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Monsters R Us

Vivia Chen

October 30, 2012

The following post originally appeared in The Careerist on October 28, 2010.

Little_monstersHalloween is coming, and I am in utter panic. My 9-year-old tells me that she wants to be a giant leaf this year. She also insists that the costume be homemade--not some store-bought thing. Much too common. "They're more interesting when you make them," she says.

Yes, I've always made her costumes. For the last two years, she was a chess piece (a rook, then a bishop); before that, she was an apple with the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" crawling on her shoulder.
Too bad for me that I've inculcated her with the silly idea that items made from scratch are superior. This extends to food (she also insists on homemade cupcakes). Truly, I have no one to blame for the pickle I'm in, except myself.

So I am standing here looking at a large swath of green felt and wondering how I'm going to fashion it into a leaf (with veins, no less!). Meanwhile, I've got a blog to do.

But I know I'm not the only mother feeling the heat. They might not be sweating about what costume to sew, but they feel the constant pressure of striving to be "above-average"--maybe even an "A"--in the motherhood category. All while working a full-time job. It's become the malady among the moms I know.

Some women have found the stress of meeting a high standard at home and work too much, and have opted to dump the job. And some of those former professionals, as I've blogged in the past, are channeling their professionalism into über-momdom.

But there's another version: über-moms who also hold high-powered jobs. I'm talking about women who have multiple kids (three or more), are partners in law firms or financial institutions, serve as class moms, and show up at every school function bearing armfuls of homemade delectables.

One woman who fits that description is a partner at a super-elite firm. I see her at school either cooking away in the cafeteria kitchen for some event, or backstage ironing and mending for a performance. She rushes in from the office, drops her briefcase, and gets right to work. An $800-an-hour-plus partner doing minimum wage work.

But she'd probably tell you that it's for her darlings, that she derives pleasure from slaving away at the school. Honestly, though, I think she looks a bit tired.

Sometimes, I think, women make this juggling act even harder than it has to be. Why do we overdo things? Are we trying to live up to some maternal ideal based on June Cleaver? Is it residual guilt about working? Or is there a subtle competition for superwomandom going on?

My resolution: I will try not to badmouth store-bought goods. Ding-Dongs can be quite yummy, I've heard.

But right now, I have to tackle this mass of green felt and create one fabulous leaf.

Postscript: This year, my daughter wants to be a watermelon, so I've been busy cutting and sewing pink, green, and black felt pieces into a giant wedge of the fruit. Pity, Hurrican Sandy struck last night, and we live in a part of New York City with no power; hence, Trick or Treating will likely be cancelled. The good news is that the costume might keep until next year.



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I also made Halloween costumes for my children when they were young. It gave me an enormous amount of pleasure to be doing something creative (I didn't do much of that at my "day" job at a law school), and years later my children still talk about the costumes I made. They felt that their homemade costumes set them apart from the kids with the "store bought" costumes.

For once I'm glad my daughter loves Disney. I have no time to sew, and even if I stayed at home, I don't know how to do it anyway.

Where are the Dads in all this costume-making frenzy, anyway?

I think you've identified two of the elements that underlie these feverish juggling acts. Let me suggest another: a pent-up desire to act from the heart instead of the head. There is so little that women lawyers do during their workday that connects with their emotions -- except possibly emotions like anger and frustrations.

Bravo for making Halloween costumes. My first - and last - effort occurred just after Pokemon burst onto the scene. No commercial costumes were available yet. My son wanted to be Diglet, a mole. The kindest characterization of the costume is that it looked like a brown carrot. I'll let your imagination take it from there.

I'm a new mom of a 3-month-old boy and I'm just discovering this new juggling act. It's hard! I hope it gets easier so I can make leaves one day. ;-P

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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