If We Are Lucky: Another Post About My Mom

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Emily and I circa 1995

“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

– Elizabeth Stone

 

Recently, I went to pluck my four year old sweet boy out of bed. Upon entering his room, I heard the sweetest words that have ever been spoken.

“Mom, I’m pretty lucky to have you as a Mommy, right?”

Now, please. Don’t take this as a pat on my own back. Indeed I would like to think my children feel fortunate to have me as a mother. But, for some reason, as soon as I heard those words, I thought this.

I’ve taught him what being fortunate is. I’ve taught him that not everyone has the same people and things. I’ve taught him that the people in your life that you love need to be told. More than we remember to tell them.

I have been hugging my little people closer and cuddling with them longer ever since my oldest niece, Emily, went to study abroad in Australia. As proud and as excited I felt myself being for her, I had an outpouring of sympathy for my sister in letting her go.

My sister and I both studied abroad in college and remember well how we needed to get away, soak up the experience, the culture and the people. She went to Vienna, I went to London. Our trips abroad were a decade apart but had the same function.  Independence. Adventure. Freedom.

Then why did I find myself feeling so scared, so nervous, so sad about my niece going off to Australia? Why did I find myself crying to this song during naptime the day she left? Why did I feel so gosh darn sentimental about finding the picture at the head of this post recently?

Because now I am a Mom. And now a trip abroad is much, much more than just a rite of passage in college. It means that my sister’s heart will be walking on the outside of her body for a stint of six months— on another continent.

When I exchanged texts with my sister about how emotional she was that day, I commented, in jest: “At some point or another, we all turn into Mom.” The subtext was: Mom cried at everything, Mom had trouble letting us go. Mom was always so sappy about leaving us.

But it’s her quick response back that I will always remember (and what even brings tears to my eyes right now).

“If we are lucky.”

And that’s it, right? This blog has been nothing if not one large apology to my mother. Through my own experiences with my children, I have seen that my mother is the sole reason I am able to be the sweet, loving, encouraging person I am. She is the person behind those words that Parker said a couple mornings ago. He is lucky to have me because I was so lucky to have her.

Eventually, I want to write a book about my Mom, so I won’t give you any spoilers but one thing that has always amazed me about her is that her own mother left her when she was just four years old. Meaning, essentially, that everything she did with us and for us was—- winging it. She did not have her own model, her own blueprint of the person she has turned into. She was the mother she wanted to be possibly because she knew what she might have wanted as a child.

And upon realizing this, I have become the most weepy of Mommies lately. Whether it’s the new book I’m reading (which is introduced in a video here) or the fact that I have not seen my mother in much too long (since Christmas). Or just the idea that eventually my little girl will take off on her own adventure to a far away land and I will be on the phone to my sister about it, reliving this feeling.

If we are lucky, we have families (not just mothers or sisters or children) that hold us tight and help us remember who we are and where we came from. If we are lucky, we can joke about the faults (or peccadilloes, we’ll call them) of our mothers as fluidly as we joke about the faults of our friends. If we are lucky, we have a friend or a sister or a mother to call when we fill out Kindergarten paperwork, or college applications or passport paperwork to say, “Can you believe it’s already time for this?” If we are lucky, we have photos and cards and stories and videos that remind us again and again that we are lucky, we are rich and we are blessed to have people to share the crazy experience that has never been better described as your heart walking outside of your body.

 

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I Still Can’t Believe That You’re Mine: Happy Birthday Celia

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I Still Can’t Believe You’re Mine

Today, Celia “sweetie baby” Gallagher is two.

And I am still in awe that only two years ago, she was given to me.

Carrying a child and not knowing the gender is the best thing in the world. I never wanted it any other way so I enjoyed the surprise to its fullest. Twice.

But few events changed my life more than the day my husband said, “It’s a boy! I mean, it’s a girl!” (Her umbilical cord was between her legs).

I have said this all before. And it’s still true. But, the wonder that I have when I look at my daughter still sometimes throws me for a loop.

She will be someone’s best friend someday, someone’s shoulder to cry on, someone’s voice of reason, someone’s reminder to laugh at their self. Someone’s wife. Someone’s mother.

She will be a voice I look forward to hearing in the telephone, a young woman I will look forward to chatting with over lunch and shopping.

She will be me and not me in all the ways (I hope) I would want her to be. She will be stronger than I ever could be, brighter in spirit and intelligence than I ever thought of being and rock solid in her determination and will.

She will be beautiful and it will only be complemented by her beautiful blue eyes. Her beauty will come out in the crinkle of her smile, the love in her voice, her sharp wit, her warm nature, her contagious laugh.

And when I see this all in her– I can already predict that even then, I still won’t believe she is mine. I will still be full of awe, wonder and pure humility in seeing my daughter grow before me.

Happy Birthday, baby girl. Thank you for making me a better Mommy.

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.

Guest Post from Parker: Buck up, Mom. It’s Summer.

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Dear Mom,

I’ve tried to give you a preview of what’s in store for summer, but you still seem to be in denial. This summer, you need to bring your A game. Turn off the Real Housewives, put down that book that you’ve been waiting all year to read. It’s summer. And that means you give ME your full attention. Here’s some tips of how to really make it a great summer all around for me…okay, and Celia too.

Seven Ways to Have a Great Summer with Parker Gallagher

1. Be liberal with the sweet treats. Summer is about eating ice cream and S’mores until you are nauseous. Don’t be a buzz kill and enforce any “one sweet” rules. Don’t think I don’t see the little Oreo binge you have going on when you hide in the pantry. You’re not kidding anyone.

2. Screen Time Unlimited. Let’s just pretend it means you’re a better parent the MORE TV your kid watches. Because debating show/movie/IPad games with you is really exhausting. And, just wondering, when can I have my own Netflix account?

3. Nix the Naps. I will be 4 in December. I think it’s time to face facts. You need a nap more than I do. You are the adult here, Bridge. It’s time to have an extra cup of coffee and just let me play away the afternoon. My summer memories shouldn’t include the pitiful sadness I feel when when you sequester me to my room. It’s such a sad detail for the memoir I will someday write about my childhood.

4. P.S. I know you are not working. You’re a teacher. You have the summer off. Like two whole months. And I know you send me to preschool on some of those days. How do you sleep at night?

5. Negotiations. You really need to ratchet up your negotiation techniques for summer. You are too easily annoyed these days. I’m three and a half, it’s like my job not to take no for an answer.

6. Pajamas. They should be worn all day every day.

7. Sweetie Baby. Lets make a deal, I’ll play with the little sister and give you ten minutes of peace a day if you can maybe get her to stop biting me and putting on my shoes. That would be great, thanks.

Love,
Your Favorite Redhead
Parker

Reasons I Will Not Sell My Daughter to the Gypsies (Today)

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Reasons I Will Not Sell My Daughter to the Gypsies (Today)

1. I would miss her sweet little voice saying “No, no, noooooo!” when I ask her to give me a kiss while we are cuddling in bed in the morning.

2. She’s not potty trained. That would be a bummer for gypsies to steal diapers from other Moms. That ain’t right.

3. She probably didn’t mean to bite me on our bike ride today.

4. I don’t want Parker to be an only child. Read: I’m not having any more kids- no way, no how.

5. She looks cute when she’s sleeping. She makes you forget that you had to basically body check her into her car seat on three occasions that day.

6. She will probably remember her Dad and miss him when she is living the gypsy life.

7. In keeping her, 50% of my children will actually eat dinner each night. Without her, 0% of them will. Numbers don’t lie.

8. She will probably grow out of the nose picking phase.

9. My Mom said I had it coming. Time to pay the piper.

10. Who will I paint my toenails with?

Oh, okay. I’ll keep her. But, in case you are wondering, I am not the only one who considered this avenue in parenting. I don’t have to post on anonymous message boards though– I’ll come right out and say it!

If you have any gypsy/ children stories, please share. Especially if you actually sold your kids and then wanted them back, I’m sure it happens all the time.

When It’s Clear You’ve Lost Control: 5 Follies of Motherhood

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There’s no question I have very vulnerably relayed to you my faults as a parent. There’s screen time, leaving the window down in the car wash, losing my patience and, well, just good old fashioned, “You’re driving me CRAZY!” But this week, I have noticed that I have clearly lost all control and it might be time for an intervention.

You see, I’m a control girl. Although I would like to be perceived as carefree and so flexible. I enjoy control. I organize dinners, happy hours and parties for friends. I like to rally the troops for someone’s birthday or special occasion. Control I do well. It suits me. I am organized, systematic and have a list to tick off (in color coordinated check boxes) in every single area of my life.

Well, until Motherhood.

Example #1: Day care provider greets me outside the door of day care when I go for pick up. Little angel girl spent a good part of her nap playing with her poop. While this is gross, I am slightly relieved that it happened at day care (Sorry, Heather) and make mental notes to a) buy a video monitor and b) ease up on the fruit I feed the little one.

Example #2: While Slap Fest Part 13 is going on in the backseat and I am trying to listen to a podcast while driving, Parker said to Celia, “Celia, I’m going to tell [the babysitter] about your behavior.” As if his mother was not even there, driving. Hey kid, what about the adult that was IN THE CAR WITH YOU when you did that? Aren’t you worried about her wrath? (Answer: No)

Example #3: Yesterday, we took a snack from Child A just to make Child B stop crying for the snack. Even when Child A cried, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Child B’s whiney and ever so dramatic blubbering. We realize we will not be asked to be on the cover of Parents anytime soon. But, well, you would have done the same thing!

Example #4: After a million battles of wills for three days straight, I use my amazing Mommy Skillz to create a New and Improved Behavior Chart. In this chart, Parker will get a sticker every time he does something the FIRST time I ask. We role played me asking and him doing and he seemed to get it and was overall more agreeable. This morning, when I got him out of bed, he was acting ever so cooperative. I assured him that this behavior would guarantee him a sticker. Then, he asked me for milk. I conceded and said I would get it for him when I got downstairs. This statement followed, “Mommy, you are being so good getting me my milk that I will give you a sticker too for your good behavior. “ My kid just created a behavior chart so that I will get things for him the first time he asks. It will forever be a question who is raising who in this family.

Example #5: When I told Parker he could not watch a movie on the Ipad but he could play a game he said, “I will just trick you and watch a movie instead.” The Ipad has been hidden until further notice. At a later date, it may be valuable to teach him that you shouldn’t tell someone you are tricking them when you are tricking them.

So, when you think you are having the worst parenting day ever and cannot even muster up another ounce of energy to deal with the uber tactical negotiation techniques of your little person, just think of how I have clearly lost control of mine and that should make you feel a.) not so bad and b.) sorry for me.

Shortcut Girl: Your Favorite Posts

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The original logo, made by me just a year ago:)

For the next week or so, I will be posting once a day to celebrate the one year birthday of Shortcut Girl. I have been so lucky to have found a “home” in the blogging world. I’m so happy that I have some dedicated readers and people who will stop me in the hallway at work to talk about my latest post. It’s become my secret (or not so secret) identity and has really helped me see what my real passion is. Writing pieces that connect people. And so, here’s a top ten list of you favorite posts (in no particular order). FYI: I know they are your favorites because of the number of shares, comments and views I have of particular posts. And it’s not like I obsess about it or anything, if you are wondering:)

1. Judgy Mom-ness and Other Jewels of Parenthood

2. Full Disclosure: My Life on Facebook, Kind of a Lie

3. I Want My Mommy: Not Entirely a Post about Motherhood

4. Why I’ll Never Be Mrs. America: Another One of Those Posts About Body Image

5. Yoga for The Mind: 5 Things

6. Sticks and Stones

7. Mornings with Mike

8. Finding the Light

9. Resolve to Keep Happy

10. That’s My Girl: How Parenting Changed When I Had a Daughter

I have not included your favorite posts from Parker in this list. He will have his recognition on another day:)