It’s the first day of law school and I’m sitting in Civil Procedure class hearing about the interesting experiences and character traits that makes each of my classmates unique (thank you, Professor Lee for making the time for this exercise in class!). I decide to share with my classmates that I have returned to school as a “non-traditional” student with a two-year-old daughter at home. I can’t say I’ll forget the look of surprise (and maybe sympathy) that I saw from many of my classmates. We are all told how challenging the first year of law school can be, and attempting to confront that challenge while also guiding a toddler through the “terrible twos” seemed either courageous or completely foolish. However, I soon found myself being encouraged by classmates whose parents had returned to graduate school when they were kids and even met a few brave souls like myself who had families and kids. I watched as one of my classmates welcomed his first child into the world over the weekend during Spring semester and was back in class on the following Monday morning—a very impressive feat!
Despite all of the wonderful encouragement and support I’ve received, balancing law school and a family is certainly not without difficulty. I smile to myself when I think of some of the more trying moments, like the day that I desperately needed to study for my Civil Procedure exam and my daughter was home sick from preschool. I turned my back for a few minutes, during which she had taken a dozen eggs out of the refrigerator and smashed them on the floor; I finally caught her when she was trying to put them back together. While I was cleaning up the eggs, she took all of my sticky notes for my class and stuck them to herself, the table, the floor, and even the dogs. A note to Professor Lee—if I was less than optimally prepared for your exam, this is why!
But on days that went as planned, I approached my classes just as I did with my career that I left behind—lots of planning, prioritization, and organization. I had to use my time wisely and could not afford to procrastinate. I was almost always at school by 8:30 a.m., typically worked through lunch, and rushed home after my afternoon classes to pick up my daughter from preschool. Professor Cahill always tells her students she doesn’t respond to emails, texts, and calls between allotted hours in the evening; this is the time she spends with her young children, and she doesn’t return to technology until after they are in bed. I found this inspiring and always try to adopt the same attitude with my daughter. My time after 5:00 p.m. and until she goes to sleep belongs to my daughter. I also have to thank my devoted husband for the days he is home from work and rescues me when I have fallen behind on reading. On that note, I also have to applaud my classmates that are single parents—I don’t know how you do it!
I survived the dreaded first year of law school and so did my family. I’m still almost always at school by 8:30 a.m. and still feel like there are not enough hours in the day. But when I have a bad day and return home to my daughter saying “I love you, mama, I’m so glad you’re here,” it gives me a fantastic perspective that makes the stress melt away. For that, I feel like I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to experience law school with a beautiful perspective on life.
Valerie Chartier-Hogancamp, 3L