Monday, April 28, 2014

Keep Calm And Make Do

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a love-hate relationship with my home.

Some days I'm so proud that our family has been able to make do with the house we have. I'm happy that the small confines of our space force us to be together more often. I'm thankful that I can always hear the boys, even when they are tossing and turning at night.

Sometimes I love our minimalistic lifestyle. There is simply no room for excess. We've learned that we don't need many of the things that society tells us we need: highchair, dishwasher (ok, that I would LOVE to have...but I don't really NEED it), more than whatever six kitchen cabinets will hold. We have two towels per person. No one has their own room. When our toy storage gets full, everything that doesn't fit goes straight to Goodwill (some kids fear the Boogie Man, my kids fear the Toy Nazi). My dining room table serves as my desk, my counter, my kids' art table, and everything in between.

I'm very proud of the way we've slowly made our tiny home a comfortable place that meets all our needs. I'm proud to give my children a lifestyle where they learn that stuff is not important and that they do not get to have everything they want. These are times I look smugly at my friends with giant houses and think, "we don't need all that excess!"

But there are times when I dream longingly of more space. There are times when I get tired of having to constantly juggle what item gets to stay versus what has to go. I'm exhausted constantly trying to find things to give away in order to stay afloat. I slightly dread birthday parties and any gift-giving holiday. Sometimes I get claustrophobic. Despite our best efforts to keep clutter to a minimum, the lack of space makes me feel like the STUFF is closing in. And yet, I want more room to hold more STUFF.

These are the times I want to give in and give minimalism the giant EFF YOU. These are the times I'd do just about anything (even consider foreclosure!) to have more room. These are the times I look at my friends' giant houses (anything over 1,000 sq. ft. seems giant to me), and feel nothing but envy. Why can't I have that? What did I do in life to deserve to live in a sardine can? The extent of my self-pity is loathsome.

These are the times I force myself to remember that I made a conscious decision to be happy and make do. It's not an easy task. But I can usually find a reason to snap myself out of my self pity and be thankful for what I have. I mean who says that every child has to have his or her own room? Who says we need a separate room just for playing and watching tv?

If you have read Dave Ramsey, you are familiar with his theory that people go into debt buying things they don't really need because they want to keep up with the Joneses. They have to keep up the appearance that they have the same status as those around them. This partly connected with me but I found it a little trite to think that people around the world are buying cars and backyard trampolines and fancier grill sets just because they are in a possessions war with their neighbors.

I started to think about it more and I realized that Dave Ramsey is right but only to a certain extent (unless I clearly misunderstood his message, which is possible). It's not really about trying to match our neighbor, swimming pool for swimming pool. It's not that we are trying to compete. It's about expectations. I think we look at our neighbors to define our own living standard. We think we are entitled to the average American Lifestyle and whatever all of our neighbors and friends have MUST be part of that standard. We don't consider the baseline of our needs. We think, "well, all my friends have giant flat screen TVs so that must be the standard of living to which I am entitled." Our horizon of expectations expands. Our "wants" suddenly become "needs." So we go buy those TVs. And if we cannot afford them, we feel like we're being duped, cheated, robbed.

Why do I get upset about my 950 sq. ft. home? From 1900 to 1950, this was the average size home in America (isn't that shocking?!- now it's 2,200). It's not because I actually stop and consciously evaluate how much space our family "needs" It's because everyone I know has a much larger house for a smaller family. They all have separate rooms for separate activities. They have enough counter space to prepare three meals at one time. They have 2 car garages and offices and workout spaces. More than one bathroom- what a luxury! I see this and I adjust my expectations, which become insanely inflated.

We do this with many aspects of our lives. We build our expectations up to unrealistic levels and become depressed when things fall short. It starts even before we become parents. Even before the baby arrives, parents are told to make these things called, "birth plans." Isn't that hilarious?  We are told to plan how we want our children's births to go (as if the birth is not about the child but our own expectations). Wouldn't it be nice to have that much control? We cannot even control when we have a poo, much less how we will have a baby. I'm not saying it's bad to be prepared or to have preferences, but when we expect to experience childbirth a la carte, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment.

I was pondering these thoughts last night. And coincidentally, someone I know on Facebook posted this article. This article made me want to vomit in my lap. Essentially, a family pulling in $90K a year is complaining about how much they are being financially squeezed because they do not have $60K extra dollars to buy "extra things" they want instead of having to just drool over them. This family talks about how they could barely afford a vehicle when their old one died, spouting on and on about how they had to pinch and sacrifice because reliable transportation is simply not a luxury. It just so happens that they chose to buy a 2012 Dodge Caliber. Oh, really? A brand new car? That's not a luxury? Boo hoo. (But maybe I shouldn't be the standard either since I'm driving a 17 year old Subaru with $260K miles).

And yet this family, with its brand new car, three ipads, three big-screen TVs (apparently the husband "needs" them for his work, excuse me? no one NEEDS three big screen TVs, I don't care what you do for a living), and $300/month in cell phone expenses (God knows what else), is complaining that they cannot keep up with their bills, that they are living paycheck to paycheck, and that they have to scrounge to buy $12 boxes of clarinet reeds for their daughter. My favorite complaint? Money was so tight one year they had to do all their Christmas shopping at a "discount store." Oh, the tragedy.

If you are living paycheck to paycheck with a house load of fancy luxuries, then I'm sorry, you are doing it wrong.

The article blames this phenomenon on cheap luxuries and expensive necessities in our American economy. But in reality, I think we just have higher expectations (the article claims our expectations and standards are the same as back in the 50's but I'm sorry what family in the 50's would expect to pay $300/month on a handheld electronic device for each family member?). We decide we are entitled to the comforts our neighbors and friends have and, rather than put anything in savings, we spend until we have passed our limit. Rather than spend $90 on satellite TV each month, this family could put away almost $1,200 more in savings each year for contingencies. But families don't do this. Because we have to achieve the standard of living that we believe constitutes the "basics." And if society tells us satellite TV is a basic family need, we are justified in purchasing it. (Oh and, the government should really subsidize our food and healthcare please, because damn it, our cell phone plans are too expensive- note: it' entirely possible that this family pays more for cell phones each month than health insurance).

Sorry that this post turned into a rant. I didn't mean to get so negative at the end. I meant only to highlight how our spending habits and our own happiness is ruled by the iron fist of societal expectation. I know I have been harsh on the family highlighted in the article and it's really not my place to judge THEM (I can judge the article all I want though) because I only know a few snippets of their situation.

But I think the article sums up what is wrong in America very nicely. We have no concept of what is a need versus a want. We let other people dictate our own living standards. And we fall into self pity and rely on subsidies when the financial choices we make prevent us from living and consuming responsibly. I am just as much a culprit as anyone. But as I said, I'm trying really hard to refocus my expectations, to be happy with what I have, and to see my blessings instead of my temporal deficiencies.

Squeezing 5 people in a 950 sq. ft. home? No problem, bring on the challenge! This was, afterall, the norm back in the day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts On Gender Preferences

When people find out I'm pregnant again, the most common reactions is "Oh, trying for a girl this time?"

This type of comment echoes the thought process that I frequently see on one of my Facebook pregnancy groups. Many women say that they would only have another baby if they could be assured about the gender of their next child.

This bothers me. A lot.

A baby is a baby is a baby. A baby is a person. An individual. A soul. A blessing. A wonderful, (mostly) rewarding adventure. A responsibility. We are fortunate to live in a country where women and men have the same rights (although some would argue that we are still not equal- but that's another post). Why the heck does it matter what kind of genitals our babies have?

People may say, "I want a girl so that I can buy dresses and dolls."  Some people may say, "I want a boy so that his father can take him to baseball practice and teach him to fish." Really? Are these the reasons we care so much and fret so much about the gender of our children? These worries are frivolous. And even if you got your girl or your boy, there is no guarantee that your child would have the interests that you want him/her to have. There is no guarantee your daughter will want to wear dresses or date boys or play with dolls. There is no guarantee your son will want to play ball or that he will be the pristine image of the boy you so desperately want.

This type of thinking just reinforces silly gender stereotypes. It tells society that gender matters. That gender determines personality and character and quality. Gender does none of these things. Gender merely determines how one reproduces. It says nothing of the individual.

I tend to think the underlying reason for caring so much about gender is not about our children at all. It's about ourselves. And our desire for the picture perfect family. And our strive for the picket fence at the end of a peaceful cul-de-sak. I think we have it backwards. Parenting is not about ourselves (although we are rewarded in so many ways from being parents). Parenting is about being entrusted with a beautiful, fresh soul in the form of helpless, needy baby. We are entrusted to raise this person to his or her fullest potential, whatever that may be, whether healthy or sick, boy or girl, good-sleeper or not-so-good sleeper. We don't get to choose the beautiful person that blesses our lives. We are, rather, indebted for the mere opportunity. In the rankings of parenting priorities, our own wants and desires (especially frivolous ones) should fall far towards to bottom.

I felt that I needed to say this before I find out the gender of baby number 3. I have two boys. I would be thrilled to have a third boy. I would also be thrilled to have a girl. I honestly have no preference. I'm not saying I've never looked at those beautiful frilly baby girl dresses at the store and lusted after the opportunity to buy one. I have. But in the end, I know that baby number 3 is an individual apart from his or her gender. And that I'm going to celebrate whoever he or she is. And I'm no doubt going to love him or her the same no matter the sex. So why does it matter?

People often hear me say that I love boys. It's true. I have two boys. I love my boys. Boys are all I know right now. And I love it. So, yes, I love having boys. But if I had two girls, there's no doubt in my mind I would be pontificating the joys of having girls. If I had a boy and a girl, I would be reflecting on my love for having a boy and a girl. It's that simple. My love for boys is not exclusive of a love for girls. I just have no girls to love at the moment.

I wanted to post this now because if it turns out I end up with a girl, I anticipate that people will react by thinking, "easy for you to say, you have a girl and boys." So I felt like this post would be more genuine if I posted it while there is still a 50-50 chance that the gender could go either way.

I guess my ultimate point is, we should have babies because we are open to the idea of caring for, nurturing, loving, and teaching another individual for the rest of our lives, whoever that individual may be. We shouldn't predicate our desire for children based upon what their sex will be. Someone more divine than ourselves gets to choose what our family looks like. We are just lucky enough to be blessed with babies to hold, children to nurture, and individuals to love, no matter who they turn out to be.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heart Attack Ensues (Part 2 of My First Trial)

I met with my trial mentor a second time. This time, I was more emotionally prepared. And he seemed much less intimidating. I really hope no one mentioned that he scared the crap out of me last time. That would be slightly embarrassing.

We talked about the case and divvied up the work. He asked me what parts of the trial I wanted to do. The honest-to-goodness truth was that I wanted to do none of it. Just the thought of having to perform in front of a jury under another attorney's watchful eye makes me want to melt into a puddle and disappear from earth's surface. I really wanted to run away. This whole thing is so far beyond my comfort zone. Why is my profession so damn scary?!

Against my deepest wishes, I'm doing the opening statement and the first closing statement. I've been instructed to prepare my opening statement so that I can practice in front of my mentor. Ok, except...hello! I don't know what an opening statement is! I've never even seen one (except for TV). I'm told I need a good hook to keep the jury interested. Ugh. Is it too late to go to art school?

I'm also direct examining three witnesses and cross examining one defense witness. I'm less worried about these tasks. I've examined witnesses on the stand before. I'm not familiar with it but I know I can do it when I have to.

Today, we were scheduled to meet with several witness. These are witnesses we will be calling. They also happen to be police officers. And I've decided that I could never make it as a criminal attorney. See, I have this thing for police officers. Much like a suit is to most people, a police uniform is to me. Put any man in a police uniform and he instantly gains ten points on the attractiveness scale. It must have something to do with having physical power, authority, and the duty to uphold the law.......I'm stopping now before I travel beyond a PG rating.

I was totally not stressed about this meeting. I've never been in a prosecutorial interview before but my mentor would be there to take the lead. I planned to ride shotgun and take really good notes. AND THEN a (metaphorical) peanut butter and jelly sandwich hit my face. As soon as I got to the office, I received a phone call from a pleasant lady telling me that my mentor would be running late and that I was to start without him and he would join at the very end. "Ok," I managed to squeak out in a terrified voice.

I gave myself a huge prep talk. "You can do this! You're an attorney! You're important! You're smart! You can ask a few simple questions." I spent an hour preparing for the meeting by reading every single document related to the case. I took two pages worth of barely adequate notes on what I should ask. I was appalled to know that I didn't even know the basics. Do I interview them all at once or separately? What does a prosecutor call a police officer? Do I record the interview? Do I reveal facts that are non-related to their testimony?

I arrived at the conference room ten minutes early and just sat at the desk looking into space. My mind wondered from "What the hell am I doing?" to "It's just an informal interview, no biggie." Looking back, I'm pretty sure I over-reacted to the entire thing. I mean it WAS just an interview. But it doesn't take much to get me out of my comfort zone (said the homebody introvert who prefers the selfservice check-out line because she doesn't have to tell a checker how her day is going).

I sat there at that conference table having a mini heart attack and bracing for what I was sure was going to be an awkward meeting. I checked my phone nervously about 30 times in 15 minutes. I watched the wall clock tick towards my impending torture session. I put on a smile. A big smile. This is what I do when I'm nervous. When your nerves fail, smile at people and they may just take pity on you.

But no one showed. Ten minutes passed. Then fifteen. Every time I heard footsteps my heart quickened. But the footsteps always kept walking right on by. Then twenty minutes passed. Suddenly a frame graced the doorway. This is it, showtime! I braced myself.

But who was it? None other than my mentor. I was SO happy to see him that I could have attacked him with a giant hug (probably best I didn't since this is an assault case). He saved me! I invisibly let out a giant sigh. All the tension flowed from my body. Right at that moment, I was the happiest human on earth. I was happier than a catch-and-release halibut, bracing for death only to feel the cool, familiar water splash against its scales.

Finally, the law enforcement witnesses arrived. And it went so smoothly. Very smoothly (except for the occasional drop of drool that escaped my mouth). And it was fun. And I learned a lot. And that was the meanest joke anyone had ever unintentionally played on me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Going Full Lawyer

One blessed thing my experience as a lawyer has given me is more confidence and assertiveness in other areas of my life. I'm a very unassertive person. I do not like conflict. I want everyone to like me. Even if I hate them, I still want them to like ME. Historically, I'm easily classified as a pushover for most things. Being a lawyer and advocating for my clients/positions on a regular basis has helped me tremendously in this department.

So, this post is either a story about my triumph over being unassertive... or a how-to guide on releasing work stress.

When Ryan was born, we incurred mega medical bills. Like multi-thousand dollar mega (thanks to a four day C-section-related hospital stay and one pregnancy-induced kidney stone-related stay) . Thankfully our hospital is pretty flexible about repayment plans- or so I thought! So, for the past two years, I've had medical payments automatically deducted from my bank account. Even after two years, we still owe a large amount but at least it's slowly going down...(silver lining, people).

Yesterday, my eyes bulged unattractively out of my head when I opened up an envelope to find a notice from a collection company about my medical bills! The hospital sent the remaining balance of my bill to collections! I almost fainted on the spot. Being transferred from the hospital system to collections would totally destroy my ability to participate in the flexible, interest free payment plan.

I called the hospital during my lunch hour. I might add that I was in the middle of reading an opposing brief full of statements of "fact" that were making my blood boil. So I did not start the conversation in a happy place. When I called, the hospital service lady told me that the bill had been sent to collections so it was out of the hospital's hands, they could do nothing. I argued that I had no notice that my AUTOMATIC deductions weren't being taken out of my account for the past three months.

She insisted that they had called me three times and left three voice mails to tell me that the payment was not processing and that my payments were delinquent. I went ballistic. I had received exactly NO such notice. She told me that her system indicated that I WAS informed and that I must be mistaken. I was PO'ed and demanded to speak to a supervisor.

When I spoke to the supervisor, it was clear that he didn't look at my account and was repeating everything the previous lady had told me. He repeated that there was nothing they could do since the bill was sent to collections and berated me for not checking in with them to make sure my payments were being processed. I went full lawyer on the bastard.

"The POINT of automatic deductions is to not have to worry that you will miss a payment. Is it NOT?!"

"As the bill collector under an automatic payment system, YOU are required to inform me if there is a problem with my account! That's standard practice, is it NOT?!"

"No, I did not receive ANY voicemails. I don't care what the service rep told you the computer says, I received NO notice. Your computer is inaccurate."

"I don't care what the computer says. I'm telling you I received nothing from you. I demand that you send me a copy of my patient bill of rights and/or any documents you have outlining the repayment plan obligations."

"No, I understand what you are saying. However, repeating it five times will not make me agree with you. I'm telling you I received no notice. And this is unacceptable. Fine, I'll call collections now...but I WON'T be happy about it!"

Then I called collections. They told me that the bill was still in pre-collections so they have no control over the bill. Only the medical provider can control the bill at this stage. Oh REALLY?!?! Veins popping out of my neck. So angry, I could strangle a squirrel. Seeing blood.

I called the hospital back, already prepared to be on the offensive and strike boldly at the first sign of argument. This time, a very pleasant lady answered the phone. "Oh yes, you can make a payment on your account. It isn't in collections yet. Oh, according to our computer, we were unable to process your last couple of payments. I apologize, the computer says we never called to notify you. That is our mistake. I'm very sorry."

It was seriously night and day. It was like the archangel of Patient Financial Services flew down from heaven and was whispering sweet, reassuring statements in my ear.

I still don't know what the heck was wrong with the first people I talked to. Perhaps going full lawyer snapped them into shape. Or perhaps going full lawyer was completely unnecessary and all I had to do was kindly ask that they check their records a second time. Either way, I was thankful for the opportunity to release some steam. Sometimes you just really need to yell at someone, and who better to yell at than a couple of incompetent assholes who you will never meet in real life?

Oh yeah, I'm also happy that I'm no longer in threat of going to collections. So that's a bonus too.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Playing Catch-up: Trips, Birthdays, and Easter!

I seriously can't believe I haven't posted in 11 days. What the heck? I've been so incredibly busy though, so I guess it is possible.

First things first. We finally announced baby no. 3!

This picture is from 12 weeks. I am currently 13 weeks (and bigger!)
Last weekend we had Ryan's second birthday party. My son loves Elmo. So did his big brother at his age. I'm sorry, but Elmo makes me want to puke into my own hands. The high-pitched voice, the way he talks in the third person, and the fact that he's a furry puppet. Ew. But I gave in and let Ryan have an Elmo party anyway. This doesn't mean that I was happy about it!

I kept things simple and mostly store-bought. I've found that the key to a no-stress but put-together party is to run to Party City one to two nights before, buy mostly store bought things, then add a couple homemade touches. Easy, peasy, pretty, done! I added a couple simple games (throw Oscar's trash in the trash can, pin the nose on Elmo-- wish I could pin a scorpion onto his face--, and a birthday-egg hunt.)

My sister-in-law made these mind-blowing cupcakes. She's amazing.

The kids had a blast!

On Wednesday morning, I left for a three day lawyer conference hosted by an organization of prosecuting attorneys. I loved being surrounded by attorneys who do the same things I do. I loved learning about nerdy lawyer things. I loved feeling like I was back in school (but allowed to skip any lecture I pleased). I loved my per diem- yay, I can eat Skittles for dinner, for free! I loved not cooking for three days. I loved having a hotel room ALL TO MYSELF (serious, is there anything better in the entire world?). And I loved flying in this cute Dash-8 Q400....

In a moment of weakness, in which I allowed my pride of being part of this wonderful group of attorneys to take over my sense, I purchases an over-priced hideous fleece vest on which is branded in large, hideous gold thread the logo of the local association of prosecuting attorneys. But, hideousness aside, I know for a fact that I am going to wear it proudly in the aisles of Costco. I'm such a nerd.

In between CLE courses and meals and runs (yay for hotel gyms that are open 24-7!), a coworker and my boss and I slaved away at a reply brief for an important motion. It was a little stressful but we got it done just in time.

I came home to some pretty adorable, but cranky, kids on Friday night. I think they missed me but (I feel horrible saying this), I think I needed one more day away to really miss THEM. But I enjoyed their hugs and kisses tremendously nonetheless.

Saturday morning, we found out that due to a sudden sickness in the family, I would be in charge of making Easter dinner. Yikes! So, after our routine family trip to the gym (my husband and I work out, the kids play), we made a couple stops for groceries and last minute Easter items. Saturday evening was not my most favorite. I cooked from 5pm through 11pm making ham, mashed potatoes, two macaroni salads, and three carrot cake bars with cream cheese frosting. Our kitchen is pretty big but our counter space is like the counter space of an airplane bathroom. I can pretty much only cook one thing at a time. And I'm pretty sure I did five loads of hand-washed dishes (no dishwasher!). Somewhere in here, we feed the kids, put them to bed, and played Easter bunny. I collapsed into bed at 11:00pm with aching legs and a sore back! Death by cooking!

Oh yeah, we also decorated eggs somewhere in all the madness.

Jacob woke up before Ryan this morning and found ALL the carefully hidden eggs in the house while the rest of us were sleeping. I was so angry when I discovered this! Especially because I went through a lot of trouble to select perfect hiding spots. In a groggy state, I ordered that he re-hide all the eggs and stumbled back to bed for 30 more minutes before Ryan crawled in with me and the stench of his diaper haunted my nose. I was so tired that I actually spent 15 minutes trying to adjust the position of my face/nose to escape the smell. That didn't work.

So Ryan and I crawled out of bed, reluctantly, and went out to the living room. When I approached I saw that Jacob had followed my directions and had re-hidden the eggs. Except he put them all in three straight lines, one by the couch, one in the kitchen, and one by the TV. Hopefully next year's egg hunt will be a little more challenging for Ryan.

Somehow we made it to Easter Mass. Then we drove out to my grandma's for Easter lunch and more egg hunts.

Then we drove an hour further to my in-laws' house for Easter dinner. The kids got motorcycle rides from their grandpa. This was definitely the highlight. Ryan cried for ten minutes after his multiple turns were done and it was time to go inside for lollipops.

Now I'm desperately trying to sneak in two loads of laundry before bedtime and kind of dreading the return to the office. It's hard to go back when you've been gone for so many days in a row! But I know an opponent's motion briefing will be waiting me and I can't wait to read it and tear their arguments to shreds in a reply!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ry-Guy Is TWO!


There are many things about the day Ryan was born that I wouldn't mind forgetting (I had major surgery anxiety and c-sections are far from pleasant for me). But there are two distinct memories from that day that I treasure.

Shortly into my c-section, my doctor lifted an object above the windexy-blue c-section drape. The object was covered in white goo. Several rows of deep wrinkles formed above his eyebrows like layers of earth-like strata. He had tiny little eyes that stared right at me. He looked shocked, like a kitten that had just been doused in water. A tiny leg was poking out awkwardly beneath my doctor's hand and it dangled there as if it had no idea what else to do. "Here's your baby!" The doctor announced. Ryan was goopy and wrinkly and probably traumatized. But he was beautiful. And he was mine.

After they cleaned Ryan up, they wrapped him in a hospital-issued swadde blanket covered in a pattern of multi-colored baby footprints. He was wearing a loose knit hat, handmade by some loving, unknown hospital volunteer. A little gift of love from one stranger to another. I could not move. The contents of my lower half were still being pieced back together. But they set him beside me and I suddenly felt complete as if a part of me that I had never known had been suddenly discovered and reattached to my body. I was so proud. I was so in love.

They wheeled the two of us out of the operating room together on one table. Where just one of us had entered, two of us had exited. I just stared at him in awe. So tiny. So perfect. I knew that our lives had just changed forever by adding a fourth person to our family, but I had no idea how.

Today, it has been exactly two years since Ryan was born. I can undoubtedly say that from his very first day on this earth, he has added more joy, more laughter, and more love to our family. He handles his role as a younger brother well and tolerates quit a bit of scolding and bossing from his older brother. But he doles out sass and defiance just as easily as he takes it. When Jacob pinches or pushes Ryan (as will happen from time to time), I never know how he will react. Some days, he will express his views on the unfairness of the world by scrunching up his face in pity and crying to me. Other days, he will roll up his sleeves and push (or kick, or punch) right back. He has the ability to defend himself. He just doesn't always want to do it.

That smile. Ryan's smile is unmistakable. I have never seen a smile quite like his. It can be wide and joyous to the extreme, or it can be a thin piece of string tightly upturned on the ends. Either way, whenever Ryan smiles, there is always the smallest hint of the devil hiding behind his happiness. As sweet and pure as his smile is, it somehow always reminds me of that devious smile that comes across the Grinch's face as he plots the destruction of Christmas.

I mean, look at that smile, even a fancy tux cannot hide it!

"I'm smiling. But I'm plotting."

Because he has an older brother, Ryan gets to try many things well beyond his age. He wants to do everything his big brother can do and will not take no for an answer. He loves to sit on my lap as I pedal Jacob's bike around the yard. He loves to play with his brother's small Legos. He loves to color with markers and hold the scissors. He gives me heart attacks by climbing up onto his brother's top bunk. He loves when I told him up to the zipline at our favorite park.

While Ryan is super adventurous and independent (he insists on doing everything himself in typical toddler fashion), I can't get over how he insists that I be right by his side for everything. He wants to be held so frequently that sometimes I worry that he is missing out on precious developmental time by being glued to my hip. When he wants to be held, he still says, "down" instead of "up." He also says, "hold you" instead of "hold me" which always melts my heart.

Also, Ryan has the most amazing manners. He always says "yes please" and "thank you." I doubt he learned this from my occasional, gentle prodding. To whomever taught my kid such great manners, eternal thanks!

Unlike Jacob at his age, who excelled in occupying himself, Ryan will not be in any room alone no matter how many toys there are. He does not like to play alone. Ryan's philosophy is "if I'm alone, something really cool must be happening somewhere without me." I don't blame him for thinking this. His brother is pretty darn imaginative so he is probably right in thinking that he is missing out on something fun.

Ryan is full of life and smiles. But he is not always fun. He can be very defiant. Sometimes I swear he is out to get me. One thing he frequently does that drives me batty is he will ask for something but when I give it to him he refuses to take it and yells "don't want it!" So I put it away and then he asks for it again. Repeat times three. I will finally give up and put it away. Then even though the highly offending object has been put out of eyesight, he will continue to yell, "Don't want it! Don't want it!" I'm surprised I still have hair.

The other day, Ryan smacked my legs. When I reminded him not to hit. He smiled and said, "I not! I punch!" I'm pretty sure "I'm not!" (always with an exclamation point) is his most frequently uttered phrase right now.

This morning, I went into the boys' room, flicked on the lights, and exclaimed, "It's someone's birthday! Guess whose birthday it is?!" Ryan beamed from ear to ear and answered, "Ryan!" I just love when he calls himself by his own name. Jacob and I kept telling Ryan "Happy Birthday!" all morning. He absolutely loved it and giggled each time. After work, we went to the park (so I could run off the cake and icecream we were about to consume). Then we stopped by the store to pick up oil for the car which has been leaking like crazy (my husband is gone for the rest of the week which means I'm being trusted with all things car-maintenance and I'm not sure how I feel about that). At the store I let each kid pick out a special candy to act as ice cream topping. To my disgust, Jacob picked gummy hamburger patties and Ryan picked sour patch kids...not the ideal vanilla ice cream topper.

Then we finally got home at 7:30 and celebrated properly with one giant slice of cake (thanks to Safeway's bakery- every working mom's savior), vanilla ice cream, and candles. Basically, I sugared the kids up right before bed. I think it worked out in my favor though because they crashed and quickly zonked out.

Yep, everyone gets candles. Because, why not?

"I did it!"

And then repeat. x6.

I can't believe my sweet and sassy boy is already two. He's such a little man now. Sigh.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Shenanigans

We are loving these extra hours of daylight that come with spring. While we've had a rough start to spring up here in the Pacific Northwest (this year we broke the rainfall record for March and there was a horrible and tragic landslide that took the lives of at least 33 - bodies still being recovered), there have been a couple beautiful days as well.

Today was one such day. As I stepped outside this morning with two kids in tow (and a million bags), I stopped, smelled the familiar freshness of spring that seemed to fill the air overnight as if to promise that the densely settled winter was finally lifting (like a guest who had long overstayed his welcome and was beginning to smell). I put on my sunglasses (oh how I missed those) and just smiled. It's amazing how a little change in season can make a big difference.

At my desk, I worked furiously on my second intense summary judgment motion in two weeks. I barely looked up from my computer. My days have been like this lately, with motion after motion. And I couldn't love it more. There is nothing in the world that I love more than preparing motions or responses to motions. At one point, I stopped to look out the window at the beautiful rays of sun peering through the mini-forest outside my window (yay, rural counties!), and for the first time since I started my new job (which I LOVE), I briefly entertained a longing to be home with my kids instead of at work. I imagined all the fun things stay-at-home moms get to enjoy with their children on nice weather days. Then reality hit me and I remembered from maternity leave that it's not all fun and games...but still... the freedom to come and go instead of being chained to a desk is so illusory.

After work, I picked up the kids at 5:30. We arrived at the house at 6:00. And we were off again by 6:15. We stopped by our most recently-discovered and much-loved Lions Park where I pushed the kids in the jogger for five miles. Jacob only sat in the jogger for half my run. The other half, he ran and played with the other kids. I mean...who can resist a zipline (that I somehow managed to break--oops)?!

Five miles with 70+ extra pounds. I'm running for FOUR here :) That means I get four times the ice cream!

I've been running a lot lately, averaging about 5 miles, four to five times a week. I'm finally at the point where it's not ALL painful and I'm actually beginning to see results and feel so much stronger. If there is anything I miss from my college days, it's the strength and power of my super athletic cross country body, from my muscular legs, strong lungs, lean frame, and my coveted 53 beats/minute heart rate. Someday, I hope to get there again (if I stop throwing out my back)...

After my run, I let the kids play. Ryan and Jacob raced me to the playground and back. There were whales to climb. Slides to slide. And that wonderful zipline (before I broke it). It felt so great to fill our lungs with fresh air, feel the setting sun warm our faces, and hear the crunch of grass underfoot. Spring, I love you.

We got home late at 8:00 (usually bedtime) and enjoyed some pizza. Then we ended our amazing day with ice cream topped with strawberry slices. I tucked the kids into bed and left as they curled up on the floor (where Ryan sleeps) and read stories together. This is a newly discovered phenomenon. Last week, I snuck into the kids' room after bedtime, expecting to find them asleep. Instead, I found two kids curled up together on the floor reading books together by flashlight. I was so touched that I didn't even mind that it was way (WAY) past their bedtime.


I was so worried that with the 3.5 year age gap between Ryan and Jacob, they would never have much in common. But they are learning how to play together lately and every time I witness this, it's like a giant hug for my heart.

Other fun things brought to you by spring:

Redecorating: I've been wanting to paint a picture for the kids' room for about a year now. With the extra daylight, I finally found the motivation!

Growing bellies: 10 weeks. Ok, not much to see here yet. I feel poochy but I'm actually down 4 pounds. Must be the running and the lack of appetite brought to you by all-day-sickness!

Making pizzas

Eating corn (the special Ryan method).

Beach and park adventures.

And plenty of birthdays to celebrate!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Wrong Side Of The Mountain (Part 1 of My First Trial)

For a week I have been hearing all about him. "You will love working with him." "He is the best trial attorney in this state." "He is so much fun!" "The guy's a genius."

When I finally show up at the front desk, the receptionist calls him. She announces my presence and, after hanging up, she directs me to sit. I sit and try so hard to will the worries and nerves from my body. I feel sharply dressed for casual Friday in my dark denim jeans, soft pale pink blouse, and smart black blazer. I feel a strong need to make a great first impression, but somehow I suspect I'm being frivolous and my wardrobe choice will go un-noticed.

He opens the door. I do not see the tall, slim frame that I had expected, that I had imagined. His face is not friendly, his eyes are not shining with charm. He asks how he can help me. He does not recognize my name. I finally explain, "my boss said you were willing to train me and give me some trial experience." Finally, it seems to click in his mind, unapologetically he tells me he is not good with names and summons me to follow him.

We walk down cavernous halls, turning left, then right, then left, left again. I'm already lost. He waves me into his office. It is small, crammed with books and file cabinets. He instructs me to have a seat pointing to a large, overstuffed leather chair in the corner. It's the only thing indulgent about his office. As I glide onto the cool leather, I imagine that many witnesses, perhaps even victims, have sat here before me.

"Why are you here?" He begins.

I don't quite understand. My boss sent a detailed email, on which I was cc'ed, explaining how she would love if he could help me get more trial experience. I wonder if he is looking for a literal answer or if he is simply probing me.

As I attempt to explain, my voice trails off, as if his very presence and steady gaze were squeezing the air from my throat.

"Tell me about yourself." His next question is not much easier. I begin to feel like this is an interview. That I have to prove myself. That I am not worthy to train with the best. No doubt, he probably has a million cases to get to. I feel like a beggar. A pesky fly. I am probably more trouble to him than it is worth.

I hate this question. How do you sum up 29 years of life experience, hopes and fears, successes and failures, passions and personality in response to one simple question. I begin to anger, which thankfully does not show behind my nervousness. It's all I can do to keep my hands from shaking, my eyes from narrowing in terror. Instinctively I want to run my hands through my parted hair. I resist the urge.

Getting to know someone should be a collaborative effort. He is taking the easy path and putting all the burden on me. I did not prepare for an interview. I remember my boss assuring me that I will have a lot of fun working for him. I feel like I met the wrong person.

I provide a clumsy and inadequate answer to his question. He asks several follow up questions. Such as "What did you do at X firm." When I tell him I did tort litigation, he quips, "and what does that mean?" Is he treating me like a witness on the stand? I already feel like I have failed.

He gives me a spiel about trying cases. How you have to put on a show. Be deliberate about everything you do. Create a personality that will keep the jury entertained while also making them think that you are the most prepared person in the room. Exude confidence. Be forceful. That is not what I do, clearly I have already shown him this flaw of mine in our brief 5 minute meeting.

He hands me a trial notebook. "This is what a trial notebook looks like. You have to have all the information at your fingertips. You never know what will come up. You never know what the judge will ask you. You have to plan in advance how you will get all your evidence before the jury. Know the evidence rules." With that, he hands me a gigantic evidence rule book. I decide not to tell him that Evidence was my lowest grade in law school. To mask my terror, I just smile.

"Be careful about smiling in court." He continues. "You don't want the jury to think you are flirting with them. Women who are friendly in court often have a hard time reaching women jurors."

I let me smile collapse on itself.

Next he hands me a case file. "Here is your case. Trial is set for the beginning of next month. Create a trial notebook like the one I showed you. Then come back and we will practice."

Is it too late to back out? I can't try a case. I know NOTHING about criminal law. I am a civil litigator. (And I mean litigator in a loose sense: drafting pleadings, issuing discovery, and the occasional discovery motion in front of a judge.)We finish our session.

"It was nice to meet you," I say, trying to be pleasant. I'm determined to win this man over. I'm determined, despite my deeply-rooted terror, to succeed.

"You don't know that just yet," he responds quickly and waves me out of his office. He shuts the door. I'm alone in the cavernous, maze-like hall. My arms, now loaded full of cases and books. I relax and my body starts to shake intensely, so fiercely like a mad dog finally let loose from a cage. I take a wrong turn. I wander the hall, searching for an exit sign. "He could have at least shown me out!" I'm angry but mostly at myself. Why can't I be more easy going and confident. Why can't I at least fake it? I better learn before my trial.

My mind trips on those words. "My trial." Even though I'm out of that room, I'm not safe. I realize that I'm going to have to come back here, to this uncomfortable and unknown place to do something uncomfortable and unknown. As I walk farther and farther into the labyrinth, I feel lost in more sense than one. I want to cry. I want to go home. I want to not have to think about trials. Or court. Or jurors. Or my shortcomings. Shyness has always been a disability for me. It's limitations and burdens never felt so staggering as they did in that hallways.

Somehow I make it out. I find a glimmer of outdoor light around a corner. I then turn to find a door. I step out and sigh. The air is fresh. In typical Pacific Northwest fashion, it smells slightly of rain, sweet but heavy in the air, and the start of budding leaves. I know I face a mountain. But I've faced many before. LSAT tests. Oral arguments in legal writing class. Taking my first deposition. Arguing my first summary judgment motion (just last year). I stumbled through all those things. But I survived. And I came out the other side a little stronger, a little tougher, and a little more experienced.

I know it will be painful. And hard. And scary. But I have hope knowing that with the passage of time,  four short weeks actually, I will be on the other side of this mountain. I will still be standing. And I will be relieved.