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.

Guest Post: 10 Steps to Driving Your Mother Absolutely and Totally Bonkers

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This list is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication and spirit to be this infuriating. But, in 10 easy steps, you can watch your mother have a thirty three year old version of a temper tantrum that is truly entertaining.

1. Saying “I’m thirsty” 127 times in a row. Before 7am. When I know she hasn’t even made coffee yet.

2. Planting my elbow/shoulder/knee somewhere- anywhere on her body so she yelps in pain.

3. Slowly. Doing. Anything. Especially when “someone” is in a bit of a rush.

4. Insisting on redoing something that really is ridiculous but playing like if you aren’t allowed to redo in, you might start foaming at the mouth.

5. Calling her back into my bedroom not once but about seven times by saying,”I just want to tell you something.” Stretches out pre-bedtime unnecessarily. One of my favorite hobbies.

6. Repeating the word she said in a hushed whisper under her breath and shouting it. “GOD DAMMIT!” That will teach her.

7. Effectively repeating Mommy so many times that she locks herself in the bathroom and said she needs “privacy” (aka Oreos).

8. Learning the way around her pathological lying. When she says the donut place “doesn’t have donuts today,” I like to make statements that will really just make her feel super guilty. “I wonder if the children in that car got the last donuts?” Do you like your coffee served with a side of lifelong resentment, Mom? I thought so.

9. Realizing that we FORGOT to do the one thing we SAID we would do at the beach/mall/playground/museum/ pool and have a nuclear meltdown. It really helps seal the deal when she gets all “I’m an amazing Mom” at the end of an outing.

10. Dumping out a bin of toys. And then promptly leaving the room and not playing with one of said toys. Not. Even. One.

If you have any questions, or need help in driving your mother bonkers, just message me here. Mom is pretty good about passing along my messages.

Gallagher Kids 001: Manners and Rascal Flatts

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Shortcut Girl has a new feature, The Gallagher kids! Here’s their very first interview where they give you some examples of good manners and even sing a little diddy.

These interviews were something I did on a whim to entertain my children, and viola! A new blog idea!

I’m working on learning Vine too. Just started a Vine account and learning the tricks.

Enjoy!

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.

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!!