One in an occasional series.
When Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg’s son, Camilo, was born 41 / 2 years ago, Simon was commuting daily from the apartment he shared with his wife, Paola, in Alexandria to a job at a legal firm in Dupont Circle. That meant enduring the D.C. area’s congestion on a daily basis, eating dinner out several times a week and not being around to help in the mornings.
Not content with that version of fatherhood, he found a new job.
Now, the 34-year-old lawyer is the team leader for consumer law at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, about 15 minutes from home. Even better than the commute, though, is that the job offers him lots of flexibility. That makes it easier for him to balance parenthood and his career.
Yes, he took a pay cut. But trading a higher salary for more time with his kids Camilo and Maia, who is 1, was a swap he was happy to make.
“I was doing the day-care dash, dropping them off shortly after they opened and trying to get back there right before they closed,” Simon said. “It was just too much. Now it’s never really a problem.”
Simon works 40 hours a week, but sets his own schedule, aside from the days he has to be in court. At the Legal Aid Justice Center, he provides free representation in civil cases to low-income clients. That includes evictions, medical debt lawsuits and unemployment matters, he said.
It’s not the path Simon envisioned when he graduated from Yale Law School. He always planned to use his law degree to serve the public, but he hoped to work for the ACLU and pursuing cases against the federal government. He’s still doing public service work, just on a much more local level. He says he finds that very satisfying, because his work is helping people just a few blocks away.
If he works more than 40 hours a week, he gets comp time. Often he works fewer than 40 hours, but gives free community seminars in the evenings or on weekends to make up the time. Reduced commuting costs negate some of his pay cut. He also gets a lot of vacation time, sick leave and flex time, which he says is a pretty good deal for a lawyer.
It’s a pretty good deal for a dad, too. Particularly for one who is determined to split the responsibilities at home fifty-fifty with his 36-year-old wife, who is a counselor in the Arlington County domestic violence intervention program. Simon does the cooking and grocery shopping; Paola cleans up the kitchen. Simon washes the clothes; Paola folds them.
The couple split the work of caring for Camilo and Maia as well. When one of the children is sick, for example, they take turns staying home. Simon usually takes the first day, unless he has court. Paola always takes the second day. Both go to all of the kids’ doctor’s appointments.
“It wouldn’t work if Simon wasn’t such a hands-on dad,” Paola said. She thinks that they split things pretty evenly for the most part, but that if one of them is carrying a heavier load at home, it is most likely Simon, because of the cooking.
Simon grew up with a hands-on father, so it was only natural that his family would be the same way. His father, Dan Moshenberg, is a professor of English and women’s studies at George Washington University and had a fair amount of flexibility in his schedule. Simon’s mother, Sammie Moshenberg, was a legislative director for a women’s organization and worked crazy hours, particularly when Congress was in session. Dan arranged his classes so he would be available to pick Simon up from school every day. And, like Simon, Dan did the cooking.
Paola grew up in Colombia with two parents who worked outside the home. Her grandmother lived with the family and cared for her while her parents worked. Simon met Paola when a good friend introduced him to his cousin. That was when he was home from Yale for an internship after his second year of law school. They got married in 2008.
And, oh, how their lives have changed in the nearly five years since Camilo arrived. Simon and Paola used to live in an apartment in Alexandria and frequently went to the District for plays, concerts or just dinner.
Now they live in a single-family house in Annandale. Most of their outings involve a pool or a playground. Their occasional trips into the city are for a visit to the zoo or a museum with the kids in tow. Aside from weekly trips out for pho (which both kids love), they eat most of their meals at home. When they do eat in restaurants, they have to keep their very picky son’s preferences in mind.
“If you had told me before I had kids that I would take my kid to Colombia for a week and we would go to a McDonald’s three times during that week, I [wouldn’t have believed you],” Simon said. “But he didn’t recognize anything at all, so it was the one place we could go where we knew he would eat.”
Most days in the Sandoval-Moshenberg household “start with screaming and end with screaming” from the feisty Maia, Simon says. But they’re cool with that, kiddie birthday party-jammed weekends and all.
Simon says he has no regrets about prioritizing family life rather than career advancement, saying Camilo’s birth in 2010 gradually changed his perspective.
“People talk about how the first time you hold your baby your life changes, but that was not true in my case,” Simon said. “It was definitely six to nine months before I felt that way. The first six months, you’re just trying to keep them alive. It’s not like on Feb. 17 my life was one way and on Feb. 19 it was another way. It took a while.”
But once he reached that point, he never looked back, considering not just schedule flexibility but also travel requirements when he’s applied for jobs. He doesn’t want to spend a week every month away from home, and he doesn’t want to spend his weekends at the office. He loves the idea that when Camilo starts kindergarten in a year, he might be able to arrange his schedule so that he’s able to pick him up from school every day. That’s what has come to matter most to Simon.
“It’s something that’s very important to me, to have this family life,” Simon said. As he rushes from work to home to make dinner to day care to pick up the kids, lifting his baby girl over the fence to give her a big hug and kiss, well, it’s apparent that he’s happy with the choice he has made.