Ready (or Not) for Some Quality Time?

On Monday afternoon, Anna and I walked to the bus stop to pick up Grace, as we usually do. During our walk back home, Anna told Grace that earlier, I had let her eat the last of the rainbow sherbet in the freezer (half a cup, tops—nothing worth bragging about, nothing to get upset about). But of course…

“What?!”

“Come on, Grace,” I said. “Didn’t I pack you a special treat in your lunch box today?”

Grace remembered, and smirked at her little sister. “Guess what, Anna,” she said. “Mom gave me the last juice box of pink lemonade.”

I groaned. “Was that necessary? Did you have to say that, Grace?”

Meanwhile, Anna had flopped onto the sidewalk, tears sparkling in her eyes. “I love pink lemo-lade!” she cried. “I want pink lemo-lade too, Mom!”

I tried to be reasonable. “Anna, you have nothing to cry about…”

“WAAAHHH!”

Why doesn’t reasonable ever work? “Stop having a fit, or…or you lose TV.”

Anna sniffled one last time. “I love TV.” I helped her back up, and the three of us continued walking home.

Why doesn’t reasonable ever work?

My hope, every weekday afternoon, is that the hours between 4 and 6 p.m. will be good quality time before the end-of-day rush of dinner, baths and bedtime. (Ahh…quality time.) That was my hope that Monday afternoon, after the pink lemo-lade meltdown. We got home, the sun was shining…

“Let’s play outside,” I suggested.

Now it was Grace’s turn to behave disagreeably. “There are bugs outside,” she informed me.

“They won’t bother you,” I said.

“No, they do bother me,” she replied, sighing. “I wish it were winter again. There are no bugs in winter.”

“Please, let’s enjoy this beautiful day,” I said—practically begged. “Let’s have some quality time!”

“Mom.” Anna was tugging at my arm.

I glanced down at her. “Yes, honey?”

“I want to build a snow girl, Mom.”

You’re killing me, Smalls.

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My vision of good, old-fashioned afternoon quality time never materialized. In fact, it would be accurate to say the afternoon spiraled downhill…almost immediately.

When the three of us got inside the house, I saw an email from Grace’s school, requesting that we return a bag of 10 books we had borrowed from the school’s reading program (two months previously) ASAP. I found nine of the books quickly, but the last one—Bernelly and Harriet: The Country Mouse and the City Mouse—remained elusive. I began thumbing through bookshelves, peering under couches and beds, searching through various junk drawers…

Then I received another communication, this time a phone call from my better half. “Something came up with work,” Stanton said. “I’m not sure when I’ll be home.”

“Do you have any idea?” I wondered.

“No, I have no idea,” Stanton confirmed.

“Mom.”

I turned my attention to Grace (multitasking!).

“Did you find Bernelly and Harriet yet?”

“I’m still looking…”

“I have to go, Mel.” Click.

“MOM!” Anna dashed into the guest bedroom (where the 9th out of 10 books wasn’t). “There’s a bug on top of the TV!”

Grace peered over Anna’s head. “There is! You have to kill it, Mom!”

“AAAHH! Kill it, Mom!”

(In case, at this point, you’re wondering…no, I did not make up any of these details. No, I did not embellish anything for dramatic effect. This is, unfortunately…a true story.)

Anna dashed into the guest bedroom (where the 9th out of 10 books wasn’t).

Every good story has the reader, or listener, wondering what happens next. So if you’re wondering, friends…what happened next was, I did indeed kill it (the bug). Then I heated up some meatballs for dinner, and boiled water for pasta. Next, I emailed Grace’s school to apologize for temporarily misplacing or possibly permanently losing Bernelly and Harriet (“Will you have to pay for a new book, like when you lost the book from the library?”), and requested advice on next steps.

Around 6:30 p.m., the girls and I sat down for dinner.

Now, these meatballs I heated up—we all love them. They’re store-bought, from my local grocery store, but they give any Italian mamma’s homemade, love-is-the-secret-ingredient meatballs a run for their money.

“I want another meatball, Mom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” Anna added.

“And what do you say, girls?”

“You’re welcome,” Anna replied.

Grace and I looked at each other and smiled. “Please, Anna,” Grace said. “And thank you.”

Anna looked at Grace. “You’re welcome,” she repeated.

I don’t remember much more of our conversation that evening. I do remember that at that moment, Grace laughed. Then Anna did, and soon I joined in too.

I also remember that I got each of us a second serving of meatballs. And I remember that I really appreciated sitting there with my daughters, around the table…just being together.

Sometimes quality time happens when we least expect it—when we’re in the moment, in communion with the ones we love.

It’s shortsighted for us to think we can say, “This is when it gets good. The good stuff is going to happen…now. Go, quality time!”

We have no way of knowing what, exactly, will happen next. We’re writing our story moment by moment—sometimes, imperfect moment by imperfect moment. We can try really hard and plan really well, but we don’t know what happens next…not in our real-life story.

We can try really hard and plan really well, but we don’t know what happens next…not in our real-life story.

Sometimes, quality time isn’t a perfectly planned, sunny afternoon, but a thrown-together dinner featuring store-bought meatballs (which you dig into after killing a bug…but before looking, one last time, for Bernelly and Harriet).

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

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The Best Part Was the Hot Dogs

I read once, somewhere, to ask your child, “What was the best part of your day?” Not, “Did you have a nice day?” which tends to elicit a one-word response, but “What was the best part?” because that question can open up a bigger, more meaningful conversation.

Sometimes, I do ask my children the question, “What was the best part of your day?” Other times, my 8 p.m. inquiries are more along the lines of, “Why did you just push your sister?” or “Did you remember to brush your teeth?”

But sometimes, sometimes, everyday life lends itself to moments of reflection deeper than sibling shenanigans and personal hygiene.

On Saturday evening, I asked my 6-year-old daughter, “What was the best part of your day?” I was giving her and my little daughter, Anna, a bath.

Grace thought for a minute.

“Was it our bike ride?” I prompted. That morning, the girls rode their bikes along the nature trail near our house. I walked along with them, until Anna asked me to carry her (and her trike) the rest of the way.

(If you and I are Facebook friends, then you already know this, because I posted a picture of this moment after it happened. 😉 )

Grace shook her head—no, not the bike ride. I rinsed shampoo out of her hair.

“Was it your play date?” Two girls from Grace’s class had come over to play that afternoon. All three kids kindly included Anna in their fun: playing with dolls, make-believe games of “Sleepover” and “Firefighters,” simply running around in the backyard.

(Like most younger siblings, Anna believed her big sister’s friends were there to play with her as much as they were there to play with Grace. Ignorance is bliss.)

“I loved the play date, but…no, that wasn’t the best part either.”

I handed Grace a washcloth. “I know,” I said, smiling. “It was when Dad came home.” Stanton had been traveling for work and walked through the front door moments earlier.

Grace smiled back at me. “Actually, Mom,” she said, “the best part was the hot dogs.”

“No way.”

Grace nodded. “Yes.”

hot-dog-1238711_1920

Around the block from us is a fire station. The red-brick building was built nearly 100 years ago, and is staffed by volunteer firefighters. Throughout the year, the firefighters host a number of community events for our neighborhood: a biweekly fish fry during Lent, educational workshops for kids, a bounce house at Halloween.

As it happened that Saturday, the firefighters were holding an open house to recruit new volunteers. Grace, Anna and I saw them outside when we were heading back home after our bike ride (which had turned into my lugging Anna and her trike, remember).

The firefighters waved us over. I could feel sweat pouring down my face. Great—I was looking presentable as usual.

“Hi, guys,” I said, setting Anna down for a minute. “Sorry, but now’s not a great time for me to volunteer.” (I knew they were working on their female enrollment.)

The firefighters smiled. “No problem. Would you all like some hot dogs?”

Grace and Anna exchanged a glance, then a smile.

“We have a lot,” they told us. “And Gatorade too.”

“Grace!” Anna exclaimed. “We love Gatorade!”

“And hot dogs,” Grace added. So the three of us sat down outside the fire station for an impromptu lunch of hot dogs and Gatorade. When we picked up our short walk home a little later, the girls concluded the firefighters were very nice.

(But let’s be serious, folks: Who doesn’t love firefighters?)

I could feel sweat pouring down my face. Great—I was looking presentable as usual.

“That was the best part of your day?” I asked Grace that night. “Why?”

Grace shrugged. “It was nice. I love hot dogs, and you never buy us Gatorade.”

“Mom!” Anna waved at me, reminding me she was there too. “We love Gatorade!”

I’ve written before about “the little things.” About how little things (like an unexpected hot dog and some Gatorade) can make us smile, can stick with us.

I’ve also written about moments in our lives that become stories, when we never might have guessed they’d be story-worthy. But then they were.

So I’m trying not to repeat myself here. Trying to find a new inspiration to pass along.

Here’s what I’ve come up with, friends.

Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. (Stanton was supposed to come home on Friday, not Saturday, but his work plans changed.) And then you try to make the best of things, and Plan B falls apart too. (Carrying Anna and her trike for what felt like miles.) And then—then—out of the blue, someone asks if you’d like a hot dog.

Just…say…yes.

Put the kid down. Let the trike fall to the sidewalk. Let Plan C be that hot dog.

Sometimes, the best part of your day will be a hot dog. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

Coincidence (or Fate) and a Few Wrong Turns: A San Francisco Story

About 17 years ago, I was standing outside a high school in my Pennsylvania hometown. It was a Saturday morning, and I was waiting to take the SAT II’s, in Writing and Math. At that time (and maybe still today), the majority of colleges didn’t require SAT II scores in addition to the much more familiar SAT scores. But a college I was interested in—the University of Richmond—did.

Like other writers before me, math has never been an intuitive skill of mine. There are times, today, when I’ll catch a glimpse of one of Stanton’s Excel worksheets on his laptop, chock-full of line after line of numbers and budget items for his job, and my eyes will literally glaze over. Excel = my cure for any bout of insomnia.

So 17 years ago, I was feeling confident about the SAT II in Writing, and concerned about the Math one. Part of my concern stemmed from my unfamiliarity with my new graphing calculator, which my handy SAT II prep booklet had instructed me to bring to the testing site that morning. What were all these buttons for again? Sine, cosine…I was pretty clueless.

Standing outside that sunny morning, I noticed a girl. She was tall and blonde, and—I’m relying on an old memory here, but I believe this next part is true, too—had a large supply of No. 2 pencils. This girl looked prepared, I thought. She also looked like a person who would know how to work the sine and cosine buttons on my calculator. I walked over to find out if she did.

As it turned out, the answer was yes. She was warm, friendly, helpful. She helped me with my calculator. We chatted some more, and I discovered she also was applying to and hoping to attend the University of Richmond. Popular colleges for high schoolers in our part of Pennsylvania include Lehigh University, Penn State and St. Joe’s in Philadelphia. It was extremely coincidental (or, perhaps, fate) that I bumped into anyone else thinking about that particular school in Richmond, Va.

As it turned out, the answer was yes.

Allison and I ended up heading six hours south and attending the University of Richmond together. She was my first friend in college. When she invited Stanton (whom I met in college, and whom Allison knows well, too) and me to her wedding in San Diego, this past weekend, we very much wanted to be there for her, if possible.

Flying from our home in New York across the country to California—that’s a bit of a trip, friends. Not a problem, but a bit of a trip, East Coast to West. Coincidentally, Allison’s wedding date fell around the same time as our 10-year wedding anniversary. Stanton and I decided to combine our good friend’s happy day with a mini vacation of our own—several days in Napa, by way of San Francisco. We flew out to the Golden State earlier that week.

Before we left for our West Coast adventure, my dad gave me his copy of the AAA TourBook for Northern California. I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore? We’ve got our phones with access to Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Uber. A guide book I could hold in my hand—of course my dad had one.

I did read through my dad’s AAA TourBook, but the Millennial in me couldn’t help but turn to Yelp for a first-morning-in-Northern-California breakfast spot recommendation. Yelp recommended the Beanstalk Café, not far from our hotel in Union Square—lots of good reviews, opening soon at 8 a.m., sounded perfect. Stanton consulted Google Maps on his phone for directions.

Seconds later, we trekked up one of San Francisco’s famous hilly streets for breakfast, my dad’s guide book tucked away in my carry-on back at the hotel.

I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore?

If you ever find yourself near Union Square in San Francisco, the Beanstalk Café is a solid choice for breakfast. Stanton and I both enjoyed their signature toast cups (bacon-wrapped scrambled eggs baked within bread—I could have eaten another one!) and coffee. I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee, in a lot of places, and this place’s coffee is amazing.

Now, I wasn’t planning on writing this post. If I was, then I would have taken a picture of my toast cup to show you, friends. I would have been that person styling and photographing her food (typical Millennial behavior, right, Dad?), instead of doing what generations before us have done with food—putting it in their mouth, and chewing.

But one hour into our San Francisco excursion, things took a turn for the story-worthy. (You never do know when your life is about to take a turn for the story-worthy, do you?)

Stanton and I had been to California before (San Diego, both of us; Monterey, just him), but never to San Francisco. Of course, we wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge; we had to. Also on the itinerary my Type A self had prepared weeks ago: A drive by 2311 Broadway, the house where Party of Five, one of my favorite TV shows, had been filmed.

“Ugh, Party of Five,” Stanton said, as we walked out of the Beanstalk Café.

“Come on, it will be fun!”

“What will you do there, Mel?”

“I just want to see it, Stan.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf. Then we came upon a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. Stanton gestured. “Let’s take the subway to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then we’ll take an Uber to Fisherman’s Wharf to pick up our rental car.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf.

“Why don’t we just take an Uber to both places?”

“Mel, the subway is right here.”

I frowned. “How about a trolley, or cable car? Those things are much more San Francisco.”

“But the subway is here, honey.”

Reluctantly, I fell into step with Stanton as we made our way down. “You know I don’t like being underground.”

“I do. You’ll be fine.”

We walked past a gentleman playing lively music on his guitar, as well as several folks engaged in questionable activities. “I’m also concerned about earthquakes.” I grabbed Stanton’s hand.

“The chances of that happening…”

Huh…I witnessed a few more questionable activities. “Stanton. I am officially out of my comfort zone.”

Stanton squeezed my hand. “We’re fine, Mel. I’ll just buy our tickets, and we’ll be at Golden Gate in no time.”

And when Stanton asked the lady behind the Information Desk how to get to the location, that’s how he described it: “Golden Gate.” (A mistake, as we would later learn.)

“Take the N train,” she told us.

“N?” Stanton repeated.

She nodded. “N as in ‘nasty.’”

The N as in ‘nasty’ train, friends…that should have been our first clue.

The lady directed Stanton to hold his ticket against an electronic reader. He did, and then walked through the turnstile.

“And what should I do?” I asked the lady.

She peered through her glasses at me. “Follow him.” (This is a direct quote.)

Follow him. Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

But I didn’t know then what I know now. So I followed him, friends.

Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

Two other things we should have asked that lady: 1) The N as in ‘nasty’ inbound or outbound train? We didn’t know, and we needed to know. And 2) at which station did we get off the train? Two major questions.

We ended up on the outbound train—an educated guess. Then I asked another rider where we should exit to see Golden Gate.

“The park, or the bridge?”

I smiled blankly. “Excuse me?”

“Golden Gate Park, or Golden Gate Bridge?” this lady said in accented English. “They are two different places.”

“Are they pretty close to each other?” Stanton asked, nodding optimistically.

The lady shook her head. “No.”

I looked at Stanton. “We have no idea where we’re going. Let’s get off this train.”

Stanton grunted his agreement, and we got off at the next stop. We walked back up to street level.

Have you ever seen the movie My Cousin Vinny? There’s a scene in which the title character’s girlfriend, played by the excellent Marisa Tomei, notes that she and her New York City-accented, leather-jacket-wearing boyfriend “don’t blend” in the small-town Alabama setting they’ve found themselves in.

Let me tell you, friends: Wherever in San Francisco we were that morning, at that moment, Stanton and I didn’t blend.

“Stanton…”

“I know, I know, I’m getting an Uber now.”

And then, like many a wife has done during a romantic getaway with her better half, I looked at my husband and hissed, “You did this to us. This is your fault.”

Never one to lose his cool (except when watching his beloved San Antonio Spurs), Stanton continued tapping at his phone.

“We have no idea where we’re going.”

Minutes later, we hopped into our Uber ride. “My husband may have mixed this up when he called you,” I said to the driver, as Stanton shook his head, “but we’d like to go to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge, not the park.”

“OK,” the driver said, confirming the information with his phone. He picked up another passenger, and we were off.

We drove along, and drove along some more. Then I noticed a street sign: Broadway. We continued along Broadway, a thoroughfare lined on both sides with gorgeously maintained Victorians. “Stan…oh, my gosh.”

“Mel, you should feel completely fine here…”

“No, no.” I scrolled through my itinerary (in an emailed “note to self”) and smiled. “This is the street the Party of Five house is on!”

The driver stopped and dropped off the other passenger at a home across the street from the site of the Salinger family’s many and varied dramas. (One of my favorite quotes from the series: “She’s a juvenile delinquent, Bai!” –Will to Bailey, regarding fun but troubled Jill, in the first season.)

“What are the chances?!” I rolled down the window and took a bunch of pictures, as any bona fide fan would do. Here’s one of them, for all the other Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox and Neve Campbell (circa 1994–2000) fans out there:

1_Party of Five

“I can’t believe that happened,” I said, as we began driving through Pacific Heights again. “That was the craziest coincidence. The subway, the N as in ‘nasty’ train, the wrong stop…all of that led to this.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, honey.”

“And I’m not upset with you anymore, Stan.”

“That’s good, too.”

Finally, we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s the picture of that, because you can’t go to San Francisco for the first time and not get a picture of yourself against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.

2_Golden Gate Bridge

A breathtaking place.

Stanton and I both loved walking the nature trails of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area surrounding the bridge. The setting, along the deep-blue Pacific Ocean, is amazingly gorgeous and refreshing. We could have stayed all day, simply walking and listening to the waves breaking.

We had to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, though, to pick up our rental car and head to Napa for a wine tasting reservation. Another Uber, please.

(A travel tip, for those who may not know: It’s difficult to find parking in San Francisco, and it can be expensive to park in the city, too. For example, it would have cost us about $60 to park a car at our Union Square hotel overnight, for just one night. Thus, we didn’t want to pick up our rental car until we were ready to drive it out of the city.)

I asked this Uber driver to bring us to Ghirardelli Square, which (according to my dad’s TourBook) was an easy walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. “The original Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is there,” the chocoholic in me informed the driver. He smiled politely, but didn’t seem interested.

Soon after, he pulled over at a busy intersection. Stanton and I exchanged a glance. “Is this Ghirardelli Square?” I asked him.

He smiled politely again, and pointed to his phone. “My phone says it is.”

My phone says it is. Even the Millennial in me will agree (as my dad certainly would) that there’s something unfortunate about that statement, about that philosophy. Stanton and I hopped out, crossed the street, and did indeed find Ghirardelli Square close by.

We enjoyed walking through the elegant space…

3_Outside Ghirardelli Square

…and partaking in Ghirardelli chocolate treats inside the red-brick building. (Impossible to resist.)

4_Inside Ghirardelli Chocolate

Fisherman’s Wharf, nearby, was much more tourist-y, but still fun to see. There was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on Jefferson Street, and any time I see one of those, I sense I’m in Tourist Trap Central. (Can you believe the hills?)

5_Fisherman's Wharf

We picked up our car, then bags at the hotel, and headed to Napa. On our drive back to San Francisco later that week, Stanton and I exited before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in order to explore the national recreation area again, this time on the north—we love this place. Absolutely beautiful. We conferred with our phones and my dad’s TourBook to find directions, and were mostly successful.

6_North Tower

However, we inadvertently drove into Sausalito, a lovely coastal town opposite San Francisco. It felt like a “hidden gem” find to us. The pace is a little more laid-back, and parking is easier. We had dinner at the Salsalito Taco Shop (gotta love that pun)—a seafood platter for Stanton, some lettuce wraps with chicken and veggies for me (pictured below).

7_Salsalito Taco Shop

How do we end up where we do? On a visit to an unfamiliar city…on a Saturday morning taking the SAT II’s…wherever we find ourselves right now, this very minute?

Some of us may believe that a life is a series of events, strung together across many years, a random collection of people, places and things. Life as chance, as coincidence. A valid point of view, to be sure.

Others of us may believe that some things are meant to be. That people, places and things come into a life for reasons. Even if the reason is simply to surprise and delight us with the apparent craziness of the moment (my Party of Five house moment), so that we can remind ourselves to smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

Have a little faith in the goodness of life, the beauty and resilience of it, and in the goodness of the people who surround us.

Or maybe life is a little of both, part coincidence, part fate.

I’m not going to make a case for one point of view or the other. I am, after all, the person who still isn’t quite sure how to use a graphing calculator, 17 years later. What do I know?

…smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

One thing I do know. This past weekend, my husband and I attended our good friend’s wedding. Allison looked radiant as she walked down the aisle holding the arms of her mom and dad. I felt tears come to my eyes.

I was happy for her, that she had found the perfect person for herself. I was grateful for our friendship, our love for each other.

(Because what good is anything—a special occasion, an ordinary day, a misadventure on a San Francisco subway that becomes a story—if you don’t have friends and family to share that journey with, and reminisce and laugh about it with later?)

Most of all, I was happy to be there.

Whatever coincidence, or fate, may have contributed to my being there, at that moment, to share in joy, friendship and all the good things that words often struggle to explain, and math and science can’t quantify…but that move us in life, and that we remember for years…

I was happy to find myself there.

(P.S. Congratulations and best wishes to the newlyweds. We love you. ❤ )

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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.

Clothes Shopping With My 3-Year-Old (or, Not My Best Idea)

I buy almost all of my clothes online. Maybe you do too, especially if you’re a mom. It’s usually easier than real-life, brick-and-mortar shopping.

Every once in a while, though, I find myself in a women’s clothing store. Just like how every once in a while, I find myself in a gym. In the beginning, I’m laughably optimistic that things will go well. 😉

A few days ago, Anna and I were out and about. We were near a LOFT, so I decided we’d stop in. I needed a new dress for an upcoming event; maybe I could find one, quickly.

“What can I get, Mom?” Anna asked, as we walked into the store.

This is one of the (many) reasons I prefer online shopping. Nobody asks me, every other minute, what they’re getting too.

“If you behave,” I told Anna, “I’ll get you a treat at the store next door. A cookie, or a bagel.”

“I want some butter,” Anna decided.

“We’ll figure it out,” I promised.

“Butter, Mom.”

“Whatever, honey.” I began thumbing through a rack of dresses. Here was an option. This one was a possibility too…

Anna collapsed onto the floor. “I’m bored, Mom. And I want my butter,” she added.

We were less than five minutes into our shopping excursion. “OK, I’ll try these things on,” I said. As Anna and I made our way to the dressing rooms, I grabbed some tops from the clearance section too.

Anna sighed. “You have so much stuff,” she grumbled. “Why don’t I get nothing?”

My turn to sigh. “That is such a lie, honey.” In our family of four, the girls are, by far, the best dressed, thanks to their generous grandmothers.

Clothes Shopping

I shut our dressing room door. Anna loved the big mirror inside. She began smiling at her reflection.

Perfect. I set the pile of clothes down. Then I slipped out of my sweatshirt and leggings.

Anna chose that moment to throw open the dressing room door.

“Anna!” I lunged for the door and slammed it shut.

Anna was laughing. “Mom! Those ladies out there saw your underwear!”

I heard “those ladies out there” chuckle.

“Anna.” I sighed. “Don’t do that again. Please. Just…hang out.”

Anna touched my arm. “No problem, Mom. I’ll hang out right here.” She flopped onto her belly and kept watch from under the dressing room door.

Whatever—as long as she didn’t open it again.

I tried on the dress I liked best. Huh…a little snug. That was discouraging, but not entirely shocking. Maybe I could find the next size back outside. The other dress didn’t work…

“Mom…you’re…taking…forever.” Anna was tapping her hands against the floor.

“I’m almost done, just one more minute…” I reached for a top and pulled it on.

Anna craned her neck over at me and smiled. “You look beautiful, Mom.”

I smiled back. “Thanks, honey.” At least the oversized tunic fit, right?

Anna and I left the dressing room, and I found the dress I liked, in the next size. Wonderful. Time to pay.

At the register, the lady behind the counter placed my clothes in a bag and then gave Anna her own little bag stuffed with tissue paper, stickers and an unloaded gift card. “Because you did a great job helping your mommy,” she said.

Anna beamed. She showed me the gift card. “I got my own money, Mom,” she said.

I thanked the lady, and Anna and I walked over to the bagel shop next door. At the register there, Anna attempted to pay for her bagel (with butter on the side) and my coffee with her unloaded LOFT gift card. “You are so cute,” the young woman there told my 3-year-old.

Anna smiled. (For better or worse, this wasn’t the first time she’s heard this.) I handed over my actual credit card.

The two of us sat in a booth. Like many moms, I have a random assortment of necessities (wallet, lip balm) and oddities (the kids’ art projects, Dora the Explorer UNO cards) in my bag. I pulled out the UNO cards so that Anna and I could play a game while we waited.

After several games of UNO, Anna wondered, “Where’s my butter?”

It did seem as though the bagel shop was taking a while with our simple order. I asked someone if it might be ready soon. Whoops, they had misplaced the order, they said. A bagel with butter on the side? And a coffee?

I nodded patiently. Yes, that was all we needed.

“This is taking forever,” Anna noted.

At last, we had our order. I sipped some coffee. Anna leaned across the table. “Mom. I have to go to the potty.”

I looked at her. “Really?”

Anna nodded. “Really, Mom.”

“Can you wait a few minutes?”

“I need to tinkle right now, Mom!”

I set my coffee down and grabbed Anna’s hand. There was a couple nearby. “Excuse me,” I said, gesturing to our booth full of bags, jackets and UNO cards. “Could you keep an eye on our things while we…”

“Mom, I need to tinkle!”

The couple smiled in understanding. “No problem.”

Great. Anna and I hurried to the restroom.

I helped Anna, and then told her I needed to use the restroom too. “Don’t touch the door,” I said.

“Because you don’t want people to see your underwear?”

“Basically, yes.”

Anna smiled. “Don’t worry, Mom. I won’t.”

I hoped I could trust her.

Everything takes longer than usual with kids in tow. Eventually, we returned to our booth. Anna ate most of her bagel. I finished all my coffee. We drove home.

All in all, a mostly successful clothes shopping adventure with my daughter.

When my older daughter, however, found out that her little sister now had her own “credit card,” she wondered why I hadn’t thought to get her something too. “Geez, Mom,” Grace grumbled.

“I’m sure Anna will share with you,” I said.

Anna shook her head. “No, I won’t.”

I frowned at Anna. Grace frowned at me.

Anna smiled at both of us.

You can’t win them all, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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 Secret Lives of Moms

Many a weekday morning when Stanton is out of town for work, I let the girls watch an episode of “Sofia the First” or “The Cat in the Hat” so that I can take a shower in peace.

Several times, when I haven’t used the “TV as babysitter” tactic, Anna has wandered into the bathroom and broached less-than-ideal early-morning conversation topics. For example… “Mom, your belly is so big and cozy.” And, “Mom, why is there hair on your legs? YUCK, Mom!”

Nothing like this kind of 3-year-old commentary to make me want to crawl back under the covers.

Grace also has been known to poke her head into the bathroom with an urgent question, as water is streaming down my body. “Mom, can you please find my headband with the pink bow? I need my headband with the pink bow, now. Please.”

“Girls. Girls.” I quickly rinse the conditioner out of my hair. “You’re only supposed to come in here if it’s really important, remember? Really important, or an emergency.”

Grace sighs. “Mom, my hair looks crazy! I need my headband, right now. The one with the pink bow,” she adds.

I turn off the water. “Is it possible…could you both possibly give me some privacy? For one minute?”

By this point, Anna has made herself comfortable on the tile floor, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or a 500-page, hours-of-fun sticker book in hand. “It’s fine, Mom,” she says, shrugging her little shoulders. “We don’t mind.”

My turn to sigh.

So yes…thank goodness for Netflix.

“Mom, my hair looks crazy! I need my headband, right now.”

The other morning, I clicked on Netflix. The girls were settled on the couch, patiently waiting for one of their favorite shows. On our Netflix, we have three profiles: Stanton, Melissa, and Grace and Anna. That morning, when I arrived at the screen of profiles, the “Melissa” one was highlighted.

The girls…went…crazy.

“Melissa! Melissa!” Grace noticed.

“Mom…is…Melissa!” Anna chimed in.

“YOU WERE WATCHING TV!” they yelled, pointing at me with big eyes and laughing, as if they had just discovered the world’s best secret.

I had to laugh too. Then I said, “Yes, it’s true, girls. Sometimes, after you go to sleep, I watch TV.”

They began laughing hysterically again. “Mom watches TV! Mom watches TV!”

God forbid I catch up on “House of Cards” or “Longmire” when I have a moment to myself, right?

Grace raised an eyebrow at me. “What else do you do after Anna and I go to sleep?”

I raised my eyebrow back at her.

The secret lives of moms.

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Our children know us so well, but we also keep things from them. I have some secrets, which are probably similar to yours.

I watch TV most nights, when I could be doing something productive instead. (If I never finish my great American novel, I have no one to blame but myself!)

When I’m couch-potato-ing, I usually have dark chocolate as my accompanying snack. But sometimes, sometimes, I give in to my true love: Cheetos.

I know you’re not supposed to eat “food” that ends in an “O” (Cheetos, Doritos, Ho-Hos…the list goes on)…but I’m a sucker for Cheetos.

My daughters know I strive for all four of us to eat healthfully…and they also know I love Cheetos. When we go grocery shopping together, I say, “Remember, girls, don’t let me buy…”

“Cheetos!” they yell.

“Yes!” I reply. “Mom does not need Cheetos.” (Gotta do something about that big and cozy belly.)

But sometimes, sometimes, I give in to my true love: Cheetos.

On a recent grocery-shopping trip, I maneuvered the cart down the “Chips” aisle to get Tostitos for Stanton. Super Bowl Sunday was coming up; he would need Tostitos. I grabbed a bag. (Original, not multigrain, of course. Why is multigrain Tostitos even an option?!)

Then I saw, out of the corner of my eye, on the bottom shelf…Cheetos.

Mmm…I could almost taste the cheesy, crunchy goodness.

While Grace and Anna were debating what they should be for Halloween nearly nine months from now, I snuck a bag of Cheetos into the cart. A little treat for me, for later.

The three of us got into a checkout aisle. That’s when Grace noticed the Cheetos. She looked at me with wide eyes, and an accusatory expression. “Mom…!”

“I know, I know,” I said. “Let’s not make a big deal about this.” I didn’t want Anna to notice too.

But of course… “Hey! Hey, MOM!” Anna pointed to the bright-orange bag.

“Anna, guess what.” Grace leaned across the front of the cart, where Anna was sitting. “Mom got Cheetos.”

“Cheetos?!” The forbidden fruit. Anna craned her body around and grabbed for the bag. “I want Cheetos! I want them, Mom!”

Great.

I tossed the Cheetos onto the checkout counter. “Anna, Cheetos aren’t healthy,” I said, shaking my head at her. “They’re junk food. Yuck!”

Anna shook her head back at me. “I love junk food! I want some junk food, Mom!”

Some of the people around us laughed. Others just looked at me. Just…great.

I exchanged a glance with Grace, who simply sighed and said, “Mom.”

Mom, you shouldn’t have gotten the Cheetos.

“I love junk food! I want some junk food, Mom!”

One last story, friends.

As you know, Anna often ends up sleeping in our bed. When Stanton is traveling, I usually just tuck her into our bed, rather than her own bed, so that I don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. (it’s always 3 a.m., like clockwork) to run into her room and then snuggle her back to sleep alongside myself. When Stanton is home, though, I do tuck Anna into her own bed so that he and I have some time together before her tiny body takes up a huge amount of space in our bed.

On one such morning, Anna woke up. Stretched her little arms. Rolled over and saw Stanton. “Dad,” she grumbled. (Like her mom, she’s not a morning person.)

“Dad!” Anna said again, pushing at him. “Dad, what are you doing here?”

I looked over. “Anna,” I hissed. “Dad’s still sleeping.”

Anna flung herself back my way. “Why is he here?” she asked again.

Why indeed, friends. Why indeed.

It very well may be impossible for our children to imagine that we, as moms, have moments in our lives that don’t involve them.

And you know, I’m guilty of this too, with my own mom. I called my mom on her cell phone once. She didn’t answer. I called my family’s landline phone. No answer again.

I remember being irrationally annoyed. Where was my mom when I needed her? What could she possibly be doing that she couldn’t drop that minute to answer my phone call?

(Do we ever grow up, friends?)

For many of us, I think we simply like to know, on a very basic level, that our moms are there. Are there for us. In an American culture where so many of us strive to stand out in the crowd, we like to know that there’s still one person who, no matter what, thinks the world of us.

Who will pick up the second we call. Who will stop showering, that second, to find our headband (the one with the pink bow), simply because our hair, currently, looks crazy.

For many of us, that person answers to “Mom.” For others of us, it’s “Dad,” or “Grandpa,” or the name of a good friend.

For my daughters, I’m that person. I love being that person to them.

But every now and then…I just want to binge-watch my favorite shows alone, in bed, with a serving size (or two) of Cheetos close at hand.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.”

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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

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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.

11 Types of People You See at Airports

Post-Thanksgiving, I was standing in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the San Antonio airport. It was about 5 a.m. on a weekday morning, and the long line comprised mainly holiday travelers like me.

A yuppie-looking couple (he was wearing the latest North Face jacket; her hair was blown out and stunningly styled at, yes, 5 a.m.) near me was debating whether or not they should continue waiting for their order.

“I mean, how long does it take to make a breakfast sandwich, really?” she asked him.

He seriously considered her question, then shook his head in defeat. “We’ve been waiting a while now.”

She tapped a stacked-heeled foot against the floor. “We may just need to take a hit on ten dollars. Our flight’s already boarding—I just heard the announcement.”

“Yep, I guess so…”

I exchanged glances with the older, sleepy gentleman in front of me. I just want some coffee, our eyes communicated to each other.

The couple power-walked over to their gate, while my Dunkin’ Donuts line inched closer to the register.

In that moment, I realized there are some reliable “types” of people you see at airports. Here are 11 of them.

1. The Couple Still Getting to Know Each Other. Like my yuppie friends above. I have a theory, based on zero scientific evidence and years of people-watching, that the fewer complete sentences couples speak to each other at 5 a.m., the better they know each other.

2. The People Who Just Want Coffee. In their un-caffeinated state, they aren’t interested in deep questions like, “How long does it take to make a breakfast sandwich?” They don’t want to make small talk with the other people in the Dunkin’ Donuts line. They are about 15 minutes away from a caffeine headache. All.they.want.is.coffee.

I have a theory, based on zero scientific evidence and years of people-watching, that the fewer complete sentences couples speak to each other at 5 a.m., the better they know each other.

3. The People Still Wearing Pajamas. On the other extreme of The Couple Still Getting to Know Each Other, The People Still Wearing Pajamas could not be bothered to put on clothes at 5 a.m., let alone comb their hair. This type literally rolled out of bed and arrived at the airport.

During my most recent travels, I saw two children wearing pajamas—one at the Chicago airport (a plaid flannel set), the other in Albany (theme: Disney princesses). OK: They’re kids; they’re tired; I get it. But adults? Come on now, folks. Why not change into some clean (yet still comfortable) “activewear”?

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4. First-Time Parents Flying With Their Child for the First Time. I feel for these folks, because I was them once. This type of airport traveler is laden down with baby gear: car seat; stroller; baby carrier in case the baby isn’t feeling the car seat/stroller combo that day; packed-to-the-max diaper bag; sometimes a Boppy pillow. Often, I let them know I’ve been there, done that and assure them everything will be OK (after I’ve had some coffee, of course).

5. Parents Traveling for the 100th Time With Their Kids. The more-seasoned moms and dads bring two main things with them: an iPad and a party size bag of something crunchy (Veggie Stix is a popular choice).

6. The Pet-Obsessed. At Baggage Claim in Albany, I watched a middle-aged woman speak lovingly to her tiny dog, who looked comfortable in his faux-fur-padded pet carrier. Another lady, with her own canine in tow, stopped to ask Lady No. 1 how her dog had done.

“Oh, he always does well,” she replied. “We have a house in Boca, and we fly back and forth all the time.” Her husband joined them, his arms full of luggage, and she greeted him by snapping something like, “What took you so long?”

The pet-obsessed: Consistently patient with the four-footed among us.

The more-seasoned moms and dads bring two main things with them: an iPad and a party size bag of something crunchy (Veggie Stix is a popular choice).

7. College Students Returning to School After Break. Like The People Still Wearing Pajamas, College Students Returning to School After Break more often than not also opt for sleepwear rather than “awake-wear.” A noticeable difference, however, between these two groups: The coeds bring books with titles like “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” and “Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere” onboard as their carry-ons.

8. Business Travelers. Business travelers can get a bad rap for being self-absorbed—in their phones, in their 24/7 work, in their airport VIP lounges. What I appreciate about them, though, is that they are used to traveling. Thus, they take up minimal time and space navigating through the security lines. They often come prepared with noise-canceling headphones, which means they don’t glare at your kids when little Emma and Aiden have their inevitable meltdowns. Unlike…

9. School Sports Teams. The letterman jackets, the athletic-striped sweatpants, the selfies featuring team-logoed caps and the starting lineup flashing the “hang ten” sign—school sports teams in airports tend to make themselves comfortable, and make a bit of noise.

10. Grandparents Who Just Visited With Their Grandkids. You overhear these older folks talking about how wonderful it was to see “all the kids.” Their heads almost touch as they lean over together, scrolling through pictures on their phones (and, sometimes, clicking through their actual cameras). They’ve been together a long time—weathered life’s ups and downs—and aren’t bothered by long fast-food lines or Baggage Claim delays. They just saw their family, and they’re HAPPY.

11. Soldiers Returning Home. Every once in a while, I’m privileged to witness a uniformed military man or woman reuniting with their family. The look in their eyes—the gratitude, the joy—the all-encompassing embraces that follow. Even the least sentimental among us, I think, feel a twinge in our hearts when we see such a sight—soldiers returning home.

They just saw their family, and they’re HAPPY.

There you have it, friends: my 11 types of airport travelers. Which ones did I miss?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.