Before and After

“Before” and “after”—this is how I sometimes think about this year, 2020. Before mid-March, before the pandemic. And then after. Maybe you do too.

The before part was short, only two and a half months into the new year. After, though? More than five months later, we’re still in after.

The other day, I stood in a socially distanced checkout line at the Stewart’s off the Rail Trail. The girls and I had walked over for ice cream (them) and coffee (me).

Before the pandemic, I bought nearly all my to-go coffee at my favorite local coffee shop. I still do go there, but Stewart’s—a regional convenience store/gas station beloved for its ice cream selection—has become my other go-to caffeine fix.

That day, the girls relayed their requests to the friendly young woman we’ve come to know who works behind the counter: rainbow sherbet for Grace, mango dragon fruit sherbet for Anna. After she scooped their treats into kid-size cones, I asked her to please add a small coffee for me too.

“And,” I said, rifling through my wallet, “would you punch my Scoop Club card?”

No problem, the server replied. She punched two slots in my “Buy 10 ice creams, get the 11th one free” card. The girls were now three punches away from a free ice cream.

A slender, white-haired man with a dark blue bandana over his face was waiting behind me. He was very tanned, wore a T-shirt and jeans, and held a single bottle of—I think it was Diet Coke, but it may have been Coors Light. The label was gray, and I saw it for only a second, probably less. But he had just this one item, and so I said, “Thanks for being patient,” gesturing to my Scoop Club card, the girls’ two ice creams, etcetera.

He waved his hand. “Life’s too short to be in a rush.”

I smiled, although nobody saw because I, too, was wearing a face mask. I finished paying, said goodbye.

Life is too short. Some of us feel this more keenly than others. Age has something to do with it, experience too.

I always appreciate these kinds of chance moments of everyday wisdom.

Another day this week, I was in another line when another moment like this made me smile.

This time, I was at Customer Service in the grocery store. I showed the gentleman behind the counter my receipt from a previous visit, when I had accidentally been charged $13.89 instead of $6.50 for frozen pizza (pepperoni, in case you were wondering).

“I usually don’t do this, but that’s more than double the price, so…”

No problem, the man said, handing me seven dollars and some change.

I thanked him, then added, “Kind of embarrassing, right? I wasn’t overcharged for fruits or vegetables, but frozen pizza.”

The sides of his eyes crinkled, and I could tell he was smiling behind his face mask. “At least it was organic.”

I laughed. “Right.” I’m pretty sure my organic frozen pizza had the same long list of questionable ingredients ending in -ate and inclusive of “gum blend” as, say, DiGiorno or Tombstone.

But at least it was organic. 😉

I always appreciate these kinds of chance moments of everyday wisdom.

Almost every evening this summer, I’ve gone outside to our front flower bed to water our flowers. The time I’m usually there is about the same time my next-door neighbor goes outside to walk her dog. Thus, we’ve had fairly regular, off-the-cuff conversations and gotten to know each other better than before.

I realized, at some point this summer, how much I appreciate bumping into my neighbor at the end of the day. She’s nice; it’s nice to talk, to have human connection beyond my nuclear family that’s inside the house; it is, simply, a nice, new routine. It’s been a nice thing about “after.”

One evening recently, my neighbor said the flowers were looking good.

I thanked her, and added that I couldn’t believe how good they really did look—this was definitely the longest Stanton and I had ever kept plants of any kind alive.

“It makes me happy seeing you out here watering them,” my neighbor said. “I can tell they give you joy.”

I hadn’t thought of it quite like that, but I do feel a sense of satisfaction from my front flower bed. The joy, though—I think the joy comes from the human connection that surrounds the flowers. From my next-door neighbor whom I see when I water them each evening. From another neighbor who gave us pointers when we first planted them. From folks taking a walk and passing by, who also say the flowers are growing well.

To quote Mark Twain: “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.”

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Since March 13, I hadn’t made one new recipe. Not a one. I was feeling a little badly about this, especially when I kept seeing mouthwatering-looking photos of my friends’ food creations in my Facebook News Feed. It seemed as though all my friends were preparing amazing dinners for their families, and I was feeding my family…well, frozen pizza. For five months and counting.

Thus, inspired by social media-induced guilt, I headed over to my favorite local bookstore. They have a small though well-curated Cooking section, and I perused the cookbook titles. One cookbook was beautifully photographed, but I doubted I’d actually make the recipes. The other had accessible-looking recipes, but I wasn’t a big fan of its author (a Hollywood actress).

“Need any help?” the bookstore manager stopped to ask me.

“Agh, yes, please,” I replied. I explained what I was looking for: a cookbook of recipes I’d actually make, that my family would actually eat.

The manager suggested three ideas: anything by the Barefoot Contessa, “The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100” and “13×9: The Pan That Can.” Gratefully, I thanked her. (As easy as online shopping can be, you really can’t beat your local bookstore for personalized help like this, in my humble opinion.)

Ultimately, I ended up buying…”13×9: The Pan That Can.” Earlier this week, I made my first recipe from the book, Italian roast beef slider melts. And that night, four out of four Leddys were members of the Clean Plate Club.

That felt like a win, friends.

Thus, inspired by social media-induced guilt…

Before mid-March, I enjoyed chitchatting with people—anyone, everyone. Smile, say hello, get some good vibes flowing—why not, right? Why not be kind, be positive?

After, though… As the days and months have rolled along, and we’re still in the “after”… I find myself not simply enjoying but truly feeling the joy of so many quick, spontaneous conversations with friends, neighbors, people next to me in checkout lines.

All these encounters offer up a variety of things: cookbook recommendations, encouragement, everyday wisdom. More than anything, they remind us of our shared humanity, and our need for one another.

The white-haired man with the Diet Coke (or was it Coors Light?) was right: Life’s too short.

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.” —Mark Twain

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

What’s Still Here

I have two good friends whom I’ve known since elementary school. That would be more than 30 years now—a long time.

Both these women are on the “Favorites” list of my phone, along with my husband, parents and siblings. They grew up with me; joined in many a Minetola family game night at my parents’ house; not only came to my wedding, but were in it.

This past weekend, one of my buddies had a shower to celebrate her own upcoming wedding. It was in Pennsylvania, in our hometown. Beforehand, I worried that Pennsylvania might be added to New York’s COVID-19 list of restricted states. Thankfully, the Keystone State remained safe for travel; I was able to be there for my friend on her special day.

Sitting at a table at the outdoor gathering, catching up with my friend, seeing how happy she was—I was so happy to be there, friends. I was so happy to be there.

For many of us, this year of the pandemic has been one of loss. Loss of a routine, a job, health, safety and security, our sense of the world. We’ve lost time with people we love. We’ve lost track of time itself.

So much has been lost…and so much is still here too.

I saw that on Saturday. My good friend. Our thirty years of friendship: still here.

Memories we’ve shared—true, time has blurred the details some, but the things happened. We were there, together, for the things that happened. Thus, memories we’ve shared: also still here.

Still here, too, is another chance. If you’re reading this, that means you woke up. You have a new day, right in front of you. You get to choose how to approach it, what kind of energy to put into it. Choose Your Own Adventure, just like we did with those books back in the ’80s (there I go, showing my age again).

…so much is still here

On Sunday morning, Stanton, the girls and I sat with my mom, dad, brothers and sister around my parents’ breakfast table. My brother Jared made his delicious French toast. The last time he made it for all of us was Christmastime, the last time we were all together. Then, he crushed candy canes on top as the finishing touch—mmmm.

Grace and Anna asked if there would be candy canes. Not this time, Jared replied. But at Christmas—always at Christmas.

Earlier that morning, I had gone for a walk with my dad and sister. Coincidentally, Jared drove by the three of us on his way back to my parents’ house from the grocery store (where he’d gone for the French toast ingredients).

I know it’s a really little thing, but I loved seeing Jared driving back. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it was awesome to spontaneously see him on a Sunday morning. Of course, he made fun of the T-shirt I was wearing for my daybreak exercise (it said “Life Is Good” and had a pink heart—it’s OK, you can make fun of me too), but that’s what brothers (or at least, Jareds) do.

My dad, meanwhile, was wearing a T-shirt he’s had since he coached middle school basketball…which he hasn’t in decades. It’s a white T-shirt that has a picture of a basketball on the left pocket, along with—my favorite part—”Coach Minetola.”

I couldn’t believe he still had this T-shirt, but it made me smile. It was familiar, it was comforting, it was my Dad.

And it was my family, gathered around my parents’ table on Sunday morning. I so appreciated the ability to have a casual, natural, non-Zoom conversation with all of them, for a change.

I’m not knocking Zoom, at all. I appreciate what Zoom does to enable human connection. The person I am, though—maybe the person you are, too—if given the choice, I love the energy of being together: same room, same table, same platter of French toast.

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The girls go back to school soon. The COVID-19 infection rate here is below 1 percent, which is wonderful, especially compared to the spring. Our school district is offering elementary school students the choice between in-person or remote learning.

I struggled with this decision, friends. It would have been an easier decision if the infection rate was more than the state guideline of 5 percent, or if those in leadership roles here weren’t acting conscientiously. I easily could have leaned toward remote learning.

But it seems that New York has the virus spread under control, currently. And based on my understanding, our school district has developed a detailed, thoughtful reopening plan. Last but not least…the girls really want to go back to school, as in a school building. They want that energy of being together.

So that’s the plan. It’s not a perfect plan. The girls will need to wear face masks almost the entire time they’re at school. They’ll need to stay at their own desks, spaced six feet apart from those around them, for much of the day. I understand why all these safety measures need to happen, I completely understand, and at the same time, I hope everyone will be OK, students and teachers alike, in these different (difficult) circumstances.

What families figure out to do this school year is a deeply personal and often unsettling choice. I’m very conscious that everyone is making the decision that feels best for them and their child(ren). I also know that if one or both of my daughters happens to get sick at school, I’m going to feel terrible, and terribly guilty. There are no easy answers here, and certainly no best one.

They want that energy of being together.

To get ready for the school year, I’ve been going through the girls’ clothes. Figuring out what still fits (and gets worn), what of Grace’s to save for Anna, what to donate.

I’ve also been going through the girls’ closets. They each have a big, wide walk-in closet, and each closet is…a…disaster zone. I ran over to Walmart one morning and bought a bunch of see-through storage containers.

Stealthily, I’ve been filling the containers with the majority of the mess of stuff from the closets—various stuffed animals, games we don’t play much, hundreds and hundreds of random, mismatched pieces of Calico Critters, Shopkins, Magna-Tiles, Mr. Potato Head, LEGO’s… I’ve just been stuffing it all in, friends, and then lugging these containers down to the basement to…well, hide indefinitely. Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m hopeful this will help keep the girls’ closets and rooms less disaster-zone-like.

Something the girls don’t need is new clothes. They have plenty of those. Still, the three of us sat down together and picked out new first-day-of-school outfits (online).

The girls’ first few days of school will be virtual, actually. Still, the first day of school is something special. A new milestone, cause to take note of and celebrate. In Anna’s case, it’s her first day of kindergarten. (My baby!) Thus, we picked out official first-day-of-school outfits.

Things may be different this school year, but they still can be wonderful. They still can be celebrated.

Things may be different … but they still can be wonderful.

One of my favorite books is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. I have it here next to me as I’m typing now, sitting at the kitchen countertop with my second (reheated) cup of coffee of the morning. I imagine this isn’t an especially prestigious title to put on a pedestal, and if any of my former English professors or fellow magazine editors read this, then I imagine, too, they might shake their head.

What about Jane Austen, Homer, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hemingway? Yes, I’ve read the “great” literature, and yes, it’s great. But this little book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”—it moves me. It moves me, friends.

Anna’s starting kindergarten, as you know, and I think about what she’ll learn this year, what will stick with her as she moves through her school years, through her life. I wonder if she’ll have memories of face masks, and desks six feet apart, and social distancing. I hope she’ll learn, as Robert Fulghum writes in his book, some of the “[w]isdom … there in the sandpile”: ” … Play fair … Live a balanced life … LOOK.”

As he wraps up his book, Fulghum notes, “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives … Good people who are always ‘there,’ who can be relied upon … You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

I’ve been lucky to have good people in my life. Friends I’ve known since I was 6 years old; friends since then who are also dear to me; family who have been beside me the whole time. Every one of them has uplifted me in some way, has meant something, and I hope I’ve returned the favor a time or two myself.

You are more important than you think.

LOOK at what’s still here.

Take care and be well. ❤

“Something that is loved is never lost.” —Toni Morrison, “Beloved”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

What I Mostly Wanted to Say

Aah, August. Hot, sticky, sunny, buggy—what’s not to love? The thing is, my older daughter’s birthday is in August, so for that reason—and that reason only, friends—it’s one of my favorite times of the year.

We recently celebrated Grace’s ninth birthday. Nine. It went fast, just like everybody said it would.

Occasionally, everybody is right.

Our original birthday celebration plan, to be at the beach, was canceled (here’s looking at you, COVID-19). Thus, Grace and I (with an assist from Anna, per usual) developed a Plan B: to celebrate by dropping off birthday treats and goodie bags at friends’ homes. I didn’t want to be in the car all day, so I asked Grace to pick just a few buddies.

Next, we noodled over a theme for the goodie bags. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: My daughters love party themes. Their final answer was…ice cream. Yum.

I ordered pink goodie bags depicting ice cream cones, lollipops, doughnuts, cupcakes, slices of cake—all sorts of cavity-inducing heaven. Then we needed to fill the goodie bags. A quick search revealed that ice cream-shaped erasers were in stock. Perfect; “Add to Cart.”

We also found a multipack of a mini activity book entitled “Sweets!” I can’t resist a book with an exclamation point in its title—”Add to Cart,” along with a multipack of Play-Doh. Because everybody loves Play-Doh, as Grace noted.

The girls and I agreed that it wouldn’t work to give actual ice cream as the birthday treat, so we settled on sugar cookies with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

Before lunchtime on Grace’s birthday, the girls and I packed the goodie bags into the car (leaving Stanton behind to make bacon cheeseburgers). We stopped by everyone’s houses. Beforehand, I had said not to worry about presents, that simply seeing friends would be a huge gift—but still, folks surprised Grace with incredibly thoughtful signs, balloons and gifts.

All these kindnesses moved me, and Grace. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” we said.

This was her sweetest birthday, Grace and I agreed afterward. Sweet, with exclamation points to infinity.

Perfect; “Add to Cart.”

The next day, Grace called my mom. Grace wanted to thank her for the birthday present she had sent. I was in another room, but I overheard Grace’s end of the conversation and could tell she was answering questions my mom was asking: the goodie bags, her friends, the whole day.

Then I heard Grace pause and say, “What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.”

I poked my head into the room. Grace looked over at me; I patted my heart. Grace smiled.

Sometimes, things strike you. However you feel comfortable describing it—touch your heart, move you, wake you up—I think you know what I mean, and I’m sure you know it when it happens to you.

“What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.”

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My grandmother’s birthday falls earlier in the summer. Like many nursing homes, the one she’s at doesn’t allow visitors, so I didn’t see her on her birthday. That day, I called her room, but nobody answered.

I left a message. I don’t remember exactly everything I said, but I know I talked loudly so that Grandma could hear me. I also know, in the beginning, I said, “Hey, Grandma, it’s Melissa—Happy Birthday, I love you!”

I repeated that at the end, too: “I love you!”

I tried to make my voice sound happy, with an exclamation point and everything, but my voice broke at the end. I had started to cry because I didn’t know (and still don’t know) when I’ll see my Grandma again.

But I wanted to say, “I love you.” It was what I mostly wanted to say, so I said it twice, at the beginning and end.

Funny how the critical messages we want to leave with people, the words we feel compelled to convey, are some of the simplest, most common expressions in languages around the world.

Thank you. I love you. Hey, it’s me!

…so I said it twice, at the beginning and end.

I’m a spiritual person, but a lazy one. I feel badly about that, but like some other things I feel badly about…I don’t actually do anything about it. Maybe one day.

The night of Grace’s birthday, and the night after, I lay down with my daughters before they went to sleep. I often do this, squished in between them in Grace’s bed. Since the pandemic, they’ve been having regular sleepovers.

I lay there, the ceiling fan whirring overheard, the night light glowing near the dresser. I try to treat the girls equally, no favoritism, so I put my left hand on Grace’s leg (she was on my left) and my right hand on Anna’s.

The night of Grace’s birthday, Grace told me she loved the day. “Thanks, Mom.”

“No worries,” I replied.

The next night, after having a quiet day to take a breath and recover from the goodie bag deliveries and last-minute present wrapping, I lay there again. And I lay there longer than usual, reflecting on how time just keeps moving and just so appreciating, in that moment, being cozy with my daughters, the most precious parts of my life (even when they drive me crazy, even when life is crazy). I patted Grace’s leg, and squeezed Anna’s hand.

Through the dark, Anna whispered, “I love you.” It’s a beautiful thing for a child to say, unprompted.

It was another of those wake you up/move you/touch your heart moments. “I love you too,” I whispered back.

I closed my eyes. I felt a tear roll down my face. I felt love.

I wanted to say a little prayer, but it had been a long time since I’d prayed.

I know only a handful of prayers by heart, and I’m not much for formal theology anyway. I tried, though. I kept my eyes closed, still holding my girls.

What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Shaving Is Optional

I clipped a yellow plastic barrette—one of my daughters’, somehow found in my bathroom—into my hair, above my forehead. Leaning over the sink, I squinted into the mirror. I am nearly blind without my glasses, but I had set them on the countertop so that I could wax my eyebrows.

DIY facial hair removal while visually impaired, using hot wax: I suspect there’s an advisory or helpful hint against this somewhere.

😉

My “Jungle Book”-esque eyebrows were driving me crazy, though, and I had to take care of business, plain and simple. Again, I leaned over the sink. Yep, time for some much-needed personal grooming. This time, I closed my right eye. With my right hand, I raised the wax strip in my hand to my right eyebrow. Carefully, I pressed it against my skin.

I’ve been waxing my own eyebrows for years now, and the key is carefulness. Just be careful, precise, patient. Oh, and do it in a quiet setting.

After a moment, when I felt I’d shaped my eyebrow the way I liked, I got ready to pull the wax strip back, got ready to rip the stray hairs from my skin. This is the part where you don’t want to make a mistake, lest you lose your whole eyebrow (or eyeball). One, two…

“Mom!”

Oh. My. GOD. My right eye blinked open. I felt some eyelashes begin sticking to the wax strip above. Nooo.

“Mom!” Now my 5-year-old was tugging on my T-shirt. “I need a Band-Aid, Mom!”

Gingerly, I closed my right eye, again, and tugged the wax strip away. Rrrippp.

“Mom!”

I exhaled. “Anna.” I didn’t need 20/20 vision to look and see that, more likely than not, my younger daughter had yet another imaginary injury that required a Band-Aid.

I was, however, curious about the appearance of the right side of my face.

A little scared, I glanced in the mirror. Just as quickly, I breathed, relieved. Thank goodness: The interrupted home wax job had turned out…not terribly.

“Mom.” Now Anna was frowning at me. “That’s my barrette.”

I frowned back. “You must have been able to see I was in the middle of something. Why didn’t you ask Dad for help?”

“Because I want you, Mom. Something inside me wanted you.” Anna beamed.

Sigh.

This is the part where you don’t want to make a mistake…

The pandemic has compelled us to spend lots of time with some people (the ones we live with) and not as much with others (those we don’t). Still, something that has struck me is I believe, during the past four and a half months, I’ve talked on the phone with my siblings, mom and mother-in-law, and oldest friends more now than ever before. I still feel very close to all these people, even when we aren’t physically close together, and I’m very grateful for that.

Interestingly, some of these phone conversations have lent themselves to writing inspiration. For example, my sister and I were recently discussing our shared love for that favorite of summer picnic staples: potato salad.

“I freaking love potato salad,” Jenna said.

I laughed, and wholeheartedly agreed. Then I mused, “That might be a fun title for a blog post. ‘I Freaking Love Potato Salad.'”

It would be fun, Jenna said…but what would it be about?

A good question. Perhaps “I Freaking Love Potato Salad” was best left as a quarantine quotable.

Another time, I speed-dialed my dear friend Kate. My timing excellent as always, I had called right as she was about to jump in the shower. We caught up quickly, but I understand how important personal grooming is, especially when you have young children, which Kate also does.

“Go take a shower, and we’ll talk another time,” I said. Then I added jokingly (but not really), “Shaving is optional.”

Kate laughed. And I thought, now that might be a fun blog post title too. Personal grooming, the impact of kids on time for showers and such, family life during a pandemic.

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Last week, Stanton needed to be in Lake Placid for work.

“Take us with you,” Grace, Anna and I begged. We had been nowhere but our backyard since Christmas, our Rhode Island beach vacation had been canceled, and we wanted to go somewhere (anywhere!).

Stanton took us with him.

This was my first time in Lake Placid, and the Adirondacks. What a breathtakingly beautiful place, and wonderfully welcome change of scenery. I so appreciated sitting on the lake beach with the girls, swimming with them in the surprisingly warm water, walking along the quaint Main Street together.

However…I wouldn’t call this time away from home a bona fide vacation. No, friends, this was a trip. As delightful as this break in routine was, it was undeniably a trip.

For starters, Stanton was working almost the whole time. Now, I’m not complaining, at all…but I am saying, you know you’re on a trip, not a vacation, when you as the sole parent haul a red Radio Flyer wagon (overflowing with towels; a sand bucket set; and cooler stuffed with graham crackers, juice boxes and Lunchables) to the beach, while instructing your children to hold hands and maintain six feet of distance between themselves and anyone else they may see. Because, that’s right, there’s a global, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Yeah…that’s about the time you know you’re on a trip.

😉

Another clue that you’re on a trip, not a vacation, is when you hear yourself telling people (in my case, my daughters), “This is fun, isn’t it? Isn’t this just the sweetest time together?”

In my case, I said these words as I was pushing Anna in her stroller around picturesque Mirror Lake, with Grace trailing behind us.

“I want to go swimming, Mom,” Grace said.

“It’s 8:30 a.m., honey.” I kept pushing the stroller. “The lifeguards aren’t there yet.”

Anna popped her arm out. “I need a snack, Mom.”

I had snacks, of course. Of course I had snacks, even though we had just eaten breakfast. I passed Anna a GoGo squeeZ.

(Hint: If you packed a) applesauce pouches, b) a stroller or c) both applesauce pouches and a stroller, then you probably are on a trip, not a vacation.)

“Can we turn around, Mom?”

“Grace, come on.” I gestured around. “Let’s enjoy this beautiful morning walk. Ooh, look, aren’t those red berries pretty?”

Grace glanced at them. “Those are poisonous.”

I half-laughed, half-cried. “Come on,” I pleaded. “This is fun.”

…that’s about the time you know you’re on a trip.

During our Lake Placid break, the girls slept in the upstairs loft of our suite, while Stanton and I were on the lower level. Stanton and I so appreciated having some time, at the end of each day, to talk, share a bottle of wine…and watch “Friends” reruns on TV. Does it get any more romantic than that, may I ask?

The truth is, I love those little things of talking, drinking red blends and watching TV with my husband. They’re cozy, comforting, sensual in their own way.

Grace’s ninth birthday is coming up, and Stanton and I marveled at how nine years have already gone by. I remembered when Grace was a newborn, how totally overwhelmed I was as a first-time mom. Looking back now, years later, I still feel pangs of guilt over things I could have done differently/better.

Nine years later, I’m still no candidate for Mom of the Year Award, but… “I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along,” I told Stanton.

“Most people do,” he said.

We squeezed hands.

“I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along…”

Hindsight is 20/20…even when you take your glasses off so that you can wax your eyebrows before your 5-year-old barges into the bathroom.

Most of us, I like to think, do the best we can at each moment in time, especially when we’re doing things for our family. I also think most of us—most moms, anyway, most women—are too hard on ourselves. We probably should cut ourselves some slack.

The older I’ve gotten, though, the less inclined I’ve become to give hard-and-fast advice. Because the more I experience of life, of the world, the more I sense there are more questions than answers, more shades of gray than moments of black or white. The less inclined I’ve become to give advice, and the more interested I am in listening to others’ stories too.

Yet there are a few things I feel fairly certain of.

1.) Lock the door to the bathroom…especially in your own home.

2.) Call your parents. Call your siblings. Call your oldest and dearest friends. If you’re lucky enough to have any of these people in your life…now is a good time to call them.

3.) Put the phone down. Go outside. You’ll feel better.

4.) Maybe it’s a trip, not a vacation, but there will be good memories to hold onto.

5.) When there are 1 million new TV shows to choose from and you can’t decide which to waste the last 30 minutes of your day on…there’s no shame in watching the same “Friends” rerun you’ve already seen several times before. You know, “The One With..”

6.) Shaving is optional.

Shaving is always optional.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

To Love and Funny Moments: A Toast for All Occasions

In all our years of being married, I don’t think Stanton has ever written a grocery list. Never started one, rarely contributed to one. This isn’t a criticism, friends, just a fact.

Food: In our relationship, it’s my thing, I guess. Kind of like how, say, pest control is his. We all have our interests and skill sets.

The other day, I started a grocery list. Mayonnaise, wine/beer, I wrote. Then I put it aside.

Later, when I returned to add to the list, I blinked. Now there was a third bullet point, featuring handwriting not my own, stating hot sauce.

I started laughing, somewhat maniacally (this is what weeks of social distancing can do to a person). Nearby, Grace smiled and said, “What, Mom?”

I held up the list. “Dad.”

Grace squinted at Stanton’s neat, precise penmanship. “Hot sauce?”

“Dad never writes grocery lists,” I explained. “So for him to do this, he really wanted hot sauce. If, God forbid, we had to be quarantined…Dad didn’t want to do it without hot sauce.”

Canned goods? Tylenol? People-can’t-get-enough-of-it toilet paper?

Uh-uh. Not even in the ballpark, friends. If the Leddy family finds itself quarantined, what we’ll have stockpiled is, that’s right, hot sauce.

As well as mayonnaise, wine and beer. #prepared 😉

I started laughing, somewhat maniacally (this is what weeks of social distancing can do to a person).

Stanton and I celebrated our 12th anniversary earlier this week. Grace and Anna very sweetly surprised us with decorations and party hats for breakfast. (If we’re connected on Facebook, then you might know this because of the picture I posted. 🙂 ) We had a different celebration than originally planned, due to the coronavirus pandemic of course. It was a very sweet anniversary, though, and I genuinely loved it.

For dinner that evening, Stanton and I ordered takeout from a local Thai restaurant we’d been meaning to try for a while. We ate in the breakfast nook with the girls. It was, simply, very sweet.

I asked Stanton to make a toast. The four of us raised our glasses.

“To love,” Stanton said. “And happy moments—we’ve had lots of those. And you know…” He paused, smiled. “We’ve had some funny ones too.”

The girls laughed. I thought about the hot sauce (and a few other things) and laughed too.

“To love and funny moments,” I said, clinking my glass with the three others surrounding it.

A good anniversary toast, and everyday-family-dinner toast too.

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A couple of days ago, my sister emailed me the link to John Krasinski’s new “Some Good News” YouTube show. Stanton and I watched it together. Totally loved it.

If you’ve been reading my writing for any length of time, then you probably know I’m also all about “some good news.” Thus, a disclaimer: This post is, like all my others, fairly light. There’s positive energy, even during difficult times.

I understand that this brand of creative nonfiction doesn’t jibe with everyone, especially now. I get that. So if, like John Krasinski’s, my glass-half-full perspective causes your eyes to instinctively roll and your index finger to automatically reload the CDC or NPR website for the latest COVID-19 updates…I get that, I do.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to take a moment, take a breath…then maybe keep reading here.

There’s positive energy, even during difficult times.

Something I’ve started to do, which I haven’t done since becoming a mom, is…locking the bathroom door. Yes, this is my new normal. Why, you may ask?

Here’s why, friends: Zoom meetings.

Toilet paper shortages and Zoom: These are two of the things we’ll most clearly remember, years from now. I’m convinced of this.

Both Grace and Anna have been “meeting” with their classes through Zoom. Also, Google Meet. Whatever the platform, however, there often are technical difficulties.

“Mom!” Grace will jump up from the couch, laptop in hand, looking for me. “I can’t un-mute my microphone! People can SEE me, but they can’t HEAR me!”

A few times (for instance, yesterday morning), I’ve been in the process of finishing getting dressed. Exactly: not yet fully clothed. A few times, then, I’ve had a mini panic attack. My daughters’ classmates—and their parents, who are un-muting their microphones—are going to get to know me on a whole other level. Aaagghhh.

Thus, after an eight-year hiatus, I once again lock the bathroom door.

Toilet paper shortages and Zoom: These are two of the things we’ll most clearly remember…

This past weekend, Stanton and I converted our guest bedroom into a home office. Previously, Stanton would catch up on work at the desk in our room. His “work at home” has increased, though, and I wanted our room to feel more like a personal, peaceful space again, and less like a corporate headquarters.

Stanton disassembled the guest bed. He moved all the pieces, plus the mattress and box spring, to the basement. Then he moved the desk into the former guest bedroom/current home office (after also disassembling and then reassembling the desk, once realizing it was too wide to fit through various doorways).

The furniture rearranging revealed dust bunnies galore, as well as dusty flooring that the girls immediately wrote their names across and drew smiley faces into.

“Please let me just clean this up,” I said, in between dust-bunny-triggered sneezes.

Fun times, friends. Fun times.

The desk Stanton’s using now, actually, is my desk. It literally is called a writing desk, designed for writing, and resembles this one. I found my desk not at Pottery Barn, though, but a used furniture shop. Vintage, you know. 😉 What can I say, I love a good bargain.

Although I love my (writing) desk, I usually write and work in our family room, at the rectangular table in the dining space. I like to be in the mix of things; I get good energy here. So it made perfect sense to furnish Stanton’s new home office with my desk.

But that day, I looked at my desk…and I felt a twinge in my heart. The majority of my work and writing projects are on hold for the moment, and I understand why, 100 percent. I understand, and it’s OK. Looking at my writing desk, though, it was as if I were seeing, physically, another pause in my path as a writer.

When this global pause passes, one thing I’ll welcome back, happily, is the ability to tell more stories again.

…dusty flooring that the girls immediately wrote their names across and drew smiley faces into.

Like many others, our family is spending lots more time at home now. Lots. The girls have been riding their bikes and scooters around the neighborhood, on the nearby Rail Trail, all over.

“I hope we’re not making too much noise,” I recently called over to my next-door neighbor on the right, a retired gentleman.

He smiled. “No, it’s nice to hear some noise.”

I’ve seen and chatted with so many of my neighbors so much these past few weeks, and it’s been really nice. It’s also been really funny at times.

My other next-door neighbor, on the left, celebrated her birthday yesterday. “Happy birthday!” I said, and then mentioned my birthday was soon too. Her wife’s birthday was the day after mine, she replied.

“So many April birthdays! Wait a minute.” I shook my head, remembering. “That’s right—we had this conversation last year.” And I kind of think we had the same conversation the year before that too.

All good, friends, all good. My oldest friends and I joke that we, too, have been having the same handful of conversations over and over again, across 30+ years. Some things don’t change, and they don’t get old either.

“…it’s nice to hear some noise.”

I’m no John Krasinski, but I am curious: What’s your good news? What’s going on in your life that’s made you smile lately?

Here are some of my things:

1.) I started playing the piano again. I took lessons when I was younger, but stopped sometime in high school and haven’t played much since. Grace has been taking piano lessons for two years now, but we’re taking a break because her music studio is closed, currently.

So I’ve been helping Grace with the songs from her lesson book, and enjoying playing them myself too. The girls get a kick out of hearing me tap out single notes at a time, with a chord thrown in every now and then. I’m not breaking out the “Moonlight Sonata” or anything like that, but it’s been fun.

2.) A very sweet friend kindly dropped off a six-pack of cupcakes from my favorite local coffee shop/bakery. It was the sweetest surprise. Ironically, I had driven past Perfect Blend the night before, on my way home from grocery shopping, and thought to myself, Man, I really miss going there. This gesture, then, truly touched my heart.

3.) Around the same time as this cupcake surprise, another sweet friend texted me with a question regarding a technical difficulty. Amazingly, I knew how to help answer this question. I believe this was the first time in my life I’ve ever known the answer to an IT-related question, so…not only is that some good news, it’s also record-breaking.

To sum it all up… We have answers to questions (as well as technical difficulties). We have cupcakes. We don’t have the “Moonlight Sonata,” but we have music nonetheless.

And we have hot sauce. We will, in fact, always have hot sauce.

Cheers. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

If I Stress Clean Everything, Maybe I’ll Feel Better (or Maybe Not)

On Friday morning, I got the girls ready for school, and then to school, before dashing to a meeting. After my meeting, I stopped by my regular grocery store for a few things. I had a short list: garlic bread for our pasta dinner later, and Lysol wipes.

I had heard people were buying Lysol wipes like crazy; they were marked as “currently unavailable” on Amazon (I checked on Thursday night). I better get some too, I thought, before they went the way of dinosaurs, shoulder pads and Waldenbooks.

I pulled into the parking lot and could barely find a spot. It was about 10 a.m. on a Friday—not usually Hannaford’s prime time. Huh?

I walked into the store, and there were no shopping carts at the main entrance. Zero. The inside of the store, meanwhile, was filled with people of all ages—not the typical older retiree/stay-at-home parent/flextime-schedule employee crowd you tend to find at a grocery store on a weekday morning.

I did, however, find a cart at the side entrance.

A little disoriented, I wheeled my cart into the household cleaners aisle. Much of the shelf space was bare. Makeshift signs for the Lysol and Clorox products noted, “Limit 2 per customer,” but none of these products were left.

I could have stocked up on Dr. Bronner’s, Mrs. Meyer’s and Incredible Pink supplies—Hannaford was in no danger of running out of these brands, I can report. But I already have a bunch of this all-natural, eco-consciously packaged, pleasantly scented, not-sure-if-it-actually-kills-germs stuff at home. Yeah, I’m all good in that department, friends. 😉

I better get some too, I thought, before they went the way of dinosaurs, shoulder pads and Waldenbooks.

At least I could get garlic bread; I did. As I wheeled my cart through the store, I noticed the carts others were pushing—carts overflowing with canned goods, pasta, paper products.

I’m not a hoarder (very much the opposite, actually). Not a panic buyer. There have been moments in my life when I have been laughably unprepared, yet managed to muddle through.

In this moment, though…Friday morning at Hannaford…I felt more and more unsettled, in a very physical way. I moved slower. I kept shaking my head, confused, uncertain.

I saw people buying a bunch of stuff…and so I bought a bunch of stuff too. I didn’t really know what to get (never was a Girl Scout, you know), so I grabbed rice, beans, cereal, soup, lots of meatballs to freeze (showing my Italian-American roots here), two cartons of my husband’s favorite spicy trail mix, and coffee (a no-brainer, amirite?).

Maybe I should have started coronavirus quarantine stockpiling weeks ago, months ago. It just never crossed my mind that there would be such a run on basic supplies…like toilet paper.

There really was no toilet paper left at Hannaford that day. No. Way. I stared at the empty shelves. This is an Internet meme, I thought.

Except…it was real life.

I got in one of the crowded checkout lines. Paid, drove home. I began unloading my new stockpile…and then the power went out.

I called Stanton. “It really feels like it’s the end of the world,” I said.

“It’s not,” he said.

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As Friday unfolded, I received email after email with updates regarding our daily life. First, the girls’ schools were closed for Monday. Then they were closed Monday through Friday. Now they’re closed until April 1…but possibly later.

Our church services: now online. Spring lacrosse: canceled. Grace’s friend’s birthday party: postponed. The girls’ dentist’s office: hours and appointments currently suspended.

Anna and I were actually at our beloved local library that Friday afternoon when they made the decision to close early that day, and to remain closed until further notice. “We’ll miss all of you so much,” I told the librarians, whom I (used to) see at least once a week.

During the past three and a half years we’ve lived in this town we love, many of these folks in our community, from the librarians to the teachers at the girls’ schools to the baristas at my favorite corner coffee shop, have become, if not exactly family or friends, then certainly part of the fabric of our everyday life—the part that adds fullness, humanity, joy. It is weird to have these mandatory hiatuses from these people, these places.

And trying to keep up with all these communications can be a little overwhelming. I’ve received emails that various work due dates have been pushed back, which is helpful because, simultaneously, I’ve received emails with information regarding Grace’s and Anna’s learn-at-home curriculum for, let’s see here, the foreseeable future.

Side note: Pre-COVID-19, I never considered homeschooling my children. The thought never crossed my mind, not even in a dream…or nightmare… 😉

All attempts at humor aside…I know I have nothing, really, to complain about. I’m self-aware enough to recognize there are people who are truly struggling. For the moment, our family is healthy, thank God, and managing OK.

I am concerned about my 91-year-old grandmother, who lives in a nursing home that (understandably) isn’t allowing visitors right now. I’m not sure when I’ll see her again. I worry about my mom and dad, both of whom I love very much and both of whom are in their 60s. They live just a three-hour drive away from us, but I’m not sure when it would be wise for all of us to get together again. Overall, though, I feel as though we all are doing the best we can be doing.

It is weird to have these mandatory hiatuses from these people, these places.

Over the weekend, I cleaned our house, did a bunch of laundry, organized the girls’ dresser drawers (a seemingly insurmountable spring-cleaning task, the weekend before). Subconsciously, I must have been thinking, If I stress clean everything, maybe I’ll feel better.

Spoiler alert: Everything is clean, but mostly, I still feel…unsettled.

I don’t know when my little world, and the whole world, will feel more settled again. Impossible to know.

However, some things that have provided encouragement… Friends have been sharing helpful and creative “learning at home” ideas through Facebook. Because of this, I learned about the amazing lunch doodles that Mo Willems is hosting through the Kennedy Center. The girls watched an episode yesterday for the first time, and loved it. I’ve always loved Mo Willems, and now especially for this act of kindness toward children out of school due to closures.

Both a friend and a family member shared the idea for a neighborhood “shamrock hunt” yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day. The girls and I cut out, colored and Scotch-taped shamrocks to our front window, and then took a walk around the neighborhood to find other shamrocks. We didn’t find many others, but we did bump into various friends who were also out and about. It was so good to catch up, chitchat, commiserate…at a six-foot, socially safe distance, of course.

Thus, friendship has been encouraging. Family has been encouraging. Last week, Stanton’s company decided to halt employees’ business travel, and so he’s been home with us more, which has been really nice. We recently started watching the series “Luther,” which has provided wonderful, much-welcome end-of-day escapism. This increased family time together also prompted me to try spending the end of the day engaged with the ones I love, rather than scrolling through the news for the latest headlines (and horror stories).

Another silver lining during this time is that I am really, truly appreciating the food we have. Our family is not wasting anything because we’re not sure when we can replenish certain things, with grocery store lines being so long and store deliveries taking longer as well. It’s true that sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until we don’t have it anymore, or it becomes more difficult to have.

I’m also really, truly appreciating my daughters. They’ve been so sweet to me as I try (and struggle, quite a bit) to semi-replicate their classroom teaching. Yesterday, Anna slapped a heart sticker on my sweatshirt (“Good job teaching, Mom!”), and Grace helped me access some online materials (of course my 8-year-old’s technology skills surpass my own).

Since Friday morning, I’ve learned…yes, there really is no toilet paper. No, stress cleaning doesn’t really help. Friendship does help; family is everything; there are still silver linings.

Be well, all. Looking forward to when things are better. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

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.

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

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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.

Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

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.

Thank God for 4th Birthdays: The Blessing in the Everyday

The church that Stanton, the girls and I attend offers a “children’s time” in the beginning of each service. Two Sundays ago, our pastor led the youngster-focused sermon, which takes place on the steps near the altar. Her message centered on love, and loving one another even though differences may exist among us.

At the end of the sermon, someone raised their hand. From where we were sitting, Stanton and I couldn’t see who it was. The pastor asked, “Yes, do you have a question?”

A familiar voice replied, “I turned four.”

Laughter rippled throughout the church. Stanton looked at me. “Was that Anna?”

“Of course that was Anna,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.

The pastor laughed and kindly said to our younger daughter, “That’s wonderful, that’s a milestone.” Then Reverend Amy asked all of us to pray with her.

She began her prayer by saying, “Thank you, God, for fourth birthdays.” She continued with gratitude for other things, and prayed for bigger things, like unity.

It’s funny, and sweet, how simple (and, well, self-focused) a young child’s outlook on life can be. You want to talk about diversity and unity, finding common ground and/or meeting in the middle? Well…OK, but, I mean…I just turned four, you know.

For Anna’s birthday, we invited a few friends over for a very low-key gathering of unicorn-themed arts and crafts, games, and cupcakes. I am an anxious hostess; I worry constantly that everyone is having a good time, especially the birthday girl.

A side note: My husband may have something to do with my party-planning anxiety. The morning of Anna’s birthday gathering, Stanton turned to me, cup of coffee in hand, and said, “So, when is Anna’s party? What time are we doing that?”

I just looked at him, friends. Just…looked at him.

After the party that day, I knelt down beside Anna. She was sucking on one of the lollipops we had stuffed into the unicorn piñata earlier in the day. (Of course there was a unicorn piñata.) “Did you have fun?” I asked hopefully. “How are you feeling?”

Anna pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled at me. “Happy.”

I turned four. Happy. A lot of times, simplicity hits the spot—no grand gestures or big words needed.

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Fourth birthdays are worth remembering, though, are worth saying thank-you for. There’s a lot of blessing in the everyday.

Certainly we celebrate big milestones, and frame and mount above our fireplace mantels the professionally photographed and Photoshopped memories of wedding days, graduations and family reunions. But everyday moments? Those candid-camera shots of high fives and group hugs after winning the neighborhood bar’s Trivia Night, and quiet, contented camaraderie as dusk winds down a backyard barbecue? These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough,” attributed to a 13th-century theologian, Meister Eckhart. Now, I’m not a theologian, and I more comfortably identify as spiritual than specifically religious. This is probably why I feel this quote so much.

Thank you.

Two words, short and sweet. Simplicity, yet gratitude. Grace.

As a prayer, “Thank you” acknowledges something besides ourselves, and beyond ourselves. It doesn’t delve into doctrine, or get caught up in policies and procedures. Doesn’t split hairs about what various Scriptures may or may not mean. “Thank you” simply…acknowledges.

Despite its simplicity, “Thank you” is mighty. “Thank you” acknowledges, I didn’t do this myself. I’ve messed up, I’ve made mistakes, and yet here by the grace of beauty beyond my control and comprehension, this good thing came into my life.

I feel this way about my children, as many parents do. When I kiss Grace good night, or hold Anna’s hand until she falls asleep, I often think, Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Possibly I’m lazy in my relationship with my God. Maybe I should put more time into praying more eloquently. Lord knows I’ll rewrite a blog post, short story or magazine article until I feel the words are just right.

I mean it when I say I may be a spiritually and/or religiously lazy person. I’m not just saying that to be humorously self-deprecating. Saying you subscribe to spirituality, grace and, “Thank you”—just keeping it simple over here, folks!—can be a cop-out for addressing hard questions head-on. Letting yourself off the hook. (I have been known to cringe when conflict and hard questions arise, in other areas of my life.)

At the same time—and I mean this part, too—the times I have felt closest to God have been simple, everyday moments. Kissing my children good night. Picking blueberries with my family at Indian Ladder Farms, mountains majesty behind us.

My most heartfelt prayers have not been recitations of venerable benedictions and creeds, but words like, “Thank you.”

The blessing in the everyday.

These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

Another simple prayer, which I would guess is very popular, is, “Please.” Please let it be OK. Please don’t go until I get there to say goodbye. We often don’t even finish the sentence beyond the first word. Please. Please. Please.

“Please” and “thank you.” It may not be a coincidence that our most turned-to, from-the-heart prayers are these simple social graces we learned as children.

If you think about it, seemingly simple words help us express ourselves in the most profound moments of our lives. They are the words (and the prayers) we turn to when nothing else—nothing bigger, nothing better—will do.

Please.

Thank you.

Happy.

I do.

Sorry.

Hello.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Thank God for fourth birthdays.

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.