But We Had a Great Time

Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.

The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.

Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.

After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”

I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”

“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”

This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.

“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.

Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.

I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.

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Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.

But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.

We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.

Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.

…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.

Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉

Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”

Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”

Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.

I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.

Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

“Impossible,” I confirmed.

I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.

“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”

Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.

Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.

“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”

“What?” my daughters asked.

Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”

“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.

I nodded.

Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.

Anna chimed in that that was true.

Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.

Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.

If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.

It was a great time.

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.

Remember the Time? On Family, Memory and Where You Keep Your Shoes

My sister mailed me a card for my birthday, a couple of weeks ago. The front said, “‘Remember the time…?'” followed by, “There are about a thousand different ways to end that story!” in multicolored font. I loved everything about it, from the sentiment to, especially, Jenna’s heartwarming note inside.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took one (excuse my amateur photography skills!) to illustrate my message here. I put my sister’s card in the last remaining spot, on the bottom, of the hanging card holder in the kitchen. See it there? You can also see our family’s kaleidoscopic collection of other well wishes for assorted birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, special occasions… Yeah, Marie Kondo probably wouldn’t approve. 😉

So—”‘Remember the time…?'”

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Inside the card, Jenna wrote about how she always enjoys our adventures and conversations. Over the course of our life together, there have been a lot of them—not “about a thousand,” but thousands upon thousands. Jenna, along with both my brothers, were there, and continue to be there, for…well, my life.

Last night, I was lying beside Anna as she drifted off to sleep, and all of a sudden, a long-ago memory came to mind. I don’t know why, but I thought about the refrigerator in my grandparents’ old house. Before I left for college, I put pictures all over it. I joked that I didn’t want Grandma and Poppy to forget me, so I transformed their fridge into a collage of photos and magnets.

After Anna fell asleep, I called Jenna to share this memory with her. Because your sister will always answer the phone, even if you’re calling about your grandparents’ not-sure-if-it-even-exists-anymore refrigerator. “Awww,” Jenna said when I told her.

“I also remember—I mean, I can almost see this—Poppy sitting in the sunroom, just smiling, his arms crossed, watching TV. And,” I added, “he’s wearing that blue polo shirt he always wore. You know the one…?”

“Yeah, with the pink on the collar.” I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, so, I just wanted to tell you about that…”

“Do you remember,” Jenna said—she really did send me the perfect birthday card—”every New Year’s, we would all go outside and bang on pots and pans? And set off Mom’s car alarm?” We laughed.

Maybe a little corny at times, and certainly loud a lot of the time, but this was/is our family…and I love them.

I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

I have been truly lucky with my husband’s family too. After I talked with Jenna, I called Stanton’s mom to say hello. Charlotte was exercising, and I apologized for interrupting her. She asked me how I was doing.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I just poured myself a glass of milk and am about to eat a cookie. I’m doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” (You simply can’t make this stuff up, friends.) Like with my sister, my mother-in-law and I shared a good laugh.

Stanton had just been in San Antonio for a conference, and I was glad he got to spend some time with his family while he was there too. It’s a busy season of business travel for him, and he told the girls about a few other upcoming trips.

I made the joke (in retrospect, not a funny one) to the girls, “What’s Dad doing home now, girls? Does he live here too?”

Anna gave Stanton one of her wonderful bear hugs. “Of course he lives here,” she said. “This is where his shoes are.”

Sometimes life lends itself to quotable moments.

Home is where you keep your shoes. It’s where you hang up your cards, and pictures. It’s where, at the end of the day, you call the people you love. You call them to share a memory, or just to say hello.

Home is where you get the best bear hugs too.

Remember the time?

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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.

 

I Think We Have a Game Plan

Mornings are…not smooth…in our house. Maybe yours too.

One morning recently, however, the girls and I arrived at Grace’s bus stop several minutes early. We weren’t rushing (that usually happens). Anna didn’t melt down on the porch, at the last minute, because she wanted a different hair accessory (that almost always happens). In my not-fully-caffeinated-yet state, I didn’t raise my voice for the girls to stop bickering about something (unfortunately, that pretty much always happens too—the bickering, and the voice-raising).

Things went so smoothly that particular morning, and we were early, that I remarked upon it. “Wow, girls,” I said. “I wonder how many times we’ve had such a good morning.”

Grace paused. A moment later, she said, “This is the second time.”

Aha. Out of the hundreds of mornings of our family life together, two times ever did things go smoothly.

There’s some perspective. I half-laughed, half-cried.

In the midst of our could-be-smoother mornings, and family life in general, I often find myself telling the girls, “Everything’s going to be OK. I think we have a game plan.” What mom isn’t a de facto coach and default cheerleader?

The game plan consists of making sure everyone has what they need for the day. Backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, science fair registration form (Grace), something green for show-and-tell (Anna). Then I consult our calendar to confirm where we need to be outside of routine spots like work and school.

When Stanton and I were first married, our daybreak conversations were, scientifically speaking, one thousand times more romantic than they are now.

“Honey, Grace’s science fair is tonight. Do you want to come home first, or meet us there?”

“Meet you there, gotta go, love ya, bye.”

One thousand times more romantic, scientifically speaking.

What mom isn’t a de facto coach and default cheerleader?

Stanton and I recently celebrated our 11-year wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a day together, just the two of us, which was rare, and lovely. Later that day, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Of course there was an Italian restaurant. There often is.

This Italian restaurant was small, with a small menu too. “But what they do, they do well,” reviewers wrote, over and over again. The ambiance was exposed brick, globe string lights, a view of the kitchen. Photographs framed on the walls. The kind of place that makes you feel at home.

As we were sitting at our table for two, we reminisced about the night we met. What’s an anniversary without a little reminiscing? Stanton said, “So, I don’t think I ever told you this, about that night…”

“I can’t believe,” I interrupted, “there’s something about you I don’t know. I just can’t believe there are any surprises left.”

As it turned out, there was one surprise left. Just one, friends. 😉 A funny story about something that happened about an hour before we met at a college party.

That night, that college party, goes back even longer—17 years ago. “I don’t have many memories without you in them, Mel,” Stanton said.

How did all this time go by? We asked ourselves this question, and—like everyone else who asks this question—had no answer.

We did agree, though, that it’s really nice to still like spending time with the person sitting across from you at a table for two.

As it turned out, there was one surprise left.

As a gift for us to enjoy with the girls, Stanton’s parents sent a globe. The girls have loved looking at it, gently spinning it, pointing out all the places around the world.

Stanton showed the girls Australia, where he spent a year after high school. He talked about the outback; Anna asked him about joeys, one of her favorite animals. “Let’s definitely go there someday,” she said.

That would be awesome, someday, we all agreed.

The globe has been a wonderful gift for discovery—conversation—possible game plans. Where to go (Lisbon), or return to together (La Jolla Cove).

Like many children, the girls say to us, “What are we doing today? Where are we going? Let’s go places!”

Just like the Toyota commercial, on repeat.

We load into the car, or climb on our bikes, or start walking.

Then…

“Aup-aup-aup!”

“Mom! Anna’s doing her dolphin voice, and it’s annoying me.” (The little sister loves animals.)

“Anna, please stop that.”

“Aup-aup-aup!”

“Mom!”

“Anna!”

“Oh, fine. Aup.”

They say it’s all about the journey.

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On Saturday evening, the four of us had dinner outside. It was warm, but windy. Still, I thought it would be fun to dust off the outdoor table and chairs, and embrace that spring had sprung after a winter’s worth of snowgirl-building, sledding and ice skating. All good fun, but let’s hear it for springtime.

The girls were sitting on the backyard patio. Through the sunroom window inside, I saw them munching apples and chitchatting. I was holding the last of the food to bring out when I saw one of the paper plates fly up and bop Grace on the forehead. “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed, as Grace and Anna doubled over in laughter.

When Stanton and I got back outside, the girls were still laughing. “Mom, Dad!” Anna greeted us. “Guess what!”

“I saw through the window!” I said. “Grace, are you OK?”

Grace nodded through her laughter.

“It’s so windy, the paper plate bopped Grace,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Then we started laughing hysterically.”

Now all four of us were laughing. “Anna, I love how you tell stories,” I said.

“We just started laughing hysterically, Mom,” Anna repeated.

I sank into a chair. “I may have had a bad idea, girls,” I said. “Eating outside when it’s windy.”

No, it’s fun, they assured me. Fun and funny.

My al fresco springtime meal had turned into a fun and funny family memory. Not the original game plan, to be sure, but where we ended up instead.

And in the end, that was wonderful too.

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.