Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Real Slim Shady

The other night, after giving Sweet Pea a bath, I dried her hair with the hair dryer (or “woo” as it is sometimes called in our house). After I turned off the dryer and brushed her golden locks into place, I declared her “sparkling.” Sweet Pea, however, looked in the mirror and started crying. She scrunched up her face and began pulling at her hair. Alarmed, I asked her what was wrong. Through her tears, she looked in the mirror and said with utmost conviction, “That’s not the real [Sweet Pea]”.

I was flabbergasted. What did that mean? Not the real Sweet Pea? So I asked her. Repeatedly. But Sweet Pea couldn’t really articulate what the “real” Sweet Pea was. At most, all I could decipher is that she was upset about her hair.

Prior to that moment, I had no idea that Sweet Pea (1) had such a strong feelings about how she “should” look or (2) cared about her hair. If you ever saw her post daycare hair, I’m confident you would have a hard time believing that that girl could be the same girl in this story. But, she was. And as the days wore on she got more and more upset about her hair. There was no way I could style it, no way I could fix it that made her see the “real” Sweet Pea.

So, I started asking her questions about what the “real” Sweet Pea looked like. Sweet Pea wasn’t able to articulate much, but between my questions and looking at pictures, I was able to decipher that – at a minimum – the “real” Sweet Pea has bangs. So, on Friday night while KJ was at hockey I took Sweet Pea to the salon. I let her climb up into the chair by herself and get all settled with the cape around her. And when the stylist asked me how I wanted her hair cut, I told him to do whatever Sweet Pea said.

The look the stylist gave me assured me that no mother in the history of time has ever let her four-year-old dictate a haircut before. But to me, hair is just hair. It will grow back. And while I may think Sweet Pea is ready to grow her bangs out, I care way more about how she feels about herself than I can about what her hair looks like. I wanted her to see her “real” self, whatever that may look like.

I’ll admit, I had a bit of fear as I stepped back into the waiting area and let Sweet Pea talk the stylist through her cut. I was close enough to see and hear what was going on (and honestly, intervene if she asked for a mohawk or something), but Sweet Pea did a fantastic job articulating what she wanted. And the stylist did a good job of listening to her. At one point, about 10 minutes in and at a completely random point in the cut, Sweet Pea looked in the mirror and, unprompted, said, “There’s the real [Sweet Pea].”

Of course, the stylist had no idea what “the real [Sweet Pea]” meant, but he went with it. And when her cut was finished, she looked fabulous. Older, but fabulous. In addition to having hair she liked, Sweet Pea’s bounce was back. She felt like herself and as quickly as the crying had started, it stopped. The “real” Sweet Pea was back. And we’re so glad to have her. Even if she does have those bangs I wanted to shed.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bring the Little Children to Me....

Picture if you will a pleasant Sunday morning. Church goers happily pack into a church. Spirit Band plays inspiring songs. Everyone stands up and sings, the Lord is good, the world is at peace. People sit down, the pastor leads everyone in a well thought out prayer, and takes a moment of silence…


Heavenly sounds coming from above? Nope…those less than heavenly sounds are compliments of the bored two year old in the balcony who just decided to throw his match box car down several rows of seats in the balcony to hear the sound as it bounced off the wood floor.

Yep, that is my son and these are Sundays in my world.

I grew up in a family that didn’t go to church a lot. We were those Catholics that showed up on the big days…Christmas, Easter, occasionally Mother’s Day. I knew my parents were religious, but church just was not in our normal routine. As I grew, I was always jealous of the kids that came from Sunday School or Bible Camps, things my small town church never offered.
I wanted to change that for my kids.
The problem was I was somewhat of a church orphan when I had kids. I had a parting with the Catholic church in my early 20's and so in addition to finding a church,  I had to find a religion. That’s a huge responsibility to take on as a parent. I mean…choosing my kids' religion? That's a lot bigger decision than whether I will allow them to have 100% juice or the watered down kind.
So I started looking. I knew what I didn’t want….but as a great “over thinker” I spent countless hours on the internet researching what I did want.  It was hard for me because it was my decision alone. My husband was not raised with any religion and didn’t share the same drive I had for getting religion instilled in our children. In other words…I got a lot “I don’t care what church you go to, Mandi” from that side of the fence. And as any mother knows when you make a decision and you can't blame Daddy if things go wrong...that's a decision worth thinking VERY HARD about.

So I “church shopped” and finally stumbled upon a perfect place for my family…a large Methodist church in our city.

Okay, religion chosen….CHECK. Church found….CHECK.

But my hardest task was still ahead. Choosing a church was nothing compared to actually attending church, making it a routine. Yes my friends, those mothers you see in church with their children are the true saints of the world because it is hard to take children to church.

But I did, and J and H started to LOVE church. They love their Sunday school teachers, they love the music, and my church offers a Children’s Church option so my kids don’t even have to sit like I had to and listen to long sermons.

So for awhile I just took J and H with me to church, and left L home with Todd. I mean, he is too young to really get anything from church anyway right? But then I took L and I found that he really liked going. I know it has little to do with time with his Lord and more to do with a new environment with nice pews that serve as perfect race tracks. But still, he liked going. And I could only take so many mornings of those big brown eyes looking at me crying “I wanna go to Church Momma”.

So now my Sundays are filled with taking my three to church. And of course, we sit in the balcony so I have to walk past all the perfectly behaved children sitting quietly next to their parents waiting for church to start, while mine are seeing how many cars they can stuff into the offering plate or whether they can truly fit underneath the pews.

Now I'm not complaining, because to be honest, most days are fine. But then there are the few "memorable" ones. Allow me to share with you a few of the “finer moments” of the Trio’s church adventures…

1.     The Offering where it got quiet just as L finally figured out how to turn silent off of my phone and the Angry Birds laughed at the congregation while they put in their weekly tithings.

2.     The Day where the sermon about loving thy neighbor was proceeded by H hitting his sister because she walked up the stairs faster than him.

3.     The Communion where H proudly announced for the congregation that the Host (bread) was from Panera

4.     The Sunday School where J announced for her teacher that she didn’t come last Sunday because her Mommy wanted to sleep more.

5.     The Sunday in the crying room where L decided to race his cars down the arm of the pew just in time for the door to open and the little red firetruck to go down the aisle.

So yes, there are moments my face is as red as the panels of glass in the stained glass windows that adorn the church. And I've had my fair share of little old ladies coming up to me with "Oh your children are so spirited" comments... which of course translates to "Oh you poor thing, your kids are crazy". 
Yes,  I swear there are even times when I think Jesus Himself is laughing at me from the pictures around me. But I still go. Everytime I hear my 5 year old son yell out the Lord’s Prayer having it completely memorized, or listen as my daughter whispers out her prayers for all the dead goldfish, and stray cats in the world, I realize that I'm doing the right thing.

Sundays are going to continue to be an adventure. There are going to be the days where L is whipped out of the pew and taken to the “crying room”. There are going to be the days where I hear more of “Will you Stop touching me” than prayers. 

But a good friend of mine at church said it best. After one particularly rough Sunday he came up to me gave me a hug and whispered in my ear….

Remember, Jesus said bring the little children to me. He didn’t say bring me only robots and angels.”



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Traveling Mom

Since I was last blogging regularly, I've started a new job.  I've never really by shy about the fact that I didn't really want to be a partner in a law firm.  I mean, if I was going to be in a law firm I wanted to be a partner eventually.  But it wasn't my goal to make partner or anything.  Instead, I always wanted to go in-house.  But in-house jobs for litigators are few and far between.  It took a lot of years of looking until I finally found (and got) an in-house job.  And it is everything I thought it would be.

I generally love my new position.  I manage the litigation for an employee benefits company.  That means I handle everything from the company's commercial litigation to litigated claims made by our insureds (employee benefits includes health insurance - for now), to suits brought by our own employees.  It is a great job: I get to do all of the things I loved about being a litigator, and can hand off some of the things I loved a little bit less.  I still write briefs and research law, but a larger percentage of my time is spent talking strategy and communicating with our various business units on how certain choices in litigation could impact the bottom line.  It's challenging, I get to work with a lot of different people, and the lawsuits are never boring.  But it also involves a lot of travel.   

For me, being a litigator has always involved travel.  As a first year associate alone I spent one month in Minnesota on trial and one in West Palm Beach (one trial was December, one was June.  Guess which was which?).  Add to that travel for depositions, document reviews in dusty warehouses (anyone remember the underground storage facility in Kansas City??), site inspections and client visits, and there's some substantial time away from the office.  But this job makes all of that travel look light.  When I took the job I knew that the main business unit I'd be supporting was in New England.  That meant a trip out east for 3 days every month.  I could handle that.  But as it turns out, 3 days in New England every month is just the tip the travel iceberg. 

Our company and its insureds are spread throughout the country.   This makes for a lot of jurisdictions in which a lawsuit can be filed.    Thankfully, we have an amazing network of outside counsel and I am so grateful to get to work with them.  But whenever it is our person being deposed, or whenever an opportunity to mediate arises, I'm there.  Whenever a settlement conference is being held, whenever our company goes on trial, I'm there.  Which means I'm traveling a lot. 

So far, the entire family has handled my travel well.  I plan and prepare meals for the days that I'll be gone.  I set out the kids' clothes for each day.  I even make a list of each day that I'll be gone with what Husband should heat up for dinner, what needs to be packed in the kids school bags and what after school activities each kid has.  Husband really does not have to put much, if any, thought into things while I'm gone. 

And technology has been a huge help. Tonight, I watched my son, dressed in his jammies and tucked into his bed over 700 miles away, read a book aloud.  I saw what Sweet Pea drew in school today, and even got a sneak peak of Snuggle Bug sleeping.  No, it isn't the same as being with them, but it is workable. 

Moms who travel for their jobs, what tips do you have for me?  How do you stay in touch with your family while you are on the road?  More importantly, how do you handle the backlog of dishes and laundry that await you when you get home?  Do you bring the kids a small gift from each place you visit (and if so, who has a good suggestion of what to bring back from South Bend, Indiana??)? 

Monday, March 11, 2013


If you are my family or friend you have heard this comment from me more times than you can count….

“I’m sorry, I can’t go, Todd has to work”.

I feel like I broken record often with this saying. Drinks after work? “Sorry, I can’t go, Todd has to work”. Dinner with the girls? “I can go this Thursday but not next Thursday because Todd has to work”. A weekend away with my best friend and her husband “We’d love to go but Todd has to work”.

I live at the mercy of my husband’s work schedule.

My husband works for a local factory, a factory that does not have leeway with absences. They operate on a strict point system so no matter why you miss, whether illness, family emergency, etc. you get a point for that. And you get very few points.

Now most people who know this understand it, and our true friends don’t even care anymore. They simply check with me ahead of time before scheduling things, etc. We make it work.

Well, that was until recently.

About a year ago I received a save the date card for my cousin’s wedding near Chicago. I was excited as I love weddings, but of course I noticed right away that Todd had to work. Okay, no big deal, he might be able to switch with someone closer to that date. I then got the invitation and even told my cousin that I was waiting to respond until I knew for sure if Todd could get off.

Low and behold he couldn’t get off. And I knew this meant another “I’m sorry, we can’t go, Todd has to work”.

Now I know what you are thinking, could I go without my husband to this wedding? Well, if you are not a Mom of three young children, at first glance you might say “Well, of course you could…you aren’t working, he is, so go!” But those of you who have young children are making a face of “Of course you can’t go alone…I mean 3 against 1…AT A WEDDING?” That’s like playing Russian roulette with 3 bullets, not 1.

Now, my children are (for the most part) well behaved. I can with all honesty take them most places. BUT (and this is a big BUT), I am living at the mercy of the Terrible Twos right now. Complete game changer. Yes, my name is Mandi and I am controlled by my 2 year old son. (insert a collective “HELLO MANDI” right here please).

Oh the terrible 2’s…and L has them bad. Yes, I am “that Mom” that you look at with that sympathetic look in the grocery store, as he launches a pre-made pizza from the cart onto the floor. (Oh I hate to admit it but that is a true story). Yes I am “that Mom”.

And although my children are for the most part behaved I liken them to cats. You know how cats always tend to go up to the people that are allergic to them or hate them? That’s my kids. It never fails that they proceed to act like kids straight out of an episode of Super Nanny when they are around people that (1) have no children (2) I want to impress or (3) Are strict, no nonsense, inpatient people.

So the thought of taking my 3 kids across state to a nice formal event like a wedding without my husband? Well, let’s just say I can hear glasses breaking or see fingers in the wedding cake if I simply close my eyes. I can hear the “No, I don’t want him to sit here” and see my 2 year old yelling “NO” at innocent wedding guests who simply want to hold him. A wedding is not a place you want to be outnumbered.

And of course I hear L’s new favorite thing to say, his terrible two Motto: “I WANT TO TALK”. Picture if you will the wedding ceremony. A nice quiet, romantic, beautiful wedding and there I am with my three kids by myself. Of course L will start talking and I like every good parent will politely say “SHHH…” to him to remind him to quiet down. You know how my 2 ½ year old responds to that? By loudly announcing “I WANT TO TALK”. Yep, I can picture that happening during the vows for sure. I told you I’m “THAT Mom”.

Now I’m not saying that I can’t take my kids anywhere by myself. I mean to be honest I am primarily a single parent because my husband works 12 hour night shifts and is gone most nights. So yes I have navigated the 3 hour dance class with my boys in tow, and I go to church alone with them every week. I am getting through these Terrible Two’s one grocery store trip at a time. We’re making substantial improvements, but a wedding is just not the place to try out how far we’ve come.

So, thinking I was doing the right thing for me, my kids, and my cousin getting married, I politely RSVP’d that I could not attend the wedding. I was sad to miss the event, as I LOVE weddings and never get to see my family in Chicago, but in the pros v. cons list in my mind – the cons list was a multi-volume series against the list of pros for attending.

I sent my RSVP.

Two days later I was driving to my daughter’s dance class and I checked my phone. I had a message from my Aunt (the mother of my cousin who was getting married). It was without a doubt one of the most hurtful emails I have ever received. She interpreted my RSVP to mean that I didn’t care about their family.

I had so many emotions reading this email. I cried I was so mad. The accusations made against me in the email were so far from the truth, they weren’t even in the same continent. Here I thought I was doing the right thing, and suddenly I felt like I was on a firing range, with accusations and insults being shot at me in all directions.

Now the problem is, I’m a defense attorney, so my natural reaction has always been to fight back. Defend myself. Oh how I wanted to sit down and just let loose in a long email (you think I blog long, you should read my emails). But, this was my Aunt…not some stranger opponent. And yes, although my Aunt was bullying me at this point, it was still my Aunt.

So, I swallowed my pride, and didn’t respond to the email. I instead vented to my Dad, my brother, my husband, my friends (and now you).

That night I laid in bed realized how much we jump to conclusions as humans. Had my Aunt bothered to ask me why I couldn’t go to the wedding, maybe she would have understood. But instead, she turned me into a villain. She judged me without having any facts to support the allegations (wow that sounded very legal, didn’t it?).

But then I kept thinking of people I told about the email. The people who love me that I vented with. And all of them said without a doubt that I was not in the wrong, that the email was horrible, and that I did the right thing. As stated perfectly by my Dad “You’re a Mom and you have to put your children first”.

So do me a favor fellow readers, when you get a RSVP from a Mom and she declines the invitation, don’t judge or look into the reasons why she declined the RSVP. Just remember she’s a busy Mom just trying to do the very best she can, and cut her some much needed slack. She’s really not a bad person, she’s just a Mom.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

As You Will

If you had asked me a year ago today whether or not I thought I was a good Catholic, I would have said yes. A year ago today, I thought I was a good Catholic. I thought I had a good handle on what I believed and that I was doing enough to live a Catholic life.

Then, a year ago tomorrow happened, and everything changed.

A year ago tomorrow I was asked to consider whether I wanted to continue on with my pregnancy. And, as I’ve admitted before, I (1) agreed there were options and (2) considered them. If you had asked me a year ago today whether or not I would have considered terminating a pregnancy, I’m pretty sure I would have told you never. But, oh, the difference a day makes.

As I’m sure everyone knows, I did not choose to terminate my pregnancy last year. I wish I could say it was because I was strong in my faith, but it was more because medical science seemed to be on our side. We weren’t sure of the *exact* state of Snuggle Bug’s health until she was born, but most of the medical tests suggested she was (inexplicably small but) fine. And I’m overjoyed that science was right. But I’ve never really recovered from the impact the mere consideration of termination has had on my faith life. I truly believe that had I chosen to terminate my pregnancy last year that I would have chosen to kill a baby. If the tests had come out differently I could have come up with a million justifications for that decision, but in the end, I know in my heart I would always believe that I had killed someone.

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In that story, Jesus is praying that God spare him from dying on the cross. Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” My prayers to God last March used different words, but the meaning was the same: I prayed that our unborn daughter would be spared a life of disability and disease. And I prayed that we would not be faced with having to decide whether or not to terminate. But in the Bible, Jesus goes on to pray: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” I never prayed that second part. And in my thinking, that really is the most important part. For how can I claim to follow God when I insist on leading the way?

Unlike me, Husband never waivered on the decision to have Snuggle Bug. He refused to even talk about the possibility of termination, despite our doctors’ repeated requests that we be ready with a decision should the results be something other than what we were hoping for. He knew what he believed and was willing to live his life accordingly, no matter how difficult the path.

I admire Husband so much for this. We were faced with the exact same situation, and he responded in the way I wish I would have. He had faith where I had doubt. He trusted in God’s plan, where I considered changing it. He accepted the challenge, without fear of failure. What an amazing man.

I’ve been blessed with a lot this last year. And one of the blessings for which I am most grateful is the example of faith Husband has (and so many of you have) been for me.  It pains me to think how far I was from the path I thought I was on, and how strongly I struggled with something Husband accepted with ease.  And it is difficult to admit, even to myself, that when it was my life in God's hands,I had doubts on letting God lead the way.  But as I learned so quickly a year ago tomorrow, a day can make a world of difference.  So today and each day, my goal is to simply follow and have faith that God will lead the way. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Come On Spring!

Many apologies for missing last week’s blog post. I was caught up in the bad weather, kids getting out early from school, will they still have gymnastics practice, who is picking up the girls juggle. So needless to say, my “I think I will have a break in my schedule to write my post” time quickly vanished. But, to be completely honest, I didn’t have a lot of good things to write. Why?
Because it was February.

Why am I so disenchanted with February? Aren’t there good things that happen in February? Yes, in fact 3 of the most wonderful people I know in the world have birthdays in February! And I am sure that my best friend would mention Valentine’s Day. There is the Daddy/Daughter dance which everyone loves (including this mom – who gets a “free” night!).

Yet, even with all of these reasons, I dislike February, and this year seemed especially bad. My dad had issues with his eyes, including surgery for a torn retina. There was so much snow. My girls were bratty and the meltdown by B in Build a Bear workshop did nothing to stop that. Work was just work. My workouts were boring and I wasn’t losing any weight, even though I was working out 4 to 5 days a week. Needless to say, I was in a rut.

This would strike most of you as odd, because I typically like to look at the bright side of EVERYTHING. When I have to spell my name out, my last name starts out like this “S as in sunshine.” As a mom, I always have a Plan B. And I always try to count my blessings (I have a roof over my head, my girls are healthy, I have a job, etc.).

But not in February.

So, on the 1st day of March (which turned out to be Friday), we went out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and celebrated the end of February….with margaritas!!

Have a GREAT SPRING! Jean Anne

Sunday, March 3, 2013


It’s a cold March day. A Sunday. My kids woke up with a plan. They knew it was Sunday and therefore I did not have to work. Snow was on the ground, sun was shining…so of course they wanted to do one thing and one things only…SLEDDING.

Simple request right? I mean come on, Sundays are a day of rest, so I have nothing to do right? WRONG.  Between church, laundry, and an afternoon long meeting with my partners my Sunday was jammed pack. It broke my heart to look at them and tell them we couldn’t go.  “Maybe next weekend guys”…the words sounded so bad coming out of my mouth.

I hate disappointing my kids. But this is part and parcel with the working Mom gig life has so graciously bestowed upon me.

But a strange thing happened when I told the kids that my afternoon plans did not involve sledding. I stared at them with that look of “go ahead,  you can cry now!” But, the reaction was entirely different.
“ Well, can we go outside when you get back from your meeting?” J asked me. H chimed in “Yeah, can we do that?” No questions of Why? No pouty lips.

At such young ages, my kids of become masters of improvisation. They simply go with the flow. They make the best out of any situation. This unfortunately is probably due to the fact that they have had to deal with disappointment their whole life to some degree. From L pulling on my leg begging me to not go to work in the morning, to J missing out on a cool after school activity because I can’t transport her there, to H being forced to sit and run errands with me instead of playing catch in the front yard. Trust me, I am sure as a working Mom I have given my kids enough disappointments to keep their therapist entertained their entire adult lives.

But I have to work. That’s the reality. And Reality is incredibly disappointing when you are 2, 5, and 6.

So at 4:00 p.m. when I returned from my meeting out we went. As I stood there watching the kids run around our small front yard I couldn't shake the fact that this had to be incredibly disappointing to them. I mean, there was hardly enough snow to even make snow angels..

Well hardly….

 But you want to know what’s funny? My kids were so happy to be out in that front yard. They could care less that they had to miss out on sledding.

I smiled as I watched them head down the driveway to a small pile of snow that was piled there. Hardly the snow hill they had in mind I’m sure. But I watched as they smoothed out the surface. My daughter then sent my son to retrieve the saucer sleds from the garage. They then took turns sledding down their snow pile.

And their faces, had not a trace of disappointment. I mean they were laughing and smiling so much that you would think they were tobaggoning down an alpine slope.

They made sure that even when reality hit…they still got to go sledding. They made lemonade when life handed them lemons.

Yes once again, my kids are so much wiser than their Mommy. I at 34 do not deal with disappointment as well as toddlers.

This year as I mentioned before is going to be stressful. My law firm is embarking on a huge construction process. We are purchasing a building, gutting it, and extending it. And of course as a partner this means I have to fit part of the bill. In fact, this project is so large that I realized very soon in the year that I won’t be able to take my family on vacation and my husband and I have to wait another year to move. My husband and I are simply too worried about the unknowns going into a huge construction project to spend our savings.

I found myself doing a mental “pouty lip”. I mean, I live for vacations, I love spending weeks with my family on some adventure. And reality is taking that from me. 

 I am getting a whole lot of lemons.

So you know what? If my kids can do it, I can do it. Let's start making lemonade. 

My first step is fixing that whole “no vacation” thing. So I decided that instead of taking my standard week off this summer for vacation, I’m going to take 5 Mondays off…give myself three day weekends most of the summer. Will I be going to exotic places? Nope. The only island I will likely visit will be Rock Island, Illinois.  In fact, with my kids summer schedule I will probably spend the majority of those Mondays carting them around.  But you know what? I’ll be as happy as those kids in that front yard. Because it’s one day more a week to do what I love doing the most…being a Mom.

Being a working Mom is the hardest thing I have yet to do in my life. I still after almost 7 years of doing it struggle with balance, and the fear I am doing something wrong. I still struggle with the reality that no matter what I do, there are only so many hours in a day and so I’m going to continue to disappoint my kids. But you know what? If at the journey my kids are still smiling like they were today, I think that will be the sweetest “lemonade” of all!