Monday, October 31, 2011

The Pink Elephants in the Room

In my world it’s never a good day when I get called into trial, a deposition, a hearing, a meeting at 3:30 p.m. Every time I do I swear I can almost hear the loud ticking of the clock. Tick tock, tick tock. I fear the sound of clock striking 5:00 probably as much as Cinderella feared the midnight bell. No, I don’t change into a pumpkin at 5, but I do make a change…I transform back into Mommy.

And just like Cinderella, I have no control over what the clock will do.  Whether I'm knee deep in attorney world, come 5:00 p.m. the briefcase turns into a diaper bag. This is due to my husband’s work schedule. I’ve blogged about this before but about 3-4 days a week I am a tag team parent. My husband leaves for work at 5:00 p.m., so I have to be home to get the kids. We have no nanny, no back up babysitter, no safety net. Just us. So, regardless of what goes on in legal world, I can’t hide from the clock. This is the reason why, while most attorneys at my office are working after hours, I’m running out the door at 4:35 p.m. trying to make it across town to pick up my kids.

But alas, every now and then the attorney side of my life fights back...fights back HARD. I’m a litigator, and the law doesn’t take kindly to personal schedules. So, days happen where depositions go late, travel plans change, a meeting you thought would take 5 minutes takes 50. Last week was no such exception. At 3:30 p.m. while I worked on an appeal brief, my senior partner called. He needed me over at his trial to do the Jury Instruction conference. Now I love jury instructions probably more than any part of trial prep, but I know a jury instruction conference isn’t necessarily fast.

I grabbed my suitcoat and ran out the door, mindful of approaching my Cinderella hour. I called Todd and told him he better be ready to meet me at work with the kids because I might be cutting it close. I walked into the courtroom, outside appearing confident and ready to fight about proximate cause and verdict forms, but inside a nervous wreck with every TICK TOCK I was hearing in my brain. The conference went as expected, we made changes to the jury instructions and the judge encouraged me and opposing counsel to email each other over the evening and get a final draft. Great, a night of work and as my luck had it, Todd was working.

I got out of the courthouse at 5:05 p.m., past my Cinderella hour. I sped to my office, ran down the sidewalk to meet my husband and the kids. I tagged my husband and let him go to work. But instead of heading home to our typical night, I still had a lot of work to do. So, up we went to my office a large briefcase in one hand, L in the other, and J and H close by. 

The problem with working late at my office with the kids is that it always happens when I’m not prepared. It’s over dinner time, so the kids are hungry and generally worn out from a day of daycare and school. And of course, I never have snacks, drinks, or even sometimes a diaper!

The good thing for me is that my kids LOVE my office. For them it’s a playground of post it notes, paper clips, and their favorite the infamous PINCHER (stapler). Plus I store enough toys in my office to keep them entertained in situations like these.

I worked on the instructions. The kids overall did well, with only the occasional shh…or trip to the bathroom. I finished the draft and knew I had to walk it down to my senior partner. Okay, the kids were so busy with the fun around them, I could sneak out right? I mean hell, they hardly notice I’m there when I’m in there. “I’ll be right back J, watch your brother” and out I went, walking swiftly to grab the paper off the printer and take it over.

But apparently post it notes and paper clips only hold attention so long. I was in my partner’s office going over some instructions. We were both dressed in our suits from trial, both in a typical jury instruction discussion. Just two litigators in a typical trial discussion, right? Wrong. While I was listening to his comments and discussing our plan I couldn’t help but hear voices in the hallway “Mom, Mom WHERE ARE YOU?” “Mom, Mom?”. Yep, one thing about my kids is they may not care if you are in the room, but if you leave they certainly want to know if you are doing something more exciting.

“Just a second”. I said a bit embarrassed to my partner, and walked to the door. “I’m right here H, be right there”, I yelled. I went back to the discussion about the trial hoping my call to H would be enough for him to wait a couple of minutes. Yeah right, this is H. As I stood there trying to keep any last bit of professionalism in my voice I couldn't help but hear the sound of little feet sprinting down the hall. In ran H right into my partner's office. Yep, the pink elephant had entered the room.

I gave my tight lipped fake smile and shrugged my shoulders feeling like I was Cinderella standing in the shredded gown after her midnight bell. I walked H back to my office. Okay, a few more changes and I could leave. I felt like I had a ticking time bomb in my office for a couple of reasons: (1) Todd forgot to send a diaper change for L and (2) 3 hungry kids will only respond to “Shh…just one more second” so long. I sat at my computer typing a few more changes. L climbed up on my lap, J and L still decorating my cabinets with post its.

My senior partner came around the doorway on his way out… “I’m all ready with my closing, how are the jury instructions coming?” I picked up L and swayed him in a “please don’t scream your head off for 5 seconds” rhythm. “Here’s what I’m thinking on the jury instructions” I started to say…

And there I stood…talking trial strategy with three albeit small but very noticeable pink elephants in the room. I couldn’t have looked like more of a working Mom if I had it written on my forehead. There I was trying to sound intelligent while L pulled my hair, H and J ran around my office, and my office looked like the Crayola Beaches of Normandy.

My partner smiled and said “See you later guys” and left. He wasn’t phased by my pink elephants, hell they are such a fixture around my firm he probably expected them. It was one of the moments where I realized how truly lucky I am to work in a firm that supports my “pink elephants” and understands situations like these.

I never take for granted the job I have, especially since I’ve heard all the horror stories…from upstart associates who refuse to put pictures of their kids in their office so as to appear more focused on work, to thousands of woman trying to climb the corporate ladder only to be pulled down and Mommytracked. But not me. Not today. I was able to meld my world and my personal life without judgment. In a small way it was a victory for JD Moms.

And the icing on the cake? Not only did I manage to discuss trial strategy with three hungry toddlers in my office, but I got my draft of the jury instructions to opposing counsel (who was holed up in her office alone working on the case all evening) a couple hours before she submitted hers. I’ll take that victory.



  1. Awesome Job Mandi! I think I have told you this before, but for other JD moms I found this website awesome for finding nannies and babysitters. I love it. We found Ariana, a college student who can work with my schedule. My kids love her and ask, "When can Ari come and play again?" My friend found a teacher who just graduated and can not find a job on whom they love. This economy is terrible right now, but on the bright side there are a lot of responsible adults looking for cash, which is a plus for busy moms!!! JD moms, check out these is a great way to find sitters in a pinch!

  2. I'm astonished. Astonished that: 1) your favorite part of a trial is drafting jury instructions???; 2) that your toddlers behave at your office; and that 3) you were able to concentrate and pull this together. WOW. You have a great attitude. Your situation with your husband's job is tough!!! Try your local community college for baby sitters. That's how I found a backup. My toddler hates her, but she is reliable and a nice girl.