The Edges of the Brownie

“Are you a middle-0f-the-brownie person, or an edge-of-the-brownie person?”

I was having breakfast several months ago with some of my ladies, and my friend Kathy decided to turn the conversation to dessert…because sometimes it’s fun to talk about food you’re not eating but want to eat while you’re already eating other food. Though I can be indecisive about most things in my life, I definitely had a stance on this topic.

“Edge. All the way. I’m the reason why they make those special pans where every brownie is a corner piece.” Continue reading “The Edges of the Brownie”

To My Former Students: Walt Whitman Was Right

Dear Former Students,

I talked about you today. It’s funny – I actually bring you up quite a bit in conversations. Our time together was a mere five years before I started a family of my own and never returned to the classroom. But clearly, those five years made an impression on me. You made an impression on me.

Some of you I still know. Maybe we grab lunch every now and again. Maybe we keep in contact on social media. Maybe we cross paths in the small world that is our city. Maybe we run into each other at a bar, and I become embarrassed that I am clearly not sober even though I am no longer your teacher and you are no longer my student and we are both within our legal right to over-indulge. But the thing is, you could be seventy-five years old, and I could be eighty-five years old, yet I would still think of you as one of “my girls.” And I would still feel the same responsibility to be a good example, to hold you to high expectations, and to count your head on a bus to make sure I wasn’t leaving anyone behind on a field trip. Continue reading “To My Former Students: Walt Whitman Was Right”

Fourteen Years, And Just Another Day

What does a 14th wedding anniversary look like?

It starts with a 5:30 a.m. bootcamp class. When you get home, you spend 15 minutes with your husband before he heads out to work. It’s the only 15 minutes you will see him all day, but you’re a sweaty mess from bootcamp, and he is dividing his time between talking with you and finishing up his morning routine before walking out the door. You’ll spend the rest of the day doing laundry, running errands, then heading off to spend the night with your daughter’s girl scout troop before your husband even gets home from work. You’re the troop leader, and tonight was the only night that all the girls would be in town to have their final field trip. So 15 minutes with your husband on your anniversary will have to do. Continue reading “Fourteen Years, And Just Another Day”

What I Learned In My First Year of Being a Published Author

Occupation: Author

Today it has been one year. A whole year of being able to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” with the answer, “I’m a children’s author.” To be honest, I still feel a little funny saying it, and I’m not sure I will ever be used to it. Probably because for most intents and purposes, I still identify with being a stay-at-home mom: I do almost all of my work in my own house (although I now have a dedicated office with a white board and a stapler and paper clips and everything)…my day-to-day tasks still seem to take precedence over my writing (as my blogging hiatus during the months of September, October, and most of November clearly demonstrated)…and I’m still mostly just famous for being “Mrs. Suellentrop” or “Michael’s mom” in the school parking lot (or “the lady who always orders a large half cheese/half sausage pizza” at Imo’s).

lessons of published authorBut today marks the one year anniversary of the release of my very first children’s book, Absolute Mayhem. I feel nothing but gratitude for how it has been received. Every time someone tells me their children ask to read it over and over, or that they caught them pretending to be Lulu or Milo, I am beyond tickled. Regardless of the future success of this book or those to follow, how could an author ask for anything more?

In addition to the blessings that have happened over the last twelve months, I have also come to learn some very valuable lessons in my first year of being a published author:

#1 Forget rousing, motivational pep talks. “What’s the worst that can happen?” works just fine. It turns out the boon of a realized dream or the promise of becoming the next Sandra Boynton were never the kick in the pants I needed to finally pursue a career as an author. All it took was someone posing the question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The answer: I fail. Or no one buys the book. Or readers say it ranks as rubbish. Or Amazon creates a new suggestion category that reads, “People who bought this item, DIDN’T also buy…” just so they can publicly shame my title. Okay, so all of those things are pretty hard to swallow for a girl who really doesn’t like being bad at things. But confronting those possibilities also made me honestly admit to myself that a little potential public shame was worth the risk. Besides, we could always move to one of those tiny houses off the grid if need be. Have you seen the tiny houses? They are adorable. Continue reading “What I Learned In My First Year of Being a Published Author”

Drive-Thru Kindness: Now Serving Extra Value Compassion

“That will be $5.66. Please pull around to the first window.”

I slowly coax my van forward in the pouring rain, fumbling in my purse to find cash. As the car moves, I instinctively turn the radio back up to catch the end of “Sister Golden Hair” by America, then almost immediately lower the volume, lest the teenage girl at the drive-thru window gets wind of my song choice and thinks to herself that it’s “typical” driving music for a lame mom in a minivan. It’s a weird phobia I have…of not wanting strangers to know too much about how I exist inside my car. Because the dirty exterior, scraped-up side mirrors, and “This Van Is Stacked” window sticker aren’t somehow as damaging to my cred as blaring “Sister Golden Hair.”

Handing over my cash, I feel raindrops from the top of my car drip onto my arm, soaking through my sleeve and immediately chilling my skin. The cashier gives me my change, and I clumsily drop the two of the coins onto the pavement below, one of them being a quarter. Fantastic. It has been one of those days – the kind of day I know better than to grumble about aloud, because it could be worse. But it certainly hasn’t been great either, and it doesn’t seem to want to let up. Like this rain. I mean, I am semi-voluntarily eating at McDonald’s without kids, if that is any indication of my mood. What mother, when flying solo, elects the home of the Happy Meal as the nourishment that will make her feel good about herself and her choices that day? This usually happens only when few other options exist, as is my case at the moment.

But it turns out, McDonald’s was exactly what I needed that day. Rather, the angel wearing a headset at the second drive-thru window was exactly what I needed. Continue reading “Drive-Thru Kindness: Now Serving Extra Value Compassion”

If You Like “Family,” We Recommend This Blog

You know how sometimes the Universe gives you a gift, but you are too blind to realize it?

Well in this case, the Universe is WordPress (this here blogging platform I use, for those of you non-bloggy peeps), and you can just call me Captain Oblivious.

Last week, I received a message from my blogging sister-wife, Emily of The Waiting. She was basically apologizing for her tardy congratulations, seeing as how she has been on a bit of a blogging hiatus due to lots of super-awesome things happening in her life right now.
Continue reading “If You Like “Family,” We Recommend This Blog”

It’s Time to Close the Internet. Everything Has Already Been Written.

Shut it down, folks. There’s nothing more to see here.

The other day, a friend of mine was asking me how I keep up my blogging pace (which in comparison to many bloggers, two posts a week is pretty measly). She wondered if I had a stockpile of pre-written posts. While I have had grand plans of that for some time, it’s just not how I work. I guess I thrive on pressure in a way. What I DO have is little notes or beginnings of blogs that I write down when ideas pop into my head. But sometimes, Continue reading “It’s Time to Close the Internet. Everything Has Already Been Written.”

What Your Birthday Gifts Say About You

My birthday was last week, and I had a few highlights in the gift department I wanted to share with you all.

First, my daughter gave me this:

garden frog
Is it just me, or does this frog have an unsettling “come hither” look about him?

I know. Or rather, I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’ve been putting out there that would lead my daughter to see a seductively lounging garden frog and decide it is the perfect gift for her mother. At first, I immediately thought, Well, I guess this is my version of the “If Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy” plaque. See, back in the day, my sister and I were at a Continue reading “What Your Birthday Gifts Say About You”

Five Years Later, The Truth Comes Out

Today is a special day. Today my little boy turns five years old. And today it is time I told the truth about whom exactly my son is named after.

Anyone who has asked me how Michael James got his name has likely heard this response: James came from both of his grandfathers, who very conveniently have the same first name, giving my husband and I a no-brainer way of making our child a namesake without offending the other side of the family.  And Michael was agreed upon because we liked it, we liked the nickname attached to it, and frankly, we thought that Mike Suellentrop sounded like “a hell of a guy.” Mike Suellentrop? He’d give you the shirt off his back. Hell of a guy…Have you seen Mike Suellentrop? Yeah, he’s been working the beer tent all afternoon. Hell of a guy…Oh, Mike Suellentrop’s going to be there? Then it WILL be a party. Count me in. He’s sure a hell of a guy.

obama at the beer tent
“Thanks for the beer. You’re a hell of guy, Mike Suellentrop. Our country thanks you.”

But Michael James is actually named after an anesthesiologist. Let me take you back to the year 2005.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I ended up needing a scheduled cesarean section two weeks before her due date because she was breech, and my rising blood pressure meant my doc didn’t want to wait for her to take her sweet time to flip. To be completely honest, I was very okay with that decision. In fact, the only thing I was really worried about was the epidural. I mean, a giant needle piercing my spinal cord sounded worse than being stuck at the DMV wearing a pair of Spanx that are one size too small after just having eaten a Big Mac, sitting next to a guy who hasn’t showered in a week and being forced to listen to “The Electric Slide” song on a continuous loop. Getting an epidural doesn’t sound like something any woman would enjoy, but at least those in labor are already in searing and ripping pain and willing to endure anything that will make them more comfortable again. But me, I wasn’t in labor. I was feeling just hunky-dory, thank you very much. And I didn’t have the distraction of contractions to keep my mind busy, so all I did for the days leading up the surgery was worry about it.

And it didn’t help the morning of the c-section when the nurse who put in my IV was obviously trained in the art of medieval torture. According to her, I had dainty veins. So when my anesthesiologist was ready to put in the epidural, I was deep in prayer that I didn’t also have a dainty spinal cord. And I let him know how nervous I was. He had many words aimed at assuaging my fears, but the thing that put me at ease was when he told me his name. Mike. Mike the Anesthesiologist. My husband and I smiled. We were part of the rebellious few who don’t find out the sex of the baby, so we had our girl and our boy names ready to go. Well, we actually had two boy names. It was down to Brian or Michael, and we figured if baby came out a boy, we would just decide which he looked more like. My husband jokingly said to Mike the Anesthesiologist, “Well, if you do a good job and we have a boy, we’ll name him after you.” But we didn’t have a boy. We had Grace. Still, I was so thankful that our lighthearted conversation about names helped take my mind off of getting the epidural (which really wasn’t that bad, meaning Mike the Anesthesiologist was also a man of his word), and his calming presence in the operating room kept me at peace so that I could fully enjoy the birth of my daughter. Not only that, but he also took the very first pictures of her emerging into the world so that my husband didn’t have to see my innards (ew, awkward).  I would remember Mike the Anesthesiologist as an integral part of that special day.

Fast forward to three years later, when I again found myself carrying a breech baby. (What is with my kids and their directional problems?…OH, geez. Now it all makes sense why they never listen to me! They began life disobeying Mother Nature.) When I was scheduling the c-section date with my OB, I sheepishly asked if I could make one strange request. I wondered if I could have Mike the Anesthesiologist there again. My OB laughed, and said he unfortunately couldn’t make that request. I would just have to hope that Mike the Anesthesiologist was scheduled that day, at which time I could ask him to do my epidural if he wasn’t already otherwise engaged. So I hoped.

It was one of the first questions I asked when I got to the hospital. “Is Mike the Anesthesiologist working today?” …holding my breath…No. No he was not. Bummer. So I set off to my hospital room to get prepped for my surgery. And despite rationally knowing that Mike the Anesthesiologist was just one of many, many qualified people who could give me an epidural, I began getting nervous about it all over again.

Until, that is, this sweet little nurse came into my room and said, “You’re not going to believe this…” It turns out that the anesthesiologist who was scheduled for that morning broke her arm, and guess who was filling in for her? Mike the Anesthesiologist! Suddenly I knew everything was going to be just fine. It had to be. And it was.

Of course Mike the Anesthesiologist didn’t remember me, but he was curious as to why he was “requested.” Apparently that doesn’t happen that often in their field of work. So we told him the story, and told him once again that the name Michael had made the cut if baby turned out to be a boy. As I was being wheeled to the operating room, Mike the Anesthesiologist said to me, “Here we go. By the way, what’s the middle name if you have a boy.”

“James, after our fathers.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No. Why?”

Because that’s my middle name.

Mike the Anesthesiologist, me, my OB holding the newest Michael, and my husband. P.S. My OB, who is pretty much the greatest one of the planet, was a little miffed we named the baby after the anesthesiologist. He claimed he did all the work. I told him he'd get the next one. Naturally, now he keeps bugging me about when that
Mike the Anesthesiologist, me, my OB holding the newest Michael, and my husband. P.S. My OB, who is pretty much the greatest one on the planet, was a little miffed we named the baby after the anesthesiologist. He claimed he did all the work. I told him he’d get the next one. Naturally, now he keeps bugging me about when that “next one” is coming.

Fifteen minutes later, Michael James came into the world, five years ago today. My Michael may have been accidentally named after Mike the Anesthesiologist, but the fact that he is seems like part of some divine plan, just like the way Mike the Anesthesiologist accidentally became my guardian on that second special day in my life. Who would have known that when we decided Mike Suellentrop sounded like “a hell of a guy” that he would be sharing his name with another “hell of a guy” for whom I will be forever grateful.

I have not seen Mike the Anesthesiologist since that day, but I wonder what he would think of his namesake. Me, I think he is indeed turning into one hell of a little guy.

P1010332

Star of Video and Print, But Still Just an Acceptably Mediocre Mom

Whew!

It has been something else around here. Thanks to my minivan music video, this blog received more hits in a few days than probably the last two years combined. Next, the Life Sherpa of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch devoted his entire column to my post “Apparently All-Inclusive Attitudes Aren’t Part of the Resort Package,” where I took issue with an earlier piece he had written chiding parents of young children. And then he went and briefly mentioned me again in this Sunday’s column. It appears that a younger woman offering to buy an older man a beer is newsworthy. I will take it, especially considering the fact that when my version of “Texaco, Texaco over the hills to Mexico” differed from my daughter’s, she told me that now they sing it different from how we did in “the olden days.”

I feel a little like a celebrity. I mean, the video has caught on like virtual wildfire. My daughter said  that her friend told her that her older brother told her that practically the entire 6th grade class has seen it because a boy in their 2nd grade class showed it to HIS older brother who then showed it to all his friends when they came over. Um, did you follow that? Basically, I’m the Justin Bieber of the elementary school. Not quite Taylor Swift yet, but give it time. All I know is that I’m kind of a big deal in the parking lot at pick up time. And my daughter has been dubbed “famous” for her starring role in the video. Part of me hopes this doesn’t make her too popular though, as I have decided it is better for my kids to be nerds. Not tortured outcasts, mind you. I simply want them to have just enough social clout that people find them likable, but not enough that I will have to spend my Friday nights waiting up for them…because they will be at home watching 80’s movie classics and eating cheese balls with their nerd friends.

mary catherine gallagher
SUPERSTAR!

But these past weeks have also taught me that I am semi-uncomfortable with semi-fame. Compliments are like a funky little form of sadomasochism. They make me feel good, but at the same time, a part of me feels very uncomfortable. My immediate way of dealing with compliments is to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal: Oh, the video wasn’t really that hard to make. They have programs that any dummy can use. OR I’m just weird like that. I don’t know why I spend my time doing this stuff. OR Thanks, but it was just a fun little family project. The kids were just happy to be hams in front of the camera. In reality, I do spend a lot of time and effort on most things dealing with this blog. And I am over-Saturn’s-moon-slap-me-jazzed-do-a-high-kick-yell-SUPERSTAR-like-Mary-Catherine-Gallagher-happy when people respond to it in a positive way.

Then I got an email from a friend I went to high school with. This is what she said:

I just have to tell you that the reason I had been thinking about you is because in between all the mom stuff, house stuff, grocery shopping, etc (YOU KNOW!), I feel like I can get extremely short and cranky with my family and when I read your blogs and posts, I am truly inspired by your zest (decided to use a good word like that, with your love for words and all) for life and how much fun you seem to have.  I seriously think of you and think of how lucky your kids are and your husband is and how much fun you have, while still being a great mom and teaching your kids what is right and wrong.

First off, that email made my day, more than the excitement of all the hub-bub that had been surrounding my blog at the time. To know that something I enjoy doing somehow helps other people navigate through their lives in even the smallest way is the gold medal of compliments. But here comes that flip side of accepting something nice said about you. She painted such a glowing reflection of me, a reflection I feel on most days I can’t claim to be mine. I joked with her that while reading my blog might help her stop being cranky and short with her children, I am usually JUST THAT with my own children while WRITING THE VERY BLOG she feels inspired by. Wow. I felt a little like a fraud. I stumble through motherhood just like everyone else; I just usually choose to only write about the more lighthearted moments of it. I don’t like to complain too much in public, mostly because I have little patience for others who do. But in doing this, am I unintentionally portraying a false image of my life? Am I somehow making other mothers say things to themselves like, “Why can’t I be more like THAT kind of parent?” Trust me, I am no model mother…nor do I want to be.

But I had to realize that wasn’t the point of her compliment. And you know what? My kids ARE lucky to have me: an imperfect mother who loves them like no one else can and who lets them star in music videos. And every mom who reads this has children who are lucky to have her: another imperfect mother who loves them like no one else can and who sometimes needs to read about the funny, heart-warming moments of my life to remind her that she has moments just like that in hers.

Needless to say, it has been nice that things have settled down a little around here, at least on the blog front…because my darned life won’t take a break long enough to let me ogle my site stats to find out exactly how many people have been reading my posts or let me plot my next strategy for taking over the viral world. In the meantime, here is a link to a post by Rage Against the Minivan that will make all parents feel better about striving for acceptable mediocrity most of the time. Happy Easter!

The Slacker Mom’s Guide to Dying Easter Eggs with Small Children

dyed eggs
Um yeah, ours don’t look anything like this.