Strengths…and weaknesses

I am directionally deficient.

I’ve heard people lacking in directional ability described as “challenged,” but for me it goes way beyond that.  I can, quite literally, walk (or drive) to a location and mere hours (and sometimes only minutes) later leave said location and head in the exact opposite direction from the one that brought me there earlier.  It drive B bonkers.

I resigned myself to this disability many (many) years ago and I am totally unphased by driving miles out of my way, realizing I’m supposed to be going north, not south, and then having to turn around and go all the way back just to begin again at my original starting point.  Like most weaknesses in humans I have managed to adjust (leave earlier) or adapt (have Google maps perpetually “on”).

Directionally-Challenged

On the other hand, I get the law. I am totally comfortable with the direction I need to be heading when researching, writing, and arguing the fine points of most legal arguments.  I never have to backtrack (or almost never).  When I am handed a legal problem it feels like shrugging on a well worn and well loved jacket that I can trust to keep me warm on a chilly night. I know it. I understand it. I feel strong and powerful and smart and competent surrounded by it.

And then there is parenting.  Some days I feel worse than deficient. I feel totally and utterly unqualified to be parenting the remarkable human child who is CJM.  Other days (well, maybe not whole days, let’s say fleeting moments) I feel like maybe I’m getting it right, maybe I do “get” it and C might turn out pretty ok despite my lack of training and qualification as a mother.  It’s a total crapshoot as to which of these wildly divergent feelings I will have at any given parenting moment – sometimes I feel both at exactly the same time.

Two nights ago C and I watched Little Mermaid together.  She is Disney Princess obsessed (much to my chagrin), but she had never watched the movie.  On our way home she announced, “Mummy, I am not afraid of the sea witch any more so I would like to watch Ariel tonight.”

Ok by me, I love the Little Mermaid.

So we watched the whole movie and she was, true to her word, not afraid of Ursula. Then came the end of the movie – you know, Ariel and Eric get married, there is great rejoicing, everyone is happy? Everyone, that is, except C, who burst into hysterical and inconsolable sobs, tears streaming down her face as she crawled into my arms and wept.

Me (dumbfounded), “Pumpkin, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want Ariel to have to leave her Daddy,” C replied wailing.

“But she’s grown up (aside here that for the first time I realized at the beginning of the movie that Ariel is 16!!! – so not grown up at all…but for purposes of this discussion I’ll ignore that disturbing issue…) and she found Eric who she loves and who loves her and they got married and her Daddy is happy for her.”

C shouts, “But the Sea King will be ALL ALONE without Ariel and she will MISS HIM!”

This went back and forth for quite some time until finally C threw up her hands (literally) and said “I don’t want to be a grown up EVER.”

Hmmm…me either kid, me either.

I still don’t know what the right response to all this was.  I used all the logic, reasoning and rational thinking I could muster, but C was having none of it.  So I ended that evening feeling totally incompetent.  The problem is that now I’m “retired” from the law – or at least from my firm – the opportunity to shrug myself back into feeling competent is receding from my grasp, so I went to bed still feeling incompetent.

Two weeks ago I would have gotten onto the computer and boosted my ego with a little legal work.  Instead, now I’m left with running errands all over the city in preparation for our move (7 WEEKS AWAY) which inevitably means that at least once a week I get on the Metro going the wrong direction, or walk/drive miles out of my way trying to find something I need.  And I’m left with parenting.

ego boost

It turns out that I am starting to think this will be the largest and most significant struggle of this lifestyle change for me: the percentage of time I spend feeling lacking and stupid v. the percentage of time I feel smart and competent.  Cause it also turns out that we all – even very grown up and outwardly successful people – need to feel competent a few times a day to prevent the dissolution of our egos into mush.

As I work through these feelings, I am having a lot of sympathy for B because I’m pretty sure he’s been feeling like this for the last 30 weeks.

Learning a new language is humbling. B, and the other folks he joined the Foreign Service with are smart, smart people. They are, I’m guessing, not used to feeling stupid or incompetent in very many situations. But spending 6 hours a day learning a new language from scratch is a breeding ground for feeling incapable.  For weeks now B has been warning me that he would not pass his final French test.  He swore he believed he would not get the 3/3 (oral/reading) score he needed and we would be in D.C. for another 6-8 weeks.  So I was resigning myself to a lot more time in D.C. – this time without a job – and I was a bit panicked about trying to find something to keep me occupied and not feeling incompetent. But it turns out that B was not French deficient, as he had feared.  He got his 3/3 on the first try and so all of a sudden (it feels very sudden since I had been trained to expect an extra 2 months of prep time) our departure date is looming – we are wheels up to Kinshasa on July 26.

B: Competent in French and Parenting...

B: Competent in French and Parenting…

I’m going to work on new competencies now – organizing boxes of shipments, sewing, writing, transporting 70 lb dogs 6,500 miles – but will all of those help me to feel mildly competent when my main role will be to parent – and, in seven weeks, to speak French in a country as vastly different from here as possible?  I don’t know, but I sure hope so…

Juggling

A few weeks ago I finalized a deal with my firm for my transition from “Partner” to “Eligible Family Member.”  I will continue to work through the end of April and then on April 30 I will officially withdraw from the firm and will cease being a partner at Parker Poe.  The finalization of the deal was a huge relief to me and I took it as a sign that I was going to have infinitely more free time to do all the things on the “What will D Do” list.  HA!

As I write this it is 11:28 p.m. on a SATURDAY night and I just logged out of the Parker Poe system, primarily because the program I was working in kept crashing.  So much for free time.

free time

I’ve really only kept work for one of my clients.  I really enjoy working with them, and the work is always interesting, so I figured it would keep me happily engaged, bring in a few dollars, but leave me plenty of free time to start working on my list.  Only I now have briefing on multiple cases for this client which, coincidentally enough, won’t end until April 30.  And as luck (or unluck for them) would have it, another lawsuit was filed against them last week, just when I was anticipating things slowing down.  The best laid plans and all that…

At the same time I have been working on my list.  My primary focus has been on laying the foundation for potentially finding employment at a later date, whether in Kin, or at our next post.  The State Department has been working over the last several years to come up with ways to help family members with overseas career development.  There has been a lot of talk lately about the programs not being very effective, but I haven’t yet experienced the results because we haven’t yet gone to our first post, so for now I can only speak to the various opportunities and possibilities that have been brought to my attention – and which I generally have found exciting.

One program is the Global Employment Initiative (GEI). One aspect of this program is the ability to work with a Global Employment Advisor (GEA) to streamline a job search in a particular region, provide job coaching and training workshops and other career services – all for free.  I have an advisor in Africa who has been responsive and has talked through several options with me, though I think at this point the main help I need is figuring out how to update my resume after 18 or so years.  Let’s just say my CV is not internet compatible.

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There is also a “pilot” program to offer EFM’s the opportunity to accept consular jobs at their spouse’s post (ie: work on the visa line).  This program requires taking a written 75 minute test similar to the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) that B took – lacking only the essay portion – and then, if you pass that, taking an “Oral Assessment.”  The OA for the AEFM/CA program includes a writing section where you are given a closed universe of information and asked to write a memo or other document, and a “structured interview” which includes answering questions about yourself, your background, and trying to figure out what the appropriate answer to a bunch of “scenario” questions are.  It is missing the “group exercise” in the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA)(thank heavens because there was one REALLY obnoxious guy taking the FSOA the day I took my “fake” OA and I might not have tolerated his BS for long in a group exercise…).

I took, and passed, the written test, and then a few weeks later took, and passed, the OA.  This OA is even scored like the FSOA – out of 7 with 5.3 being a passing score.  I got a 6.3, which I’m really happy with, though I have no idea what that will mean in practice.  Now, like B had to about 2 years ago, I’m in the process of getting my security clearance and, once that is done, I’ll be put on a list for possible consular jobs, but only in the posts where I am already living with B.  There are some great advantages to this program (like being able to accrue government pension) so I’m hoping that when I’m ready the fact that I’ve jumped through all the hoops will put me in a good position to get a consular job one day.

I was going to try and take the 6-week consular class while we are in the U.S. too, figuring I could knock that out without having to figure out the logistics of possibly coming back to the states to take it when we are overseas.  I even took another written test (Government bureaucracy in action…) in order to be put on the waiting list for the class.  But, now that I’ve done all that, I look at the calendar between now and the end of July and there is no way I’m going to have a block of 6 weeks in which I do not need to work, or have not planned other things (the fun things I’ve been waiting for like spending a week with my family and a week with B’s).  It just seems that time is running out and I have (as is my tendency) booked myself so full that I’m still running around crazed despite all my great desires and plans to have tons of free time.

Amid all of this work and future job planning, I rented a sewing machine so I could work on my “go back to sewing” plan. HA again!  It has sat, covered, on the dining room (if you can call just another part of our living the dining room just because it includes a table…) since I brought it home.  Next week I’ll lug it back up to the sewing studio and, I’ll venture a guess, it won’t have been used.  I do have some really nice material to take with us to Kinshasa though.  Sigh.

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Onward with the juggling I go…

What will D do?

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.

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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.FullSizeRender (3)

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!

FullSizeRender (4)     albums

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 FullSizeRender (5)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.Traditional-African-fabrics

 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.

working for the man

No more working for the Man!

14.       Eat bon bons.  A valid use of my time, non?

calmez-vous-et-manger-bonbons15.       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…

freezing

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.

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Straddling the line

the lineYesterday I was a lawyer.

Today, I dabbled in the law.

Tomorrow? Who knows, maybe I’ll do some law stuff, maybe not.

I spent the last couple of days in Charlotte prepping witnesses and defending depositions.  It felt good.  It was familiar.   I knew what to do and how to act. I knew when to talk and when to shut up.  My desk, empty though it was, welcomed me back.  My assistant, M (which could stand for Marvelous, but doesn’t), laughed outside my door and the sound comforted me.  The other lawyers I work with sought my opinion on lawyerly things.  It was like pulling on a soft t-shirt and a favorite pair of jeans.

Last night I drove back to D.C. and today I sat down at my desk and I did some work, but I was actually wearing the t-shirt and jeans (instead of the suit), and when they tested the fire alarm in our building I took the dog for a long walk, and I did laundry and dishes and unpacked the boxes I brought back from Charlotte.  It still feels unfamiliar. And it feels solitary. And less powerful…but I like it too, this dabbling.

Tomorrow I’m going to get a pedicure. I’m going to read a deposition WHILE I get the pedicure, but still, this is a different place and a different life than I have led in a long time. It feels very much like I’m in a kind of “no-man’s land” where I’m just slowly, slowly putting down the accouterment of my lawyer life and looking around to discover what the tools of my new life will be.

So what are the tools an EFM (“Eligible Family Member”) needs in the FS? A sense of humor?  A duck-like ability to let things roll off your back? Curiosity about new things? A willingness to let go?  A cunning ability to pack a life into 600 lbs?

Turns out those are all tools I’ve needed as a lawyer too (well, maybe not the 600 lbs trick), so hopefully even as I slough off my current persona in favor of our new life I’ll be able to drag those things along with me (B cannot complain as they do not weigh a thing).

I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to morph from “Partner in a law firm” to “B’s EFM” slowly, as I’m not sure I could have handled the jump to this new galaxy had I been forced to make it at lightspeed.  But, I feel like I spend a lot of time sort of *testing* the water in my brain in terms of how I feel about this change.  And I’m torn, I really am.

A big part of me doesn’t want to give up the rush of nailing a cross-examination, or the giddy feeling of putting the final period at the end of a great brief.  It made me cry to think I might never try a case again – the most exhausting, overwhelming, emotional, physical, mental aspect of being a litigator – but also the most fun, and rewarding and, frankly, the reason we all put up with the rest of the B.S.  The fact that I might never stand in front of a jury again makes me sad.  But the idea that I might never have to put up with an unscrupulous, game-playing opposing counsel, who files a motion at 6 p.m. on a Friday just to cause misery and havoc, that makes me happy.

So here I am, straddling the line between desperately holding on to my old life, and desperately wanting to reach with both hands into my new life.

And tomorrow I’m going to do some law stuff and I’m going to enjoy it – even if it involves unscrupulous opposing counsel – and then I’m going to have dinner at an Uzbek restaurant with new friends who will speak Russian to the waitstaff and order new and exotic dishes for B and me to try.  And somehow, in the next few months, I’m going to try and find a way to mesh those things – and all the old things I know like the back of my hands, and the new things I have yet to learn – into a D who can step over the line into a life where every step will take B and C and me to a different place and in a different direction than any place or direction we’ve been before.  A D who will embrace the joy and luck I’ve had as a lawyer, and wrap it up with the joy and luck I’ve had as a daughter, wife and mother, so I can appreciate every experience (and the joy and luck) I have as B’s EFM.

A logistical daymare…

Doc McStuffins made me cry this morning.

If you don’t know Doc McStuffins she is a small, maybe 5 year old, cartoon character who is a doctor to her stuffed animals.  C loves her some Doc McStuffins and she earned enough “points” this weekend from being good to get to watch an episode this morning (no, this has nothing to do with keeping C preoccupied while I try and get ready for work, I swear…).

sleepover

This morning the episode she was watching was all about Doc getting homesick at her first sleepover.  To make her feel better, her stuffed animals sing her this song:

“When the one that you love feels so far away

Just close your eyes try to picture their face

‘Neath the night sky you can see the same stars…”

Anyone see where this is leading?  Yup, to me, standing in the bathroom trying to put on makeup while crying.  Sigh.  I’m guessing this is not going to be the first time.

Now, back to the logistics at hand.  Do they have to do with packing? Nope. We’re surprisingly on top of that so far.  Transitioning C to a new home, new daycare, new world? Nah. So far she’s all good.  These are purely D related logistics related to moving my career without rocking too many boats.

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D in 1997: Career Day 1

I’ve been a lawyer at the same law firm for 17 years.  I started here as a summer clerk in 1996 and they have been kind enough to let me stay here ever since.  And, while I’m excited about our new life in the FS, I’m not ready to jettison my career quite yet, so I’m going remote.  The firm has been extremely flexible in helping me figure out how I can transition and it has all felt very easy…so far.

Until I started having to schedule things in September.  Now, all of a sudden, I’m filling up my September calendar with depositions, mediations and hearings and none of them, not surprisingly, are happening in Washington, D.C.  These sort of logistics have never been terribly difficult before because B’s job was such that he could typically leave by 5 p.m. and could always pick up C (and drop her off).  He’s been a de facto single parent on more than one occasion while I’ve been in trial or out of town in depositions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I went back to work B stayed home and took 12 weeks of FMLA.  It was (in a word) AWESOME.  I’d get up, feed C, leave, stop and get a coffee, work all day, return home and find a clean, happy baby and a fully cooked (often relatively gourmet) meal waiting for me. Seriously folks, it did not suck.  About two weeks IMG_0396after I went back to work I had to go to New Jersey for 5 days for depositions.  It was a grueling trip, but other than pumping and shipping milk back to C via FedEx (yes, you really can do that), I could concentrate on my work knowing C was well cared for and loved back home.

But as of August 25 we are not in a world where B has a 8-5 job any more, Dorothy (not what D stands for, but good try).  So, besides worrying about the actual depositions/mediations/hearings, I’m also worrying about how logistically I’m going to manage.

At least a few days of B’s A-100 training will be “offsite,” meaning he will not be able to drop off, or pick up, C.  Do we know when this offsite week will be? Of course we don’t! We *think* it will be the third week of A-100, but, as with all things FS, “it depends” on a number of other factors.  So right now I’m scheduling my work commitments and hoping B will be available to put his Super Daddy mantle back on for a few days.  Add to that trying to decide if it is better to fly (more expensive), or drive (longer, but WAY more convenient in terms of having autonomy when I get back to CLT), and whether to stay in a hotel (sleep guarantee) or bunk with friends (fun guarantee), and I feel a bit like I’m living in this parallel universe where part of me is pretending things aren’t really going to change.

I really want to make this flexible, portable job work for me, but I suspect this will be another aspect of my life where I will have to let some control go until I can get my bearings in DC.

Oh, and speaking of getting bearings, we have an address! And a phone number! I haven’t had a landline in so long I feel like I’m stepping back to the dark ages a bit, but I think I can remember how to work a regular phone (of course we’ll probably have to unplug it most of the time to stop C from calling either the fire department or Australia…).

As for Doc McStuffins, tomorrow we’ll be watching an episode where she fixes some toy cars; toy cars never make me cry.