Monday, January 31, 2011

Dress for Success

In a previous post, Karen touched on a subject that is near and dear to my heart – workplace attire. As you already know, I manage a team of consultants focusing on operational risk for a financial institution. Additionally, I am a budget conscious mommy, who continues to work on losing “baby” weight (ha!). So when I went to pack for an upcoming business trip, a thousand thoughts were running through my head:

• How many shoes will fit in my carry-on?

• What coat should I bring? (headed to warmer weather!)

• Are these pants dressy enough?

• Do I need to pack my suit?

• Does my suit still fit?

• Does my purse fit into my laptop bag?

On and on it goes…especially the dark thoughts I have about the person that invented pantyhose (it had to be a man!).

This is in distinct contrast to “helping” my husband pack for his business trip. For his 4 day business trip, it took approximately 2 hours to pack (and my hubby is a bit picky!). Three suits, 4 dress shirts, 4 ties, 2 pairs of dress pants, 2 pairs of dress shoes, a couple of polo shirts, a pair of khakis, dress socks, t-shirts, underwear, and shorts. Really? Two hours? I am lucky if I can narrow down my shoe choices in 2 hours!

In today’s “business casual” environment, there are a myriad of choices for women, while men can easily go with a dress shirt and khaki pants. And while I would like to think I am fashionable, I believe I may have missed that train about the time A & B were born. When I go shoe shopping now, all I see when I look at heels is bending down to pick up toys or trying to make it down the stairs in the morning carrying my laptop bag and pillow pets! And even if I did try to dress up for work, well, pretty much anything I own has some kind of stain on it (and yes, I should have stock in All and Downy!).

In addition to attempting to look professional, I have to stay on a budget. Not easy to be “hip” and “cool” when this season’s looks are not on clearance. Plus, since I am trying to lose weight (down 2 pounds since Jan. 1st), I hate to purchase something new. And I don’t think my mommy thighs fit into skinny jeans!

So what does this mean for me? Well, you will be seeing me in the same sweaters, black pants, tan pants and shirts for a long time. Hopefully, I can give them a new spin with a cool scarf from Egypt or clearance boots from Kohls. And just as an FYI - I would not be offended if you submitted me for “What Not to Wear.”

In the mean time, A & B will be stylin’ as always. Thank goodness they wear the same size!!

Jean Anne

Friday, January 28, 2011

Okay, Part II

Mandi's post yesterday really spoke to me.  I've spent a lot of time here (and generally) wondering about my "decision" to be a working mom.  I say "decision" because it wasn't really a decision for me.  I have always been the breadwinner in my family, so there never was a choice about going back to work.  But not having a choice about working doesn't mean that I haven't spent hours wondering if my kids are resenting me for missing bedtime or believing that I'm choosing work over them when I head out the door every Friday morning while they sit in their jammies eating breakfast with Daddy. 

But honestly, I think my kids understand me being a working mom.   I've never been in a position where I could not work in front of my kids.  Maybe it's me, maybe it's the nature of my practice, but separating work and family is not an option.  My worlds tend to bleed into one another.  Sometimes I need to leave work to be with my kids.  Other times I need to work while my kids do something else.  And, in the aggregate, both work and my kids have accepted this arrangement. 

My working is something my kids just accept.  They know they go to daycare so mommy and daddy can work.  Every Friday morning they sit in our bed watching me get ready and ask me if I "have work today."  They understand that I'm not with them for a reason.  Not that I'm choosing work over them, but that I'm doing something that I need to do and that I'll be back with them playing as soon as I can be.  They understand that work is a part of life. 

 And they are okay


Thursday, January 27, 2011


This week has been “one of those” weeks in my world. As a first year partner, I have been stepping it up in an attempt to prove myself amongst my partners. I want to show them that I, the attorney who is known more for being a Mom than for my legal abilities, can walk toe to toe…or should I say bill toe to toe with them.

When I became a Mom I made a rule. I vowed to never work in front of my kids. I’m not really sure what made me enact this rule, both my parents worked when I kid (my Mom started working when I was a tween). My parents' working status never had any effect on me. But when I got pregnant with J, I kept hearing how important it was to stay home with my kids. Every family event where my large bump was visible I would hear: “So, will you be staying home now that you are starting your family?” So I guess I fell victim to the stereotypes and just started to believe that my working hurts my children…so best to be done behind the scenes.

Now I’m a litigator, so obviously I have had to break this rule a few times, such as when I am preparing for trial. When I break my rule, I usually try and allow the kids to be apart of the working. “J, want to come “work” with Mommy?” J will then grab her notebook and “work” with me. Sometimes I think her pen scratches make more sense than the legalese I am deciphering.

This week my schedule is crazy. Monday, depositions; Tuesday, out of town depositions, Wednesday out of town depositions; Thursday: Settlement conference; Friday: Hearing in Federal Court. Because I will be out of the office so much this week, I have had to bring lots of work home with me. Normally, I can simply work after I put the kids to bed; but with so much on my plate this week I have had to pull out my files earlier than that.

So, Monday I put L down for the night and came downstairs. I encouraged the kids to watch a movie so I could sit down and work on a Motion. Maybe they wouldn’t notice if they were lost in their favorite movie. It worked like a charm. They sat and watched a movie, while I covertly worked on a motion.

I got so into my argument I didn’t even notice a little blonde hair boy peeking at me over my desk. Busted.

“Whatcha doing Mommy?”.

I instantly started to feel like I was on trial and needed to make a confession. The words hurt as they left my mouth: “H, Mommy has to work tonight”. Instantly I envisioned my son to be upset, will he think I don’t want to be with him? To my surprise, H opened his mouth and said just one word...

Okay”… and off he went to rejoin his sister on the couch.

He wasn’t sad, he didn’t want an explanation. He climbed back on the couch and laughed along with the movie. My working nearby had no effect on him whatsoever.

As Moms, we instantly think our kids will feel abandoned, un-loved just because we leave them half the day. But, H proved to me that that stereotype isn’t always true. He didn’t care that I was working…all he cared about was what was going to happen to Wall-E in the next scene.

I’m learning from small moments like this that motherhood is more about the quality of time we spend with our kids than the quantity. We don’t have to be by their sides every minute of the day for them to know they are loved. What we think will effect our children in a negative fashion may have absolutely no effect. Just because I have to work every now and then while my kids watch a movie doesn’t mean they will require therapy for the rest of their lives. Like H admitted himself, he’s “okay”. He’s okay even though his Mommy is a partner at a very busy law firm, he’s okay even though his Mommy has high billable goals, he’s okay even though his Mommy travels for work…he’s okay.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Little Feedback (aka Constructive Criticism)

As a manager of a team of consultants, I am required to give feedback.  Yes, as part of my job responsibilities, I must train them to conduct themselves professionally, tactfully answer questions, present difficult issues to senior management, give excellent presentations and provide thoughtful responses.  And during this training, I must provide "constructive criticism."  Did he not fully answer the response?  Did she forget to introduce the speaker correctly or speak too fast?  Could he have built a better relationship with a business partner? 

Since most of you know me, you are probably assuming that I am pretty easy-going about my feedback.  And you would be correct, well, with the exception of grammar mistakes (those really bother me!).  I am not a dictator and would rather people learn from their mistakes, not be ashamed by them.  Plus, every person has his or her own work "style." 

I also receive feedback from my manager and business peers, as well.  This could range from "the tone of this email could have been more positive" to "next time make sure to include the speaker's title in your introduction."  Most of the time I am fairly open to criticism, as I know that I am still a young professional and learning a new position. 

So why is it that I am so easy-going at work, but when I get home, I am my biggest critic?  Every night I could run down a list of 10 things that I didn't do with my girls that day. 
  • They need to eat healthier
  • They watch too much TV
  • I don't read to them enough
  • They need to go to bed earlier
  • Why am I always the last one to pick them up from daycare?
  • We should have played another board game
  • I need to work on their "please" and "thank-yous."
  • I should have gotten up earlier and made them a better breakfast
The list goes on and on.  Why do I keep punishing myself?  I keep telling myself I am doing the best I can, but sometimes it just never seems enough. 

Now, since this is the Year of the Mommy and I am not throwing a pity party here, I guess I am finally questioning why I am so hard on myself at home and pretty laid back at work.  In both situations, I am giving it 110% of my energy.  And while I have been working for 7 years and a mom for 4 years, I still think I have a lot to learn on both fronts.  So why do I almost burst out in tears if my hubby (or worse, my MIL) kindly points out something that I could do differently (even if I agree with him)? 

I would be interested to hear how you feel about feedback?  Are your work vs. home reactions different?

And, as always, thanks for the feedback :)! 

Jean Anne 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Working Mom Friends

First of all, I want to thank Stephanie for stepping in for me last week when I was overwhelmed at work and unable to even think about the blog.  Not only was her blog interesting, but it came at a time where I needed just one little thing in my life to let up.  Thank you, Stephanie, for making that happen.  I hope we hear more from you. 

Every working mom needs a network of friends including people like Stephanie - friends with older kids who can tell you tips like how to get your kid in morning kindergarten or whether you should be on the standard or premium insurance plan if you plan to have another baby.  Friends who tell you the truth about whether a part-time plan will work, or whether generic diapers will actually save you money.  Friends who will drop off a Laurie Berkner dvd for your kids so that you can have 30 minutes to make dinner without wearing one of them in the Baby Bjorn or stopping repeatedly to end World War III.

Working mom friends are the friends who truly get what it is like to walk in your shoes.  Who know what it feels like to be responsible for both bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan.  Who understand when you take a vacation day to go through your kids' clothes or catch up on baby books.  They are the moms who know what it is like to not see your child for days at a time.  Whose hearts have also broken when their sick child called out for Daddy instead of them.  They know the impact a profession can have on a marriage.  They are the friends who will never call you up to see if you want to go shopping or see a movie.  They know that in the world of working mom there is no time for anything other than those two things: working or being mom. 

Our networks of working mom friends are basically networks of people who have been there, done that and are willing to share.  And through some Stockholm-syndrome type thing, these working moms become the friends we lean on and learn from the most. 

In the legal world, this is astounding.  Law is a profession that is known for competition and backstabbing.  As a woman nears or enters partnership, the importance of being awarded origination or responsibility credit often takes precedent over being a mentor or friend.  So the fact that there are women lawyers anywhere willing to take an hour of their time to help make the path for another woman a little easier is amazing, and deserves recognition. 

 I certainly have been lucky to have such women in my life.  I have friends like Stephanie, who write emergency blogs.  Lisa, who left me the dvd.  The JD Moms, whose emails pulled me through KJ's second day of day care.  Laura, who understood my decision to exchange money for the promise of time.  Jen, who put her kid in daycare so I was no longer the freak who didn't have a nanny (ok, so that's not why she chose daycare, but it certainly was nice having someone who understood how daycare kids are sick all the time that first year). 
In honor of these women, and the million more out there who support us all each day, I encourage all of you to post a piece of advice or insight or story about something another working mom did or said to you that made your path a little easier.  And I invite each of you to do something today to reach out to your fellow working mom.  Something that may seem trivial to you, could mean the world to that overworked, under-rested, slightly sick working mom down the hall. 


Monday, January 24, 2011

The Test

My daughter dances at a local dance academy once a week. Every Wednesday night I rush home from work, whip together a quick dinner and off we go to do ballet and tap. J loves it.

Every other week, Todd has to work and so I have the company of H and L while I wait in the cramped dance studio. On those nights I don’t spend the 45 minutes watching J, rather I spend it entertaining the boys.

Last Wednesday I was running late. It was a long day at work and so by the time I got home, I had just ½ hour to get the kids fed, dressed, and out the door. Not once since J started dance had we ever been late…tonight was our turn.

We arrived at the studio. To my surprise all the Moms had taken their places crowding around the window to the dance room. This was a shock because most of the time they are comfortably sitting catching up on emails, talking, or reading magazines.

I soon found out why they were standing there.

As my luck would have it, this particular evening was midterm testing at the dance studio. My daughter has now reached the stage where she is tested to make sure she is meeting the expectations of her level. She is moved up and placed on teams based on these tests. So twice a year, she is evaluated by the director of the studio.

So there I was, a big bulky car seat in one hand, H holding my other hand and J hurrying to put her dance shoes on. She was in such a hurry to get in, I didn’t even get to tell her what was happening or encourage her to do her best. I tried to get a seat near the dance class, but they were all taken at this point. The Moms at the window were fiercely guarding their spots. So, I took H and L down the hall away from the classroom to wait.

I soon saw why the Moms fought so hard for those coveted window spots. As their daughters were being tested, these Moms were watching, most of the time with looks that said “Do good or else”. When their daughters would start to talk or, well “act their ages”, their Moms would shoot them the look, and presto Prima Ballerinas. The Moms also were trying to do the steps to help their daughter without it looking like they were doing that in front of the other Moms. It’s pretty funny watching Moms try to do the ballet positions covertly. The dance daughters inside began their test with their Mom coaches watching closely.

Well, that is except me. Why did we have to be late this time? Because of my tardiness I couldn’t join the Mom coaches, there was simply no room, especially with H and L in tow. By nature I am not a competitive person, but I’m not going to lie and say I don’t want my daughter to well at these things. I stood there feeling guilty thinking my daughter was going to fail her test simply because I couldn’t help her.

The suspense was killing me and so I walked every now and then and peeked in over the Moms’ shoulders... well I took as good of a peek as I could with L trying to pull my hair and H trying to pull me away back to the toys we had brought. When I first looked, I saw my daughter talking to the director, (complimenting her nail color I later found out). The second time I looked, J had let go of the ballet bar and was standing there talking and laughing. Sure that’s okay for regular class, but apparently not for testing day as the other Moms’ looks curbed this behavior instantly in their daughters. Instantly I thought…if I was standing there I could help her stay on track.

I texted my husband, feeling helpless “They are helping their daughters” I wrote, “And I can’t help J, she needs me to help her”. I stood their nervously, trying to pay attention to H and L and forget about what was going on in the next room, but I couldn’t help but think that J was doing bad in her test solely because I was not amongst the Moms standing in the window. She couldn’t possibly pass this test without my assistance, I mean I’ve always been there to help her.

After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened and out ran the young dancers. Their moms congratulated them on their somewhat dual-performances. It was then time to get the dance test results from the teacher. I walked in already feeling defeated, certainly without my oversight J didn’t do well. Right? The director handed me the paper. Not only did J pass her test, she exceeded her level in all the dance steps. She did amazing…no Mommy supervision required.

My initial reaction was shock and sheer joy…She did it! I came out and looked at J… “How’d I do?” she asked me in a calm confident, “I know I did great” tone. I gave her a big hug and told her how proud I was of her. But then I got a twinge of sadness…she passed on her own, she didn’t need me. While I stood waiting in that dance studio doubting her abilities without me being there to curb any 4 year old behaviors, she was in that room exceeding the expectations. Not only did she exceed her dance studio’s expectations….she WAY exceeded mine.

J got her boots on and put away her ballet slippers. Wow…she doesn’t even need me anymore to help her with her shoes. As I watched her put on her coat and zip it up I remembered just 2 years prior how different this scene was. When J started dance, she was 2 years old. I had to sit inside the dance class room because if I took one step toward that door she cried. The next class she allowed me to move to the open doorway and watch from there, but if I turned away for a second, out she came crying for me. The next stage, she was content to see me smiling at her from the window, but I still couldn’t sit down like the other dance Moms. Now, she passed a ballet and tap test while I was far away from the room.

I think I’ll always remember this first test. It was the first time J proved me wrong and showed me that she didn’t need me to help her anymore. I guess, my baby is turning into a little girl one dance step at a time.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Holiday (that’s right – sing it like Madonna)

I was informed less than 2 weeks after New Year’s that I would be hosting Easter at my house. I believe the conversation between my hubby and my mother-in-law went something like:

MIL: “So, we’ll be at your house for Easter.”

Hubby: “What?” (or ahmmmm if he wasn’t really listening)

MIL: “Well, we were in Rockford at your sister’s last year, so unless you want to drive to Wisconsin…”

Hubby: “Okayyyyy.”

You might already have guessed, but I am not the best party planner in the world. Plus, I am not a good cook. So, in addition to doing a full deep clean of the house, finding space for everyone to sleep and praying that I keep my big mouth shut, I have to plan a full weekend of activities and meals. And they have to be healthy meals to boot (not pizza or Chinese from Hy-vee).

Complete honesty here - despite my lack of cooking and party planning skills mentioned above, I love having people over. A & B’s birthday party is one of my favorite times. But, it is very laid back and relaxed. We either grill out or have sandwiches from Hy-vee, my mom makes potato salad and/or pasta salad and we have cake. Decorations are very girly and fun, and we normally have a bounce house in the backyard. Pretty much, it is just one big, chillaxing (yes, I am hip) get together.

I, however, am not so hip to have things thrust upon me. But, in keeping up with the Year of the Mommy, or possibly how Frank Sinatra would say, “I’m doing it my way” this time. That means that there will be lots of fattening foods served (including Spaghetti-os if A & B desire), a dusty house, and my whole family is invited! And if that means family drama, then so be it!

I just hope to keep up this confident attitude! And really, who schedules Easter plans right after Christmas? All I could think of at that time was, when am I going to have time to do all of this laundry?

So, any suggestions for a holiday get together? And how do you survive the holiday stress?

Happy Friday!

Jean Anne

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest Blog Stephanie!

Hi all! My name is Stephanie, and the JD Moms have graciously asked me to “guest blog.” I am a transactional attorney at a small firm in a big city. I’m married, but am frequently a single parent to my three children (two daughters, ages 11 and 7, and a son, a *very* robust 8 months) because my husband’s career often takes him several hundred miles away for weeks or months at a time. Because I am a transactional attorney, and because two of my three children are well into their elementary school years, my day-to-day experiences as a JD Mom can differ from the experiences of litigators and in-house attorneys, and from JD Moms with smaller children.

Case in point: my older daughter, E, is in fifth grade. And oh, these are the days of our fifth grade lives! She is lovely and smart and bookish and so very, very kind. And I am tremendously grateful that as she approaches middle school, she still loves me and feels that she can share her embarrassing moments, her heartaches, and her triumphs with me. It honestly seems like yesterday that she was a baby, doing the “army crawl” across the floor because she couldn’t be bothered to lift up her hips. Today I am gone from the house for 11-12 hours a day, and while we have a phenomenal babysitter, I often feel the conflict that so many of us feel: I, personally, am a better mother because I work outside of the home. And yet, I worry…a lot…about whether I am present enough for my children. Especially as E enters adolescence and puberty. Will my career interfere with my ability to mother her and help her navigate the incredibly treacherous waters of young adulthood? Will she see me as a role model, a strong, intelligent woman who was able to love and care for her family AND maintain a professional career, or will she resent me for missing too many concerts and not helping with enough homework.

As children get older, these worries become much more immediate. When my girls were toddlers and preschoolers, I admit to a sense of “I still have time to fix whatever mistakes I’ve made.” Now there is no more time. They are impressionable and out there in the world, forming their own identities totally separate and apart from me, their father, and their step-father. We stopped being the most prominent influence in their lives a few years ago. It’s terribly hard to miss little ones’ milestones because we work outside of the home. It’s a different kind of difficult to realize you’ve finished a lot of the work shaping your child’s personality and outlook. What’s left is the joy of seeing them become themselves, and the work of being their home, no matter what.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cleaning my couch

This weekend I cleaned. And I don’t mean cleaned…I CLEANED. I’m talking scrubbing on my hands and knees, dusting the picture frames sort of cleaning. 12 hours of inhaling Mr. Clean all to clean the things most people wouldn't even notice.

This process led me to tackle a seemingly mundane job…cleaning under our family room couch. I moved the couch away from the wall and pulled back the cushions. Under it was a mini-landfill… binkies H gave up a few months ago (so THAT’s where they went), pages from a coloring book J colored in, L’s frog rattle, a sparkly ring, matchbox cars, and of course the classic C’s (coins, crumbs, and Cheetos) that are found in everyone’s couch. I grabbed a large garbage bag and threw everything away. I didn’t even look at half the stuff…I just tossed it.

This is a change for me. A few years ago, I would have combed through this as carefully as a person in search of a priceless treasure at a garage sale. I would have scanned everything to make sure it wasn’t a priceless memento that I needed to save.

Historically, I am a notorious pack-rat. This started when I was young and my Mom gave me my first hope chest. I used to save everything, a candy bar wrapper given to me by my first crush, an old emptied bottle of wine celebrating my 21st birthday, dried flowers given to me on Valentine’s day, a ticket stub from the first movie Todd ever took me to, an old pressed popcorn bag from a special date, and piles and piles of birthday cards, notes passed in study halls, and letters (you know that ancient art before e-mails and Facebook?). I saved it all.

My pack-rat-ness is traced to my mother (see the Mom gets blamed for everything). You have heard me mention my mother, she is my best friend and the greatest mother a girl could ever ask for…but she is admittedly a horrible historian. My oldest brother had two amazing baby books filled with locks of hair, first teeth, etc. My second brother had one amazing baby book filled with mementos. By the time 1978 rolled around and I entered the picture…no baby book. She really never saved anything, and hardly ever had a camera at events. Now I can’t say that I blame my Mom, I mean come on she had three kids each a year apart, but I think this absence of records from my youth sort of started me out to save everything.

My worst pack rat days were high school and college. I tried to remember every relationship, every friend, every good time. I saved EVERYTHING.

So you can only imagine what happened when I got pregnant the first time. I saved the box from the pregnancy test, my appointment cards from the OB. I saved it all. Journals on how I was feeling to (yes its true) a cheeseburger wrapper to remember my cheeseburger cravings. And when J was born I saved everything too…those standard striped hospital blankets, Todd’s hat he wore in the delivery room, hospital bracelets, newspapers, a cut out from her first solid food…etc.

But a strange thing has started to happen to me over the years, something I certainly did not expect. I’m NOT that big of a packrat anymore. Sure I saved things from H and L's pregnancies and births, but nothing even remotely to the level of Cheeseburger wrappers and appointment cards. Just like my Mom before me, I am saving less and less over the years.

Once I noticed this change I had to wonder why this was happening.  I saved pretty much every item received in college and lawschool, saved countless mementos from people I never see or  hear from anymore. I never threw anything away. Yet now living with the 4 most important people in my life I am not saving nearly the same amount of stuff??

So am I turning into my Mom? Maybe. But you know what I’m okay with that. I’ve figured out why my Mom didn’t save everything. She didn’t need to.

See, in my packrat days I think I was saving things because I knew the good times would be over soon and I wanted to hang onto my past and remember those good times. Those years were full of constant changes and so hanging on to good times helped me get through the lows in my life. I liked living in the past. The past, unlike the present, was constant, not changing every second. I saved things from relationships because people came in and out of my life so quickly in my teens and 20's. But, now, I don't need to or want to live in my past.  Everyday with my children and husband is greater than the day before. I’m really not afraid to let go of the past now because the future is amazing. Sure I miss the days when my children were babies, but I love that they talk to me, kiss me goodnight, and play with me. Sure I miss those dating years with my husband, but we are so much closer now than we were back then. It keeps getting better all the time. So why look back when every day is something new and exciting?

So maybe when we are truly happy, truly at peace with our lives, we don’t have that insatiable need to keep every little thing. Those memories are so good in our lives, so profound, an object is not needed to summon the memories. When we are truly happy, we don’t spend our time thinking of the past…we look forward to what’s to come. So, the way I see it, we can clutter our houses with countless mementos or we can save the space and actually live our wonderful lives.

So go forward and clean under your couches everyone…and if you have a three year old like I do who for some reason thinks a couch cushion is a garbage can…bring a large bag and rubber gloves!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Year of the Mommy

After last week's post about resolutions, I finally decided to take charge this weekend.  And it happened in the most basic of settings...

On Sunday, we were on our way to lunch (and before you ask, yes, we eat out for lunch on the weekends.  It helps kick our day into high gear before we run the normal errands.)  We were in the van headed out, when A complained that she didn't want to go to Culver's for lunch.  She wanted to go to the KFC/Taco Bell for popcorn chicken and mac n' cheese.  And B backed her up by agreeing.  (This is shocking, as normally A and B can not agree on where they want to go for lunch.) 

Normally, in this situation, I would cave.  I mean, I really don't care where we go for lunch.  And I am typically thinking about what we need to do after lunch, if lunch is going to cost us a fortune, and can we find something remotely healthy to eat at lunch?  Plus, is it really worth getting into an argument/discussion with my 4 1/2 year olds over? 

But on Sunday, something just clicked.  I didn't want to go to KFC/Taco Bell.  And I politely said, "No, we are going to Culver's."  Of course, A started getting upset, but I stayed calm and basically said that if she didn't want lunch at Culver's, she could sit in the van."  Normally, this is an empty threat, but she must have recognized something had changed in my voice, because she asked "why Mommy?"  And I responded "because this is the Year of the Mommy."  And it felt good!!!  To top it off - A and B seemed ok with it as well.

And it has continued!  On Monday when my hubby asked what I wanted to do with my afternoon, I told him my plans.  And when he questioned some items, I said "because it is the Year of the Mommy and I deserve some time for me and my errands."  And he just looked at me and nodded!  Wow! 

So, hopefully, I can keep up with my resolution to make this the Year of the Mommy!  After all, I think all Mommies deserve it! 

Jean Anne

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's My Party

This weekend we celebrated Sweet Pea's birthday.  I think that I've posted before about how I like to try to make a big deal out of my kids' birthdays.  It isn't so much because I think they need a party (and they certainly don't need any more toys).   I just feel like we should celebrate now, because there will be years and years of birthdays when they are in school or working or just generally doing something other than celebrating themselves.  So I try to capitalize on the now and take advantage of their love for all things that involve cake, presents and singing.  And we spend a day celebrating them. 

The only problem with my birthday celebrations is work.  When the kids' birthdays fall on a weekday, it gets terribly difficult to do the little things I want to do to make their day special.  We generally don't celebrate the kids' birthdays with parties (first birthdays a notable exception).  Again, I figure there will be plenty of time for that in the future.  Instead, we try to make the day special just around our own little house.  I decorate the house.  I buy the birthday boy or girl a special balloon.  I make a special breakfast.  I make whatever the birthday kid wants for dinner.  And, of course, we have cake.  But on weekdays this is almost impossible to do.  So we celebrate on the weekend. 

But I sort of hate celebrating on the weekend.  While it gives us a clear, full day to celebrate the birthday boy or girl, it feels like we're sort of cheating the actual day a bit.  Of course, on the actual birthday we bring treats to school, sing "happy birthday" and have a less labor intensive special dinner (hello Old McDonalds). But it isn't an entire day devoted to the birthday kid.  We still go to school or work.  We still do all of the things we would do on any other day of the year.  The day just doesn't capture the specialness that it should. 

I wish there was a clear way to show each of my kids how important their birthdays are to us.  How each year their one, special day brings back a flood of memories - of how much we longed for a baby, how I was so sure Sweet Pea would be a boy, how I felt the moment each of them was placed in my arms.  How I loved each of them long before they were born.  And how love was completely redefined the moment I held each of them.  But there's nothing I could do that would ever capture that.  Those memories are left for my heart. 

 But we do the best we can.  I know how lucky we are to get to celebrate another year with our birthday girl.  How blessed I am to have her to celebrate.  So while work might not allow me to capture all of the specialness of her birth on the actual day, I'll continue to celebrate her on the weekend.  And from the looks of Sweet Pea's post-party crash, we did a pretty good job of that this weekend:

Let's just hope this picture isn't a preview of Sweet Pea's college years. 

Happy second birthday Sweet Pea!  We love you!


Friday, January 14, 2011


I decided I was going to write about this topic before I read Jean’s blog earlier this week. But when I saw it, it just sealed the deal that this was the time to address this subject. Fear is something that all Moms deal with from time to time. Jean’s blog on Monday dealt with little fears that we all have, such as fitting in, finding your parenting niche, etc. And I share the same fears my best friend does....and then some!

Now I always have been somewhat of a fearful person. But I never really knew true “fear” until I had my children. It’s amazing how the second my children entered my life I knew fear like I had never known before. The things I thought I was afraid of before did not hold a candle to my new set of fears. Can I do this? Can I be a good Mom? How do you take care of a baby? What if something happens to my kids? What if they get hurt? When you become a Mom all of the sudden you go from being just another person in the world to being someone’s world. And, to quote my daughter, that “is just plain scary”.

So I’ve always had the standard fears that come along with Mommyhood. I anticipated those fears from watching other Moms, so those standard fears honestly don’t bother me or affect my life to a great degree. Sure I’m probably a little more paranoid than most parents, and would probably bubble wrap my kids if I could, but I certainly don’t let those fears rule my life.

I’m learning, however, that its not the expected fears you have to worry about…it’s the ones that come out of nowhere that cause the true problems.

A few months after I had my third child, L, out of the blue I started to get panic attacks when I would drive alone with my children at night (interstate driving, not simple around the town). I was always the kind of person that would stay at a place really late because I knew the kids would fall asleep for the night in the car, and wouldn’t get that power nap all parents fear. So like most parents, I knew my “windows” of time to leave and so it was normal course for me to travel very late with my kids.

And being alone with the kids? This was something I am very used to. See, I am a “single parent” most of the time. My husband works nights (6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.) 4+ days a week. And this is how it has been since I have had my kids. I’m used to it …this is how we live. And ask anyone who knows me or sees my Facebook and they will tell you I am always on the go with my kids. So for this anxiety to creep into my life was a very unexpected and a very un-welcomed visitor.

I got my first panic attack driving home from a birthday party on Interstate 80, a road I had driven on countless times. Even though it was a pleasant summer night, the ride was uneventful and the kids were wonderful, I got a panic attack. There while the kids were peacefully asleep and I was driving on a dark interstate I started to shake, breathe heavy, feel sick to my stomach, and get a feeling that I can only describe as someone having their hands around my throat. I was not sure if I would faint, and because this was Iowa I had passed all civilization about 30 miles prior. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. And what made it terrifying is I had no clue it was a panic attack.

But the attack subsided the moment I saw the lights of the Quad Cities, and so I blew it off…maybe I was sick? Maybe it was yet another complication from my c-section? And so I tried again one night after hanging out with my parents. Surely the ride between my parents house and my house was one I knew so well there was no way I would get a panic attack. But I did. This time I didn’t endure it, I turned around and headed back to my parents and waited for my husband to come pick us up.

I had no obvious triggers to these attacks. I had never been in a major car accident, never had a near miss with my kids, never had any stressful situations involving the kids and my car. And all three of my kids are awesome travelers. They are so used to traveling that they never give me any trouble.

So after my second panic attack, I made an appointment with my doctor to get to the bottom of all of this. It had to stop…my lifestyle I had enjoyed for the past 4 years depended on it. My doctor told me that what I was describing sounded to her like a panic attack. I instantly said back to her “Panic? But I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t anxious”. Like I said driving in a car at night alone with my kids was commonplace for me. So why now?

I didn’t think that such a small and limited fear required medication, so instead I asked to be referred to a psychologist to see if perhaps he could help me find the cause of these attacks and of course stop them. Well, needless to say I only visited the psychologist 3 times. My formal diagnosis? Post-traumatic stress disorder from the birth of L. Makes no sense right? I didn’t think so either. I mean what does the birth of my son have to do with driving? Sure L’s birth was stressful in many respects, from a doctor screwing up my spinal to unexpected drops in my blood pressure, and most importantly because when L was born he had to go to the NICU because he swallowed a lot of fluid. But L’s life was never in danger, he was taken there as a precaution plain and simple. And as all us Mommies know the moment we lay eyes on our beautiful babies all the drama and pain it took to get to that point long passes away. So fear of driving at night stemming from the birth of my glorious son? Yeah I didn’t buy this one. Especially in light of the fact that the attacks started months after he was born.

So I got a second opinion and informally asked another psychologist I knew. He told me that it probably had to do with a fear of helplessness, not PTSD. At night in the car, with the miles and miles of cornfields and darkness, it is only normal for a Mom to feel somewhat out of control of the situation. To him, the fear was only temporary and would stop when the kids got a little older. I mean it seemed normal to him to feel helpless on a dark road with a 4 year old, 3 year old, and 7 month old. He explained to me it was simply my motherly instincts kicking in…and perhaps kicking in a little too much.

So as is the normal cause what followed after the “diagnosis” was the countless recommendations from everyone from my doctors to my friends. My favorite was meditation. I mean please, as any working Mom knows if we do actually get a moment of silence…we are going to go to sleep, not meditate.

I stopped seeing the psychologist and realized that I needed to work on this fear myself. I found things that help me drive at night. For example, I chew on Altoids while I drive. Something about the peppermint calms my stomach and the strong mint flavor hides any dry mouth feeling that I get at the start of a panic attack. Without the dry mouth feeling, I don’t notice the initial symptoms…and as anyone knows who has ever had a panic attack the fear that a panic attack may come on can actually cause more to occur.

I’ve made a lot of headway in dealing with this fear. But I haven’t cured it…I simply live with it. I still don’t drive alone at night with my kids. I improvise a lot. I stay the night when I go somewhere. I have someone ride with me if I have to drive alone. I do little things to bide my time until perhaps my fear will subside. Maybe my friend is right and I'll outgrow it?

So, if you are struggling with fear in some form, let me save you the hundreds of dollars on expensive psychologists. The way I see it, fear can sideline you in many ways, it can take you by surprise, it can affect your life, but I think the secret is to not let it rule your life. Work with it. Live with it, no matter how hard that can be at times. And if that doesn’t work…try Altoids!

I think I best sum up with one of my favorite quotes:

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear". ~Ambrose Redmoon

Very true.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Resolutions

It is Thursday, January 13th, and typically by this date in previous years I have already broken my New Year's resolutions.  You know, the ones we make every year:
  • lose weight
  • eat better
  • exercise more
  • spend more time with friends and family
  • write nice thank you notes
  • volunteer with your favorite charity or non-profit
And this is my plan again this year, and so far, I am zero for six!  Woo-hoo! 

So, really, what should I really focus on in the new year?  Honestly, I am just trying to keep my head above water right now, as things are busy at both work and home.  And in all of the madness, I would like to learn patience and grace. 

For the past year, I have felt my sunny disposition slipping away.  Maybe call it old age (or maturity - ha!), reality interfering with my simple thoughts (i.e. the shootings in Tucson) or just the daily grind wearing me down, but I have become jaded and cynical.  Now, I don't expect the best of people and I mainly consider ulterior motives.  I just don't have a lot of faith in people. 

And this is something I don't want to pass on to A & B.  Maybe it was growing up with a great family in a small town or really not having many obstacles to overcome in life; I guess it really doesn't matter.  I have always looked at the bright side; the glass half full.  And I want A & B to feel that they can conquer the world. 

So how to I get back to that positive thinking?  Especially with jobs, kids, hubby, laundry, practices, family, friends all vying for attention - is there time to get back on the right track and focus on the things that are important in life AND make me happy?  Or I am just being realistic for the first time in my life?

And, most importantly, how do I teach A & B to think positively but realistically?  But when is there a better time to dream your biggest dreams then when you are 4 years old? 

Thanks for the advice!  And have a wonderful day!

Jean Anne

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Growing Up So Fast

There are certain times in your life where you can’t deny that your children are growing up. From day-to-day you can sort of ignore the process and pretend like your child will always need you to push them on the swing or cut up their chicken. That these days of whole-body hugs and baby kisses won’t end. But then, the kids do or say something that makes you realize all in a sad flash that this beautiful time will not last forever.

Last weekend I had one of those moments.

KJ generally sleeps with a lot of stuffed animals. It all started with “Doggie.” Doggie was a shower gift from my aunt, and KJ started sleeping with him as soon as he was able to sleep with stuffed animals. Doggie made the transition with KJ from crib to big boy bed, and generally was around whenever KJ needed him. But then, one night KJ got the flu and Doggie needed to go to the “spa.” Enter Bear. Like Doggie, Bear was one of those small blankets with an animal head on top. He made a great substitute for Doggie, and just never left the bed when Doggie came back.

From there, KJ just kept adding animals. Any stuffed animal that he took a shine to went into his bed. Lily. Bunny. Giraffe. Wally. Curious George. For a short time, Cat. Over time the mix of animals changed and some have fallen out of favor, but almost every night you can count on Doggie, Bear, Bunny, Lily, Giraffe and George snuggling in next to KJ. Sure, things are crowded, but it’s cute. Every animal has its place. And when we say our prayers, KJ asks God to bless each one of them, by name. They are important to him, and thus, they are important to me.

But then, out of the blue last weekend KJ decided he didn’t want to sleep with his animals anymore. I was unprepared for this declaration of independence. KJ gave us no warning that he was finished sleeping with animals. In fact, after waking up from his nap that very afternoon he brought his Bunny downstairs with him. Plus, KJ has this (admittedly strange) habit of sniffing the ribbon on Bunny to help him relax. I just couldn’t imagine KJ without his Bunny.

But KJ was clear and went straight to his bed, removing each and every animal until nothing was left. “Are you sure?” I asked him as he removed the animals. KJ said he was sure. So, I helped him load all of the animals onto the empty shelf on his bookcase. “They’ll be right here for you if you want them during the night.” I told him. But KJ didn’t seem to need any reassurance. He just sat there waiting patiently for his story.

There haven’t been a whole lot of times in my life where I’ve felt more sad than when I put Doggie on KJ’s shelf. In the last three years, I’ve grown attached to Doggie. Doggie has been with KJ through it all. The tough transitions at daycare. Round-the-clock breathing treatments in the hospital. Sweet Pea’s birth. Whenever KJ was scared or tired or just needed a friendly face, Doggie has been there. I wasn’t ready for KJ to not need him any longer.

As it turns out, neither was KJ. As I was reading KJ his story, KJ started looking sadder and sadder until I finally asked him what was wrong. In a sad, sad voice, KJ answered, “I want something to sniff.” Never have such strange words sounded so sweet. I immediately hugged KJ and told him he could have whatever animals he wanted. KJ ran and brought Bunny, Doggie and Bear back to bed. Over the next few days, all of the animals have found their way home. And all is right in the world.

I know someday KJ won’t want to sleep with a menagerie in his bed. But I hope he holds on to his Bunny and Doggie just a little bit longer. Just as they provide him comfort and security at night, Bunny and Doggie provide me comfort that the baby days are not behind us yet.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Everything I know about being a lawyer...

Remember those cheesy posters that hung in every doctor’s office, waiting room, or teachers’ lounge… “Everything I know now I learned in Kindergarten”?? Sure you do. They were everywhere. And of course it didn’t take long for them to morph into such classics as “Everything I know now I learned from my Cat”.

As lawyers our children are often looked upon as liabilities. They hurt our ability to do our jobs…or so society says. If you have kids you can’t be a good lawyer. 

Well, I must respectfully disagree with society. I believe I am a better lawyer because I am a Mom. My children have taught me more about being a good lawyer than any of my professors in law school.

So, if I was to write a cheesy poster…mine would read:

Everything I know about being a good lawyer, I learned from my kids…

Short and sweet is always best. As a Mom I don’t have 30 minutes to explain to my three year old why we don’t put playing cards in the DVD player. The lawyer in me wants to delve into a lengthy discourse explaining why we do not do this. But my Mom side knows better…it knows that I have exactly 3.2 seconds to get my point across before my three year old loses interest. So I always put my best arguments first and keep it short and sweet. I treat my juries the same way…instead of taking 10 minutes to explain why my client should win, I remember my kids’ attention span and go short and sweet. And yes, I have found that most average citizens sitting on a jury (and judges) share the same attention span as my 3 year old.

Repeat Yourself…a lot. The great Bill Cosby said this the best in his old comedy routines. Children don’t hear something that you just say once. A child does not hear “Come here”…so you have to say “Come here, come here, come here, here, here, here!” I think because I do this on a daily basis, it has carried over into my professional life. If I have a strong argument, I make sure that I repeat it throughout my trial or brief. I want to make sure when the jury is deliberating they remember “Timing isn’t everything” or whatever it is I am arguing. It works. I’ve even noticed in rulings on my motions, I’ll catch the judges stating my catchphrase throughout the ruling.

Don’t be the biter. Any daycare Mom knows that at daycare there are the biters and the kids that are bitten. Sure the biters may appear to have the upper hand, I mean they may get the toy after they bit the holder of the same…but look at what happens? It doesn’t take long for everyone to find out who the biter is, even though the accident report only says the child was bitten by a “friend”. So is it really worth it to be the biter? Definitely not. As an attorney your reputation is more important than your knowledge, I guarantee it.

Why do 5 things when you can do 10?  Because I am a Mom I multi-task with the best of them. I mean come on, while I’m writing this blog I have a load of laundry in, I’m doing prep work for dinner tomorrow, and I’m watching my favorite show in the background on my DVR. After I became a Mom I became much more productive with my time. As a lawyer I have similar time constraints…I may only have 5 minutes to come up with a response to a last minute argument raised by opposing counsel. Because I am a Mom, I guarantee you I can get more done in that time frame than other attorneys. I mean have they ever had to cook dinner while helping a 4 year old with homework, stopping a three year old from eating dog food, and feeding a baby?

Yes, the good guys do sometimes win. As a defense lawyer, I am very cynical. I always have the uphill battle, I mean I am the one representing the person who is being sued. So it automatically doesn’t look good for me based solely on my position after the “v.” in the caption. So, after years of doing this job, you start to think that the “good guys” never win. But all the countless fairytales I read to my daughter remind me each day that yes, the good guys do and should win. So it helps to keep my cyncism at bay.

If it smells like poop…it is poop. Yes, I’ve changed enough diapers in my day to know this fact. When I’m preparing for a trial or writing a brief, I’ll get a bad feeling in my gut about an argument…it just seems weak. Often attorneys have this feeling about arguments or theories, yet they don’t trust themselves and they go with it. You know what, they lose because their “poopy” argument clouded their great one. So if an argument smells like poop to me, its gone, everytime.

Appearing busy = an exceptional lawyer. If you try to schedule depositions or trials with me you will find it quite challenging. Yes, I have a lot of files, but I also have a lot of barriers to my calendar because of my kids. My assistant or myself will tell the person that I have a “commitment” whether personal or not. I can’t tell you the number of times opposing counsel have said to me in depositions… “Wow you are a hard woman to track down, you must be a great lawyer to carry that load”. So yeah after they say that I don’t mention that I had to reschedule our deposition because of my daughter’s dance pictures.

Storytelling is a lost art...find it. Being a Mom has taught me to never underestimate the power of storytelling. It’s not enough to tell a story…you have to be good at it. My kids would quickly lose interest if I read their bedtime stories in a monotone voice with no feeling. Same is true for a juror…if you can’t tell a good story and at least try and appear like the fantasically interesting Hollywood versions of attorneys they watch nightly on NBC, then you’ll lose their interest and often your case . Okay so no I don’t pull out my “Big bad wolf” voice during my closing arguments, but I can guarantee you I’m much more interesting to listen to in trial because I am constantly practicing my storytelling.

Make time for Manners. As a Mom I am constantly telling my kids, “say please”, “say excuse me”, and “always say thank you”. As adults we forget that. But Moms don’t forget it, because the moment we do we hear little voices piping up “Mom, you forgot to say PLEASE”. This constant attention to manners has paid off for me big time. A clerk at the Courthouse once told me that she was going to help me expedite a last minute "oh crap I forgot it" motion up to the judge because I was always so friendly and polite when I talked to her. See, like I tell my 4 year old…manners matter.

Learn to spot the Wolf. Every children’s story or movie always has the bad guy in disguise. “Grandmother what big EYES you have”. I have learned through my children how to spot the wolves of the world. I know what attorneys to trust and which ones to watch out for. I know what witnesses to dig deeper into. I have honed my judgment skills. Who knew Little Red Riding Hood would be so helpful?

Move on. Children don’t dwell. If they do something wrong, they apologize and then quickly move on. No harm, no foul. When I started my career everytime I made a mistake I would take it to heart. My children have taught me that mistakes happen…apologize for them and move on.

Don’t wait for the confession…it won’t come. Ever notice how when something breaks in the presence of two children, conveniently neither of them know what happened? I used to make the parenting mistake of waiting and waiting for the confession… “Okay, who did it?” I wasted so much time waiting for someone to confess. Then I realized that I didn’t need the confession, I could get the information I need by setting up a prima facie case of the crime… “Okay, so J did you use this beautiful purple paint in your picture today (in an excited tone)?” “Yes, Mommy I sure did”. “Oh I bet your brother didn’t even think to use that beautiful purple paint in his picture (in a “you are such a better artist than your brother” tone)”. “No, Mommy he didn’t even want to use purple”. And presto I found the culprit who decided our khaki walls would look better with big purple splashes of paint on them. I use the same principles in examining witnesses. I used to question witnesses over and over to get them to admit to something…and of course all this led to was “Asked and Answered” objections and no confessions. People don’t want to say they did something wrong…so set it up. I now build up the facts so that the jury can figure it out without seeing the writing (or Crayola Washable paint) on the wall.

Have fun. Children have fun in their lives. They truly enjoy their surroundings. Watching my kids has taught me to just have fun in my profession. I’m a better lawyer because I find the joy in litigating. If I really like a case, I find myself better at defending it. So I find the joy in my cases. Being a lawyer is fun…so enjoy it! I mean there aren’t many professions where you can yell at people to your heart's content and get paid for it, now are there?

So next time a young upstart associate tries to make you feel they are so much better than you because they are sans kids, or you feel like you are being Mommytracked, remember you gave birth to some of the greatest teachers of trial advocacy out there. So let them think that you learned all your excellent trial skills at Harvard or some fancy trial and your kids will know the secret.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Am I So Afraid?

To start this week off, I was all set to write about my New Year's resolutions, but I had a strange moment in the middle of my daughters' winter dance show, that I just needed to write about.  Plus, let's be honest, I have already put off most of my resolutions, so putting off writing about them for another post is pretty much par for the course.  But I digress....

As a proud mommy, sitting in the high school auditorium with her camera ready and making sure that her hubby had fully charged the video camera, I was prepping for my daughters' utterly adorable dance.  But since their group was 8th in the lineup, I sat through cute performances by other kids in their dance "studio".  But then, a performance was announced that made me stop.  It was the "Dance Mom's Dance" (dancing to Jock Jams). 

This is a special class open to any mom whose child is in dance.  From the looks of the size of the class, approximately 25 to 30 moms chose to participate.  And they looked like they were having fun, as they wore football jerseys and black yoga pants.  And of course, at this point, my hubby and my dad asked me "why aren't you up there?" 

As I sat there watching these moms, I didn't have a great answer.  It was one night a week for 6 weeks, at a time I could attend (6:45 to 7:30 PM), and close to home.  Plus, watching the dance moves and ability of some of the moms on stage, I think I could do that.  (FYI - I have been practicing my dance moves with the girls by playing Just Dance 2 on the Wii! - Ha!).  Why couldn't I have taken this time out for some "me" time?  My kids would have been ok for less than 1 hour a week without me, and my hubby would have supported me.  So what was holding me back?

I was scared.  Yes, at 32 years old, I would have felt like the new kid in junior high asking to sit at the cool kids' table.  The ironic/funny thing is, in my work life, I have absolutely no trouble giving presentations to senior management, running meetings with outside business partners, or managing team members.  In fact, most of my job depends on my abilities to mediate difficult situations, give presentations, and, basically, be a leader for my team. 

So, I quickly whispered to my hubby, "this is why I need my best friend to live closer."  And he just smiled and nodded.  Because he understood how I felt the night we went to dance pictures. The stay-at-home moms huddled in a group, talking and laughing; sharing plans to meet for coffee and  play dates, and there I was, still in my dress clothes from work, trying to get my girls' hair up and shoes on, as I had just rushed from a late meeting at the office.  (And yes, I am a little jealous of stay at home moms :)!)

But as I sit here and write this tonight, I still wonder why I am so scared.  And, yes, many of you can dive into childhood insecurities, but for the most part, I don't have many bad memories from growing up.  Maybe joining a new group should be another New Year's resolution? 

I hope everyone has a wonderful week!

Jean Anne      

Friday, January 7, 2011

Grr. . .

I had a couple of ideas of things to post about today.  I even had a post all ready to go.  But I just got a call from a partner that requires me to vent.

In early December I posted about my Christmas miracle - how I asked a partner to cover an argument on a motion so that I could attend my kid's Christmas program and he agreed without hesitation.  I was grateful.  As it turns out, if I had missed my kid's Christmas program for that hearing I would have been livid.  Absolutely nothing happened at that hearing.  Everyone showed up for arguments and the whole thing was rescheduled.  For next Friday.  My day off. 

When  I started this job, the powers that be refused to let me keep the four day work schedule I had at my last place.  This firm is a little old fashioned,  a little afraid of change and honestly, a little inexperienced in the world of women lawyers.  I truly think they were afraid that a nontraditional work schedule would cause an end to the legal world as they knew it.  But, to their credit, the firm recognized that while they weren't completely comfortable with a four day work week, to get good talent and retain women, they might need to compromise.  So they agreed to an every other Friday off schedule.  And that seemed reasonable to me.  After all, I had managed a four day work week at my last place.  I was confident I could continue to manage my work flow - especially with a lower billable hour requirement and a couple of extra days in the office each month. 

But, of course, what was promised and what was delivered were two different things.  I can't remember the last Friday I had off.  Well, that's not true.  I had last Friday off.  Because it was a firm holiday.   Everybody was off.  But before that, I've been in and working every Friday for some time.  Meanwhile, my kids are growing up and moving on without me.  The whole point of my changing jobs was lost.  Time with my kids is lost. 

I understand that - as a litigator especially - I can't expect to stick to a strict schedule.  There will be times when I need to come in on my day off.  And there will be times when I can't take time off period.  I understand and accept that.  But I can't accept that those times are every single Friday I'm supposed to be off. 

There is no emergency that requires me to handle this argument.  The date has been set for a month.  And my co-counsel (not from my firm), who originally prepared to argue the motion in December and agreed to tomorrow's date, didn't have any emergency come up causing a conflict.  He simply scheduled a deposition out of town on the same day as the argument without checking with any of us first.  As a result, I'm forced to rearrange my schedule and  pay for back up child care and miss yet another day with my children that I can't get back. 

I sound like my three year old when I say this, but it isn't fair.  If I'm expected to step up to the plate and deliver, so should my co-counsel.  He scheduled this hearing and he's prepared for it.  Why now, one week before, should I be forced to rush around and find a way to make it work?  Why should my family suffer because this male partner planned his professional obligations poorly?  If he had a real emergency, I'd feel differently, but this is a made-up problem.  It should be someone else's problem. 

Sadly, the person causing all of this problem for me is my co-counsel, not someone within my actual firm.  Therefore there's very little I can do about it.  My firm is asking me to step in and handle the argument because the other people here really and truly do have legitimate conflicts that prevent them from being able to handle this now last minute motion.  But I'm angry at the lack of respect for my time and family.  I'm angry that I'm "charged" with managing my own workload, but don't have control over my own schedule.  And I'm disappointed for all the fun that I'm going to miss with my kids. 


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mom Burn Out

As Moms we carry the world on our shoulders. And so it is only par for the course that we get burned out from time to time.

“Mom Burn Out” takes different forms for different people. For some it can be caused by the kids directly (and who can blame these Moms especially if they are dealing with terrible twos, threes, or hell even the fours)! However, for me, Mom Burn Out doesn’t really have a lot to do with my kids. I haven’t found myself (knock on wood) to the point where they caused my burn out, even though H’s terrible two’s had me pretty close!

For me, I suffer from Mom Burn Out from the other things that go along with being a working Mom, the behind the scenes stuff if you will. I get burned out from having to carry the load of my family on my shoulders. I am not just Mom, I am housekeeper, laundress, accountant, chauffer, chef, nurse, and repairman. Carrying the duties that go along with these jobs causes my stress.

Working Moms have a harder time curing Mom Burn Out, because we often don’t take time for ourselves for one of two reasons: (1) There are not enough hours in a day and much to our dismay we haven’t figured out how to pull a Zach from the old Saved by the Bell episodes and stop time or (2) We feel guilty when we step away from our kids because we don’t get much time with them anyway.

I find that often my Mom Burn Out co-exists with my Attorney Burn Out. I work at a firm where case loads are high and billable hours are even higher. So I often find that when I get burnt out at work, this causes a domino effect and causes me to get burnt out at home.

I am often pretty good at keeping Mom Burn Out away. But every now and then it gets me. I start to feel overwhelmed, get moody, emotional, etc. And then presto…burn out.

So  allow  me to present, Mandi’s Guide to No Burn-Out, Ten Tips for keeping Mom Burn Out at bay.

(1) Take an hour. Nights at my house are very chaotic. My husband works nights and so it is often just me and three amigos. So between dinner, play time, bath time, clean up time, and bed time my hours are jammed packed. And after I put my kids to bed I often have to finish up some work or prepare for a deposition or trial. But no matter how busy I am, no matter how late I stay up, I always take about an hour of wind down time. Whether its kicking my feet up on the couch and getting lost in HGTV or a taped show on my DVR, checking Facebook, catching up on celebrity gossip, or doing one of my hobbies, I make sure I get my down time. Even if I’m tired, to me it is better to stay up this extra hour to wind down. I find that if I don’t do this, when I fall asleep I dream about work or my mind races.

(2) Make the time for hobbies. I am an avid scrapbooker. I’ve been scrapbooking for 10+ years and I absolutely love it. Most people say to me when they see my scrapbooks…”How do you have time to do that?” or “I would never have enough time to do that!”. The answer is simple. I make the time, I make it a priority. Whether it’s during my wind down time, when my husband plays with the kids, or while the kids are watching Toy Story 3 for the millionth time, I make the time.

(3) Vent.  I vent…oh do I vent! I vent to anyone who will listen, or read (as in when I vent in my blogs). I have always been a person that shares details of my life. I’m not a private person. I put it out there. When I feel like I am getting burnt out I vent. But my secret is that I know just who to vent to for certain issues. I have my team of “advisors” ranging from my Mom to my husband to my coworkers to my best friends and I know who will make me feel better about things. Whether it’s a dinner with the girls every now and then, or just a nice long email to a friend, venting helps me keep my burn out at bay. Sometimes saying things outloud weakens the burden. I used to hate to admit that I am not SuperMom all the time…now I proudly admit that I am human and get burned out!

(4) Sleep in. Yes, one day a weekend, I make my husband get up with the kids early and I stay in bed. Now mind you, I usually only get a half hour of extra sleep before my kids realize I’m still upstairs and I hear “Mommy, it’s WAKE UP time!” over and over! But sleeping in helps me refresh.

(5) Create a musical diary. Okay this one is a bit odd, but it works for me. I have sort of a musical diary on my I-Pod. I started doing this way back in the day when people used to make mixed tapes. Remember mixed tapes? I make playlists monthly that reflect my mood. Sometimes they are songs that are peppy and upbeat, and sometimes they are country songs that seem like I wrote them. It’s amazing how good a song can make you feel.

(6) Act like a kid…literally. Playing with my kids helps me so much to wind down after a busy day. And I’m not talking about just sitting on the floor watching the kids play while you watch tv or something like that. No, I play. I get into character,  give my kids pony back rides, swing at the park, occasionally slide down a slide (if I don’t think I’ll get stuck), splash along with the kids in a pool, have a snowball fight, color with crayons, exchange a fancy meal for a grilled cheese. Basically I act like a kid. So trust me the laundry can wait…step away from the soap and get silly. It makes you forget the adult world for a minute and step back in time.

(7) Take on more...yes I said MORE.  I hear a lot of Moms say…”I can’t possibly take on one more thing!” I think the opposite. Often I take on things when I feel like my plate is full. For example, this blog, or volunteering, or taking an online course. Adding more balls to the stack you are juggling may seem overwhelming, but I find that if I have a few fun things in the midst of the work things, I feel better about myself and my life.

(8) Live in a drama free zone. In 2010, I made a change in my life. I started to rid it of issues and yes even people that cause me stress. I cannot tell you how refreshing it was when I spring cleaned my life this past year. I got rid of issues, people, things that were causing me headaches and heartaches. I found myself spending more time dealing with the relationships that were hard than the easy relationships in my life. I believe that it is important to surround yourself with people that make you thrive, not hinder you. Working Moms have enough drama in their lives…we don’t need anymore.

(9) Run errands... Alone. A great way I get some unexpected me time is to run errands, say a trip to Target, by myself. This way I kill two birds with one stone. I get errands done and I get some Me time. I walk around (very slowly), check out new make-up colors, or look at books...and of course people watch.  And trust me sometimes when you are stressed out going to a store and looking around at others is just what you need to see that whatever is stressing could be worse!

(10) Repeat. Stay the course. Me time shouldn't come around once in a blue moon, it needs to be a regular occurrence. Just find out how to fit it into your life and keep doing it. And trust me, I do understand how hard it is to take Me time...I mean just look what happened to me when I sat down on Saturday night for some scrapbooking! Trust me if I can find Me time in my house admist all the sock puppets in my house....anyone can!

So, how do you handle Mom burn out? I’d love some more tricks for my arsenal, so please share.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where’s Jean Anne? (Similar to Where’s Waldo, but not as catchy!)

Well readers, I would like to say that I was away on this relaxing, fun Christmas vacation, enjoying the sunshine and sounds of the ocean while drinking a fruity concoction and watching my hubby chase our kids on the beach. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
In addition to the normal holiday stress, I traveled to my in-laws in Wisconsin, pulled a muscle in my back while sledding (insert laugh from my cousins and aunt here), and got the flu while at Fun City (not so fun).

Now I shouldn’t complain – I realize that I was very lucky to spend time with my family, but I really wanted a relaxing vacation! Work has been extremely busy (and continues to be) and the holiday travel always adds extra stress.

So I ask my fellow readers, are the holidays fun or stressful? And, as mommies, are we stuck with more of the load around this time of year? I must be fair and admit that my hubby did an amazing job stuffing, addressing, and stamping the Christmas cards this year. And he does like to wrap presents. However, the shopping, comparing, deciding what to get everyone, and making sure not to forget anyone was left to me. I think if it were left up to him, the kids would be the only ones getting gifts (well, the kids and him!!).

Where did my holiday spirit go? I used to love Christmas – picking out the perfect gifts, getting Christmas cards from friends from all over the country, and just sitting in my living room with a hot cup of cocoa and watching my decorated tree.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watching my girls’ faces light up when they see what Santa has brought (although, I was informed that we do not have a chimney for Santa and that this must be corrected!). And the excitement the night before, putting out reindeer food and cookies for Santa just makes me feel young again. No thank you card can top that look of pure joy on Christmas morning.

But this year, while sitting in my car on the way to another store, I lost that spirit. I just couldn’t find “the” gift for family members. And I want to find that “it” gift for everyone; something that brings that smile to both my friend or family member’s eyes and face.

And before my mother-in-law calls and lectures me on the “true meaning” of the season, I am not saying that Christmas is all about presents, Santa, cards, etc. But I do think it is about that special, warm feeling you get when spending time with family and friends. And this year, I missed that.

So what does this mean? More resolutions for next blog…

Thanks for letting me vent. And I hope that everyone had a wonderful, relaxing holiday season (and a couple of fruity concoctions!).
Jean Anne

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Workplace Fashion

I know that it is right after New Years and that I should be blogging about resolutions and dedication and all sorts of motivating things. But the Wall Street Journal recently published an internal memo about the dress code at UBS, and as someone who is weirdly interested in workplace fashion, I felt the blog calling to me.

If you are reading this blog and you know me, you are probably surprised to read that I am interested in workplace fashion. There is no question that I am not a fashionista. Not by any stretch of the imagination. No one has ever accused me of even being “fashion forward.” Our family budget simply won’t allow for it. Besides, I’m really just not that cool. I couldn’t really pull off corporate cutting edge. And, I’m pretty content to be sporting last season's J. Crew suit or sale Ann Taylor pants. (As an aside, does anyone ever buy anything at Ann Taylor for full price? They have sales ALL the time). So while Banana, Ann and Talbots are staples of my work wardrobe, I know these names rank me pretty close to the bottom rung of corporate fashion. (Check out for a discussion on what other professionals are paying for their wardrobe).

But I am interested in it. When I first started practicing law, I was twenty-three years old and I looked it. Looking young was a double edged sword. In court, it was great. Every clerk could tell just by looking at me that I was a brand-new baby lawyer and took pity on me. They helped me figure out which form to use, where the heck my case was transferred to and how to use that dumb 1950s era carbon paper that some judges insist upon. But to the clients, looking young was a severe disadvantage. Clients wanted to know that I was worth the $$$ per hour they were paying for me. And dressing up was one way to convey an image of competence.

I truly believe that part of being a successful woman in the legal field is constantly looking fresh. Of course, there is a line in this – you can’t be too fashion forward or too out there. But you are expected to look current, up-to-date and put together. Lest you think I exaggerate, one of the first comments my recruiter reported back to me when I was interviewing this spring was that my now current firm was impressed with how sharp and put together I looked. Never mind any of the super cool things I had done during my time as a lawyer.

But the point is, I follow corporate couture. And, I work in the financial industry. So I was super interested in UBS’s dress code. A surprising number of banks and financial institutions still require their employees to wear suits to work. In these companies, the idea of “casual Friday” means wearing a French blue – instead of white – dress shirt with your suit. Getting a glimpse of the UBS dress code was like getting the inside scoop on how to sell myself to a potential client.

The dress code, as it turns out, wasn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) revolutionary. It advised the retail banking staff to wear suits in gray, navy blue or black. It suggested that women wear light makeup to enhance their features, but to avoid black nail polish or other nail art. And it advised everyone to wear a watch – conveying the image that punctuality and precision were important.

Of course, there were more incendiary recommendations in the code, but overall, the advice was pretty sound. I for one, am a big fan of the idea that in the workplace, underwear should be “undetectable but of good quality and easily washable.” And much of the advice simply echoed things I’d heard from jury consultants time and time again. In fact, the UBS dress code was a thousand times more politically correct than things I’ve heard from jury consultants. Which can only mean one thing – its generally good advice.


Monday, January 3, 2011


Wow, the first post of 2011. Doesn't seem possible that we are starting another year. And of course since we've just started the New Year that means we must all start working on our New Year resolutions. In December we all start to talk about our resolutions but then when January 1st comes along we have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

This year I find myself with more resolutions than I have ever had in years past. Of course the standard "return customers" are present such as lose weight, eat healthier, kick my Diet Pepsi addiction, save more money, spend less money, exercise more, make more time for myself, spend more time with my husband....yadda, yadda, yadda.  But this year on my list is a seemingly odd resolution. A resolution that holds the top spot amongst my list.

Keep things the way they are.

I know this seems like a really strange resolution. I mean resolutions are things we want to change right?  This one couldn't be farther from that. This resolution is to avoid change at all costs. And this resolution is one I cannot ignore or toss to the side like we all often do with our resolutions.

I have found myself at the start of a terrifying year of change. I have now entered the world of partnership. I have mentioned this in my blogs before and so if you have read those you know what major changes I will be experiencing in my life this year. So many unknowns, so many new adjustments.  

Since I have found out about my partnership, my stress level is at an all time high. See, I am a person who doesn't take well to change. I am a very routine, very structured perfectionist. I feel most comfortable in my life when I can control it. Yes, I am a control freak.

But now, I'm losing the control over a big portion of my life. In 2010 I knew what I made, I could live by a budget, I knew what was expected of me professionally. In 2011, I have no idea how much I will make and a whole new set of pressures upon me. I now have so many loads upon my shoulders...loads I fear will be very hard to carry.

So in the midst of all these changes...keeping things normal is crucial to my survival. Admist all the stresses I am embarking on, all the uncertainites, all the pressure, I have to keep my home life the same. Yes, my work life is now turned on its head and so now I have to strive to make sure my home life does not do the same.  This way after a hard day of work I can return home to the comfort of normalcy.

But keeping things the same when a big portion of my life is changing is harder than I thought. Because the demands at work will be higher, I have to restructure the way I do things. I have to find a way of making my new career life balance with my home life. I basically have to scrap the old balance I had worked so hard to acheive and create a new one.

So this year while others are trying to change their lives, I am going to fight hard to keep mine as close to normal as possible. I want to continue to do all the things I do now for my kids. I want to be the Mom I am and weather the storm with all the stress. In other words I want this New Year resolution to turn out a lot better than all those weight loss resolutions I have had over the years.

So good luck on all your New Year Resolutions! Let's make 2011 the year when we all meet our New Year resolutions!