Measures of Success and MUCH

Anna, our 2-year-old, has a knack for making Stanton and me smile. First, like many 2-year-olds, she’s a ball of energy, up for riding her new trike around the neighborhood one minute and practicing her t-ball swing the next. She’s a lot of fun. Throw in her big dimples and mischief-making grin, and we can’t help but smile.

We tell both girls, often, “I love you.” Grace replies with, “I love you too,” while Anna merely smacks her lips at us—kiss. When we say, “I love you so much,” Anna has her own shorthand for this expression too: “Much!”

In the morning, as Stanton is heading out, Anna scurries over to him, wraps her little arms around his leg and declares, “Much!” She accompanies her sweet farewell with a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-coated smooch to his crisp dress pants. Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

As I was writing this piece, this Emerson quote popped into my head (bold emphasis mine):

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Anna’s “Much!” expression, and her good-bye kisses to Stanton, made me think of this quote. Here, Emerson is giving us his definition of success: laughter, strength of character, gratitude, positive energy, service. All these things, of course, can’t be measured—at least, not easily.

It’s easier for us to measure “success” with numbers (we think). When we’re young, we take tests at school that assign us grades, scores and percentiles—how well we did on the tests. When we’re older, we think in terms of hourly wages, salaries and project fees—how good we are, our value to a company.

Life requires some level of quantifiable measurement. Test scores and, later, salaries work toward that objectivity. Unfortunately, numbers leave little room for bigger pictures, so to speak. They can’t tell us when a student arrives at school on an empty stomach, thinking about hunger instead of multiple-choice questions. They can’t help us understand why firefighters earn an average of $47,000 annually, while political strategists can take home six figures.

Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

Stanton volunteers as a coach for Grace’s preschool soccer team. Yesterday, I was scheduled to fill in for him at the weekly soccer practice because he had a work commitment. I joked with Grace, “You can call me Coach, all right?”

Grace smiled and said, “I’m going to call you Mom.”

Both my daughters teach me so much. In that moment, I realized that whatever we might accomplish in our lives—whatever titles we might answer to, whether Coach, or Doctor, or Mayor, or Pastor, or Professor—we’ll still answer to Mom, or Dad, or Aunt Jenna, or Uncle Brian to the handful of people in the world who mean the most to us.

And this handful of people, these kids of ours… Chances are, they’ll be the ones least impressed by our SAT scores (if we even remember them), diplomas and W-2 forms. In my experience anyway, this is just how life works.

Measures of Success Picture 6-13-17

When I was growing up, my dad won various awards from his company for his work. Once, our hometown newspaper featured an article about my mom, a teacher, for developing a “try other things besides TV” educational program. I have so much respect and appreciation for both my parents.

When my parents and I talk, though, what we talk about most are all the times we had together. The funny moments, the family vacations, the movie quotes that have become part of our family lore. (“Well, they say geniuses pick green. But you didn’t pick it.”) The awards and newspaper articles don’t come up.

I imagine the same, or something similar, is true for you and your family too.

A few years ago, I read this article on CNN’s faith blog, regarding “What people talk about before they die.” The article has stayed with me all this time. The author, a hospice chaplain, answers the question her article poses: “Mostly, they talk about their families.”

She goes on to add, “They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave…They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying…they reach their hands out to things I cannot see, and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy.”

This article speaks to what we remember on our last days. We remember our families. We remember “Much!”

I was reading the book “Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer!” to the girls one day recently. In the story, the title character and her lovable little sister, JoJo, pretend to be astronauts and blast off to explore the moon. Afterward, Grace announced she would like to be an astronaut when she grows up.

“Sounds great,” I said. “You’ll be a wonderful astronaut.”

Maybe Grace will be an astronaut someday. Maybe she’ll change her mind, as 5-year-olds often do, and embark upon another path instead. Stanton and I will encourage the girls to do their best in whatever interests them.

I’ll also encourage the girls to make time for the ones they love. To sit down to dinner with their families. To celebrate their friends’ weddings. To take trips, just because. Because…I know that moon landing will be awesome.

And I’m pretty sure, too, that the moments they’ll remember with the greatest joy—the moments that will carry them through their darkest days, and give them peace on their final days—are the ones like when a little person wraps their arms around you, smears a Cinnamon Toast Crunch kiss on your clean clothes and declares, “Much!”

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.

At Home in New York: One Year Later

Stanton, the girls and I have called New York home for about a year now. I feel as though I spent the beginning of our time here—summer through spring—in a slightly frazzled state. Moving, getting to know another city, enrolling the girls in school and activities, trying to write as much as possible, finding our house—there were a lot of, um, moving parts. 🙂

But summer is upon us once again, and things feel as though they’re in a good place. We love the sweet town we’re in. We especially appreciate its walkability. It’s so nice to simply go outside and enjoy the nearby nature trail, or walk (Stanton and me), bike (Grace) and stroller over (Anna) to local shops and restaurants. One morning recently, the girls and I had such a good time just walking over to this local park, and hanging out.

Of course, that was right after we stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee (me) and donuts (all of us)… #healthylivingfail

1_Park

The girls have been asking Stanton and me for a pet—specifically, a puppy. Their pleas haven’t yet persuaded us, but our next-door neighbors offered up a great middle-ground solution: babysitting their puppy from time to time. We’ll see how that goes, friends.

We closed on our house a couple of months ago. My friendly yoga instructor recommended her friend, a wonderful Realtor, to us—it is a small world. We’re so thankful to have found our home.

Here are a few pictures.

2_Front Porch

We love our front porch. My mom and dad kindly passed along their not-needed-anymore wrought-iron furniture to us, and it’s allowed us to really enjoy this outdoor living space. Many a morning, I find myself reading “Madeline” or “The Very Busy Spider” to the girls.

3_Family Room

We still need to find (and/or unpack from the many boxes still in the basement) some additional art and décor for the family room. So far, though, we very much appreciate its cozy vibe. Speaking of passed-along furniture, the dining-space set once belonged to Stanton’s grandparents. We are grateful to be stewards of this beautiful family legacy, which traveled amazingly well from Texas to New York.

4_Sunroom

Possibly our favorite part of our home is the sunroom/breakfast nook, nestled behind the kitchen. When family and friends visit, everyone instinctively gathers here. I happened upon the table and benches in a local furniture store, and they’ve become the perfect spot for the girls to eat, color and ask me over and over if we can please get a puppy today.

Lately, the girls have been having so much fun in the backyard. Yesterday after a Fancy Nancy-themed tea party, Anna worked on her T-ball swing. Toddlers: The busiest among us.

5_Backyard

While Stanton was traveling for work soon after we moved in, I enlisted my dad to help with some around-the-house projects. Ever the comedian, he called, “Hey, Melis, look at this!” as he pretended to struggle with hanging curtains. Thanks again, Dad. 🙂

6_Dad Curtains

One of the things I most appreciate about this part of the country, the Capital Region of New York, is the beautiful nature all around us. On our little street alone, there are towering trees; evergreens abound and provide lush color all year. I’ve said to family and friends that being here is a literal breath of fresh air.

We’re lucky that so many loved ones have already come to visit with us. One of my favorite moments from our first year here was this September day, when Stanton’s mom and dad came to be with us. We loved apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms, catching up and simply taking in the splendor of the Helderberg Escarpment.

7_Indian Ladder Farms

The first time I laid eyes on this breathtaking slope—driving upon it from the Hudson Valley—I told Grace, “This is amazing.” Amazing, Grace.

Stanton and I do a fairly good job, I think, of keeping in touch with our families and hometown pals. We do owe our good college friends, though, some quality time. Folks in Virginia—we’re hoping to be your way later this year, or early next. ❤

The longer I’ve lived in the Albany area, the more I’ve learned how easy it is to get to other cool parts of New England and the Northeast from here. For example, Boston, Montreal and New York City are all about a three-hour drive away.

My favorite weekend getaway thus far has been to Manchester, Vermont. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been, friends, but this place is gorgeous. Stanton and I spent some time there for our nine-year anniversary and loved the glorious green mountains, quaint Northshire Bookstore and delicious local restaurants we tried (Thai Basil, Cilantro Taco and The Reluctant Panther).

We can’t wait to go back with the girls.

During this season in our life, it can be difficult to organize formal play dates. What have been so encouraging, though, are all the kind friends we’ve come to know through informal fellowship at our church, Grace’s preschool and the Y. We still miss our church, school and community friends from San Antonio, but love keeping in touch with these special people through Facebook, phone calls and texts.

In the winter, Grace took ice skating lessons at our Y. Then one weekend, she taught me how to ice skate at Empire State Plaza downtown. My 5-year-old daughter was so caring toward me, and patient—it was, friends, one of the best moments of my life.

After living in the South for 11 years, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy winter again. But it was fun, overall. Rediscovering all four seasons with the girls has been fun.

Many years ago in Virginia, one of the first things Stanton and I bonded over was our love of country music. Sometimes when we’re driving, we hear Tim McGraw’s contemporary classic “Humble and Kind” on the radio. I feel the song’s closing lyrics: “Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you…always stay humble and kind.”

We don’t know what the future holds. In this moment, though, things feel good. I’m very grateful.

I hope to pay that positive energy forward as we continue to get to know our community and surroundings.

8_Soccer Field Sunset

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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.