Monday, October 18, 2010

The "M" Word

All weekend long I perseverated about a mistake I made at work. So great is my shame about this mistake that I am hesitant to even disclose what it was. I have a million justifications for why I made the mistake, but not one of them makes me feel better. (Though, I do, now and again, enjoy telling myself I am a "good person" with a "good heart" even though I make mistakes at work.)

Oh, I have worked hard to take the sting out of this mistake. It's been cardio justification.

I tell myself it was a clerical error; that there are MUCH worse mistakes for a lawyer to make; I am new to this job; my former job had a whole department to catch these kind of mistakes; I am a good person; even if I get fired for this mistake, I have been honest about my time and never sent any personal packages on the firm dime; I am still a good mom; I look both ways before I cross the street; I didn't know any better.

None of this is helping. I still stew about it. I had a glorious fall weekend with Sadie spending time with friends and taking walks. Every now and again I would have a spasm of anxiety when I would think about my mistake. Then I would wonder what the colleagues who will inevitably discover my mistake will think. Before I knew it, more than 3 minutes of reverie about this mistake had passed, which was 3 minutes less of my time with Sadie.


So how can I possibly teach my kids that making mistakes is part of life and not the end of the right to live as a free citizen? I can't imagine how I could truly impart a lesson that I have yet to internalize. Can I show them what it's like to be a lifelong reader? Sure, I am almost always reading a book. Can I show them how wonderful exercise is if done in moderation? For the most part I can model this. But kids are smart and I know that no matter what I say about mistakes, and lessons, and building character, they are still going to see me stewing about mistakes and they will probably get the idea that they should too unless I change.

Here's the mistake I made: We filed a brief (a court paper, for those lucky enough NOT to know what a brief is) in state court here in Chicago. Easy enough. The partners on the case work in NY and were looking to me as their "expert" on local procedure. (The wisdom of that choice is a subject for THEIR blogs, not mine.) As the expert, I was asked if there was a page limit on the brief we filed. I remember looking in the state court rules and even logging on to Westlaw to verify that the state court rules do not have a page limit for the brief we were filing. "Fire away."

Well, thanks to footnote 1 to the brief filed by the other side, I learned that I was wrong. Apparently, the Judge has her very own set of rules that says parties may NOT file briefs in excess of 15 pages without permission.


Really? The other side had to put that into a footnote?

In addition to hating the fact that I make mistakes, some of them public and some of them the subject of a footnote in a brief, I also hate this part of the law: the picayune, rigid formal rules. Is it the end of the world that our brief was an extra 4 pages? No. Is the rule there for a reason? Presumably. Does it make me stupid that I didn't know to the look at the Judge's local rules, considering I never practiced in state court before July 2010? Certainly not. (As a sidenote, I will say that I hate that there are so many platforms in legal proceedings for parties to shame one another, not to mention how Judges often abuse their positions of authority to shame litigants.)

Anyway, the whole point of this is to examine yet another way in which being a parent of children I really love has magnified little character "quirks" (or "defects") that are miserable enough for me to deal with, but seem like poison when I think of passing them on to my kids.

Here's how I would want my kids to think of and feel about a mistake they made:

  • available to learn the lessons from the mistake;
  • feel grateful for the chance to learn from a mistake;
  • understand they just because they make mistakes, it doesn't mean they ARE mistakes;
  • happy that they are not as perfectionistic as their mother;
  • able to let it go and enjoy the rest of their big lives;
  • find supportive friends and family (THEIR MOTHER) who can help them get perspective on the scope of the mistake and the process of correction, if applicable.

I assume it's got to start with me. I am almost over this mistake. Jeff says I will make many more mistakes before it's all over. Part of me honestly thinks that I wouldn't make mistakes at work if I didn't have a job, but that's probably part of a longer conversation. Jeff seems much better at keeping perspective when he misses something at work. Maybe my kids will get his genes if there is a genetic component to this process. If not, they'll have some good company with me. We'll pour some organic milk, talk about our mistakes, write them in a leather-bound book we'll call the MISTAKE BOOK so that we never EVER forget our errors, and vow to read the book together every night until we no longer make mistakes. Instead of reading Harry Potter and Charlott's Web at night, we will read about our mistakes over and over again hoping the memory will keep us from making more mistakes and adding to the book.

I know. I know what you are thinking: You're jealous I am not your mother.

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