Some years ago I had a corner office.
I had been a partner in our law firm for long enough so that when a new corner office opened up, it could be mine. Yes, it was in a back corner of our building on K Street in DC. Overlooking an alley. Birdseye view of the trash trucks coming in and out.
But lots of light. And a bit of privacy. The best part was the privacy.
I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty making my daily call checking in with my kids after school or taking a break to call a friend.
One of my closest friends at the time, Sharon, was a pre-school teacher. She wore smocks with paint smears and told funny stories about parent-teacher conferences.
We did not wear smocks in my law firm.
Sharon also got to take summers off from her job.
At my law firm we did not have summers off.
One afternoon in June or July, in between revising one fascinating document and before moving on to another, I called Sharon at home.
When she answered, I could tell she was in her backyard. The one with the creative herb garden and the adirondack chairs; I could hear the sounds of kids playing. If I listened hard enough, I could probably have heard birds singing and the sounds of the guy cutting his lawn next door.
We didn’t have many birds singing inside my law firm.
From the slight remove of my corner office, I could hear the sounds of ringing phones, my colleagues reassuring clients – “Yes, I will look into that right away.” and the mail cart periodically rumbling by.
Sharon said to me, “Hold on a second, I’m just pouring some lemonade for the kids.”
Could she make me feel any worse?
We did not have lemonade in my law firm either.
I liked practicing law. The best part of being a lawyer was getting to know my clients; I enjoyed finding solutions to their problems – helping smart, creative people run their radio stations.
But summertime, kids playing in the background, fresh lemonade in glass pitchers with small frosty glasses? No, we didn’t have that in our law firm.
When I graduated from college in 1974, the women’s decade of the prior decade had left its impact.
The messages given to us at my all-women’s college sounded like this:
“You are a woman!”
“You can do it all!
“You can have it all!”
So many of us chose, as I did, to go on to graduate schools where male students had largely dominated. We were part of that first wave of women encouraged to enter law, med and business schools in larger numbers. Vaguely we assumed we would get married, have families and have careers with all of the pieces of our lives falling magically into place.
At age 22 or 23, we were not long-range thinkers.
No one mentioned during law school orientation that we would not get summers off. Or that the career choices we made in our twenties would affect us years later in unforeseen ways.
My kids are now twenty-somethings. They tell me that it was good that I was working full-time while they were growing up. Better than having me home, they claim. I could only pester them to do their homework by phone, and not more annoyingly (their word) in person every day after school.
So from September to May each year, I was pretty much fine.
The kids went to school, did their school work.
I went to the office, did my office work.
We each had our jobs to do.
But every year come mid-June, I would begin to chafe at being encapsulated inside a glass office tower while summer happened outside.
A summer I couldn’t hear. Or enjoy with my kids, except on much-anticipated summer vacations.
Unlike my friend, Sharon, I would have made a lousy pre-school teacher. I don’t look good in a smock nor do I have much patience for choosing finger paint colors.
My legal career suited me.
But regrets? Yes, a few.
Mostly the knowledge that all of our choices as working moms came with trade-offs that we never could have known at the time we made them.
And not being able to serve lemonade to the kids playing in the backyard on sunny summer days was one of mine.