Many moons ago I worked at a high-powered law office. Long hours, doing anything and everything for the client, emphasis on family or work-life balance was actively discouraged, there were glass ceilings, glass doors, and glass elevators, along with supervising attorneys or opposing counsel who were equal opportunity assholes. Sometimes it seemed as though people took great pleasure in making junior associates’ work life miserable, and making sure they had no other life. The money was good, though, so I can’t really complain. Plus, I learned a lot.
I’ve left that particular practice behind, but now I’m dealing with teens. Demanding, self-focused, pompous, teens. I’m outnumbered. Most of them weigh more than I do. Some are taller than I am. At times they behave as if I couldn’t possibly offer anything of value while simultaneously requesting everything I have to give them. Recently it occurred to me that some of the tricks of the trade I learned in my high-powered white shoe law practice can be transferred to how I deal with these large, smelly, mouthy people I grew in my womb and propelled from my hoo-ha (except for the ones that were surgically removed).
Sometimes, it seems, these once cute and cuddly balls of smiles and coos are quite simply, the enemy, trying to break me down.
But Mommy, Esquire, is used to dealing with the enemy, the big boys, the man. These children don’t scare me. I have life and legal experience behind me. Here are a few tricks of the trade I learned from my law practice that I use on my children.
1. Stand up.
When dealing with a difficult opposing counsel, client, or supervising attorney, it helps to stand up, even when on the phone. It’s a power stance and works even if your opposition is taller than you are.
Once a senior partner stormed into my office to yell at me about an expense form. This partner had a reputation of screaming at young associates for ridiculous things in order to break them down, hoping to draw tears. He usually got them. I was just waiting my turn, but I have a strict policy against crying at work. It is one of my few rules. Do NOT cry at work . . . but I digress. Remember “How I Met Your Mother” the Chain of Screaming episode? When being yelled at is just part of the job? Well, that stuff happens. But when my number came up I was busy. I didn’t have time for his crap. So when he found me in my office sitting behind my desk and started to ream me out . . .
I stood up.
He was not expecting this physical display of strength from a first year, female associate. He actually sputtered like a truck with an empty gas tank going up a hill. (I admit I was slightly taller than he, but still . . . ) I listened to his rapidly dying rant, and while still standing I calmly explained why I had submitted the perfectly valid expense form, and he left — quietly. He never yelled at me again.
It was a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing.
I’ve tried the standing thing with my teens as well. It works. My son is seven inches taller than me, which I expected to happen. But I have a daughter who is model tall — she’s got four inches on me, and I’m not short. Still, when any of them come at me with ridiculousness, I stand up. It unnerves them.
I will not have them standing over me. I will not.
2. Create a Paper Trail.
No matter what was said, what was agreed upon, whose “word” was given, or whether there was a handshake, it doesn’t count unless it has been memorialized in writing. Opposing lawyers can amicably agree on the smallest or the largest of issues, but they always follow it up with a letter, “Thank you for meeting with me today. The purpose of this letter is to confirm your agreement to produce ABC documents to be by X date.” Is it repetitious? Sure. But it’s better to have it in writing if there is a sudden memory loss down the line.
Works the same with kids. It could be something simple like telling them what you expect, but also writing on a whiteboard an instruction, like, “Empty the Dishwasher.” Or it could be a matter of more importance like, “Curfew is at 11pm.”
Or an issue of public policy like, “I will not bail you out of jail or raise your child.”
Equally effective is to request something in writing from the kid. Then later, when the child inevitably forgets what he or she said, you can whip out the document and gently “refresh his or her recollection” of what actually transpired.
Me: You’re late.
Kid: You never said . . .
Me: Yes, yes, I did. I told you. Then I texted you, and you responded.
(Slowly pull out smart phone, begin to scroll. Pause for effect.)
Kid: . . .
Mom: Shall I print it?
3. Some conversations should be had “behind closed doors.”
As an associate, nothing caused more fear than to be summoned into a partner’s office and told to “close the door.” The partners knew what they were doing. They were creating a power balance, or, more accurately, they were reminding the associate that he or she is not in a position of power. And the associate? A sitting duck.
So, as a parent, I find it effective to summon a teen into a room, tell him or her to close the door, and invite him or her to sit down. (And if you can pull off Denzel’s facial expression above, you’ve got it made.) Pause, always pause before you begin to speak. (I learned from depositions that the pauses are not reflected on the record, but they make people uncomfortable and the witness will have a tendency to fill the silence with golden nuggets of information.) The teen might start to explain something you didn’t even ask about, at the very least he or she will listen to what you have to say, and may be thankful that he or she made it out alive. Bonus, if you have more than one kid, the others will become deeply concerned that they will be next, and may be more likely to evaluate their recent behavior and/or any (written) lists of things to do.
In conclusion, end the meeting with, “Let’s keep this between us.”
Just Me With . . . lessons from a law firm.
Two Sinks: Now standard in new construction for Master Baths. It’s another “must have” shown on the real estate shows. Having previously written about the “Open Floor Plan” a commenter suggested I discuss other popular real estate “must have” amenities. There are many, from walk-in closets, stainless steel appliances, and granite counter tops. But here I’ll address Two Sinks in the Master Bath. People just have to have these, according to many of the House Hunters couples on HGTV. Some of these HGTV couples are so disappointed when the master bath doesn’t have two sinks, it’s a deal-breaker. By the way, HGTV does a good job of showing same-sex couples on their shows, but the two sink thing seems to be proffered has a heterosexual couple “must have.” I’ll address it in kind.
From what I understand, these are the reasons why this is so popular:
1. We can get ready together in the morning!
2. I don’t have to deal with his/her mess in the sink, I’ll have my very own sink!
3. His and her sinks in the Master Bath means “I’ve Arrived!”
Yeah, okay. I get it. I really do, but I’m not sure that requiring two sinks in the master bath is the best use of construction dollars or should be a deal-breaker.
1. We can get ready together in the morning!
Oh, that’s cute, but think about it. In this world when everybody has personal devices for everything, when people don’t share cars or phones or computers or even closets, why are high-end houses still designed so that a couple can share a bathroom in the morning? The whole point, from what I understand, is that couples can both be brushing their teeth or whatever at the same time. Really? In a large home, especially a home that is new construction, or one that carries a price tag that starting at over a half a million dollars, or one where each child, nanny, and guest has his/her own bathroom, why are the husband and wife supposed to brush, rinse, spit, and floss together? Not to mention pluck, shave, or otherwise groom. I don’t care what you say, HGTV, but most husbands and wives are not going to openly share their nasal maintenance. And though I’m not completely sure what men do in the bathroom, I’m reasonably sure I don’t need to see it.
Let’s face it: regardless of the existence of two sinks, some things will be done behind the closed bathroom door while the spouse is elsewhere — anywhere — but standing at the adjacent sink.
And for those couples who are completely comfortable sharing bathroom activities with each other? They don’t need two sinks.
2. I don’t have to deal with his/her mess in the sink. I’ll have my very own sink!
Even when couples won’t use the bathroom as the same time, they want their own space. As I’ve heard repeatedly on HGTV, this breaks down to two concerns:
a. Women want/need space for all their skin, hair, make-up products.
b. Men leave shaving stubble in the sink, and women don’t like to see it, clean it or use a sink with said shaving stubble.
Alrighty then. Having two sinks will create two separate areas for two different kinds of messes, right next to each other. His and her sinks? His and her mess.
Ew. (Doesn’t anybody clean?)
I think we can safely say that both a man and a woman have the potential for leaving a mess in the bathroom. Given blow drying and flat-ironing of long hair, the skin and make-up products, it seems like the women would be more likely to be the slobs in the bathroom sink area, though on HGTV they are usually the ones to complain. The complaint about the man’s mess seems to be mostly about shaving stubble. It appears HGTV women are very put out about seeing shaving stubble in the sink. Does having two sinks make it better? Not really. I doubt that the woman who is really bothered by the sight of beard stubble will be able to enjoy her adjacent sink within view of said beard stubble. Again, isn’t somebody going to clean the bathroom?
Having two sinks will only ensure that one is always surrounded by woman’s mess/stuff and the other will be surrounded by a man’s mess/stuff.
Still, somebody will have to see and wash up next to the other person’s mess — and now there are two sinks to clean — or not. It’s kind of like the Hoarder who, instead of throwing stuff out, simply rents a storage unit.
But I get it. It’s a perk.
3. His and her sinks in the Master Bath means “I’ve Arrived!” (I really think this is the true reason why couples crave the two sinks.)
But . . .
a. Not everyone is in a couple.
Yes, you’ve arrived, but uh — not all adults are coupled up. Sometimes you arrive all by yourself (pun not intended — well, maybe a little). It’s not always a his/her, his/his or her/her situation. Sometimes it’s Just Me . . . heh heh heh. I remember a scene from the movie “It’s Complicated” where the main character, a divorced woman, was redoing her bathroom and wanted to get rid of the second sink. It was just a daily reminder that she had no partner, which she was okay with, but the sinks apparently were not. My single sister has a two sink master bathroom that came with her newer construction home. She uses one sink, and the other holds her curling iron. Seems a waste.
Two sinks in the Master Bath are just kind of stupid for single people, and a bit insulting. I can almost see the existence of two sinks being a deal-breaker for a single person. And if person becomes single after having insisted on the double sinks? Might as well tile “Failed Relationship” on the back splash.
b. Not everyone aspires to be in a couple.
Having a second sink when single might invite a relationship where one is not welcome. Remember vintage Barney in “How I Met Your Mother”? When giving Lily the tour of his Fortress of Barnitude, he explained, “I make it crystal clear to every girl who walks in here that this is not the place to leave a toothbrush, this is not the place to leave a contact lens case, this is a place — to leave.” I mean, the guy has a king size bed with only a full size blanket and just one pillow. As to the bathroom, Barney added, “What? Only one towel? What? No hair dryer? You know where I keep that stuff? Your place. Beat it.” Clearly, the Master (or Lady) of the house does not always have or welcome a guest planning to stay long enough to warrant a second sink. Nope. As Barney said, sometimes a person wants his or her home to say, “Our work here is done.”
I know I can be a rebel, but I think that what I think people really want is — wait for it —— their very own bathroom!
Why stop at the sinks? I mean, if you’re loading down a house with all the must have stuff let’s go all the way — I’m talking his and her separate, private bathrooms! In the old days, many of the very wealthy couples had his and her bathrooms. Let’s extend the royal treatment to suburban McMansions.
You hear that, new construction designers? You wouldn’t necessarily need that much more room, depending on the design and a bit of creativity. Some of these high end master bedrooms have a separate seating area and his or her walk-in closets. If there is space for all that, they could design his and her bathrooms, especially in those palatial homes and possibly even in more moderate homes. It’s funny in these houses with every amenity imaginable and the cars get their own room and guests have their own suites, can’t the Lady and Lord of the house brush their teeth alone? And I’d bet it would be a huge selling point. Huge.
Even for singles, we can keep that second bathroom on lock down and not within view, and only a privileged few could earn a key to this “executive washroom.” It would be a “special guest” bath. As an added bonus, it would serve a dual function of keeping our guests the heck out of our stuff. “No, I’m sorry, honey, you use that bathroom.” heh heh heh
But I get it. For most of us regular folk there might not be space for two completely separate baths connected to the master bedroom.
I’ll offer another, less radical, suggestion. When remodeling or buying new construction or house shopping, consider having only one sink in the Master Bath, make the assumption that a couple will not actually be in the bathroom together, or if they are, they are not both using the sink at the same time. Instead, use the money saved to install a larger, easy to clean counter space, creating an area that can accommodate all the products with great lighting and plenty of mirrors. Or, better yet, design personalized storage for all of those products and hair appliances so they can be used and put away (or left out) while still hot. And that one sink? Make it and the counter easy to wipe clean of the shaving stubble, you could or even install a sprayer. (Or get a maid.)
Let’s put a second (or third) sink where it belongs — in the hall (children’s) bath. It always amazes me when this is missing in a space that would allow it, especially in homes that are meant to accommodate more than one child. It’s kids that brush their teeth together while another small child is sitting on the toilet. Kids aren’t concerned about modesty, have less products and consequently less need for counter space. But trust me, you want them washing those grubby hands. Any preschool teacher or parent will tell you kids tend to wash better and brush teeth longer with a buddy. So let the kids live dorm style. Just teach them to clean the sinks, all of them!
Just Me With . . . no master bath at all, so I’m talking, excuse my expression, — out of my ass. We are a family of six sharing one bathroom. I would love to have another sink — anywhere!
Many thanks to the commenter David Travers, who inspired this post, and to HGTV, a channel that I watch, enjoy, and criticize frequently.
Maybe I’m just jealous.