Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three more days 'til Christmas!

Happy Christmas, everyone!  
I can't think of anything other than spending a long Christmas holiday with these two sweeties. Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this Post, and to my fellow Blogger-moms.  May your families be blessed and your travel be safe! get through the next two days!  


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Countdown

Well, here we are five days before Christmas.  I don't have everything done because, as I said last week, I don't think "everything" will ever be done before the kids actually wake up on Christmas morning.  But as I promised myself last week, I'm taking it in and enjoying the season.  And it's been everything I imagined it could be and more. 

Maybe it is because the kids are old enough to understand what's going on, or maybe it's because I've made a concentrated effort to focus on my family this season, but I've never felt so blessed to have my kids and husband as I do this season.  Seeing the world through their eyes - even for just this little bit - has brought me so much joy.  From Sweet Pea's terror in sitting on Santa's lap, to KJ's thrill in bringing home handmade presents for his family this season has been filled with reminders of what a blessing it truly is to be a family.  From making a gingerbread house (a first for all of us) to taking Sweet Pea to see her first production of the Nutcracker, I've had the opportunity to really focus on my family and all they bring to my life.  And although I still complain that Husband eats all the dough before I have time to bake it into cookies, and despite Sweet Pea and KJ's constant bickering about who gets to turn on the Christmas tree, I know I am lucky to have them.  And I'm so grateful for everything they've added to my life. 

Wishing you and your family a holiday season filled with joy, magic and family.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Finding Christmas

Let the countdown begin…

The week before Christmas already, can you believe it?

This year I was particularly excited for Christmas. My kids are at an amazing age for Christmas, a truly magical age. Experiencing Christmas again through the eyes of a 5, 4, and a 18 month old is wonderful. So starting in late November I started to get really into the Christmas spirit, I played Christmas music while I decorated the house and started to plan out my “I vow to shop early this year (even though I say this every year and never do it) plan”.  
But then as always happens…reality hit. The sugar plum vision of Christmas started to fade. The fabulous family Christmas picture I love to hang on my wall is not so easy to take with a 18 month old, the “must have” gifts my children are begging for are also being requested by 1.9 million others making Mommy have to rush around town and wait in lines, the presents overflowing my basement all need to be wrapped. So last week, excitement moved out and drama moved in.

Here I sit Monday morning absolutely exhausted after a weekend of Christmas programs, gingerbread houses, wrapping presents, assembling presents for teachers, and trying to figure out how to tackle my to-do list. The Christmas season I couldn’t wait for came alright…and now its kicking my butt!
Yesterday I think I hit my Christmas breaking point….I was up at 6:30 a.m. and finished wrapping presents at around 1:30 a.m. Last night even though I was exhausted I could not sleep. I had 1000 thoughts going through my mind. I realized as I laid there next to my shockingly peacefully sleeping husband (isn’t there some rule that if the wife can’t sleep the husband shouldn’t?) that I was dangerously close to becoming the Grinch that stole my own Christmas. I was letting everything and everyone around me effect my Christmas.

Then I thought about my kids and remembered a time when Christmas was just pure excitement. Christmas dinner miraculously appeared on the table, Christmas presents were all wrapped and placed under the tree.  There was no drama. All you had to do was get caught up in the magic of it all, and perhaps wear an ugly reindeer sweater to please your grandmother. Now its my job to make sure that no matter what is going on in my Christmas, their Christmas is un-phased.
Yesterday at our church was the children’s program. I sat there and watched my daughter sing Away in the Manger. As I sat next to my step-dad, my sons, my husband, and my Mom watching our little J singing her heart out, I truly felt Christmas. The love. The hope. The magic. I have to remember to hold on to that feeling this week.

It reminded me that I need to stop worrying about all the craziness of Christmas and just enjoy it. I don’t have many more years of the magical Christmases that I am blessed with now. Pretty soon the Elf on the Shelf will remain on the shelf, my kids won’t be doing cute sign language peace and love signs in Christmas Programs, they will have figured out why Santa and Mom have very similar handwriting.

So I’m taking a deep breath in on this Monday morning, downing an extra Diet Pepsi for a much needed caffeine boost and realizing that I have in my power the ability to either get caught up in Christmas or to truly feel and enjoy it.

So good luck out there Moms.
To celebrate surviving another holiday I’m taking a week vacation next week, so I will not be blogging next Monday. But I’ll be back in 2012 to start another year of the crazy adventures of the JD Moms.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. Enjoy the magic.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Top Five Ways the Holidays Have Changed With Kids

Last week, my group at work had a small get together outside of work. When I returned home (by 8:30 PM, mind you), I still had time to fold a load of laundry, read a story to the kids and watch the evening news. As my hubby asked me if I had a good time at my dinner, I said “yes, but what a change 5 years means.” And I got to thinking about how the holidays have changed.

1. The Definition of Holiday Party
Remember when holiday party meant your office/firm get together outside of work? How you didn’t want to be that drunk girl/guy hitting on your co-worker or getting too wild on the dance floor? Now holiday party means your kids’ school party with cookies/treats for at least 20 kids and juice.

2. The Christmas Tree
When we first got married, hubby and I had a wonderful tree filled with beautiful, breakable ornaments. Now, we have a family ornament from each year since the girls were born, Scooby Doo, Hello Kitty and lots of princess ornaments all on the lower half of the tree.

3. Traveling
Hubby and I would split time with his family and mine, traveling from Iowa to Illinois to Wisconsin, enjoying spending time together in the car, listening to classic songs on the radio and loving the open road. Now we get there as fast as we can, praying that we brought all of the right DVDs and Nintendo DS games.

4. Christmas Shopping
There was a time I would spend hours in the mall, looking for that perfect gift. Now I pray for a short line in Target, hoping I can get out of there without yelling at my girls that not every gift is meant for them.

5. A Christmas Show
When we were first married, we would try and attend a holiday concert or show – just something special as a night out to celebrate the holidays. Now the Winter Show means getting early to the SE Polk High School auditorium to save the best seats to watch A & B dance (and tape the performance!)

Please know that this is meant to just be a humorous look on how my life has changed with kids. Nothing can replace how I feel when A opens her Christmas gift and her smile lights up her face or B searching the house for Eugene (our Elf on the Shelf). And truth be told, I am a little to old to be getting wild on the dance floor. But a few holidays spirits wouldn’t be too bad.

Have a happy holidays!

Jean Anne

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Schmistmas??

I have one word to describe this Christmas season - BLAH.  So wrong...right?  But for some reason, I just cannot seem to get in the Christmas spirit.  Something shiny and happy is missing this year, and I have absolutely no idea what is it or where its gone.  At our house, the anticipation of Christmas usually begins with the "Countdown to the Countdown to the 24 days of Christmas." You know, the Santa and all things jolly marathon of Christmas shows and made for TV movies on ABC Family That starts basically right after Halloween.  We usually watch that channel and the shows again and again, with the same amount of joy on Christmas Eve as on November 1st.  I usually search the entire ABCFamily listing and plan our nights around my favorites - The Year without a Santa Clause, and Rudolph's Shiny New Year.   I have just been advised that Christmas is in 11 days, and I haven't seen either of them even once!  

At Thanksgiving,  we got out the tree. The other greenery I usually put up just sat in its bags for a few days before they all got shifted back downstairs.  The 10 or so bins I have full of Christmas decorations for the house never even made it up.  All I kept thinking about was the tremendous amount of work it takes to put all that stuff up, put the "usual" stuff away, then repeat.  I was exhausted just thinking about it!

Usually, I LOVE lights.  I have to bully Steve into putting them on the house, and he never puts on as many as I want (Think Clark Griswold).  This year, we have a small string of solar lights on the porch and a single pathetic string of icicle lights on the roof - that aren't even attached to an electrical cord, so can't be lit! Typically, I make the kids go down to the park and drive through the lights there at least a few times a week - we've been there twice... 

It's pathetic! Maybe it's because of the weather - two days of solid rain does not scream Christmas to me.  I NEED some snow.  Maybe it's because the kids don't seem as excited as last year.  B is now 9; I suspect he is on the cusp of losing his ability to hear the Christmas bell...that makes me Really Sad!  Maybe it's because I am so excited about our cruise in January that this Christmas is just "marking time" until we get to do the really fun stuff... who knows. Anyway, this year, I'm a Grinch. I need a Christmas Miracle - if anyone has one to spare! 


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Here we are, 12 days before Christmas.  It seems like December has gone so fast.  I really wanted to enjoy the holiday season this year so I did most of my present buying early, hoping that I could coast through December, just enjoying special moments with the kids.  And my plan has kind of worked.  I took Sweet Pea and her cousin to see Pinkalicious last weekend.  And this weekend Sweet Pea and I are going to see the Nutcracker.  While we are watching ballet, Husband and KJ are going to skate with Santa.  All in all, we've done a lot of special things, so that seems to be working out pretty well. 

 Except, I still have a bunch of "little" things to do.  You know, like assemble Sweet Pea's doll house.  Well, that's actually Husband's job, but you get my drift.  We really haven't had much opportunity to focus on things like that - things that didn't have to be done immediately, but are quickly becoming things we can no longer put off.  We've been busy going from daycare Christmas event to work Christmas event to charity Christmas event to family Christmas event.  It seems like there is something "special" every day, which leaves little time for picking up those little things and tying up the loose ends. 

It seems like when you are the mom, Christmas is never really finished.  There's always something more to do - another Christmas card to send, a new kinds of cookie to make.  I think that's why the season is so stressful on so many people.  You're never really done. 

 These last 12 days of December I'm trying my best to slow down and just enjoy my kids enjoying the season.  Yes, I still have to pick up a gift or two.  And yes, there is sure to be at least one late night as we assemble some gifts.  But there are a lot of special moments to come too.  Like making cookies with the kids and counting down to Santa.  I'm promising myself not to lose those special moments in the last minute bustle.  Because whether or not those loose ends get tied up won't determine whether we have an amazing Christmas.  But how I handle these next 12 days will determine how I remember this Christmas.  And I want to remember it the way I've envisioned it: Relaxed, happy and together.  Not running around the mall.  So today, the craziness stops.  I'll pick up a thing or two here and there, but our holiday celebration begins now. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Baby

“We need to talk to you about something”.

It’s a phrase that no parent wants to hear from a teacher or daycare provider. But a few weeks ago its exactly what I heard as I sat across the table from a young teacher in my son L’s class.

I braced myself and the attorney in me kicked already working on my rebuttal. Was he biting? Oh H can be rough with him maybe he’s being to rough? Oh he can throw tantrum if he doesn’t get his way…is he screaming? Great, he probably throws his food…but we’re working on that, he has a big brother and sister so he’s used to bigger kids… One by one the thoughts went through my mind and I prepared to defend my baby.

It didn’t make it any easier that I was sitting here regarding L. L is 18 months and is my baby. So I am naturally more protective of him. Plus, he is the sweetest most loving baby in the world so a complaint about him? No way. Not my L.

“He’s really quiet. He doesn’t talk much.”

Wait…what??? Really, that’s it? That’s the exact same news H’s teacher had praised him for about 20 minutes prior. The teacher explained that L didn’t talk as much as the other kids in his class. Wow, if only this girl knew the life L lived. He’s the baby behind two very loud kids. No one can get a word in edge wise with his brother and sister.

Of course being the baby of my family, I knew what the teacher was going to say next… “J and H always talked….he is much quieter than they ever were”. Ahh…the lovely comparisons that all babies of the family must endure. The teacher handed me a paper on working on talking and we left the center.

That conference was a little over a month ago. Since then I have of course had a hyper sensitivity to watching the words L says. It’s like someone that points out a bruise you didn’t know was on your arm…once they say it, you feel it the rest of the day. After the teacher mentioned L’s talking, I made it a point to see what words he does say.

This past month I have noticed a trend… although L is overall fairly quiet, he has figured out the words that he needs to get through his day. He has managed to assemble a “Last Child” Survival Dictionary…

1. “Mine” – the first truly important word that every baby of the family needs to know. This word is repeated at least 1000 times a day!

2. “Uh Oh” – Every little brother needs to know this one, especially when a hot wheel car is launched into a cup of chocolate milk.

3. “No” – Often used when his sister wants to rock him like a baby or dress him up.

4. “Bye Bye” – in this family we are always on the go, so it is no wonder this is his favorite word.

5. “Shoes” – See #1 above. We are always in hurry and in a mad dash to find shoes. The baby never wants to be left behind so he’s the first to look for them!

6. “Chips” – although this health conscious mother hates to admit it, chips are by far L’s favorite food.

7. “Juice” – A milk hater, he always makes sure to tell me to skip the milk and give him his beloved juice.

8. “Zoey” – (Our Dog). For man’s best friend is truly L’s best friend.

9. “Choo Choos” – his favorite toy.

10. “Kitties” – because the animal rights group need to schedule an intervention with L and his obsession with cat tail pulling.

11. “Mama/Dada”- to summon his personal bodyguards.

12. “Thank You” – Although he is a guy of few words – I am proud to say he always remembers to say this.

13. “Hug” – because this kid is a hugger, plain and simple!

14. “Wiggles” because if he has to watch Barbie one more time he may move.

15. “Cheese” – Because L has a camera in his face (thanks to his scrapbooking mother) more times than a Hollywood celebrity.

After about a month of paying extremely close attention to this, I backed off, and chilled out. He’s fine. Okay so he doesn’t talk as much as J did at that age. The first in the family gets tested on the same criteria as the baby even though their situations are completely different. Is that fair? L and I certainly don't think so.

At his 18 month check, I told our doctor about what the teacher had said. My doctor laughed and sighed “I hate those damn tests…he’s only 18 months old!!” She laughed. Then she turned to H and L who were playing on the floor of her office. L was playing happily with his train when his brother ripped the train out of his hand. “No! Mine! Choo Choo!!! Mine!!” L yelled and ripped the train right back. The forcefulness in his voice made his big brother back off. I gave my doctor the typical Mother of boys look of “I’m sorry…Ignore them, we’re working on it…”. But my doctor thought the battle over the choo choo was much more important than brotherly banter. She looked at me: “See, there’s your test. Did you see that?? Problem Communicating?? Umm…in the time he has sat here he just stood up to his 4 year old brother and got what he wanted, if that’s not excelling in communication I don’t know what is!"

So take some advice from a baby of the family...give us babies a little break! Being the caboose to a train is not as easy as it looks! :-) We'll get there, just give us some time!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Adoption Tuesday

Yesterday I got to attend an adoption! This event was a very long time coming.  I have served as Guardian ad Litem of the child for almost 2 years, in an ugly, heart wrenching Child In Need of Assistance case; known this child for half of it's life.  I watched his parents struggle and fight, deny and deflect responsibility, self-implode and spiral out of control. During that time his now-adoptive mother was there - watching, opining and at times advocating for the parents when it was warranted- but at ALL TIMES she was there to protect the child. To give him love and reassurance that everything was going to be okay.  To fight for him - with me and, sometimes, against me - for what she believed was best for him.

Yesterday, with the court room filled with well-wishers, they finally became a family. I had never attended an adoption hearing before, and I was so moved by the excitement, love and expectation that was palpable in the courtroom while we waited for the judge.  In CINA cases, the primary goal is always permanency for the child.  DHS talks about "forever families"- it's a catch phrase that I always thought was kind of sappy before. But yesterday, I got to see, on the face of a child, what it means for a kid to have a "forever family."  As stable, engaged parents, most of us probably take it for granted that our kids are secure, confident in who they are and what their life is.  I know I did.  Even practicing in juvenile law for the last seven years, in all the CINA cases I've had and all the families I have been involved with, with the knowledge I have about bonding, structure, etc. being crucial to children, I did not see the concept of permanency through the eyes of the child until yesterday.  Joy.  Pure joy that comes with knowing that you are loved above and beyond all others.  In knowing that no matter what, no one is going to take you away from where you feel safe, secure and happy.

In the realm of juvenile law, there are very rarely truly joyful moments like that one.  The adoptive mother said that she received a gift that day.  The best gift she could ever get.  And while it did not come without a price, the important thing is that that little person was able to sit in the witness stand, spell his new last name and tell the judge that his parents "loved him more than chocolate!" Forever.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Before last week, I had been feeling a little down about my job situation.  Overall I like my job and the people I work with, but I couldn't stop myself from thinking about how things would be different this year if I had stayed with my last firm.  Because if I had stayed with my last firm, I would have made partner this month. 

It sounds like a self-aggrandizing thing to say since partnership decisions are never set in stone, but I was certainly on the path to partnership at my last firm and by all indications, I would have been named a partner this December.  Of course, at that firm, "partnership" meant non-equity partner, but still.  I would have had the title.  I knew when I chose to leave that firm that I would not be considered for partnership at my new firm for at least one additional year, and that my current firm's partnership decisions were not made in December, making the process even longer.  But partnership at my current firm means full-on equal ownership of the business, so the decision to add a new partner is taken very, very seriously.  It only made sense that they'd want me around for a while before they decided to own a business with me.  And truthfully, when I was making the decision to move, I pretty much thought I'd want that extra year to make sure I wanted to own a business with them.  So back then, the extra year of associate didn't seem so bad.  Which may be why I was so surprised to be a little down about what could have been this December if only I had stayed. 

Until last Tuesday. 

 Last Tuesday around 9:30 a.m., I got a call from daycare that Sweet Pea was sick.  I'll start by saying she's fine, the worst case scenario that I am about to describe was not the situation.  But at the time I got the call, Sweet Pea's sickness seemed pretty serious.  And, it seemed potentially related to all of the "tummy troubles" she had as a baby.  Sweet Pea needed to see a doctor right away, and hospitalization was not out of the question.

One of the reasons I left my last job was for how they treated me the year Sweet Pea was born.  Sweet Pea had a lot of trouble eating - and thus a lot of trouble growing - her first year of life.  There were all kinds of doctor appointments.  All kinds of tests.  You know the pre-tax dollars you can set aside for medical expenses each year?  We blew through all the money we had set aside for the year by the first week of March.   I only have a few memories from 2009, and sadly the most poignant one is of sitting at my kitchen table at 2 a.m. on my last week of maternity leave crying.  I had been in the hospital for an infection and discharged myself so that I could relieve my parents who had been watching the kids and needed to work the next day.  Sweet Pea had been very sick for my parents.  And despite their best efforts to be reassuring, I knew they were worried.  When they left that night to get some sleep, I sat at the table and cried.  My baby seemed seriously sick.  And I had to go back to work.  And my firm had just laid off over 100 people due to the terrible economic climate.  How was I going to do it? 

Somehow, I managed to make it.  I worked full-time, five days a week, scheduled as many doctor appointments and tests as I could on Saturdays and just generally tried my best to make it work.  But I was so tired.  By the end of July, I knew I couldn't keep at that pace much longer.  So I asked my firm if I could go on the (firm approved) four-day-a-week part-time plan for 6 months.  And was denied. 

They "needed" me full-time, they said.  Never mind the fact that there wasn't a lot of work to go around at that particular time.  That associates were billing less than 100 per month.  Never mind that many of our clients had stopped all unnecessary litigation in order to save capital for their actual business needs.  And never mind that my firm would have saved tens of thousands of dollars in salary that I couldn't make up with billable work if I stayed.  They wanted me there, and that was that.  I had no choice but to continue on full-time.  In December, I resubmitted the part-time paperwork and started looking for a job.  And in May, I left. 

When everything with Sweet Pea had settled down on Tuesday and I had time to reflect on my current firm's response to my emergency, I realized how happy I am to wait a couple more years to be considered for partner. My experiences with my "new" firm have been night-and-day from my old.  My current firm started me with every-other-Friday off, and moved me to a four-day work week within a year.  I've brought my kids to the office more times in the last 18 months than I did during the entire three years I had kids at my last firm.  And, most importantly, they've supported me whenever I've needed to be there for my kids. Whether that's meant handling a routine court call so that I could attend my kid's holiday party, or handing over their car key so that I could get to my sick kid (which actually happened on Tuesday). 

 For all of my complaints, the men I work with now have priorities like mine.  They understand how important family is, and are willing to support me as I try to balance a young family and a demanding profession.  They are willing to work with me, even if that means sacrifice on their part from time to time.  They understand that I only have one chance to be there for my kids when they are small.  But I have my whole career to build a book of business and be named partner.  In other words, they are the kind of people that I would want to be partners with.  Someday. 

And for that,  I'm happy to wait. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holiday Victories

The holiday season is here. Ugh…here we go again.

I’m not a Scrooge, but Christmas has certainly changed since I became a Mom. Instead of a fun filled holiday, it’s…well HARD WORK. No one ever tells you when you start a family: “Congratulations, now you are entirely in charge of Christmas!" I mean if you are anything like me, you shoulder the load of Christmas. From scheduling Christmas pictures, to baking, to addressing Christmas cards, to making sure to clear up your family’s schedule to make time to visit everyone around the holidays. Sure my husband hangs the outdoor Christmas lights, but still I have to be there to monitor that because if I left it up to him we’d have all colored lights (I’m a white light girl) and a giant blow up Herky Santa in our front yard!

I have made a promise this year to try and stay organized, stay calm, and try to enjoy the holidays a little bit more. After all, my kids are at the perfect age for Christmas. My daughter walks around warning everyone that Santa is watching, my son sounds adorable singing Away in the Manger in Sunday school, and even my 18 month old has had fun watching all the lights around our house.

So instead of writing this blog about everything I still need to accomplish this holiday season, I thought I would take some time to give myself a little pat on the back, to celebrate the things I have manage to survive so far this season!

So, allow me to present Mandi’s Top 10 holiday victories 2011:

10. I survived mailing my holiday cards on a busy Saturday afternoon with a line a mile long at the post office with H and L in tow and 70 christmas cards to stamp and mail. The fact I got out of there without L running out the automatic doors he was fascinated with, or H taking out all the Mickey Mouse Christmas envelopes was a miracle. And I managed to get out while my fellow line waiters were still giving my kids the “Oh they are SOOO cute” look instead of “Get these squealing kids out of here before I have to pop a Xanax!!!!”

9. I have remembered every night to move the Elf on the Shelf, even though one night I had to make a mad dash at 5:45 a.m. to move my daughter’s new best friend.

8. I went back to Toys R Us and fought for $20.00 back after the “Can’t be beat” “Amazing Deal” train table I found was $20.00 less the day after I bought it.

7. I managed to capture a Christmas card picture of the three kids in front of the Christmas tree with all three kids sitting, smiling, and no one blinking. And I am giving myself bonus points for the fact you can’t see the Cheese Its I bribed L with in his clutched hands.

6. I finally nabbed the “Bob Ross” Easel my budding artist daughter asked Santa for after days and days of “Out of Stock” notices. I even managed to get it 20 minutes before having to be in Court for an important hearing. I managed to walk into the Courtroom about 3.2 seconds before the judge.

5. I have completed shopping for my nieces and nephews by December 4th instead of December 24th.

4. I got L to sit on Santa’s lap without screaming.

3. I have managed to teach my kids to get just as excited about lighting the advent wreath they made at church as they are about opening their advent calendar to find their chocolate.

2. Somehow thanks to the Christmas light Gods, I managed to stretch a 150 strand of lights to miraculously end at the bottom of my garage so I didn’t have to hide extra lights in a planter or behind a rock.

1. I am still excited (instead of tired and overwhelmed) about Christmas!

Okay, so I know its still very early, but still I think in order for us Mommies to stay sane this season, we need to celebrate our little victories when we can. Buckle up Mommies, its going to be a long month.