The Disaster

I somewhat lovingly refer to my house as The Disaster In the Woods, or The Disaster for short. The Disaster was my husband’s dream, a collapsing stick Victorian on four acres located a few minutes outside of the city.

I was a bit less excited upon seeing the house.  This is a picture of me at one of the side entrances the first time that I visited the house.  I couldn’t believe that my husband was serious about buying this place.  I hadn’t even gone inside yet, but, holy smokes, what a mess on the outside.  The inside turned out to be even worse.  I like fixer uppers.  My last two houses were fixer uppers, but this house was something altogether different.

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I realized that The Disaster certainly had potential, but after years of abandonment and neglect, the house looked like a set from a horror movie. Although I had experience renovating old houses, I simply wasn’t prepared to handle a project like this. Vandals had broken into the house and dumped garbage and cleaning products all over the first floor. Burglars stole all of the copper piping, the wood mantles, the brass chandeliers, anything of value they could pull out quickly. They even tried to take one of the gigantic radiators, got it outside, realized they couldn’t carry it, and threw it down the hill. Classy, right? The house had no plumbing, the knob and tube electrical wiring flickered and only worked in some rooms, the plaster walls were collapsing, and there was no heat.  The house was big, dark, and very scary. But the house had a tower and I have always wanted a house with a tower.

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I was three month’s pregnant when we bought The Disaster and completely bitter with regret that we sold our renovated Craftsman in a highly desirable neighborhood. There was no safe way to live in The Disaster during the early renovations, so we stayed with my in-laws. All I wanted to do was start nesting, but all I could do was sit and wait on the third floor of my in-law’s house while my husband worked on The Disaster.

Now, eighteen months later, we are still hard a work.  We live here now, but it is not even close to being finished. We tried to save as much as possible, we have rebuilt and recreated things to match the original product, and anything new that we bought, we tried to make sure that it was as close to original as we could find. Replicas are expensive and trying to find original pieces is both time consuming and even more expensive. If you can find old fixtures in bad shape, you can get them cheap, but you have to restore them yourself, which takes a lot of time, or chemicals, or handiwork. We are forever scouring Craigslist, eBayConstruction Junction, and Ruby Lane for old goodies.  I go to House of Antique Hardware for new goodies. There has been a lot of trial and error and so many mistakes, but we have also had some big successes.  

The Disaster is slowly coming along.  Much more slowly than I anticipated.  I am an impatient person and an organizational neat freak, so this house is driving me insane. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a movie, the Money Pit House meets the Burnt Offerings House.  Dealing with tools, fixtures, wood, mess everywhere. Ugh. Trying to keep the baby and the dogs out of the danger zones. Ugh. I keep telling myself to stay positive because eventually, I will finally get my chance to furnish and decorate. Hooray! I cannot wait for that day to come.

As frustrated as I feel with The Disaster, this is the winter view from my bedroom window and I only have a five minute drive into the city.  So it’s not all bad.  I just have to keep my sanity until we get the interior complete…and then we will begin work on the exterior.

House 2

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Child Care Blues

Oh yes, I have the child care blues.  During pregnancy I didn’t give much thought to the premium I would have to pay to ensure my daughter’s well-being when I returned to work. One of my family members agreed to watch her part-time, so I figured that paying for child care wouldn’t be too bad. I signed my daughter up for part-time care before her birth and it was a major relief that I no longer had to worry about obtaining child care.

Then my family member backed out last minute and I had to frantically scramble to find full-time care.  With approximately a month before my return to work, my husband and I had to figure out what to do with my daughter.  We decided to place her in an actual school that also offered infant care.  Unfortunately, it was the most expensive place we looked at, but the infant classrooms were roomy and clean and we liked the curriculum (although, personally, I don’t really think a twelve week old learns that much in school).  So we enrolled my daughter, feeling desperate and overwhelmed.

Over the last year, I have wised up about the subject of child care.  I’ve had time to research and talk to other moms about my options.  Over the last year, I’ve also watched child care tuition consume over half of my take home pay from my day job.  Every time I look at my tuition bill, I get the child care blues.  It seems like I work just to pay for the tuition.  Well, it seems that I’m not alone in feeling the blues. An Opinionator article by Alissa Quart in the New York Times chronicles the difficulties facing educated, middle and upper-middle class families in finding affordable childcare.

The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.

I have considered leaving the workforce due to child care costs and the absolute lack of flexibility that comes with being a lawyer, but I like the mental stimulation of legal work and it is nice to get out of the house and be with other adults.  I recently read an opinion piece by Margaret Heffernan for CBS MoneyWatch that made some interesting points regarding her choice not to leave the workforce when she had kids.  She described her choice to continue working as an investment in herself and in her family’s financial future.  She noted:

Yes, for a few years — quite a few in fact — I probably operated at a loss. But as my career advanced, I slowly but surely became a profit center, as it were. And, much more important, by the time I didn’t need child care any more, my career had advanced significantly and had momentum. I hadn’t taken the “off ramp,” I didn’t need to catch up on new technologies and job searching tactics, and as a family we had developed some healthy, thrifty habits.

I like this positive way of looking at this situation, even if day care costs eat up my entire salary.  Perhaps I am building a better future for my family by continuing to work. Perhaps this situation is best for both my family and me.  Perhaps.  Even so, I sure wish I had more flexibility in my career so I could spend a little extra time with my daughter and a little less money on day care.  Comparing that monthly tuition bill to my monthly salary makes me feel that my career is somehow inadequate and it’s just not worth the hassle.  I have the child care blues.

Crushed By the Cost of Childcare [New York Times]

For Women, Child Care Isn’t A Cost — It’s An Investment [cbsnews.com]

Is Anyone Surprised That Working Moms Are More Stressed Than Dads?

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New research shows what I already know from experience: family matters cause more stress for working moms than for working dads.  According to Business News Daily:

In a study to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, researchers discovered that contemplating family issues during the workday takes a greater toll on working mothers than fathers in the form of increased stress and negative emotions.

This research is not surprising to me or any other working mother that I know. As a working mom, I juggle a full-time job as a lawyer and a second full-time job as the manager of my home. Inevitably, both spheres spillover into the other, which exponentially increases my stress.  For example, today I tried (unsuccessfully) to finish a motion before the end of the day (while worrying about my daughter’s eczema, how I’m going to get her to her upcoming doctor appointment, daycare closure issues next week, and her new biting habit) and then I came home and had to feed and bathe the baby in the one hour I got to spend with her before her bedtime (while thinking about the seven legal briefs I have due in the next month). My husband walked in the door, humming to himself, and asked, “Why do you look so tense?  Why can’t you ever relax?”  Honestly, sometimes I want to cut him.  How is he not stressed after coming home from work?  How does an entire evening of completing tasks around the house not compound that stress level?  What is wrong with me that I can’t just chill out like he can?  I want answers!

The study noted:

Overall, researchers found that working mothers experience about 29 hours of mental labor — the thoughts and concerns that can impair performance — each week, compared with just 24 hours a week for working fathers. Of that time, they each spent 30 percent thinking about family matters.

Wow, this means that working mothers spend over four hours a day on concerns that can impair their performance.  Personally, with how full my day is, I don’t need to be wasting over four hours on performance impairing thoughts.  After accounting for sleep, that means that I am impairing my own success with this “mental labor” for approximately 1/4 of my waking time. No wonder nothing seems to get done.

I find it interesting that both moms and dads spend similar amounts of time thinking about domestic matters; however, the study noted that men deal with the stress of these thoughts better.

Study author, Shira Offer, an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, feels that mothers are the ones judged and held accountable for family matters which makes this type of “mental labor” a negative and stressful experience. Add to that societal expectations pushing mothers to assume the role of household managers who disproportionately address the unpleasant aspects of family care and it’s a wonder that working moms are able to keep it all together. Talk about serious pressure.

The study also found that fathers are better able to leave their work concerns at work and to draw boundaries between work and home. Offer presented several reasons for this: 1) Dads can afford to leave work at work because moms assume the major responsibilities over the household and childcare and 2) Moms feel that they don’t devote enough time to their jobs and have to “catch up,” making them preoccupied with job-related issues outside of work.

These findings strike a chord with me because one of the most common reasons for contention in my home involves me bringing my work stress home. It takes time away from my child and my husband, making me feel guilty. My husband gets upset because he can’t understand why I can’t leave work at work, but choose to bring it home where it affects everyone.  Then I get mad because I feel like I am doing everything and I never get a break, even once I arrive home.  This affects everyone in my house.

This study suggests that dads must take a greater role in family care to make the “mental labor” less stressful for working moms and to ease the double burden that women experience while trying to succeed at work and at home.

I don’t see this situation changing drastically, at least for me.  Why would my husband want to take on more responsibilities when he already does so much and he knows that I will take care of things like the cleaning and the bills?  I certainly am not going to stop taking care of my domestic responsibilities because my household would fall apart.  I’m simply not willing to allow that to happen.  Also, honestly, even if I stopped doing many of these domestic chores, I don’t think my husband would care much.  It doesn’t bother him when the dog hair dustbunnies pile up on the floor, and dirty laundry piles up in the hampers, and cat poop piles up in the litter boxes, and dishes pile up in the sink.  These things bother me (I wish they didn’t), so I take care of them.  

I wish I could figure out a way to both lessen my domestic workload and keep my work at work. Maybe I’ll win the lottery and be able to afford a personal assistant.  That would probably help relieve stress a lot.  Until that happens, I guess I’m just going to be handling my “mental labor” less effectively than my husband.

Home Life Stresses Working Moms More Than Dads (Business News Daily)

Baby Road Trip Prelude

I’m having panic attacks about our family trip with the baby this weekend when we travel to an out-of-state wedding.  This will be the first real road-trip with the baby where we have to stay in a hotel room far away from the comforts of my baby-proofed house and my daughter’s favorite annoying, musical toys.

We are renting a van with my in-laws for the six hour drive.  I don’t know what to pack or where we will put it all.  The necessities first: diapers, wipes, toys, blankets, playpen, books, car seat, sippy cups, baby spoons, a cooler, whole milk, three days worth of homemade baby food, baby soap, toothbrush, and bibs.  I guess I need to bring her clothes too. Although she prefers to just rock the diaper in this heat, that probably isn’t appropriate wedding attire.  I honestly cannot believe all of the stuff I have to bring to keep this one little person happy and comfortable. My husband and I are sharing a small suitcase, while the baby has a gigantic suitcase all to herself.

My husband said the van will hold five whole suitcases so we should have plenty of room. He must be ignoring the fact that there will be six adults and one baby in the van, along with all of our stuff.  Just her playpen is at least as big as one suitcase.

I don’t think anyone else in that van realizes what they are in for.  My daughter wakes up at six and doesn’t take a nap until noon.  Considering that mornings are her most active time and she can’t handle being in the car seat for more than fifteen minutes, I have a feeling I will be ready to jump out of the moving vehicle by the time hour two rolls around.  Six adults and a screaming baby squished in a mini-van for hours should be a great start to the weekend.  Couple that with forcing the baby to stay up way past her bedtime for the rehearsal dinner and she should be tired and super cranky for the wedding the next day.

Trying to get the baby to properly walk down the aisle without me or her father will turn out one of two ways: a hilarious fail or a very cute success.  I’m hoping for success so people will think that I am doing a fantastic job raising a well disciplined kid.  Since my husband is in the wedding, I won’t have any help with the baby during the ceremony (which means I will probably end up in the cry room, if the church has one, or outside in the August heat).

I was expecting to have to take the baby to the seven o’clock reception, which likely would have been an utter disaster, but the groom just told us they got a last minute sitter.  This means an evening without the baby. Hallelujah! Mommy time with cocktails. I can’t wait for cocktails and I will need them to mentally prepare myself for the long, scream-filled car ride the next morning.

I’m envisioning a weekend where the baby is tired, confused, and miserable.  I’m envisioning a weekend where I’m trying my best to make my tired, confused, and miserable baby happy, while feeling somewhat embarrassed that 1) my child is ruining the festivities for other guests and 2) I’m blowing people off because I’m entertaining an angry baby.  I’m envisioning a weekend where my husband will be living it up while I try my best to keep the baby content.  It should be really awesome…for my husband.  Sometimes it must be nice to not be “mom.”

Before the baby, road trips and weddings were fun, a chance to take a break from the grind and spend time with friends and family.  Now that I have a child, the thought of taking that child to a far-away wedding locale is giving me panic attacks.  Hopefully, it all works out and my kid proves me wrong.

Best Law Firms for Women

As both a full-time Pittsburgh attorney and a full-time Pittsburgh mom, I am uber pleased that five BigLaw firms with offices in Pittsburgh made the cut in the 2013 Best Law Firms for Women list, compiled by Working Mother Magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC.  The list includes the top fifty firms in the country who use best practices to retain and promote women, such as ensuring that women who use flexible work arrangements aren’t excluded from the partnership track or leadership positions.

The five firms with offices in Pittsburgh are Reed Smith (Reed Smith is headquarted in Pittsburgh), McGuire Woods, Littler Mendelson, Fulbright & Jaworski, and Duane Morris.

The ABA Journal provides some coverage of the results:

All 50 firms offer flex-time and reduced hours, though only 15 percent of the lawyers use flex-time and only 9 percent work reduced hours. Forty-eight of the 50 firms allow lawyers working reduced hours to be eligible for equity partnership, though an average of only one lawyer per firm received a promotion while working fewer hours.

It’s fantastic that these large firms offer flex-time and reduced hours; however, only a small percentage of lawyers are taking advantage of these opportunities.  I would love to know more information, like what percentage of the lawyers using flex-time/reduced hours are caregivers for children under the age of eighteen, what percentage of lawyers who are caregivers for children under the age of eighteen are not taking advantage of these opportunities, and what percentage of caregivers not taking advantage of these opportunities are women.  I noticed that among equity partners, more than three quarters of flex-time users are men, so why aren’t women equity partners using flex-time?  If women aren’t utilizing these opportunities, then why aren’t they?  Could there be a stigma for using flex-time and reduced hours, even if the firm offers it?  I have a lot of questions about this data, but I’m a lawyer and I always ask too many questions.

I am not sure what to think about the fact that an average of one lawyer per firm was promoted while working fewer hours.  On one hand, if you are advancing the firm’s interests while working reduced hours and being just as productive as someone working more hours, don’t you deserve a promotion?  On the other hand, if both people are equally productive, is it fair to promote someone over another person when that other person is working longer hours?

As a woman who did not believe she could possibly start a family in her twenties due to her fledgling legal career, I find it encouraging that BigLaw firms are taking women’s family concerns seriously and making flex-time and reduced hours available.  So, although things aren’t perfect, progress is being made.  It’s also great that several of these firms have offices in Pittsburgh.  Go Pittsburgh!

I hope that things continue to improve for women attorneys and other law firms follow the lead of these firms.  No matter how you look at it, this kind of support by employers helps boost morale and happy attorneys means more productive attorneys. It is a win-win for everyone.

Executive Summary: Best Law Firms for Women 2013 [Working Mother Magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers, LLC]

2013 Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers Best Law Firms for Women [Working Mother Magazine]

50 Best Law Firms for Women Named; More Have Women in Top Rainmaker Ranks [ABA Journal]

Can I Make the Time to Write?

Writing used to be my release. I had fun writing. Then I entered the practice of law and writing became my job…technical, tedious, legalese-filled writing, every single day. Although I believe that my legal work makes a difference, my legal writing is not the type of stuff that people want to read for fun.

After having my daughter (which has been the awesomest experience ever), I returned to work full time. My personal life and professional life have clashed ever since. As someone who used to put all of her time into her career, it has been a difficult transition trying to split my time between my work and my family, while keeping each separate from one another. Both get some of my time, but neither gets enough for my liking. Even after being back to work for a year, I still struggle with it every day. Most days I feel like I am just getting by, but some days I feel like an absolute failure. I don’t have enough time for my family, my career, or my house. I don’t have any time for myself. I am so tired all of the time that when I walk past a storefront window, I don’t even recognize myself anymore. “Yikes, it’s a zombie…oh wait, that’s me. Ugh, I went out looking like this? Really?”

Which is why I’m here, writing this blog. I am going to make a conscious effort to put aside some time for me, even if it is only a couple of minutes a week. I want to write for fun again and focus on things that I find interesting. Selfish, I know, but too bad, it’s my blog.

I’m muddling through as a full time lawyer and a full time mother/wife, while also running a business and renovating a Victorian house. It is tough not having time to do everything, but I’m making it all work.

I gotta go.  My daughter just knocked the floor lamp over on the dog.