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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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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