Happy Birthday Dad: Thoughts on Daughterhood and Regret

20130421-105809.jpg

Today is my Dad’s birthday. It would have been his 69th. I lost my Dad in 2009. He died of lung cancer and I never got to say goodbye to him. And the reason I never got to say goodbye to him was because we were estranged at the time.

It is painful to write these words but my hope is that it will help someone else who might be experiencing some distance with a family member. There are things that keep us from friends and family and to us, they are really, really important at the time. However, with time, distance and a little bit of reflection added in– only one thing is evident: you lost time and now you can’t get that time back.

I was married in 2008. My brother gave me away instead of my Dad. This decision was not a painful or difficult one for me. It made sense at the time. Now, however, when I look at my wedding pictures, I get chills in seeing what is missing. A proud father seeing his little girl get married. A father daughter dance. My Dad shaking Mike’s hand.

In April of the year he died (on his birthday, maybe?), I sent him an email with a link to our wedding pictures. I wished him well and told him I loved him. I said I was sorry that I didn’t have him at the wedding.

I don’t know if he ever got the email. On Labor Day that September, seven months pregnant with Parker, I got a call from my cousin that my Dad had passed away.

If you have read this far, you are feeling sorry for me and thinking what a depressing post this is. But, this is where I hope I can teach you something.

Since I was carrying his grandchild at the time of his death, my guilt, my grief and my emotions were not what they would be today. I didn’t want my baby to feel the negative feelings of anger, doubt and helplessness. I knew I had to give him (or her– I didn’t know what I was having- boy or girl) something more, something better.

The priest that did my Dad’s service put his hand on my belly and told me that now is the time to forgive my father, to allow myself to be closer to him and to share my love for him with my child. It made the most incredible sense at the time. Now that my Dad was with me in spirit, we could be closer than we ever have before.

Exactly a year ago, I stood in my kitchen making breakfast and heard Parker say, “Who’s the birthday boy?” It was April 21, my father’s birthday. I started crying, called my mother and decided that my Dad had spoken to me through Parker. He said, “I’m here, I’m watching and I see your children, Bridgette. They’re beautiful.”

Now, the hardest feeling I feel is missing him. I hear his voice in my head sometimes. I quote him at odd moments. I tell Parker stories about his “Grandpa in heaven.” I pray, I reflect and have come to know two things: my Dad gave me the best he could. He loved me. He was always proud of me and he never ceased in believing in me.

So although I regret him not being at my wedding, not spending his last minutes telling him I love him and not telling him I was carrying his grandchild, I delight in the fact that his spirit is everywhere. It’s helping me write this blog. It’s part of my work ethic, my sense of humor. No matter where he is or what regrets I have about our relationship, nothing changes the good he did for me. And I do believe that he died knowing that.

Seeing Michael with Celia is a way of reliving my daughterhood. His sweet manner with her and the way she looks at him, with such admiration, is familiar to me. And in my mind, I see my own Dad turned Grandpa– bragging about Parker or Celia’s latest trick or busting out his wallet (or Smartphone) packed with pictures of his children and grandchildren. Telling strangers how wonderful his family is.

So I give you this about regret: It’s powerful. And it’s something you need to pay attention to. Living life without regret is not something to aspire to. Regret is what makes you remember your mistakes, it brings to light your faults and process your hardships. It holds up a mirror and says, “hey, did this really work the way you wanted it to?” And through your regrets you can learn how to be better and do better.

And in being able to recognize this very thing, I know my Dad would be prouder than ever of me.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.

Shortcut Girl: Your Favorite Posts

Shortcut_Girl

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:)

Why We Hug Our Kids

It’s a common comment when something like this happens. Hug your loved ones a little tighter, feel blessed for all that you have. But after hearing the first bit of bad news today, I ignored my phone and social media and just played outside with my kids. I hugged them, listened intently to their laughter and relished in the sparkle in their eyes.

Children represent purity, innocence and are so attractive in times like this because they know no evil. I can hug them because they are here, with me and with their toddler babble and incessant questions, they wash away the fear, doubt, anger and unsure-ness of life.

Because hugging is the only way I can think to move forward. Because hugging brings what we all need most: the love.

Just over two months ago, I told my son that a friend of ours had a daughter who had cancer. A kindergartener who had to endure aggressive chemotherapy and have her five year old world turned upside down. Through this event, I somehow instilled in my son what praying was. Every night, for a very long time, we prayed for our friend.  While I knew that praying with a three year old might not be the child psychologist-approved way of dealing with a crisis, it brought such wonder and peace to me to see my child asking God for something for someone else.

We have since received great news about our friends and continue to pray for the people we know and the people we don’t that suffer and hurt. I run to my children in crisis because in order to see the world through their eyes, I have to reframe terrifying events in a way that a three year old can comprehend. I get to depart from the mindframe of an adult in order to think about how scary simple things like bombs, explosions and belly aches are.

We hug our kids, hold our kids tight and pray with our kids because we can. Because they are not yet adults, away from us somewhere. They are not yet people we have to call on the phone to check on. They are at an arm’s reach, most times, which is right where they belong.

Hug your kids. If you don’t have kids, hug someone else’s kids. Hug your boyfriend, your mother, your father, your sister, your brother. Hug one another and pray for those that can’t. Pray that very, very, very soon you will never have to explain or reframe or avoid or pray in order to get through the day’s events in our country.

Guest Post From Parker: The Car Wash and Other Ways My Mom Tried to Kill Me

20130324-143235.jpg

Smiling with ridiculous pajamas on. It’s the only way to get her to stop.

 

I don’t want to incriminate anyone but I am pretty sure my Mommy has some issues and might, secretly, be bearing some unfortunate resentment of me. I can’t say I blame her, I did yell, “My Mommy has a vagina kind of penis!” at the grocery store the other day, but she really needs to look into some parenting classes or something. She’s a little bereft of the Mommy skillz.

Case in point, our trip to the car wash yesterday. Now, she KNOWS I don’t like the car wash. She might even delight in the fact that I get a little nervous when we go through it. She refers to the giant spaghetti monsters as “octopuses” and “sea creatures.” Well, all I know is that I am pretty sure we will one day die in a car wash. Especially since my Mom left the window open a crack yesterday when we went through it.

 

More Like Death Wash

“Close it! Close it! Close it!” I cried. Petrified of the sea monsters that were going to come into the car and eat me. She just kept saying, “I can’t close the car wash, buddy, don’t be scared.” Once the soap bubbles started flying all around the car and little pretty Celia was covered in suds, Mom the genius was singing a different tune. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry Parker.” And she rolled the window up. Thanks, Mom. I already am pretty sure that there is a man living under my bed at home while I sleep but now I have absolutely NO FAITH in you keeping me alive in a car wash. Great job there with the parental supervision. Maybe try to be a little more observant while you chat up your former student car wash attendant. Maybe take a second to keep your children out of harm’s way?

Arsenic in my Applesauce

As if that was not life altering enough, Sweet little Bridgette tried to serve me orange apple sauce. Orange. Applesauce. Do you know why? Because that little health nut thought that mixing in sweet potatoes might help me have a healthier meal. Does she know that I survive basically on milk and slices of white bread? Doesn’t she get that I have a sophisticated palette that only really enjoys the delicacies of popcorn, cookies and vanilla ice cream? I mean what kind of animal eats ORANGE applesauce? Seriously.

Eye Acid

As I am sure you can tell by now, I wear glasses. One unfortunate catch of this cute accessory is that some lame doctor has said I need eye drops twice a week. Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. Watching Mr. and Mrs. Tricky try to give me these things while I thrash, kick, pinch and bite is always interesting. I am convinced that they do it just to torture me. No matter the bribes or silly games they play, one thing is evident: clearly, they enjoy seeing me cry.

Humiliation via Pajamas

Since my Mom apparently wants more days off in order to better ruin my life- she was really, really hoping for a snow day last week. So much that she MADE ME put my clothes on backwards and inside out for good luck. I mean, it’s not bad enough she just wants to make me look stupid (more about that coming up;) but then she wants to go all Instagram photoshoot on me after. I swear that woman just capitalizes on my cuteness. When she’s not inventing new made up ways to get days off from work, that is.

Shampoo Death

And then, after I endure about all I can of the car wash and the applesauce and the eye drops, Mommy Dearest wants to put SOAP in my HAIR. From the time it touches my scalp, I can feel it running down my face headed for: you know where— my eyes. It’s like she doesn’t even want me to be happy. She just chooses a different torture based on her mood. Tough love doesn’t even describe it. This is the work of a devil.

Talking Back

So, I let her have it after all of this. I told her two things this weekend that really put her in her place.

“Here’s the thing, Mom. If you give me another time out, you will be a bad girl.” I just laid it all out there on the table. She should know her reputation is plummeting by the day.

and (my personal favorite):

“What words start with C? Celia! And STUPID! STUPID STARTS WITH C!” Now, this is funny on multiple levels. First, my mother is an English teacher. Whenever I don’t recognize a letter she goes all “Hooked on Phonics ” on me and starts talking in her teacher voice. Thinking that I have mixed up C and S actually bothers her. Which means she has to engage in a conversation with me and repeat the word stupid over and over again. And, do you see the irony her? Priceless.

If you can learn anything from this post, it’s how you should really, really not subject your children to the absolutely terrible parenting that Bridgette Gallagher is guilty of. Guaranteed your kids will be well-adjusted to car washes, enjoy foods where the ingredients are identifiable and might even have a bath without a nervous breakdown. If you are interested in helping me stage an intervention with my Mom, please contact me because I am really starting to get concerned for my baby sister at this point.

Women and Happiness: The “Having It All” Paradox

20130313-150645.jpg

I feel like someone has been telling me to write this blog post. Sitting on my shoulder, with little mutterings of “Psst—don’t you have something to say about this?” What is a happy life? What is having it all? Women and their happiness have been all over the media lately. It’s led me to reflect a lot about my own happiness, my own choices, my own “having it all.”

And, although I don’t really have the answers, I have some thoughts of my own.

This week, Yahoo announced it would no longer allow working from home, sending women away from their children and back into the workplace. Their work/life balance is at stake and all around, people are asking: can women have it both ways? Or must they make a choice?

Last week, I listened to a Freakonomics podcast about how men and women differ— specifically, how many women are editing Wikipedia as compared to men. They broke it down into psychological factors as well as just logistical factors. Women don’t want to edit work and tell people they are wrong, they want to create original work themselves. Which explains the influx of women in social networks and blogs. Another claim was that women have more opportunities right now but are still not claiming they were happier than decades past. The question: why?

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and has recently written a book called Leaning In, while I can’t claim to have read the book, I have ascertained from both her interviews and her website that the idea is to empower women: show them they can ask for more money, higher salaries, and essentially do more and be more than they are told they can. She wants more women leaders and even, a female president.

Then on cnn.com yesterday, well known powerful women were asked what it truly meant to “have it all.” Many women responded with very clever and witty responses and the ending piece was: you define your all, someone else does not.

Now, just today, a co-worker handed me a This Week article titled, “What is a good life?” And I am convinced: I have officially been set up and/or some higher power is telling me: write about this, write about this, please.

And here I am. Hoping to candidly and somewhat cleverly translate a million messages from the media into one.

So, the idea of being happy and having it all kind of all fall into the same messy category where we try to define: what does it mean to live well, be happy and have a good life?

When we talk about living well as women, we picture a cleaning lady, manicures every Friday and maybe a house in some beachy place. A nanny. A chef. Okay, maybe I’m just regurgitating different seasons of The Real Housewives. But that’s clearly not what we are talking about here. What we are talking about is quality. The quality of our lives.

We talk about quality of life in very general terms. If someone leaves a high paying but high pressure job to take a slightly mediocre job with less hours, we have said that they have increased their quality of life. They have bettered their every day. They have traded hours at work for hours at home. And that means they are happier.

But measuring quality is a tricky thing. We want to measure it with time because that’s the most logical metric. So, a stay at home Mom has more time with her children and is, therefore, making a better decision for her family and is going to have better kids as a result. But, anyone who has had a full day with two toddlers where you have felt like you have yelled more than you have taken breaths knows this: quantity is not where it’s at, trust me.

So where do we go next for quality? Good job? Big house? Fulfilling marriage? Well behaved kids? We know all of these things wax and wane like anything in life. And, the more I read about what true happiness is, I’m skeptical. In last month’s The Week, they make a case that being happy is not all we want. What we also want is—meaning. And meaning, as it happens, sometimes is derived from the most difficult tribulations of our lives, the things that help us to view the events of our lives through a different lens. The things that help us to see that even when life is bereft of traditional happiness and quality— there can still be meaning. The article concludes with, “By putting aside our selfish interests and serving someone or something larger than ourselves—by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking”—we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.”

The trouble is this. We talk about quality, happiness, “having it all” and “our choices as women” in one big, intimidating, homogenous clump. And it is not. Our choices as wives, as women, as Moms, as people are not something you can look at singularly. You can’t compare them side by side or crittique one part for being so unlike the other.

It brings me to something a therapist once said to me. When I revealed my own anxieties about a particular quality or choice of my own, she said, “it’s like you’re carrying a cup of tea across the room and watching the rim of the cup as you walk. You will never be able not to spill– even if you try because you are looking at it with such intensity.”

But yet, we do. We are struggling with the “having it all” paradox because, well, we keep asking ourselves whether we are actually happy with our choices. Even if we know, deep down that we are.

I have had conversation upon conversation upon conversation with women who feel conflicted about their choices in staying home, going to work, allowing their husband working long hours or travel— and don’t forget their desire for “me” time. Not one of us feels at peace. We will never say that our life has true quality because we think that more time with our kids/spouse/family/job would be just what we needed to “have it all.” We are kept from really seeing what is a meaningful life because people keep asking, “do you have it all?”, “don’t you feel fulfilled?”, “do you feel guilty dropping them off at day care?”, “do you feel guilty when you let them watch too much TV?”

And, as pointed out on CNN, no one ever-ever-ever, asks a man this question.

So, to combat all of these media messages that are coming out all at the same time—I ask you to ask yourself this, “what do I need for me/my family in order to have a meaningful life?” It might not be more time, it might not be a bigger house and it most certainly, I am sure, Sheryl Sandberg, is not asking for a larger salary and a better title than your colleague.

So, when you find yourself going on the guilt trip du jour of sending your kid to day care with a slight fever, plopping her in front of the TV while you take a shower or throwing away your toddler’s latest creation at preschool, ask yourself— is this all meaningful?

And remind yourself that the little people you made, the words you share, and the relationships you create are the only things that will truly make a meaningful life— even if that teacup is not full to the brim with happiness.

 

Girlfriend-ing in Your Thirties

Girlfriend-inginyourthirties.jpg

My best friend since fifth grade!

“The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Years Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove at your beach rental. They look at you and don’t really think you look older because they’ve grown along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they’re used to the look.”-Anna Quindlen Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

In two weeks, I have a weekend with all of my college girlfriends. Something we do about 3-4 times a year and is always such a great time. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a bachelorette party for one of my high school buddies and got to road trip with some of my best friends from my elementary and teenage years. It was heavenly. Time to rehash really, really old stories and laugh with the people who knew you first, before you became a wife, Mom, short order cook and sippy cup bartender. Before you thought that 10 pm was “staying up late,” before you started talking about saving for college and retirement and health insurance and all that jazz. Before you were the you that you are now.

Girlfriend-ing in your thirties can be a challenge. Which is why, I think we set aside pre-planned weekends to have this time together. We’ve seen that the time won’t just happen, the “extra” time won’t ever just fall into your lap and, biggest realization of all since becoming a mother— nothing is really done successfully at the last minute. Pre-planning is not only convenient but absolutely necessary.

I’ve written a bit before about girlfriend-ing and it’s importance. And I continue to think that it holds a deep value and purpose in the life of a woman. In reading Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, she writes a whole chapter on girlfriends and how important they are not only as your confidant but as your reflection on you. A woman can’t reflect you like a man can. Women need each other— to be honest, candid, sympathetic and most of all just to help you to laugh at yourself—over and over again.

Finding time to be a friend was never really an issue in my younger years. Instead, it was basically the primary focus of my younger years. I used to have exercise (walking around town), coffee, wine and even dinner dates with friends on what seemed like a weekly basis. There was time to share the difficulties, the debates over major life decisions, the victories and the heartache. There was time to verbalize pretty much every feeling you had on any given day. And, as self-absorbed as it may sound, it was what kept you going in those early to mid twenty years.

Now, as people spread out, kids start getting into activities and everyone has their own schedules, things get tough. Tough to plan a time where everyone can hit the babysitter jackpot and get out without the kids. Tough to find a time when all kids are healthy and virus-free. It’s just more of a challenge than years passed.

So, the friends you tend to socialize with more regularly are your work friends. People who you share close relationships with but people you can also talk to about all things girlfriend—while you are at work. And even those conversations, now and again, need a good happy hour or dinner date to really be complete.

No matter what category the friend may fall into, if I am able to get a complete phone call in with any one of my friends–from high school, college or work, it’s a miracle. A lot of our lifestuff now is communicated via text, email (there’s one friend I email every day!) or just keeping an eye on each other on Facebook. There’s not as much time, not as much energy and sometimes not even enough brain power to have the ever so long winded chats you once did.

All you really want now is to have a complete conversation (without yelling “Do you need a time out?” Mid conversation), some good food or drink and laugh a little bit– or a lot. Thats why these girls weekends now are like gold. When you spend a whole weekend together, however, you are able to see a lot more of the whole person who is your friend. Their latest obstacles, funny stories, in-law complaints or even the sharing of great news. And you all get unlimited, unabridged and uninterrupted time to share this information and to remember yourself as a woman–detached from the children, the relationship or the job that (we think) defines us.

And that’s the gift of friendship at this age, I think. Making and getting— the time. Time for real girlfriend-ing that has not only a relaxing effect but a rejuvenating and refreshing effect on you—the you that your friends remember.

So share this post with all your girlfriends and plan the next girls weekend– you deserve it.

 

 

 

Screen Time and Other Rules I Break as a Parent

20130301-121738.jpg

Mt latest frustration is that my 18 month old won’t watch TV. There. I said it. I am actually ticked off that TV does not yet entertain her. Worse, I am worried that it never will, forcing me to have to come up with alternate ways to entertain the little bugger who is turning into quite the handful these days. What will I do? How will I cope?

I have similar horrifying reactions when people tell me their kids don’t sleep, nap or any combination of the two. Whaaaaaa? How do you parent without the carrot of a nap dangling above your head all day? How do you manage night after night of the family bed and being woken up by a three year old insisting on doing the Harlem Shake at 3 am?

I can’t really verbalize the wonder I have with non-sleeping children because I feel like I might get kicked in the teeth. I mean, no Mom wants to hear about someone else’s sleeping children. But, really, how are these people surviving when not one but two kiddos climb into their bed at night? I would not be able to handle it.

I feel similar in thinking about Celia NEVER watching TV. How will I ever mop the floor/take out the garbage/read my People magazine if she is ON me like, every minute? Doesn’t she know that this is part of the whole parent-child-peace agreement?

I have read the books, blogs, babycenter week by week emails and all the crap you read about screen time. I know that the fact that my three year old can spend the afternoon with a Netflix account and an Ipad all on his own is probably not something to brag about at the bus stop. But man, when you need to help quiet your mind after the latest brother vs. sister cagefight, it’s really the only means of survival. Peace, quiet and Doc McStuffins.

Of course prying said child away from Ipad or TV or laptop or Iphone is not for the timid. You need to give a six minute warning, a three minute warning, a 90 second warning and a “help me shut it off” directive before exiting the screen time situation. Otherwise, you have fallen into just what those smug parenting experts want you to believe: screen time is bad. Don’t fall for it.

How else can you find time to paint your nails? Fold laundry and keep it folded? Call your best friend? Eat a sandwich? All of these things need a little boost, a little helper— and that helper is whatever screen you can get your a-little-smudged-but-still-pretty manicured hands on.

I think I really became aware of how much the screen helps us when recently vacationing with another family. They have a newborn who is not yet mobile. We have two very mobile and very hurricane like children who came very close to a. writing on the furniture and b. maiming each other with low hanging sharp objects. However, if I could get Parker watching a Shrek marathon in the bedroom, things were a little more placid, a little more quiet and a little more like a “vacation.” Well, sort of.

And, thanks to the Internet, I can live in absolute bliss thinking that this article is the only article that exists about screen time, and, well, it says that I am an awesome parent and my kids will probably be geniuses.

Don’t be shy. Make your own confessions about screen time. I won’t tell.