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NOW

A blog about writing, relationships, society, parenting and being human.

 

MOTHER'S DAY GREETINGS

Coley Gallagher

Last year my kids said the Mother’s Day card I bought for my mom didn’t look like her. The youngest shook his head, adding, “That’s not Nana’s taste at all.”

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“Really?” I asked. How did he determine this? He was hardly an expert, as he had only met my mother four, maybe five, times in his life. His oldest brother hardly more than that.

The card I got her was fine. On its pale blue background bloomed two fat camellias, the billowy flowers embossed with the words “Happy Mother’s Day,” sans serif and all caps. Inside was blank.

What I wrote in the blankness:

Mom,

I hope you are in good health and good spirits. Have a peaceful day.

I wished her good health since some part of her body usually ails her. And I imagined her spirits might be sagging since it was Mother’s Day. Her own indifferent mother was long dead and none of her daughters was currently speaking to her. Good spirits, very unlikely, but I really did hope.

Peaceful? Sure. If not happiness, why not some peace?

I cannot remember if I signed the note “Love, Coley” or just wrote my name.

🌸🌸

About a year ago Mom sent me a book, for Mother’s Day I presumed, since it arrived the second week in May. There was a note on the packing slip.

I know we are not in a good place right now. Even if we never speak again, do this for me. Love you forever, Mom

Do what? Read the book? I studied the jacket on which Elizabeth Gilbert had written a glowing, heartfelt blurb. According to the summary, the story was about two sisters. One had cancer, so her sister gave her bone marrow. They also went to therapy together and, by the story’s sad ending, had cleared all their painful familial crap.

While Mom’s brief note did seem a little cryptic, I ruled out a veiled request for us to go to therapy. This, I surmised, since my mother is averse to talking about my upbringing. For her, talking about the past is akin to poking a rusty nail into a septic, maggoty wound. She usually ends up furious at anyone brave or stupid enough to broach the subject. That was most often me.

Mom promised we’d go to therapy once. When I was 20, I fell off my bike and smacked my head on the pavement, causing a clot of blood to bloom on my brain. After hours in intensive care waiting for the clot to go away, surgeons decided to operate. When the time for my surgery grew near, my mother and stepfather began sobbing at my bedside. While I lay motionless, curled in a ball, my eyes squeezed tight against the mind-blowing pain, they made promises to take me places and buy me things. Then, with just a few minutes to go before surgery, Mom declared, “If you survive your operation, I swear on the Bible, we will go to therapy.”

I opened my eyes, glancing at her sideways.

She looped the air with her hand to indicate my stepfather and me. “All of us will.”

An ICU nurse had come in. Her eyes veered to mine. I met her gaze and asked, “Can you take them away?”

She escorted my parents to the waiting room. When she came back, the nurse pulled a chair close to my bed and took my hand, which she held until they wheeled me into surgery.

We never did go to therapy and, no, I did not think Mom wanted to fly to my chilly midwest city to talk about things that happened in the past.

Nor did I.

And, no, I’ve never read the book she sent.

🌸🌸

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Last year on Mother’s Day, my youngest climbed in bed with me a little past seven and told me I would not have to do a single thing that day. I thanked him, but said it’d probably be best for me to set my expectations a bit lower.

The day turned out to be just right. My husband and I went for a walk by the lake. After, he helped me clean the oven. My foot was injured, so I sat in the sun and cheered on my soccer teammates in our annual Mother’s Day game. And, finally, that evening, I watched a predictable super hero movie with my boys while eating Indian take out. It wasn’t a particularly peaceful day, but it was, for sure, happy.

🌸🌸

A few years back, and a week before Mother’s Day, I got this text from Mom: As I reflect on my life I see how God has given me everything I need. Please do not call or send cards or gifts for Mother’s Day. Instead give your money to the poor.

It was a group text, so was sent to my sister Shannon and two nieces as well. I messaged my sister immediately.

Me: This is the nicest thing she has ever said me

Shannon: She probably doesn’t mean it

I texted back: Problem is, I already sent something!

The day before I had mailed Mom a framed photo of our family taken at Trunk Bay.

My sister and I exchanged a few more messages. They were mostly wary, somewhat funny, a little mean, despite the fact that it is never a good sign when Mom got all holy-roller, religiosity being a mark of her illness.

I texted my mother to let her know my gift was already on the way. She contacted me after receiving the package. The glass had cracked and Mom reported nearly slicing her hand off while opening it. In her message, she told me never to send her anything glass EVER AGAIN even though, for years, I’d sent framed pictures of my kids for practically every occasion and no complaints.

Not long after Mom’s salty text, my half-sister called. My half-sister confided that, weeks earlier, Mom had been arrested, mainly for assaulting her, although there were other disturbing charges. Mom had also moved out of the house she shared with her third husband. She had assaulted him, too. He had pressed charges and was filing for divorce.

I hung up, never so thankful for the thousand miles between us. I thought, that explains Mom’s behavior: the pious Mother’s Day text, her grouchy admonishment about broken glass. I called Shannon for corroboration and details.

My sister Shannon would have made a brilliant secret agent. Shannon is beautiful and any hair color suits her. She has nerves of steel and, wow, can that woman keep her mouth shut. Consider this: We had texted a bunch and spoken at least three times since all this went down and she had breathed not a word.

"What happened?” I asked.

My sister released a lengthy sigh, then began the saga by reporting how, right before Mom’s arrest, she’d taken a break from contact with her. This information shocked me more than Mom’s unhinged behavior. I knew something godawful must have happened for my sister to ask our mother for a break and stick to it.

Her voice catching, Shannon said, “She went after my girls. She started saying how they were —”

She couldn’t go on for a full minute.

Pause game. I won’t get into what was said, only ask you to imagine what it must have taken for my sister, who believes God commands her to honor her parents, to ask our mom to let her alone for a little while.

Back to her story.

My sister had been out of touch with our mother for a week or so when she got a call from the Orange County jail. It was Mom. She was locked up and demanded Shannon get her out. Immediately.

Shannon told me, “She didn’t ask. Didn’t say please. She acted like it was my fault somehow.”

After they hung up, Shannon called Mom’s third husband, the guy who had had her arrested. She then spoke to our half-sister. Everyone agreed Mom needed help, ideally an extended hospital stay. Everyone, that is, except my mother.

Since she wouldn’t get help and her husband and youngest daughter had taken out restraining orders against her, Mom could not go home. Shannon found Mom a place to stay far away from the two individuals against whom her contact was restrained, then paid the bail. After, one of my uncles spirited Mom to the home of family members an hour away. That is where things stood.

The tale was upsetting, stunning, even by our family’s standards. For a few moments, I was speechless. When I could reply, I said, “I’m sorry you had to deal with all that by yourself.”

Shannon replied, “It’s fine. There was nothing you could have done.”

🌸🌸

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My kids like to give me noisy cards on Mother’s Day. This is probably because they know I hate them. I’ve tried to be cool about it, laugh when they give them to me, sing along or dance to the silly ditty, but, inevitably, they open the noisy card and play the song/phrase/sound so often I end up tearing the thing to bits.

A couple years back, I banned noisy cards from our house. I no longer allow cards that, when opened, play LMFAO songs or shout, “BOO YA!” or make fart noises. The boys weren’t happy about this pronouncement. They tried to get their dad to intervene, but he refused. I think they finally came around when I pointed out how noisy cards cost about three or four times more than regular ones.

My kids still give me rambunctious greeting cards. Last year, their joint Mother’s Day card featured a badass toddler on the front. The little chunky monkey wore mirrored sunglasses and a straight cap. Long gold chains and a cookie-shaped gold medallion hung from his neck. Diamond chunks shone on his ears and tattoos covered his plump, stubby arms.

In large, bold all caps, the cover screamed: MOM, YOU MADE ME WHO I AM.

Inside more bold capital letters inquired, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?”

🌸🌸

In my early twenties, I sent my mother a poem I wrote for Mother’s Day. It was called “Just Plain Blue” and was about the room Mom and Shannon and I shared when I was a child. At the time I believed I’d sent Mom the poem because I was too broke to buy her a present. I certainly was broke, but, having recently excavated the poem from a stained file folder thick with numerous dreadful poems, I have to wonder about my motive. I won’t include the whole thing here, but trust me, “Just Plain Blue” is terrible. As foreshadowed in the title, the poem over-relied on color symbolism. The last two lines, in particular, make me cringe:

a child. a woman. another generation

just plain blue

Yeah, I have no idea what that means.

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When she received the poem Mom was outraged. She called and said it was hurtful, cruel, worse than receiving nothing at all. All the people she’d shown agreed.

Looking back, I can understand how she felt this way. If Mother’s Day is supposed to be the day to thank and honor one’s mother, “Just Plain Blue” failed utterly. That was more than twenty years ago. Apparently, I’ve been confused about how to thank and honor my particular mother for a very long time.

I just mailed Mom this year’s card, a graphic thing awash in pastel colors with very little text. It’s square shape required an extra stamp. I also sent her a framed picture of my boys goofing around with my nieces.

I won’t have to be in touch again until Thanksgiving.

What Linkedin Cannot Possibly Tell You About Me

Coley Gallagher

Search for me on Linked-in and you’ll find a flattering photo and some general, rather unsatisfying information about what I’ve done with myself over the last number of years. I come off as a little evasive. I keep meaning to add my publication credits so people will take me more seriously. As inauspicious as some of the pubs may be, I hear having them at all is a thing.

Believe me, I could fill a post with things you can’t know about me from Linkedin. There’s my…

Samples of my 99 Facebook profile pics

Samples of my 99 Facebook profile pics

Reliability

I floss every night. Every blasted night.

Persistance

There is a pyramid of balled up drafts spilling out over the rim of my trash can. A couple times a week I have to stomp the crumpled balls back into the basket until I can make one of my sons to empty the trash.

Timeliness

I inadvertently trained my kids to freak about being places on time, i.e., 15 minutes early.

Affability

More than one friend has told me she will leave her husband if I will leave my husband and marry her. I’d say that means I’m well liked.

Judgment

Have you met my husband?

Reach

Right now all my Twitter followers may be blood relatives or neighbors, however, I have a big extended family and we plan to move after our littlest graduates high school.

Relevance

My oldest son just informed me that “get coffee” is code for sex. “The new Netflix and chill,” he explained. I know a lot of teenagers.

Originality

I am a tea drinker.

Grit

My childhood. Just trust me until I finish the book.

Miscellaneous

Despite my allegiance to hard work, I have a maddening inability to walk past a penny on heads.

Crybaby

Coley Gallagher

View from my study floor.

View from my study floor.

I just had the most satisfying cry. To be fair, I cry most Monday mornings, but my recent cry was definitely a post-holiday-weekend cry, the usual emotions and sensations that get stoppered in my body most weekends made more intense by Thanksgiving.

- For one, Jill, who has been gone nearly three years, wasn’t there. I didn’t want to dwell on this fact with her kids around, but I missed her badly. When I counted and realized we had 13 people at dinner I knew she had insinuated herself into Thanksgiving after all — 13 being her favorite number. Then I dreamt of her Thanksgiving night. In one dream she was wearing porcelain high heels. They were white and delicate and appeared somewhat painful. She was unable to walk in them so couldn’t descend a set of stairs, although I awaited her at the bottom. In another dream, she left an event we both planned to attend before I even arrived. I didn’t find out she’d been and gone until I’d waited on her all day.

- Add to this the fact that, after all these years, I might still be a little afraid of my sister.

- The above notwithstanding, I cried today, in part, because I watched far too much football over the last four days. I saw too many men smashing into other men, their bodies bending in unnatural ways, guys ripped off their feet. While watching these hours of football, I was inundated with commercials to buy things I don’t need, enticed to get stuff for people, who, likewise, don’t need any more stuff. Question: do people really buy Lexuses for Christmas? Then, early this morning before I’d had a cup of strong tea, the paper noted that “low-income people feeling flush” had spurred the weekend’s holiday spending. Despite feeling pretty excellent after finding out my children did not have a snow day, and the article’s attempt to cast a positive light on poor people spending lots of money on holiday shopping, I was like, ut oh. This can’t end well.

- It probably also had to do with my husband leaving early for his trip, flying out ahead of last night’s “blizzard.” I drove him to the airport. It took us 27 minutes to offload at the O’Hare exit. Waiting in dead-stopped traffic I checked my email and found a rejection from an editor. It was a nice one, the best kind, rejection + invitation: “Though this piece does not fit us at this time, I enjoyed your writing, and I’d encourage you to submit other works in the future.”

These sort of notes are always heartening.

Still.

Rejection is rejection.

Can’t a woman get a few minutes to boohoo?

Once taken, onward.

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What I Should Do

Coley Gallagher

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Once a week or so, I panic about how little I’m blogging (hardly ever/almost never). I should be posting more, tweeting more, every day, multiple times a day. If I want editors to fancy me, I need a presence, a following, fans. I need numnbers in the thousands.

I should be weighing in constantly, or often, or, at least, here and there. I should provide thoughtful or humorous commentary, bestow insight or inspiration, contribute something original, or better yet, interrupt the conversation all together, upend the whole blasted thing. I should start my own conversation — be the conversation — although I’m not especially motivated to conversate while I toil away on a memoir.

An excerpt from my memoir.

Someone visited every day. No one called ahead or received an invitation. People just showed up. Somehow weekday visitors knew to come around the time we finished chores, but before Days of Our Lives started. On Saturday, visits spanned the entire day. My enjoyment of these visits was directly proportionate to the visitor’s age, in descending order, old people being the least enjoyable, these would be my great aunts and uncles, and my cousins, both children and teenagers, being the best, best, best! Everyone else was in between.

Weekdays, one of Grandma’s sisters often stopped in, toting some horrid pastry, rectangular super market danishes with sweet, glistening cheese or filled with the only two fruits I disliked - apricot, lemon. My great aunts took offense when I left my danish on the dish, one bite missing, complaining to Grandma that I got away with murder.

This beauty’s going to take me a while. In the meantime, to be current, relevant, get much-needed clicks, it’d serve me to offer writing that is immediate, pithy, digital. I probably could manage this if, when not pecking away at my memoir, I wasn’t accidentally, concurrently, writing an essay collection.

An excerpt from a recent essay that worked better disguised as a one act play.

STEPFATHER

How are your boys?


WOMAN

I had a newborn and two preschoolers. All boys.

(Into phone) They’re good. Getting big. The baby’s asleep and the big ones are playing out back. Those two are wild.

(To audience) He laughed, then said:

STEPFATHER

That’s what you get with three boys.

I’ve seen pictures.

They’re beautiful.

WOMAN

(Into phone) Thank you.

(To audience) He started sobbing.

I sat there and listened to him cry, unable to speak. After a moment he asked:

STEPFATHER

Why do you hate me so much?

WOMAN

That question split me open. I started bawling, too, so hard I couldn’t talk. We both cried on the phone for entire minutes. I cried some of that stuff that got stored in my body right out of me.

After a while, I was able to say, (Into phone) ‘I don’t.’

STEPFATHER

You don’t?

WOMAN

(Laughs/cries into phone) No.

(To audience) I didn’t. At certain points in my life I had, but right then, I did not. I said, (Into phone) ‘I don’t hate you. It’s just. Well. It’s just hard for me to be around you.’

STEPFATHER

You always were sensitive.

I suppose I could populate my near-abandoned blog with my essays or parts of them. Then again, if I do, they’d be disqualified from submission to literary journals where editors I’m hoping to woo with better metrics work long hours for very little compensation.

I know I should chime in more, yet when the spirit moves me to do so, it rarely come from the best place. For instance, I want to post right away in the rare circumstance that someone has taken a good photo of me. After all I’ve learned, I still want you to think I’m pretty.

Along those same lines, I have to guard against wanting people to think I’m cool. I usually feel a tug to post/tweet/share when I’ve got something self-serving or indirectly boastful to report, my possession of 2019 Women’s World Cup Finals tickets or how I sat only meters from George Saunders at the Chicago Humanities Festival two weeks back. I also want you to think I’m raising my kids particularly well. I’d like credit — to be admired — for precocious things my youngest comes out with, when it’s probable Calvin and Hobbes have had more influence over his spin on things than I have.

Could have posted Saturday morning:

Sam said, “Mom, I’ve been thinking. It makes more sense for God to be female.

Me: You think so? Why?

Sam continued, “Well, females carry the babies. They do more to make them; actually grow them inside their bodies. Then the female usually takes care of them. All the male has to do is swim.”

Me: You have a point.

Sam said, “I mean, the male has to swim really fast. Sperm swim, like, 1,000 miles an hour, don’t they?”

Me: We’ll have to google it.

That exchange was charming, thought provoking, and fairly typical for us. Problem is, sharing it would give you an incomplete picture of him, me, of our relationship, even our Saturday. Posting it would have felt disingenuous. I suppose it would have been fine to post our exchange as long as, later in the day, I’d posted a follow-up after he sassed me royally in a room full of people.

Could have posted this follow-up Saturday evening:

It is all I can do not to bloody my child.

I coulda, woulda, shoulda posted again, but when? You heard: I’m raising a quick-talking, diminutive middle schooler. He has two large, unpredictable brothers, both in high school. I’ve got to nurture and feed these boys, supervise their half-assed completion of chores, chores I could do better myself, without having to listen to complaints and in a fraction of the time. I’m also trying to keep fit so I can beat other women to through-balls or cut off through-balls altogether. And a couple times a week it’s nice to have an uninterrupted conversation with my husband.

Considering my analog priorities, I’m not sure I have what it takes to be relevant. Maybe I need to change. If I dig really, really deep, maybe I can. I have a feeling it might get ugly, despite any becoming photos.

Yesterday morning I could have posted:

The people listening to NPR on speaker while they walk on the lakefront need to invest in some headphones

#therestofuscanhearyourbleepingphone

Later, in the grocery store, which, conveniently, has wifi, I could have posted:

Get that baby off your cellphone!

#ruininganentiregeneration

I could chide or give canny advice all the day long. Then I could probably hit decent traffic numbers. It’d mean contributing more negativity and incivility to our polarized, snark-saturated discourse. I could do it, but it’d be awfully hard on everyone, not to mention the toll it’d take on my soul. I’m not sure decent numbers are worth that to me.

Perhaps it’d be best if I keep blogging when called to, when a scintilla of time opens up. Until then, if you’d like to know what’s happening, hear my thoughts on any manner of topics, feel free to call, text, email or message me. I also check the mail every single afternoon, praying someone, anyone, might have sent me a letter.

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Some Items Remembered From Summer

Coley Gallagher

    My children returned to school today. Sort of. One had a half day, morning only. The oldest attends class in the afternoon. Mercifully, the youngest will be held at the middle school for the entire day.
    We’ve had a pretty outstanding summer so far. Loads of company, sunshine, play time and relaxation. Admittedly, the World Cup and hosting houseguests put me on my heels, but I bounced back. I'm surprisingly tan. Not surprisingly, I wrote little, however, I kept mental notes on any insights and discoveries I wanted or needed to share with you. They are in thematic and, it turns out, mostly chronological, order:

There is such a thing as watching too much soccer.

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The corners of my 20 year-old Keith Haring mousepad are peeling.

I prefer watching Wild Wild Country during the 4th Of July Block Party and only going outside for dinner.

Much as I mean to, I'm never going to read your Twitter feed. Or anyone else's.

I need never visit another amusement park.

I would go broke running a B&B.

Watching television during the day might not hasten the end times, but it makes me feel lousy, and by lousy, I mean fat.

People who watch TV during the day buy a lot of medication.

I wish the Queer Eyes boys were my friends.

I may be addicted to peaches.

Taking a walk makes anything better.

My middle son doesn't realize how uncool it is to sit on my lap.

We don’t pay teachers enough.

We should build them houses. Nice ones.

And cut their lawns.

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Mrs. President

Coley Gallagher

Among the reasons women make formidable leaders: an understanding that most times there can only be one winner.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic comforts player Luka Modric after Croatia's World Cup Final loss to France.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic comforts player Luka Modric after Croatia's World Cup Final loss to France.