A Long Hiatus

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Hello….It’s me.  I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet (thanks Adele).  I am sorry for my very long absence from Five Spinning Plates.  I have accumulated dozens of half complete blog posts and probably have 100+ blog titles with a few words or pictures on the page from the past few years.  The problem has not been lack of ideas or experiences, it has truly been a lack of time and prioritization.  I just have not made this blog the priority like I would have liked to.  I started Five Spinning Plates when I was working only 3 days a week.  I had a little more time on my hands and a lot of things I needed to say with 3 little babies at home.  Now, I still have the 3 not so little kiddos and plenty to say, but I also have a very busy full-time job and the usual demands of home weighing me down.  I have prioritized quality time with the kids, time with Les, exercise, and other personal pursuits like reading and travel, over taking the time to sit down and write.  Something has to give when you get too many plates spinning at the same time, and unfortunately the writing plate got shelved for a while.

Writing is something I have missed over the past few years.  I miss the nightly therapy of sitting down and putting my thoughts into words.  I have missed the recording of life’s poignant and mundane moments, snapshots into this amazing time of life.  I miss having a written record of all of this craziness and having witnesses to it all.  My problem is that I am not a fast writer.  It takes me a long time to write even the simplest of posts.  I enjoy writing, and have been told that I am an above average writer (not sure about that, but I try to accept a compliment when one is given), but the words don’t flow freely enough to complete a decent post in under an hour.  I will never be able to write for a living because of this.  It is hard to justify sitting down to an hour of nightly blogging, when I can’t manage to pay bills or get an expense report in on time.  I am envious of all the bloggers out there that can turn out amazing posts in just 15-30 minutes.  I am a perfectionist writer – I don’t like to rewrite or revise anything.  I want the thoughts that end up written on the page to be the final draft.  This is how I wrote papers in high school and college.  I put a lot of thought into the planning and writing, but very little time editing or revising.  This method usually worked well for me, but I am not sure if it works for these purposes.  At this point though, I am not planning for my posts to be read by many people or have them move beyond friends and family and the occasional curious reader from the web.  In order to try to finish some of the many posts I have started in the past few years, and to encourage me to write more in the moment, I am going to try to write faster and not be quite as deliberate in my writing style.  If the quality of my writing suffers, ya’ll will just have to forgive me.

The title of this blog is still so appropriate.  I still feel like I am spinning AT LEAST 5 plates at all times.  There are some things, like the sheer level of neediness and physical demands of parenting babies and toddlers, that have become so much easier as the kids have grown older, but other things, like activities and school, have gotten more complicated.  My work has kept me very busy and Les’ career has undergone a lot of changes.  We continue to try and Carpe Diem and live life to its fullest!  We have not forgotten how quickly things can turn bad and how the health, money, love, or luck that you have always counted on can simply run out.  As I am getting older, it is not that unusual to hear stories about people my age or a little older getting sick or dying suddenly from a heart attack.  Life can be too short for some.  It sounds so cliche, but we do feel very blessed and try not to take anything for granted.  I have too much to do and say before my time on this earth is cut short.  I want to document as much of it as possible, and I want to continue to spend as much time as possible enjoying my family and the things that give my life meaning – friends, travel, books, my home,  my health, and all my spinning plates.

 

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These are a few of my favorite things…

My favorite things about parenthood (thus far):

  1. I love the moments where memories are being made for my kids.  It is that moment when your kids walk into Disney’s Magic Kingdom and see the castle or Mickey for the first time.  It is when your daughter learns to ride a bike after days of practice.  It is that moment when your son realizes he can climb up the bounce house and slide down all by himself and wants to do it over and over again.  It is when your child is upset because they feel bullied at school and you role-play how to handle this situation the next time.  It is all those times (however few and far between they may be) where you sit down to dinner as a family and talk about the best part of your day.  I believe you can feel these moments in a visceral way.  It is as if I can see and feel the snapshot or memory being made in all of these instances.  These moments often bring me to tears because I am so full of joy, love, and gratitude.  These are the moments where I truly think there is no greater gift than being a parent.DSC_0328
  2. I love the comedy.  I have laughed (and cried) more as a parent than I ever did before kids.  Sometimes I have even found myself laughing through the frustrating, challenging, and messy moments of parenthood – laughter can be a very healthy and necessary coping mechanism.  Kids say and do some pretty funny things.  My kids literally make me laugh every single day – intentionally or most often unintentionally.  I love the way my kids talk, their questions (even if they can sometimes get a little repetitive), and observations on the world.  I wish I wrote more of these funny things down because I have forgotten as they get older.  One of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is sit down with Les and share funny stories or things that the kids said or did during the day.  The rest of the world may not be as amused, but they always make us smile and giggle.                                                                          DSC_0903
  3. I love to watch them learn and find their way in the world.  It really does seem like they grow up so fast.  Isabella recently learned to read and it was a truly remarkable thing to watch.  I mean one day she was my cute little toddler that knew her alphabet and a few sight words, and now she is reading to me and writing stories at school.  How did that happen?  I can’t even really say that we “taught” her how to read.  I mean we read to her every night and we had her practice sounding out words and trying to read sentences and she just got it.  It seems like she learns so much every week – from school, from us, from her friends, and just her surroundings.  Kids really are like sponges, and I love watching each of mine soak up the world around them.     DSC_0255
  4. Parenthood makes me want to be a better person.  I have always been pretty self-motivated and tried to lead a good life, but now there are three little people watching my every move and counting on me.  That can be a lot of pressure, but also a moral compass like none other.  I am always thinking about the example I am setting for my kids.  For instance, I am a screamer.  I yell at my kids way more than I would like to.  I know that when I get frustrated, am trying to juggle too many things, or am in a hurry – I tend to yell louder and more often than I should.  I don’t want them to think of me as a mom that is always raising her voice or losing her cool.  I want to set an example for how to remain calm and graceful under pressure.  I want to show them how to manage those frustrated and angry feelings in a constructive way.  I will not be perfect.  I would never want to put that kind of pressure on my kids anyway, since no one can be perfect.  I want them to see that I try to do the right thing and the kind thing as often as I can.  I want to show them how to handle mistakes when they inevitably happen.  I want to show them how to live their best life and be the best person that they can be.  In doing this, I am trying to do the best that I can and live the best life possible for myself and for my family.  DSC_0712
  5. Parenthood has brought me closer to my family.  I appreciate my parents so much more now that I am a parent.  I understand them and can relate to them on this entirely new level.  I can finally appreciate the sacrifices that they made for our family growing up.  If I ever blamed them for anything, I have long forgiven and forgotten those things as I have come to understand that they did the best they could with what they had (time, money, energy, patience, etc.).  Watching my parents as grandparents is one of the most unexpected joys I have experienced since becoming a parent.  My parents give their time and their love so freely, and I am immensely appreciative of all they do for my kids and our family.  I appreciate my mother-in-law and father-in-law on an entirely new level too.  I already knew that they were wonderful grandparents because I had seen them in action with my nieces, but it is still so special to see the way my kids light up when they get to spend time with Grammy and Pop.  I feel lucky to have three wonderful sisters, an amazing sister-in-law, and an awesome brother-in-law that are the best Aunts and Uncle my kids could possibly ask for.  I have three beautiful nieces and an adorable nephew who will be their forever friends and playmates on the road of life.  I value family so much and am so thankful that parenthood has allowed me to appreciate my family on another level.  DSC_0358
  6. We are in this together.  No matter what happens, no matter what kind of crap comes our way in life, we will face it together.  We have each other’s back.  We are not alone.  There is great comfort in this knowledge.  There is a love and a connection that will forever bind us together because we are family.  I am yours and you are mine.  I took my vows seriously when I got married over 10 years ago, but that sense of forever means more now that we are not just Les and Jess.  We are Les, Jess, Isabella, Jacob, and Noah – Levin party of five.  I know that nothing in life is 100% certain, but there is certainty in family – that we are connected to someone else, that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves, that there is a love there that is binding and forever.  IMG_0760

Slow Down Time

I am a little surprised by my reaction to tonight’s events. I mean, I have not been able to get out a blog post (started many, never have enough time to finish – maybe I’ll finally get out my summer summary or back to school posts by December) in months. I certainly do not have the time to be writing this one, especially considering that it is after midnight on a work night (my normal bedtime). I just had to write more than a quick Facebook message about this one. We took down the crib tonight – our last crib – ever. Noah has been using his crib as a toddler bed for the past 6 months or so, with the front rail removed to allow him to get in and out on his own. He has basically been “out of the crib” for a while now, but physically taking apart the crib symbolized something bigger. I just can’t believe that my babies are growing up so fast.

Time has moved especially quickly this year. I don’t know if it is being back at work full-time and being busy and overwhelmed all the time, or if it is that the kids are really just growing by leaps and bounds, but it has been an eventful year. Isabella lost her first tooth a few months ago, and has lost another one since then. I remember losing my first tooth like it was yesterday, so it is hard for me to believe that I have a kid old enough to lose her first tooth. She is growing into a smart, talented young lady. She joined the swim team and is taking piano lessons – such big girl activities. Jacob is talking so much better now. He no longer takes naps and is about 80% potty trained (yep, that is right, not all the way there yet – 9 months later). He looks and acts like such a big boy, and I just glow with pride when I think about how far he has come in such a relatively short amount of time. Noah, our baby, is talking up a storm and recently got potty trained. He no longer cries when we drop him off at preschool, and learns many new things so quickly. Now that the crib is out of his room, he’ll be moving into a big boy bed. Getting rid of the diapers, the crib, and much of my baby stuff really drives home the message that we no longer have babies in our house.

It is not that I want any more babies or that I want to hold my kids back from growth and development, but I just wish I could slow the pace down a bit – savor every minute of this time with my little ones. I have been trying to savor the little moments with my kids more. Sometimes I find myself almost drinking them in, memorizing their smiles, their laughter, the expressions, and the way they feel and smell in my arms. Every night when I rock Noah in his chair – when he asks for one more book, or song, or story – I am just trying to not get frustrated or derailed by the to-do list in my head and just savor the precious time I have with my last baby. My nature is to look forward, plan for tomorrow, get through each day the best that I can. I certainly can’t change the actual speed of time or the number of hours in a day or days in a week (trust me, I have tried and wished hard for this). I can’t change that part of who I am and how I operate, but I can try to control my pace with the kids. I need to remember to slow down when I walk in the door after work (easier said than done). I need to play when I am asked to play and snuggle when snuggling is requested. There may come a time when playing and snuggling aren’t the main two requests I get when I come home to my kids. I know I need to enjoy it while it lasts, because much like diapers and cribs, the snuggles and child’s play are eventually outgrown too.

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Love letter to Jacob

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To my son Jacob on his 4th birthday…

I love your beautiful big brown eyes and long eyelashes (thanks to daddy’s genes on those).

I love your smile, even though it does not show up in pictures as much as I would like.  Your smile lights up a room.

I love our snuggle time.  You love to lay your entire body on top of me before bed and cuddle your head right under my chin. I wait for the moment when your breathing slows and your body goes limp in peaceful slumber, to roll you over and kiss your forehead goodnight.  This is always one of my favorite parts of the day.

I love your questions.  Really, I just love anything you say, especially since it took so long to really hear your voice.  Your questions are like a window into your mind, and I love what I see and hear.

I love taking you to the store with me.  You are such a good shopper – patient, curious, and great at helping me remember the items on my list.

I love your natural way with animals.  You have such a gentle way about you.  I think animals can sense that and are comfortable around you.  I never thought I would want to live on a farm until I saw you around horses and cows.  That is almost enough to make me leave the suburbs, but not quite – I love Target too much (and so do you!).

I love your appetite and hunger for healthy foods.  Thank goodness you are a good eater, especially with all of your allergies/food sensitivities.  You are happy with a plate of grilled chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato.  If not for your brother and sister, I would pat myself on the back and think I did something special to raise such a great eater.

I love your need for routine and structure.  You like to know the plan and you check-in to make sure we are on schedule and everyone is accounted for.  You have an amazing sense of direction and question me if I change course or make any unexpected moves.

I love taking you on trips.  Even though you like your typical schedule, you also love an adventure.  The other kids are happy to watch a movie in the car or on the plane, but you would rather look out the window and take it all in.  You say, “weeee” when we exit on an off-ramp, you applaud when the airplane takes off and lands, and you point out all the wondrous things in the world around us.

I love your love of water – baths, pools, oceans – you are a natural in the water.  Swim team in your future?

I love the way you light up when you are around your family.  You love having Grandma and Grandpa, Grammy and Pop, your Aunts, Uncle Scott, and your cousins over.  You love to show off when there is an audience – yelling from the top of the second floor, dancing, forward rolls, or singing.  You are happiest when you are around your loving family.

I love the special relationship you have with your brother.  You and Isabella will grow closer as you get older, but you and Noah are practically twins.  You complete each other and make each other better.  I hope and pray that you remain this close as you grow up.

I love your determination and strength.  You have had to overcome more obstacles than many other four-year-old boys, and you have met those challenges with grace, maturity, and fortitude.  I have seen how milestones like sitting, standing, crawling, walking, jumping, playing, talking, and pedaling a bike come without much difficulty for some children.  You have had to work harder and longer more often than not, but you eventually get there.  I am so proud of you for not giving up, for pushing yourself when it is hard, and for having a good attitude even in the struggle.  This will take you far in life.

I love your laugh.  Your playful giggles bring a smile to my face (except when they mean you are up to mischief).  Your laughter is contagious, frequently sending your brother and sister into a contest of silliness.

I love you as my middle child, my oldest son, and my sweet 4-year-old boy.  I love you Jacob!  Happy 4th birthday!

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I hate potty training!

Potty Time

Potty Time

I really thought I would be celebrating the end of an era by now – an era of $50 boxes of diapers, jumbo packages of wipes, Costco size tubes of Desitin, and lots of time spent wiping butts.  I was ready to be done.  We have been managing the costs and challenges of having 2 kids in diapers for 2 years.  I have been doing the diaper thing for 5+ years, and I think it is time to move on.  The only problem is, the boys are not so ready.

I have learned a few things about over the past few months.  I can’t say I have any real answers on potty training, but hopefully I can use these lessons to help potty train Noah when the time comes – even if that lesson is to just have patience and a sense of humor about the whole endeavor.  Here are just a few of the reasons why I hate potty training:

  1. All the potty training books tell you to look for signs of readiness, but what if your kid never seems ready?  I know… there are not many elementary students still in diapers, but at what age do you give up on looking for signs and just force the issue?  For us, the tipping point came at three and a half for Jacob.  We regularly tried asking Jacob and Noah if they needed to go potty, and Jacob never would show interest or willingness to use the potty.  Noah, on the other hand, was always eager to sit on the potty and showed lots of interest, but was quick to give up and get distracted.  I intended to potty train both boys at the same time, but after one day of accidents and dirty Toy Story underwear x 2, I decided to just focus on Jacob.  Noah was just barely 2 and had a little more time until he was truly ready.  Jacob might not have been ready, but the time had come for him to get ready.  As a family with two working parents, summer camp is necessary for us to meet our childcare needs during the time school is not in session.  In order for Jacob to go to the summer camp where we are sending the other children, he would need to be potty trained to go in the camp for his age group.  All of these factors, combined with the fact that he had a week off from school in January that we could devote to potty training, meant it was time.
  2. Some kids can be potty trained in a weekend – like my daughter Isabella – and other kids can take six months or more to be fully potty trained.  We decided to potty train Isabella at around two and a half.  It wasn’t because she was showing any particular signs of readiness, but she was also not opposed to the idea.  She was motivated by the opportunity to wear princess panties and getting to be a big girl.  We were motivated by not wanting to have two kids in diapers and knowing that she needed to be potty trained by the time she started Montessori school.  We took away diapers and after a few accidents it seemed like she had mastered it.  I think it literally took a weekend to master.  She still used pull-ups for naps and bedtime for a few more months, but overall she was pretty easy.  Of course, I remember the occasional accident, like the time we had been in line at Carter’s at the outlet mall for 15 minutes and I asked her to hold it until we were checked out.  Of course, she peed all over herself and the floor at Carter’s – making me feel terrible for making her wait and frustrated that I had to get out of line after all, on top of cleaning up a big mess and a sad toddler.  We have been seriously potty training Jacob for almost 3 months.  Some days he will go all day with no accidents and only a pull up at night.  Other days he will have 5-6 accidents – basically making us feel like we have made zero progress in the potty training department.
  3. Boys are different from girls when it comes to potty training.  I have heard this from a number of friends and read it all over the internet (so it must be true, right?).   Girls really have one option for using the potty.  A girl sits down no matter what is coming out.  Boys can sit on the small potty or the big potty – facing forward or backwards.  They can stand at the toilet or the urinal or even outside.  I feel like this difference alone makes potty training boys a little more confusing.  I am still trying to figure out which way Jacob prefers, whereas Isabella never had a choice.  I also think boys are ready a little later than girls and tend to care a bit less about using the potty and having accidents.  Isabella would cry and seem very bothered if she had an accident.  Jacob could continue playing for a half an hour unfazed by pee soaked pants or a load in his Thomas underwear.  WTF?!?!
  4. I never knew that I could get so frustrated and angry over a little pee and poop.  I never batted an eyelash at the disgusting blowout baby diapers, getting peed on by a newborn, or wiping my kid’s sweet little cheeks during diaper changes.   For some reason I get the worst mommy rage when sweet little Jacob is playing and suddenly pees all over himself, and the rug/couch/bed/floor/stroller/car seat, when he just as easily could have gone to the bathroom or called for me to help him.  I have seriously wanted to shake him just a little when I walk into the playroom to the smell of poop in his brand new Mickey underwear.  I ask him every 30 minutes or so if he has to go to the bathroom.  I look for the signs, and sometimes catch him before he has an accident.  My frustration really peaks when he has an accident within minutes of asking him if he has to go or after just trying to go.  I don’t get it!  At least 50% of the time, most days of the week, he tells me or another adult when he has to go and can make it to the bathroom successfully.  So, why does he pee all over himself while standing right in front of me the other times?  Is he acting out?  Is he too busy or preoccupied to bother with the potty?  Is it his hypotonia and motor planning problems that impact his ability to consistently control his bowels?  I think it is the randomness that gets me the most.  I am trying really hard to not get angry, yell, or shame him when he has accidents, but it is something I am really struggling with.  I practice lots of deep breathing, using my quiet voice, and praising the successes.  I am working on an entire new post about mommy anger and frustration, as this is something new and unexpected for me as a parent.
  5. Potty training is a little like having a newborn again.  I have to pack extra wipes and changes of clothes, socks, and underwear in the diaper bag in case of accidents.  I feel like I am constantly counting pees and poops, except with a potty training toddler, it is to anticipate the need to go and avoid accidents.  I used to spend a lot of time with my babies on their changing tables, “bonding” over peek-a-boo or just chatting.  Now I spend a significant part of my days in the bathroom, and it is not so I can escape and catch up on People magazine.  I am usually on the cold tile floor reading an Elmo book, looking at kid videos on my iphone, or just talking or singing with Jacob.  I guess I just need to think of this as good bonding time with my busy toddler.

I know that Jacob will eventually figure this out.  It feels like I have been potty training forever, but 3 months is not even that long.  I have talked to plenty of other moms with similar challenges, and I know it can take many months for it all to click for some kids.  I remember when Jacob was taking a long time to learn how to walk and I felt like he would never master that important milestone.  His therapists would tell me most kids eventually walk – I just needed to be patient.  We used walkers and we practiced and waited for it to click and it eventually did.  I know it is the same with potty training.  Most kids eventually use the toilet on their own – I just need to be patient.  In the meantime, I need to stock up on plenty of good carpet cleaning products, stain remover, extra underwear, and my favorite bottle of wine.

Winter Break Fun

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The holidays are officially over and we are back to our regular routines again.  Gone are the days of sleeping in until 8 AM,  figuring out which museum to explore each day, what wonderful friend or family to visit with, and how many yummy treats to indulge in after each meal.  The kids are back to school, I am back at work (full-time at that), chocolates and cookies have been replaced with fruits and veggies, and we are back to the hustle and bustle of our busy life.  The holidays are busy too, don’t get me wrong, but it is a different kind of busy.  There is gift buying and wrapping, a busy social schedule of holiday parties, and long days of no school to fill for three little kids, but that is certainly a fun kind of busy.

In our house, the “holiday season” seems to run from November 15th – January 8th.  During that time we have Isabella’s birthday, Thanksgiving (which we host every year), Hanukkah (what we celebrate in our house and with the Levins and Stevahns), Christmas (which we celebrate at my parents), the New Year, and Les’ birthday.  It is two months of nonstop eating, spending money, socializing, and fun.  It can be a little exhausting and overwhelming, but I love it.  This winter break seemed especially great – for the kids, for us, and for me personally.

As the kids get older, they seem to get more into the holiday spirit and understand more of what is going on.  Isabella really got into Hanukkah this year.  She has always enjoyed getting presents, but she was much more interested in some of the culture and tradition that comes along with the holiday.  By the 5th or 6th night of Hanukkah she could almost say the entire prayer over the menorah, making Les and I very proud.  She loved having her Grammy and Pop as special guests at her school to teach her classmates about Hanukkah.  She lead dreidel games and even tried her first potato latke – a big deal for our very picky eater.  Jacob and Noah both got into the spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas, relishing the unwrapping of the gifts as much, if not more, than the gifts themselves.  We all got a kick out of Jacob’s squeals of delight and laughter as he unwrapped a gift or Noah’s exclamations of “Whoa” or “cool this” each time he opened a new toy or book.  The kids had a blast on Christmas day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, opening their stockings and presents, and playing with all their new toys.  I love experiencing any holiday through my children’s eyes, especially Hanukkah and Christmas.  There is just something magical about that look in your child’s eyes as they open that special gift they have been wanting all year.  I don’t think there is any gift I could receive that would equal the excitement and joy I get from giving my kids gifts.  I know that the holidays are not all about the gifts, and I want my kids to know that too, but when you are three or five – it kind of is all about the gifts.

This winter break was really great for Les and I because we got to have some pretty awesome dates.  We had an overnight trip to Richmond for a delicious dinner with friends and a day of holiday shopping and time alone in the car and at lunch with just the two of us.  We try to go out on dates regularly, but there is just something different about being away overnight that feels more luxurious and special.  We also got to see our close friends John and Corynne for a dinner date.  These are friends that we don’t see nearly enough of, and it was great to catch up on the exciting things coming up in the new year.  Les and I have also been on three movie dates in the last month – pretty amazing considering that we probably had not made it to three movies in the theater in the past five years total.  Although Les always works a lot around the holidays, I had a lot of time off as I transitioned to my new job.  The overall pace in our house was slower, more relaxed, and less stressful – making for a happier marriage.

I was thrilled to spend quality time with my sister Emily.  We don’t get to see her nearly enough since she is in California, so we try to spend as much time as possible with her when she is in town.  We even got to go out for sushi and a movie date to see Les Mis (a fantastic movie, but glad I spared Les on that one).  I was able to tackle some home organization products (freezer, refrigerator, pantry, and only a small part of the office).  I completed home study for my new job and went away to San Antonio for a week of training for the new job.  I am very happy with the job change and very impressed with the new company so far.  I really enjoyed being home for a few weeks.  Of course, getting paid while being at home probably made the whole experience more relaxing and enjoyable than if I were not employed.  Now if I could only find a way to stay at home for work AND still get paid – that would be the ticket.

We rang in the New Year with our neighbors and friends at a fantastic grown-up party.  We got all fancied up and danced the night away.  I look forward to this party every year and am so appreciative of the Hempecks for throwing such a wonderful bash.  We got together with the Reuter family for a fun play date and gift exchange.  Even though we only live 30 miles from each other, it seems impossible to get our 6 kids and crazy work schedules aligned for more frequent family fun.  We’ll have to do better at this in 2013.   We did our annual trip to the Great Wolf Lodge with our dear friends Zach and Parul and their adorable daughter Madeline.  That place gets better and better as the kids get older and more independent in the water.  This is one of our favorite ways to kick off a new year and celebrate Les’ birthday with some of our best friends.

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All in all – we have had a blast these past couple of months.  As I have been able to sit back and reflect on the past year, I feel so fortunate to have the life that I have.  We feel so blessed to have our health, our amazing family and friends, jobs, and a wonderful life.  I know how quickly life can change and the good times can turn to bad in just the blink of an eye.  In 2013, I am trying to cherish each moment  and be grateful for the many gifts that I have in my life.  Now if only I can remember this resolution during the crazy, stressful times that will inevitably occur in my world of five spinning plates!

Goodbye Bristol-Myers Squibb

Thanks for the memories BMS…

Pinnacle Trip to Mexico with Bristol-Myers Squibb – 2005

Last week represented the end of an era for me.  I said goodbye to the company and job that I have had for the majority of my adult life.  I started working for Bristol-Myers Squibb in the summer of 2002.  Les and I were married in June of that summer and moved to Orlando, Florida so that he could begin his residency training.  We packed up our belongings in a U-Haul and made the long drive to Florida, moving into our first apartment together.  I started working as a sales rep in the Cardiovascular/Metabolic sales division of BMS on July 1st, 2002.  I came to pharmaceutical sales after spending my first two years out of college in another sales job.  I knew that I was getting into an innovative and exciting industry and profession, and I felt lucky to land this job at a relatively young age.

After only two years, I was promoted to a specialty position in the Neuroscience division, representing a great product that was making a big impact on the mental health community.  I was a Psychology major at the University of Virginia and was very familiar with the consequences of mental illness, through my academic studies and through personal experiences (loved ones, whom shall remain nameless).   The Neuroscience division felt like home.  I was a Neuroscience representative in Orlando for two years, and was lucky enough to transition to the Virginia Beach BMS Neuroscience team when we moved back here in 2006.

Although I don’t like that my job is coming to an end and that Bristol-Myers is essentially getting out of Neuroscience for the time being, I understand that they have business reasons that led them to this decision.  Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka have worked together to launch and promote Abilify and that partnership is drawing to a close.  The timing was right for Otsuka, the company that discovered Abilify, to take over the sales and marketing of the product from BMS.  Otsuka remains committed to Neuroscience and Abilify, and luckily they have decided to expand their sales force to compensate for the loss of the entire BMS sales team.  As a matter of fact, I recently accepted a position to go over to Otsuka and continue promoting Abilify.  Basically I am going to continue doing my exact same job, only for a different employer (more on the how and the why behind this decision in future posts).  As my time with Bristol-Myers draws to a close, I need to say thanks for a wonderful 10+ years.  BMS has been good to me, and I am truly appreciative for all they ways they have helped me.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with so many wonderful, talented people (cliché, but true).  I have been fortunate to have some really great managers during my time at BMS.  I continue to view three of my last four managers as friends, coaches, and mentors.  I have always worked with terrific partners that I have learned so much from, not only about the industry and the business, but about myself as a teammate and professional.  I count many of my current and previous partners and colleagues as personal friends.  Their friendship and support has helped me during the good times and the bad.

Thank you Bristol-Myers for helping to bring to market a truly revolutionary product like Abilify.  It has been an honor and a privilege to promote such a remarkable product for the past eight years.  I am passionate about mental healthcare – the amazing physicians, NP’s, PA’s, Social Workers, Nurses, and Psychologists – and the resilient patients that too often suffer silently among us.  I don’t think I would have stayed in the pharmaceutical industry as long as I have if it weren’t for the opportunity to sell such a great product.  I sold other good products for diabetes, high blood pressure, and antibiotics, but none of those products had the tremendous impact on individuals and families like I have seen Abilify have.  Mental illness can devastate a person’s life – I have seen this too many times.  Seeing a medicine like Abilify help a person return to functioning and get back to being a mom, sister, Uncle, husband, or child is a beautiful thing.  If I have been able to play even the tiniest role in making that happen, I feel good about my work.  Thank you for the research, marketing, and vision that went into the development and promotion of this drug for the last 10 years.

Thank you Bristol-Myers for making medicines that really do extend and enhance human life – a corporate mission that I got to live through my work, but more importantly through my personal experience.  My husband’s life was literally saved by the miracle of medicine – an amazing doctor, a clinical trial at Sloan-Kettering, and four Bristol-Myers Squibb cancer drugs.  When the standard treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma did not work for Les, we ended up at Sloan-Kettering in New York City hoping and praying for a cure – something that would make the cancer disappear and stay away forever (God willing).  I will never forget sitting down with the best Oncologist in the world (yep, anyone that cures my husband of cancer gets that title – and he really might be the best in the world) as he described the clinical trial protocol that Les would be undergoing.  I felt tremendous pride and hope seeing the name of the company I worked for next to the names of the drugs that would soon be used to try to kill the cancer cells that had rocked our world.  It felt like we were meant to be at Sloan-Kettering, with this doctor that developed the treatment protocol with these drugs that my company made.  It had to work and thankfully it did.  I will be forever grateful to our incredible doctor, nurses, and to Bristol-Myers Squibb for giving my husband his life and his health back.  That is truly living the mission.

Thank you Bristol-Myers Squibb for your generous benefits.  As I described in my previous post, I have worked in some hard jobs for not very much money in the past.  I know how frustrating it can be to work in a physically and/or mentally demanding job and still not be able to pay the bills.  It sucks.  One of the reasons I got into sales, and have stayed in for as long as I have, is that I feel like I am compensated fairly and the benefits are good.  Many times, when sales are good and the job seems easy and fun, I honestly can’t believe that they pay me to do it.  I think back on  some of my work days in high school and college where I would work on my feet all day at a hotel front desk job and do an overnight waitressing job at a truck stop for only slightly more than minimum wage.  THAT was hard work.  This job has been challenging (in a good way), enjoyable, interesting, and rewarding with decent pay AND benefits.  I am beyond grateful and blessed, and I have not taken my job for granted.  I know that I had a good thing going.

One of the things I have been most thankful for is amazing health insurance.  If you have ever had a serious medical problem, you know that health insurance can be the biggest blessing (if it is good insurance) or your life can be ruined if you are uninsured or under insured.  We had great health insurance that paid for the majority of Les’ cancer treatments and know the importance of being adequately insured.  Now that Les has a pre-existing condition, we also know how expensive it can be to get a good, affordable health insurance plan as an individual (if you don’t work for a big company).  Hopefully the Affordable Care Act will help other people in America get good coverage at affordable prices, but we may be years away from the realization of this goal.  One of the reasons I have continued to work, even after the births of our three kids, is for great medical insurance.  In fact, our kids might not even be here if it were not for the incredible health insurance that I had access to through Bristol-Myers Squibb.

As a result of the cancer treatments that saved Les’ life, we were unable to get pregnant on our own.  We knew that this would probably happen and made preparations before he underwent treatment to make sure we could have children one day, with the help of IVF.  Infertility and our journey to become parents will likely be the subject of another post one day, but let’s just say that it was not an easy road to parenthood.  Infertility treatments, especially IVF, are very expensive.  I don’t know if we could have handled the financial and emotional stress of three rounds of IVF (to get two of our children) without the very comprehensive medical insurance provided by BMS.  All of the shots, drugs, ultrasounds, lab work, office visits, and procedures would have been that much more difficult if  I was constantly worried about paying the total cost for each item.  Most companies do not include infertility coverage in medical benefits, so I know just how fortunate I was that this was covered.  This is yet another reason why I continued to work after having children.  I have to thank a really gifted infertility doctor and Bristol-Myers Squibb for helping to give me two of life’s greatest miracles – Isabella and Jacob.

Last, but not least, I have to thank Bristol-Myers Squibb for giving me the opportunity to job share and work part-time for the past three years.  There are very few pharmaceutical companies that offer this benefit anymore and too few working moms that get to take advantage of any kind of flexible work arrangement when they have babies at home.  After Jacob was born, I was not sure if I could handle going back full-time.  I wanted to continue working, for all of the reasons above and so many more, but I did not think I could be away from my two very young children five days a week.  My supportive boss offered me a chance to apply to job share and work only three days a week (with a partner working the other two days of the week).  I jumped at the opportunity.  The job share position had its share of challenges, but I would not have traded it for anything.  I did not know when I started job sharing that I would have a third baby (no IVF – a surprise miracle), and it made coming back to work after Noah was born a no-brainer.  I was able to be home more days than I was at work when the boys were babies.  I was able to be there when Jacob needed me the most, as we figured out how to help him with all of his delays.  I would have loved to work part-time forever, or at least one more year until Noah was three, but I knew that it would probably not be a permanent thing.  It was almost too good to be true.  I am thankful I was able to job share as long as I did.  I thank Bristol-Myers Squibb for giving me that extra time with my kids, to really be able to have some work-life balance when it was needed most.

I say goodbye to Bristol-Myers and welcome the next chapter of my professional career.  Thank you for a great 10 years!  I can only hope that the next 10 or 20 years can be as fun and rewarding as my time with BMS.  Bristol-Myers is not perfect, but in my experience they lived their mission with patients, customers, and employees.  I hope my next experience with Otsuka will be as positive as my experience with Bristol-Myers Squibb.  Best of luck to you BMS and all my colleagues that remain!

Work History and Resumes

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I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Some kids grow up dreaming of being a doctor, a journalist, or an artist.  Very few actually grow up to fulfill their childhood career dreams.  I went through phases where I dreamt of being a teacher, an astronaut, a ballerina, actress, singer, television host, writer, lawyer, and psychologist.  Some of those dreams were more realistic than others.  I did not have a lot of guidance regarding career choices when I was growing up.  My parents just wanted to me to go to college and get a good job one day, never really pushing me or directing me into specific career paths.  I don’t feel like the schools helped provide any sort of direction either.  The message was basically that if you did well in school and went to college, you would get a job and do well.  That advice is partially correct, but a bit simplistic and naïve, especially in today’s job market.  It takes a lot more than good grades and a college degree to get a good job and succeed.

Since getting laid off, I have been busy preparing my resume, references, cover letters, and “brag book” (a compilation of your career accomplishments – practically required in the medical/pharmaceutical sales world).  It had been six years since I last updated all of this stuff and it felt like starting over since so much time had passed.  On the plus side, I had a chance to  reflect on my history of work – during my time with Bristol-Myers Squibb and all the years before.  This walk down memory lane helped me realize a few things about myself and what I am looking for in my next job.

I have always been a hard worker.  I started babysitting for my sisters at the age of 10 and for neighborhood kids shortly thereafter.  I lied about my age to get my first real job at the age of 14 (4 months shy of the required age of 15) at a gift shop at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel.  We were not poor, but money was tight growing up.  My dad was in the Navy and my mom ran a home daycare, and they were doing the best they could to support 4 kids.  There wasn’t extra money for new school clothes, trips to the movies on the weekends, or even school activities like debate or cheerleading.  There was not going to be a car to drive or gas money for me when I turned 16, and I knew I would be on my own for college.  I realized from a young age that if I wanted certain things, I would need to work to earn the money to buy those things myself.

I loved the independence and financial security that work gave me.  I learned a lot about myself, about money, and the workplace through these high school and college jobs.  I worked 3 jobs in the summer of 1994 to buy my first car.  Similarly, I worked 2-3 jobs at a time while at the University of Virginia, all while maintaining a very high GPA.  By the time I graduated from college in 2000, I had worked in gift shops, the Gap, Abercrombie, worked at the front desk of a hotel, waited tables at a truck stop, waited tables at a fine dining restaurant, been a hostess, bused tables, worked as a secretary, worked in the library, and worked in catering.  The lessons I learned through working have shaped me in countless ways.

I learned the value of work.  When I was 17, I was awarded Employee of the Month at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel, possibly the youngest person to receive that honor.  During that summer I would work a double or even a triple shift, most days of the week.  I was working at the front desk in the morning and working in the nice restaurant of the hotel busing tables or working as a hostess in the evening.  If they needed someone to pick up a shift in catering or fill-in at the gift shop I was eager to volunteer.  More hours meant more money, which meant more freedom and security to me.  I took great pride in doing a good job.  I thrived on praise and appreciation from my bosses and loved being part of a team with a tangible goal (even if that goal was keeping tables clean or making a guests check-in process as pleasant as possible).  I was hard-working and reliable.  I only missed work once, because of a bad case of food poisoning.  All of these things made me a valuable employee, and I liked being valued.  I realized at a young age that no matter what I did in life, if I showed up, worked hard, and did a good job – and did that job with a smile – I could succeed and eventually move up in almost any job.

I also learned the value of a dollar.   I was never the best math student, but I could do the simple arithmetic to figure out how much money would be needed to pay for new brakes on my old car, go to a concert with my friends, or pay my share of the rent and bills in college.  Since no one was giving me money for my expenses, I could only count on my student loans and money I earned to pay for necessities and extras.  I knew how much free time I had and how much money I needed to make to take care of my expenses.  It was frustrating to work at my library job during the day for $7/hour, when I could make $10/hour + tips at my catering job on the weekends.  I prioritized the higher paying jobs, but I had to fill as much of my free time with work as possible at whatever pay I could get.

When I was waiting tables, I would sometimes work incredibly hard with less-than-pleasant customers, for $30-$40 at the end of a shift.  There were other busy nights with great customers where I could walk away with $150 a night.  As a waitress, your hourly wage is primarily determined by how many customers you can see and on the generosity of those people whom you take care of.  Waiting tables is hard work and you really do earn every dollar you make.  You can make a living waiting tables, but I figured out after one summer that I never wanted to depend on that as my primary source of income.  I took comfort in knowing that I could support myself by waiting tables if I needed to, but that I would hopefully not have to do that job again after college.

When it came time to choose a profession, there were several things I considered doing.  I am passionate about education and pursued the teaching path for a while, but quickly realized that I would not be able to support myself on a teacher’s salary.  I would be coming out of college with piles of student loan debt and the math just did not add up.  There was no way I could pay rent for my own place, a car payment, my large student loan bills, and basic living expenses on a teacher’s salary.  I guess I could have made it work if I had roommates to share the rent and expenses, or taken a summer job teaching or waiting tables (see previous paragraph), or if I took 30 years to pay back all my loans instead of 10, but I knew there had to be a better way.  I thought about grad school to become a psychologist or law school, but many of my friends were getting good paying jobs in the business world, and that seemed to be a good way to go.

After graduating from UVA, I took a job in sales that was filled with risk and promise.  The risk was that it was 100% commission – I would only really make money if I made sales.  The promise was that there was no limit on my earning potential.  If I worked hard and was good at my job, I could make a lot of money.  This sounded perfect for me.  I did well those first two years and learned that I liked many aspects of working in sales.

I loved the idea of upward mobility – that your income could be tied to your productivity and your skills – in salary and/or in bonus.  I never questioned if I would make money in a sales job, because I have a good work ethic and a personality well suited for sales.  I liked flexibility, especially as I thought about having a family.  I did not want to have to be at a desk at a specific time every day and have to stay in the same place all day.  I love working with people and talking to people for most of the workday, and this is an essential aspect of any sales job.  I could not be happy in an office or cubicle all day staring at spreadsheets or a computer screen.  I decided to look for other sales jobs that would afford me the opportunity to work with great people, make decent money, and have an independent and flexible schedule conducive to having a good work-life balance.  Pharmaceutical sales offered all of this and so much more.  I quickly realized that I could have all of the benefits of other sales jobs, while getting to talk to smart and interesting people about the science and medicine behind products that really could extend and enhance people’s lives.

Since I did not really know what I wanted to be when I grew up – this sounded like the best possible job –  given my background, skills, and interests.  I started with Bristol-Myers Squibb in the summer of 2002 and it has been a terrific 10+ years.  I have been through promotions, a move, a spouse’s cancer battle, IVF, and the birth of my three children in those 10 years.  No job is perfect, but this job has been pretty darn good through it all.  I still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up (thirty-four is not grown-up, right?).  Maybe it is ok to just have a good job and a full, meaningful life as a mom, wife, and part-time blogger.  Maybe that IS what I always wanted when I grew up – and now I have it and am losing it.  Hopefully the lessons of my past will help guide and inform me as I take these next steps toward my future.

Life in Limbo

My life is in limbo… and not the fun kind.  I am not normally an anxious person.  I don’t have trouble sleeping because of racing thoughts or fear of the unknown.  I actually consider myself to be a pretty easygoing person.  I admit – I don’t love change.  Who really does?  I prefer a sense of order and routine.  I am a planner and usually have one or two back-up plans in case my original plan does not work out.  Despite my preference for the expected, I think I handle the unexpected pretty well.  I have had many things come my way over the years that I handle with grace and a smile.  For some reason, I am having a tough time with this latest set of unexpected circumstances.  I am more anxious than normal, my skin is a mess, stomach often in knots, and I am not the nicest wife right now.  Unfortunately for Les, he has borne the brunt of my anxiety, frustration, and insecurity about my future.

You see – I was recently laid off from my job.  I know that this is a situation too many Americans are facing right now.  Every situation is different, but in my case I saw this coming for a little while now.  In some ways I have seen it coming since I got into the pharmaceutical industry over 10 years ago.  I was actually hired to promote a product that never ended up receiving FDA approval.  Luckily, Bristol-Myers Squibb had plenty of other products doing well and a strong pipeline that allowed me to avoid an early exit from my awesome new career.  Between stricter FDA approval standards, increased public and political scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry, a changing healthcare and physician practice environment, new technology, and patent expirations – a career in pharmaceutical sales looks very different than it did 10 years ago.  I knew that the patent for the product I promote was nearing the end.  Bristol-Myers does not even own the patent on the product I promote, which means that my job could change if the contract changed.  Bristol-Myers had not been able to develop any new products for our division and had not had any luck finding other suitable companies to partner with in Neuroscience.  I have been through three previous layoffs, thankful and half-surprised to survive each one.  It just seemed like my turn would eventually come, and the signs and hints have been coming for months now that the time would come sooner rather than later.

I am so glad I saw these signs and started preparing, mentally and logistically.  I updated my resume and gathered all of my performance results and awards for the past 6 years, which was the last time that I applied for a job when we moved from Florida to Virginia.  I started my job search a couple of months before the announcement was actually made.  Even though I knew in my gut that the layoffs were coming, I was still a bit surprised and disappointed by the news and the way the news was delivered.  We were told on a Friday afternoon that there would be a mandatory teleconference on Monday (usually the way these announcements go).  Unfortunately, Frakenstorm Sandy was starting to make impact on the east coast on Sunday and the teleconference was pushed back until further notice.  On Monday morning, an e-mail came through from the President of the company announcing the dissolution of the Neuroscience division effective December 31st.  There were very few details in the e-mail, and I had to wait until later in the day when my manager had more information about the changes that were about to take place.  Maybe that e-mail would have been a fine way to announce that 500+ people were getting laid off if the teleconference was still going to take place that day (although I question that wisdom too).  Maybe a better plan would have been for them to go ahead and hold the teleconference Friday afternoon, before the storm was coming, ahead of the President’s e-mail announcement.  Perhaps they could have held off on sending the e-mail until they could reschedule the big teleconference later in the week.  I am not sure what the best strategy would have been, but telling people they are going to lose their jobs via generic corporate mass e-mail, on the same day as a terrible storm, was less than ideal.  We finally got more details by Thursday of that week and were told that we would remain employed through the end of the year.  The expectation is that we do our jobs as normal (as normal as you can in these circumstances), while looking for employment elsewhere.  The Japanese company that owns the patent on the product I have promoted is hiring for many positions around the country, including the exact same job that I have done for six years in Virginia Beach.

I know I am fortunate compared to so many that are going through layoffs and facing an uncertain job market.  I am not the sole breadwinner of my family.  If I do not work, we will not risk losing our home, pulling our kids out of preschool, falling behind on bills, or not being able to put food on the table.  Changes and sacrifices will have to be made for sure, but we would thankfully survive if I could not find a job.  The question is not really do I have to find another job, but do I want to find another job and what job do I want?  This is where the anxiety, indecision, and soul-searching come in.  This is the dilemma of so many mothers out there.  Work vs. not working, part-time vs. full-time, play it safe or take a risk – these choices are a blessing and a curse all at the same time.  I am thankful to even have the luxury of choice and to be in a position where there are jobs out there that I am qualified for and interested in.  I guess I just did not expect it to be this difficult to know what the right course is.  I thought I would have clear signs pointing me in the right direction, but it is much messier and complicated than that… or is it?  There will be several more blog posts coming as I try to sort out all of these issues and decisions in the coming weeks.

On top of all of the changes at work, our beloved nanny for the last 3.5 years is resigning at the end of the year.  She put in her notice around the same time that I found out about the layoff.  She says it is not personal.  She loves working for our family and loves the kids, but her husband’s business is at a point where they need her to do the accounting/bookkeeping full-time.  In all of this bad news, I take a little comfort in feeling like these decisions are not about me personally.  I am not getting let go because of something I did or did not do with work, and my nanny is not leaving because of my children or me.  Shit happens, businesses and people need to make changes because of what is best for them.  I get that, but it still sucks!  Anyone who knows me, knows how much I value our nanny.  She is like part of our family.  I trust her with the kids and the kids love her.  I was in complete denial about her impending departure for at least a month, and I am finally starting to accept the news and find a new nanny.  I already tried bribery, pay increases, and anything else I could think of to get her to stay, but she is set on leaving at the end of the year, even though I can see how difficult this is for her to go.  Of course, I sort of need to know what is happening with my job to figure out if and when I need a new nanny.  So while I am out there interviewing and looking for a new job, I am also interviewing and searching for the best person possible to be our new nanny.

I am getting anxious just thinking about all of the stuff on my plate right now.  Luckily, I do believe that things happen for a reason.  I believe in karma, faith, and fate – all of that stuff you rely on during uncertain and challenging times.  Combined with hard work, preparation, and a bit of luck – these beliefs have never let me down.  Although I certainly don’t always know why things are happening or how they will end up, they usually do work out and have a reason.  It would just be a lot easier and less stressful if I could know how all of this will end up and when.  Hopefully by sharing the journey and my thought process, I can try to cope a little better and get some extra support along the way.