Unexpected People Who Come to Mean a Lot

Every three or four days, I find myself at the local grocery store. I would prefer to get everything our family of four needs for the week in one big trip. Inevitably, though, we run out of milk, or Scotch tape, or coffee filters—something—and I dash over to Hannaford for whatever it is we need.

Of course, while I’m there, I end up picking up a few other things we “need”—happens every time, right, friends?

The Hannaford I go to is a fairly compact store, and I’m there at least twice a week, so I’ve gotten to know the staff pretty well. One of my favorite people is a gentleman named Rick, who works in the deli. As time has gone on, our chitchat has progressed from how I’d like my pound of turkey sliced to how our children are doing. Rick often sees me in the store with my kids, and I’ve bumped into him around the neighborhood with his. The experience of parenthood is a unifying one, an easy and natural common denominator for conversation between folks.

The last time we saw each other—Saturday morning—I told Rick that Anna had not slept well the night before. “Stanton and I ended up bringing her into bed with us, and then she kicked us the whole night,” I said.

Rick smiled and told me he and his wife had been there, too. We chatted for another minute before he finished up my order. Before I left the deli, we told each other to have a nice day, and see you soon.

The experience of parenthood is a unifying one, an easy and natural common denominator for conversation between folks.

There are everyday places in our world that we come to depend on—for example, the grocery store. Over time, these places—and the people we come to know there—weave a meaningful role into the fabric of our life. The places and the people root us in a position of belonging, of community, of “home.”

Think of how disoriented you feel, how out of place, when you swing by a grocery store you don’t usually go to. What should be a 10-minute errand spirals into half an hour of wandering past unfamiliar endcaps and asking people you don’t know, “What aisle is the ketchup in?” (You know where the ketchup is in your store.)

For a lot of us, our grocery store probably is one of the everyday places that mean something to us.

For me, the street I live on is one of those places, too. Two other moms whose kiddos go to school with Grace live on our street. When I see them during the week—even if just for a minute or two—I know I can count on their kindness, their neighborliness and their knowledge of what’s going on at school. When we exchange pleasantries with our neighbors in the morning, or at the end of the day, we may not realize the unconscious way we appreciate one another’s warmth—or, simply, one another’s being there.

Just knowing people are there can provide comfort, security, peace of mind.

Mailbox

One of the challenges for me, in being a mostly stay-at-home mom, is that I’m an extrovert, and I miss having “my people” as working parents do: co-workers, colleagues, clients. When I do work (write), I often set up shop in a place where other people will be around. The liveliness of everyone else energizes me, even though we’re not talking to one another. I still feel community.

I shared with you all last time that I write in a nearby library when Anna is in preschool. On weekends when Stanton is playing with both girls, I like to go to a coffee shop in our town.

All through the fall, I ordered the coffee shop’s seasonal blend, Vermont maple. (Delicious, friends.) Now that it’s winter, I’ve been asking the folks behind the counter to pour me whatever is the hottest—whatever coffee just finished brewing.

On my most recent visit, a new employee told me that would be the Ethiopian. Fine, I said. Then Livia, whom I met when we first moved here, interjected.

“I think you should try our holiday blend,” she said, adding that she was brewing a fresh pot. “I know how much you liked the Vermont maple; I think you’ll like this one, too.”

Sounds great, I said. And it was.

The places and the people root us in a position of belonging, of community, of “home.”

At first glance, conversations like this may seem like nothing special. Try this coffee, Livia says. How are your kids? Rick asks.

But they do mean something. They do.

We can mean something to the people around us, too. We can be the people that others count on—for a kind word, a helping hand, whatever small gesture we might offer that actually may be making a difference in someone else’s life.

Maybe it’s because Christmas is just around the corner, or maybe it’s because I’m usually sentimental anyway…but I believe that when we put our positive energy out into the world, good things happen. We make good things happen for others. And good things can come back to us.

The 19th-century chemist Humphy Davy once said, “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.”

Happy Holidays, friends, and best wishes for every good thing in the New Year.

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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A Different Person Now: Embracing New Seasons

This year, I’ve had the experience of being one of the “older” (or, more seasoned) moms, at my younger daughter’s preschool. For several of the other moms, this is their first encounter with school. They’ve enrolled their oldest children for the first time, and drop them off and pick them up with their younger kiddos in tow—infant car seats, burp cloths and all.

On the mornings when Anna is in school, I walk to a nearby library to write. Several times, the other moms have invited me to join them in the school lounge. Many times, they camp out in there—similar to how I camp out in the library—and chat as they feed and change their babies.

Every time, I’ve thanked them as I’ve bowed out, apologizing that I had work to do.

The other day, I dropped Anna off. I smiled and waved goodbye to the other moms. And as I walked to the library, I realized I had been those moms, when Grace was starting that preschool and Anna was still a baby.

Not so long ago, that was me. My days were more flexible; I had more time for off-the-cuff commiserating about sleep schedules and first foods. But I wasn’t that person anymore; I was somebody different now.

I remember when both my girls were babies, all the cozy moments we had together, all the much-appreciated conversation I exchanged with other parents (some of whom became friends) at parks and playgrounds and anything that was open by 9 a.m. on a Saturday. I’m thankful for that time in our life.

I’m also thankful for this time now, when my children are a little more independent, and I can be a little more independent too.

Ice Skates

Earlier this week, I came across the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I remembered that this book was popular a few years ago. (Usually, I’m a few years behind on a trend.)

Have you read this book, friends? I just started it, but I’m enjoying it. I very much appreciate its message about living in the present and making the most of the present. For example, this passage on pages 117-118 struck me:

“And what about things from your own childhood? Do you still keep your report cards or graduation certificates…Let all those letters you received years ago…go. The purpose of a letter is fulfilled the moment it is received…It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

Kondo’s last line there resonated with me: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

That perspective gave me permission, in a way, to consider letting go of some things I’ve kept with me through some of our cross-country moves—some things that have been packed up in boxes since our season in Virginia, nearly nine years ago.

As you know, our family of four moved into our home here in New York this past spring. Seven months later, we’re fairly unpacked. In the basement, however, remain a few lingering boxes.

A friend of ours needed some boxes, which motivated me to unpack some of ours—three, to be exact. On Sunday afternoon, I opened up these boxes.

Opening up boxes—often an exercise in nostalgia.

I like to think of myself as a minimalist, but the truth is, like everyone else, I have more stuff than I think I do. I unpacked towels, a spare set of sheets, a beautiful robe I’ve worn probably three times. I found a hard hat (Stanton’s), an alphabet puzzle (the girls’) and a bunch of cords.

Marie Kondo has a thought about cords: “If you see a cord and wonder what on earth it’s for, chances are you’ll never use it again” (page 110). She advocates for discarding cords that are a mystery to you.

I didn’t discard our cords—I didn’t discard anything, except a few broken toys—but as this week has gone on, I’ve continued reflecting on new seasons…Kondo’s book…and the boxes we keep in our homes, closed up and stored away.

Opening up boxes—often an exercise in nostalgia.

It’s a new season, literally, here in upstate New York: winter. Yesterday morning, snow was falling as I loaded the girls into the car for school.

“Wow!” Grace exclaimed, gazing up at the sky.

“Build a snowman?” Anna asked, hopeful.

“Please get into the car, girls,” I said. “We’re almost late.”

Instead, Anna pointed at me and laughed with delight. “Mom! Snowflakes in your hair!”

I couldn’t help but smile. And I took a moment to take in the snowfall, and the snowflakes. It is amazing that each snowflake is unique.

I was talking with my brother Jared a few nights ago. As we were on the phone, the girls were yelling in the background. “Oh, my gosh,” I said.

“One day, you’ll miss this,” Jared replied.

People say that, but… “We’ll see,” I said.

There must be a happy medium between nostalgia, and Marie Kondo’s magic of tidying up (i.e., throw things away). A balancing act of respecting the past, and embracing the present. Embracing new seasons.

Every holiday season, families gather together. Sometimes when we get together, we find that we revert to roles or personas from our childhood that aren’t us anymore—that don’t represent who we are today. It’s an easy, perhaps even automatic, thing to do. We don’t have to do it, though. We can choose to be the person we are now, all the time.

Until, of course, we evolve into the person we are next. Someone with a little more silver in their hair, and hopefully some wisdom to go along with it.

Yesterday was a little bit of a long day. At the end of it, I was cleaning up in the kitchen. Stanton was on his way home, and the girls were in the breakfast nook; I had just refilled their cups of milk.

I overheard Anna say, “Mom is nice. Do you like Mom, Grace?”

“Yes, I love Mom, Anna,” Grace said, and I could picture her shaking her head a little at Anna. Because I know Grace, and that’s what she would do.

Something I didn’t know until it happened—and I imagine this is true for many parents—is how much I would love being someone’s mom. How much I would treasure that, even on days that are a little bit long, and ones when we’re almost late. Motherhood is an all-season, always-a-part-of-you state of mind.

Luckily, some things don’t change.

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.

Mom, Nothing Happened How We Planned

‘Tis the season for all sorts of get-in-the-holiday-spirit celebrations, occasions and parties. I can be a bit of a Clark Griswold this time of the year. If fun things are happening, why not partake in them?

This past weekend, I was perusing the events calendar of a local website when I discovered that the annual Empire State Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting was slated for Sunday, downtown at the State Capitol. Stanton, the girls and I had gone last year and enjoyed the festivities. Why not make it a family tradition?

I ran the idea by my husband. “There’s a free kids’ concert at 3 p.m., ice skating at the plaza right after and then the tree lighting. What do you think?”

We had just returned home from a friend’s birthday party. Stanton blinked. “OK…sounds good.”

“There’s free parking too,” I added, gesturing to my laptop.

“That’s great, Mel,” Stanton said.

On Sunday afternoon, our party of four headed downtown, as planned. Our first stop was The Egg, an oval-shaped performing arts venue, to see the concert by the local Zucchini Brothers. Grace and Anna loved their fun music; Stanton and I appreciated the witty lyrics to their songs, such as “I Can’t Put This Toy Together.”

After the concert wrapped up, Grace said, “I can’t wait to go ice skating.”

“It’s going to be so much fun,” I agreed. We made our way outside to the plaza.

It was December in upstate New York, so we had bundled up with layers, hats and gloves. But walking outside, we all felt warm. This year was warmer than last year had been. Possibly because of that, the plaza also seemed busier.

Lots of people were outside, sipping hot apple cider…and ice skating. The ice skating rink was packed. We all needed to rent ice skates, and we soon found out there were no rentals left. It was 4:30 p.m.; the tree lighting was scheduled for 5:15 p.m., at which time the rink would be closed.

“Let’s go buy ice skates, and then come back,” Grace suggested.

“Just buy some,” Anna seconded.

“Buy some”—my daughters’ go-to solution for life’s inconveniences. We need to work on that.

“Honey, we don’t have enough time,” Stanton told Grace. “We can’t ice skate today. But we will another day.”

Grace frowned.

“Why don’t we get a snack?” I said. “That would be a fun thing to do before the tree lighting.”

“Not as fun as ice skating,” Grace said, but we all agreed on getting a snack.

The food truck that was serving hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts had a long, long line. So we made our way to a nearby McDonald’s for McFlurrys.

“I love McFlurrys,” Grace said, perking up.

“Me too!” cheered Anna.

I smiled at Stanton. We had salvaged the situation.

At the McDonald’s, Stanton ordered a round of McFlurrys. The lady behind the counter smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, we’re out of McFlurrys.”

Stanton and I looked at each other.

Grace’s jaw dropped.

You have got to be kidding me. McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys?

“OK, let’s get hot chocolate instead,” I said.

“Yum!” Anna said.

Grace crossed her arms. “Mom. You said I could have a McFlurry.”

“Let’s wait over here,” I said, ushering the girls to a table while Stanton shared our amended order with the lady behind the counter.

The girls and I sat down. Grace looked at me. “Mom.”

“Yes, honey.”

“Nothing happened how we planned.”

Rain Boots

For better or worse, I’m an optimist. I tried to help my daughter see the bright side. “We did see the Zucchini Brothers…”

“What I was really excited about was ice skating.”

“Now we’re enjoying being together…”

“How could McDonald’s be out of McFlurrys?”

I paused, mid pep talk. “You know, Grace, that’s an excellent question. It’s weird that McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys.”

“So weird!” exclaimed Anna, shaking her little head.

Grace laughed; I joined in. (We can always count on Anna to cheer us up.)

Stanton rejoined us, with the hot chocolate. Grace peered inside hers. “There are no marshmallows—my favorite,” she observed.

I groaned.

Mom, nothing happened how we planned.

Reflecting on the spot you find yourself in now, friends—did you plan it this way? Did your journey unfold, step by step, just as you planned? Did everything go according to plan?

Or—if you glance around—are you in the place you are now somewhat unexpectedly? Somewhat by chance…or even accidentally, perhaps? Did you just kind of get here, despite best-laid plans?

For me, I would have to pick Option No. 2 (Plan B). And that’s OK. Actually…it’s good.

I folded my hand over my daughter’s. I told her I knew she liked marshmallows. But give this hot chocolate a try, I encouraged. It had whipped cream on top; that was something different that could be something good.

“Even when things don’t happen how we planned,” I added, “we can still find good things in what is happening.”

Grace sipped her hot chocolate. “It is good,” she acquiesced.

Both my daughters have been learning so much in school this year, so many good skills and important lessons. I’m deeply thankful to their insightful, patient teachers.

I also want to instill in my girls the value of being flexible. The ability to adapt and roll with the punches when life doesn’t happen perfectly. Because based on my experience, that’s a vital, sustainable skill—being flexible and accepting that some days aren’t perfect, and then moving forward with fortitude and grace.

About two months ago, I finished writing an essay I thought would be a good fit—actually, the perfect fit—for a magazine. I sent it to the editor there, hopeful that she would like it and that my byline would appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

A week later, she emailed me back. My essay wasn’t a good fit for them at this time, she said. I was surprised, and disappointed.

Not giving up, I reworked my essay and sent it to another editor at another magazine. It’s been a month now, and I have yet to hear back from my second try. That’s usually not an encouraging sign, so I’ve begun tweaking my essay again, readying it to share with a third publication.

Life, in general, is not easy. Work, usually, is not easy either. Necessary, yes. Meaningful, yes. Fulfilling, hopefully. But work, life and work/life can be difficult, can be discouraging.

The wisdom I’d like to impart to my daughters is to keep going, even when nothing happens how we planned, or hoped for. Keep going; keep moving forward. Don’t stop.

…that was something different that could be something good.

And don’t look back. At least, don’t look back too much. Don’t regret, or wish for, roads not taken. Because this is where you are now. And you can do wonderful things here.

Is anyone among us exactly where they planned to be? Has everything been perfect, and positive, every step of the way?

I can’t imagine that’s true for anyone. And the beauty in that—the universal silver lining in everyone’s imperfection—is that every one of us has something in common with the other. Disappointment, loss, various Plan B’s.

We’re more alike than we are different. We’re not alone.

Darius Rucker—formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, now a solo country artist—came out with a song in 2010 that I love to this day. It’s called “This,” and these are the lyrics that often resonate with me:

“Maybe it didn’t turn out like I planned
Maybe that’s why I’m such, such a lucky man…

Thank God for all I missed
‘Cause it led me here to
This.”

For me, “this” is my family—all of them, but especially Stanton and our two girls. If, years ago, one of my meticulously plotted plans or first-choice scenarios had actually happened, then possibly (probably) I wouldn’t have “this” now.

I also wouldn’t have all those things that only imperfect paths and Plan B’s can give you: humility, strength of character, guts, courage, gratitude.

(What is your “this,” friends?)

One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Steve Jobs: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” We need to keep trying, even after professional setbacks (ahem, multiple rejections to what I think is a quality piece of writing). We need to make the best of could-be-better personal disappointments.

All that being said…have you ever heard of McDonald’s being out of McFlurrys?

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.