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.

In this home, we celebrated countless birthdays. We mourned too many losses. We laughed and we cried. We grew pots upon pots of tomatoes as if we were going to start our own line of tomato sauce. In this home, we found out that we were expecting – twice. We witnessed our children taking their first steps. We watched countless performances in the living room. We stopped thousands of sibling squabbles. We made a million memories in this 1,000 square feet. How could we have possibly imagined that the small family of three who entered in 2008 – husband, wife, loyal canine kid – would also raise a daughter and birth a son there? That was not the plan nine years ago when we stepped into this dwelling and basically said, “Why not?”

In this home, fairies lived, benevolent witches perfected their spells, dinosaurs roamed nearby, friends from alternate planes came to visit daily, and magic flourished. Behind our townhouse neighborhood was the tree house settlement and adjacent to that, until recently, was the “Dinosaur Place,” which most people would have seen as an abandoned golf driving range where people thought it appropriate to dump old couches and televisions and where teenagers engaged in teenagery activities. To my little sprouts, though, this is where dinosaur eggs were frequently found and Brachiosaurus fossils were regularly discovered.

Behind the dinosaur area was the house of a friend akin to Pippi Longstocking. Hers is not my story to tell, here is what I will say, though – when the construction of a new neighborhood caused the demolishment of this friend’s house and the entirety of the Dinosaur Place, it was a sign that somehow the universe would fling us elsewhere. Don’t worry, we asked all of the fanciful friends to move with us. We will be busy finding them new homes, but the heartache remains.

Field Trip Kids

Not all of the friends can be taken with us. As difficult as is is to believe, among the imaginary friends and dinosaurs there are the mortals of the neighborhood with whom we are saddened to part. There was the neighbor from a door over who walked at the same time as us daily. Most days, a friend would join her for her middle laps. The kids and I had many conversations about how lovely it is to have such a friendship. There was the couple in their seventies who left their house simultaneously but always walked in opposite directions; there was always a level of peaceful truth upon seeing this interaction. There was the running man who had a very strict regime of running a lap in regular fashion as a warm up and then three laps with his arms at his sides; sometimes he ended his runs with a cigarette by the pool, and for some reason I can’t help but find the opposition in those two activities charming. There was the large man with the “puppy pack” as we called it – four tiny dogs on four separate leashes always going in opposite directions. We imagined how these puppies wake the man in the morning by bouncing on him repeatedly. There was the man that we saw very seldom but whose joyous personality was such that a simple heartfelt “Good morning” from him could brighten your entire day. There were various dogs and their owners about whom we made up stories. We envisioned the three Huskies starting a Northern breeds club and inviting the Keeshond and the Komondor to join. It was a sea of colorful characters who we looked forward to seeing regularly. Unfortunately, we can’t transplant these people with us nor can we take the walls that nurtured our family for almost a decade.

Today, we tearfully closed the door of our quaint, loving home for the very last time. My son left his flip flops as a present to the house – I didn’t know this until we locked the door. My daughter left a note for the new owners: “Dear new owners. Please take care of our house. We hope you have no problems with this wonderful home.” – she listed all five family members who happily lived under that roof. No matter how much we grow to love our new place and no matter how many interesting characters we collect there, we will never forget the warm embrace of our little nest.

My daughter climbs for the last time into her tree. She says to me “Mama, I can feel the tree breathing.” I try to hold myself together as I pray that she can enrich our new home with as much love and magic as she did here in this loving little neighborhood where our family became whole.  

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.

The following day, we were preparing to go to a local candlelight vigil for the victims of Pulse. My daughter asked if we knew anyone who had died there. I responded that while we didn’t know the victims personally, we were going to show our support, to show unity, “We are going because,” and she finished my sentence “we care.” Yes, we were going because we care. We bought candles and spent time drawing rainbows and hearts on the wax catchers. When we arrived at the vigil, we saw unity. We saw people come together in support of the fallen, but also in support of love and equality. On the way home that evening I asked my daughter if she was able to hear all of the speakers during the ceremony. She answered yes. But what stuck with her most was one line: “We are one.” She was referring to the most powerful speaker of the night, Pastor Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church, who proclaimed “We will not be divided. We will stand together. And we will not allow some cowardly terrorist to pull us apart. We will cry together. We will rise together. We will laugh together. And we will be one.”

Vigil

There were tears this week over the horrendous act of hatred in Orlando, for the lives lost all too soon, for the state of our world in which a massacre like this can occur. But more tears were shed over the community’s reaction – the thousands upon thousands of people who waited hours in line to donate blood (shout out to my mama); the donations pouring in from all over the world in support of victims’ families; the companies, corporations, and sports teams who have offered support to Orlando in numerous ways; the strangers who have gone out of their way to show various acts of kindness, because they wanted to do something; the vigils drawing hundreds, thousands of people in communities far and wide; and countless stories of love and support. The unity that we have witnessed since last Sunday has been tremendous and I know that not only Orlando feels the love, but the collective LGBTQ community as well. This week showed, above all, that love is greater than hate. Every time.

“What divides us pales in comparison to what unites us” – Edward Kennedy
Orlando vigil

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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Post-Vacation Situation – Part I

Preemptive preparation for the return home
Written by Irina Gallagher

Post-Vacation PupIt’s safe to say that we have all experienced the difficulty of post-vacation. It doesn’t much matter where you went or what you did – on vacation, away from the daily minutiae (no matter how much you love your life), you become a different you. You are freer, more apt to experience new things, more likely to try new foods, you see amazing things that open your eyes to an array of new possibilities. You don’t care about getting to bed on time, because you’re on vacation! Who cares? You drink a pina colada, or five. Vacation.

Then you come home. And like a slow, annoying punch to the throat, all your normal responsibilities trickle in. It’s not that the tasks themselves are so horrible, but after seeing more of life than you do on a regular basis, all the minor details seem so absolutely insignificant, mundane to the core. Grocery shopping and laundry, seriously? The onslaught of insignificant chores is enough to induce a minor (or not so minor) depressive state. Your mind starts to examine the idea of how seldom you can feasibly travel and at that point you just want to hide under a rock for a while.

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Vacation School

Written by Irina Gallagher

Anna Maria Island SunsetI am a firm believer that experiences leave much bigger impression than do textbooks, so when we embarked on the homeschooling journey with our eldest kid a year ago, I told myself that field trips were a must. How much do you remember from textbooks or worksheets as opposed being “in the wild”? I’m guessing that the ratio is heavily weighted towards getting more memorable information from the real-life experiences of field trips.

My husband was lucky enough to live in Germany for a couple years as a kid. For his fifth grade trip, Dan’s teacher orchestrated a series of fundraisers so that her students could go to Holland for a week. Holland, people, HOLLAND. More than twenty years later, what do you think is one of Dan’s most prevalent school memories? It wasn’t his history textbooks that glorified Columbus, it wasn’t the hundreds of math worksheets, or any of the busy work. A school experience which he remembers more vividly than most was that fifth grade trip to Holland. Understandably so, how can a worksheet leave the same impression as stepping into Anne Frank’s hideaway? A weeklong field-trip to Holland is certainly not feasible for us currently, but we work with what we have and we savor the small field trips to parks, nature preserves, and science centers, because they absolutely still count.

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Why do we Remember?

Written by Irina Gallgher

IvanToday, my grandfather Ivan would have been 101. More than 15 years have passed since he died, but his family still spends this day reaching out to one another and remembering him.

It’s been so long, why do we still get together in the familial circles available to us in our current cities all over the globe? Why do we still cook the meals that he cooked (superior to anything we could possibly put together)? Why do we pass along anecdotes containing his warmth, his kindness, and his generosity to our children, many of whom were born more than a decade after his passing? Why is it that we still care?

Maybe it’s so that we don’t forget a person so dear to our hearts. Maybe it’s because it brings us a twinge of pain that our children, his great-grandchildren, will never be able to be in the presence of his strength and valour, his encompassing warmth and kindness. Or maybe we hope that through these stories, we are passing onto our children little pieces of a person who we wish was still physically with us. Perhaps through these miniscule remembrances, we bestow upon our children things which Dedushka Vania cannot pass on himself. And more than anything, we hope that some of his greatest attributes will make their way into our children’s personalities.

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Mission to Minimize

Written by Irina Gallagher

Minimize

There was really no precipice. All of a sudden, the contents of our house just went from being desirable to being an absolute nuisance. Up until a couple of years ago, our familial mentality was basically, “Yes, we’ll take these bizilbigs, blumtoopas, and wums. We might need them someday.” We stored these random objects in an assortment of boxes, which until very recently were filled to capacity. It may have been the arrival of our second child a year and a half ago that spawned this need to purge our possessions. Adding one little person to our living space may have been the breaking point in not being able to functionally fit in our space.

I liken humans to an organic substance that grows to fit into absolutely any volume. No matter what size your space is, you will grow into it. If you take a family of four living comfortably in a 1,000 sq. foot house and transplant the same people into a 2,500 sq. foot house, there is little doubt that those same four people will magically inhabit the entirety of the larger house to the same capacity as they had their smaller dwelling. We do have friends and family that are able to maintain an amazing amount of order in their homes regardless of square footage. Their beautiful living rooms are always immaculate and airy. I have an aunt whose house has not changed in literally decades. Every tea cup can be found in the exact spot in which it was housed circa 1976. Bless your pristine organization techniques and being able to maintain such structure. We, on the other hand, are the people that return from vacation and walk around a still-packed suitcase for a month before realizing that we’re missing a shoe. Even if we are getting a bit better about this, maintaining our 1,000 sq. feet of living space is really the maximum of our capabilities.

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Creatures of Magic

Written by Irina Gallagher

magic_girlThere are two creatures that live in this house who possess an element of magic. Their luminous energies are brighter than the sun. Their essence belongs somewhere in the land of unicorns and griffins, not in the human world. They are much too fascinating to be mere mortals.

One comes from distant lands. She is a sorcerer, a wanderer, an enchanted being akin to a chameleon who transforms herself as quickly as a light flickers. Just as quickly, new worlds appear and new languages are created in her presence. She is a warrior, constantly battling for the good of mankind. She is inquisitive, tenacious, and passionate. Her zeal in all the endeavors which she creates for herself could fuel the world.

He is light. He holds in his hands an unadulterated spirit. He is but a wee explorer in our scope, but his spirit says that he has existed for infinitely longer than we realize, for when he sees photographs of his ancestors, there is a clear familiarity in his eyes. He carries a mystical power to erase all your woes with a single all-encompassing embrace. His embrace is the strongest, most accurate portrayal of the boundless love and kindness which live in his heart.

They have but one vulnerability; they are growing amongst us humans. In order for their enchanted magic to survive as long as possible, their imaginations must not be stifled. They must not be tarnished by the complexities of the pedestrian human world. Their spirits should not be dimmed by accounts of modern calamities. These magical creatures must not be overwhelmed by the excess of superfluous material objects which has come to be a human habit. They simply need less of our world to preserve more of theirs. And their world is not material.

Our Addiction to Mass Information

Written by Irina Gallagher

Newspaper_IgnoreNews flash. There is a shortage of eggs. You should be eating more eggs. You’re eating too much meat. Don’t switch to soy though, or you will die. The drought situation in California is worsening. No climate change deal has been signed. Your deodorant is killing you. Oh, you use the natural kind? That’s nice, but it will kill you anyway – probably immediately. Another black person was unjustifiably killed by a cop. You shouldn’t use fluoride. Make sure you use fluoride or your teeth will decay. Your tooth decay will shorten your life, so use fluoride or you will die. But if you use fluoride, you will also die. A four-year-old Florida boy is having a forced circumcision. You’re teaching your child to read too soon. Haven’t you taught your child to read yet? S/he child will be behind forever and will not be able to properly perform on all the tests that are required in school. You’re either consuming too little or too much turmeric. There are a bunch of malnourished Shih Tzus in New York. The Middle East is still in perpetual turmoil. Ukraine is still a war zone. A boat of migrants has capsized in the Mediterranean. 450 troops are being sent back to Iraq. And at the end of this list, also add every tidbit of information that you have acquired on social media in the last day.

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