I Can’t Picture You Old

My mom and dad came to visit, this past weekend. It was wonderful to see one another.

On Saturday afternoon, I smiled as I watched my dad play soccer with Stanton and the girls. They passed Grace’s gray, much-kicked soccer ball around the backyard. Every so often, one of them scored in the portable goal, which Stanton had set up to the right of a cluster of maple trees.

Later, my parents said they would get good rest that night. I complimented my dad on his enduring soccer skills. Years earlier, he had coached my brothers’ youth soccer teams. Then my mom noted that my dad wasn’t as young as he used to be.

For a moment, I really had to pause. Then I shook my head. “I can’t picture you old,” I told my dad, and my mom.

For me—and maybe for a lot of us—we think of our moms and dads as ageless. Or, if not ageless exactly, then we think of them as always there. This is how I think of my parents, anyway.

I can’t imagine a time in which I don’t receive an email from my dad, in which he signs it “GG”—short for Gordon Gekko, a reference to “Wall Street.” My family and I joke that my dad has only ever seen the same handful of movies over and over again (“Wall Street” among them, right up there with “Rocky” and “The Godfather”). In my replies back to my dad, I sign off with “Bud,” the name of Gekko’s protégé—all old, inane inside jokes, because we’re nothing like these movie characters.

When I check my email, I consider it a given that a note from my “GG” will be somewhere in the mix, just as I have faith that my mom will answer her phone every time I call. You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith.

You might be right.

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While I can’t picture my parents “old,” I have noticed some aging on my husband’s part (sorry, buddy). Stanton’s hair has thinned a bit in the back. “Wow,” I said, the first time I noticed.

“Thanks, Mel,” he replied.

The past few years have been somewhat of a downhill slog for me too, cosmetically speaking. Case in point: I really should work on my abs. With the best of intentions, I got a kickboxing DVD that promises it will help sculpt them. All I have to do is get up early enough to sweep, squat, kick…but I choose sleep every time. Let’s hashtag it, friends: #hopelesscause.

You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith. You might be right.

While my parents were here, Stanton and I enjoyed a rare brunch date at the Iron Gate Cafe in downtown Albany. This is one of our favorite local restaurants. We sat at a table for two alongside an exposed-brick wall, and had many cups of coffee as we talked.

When you’re the parents of young children, it can be tricky to truly “talk.” Conversations often focus on logistics—who needs a dentist appointment, what time Parents Night at the elementary school starts, when is the absolute latest we can mail in the soccer-picture-order form. So over Stanton’s Bacado omelet and my breakfast BLT, we really appreciated the time and space we had to break bread, literally and figuratively.

We did talk about the girls, of course. And about my writing and his work, and future trips we wanted to take together. “We’ve got to see Maine,” I said, and Stanton agreed.

As we talked, I noticed that everyone around us was talking too. Folks at the other tables were gathered together…talking. Enjoying one another’s company, as well as the food.

I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people take pictures of themselves and their surroundings, wherever I am, that I was actually struck by the talking/non-picture-taking. How awesome, I thought, for all these people to be engaged with their families and friends. To be present.

In so many ways, it’s healthy to be present. And to live in the present. To appreciate the time we have right now, because the truth is, time ticks away from us, quietly yet relentlessly.

How awesome…To be present.

When my daughters are older, one thing I want to pass along to them is to appreciate men like their dad, and mine. Men who value good conversation, and listen to them (and don’t mind unsculpted abs). Men who get outside and revel in the fresh air, rather than get lost in their phones, TV’s and other toys. Kind, hearty men.

Across the ages, some things stay timeless. Honesty, courage, respect for humanity and the Earth that sustains us all. Those values don’t grow old.

In the face of our humanness and impermanence, sometimes the best we can do for our children and families is live the morals of the stories we tell.

Before my parents headed back to Pennsylvania, we all gathered in the breakfast nook. We had some coffee and apple cider doughnuts from nearby Kleinke’s Farm (another excellent local stop). Anna was telling us about her preschool, and my dad joked that his early childhood education came from the School of Hard Knocks.

“Huh?”

“I’m kidding, sweetheart.” My dad smiled at Anna. “Pop didn’t go to preschool.”

“Poor Pop!”

I smiled at my daughter, and my dad. I love my dad incredibly, and throughout all these years, this is what I’ve learned from listening to my dad’s stories—these have been the morals of his stories: Bring people together. Make them comfortable, make them feel welcome, make them laugh.

The content of the story doesn’t matter so much as the context. School of Hard Knocks or creative nonfiction or a story made up at bedtime, it doesn’t matter. What matters is making people feel better because you were there, gathered together with your story.

I can’t picture you old.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

All the Mistakes I’ve Made (So Far)

On our last day of summer vacation, I squeezed a dollop of sunscreen into Grace’s hand. “Mom,” she said, “remember that time you squirted spray sunscreen onto my face?”

I groaned. “Yes…one of the dumbest things I ever did.” That happened during a previous summer (“vacation”?), when Grace was 4, Anna six months old, and myself six months postpartum and still sleep-deprived.

Then, as now, we were getting ready to go swimming, and I didn’t know—how could I not have known?—that I could use spray sunscreen on my child’s body but not her face.

Seven-year-old Grace laughed. “You were supposed to spray it in your hand, and then rub it on my face.”

Anna, age 3 1/2, laughed too. “Geez, Mom!”

“My eyes and nose burned!”

I cringed at the memory. “OK, OK. Let’s talk about something else.”

“How about,” Anna brought up, “when you were pulling me in my little red wagon, and it tipped over?”

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “Remember when you did that, Mom? That was, like, this year.”

“Ugh, yes.” Walking home from our town’s Memorial Day parade.

“Mom.” Anna lowered her voice. “My head was bleeding.”

“I know, I know.” I closed my eyes at the horrible memory. “Why do you both remember so well all these mistakes I made?”

The girls just laughed.

I laughed (a little) too. “I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”

“We will,” Anna promised.

Grace nodded her agreement. “Of course, Mom.” Then she said, “Remember the time we were playing outside, and you almost dropped Anna?”

I buried my head in my hands.

“I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”

A few days later, Grace went back to school. I took some pictures to commemorate her first day of first grade (and I’ll do the same when Anna returns to preschool this week). Later this year, as I always do, I’ll compile these pictures, along with other good memories, into an annual family photo album.

I was thinking, though…decades from now, will the highlight-reel moments from these family photo albums actually be what my daughters remember? The first days of school, and first soccer games and piano recitals; holidays with extended families and friends; summer-vacation swimming (after all the sunscreen had been applied). All the wonderful, memory-worthy occasions.

Or—or instead, will the memories that stick top-of-mind for my daughters be a collection of my not-best-moments? “All the Mistakes Mom Made”?

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Well, if personal experience can offer any indication…then yes, unfortunately, my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them. Because I still remind my own mom of some of her snafus from my childhood. Which is, I am well aware, childish and pointless at this point…because I’m 35 and a mom myself, and I should cut my mom some slack.

But no, sometimes for no good reason, when talking with my mom, I remind her how she often was late picking me up from my high school volleyball practices. I, of course, sprayed sunscreen into my 4-year-old’s face, but my mom had the nerve not to leave work in time to pick me up from tossing a ball over a net with my classmates.

As a new mom, I promised my newborn daughter I’d never be late picking her up anymore. “Mommy may blind you with spray sunscreen, sweetheart, but she’ll be on time, gosh darnit.”

Life is humbling, isn’t it?

…my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them.

If my daughters were to ask me, in fact, what I’ve learned about life—what 35 years of experience and “learning experiences” (ahem, mistakes) have taught me—that’s what I’d tell them: Life is humbling.

You think you know what you’re doing, or what you’d do, and then you don’t.

You think you did something worth status-updating about, and then you learn about something even more impressive, or heroic, or selfless that someone else did.

You cause your daughter to fall out of a wagon and hurt her head, and then later that evening, she wraps her little arms around you and, totally unprompted, says, “I love you, Mom.”

Have you ever had a moment like that? I’m sure you have. A moment of humility and unconditional love, in which you recognize, “I’m so lucky. I have done nothing to deserve this. In fact, I’ve done stupid things, I’ve made mistakes, and yet I get the gift of this.”

My mom may have made some mistakes regarding timeliness and my volleyball practices, but she (and my dad) did a million things to give my siblings and me a loving and love-filled life. And of all the things, the best things were my siblings. (P.S. to Josh, Jared and Jenna: Really. 😉 )

…of all the things, the best things were my siblings.

I called my sister recently, and she answered but said she couldn’t talk. I remembered, from speaking with her earlier, that she was out with friends then. So I said, half-jokingly, “Are you really telling me you have something more important to do than talk to me?”

Jenna laughed, apologized…and hung up. She called me back the next day, and we talked then.

But I was only half-joking when I asked if she really had something more important to do. Because my sister is always there for me. We talk, text and email all the time about a wide range of topics covering varying degrees of importance (family, friendships and careers…the latest paparazzi photos of Prince Harry).

Over the years, Jenna has also helped me see our parents with more patient eyes. “You need to get over that,” she once said (probably after I brought up the volleyball practices for the 250th time).

I’m sure she’s right, about whatever it was. She usually is. I do, however, share my daughters’ talent for a long memory.

Which brings me back to my children, and our family memories.

It’s possible they’ll forgo the annual photo albums in favor of “All the Mistakes Mom Made.” Seventy years from now, Grace and Anna might be huddled over a kitchen table, cups of coffee in their hands and easy conversation flowing between them. And instead of reminiscing about apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms or sledding at Maple Ridge Park, they’ll recall the spray sunscreen. And the Memorial Day wagon incident…and on and on and on.

And when they’ve retold the last story of many, from “All the Mistakes Mom Made,” they’ll still have each other.

I’m extremely thankful for that.

I was telling my mom about this blog post. “I’m going to call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made.'”

“You should call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made So Far,'” my mom replied.

We both laughed. Then my mom noted that she made her share of mistakes too.

“I know,” I said (in that half-joking way of mine that doesn’t irritate my family members at all). “I didn’t repeat any of your mistakes, Mom.”

“Well, that’s great, honey.”

“I made a bunch of my own, though.” And I did—a bunch.

“I made a bunch of my own, though.”

Somewhere along the way, we grow up. Or we don’t, but hopefully we do. We grow up, and we realize our parents did the best they could. They made mistakes, and so did we. So do we.

We realize we are all perfectly imperfect. We recognize life is fragile, and beautiful, and not for forever. We can either forgive, forget and move forward, or dredge up every past misstep and choose ill will over joy.

I hope my daughters choose forgiveness and joy. And I hope they grow to be very old, and very happy, and get to have many cups of coffee and much conversation together, like the picture I have in my memory.

Even if they are conjuring up “All the Mistakes Mom Made” while reaching for the half-and-half.

(Oh, and Mom? Thank you. For helping me with this post title, and for all the other things I should have thanked you for, but never did.)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.