Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Jamie Szal back to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
I am dead set positive I am not the only lawyer here who voluntarily listened to many a 2021 goal setting or visualization workshop. In fact, I very much enjoyed the visualization workshop and meditation hosted by fellow MothersEsquire lawmom and Above the Law contributor, Claire Parsons. One big takeaway from these workshops was to Write. It. Down. Manifest the crap out of those goals! Write it into being.
Or be careful what you wish for.
After all, I closed one of my last ATL posts with “Up Nose, Mama!”
So, it should surprise exactly no one when, over the Christmas holidays, my flower child decided to put her newly expanded olfactory capacity to the test. As I sat, quietly working away on some project or another and enjoying a long overdue week off work, my ears were assaulted by a rousing chorus of “Up my nose! Mama! It’s stuck up my nose! Mama! Mama! Get it out! Mama! It’s stuck! Get it out!” from the kitchen. (Her vocabulary has exploded! The joy of watching that process is its own post.)
Oh, for the love of the new baby Jesus, not again.
Half expecting my progeny to be sprouting a yule log in a way that gave Pinocchio a run for his money, I rounded the corner.
And what to my wondering eyes did appear? A 3-year-old, eyes round in fear.
She managed to help herself to the bag of peas in the freezer. From the early days of solid food, straight up frozen peas have been on regular rotation. In her fervor to feast on her favorite legume she managed to stuff one small, frozen pea up her nose. At this point, I am the consummate professional, cool and calm under pressure. I took the screaming 3-year-old, tucked her into my side, and talking in an even-toned voice popped the little bugger out.
Turns out those grapefruit spoons come in handy.
You’re probably wondering what this has anything to do with life as a lawyer. Parenting and lawyering go hand in glove. I completely underestimated how much being a mother impacts the way I pursue my practice as a lawyer.
Parenting brought out my self-confidence. When under the pressure of a screaming toddler, I knew exactly what to do, when, and how. My daughter looks to me to be assured, and expects me speak with confidence for her. Case in point, turning to me to dislodge the pea, sure that I would rescue her. The assuredness I developed as a mother carries over directly from home to work; no need to fake it. Thanks to my daughter, self-confidence is now muscle memory.
Parenting taught me self-regulation, realizing how much my mindset and emotions influence my decision making (and influence those around me). The calmer I am, the easier it is to help my daughter calm herself. When involved in high-stakes tax-audit negotiating with an auditor or in a heated discovery dispute, maintaining my composure is critical to ensuring I am representing my clients’ best interests. I now have years of near daily practice.
Parenting improved my negotiation skills. Toddler persistence is a sight to behold. Even more so when that toddler is the daughter of a lawyer. What can I say, I taught her well and “Negotiable” was one of her early words. The reality is that she teaches me. The biggest lesson I learned in negotiating as a parent is to offer only alternatives that you can live with from the start, and I take that with me into my work.
Parenting brought out my creative side. Hello? Grapefruit spoon. Parenting requires constant creative thinking. In that sense, trying to dislodge a frozen legume is much the same as trying to piece together the legal landscape in a case. You have a problem. You know there is a solution. Creativity is what gets you there.
Parenting gave me an excuse to indulge in fun, and that, after all, is most important.
Parenting reinforces life lessons. So in the spirit of lesson learning and manifesting the crap out of what I write down, I will not close this missive with a jaunty “Up Nose, Mama”, but instead with:
Enjoy life, Mama.
Jamie Szal is an attorney at Brann & Isaacson, where her practice focuses on assisting businesses in all aspects of state and local tax controversy, from audits and administrative proceedings through civil litigation. Jamie actively volunteers with the alumni network and Women’s Leadership Council of her alma mater, Trinity College, as well as actively participates in MothersEsquire, the Women’s Law Section of the Maine State Bar Association, and serves on the board of a dental-services non-profit in Maine. Outside of work, Jamie enjoys raising her fiercely independent, impish daughter; singing; and hiking around Maine with her husband, daughter, and dogs.