Friday, March 08, 2019

The gear-shifting problem -- we have different faces in different places but it's not always easy to transition

In yesterday's post, I lamented that my babysitting obligations are preventing me from getting any real work done.

I call it the 'gear-shifting' problem.

Long Suffering Spouse has experienced it: She teaches kids from preschool to 8th grade, albeit with varying frequency. She sees the middle schoolers three days a week, but she only sees the kids in Pre-K through 3 once a week and then only one trimester a year. Anyway, she has noticed that, after a grueling battle -- er, class -- with noisy, disobedient, disrespectful (i.e., normal) 8th graders, she finds it difficult to transition to a class of kindergartners. They file in, cute and ready to learn, only moments after the sullen 8th graders have trudged out, and my wife sometimes greets the little ones with fangs bared and raised hackles and, on those occasions, scares them half to death.

It takes a moment or two to calm down and reach the right 'pitch' with which to address a class of eager 6-year olds.

And teachers also have to shift gears when dealing with grown-ups, whether each other, as colleagues, or with (*gulp*) parents.

I think some of them can't do it at all -- which may explain some of the difficulties Olaf and Younger Daughter are having with Granddaughter No. 1's kindergarten teacher.

But I digress.

For me, the transitions are even more abrupt. Dealing with obnoxious opposing counsel, with clients who can never seem to find their checkbooks, or with court personnel who have no discretion and no imagination (and couldn't use either if they had), gets my fangs bared, hackles raised, and stomach churning. It's hard to calm down, some days, to try and think which, after all, is what I'm pretty much supposed to do for a living. Hard to 'gear down' to the point where I can dispassionately analyze facts and read and interpret and apply case law and then formulate and coherently express opinions. And that's when Lexis is working, as it wasn't, for me anyway, for a couple of weeks recently. And every time the phone rings, that little bubble of concentration bursts, and must be reformed.

That's the range -- and the challenge -- for lawyers generally.

But I have to field calls on potty training. Or babysitting requests. Or just because. One of my daughters prefers, while driving from appointment to appointment, to talk on the phone instead of listening to the radio.

Yesterday, Older Daughter called to ask if I could babysit next Wednesday afternoon. Younger Daughter had previously requisitioned me for Tuesday morning. Then she called me yesterday to ask me to pick up Granddaughter No. 1 from kindergarten because her younger two had not cooperated on naptime and were, according to her text "WRECKS." (I had to walk to my wife's school to pick up the family van; she drove yesterday, you may have noticed.)

How can I say no to any of these requests? Why would I want to? And, yet, I somehow have to get work done.

But, with the grandkids, far from being angry or even analytical, I want to be happy and playful and downright silly and make as many googly eyes or silly voices or fake pratfalls as may be necessary. Who wouldn't?

But I've gotten less done than ever this year so far, less still now that I'm home full-time. And I have an appellate brief due later this month that I haven't really begun. And my stomach is really churning this morning, and my chest hurts, too.

I need a better clutch.

(For you young people out there, once upon a time, we had to push the clutch pedal in the car in order to shift gears. I won't explain every reference for you; some things you should look up on your own -- but, now and then, I'll give you a break. As opposed to a brake. As in I think I've downshifted enough that I can hit the brakes on this morning blogging exercise and get some work done... as long as the phone doesn't ring.)

Thursday, March 07, 2019

It's all my fault, as usual -- Curmudgeon tries to explain what he should have said. Once again.

Long Suffering Spouse is having a tough morning already.

She was looking for something.

She'd set up a packet of materials for expense reimbursement -- she just needed one item, that being a copy of the charge card bill on which we'd booked her recent seminar -- and that bill did not show up until this week.

It took me a couple of days to get around to making a redacted copy of the charge card bill (no one at my wife's school needs to see what else we charged on that card in order to confirm that we paid for the seminar) -- but that wasn't really the reason why it's all my fault this morning.

That just started things down the wrong road.

See, I did prepare the redacted copy yesterday and left it on my wife's chair. All she had to do was insert that one missing piece of paper into the set she'd carefully assembled to present to the office -- the seminar brochure, for one thing, a copy of her certificate of completion, for another.

But she couldn't find those papers this morning.

Time ticked inexorably by as she searched with increasing franticness upstairs and down -- talking, mainly to herself, but not entirely so.

And that's where I stepped into it.

Somewhere in the course of this search, Long Suffering Spouse suggested I drive her to school. That way, I could have the car. You know, she added, in case Younger Daughter needs you.

Now, a smart husband, a wise man, would have said "OK," and left it alone.

But... unfortunately... I am not always so smart.

"I don't need the car," I said. (Superfluous, but not problematic.) "I don't want the car," I said. (Redundant, unnecessary, but still not dangerous.)

But I continued.

Maybe it's because I didn't yet know what she was looking for -- and my part, however inadvertent, in creating that problem -- or maybe it was because my morning coffee had yet to take effect.

Or maybe it's because I'm a little sensitive about this "working" from home stuff -- maybe I'm a little prickly about not contributing to the family exchequer these days -- OK, maybe I'm a lot prickly -- anyway, what I said was something along these lines: "Look, I'm happy to retire right now. But, if I'm not going to retire, I have to work here -- I can't be dropping everything everyday just because one of the girls needs something."

"Yes," said Long Suffering Spouse, darkly, though I was oblivious to the warning signs, "you do have to work. You can start by getting off the iPad."

Admittedly, as I was slurping my morning joe, I was playing a word game on the aforementioned tablet.

A smart person would have immediately put down the device and found a way to change the subject (e.g., what are you looking for? can I help you find it?) but we have already made abundantly clear that this was not one of my brighter mornings.

Having walked to the edge of the cliff, I decided (without consciously thinking about it) to swan dive off: "I have a hard enough time gearing up to work," I said -- this is true, although this is probably a personal failing, and not characteristic, necessarily, of lawyers generally -- "without being interrupted all the time. I don't just grade papers."


It is true that Long Suffering Spouse generally has with or near her person, at almost any hour of the day or night, in almost any place she goes, a bag of papers to correct. And she doesn't just carry it with her; she pulls stuff out constantly to work on. It came with her to all our kids' sporting events when they were growing up. If she has five minutes to wait in the car, she gets a stack out. And she never gets caught up -- there is always more work to do.

"I don't just grade papers," she said, icily... and truthfully, too.

"I know that," I said -- too little, too late --

"But you are available for emergencies," Long Suffering Spouse continued.

"Of course I'm available for emergencies. When I was downtown, I was available for emergencies, too."

There may have been more, but I think the quest for the missing set of papers once again consumed Long Suffering Spouse's attention.

Eventually, dimly, aware that Long Suffering Spouse was going to be late, I put down the iPad, refilled my coffee, and went out and started our poor, dying car. With my key. I was going to drive. I put on my coat.

Long Suffering Spouse came downstairs again, muttering something about maybe the papers might be... but they couldn't be there... I'll just look here one more time... and, lo and behold, she found them. "I don't know how they got there," she said. "I don't know how they stayed there," there being an area that would likely be disturbed by crawling grandchildren. She quickly finished assembling her stuff to take to school.

The first thing she noticed was that her keys were still on the dining room table.

"Why are my keys here?"

"I'm driving you."

"You are not driving me. You don't want the car."

"It's OK," I said (too, too late).

"No," she said, "you need to work. You said so."

"I'll drive," I said, and headed out the front door.

"I'll walk!" she said, and she meant it, too, as she barrelled past me.

In the end, she drove. She turned off the car and threw my key at me, then put hers in the ignition and started off. I half expected to see or hear a crash before she got a block away -- she was that angry and, besides, it's very busy on our street at and just after 7:30, as the cars come streaming past en route to a nearby public high school. But I believe she made it to her school without incident.

"And this is before I see any kids today," she said on her way out.

Woe betide the first kid to cross her this morning.

I have a colleague who says solo practice is another way of saying unemployed. At least, that's how our family members view it. This week, just to cite a single example, Older Daughter called immediately after Granddaughter Number 3 did number two in the proper place. Now there's a very good reason for making this call: She wants to reinforce how happy she is -- how happy we all are -- that Granddaughter Number 3 has achieved this latest milestone on the road to being successfully potty trained. (And hers has been a long and winding road, too.) My job, in this circumstance, is to say "hooray" and "yaay" and "good for you" without the least hint of irony or snark. I can do that. Truth be told, I like doing that.

However, let's look at this a moment.

Older Daughter might call her husband for this purpose -- but he's too busy in his office. She might call her mother -- but Long Suffering Spouse can not be disturbed at school. She might call her sister -- but Younger Daughter is chasing after her own kids.

The perception is that I have nothing better to do.

And, again, in terms of what is good, and what is useful, and what I like, this statement is true.

But it is hard to try and analyze a case, or recreate time for billing purposes, or explain the finer points of the law to a client who doesn't want to hear bad news. And when I have finally got the legal oxen hitched up and plowing a straight furrow, it is jarring, and often fatally jarring, to any productivity I might otherwise have achieved, to get called away to say "yaay" and "hooray" for successful pooping.

If this working from home business is to have any hope of success, the family is going to have to think of it as working first, and to be just as wary of interrupting me, toiling away in the girls' one-time bedroom, as they would be of interrupting Long Suffering Spouse.

No, I don't think that's going to happen either.

And, to refer back to the title of this morning's post, the above and foregoing is not what I should have said. I should have avoided the entire conversation -- under the circumstances -- particularly under the circumstances -- and just said "OK."

Once again we see the wisdom in the epigram that appears on the front page of this blog: "Ve grow too soon old, und too late schmart."