But What Will People Think?

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

(Answer: No.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What, Mom?”

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

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

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

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

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

Forgetting your sneakers? This is nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

People 1-8-18

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

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

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

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

1. Be the best YOU.

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

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

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

5. Count your blessings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would make that my next main guiding principle:

6. Be a blessing to others.

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

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

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

Did she care?

Did he try?

Did they show up?

You did?

Then you’re standing on solid ground, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Advertisements

That Was the Place: Here Comes Memory

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

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

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

Stanton shook his head.

“Never?”

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

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

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

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

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

The light turned green, and we continued on.

“My old high school is…”

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

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

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

That was the place.

Signs 1-3-18

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

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

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

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

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

To be where?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for being my people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha…ha.”

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Unexpected People Who Come to Mean a Lot

Every three or four days, I find myself at the local grocery store. I would prefer to get everything our family of four needs for the week in one big trip. Inevitably, though, we run out of milk, or Scotch tape, or coffee filters—something—and I dash over to Hannaford for whatever it is we need.

Of course, while I’m there, I end up picking up a few other things we “need”—happens every time, right, friends?

The Hannaford I go to is a fairly compact store, and I’m there at least twice a week, so I’ve gotten to know the staff pretty well. One of my favorite people is a gentleman named Rick, who works in the deli. As time has gone on, our chitchat has progressed from how I’d like my pound of turkey sliced to how our children are doing. Rick often sees me in the store with my kids, and I’ve bumped into him around the neighborhood with his. The experience of parenthood is a unifying one, an easy and natural common denominator for conversation between folks.

The last time we saw each other—Saturday morning—I told Rick that Anna had not slept well the night before. “Stanton and I ended up bringing her into bed with us, and then she kicked us the whole night,” I said.

Rick smiled and told me he and his wife had been there, too. We chatted for another minute before he finished up my order. Before I left the deli, we told each other to have a nice day, and see you soon.

The experience of parenthood is a unifying one, an easy and natural common denominator for conversation between folks.

There are everyday places in our world that we come to depend on—for example, the grocery store. Over time, these places—and the people we come to know there—weave a meaningful role into the fabric of our life. The places and the people root us in a position of belonging, of community, of “home.”

Think of how disoriented you feel, how out of place, when you swing by a grocery store you don’t usually go to. What should be a 10-minute errand spirals into half an hour of wandering past unfamiliar endcaps and asking people you don’t know, “What aisle is the ketchup in?” (You know where the ketchup is in your store.)

For a lot of us, our grocery store probably is one of the everyday places that mean something to us.

For me, the street I live on is one of those places, too. Two other moms whose kiddos go to school with Grace live on our street. When I see them during the week—even if just for a minute or two—I know I can count on their kindness, their neighborliness and their knowledge of what’s going on at school. When we exchange pleasantries with our neighbors in the morning, or at the end of the day, we may not realize the unconscious way we appreciate one another’s warmth—or, simply, one another’s being there.

Just knowing people are there can provide comfort, security, peace of mind.

Mailbox

One of the challenges for me, in being a mostly stay-at-home mom, is that I’m an extrovert, and I miss having “my people” as working parents do: co-workers, colleagues, clients. When I do work (write), I often set up shop in a place where other people will be around. The liveliness of everyone else energizes me, even though we’re not talking to one another. I still feel community.

I shared with you all last time that I write in a nearby library when Anna is in preschool. On weekends when Stanton is playing with both girls, I like to go to a coffee shop in our town.

All through the fall, I ordered the coffee shop’s seasonal blend, Vermont maple. (Delicious, friends.) Now that it’s winter, I’ve been asking the folks behind the counter to pour me whatever is the hottest—whatever coffee just finished brewing.

On my most recent visit, a new employee told me that would be the Ethiopian. Fine, I said. Then Livia, whom I met when we first moved here, interjected.

“I think you should try our holiday blend,” she said, adding that she was brewing a fresh pot. “I know how much you liked the Vermont maple; I think you’ll like this one, too.”

Sounds great, I said. And it was.

The places and the people root us in a position of belonging, of community, of “home.”

At first glance, conversations like this may seem like nothing special. Try this coffee, Livia says. How are your kids? Rick asks.

But they do mean something. They do.

We can mean something to the people around us, too. We can be the people that others count on—for a kind word, a helping hand, whatever small gesture we might offer that actually may be making a difference in someone else’s life.

Maybe it’s because Christmas is just around the corner, or maybe it’s because I’m usually sentimental anyway…but I believe that when we put our positive energy out into the world, good things happen. We make good things happen for others. And good things can come back to us.

The 19th-century chemist Humphy Davy once said, “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.”

Happy Holidays, friends, and best wishes for every good thing in the New Year.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Mom, Nothing Happened How We Planned

‘Tis the season for all sorts of get-in-the-holiday-spirit celebrations, occasions and parties. I can be a bit of a Clark Griswold this time of the year. If fun things are happening, why not partake in them?

This past weekend, I was perusing the events calendar of a local website when I discovered that the annual Empire State Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting was slated for Sunday, downtown at the State Capitol. Stanton, the girls and I had gone last year and enjoyed the festivities. Why not make it a family tradition?

I ran the idea by my husband. “There’s a free kids’ concert at 3 p.m., ice skating at the plaza right after and then the tree lighting. What do you think?”

We had just returned home from a friend’s birthday party. Stanton blinked. “OK…sounds good.”

“There’s free parking too,” I added, gesturing to my laptop.

“That’s great, Mel,” Stanton said.

On Sunday afternoon, our party of four headed downtown, as planned. Our first stop was The Egg, an oval-shaped performing arts venue, to see the concert by the local Zucchini Brothers. Grace and Anna loved their fun music; Stanton and I appreciated the witty lyrics to their songs, such as “I Can’t Put This Toy Together.”

After the concert wrapped up, Grace said, “I can’t wait to go ice skating.”

“It’s going to be so much fun,” I agreed. We made our way outside to the plaza.

It was December in upstate New York, so we had bundled up with layers, hats and gloves. But walking outside, we all felt warm. This year was warmer than last year had been. Possibly because of that, the plaza also seemed busier.

Lots of people were outside, sipping hot apple cider…and ice skating. The ice skating rink was packed. We all needed to rent ice skates, and we soon found out there were no rentals left. It was 4:30 p.m.; the tree lighting was scheduled for 5:15 p.m., at which time the rink would be closed.

“Let’s go buy ice skates, and then come back,” Grace suggested.

“Just buy some,” Anna seconded.

“Buy some”—my daughters’ go-to solution for life’s inconveniences. We need to work on that.

“Honey, we don’t have enough time,” Stanton told Grace. “We can’t ice skate today. But we will another day.”

Grace frowned.

“Why don’t we get a snack?” I said. “That would be a fun thing to do before the tree lighting.”

“Not as fun as ice skating,” Grace said, but we all agreed on getting a snack.

The food truck that was serving hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts had a long, long line. So we made our way to a nearby McDonald’s for McFlurrys.

“I love McFlurrys,” Grace said, perking up.

“Me too!” cheered Anna.

I smiled at Stanton. We had salvaged the situation.

At the McDonald’s, Stanton ordered a round of McFlurrys. The lady behind the counter smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, we’re out of McFlurrys.”

Stanton and I looked at each other.

Grace’s jaw dropped.

You have got to be kidding me. McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys?

“OK, let’s get hot chocolate instead,” I said.

“Yum!” Anna said.

Grace crossed her arms. “Mom. You said I could have a McFlurry.”

“Let’s wait over here,” I said, ushering the girls to a table while Stanton shared our amended order with the lady behind the counter.

The girls and I sat down. Grace looked at me. “Mom.”

“Yes, honey.”

“Nothing happened how we planned.”

Rain Boots

For better or worse, I’m an optimist. I tried to help my daughter see the bright side. “We did see the Zucchini Brothers…”

“What I was really excited about was ice skating.”

“Now we’re enjoying being together…”

“How could McDonald’s be out of McFlurrys?”

I paused, mid pep talk. “You know, Grace, that’s an excellent question. It’s weird that McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys.”

“So weird!” exclaimed Anna, shaking her little head.

Grace laughed; I joined in. (We can always count on Anna to cheer us up.)

Stanton rejoined us, with the hot chocolate. Grace peered inside hers. “There are no marshmallows—my favorite,” she observed.

I groaned.

Mom, nothing happened how we planned.

Reflecting on the spot you find yourself in now, friends—did you plan it this way? Did your journey unfold, step by step, just as you planned? Did everything go according to plan?

Or—if you glance around—are you in the place you are now somewhat unexpectedly? Somewhat by chance…or even accidentally, perhaps? Did you just kind of get here, despite best-laid plans?

For me, I would have to pick Option No. 2 (Plan B). And that’s OK. Actually…it’s good.

I folded my hand over my daughter’s. I told her I knew she liked marshmallows. But give this hot chocolate a try, I encouraged. It had whipped cream on top; that was something different that could be something good.

“Even when things don’t happen how we planned,” I added, “we can still find good things in what is happening.”

Grace sipped her hot chocolate. “It is good,” she acquiesced.

Both my daughters have been learning so much in school this year, so many good skills and important lessons. I’m deeply thankful to their insightful, patient teachers.

I also want to instill in my girls the value of being flexible. The ability to adapt and roll with the punches when life doesn’t happen perfectly. Because based on my experience, that’s a vital, sustainable skill—being flexible and accepting that some days aren’t perfect, and then moving forward with fortitude and grace.

About two months ago, I finished writing an essay I thought would be a good fit—actually, the perfect fit—for a magazine. I sent it to the editor there, hopeful that she would like it and that my byline would appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

A week later, she emailed me back. My essay wasn’t a good fit for them at this time, she said. I was surprised, and disappointed.

Not giving up, I reworked my essay and sent it to another editor at another magazine. It’s been a month now, and I have yet to hear back from my second try. That’s usually not an encouraging sign, so I’ve begun tweaking my essay again, readying it to share with a third publication.

Life, in general, is not easy. Work, usually, is not easy either. Necessary, yes. Meaningful, yes. Fulfilling, hopefully. But work, life and work/life can be difficult, can be discouraging.

The wisdom I’d like to impart to my daughters is to keep going, even when nothing happens how we planned, or hoped for. Keep going; keep moving forward. Don’t stop.

…that was something different that could be something good.

And don’t look back. At least, don’t look back too much. Don’t regret, or wish for, roads not taken. Because this is where you are now. And you can do wonderful things here.

Is anyone among us exactly where they planned to be? Has everything been perfect, and positive, every step of the way?

I can’t imagine that’s true for anyone. And the beauty in that—the universal silver lining in everyone’s imperfection—is that every one of us has something in common with the other. Disappointment, loss, various Plan B’s.

We’re more alike than we are different. We’re not alone.

Darius Rucker—formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, now a solo country artist—came out with a song in 2010 that I love to this day. It’s called “This,” and these are the lyrics that often resonate with me:

“Maybe it didn’t turn out like I planned
Maybe that’s why I’m such, such a lucky man…

Thank God for all I missed
‘Cause it led me here to
This.”

For me, “this” is my family—all of them, but especially Stanton and our two girls. If, years ago, one of my meticulously plotted plans or first-choice scenarios had actually happened, then possibly (probably) I wouldn’t have “this” now.

I also wouldn’t have all those things that only imperfect paths and Plan B’s can give you: humility, strength of character, guts, courage, gratitude.

(What is your “this,” friends?)

One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Steve Jobs: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” We need to keep trying, even after professional setbacks (ahem, multiple rejections to what I think is a quality piece of writing). We need to make the best of could-be-better personal disappointments.

All that being said…have you ever heard of McDonald’s being out of McFlurrys?

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was so happy to see you,” I said.

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

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

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

“Then I had scrambled eggs…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I don’t like to say lie…)

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

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

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

Handprints 11-15-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

To Think You Might Have Missed This

Saturday morning is, arguably, many people’s favorite time of the week. It’s mine, for sure. Maybe yours too.

During the week, Stanton usually travels two or three days for work. In general, every Monday through Friday is a mad dash of school drop-off and pick-up, thrown-together meals and deadline-driven notes to self (“New tires, CR-V!” “Literary magazine submission!” “DENTIST!!!”).

Saturday morning, though…we’re all together. The girls still get up at the same time (they have yet to discover the pure joy of sleeping in), but the pace is relaxed, not mad-dash.

On a recent Saturday morning, Stanton got up with the girls and began getting their breakfast ready. The scent of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee soon lulled me into the kitchen too. Within a few minutes, the four of us were sitting together around the table in the breakfast nook.

Grace finished eating her waffle and asked for another one. I rose and toasted another round of frozen waffles. “More syrup, please!” Anna called.

“And butter, please!” Grace added.

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they? I brought the girls’ requests to the table. Grace opened a board book, then frowned. “Anna must have been looking at this,” she said, wiping her hands on her pajamas.

“Is it sticky?” I guessed.

Grace raised her eyebrows me. “It’s really sticky.”

Stanton and I met each other’s gaze and smiled. Yes, that sounded like Anna.

“My favorite story!” Anna pointed to the book. As she did, she knocked over some of Stanton’s coffee.

“Be careful, honey,” I said. Stanton wiped up the spill.

Anna smiled and shrugged. “It happens, Mom.”

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they?

Grace sighed. I’m a big sister, too, and I could guess what Grace was thinking about her younger sibling: Trouble. I love both my daughters so much; they each make me smile in their own ways.

“To think,” I joked to Stanton, “you might have missed this.” The spill, the stickiness, the general messiness—but a wonderful messiness—of a family’s Saturday morning.

The day before, Stanton had been out of town, a work trip. I had encouraged him to stay the night where he was and drive back, refreshed, in the morning. But he wanted to be here with us in the morning, he said.

“I would have missed it,” Stanton said, finishing wiping up Anna’s spill.

I loved him for saying that—for meaning it.

When you think about the people you love, and why you appreciate them, that’s the reason, often—the clichéd “because they’re there for you.” There for you. They do everything they can not to miss things, from big things to little things (like too much Saturday-morning syrup).

*

There have been some things I’ve missed. Not with my children so much, but with my siblings because of my children. Sometimes child-care logistics have encumbered my “being there” for my two brothers and sister. Luckily, my siblings have (usually) understood. The four of us are stuck with one another for life, so we’ll always, somehow, figure things out.

Later this week, I’m taking a bus into New York City to spend the day with my sister. “Do you want to see a show? Go to a museum?” Jenna asked me, when we began making our plans.

“Do you not know me at all?” I said; my sister laughed. “No, let’s take a walk, eat at cool little cafés and talk about Party of Five.” (Jenna and I have been rediscovering and analyzing the wonderful, underrated ‘90s drama through Netflix reruns.)

“Perfect,” Jenna said.

Little things.

*

I bought a new picture frame, with slots for four 4×6’s. I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, trying to find four good ones for this frame. A lot of the pictures made me smile. And a lot of them brought up happy memories from the past few months. Grace’s soccer games, Anna’s first day of preschool, Halloween.

The four pictures I chose for the frame, though, portrayed ordinary moments. Time with family and friends. Mainly candid shots.

The picture for Slot No. 4 shows Anna jumping into a pile of leaves I’d just raked—her smile big, her hair flipping up behind her. Grace had already jumped into the leaves, and in the picture, she’s smiling at Anna. Despite my amateur photography skills, I took the picture at the exact right moment to capture Anna’s delight, and Grace’s love for her sister.

I captured that memory, not a moment too soon.

Sparkler 11-6-17

In reflecting on that memory—in looking at that picture—I have the same hope that my mom probably had for my brothers, sister and me: I hope they’ll be good to each other. I hope they’ll be in each other’s lives for a long time.

I hope they’ll be friends.

*

The holidays are approaching, quickly. For a lot of us, that means reunions and get-togethers with family and friends. Planning, travel, gifts.

Anything out of our routine can cause some stress. We’re creatures of habit; we excel in the “everyday,” while special occasions can throw us off.

I can feel some stress during this time of the year. Maybe you do too. If you do, maybe this will help; at least, it’s helped me.

I take a deep breath. I remember Thanksgivings and Christmases from the past, all those happy memories. And I remember they’re worth it—the memories, and the moments as they were happening, were worth the effort of being there for them.

I want to be there for them.

*

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” (Dr. Seuss).

It’s really sticky.

I want to be there.

Perfect.

I love you.

Yes.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

The Christmas Presents I Remember

Yesterday morning, Anna and I stopped by our local post office. While Anna munched on crackers and thumbed through a display of bubble mailers, I addressed several flat-rate envelopes and stuck the last of our Christmas presents for family and friends inside. I felt two emotions at the same time—hope, that everyone would like what I’d picked out for them; and relief, that my Christmas shopping and boxing was now (literally!) wrapped up.

For all its festiveness, the end of the year can be a stressful time. Arranging get-togethers and travel plans with loved ones. Finishing work projects. And buying presents. Always…buying…presents.

To be honest, I love picking out presents for people. I especially love doing this for my daughters. Stanton and I are so looking forward to Friday morning, when the girls will open our Christmas presents for them before we drive to my mom and dad’s house in Pennsylvania.

I think Grace will love the blue watch we got her—actually, I know she will, because she told me that’s what she wanted: “a blue watch.” And I can picture Anna’s eyes lighting up when she opens her box of dress-up headpieces. And I picture…ripped wrapping paper on the hardwood floor; hot chocolate with marshmallows in mugs on the coffee table; and staying in our pajamas longer than we ever would on a normal Friday morning.

I thought back to my own childhood. I tried to remember, what were some of my favorite Christmas presents? I thought harder…

christmas-present

What came to mind, instantly—and as clearly as if it had just happened—was my parents’ living room. There was ripped wrapping paper there, too. And my Dad with a big Hefty bag, cleaning up.

I remembered my Dad.

And my Mom. In my memory, my Mom was sitting on the couch, holding a cup of coffee because she’d been up until 2 a.m. wrapping all the presents and baking the last of our Christmas cookies. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

My Dad and my Mom.

My brothers and sister, too—I remembered them. We were all there together. Later that day, my grandparents would come over…and other family and friends…and we’d celebrate Christmas all day long.

I remembered all those things very clearly.

Not one single Christmas present, however, is a clear memory. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

Christmas presents are fun—the giving and the getting. They’re especially fun for kids. It’s unfortunate, though, that some of the things related to the fun and festivity of this season can be stressful.

So if you’re feeling stressed right now, friends…if you still haven’t addressed all your Christmas cards (me neither!)…or wrapped your kids’ presents…or crossed off some lingering end-of-year to-do’s…take a breath. Take a moment.

Remember.

What the people you love will remember…is YOU. That you were there.

That you cared.

They love YOU.

Merry Christmas, all. 🙂

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.