Gallagher Kids 003: Growing up and Michael Franti

Parker rarely is seen without his specs. But you can see in this video he looks almost like a different kid!

This video was taken on one of the sick days I spent with Parker at home the past two weeks. Celia missed out on this video. Enjoy!

Sweet, Innocent Summer

20130901-212204.jpg

You can’t help having a pit in your stomach at the end of summer. The arrival of Labor Day reminds you of all the things you didn’t do that you wanted to, the people you didn’t get to visit with and the things you just couldn’t pack in–in time.

One summer of my childhood memory, my family was coming home from a rare trip out to dinner. There was a band playing at the park in my hometown. At some point, the band initiated a dance contest. I danced my little girl heart out hoping for first prize. It was a couples contest so my Dad was my partner. Slowly, couples were eliminated all around us. Then, much to my little girl expectations–we WON!

Is it my fondest memory of summer? Probably. It’s now a blur in my mind but I will always know for certain that one summer my Dad and I danced in Johnson park together and won a dance contest. It was pure. It was peaceful. It was innocent. It was summer.

Looking at my own children at the end of each summer unloads this same type of sappy overwhelming nostalgia. As parents, summers become emotional threads by which you hold onto your children. You tug gently on them, to pull them close, to take a mental snapshot, to keep them as the little people they are this summer.

But you also bear the burden of being the to ringmaster of their summer circus. You want the memories they have to fit the very carefully composed painting you have of the-perfect-summer-you-want-them-to-have.

My days this summer were filled with sandy feet, snarly hair, sticky fingers and sunscreened cheeks. I watched them wade in the lake, bury each other in the sand, suck on purple popsicles and race each other all over the beach. I saw, in them, what summer truly is: sweet; fleeting; precious.

You hope for their memories to be as sweet as your own. The hunt for “beautiful rocks” to add to our rock collection, the way you danced with them to “Wagon Wheel” with the Friday Night band. You want them to have your own memories and be able to say, “I had such great summers when I was a kid.”

But your memories, over time, will become their memories too. I will be able to tell Parker ten times over about the time he posed with the Asian family for a photo at Central Park Zoo. I will be able to tell Celia how she at two years old would putter around the shops with me and her grandmother, as if she were just another girl on the shopping trip, checking things out. I will tell them about our summer bucket list, our long car rides and even the struggles I had with them as a parent.

So, my sweet Parker and Celia, this is what I hope for you:

That you appreciate a refreshing swim in the lake, a stunning Adirondack view, a good hot dog with ketchup. That you carry the zest for playing– everything in your life and never grow tired of games of any kind. That you cherish quiet, long, pajama mornings as much as you love loud, boisterous family gatherings.

But mostly, I hope this summer and every summer you have is pure, peaceful and innocent. Just like that girl dancing in the village park.

20130901-212140.jpg

20130902-085920.jpg

17 More Reasons My Toddler is Losing His/Her Mind

20130729-065804.jpg

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

20130725-150743.jpg

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.

An Open Letter to My Daughter: Having Girlfriends

20130703-003823.jpg

“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

20130703-003743.jpg

10 Blog Posts You Wish I Wrote

20130601-071910.jpg

Lately life has been crazy– work, kids, home, all of it. Blogging has somehow made it to the back burner which only makes me feel itchy and incomplete. My blog usually centers me and gives me a great sense of purpose and drive. It’s always really meditative and stress relieving. So, now that I think of it, maybe my reasons for not blogging are exactly why I should be blogging. Note to self. Blog. No excuses.

Today I bring you the 10 blog posts I should have written over the past two weeks. Some of them I still might write, beware. If there’s one you really are dying to hear, comment and let me know!

1. Living with Nakedness: Sure Signs Your Child is a Future Nudist. In this brave post, I will chronicle Celia’s latest taking off her diaper phase. It’s really adorable. Well, except for the poopy ones.

2. The Best Day of My Life: The Day I Figured out My Husband Dances Like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction Yes, it’s true. I’m not bragging, it’s just a great little caveat of my marriage that I only recently discovered. I will rent out said dancing husband for weddings and parties. A fee will apply.

3. Becoming a Chocolate Bunny: My Self Tanner Story In case you are wondering, you can scrub off the streaks if you don’t mind a little redness after:)

4. My One Year old Can Put on Her Shoes but My Three Year Old Can’t: Stories of Shaming Parker. This one is self-explanatory.

5. Water Sprinklers: Entertainment for Hours and You Just Get to Sit There It’s been a long week. That’s all I got.

6. Finding Doris. My story of finding out my husband’s hairdresser “Doris” was not the 60 year old woman I thought she was. She is younger, much younger. And pretty. No one dies a Dateline-esque death in this post, I promise.

7. Praise Jesus, She Finally Watches TV and Other Happy Milestones in Celia’s Toddlerhood.

8. How Many Times a Week is Too Many to Have Dino Nuggets for Dinner? The answer is somewhere between 4 and 7. But certainly not less then 4.

9. Pedicures Are the Only Me Time You Can Get. So it’s time to work them into the monthly budget. Start with 2 per month and go up as needed from there:)

10. “Stop Bothering Me!” When You Deal With Teenagers at Work and Toddlers at Home. Dear Lord.

I promise I won’t ever take so long of a break again. Missed you guys!

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

20130507-141139.jpg

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.