Soon after B took his Oral Assessment last year he sent me an email. In it he expressed his concern about accepting an offer to join the foreign service. Not concerns about the work, the travel or the constantly changing lifestyle, but concerns about me.
“I’m worried about what you are going to do,” he wrote.
I was at work at the time. Piles of papers on my desk, billable hours and client problems occupying my mind and my time. But I stopped when I read his email. I put down the case I was reading and cleared a place on my desk. I put a blank piece of paper in front of me and wrote down what immediately came to my mind when I posed that question to myself.
“What will I do if I’m not a lawyer any more?” This is the list I came up with.
1. Raise our daughter. Seriously, what an opportunity! Most of my friends who are still sitting at their desks piled with paper and cases and timesheets would kill for the chance to take a sabbatical and get multiple hours of uninterrupted hands-on time with their children. Don’t get me wrong, this is a terrifying thought as well as a joyful one, but I’m up for the challenge.
2. Read the pile of books I have not gotten to for 15 years. Books used to give me such pure pleasure. I still feel it sometimes when I’m in a bookstore and see something I’ve always wanted to read, or a book I have loved in the past. It brings a little heat to my cheeks and excitement to my heart. Sometimes I even give in to that feeling.
“Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History! Oh Joy,” I thought to myself last week when I saw them. “And on sale! Woo hoo!”
I bought both books and brought them home, caressing the covers and gazing longingly at the words on the first page. Then I got home and thought, “When in the heck am I going to read these?” I hid them in the back of our bookcase along with a dozen other books that have been waiting, some for months, others for years, to be read. No more! When we get to Kinshasa I am going to make it my mission (or at least part of my mission) to read these books. I know I’ll need to escape sometimes (or many times) and Donna Tartt, Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood and several others are going to help me.
3. Finally make C’s baby book. Like many working mothers I have a box full of mementos and pictures and little “notes” to myself that deserve a place in an official baby book, but so far they haven’t gotten out of the big plastic boxes I’ve been shoving them into since C was born in 2011. This one is high on my list and I’m hoping to get it started before we leave so that I can get everything scanned in before we hit the heat and humidity of the Congo.
4. Organize photos, albums etc. I’ve got this friend (who shall remain nameless) who has managed to create a yearly hard copy photo album of all her family’s memories of a given year. I dream of such an achievement. For now I’ll accept some vague organization of our vast collection of digital photos. Step One – take free iPhoto and iMovie classes at the Mac Store!
5. Write – a book, an article, a blog…for myself, or not. Ta-Da! Mission accomplished in the form of a blog…now I just have to write more than once a month…
6. Learn to knit. Knit. So when making this list I didn’t know we were going to move to Africa. I’m now rethinking how useful it will be to knit as that typically involves wool, scarves and sweaters, which are unlikely to be needed in the Congo. Maybe I’ll save this one for when we get posted to Norway one day…
7. Go back to sewing. Sew. When I was living in Toronto after undergrad I did quite a bit of sewing – for myself and others, and I really enjoyed it. But that was also a time in my life where I had so much free time that I considered the cast members of All my Children to be close friends. I don’t anticipate having THAT much free time again, so I don’t aspire to Project Runway, but some cute kids clothes for C with the amazing African fabrics I’ll have access to? Yes please! I’m taking some private lessons in D.C. at a fabulous little studio called “Bits of Thread” so hopefully I’ll be back in “top-ish” form by the time we leave.
8. Learn a new language. French isn’t new for me, but I’m trying to learn it better if nothing else. The Foreign Service is pretty amazing in terms of the support and offerings they provide for helping EFM’s learn a language. Lord knows, they could throw us all into our new environments head first with no training at all, but they’ve recognized the benefits of having family members who can converse in the countries in which they are living. Right now I’m taking two “Distance Language Learning” classes through the Foreign Service Institute. I’m not terribly “distant” given that I’m less than a mile from the FSI campus, but my classmates are in Madrid and Dakar and having the opportunity to converse in French three times a week is wonderful practice (though it is not so great for anyone who has to speak to me in English immediately afterwards…)
9. Teach English as a second language. “Know Thyself” was obviously not at the top of my mind when I made this list. While I would love to do something useful and helpful while we are in country, it may be that being a teacher (of any sort) should not be at the top of my list. But, then again, this is at No. 9, so maybe at the very least I can do some mentoring with folks who want to practice their English. Mentoring I can handle, but I’ll leave teaching to my awesome sister-in-law, mother-in-law and the other people who teach for a living.
10. Work for an NGO. Ok, I’m going to admit it, until about two months ago I didn’t actually know what an NGO was. Hello? Private sector lawyer here…not something that was important or relevant to my life at the time. Now, however, I’m fascinated with the number and variety of NGOs and the work they do in the Congo and elsewhere in the world. I’m still exploring this one and there are a lot of possible options, so stay tuned. Oh, and “Non-governmental organizations: any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level” – in case there is anyone else in the dark!
11. Work for a US or foreign Company doing contract legal work. I’ve got the training, I passed the bar, why not put it all to good use? Again, lots of possible options here, so I’m slowly exploring what is out there.
12. Work for the embassy. In recent years the State Department has increasingly recognized the importance of helping diplomatic family members find work. There are a lot of available resources to help family members, and I’m doing my best to take advantage of them. I’ll save the details for another post (I promise it will come in less than 30+ days…), but there are a number of possible jobs that I might be able to get at the embassy – everything from mail sorter to working on the visa line just like B.
13. Volunteer to do pro bono work. After 18 years of using my law degree for “evil” (or at least for the “Man”) it is exciting to think about using it for good. I suspect there will be no shortage of opportunities to do volunteer work in Congo, and I’m excited to find one (or more) that fits my passions.
14. Eat bon bons. A valid use of my time, non?
15. Work out. Clearly this will be required if I spend too much time on No. 14… I am looking forward to having the ability to work out again in a place where it will NEVER be 10 degrees or less like it has been in D.C. for seemingly months now…
16. Do freelance writing or editing. I used to do freelance work, so why not try it again? There are some very specialized magazines out there that are always looking for articles. I once wrote a story for “Forest and People” magazine, and I wrote several for “Education Today.” Those were in the days before computers were everywhere (I’m 100% sure I must have mailed a hard copy of my piece to the magazine, but that seems impossible in this day and age) so it might be even easier to do this remotely now.
17. Be happy and enjoy the adventure of our lives… This one I try and accomplish every day. So far, so good.