The Secret Passageway of Parenthood: A Kindergarten Screening Part 2

 Being the baby of the family, I find it second nature to roll my eyes at someone recounting a memory or formulating advice or telling me what to do. Because my mother can tell you, no one really can tell me what to do. Even at a young age, I decided that. I chose a career in teaching where essentially, I tell teenagers what to do all day long. I bristle when my husband tells me what to do and am quick to fire back when my kids make a bossy remark or an impolite request. I’m often the friend who gets everyone together or suggests an outing.

Essentially, I’m in charge. I call the shots. We do what I say we do (or so I think).

As a young mother, everyone says it. “Enjoy it, Appreciate it. Don’t rush it. Don’t wish it away. Try to journal it. It will be over before you know it.”

Well, guess what? To this morsel of advice bestowed upon me by many-a-Mama, I listened. I appreciated, I journaled, I slowed it down and ate up. Every. Last. Minute.

And it still flew by. It still got out of my grasp. It still snuck up on me. Like housework and laundry and dust bunnies.

It happened. So fast. And I still feel like I missed it.

Sometimes I will find a video on my phone or a too small shirt that fell behind the dresser or a  note one of them wrote to me and think “When did this happen? How did I miss it? Why don’t I remember that day, that shirt, that voice, that note, that moment?”

Because: life.

Because the day to day and the month to month and the season to season and the holiday to holiday become a part of the fiber of your life. The moments are but pixels on those fibers that connect from event to event to event to year to year to year. And pretty soon, you’re six and a half years into parenting and you feel like you know nothing. Babies are something you used to get, toddlers are something you understand like a class you took last semester. Sleepless nights are like a wild frat party you once went to but can’t believe you survived. Making baby food is like signing up for a class at 8 am. Oh you were so young and naive. 

But the now and the who and the what of today are what dominate your parenting. There’s not a lot of time to look back.

Except when there is. 

Except when you look and there are little people, real PEOPLE in your rearview mirror. Real people with ideas and thoughts and opinions and preferences and little moral compasses. Real people with political leanings and informed decisions. Real people with worlds of their own. Worlds you are welcome into but sometimes only in an ancillary way. On special person’s day or when they have a sliver or they need help with a science project. You are not the nap-snuggler or the milk-maker anymore. Just the Lunch Packer, the Bedtime Enforcer and the Writer of Notes. Driver of the Station Wagon. Facilitator of the Netflix. 

Today, I was the Mom of a kindergartener and first grader. Today, I was an adult with paperwork and medical forms and test results and words of encouragement for my little girl. Today I was a different kind of grown up. Like Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

It seems like parenthood is this secret room. The room behind the bookcase, the secret passageway of life. There’s so many wonderful  books to sift through that sometimes you get lost in your own wonder. You get lost and forget how long you’ve been in there. You get fooled by the broken clock just inside the passageway. You return from the passageway older, more serious, softer. 

  In looking at the little spirit we raised today going through the paces of kindergarten screening, I felt like an imposter. Both feet fully planted into “School-Aged Mom and Dad” life, we schmoozed, we chatted with the teachers, we smiled proudly. I gulped back Mama tears. The tears that mean nostalgia, sadness, loss. And, together, we readied ourselves for another beginning, another ending—another passageway to open. 

So, listen when people tell you it goes fast. Obey their advice. Do your damnedest to freeze it. But know, that still, you will be sitting stunned at a  kindergarten screening someday— wondering where the time went.

And stay in the secret passage, relish in it in all of its cacophony and chaos. And at night, sneak into their rooms, smell their heads and lay next to them. Because, hey, even if they squirm and grimace when you kiss them in public, there’s a special secret passageway for parents into their bedrooms at night. 

 

The Little Things: Confessions of a Kindergarten Screening

“Enjoy the little things in life for one day you may look back and see they were the big things.”  

  

  

  

 

No joke. The quote above was on a wooden plaque at the refreshment table at kindergarten orientation this week. As I filled my coffee, tears streamed down my face. Nothing summarized my feeling that day better.  Depending  on how many children you are blessed with, you are only given so many special days. Milestones like birthdays, graduations, awards, performances and athletics of all seasons come close together and often at first but soon space out a little more. Some changes are easy and almost un-ceremonial— the movement from crib to bed— the movement from formula to milk. And before you know it, they are eating off of real plates with real silverware and wiped their face with a napkin all on their own.

I’ve had a lump in my throat developing since I signed Parker up for Kindergarten. It was such a startling watershed for me- being thrust into the school age years. I felt sad that the little red headed baby boy I used to nuzzle was now a little man.  The little face I wiped yogurt and peas and applesauce and boogers off of was now the face of a kindergartener, a boy who can write his name and count to 20 and make friends all on his own.

If my next couple months could have a hashtag, it would be #imnotreadyforthis. This feels big. The departure from the preschool years is a sad goodbye for me. There was such sweetness and purity to seeing your child make their way through preschool. I saw him sing at his Christmas pageant, host his grandparents at the grandparent luncheon and march with his classmates in a Halloween parade. 
This past Friday, I walked in with a little boy into kindergarten screening and I walked out with a kid ready for school. And it’s such a cumbersome and uncomfortable type of excitement. It’s like handing over something of value that you are so incredibly proud of but are not so sure you want to give away. You think you have prepared yourself for the hand-off, the release. Anxiously, however, you gaze at your project of the past five years and think, “is it time–already?”
I sat in a row of chairs with paperwork to keep me occupied and watched as family after family were guided around with their little person. I thought how in a year, I would be in the same set of chairs doing it all over again for Celia. Life just continues on like that, I guess. Little people grow up and go to school. The circle of life. 
But somehow, in that  gym as I sipped my coffee and gulped back tears, I knew this: something is over. And I have to accept it. And mourn it. And embrace it.
What’s over is this: my time as a Mom of “small” kids. Small kids usually fit into the category of infant, toddler or preschooler. Only for one more year will that be true. It’s officially and startingly the end of an era. I feel a desperation I thought only came with graduation day or dropping your child off at college.
It’s fair to say I’m hyper-emotive in times like these. I was awarded my sorority’s  “Sap Dog” award for my quick tears and sentimentality. I like writing long, important verses to friends in birthday cards.  I like to feel things through tears. I don’t enjoy being sad, but I do think the catharsis that comes with feeling something is a good feeling. As Jimmy Valzano said in his ESPY speech before his death, “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” That’s what I believe about my sappy tendency. It helps me connect with these moments in my life to the fullest. 
As “sad” as the day was, this was the way the rest of it went. My son saw three friends he knew in the school on our way out, he and I went out to a lunch by ourselves and had lovely conversation. Then, we got lost in a bookstore together– one of my personal favorite things to do. 
It ended with a walk by a boutique where we both noticed a locket. “You should get this Mommy, I like it.” It has a spot inside for both of their little faces. It was not a tough sell. I told him I would get it so I could remember this day forever. 
The little things in life ARE the big things. Fleeting, slippery little things. Sometimes we have to look up from laundry and dishes and grocery shopping for a minute to catch these pieces of life. For its these pieces that will make a real live “big” person one day. 
So, the clock’s ticking. Four more months before little Parker takes on his own big little part of life. 
 

We Got a Puppy and Other Things I’ve Been Doing Instead of Blogging

                               

 Okay, I’ll admit it. I fell off the blogging earth for a little too long this time. I can blame it on being “busy” and having “so much going on.” But, judging by the amount of Netflix and Amazon Prime shows I’ve binged on this winter, I’m not going to try to kid you with that hooey. I could blame it on the whole “we have a new house and the renovations have been intense.” But those have kind of taken a hiatus for the colder months as well. I could blame it on poor Chewy Gallagher, our new little puppy— but is that really fair? She doesn’t even know I have a blog. How would she know that the time spent picking up her chewed paper towels is really messing with my creativity?

I could blame it on Celia, who really demands to be seen and heard every second with her variety of performance techniques.

I think it may be more because of the fact that my person exerts so many words a day that I can’t possibly afford to put together the well crafted paragraphs and elegantly worded witticisms that I once was able to. I couldn’t get it together for Thanksgiving, Christmas or even in spirit of the New Year. I started to think that maybe my blogging life was a little bit over— like I had a nice run, but, it’s time to move on.

Then I typed www.shortcutgirl.com into the web browser box. And read a few pieces. And missed it. All of the things that I have been blogging about the past couple years read like a diary. A confession of the hard won victories of parenthood (and life) and the mini victories– the moments when you Just. Nail. It.  

This blog is not just a girl who likes to take shortcuts (oh yes, believe me it IS that) but this blog is the evolution of a parent of babies to a parent of toddlers, to a parent of an almost-kindergartener (I know, I can’t even…). It’s been a safe haven for me to make sense of the unsettling nature of your first parenting experiences as well as a place for me to express my own A-ha! moments when it comes to my friendships, my body, my husband and the most important relationship you have sometimes—the relationship you have with yourself.

Just like when you read your diary from childhood, I look back on some of these posts and see things I don’t remember. Behaviors my children had, phases I had trouble getting through and most of all very vivid and descriptive memories of my children in what seems like just a blink of time. 

So, here I am back at it and today’s topic is not all that random. It’s what this blog provides me with, what I like to feast on as I look back through the entries from the past three years. I am a memory junkie. I feast on them through photos and old videos. I like to keep track of all of the little intricacies of life–sayings, trips, traditions, phrases that you share with just a couple family members. I was surprised to find recently a memory book I made for my husband to sum up our year together when we were dating. There were things photographed and written in there that I barely even remembered myself. Now, I have always been sentimental about the photos and words people share with me but have been happy to find out recently that people are also sentimental about the words I share with them (a college friend recently told me she saved every card I ever wrote her in college—- how much I would like to read all of those cards!)

Memories with your children are different. Each thing you do with them and for them becomes a memory that they will relay to you at a later date. That looooonng car ride on vacation or that day when the puppy tore up the couch cushions (didn’t happen and WON’T happen, got it?) are all a part of who they are. Everything from your dinner conversation to the way you say good night to them is a big, fat, deposit in their memory bank. A slice of family-life-as-a-kid for them to feast on for years to come. A reflection of you as a parent. 

What’s really gotten to me lately is the idea that in a few short years, my kids won’t be at my ankles in the kitchen while I cook. They won’t be homework free playing in their pajamas downstairs at 6 pm. They won’t be begging to play with the dog rather than sit at the table and eat dinner. These deposits, the ones of the pre-K, not yet school aged years are limited. In the next two years, I will send both kids off to school and (gulp) be wrangling homework and backpacks and parent-teacher conferences. Pretty soon the noisy after school banter of brother and sister will be traded for the hum of ear buds and music played behind closed doors.

My memory bank already feels like it is bursting at the seams, no room for more deposits of funny stories or toddler talk or silly malapropisms. Even so, I will keep up my own deposits. Taking little mind snapshots and short videos in order to preserve, to hold tight and really feel the payoff of each memory. The idea that with these people you created and are somehow expected to guide through life, you have a wealth of history to withdrawal from any time you wish.             

19 Ridiculous Things I Never Expected About Parenting

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1. That the mere suggestion of a birthday party, lunch or social event during nap time could make me instantly start sweating.

2. That I would feel perfectly justified in bringing an IPad to a restaurant.

3. That a shower in a locked bathroom would feel like a full spa day at the right moment.

4. That I would get irrationally angry at waitresses who mentioned “dessert” to clearly behaving children.

5. That I would get irrationally angry at waitresses who did not mention “dessert” to clearly misbehaving children.

6. That the words “bounce house” would translate to “early bedtime and Netflix binge.”

7. That I would get my kids to smile for Christmas card photos by bribing them with Swedish Fish.

8. That I would constantly play out scenarios in my head where my kids’ teachers actually make fun of the lunches I pack them. “Gogurt, again? Is she domestically challenged?”

9. That I would be the type of Mom who yelled.

10. That I would be the type of Mom who yelled at Wal-Mart.

11. That I would be the type of Mom who only had to stop for gogurt and goldfish but suddenly felt like I was on the Reality Show “This is Your Toddler” where your child suddenly turns into a savage beast and the entire community watches via security cameras.

12. That I would sometimes cry wondrous tears of joy when someone offered to babysit for free, for pay or (the rarity) –overnight!

13. That my heart would actually feel like it could burst out of my chest with pride.

14. That I would love my husband more as a father than I did as a man.

15. That I would sometimes use the “stinky feet test” for deciding on whether it was a bath night or not.

16. That I would prefer buying cute clothes for my kids than for myself.

17. That they, even at ages 3 and 4, could be my best friends.

18. That Saturday morning soccer in my thirties would feel like penance for all the Friday afternoon Happy Hours of my twenties.

19. That I would laugh, so heartily, at my new parent self years later. “Au Natural Baby food making Mommy who now serves up nuggets and tater tots once (okay twice!) a week—-you were so smug and naive.”

An Open Letter to Summer, the season

IMG_7652-0.JPGEvery summer, I write a farewell. It’s a cathartic and pleasant experience for me ever since hitting motherhood. There’s the sappy and the reflective. This one might be a combination of both.

Dear Summer,

At the beginning of you, Summer, I was elated. As a teacher, I tend to appreciate you ever so much. But, at first, you weren’t all you were cracked up to be.

You brought me several mornings of timeouts and 4-year-old debates. Bartering and bribing, bribing and eventually, giving in.

You brought me quiet tears when I didn’t think I could manage another sibling fight.

You brought me all too many experiences of making my children food they barely eat. Bowls of mush scooped into the garbage. Sandwich triangles neglected and discarded.

You brought be a potty training regression that required me to go back to a sticker chart. Wet pants that brought tears.

You gave me my first real crying panic that I lost my child.

You gave me the occasional moments of self-loathing when I didn’t think I was doing the parenting thing right. Again.

You gave me a loud mornings when I could barely even open my eyes until I got an IV of strong, black, industrial-strength coffee.

You gave me grocery store meltdows and naptimes that never happened. Even though you wanted them to, so, so, so badly.

But…

You brought me morning cuddle parties. Whispers by the side of my bed, “Do you want a cuddle bug?”

You gave me painted rocks.

You brought me potty talk silly time which is worth breaking the rules just for the giggles.

You gave me sandy feet and sticky sunscreen hair.

You gave me sweet bedtime stories with a freshly bathed wet heads.

You gave me knock knock jokes.

You gave me lake swimming and dock jumping and chair floating.

You gave me nighttime narrations of Charlotte’s Web on a crowded bed.

You gave me visiting children of friends who allowed for actual adult conversation.

You gave me the magic of the ice cream man, the wonder of the Supermoon and the beauty of a sunset.

You gave me muddy puddles and skipping rocks.

You gave me live music that my children can sing and dance to.

You gave me the occasional babysitter, the occasional quiet evening, the occasional afternoon nap.

You gave me that look from my husband that you can only share with someone who loves your children as much as you do.

You gave me a heavy, sleeping child, sometimes two, on my shoulder as I walk up the stairs.

You gave me reflective questions in the car like, “How many years until I graduate?”

You gave me pajama walks.

You gave me cups of coffee while they played Legos in the screen room.

You gave me music in the car, dancing on the beach and popsicles in the shade.

Summer, you tend to bring out the most beautiful pieces of my life and my family and help me see them in a light that is radiant, a light that is humble, a light that is…just right.
So thank you, summer, for all of it.

Love, Bridgette

16 Things My Kids Are Fighting Over

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When I had two kids 21 months apart, I thought I had it all figured out. Although I knew the early years would be crazy, I also thought they would be so close in age that they would play together all the time. Now, technically, this is true. They sleep in the same room (for the summer), nap at the same time, bathe at the same time and watch many of the same programs. And, even sometimes as I’m eavesdropping on them playing, I think, “Wow girl, you really nailed the whole siblings-as-playmates thing.”

And then a fight breaks out. And I play referee for the 154749th time since 6 am. And I am wondering if there is. Anything. My kids. Don’t. Fight. About.

I’ve basically deduced that people actually have a third kid to get the first two to stop fighting. I mean, if we had a baby around, Celia would totally be distracted from going after Parker with her fork. (This is not a hint. We are DONE!)

So in the spirit of “Reasons My Kid is Crying,” I bring you “Things My Kids Are Fighting Over.”

1. Who was first. First to the bathroom, to the car, to the beach, to the sink to brush their teeth. Everything is a race. To solve one squabble, I introduced the phrase, “First is the worst, second is the best.” Word of advice: Don’t do that. It easily doubles the amount of fights that break out and you have to explain why you taught them basically to be unsportsmanlike and bratty about losing.

2. One is standing directly in front of the TV and the other can’t also stand directly in front of the TV.

3. One has a penis and the other doesn’t.

4. Who does/doesn’t like the color pink or red or blue or purple or green.

5. One has to poop at exactly the same Greenwich Mean Time that the other has to poop. A potty traffic jam/standoff has resulted.

6. Who introduced the word “poopy boobie” to our already growing Potty Talk repertoire.

7. Who opens the door for me. Who closes the door for me. Who walks through the doorway while another is opening/closing it.

8. One wants to put groceries on the conveyor belt at the same time and from the same angle as the other. Or they want to put change in the piggy bank or pet the doggie or drain the tub or gets under the actual shower part of the shower.

9. Who does/doesn’t smell like pee.

10. One answered my question first. One answered my question with the most accuracy.

11.One has a bigger rock. Or a smaller rock. Or a rounder rock. Or a flatter rock.

12. Who ate the last chip. The first chip. The best chip. Or the least soggy beach chip.

13. One has a balloon of any sort and the other doesn’t. This includes deflated and popped balloons and also balloons that they aren’t even in possession of, just ones we walk by in the store.

14. Who is/isn’t tired.Who is/isn’t hungry. Who is/isn’t hungry AND tired.

15. Who can run/talk/think/yell/swim/jump faster-quicker-better-louder-with more gusto than the other.

16. One is sitting/laying/stepping/stomping/hitting on the other’s leg/hand/head/foot/hair/eye/finger. And it hurts. And he/she may need a band-aid.

A House Tells a Story

“Day after day in a good life, you learn your family is the journey.”

-Ron Carlson
“A Kind of Flying”

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I have been negligent on the blogging front mostly because we are in the process of moving. I have spent my days moving station wagon loads full of stuffed animals and dolls, picking paint colors, negotiating furniture purchases with my husband and…feeling nostalgic about our “old” house.

Mike and I bought this house in 2005. We had been dating a year and a half. When we first looked at the house, I admired the large farm sink that took over the kitchen. The owner said, “a lot of babies have bathed in that sink.” It was the most terrifying and beautiful statement all at once. It spoke of the home’s history and import. But, I was 25. No babies were bathing in my sink for a while.

Our house was built in 1798 and needed a LOT of work. We did the work. We tore out walls. We lived with no walls around the toilet. We lived with meals made in a toaster oven. We worked and worked and worked on that house. Until it was home.

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But, eventually, marriage followed. Then Parker, then Celia. One of my best friends was our tenant at one point. She lived downstairs, then we switched and she lived upstairs. This made 11 State Street more like Three’s Company than a home. But it was perfect for us. We had good tenants, we had bad tenants. We started moving out for the summer in order to pay a couple month’s mortgage payment. We put up a fence and a swingset in the backyard. We took long stroller walks with the kids downtown. In the hustle and bustle of creating a home, a family popped up. A whole new life snuck up on us.

Now, our home is surely unconventional. It’s a two family space and Parker has slept in the upstairs one bedroom apartment since he was 2. We had a video monitor to make sure he wasn’t having midnight parties in the “Toddler Suite.” We don’t have a garage or a real driveway. We don’t have a basement or a playroom. We don’t even have a (gasp!) dishwasher downstairs. It’s hard for us to host parties or holidays. The space just fills up so quickly.

But this is home. We brought Parker home here on a cold December day and Michael made loaf after loaf of bread in his new bread maker. We hosted a very crowded but unseasonably warm Thanksgiving here for 15 people where Mike simultaneously smoked and deep fried two turkeys in the yard. This is the place where we slept on our wedding night, the place where we found out we were pregnant both times. This is the sink where two babies had many baths. This house tells a story. The story of the Gallaghers.

This makes me think of a short story that I teach called, “A Kind of Flying” by Ron Carlson. My favorite quote from that story has become a quote that I live by. “Day after day in a good life you realize your family is the journey.” And before we had a family, we had this house. Now that we have a family, this place, whether it’s old, or drafty, or beat up or sometimes a tight squeeze, this is the home that houses our journey.

But we’ve outgrown it. While we love our downtown location, our shady yard and our off street parking, we need a little more room. More room to play, to laugh, to store Transformers and My Little Ponies. More places to keep the Gallaghers.

Enter 15 Congress Avenue.

Michael assured me when I was looking for new houses that I would “pick” our second house. He knew that he drove the decision to purchase our first house (I was 25, what did I know?) and he wanted me to have more of a stake in house #2. We first looked at it on Easter Monday. While I would like to say it was love at first sight, it did take me thinking and thinking and analyzing and thinking in order to rev myself up for the endless project that is a new home. It is another old home, another laundry list of improvements to do. But the timing was right, and we were ready.

(Please excuse the overly sappy story below)

The night we found out our offer was accepted, I taught SAT class at the high school. I was so excited to celebrate our new adventure, I was giddy on the way home. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted a symbolic celebration of the beginning of this new part of our life. Having given up drinking four years ago, I was looking for a good alternative to champagne. This is not easy. Nothing screams celebration quite as loudly as champagne.

So I went into the grocery store and bought a cake. While Mike was upstairs putting Parker to bed in the Toddler Suite, I put a single candle in that small grocery store cake and lit it. When he came downstairs, I made a speech. A typical Bridgette speech which included tearful pauses and a couple hiccups. But, basically, I said this: “Thank you for letting me “pick” this new house. Thank you for being my partner on this adventure. And thank you for eating cake instead of drinking champagne.”

We have already switched to the vocabulary of “the new house” and “the old house.” The kids are ready to say goodbye. Parker thinks a bigger house and a big yard means he will get a trampoline (which might be true) and I keep looking at rescue dogs that will make a good family pet online.

Going through this whole thing has helped me learn a very grown up lesson. While you are planning, scheming, picking out your next home project and narrowing your eyes at that one part of your home that drives you nuts, a life emerges. A life that fills the rooms, fills the hearts and fills the memories of the people you have taken this journey with. A journey that I feel lucky to continue in our new home.

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