A Reminder to Breathe in Mamalode

I’m so happy to share that my essay “A Reminder to Breathe” has been published in the amazing magazine Mamalode. Please check it out, friends! Hope you enjoy, and hope it makes a positive difference.

Heartfelt thanks to Mamalode for sharing my piece with their readers.

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Don’t miss Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

What Happens Next? When Stories End Too Soon

One afternoon, I was rocking Anna and reading her a story, as I usually do before she falls asleep for her nap. The story was “Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend.” I finished reading the last page; then I closed the book.

Anna tapped her hand on the book. “More,” she said.

“No,” I explained. “The story’s over.” And it’s time for your nap.

Anna shook her head. “More,” she repeated. “Dubla Da!”

“Dubla Da” is how Anna says “Amelia Bedelia.” I understand Anna; I can speak Baby, as Grace says. In that moment, I also understood that my toddler daughter wanted to know what happened next in the story.

She wanted more.

What happens next?

As readers, we love finding a story so compelling that we can’t put it down. We want more. We want to know what happens next.

Eventually, we reach The End. And sometimes, we’re sorry The End has come so soon.

This past summer, I published a short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story” (aptly titled, right?). I loved writing this story. I had fun figuring out the characters (flawed, but redeemable). I made the setting my beloved college town of Richmond, Va., and enjoyed revisiting it in my memory. And through the plot twists and turns, I considered how human beings tell stories, a subject I’ve always been interested in.

I heard from friends, as well as complete strangers, who read and reviewed “This Is Just a Story.” The majority of them said they really enjoyed it. Some felt parts could have been better, or different. All of them wanted to know what happened next.

Eventually, we reach The End. And sometimes, we’re sorry The End has come so soon.

“I wished the story kept going,” my good friend Allison wrote in her Amazon review. Meanwhile, a reviewer I don’t know added, “[I]t left me wondering what comes next.”

More.

What happens next.

As a writer, I love that my readers enjoyed my story and wanted it to continue. That makes me so happy—so happy, in fact, that I’m working on a sequel to “This Is Just a Story.” The title?

Yes, you guessed it: “What Happens Next.”

🙂

Yet.

Sometimes stories do, simply, end before we’re ready for them to. I don’t mean short fiction stories now. Beyond “Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend” and anything I might write…sometimes stories end too soon, in real life.

Sometimes we learn as much as we can about something, or someone. And that’s the end of the path for us and that experience, or that relationship.

Back in Richmond, I had a friend. We started as co-workers and became friends. She was friendly, fun, hard-working. Cared very much about her family members, some of whom had been through difficult times, and helped them whenever she could. I respected her very much.

Then I moved to San Antonio. She later shared with me that she was making a cross-country move too. We kept in touch, for a while. When I told her I had become a mother, she sewed a blanket and mailed it to me for Grace.

I still have that blanket, here in New York now.

What Happens Next

We aren’t close as we once were though, my friend and I. Long distance can do that to friendships. As much as I’d like our story to keep going, I have the sense that it ended. And probably, really, where it ended was in Richmond, before our paths diverged.

If our paths do cross again sometime…I’ll give her the biggest hug. I’ll be so excited to catch up. In the meantime, I wish her all the best and only the best, because that’s what she deserves.

Sometimes we reach the end of a path—or the end of a story—and that’s it. We have to let go. We can’t always know what happens next.

We have a primal need to know, but sometimes we have to let go.

We can, however, keep the journey close to our heart. Appreciate what we did have the chance to discover.

We have a primal need to know, but sometimes we have to let go.

This past weekend, I was chatting with a lovely lady I know. She shared with me that she’s retiring soon. She worked in her role about seven years. In her line of work, seven years is about the right amount of time, she told me, to come in, make a positive difference and then welcome new energy in. Seven years—sounded about right to me.

Sometimes The End comes too soon, and sometimes, we know to expect it.

Letting go can be hard. Coincidentally, I spent seven years in San Antonio. And four years in Richmond before that (unless you count the college years too—then, eight.) I love adventures, and exploring. Today, I love New York.

There are times, though, when I feel a pang for a place from before. In San Antonio, something I miss, of all things, is my local grocery store, and a lady who worked at the deli counter there—Miss Jennifer—I’m sure I’ve mentioned her to you before. I knew her since Grace was a baby…appreciated our weekly chats, which ranged from deli meats to grace (lowercase G grace)…and every now and then, usually on Sundays, wonder how she’s doing.

I hope we catch up again someday. Just like with my friend from Richmond, I’d give Miss Jennifer the biggest hug. And like moms everywhere, I’d show off how much Grace has grown, and Anna too.

What happens next?

Stories are like memories—not so much about what…or where…or when…but who.

Whatever happened to that person I knew so well?

Luckily, paths can cross, diverge and meet again. There’s always the possibility for sequels—in literature, and in life.

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Can You Make Me a Paper Airplane?

At the table adjacent to ours, a trio of high school girls was studying for an anatomy test. I know because they were quizzing each other, loudly, on the finer points of the skeletal system. For the first time in about 20 years, I heard the words “metacarpals” and “tibial tuberosity.”

As I sipped my chai tea latte, only one word flickered through my science-challenged brain: brutal.

“Mom.” I glanced over at Grace. She was holding out a page from the coloring book I’d brought. “Can you make me a paper airplane?”

I smiled. “I’m sorry, honey, but I don’t know how.”

“You don’t know how?”

When we’re little, we think of our parents as superheroes. There’s nothing they don’t know, or can’t do. This perception probably peaks around age 7 and then plummets by 16, when we’re full-fledged, omniscient teenagers. 😉

Grace, and Anna too, stared at me in horror. I shrugged. Paper airplanes are Stanton’s forte, not mine.

“Well, ask someone,” Grace suggested.

I glanced around the back parlor of our coffee shop. I wasn’t going to interrupt the intense anatomy test study session, that was for sure. Two other women were huddled by the oversized window, deep in conversation and their second 16-ounce cups of coffee. A man was nearby, a portfolio of papers splayed in front of him. Another gentleman was chuckling at his phone.

“Not right now, honey,” I said.

“Why?” Grace asked.

“Why?” Anna repeated.

I tilted my head at them. “I’m feeling shy right now.”

Anna tilted her head back at me. “Aww,” she empathized.

I love my coffee shop dates with my daughters. Just sitting together, hanging out…

“Mom! I have a great idea!” Grace’s brown eyes were sparkling. “You can ask your phone!”

Indeed I could. “OK,” I agreed, digging my phone out of the diaper bag.

I Googled “how to make a paper airplane.” Grace slid the coloring page across our table. Anna licked pumpkin chocolate-chip muffin from her fingertips.

Paper Airplane 3-13-17

A few minutes later, I had transformed that coloring page into a paper airplane for my 5-year-old. You would have thought I’d hung the moon, Grace was so happy.

“You did it! You really did it!” Grace said.

“Yay!” Two-year-old Anna clapped.

And from the table adjacent to ours, the high schoolers were now debating true ribs, false ribs and floating ribs.

In all honesty, I really enjoyed my high school anatomy class. I had an excellent teacher, Mr. Smedley, who made the subject interesting and relevant. Anatomy is one of those subjects where you actually can use the information in everyday life when you grow up.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

Paper airplane making was one of my Poppy’s finest skills. He served as an airplane mechanic during World War II and later flew airplanes as a hobby. He loved all things aeronautical.

When I was a freshman in college, Poppy mailed me a letter. I was homesick during those first few weeks away from our Pennsylvania hometown, and I loved hearing from my Poppy. Appreciated that memento of home.

I saved Poppy’s letter for a long time, but don’t have it anymore. It got misplaced, or lost, or recycled when I moved from my freshman-year dorm to my sophomore-year one.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

That’s, possibly, the hardest thing about moving, whether across campus or across the country: You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

Luckily, I do remember. I remember that Poppy had drawn an airplane after his signature on the letter. He loved all things aeronautical, right? Yes. And the letter, and the airplane, meant he loved me.

Human beings are resilient, I’ve been told. And I believe that’s true. Every day, I make a conscious effort to, simply, “choose happy.” To focus on the good. Leave people and places better than I found them. That sort of thing.

But there are times when I’m feeling sad, or stressed, or shy, as I was in the coffee shop that afternoon.

During these times, I give myself a moment to acknowledge these emotions. Sadness, stress, shyness. For example, I wish Poppy could have met Anna; he would have loved her. I acknowledge that sadness, that sense of loss.

After I’ve had my moment, I do my best to move forward. To refocus on the good. Celebrate all the good things.

You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

As we journey along, we face all kinds of assessments, from high school anatomy tests to mortgage applications to annual physicals. Someone tells us if we’ve passed or failed based on theoretically objective standards.

Were we good enough? Or do we not get to pass “Go”?

I don’t know, but I suspect, that as we near the end of our journey, we give ourselves a self-assessment or sorts. We reflect on the path we carved—the choices we made—the affection we gave, or withheld. What we’re leaving behind.

“What’s the difference between true ribs and false ribs?”—our end-of-journey self-assessment almost certainly doesn’t include questions like these.

No, more like… “Did I do good work? Did I choose love over hate? Did I do the best I could for my family? Did I take walks, and watch the sun set, and play Marco Polo in the summer and build snowmen in the winter?”

Did I make paper airplanes?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Being There for Dinner

The boiling water bubbled over the saucepan. Sssssss! The stovetop hissed.

Grace screamed. Anna followed suit.

“Everything’s OK,” I said, grabbing the pot. I drained the just-cooked pasta in the colander in the sink.

The timer on the oven began beeping: the meatballs. The girls crowded into the kitchen.

“Girls, you need to move…”

The front door opened, then closed. “Dad!” The girls rushed out of the kitchen. Someone tripped and fell on the way; crying ensued.

Welcome to the end of the weekday in many families’ homes, right? Mine. Maybe yours too.

For a while, I would finish making dinner around 6 o’clock. Stanton usually would be home by then. I’d set the food on the dining room table, encourage my family to help themselves, and then retreat to the kitchen to begin cleaning up everything that had gone into preparing the meal.

And, I won’t lie: I often would enjoy a few minutes’ peace to eat by myself without one of the girls climbing into my lap or grabbing from my plate.

Then one evening, about a month ago, I glanced at the dining room table. Anna was sitting on Stanton’s lap, snuggling against his chest. Smudging his dress shirt with her sticky fingers, but they looked cozy and happy nevertheless. Grace was talking about her day at preschool, her eyes wide and excited.

I glanced at that dining room table, and…I missed my family. I wanted to join them. Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

Such a little thing, such a Captain Obvious moment—to sit down for dinner with the people you love the most. Probably not even worthy of being written about, right? But I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed doing it. Clearly, I hadn’t done it all that much, because it resonated with me. Sitting face-to-face with my family, instead of standing alone a room away—what a difference.

Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

A couple of weeks later, I was at the library and came across this book title: “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” by Miriam Weinstein. It was calling my name; I checked it out. During the next few days, I read through it. This book has a wealth of insights, but the ones that most struck me were these passages in which the author quotes theologian Bill Huebsch:

“‘Things work out when you cook and wash dishes together. It’s hard to sit down to table with someone you haven’t forgiven…In most of our lives, meals are also memorials. Almost everyone, when they speak of their lives, they speak about meals’” (pages 146-147).

Wow, I thought. And, yes.

Family, food, forgiveness, memory, life—all intertwined.

When my daughters are older, I’m not sure what they’ll remember about their childhood, or our family dinners. Like all parents, I hope they have many happy memories. I do know, though, that I want them to remember that I was there, at the table with them, instead of missing in action in the kitchen.

I’ve been trying to make this happen. Not every evening…but more often than not. Because life can get hectic. You can’t always be the ideal version of yourself.

Yet.

Being There for Dinner

“Don’t Blink” was a hit country song by Kenny Chesney, about 10 years ago. I heard it just the other day, and these lyrics have been replaying in my head ever since:

“…When your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip it over and start again”

The theme of the song, of course, is that time goes by in the blink of an eye.

When I’ve been sitting down with my family now, I’ve been looking at them, really seeing them. There’s something beautiful about making eye contact with someone you love, and holding that gaze, and connecting. Really connecting.

“‘It’s the facing each other that’s important’” in how we eat, according to scholar Witold Rybczynski in “The Surprising Power of Family Meals.” “It’s the fact of sitting face-to-face, inviting interaction, give-and-take, that matters most” (page 87).

Family—food—face-to-face. Pretty simple.

Something I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, is that the simple stuff is the good stuff. This past Sunday, I made Hamburger Helper for Stanton and the girls for lunch—Stanton’s request. “It’s been years since I’ve had Hamburger Helper,” Stanton said.

“Huh, I wonder why,” the foodie in me replied (the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun).

For years now, I’ve been experimenting with gourmet and/or novel recipes for my family—herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, lime chicken tacos, everything I wrote about here. Why would I bother with Hamburger Helper, when I could prepare something amazing from scratch?

…the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun…

I made the Hamburger Helper. Sat down with Stanton and the girls. Anna took a bite: “Mmm!” Stanton was ready for a second helping within, it seemed, seconds. And Grace declared that she liked my Hamburger Helper almost as much as the frozen pizza I “make.”

The simple stuff is the good stuff. Family. Food. Face-to-face. Hamburger Helper or herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, it doesn’t matter.

As long as you’re there.

I want to be there.

What about you, friends?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.