Mom, Why Did You Have Two Kids?

Grace, Anna and I were driving home on a weekday afternoon. Grace had had an early dismissal from school. After picking her up at the bus stop, the three of us ate a hasty lunch of leftovers from the night before and then zoomed over to her pediatrician’s office for an overdue annual well visit. Following the well visit, we ran a few more needed errands, the last of which was a stop at the grocery store for, of course, milk, plus a few other things.

Every time, without fail, the first item I write on the grocery list is milk. Maybe you do too.

That afternoon at the grocery store, I was about to pay when Anna clasped her hands together and yelled, “Mom! I need to go potty now!”

“OK,” I said, paying and then asking a kind store employee to keep an eye on our cart of groceries while I hurried Anna to the restroom, with Grace trailing behind.

Eventually, we were back in the car, our groceries stowed in the back. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but something happened that caused Anna to throw a tantrum as I buckled her into her car seat. I shook my head as I climbed into the driver’s seat. There was always something.

I began driving home.

“Mom.” Grace’s thoughtful voice interjected Anna’s continued yelling. “Why did you have two kids?”

I paused, surprised. (The way Grace asked the question, I couldn’t be sure if her implication was that wrapping it up at one kid—herself, Grace—might have been the way to go.)

I wanted to tell Grace the truth, and not simply respond with a trite explanation. I smiled at a memory that was crystal-clear in my head. “What happened, Grace, is that…”

Two Kids

About four years ago, Stanton and I were having dinner out together—a somewhat rare date night. Grace was about 2½. We had gotten through our first couple of years of parenthood, and life felt manageable. Grace was sleeping well at night and enjoying her preschool. Things were good with both Stanton’s work and mine—I was glad to have found a part-time writing job at a marketing company after taking some time away from full-time work. Our life had a good rhythm.

So Stanton and I were sitting together at a table for two. Our food hadn’t come out yet. To my left, I saw a middle-aged couple sitting together in a booth. Across from them sat a teenage girl, whom I guessed was their daughter. The three of them seemed happy and comfortable together.

In that moment, I saw a flash forward of Stanton, Grace and me, ten or twelve years down the road. To this day, I still remember that moment—picturing a future of our own (current) family of three, enjoying dinner together.

I looked across our table, at Stanton, and gestured to the booth to my left. “That could be us someday. You, Grace and me.”

Stanton glanced over and nodded. “Could be,” he agreed.

I looked at the booth again, and then closed my eyes to consider the flash-forwarded picture in my mind. There was something about that picture I just didn’t feel. Something felt off, to me.

Someone was missing.

Someone was missing at our dinner table.

The connection between food and family played a major role in my Italian-American upbringing. It makes sense to me, then, that my thoughts about motherhood, in that moment, were tied to food, and a dinner table, and the people at that table.

“I feel like someone else should be there with us,” I told Stanton. “At our table.”

Stanton paused. He had two brothers and a sister, just as I did. He appreciated the meaning that siblings could bring to a person’s life. He also knew—as I did—that our first years of parenthood had been so hard. Did we really want to do all that again?

We both gave it some more thought, and obviously, the answer was yes.

I’m so happy and grateful we found our way to “yes.”

I told a shorter version of this story to Grace (ultimately, Anna calmed down to listen too). I pulled into the driveway and glanced in the rearview mirror. “What do you think?”

Grace met my gaze in the mirror. “I’m happy we have Anna.”

I smiled. “Me too. And I’m happy we have you.”

Grace smiled back.

We each find our way into the family that makes sense for us. There is no “one size fits all.” What makes sense for one person may not make sense for someone else.

On a related note… The girls recently asked Stanton and me if we would get them a baby brother, a puppy or a fish. This was, perhaps, the easiest multiple-choice question we ever had to answer.

No deep thinking needed, friends: We’re getting a fish. 😉

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.


When a Picture Falls Out of a Book

One corner of my kitchen countertop is a mess, always. Stuff just accumulates there.

My daughters’ ponytail holders. My Us Weekly magazines (I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit, I’ve been a subscriber, off and on, for years). Stanton’s various electronic gadgets. Pens, batteries, coupons, Shopkins, the occasional card. Lots…of…stuff.

The other day, I tried to clean up some of the stuff. Scoop the ponytail holders into a drawer. Recycle the magazines. Then I picked up an overstuffed file folder and a coming-unbound book—“Chocolatina” by Erik Kraft, one of the girls’ favorites—and a picture fluttered out of the jumble of paper and pages.

This picture:

When a Picture Falls Out

This picture shows my three siblings and me with our mom and her parents, our Poppy and Grandma. I’m the cute one. Just kidding, friends. 😉 I’m the one wearing the orange shirt.

My brother Josh is making bunny ears on my head. My other brother, Jared (in the striped shirt), would grow up to become the cute one. My sister Jenna is resting her head on the table.

I’m not sure whose birthday we’re celebrating here. If one of them is reading this, maybe they’ll help me out. (Hint, hint…)

I emailed this picture to my family, along with some old friends who have been around us Minetolas so long, and sat at that kitchen table with us so much, that they, too, know all the characters in this story.

Jared replied all: “photo cred: John Minetola?” That would be my dad, and I replied that yes, I thought so. Otherwise, he would have been in the picture.

This was before the selfie stick era, you know.

When this picture fell out of that book, I wasn’t expecting it. But instantly, after I picked it up, I smiled.

I smiled because it was a happy memory. Not a perfect memory—whose birthday cake was that?—but a happy one, because we were all there together. And I’m grateful that we still do gather around that table, many years later, for dinners and rounds of Uno and other normal, nothing-special moments that actually are special in their togetherness.

Poppy, of course, has since passed way, five years ago now. I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place.

I do wish he could have been here to have met Anna. I know he would have loved everything about her—every little thing, from her dimples to the mischievous twinkle in her eye, which is exactly like his.

Poppy did have a chance to meet Grace, about a year and a half before he died. I will always remember the way he leaned over to her—an old man with glasses, looking with big love at my baby—and said, “I hope you live to be 90.” Grace looked back, and I like to think she understood what he said.

Sometimes, our best pictures are the ones we don’t take. But our memories, strong and enduring, of times that touched our hearts and stay with us forever.

“I hope you live to be 90.”

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo writes that it can be difficult to organize pictures. Not only do we file them into photo albums, but we also stick them into books as bookmarks, or magnet them to the refrigerator, or pull them out of our photo albums to send to loved ones. Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Have you ever opened a book, or knocked a day planner to the floor, and a picture or other memento fell out, rousing a memory?

What did you remember, friends?

Reflecting on a past moment, we might slip on our rose-colored glasses. We might romanticize a time, long gone, that we struggled through in real time, years ago.

I’ve had my moments with rose-colored glasses, and romanticism too. I’ve had my moments, friends.

People aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. Life is beautiful, and it’s also humbling.

Life is both/and; shades of gray, not black and white.

Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Poppy loved nature. The older I get, the more I love and seek it out too.

Last week, my parents were in town for the girls’ winter break. One morning, I brought my dad and Grace to Five Rivers, a nearby nature park. We spent some time bird-watching at the visitor center, using binoculars to look out the expansive windows. We spotted many eastern bluebirds, and even an opossum.

“Poppy would have loved this,” my dad said.

I agreed.

“The best thing about a picture,” Andy Warhol said, “is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” I loved seeing Poppy again in the picture that fell out of the book. I so appreciated remembering him, too, when I was bird-watching with my dad and my daughter.

Years from now, I wonder if my daughters will stumble upon an old picture, or frayed certificate of participation that I saved—a memento of some kind. So much of our life is digitized now, but we still keep hard copies of this and that here and there.

I wonder what Grace and Anna might find. I wonder what they’ll remember.

I hope they’ll skim over the imperfect parts. The persistent morning rush and end-of-day crankiness. My forgetting Anna’s teddy bear on “Bring Your Teddy Bear to Preschool Day” (that happened yesterday), Stanton’s coming home later than he’d said (two nights ago).

I hope they’ll skim over those parts, and remember that we loved them. At the very least, that we tried.

That is, after all, what families do: Love. Work. Play. Be there for one another. Try.

This quote made me laugh, so I’ll end with it, for your enjoyment too: “My whole family is lactose intolerant, and when we take pictures, we can’t say, ‘Cheese.’” –Jay London


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: Devoured—How What We Eat Defines Who We Are

Devoured CoverWhen I was growing up, I loved taking the quizzes in magazines like All About You and Cosmopolitan. All I had to do was choose scenario A, B or C for, say, 20 questions, and instantly, I had the answers to, “Which celebrity style is most like yours?” and “What kind of friend are you—true blue, fair weather or just an acquaintance?” Pressing questions, friends.

These days, I don’t click on every BuzzFeed quiz that comes across my Facebook news feed. But I still do a double-take when a quiz, magazine article or book promises to reveal to me some secret of my psyche.

This time, the book turned out to be “Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies—How What We Eat Defines Who We Are” by Sophie Egan (2016). Ms. Egan works for The Culinary Institute of America as its director of programs and culinary nutrition. She also holds impressive degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford.

What most impressed me about her book, though, was her love for the subject matter. Through her writing (always enlightening, while at times laugh-out-loud funny), I could tell she really wanted to write this book. And she really wanted to share this information with people—everyday people, not just academics. These genuine passions, then, made “Devoured” a compelling and fun read about our culture and its cuisine and eating habits.

Egan begins with an introduction into “the American food psyche” and then notes that “convenience has always been part of our national heritage.” (Yet another thing for Americans to be proud of…) “Devoured” blends psychology, anthropology and various other fields of study.

Through her writing (always enlightening, while at times laugh-out-loud funny), I could tell she really wanted to write this book.

In these early pages, a fact that struck me, because it hit close to home, was this one: “Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, signed legislation crowning yogurt as that state’s official snack. Yes, yogurt is a fan favorite, but this might also have something to do with the fact that Chobani and Fage have major production facilities upstate” (page 34). I didn’t know that yogurt was my state’s official snack (what’s yours?), and was interested to learn that. And once again, I was interested to see a probable connection between business and politics.

I loved Egan’s chapter on “The Democratization of Wine,” and especially her discussion of Trader Joe’s and its “Two-Buck Chuck” here. For those who may not know, Trader Joe’s store-brand wine sells under the label Charles Shaw, which fans nickname “Two-Buck Chuck” because it retails for about $1.99 per bottle. That is, obviously, incredibly cheap for wine, and incredibly cheap in general. A quart of Tropicana costs more than Two-Buck Chuck.

People…love…Two-Buck Chuck. Just like they (we) love Trader Joe’s. Here’s why, according to Egan: “Part of what makes Charles Shaw, like Trader Joe’s itself, so widely appealing and so American is the way it shrugs at refinement…We’re the country of the T-shirt and jeans” (pages 197-218).

That we are, friends: T-shirts and jeans, convenience, and a mosaic of other customs and institutions that, whatever their imperfections, signal America.

“One of the traits we sought to shed from our British roots during the American Revolution was the snootiness,” Egan writes on page 218, as she sums up the chapter on wine (and Trader Joe’s/Two-Buck Chuck). “So it’s exciting to think that lowering the snobbery of wine—in the wine itself, and in how we market and deliver it—can also boost its sustainability.”

…T-shirts and jeans, convenience, and a mosaic of other customs and institutions that, whatever their imperfections, signal America.

So, 200 pages in, did I figure out yet who I am, based on what I eat? Two hundred pages in, I would say I’m a fairly average American. (You probably are too.)

After “The Democratization of Wine,” Egan explores stunt foods, such as the Doritos Locos Taco (Taco Bell) and the Strawberry Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich (Carl’s Jr.). Many folks loved these creations—Jimmy Kimmel said, Egan remarks, “‘Is Carl’s Jr. reading my dream journal?’” (page 231)—but just the thought of them makes me gag. Still, though, I’m a fairly average American, because I’m open to trying new things, including new foods (but hold that Strawberry Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich, please).

In case you’re keeping track, our America list now includes convenience, T-shirts and jeans, mosaic-ism, and a sense of adventure.

“Just as we collect wine corks or shot glasses, coins or seashells, we collect life experiences,” Egan writes on page 243, adding that “checking off items on our bucket list of personal experiences seems a way of measuring how full a life we’re leading. It’s also about projecting a self-image of having done a lot of exciting things. And for many people, an important component of that experiential résumé is trying new foods.”

Egan’s comment about “projecting a self-image” made me think of a meme I saw floating around the Internet the other day. The meme said something to the effect of, “I’m so old I remember when people ate food without taking pictures of it.” I do wonder if Egan might have spent a little more time on the topic of how social media and self-image-representation may affect Americans’ eating habits.

(For those who are curious, a quick Google search produced this article from The Guardian: “Click plate: how Instagram is changing the way we eat.”)

All in all, “Devoured” is a wonderfully researched and immensely engaging read. It touches on everything from Americans’ love for customization (Chapter 3: Having It Our Way) to the contemporary gluten-free trend (Chapter 4: Selling Absence) to the devotion to brunch, or “Secular Church” (Chapter 5). And it concludes with a chapter whose name makes me smile: “The Story of Spaghetti.”

All in all, “Devoured” is a wonderfully researched and immensely engaging read.

In “The Story of Spaghetti,” Egan explains why Italian cuisine wins the popularity contest for most Americans: “Italian cuisine has on its side not only easy preparation but also easily accessible ingredients” (page 303)—pasta, sauce, cheese. She notes, “If as a child the first thing you learned to cook on the stove top was Kraft Mac and Cheese, your first encounter with the inside of an oven probably involved a frozen pizza…So Italian American food’s popularity both in and outside the home is what truly sets it apart.”

Egan notes, too, that pasta is a plain, simple food that children will eat. No spices to worry about. And for parents, how easy is it to prepare—just boil some water, right? We grow up with pasta, with Italian-American food. It’s why we’ll always say yes to spaghetti and meatballs, or pizza…because “the foods we like as kids get special status for life” (page 301).

Our childhood. Nostalgia. Our comfort food.

“When you ask what comfort food means, different people will likely offer different answers,” Egan says. “Perhaps it’s something very simple that doesn’t set your mouth on fire or upset your stomach. But a common thread will surely relate to what we ate as children” (page 301).

Let me be honest here, friends: When I read that line, my eyes teared up.

I thought about my own Italian-American upbringing: my mom’s homemade Christmas ravioli, and the hundreds (really, hundreds) of cookies she makes throughout the year for family members and friends. When my mom comes to visit me these days, she comes with coolers of her meatballs, stromboli and zucchini fritters. She takes care of me still, with the food she nourished me with as a child.

I also thought about my husband and our own two children. Many a Saturday morning, Stanton gets up with the girls so that I can sleep in a little. And many a Saturday morning, when I join them in the kitchen, I find that he’s made cinnamon toast for them—a recipe his mom used to make for him.

“Look what Dad did!” Grace and Anna will exclaim.

We grow up with pasta, with Italian-American food. It’s why we’ll always say yes to spaghetti and meatballs, or pizza…because “the foods we like as kids get special status for life” (page 301).

What we ate as children, whatever it was—someone who loved us prepared that food. They made it—the cinnamon toast, the ravioli—because they loved us. And even if our tastes have changed over time, that made-with-love food can bring up happy, cared-for memories.

When my daughters are grown, and making Saturday breakfasts of their own, I hope they remember their dad’s cinnamon toast—their grandmother’s cinnamon toast, really—and the love and the history behind it. I hope they remember my mom pulling up with a car trunk full of meatball-stuffed coolers. I hope they remember how much they were loved.

“Nostalgic sentiments tend to be shared by people with a common history,” Egan writes, as she wraps up “Devoured.” “Part of that has to do with geography. For example, Rabobank’s Nicholas Fereday was raised in the UK. He says, ‘You can keep your Reese’s Pieces—they mean nothing to me. But if you put a Cadbury Crème [Egg] in front of me, it would be gone in a minute’” (page 271).

What would be gone in a minute, if someone put it in front of you? Well, friends…that’s who you are.

Photo credit: HarperCollins Publishers


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.


But What Will People Think?

One morning this past week, the four of us were getting ready for the day. Stanton left the house first, as a light snow began to fall. Grace and Anna stood at the window (Anna’s chin touching the windowsill) and wondered if then (7:45 a.m.) would be a good time to build our first snow girl of the New Year.

(Answer: No.)

I was wondering if school would be delayed because of the snow. (Answer: Another thumbs-down.) So I made Grace’s lunch, changed Anna’s shirt (“Mom! I had a spill! But it’s not a problem, Mom!”) and began gathering all our bags.

Do you and your kids also have so many bags to locate, pack and get out of the house each morning? I’m continually loading stuff out of my house, into my car and back again every…single…day.

Backpacks. Lunch boxes. My laptop bag. In the winter, bags with the girls’ snow pants and boots so that they can play outside during recess.

I stuffed a granola bar into my handbag. Anna noticed and noted that she was hungry. Grace held up her finger. “Mom! I need a Band-Aid!”

“Mom!” Anna had forgotten about the granola bar because now, of course… “I need a Band Aid too!”

“OK,” I said. I distributed Band-Aids for one paper cut and one nonexistent medical emergency. Then we all climbed into the car.

I drove Grace down the block to her bus stop. Once she hopped on the bus, I drove Anna to preschool.

Someone once said that the major requirement of parenthood is a driver’s license. This might be true, friends.

I distributed Band-Aids for one paper cut and one nonexistent medical emergency.

En route to Anna’s preschool, I realized I had forgotten to pack her sneakers into her backpack, for her to change out of from her snow boots. Sometimes my almost-3-year-old can be amazingly understanding. Other times, she teeters toward irrationality. Not sure which Anna Parker Leddy I’d be getting, I broached the topic: “Honey, guess what.”

“What, Mom?”

I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel. “I forgot your sneakers.” I glanced in the rearview mirror; Anna was starting to frown. “Oh, well, right? You can be comfy in just your socks…”

“MOM!” Anna exhaled. “But what will people think?”

“They will think…your mom forgot your sneakers.” Hopefully, that was all people would think about Anna’s mom.

Anna sighed. “Oh, Mom… How could you?”

Dear Lord. “I know, honey; I know.” But trust me: At some point, for some reason, I’ll fall short of your expectations again.

Forgetting your sneakers? This is nothing.

What people think. I had forgotten we begin worrying about that at such a young age.

“They will think…your mom forgot your sneakers.” Hopefully, that was all people would think about Anna’s mom.

I remember when I was in third or fourth grade. I had gone to the nurse’s office, and returned back to my classroom with a note recommending that I see an eye doctor to get glasses. That day—and I remember this clearly, to this day—I folded the note up and hid it in the palm of my hand, so that my classmates wouldn’t notice. So that people wouldn’t think something was wrong with me. I was maybe 10 years old, and I worried what people would think.

Twenty-five years later, I’m thankful to share that “what people think” isn’t much of a worry anymore. Yes, I care about things…but I’m comfortable—dare I say, confident—with the person I am.

Many of us reach this comfort zone, I imagine, by the time we’re adults. We’ve lived a little. We’ve probably loved, and lost, a little. If we have a young person in our life—a child, niece or nephew, little neighbor—we’re aware, in a way we probably weren’t before, that life is fragile, and precious. That good health, and family, and friendship far outweigh things we once thought mattered so much: the cool table in the school cafeteria, the right logos, the hot ZIP code.

People 1-8-18

On Saturday, I brought the girls to a friend’s birthday party. I enjoyed chatting with the other parents while Grace played (and Anna ran back and forth from the water fountain). It was remarkable—and really nice—how easy the conversation among everyone was.

Easy because, perhaps, all the moms and dads had some shared experiences related to parenthood. When you’re raising a child, you have empathy for those who are doing the same. There’s a kinship, a kindness, a respect.

I’ve been reading a book about teaching children about empathy. The book mentions John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, and his “seven-point creed for life,” which his father gave him. This creed for life includes guiding principles such as “Be true to yourself,” and “Make each day your masterpiece.”

As the New Year unfolds, I’ve been thinking about main guiding principles I’d like to pass along to my own children. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Be the best YOU.

2. Do your best. Work hard, play hard, get enough sleep.

3. Talk to people—really talk to them. Set your phone aside; then don’t look at it. Look at the people who are with you. And listen to them. Be in communion with them.

4. Make each day your masterpiece. (I love this one; I’m stealing it, friends!) If it’s cold out (it’s been cold out, right?!), bundle up and make the most of it. EMBRACE LIFE. There are no do-overs, girls.

5. Count your blessings.

A quote I’ve always liked—and I’ve probably shared it before—is Willie Nelson’s: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” You forgot something. You got bad news. Things aren’t perfect. Yet…

You have so much. You have so much, girls. You have so much, friends.

It can be difficult, though, to feel grateful. For me personally, there have been times in my life when I’ve been down. I can’t know for sure, because I never spoke to anyone professionally, but I’m fairly certain there were times when I was depressed.

Even during those difficult times—which I’m so thankful to have walked through and have left behind—I had moments of clarity when I knew, consciously, that life is good. I struggled with counting my blessings, so I tried to “be a blessing,” so to speak, to others. I tried to be kind to the people around me. I tried to write stories that would make people smile, or laugh, or feel uplifted.

As it turns out, blessing others with kindness can help turn your life around too. At least, it turned out this way for me.

When you’re raising a child, you have empathy for those who are doing the same. There’s a kinship, a kindness, a respect.

I would make that my next main guiding principle:

6. Be a blessing to others.

Or, simply: 6. Be kind. Give love away (to quote another great musician, MC Yogi).

One day you’re riding in the back of the car, horrified that your mom forgot your sneakers. But what will people think? Then in a blink, it seems, you’re up front, driving.

From your vantage point behind the wheel, you have a better sense of what people will think.

Did she care?

Did he try?

Did they show up?

You did?

Then you’re standing on solid ground, 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.


That Was the Place: Here Comes Memory

Stanton, the girls and I spent Christmas at my parents’ house in my hometown near Scranton, Pa. On Christmas Eve, the two of us headed out for a rare, much-appreciated date at a local café, leaving Grace and Anna in the capable hands of my mom, dad and three siblings.

We were on Bennett Street when Stanton turned onto Wyoming Avenue. Out the window, on the right, was Abe’s Hot Dogs, a local institution. Stanton nodded to it. “Have you ever been there?”

“Of course,” I said. Then I frowned. “Haven’t I ever taken you there?”

Stanton shook his head.


“Nope,” Stanton said, continuing the drive along “the Ave,” as it’s known. “You don’t like hot dogs,” he added, frowning back at me.

I assured him that Abe’s Hot Dogs were amazing. Abe’s was closed for Christmas Eve, but I promised my standing date of 15+ years that we’d drop in next time. “You’ll love it,” I said.

Stanton isn’t a picky eater, so he agreed. We stopped at a red light. He gestured to the right again. “There’s your library,” he said.

There it was indeed—the Hoyt Library, where the bookworm in me spent many happy hours (pun intended!) as a kid. “Oh, man, it’s closed too,” I noted. I would have loved to have ducked in for a minute.

“Ah, too bad,” Stanton said. But he’s not a bookworm; I knew he didn’t care.

The light turned green, and we continued on.

“My old high school is…”

“Right over there,” Stanton finished for me. He smiled over at me. “I know.”

I had shown Stanton all these places many times before. All the places that, when I was young, meant a lot to me. Hole-in-the-wall hot-dog stand, reader’s paradise, school.

That was the place we got lunch at in the summer. That was the place where I won my first writing award. That was the place I grew up.

That was the place.

Signs 1-3-18

A few days after Christmas, my brothers, sister and I went out for dinner—our new-ish tradition, an annual siblings dinner.

Food has always played a big role in our family, since we were little. Partly because of our Italian-American heritage. Everyone knows Italians make the best food. Just kidding, friends! (For the most part… 🙂 ) More practically, we were a family of six, and the kids were always asking—and our parents always wondering—“What are we all going to eat?”

So my siblings and I went out to eat together. Sharing a meal—at first glance, the practice may seem ordinary. In my experience, though, it’s far from it.

To me, there’s something special about a dinner table. The physical space—the table—and the people gathered around it. This gathering place gives people the chance to see one another…to nourish the bonds of family and friendship…to acknowledge the gift of one another in our lives.

I read once that “your presence is your present,” as wording for a birthday party invitation. For me, that rings true not just for birthday parties and holidays, but for everyday life. What we want, for the most part, is for the ones we love to be there.

To be where?

To be…right there. The place where we gather as a family…even if just for a few minutes. All those places that seem so ordinary—the fast-food restaurant, the library, school—that, 34 years later, we’re telling the person who’s ended up beside us, “That place once meant something to me.” Probably it still does mean something.

I hugged Josh, Jared and Jenna goodbye on New Year’s Eve. “I loved seeing you all,” I said.

“I can’t wait to read about myself in your next blog post,” Jared replied. (I’m happy for him that he has a healthy sense of self-esteem.)

Well, here it is, bro. Thank you (and Josh, and Jenna) for showing up for dinner. Thank you for making the time, for sticking around, for telling stories that made us laugh.

What have we done with our time if we don’t have laugh-out-loud stories to show for it?

If we don’t have people to share our stories with?

Thanks for being my people.

What we want, for the most part, is for the ones we love to be there. To be where? To be…right there.

New Year’s Eve, earlier this week. Stanton and I were driving together again, back home to New York. From my parents’ house to our home in the Capital Region, we drive through the Hudson River Valley. The nature along this stretch of highway is breathtaking.

All the greenery, along with the car ride, reminded me of the drive we used to make from our first home together, in Richmond, Va., north to my parents’ house. Back then, we’d drive along 64 West and eventually 81 North (preferring an alternate route to the traffic along 95!).

Somewhere between Point A and Point B was a Cracker Barrel that I always wanted to stop at. Sometimes we did; sometimes we didn’t. Stanton likes to get places; I don’t mind scenic routes.

We knew it was there, though, that Cracker Barrel.

We are still somewhat new to this chapter in our life, to New York. We don’t yet have favorite pit stops along our Hudson River Valley drive.

The girls were napping in the backseat. Stanton and I were listening to the radio; yes, country. Outside was cold, but sunny.

“At some point, we’ll have places we’ve been before,” I said. “A favorite rest stop. A scenic overlook we always go to.”

He smiled at me. “You know how much I like scenic overlooks.”


Stanton laughed, squeezed my hand. “I’m not worried about it, Mel.”

Because of course, the places do come, and the memories too.

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.


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

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


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.