The Dog Days of Summer: A Pep Talk for Parents

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So, you’ve exhausted your summer bag of tricks. You’ve tried 7 different parenting methods/ incentive strategies, you’ve guiltily googled several disorders you think you or your toddler may suffer from and you’ve had it. Like. Had. It.

Every morning I nuzzle each one of them so tightly but still somehow every day, I am counting down the minutes until nap time. So I can sit. And think. In quiet.

Some days Parker has negotiated his way through everything short of putting on his underwear. And has done it with such guile that I just want to wave a white flag and retire upstairs. For a long nap.

There are conversations you can only have 75 times before you start to feel crazy. And the conversation about how he wants to know which play doh ball was “his” on the table full of play-doh toys, that’s one you can only have once before you just turn into a puddle of squishy play-doh yourself.

So you bribe.

And you overuse the IPad, Kids on Demand and your DVD collection.

But you are doing it in the name of your own sanity, right?

In between convincing myself that I am doing penance for every time I ever stuck my tongue out at my mother and convincing myself that I am really just a great Mom trapped in a grouchy Mom’s body. I think this:

In three weeks, I will tearfully be bidding goodbye to another July and August with my little people. The new habits and words they have developed (Celia calls her blanket her “gippey”– no idea why) will become old news and we will all get caught up in the blur of life that is back to school.

And I will kick myself. For being so negative and for feeling so frustrated.

So, in prevention of that receiving that kick from myself, I give you this:

Watch them.
Splash in puddles with them.
Follow their gaze.
Listen to their laughter in the other room.
Sing songs together.
Put down your phone.
Read one more book.
Let them sleep with you.
Give them one more cookie or Popsicle or cupcake or hug.
And tell them what a special summer it’s been.

Because soon, you’ll wish you had it all back.

17 More Reasons My Toddler is Losing His/Her Mind

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1. There’s a balloon. In a store. And he doesn’t own it.

2. Tomatoes aren’t apples and she keeps biting into them expecting them to be.

3. I have showed him a dip in the vicinity of where he is consuming his chips and HE DOESN’T LIKE DIP!

4. There’s a black speck on his grilled cheese. Suddenly the sandwich “doesn’t taste such good.”

5. I have bought a new toy in his and hers colors and neither are a color he likes.(She, however, likes them both).

6. I’m making him/her brush his/her teeth more than twice a week.

7. I won’t let him bring 14 different stuffed animals into the grocery store.

8. I cannot make a show that he wants to watch come on the TV in the 3 seconds after I turn on the TV.

9. I’ve asked him not to wake me up at 5 am all summer long.

10. I won’t let him chase ducks and seagulls at the beach for fear of my children being pecked into submission.

11. I’ve asked her not to play with sand toys and eat goldfish at the same time.

12. Someone called his “circle toast” an English muffin.

13. Her gogurt is “broken.” (Read: she doesn’t know how to push up the yogurt yet.)

14. I’ve asked to use shampoo in his hair in the bath. He screams “My eyes! My eyes!” before I even squirt it on my hand.

15. I’ve told him he’s not the boss of me.

16. I didn’t pack a cold refreshing beverage to hand to him/her as soon as the car starts moving on a ten minute drive.

17. He or she is hot/cold/itchy/sweaty/ and/or has an invisible boo boo.

A Legacy of Words: Talking to [and About] Your Children

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Words are our legacy. No matter who you are, people will remember you by the things you have said. I am reading a novel right now—Looking for Alaska by John Green. The main character has memorized the last words of famous people. If words had no import, no one would take the time to catalog what people’s last words were. If words were fleeting things, no one would be able to recall exactly the insult you gave them on the exact date as an adolescent.

Words stick to us. They stay with us. They can live inside us happily or unhappily. Sometimes they make monsters of us. On occasion, they make us better people. But overall, words are a powerful, powerful legacy. And we need to handle them gingerly and use them with great care.

I’ve written about the impact words can have before. And, I’ve written about having a daughter before. But now that my own daughter is actually using words, I am thinking more and more and more about the words I use around her.

This all started when I came across the image below. Since I had always secretly hated calling little girls (or grown women) princesses, I was in full agreement with this one. Little girls need to be told they are strong, capable, bright and well, awesome. But don’t we all?

princess clip art

(Answer: yes. But take a minute to think. What do you remember more vividly—the last time you were complimented on your appearance or the last time you were complimented on your abilities? If your answer is the latter, then you are in great shape. And chances are, your parents used words that complimented your actions more than your appearance.)

Me, not so much.

My mother sang a song to me when I was a baby. “Bridgette Holmes, my Bridgette Holmes, pretty pretty Bridgette Holmes.” And still, I think about that song with ballooning nostalgia. The way my mother sang, the sweetness of the made-up song just for me—and the message. I was pretty.

Having suffered through a chubby phase and your basic, run of the mill teasing when I was in sixth grade, I could not help but be focused on the messages I received about my appearance. I have never, until now, linked the feelings I had about myself to the words that were used around me. I noticed the ways that I was different from my peers. But, the slippery slope came when you realized adults noticed it too.

But before I make the blanket statement that my sweet little mother messed me up by calling me pretty, let me tell you a story about her childhood. A childhood that was not full of roses, devoid of praise and bereft of any really attachment as a family. My mother was left at age four by her mother. I can’t imagine what it would be like knowing your mother left you and then learning to get along without her. My mother was shy, quiet and was very aware of the labels that were passed out in her family. My aunt was the funny one, my uncle was the smart one and she was the hard worker. She vividly remembers overhearing her father say what a hard worker she was and she has carried this with her through her entire life. At 71, my mother works 40 hours a week and maintains a 3 bedroom house, yard and pool all on her own. Anyone that knows her would say that she is one of the hardest working people they know.

If I asked my mother what her parents thought of her, this is what she would say. And while it is indeed positive and motivated her to do good things, think about what other words my grandparents could have used that could have impacted her even more. The legacy of those words could have led her somewhere completely different. Words are just that powerful.

So, when I started snapping pictures of Celia on Instagram and wanted to give her her own original hashtag (the true demonstration of Mommy vanity), I chose #prettycelia— for obvious reasons. I mean, my little Celia, is, well, so adorable!

And then this article threw me for a loop. Do I say pretty too often when talking about her hair, her clothes, her eyes, her painted nails? Have I already begun to define her thoughts of herself?

And this isn’t a girl-centric thing, in my opinion. Parker recently informed me that he was handsome, not cute and Celia was pretty. He said boys are handsome and girls are pretty. He frequently describes things as beautiful—our Christmas tree, horses, his aunt’s newly painted house. At three, he already clearly understands what beauty is . While it should be something simple every child learns, it makes me wonder—have I already said too much about the way things and people look around him? Have I described his sister as pretty, his father as handsome instead of emphasizing the other fantastic qualities that we have?

And this is not unlike when I wrote about Parker playing soccer. In reading this article, I saw that the way we talk about what they do is almost as important as being there and seeing it. Our response to them is so often communicated strictly with the words we choose. No pressure Moms and Dads.

This brought me back to the first piece of parenting advice I remember reading when Parker was just a baby. “Praise the action, not the child.” Instead of, “you’re so smart” you say, “wow, you know a lot of facts about animals.” Instead of, “you are a good boy” you say, “you really had good behavior all day.” And, although this article didn’t state this, I would expect that instead of saying, “You’re so pretty,” you might opt for, “I love the way you look in that blue dress.”

But for a Mom like me, who looks for positive reinforcement all too often in my marriage, parenting and career, this is a difficult shift to make.

So that leads me to this. As parents, we are the first people to both intentionally and unintentionally label our children. We all can recount the titles we were given in our families, in our peer groups or even in the workplace. If these labels are positive, we tend to rise to the occasion and make sure we fulfill expectations. This can be a good kind of pressure in some cases. However, sometimes it can really go awry. Fulfilling the label of smart, pretty, thin or funny might work well for some people— but over the course of your life might ignite unnecessary pressure. After all, these are words that become labels. Labels that are hard to always live up to. Labels that are hard to remove at will. Labels that could, in many cases, limit the children we give them to.

So, in talking to children, I am making a conscious effort to do the following: praise them on their actions, the words they choose and the behavior I see. Or, rather, stifle the need to praise them at all. Ask them about their day, their favorite color, their favorite super hero. Engage them. Learn from them. Listen to them. They have a lot to talk about. We have a lot of listening we need to do.

As adults, we know that if someone stood there and said how beautiful or brilliant or physically fit we were upon meeting us, it would seem a little awkward and shallow (but I would enjoy it, okay, I’ll admit it:). With children, it should be no different. Your words should neither define nor demand a certain quality of a child—be it beauty, intelligence or even just “good”-ness. Your real feeling about them should be communicated in how you react to what they think about themselves. Because what they think about themselves should be born inside them and should never be hinged on the words that come out of our mouths.

20 Reasons My Toddler is Losing His or Her Mind

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Okay, so I totally stole this from these Daddy blogs here and here. But, as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The summer schedule has been great. The lazy mornings, the sandy feet naps and sunscreen greased pigtails. Popsicles, ice cream cones and S’mores. My kids are having the best summer ever and I think some of the credit goes to their dear old Mom here. After all, if I still am able to organize craft and story time after seeing each of them, on a daily basis, lose their mind over various not-really-apocalyptic events, I think I deserve a great, big, sparkly gold star. And a hot bath. And a pedicure.

Reasons my Toddler is Losing His or Her Mind.

1. I have mentioned that hot dogs are for dinner and he does not eat hot dogs, he only eats hot dog buns.

2. He’s NOT TIRED and I have implied, said, thought, or looked at him in a way that has indicated that I think that he could possibly be— tired.

3. I’ve asked her not to take her diaper off after she poops.

4. I did not “catch the bubbles” that he blew over my head.

5. I would not let her bring her wet towel to bed with her.

6. He pushed his straw into his juice box and can’t get it out.

7. His sister ate the breakfast that he didn’t want that has been sitting at the table for the past two hours.

8. I am not able to pick up the toy he dropped and know exactly where it is on the floor while I am driving the car.

9. The restaurant we went to “just ran out” of chocolate milk.

10. I am not able to dice up his waffle 3.4 seconds after putting it onto the plate in front of him.

11. I did not let her hold the entire bag of chips as she took a bite of each chip and put it back.

12. I got sunscreen in his mouth when he shook his head while I was applying it.

13. I’ve mentioned a word that rhymes with, has the same connotation as or somehow implies the word “nap.”

14. I won’t let him bring the Ipad in the shower.

15. I am trying to put pigtails in her hair.

16. I keep switching her shoes from the wrong feet to the right feet.

17. I won’t let her put on a hooded sweatshirt on a 98 degree day.

18. I won’t let her play with Windex.

19. I’ve mentioned the word “banana” and HE DOESN’T LIKE BANANAS!

20. I’ve asked if maybe he would like anything other than a butter sandwich on the beach.

 

If you have any reasons YOUR toddler is losing his or her mind, feel free to comment below!

 

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Perennial Mayhem: The Move to the Lake

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Each summer, in a blend of pure temporary insanity, a Rosie the Riveter-esque attitude, a love for adventure and “there’s got to be some perks about having an old house” justification, I ask my husband, “we’re going to rent our house this year again, right?

You see, my family never really vacationed growing up. Sure I was taken as a tag along on my Dad’s business trips to Washington, DC and Reno, Nevada– but picturesque family vacay? Didn’t really happen.

Instead, I was an amazing companion to my friends on their family vacations and loved going to my aunt’s camp on the Susquehanna River. That’s where I first fell in love with the camp life.

So, every summer since Parker was born, we pack up our entire house into two cars, make two trips, one hour each way– and settle into a local lake for 6-8 weeks.

Being teachers and living in a touristy town– this is a no brainer. The horse racing season is about six weeks bringing many vacationers and workers to the town. Free vacation and all you have to do is—- move out of your house. For six weeks. With two children. Easy, right?

Notsomuch.

Parker was just a little squirt of a person when we first did it. Six months old. We were all “we just bought a boat and we are a big deal– see? Kids don’t slow us down!”

Some of the best memories of my life have been spent on this lake. Already my children have memories of lazy summer afternoons spent here, amidst all the stunning beauty of the Adirondacks.

Plus I am instilling the very important qualities of learning to be a hobo in my children. They see that we can, in fact, live out of just our belongings in our car. We can learn to sleep, eat and play in another person’s home. We can learn to slow down and get out of the rat race completely.

But living the hobo life is not for the faint of heart. I had a bag of shoes in my car for a week straight as we changed residences.

“But Mommy, I’m not wearing any shoes.”

“It’s fine, I have more in the car.”

“But Mommy, I need a snack.”

“That’s fine, groceries are on the car too.”

“Mommy, why do we keep shoes and good in the car?”

[This is where I give a blank state because it’s a completely valid question:)]

And, to add crazy to crazy, this year my husband was working on the west coast while I made the move. Was it hard? Yes? Was it exhausting? Extremely. Was is totally and completely worth it times ten? You betcha.

But as I type this, I sit in a semi-unpacked camp with two water logged children napping upstairs and think, no matter how hard and frustrating and tired I am, there’s truly no place I’d rather be.

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Cooking and Other Things I’m Mediocre At Doing

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Okay, I’m only mediocre at one thing, to start off. But the title was too catchy not to use. If you want to me to make up some other things I am mediocre at I can: I am mediocre at cage fighting, bull riding and clipping m children’s toenails. Everything else I’m pretty awesome or pretty awful at.

Here at Shortcut Girl, well, we take shortcuts. So that sometimes means that to get dinner on the table, there’s often more “heating” than there is “cooking.” I lack creativity and planning skills necessary to plan a menu for an entire week and oftentimes when I tell my husband what my planned meal is, I get the, “maybe I better just have a hot dog” kind of look.

I’m a mediocre cook, at best.

And it’s taken me a long time to say this out loud. But I am just not all that interested in being in the kitchen. Now, if I had the biggest, brightest kitchen ever, I might become a Barefoot-Sandra-Lee- Contessa on speed, but until then, it’s just something I do in short, (very short) spurts. You see, Shortcut Girl is a girl who has a sort of project ADD. If it doesn’t happen in about 45 minutes or less, I ain’t doing it. So there.

This has been a struggle for me to admit to myself, I guess, because my Mom is like the best cook ever. She will make tupperwares upon tupperwares of food to give away to neighbors. She cooks for an army no matter what the crowd. She is amazed by my shortcuts sometimes but also emanates the sentiment of, “why not just do it from scratch?”

Because, Mom. Just because.

But, even so, I am here to give good, bad and mediocre cooks like me some good recipes for your summer gatherings. Some I blogged last summer, some are new. But all of the recipes below are crowd tested and approved. So enjoy!

Potato Salad with Capers
Curry Chicken Salad
Bread Dip
Pesto Pasta Salad
Blueberry Dump Cake
Fruit pizza

Firecracker cookies

1 package French vanilla cake mix
1 cup sprinkles, any color
½ Vegetable oil
2 eggs

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Ambrosia salad

1 can of crushed pineapple
1 container mini marshmallows
1 container Cool Whip
1 package pistachio pudding mix

Mix all together. Chill and serve.

Enjoy being the hit of the party– and not mediocre at all!!

An Open Letter to My Daughter: Having Girlfriends

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“There is just no comparison between having a dinner date with a man and staying home playing canasta with the girls.”
― Marilyn Monroe

Hi Celia. It’s me, Mom. I just thought I’d write a letter here to let you know how you already amaze me. Your spirit precedes you. You are sweet, you are brave, you are strong— and you are not at all what I expected you would be.

I have written about this all before, but now, more than ever I am seeing how having a daughter is changing me as a woman.

You see, I was a little girl once. And I was pretty good at it. I mean I had a Barbie townhouse, a Smurf Walkman and twin cabbage patch kids. I mean, as far as being a little girl goes, I nailed it.

But, compared to you, I was totally lame. You are so much cooler already- and you have moxie to beat the band.

But today I am not here to talk about all that. Today I want to talk to you about one of the most important relationships you will have. While your relationship with me, Dad and your brother are important, I think there is another one that will need your attention– your whole life.

I’m talking about girlfriends.

This past weekend I spent a luxurious three nights with a friend of 13 years. Michelle and I met one summer waiting tables. When I think of becoming friends with her now, it was effortless, organic. This past weekend, we had a wonderful time telling old stories, having laughs, soaking up the sun and just enjoying each other. The most important thing this weekend reminded me of was what it was like to be a girlfriend–and only a girlfriend. Before I had to juggle the titles of wife, mother, job, etc., I was just someone’s best girlfriend. And I was struck by the notion that being a girlfriend– at all stages of life— should remain a priority for all women.

My first best friend (circa 1985), Kerri Clancy, lived just around the corner from me. She was the one I had my first sleepovers with, my first pool parties, my first dance performances in my driveway. It was with her that I shared my first crushes, my first fears. I have such wonderful memories of my early girlhood with her.

And then my heart broke.

In fifth grade, Kerri moved.This is a very difficult change for a fifth grader to get over. Not having her in arm’s reach was catastrophic.

But I do think it was the evolution of that first friendship that taught me how vital genuine friendships are for girls. When Kerri left, I knew I had to make new friends. And in that experience I saw that making friends is an ongoing experience in your life.

I have had many friendships over the years and they all have provided me with such unique things– some are silly, some are very emotional, some are: “are we the same person?” Each woman I bond with as a friend brings something special to my life. So, today I bring you some good rules to follow in being–and in having—girlfriends.

1. Give her your time. Friendships evolve from the time you spend together. When that time gets sparse (i.e. babies are sucking up all your energy and you can’t remember the last time you wore heels), the friendship does not always have room to grow. Give your friendships the attention and time you give your bills, your big meeting at work or even your husband! Cultivating friendships helps you remember why you are friends to begin with. It’s important to stay in touch with that- no matter how busy you are.

2. Have friends of all ages. This won’t work really until you are into your twenties but it’s important to have women you love who are younger and older. You will have many friends who are the same age as you, but friends who don’t share the same life experiences at the same time offer both wisdom and perspective. Just like having a younger or older sister is good for any girl— the same goes for girlfriends.

3. Be silly. Laughter remains the best medicine for all of life’s ups and downs. If you remember the part of Sex in the City where Charlotte has an inconvenient shart in Mexico, you know this: Girlfriends need to be there #1 for support and #2 to laugh our asses off at each other.

4. Tell her what she means to you. It can be truly fortifying for a friendship to put into words what she means to you. Any friend who has sent you the “Thinking of you XO” text or I happen to be a card person but it could really be anything- a card, a text, a phone call. I’m infamous for the rambling voice mail message. It’s tried and true.

So Celia, be ready. You, with that spunk and flair are sure to have some friends who will support, strengthen, challenge and change you. And those relationships will carry you through your entire life.

Enjoy them.

Love,
Mom

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