You’re Going to Be Fine

Pop.

I grabbed the two slices of multigrain bread from the toaster and plopped them onto a plate.

“No cheese, please.” Grace was leaning across the kitchen counter. “Just salami and mayonnaise.”

“Right.” I pulled a new jar of mayo from the cupboard. Next, I tried to peel back the safety seal, but by golly, the quality control folks at Hellmann’s made sure that piece of plastic was sealed.

I got a knife and jabbed at the plastic. Piff; it broke. I stuck my finger down to pull the seal back. In my morning rush to do so, I embedded most of my finger in the mayo. Ugh.

“Yuck, Mom.” Anna, with some helpful commentary.

“Yep.” I hastened to make Grace’s salami-and-cheese sandwich. I glanced at the clock on the microwave: 8:50. “Ah, Grace, you have to go; here.” I stuffed the sandwich in my older daughter’s lunch box, along with some other items I have now forgotten. (One of them, however, was probably a granola bar.)

Grace stuffed the lunch box into her backpack, and that’s when I noticed her bare feet. “Grace, what the heck—you need socks!”

Grace’s eyes bugged out. “Whoops.”

I groaned. “Why does this always happen?” Why can’t our mornings go more smoothly?

Grace raced to locate socks.

Anna stuck up a foot. “Look, Mom.”

Socks.

It was now 8:53 a.m.—one minute before the bus would arrive down the block. And now Grace was wearing socks. But…

“Mom, where’s my homework board?”

Now my eyes bugged out. “Grace…I don’t know!”

“I don’t know either!”

“…is Grace late?”

This was six minutes last Friday, friends.

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Eventually, Grace ran out of the house with her socks, homework board, everything she needed for the school day. By the time I ran out, though, to make sure she safely boarded the bus (say, 30 seconds later), nobody and nothing was outside: no Grace, no bus.

Rationally, I knew that Grace had probably seen the bus approaching our block, at which point she ran to catch it, and she was safely en route to school. A tiny part of me, though—the part that watches every true-crime Netflix documentary—was concerned.

That part of me called Grace’s school and asked the very kind receptionist to please call me back once they confirmed my daughter had arrived. Moments later, my phone rang. “Yes, she’s here,” I was told.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s OK, you can call us anytime,” this wonderful woman said.

I closed my eyes. Exhaled.

“Mom.”

I snapped my eyes open.

“Come on.” Anna gave me a tug. “Or I’ll miss the hello song.”

9:22 a.m.

A tiny part of me, though—the part that watches every true-crime Netflix documentary—was concerned.

Last week, overall, was a little crazy. Both my daughters needed me in different, unexpected ways, which required a couple of sleepless nights and one 7:15 a.m., pajama-clad dash to CVS (that was Thursday). Stanton was traveling for work, so I was flying solo…which is always manageable, until it isn’t.

On Friday morning, after I dropped off Anna, I called my best friend. Kate and I have known each other since we were little kids; we go back more than 30 years. Thus, I felt comfortable telling her, in mini-meltdown mode, “I feel like a failure as a mom! We just had a terrible morning…again! Aaahhh!”

(I’m fairly confident these are my direct quotes.)

Kate replied calmly and compassionately, as any best friend would. Ultimately, she said everything was OK. Still…I was determined that the following week, our family would start having a smoother start to the day.

Later that day, I shared my game plan with the girls. “Starting Monday, we’re not going to rush so much. We’re going to be more organized getting ready for school.”

“But Mom.”

“Yes, Grace?”

“We don’t have school Monday.” She tapped the calendar. “Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Roger that. “Starting Tuesday, then.”

…we go back more than 30 years.

Tuesday morning was super smooth. I made the girls’ lunches minutes after I woke up. Confirmed they had everything they needed in their backpacks. Took such a fast shower, I don’t think I even qualified as clean afterwards. Postponed breakfast (but not coffee, obviously).

At 8:50, I strolled outside with Grace. “We’re early!” I crowed. Two of our neighbors were taking a walk, and I waved. “We’re trying not to rush in the morning, and this is our first morning of doing that. So far, so good!”

Next to me, Grace groaned. “Mom.”

And as you might expect, our neighbors smiled, waved back and kept walking.

Yes, Tuesday morning went beautifully.

And then…Wednesday.

According to Google, it takes more than two months for something to become a habit, or routine. Our family probably still has a ways to go before our morning routine runs more smoothly.

In a moment of clarity this week, I realized there are some things I can do a better job with, for sure…and there also are some things all of us can work on: Stanton, Grace and Anna too. “You do live here too,” I may or may not have said to one or all of these people. Everyone can take some responsibility for starting the day smoothly.

Packing school lunches, though…it can be tough. Grace will eat sandwiches, but most prefers leftovers. Last night’s pasta and meatballs, for example, or chicken tikka masala and rice (for whatever reason, Grace loves chicken tikka masala).

Anna, meanwhile, constantly requests at least one “unhealthy thing” in her lunch box.

“Mom!” Anna opened the bathroom door yesterday morning, as I was showering.

“Honey.” What can I possibly do for you right now?

“Mom, I peeked into my lunch box…”

I rinsed conditioner from my hair. “I asked you not to do that…”

“I know, but I took one little peek…and Mom!” I could picture Anna frowning. “Everything you packed for me is healthy, Mom!”

“Anna…”

“Other kids get Pirate’s Booty, and Gushers, and…” The list went on.

Shhhh. I turned off the water. “You’re going to be fine.”

A sigh. The door closed. Quiet.

I grabbed a towel. Checked the time. Not late, yet.

Yes, you’re going to be fine.

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.

When They Do High Fives, It’s Time to Go

The wall of floor-to-ceiling windows ran the length of the waiting room, which was about the size of a two-car garage. I sat on a black pleather couch on the right side of the room, my bag and jacket beside me, along with the sports section of yesterday’s newspaper. The sports section was there when I sat down.

I had brought my car in about 10 minutes before. The light that signaled “oil change needed” had clicked on a week or so earlier. That morning, I was driving—en route to someplace else—and saw the sign for the local auto repair shop. I stopped, impromptu.

The gentleman inside was older, mostly bald, wearing a rumpled, short-sleeve white dress shirt. We exchanged “good mornings,” and I asked if they had time for my oil change.

“Have you been here before?” he asked.

“You all fixed my air conditioning last summer,” I said.

They would have my oil changed within 45 minutes, he told me.

And they did.

As I was waiting, I worked my way through some emails, did some writing. Another older man walked through the waiting room with a brown, four-cup carrier of coffees from Stewart’s; I wished one was mine.

I’ve been running around like crazy for weeks now, it seems, and possibly, so have you. It’s always something, isn’t it? Deadlines, oil change, part of an order that needs to be returned because reason 25) wrong item sent.

That morning, I was driving—en route to someplace else…

After the oil change, I continued to my destination: kindergarten registration for my younger daughter, my baby. The registrar’s office was located at the school district’s high school. The night before, I had gathered all the required documents: Anna’s birth certificate, multiple proofs of our residency, current immunization record.

Anna watched me. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with me tomorrow, honey?” I asked her.

She shook her head and then smiled. “I bet the kids there will think you’re a mystery reader, Mom.”

“Awww, honey.” I smiled back. “I don’t think high school kids have mystery readers anymore.”

Anna remained skeptical.

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Both Grace and Anna began ice-skating lessons this month, a beautiful Christmas present from Stanton’s mom and dad. Thus, the girls and I have been spending our Sunday afternoons this winter at the local ice rink.

Anna’s lesson is first, followed by Grace’s. Then there’s “open skate” for anyone who’d like to stay and keep skating. Grace always does; Anna reliably doesn’t.

Where is Stanton during all this fun, you might wonder? Well, about a year ago, he joined our church’s choir, and the choir just so happens to practice during the same time frame as the girls’ ice-skating lessons. Funny how schedules can work out sometimes. 😉

There’s a bit of an art to dressing for winter sports, including ice skating. When you start out, whether you’re outside or in, you’re going to be cold. You need a warm jacket, heavy socks, gloves.

Once you start moving, though, you’ll get hot. So you need another layer or two underneath, for when you unzip or remove the first layer. And with ice skating, especially with children, you need to give yourself at least five minutes, but preferably closer to eight, to get the skates laced up. It’s a bit of an art, and a bit of a process.

This past Sunday, the gray door to the indoor ice rink clanged shut behind the girls and me. I gestured to the counter to our right. “Let’s get your skates, team.”

I got Anna layered and laced up. Grace and I walked her to her coaches. “Have so much fun, honey,” I said. “I’m right here if you need me.”

“I won’t need you,” my baby declared.

Man.

It’s a bit of an art, and a bit of a process.

While Anna had her lesson, Grace and I sat in the bleachers. This month, I have really been appreciating this time together with Grace while Anna skates. I feel as though Anna often is with me, but Grace not as much because she has school plus after-school activities. It has been truly wonderful, then, to simply hang out and chat with my older daughter. Hanging out, chatting, really seeing each other.

My time with Anna, while Grace has her lesson, is a little less chatting and a little more running around: the water fountain, the restroom, the stack of magazines that Anna likes to flip through in search of rip-and-sniff perfume samples.

After Anna and I had been waiting for Grace a while, Anna suddenly announced, “It’s all done.”

I glanced toward the ice. Folks were still out there. “How do you know, honey?”

“They’re doing high fives.” Anna tugged on my arm. “Come on, Mom. When they do high fives, it’s time to go.”

I’m always struck when a child makes this sort of announcement—wisdom, matter-of-fact, from the youngest among us.

From the earliest ages, human beings look—look around—begin to understand how the world works.

Anna was right about the high fives. Moments later, my daughters and I headed home.

 …wisdom, matter-of-fact, from the youngest among us.

Anna will turn 5 in a few weeks. Per Anna’s request, I’m planning a low-key, dinosaur-themed birthday party. One of the bullet points on my to-do list this week, along with the oil change and kindergarten registration.

“What do you want your theme to be, Anna?” Grace had asked her little sister. This is often my daughters’ first question regarding event planning.

Initially, Anna had wanted dragons, but—this may or may not surprise you, friends—dragon-themed party supplies are hard to come by.

“How about doughnuts?” I suggested. “We could get doughnut balloons, and decorate doughnuts…it would be so cute!”

Anna frowned at me. “Your birthday can be themed doughnuts, Mom. I want dragons.”

For the record: My April birthday will not be themed doughnuts. There will, in fact, be no theme. Except perhaps, “Let Mom sleep in.”

Eventually, we settled on dinosaurs for Anna.

I remember everything about when each of my daughters was born, eight years ago for Grace and almost five years now for Anna. I remember everything. It all feels like both “just yesterday” and “so long ago.”

This past weekend, the girls and I were grocery shopping. Anna was sitting in the cart, which I was pushing through an aisle. Grace was searching the shelves for pancake mix, the last item on our list.

I must have mentioned that a friend was getting married because Anna said, “When I grow up, I don’t want to get married. I want to live with you forever, Mom.”

“Awww, you definitely can live with me forever, sweetheart.”

“I’m not sure if I want to get married, Mom,” Grace noted, “but I do want my own house. Maybe I’ll live next door.”

I hugged my daughters. “Perfect.”

A gray-haired woman, pushing her cart past us, glanced back and smiled. “I’m actually planning my youngest child’s wedding now,” she said.

I smiled back. “Did it all go by fast?” Everyone always says it does—probably because it’s true.

She snapped her fingers. “Like that.”

Like that. I could believe it.

“Found it!”

I turned my head and took in Grace again, triumphantly holding a box of pancake mix.

Pancake mix. High fives. Time to go.

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.

Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, friends. ❤

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.

Real Mail, for a Change: The Joy of Christmas Cards

A couple of days ago, I reached inside our rectangular black mailbox. A little surprised, I pulled out a fistful of mail—real mail, letters from people I know and care about. (Although, to be fair, there also was some of the usual junk mail: promotional flyers and yet another L.L. Bean catalog).

I had been working but took a break to open these envelopes, some red and green, one winter white. They were all Christmas cards, and they all made me smile.

On one card, a family member’s three-month-old baby practiced his newly learned smile under the holiday greeting of “Fa La La.” On another, a good friend and her sweet husband wished us “Mele Kalikimaka” from a picturesque vista, possibly near their new home in Hawaii. Another card opened up to a heartfelt message, no picture needed.

I don’t know if sending Christmas cards is as common as it once was, considering the popularity of social media and rising eco-consciousness. Not to mention, the postage for a comprehensive family-and-friends mailing list can get pricey. All that being said, I do still mail out (some) Christmas cards, and I really enjoy receiving them.

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In the early years of our marriage, I sent Christmas cards to everyone from Stanton and my wedding guest list, basically—quite a bit of stationery and accompanying winter-themed stamps. As the years have moved along, there has been some ebb and flow to my mailing list, some editing and whittling down. As much as I love our old neighbors from our first home together in Richmond, Va., for example, I limit our season’s greetings to an emailed note and picture rather than printed year-end memento.

These days, I send cards mainly to our immediate family and old friends—a much more manageable stack of notes to write out than all the names on our wedding guest Excel spreadsheet.

Sometimes I cheat a little, and address envelopes to, for example, “Aunt Mary and Uncle John and family,” hoping that “and family” can adequately cover Aunt Mary and Uncle John’s three grown children and their multiple children…and knowing it really doesn’t. So yes, I cheat a little on my Christmas cards, friends.

I do a little hand delivery, too, with neighbors, friends from church, the girls’ teachers. Joy and peace from the Leddys (minus the Forever stamp). Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y). I know, I can be a bit of a weasel. 😉

Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y).

I call them Christmas cards, but it would be more accurate to say holiday cards. Some of my loved ones are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. Then there are those folks who celebrate everything, in addition to those who don’t recognize holidays. My mailing list represents all these variations of celebratory spirit, and I try hard to respect everyone’s preference.

Despite my best intentions, I had a bit of a snafu with one card this year. I wrote, “Merry, Merry Christmas!” before remembering that one half of this couple is Jewish. Thus, I added, “And Happy, Happy Hanukkah!” If I had been less distracted at the time (the girls were playing Teenagers, one of their favorite games, nearby), I would have defaulted to, “Happy Holidays!” I’m hopeful, however, that my friends will know I’m wishing them the best, as always.

This is what I love about holiday cards. I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me. I love seeing pictures of them and their families.

This is especially true of friends from college. My old friends—I mean, these are people I roomed with, ate meals with for years, grew up with. I love these people; I even married one of these people.

I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me.

I’m not an arts-and-crafts-y person, but at Christmastime, I like to hang twine across our fireplace mantel. Then I use wooden clothespins to hang up as many photo cards as will fit. Seeing the smiling faces of those I love truly warms my heart.

I heard a perspective recently that photo cards are essentially “family ads,” which struck me as cynical. We’re all grownups, and we all know nobody’s life is picture-perfect. I sense that the majority of us who exchange holiday cards with up-to-date pictures are simply keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year keeping all the balls in the air: work, life, kids, health, all the stuff.

My old roommate’s daughter is absolutely adorable, with blonde hair, a big grin and a sparkle in both her eyes, which I could see even in a picture, though not in person. “I’m really happy for Jackie,” I told Stanton—happy for her beautiful family, her professional success, everything. I think that may be part of being a grownup too: celebrating the good of others, the good in others, even when our formal celebrations (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) may differ.

For the past several years, our Christmas card has been an actual card, which is pretty off-trend, from what I can tell. That’s me for you, though. 😉 Then I stick a photo of Stanton, the girls and me in each card, which our family and friends can magnet to their fridge, repurpose as a bookmark, or display and then recycle.

My mom took the picture we used for this year’s card. We had a super impromptu photo shoot back in early November. “Do you want to go somewhere?” my mom asked.

I mean, yes, there are so many beautiful spots nearby, but… “You know, let’s just go in the backyard,” I said. It was a hectic weekend, to say the least.

Stanton dragged a bench outside. He and I plopped down and gathered the girls around us. “Smile!” My mom took some pictures; one was pretty good.

“Maybe one year we can have a real photographer take our picture,” Grace said afterward.

“Like, at a place,” Anna added.

“No offense, Nona.”

I laugh-cried. “Girls, I promise, one year a real photographer will take our Christmas-card picture at a place somewhere other than our backyard.”

Something for my family-and-friends mailing list to look forward to as well, no doubt.

…keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year…

I still have a handful of cards to send to my very-pared-down list of addressees. Hopefully they’ll arrive in others’ mailboxes before 2020.

As I was working on this piece, I was conscious someone might read it and think, “I haven’t gotten a card from that girl in years.” If so, my sincerest apologies. I wish I could exchange season’s greetings with all the wonderful people I’ve known over the years.

It can become a little much, though, in terms of both time and $, and I don’t have unlimited supplies of either. I truly understand when folks need to retire my address from their hard-copy holly-jolly wishes, and I hope others similarly understand in my case.

It is a beautiful thing, though—for everyone, everywhere, I imagine—to receive real mail for a change.

Happy Holidays, friends. ❤

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.

Of Course the Noel Sign Lights Up: Merry Everything 2019

The day after we returned home from our Thanksgiving-break trip, I hauled the Leddy family artificial Christmas tree out of the basement. A trail of plastic pine needles followed behind me, from the top of the basement stairs to the front of the family-room bay window.

Clark Griswold would not approve.

“Do you think we’ll ever get a real Christmas tree, Mom?” Grace wondered.

“Yes,” I replied. Not this year…but one year, someday, absolutely.

Stanton searched for a yuletide playlist.

“Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road…”

I raised my eyebrows at my husband. He kept searching.

“No, Dad,” protested Anna. “I love that song.”

We both looked at our 4-year-old daughter. How did she know Lil Nas X?

“We listen to it at preschool,” Anna explained. “The clean version.”

Grace laughed; I laugh-cried. Stanton turned up “Jingle Bells.”

Stanton and the girls began hanging ornaments on our tree while I dug more Christmas decorations out of the basement.

Over the years, I scooped up our decorations during various post-Christmas sales. Thus, every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Stanton is rarely impressed with my bargain finds. “How awesome that this was 75 percent off,” I said, showing him my newest piece of decor, a wooden sign with “Noel” in capital letters, adorned with faux red berries and glitter galore (a Pier 1 find, obviously).

In a previous life, Stanton worked as a buyer. “The retail price isn’t the real price anyway, Mel,” he said, for probably the thousandth time in our life.

“Honey, please…I practically made money here.”

Grace pointed to the sign. “Mom, there’s a box here where you put batteries. Does this sign light up?”

“Of course it lights up, G.” I found it at Pier 1, didn’t I?

“Do you have any batteries?”

I’d get some on my next trip to Hannaford, I promised.

…every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Not long after, I drove to Hannaford. The lights at the intersection outside the grocery store weren’t working. People in their cars were treating this fairly busy intersection like a four-way stop, mostly cautiously, but—nervous Nellie driver that I am—I worried an accident could happen.

Once inside the store, I shared my concern with one of the managers I know, a friendly, hard-working young man. He told me the lights hadn’t been working since the morning before.

“I’m a little surprised no one has called the police or anything,” I said.

The manager said he would do that right now. “I think I have the number.”

I was confused. The number was 911, right?

But no, police departments have non-emergency numbers for situations like this. Within minutes—truly, minutes—two workers arrived and fixed the intersection lights. I was thankful for that.

“You solved the problem, Mom,” my daughters said, when I told this story to them later.

Not really, but a little. Solving problems, though—that’s a lot of what moms do, all day long.

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Grace and Anna love getting out and about. I do too; I’m all for it, truly. By about 6 p.m. on a cold winter’s Saturday, though, I’m usually 100 percent content to stay in, steep a cup of tea to perfection and engage in cozy indoor activities, such as reading or Family Movie Night.

This past Saturday evening, the girls were having none of that.

“It’s public skate at the Y, Mom! Let’s go ice skating! Come on, Mom!”

O…K.

If I didn’t have kids, I’d probably hibernate until spring. I’d stay in, drink hot beverages, binge-watch the rest of “Shameless” on Netflix. Maybe even write something a little longer, a bit more prestigious, than yet another blog post. 😉

That, however, is an alternate reality, friends, and overall, I’m wholeheartedly grateful for the reality I have.

Ice skating, sledding, snowman-building in winter—hiking year-round—swimming all summer—raking jump-worthy piles of leaves in fall—all right, come on, let’s do it.

“Come on, Mom!”

Yes, overall, I’m living the dream.

During the next few days, our children will be participating in a total of four end-of-year events. One holiday piano concert, two Christmas pageants and one performing arts holiday performance. There’s also a Christmas party following one of the pageants, for which I signed up to bring cookies. “Because no one ate the salad you brought that other time,” Anna reminded me. (That’s true: That other time, no one did.)

I mixed up some of these save-the-dates on the hard-copy calendar in the kitchen (I know, pretty old-fashioned to use a calendar you can actually write on), so our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

I needed to reschedule Grace’s overdue annual checkup, so circled “G – dr. appt!” and drew an arrow to a following weekday afternoon (making her overdue checkup even later). Anna came along, too, and I asked the receptionist if both my daughters could get (again, overdue) flu shots that day. She said yes, and I reached over to sign some forms.

With my other arm, I was holding Anna. At this point, her ears perked up. She clasped her hands around my neck, physically turned my head back up to face the receptionist, and hissed, “Tell her, ‘Anna does not want a flu shot.'”

The receptionist laughed; Anna frowned.

It’s always a good time, friends.

…our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

Who’s done with all their holiday shopping? Almost done? Yet to start?

You can put me in the “almost done” category. I ordered some things online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but I still have some gifts to pick out from I Love Books and Perfect Blend, two of my favorite local shops.

Stanton, the girls and I will be spending Christmas at my mom and dad’s house near Scranton, Pa., and when we show up on their doorstep, I always like to have some coffee from Perfect Blend on hand. Many of our moms and dads don’t really need any more stuff, but appreciate consumable gifts—such as my coffee shop’s Frosty’s Favorite and Sugar Cookie seasonal blends. This is my perspective anyway, and I hope I’m right.

And what do I want for Christmas, you ask? Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef, someone whose skill set includes handing out snacks every 15 minutes from 4 p.m. until dinner is ready.

“Mom, will you open the healthy drawer?” Anna recently asked as I was making dinner.

Grace sighed. “We don’t have a healthy drawer, boo.”

“Yes, we do.” Anna pointed to the cupboard above the coffeemaker.

Grace and I both shook our heads. “Honey, you know that’s the snack drawer,” I told Anna. “Just because you call it the healthy drawer doesn’t make it something different.” It didn’t change the fact that that part of the kitchen cabinetry was stuffed full of popcorn, chocolate and chips of all kinds (potato, tortilla and masquerading-as-not-junk-food veggie).

“Please can I just have the box of cheddar bunnies?”

All I want for Christmas is someone to manage early-evening snack requests.

Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef…

As cliché and corny as it sounds, what I most appreciate at Christmastime is time with my loved ones. Time is such a gift, I think.

I’m looking forward to driving from New York to Pennsylvania with Stanton and the girls, listening to Christmas music on the radio. Once we get there, I’m excited to catch up with my brothers and sister. Jenna and I want to watch some favorite movies together (“Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” here’s looking at you—and yes, Hugh Grant, the Minetola sisters adore you).

Riding shotgun, chitchatting, watching movies—these are such little things, yet they’ll be my biggest Christmas wishes-come-true.

What about you?

Whatever yours are and wherever you’ll be, I hope this time of year finds your heart happy too.

Merry everything, friends. ❤

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.

On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade 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.

This Is the Part Where You Save the Day (Again)

A couple of Friday nights every month, Stanton, the girls and I have Family Movie Night. We borrow this cozy idea from friends of ours, who do it with their own three children. Probably other families (maybe yours?) have made it a tradition in their homes too.

One Friday recently, the four of us settled in together on the couch and turned on “Frozen.” The girls have watched the Nordic-inspired story many times before; Stanton and I haven’t seen it that much, but we pretty much can harmonize on “Let It Go” by heart. Still, it’s a good movie, and we didn’t mind watching it again.

At one point in “Frozen,” (our) Anna smiled and said, “This is the part I love.” The part, of course, was when Elsa hugs an ice-cold Anna, and the sisters’ love for each other saves them both—and saves the day for everybody.

“‘This is the part I love'” made me smile. Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Sometimes Grace will tell me how much she likes different teachers at her school, some of whom she hasn’t had yet. I’ll ask why. Every time, she’ll reply, “They know me.”

To be known—it’s a beautiful thing.

Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Many a weekday morning, I hustle Grace outside, my hair still wet from my shower, and watch as she walks down the block to the bus stop. I wait in our yard until I see her get on the bus. Anna, meanwhile, often is tapping on the front bay window from inside, saying she’s hungry for a second breakfast before her school starts, 30 minutes later.

Approximately 9 a.m., Monday through Friday: always a fun time.

I bump into various neighbors almost every morning around this time. Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet, yelling for your younger daughter to just get an apple, or a cheese stick, or “Fine, leftover Halloween candy is fine!” from the kitchen while watching down the block to confirm that your older daughter has safely boarded the school bus.

For better or worse, there are a handful of people on this earth who really know me. 😉

Once I said to one of these people, “For the record, I realize I look crazy every morning.”

“I’m not judging you if you’re not judging me,” he replied, which struck me as both kind and wise.

Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet…

One morning recently, Stanton was heading out a little later than usual. I felt less rushed, having him around, another adult in the house. I was in the kitchen making the girls’ lunches, sipping some coffee, when I overheard him amiably ask them, “So, what time does school start, girls?”

My.heart.nearly.stopped.

Did my husband—their dad—really not know the answer to that question?

I peered into the family room. “Honey…are you serious?”

Stanton held up his hands. “What?”

Thoughts began tumbling across my mind, one after the other. Nothing can ever happen to me. I can’t die, ever…or at least not until Grace and Anna have graduated from high school. If anything happens to me, they’ll never get to school on time…or soccer practice…or doctors’ appointments…

“Mel, just tell me, and then I’ll know,” Stanton said.

“Stan, how could you not have known?”

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This wasn’t, however, the hill I was going to die on, friends. It was a difference between Stanton and me, and possibly many other moms and many other dads. It was a difference, perhaps, in the same way that I never lock the bathroom door—just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in—while Stanton locks the door every time.

On the other hand, giving credit where credit is due, Stanton excels in other areas that aren’t my strengths. For example, he plays games all the time with our daughters. Actual games, like Crazy Chefs and Trouble, and make-believe games such as cops and robbers.

I, however, am not a big games person. Go to a park? Yes. Read stacks of books at the library? Count me in. Walk to a coffee shop? I’m there.

Break out the Pete the Cat Groovy Buttons board game, or you-pretend-to-be-Elsa-and-I’ll-be-Anna? Oh…only because I love you.

Grace and Anna have also (already!) shared they want their dad to teach them how to drive, about a decade from now. “Because you don’t know how to parallel park, Mom.”

I mean…truth. I haven’t parallel parked since the day I got my driver’s license. Thus, on numerous occasions over the years, I’ve deposited my car many blocks away from my destination to avoid parallel parking.

“Totally fine if you’d like Dad to teach you how to drive.” I’m not much of a games person, and not much of a car person either.

…just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in…

I’ve had my car, a Honda CR-V, for nine years now…and I’m still not exactly sure what all the buttons are for. I know how to start my car (not sure if this goes without saying… 😉 ). And turn on the radio, and click open the fuel tank—all the top-priority stuff. Some of the other dials and gauges, though…yeah, not too clear on all that.

This past Tuesday, Grace had her after-school performing arts class, as usual. I had been working from home all day, so hadn’t driven anywhere yet, which meant there was still ice on my car windshield from the particularly cold morning. “I really thought the sunlight would have melted this by now,” I told the girls.

Ask anybody: Sometimes I overestimate the power of natural sunlight.

I hadn’t defrosted the windshield since last winter, and was pretty sure but not positive which buttons to press. I pressed them, and not much happened.

“Mom, am I going to be late?” Grace wondered.

“Sweetheart, I promise, everything here is under control.” I frowned at the dashboard.

Anna laughed. “Everything is not under control, Mom.”

Who doesn’t love a backseat driver?

Stanton was at a meeting in Boston. I called him. He didn’t answer. I called him again. Still no answer. So what did I do?

Exactly, I called him a third time. Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call. And this time, mine did.

I explained what was happening. Stanton listened and confirmed I had pressed the right buttons. “Just wait,” he said, “and the windshield will defrost.”

Suddenly, the windshield wipers began swishing back and forth. What the heck? When had I turned those on? Grace and Anna started laughing. “MOM!”

But the windshield had defrosted, and the girls and I were good to go. Problem solved.

Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call.

I do my best to stay calm, solve problems. Sometimes I even save the day. Like this past Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the windshield situation.

“Whoops, Mom, I have a problem,” Anna called.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I was looking through notes, preparing for a conference call.

“I just went to the potty and accidentally dropped my bracelet in the toilet. Can you get it?”

Why? Why do things like this happen, and at the worst possible times?

No worries, friends. I’ll spare you the details of my heroics with the bracelet-in-the-toilet situation. That story ended, however, with this quote:

“Thanks for saving the day, Mom!”

But I mean…that’s what moms do, right? Time after time, over and over. We all know how the story goes, our own recurring Family Movie Night.

This is the part where you save the day (again).

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

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.