You’re Here TODAY

Earlier this week, I went to a physician for an annual checkup. Although, for me, the last time I had this “annual” checkup was about three years ago. My excuse for this negligence happened to accompany me to my doctor that morning: my 2-year-old, Anna.

Yes, Anna goes everywhere with me these days—literally. Errands during the day (grocery store, post office, you name it). My bed, most nights. The restroom, the locker room at the Y, and now my doctor’s appointment.

I tried to schedule this appointment for when my parents would be in town to babysit, but it just didn’t work out. So that morning, I told the medical assistant at the doctor’s office, “I appreciate that you all don’t mind my bringing my daughter.”

She replied, “Don’t worry.” Then she addressed Anna with a smile: “Would you like some stickers?”

Anna smiled back and shook her head. “How ‘bout lollipops?” Anna’s doctor, the pediatrician, has stickers and lollipops.

The medical assistant laughed and left to find lollipops. When she returned, she gave Anna the sweets and then turned her attention back to me. She asked me when I had last had a checkup.

“Three years ago, which I know is bad,” I began explaining. “I was pregnant with Anna, then I had Anna, then I was busy with both my daughters, then we moved, then…”

The medical assistant smiled kindly. “It’s OK,” she said. “You’re here today.”

You’re here today.

Anna smiled back and shook her head. “How ‘bout lollipops?”

The rest of my appointment went smoothly. The physician turned out to be kind as well, and Anna, thankfully, was happily occupied with lollipops, stickers and coloring books for the rest of our time there. I was grateful to have found such a great doctor’s office in our town.

After we left, I kept thinking back to what the medical assistant had said: You’re here today. Her words stayed with me all day.

You’re here today—what an uplifting message.

The medical assistant was assuring me, Don’t worry about what happened, or didn’t happen, the past few years. Today you’re on the right track. Focus on the present—what’s right in front of you.

Easier said than done sometimes, right, friends?

The next morning, Grace wanted to color a picture to mail to my grandmother. She couldn’t find the crayons. “Mom!” she called.

As it turned out, the crayons were on the kitchen table—truly, right in front of her. “Grace, remember, what’s the secret of life?” I said.

“Look,” Grace replied. Then she looked and spotted the crayons. “They’re right here!”

We both laughed.

Eyeglasses

Parents often have little sayings or words of wisdom that they say, over and over again, to their children—to the point where, possibly, they become annoying to hear. At some point in my motherhood, I said to the girls, “I’m going to tell you the secret of life. The secret is to look. Open your eyes.”

I don’t remember what prompted me to say that. (Maybe, like this most recent time, somebody didn’t see something that was right there.) And I don’t pretend to know the secret of life.

Myriad talents, from entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs to singers like James Taylor, have reflected on “the secret of life.” I can’t stay the pace with those reflections. Anyway, the “secret of life” spiel I give my daughters is, partly, tongue-in-cheek.

I do believe, though, that it’s important to look—to be present.

The medical assistant reminded me of that “be in the present” perspective when she said, “You’re here today.”

“The secret is to look. Open your eyes.”

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Kathleen came to visit. Kathleen and I went to school together from kindergarten through high school. We’re what the kids today call “Day 1’s”—friends for a long time.

As always, it was wonderful to see Kathleen and catch up. We reminisced about childhood moments. At one point, I grimaced at the memory of something my younger self had done and told Kathleen, “I can’t believe I was that person!”

I thought back to some other memories from the past. Things I wish I had done, or hadn’t. Moments I wish I had been there for, but wasn’t. I thought again—to myself this time—I wish I did that differently.

I wish I had been different.

You can’t go back. You can’t go back, friends.

You’re here today. What you can do is take what you’ve learned from the past and make good with it in your present.

And you can be present.

For all the years-behind annual checkups and annoying little sayings I blame on my daughters, they have brought a joy to my life I know I don’t deserve. They are absolute gifts in my life, friends.

One of the most humbling parts of my day is when Grace and Anna want to show me something they worked on in kindergarten or preschool. They’re so proud to share their newest math worksheet or watercolor painting with me. They hand it to me, beam at me, wait for me to tell them it’s wonderful and bear-hug them.

“Look, Mom!”

“Look! Me too, Mom! Look!”

You’re here TODAY.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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Book Review: The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair Book CoverIn my high school history classes, I remember learning about Mesopotamia (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, fourth millennium B.C.); the Magna Carta (England, 1215); and World War I. In college, I took a course called Greek and Roman Values to satisfy my history requirement. I didn’t get much formal education regarding current events post-November 11, 1918.

This is why, in large part, I enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s new novel, “The Cuban Affair” (September 2017), so much. I learned so much intriguing history about Cuba, and the international politics surrounding it, in DeMille’s work of fiction.

DeMille traveled to Cuba as field research for this book, and he wonderfully incorporates the local colors and flavors from that trip into “The Cuban Affair.” As I read this book, I really felt Cuba. DeMille engaged all my senses with his descriptions of the climate, architecture and overall feel of the Caribbean island nation. Also, I didn’t realize how close Cuba is to Key West, Florida: just 90 miles.

I really enjoyed learning about Key West too. As always, DeMille gives his main character, Mac, a former military man, a wry sense of humor. (I don’t think you can write a Nelson DeMille book review and not use the word “wry.”) I loved Mac’s wry description of his bar hangout in Key West, occurring early in the novel: “The place was starting to fill up…Freaks, geeks, loveable weirdos, and a few Hemingway look-alikes. He used to live here, and you can see his house for ten bucks. You can see mine for free. Bring a six-pack.” These words helped me see the scene Mac inhabits, and gave me a sense of Key West’s laid-back, quasi-Lost Generation vibe.

I found Mac to be a fairly well-developed character. I appreciated his social-cultural reflections on Maine, where he grew up, and his current hometown of Key West, along with his perspective on military life and, by extension, Afghanistan. Mac struck me as a man who had been to war, as his character was intended. Two examples of Mac’s reflections: “Close by was the Zero Mile Marker for U.S. Highway One, the literal end of the road that started in Maine. I’ve had a lot of profound thoughts about that, usually fueled by a few beers,” and “Portland, though, was a good place to grow up and it’s a good place to grow old. It’s the years in between that are a challenge to some people.” (Pretty deep, right? I found myself reflecting on my own “years in between.”)

At the same time, Mac seemed older than 35, the age he was supposed to be. That’s pretty much how old I am, and some of his character behaviors (or lack of behaviors) didn’t ring true to me.

For example, Mac didn’t have cell phone service in Cuba. Shouldn’t that have driven him crazy? Not being able to text, not logging in to Facebook, not playing Hearthstone? Also, Mac goes out of his way to make snide remarks about novelist Richard Neville, who is a thinly veiled fictional version of Nelson DeMille (I love how DeMille made the last names similar!). DeMille may have been having some fun with his storied alter ego, but it was hard for me to believe Mac really would have cared enough about Richard Neville to prank him with a sweaty Hemingway T-shirt.

Much of the plot of “The Cuban Affair,” once Mac gets to Cuba, depends on a series of circuitous events happening. All these events—from hoped-for encounters to code words to restored Buicks—seem a little convoluted. None of that bothered me, though, because I so appreciated the taste of Cuba and U.S./Cuban history that DeMille serves up in his engaging story. I believe, though, that you need to read this story with some suspension of disbelief. Don’t think too critically about the practicality of the various plot points, and you’ll enjoy it.

It’s a fun story, overall, and funny too. Later in the story, the anti-Castro Cuban “godfather” Eduardo explains to Mac, “‘Almost all Cubans believed that the Castro regime would not last more than a year. That the Americans would not allow a Communist country to exist off its shores’”—to which Mac sardonically considers, “Why not? We’ve got California and Vermont.” I laughed out loud, friends. Why not, indeed?

As an aside, I liked the cover design. I thought the turquoise background featuring red palm trees, one of which showed Mac’s boat, correlated beautifully with the story. Turquoise brings to mind the Florida Keys; red signals Communism. The bright color palette stands out from DeMille’s previous books, many of which present darker, more ominous palettes (“The General’s Daughter,” “Plum Island,” “Up Country”).

I have read nearly all of DeMille’s books, and “The Cuban Affair” is one of my favorites because, to me, it felt fresh and different. I also sensed the hours upon hours of research DeMille had put into this Cuban adventure, and I appreciated that a lot. “The Cuban Affair” is a worthy read.

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Enjoy My New Short Story, What Happens Next!

What Happens Next Book CoverI’m happy to share, friends, that my newest e-book is now published and available on Amazon.com! Please check out “What Happens Next,” and let me know what you think.

From the Amazon book description: “In 2016, author Melissa Leddy introduced us to imperfect yet relatable literature professor Tess Berry in her short fiction e-book ‘This Is Just a Story.’ Readers loved ‘This Is Just a Story,’ but when they reached the end, they all had the same question: ‘What happens next?’ Leddy brings Tess back in this sequel, to answer that very question.”

Writing this next chapter, so to speak, was a true labor of love, friends. I hope you enjoy reading “What Happens Next” as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you.

How Do You Do It?

On a recent morning, I woke up to Anna kicking me in the head. (Who needs an alarm clock when you have kids?)

Some nights, Anna sleeps in her bed, contentedly, until morning. Other nights (most nights), she yells out around midnight or 3 a.m. (depending on if she napped that day), “Mom! Dad! MOMDADMOMDAD!” and it’s easier to snuggle her into bed with us rather than rock her back to sleep. (A motto for this season in my life could be, “I give up.”)

Now, Anna is a petite 2-year-old, and she weighs less than 30 pounds. However, she takes up a lot of space in our queen-sized bed. Her preferred sleeping position is smack dab in the middle, at the top, across both pillows, arms flailing and legs kicking, without rhyme or reason, throughout the night. Good night, and good luck.

She also notices if I get out of bed. Not Stanton—who often escapes to the guest bedroom or family-room couch—but myself, “Mom.” When I get up to, God forbid, use the restroom, or make coffee, I soon hear a small yet accusatory voice from atop the two pillows: “Mom? Come…back!”

Mornings can be rough, in my home and maybe in yours too. Everyone needs to get to where they have to go—clean, dressed, fed, with all their stuff…and preferably on time—in a short span of time. There is little wiggle room, and occasionally some (lots of?) stress.

On that particular morning, the one where Anna kicked me in the head, Stanton woke up with a sore throat. He had a full day of presentations ahead of him, so I rifled my Yogi Throat Comfort tea out of a kitchen cabinet. “Here, have some of this, and take extra with you,” I said.

“I don’t need it,” he replied.

“I promise it will make you feel better,” I said.

“I’ll be fine,” he promised instead.

OK.

I pointed to the guest room doorknob. “Did you see the new dress shirts I bought for you? You can wear one today.”

Stanton looked at me, bewildered. “I already have shirts.”

Current life motto? That’s right, friends: “I give up.”

Puzzle Pieces 10-4-17

Now, the subject of clothes didn’t end there—no, not that day. Because that day just so happened to be “Dress Like a Farmer Day” at Grace’s elementary school, and “Wear Red Day” at Anna’s preschool. Grace was learning about agriculture; Anna was learning colors.

The night before, I had pulled out a pair of jeans and a white top from Grace’s dresser. I had also rummaged through several boxes in the basement, in search of a pink cowgirl hat I knew was down there…somewhere…which I did eventually find. I also found, in the dining room hutch, a green gingham cloth napkin that could double as a bandana. Grace and I had agreed that these items would work as her outfit for “Dress Like a Farmer Day.”

But come morning… Grace tossed the cloth napkin on a counter. “I wish it was pink, like my hat,” she said. “Pink is prettier than green.”

Grace has got her colors down pat.

Anna, meanwhile, didn’t like her red pants. “No…have…pockets!” she shouted.

Grace prefers pink; Anna wants pockets. I sighed.

At this point, Stanton amiably waved goodbye. “See you in a couple of days, girls. Love you!”

Because that day just so happened to be ‘Dress Like a Farmer Day’ at Grace’s elementary school, and ‘Wear Red Day’ at Anna’s preschool.

It was about 7:30 a.m. I needed to take a quick shower. “Girls…you can watch TV together while I get ready,” I said. “Just one show.”

“Yay!” Grace ran to the family room.

“I love TV!” Anna shouted, running after her. Then, as an afterthought, she shouted with the same enthusiasm, “I love Walmart!”

(This is a true story.)

What would other moms think of me if they heard my preschooler’s crack-of-dawn declarations? Love for TV? Walmart? Let me just say here, in my defense, that I turned on PBS Kids for my daughters that morning. Educational TV, OK? So…there’s that.

But yes, it’s true: Under the Supermom entry in Merriam-Webster’s, you won’t find my name.

Grace’s and Anna’s schools start at the same time, which is—to say the least—logistically inconvenient. So we get Grace to school on time, and Anna is always, reliably, 20 minutes late. But as everyone from my own mom to Anna’s teachers have reassured me…it’s preschool.

Speaking of my own mom, I asked her, “How did you do it?”

My mom had four kids; I have half that. My mom worked full-time; I’m a freelance writer (which, depending on the month, is a synonym for “unemployed”). Both my dad, throughout my childhood, and my husband, now, travel(ed) for their jobs. It’s difficult (and unhelpful) to compare one family situation to another, but for sure, my mom had a lot to do.

“How,” I wondered, “did you get everything done, every Monday through Friday morning, for years?”

My mom laughed and replied, “By the time I got to work, my body felt ready for a nap.” I could believe it. Especially now that Grace has started kindergarten—real school, real accountability—along with all the usual doctor’s appointments, sports practices and games, and family commitments as before.

(Later this week, by the way, is School Picture Day/Early Dismissal.)

How do you do it, friends?

Under the Supermom entry in Merriam-Webster’s, you won’t find my name.

Let me be the first to acknowledge that I do it, but not always well. Some days are great, even the mornings. Other days, I raise my voice at my daughters…or I’m distracted when they’re trying to tell me something…or I forget to buy something for someone’s school project.

A woman I very much respect recently said something that struck me. She was telling the story of someone—a nonprofit leader, I think—who, when asked about the toil of his work, said, “It’s not something I’ve got to do; it’s something I get to do.”

Not something I’ve got to do; something I get to do. I loved that. I try to remember that every day.

One evening, I was rocking Anna to sleep. (In several hours’ time, she’d probably be kicking me in my bed, but for the moment…) She was almost asleep. Then, unprompted, she said, “I really love you, Mom,” before snuggling against my chest and nodding off at last.

Moments like that, I feel I’m the luckiest person in the world. I understand the “get to do this.” The price you pay for the privilege.

This story started with clothes, and that’s where it’s going to end too. So…School Picture Day/Early Dismissal. Grace and I were looking through her dresser, picking out contenders for her School Picture Day photo. “And remember, Mom,” Grace said, “we get out early too.”

“Yes,” I said. I had written it down on the calendar.

“If you forget to pick me up…”

“I’ll be there,” I told Grace.

She looked up at me and smiled. “I know.”

“I give up,” and “Happy.”

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.