Passing the Bar: A Parent’s Perspective

December 13, 2013

Three weeks ago, at 6pm on a Friday night, we all waited by the phone. The call was supposed to come around then, but by 6:15 it hadn’t. By 6:20 I was certain. By 6:35, I began preparing for a different kind of call, adjusting my voice from euphoria to a mother’s support, “It’ll be alright. You can take the Bar again in February, and by July, you’ll be right on track.” I knew that a huge number of people don’t pass the California Bar on the first try—just under half, in fact—and yet the disappointment for my daughter was raw, deep. Sad. Stopping in at the local store on the way home, I walked by the champagne section and turned away.

Twenty-nine years ago, staring at my newborn daughter in her crib, I knew. I had given birth to a lawyer. At two she steadfastly held to the process she had established for building a sandwich. At five she refused to jaywalk and insisted on using the crosswalk. At 16, she calmly and methodically presented arguments for extended curfews. And at 26 she said she would take the LSAT only if I promised not to say anything about law school for six months.

Did I want my daughter to be an attorney? No, not really. She could have been an artist or doctor, a journalist, or financial analyst. Like most parents I know, my husband and I just wanted her to find a profession that would sustain and satisfy her. We were committed to making certain she graduated from university, all the while campaigning for a post-graduate degree in something. But I always knew it would be the law.

Back in the car, heading home, my cell phone buzzed. It was Nayeli. I would bolster her confidence, encourage her to believe in herself again. “Hi honey…”

“Ma. I passed.”

Wait. What did she say? “What?”

“I passed.”

She passed? My daughter passed the Bar on first try! I yelled, cried, cheered.

“I know,” Nayeli said, her voice soft, warm in a way I had never heard before.

What did it really mean? Driving toward home, I felt something powerful. I was the first member of my family to graduate from college. My daughter would be the first member of my extended family to graduate from law school and pass the Bar. Genetic deficiencies were cured! Doubts dissolved, achievements the norm! With one word, it was as if I had succeeded in the most important test of my life because my daughter had succeeded. Later, Nayeli and I would laugh about this.

Pulling into the driveway, friends waited, eyes downcast.

“She passed!” Yells and cheers of happiness filled the street as a dozen neighbors made their way to the kitchen to pop open chilled champagne.

On Friday, December 13, my daughter, Nayeli Mullane Maxson will be sworn in to the State Bar of California at UC Hastings College of Law. And I am a very proud mom.