On Max…Five Months Later

Written by Irina Gallagher

The last time I posted about our family happenings, we were moving into a new house. It was a very emotional experience for everyone involved. A lot of feelings were raging about leaving our home of nine years and most of our little unit didn’t know how to deal with any of it. Little did we know that before we were settled, before the boxes were unpacked, we would encounter an even bigger emotional avalanche.

Today is the five month anniversary of the passing our dear pup Max. I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it because no words are adequate. We still miss him enormously. We talk about him daily. We long for all of the, seemingly, little things that he contributed to our family – the clinking of his collar; the sleepy slinking off the bed which turned into a tail-wagging greeting at the door every time anyone came home; the grunting of dissatisfaction if we, heaven forbid, attempted to move our legs while sleeping; his nightly checks at each door before he fell asleep for the night. There are countless moments that happen throughout the day still, five months later, which remind us of how terribly we miss our Max.

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Gentle Early Chapter Books for Voracious Readers

Written by Irina Gallagher

The books children read set a major tone for the way in which they view the world – especially when they take the enormous leap into independent reading. I don’t take this fact lightly and, because of this, I find it a bit difficult to scope out reading material for my 8-year-old who spends hours each day with her nose in a book. I rarely follow book recommendations without pre-reading at least the first book in a series. I’m cautiously optimistic about children’s literature and I believe that children can handle more sustenance than rude, snarky characters, and frivolous story lines. At the same time, just because a child has the capability of reading something, doesn’t mean that their hearts and minds are ready for certain content. I prefer first independent books to be a place of gentle solace for young readers rather than action-packed works of conflict laced with intermittent rudeness. I have also found that my daughter is much more engaged when reading series of books rather than stand-alone fiction. With all of that in mind, I have compiled this list for anyone with similar philosophies. Below is a compilation of our very favorite early chapter books (books composed of no more than 150 pages generally, that are geared towards early elementary grades). This list contains only books with which both my 8-year-old and I have fallen in love over the past few years (there is a slew more that one of us has liked a lot and the other has not). 

 

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels
This is not part of a series, but my goodness how I wish it was. Just look at the cover art. It matches the whimsical feeling of its contents perfectly. Miss Petitfour has sixteen cats (prepare yourself to say the cats’ names many, many times). On windy days, she likes to take her cats out in one kite-like string that travels through their city on many adventures. The frequency at which the main characters consume tea and jam certainly doesn’t hurt the lovely atmosphere this book evokes. Due to some skillful alliteration acrobatics on Anne Michaels’s part, Miss Petitfour is a perfect book to read together alternating readers at each paragraph. We read it together first before my daughter read it independently.

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The Nest of the Little Sprouts

written by Irina Gallagher

Tree HouseI am walking with my seven-year-old daughter to visit her house – a place where two completely dissimilar trees intertwine and form a perfect little space for my magical girl to climb. She deemed this her own many years ago when she was the only kid in the family and has since then created additional spaces to house the little ones who followed. My son’s house is next door in a little pine. Along the same strip of land, adjacent to a canal, are several other tree houses designated for cousins. But the main resident here is the little girl holding my hand as we walk to her tree for the last time. You see, this week we are moving. Due to work-commute logistics and the phenomenon of ever-growing children, we had to find a new house. Our whole brood is saddened to leave though the little three-year-old hurricane is perpetually ready for a new adventure; my husband is looking at things in a rational and positive light; my girl and I have been mourning our move before it even happens. We’ve found a lovely new house, we are heartbroken to leave.  

Nine years ago, my husband and I crossed the threshold of this 1,000 square foot dwelling and decided to live here. Honestly, it wasn’t so much that we fell in love with the space. It was nice. The neighborhood was nice. The townhouse was nice. The surrounding area was nice. But it wasn’t a matter of love at first sight. It was a matter of convenience. We had to move out of an expensive apartment as we adjusted to one income while I finished my Bachelor’s degree and a friend was moving and interested in renting out her townhouse. We simply thought it was advantageous for everyone. Nine years later, I think it was serendipity.

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PSA to Homeschooling Skeptics

Written by Irina Gallagher

KiteAfter a busy summer spent with family and friends near and far, we have just finished the first month of second grade. I’m so excited about the beginning of this school year. We’ve accomplished a lot during the last several weeks – cultures have been explored, paintings have been drawn, kites have been made, books upon books have been devoured. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of empty libraries, parks, museums, and beaches, we are also back to homeschooling commentary from well-meaning and, in some cases, outright critical members of our community. In the summer, no one cares much to ask about your child’s schooling, but as we return to our extracurricular activities and find ourselves out in the world during regular school hours, we encounter our share of remarks on the subject.

Over the last several weeks I have been a part of too many of these interactions. The latest was with a woman who was very concerned about how many hours per day we spend on school, how I examine my daughter’s progress in any given subject, and how we socialize. It’s fine to ask these questions; I can safely say that a majority of homeschooling parents don’t mind being asked about our schooling logistics. I think most of us are eager to talk about our homeschooling lives; after all, this is an enormous part of our time. What we do care about is that when we’re asked how we choose a curriculum, how we report our kids’ progress to the school board, what our days look like, and the deluge of other questions that we are confronted by regularly, that people do so without implying that we could not possibly be capable of teaching our own children and that our children are severely lacking something crucial by being homeschooled.

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Love > Hate

written by Irina Gallagher

black-stripe-pride-flag It has been a devastating week in Central Florida after a senseless act of hatred claimed 49 lives and left 53 people injured – some still fighting for their lives. Of course, as a community, we have mourned previous mass shootings. We have shed tears for the victims and families of cities around the country and around the world. We have held our babies closer after all of these tragic events. We have dealt with the heavy hearts. We have tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the affected communities. We have listened to Obama give the aftermath speech time and time again. But this was different. This was right in our backyard, an hour away. The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. An hour away from home. In Orlando, where my (now) husband and I used to go when we skipped school (sorry, parents); where I went to college and got lost in parking garages searching for my car on an all-too-regular basis; where my husband commutes for work daily; where we take our kids on weekend trips. This time, it was our community.

This was the first time that there was no way to shelter our 7-year-old daughter from tragedy. While the week was spent trying to avoid the news in the company of our kids and trying to stay informed by quietly reading the Orlando updates; there was no way to shield this. My girl and I had to have a conversation about hate, about how someone could possibly inflict such carnage by singling out a specific demographic. We had to talk about the LGBTQ community as a safe haven and why we need to support something that should just be a given. We had to talk about how we would feel if her aunts were targeted simply because they loved one another. And with this talk, I had to erase a part of my daughter’s innocence.

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Dear Magical Girl

Written by Irina Gallagher

Magical Girl

My Dear Magical Girl,

Seven. How could this have happened so quickly? One moment you are crawling around the living room in search of board books to chew and the next you are devouring 100 page books on a daily basis. You are clever, imaginative, kind, talented, willful, passionate, funny, thoughtful, and wise. I could never give you a complete summation of all your wonderful qualities and certainly I couldn’t say all the things that I’m thankful for because of you, but here’s a very limited list:

Thank you showing me how precious time is.

Thank you for being, without a doubt, the most imaginative person I have ever met.

Thank you for being an amazing big sister and for having patience (most of the time), even when there is a little lion of a hurricane circling you.

Thank you for being kind and thoughtful to all creatures, no matter their size (though I know you prefer the smaller ones).

Thank you for making me want to be a better person.

Thank you for keeping me on my toes and my mind challenged on a daily basis. I’m hopeful this will help me keep some mental fortitude in the future. (You can take a day off here and there to let your mama and papa rest a little.)

Thank you for always inviting me on your adventures. I know I sometimes get crabby when changing your clothes to go out requires an accompanying otherworldly story line, but I truly appreciate you including me.

Thank you for sharing the stories from the books you’re reading. One of my favorite parts of the day is snuggling up with you before you fall asleep and hearing what Elmer, Lizzie, Gabby, Ernest, Prilla, Clementine, Turnip, and Gruffen have been up to.

Thank you for appreciating simple things.

Thank you for loving our reading time together. There’s nothing sweeter than cuddling up in the armchair with you and reading together. This will always feel to me like our own little home.

Thank you for being such a wonderful role model for our little lion (this does not include jumping on beds, climbing various pieces of furniture which ought not be climbed, or playing some very safety-questionable games, but I understand).

Thank you for your truly bright ideas. An astute inventor named Thomas Edison said, ”To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” You, my dear girl, have many great ideas. I cannot wait to see what’s next. (I would be ever so grateful if you could figure out a solution to slowing time a bit. If anyone could help me out with this, surely it’s you. Keep me posted on this please.)

Thank you for filling every room you enter will heart and magic.

But most of all, thank you for changing everything.

Happy Seven, my lovely girl.

Magical Girl

Whoa, Mama!

The overwhelming pressure of present-day motherhood
Written by Irina Gallagher

Muse of Discovery by sculptor Meg WhiteWord of warning, this isn’t meant to diminish the importance of parental caretakers as a whole, but to shed light on the roll of the primary caretaker, who, in the U.S. is still predominantly the mother.

There I was, sitting in a room full of moms and kids all clanking old kitchen apparatuses. It had been a particularly difficult week – the moon and its impending fullness and Mercury and its retrograde-ness did nothing to help. As I clinked my red plastic plates together, I was thinking about how overwhelmed, overworked, frustrated, exhausted (sure in a sense of little sleep, but more so in an energy-deficient sort of way), and maxed out I’ve been feeling lately. Finally, here at music class, surrounded by a bunch of toddlers, there was a moment of respite – not in a complete silence way, but in the “thank goodness there’s a chance for me to just sit and rest for a minute and not have to engage in conversation of any kind, not have to keep my small kid from falling into a sink full of dirty dishes while slipping off a step stool, not have to harp on my big kid to finish a five minute bit of school work which she somehow transforms into a draining forty-five minute task, not have to give my opinion on anything, and not have to keep people from yelling excitedly while jumping from bed to bed or rolling off the couch” sort of way. While this 3 minute kitchen music play-along break was nice, I was in a negative mood this particular morning and was dwelling on my own issues rather than actually savoring the moment.

As I was thinking of an onslaught of responsibilities, my focus returned to the class. I looked around the room and noticed that most of the moms seemed to be lost in a bit of a daze while banging their spoons against ice cube trays. I don’t think it’s farfetched to think that I was not the only one in the room feeling maxed out – from the mom who works six days a week while managing to homeschool her children to the new moms adjusting to their completely altered lives as parents to the moms who are steadily (dare I say courageously) keeping their shit together while bringing a second, third, or fourth kid into the family units – here we sit, quietly and collectively exhausted.

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Note to Self: Homeschooling Edition

Written by Irina Gallagher

ComparisonThis week, we survived the first week back to school after a long holiday break. This marks the beginning of the second half of the school year in our household. As the semester moves forward and we imminently edge closer to the “Have we done enough?” stage of the year (or May, for short), I thought that it might help my future May self to have a few reminders jotted down in which I can later take a bit of comfort, or perhaps more like a list of homeschooling goals for the remaining five months.


Dear homeschool-teaching self,

  • You’re doing great.
  • Keep trying to chill the f*** out. In all realms, really, but in homeschooling especially. No one is benefiting from your freak-outs. Also, congratulations on losing your composure less. Those B complex and magnesium supplements seem to be helping. You’re the poster child for patience and serenity. (Maybe by May this will be true.)
  • Realize that everything you don’t accomplish in your scheduled plan isn’t a failure; it’s a lesson in the complications, surprise opportunities, and unexpected nature of life. Count what you have achieved because of said “failure” rather than the “failure” itself.
  • Don’t compare your kid’s accomplishments with anyone else’s. So what if another kid is doing calculus in second grade? Good for them. Your kid has her own amazing capabilities. There is no need to be arrogantly defensive; other children’s successes have no bearing on those of your child.
  • Keep your scheduling in check. You know that your family needs to sandwich days of social, outside stimulation in between quiet days at home with no outside influences.
  • Pause at least once a day to reflect on how thankful you are to be able to homeschool and cherish the moments that wouldn’t be possible without this gift.
  • Don’t let people’s questions dampen your spirit. Every homeschooling parent has heard them, “How do you know that you are doing enough?” “How long do you plan on homeschooling? Surely there’s a limit.” “Aren’t you concerned about socialization?” Know that some people are asking with good intentions and from a place of positive interest, while those that ask in condescension clearly don’t know how awesome your homeschooler is. Spam them with some of the hard number infographics you’ve found on Pinterest of why homeschoolers are soon going to be ruling the world (basically).
  • Remind yourself constantly in spurts of “we need more extracurriculars” that you don’t need to boost your anxiety levels with extra activities, nor do your kids need to be dragged around classes-galore and on massive amounts of field trips. We are just not that family. It’s not in us genetically. Yes, of course, don’t miss incredible opportunities afforded to you. But don’t involve yourself just because you feel like every other family is participating more than yours in such endeavors. Just because there’s a field trip, doesn’t mean you have to go.
  • Contain yourself when you find the “perfect curriculum” that will carry your kid all the way through their entrance into college. Remind yourself of the last time you found the, ahem, “perfect curriculum” and decided to go all in, spent loads of money, and decided – upon further consideration with all parties involved – it wasn’t so perfect after all. Don’t commit to years of something. It’s not practical and it’s ill-fitting to your homeschooling style.
  • Remember that your strong-willed kid arguing with you endlessly about not wanting to write (or equivalent), is just a prequel for when she uses that steadfast brain of hers to do something absolutely extraordinary in the world. That tenacity will be most warranted then.
  • Don’t give up. Take a break, step away, reassess, and remember that changing your mind about your homeschooling approach or homeschooling in general is allowed. Don’t make any rash decisions after a particularly hard days.
  • Enjoy it. Even the absurdly difficult days. Like everything else in parenting, this time is very short-lived. Enjoy it.
  • Buy wine. (Magnesium will only take you so far.)

Resolution: Make Room for Magic

Written by Irina Gallagher

Happy New Year!New Year’s Eve, people! New. Year’s. Eve! December 31 is always a complete mixture of emotions for me. There is excitement about prospects of the new year – new opportunities, new beginnings, new adventures. But there is a simultaneous twinge of sadness. I have always been terrible with goodbyes. Saying a farewell to a whole year of time is very difficult. All of a sudden, after mostly not giving much thought to the passing of each individual day, week, or month, time feels fleeting and the goodbye is conclusive and nostalgic. The touching moments from the year quickly stream through my memory as I squeeze my family tight knowing that this year, this beautiful year, is something that will not ever repeat itself. I find myself stubbornly wishing the ball would drop slower while eagerly anticipating the mark of January 1. Inevitably, time moves forward and then excitement strikes.

The elation of the new year lies in the new, untarnished possibilities and in the hopes and resolutions to better ourselves, our families, our lives. It’s difficult to find this same level of urgency for personal revolution at any other time unless you’re having a mortality check moment. This need for renewal certainly never happens en masse as is it does during this two-day transition from old to new year. I love hearing my loved ones’ hopes, upcoming plans, and decisions to make changes both big and small. So far, I haven’t heard anyone resolve to buy more superfluous stuff, consume more crap, spend less time focusing on people they care about, read less, yell more, take life for granted, and be less present. We perpetually strive to simplify our avalanche of clutter – both mental and physical – during this wake-up call of a new year and any of the aforementioned resolutions would be a contradiction to that sentiment of simplification and personal growth.

My biggest resolution for 2016 encompasses the quintessential new year’s hopes to be present, rid myself of excess, not take things or moments for granted. All of these hopes diverge into one main resolution to believe, just believe, and allow myself to be engulfed in magic. This thought came to me a few weeks ago when my daughter was giving a living room ballet performance while my son accompanied the dancing with a dramatized, operatic version of his own making. The dancer illustrated every detail of her costume and the set scenery as she twirled across the carpet nearly missing the coffee table. And then she said four simple words that struck me profoundly; “I’m wearing pointe shoes.”

Here I was sitting in the same spot for at least the hundredth time attentively watching the performance as always when I realized that I’m continuously being invited to believe in and reach a magical realm which I subconsciously choose not to enter. I sit on the periphery and lovingly watch the happenings inside, but I never fully enter. Yes, I play along. Yes, I pretend. Yes, I pay attention. But never have I really watched the dance while truly visualizing everything laid out before me. Never have I distanced myself from all of my mental distractions to see the pointe shoes on my barefooted dancer.

It’s not just about pretending with children. I have my ballet en pointe performance with operatic accompaniment and you have your own magic waiting – perhaps, it’s a new adventure unfolding, a new path in life, or a seemingly unattainable move. No matter the magic, 2016 is the year to start believing. The admission to this magical realm is free, but there is one stipulation for attendance; you must believe. Really, truly believe.

As the ball drops a year from now and I squeeze my people close, I want to close my eyes and see the magical moments which engulfed me and I hope you can close your eyes and witness the magic which you have created, too. Happy new year!

The Gift Giving Question

Written by Irina Gallagher

Non-permanentIt’s Thanksgiving week here in the States, the official beginning to the holiday season. Finally, the weather has chilled delivering a festive feeling. Like every year, we’ll be celebrating all that we have to be thankful for by spending time with family. And then, if the biggest retailers have their way, we will be rushing out to spend all the money we have (or don’t have) on tons of useless clutter that we don’t really need on Black Friday. This afternoon I heard an advertisement on the radio that Toys R Us – which on a regular day is basically a sensory overload command station – will be opening their doors at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. So make sure you shove that turkey in your mouth very quickly so you don’t miss the deals. I would rather pay someone not to take part in any of this Black Friday shenanigans, especially at Toys R Us. But it’s all in the name of showing the people that we care about them with loads of stuff, right? The more stuff the better, they tell us.

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