Living Authentically in a Made-for-Instagram World

When I was in my Pennsylvania hometown for Christmas, I stopped by a favorite local restaurant, Canteen 900, for breakfast with my brother and sister. Canteen 900 is located in a refurbished warehouse-style building. Think high ceilings, exposed brick, funky industrial décor—that’s this place.

My whole family and I love Canteen 900. It’s our first-choice, go-to spot whenever we’re “home for the holidays” together. So I was there recently, for the first time in a while.

Upon arriving, I saw a holiday-themed display outside the building. Like the restaurant and its artistic-vibe surroundings, the display was quirky, eye-catching and cool.

It would be helpful here if I had a picture to show you, right, friends?

The thing is—ironically—I had thought about taking a picture. The display was so cool, so picture-worthy, it seemed to be begging folks to snap a shot.

Then I thought… “I wonder,” I said to Jared and Jenna, “if that display was designed so that people would take their picture with it, and then share it on their social media.”

Jenna thought so; Jared was already jogging to the front door, eager to order his beloved French toast and coffee. We didn’t talk much more about the “made-for-social-media-ness” of that display, of that moment.

It’s been on my mind, though, off and on these past few weeks: how we may find ourselves, at times, living in a made-for-Instagram world.

The display was so cool, so picture-worthy, it seemed to be begging folks to snap a shot.

Did you happen to try Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino when it came out last year? I didn’t, but I remember reading about the supercharged-sugar-rush’s suspected main purpose: not as a beverage, but as “Instagram bait.” Even the Washington Post covered the limited-edition drink’s debut.

Making the news more recently (just a few days ago in Smithsonian magazine) is the Museum of Ice Cream, a pop-up art exhibit that’s “taking over your Instagram feed.” A Wired journalist wrote that this museum was “made for Instagram” in an earlier, fall 2017 article. I’ve never been, but from what I’ve read, the interactive, whimsically designed Museum of Ice Cream lends itself to staged photo shoots.

The Museum of Ice Cream, the Unicorn Frappuccino, the holiday-themed display in front of Canteen 900—these are things that sales and marketing professionals have put into our lives, perhaps, so that we can engage with them for their companies’ publicity and profit.

I’ve been wondering, then—how do we know when we’re experiencing something real?

Something we’re encountering purely by chance? And…purely? Not for publicity or profit?

On the flip side of that question… How do we keep our own lives real, when sharing on social media is part of everyday life?

How do we live authentically in our made-for-Instagram world?

…how do we know when we’re experiencing something real?

The other morning, my older daughter called for me. “Mom, come here!” Grace was sitting at the front bay window, looking out.

I joined her, and she pointed outside. “Look,” Grace said.

The sun was rising in the distance. Beyond our neighbor’s house across the street, through the tree branches, we watched the morning sky light up with orange. It…was…beautiful.

And it was a beautiful moment for me, friends. I put my hand on Grace’s back and stood there an extra minute. I was heartened that my 6-year-old daughter recognized something special in that sunrise—in nature. I was heartened that nature moved her, and that she wanted me to experience it too.

For sure, nature is real. We can trust in the earth, and what the earth gives us.

Sunrise 1-16-18

You know, I took a picture of that moment. Of the sunrise, of my daughter there. I wanted to remember it. And you know what else? I almost shared it on Facebook—almost.

I reconsidered, friends. And I changed my mind.

Everyone uses their social media in the way that makes the best sense for them. There’s no “one size fits all”—and I don’t mean to seem “holier than thou.” I do what I do simply because it feels right to me—on my Facebook, which I check in with fairly regularly; and Instagram, which I don’t; and LinkedIn and Twitter, which I update every now and then, mainly for my writing.

(By the way, has anyone ever used Google+? What is Google+?) 😉

The reason I didn’t share that picture? It was too real, friends. It was too real.

My daughter had something she wanted to show me. That moment was just for us. The earth offered it up, and we were lucky enough to be there, to take it in together.

We know we’re experiencing something real when we have to catch our breath. When we are so moved by the emotion of the moment. The joy, the gratitude, the feeling that life is beautiful.

Real life, I mean.

The life that is happening right before your eyes. Your children reaching for you. The wind on your face. Someone you love knowing what to say.

What makes sense for me with living authentically in our made-for-Instagram world is sharing here and there. Others may keep it real through more wholehearted documentation. Still others may choose to stay off the grid completely. (We’ve gotta love the Ron Swansons among us. 😉 ) And of course, what feels right for us may evolve as we move from one season of life to another.

There’s so much to appreciate about social media. I love seeing pictures of college friends’ kiddos, some of whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. I’d be wildly lost and uninformed if not for some local parent groups. And I’m so encouraged when someone reads something I wrote and lets me know it helped them somehow.

Yet…there may be some things to take care with. For example, I’d rather not partake in a for-profit’s stealth marketing (Museum of Ice Cream, are we talking about you?).

But that’s just me, in this season of my life.

How do you do you? How did you figure out what works for you?

Peace, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay


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.


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.


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


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.

Tell Me About Me: Stories Kids (and Grownups) Love to Hear

Both our daughters love when Stanton or I read to them. Lately, Anna especially has been requesting more and more time with books. She’ll pull one book after another off a bookshelf…stack them all into a tall, teetering pile…and then call, “Mom! Dad! MOMDADMOMDAD!”

We’ll hurry over. Anna will point to the pile. “Read all my favorite stories?” She’ll add a smile; we’ll sigh.

One afternoon, after reading for forty-five minutes or so, I felt my eyelids begin to droop. Many parents have found that reading to their children helps lull them, the kids, to sleep. For me, reading to Anna lulls me to sleep. I closed my eyes. “How about,” I suggested, “I tell you a story?” Telling a story—something I could do half-asleep.

Happily, Anna agreed. “Tell me about me!”

Kids love to hear stories about themselves, don’t they? Actually, we all do. So I began telling Anna the story of when she was born.

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

“I was so happy to see you,” I said.

“Mom gave me kisses,” Anna added. “Smooch, smooch!”

I’ve told her this story before, many times, and she loves it as much as I do.

“Yes, I kissed you so much,” I confirmed. “Then I gave you some milk…”

“Then I had scrambled eggs…”

My eyes blinked open. “What?” I started laughing. I had never said that, and obviously, Anna had not eaten any solid protein minutes after birth.

Anna frowned at me. “Stop laughing, Mom.”

“Honey, that’s not true. I did not give you scrambled eggs.”

“Yes, you did!” Now Anna was yelling. “I had scrambled eggs! I had milk and scrambled eggs!”

I could tell we weren’t going to be able to have a rational conversation. (This may be one of the hardest parts of parenting small children: dealing with wildly irrational behavior.) “If you say so,” I said.

Anna nodded. “Milk and scrambled eggs,” she said. “And Grace sang to me…”

I picked up with the story. “Yes, Grace sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to you when she met you…”

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

In telling a story, have you ever had to change it? To finesse the facts, so to speak, in order to move the conversation forward, as I did with Anna? Or, as my husband would say, lie?

(I don’t like to say lie…)

Storytellers—especially when they answer to “Mom” or “Dad”—are not court reporters, or accountants, or any other kind of official record keepers. And in family life particularly, we narrate these scenes of shared history not to develop a personal Encyclopedia Britannica, but to revisit and remember milestones and more everyday moments alike—all the occasions that make a family just that: a family.

The upcoming holidays will be prime time for family storytelling. At dinner tables, or on couches in front of TV’s showing a football game or animated movie, or wherever else we might gather with our loved ones…we’ll tell (actually, we’ll re-tell) the memory of, “That time when…”

If we’re lucky, we have lots of “times when.” Even if we wouldn’t have considered ourselves lucky at the time…every time was an experience. Every time became a story. And taught us something about life, or love, or surviving. Our “times when.”

Handprints 11-15-17

What stories do you re-tell holiday after holiday, year after year, so much so that everyone knows the punch line (but wants to listen anyway)? That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome. And more often than not, it makes any holiday stress worth it.

For those of us who celebrate Friendsgivings, or help serve holiday meals at soup kitchens, or spend the holidays in less traditional ways…storytelling probably appears on these menus too. We can’t help but make connections, or make sense of our lives, through stories. “To be a person is to have a story to tell,” said author Isak Dinesen.

From when I was growing up, and even now, I remember telling a story and then glancing at my sister, who’s seven years younger, to add, “You weren’t born yet.” Today, Grace does the same thing with Anna. We’ll be talking about Grace’s first birthday party, or first time flying on a plane, and Grace will inform Anna (not always graciously), “You weren’t born yet.”

To have not been born yet—to have missed out on that story in your family’s history—it’s the plight of youngest siblings everywhere, isn’t it?

Anna, as I’ve shared, has a flexible sense of history, and reality. So, bless her heart, she’ll often retort to Grace, “Yes, I was! I was born yet!”

(Luckily for our youngest siblings, they’re often the hardiest of us all.)

The truth is, the stories we tell—the way we remember things—they’re all imperfect. The details can get fuzzy in our memories…so we do the best we can in relaying those facts. And things don’t always start when we think they do, or end when we stop talking…stop telling the story.

Beginnings and endings can be just as permeable as our memories. Just as arbitrary. “There is no real ending,” according to Frank Herbert—“just the place where you stop the story.”

That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome.

What matters, I think, are the people. The people you were there with when the story unfolded in real time. The people you’re telling the story to now—the people you’re sharing the memory with.

When those people are the same—when you’ve been together, and stuck it out, since way back when—you’re lucky, friends. You’re lucky to have had family or friends along for so much of your journey: shotgun riders to your stories. And one day, you’ll be glad they’re there to help you remember the punch lines, and color in any details that you missed.

The people in the stories are what matter. Family. Friends, both old and new. People who passed through—people whom we miss, maybe—but to whom we feel gratitude for the wisdom they left us.

We shouldn’t stretch the truth too much, in the name of a good story. We should try to keep the facts straight. Anyway, a good story can stand on its own legs.

One day, I will tell Anna there were no scrambled eggs in her delivery room.

Photo credit: Pixabay


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.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.


We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:


Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.



Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?


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.

Would You Like to Try Our Kiosk?

I walked into a popular fast-casual restaurant the other morning—my “office” for the next few hours. My car keys in hand and my laptop under my arm, I headed to the cash registers.

“Good morning, ma’am,” a friendly employee interrupted me.

I smiled hello.

“Would you like to try our kiosk?” He gestured to the new iPad-like device up front.


“You can order for yourself,” he explained.

“Um…no, thank you.” I smiled good-bye. Then I continued on my path to the cash registers. A chatty young lady (her name tag said Ashley) greeted me and took my order (breakfast sandwich and small coffee).

Is it old-fashioned or out-of-style to want to talk to people? To prefer human interaction to touchscreens?

Is interpersonal communication going the way of Pokémon cards, VHS tapes and landline phones?

“Would you like to try our kiosk?”

Honestly, sir, no. I’d much rather spend a few minutes in conversation with the cashier up ahead. The real-life human being who can ask me how I’m doing, and then let me return the pleasantry.

I’m not a crunchy-granola-type person (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I have a smartphone, I’ve self-published e-books, I shop online. I appreciate technology.

People matter though. Human interaction matters.

“How are you doing today”—maybe that moment of communication makes a difference to a company’s bottom line. I don’t know. I do know, though, that there’s value in human connection and the empathy that that connection stimulates.

Communication makes a difference too.

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” (Rollo May)

Which would you choose, friends, a person or a kiosk? Tell me why.

Would You Like to Try Our Kiosk

Photo credit:


Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Writing at its most heartfelt.