It is with a great weight lifted off my shoulders that I announce that my infamous trial, the trial that was to keep me away from my family for 8 weeks settled last week….[insert long exhale here]!
It was no big surprise to me that I would feel relieved at the sound of the plaintiff’s attorney uttering the now engraved words in my memory… “Your honor we have reached a settlement….”. In fact I was so happy about this my hands literally shooked. I shot out of my chair and raised my hands in the air in almost a touchdown like pose (I was in my office alone by the way in case you were wondering). The happiness that came over me was like none other I have felt in my career. After all, this trial tested me to my core. It made me question everything about…well EVERYTHING. It overwhelmed me, terrified me, depressed me. It was like the big elephant in the room the entire month of September…except this elephant was no Dumbo…he was mean, evil, and ready to crush me at any minute.
I’ve been a trial attorney for several years, so trials are nothing new to me. In fact, I love jury trials. But a trial, 2 ½ hours away from home, with 15 parties, over 1000 exhibits, hundreds of witnesses certainly was a new experience.
After our failed second mediation it began to hit me that like it or not I was about to try this case. Yes, the case that everyone said would never be tried was about to be tried. That's when my world came tumbling down...
It was a mixture of panic, fear, exhaustion, sadness….you name an emotion I had it. From how on earth can I be away from my kids that long, to have I done everything I need to do to properly defend my client??? Did I miss an important document, did I fail to do something, wait…how long do I have to be away from my kids???? The emotions were like 1000 voices in my head the whole month. I hadn’t felt this level of stress in nearly a decade.
It mounted from colleagues and friends around me…the “Oh, this is the life of a litigator Mandi, get used to it” voices turned my stomach in knots. It made me think…really? This is what I signed up for? This is going to be my life? And why are these people okay with this? Is there something wrong with me? I’m a working Mom attorney, am I just supposed to grin and bear this???
But the stress came hardest from the home front. My daughter starting telling everyone that I was “leaving her”. My son with his big blue eyes said “Mom, but you have to go to the pumpkin patch with me and my friends [field trip]...you're coming to that right???”. I couldn’t get the sound of L's voice and his typical “Mah” yell across the room whenever he needed me out of my head…what will he do when I’m not on the other end of that yell? I started to get very emotional about the fact I was leaving my family. I was incredibly anxious…I can’t be a night away from my family, how was I going to make this work? Sure I’ll drive back and forth, but the idea of dozens of tearful goodbyes and long car rides missing my kids made me as emotional as a Hallmark commercial.
Then the stress multiplied as the trial itself entered the equation…I had to figure out how to draft jury instructions, motions in limine, trial briefs, and comb through 1000’s of exhibits. I looked around at the 15 other parties…they all had teams of 2-4 attorneys working on this, but I was just me. I worked pretty much until 2:00 – 3:00 a.m. every night…well what did it matter, I couldn’t sleep anyway.
With the stress coming from everywhere so hard, I started to melt down. I found myself questioning myself, my career, everything. Did I really want a job that put me through this agony? Could I really be the Mom I am in this world? Should I throw in the towel? Could I really make it through this?
But then it happened…through all the stress I found myself actually doing what I didn’t think possible. I was doing what my emotional side was telling me couldn't be done. Before the trial settled I actually completed the infamous pre-trial order, drafted the jury instructions, figured out what exhibits I was objecting to. I did it, and didn’t miss a beat in my Mom life…well maybe half a step or two, but certainly not a beat.
So, like I said I wasn’t surprised at how ecstatic and excited I was when I heard we settled the case. But what did surprise me was a feeling I never thought I’d feel about the trial that was essentially evicting me from my life. Deep down, there was actually a part of myself a twinge disappointed. Now it was microscopic compared to the feeling that I didn’t have to leave my family, but it was there none the less.
And that feeling, that twinge… was exactly what I needed. It showed me that somewhere amidst all the lullabyes, boo boo kisses, dance Mom-ness, play dates, and bike rides, somewhere in me is an attorney. Even on the days I don’t think its there…it MUST be there. I saw that somewhere in me, buried under Mandi the Mom, was Mandi the attorney, and she must have been starting to get a little excited about tackling this case. And even though this feeling was small in comparison to my feelings of excitement and relief, it actually had a bigger effect on me. This feeling silenced all my questions about my career, all the “can I do this?” thoughts in my brain. I must be where I want to be. I am doing what I want to do. It made me feel…content, at peace, and well SETTLED.