It’s mid-October 2020. It’s difficult to distinguish between the anxieties that pop-up like an unrelenting game of whack-a-mole: Is this law school anxiety? Election anxiety? Covid-19 anxiety? Fear for Democracy and the future of my country and the world anxiety? Is this just plain old anxiety, which frankly would be like a warm blanket of familiarity right now? Or is this just the trailing macabre gift of the insomnia that that’s like a houseguest on day twelve?
It’s impossible to tell.
The history books will tell what this period was like in general, so I am left with the mundane, the personal. And it turns out, that’s my jam. I am completely insignificant and powerless in the maelstrom of the world, but I do have some influence over those in my home and in the small corner of the world in which I lift. I’m imagining the collective power of ants–and hoping that collectively, we can do things that are in fact impossible for any single one of us.
Today is day 230-something of our pandemic-based isolation. We shut the door of this house in March, and no one has directly interacted with the outside world—or entered—since. Thankfully we had a substantial storage of staples, as Mormons are counseled to do, and we’ve replenished perishables through delivery services. I’ve attempted to support local businesses where possible, but we live in the bedroom suburbs of DC and there aren’t many independent options nearby. The only thing I have control over is how generously I tip delivery workers; I’ve now built that in to our budget.
School for the kids—not to put too fine a point on it—is for shit. Our districts are fully from-home, and I both acknowledge that it’s the only way, and also that it completely sucks. It’s bad for all learners, but it’s really awful for Special Ed kids who need extra support in a myriad of ways. My kids have good teachers and a great IEP team, but everyone is trying to function in a system that wasn’t built for this, and districts are attempting to impose pre-pandemic standards on unprecedented and highly irregular circumstances. It’s not working to hold teachers to those standards, and it’s absolutely not working for teachers to then roll that downhill to their students.
Law School from home is complicated. I am officially remote for the entire 2L year, joining all of my classes via Zoom or Google Classroom. It’s more difficult to focus and synthesize concepts through this medium compared to in-person. I am in a house with 3 students learning this way, and a spouse who is working this way. There are technical issues, and despite the best internet we can get, connections fail and streams are lost. The stress and time expended dealings with the fallout from theses failures is a tangible cost. While I am grateful I can do this for the safety of my family, it adds several layers of difficulty to what is already a hard undertaking.
One of the things (sooooo many things) I didn’t understand about Law School was that you start securing jobs your first year. Don’t feel qualified? Do it anyway! For 2/3L internships, we’re advised to have a solid list of places to apply, and then have a “reach”—the legal world is striated, competitive, and often uses institutions and class-rank as a sorting method.
Last week, while I was doing the dishes after dinner, my “reach” application called and offered me a position. I was competing against Ivy-covered applicants half my age, and I didn’t expect an interview, let alone an offer. We had an impromptu family dance party in the kitchen while we listened to the voicemail on speaker. It’s in DC again, and I hope I get to serve in-person, but I will show up however I can.
I am having to resist the urge to just keep adopting new pets. Being home all the time, the dogs are such a source of comfort. As always, Tiberius is at my feed, snoring and slobbering. Squidward is settling in—albeit with some bumps. He really likes to eat things, and despite countless chew toys provided, he prefers destroying kitchen towels and believes the towel basket is his toy box instead a laundry depository.
The cats are fine. They have taken to waking me at 4 am for whatever meal comes before breakfast in cat-Hobbit world. Not that I was actually sleeping anyway. Then once I’m up, may as well get to work. There just aren’t any boundaries around work, school, home, family anymore—it’s all saltwater permeating the cell walls and running willy nilly with gravity.
Speaking of Hobbits, one of my professors is a D & D fan, and uses a twenty-sided dice to choose his cold calls from a chart he made. Whatever gets us all through it, right?
Also, this happened on September 18 and my heart is still broken and I can’t really sit and pause and grieve for a person who threw herself into good work and without whom we would all be poorer.
I actually just checked to see where Mercury was. That’s how bad my mood has been the last couple of days. Irrationally short, ridiculously emotional, frustration at power-keg in a hot July levels. It’s a lot of fun, let me tell you. My family is especially loving having mom just start crying. Or yelling at the dogs. Or stomping upstairs for who-knows-what this time.
I recognize my own ill-temper and current wickedly-short fuse. But being able to see it ain’t the same as being able to grab the wheel and gently steer my careening emotions safely back to the center of the road.
Is this the beginning of menopause? Holy hell, I hope not–I mean, not that I mind menopause—I’m fixed, so there hasn’t been any desire for childbearing for a long time. But I kind of really just hope this is stress and being on lock-down for…192 days. It’s been 192 days since I entered a building not my house? Yeah. It’s been 192 days since I hugged a friend, or chose my own groceries. It’s been 203 days since I saw any of my professors or study group other than through this computer screen. I hate being dependent on others. (Add all the caveats about knowing we are fortunate, because I do, and we are.)
Anyway. It’s a wild ride right now, and I can’t say as I’m enjoying it. All this is to acknowledge that some days are hard. Some seasons are hard. The Zora Neale Hurston quote “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” is always somewhere close to me. It’s always given me comfort. I wish I knew what kind of this year is.
Some days, it’s like riding a child’s spinning top that’s gone off-kilter and starting to twirl badly. You know its going to end in a crash, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it—except stop it. But that’s not an option here. Then, other days, things are quiet and still, puctuated by tiny sparks of contentment, like elusive fireflies–you see them from the corner of your eye, and seldom catch a direct look. But you know it was there. Those appear to be the two options at present.
My beloved west is burning, both literally and metaphorically and emotionally. My family scattered all over the west coast are reported safe. But so many are not. TEN PERCENT of the entire state of Oregon are under evacuation orders. If what is happening on the Pacific coast was happening on the East Coast, it would be wall-to-wall coverage and everyone would be summoning reserves and resources and help. For a lot of reasons, both historical and tied to the present, the East Coast is myopic and selfish and really believes (and acts on policies) in centering itself. I hate this. My heart hurts for my beloved home. The sky should never match the Bridge.
If you look out the window in my neighborhood in Virginia, things appear mostly unchanged. The trash trucks rumble down the street before the sun is up, people walk their dogs, and an occasional child speeds by on a bicycle. But it’s also the same quiet that has settled on so many spaces. There are no children waiting for the morning bus, there are few cars heading off to work. We don’t chat with neighbors over the fence, but now stand on our respective decks and wave. Our school system is closed and all learning is remote. Like just about everyone with the ability, we’ve transformed an area of our house to be a school. We’re lucky, and I know that. We have reliable internet, we have income to buy groceries and have them delivered. I am still tipping the hell out of my delivery folks. Day rolls into day, and we keep getting up, keep doing what we can to be safe and support our community from many feet away.
I’m finishing week three of my second year of law school. The old adage about working 2Ls to death appears to be accurate. It’s not that it’s harder per se–it’s actually easier to navigate now because they did their job last year and we know how to think, how to synthesize the material, how to outline, how to pull out the issue, rule, reasoning, and holding from the cases we speed read. We’re just better now at that. But on top of everything a full legal course-load contains, we’ve also got practical courses now outside of the doctrinal—pre-trial litigation, where we actually practice practicing law, filing motions and briefs, discovery, interviewing clients, and applying everything we learned in LRW last year. There’s moot court, and journals, and assessments, and all of that on top of your required course work. And if you’re lucky enough to be on Law Review, you can just kiss-off having any time at all for frivolous things like sleep. It’s a lot. Oh—and I am doing this from home while I have three kids homeschooling. Everything is fine.
One of the things that’s helping me cope is simply trying to notice those firefly moments, and pause to appreciate them. Last night, while I was wrapping up my homework, three kids and the biggest dog all found their way to my tiny closet-office. Tiberius sprawled at my feet, Bean slung himself in the only chair in the room, and Abby and Jeff both squeezed in on the floor. I looked up from reading about the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the constitution, and was deeply grateful that they all want to be near each other still, that they find my office safe and comfortable, and that I get to be their mom.
I am still deeply angry at the state of my country, but I also realized I needed to bank and control that fire or it was going to consume me and then I would be no use to anyone. I was having migraines and not sleeping and struggling to eat because of abdominal pain. I’ve deleted several of my social media accounts, and after a couple of days, I found myself more at peace. I’m still keeping up on what’s happening, I’m just not submersing myself it it. I recognize this as a privilege. I am still deeply supportive of the causes I believe in–both emotionally and financially. I also need to figure out how to sleep and not get sick from a constant bath of fury. Still trying to navigate that.
The new dog (did I mention we got another dog? I can’t remember. We did.) has finally assimilated to the point that the cats ignore him instead of puff-balling and hissing, and Tiberius has discovered the joy of playing in his middle age. It’s a net good. His official name is Atticus, but Bean calls him Squidward. Bean has a knack for exerting his will on the world in ways that defy prediction–yet are bafflingly powerful. I knew as soon as he said it that it wouldn’t matter at all how much Jon and I insisted the dog was called Atticus. Guess what everyone calls him.
I have constitutional law in a few minutes. There’s a serious disconnect in learning about long-standing rules of law—and how they formed—in the middle of watching your democracy veer dangerously towards authoritarianism. I have moments where I wonder why the hell I am doing something so hard, working such long hours, busting myself to do this difficult thing when I could easily sit back and be a lady who lunches (if we did such things anymore?). Then I remember that if people don’t do this, dont press back, don’t care, don’t safeguard what’s important, it will vanish. There are a lot of folks in that boat, doing their damnedest to hold us together. Know that. And I am going to be one of them. I give a damn.
It’s 9/11 today. It still matters. Those lives and their loss matters. But it also complicated and becomes difficult to focus on today, because every few days we lose at least as many people as we did on 9/11 to an out-of-control pandemic with no end in sight. As of today, 11 September 2020, the United States is nearing 200,000 dead in the last six months, with millions infected. That’s a sobering and devastating reality. And I can’t do a damn thing about it.
Five years ago we lost David. Grief is such a fluid and moving thing, so oddly living for being tied to loss separated by the River Styx. I try and pin down the feelings, and the lyrics bubble to the surface “there are moments that the words can’t reach…moments when you’re in so deep, it’s easier to just swim down–and you push away the unimaginable. (Thank you LMM)
There just isn’t a way to describe the loss, the canyon that David’s death blasted in the center of our lives. We cannot fill it, we cannot cover it. It’s a scar that will define the contours of the rest of our lives. I am aware that over time, canyons age, and scarred topography weathers and softens into something beautiful. But there is nothing that will ever fill that space.
He was an imperfect man who loved and married an imperfect woman. He told me once that our lives weren’t about us, but that our children were the arrows who would change the world. As always, he had a way… We tried so hard, and we hurt each other so deeply. But after everything, we found the steel rails of genuine love that ran from before, through, and reappeared in the after. To say that David was my best friend reveals nothing so much as the pale and paltry flimsiness of the fences we build with inadequate words. It never goes away. I miss him every damn day.
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I want to say this emphatically and unconditionally:
I support the protests happening across my country. I support the Black Lives Matter movement and the social change inherent and necessary in addressing our collective history of racism—both personal and structural. I support funding communities and public safety and de-militarizing the police. I support abolishing the doctrine of qualified immunity.
I support the constitution and the rights inherent therein, and I support amending it where called for and bringing our civil values in line with the just goals of equality and justice for all. I support the ERA and a woman’s right to control her own body (I cannot believe that shit even needs saying). I support the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Justice Projects, the NAACP, and the myriad of other civil rights organizations that are guarding the rights of all people.
I support Raices and other immigration centers fighting to abolish the cruel practices of CBP and ICE that are fundamentally opposed to true American ideals, which are to collect and welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I support a truly independent judiciary with emoluments and accountability for not only elected officials but for judges and justices alike.
I support fully funding and investing in public education and paying teachers and staff living wages. I support disability rights as civil rights and the creation of an accessibility society as a further reflection of our civil values. I support the Voting Rights Act, and I support naming the restoration of that Act after John Lewis, who devoted his entire life to this cause. I support the restoration of voting rights to the previously incarcerated. I support prosecutorial and carceral reform. I support the abolishment of School Resource Officers and closing the direct pipeline between SROs and the juvenile criminal justice system.
Oh. And in case it wasn’t obvious…take down every cursed confederate statue in the country and place them in museums or dustbins. Taking them down isn’t erasing history—their placement during Jim Crow and the civil rights era was actual whitewashing history. And while we’re correcting monuments to white supremacy, return the Black Hills back to the Lakota people, which they rightfully hold under the Laramie treaty.
Make no mistake…there is literally nothing in me that seeks to conserve the racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, homo/trans-phobic, nationalistic, past. Let it be reckoned with, let us remake ourselves into the nation we always believed we were, and let us do it with bright sunlight and strong disinfectant, and the courage to look ourselves in the eye.
No Justice, No Peace.
Did I get everything? No. But it’s a start.
Now. Moving on to the more mundanely personal—because all of that above was personal too.
There is some poetic beauty in the fact this writing, once expansive, has contracted back to be just me and–maybe someday–my posterity. I started writing fifteen years ago because I wondered about my grandmother’s life when she was home with three little ones. I would love to know what she thought, what was hard for her, what tiny little things brought her joy. But here I am–own children nearly grown, a life I never anticipated before me.
In May I finished my first year of law school. To say it was hard is like saying childbirth is uncomfortable. But I did it. I did it from home, during a pandemic. I did well enough that I made Law Review, which is a thing that matters for ambitious young folks who want clerkships and academic laurels—I am not yet sure what it means for me, except probably a lot more work and some honing of my (legal) writing toolkit.
It’s deeply ironic as I work my ass off to understand and apply established and well-rooted canons of law, think through nuanced common law that was built elegantly, slowly over centuries, while my own government fails so completely and miserably to give even the slightest deference to those ideas. Definite disconnect, and some days dissonance feels existentially impossible to bridge.
We have been home since March 13. I haven’t stopped to bother how long that is until now. It’s 128 days. We’ve gone for drives in an attempt to keep the cars fluid and working, and we even were brave and went through the car wash (taking extreme precaution with credit card swiping, masks, and sanitizer), but we haven’t entered a public establishment of any kind. We have done curbside pick-up for groceries, or used the assorted services now available for delivery.
On our porch, there is a five-gallon bucket of water, soap and bleach for wiping down anything that comes into the house. There is also a cardboard box Jon made with a little sign on it, thanking our delivery drivers and inviting them to take a beer. (I think we should add bottles of water and maybe diet coke to the box.) This started because he wanted to buy the garbage collectors a six-pack of beer for showing up so reliably in the middle of difficult conditions. And it’s just been carried on.
Because Jon is a T1 diabetic, because I have autoimmune issues, because I have lung scaring from past bouts with pneumonia (stupid asthma), we are exercising more care than most. I recognize the privilege inherent in our ability to make that choice when many people do not have that option. And then I feel crushed again at the problems besetting my country and how much work we have to do. It should not be a privilege to be able to keep your family safe, to earn a living wage, and to have access to medical care.
I spent the summer working for a disability rights public policy organization in Washington DC. It’s been like drinking from a firehose, and even now, 10 weeks in, I still don’t have all the acronyms down–but I do have a much deeper understanding of the policy and advocacy side of governing, and that will serve me well when I move into the litigation side of legal work. Because of the virus, all work was done remotely, which made making connections more difficult, but was absolutely necessary. I spent 200 hours working on legislation, protections, IDEA, ADA (it’s 30 this year, did you know?) and the shortfalls therein.
This work also left me with what was a simmering fury for the current administration’s push for privatization of public education. That’s a dissertation’s worth of rage, so I’ll narrow it to: allowing people to buy cabinet seats and bilk the American public with cute names like “freedom scholarships” which are nothing more than diverting 10% (or more) of funding for public schools (which serve 98.5% of all US kids) to serve the 1.5% of private school kids…is straight up evil. Its even more evil when your family has a personal financial stake in the private for-profit education sector.
Where was I?
My family is mostly good. Like everyone, we’ve had to cancel plans and adjust hopes. Jeff was supposed to start college in Utah, but since everything is so haywire and unclear on safety or even in-person classes, he’s opted to punt and stay home. I have to admit, I’d rather have him a year behind and safe. Kelsey is starting her senior year, and at this point, she’s just hoping for maybe a prom or other spring senior benchmarks. We took her portraits from home. She’s a truly lovely human inside and out, and I am so grateful for this daughter I never expected. What may end up happening is Jeff and Kels will both leave next summer for their freshman year.
We were supposed to be in Utah not only to deliver Jeff to USU, but to celebrate my in-laws’ 50th anniversary. We’d rented a cabin at Bear Lake for all 25 of us, plus extra family dropping in. We were also working on getting David interred in Logan cemetery in the family plot. All of that is punted to next year, god willing. We celebrated the in-laws with them sitting in their driveway with yellow caution-tape strung up so the local grandkids wouldn’t get too close, and the rest of us via Zoom. A modern family.
Bean and Abby are preparing for high school from home. Our district called the fall already and all learning will be from home. Again, it’s less than ideal, but they will be safer and so will staff and teachers. I’m a little concerned with the SpEd supports Bean has lost, but schools are trying to comply. I get it. We’re reinventing the wheel in real-time. We’ve moved furniture around, repurposed things, and set up a dedicated school area in the dining room. I bought a white board, and it was up for all of five minutes before someone wrote “penis” on it, so things are about as expected in a house with four teenagers.
Jon is working from home through at least the end of the year. We’ve repurposed the front room into his office. He’s got a bank of computers and screens and we are so grateful that our high-speed internet allows him to do his job and stay safe. Likewise, my law school is moving the majority of classes for upper division (that’s me now!) online. While remote learning is definitely harder and lacks the human connection inherent in legal discussions, it’s the wiser choice given the status of *waves hands* everything. My heart goes out the 2020 bar takers. It’s a hot mess, and hopefully history will show this was the beginning of reform there, too.
One of my coping mechanisms (besides late-night insomnia-driven carb-ingestion) has been to cook. A lot. There are skills I have been trying to master for years–and while I am not yet a master, I have definitely upped my game in the arena of tacos, tortillas, salsa, crusty bread, english muffin baking, bagels, and Persian cooking. I still have much to learn, but what a delicious meandering journey.
Tiberius is beside himself with joy because no one leaves anymore. The cats are bemused and annoyed and knock things over to get attention. I have to say, a purring cat in your lap while a giant dog snores at your feet really helps in sitting through particularly challenging law lectures. I couldn’t do this in class. So at least there’s that. Oh, and we have started the process to adopt a new dog. Here’s hoping.
If you have to go out, wear your masks. Care for other people. Be kinder than necessary in your interactions if you can. If you have the ability, stay home. Tip the hell out of the people who are delivering the things you need.
I step out of a steaming shower and wrap myself in my favorite thick cotton robe and fold my damp rosemary scented hair into a terry towel. The low golden rays of the setting sun are filtering through the early spring canopy of tender new leaves on the maples in the front yard. The window is open, and I lean against it, my arms folded in my robe against the slight chill still in the air. There’s a Cardinal hopping around on the deck, a bright cherry spot amid the chittering squirrels and the crows—who are heard, but not seen—in the tall oak trees lining the side yard.
The steam from my shower is gently floating out the window, and each time I exhale I can see the current and eddys of my own breath carried on the steam. How precious each breath is, how delicate and fragile everything feels right now. I’m not thinking anything, only pausing for a moment in this surreal eternal round we are currently on, and giving thanks.
Today is…a day. I don’t know for sure. I could go look at the calendar–and I have a better sense than many because my schooling continues, albeit from home. While it was probably the worst possible timing for me to take an overload of graduate level law courses, it’s a grain of inconsequential sand to the pile of mattresses on life’s lawn at the moment.
What I know about today is that I woke suddenly from a dream in which Bean was dressed in his sparkly jumpsuit and tuxedo jacket, as though leaving for something special, telling me “Mom, wake up.” and I did. Abruptly. Sleep, like everything, had its own rhythm and beat now. It doesn’t really matter what time it is, I am awake. Sometimes it’s 3 am. Sometimes it’s another time. Unless I have a class, it’s irrelevant.
I padded downstairs in my sock-feet (what are shoes?) to find Bean, awake with Tiberius snoring soundly in the bed next to him. He wasn’t at all surprised to see me. He wanted to watch the sun rise. So we put on our masks—as responsible people do today—and we walked up the street so we could watch the sky gradually turn pink and gold and melt into Robin’s egg blue.
Somewhere between then and now, I attended a class and a study session, planned for an upcoming final, baked a loaf of crusty-chewy sourdough bread (my bread game vibes, to quote my kids) and everything-bagels that I mailed to a friend who was lamenting their ability to get good ones. I hope mine are good. Probably mailed home-made bagels have a little magic around them and will be good no matter what.
Tiberius has relocated his snoring to my office, and the floor is shaking with his rhythmic big-dog sleeping. Jon is also snoring from the next room, where he laid down with a headache after an entire day of zoom meetings and conference calls. Repeat in millions upon millions of homes across the county. And we’re among the lucky ones, because both of us can keep working this way, disorienting though it may be. Their breathing brings me comfort, too.
As a person with autoimmune disorders, I have always been aware of the fragility of my breath. I fight daily with anxiety, because the perfect storm for me is a virus that threatens in this way. I have been hospitalized with pneumonia. More than once. I have scaring that shows up every time I have a CAT scan or MRI, and the doctors have to reference old charts while I reassure them that yes, those marks there on the left are always there. Only now, it seems like its not just my particular fears that this virus knows and exploits, but potentially dozens of others, too.
So we do what we can, which feels pitifully small and fragile. We stay home. We wash carefully. We keep our distance from everyone. We tip our service workers heartily, because we can, and we are grateful we have enough to share. We try and have extra patience with each other, and we apologize when we inevitably fail and the cocktail of anxiety and stress, boredom and powerlessness, fatigue and insomnia all eventually boils over and the hot steam whistles like my grandma’s old yellow tea kettle.
Steam is so fragile in the air. It looks like nothing, really. It’s just vapor, floating away through the open window while I watch the Cardinal hop to the low hanging pear bough. Steam looks like nothing. Until the kettle is left on the fire too long. Unless the valve isn’t thrown for safe release. Unless we try and keep it all in. Unless we dont exhale.
There is so much out of our control. It’s always true, we just can’t whistle past it now. Remember to look out the window. Go for a walk at dawn with your kid. Watch the sun rise. Listen to your dog snore. Find a moment or two of solitude, or camaraderie—whichever your heart needs. Keep breathing friends. And dont forget to exhale.
Stay safe. Stay home if you can. Wear your masks if you must go out. Wash your hands. Be kind to each other. Tip well if you can. Be kind to yourself.
I have pneumonia. I’d been fighting a cold that settled in for weeks, and on Monday my doc called it for pneumonia. I’m on a cocktail of drugs, and I am not contagious–but I am immunocompromised. That means I don’t get to leave the house.
Jon figured he’d run to Costco and grab dog food and cheese (we’re good on TP, thanks) and hahaha! The above is what he found. The lines went all the way to the back of the warehouse past the chillers and into the bakery. He opted out and came home. We have backup dog food. We can order online if we have to. Standing in that line for that long didn’t seem like a wise idea.
Jeffrey works at the German grocery store Lidl. Remember them? We’re a Lidl family apparently. He emailed his boss and told her that his mom is immunocompromised and asked to change his shift to overnights or to the warehouse. We’ll know tomorrow if he can. In the meantime, we have a protocol in place that he enters through the basement, leaves his shoes outside, changes his work clothes into the washer immediately, and showers before he comes upstairs. And I won’t be going downstairs. Fingers crossed…
Meanwhile, Abby is working on transposing her baritone music for french horn music, and Bean is unhappy about having his lacrosse season canceled (we’re going to try and walk up to the school and throw balls at him to keep him sharp. that should be fun), and Kels is homebound at her place.
I did a practice law school class yesterday with my CivPro professor, and it went well. We’ll see what happens on Monday morning when every college student around the country logs in. More fingers crossed…
By now we all know the US is woefully underprepared and we dont have the tests that would show who is carrying and contagious and who is not. That means we are likely spreading it far more than countries who are testing 10,000 people every day. This is alarming, and I sincerely hope and pray that the distancing and care we are all taking in how we interact will help mitigate the repercussions to the most vulnerable. It’s not you you’re protecting necessarily…but it’s the other people in your community who may not have your advantages of health, youth, or robust immune systems.
Be careful with each other. Jesus asked, “Who is your neighbor?” and we’ve pondered that questions ever since. We’ve equivocated and built fences and borders and walls, and tried to distance ourselves from people we wanted to consider others…and the answers we came up with were wrong.
It’s vividly clear, the correct answer—the answer for God—is: “Everyone.”
Because I have written though everything else, I guess now I get to write though a pandemic. When I started a decade and a half ago, I was a stay at home mom in an ordinary middle-class starter house with a baby and a toddler, idly wondering what my grandma thought about when she was my age doing the same thing with her three small kids.
I didn’t know I was going to have a surprise little girl. I didn’t know I was going to find my voice as a writer. I didn’t know my son was going to be diagnosed with autism. I didn’t know my husband was going get hooked on opiates. I didn’t know we would lose him over and over, until we finally lost him forever. I didn’t know I would be nearly homeless, and people would help and lift and rescue my and my children over and over. I didn’t know I would got back to school and write my way thorough it all. I didn’t know there would be a scholarship named after me. I didn’t know I would move across the continent and that I would fall in love again. I didn’t know how many times it would feel like the world was ending.
But it sure felt like it while it was happening. That’s the recurring theme, isn’t it? And here we are again…
What was supposed to be my spring semester of law school—another thing I didn’t know was in my future–is now a new, strange and unsettling patchwork of cobbled-together plans. I’m still a law student, but like nearly every other higher education institute in the country, my law school canceled all remaining classes this week, and moved all future learning for spring to online. I am sitting at home with my books piled around me, trying to figure out how to do this in isolation.
My children have all had their schools canceled, and my husband has been ordered to telecommute. We are fortunate that these options are open to us, and I fully acknowledge that fact. It also means there are six people living and working, every day, from a modest home, adding in two cats and a giant dog, and we are supposed to stay here for the foreseeable future.
As we hunker down, this new virus circles the globe. We only really know that it’s deadly to the elderly and the immunocompromised, and for some reason doesn’t seem to effect children as severely. School wasn’t called off here in Northern Virginia until this afternoon, but once both Jon and I were sent home earlier this week, I started keeping the kids home.
It’s frightening how fast things can change. Any illusions we have about being in control of life…of anything…are just blown away like dust. Poof. I don’t know what happens next–not for my family, not for my friends and neighbors, not for my country, not for the people around the world who are feeling the same fears for their loved ones as I am and you are. A pandemic doesn’t give a damn about lines on a map, and if one thing has been made super clear, it’s that we’re all neighbors.
Given that thought, I’m going to take a page out of Mister Rogers’ book moving forward, and I am going to look for the helpers. Things may get harder and scarier, and so I’m also going to look for places where I can be one of the helpers. It’s really impossible now to ignore the plain and precious truth that we are all in this together.
Hey, y’all. Like everyone else, there are a million things I should be doing (and sanitizing) but instead I’m answering the call to sit down and write something that isn’t about contracts, property, or civil procedure, which is basically all I think (and dream, ugh) about anymore. There’s nothing quite like waking at 3 am every morning because you were having a nightmare about a CivPro Jeopardy gameshow and your little clicker wouldn’t work…
So first up…Law school. Holy shit y’all, it’s so hard. I’m clinging to a B average which is so embarrassing and uncomfortable for how hard I am working. How can I spend the time and energy on this that I do and barely be eeking out Bs? And yet here I am. I have two months left of my 1L year, and now not only are we at midterms for spring semester, but we’ve got this COVID19 virus thing happening and uncertainty hangs over every schedule and plan. Like the rest of the world, we don’t know what’s happening, but the law really doesn’t like uncertainty. Law school professors like it even less.
Here’s a secret: I think about quitting almost every day. And…so does almost everyone I know. Law school is not a happy place; it’s highly competitive, incredibly high-stress, high-pressure, high-workload, difficult and dense reading every day, and this semester they’ve got us an overload of 17 graduate level units. It’s damn near killing me.
I left for spring break last week with bronchitis, and then last night my doctor (over a video visit because they aren’t having anyone come in to the hospital unless absolutely necessary) said it’s morphed into pneumonia. So that’s fun. Did I mention mid-terms are next week? I have pneumonia.
In non-law-school news…
We’ve had one fire-drill after another so far for 2020. The girls attempted to bathe one of the cats (why….???), and in so-doing knocked the commode in their bathroom off its mornings, but we didn’t discover that until water started dripping through the kitchen ceiling. Juuuuust enough damage that we have to replace the kitchen ceiling, but juuuuust not enough that our homeowners policy deductible is met. Because of course. I did have the joy of removing the old toilet and installing a new one. So that was fun. The ceiling repair is beyond my desire to take on; we’re hiring someone.
One of our kitties had some major health issues, and thank heavens for a good vet who doesn’t overcharge us, because Abby was beside herself at the thought of losing one of her babies. Thankfully, a couple of vet visits later, a cone of shame, and more money than I’m comfortable admitting, things are okay, and Red kitty is stable and happy again. Ditto Abby.
Bean is playing lacrosse again, and it turns out he’s a rock-star goalie and loves his new position. There’s something magical about a kid who has struggled so much coming home exuberant with joy at the camaraderie and accomplishment of a team where he feels valued and included. Once again I reiterate, don’t be afraid of teenagers…they’re amazing. The kids are alright.
Jeff is navigating (and grumbling a lot) about his newfound adulthood. He’s in school and working a part time job, and helping a lot on the homefront while law school swallows so much of me. Turns out being a grownup isn’t nearly as much fun as it looked when we were ten. We went together to vote last week; voting with your kid is a singular joy, even though our choice didn’t receive the nomination. This family is committed to civic action and voting is an important part of that commitment.
Kels just turned 17 and holy crap that means the majority of our kids are either adults, or almost adults. We celebrated her birthday with a giant pile of chocolate cake and sous-vide rosemary chicken, her request. We’re still trying to figure out how to help her get a reliable car. Having two teenage drivers poses its own unique set of challenges for a strapped family.
Jon continues the champion everyone in this family, and most of all me. He cheers me on when I want to fold, and keeps everything together at home when I am again at the law library for 16 hours. I wish there was a better way to do this, but if there is, I can’t find it. If you pause to breathe, you’re working twice as hard just to catch up. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and as a more “mature” student, I have strong feelings on the pedagogy of law school and its ultimate effectiveness (or lack thereof). Anyway, hats off to Jon and his unceasing foundational support.
Everyone said law school breaks you down. There’s no lie. It doesn’t just break you down physically, it breaks you down mentally. There is this weird re-wiring of your brain that happens in how you think and how you approach ideas and problems. This is the good, albeit painful, part. The physical exhaustion is another beast entirely. I find myself wishing often I had done this 20 years ago. Competing with kids half my age is brutal, and it’s just simply a fact that they are more supple and less encumbered; we are not on the same footing. We’re doing the same work, and I bring things to the table with my life experience that are enriching, but they aren’t juggling a family and all those responsibilities. There are only two other people in my class with children—and they each have one. It’s my choice, I’m not pawning that off on anyone. But it’s also a reality that I have to accept–and that means I cling to my B’s by my really sore fingertips.
It’s still not prudent for me to write about the work I am going to be doing this spring and summer, but as soon as I can, I will. I’m excited about it, and the thought that I can be effective at advocacy is what keeps me going on those days I want to ring the bell and quit. This Wednesday I have a pretty big interview for a privilege my employer nominated me for—it’s something I didn’t think I had a shot at, but it turns out I’m a national finalist. I still don’t think I’ll get it, but it’s nice to have been nominated (it really is!). I’ll return and report as appropriate. But here’s a preview:
Now I really have to hit the books. This was a luxurious little self-indulgent hour I allowed myself. I have an interview tomorrow to prep for, and about 200 pages of reading for Thursday, log-jammed on my desk. Tiberius is sleeping (and snoring) at my feet, and the cats are watching the first spring birds at the window behind me, their wild tails betraying the intensity of their stone-still faces. It’s delightful.
I know things are scary right now. I know it’s easy to get carried away by fears and pressure and politics and more fears. Wash your hands, try not to touch your face too much, wipe down your phone, check up on some food-storage recipes, and maybe pause and watch your cats look out the window or listen to your dog snore. Life can be beautiful, even when it’s hard.
For better or for worse, it’s done. It’s the Monday following five finals over two weeks, the last of which wrapped up Friday morning. Holy crap, y’all. There is simply no way to convey what the first semester of law school is like. People told me…but it’s kind of like childbirth—no amount of reading or talking about it prepares you for the reality. The maxim is that the first year of law school breaks you, and the next two years are spent rebuilding you, and at this point: can verify.
I’ve been through some crap; we all know I’ve earned my stripes. And while law school isn’t the *hardest* thing I’ve ever done, it’s absolutely, hands-down, the most mentally, and academically challenging. Think about it: to even *get into* law school you take kids with high grades, who did well on a really rigorous test, and you have a cohort of people who are accustomed to earning As and being considered really smart. Then you curve them to a hard C. People who have never gotten a B—let alone a C—suddenly half of them will be getting Cs or below. And consider this gem: a high score in law school is in the 60th percentile for many classes. That hard C curve suddenly seems like a mercy instead of a soul-destroying juggernaut. Another little gem? The Socratic method means for the entire semester, there is no way to gauge your progress or see where you’re doing it right or way off track. You have ONE three-hour test at the end of the semester, and your entire grade is based on that. That’s it.
No stress. No pressure. Everything is FINE. Oh dear lord, please let everything be fine…
Yeah, I’m curled up at home with my dog and my cats and my kids and don’t plan on cracking a law book until January. It was so hard. And I worked harder than I ever have before. Previously, I pulled As with minimal effort. This time? I was at the law library almost every single day of the semester, including Sundays when possible. For the last month before finals I was easily putting in 60 hours a week studying and writing. My family basically checked in with me during the evening hours when everyone else was home, and that was what we got.
If I don’t do well, it won’t be because I half-assed it. I put everything I had into this thing, and now I just have to wait and see where I fall on that curve.
I’m told that the first semester is the hardest not only because you haven’t done it before, but also because its a black-box of uncertainty. You don’t know if what you’re doing is working, but you have to keep plugging forward anyway. You have to be ready to be cold-called in any of your five classes, and you have to read insane amounts of dense texts every night, and be able to synthesize what you just read and write a brief so if you (please no, please no, please no) get cold-called, you don’t faceplant. It’s fun.
But for the next semester, we’ll have grades, so we’ll know if what we were doing worked, and where we can change up our habits and processes to make things better. I can already tell areas I devoted unnecessary attention and areas where the payoff was better than expected. My note-taking for 2nd semester will be much more concise and tight, and I will start working through practice problems much earlier, as we progress through the cases.
One of the most surprising joys has been some of the people I have met and have come to consider friends. It’s been interesting to watch friendships develop in unexpected ways, and one of my takeaways is that upending assumptions about other people is a good thing. I found myself invited to a study group of people I’d never have put together on Day One, but it has worked out to be one of the singular joys of school, knowing folks who are so unlike me in life experiences and perspective, but who are studious and smart and funny and are turning out to be real friends. You don’t really make a lot of new friends in your forties…I feel very fortunate.
One of the other things that you’re also doing while you’re carrying this insane course-load of unfamiliarity and difficulty is pulling together a CV and soliciting places you want to intern over the summer. This floored me at first–“Wait, one top of everything else, I am supposed to be job hunting too??” It feels so impossible. And then you just…do it. So in the middle of finals, after a series of phone interviews, I was offered my dream internship in DC for Spring/Summer 2020. I can’t say much more about it yet, but it’s absolutely everything I wanted, and my supervisor has worked in this field for more than 20 years; I am over the moon that I was chosen for this internship and this mentoring. I will return and report more as is appropriate.
And now it’s ten days before Christmas, and I have to start my Christmas shopping. My kids put up the trees and decorated the house, because mom was AWOL, and even though I had to let go of so many things, I am so proud of them and how they have stepped up and practice their living and adulting skills. It’s been a double-edged sword for me—after 18 years as a stay-at-home mom, letting go is bittersweet. I am so proud of them, and I am also proud of myself for doing this hard and scary thing.
I’m deeply indebted to Jon for supporting me beyond all reason. He is the rock of Gibraltar, and he holds me down and lets me fly and loves me beyond all reason, and I count my lucky stars that he chose me.
Here are some pictures of my semester, for posterity. Enjoy your holiday. I know I will!