Imagining Spring

Over the last three and a half years, I’ve written only a scant two dozen pieces documenting this life. Right now I’m comfortable in my office, cold dark outside the window, warm light bathing my desk. Brandi Carlile is singing to me about saints and sinners and wild horses and she’s always perfect. She also made me think about the gaps in my story, and why I started writing so long ago. Maybe the gaps speak for themselves but if I were reading my grandma’s story, I’d want to know more.

The last few years have deconstructed me in ways that I never could have anticipated or wished for, and yet like most things unwished for, the sharpness also often bears gifts. There have been relationships that have deepened and nurtured, and there have been others that I have quietly let go and others that remain unresolved. There have been surprising, unlikely friendships I never expected, and there have been missed opportunities beyond my control that I won’t be able to recover, and potential experiences I am forced to watch fade with melancholy sadness decorating the edges of my field.

Somehow I picked the worst and hardest possible time and way to go back to school as a returning student, on top of picking one of the harder professions to join. I did it. There are lovely framed papers up and down my office walls, peppered in latin and gold calligraphy. They all say I did something, that I am learned, and licensed, and honored, and that I may represent others before tribunals and courts. It came at great cost.

I’m not meaning to be oblique or cagey. We’re just not all the way through to whatever the new normal is going to be. Along with looking for a good permanent home for my legal work, I am still schooling several of my kids as well as trying to shepherd them through the last few years of their teens and into adulthood and independence. When I write, I am aware now that their stories are not mine to tell—if they ever were. We’ve had talks all along about the things I share in my writing, and they’ve always had a say, but how much can a child actually consent? I hope I threaded the needle and never exploited them in sharing, but it ultimately is up to them to decide if I did or not.

David always told me just to write and not worry about other people, but I don’t think that applies to our kids. But it does mean that now that they are young adults my own transition continues. I have gone from young expectant mother, to harried mom of many littles, to mom of a kid with a disability, to a woman processing divorce and the loss of a spouse, to single welfare mom, to college student mom, to a woman remarried and finding new joy, to step mom, to mom of teens, to law student, to pandemic homeschooling mom, to bar-passing attorney. And I’ve written through it all. Who am I now? I don’t quite know.

I have a second career queued-up and I know what I want to do. But in 2023, I am not the same person I was in 2019 when I started school. There were so many things I was certain of back then, and now I am certain of very little. I suppose every law student goes through a period of disillusionment and cynicism. I understand better why old lawyers tell young people not to go to law school. I would do it again anyway. But I understand.

One of the benefits of this extended time at least a degree removed from the world has been the realization that I deeply love and enjoy the company of my husband and children. I never would have chosen this experience from a grab-bag of choices, but the secret gift held on the spiked cost has been time together. Uninterrupted time. We’ve all had responsibilities for sure—and school took a lot of my time. But there were no carpools, no conflicting schedules, no one had to be anywhere but home. There was time to learn to cook together, to watch shows together, to really listen to and appreciate each other, to have unexpectedly deep conversations around the kitchen counter at 3 a.m. because no one had to be to school in the morning. And we realized that we all deeply like each other. I personally realized that nothing came close to the importance of the people I love.

I am learning—sometimes gracefully, sometimes as an abject mess—to navigate the new ways my family needs me. Jon and I are shifting from the intensity of parenting teen children to letting go and being there in meaningful ways for children transitioning to adulthood. They still need us, but in different ways—they also need us to step back, to watch as they practice the skills and values we hopefully taught them. And Jon and I are able to turn to each other more, as the intensity of parenting lessens. We didn’t have the early years of a marriage without kids, and jumped in together midstream. I don’t know what I expected but its been better than I could have hoped. Jon, just by being who he is, has provided us with a stability and safety we never knew. That in turn has allowed us to process our own experiences and sorrow in healthier ways, which then allowed us to be better people. Jon has likewise been transformed, but his story is not for me to tell. He has his own blog, but it remains his secret.

We also have the patina of the pandemic over our entire lives, and we aren’t done yet, nor have we figured out (and I mean “we” in the collective, as a country and the world) how to process it. Our family has largely returned to basic activities, but as a family we still mask and don’t eat inside restaurants. While Jon’s been to visit his family in Utah a few times and he travels occasionally for work, I haven’t seen my west coast family since before law school.

Oddly, my relationship with my brothers and my mom is better than its been in memory. It’s amazing what therapy can do. Who knew? Historically I seldom write about my mom, and there were/are good reasons for that. It’s been a long and difficult relationship but there have been major (major) breakthroughs and accountability that have allowed me to heal long neglected sorrows. I think this can also be credited to the forced slow down and having time to look at ourselves and what we value a little closer over the pandemic. I hear Lizzo in my head, it’s about damn time.

One of the things I am looking forward to as we return to life is traveling again. It’s part of why I haven’t been in a rush to find just any job—I am looking for one that allows me to have a work/life balance, and that’s not something that’s easy to do as a new lawyer. But I am also not 26. I have a family of six, and working grinding billable hours isn’t something I want to pursue. There is a cost in that choice—public service jobs never pay as well as private practice, but that’s always been a known. I also am not the primary earner, which is a massive privilege I fully recognize and which allows me to look for work I want.

Another iron in the fire is a collective familial desire to return west. Both of our families are anchored in the west, and all of our children were born in the west—as well as both of us. And I still have David with me; I would like to find a resting place for him. The west is home for all of us. For now we are tied to D.C. and we don’t know when that will change, but we have the door open and are starting to look at what may come our way. Being closer to family—especially as both of our parents really start to age—is becoming more and more important. I feel the arc of time more than I used to.

I also want the kids to have opportunities to put down their own roots, to find their own paths and people, and start to craft their own lives and adult educations and aspirations. Everything was paused three years ago, and while we’ve been quiet and slow about it, we have been gently working towards some longterm goals for each of them. I am so proud of all of them and the work they’ve put in, each completely unique in how and what they have focused on and contributed.

In the meantime, I cruise between open job-listing tabs and Zillow, looking for quirky towns with old houses and imagining what spring may bring.