave me the good feedback before said he thought the work I did over the weekend was sort of… not as good as some other stuff I had done in the past.  Sort of like I rushed it a bit, I guess.

So that’s it. I kill it here, and it kills me there. Up and down, down and up.

part time

Since returning to work, I have been part time. Most days I wish I could stay home full time, some days I really appreciate going to work.  Always I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work less than full time so that I can have some extra time with Bumby. Often, though, that extra time gets eaten up with chores, and running around, and I wonder whether it’s worth it to spend extra time with him when that time is spent at the grocery store.

Then, there are days like today.

The weather was finally nice, so I took my guy to the playground.  He did lots of very important baby things. He carried a rock around like a pet.  He ate dirt (not too much).  He climbed up the steps to the slide and went down. He put a short fat stick in his mouth like a cigar with his fat man belly sticking out.  He drove a fake car and turned some gears. He ran up some steps and over a bridge and then back and then down the big double slide, side-by-side with his Mama. He followed a big kid over to the swings and he went on them too. He scared a little old lady’s dog with his enthusiasm.  Then when he was seeming a little tired, I took him to the car and gave him his water as I buckled him in. He said “MMMMmmmmmmm” while he drank it and was no trouble at all to get in the car seat.

Even if 9 days home out of 10 involve chores, the 1 in 10 that is like today makes me so glad I have the opportunity to spend two mornings a week and one whole day at home.

Bumby at the park

there was a day

Over the summer, I had the hardest day. We were out at the beach house, and my wife was at work, so I was totally alone with Bumby with no access to any friends or family or other support. He was in the middle of a no-sleep patch, and I was exhausted. I was trying to make the huge, horrible decision of whether to go back to work or not. It was 80 degrees but like 900 percent humidity so we were both uncomfortable and soggy all day. And Bumby would. not. nap. and give me just ten minutes to be alone with my overwhelmed thoughts. And then the dog started asking to go for a walk. 

I thought to myself, I just can’t. I can’t deal with any of it, and now this dog wants a piece of me too. I can’t. I can’t stay home with him, and I can’t bear the thought of going back to work. At that point, I had literally not been away from him for more than 2 hours, and had been away for  2 hours only once. I couldn’t stand the thought of a day without my little barnacle by my side, and I couldn’t stand the feeling that I was never alone even for a minute. We were still bed sharing at that point, so he was literally on top of me 23 hours a day, even at night. 

Also, he was teething. 

I just couldn’t deal with the dog, and the baby, and never being alone, and being so totally alone. 

And then…. I just did it. I took Bumby’s clothes off so he would be more comfortable in the heat and humidity. I put him in the carrier, and picked up the leash and put it on the dog. I walked slowly around the boardwalks until she pooped, then I awkwardly squatted down and picked it up, which I hate hate hate so much. I was miserable, but I did it. 

I went home, and Bumby caught sight of mama and Bumby, our little duo, in the mirror. When his eyes met mine, he broke into a massive grin. And with that, I was through it, and I was fine. 

  
 I put Bumby on the floor of the bathroom with some toys, and finally showered for the day so I wasn’t so sticky. My wife came home, we cooked dinner, I had a glass of wine, and it was fine. I decided to go back to work. 

I was fine. 

my afternoon

1. Get phone call from new OB/GYN (whom I love!) confirming appointment for tomorrow morning. 34 weeks!

2. Notice 2 voicemails from the weekend. One is from the plumber who is supposed to fix our sewer pipe, which has backed up twice in the last two months, apparently because it is cracked.  The other is from my mom, whom I am mad at.

3.  Feel guilty, because I am supposed to call back the plumber, and also don’t want to deal with my mom.  I red-buttoned her yesterday when she called, because I was napping (and also mad) so her sad-sounding voicemail makes me feel even worse.

4. Think about how once, I was a baby in my mom’s belly, and how much she must love me, and how horrible I am for being mad at her, because someday this baby is TOTALLY going to be mad at me, and red-button me on a Sunday afternoon, and I will be leaving sad-sounding voicemails.

5. Become overwhelmed with being responsible for other people’s feelings (remember, I am the wronged party in the dispute with my mom!).

6. Begin to feel similarly overwhelmed with the sewer pipe issue, and the nursery, and the fact that we still don’t have a car seat, and when am I going to schedule the childbirth class (I could give birth any minute, seriously), and Christmas present shopping, and work responsibilities, and the cats need their claws clipped but the clippers are missing, etc., etc., etc.

7.  Without warning or preamble, fall sound asleep sitting completely upright at my desk for an hour.  An entire hour.  Wake up when the phone rings.

8. Call sewer man, email my sister to complain about how guilty I feel about our mom, buy my wife two Christmas presents  (accidentally from our joint checking account, whoops!).  Is it time to go home yet?

twelve weeks, and also thirteen

I am a bit behind on the posting, not because nothing has been happening, but because so much has been happening.

1.  I hit 12 weeks, and had my ob appointment with the man doctor.  Surprisingly, I very much liked the man doctor.  He spent over an hour talking to my wife and me about our various genetic testing options, how the pregnancy was going, and who even knows what else.  So we have decided to stay at our current ob practice, and I am so grateful I can cross this stressor off the to-do list.  The sonogram portion of the nuchal translucency screening put us well into the normal range, which was a relief.  The man-doctor also noted that I have a “very prominent uterus.”  I think this means that it sticks out.  I knew this already, because I could feel it in my tummy, well above my pubic bone, and also, at 12 weeks, and only 4lbs of weight-gain, I looked like this:

12 weeks selfie

Normally I avoid the following: (1) selfies taken in a mirror with an iphone, (2) crappily lit pictures, and (3) pictures that show how messy my room is, but whatever. I look pregnant!  Also extremely tan.  I promise it’s all from an hour here and there on the beach, with sunscreen, and not from unnatural sources.  I just tan sort of naturally.  Anyway, that is the picture I have, so that is the picture you get. My mom tells me her belly was “prominent” early also, which is weird because when I asked her what she remembered about pregnancy, the only thing she could come up with was that her hair was very tangled.  Now that I am actually pregnant, and I mention symptoms or pregnancy goings-on, she always says, “Me too!”  I guess, given that 30 years have elapsed since her last pregnancy, things are a little fuzzy.

2.  On a high from the doctor’s appointment, we decided to break the news to the kids.  They were… not pleased.  Well, at least the Big One was not pleased.  I am sure you can imagine that this is a vast understatement, as thirteen year olds generally manifest displeasure in a rather dramatic fashion.  We’re trying our best to help her work through it, but if you have ever tried to communicate with a teenager about something they don’t. want. to. discuss. you will understand the difficulty we are having.  The Boo is generally silent on these topics anyway (“these topics” being her thoughts about things, or her feelings), and our Boy Child just wanted to know that we were going to ensure it was a boy so he could have a brother.  I am glad that the Boo is headed off to Denmark today, as it will give her some time and space to process how she really feels about the baby with someone she feels safe with, and without her sister trying to convince her it’s horrible and her parents trying to convince her it’s great.  Not that we have been anything but supportive of however she feels, but she’s not stupid. She knows we want her to be happy and excited about the baby, like we are.  Our little boy is just relieved that some of the tension in the house has dissipated, so that he can get back to what really matters:  going to the swimming pool.  It is summertime, after all.  Let’s not ruin it with a lot of stomping around.

I have to say, it’s disappointing that their reaction was so negative.  Pretty much everyone else has been happy-to-ecstatic about the baby, and obviously we are, too.  And yet really, when it comes down to it, the only people whose reaction I care about are these kids.  I hope that they can get used to the idea, and even become a little excited. At least my mother is over the moon. She is actually knitting booties. I didn’t even know babies wore booties anymore, but our little peach will have some, courtesy of grandma.

3.  Week 13 started yesterday, which means that I am officially in the second trimester.  I also got the full results of the nuchal scan from my doctor’s office – everything is fine, and I am considered very low-risk.  With this great news, and the fact that I have needed to wear maternity pants all week, I decided to tell my office that I was pregnant, even though we don’t get our full genetic test results back for a week at least.  My first boss asked a million questions, most of which I thought you weren’t allowed to ask.  Like, whether we used an anonymous donor.  Really!  I wanted to tell him that the donor was David Crosby, but I think he would have actually believed me, and then the joke would have been wasted.  I just answered with as little information as possible, saying that we used an anonymous donor through our doctor’s office, and then he proceeded with his list of questions you are not allowed to ask. Telling my other boss went fine – no inappropriate questions were asked, and the whole thing took about 2 minutes.  And now here I sit, officially Pregnant At Work.  In celebration, I bought a bunch of relatively ugly but work-appropriate maternity clothes at Target.  Okay, not that ugly, but, you know. Not really cute either.

working while pregnant

The first trimester is seriously difficult at work.  This is the time that you feel like crap, you’re exhausted, you can’t remember anything, and you spend your meetings trying not to vomit on a conference room table.  If it’s summer, and you work at a law firm, you also have to attend approximately 40 drinking events in a 12-week period.  It’s also the time that you don’t tell your boss you’re pregnant.

A good friend of mine, who I work with, recently had a baby.  I knew that she was pregnant from about five weeks on, and I think it made it much easier when I realized that if it was 8:30 pm, she was probably at home, fast asleep, and I could cover for her.  Unfortunately, she is now on maternity leave, so I am here, faking like a responsible employee, while sneaking out to buy hard candies in between meetings and sleeping each way on the train to and from work.

Lifesavers

(currently working my way through this bag)

When my friend finally announced her pregnancy, our (male) bosses were reasonably accommodating, and tried not to overload her.  Of course, by then she was comfortably into the second trimester and past the puking/exhausted phase, and could much more easily have increased her workload, had it been necessary.

I used to think that if I were in charge, I could make periods a lot more convenient (like – why can’t you hold the blood in until a convenient time, the way you can with pee?).  So, I would like to point out that if I were in charge, I could also make pregnancy more convenient.  Like – your physical appearance should bear a proportional relationship to how you actually feel, on the inside.  That way if you are green with nausea, want ice cream for dinner, and fall asleep while people are talking to you, they can look right at you and think “Oh yes.  She is harboring new life, no wonder she’s behaving strangely.”  Instead of thinking, “She used to be a good employee, but today she called me three times to ask me the same question, even though I saw her write down the answer on her notepad.  Maybe she’s off her game.” And then only three months later realize in retrospect  that its because you were busy making a placenta at the time, and your attention was elsewhere.