Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On Having It All

The state capitol of PA (taken by me)  I will probably not be the governor. 

Growing up I was often taken to Bring Your Daughter to Work Day and left to talk about law with my father's female coworkers.  They were often single, childless women in pink power suits.  When I was in college, my father arranged for me to meet with three female attorneys at a top Boston firm to talk about life there.  The partner I met with woke up at 5 every morning to work out before her son got up at 6.  She made him breakfast, dropped him off at preschool and was at work by 8.  Because she was a partner in this fancy firm she had the freedom to leave work at 3 to pick up her son and take him home.  She spent the afternoon with him and when he went to bed at 7:30 she made dinner for her husband and herself and then worked from 8:30 until around 2 am.  2. am.  And then fell into bed.

"Aren't you exhausted?" I asked.
"No, I've never needed more than three or four hours of sleep a night.  I make it work." Elise smiled.

Holy shit.

I met a first year associate who told me from behind two feet of papers, "I can't keep a plant alive.  I don't have a boyfriend.  I never make it to brunch with my friends on the weekend.  Elise is a maniac."
That I had assumed.

For my last stop I met a woman who was a third year associate and working like mad to make partner.  "On a good day I see my kids.  Either in the morning or sometimes they aren't asleep when I get home."  Her wife was home with the kids fulltime.  It was hard but she loved her job and was willing to make the sacrifice.  She didn't have the relationship that her wife had with her kids.  Nothing close, she said, but for her it was worth it.*

We are always giving up something in order to live our lives.  I am married to David.  Which means I can't date anyone else or marry anyone else or sleep with anyone else.  David and I are planning on moving back to the town I grew up in, where we were married.  So David can practice the kind of law that he believes in and I can have sheep and possibly a coffee shop and hopefully we can have lots of dogs and four or five kids.  We want to be rooted in the community in a way I (who moved every five years) was not growing up.  This necessarily means that we can't move to the south of France for a few years or live in New York or Chicago for a while.  It means I can't work in politics or be an attorney at a top firm.  We want to live in the country and that means we can't live in the city.  David and I want to have four or five children which means that I can't wait until I'm thirty-five and my career is on track to start having kids.  It also means that David can't get PhD in medieval philosophy.  Because we can't be beholden to tenure track positions in whatever university in whatever godforsaked midwestern town to feed ourselves.  If getting a PhD was the only thing that David was interested in doing we would make it work but he is willing to go to law school instead.  We aren't going to Chicago or Georgia or Ithaca or Texas for law school.  We weighed our desire to be near family and friends and the financial aid available to us as well as the potential for me to get a rewarding job while he's in law school.  We are giving up going to a better school so we can pay much much less.  We are giving up living in a new, exciting city to live in the same city as my dad and sister and two hours away from my mother.  We are deciding what kind of life we want to have and then building our careers around the lives we want.   To pretend that we can have any career we want, in any location, with any amount of children, and look sexy and have a fantastic marriage and be good friends and the owners of pets who have their rabies shots up to date is insane.  I can't do it and I don't have children.

I understand what Slaughter and everyone else  is saying.  It should be as easy for women as it is for men to balance work and family.  The work place and schools and the community should be more conducive to working families given the economic realities we live in.  But the language of having it all is crazy pants.  None of us have it all.  None of us are going to.

*Men at the firm I visited didn't see their families anymore than the women did.  The women were just more bothered by it than the guys were.  Maybe that's something we should spend more time talking about.

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