Common Sense Is a Gift

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At least once–if not several times–a week, I can still hear my father saying to me, “Kimberly, common sense is a gift.”  It was one of his most common sayings growing up.  When I was young, I didn’t understand what common sense was and asked him for an explanation.  “Common sense is knowing when to come in from the rain,” he replied.  I thought about his definition often.  As a little girl, I liked being in the rain on warm summer days wearing wellies–or better yet, being barefoot–and stomping in mud puddles.  Secretly I wondered whether I had common sense.

As I grew-up, I learned about common sense and witnessed the actions of those who didn’t have it.  Some examples were simple and harmless, such as not locking the doors of one’s house before leaving.  Other examples can be life threatening.  Say, for example, leaving a loaded firearm on a nightstand.  Common sense is supposed to be common, but many believe it is becoming rare in our society.  Perhaps its decline is a result of a generation of helicopter parents hovering over children or maybe it’s because we are engaging less with one another and more with tablets, smartphones and computers.  Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter.

The other weekend, as my husband and I were running errands, we pulled out of a shopping center parking lot, and observed a woman exiting PetSmart with a large Alaskan Malamute-like dog.  The dog easily weighed over 100 pounds.  And the dog was off-leash, trotting behind her.  As we drove away, I kept my eyes on her and her dog.  Waves of disbelief washed over me.  Oddly, no anger followed, only annoyance.

The woman, who used to be our neighbor, has two Alaskan Malamute-type dogs.  On the morning my water broke, before leaving for the hospital, my husband took Blue on a walk.  It was early, before 6 a.m., and quiet.  Her two dogs were off-leash in the neighborhood and attacked Blue, who was on leash.  Combined, her dogs outweigh Blue by at least 130 pounds.  They took turns attacking him.  She was unable to control her dogs and did nothing to stop them.  My husband defended Blue, but not before damage was done.

Upon return home, Blue was shaking, bleeding and seeking a corner in which to hide; my husband was frantic.  We called the Veterinary Specialty Hospital, loaded Blue in the truck, loaded our bags in the truck, and left.  He had to have surgery to reattach a part of his paw.  A traumatic morning for everyone.

Blue at home after surgery.
Blue at home after surgery.

I won’t bore readers with the minutiae of the remainder of the story.  Suffice it to say that when we spoke with the woman about paying for damages she said, “What am I supposed to do with [the dogs]?  No one is ever there that early; they are always off leash then.”  She reimbursed us for a portion of the bill, $2,000, and said she would pay us the rest, but never did.  Go figure.

I would have thought she would have learned from such an expensive experience.  She could have learned that dogs are unpredictable.  That leash laws protect all dogs.  That she is unable to control her large dogs.  That her dogs have a propensity to attack.  Etc.  But it’s evident she didn’t.

Common sense is a gift, indeed.

A Week in Review: Acknowledging Priorities

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It’s Sunday evening.  Again.

I recall last Sunday evening with clarity.  After our daughter was bathed and put to bed, I gathered my thoughts for the week ahead.  I had plans.  Like many, my Mondays start with a lengthy to-do list of tasks to be accomplished.  I also set goals for work on various projects.  Given my circumstances, those goals were modest purposefully.  And, as is the case with goal setting, my goals–what I hoped to accomplish in a week’s time–reflected my priorities.   I wanted to review and edit a few chapters of my manuscript and I wanted to write a few posts about current events weighing on my mind.

I failed to accomplish either.

Fear not.  This is not a missive about how busy or unproductive I was last week.  To the contrary, I accomplished nearly every item on my to-do list.  I picked up my glasses, prepared for our meeting with our accountant, paid the cable bill . . . you get the picture.  I also partially reviewed and edited a few pages of my manuscript and I drafted several paragraphs for different posts.  Those meager accomplishments took five days to complete and left me feeling inadequate.  My failure to do what I wanted left me frustrated, distressed, annoyed, cranky, and disappointed.  At the end of each of those five days, I sat with my husband on our couch before going to bed with a proverbial cloud over my head.  Why was I unable to accomplish so very little?

Less than a year ago, I could do.  And did it well.  Making telephone calls, preparing e-mails, drafting and finalizing documents, and advising all were easily done.  Now I am unable to accomplish even a fraction of what I once did.  Today, a phone call involves a good deal of holding, bouncing and walking, and apologizing for my joyful noisemaker interrupting the conversation.  E-mails are scanned quickly and responses are left for when I have the time.  This shift in priorities is uncomfortable.  I know that every working mother has to make hard choices about what comes first–the job, family, paycheck, children, and/or spouse.  But I don’t work.

I am a mother.  No, it’s not a job.  Rather, it’s a relationship with my daughter.  Yes, it oftentimes feels like a job.  There are aspects of the relationship I’d prefer not to have to do, sometimes I feel un- or under-appreciated, and while I can commiserate with friends and family, no one knows exactly how I’m feeling or what I do all day.  At this stage, as it has been since she was in utero, our relationship is not one of give and take.  It is one where I provide for her needs and wants.  She uses my body, be it caressing my face to explore my mouth, eyes or nose, feeding from my breast, or pulling on me to stand up.  Of course, my daughter brings me indescribable joy.   But she needs to be cared for and comforted regardless of how I’ve slept or how I feel.  And this will be the case for years.

As I was wondering the source of my immense frustration, I came back to the one discomforting truth.  I’m selfish.  I desperately want time to pursue my interests.  I wanted to write a clever piece about  whether the narrative of Chris Kyle as an American hero was warranted or appropriate.  I wanted to question the wisdom of his judgment for bringing a Marine Corps veteran–one who had been in and out of the VA system for PTSD symptoms–to a shooting range.  Not only an unpopular opinion, but one that has been muted by the cheers of the “American Sniperpopular culture.  I wanted to let veterans know that they can–and should–reach out for help if suffering from similar troubles.  I wanted to calm the sea of voices who lifted one veteran up in worship while damning another.  Alas, the verdict was returned last Tuesday and the moment has passed.  I also wanted to write about the wisdom and importance of deconstructing Marie Harf’s “job for jihadis” argument.  After all, why are so many young men (and women) disaffected and seeking to be part of an organization that endorses killing, hatred and destruction as integral to its ideology?  Certainly a worthwhile inquiry given the state of the Middle East.  Perhaps President Obama was dumb like a fox when he stated that the war is not against Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world.  Indeed, we need not give those who hate us even more reason to do so.  But that moment also has passed.  Those words won’t be written.  My voice won’t join the discussion.  My thoughts won’t be heard.

That’s it, really.  I desperately want to be heard.  I want to have a voice.  I want to express my thoughts not as my daughter’s mother or as my husband’s wife, but as Kimberly.  Kimberly who attended law school.  Kimberly who worked as a professional for many years.  Kimberly who lived in New York City.  Kimberly who lived as an expatriate.  Kimberly who is a daughter, sister and aunt.  Kimberly who was single until her late 30s.  Kimberly who is married to loving, understanding, and patient man.  And, yes, Kimberly who is a mother.

Despite being dedicated to my relationships and the commitments I’ve made to nurturing them, I am troubled that my identity is becoming less relevant, if not irrelevant.  I acknowledge that my priorities have shifted dramatically.  I’m tickled that I am more curious about the safety records of select car seats and playground culture than the front page of the New York Times.  But I wonder who I am–now?  A woman who can’t be satisfied?  After all, it was a long road for us to welcome our daughter and I couldn’t be more grateful.  Why then am I struggling with my new role as a mother?

Last week, I told my Mother, a woman who raised four children, that I felt my identity was being overrun by motherhood.  With a gentle reproach she reminded me that I am growing, adjusting, and learning about the expectations and demands facing me as a caregiver.  She reminded me that my identity isn’t being replaced by my relationship with my daughter, but being enhanced by it.  She reminded me that I am still the same Kimberly with varied interests and opinions, but my priorities have shifted, for now.  She reminded me that my voice–a richer, deeper voice–will continue to be heard, whether it be today, tomorrow or next week.

It’s now Monday and I feel just fine.  Lesson learned.

A Closet Full of Armani

What to do?

We are moving.  Again.  Including our anticipated move this summer, I will have moved eight times in the past nine years.  As with everything, practice begets expertise.  I’ve become an expert in weeding out–selling or donating–material items that are no longer used or useful.  With each successive move, I’ve become more aggressive in eliminating stuff we no longer use on a regular basis, be it clothing, electronics, books or furniture.  Indeed, I can count on one hand items kept “just in case” that we’ve actually unpacked and used move after move.

Despite my best efforts, there remain, of course, more than a few boxes of keepsakes.  In those boxes–currently in our garage, unopened–sit sentimental mementos with which my husband or I are unable to part.  There is the sturdy shoebox, lovingly packed with paper and too much bubble wrap, housing an eclectic herd of elephants–porcelain and carved wood and stone–hand-picked by my Grandmother as she traveled throughout Africa and Asia.  I can’t let it go.   My husband’s boxes contain beer steins bought in Germany, sake sets purchased in Japan and alma mater stamped washcloths.  And I have chopsticks from Korea, alpaca sweaters from Peru and a Paddington Bear from London.  I get it.  These items remind us of times and places from years past.  Proof that we were there.  Evidence that we traveled, took chances, and were up for an adventure.  Reminders of who we were and who we are.

Reducing clutter–any kind of clutter–is fashionable these days.  Articles abound about decluttering, be it house clutter, smartphone clutter or, even, wallet clutterMarie Kondo and Peter Walsh have made names for themselves by helping the masses organize and slim down belongings.  And cottage industries, such as the small house movement, have popped up leveraging our distaste for too many material belongings.  Yet ridding one’s home from all that is unused remains illusory at best.

Nearly a decade ago I left New York City.  Being an international move, I sold most of my material possessions, including my bedroom suite, bookcase, coffee table, bar stools, living room furniture, television . . . er, you get the picture.  Movers packed the scant remains–clothing, kitchen stuff, artwork, pictures, books and, of course, selected keepsakes.  It was still a lot.  Nearly 100 boxes of stuff was shipped overseas.

Upon arrival, I clearly recall opening wardrobe boxes and unpacking beautiful–mostly winter–mostly Armani suits, jackets, skirts, pants and underpinnings.  I carefully placed them in the spare bedroom closet, knowing that I would have no use for them.  I was, after all, living job-free in Grand Cayman.   Since then, I have repacked and unpacked those same designer pieces seven times.  I have worn a skirt here and a top there, but the suits have largely remained untouched, decoratively hanging in various closets, in various states, in various countries, for too many years.

Earlier this week I opened my closet and was greeted yet again by gorgeous fabrics in varying shades of grey and black.  The clothes are a size two–a size I outgrew several moves ago.  For a split second I wondered when and where I would donate them.  Before my next move, of course, no?  It will be another international move to another tropical climate, ill-suited for such designer duds.  I wondered why it’s taken me so long to jettison my one-time uniforms.  Then I remembered.  They too are remnants of my past life.  A life of spending long hours in a large office with a perfect view of the Chrysler Building.  A life where an after work scotch at the Oak Room was routine.  A life where cocktails at the Four Seasons were common.  A life where black-tie events were attended much too frequently. (Yes, I still have those dresses as well.)  A life where dining at fashionable eateries was de rigueur.  They prove once I could afford what I now consider to be ridiculously expensive clothing.  They evidence that once upon a time I was stylish.  They prove I once was thin.  They remind me of who I once was.

She was great.  Trust me–really great.  Confident, bold and unapologetic for living the life others envied.  But as I was reminded this week, she also was single, lonely, desperately seeking her life partner and wanting a family.  As I walked Blue and my daughter around the neighborhood this morning, a sight to be seen in my now uniform–baggy yoga pants, t-shirt, baseball cap and sneakers–befitting my status as the primary caregiver to our 10-month old daughter, I wondered how my husband was.  At that moment I was reminded of all the reasons I’m so thankful those suits hang in my closet untouched.

Finally, I’m ready to let them go.

What Am I Doing Here?

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“Lawyers are merely frustrated writers.”  I had heard it before albeit a bit differently.    “Lawyers are failed writers,” a former partner once told me.  He, like many other attorneys I know had started–but never finished–a novel.

It makes sense.  After all, many–if not most–attorneys are paid professional writers.  They spend hours in front of a computer writing, writing e-mails, correspondence, memoranda, legal briefs, reports, summaries and other documents.  A lengthy, seemingly endless, editing process begins once the initial drafting stops, resulting in draft after draft.  For litigators, weaving a compelling, persuasive and detailed laden narrative throughout a legal analysis is de rigueur.  Indeed, attorney wordsmiths build the foundation of the story–good, bad or ugly–to be told repeatedly throughout years of litigation.  We used to joke about the skills of a senior attorney in our practice, “If the facts themselves don’t tell a winning story, he revises the story to tell of a ‘crazy’ opposing party–an unlikable character, entirely lacking credibility.”

Once upon a time, notable attorneys-turned-authors were few, including the ubiquitous John Grisham, Erle Stanley Gardner and Scott Turow.  Today, attorney authors are so common that the Washington Lawyer, a Washington, D.C. Bar publication, includes an “Author! Author!” category in its Attorney Briefs section, showcasing fiction and non-fiction writers alike.

To date, I have left the practice of law twice.  As a result of a mixture of personal choices and ensuing circumstances, I was unable to practice law as a matter of fact during those periods.  I envisioned easily securing alternative employment.  I’m educated.  I possessed significant managerial experience, having been a firm partner.  And I worked closely with businesses my entire career, helping develop and implement best employment practices in the workplace.  Consultant.  Human resources professional.  In-house trainer.  For those positions I was qualified, I thought.  But I was wrong.  Responding to hundreds of advertisements yielded not one interview.  Rather, the single somewhat positive response received was from a sporting company, which took the time to write that my professional background was impressive and of interest to them, but no suitable jobs were available at the time.

Beyond frustrated at the lack of professional prospects, I wondered if I was qualified to be anything other than an attorney.  After several months of soul-searching, I came to the uncomfortable realization that lawyers possess the perfect skill set to be lawyers.  Or writers.  During both periods of unemployment, I secured paying work consulting with businesses.  But I found comfort and challenge in writing.  During the first period of unemployment I began a memoir.  During the second period of unemployment I finished the memoir and started a blog.  And then I stopped writing.

Like a dear old friend with whom you’ve lost touch, I longed to reignite the relationship.  I missed it.  I wanted it.  I needed it.  I wanted to write freely, unencumbered by the restraints of friendship and family relationships.  I wanted to know whether anyone other than those who knew me would be interested in what I had to say.  And I wanted to know whether I cared if no one ever read what I wrote.

Yesterday, we stopped by Staples to collect my manuscript.  It has taken me seven years–writing on and off–to complete one draft novel.  An ultimate failure in time management, to be certain.  But as I stood at the counter waiting to pay, I thumbed through the document, marveling at its heft.  251 pages.  “I’m scared to read it,” I revealed to my husband.  What if it was boring?  Irrelevant?  Poorly written?  I worried that I had wasted my time, telling a story no one would care for.  A more troubling–and more accurate fear–was that I had wasted part of my life writing a story that was uninteresting.  But my greatest fear was that my life, as written by me, had been unworthy of close examination.

But then I remembered that I love to write.  Today, I sit looking at a beautifully bound manuscript.  Its crisp white pages unadorned by rivers of red ink or creases from page turning call to me.  My red pen is at the ready.  I’ve decided to read it aloud to my daughter.  That way, even if it ends up in the bin, she will have heard her mother’s story once.  And if the manuscript fails my expectations, I take solace knowing that I’ll be able to write about my failure as a one-time author.