I grew up under the law.
My father is an employment lawyer, so for a living, he makes sure things are right in the work place. Or as I viewed it growing up, “he argues and wins and gets paid.” (As I got older, this definition became more finessed: “he argues and wins and gets paid…about work stuff.”)
While we never discussed legal matters over dinner, I suspected a legal tone to everything he said. Having a conversation with him required having adequate support, details and defense–if I didn’t close the refrigerator tightly enough, there was no way I could blame my sister or an imaginary fairy or there being too many chickens in the fridge. He would ask the questions (“When were you down here last?” “What were you eating?”) that would ultimately lead to sufficient evidence for him to prove that, yes, I was the party responsible for the skyrocketing Con Ed bill and rotten food, including the chickens.
What I learned from this, incidentally, was (1) how to construct an argument (if there’s evidence to do so), and (2) that some arguments (like the fridge) were just not worth it. Being right when it didn’t matter to me meant throwing up my hands, but being right when I was right became essential.
It’s the things in between that still puzzle me.
This became clear at my job as a temp right out of college. My dad had told me that if I didn’t sign a contract, things weren’t set in stone, but as soon as I signed, they were; I could be held accountable. I remember sitting on the train to one of my first days and glossing over the “Temp Bible” that reminded I was not an employee of the company, just the agency, and therefore wasn’t allowed to take any swag offered by the marketing company or real estate agency where I was filing. But I already knew this. I remembered signing on that dotted line.
“Take one of these magazines,” one of the women in the cubicle said to me.
“I can’t,” I said.
“It’s just a magazine,” she said. It was one of eight million copies of Allure, but I didn’t want to lose my job or end up in court.
“Go on lunch break, Mallory,” I would be told at another temp job.
What if I didn’t want a lunch break? What if instead of lunch breaks I just had more getting-coffee-and-going-to-the-bathroom privileges? Everyone looked at me so skeptically every time I went to the bathroom or went to get another free K Cup of coffee. (Or did they?)
Since my father didn’t bring home any work for me to peruse (which I wouldn’t have looked at anyway), I didn’t–and still don’t–know the codes of employment law. Sure, I occasionally call him to ask if something is ethical or standard or legal, but more often, I’m just suspicious across the board simply knowing that employment law exists.
As an adult, I don’t know if there is a better lesson than realizing that some arguments are just not worth fighting, but that it is necessary to be your own advocate when something really matters to you. There are battles that are worth all of the evidence, defense, and proof in the world. I’ll fight for what I’m care about, in part because I believe I have enough proof, that if I had to, I could “win” an argument about it going head-to-head with my father at the kitchen table, with all of his legal jargon and professional argument-winning skills. When I’m not suspicious, I’m either letting things slide or having a passionate conversation.
But while growing up under the law didn’t lead me to become a spineless pushover or an argumentative, red-faced lady, I sometimes wonder if I’d be so suspicious all the time were I not the daughter of a lawyer. I’ll never know.
Mallory Schlossberg is a writer and performer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her original one woman musical has been performed multiple times at The Magnet Theater. Her writing has been featured on Funny Not Slutty, Brokelyn, Thought Catalog, and other blogs. You can follow her on Twitter @malloryschloss.