Getting to the Good Part

“Mom.”

My 3-year-old daughter was tugging on a corner of the tie-dye T-shirt I had pulled over my head two hours earlier. “VOLUNTEER,” it noted on the back.

“I want to go home, Mom.”

All around us, elementary-aged kids were working on arts-and-crafts projects. Glitter, watercolors and stickers covered the tables. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” a banner proclaimed.

I squeezed Anna’s hand. “I need to take just a few more pictures.” The church’s camera drooped from a scratchy strap around my neck.

Anna flopped onto a chair.

I had offered to help out with any last-minute details for my older daughter’s Vacation Bible School that week. The last-minute detail I had been assigned: photographing moments from the week-long summer program for the last-day slideshow. Anna was my unofficial (and at times, reluctant) assistant.

I snapped a few candids. Group shots are best, the program’s directors had advised.

“I’m tired of volunteering, Mom.”

“I know, honey.”

“I want a snack, Mom.”

“In a minute, Anna.”

“Mom…I think I need to tinkle…I do need to tinkle, Mom!”

I grabbed Anna’s hand, and we ran to a restroom, the camera bopping against my chest in time with our flip-flopped footsteps. As I helped Anna onto a toilet, and then waited for her in the cramped stall, the thought crossed my mind: Things could be going smoother. (Note: This isn’t the first time this thought has crossed my mind, since becoming a parent.)

A little later, Anna and I picked up Grace. “Mom and I were volunteering,” Anna told her 6-year-old sister, adding, “It was boring.”

I groaned as the three of us weaved our way outside to the car. I hoped the VBS folks didn’t overhear Anna’s commentary.

Now Grace was tugging on my T-shirt.

“What, honey?” I searched through my bag for the car keys. Wallet, phone, the girls’ combs, lots of chocolate-chip granola bars…

“I’m happy you were here today, Mom.”

“Awww.” I stopped and smiled at Grace. “Why, honey?”

Grace smiled back. “I liked seeing you around.”

I definitely was a sight that day, with the camera and Anna in tow. What Grace said touched my heart, though. What she said, and how she felt—and how she made me feel, which was happy—made the craziness worth it.

“I liked seeing you around.”

Two days later, a good friend of mine shared the happy news that she and her husband were the new parents of a baby boy. They had been waiting a long time for this baby, and I was (am!) so happy for them. Worth the wait, I thought when I saw his picture.

Sometimes, we may wonder if what we’re doing is worth it.

The question comes to us in cramped bathroom stalls—in doctors’ offices—in the dead of night when we can’t fall asleep, our minds racing with worry and our hearts heavy with pain. Is…this…worthwhile?

It can be hard sometimes to answer that question with a “yes.” This, whatever it is we’re in the middle of, may not feel worth it, at the time. Maybe it even feels like a mistake.

And then someone tells you they’re glad you were there. Your being there—simply being—mattered. Or you witness something beautiful. The gift of a child…friendship…kindness. And you recognize that this is the good part.

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Getting to the good part may be a rocky road, with red lights and rerouting along the way.

Things can happen that hurt us, break our hearts, maybe even break pieces of us. Maybe we feel broken for a time. I’ve felt that way sometimes; I imagine every human being has.

Maybe we make peace with the hurt, the heartbreak, the broken pieces. Or we ignore it and move forward. Or we never get over the pain, but move forward anyway. There are thousands of different ways to respond because we’re all different, and we do life differently.

There are thousands of ways but no best way to make sense of the bad part.

When the good part comes, though, hopefully we find joy in it.

There are thousands of different ways to respond because we’re all different, and we do life differently.

On Saturday evening, Stanton, the girls and I had dinner in the backyard. We tried a new recipe, grilled shrimp tacos. After a crazy week, the grass under our feet and gently waning sunlight felt heavenly. “This is one of my favorite things,” I shared with my family. Being outside, being together.

“Me too,” Stanton said.

Anna looked up from her taco. “But what about ice cream?”

“I do like ice cream,” Stanton said.

“Yeah, that’s my favorite thing,” Anna said.

Grace nodded. “But dinner’s good, Dad.”

What are your favorite things, friends? What are the good parts? Whatever they are, I hope you enjoy them—I hope you find joy in them.

And I hope you know that you may be someone’s favorite. You may be the good part in someone’s life, even if they haven’t told you yet. Even if they haven’t been born yet.

Keep moving forward.

P.S. The answer is yes—it’s worth it.

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.

Book Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Female Persuasion.JPGDuring my last semester in college, as an English major, I did an independent study regarding creative nonfiction about motherhood. I researched and wrote about the ways in which women, in particular mothers, represent themselves through memoir writing. Books…magazine articles…blog posts such as mine.

That was 2005.

Three years later, Meg Wolitzer published the novel “The Ten-Year Nap,” a fictional account about some of the topics I had explored as an undergraduate. I read it, and I remember really appreciating her witty, on-point observations about everyday life. I felt the same way about “The Interestings,” which came out in 2013. The stories themselves—”The Ten-Year Nap,” “The Interestings” and now “The Female Persuasion”—are…well, interesting.

(An example of a that-sounds-right Wolitzer observation from “The Female Persuasion”: “the international symbol of female food: yogurt,” page 259).

Meg Wolitzer writes grand, sweeping stories that span years, decades even, featuring flashbacks and flash forwards, underlined with plot twists that are at times startling, at times delightful, and always engaging. She is an ambitious writer; she is a timely writer. However, her storytelling—and I mean this literally, her telling of the story—can get lost in her far-reaching, detail-heavy narration, as I fear it did at times in “The Female Persuasion,” which unfolds across 450 pages, multiple characters, and places as varied as New England, Las Vegas and Manila (yes, the Philippines).

[Meg Wolitzer] is an ambitious writer; she is a timely writer. However, her storytelling…can get lost in her far-reaching, detail-heavy narration, as I fear it did at times in “The Female Persuasion…”

Still, “The Female Persuasion” is the quintessential book-club read for this year, 2018, following the horrific news about Harvey Weinstein (and too many other men in power); #MeToo and Time’s Up; and TIME magazine’s naming The Silence Breakers as their reigning Person of the Year. The copy I bought came, in fact, with an official-looking gold-colored Barnes & Noble Book Club Exclusive Edition sticker on the front. And certainly, unarguably, with “The Female Persuasion,” Meg Wolitzer gives us a piece of literature that is both well-thought-out and thought-provoking.

Through the various characters’ perspectives (straight, gay, male, female, powerful, powerless) and the stories they live out, Wolitzer explores gender and power against the backdrop of an evolving women’s movement. She assesses (objectively, I think) the compromises that people (men and women) make once they achieve power, and along the way. An excellent moment of this: Greer, a vegetarian, hides her aversion to meat from Faith Frank, her feminist mentor, when Faith grills steak for Greer and their other colleagues. Greer explicitly reveals she doesn’t want to disappoint Faith, and implicitly (we gather) wants to stay close and get closer to this powerful woman. “‘Yum,’ Greer said” (page 176), swallowing the steak.

Wolitzer also takes a look at the ethical shades of gray that organizations find themselves navigating once they grow from grassroots to mainstream (in this story, that would be Faith’s scrappy, early-’70s feminist magazine, Bloomer, compared to her present-day women’s foundation, Loci).

However, on the topic of characters… The main character, Greer Kadetsy, felt a bit boilerplate to me: self-important though meek (at first), idealistic yet impressionable. Greer reminded me, in some ways, of the title character from Tom Wolfe’s 2004 novel “I Am Charlotte Simmons.” Like Wolitzer, Tom Wolfe is (was) another writer I have long admired and read (and even had the pleasure of meeting once, at an event in Richmond, Va.).

Now, Greer and Charlotte are different characters. But their coming-of-age stories share some similar settings (a college campus) and circumstances (sexual assault at said campus) experienced through the lens of a young woman who is white, heterosexual and aspirational.

I felt much more originality and energy from Wolitzer with her supporting characters of Zee Eisenstat, Greer’s activist friend who self-identifies as queer, and Cory Pinto, Greer’s first-generation-American, high-school boyfriend. When I “met” Zee and Cory in this novel, I thought, Wow, I’d love to know these people in real life. They were unique, multidimensional, compelling.

Greer, on the other hand, read like someone I had met before.

When I “met” Zee and Cory in this novel, I thought, Wow, I’d love to know these people in real life.

During a conversation with her partner, Noelle, about halfway into the book, Zee listens as Noelle shares her take regarding what amounts to the themes of “The Female Persuasion”: “‘But sometimes the way to get involved is to just live your life and be yourself with all your values intact. And by just being you, it’ll happen. Maybe not in big ways, but it’ll happen'” (page 256). This philosophy resonates with me, personally, and by the end of the story, after Greer’s fallout with Faith, I wondered if Wolitzer places some credence in it too.

By the time I arrived at page 310, I jotted a note in the margins: “lots of telling, not showing.” It’s an old writing guideline, right? Show, don’t tell. From that perspective, I feel as though Wolitzer does a lot of telling, especially around page 310, where the reader finds him/herself in the middle of Faith’s flashback, which began back on page 266 as Faith was being chauffeured to a massage. Wolitzer provides us with so…much…information and so…many…details, but rarely within these 50 pages of text did I feel as though I were there, in the scene, in the story, with Faith.

Instead, I felt (during pages 266 through 310, as well as in other places) as though I were reading a character’s biography, or the aggressively anti-CliffsNotes version of a major historic event. Perhaps, though, I’m simply a product of my generation, with an affinity for “conversations” that consist mostly of emojis, and an appreciation for lean narration. Perhaps.

It’s an old writing guideline, right? Show, don’t tell. From that perspective, I feel as though Wolitzer does a lot of telling…

Overall, “The Female Persuasion” is timely, ambitious storytelling. Undeniably.

It is witty. (Another example: “If you ever wanted to get an accurate picture of who you were, Greer thought years later, all you had to do was look at everything you’d Googled over the past twenty-four hours,” page 72.)

It has some captivating character development. Zee and Cory are beautiful supporting characters, and I think Zee (or even Cory, ironically) may have functioned more powerfully than Greer as the main character.

(If you read this book, Cory’s explanation of his video-game idea, SoulFinder, on page 420 is amazing, and worth waiting for: “‘When a person dies we say that we lost them,’ said Cory…It feels that way to me; like they’ve got to be somewhere, right? They can’t just be nowhere.'”)

Lastly, “The Female Persuasion” strives mightily to challenge us to ask new questions about big ideas. Here’s a passage I found particularly profound and moving, spoken by Greer’s mother, whom Greer (initially) views as a failure, about Cory: “‘…I’m not the one who’s been working at a feminist foundation. But here’s this person who gave up his plans when his family fell apart. He moves back in with his mother and takes care of her. Oh, and he cleans his own house, and the ones she used to clean. I don’t know. But I feel like Cory is kind of a big feminist, right?'” (page 377).

Witty. Captivating character development. New questions about big ideas. Yes, “The Female Persuasion” by Meg Wolitzer is a good read.

Does it live up to all the hype? I don’t know.

I can’t shake the feeling I’ve met Greer Kadetsky before.

Photo credit: Riverhead Books

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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.

 

Not Quite There Yet: The Family Vacation

We’re knee-deep in summer, and the season of family vacations.

My husband let me know he needed to travel to Martha’s Vineyard for work the week of July 4th. The girls and I had never been, and we all decided it would be fun to go together. Stanton had meetings, but would join in on the family time when he could—a mini vacation of sorts.

Before embarking on our trip, I did what most parents (most moms?) do. Laundry. The grocery store for snacks.

I located everyone’s beach paraphernalia: swimsuits, cover-ups, goggles, towels, chairs, flip-flops, sunscreen.

I also stopped by Walmart to buy sandcastle-building equipment…and then learned Walmart had just sold its last beach bucket. Next stop: Dollar Tree, where I had better luck with beach buckets, sand shovels, and seahorse and starfish molds.

Now, we’ve become quasi pet owners, you might remember. Ping, our betta fish, joined the family this past spring. She needs a pinch—just a pinch—of fish food every morning. Just a pinch of fish food still requires planning.

I asked our neighbors if they’d pet-sit Ping while we were away. They kindly agreed. And then, because I couldn’t carry Ping and her two-gallon fish tank down the block…I wheeled her over in Anna’s stroller, to the raised eyebrows of some passersby.

You can’t make this stuff up, friends.

So began our family vacation.

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Our drive to the ferry for the island took about three and a half hours. We started out in the morning. I gathered stories, coloring books and crayons, puzzles—hours of fun—into a bag, and placed the bag between the girls in the backseat.

Like kids everywhere, about five minutes into our drive, one of the girls shared, “I’m bored.”

The other wondered, “Are we there yet?”

Not quite yet, girls. Not quite yet.

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As a kid on family vacations or reunions, did you ever have to bunk with a sibling, or distant relative? It can be a little tough, right?

It was a little tough for Grace, who informed Stanton and me after our first night in the hotel, “Anna kicks, and she takes up a lot of space.”

For such a little person, she really does. I so appreciate how kind and patient Grace (usually) is with her little sister:

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During our time in Edgartown, the girls loved playing at the nearby beach and swimming in the ocean, which we learned is technically Nantucket Sound. I loved the beach too, and I was excited to check out the other sights. I promised the girls Popsicles if they’d come exploring with me.

Popsicles: As good a bribe as any.

We played in Cannonball Park, admired the Old Whaling Church, and stopped in local shops like Murdick’s Fudge. We wrapped up our sightseeing by sitting at the dock, watching the harbor boats and Chappy Ferry rides. Later, I asked the girls what their favorite part had been.

“Pretending to fish with that string we found,” they replied.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s always the little things.

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There’s a saying, which you’ve probably heard, that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey. I think this is true, too, of family vacations. We can read the latest issues of Travel + Leisure and plan the most TripAdvisor-approved odysseys—or make the most of last-minute adventures—and then find that what we love the most, and what our loved ones remember, are the seemingly littlest things. And we can be anywhere in the world for this it-never-fails phenomenon to happen: Lake Como, or the lake that’s an hour’s drive from home.

Sometimes crazy things happen too. And a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come, for better or worse. For example…

When I was growing up, my parents, siblings and I went to Orlando, Fla. We were in Epcot one day when I became horribly sick. My mom brought me to the on-site infirmary, where the medical staff diagnosed me with food poisoning. Ugh.

(As I’m writing this, I’m shuddering at the memory. Shuddering and gagging.)

The Epcot folks took good care of me. Then, per Disney policy, they arranged for a wheelchair for me, to transport me back to our rental car.

You can bet my brothers begged my mom to photograph that moment for posterity’s sake. Good ol’ Melissa in a wheelchair at Epcot. “Take a picture, Mom!”

Decades later, that crazy moment from Epcot still comes up during family get-togethers. (What does your family remember at summer BBQ’s and Thanksgiving dinners?)

…a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come…

After we got the girls to bed one night, Stanton opened a bottle of red wine he’d bought. “This was surprisingly thoughtful of you,” I said.

“Glad I can still surprise you sometimes,” he replied, pouring two glasses.

Then, despite the thousands of brand-new TV and movie options available to us, we watched a rerun of “The Office.” Season 2, “Email Surveillance,” the episode where Jim doesn’t invite Michael to his party. It still made us laugh.

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On our drive back home, the four of us played the License Plate Game. Our family’s version of this game is to find license plates from the four states we’ve called home: Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Now, we acknowledge other license plates. Indiana, OK. Florida…Maine…North Carolina. Utah, whose license plate declares, “Greatest Snow on Earth!” We acknowledge other license plates, but we get excited about Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Driving through Massachusetts, it was, of course, easy to find license plates from neighboring New York and nearby Pennsylvania. I was amazed, though, to see more than a handful of license plates from the Lone Star State. There were a bunch of Texans in New England that holiday week—who knew?

We were about five miles from our driveway, and we still hadn’t seen Virginia. I was about to give up when, out of the corner of my eye… “Grace, look!” I pointed to the car to our left.

Grace’s middle name is Virginia, so she can recognize the word right away. She looked at the car, saw the white license plate with navy-blue letters, and grinned. “Virginia!”

Anna cheered. “We found Virginia!”

Indeed we did.

I loved our impromptu getaway. It wasn’t perfect, of course. We all had our moments, and traveling with kids is tricky, in general. But for all the moments we had together…I appreciated them so much. And some of those moments, possibly, will be ones we’ll remember years from now, when the four of us—a little older, and maybe not living under a shared roof anymore—are lucky enough to be gathered in the same place.

“For such a little person, she took up a lot of space. She kicked me all night.”

“Oh, you were fine…”

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“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” (Buddha)

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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.