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.

Almost Normal

Last week felt almost normal. On Monday morning, I went to the dentist. My appointment originally had been scheduled for mid-March, but, like myriad other early-spring plans, had been pushed back because of the pandemic.

“Would it be OK if I brought my two daughters with me?” I had asked beforehand. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get a babysitter for 8 a.m. that day.”

The receptionist, also a mom, had said, “No problem, I completely understand.” She asked, though, that the girls wear masks.

Masks? Of course, I’d replied. Face masks have become part of the “things” we pack up as we’re leaving the house.

Wallet, phone, keys, masks? Check, check, check, check, ready to go.

Face masks have become part of the “things…”

Many more buildings and businesses have reopened here in the Capital Region of New York, which is encouraging to see. On Tuesday, the girls and I drove over to Stuyvesant Plaza. Our main destination: Stride Rite for new sneakers for the girls.

The outdoor shopping village featured more benches than I remembered—in an effort to facilitate alfresco social distancing, I guessed—and the flowers in the omnipresent hanging baskets were in full bloom.

“This is awesome!” Grace and Anna cheered. They were delighted to be somewhere other than our backyard or the local bike path. I was too (dentists’ offices usually aren’t that much fun, even in the best of times).

The three of us wore our masks into Stride Rite, and used the complimentary hand sanitizer upon entering.

Everywhere we went, we discovered, had hand sanitizer abundantly available. Meanwhile, everyone we chatted with, from store employees to other customers, was friendly and patient. It seemed as though folks were glad to be out and about again, while respecting the value in sanitizing and social distancing.

After the girls decided on their sneakers, we picked up a book of stamps at the post office and then stopped at Starbucks for coffee (me) and sweets (the girls). The three of us arrived just in time to grab the last remaining table outside.

It felt like a win, friends. #littlethings

…the flowers in the omnipresent hanging baskets were in full bloom.

Later, I needed to call our bank. During the call, the customer service representative asked if I would update some information.

Sure, I said. First, I verified Stanton’s and my email addresses.

Next, the woman asked my occupation.

I paused. “Hmm…”

“Homemaker, or unemployed?” she helpfully suggested.

Are those the only two options? I wondered. “I’m a contract writer/editor for a college,” I said, “but they haven’t needed me for a few months.”

“OK, so…”

“Right, so…” I don’t know what the customer service rep filled in for my occupation. It shouldn’t have seemed like a trick question. In this time of widespread layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions, however, it was.

“Next time, just say ‘writer,'” Stanton said later. “You are a writer, Mel.”

I really can’t express the gratitude I feel for my husband’s (my best friend’s) respect for my writing, despite its current state of diminished paychecks, and lack of Pulitzer Prizes. ❤

Are those the only two options? I wondered.

Crazily enough—or maybe not so crazily enough—this pandemic and its accompanying repercussions (stay-at-home safety measures, overwhelming news reports, etc.) have given me the time and space to work on some fiction writing.

Many an afternoon, I glance at Google News so that I have a general sense of what in the world is going on in the world. Then I set my phone aside and, while the girls are playing in their inflatable pool—arguably the best $99 I ever spent—I write in a notebook with a pen, old school style.

The notebook I’m currently using started out as Grace’s. It has doughnuts on the cover (all shapes, sizes and colors) and 60 sheets inside, the first handful of which feature drawings Grace did in both pencil and crayon. The drawings are very good, and I didn’t mean to poach my 8-year-old’s notebook. I had filled up another one, though (one of my own), and the doughnuts one just happened to be right there, when I needed a notebook.

Grace said it was OK.

You see, if I use my laptop to write, it’s too easy for me to break away from Microsoft Word and begin clicking on websites. Same with my phone. Then before I know it, I’ve spiraled down an online rabbit hole of information overload (and anxiety), or selected “Place Order” for another picture frame, throw pillow or other home decor item that we really don’t need (even though “Up to 50% Off Everything AND Free Shipping!!”).

Note to self: Beware of multiple exclamation points in advertising copy.

😉

Thus…in this time of supercharged video conferencing, remote communication apps and technological prowess, I am retreating (regressing?) from my devices in favor of a doughnuts notebook and ballpoint pen…at least momentarily.

I have found when I write like this, pen to paper, writing in my own hand, that I am very much in the moment, in the zone, with the story. Writing fiction right now, also, has been wonderfully refreshing escapism. And who knows—the end result may even be something some folks will want to publish, and other folks will want to read.

If so, I’ve already decided: We’ll celebrate with doughnuts.

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Speaking of doughnuts (and why not keep speaking of doughnuts?)… Last Thursday, the girls and I went to Indian Ladder Farms, our first time there this whole year, I think.

Grace and Anna stuffed their pockets with quarters. Once we arrived, they cranked their bounty into the animal-food machines, cupping their hands underneath as the food flowed out. The girls fed some goats while I snapped the obligatory pictures for our summer-fun family photo album.

After running out of quarters, the three of us walked over to the market. Inside, we bought a half dozen of Indian Ladder Farms’ regionally famous apple cider doughnuts (yes, we’d like the ones with the sugar on top), as well as a large Jamaican Me Crazy coffee for, mm-hmm, yours truly. “I have not had this coffee in so long,” I told the lovely lady behind the counter.

She smiled and told us to enjoy.

Indian Ladder Farms is a century-old agritourism site, located in a space of breathtaking natural beauty. I had been concerned about its sustainability during this difficult time, but was encouraged to see about 20 new picnic tables that had been dispensed outside the market, inviting folks to enjoy their market fare outdoors, or carry out takeout from the adjoining Yellow Rock Café (indoor dining is currently unavailable). So many local businesses are making huge efforts to safely serve their customers, and I hope they all come out OK and possibly even better than before.

As always, the apple cider doughnuts did not disappoint, and I drank every last drop of my Jamaican Me Crazy.

Speaking of doughnuts (and why not keep speaking of doughnuts?)…

It’s been good to begin feeling “almost normal” again. There’s still a long way to go, of course, and there’s also no going back. Moving forward, things will be/stay different. But really, I have no idea what’s going to happen.

In addition to forgoing my laptop in favor of a doughnuts notebook, I’ve been trying to be—cliché alert!—present. I’ve been making an effort to really be in each moment, to look my daughters in the eye when we’re together and be there, and most of all, to take each day as it comes and not get too bogged down with what might happen a few weeks out, a few months out, the rest of our life.

For me, it’s been helpful to center on one day, only. Today.

Today, I can get up. I can get moving. I can make my girls breakfast (and then a snack half an hour later). 😉

Today, I need to do these three things. I can do that, today.

I can handle today, what is right here in front of me today.

…I’ve been trying to be—cliché alert!—present.

Yesterday, I was in the backyard with the girls. They had been swimming, but were taking a break in chairs near the pool. Earlier, I had brought out two bottles of Gatorade and a box of Ritz crackers for them to share while I wrote nearby (doughnuts notebook and pen: check!).

“We’re probably going to eat this whole box of crackers, Mom,” Grace said, ripping apart another sleeve.

“And drink all the Gatorade,” Anna added, guzzling from her bottle.

I kept scribbling in my notebook, not completely paying attention. “OK, girls.”

The girls began laughing triumphantly. “Oh, my gosh! The whole box of crackers and all the Gatorade!”

Now I looked up and started laughing too. “OK, just…just hang on a minute.”

It was a normal moment. We were in the backyard, livin’ large on Ritz crackers and Gatorade, inflatable pool nearby. But when I looked up from what I was doing, looked up and joined my daughters in that present moment…it was beautiful, and felt almost holy to me.

To be together. To be there.

Cheers to TODAY.

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.

Were You Ever This Far?

At the end of the school year, Grace’s elementary school gave each student a questionnaire to fill out for a time capsule. A cool idea, I thought. The document sought memories such as favorite Zoom meeting and most interesting thing you learned. Then, the final question: “What will you most miss about quarantine?”

My 8-year-old scribbled her answer: “Nothing!!!”

No other answer, I noticed, elicited three exclamation points.

I laughed lightly. “Really, Grace?”

Grace set her pencil down. “Yep.”

On the back of the paper, Grace had drawn pictures, as requested, of some of her favorite things during this point in time: food (pizza) and activities (played Sorry! with Anna). “I love your pictures, honey,” I said. “Do you want to color them in?”

“Nope.” Grace left the breakfast-nook table.

I looked at the box of Crayola crayons, left untouched on the table.

There’s nothing wrong with black-and-white pictures. They’re simple, can be striking. And certainly, there are times when we look around the world and struggle to see Jazzberry Jam, Electric Lime and Mango Tango. We feel uncertain, discouraged…sad. We look around, or we close our eyes, and there’s no ROYGBIV or even shades of gray.

Still, I hold out hope for brighter days ahead.

And certainly, there are times when we look around the world and struggle to see Jazzberry Jam, Electric Lime and Mango Tango.

The girls and I were in the car, and we passed a sign, and then another, that said, “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd: Say His Name.”

“What does all that mean, Mom?” Grace asked. Anna was listening.

For a while now, I had been struggling with what to say to my young daughters, and how to say it. I remember thinking, before I was a mom, that I wanted to be open and honest with my children about anything—and I still do—and I remember thinking that I would…and that has been the harder part, friends. It is so, so easy to imagine what we would do in a future, hypothetical scenario, and much more difficult when that scenario arrives in real time, awaiting our reaction.

Holding the steering wheel, I explained what had happened in Minneapolis, and racism, and anti-racism. I tried to use words that would be appropriate for an 8- and 5-year-old. Every so often, I glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Do you have any questions?” I finally asked. “I’m not sure I explained any of this very well.”

Grace said she had followed along OK, and added she had already learned about some social-justice issues in school.

“And I learned about segregation in preschool,” Anna said.

In that moment, the sunlight reflecting off the windshield, I realized I needed to be more proactive with important conversations with my daughters, no matter how uncomfortable they might be.

…I remember thinking that I would…and that has been the harder part…

Summer is here, officially. With each passing day, I am more and more thankful for our backyard. I don’t take for granted how lucky we are to have a safe, green space right outside.

The girls love their inflatable pool—Stanton spends many a weekend afternoon stretched out on the chaise lounge—and I so appreciate the simple pleasuring of sitting nearby (in the shade!), writing.

I’ve been working on a new story. Possibly it will evolve into the novel I’ve always wanted to write; more likely it will settle into a piece of short fiction.

“What’s your story about?” Grace asked one sunny afternoon.

“Basically, it’s about a family,” I replied.

“Why,” Grace wondered, “do you always write stories about families?”

I paused. I hadn’t ever really thought about it, I told Grace, but I guessed it was because interpersonal relationships were interesting to me—an intimate group’s history, psychology, lifelong journey. I also guessed it was because, since growing up in a large family, “family” is one of the few subjects I consider myself something of an expert witness to—not expert, but expert witness. 😉

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Several weeks ago, I got a new (used) bike. Bikes can be hard to come by these days, but Stanton found one for me through Albany Bike Rescue, a wonderful local bike shop.

Next, I needed a helmet. Stanton swung over to Walmart and scooped up one of the very last helmets they had in stock…which actually was a youth helmet, the exact same one as Grace’s, in fact. As it turns out, however, I have a small head, so it’s a perfect fit.

Grace was delighted. “We’re twins, Mom!”

Now, according to Reddit and various other websites, a female adult should not wear a child-size bike helmet. I don’t take everything I read on the Internet to heart, though ( 😉 ), and besides that, bike helmets are “temporarily out of stock,” everywhere I check. So I’ve been rolling the dice, friends, and breaking in my fluorescent-pink-and-purple, matches-my-daughter’s helmet.

The biggest silver lining of this time, for me, probably has been the family bike rides Stanton, the girls and I now go on together. The four of us bike together every weekend, and the girls and I bike together throughout the week.

Pre-pandemic, the last time I rode a bike was more than 20 years ago. Even then, back in my Pennsylvania hometown, I didn’t bike that much, and didn’t enjoy biking nearly as much as I do now, with my family…with my girls.

One Sunday morning, Grace and I embarked on a “bike date” together, while Stanton and Anna stayed cozy at home to read books. The sky was baby blue, the sun was shining, the world was still quiet, still waking up.

Grace and I began biking on the Rail Trail. We biked past all our familiar spots: the little park, the Stewart’s next to it, the picnic table across from the green and pink mural, the Little Free Library that comes right after, the bench dedicated in memory of a woman whose favorite song was “Forever Young” (the Bob Dylan version).

We kept biking and biking. Grace smiled at me; I smiled back. “I love this,” Grace said.

“Me too.” It really was awesome, all of it—being together, being outside, feeling the breeze again and again.

Soon, our surroundings were less familiar, but still beautiful: wildflowers, a bridge, an abandoned barn. “Were you ever this far?” Grace asked.

I never was. And I loved it.

We biked past all our familiar spots: the little park, the Stewart’s next to it…

Nobody has given me a time-capsule questionnaire to fill out. But if they did, and if they asked, “What will you most miss about quarantine?”…my answer to that question would differ from my daughter’s.

I understand why Grace wrote, “Nothing!!!” I understand that many others may share that same sentiment, three exclamation points and all. I get it; I really do.

All things considered, though…and speaking only for myself…I will miss the extra time I had, that I never would have had otherwise, with my two daughters, who are growing up faster than I ever dreamed possible.

The extra time, and the bike rides.

“May you build a ladder to the stars / And climb on every rung / May you stay forever young.” (Bob Dylan)

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.

Is This Really as Good as It Gets?

A few days ago, I did something out of the ordinary, especially for these socially distant times: I got out. Out, as in someplace other than the grocery store or nearby nature trail. Out, as in…my annual gynecologic appointment.

A part of me—admittedly, a very teensy-tinsy part—was somewhat looking forward to this diversion from my nine-weeks-and-counting insta-stay-at-home, homeschooling routine. “Is this really as good as it gets?” I wondered in a text to a friend beforehand, half joking—half not—as I pictured an examination room with female-anatomical drawings for artwork and latex gloves galore. Talk about ambiance.

As any good friend would, she replied with words of encouragement (and an “Lol!”).

Now, this kind of wellness checkup is supposed to be annual, but the last time I saw my doctor was…not last year. I’m fairly good about making regular doctor’s and dentist’s appointments for my daughters; I could be better with my own health.

Earlier this year, however, I learned an old classmate of mine had passed away from cervical cancer. She also had young children. We hadn’t spoken in years, but I felt very sad for her and her family. All of this was a wake-up call to me, and prompted me to make my (belated) appointment.

The day of my appointment, I began feeling stressed. What if something turned out to be wrong with me? What if, while I was out at a health facility, I somehow contracted COVID-19? I had also found out I needed to go to my doctor’s main medical office, in downtown Albany, rather than her neighborhood office that I could simply walk to in my suburban town, and I worried about where to park (I do not love city driving, as many of you know).

“Leave snacks for us, Mom,” Grace and Anna helpfully said, as I began getting ready for my big adventure. “And remember you said we could have screen time while you’re gone?”

Right-o. I sighed.

Stanton was nearby and glanced over at me. “Mel…the girls and I will drive you over, OK? And we’ll pick you back up when you’re done.”

“Honey.” I shook my head at him, knowing how busy he was with work. “That sounds like a waste of your time.”

“It sounds like a good use of my time,” Stanton replied, even-keeled as always.

In that moment, friends…I don’t think I ever loved him more. #littlethings

Talk about ambiance.

These days, it really has been all about the little things.

Recently, Grace was talking on the phone with my mom. I overheard my 8-year-old bragging, “My mom bought paints at the grocery store, and they were the last ones.”

It was true: I was delighted to find the last six-pack of washable paint at the grocery store (currently out of stock online). Once I got home and unpacked it, the girls oohed and aahed over the little bottles of purple, red, yellow, blue, green and orange. “Let’s have some fun painting,” I said, pulling out paintbrushes and construction paper, filling a bowl with water.

Ten solid minutes later…the painting fun had come and gone.

“Now what do we do, Mom?”

What to do, indeed. A common question posed to the activities director of Team Leddy.

Nevertheless, this isn’t unique. Many a mom is her family’s activities director, right? Pandemic or no pandemic, many moms fill this role (along with myriad other roles).

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In addition to the 10 minutes of painting, our new activities have included putting together a 300-piece puzzle that I picked up, curbside, from the wonderful folks at I Love Books and exploring a new part of the Rail Trail.

My family and I love the Rail Trail. We so appreciate the ability to simply take a scenic walk or bike ride, steps from our front porch. The Rail Trail, however, runs for nine miles, unfolding between downtown Albany and the village of Voorheesville. For years now, we had only walked and biked on the three miles closest to our home.

“Do you know what we should do?” I said the other weekend, shaking my head at both the simplicity of the idea and the three-year time frame it took me to think of it. “We should check out the other parts of the Rail Trail.”

Grace was instantly on board. “I love that you’re so adventure-y, Mom,” she said.

I gave her a hug. “Thanks, honey.”

“Adventure-y,” of course, is a relative term. Check out a new section of a nature trail? Count me in. Navigate city streets, with their alternating one-way roads and penchant for parallel parking? Cue a mini panic attack.

That weekend, Stanton, the girls and I did love experiencing several new miles of the Rail Trail together. We really look forward to going back again soon.

When I’m outdoors these days, I usually don’t wear a face mask. I can pretty easily keep six feet between myself and those around me. Indoors at grocery stores (or doctor’s offices), I do wear one, per New York State and CDC guidelines. I’ve also noticed that major retailers like Gap, Anthropologie and Madewell have been selling (and selling out of) face masks on their websites.

So much has changed, so quickly. I don’t think I’ve processed everything that’s happened these past couple of months, or mourned the things that have been lost. When all this winds down (whenever it does), I think I’ll probably need to take a moment and, simply, cry.

There’s a time for everything, and it’s important to acknowledge sadness as well as the good times we want to memorialize in family photo albums and online profiles. I recognize this. For me, though, now is not the time to cry. Like so many of us, I just have so much to do.

Later, though. Definitely later, friends.

…shaking my head at both the simplicity of the idea and the three-year time frame it took me to think of it.

During one of my recent Rail Trail treks, I was walking on the right side of the path, as a wrinkled, white-haired woman on the left passed me by. I smiled, nodded. She was wearing a face mask, but pulled it down to smile back at me.

Then this lady gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Keep going!”

This little old lady and her wonderfully positive attitude totally moved me, friends. I don’t know why; it was just one of those “little things.” “I will,” I replied, a little choked up. Then I added, “You too!”

“Oh, I will,” she said. She pulled her face mask back up and, sure enough, kept on going.

When I’m old, I’d love to be as active and affirmative as this woman I happened to meet, for just a moment, on the Rail Trail that day.

There are times to cry. Times to celebrate. Times to wake up and go to the doctor for an annual wellness visit.

And in the best and worst of times, I believe we always should keep going.

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.

A Place to Eat Chocolate, Alone (Sometimes)

Early in our new normal of social distancing, in late March, Stanton and I converted the guest bedroom into a home office for him. A better setup than working from our bedroom, where the desk had been.

Several days into this rearrangement of furniture, I began craving a space of my own. The littlest of nooks would do—just a place where I could take a moment, take a breath…alone. All of us can understand this feeling, I’m sure.

Stanton had his new home office. The girls had…well, the rest of the house, it seemed, plus the backyard. All I wanted was a spot—somewhere, anywhere—where I could retreat every now and then (preferably with a piece of dark chocolate).

Stanton understood. Once again, we worked together to rearrange furniture. This time, just one chair, an armchair that we moved in from the family room. Stanton did need to remove all four legs to fit the chair through the doorway, and then twist them all back in again…but overall, it was an easy home improvement project.

We positioned the chair near the two windows where the desk had been. We also (OK…Stanton did this part solo) removed the room-darkening horizontal shades, one of which was broken, and replaced them with lighter, airier curtains we already had but weren’t using.

All I wanted was a spot—somewhere, anywhere—where I could retreat every now and then…

I came across a deeply discounted rug I loved while perusing the West Elm website (always more relaxing than scrolling through Google News, amirite?). It looked as though it could be the finishing touch to my new nook, providing a soft, earthy vibe. Stanton surprised me by saying he liked it too, and not long after, we lugged it from where it had been delivered on the front steps, to our room.

My new nook: complete.

Funnily enough (or, not quite so funnily enough), my daughters love my nook as much as I do. Grace often selects this spot to work on her homework. Anna, meanwhile, has hauled in a selection of her favorite toys, some of whose pointy parts I step on, on occasion. “It’s so cozy in here,” they say.

Yes. Yes, it is. Sometimes, it’s even empty except for me. 😉

Here’s a picture of the space. Please excuse my amateur photography skills:

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It would be nice if I had a “before” picture, but I never thought I’d write about my nook. I’m not an interior designer. I love my new space, but a professional could probably find hundreds of ways to do it better. I’m also not a home décor writer. Most of all, though, I recognize the relative frivolity of furniture rearrangement.

However…I now (sometimes) have a place in our home to retreat, to breathe, to eat dark chocolate all by myself…and that, simply, makes me insanely happy at this moment in time. ❤

You’ll have to trust me, friends, that the before picture would have been worse than my after picture (and badly lit), as all before pictures are.

From what I’ve read in the news, when I do read the news, many other folks have been rearranging their personal spaces too. This is what “staying at home 24/7” will do us, according to this New York Times article. Emerging trends of the pandemic.

Something else new I noticed, which made me smile—although nobody knew I smiled, because I was wearing a scarf around my face… Last week, I was at the grocery store. Everyone there was wearing some version of a face mask (I had my lightweight scarf). I overheard a person tell someone else, “I like your mask.”

“Thank you!” was the reply.

“I like your mask”: a current alternate for “Hello,” perhaps, or “Nice shirt.”

Something else new I noticed, which made me smile—although nobody knew I smiled, because I was wearing a scarf around my face…

I was walking on the Rail Trail the other day, and I overheard another conversation that moved me. (Despite evidence I just presented to the contrary, I promise I’m not a serial eavesdropper.)

An older couple was holding a phone up, FaceTime-ing with someone. Then someone they knew, a young man, biked by, but he stopped to say hello to them (from a distance) as well as the person on the phone, a woman. All these people were smiling and clearly enjoying one another’s company, as disjointed as it all was. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Then the young man said he had to go, and he added to the phone, “I hope I see you.”

“I hope I see you”—sometimes the simplest words are the most beautiful ones.

I was walking, and I kept walking. I wondered who all these people were, how they all were connected to one another. I’ll never know, but I do hope he gets to see her.

All these people were smiling and clearly enjoying one another’s company, as disjointed as it all was.

Like many others these days, I’ve mostly been at home with my family, but when I go out to walk or bike with the girls or run to the grocery store, I notice that everyone else who’s out is nice. Patient, for the most part, not in a rush. Everyone, everywhere I’ve been, gives those around them at least six feet of space. People also seem very open to conversation, very eager to connect face to face (or, mask to mask). These are, of course, only my experiences, but I’m hopeful they speak to broader acts of kindness, patience and real-time connection.

Furniture rearranging, “I like your mask,” FaceTime and real-time connections… In addition to these things, another emerging trend of this crazy time is trying new things. Trying new brands.

For years, I’ve been loyal to specific brands, for specific things. For example…boxed brownie mix.

Now, I should have mentioned earlier, in the part about “a spot to eat dark chocolate,” that I’m a bit of a chocolate snob. I’m sorry, but it’s true: I have very strong preferences on chocolate. Similarly, I feel very strongly about boxed brownie mix.

I’ve tried about every mix on the market, I’d say, from the classics like Pillsbury and Duncan Hines to the premium-priced packages from Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table. My favorite—favorite—boxed brownie mix, after numerous taste tests and scoops of vanilla ice cream on the side, is Ghirardelli Double Chocolate. It’s simply the most delicious, in my humble opinion.

Thus, when I make brownies, I always use Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownie mix.

Stanton’s birthday was this past weekend. Beforehand, I asked him what kind of cake or dessert he wanted. “Brownies,” he replied.

Perfect, I thought. When I was at the grocery store, I swung by the Baking Supplies aisle…and there was no Ghirardelli brownie mix, of any kind. Just an empty shelf where all the Ghirardelli brownie mixes should have been.

What?! I willed myself not to break down in the Baking Supplies aisle of the grocery store.

Once I had collected myself, I took stock of my other options. There was Pillsbury, sugar free. Pass. Sugar-free brownies do not a happy birthday make. Duncan Hines. Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker. Huh. A classic brand. Priced the same as Ghirardelli (actually, a little bit higher). I decided to roll the dice and…try something new.

In addition to these things, another emerging trend of this crazy time is trying new things.

“These are the best brownies ever!” the girls declared, during Stanton’s birthday celebration later.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I wrinkled my eyebrows at Grace and Anna. “Better than Ghirardelli Double Chocolate?”

“Let’s get these all the time now, OK, Mom?” Grace said. She spooned a bit of brownie into vanilla ice cream.

I glanced at the birthday boy. “What do you think, honey?”

“Mel.” Stanton smiled, shook his head. “I’m just happy to be here with my family.”

I smiled back. “Good. Me too.”

A piece of chocolate is best enjoyed alone, usually. I speak from experience on that.

Brownies à la mode, though? Better together, always. I speak from experience on that too.

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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.

This Is Your Real Life

You might mistake the inside of my car for a landfill.

Empty travel coffee mugs and half-filled water bottles in the cup holders. Shoes, umbrellas and reusable grocery bags strewn across the floor. Pens that are missing their caps commingling with loose change and cough drops on the center console.

Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers everywhere.

“Yuck,” I said, opening a back door for the girls. “We really need to clean out the car.”

Grace and Anna were arguing about something, and didn’t reply. I made sure they were both buckled into their booster seats. Then I hopped in, too, and started the engine.

We were driving home from Dunkin’ Donuts. A little sugar rush to go along with all those Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers. #momoftheyear

From the backseat, the girls’ voices became louder. Grace was giving Anna advice, which Anna disagreed with. “No, Grace,” Anna said. “Come on. This is my real life.”

I smiled. This is my real life. Even 5-year-old Anna knew to take it seriously.

A little sugar rush to go along with all those Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers.

Sometimes I think it might be helpful if, along with the obligatory signs depicting miles per hour and where to stop, there were roadside displays with additional, equally indispensable messages. Inspired by my younger daughter, I think “This Is Your Real Life” would be a good one.

We all know, on a cognitive level, that we have one life. This is it, right here, right now. We know that.

On a day-to-day level, though…in the midst of actually living, getting things done, getting everyone where they need to be…the philosophy of “one life to live” can get lost in the practicalities of preparing meals, doing our jobs, signing kids up for summer camps, wiping up crumbs under the kitchen table for the seventh time that day and remembering to buy our spouse something delicious like a Cardona’s cannoli for Valentine’s Day.

One day this past week, Anna told me about something that was bothering her. I knelt down so that we could see each other eye to eye.

Oftentimes, my instinct is to talk—greet, break the ice, tell a joke or story, reassure, brainstorm next steps. It’s the communicator in me. Just as often, I need to remind myself to listen.

We tend to underestimate listening.

That day, I listened to my daughter. I asked some questions, but mostly, I listened. After a bit, Anna seemed less troubled, so I asked, hopefully, “Are you starting to feel better?”

Anna nodded. “Just talking to you.”

My heart melted; I gave her a hug.

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We’ve all probably heard that there are many benefits of eating dinner together as a family. Stanton, the girls and I try to eat dinner together as much as we can, but it doesn’t happen every night. Some evenings, one of the girls will have an after-school activity, and I’ll make one of my famous meals-to-go (their favorite: macaroni and cheese with bacon) for the car ride home. Other times, Stanton will have a business dinner. And very rarely—again, I can’t stress how rare this is, friends—I’ll have dinner plans that don’t involve the three people I live with. 😉

When the four of us do gather for a family dinner, though, I love that time together. I love hearing Stanton and the girls tell the stories of their days. I love telling my own stories too.

Every now and then, one of the girls will spill their drink. As odd as this may sound, I also appreciate moments like this, moments of imperfection. I appreciate the opportunity to remind the girls, “Accidents happen, and that’s OK.”

Every now and then, too, my phone will buzz from the kitchen—a text, a news alert, a notification of some kind.

“Mom, your phone!” the girls will say.

“I’ll get it after dinner,” I’ll say. I don’t want to miss any stories (or spills).

This is my real life.

I don’t want to miss any stories (or spills).

I am not, of course, always making-eye-contact attentive or cool-as-a-cucumber calm. But I try to make an honest effort.

This past Saturday, I did some birdwatching. If you told me, 30 years ago, I’d grow up to become an amateur birder, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I’m pretty sure my younger self would have said, “Boring.”

Sometimes we grow up and surprise ourselves.

I went to Five Rivers, a nature preserve near our home. Five Rivers is breath-of-fresh-air beautiful, in all four seasons.

Saturday was cold but sunny. Through the windows of the visitor center, as well as outside on the grounds, I stood birdwatching. I easily could identify the Eastern bluebirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers (a kind of woodpecker). The Eastern bluebird is my favorite—its vibrant blue color is truly breathtaking. I saw other species of birds, too, but couldn’t tell what they were (still an amateur, you know).

During the winter, these local birds often gather near a patch of Christmas trees that the naturalists at Five Rivers have set up. They can shelter from the cold among the pine needles, and feed on the seed bells that have been attached to the trees. Birds that rely on seeds rather than fruits and nectar for food don’t migrate south in winter, which I only learned recently.

I like birdwatching because it’s calming, cathartic. It’s a back-to-nature break devoid of Dums Dums wrappers, to-do lists and phone buzzes. All it asks of you is that you look—really look.

It’s a back-to-nature break…

This spring, Grace and some classmates are participating in a lip sync. The song they’ll be performing is “Party in the U.S.A.” Lately, our family has been listening to the Miley Cyrus hit on repeat.

When I originally searched for “Party in the U.S.A.” on my phone, YouTube helpfully recommended other up-tempo favorites for my listening pleasure. Gotta love Big Data. The other night, as I was washing dishes and listening to music, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” started playing, a YouTube recommendation.

I felt like I was at a college party, a thought I later shared with Stanton. Stanton and I actually met in college, at a party. We reminisced about that night and the college-party-playlist songs that were popular then, in the early 2000s.

There was “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” of course, and “Come On Eileen.” “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, the first song Stanton and I danced to. Not to be confused with Jon Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” another classic. “Whenever, Wherever” (Shakira, before the Super Bowl halftime show with Jennifer Lopez). And you may remember that kids back then loved J. Lo and Ja Rule harmonizing in “I’m Real.”

The list goes on, as seemingly endless as a stack of red Solo cups.

Eighteen, nineteen years old—coming of age, although we keep moving forward, unfolding, evolving. Surprising ourselves, no matter the decade we’re in.

…coming of age, although we keep moving forward, unfolding, evolving.

I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done some thoughtless things. There are times I could have been a better person, or a smarter one.

The thought has crossed my mind, how nice it might be to have a rewind button. Go back to that moment, before I made that mistake, and live that slice of life better. Take back something I said. Most of all…be there. Be there for the people I love(d).

There are no rewind buttons in the real world, though. Luckily, there’s “next time.” Next times. Opportunities to do better, thanks to the wisdom earned from past experiences—from life, and living.

This is your real life: a messy car that’s been going places; a hug from a child that makes you feel like a million dollars; stories and spills, in equal measure; moments in nature that take your breath away; old songs you’ll always love.

Look around. Really look. You see it, right?

This is your real life, and it’s beautiful.

“…remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK” (Robert Fulghum, page 3, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”).

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.

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.