Answering to Grace’s Mom: A Surprising Joy

One afternoon recently, Anna and I headed over to Grace’s elementary school. Parents and other family members can join their kids for lunch, and this had been on my to-do list for, let’s see, the past year. #gettingthingsdone

Grace’s kind teacher invited me to come in a bit early so that I could read a story to the class before the lunch period.

“Yay!” Grace said.

Anna frowned. “I don’t want to read.”

“You can sit next to me on the rug,” Grace told her little sister.

Anna kept frowning.

That afternoon, I stuffed my tote bag with several seasonal story selections, lunch for Anna and me, and water bottles. Anna and I arrived at Grace’s school right on time. I like to tell people they can count on me to be right on time, or a smidge behind schedule—but definitely, reliably not early.

Grace smiled when Anna and I walked into her classroom. I knew many of the other kids from around the neighborhood, sports and other activities, and they smiled too. “Hi, Grace’s mom!” they said.

I so appreciated how welcoming the whole class was, and I loved reading a story (“The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything”) to them. The whole time, Grace kept smiling at me. After story time, Anna and I followed Grace to the cafeteria. Grace showed us where to sit. A lot of kids crowded around me, which had zero effect on my ego—I knew I was the daily novelty.

“Grace’s mom, can you open my straw?” one of the kids asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

“Mom,” Anna hissed. She was huddled beside me. “I need help too.”

I gave Anna her turkey and cheese sandwich.

“Grace’s mom! I have a sandwich too,” another kid said. “My mom cuts the crust off because I don’t like it.”

“That’s so nice,” I said.

Anna was tugging on my arm. “Mom. I don’t like crust either, but you left mine on.”

I glanced at her. She scrunched up her nose. “You’re going to be OK, honey.”

A lot of kids crowded around me, which had zero effect on my ego—I knew I was the daily novelty.

I loved dropping in at Grace’s school that day. I was there for about thirty minutes, and I loved everything about that time. I recognized that Grace was happy I was there, and I remembered that being there means a lot to people. I felt deeply grateful I was able to be there.

I also felt something I wasn’t expecting, something that really surprised me. I felt joy when my daughter’s classmates and friends called me “Grace’s mom,” when they addressed me in that way.

It made me smile. It was sweet, and innocent.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t a child (girl) who spent hours dreaming up names for her future children. Instead, I surveyed baby names websites for ideas on what to name characters in stories I was writing. I wasn’t an instinctively motherly person.

Even now, I know there are things, maternally, I could be doing more wholeheartedly. Like, play more games with the girls. (Although they often cheat, at everything from Candy Land to the Dr. Seuss Matching Game.)

Still, I could be more fun…and less selfish. During the fellowship after church on Sunday, Anna revealed to another lady, “My mom ate all our Pirate’s Booty again.” Grace chimed in that they had discovered the empty bag in the trash.

Yeah…all true stories, unfortunately.

…Anna revealed to another lady, “My mom ate all our Pirate’s Booty again.”

What touched my heart most of all, I think, in being called “Grace’s mom” is that Grace beamed. Grace was proud…of me. Despite all the things I could have done (and could do) better, she still wanted to claim me as her mom.

And I am proud of Grace. I love being her mom, and Anna’s too.

Somebody out there (a graduate student, maybe) probably could write a paper about the detriments of answering to “[insert name of child]’s mom.” I used to write papers like that back in my own graduate school days, and I can envision the discussion: loss of identity, sense of self dependent on relationship status, a note about postmodernism thrown in for good measure. Some of that would even be true.

When we become parents, we do experience a loss, of carefree-ness. We let a more carefree part of ourselves go, and settle into a more grown-up role. There is so much we gain too, though.

I’ve always been more of a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” person. Loss and gain, rather than just loss or just gain. Shades of gray, not black or white.

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Sometimes, even “both/and” comes with its own set of headaches. After Stanton and I got married, I used both last names (my maiden and married names) on everything: my driver’s license, address labels and, most importantly to me, bylines for articles I wrote.

As a writer, I cared about the continuity between what “Melissa Minetola” and “Melissa Minetola Leddy” wrote. And as a partner, I cared about honoring the love I have for the person who’s encouraged me in my writing since we were freshmen in college. Time after time, all three of those names took up quite a bit of space on identity documents, stationery and mastheads. Until I decided it was time to give readers (and the general public) more credit. People would be able to figure out who I was if I signed off as, simply, “Melissa Leddy.” (This is, of course, just my experience, and what made sense for me. Everyone’s different in what works for them.)

As a girl, I named the characters in my stories, instead of my future children. Storytelling has always been part of my life. I loved reading to Grace’s class that afternoon, as “Grace’s mom.” Just as much, I loved participating in our town’s Local Author Fair, also this fall.

It was the first time I was part of an author fair. I sat at a table with a poet on my left, and a military memoirist on my right. The poet brought a vase of fresh-cut flowers as the backdrop for her display of books (stunning!), and the memoirist unveiled a bowl of candy, which attracted lots of passersby (who doesn’t love Jolly Ranchers?). I’m going to remember these tricks of the trade for next time. I had made bookmarks, which a few folks took.

An older woman asked if she could buy a copy of one of my books. “Well, they’re e-books,” I said. “So you can buy them online.”

She laughed. “I don’t read e-books!”

I laughed a little too. “OK, well, you can have one of my bookmarks then.” She didn’t want one of those either.

At that moment, Stanton and the girls walked over, and I waved to them. They beamed at me.

“Awww, who’s this?” the poet asked.

“This is my husband, Stanton, and these are our daughters…”

“I love your book fair, Mom!” Grace said. She lowered her voice. “But that lady should have taken your bookmark.”

“It’s OK, honey…”

“Can I have a bookmark, Mom?” Anna reached for the stack.

“Hang on, honey…”

Stanton leaned over. “We’re proud of you,” he whispered.

I hadn’t sold an e-book yet, and the local older-adult population didn’t seem interested in my free bookmarks either…but I so appreciated my husband’s saying that, and my whole family’s support and encouragement. And their being there.

When someone you love looks at you with love simply because you showed up to read a story to them and their friends—that’s a beautiful feeling. It’s also a beautiful feeling when that same person looks at you that same way when you’re trying to publicize stories you wrote (with mixed results… 😉 ).

Pet names, pen names, nicknames, Twitter handles and aliases… The name game can be a intricate one. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter as much as you once thought it did.

Sometimes, someone says something, calls you something (“Grace’s mom”), and it simply feels right. And it gives you joy. You never imagined it would…but that’s life for you.

Life is full of surprises. Some good, some bad. We do our best to grow with each ebb and flow.

We do our best to be there.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

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Paper Plates Will Work: On Keeping Family Traditions Simple

Stanton and I have been parents for seven years now. Before our older daughter, Grace, was born, we attended a baby-care class together. Yes, we were those first-time parents (or, at least, I was): hyper organized, well-researched and well-intentioned…and completely clueless.

I don’t remember much from that class. A clear memory I do have, though, is that the instructor (a labor and delivery nurse) encouraged everyone to think about family traditions they’d like to create once they brought their newborns home from the hospital.

A baby-care class that had carved out time for…family traditions? As our younger daughter, Anna, would say, “Huh?” Shouldn’t we delve back into Braxton Hicks, bonding and belly-button cleaning?

Family traditions…really?

But Stanton and I dutifully did as instructed. We talked about family traditions. We even wrote them down.

What did we come up with? Well, friends…seven years later, we have no idea. I want to say that, seven years ago, we thought a fun, future family tradition might be a regular game night. I am almost positive this is one of the things we came up with. But I can’t say for sure.

I also think we said we’d say grace before dinner every night. But again, I don’t know…and, anyway, we don’t regularly, even though we are thankful… So another uncertainty.

Our first few years of parenthood went by in a blink. A predominantly frazzled blink.

Yes, we were those first-time parents (or, at least, I was): hyper organized, well-researched and well-intentioned…and completely clueless.

At this point in our family life, though, we both feel more confident, more contented (and much better rested) than we did then. We’re older. Maybe not wiser, but we’ve had some experiences. And we’re able to be more conscious of the choices we’re making for our daughters.

Now, we’re consciously trying to create family traditions.

And they aren’t always fancy, friends.

So Grace recently turned 7. The day before her birthday, I told her she could pick any dinner she wanted, and I’d make it for her—a simple but still-special tradition that your family may partake in too. Grace picked French bread pizza.

“Yes!” Anna (who had been eavesdropping) exclaimed.

We all like pizza. And the French bread recipe I make (found at the bottom of this page, compliments of Gina Homolka’s wonderful “Skinnytaste Cookbook”) is fast, easy and delicious. Win-win-win.

The next evening, Stanton, the girls and I gathered outside. One of my favorite parts of our home is the red-brick patio in the backyard. We pulled some mismatched chairs around the table there. Then we dug into Grace’s birthday dinner of French bread pizza, salad and blueberries from a local farm. It was a picture-perfect summer evening (and I did take a picture), served up on paper plates.

We don’t need to break out the fine china for family traditions, although it can be lovely and extra celebratory to. What matters most, at least for our family traditions and maybe yours too, is that we’re all together. The home team.

Keeping things simple (sometimes, or all the time) is OK. Paper plates can cut it.

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As Stanton and I are getting older, we’re rediscovering the beauty in keeping things simple. We’ve always been T-shirt-and-jeans-type people. Lately, though, we appreciate more than ever simply being together, being with our children. We don’t need to drive to Vermont, say, to take a scenic walk. We can just as contentedly walk a nature trail in our neighborhood. As long as we’re together. As long as we’re healthy.

I’m also relearning the importance of saying no—to invitations to gatherings or “opportunities” to volunteer that simply don’t work well now with our family’s schedule. Instinctively, I want to say yes to people, to experiences, to invitations of all kinds. But there are times when saying no makes sense for the family as a whole.

It can be healthy to say no, just as it can be helpful to break out the paper plates.

As long as we’re together. As long as we’re healthy.

Both Stanton’s parents and mine came to visit with us this summer. I love preparing food for our moms and dads. They have all done so much for Stanton and me, as well as our children, and I get a lot of joy from feeding them, taking care of them in this small but sustaining way.

Our parents appreciate my cooking for them, although they say (especially my mom) they don’t want me going to the trouble. I insist it’s no trouble, and they insist we at least use paper plates. Deal.

Paper plates signify different things. A full dishwasher, and no other clean dinnerware. A fuller house than usual, and a call to simplify the cleanup logistics later.

If you give a child a paper plate, they may not see something to hold food at all, but instead, the steering wheel to an imaginary car. Environmental scientists, meanwhile, may encourage an eco-friendly alternative (palm leaf for that pizza, anyone?).

However we all dig in to our family traditions, whatever they may be and wherever they happen…I wish all the folks gathered together (family, and those who are like family)—I wish them joy, and inside jokes. Picture-perfect moments, and a group hug (or two).

…I wish them joy, and inside jokes.

In seven years, I haven’t been a picture-perfect parent. I’ve been selfish. I’ve made mistakes. Certainly, I’ve let my girls watch “Captain Underpants” one too many times so that I could finish some writing work (or, let me be completely honest, eat alone in the kitchen—heaven!). Just yesterday, we rolled out of Hannaford with a family-size box of Lucky Charms peeking out of one of the bags, alongside two containers of store-prepared fried chicken tenders (#dinnerthatnight). Just off the top of my head, there are a lot of things (more vegetables, less TV, not so many raised voices) I could be doing better as a parent.

So I was sitting in the backyard with my family, eating Grace’s French bread pizza on paper plates. Grace helped herself to seconds; Anna made herself comfortable on Stanton’s lap. I was sitting in the backyard with my family, and I thought, “This feels good. I am lucky for this.”

Undeservedly lucky.

Our backyard moment didn’t resemble a Williams-Sonoma window display. There was no Tuscan-inspired tablescape, or monogrammed napkins, but no matter. There was love, and comfort, and thanksgiving.

Grace asked how we picked her name. Of all the names in the world, she wondered, how did we decide on hers? Such a simple name.

“Grace means gift,” I told her. “And that’s how Dad and I thought of you, and still think of you. We were so happy to have you.”

“And so happy to have me too, right, Mom?” (Anna is always listening.)

Then I told both girls that the name Anna actually means grace, which Stanton and I didn’t know, originally. We thought it was, simply, a beautiful nickname based on both our grandmothers’ names (Angelina and Nancy).

“My name is really Grace?” Anna squinted at me. “Huh?”

Sometimes, it really is best to keep things simple, and/or stop while you’re ahead. I held up my hands. “Time to sing ‘Happy Birthday.'”

Anna said she wanted to blow out a candle too. Stanton reminded her it wasn’t her birthday.

Grace shook her head. “It’s OK, Dad. Anna can have a candle.”

Traditions can be what we make them, right?

“Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.” -Natalie Babbitt, “Tuck Everlasting”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Getting to the Good Part

“Mom.”

My 3-year-old daughter was tugging on a corner of the tie-dye T-shirt I had pulled over my head two hours earlier. “VOLUNTEER,” it noted on the back.

“I want to go home, Mom.”

All around us, elementary-aged kids were working on arts-and-crafts projects. Glitter, watercolors and stickers covered the tables. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” a banner proclaimed.

I squeezed Anna’s hand. “I need to take just a few more pictures.” The church’s camera drooped from a scratchy strap around my neck.

Anna flopped onto a chair.

I had offered to help out with any last-minute details for my older daughter’s Vacation Bible School that week. The last-minute detail I had been assigned: photographing moments from the week-long summer program for the last-day slideshow. Anna was my unofficial (and at times, reluctant) assistant.

I snapped a few candids. Group shots are best, the program’s directors had advised.

“I’m tired of volunteering, Mom.”

“I know, honey.”

“I want a snack, Mom.”

“In a minute, Anna.”

“Mom…I think I need to tinkle…I do need to tinkle, Mom!”

I grabbed Anna’s hand, and we ran to a restroom, the camera bopping against my chest in time with our flip-flopped footsteps. As I helped Anna onto a toilet, and then waited for her in the cramped stall, the thought crossed my mind: Things could be going smoother. (Note: This isn’t the first time this thought has crossed my mind, since becoming a parent.)

A little later, Anna and I picked up Grace. “Mom and I were volunteering,” Anna told her 6-year-old sister, adding, “It was boring.”

I groaned as the three of us weaved our way outside to the car. I hoped the VBS folks didn’t overhear Anna’s commentary.

Now Grace was tugging on my T-shirt.

“What, honey?” I searched through my bag for the car keys. Wallet, phone, the girls’ combs, lots of chocolate-chip granola bars…

“I’m happy you were here today, Mom.”

“Awww.” I stopped and smiled at Grace. “Why, honey?”

Grace smiled back. “I liked seeing you around.”

I definitely was a sight that day, with the camera and Anna in tow. What Grace said touched my heart, though. What she said, and how she felt—and how she made me feel, which was happy—made the craziness worth it.

“I liked seeing you around.”

Two days later, a good friend of mine shared the happy news that she and her husband were the new parents of a baby boy. They had been waiting a long time for this baby, and I was (am!) so happy for them. Worth the wait, I thought when I saw his picture.

Sometimes, we may wonder if what we’re doing is worth it.

The question comes to us in cramped bathroom stalls—in doctors’ offices—in the dead of night when we can’t fall asleep, our minds racing with worry and our hearts heavy with pain. Is…this…worthwhile?

It can be hard sometimes to answer that question with a “yes.” This, whatever it is we’re in the middle of, may not feel worth it, at the time. Maybe it even feels like a mistake.

And then someone tells you they’re glad you were there. Your being there—simply being—mattered. Or you witness something beautiful. The gift of a child…friendship…kindness. And you recognize that this is the good part.

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Getting to the good part may be a rocky road, with red lights and rerouting along the way.

Things can happen that hurt us, break our hearts, maybe even break pieces of us. Maybe we feel broken for a time. I’ve felt that way sometimes; I imagine every human being has.

Maybe we make peace with the hurt, the heartbreak, the broken pieces. Or we ignore it and move forward. Or we never get over the pain, but move forward anyway. There are thousands of different ways to respond because we’re all different, and we do life differently.

There are thousands of ways but no best way to make sense of the bad part.

When the good part comes, though, hopefully we find joy in it.

There are thousands of different ways to respond because we’re all different, and we do life differently.

On Saturday evening, Stanton, the girls and I had dinner in the backyard. We tried a new recipe, grilled shrimp tacos. After a crazy week, the grass under our feet and gently waning sunlight felt heavenly. “This is one of my favorite things,” I shared with my family. Being outside, being together.

“Me too,” Stanton said.

Anna looked up from her taco. “But what about ice cream?”

“I do like ice cream,” Stanton said.

“Yeah, that’s my favorite thing,” Anna said.

Grace nodded. “But dinner’s good, Dad.”

What are your favorite things, friends? What are the good parts? Whatever they are, I hope you enjoy them—I hope you find joy in them.

And I hope you know that you may be someone’s favorite. You may be the good part in someone’s life, even if they haven’t told you yet. Even if they haven’t been born yet.

Keep moving forward.

P.S. The answer is yes—it’s worth it.

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.

Time to Stop Being Jealous

Summertime is here, along with its pervasive supply of Popsicles—in our house, at least. One afternoon, the girls asked for their favorite ice-cold snack. “Please, please, please, Mom?”

It takes the girls roughly 10 minutes to finish a Popsicle, which translates into 10 minutes’ peace for me. Not quite eternity, but still somewhat heavenly for a mom (right, moms?). Thus, I said yes to Popsicles.

Grace chose strawberry, Anna lime. Lime is my personal favorite, summer’s virgin version of a frozen margarita. But I wasn’t sure Anna would like it.

“I love green, Mom,” my 3-year-old assured me.

“Hmmm, how about red this time?”

“I love green!”

Five seconds later… “Mom, green is bleh. How about red?”

I helped myself to the lime Popsicle, and gave Anna strawberry, like Grace…who had something to say, right away.

Lime is my personal favorite, summer’s virgin version of a frozen margarita.

“That isn’t fair,” Grace protested. “Anna got two Popsicles. That means I get another one, too.”

I willed myself to be patient. “No…”

“Red is better than green,” Anna announced, helpfully.

Grace glared at Anna. “You are so frustrating.”

Anna slurped on her red. “Don’t freak out,” she replied.

(My daughters spend so much time with me, they’ve adopted my predominant figures of speech as their own.)

“Mom!”

“Grace.” I sighed. “Anna made a mistake…”

“She always makes a mistake.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Girls!”

Oh…summer.

I wish I could share, at this point in the story, that the three of us, my dear daughters and I, sat down together on the front porch. Engaged in a no-raised-voices conversation about gratitude, and getting along with your sister, as an early-evening June breeze tousled our trio of ponytails. What happened in real life, however, is…

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“Life isn’t fair, Grace,” I snapped. “You have a Popsicle; be happy with what you have. Did you even say, ‘Thank you,’ for it? Worry about yourself. It’s time to stop being jealous of your sister.”

My 6-year-old pouted.

Anna, meanwhile, kept slurping. “Yeah, Grace.”

“And you…” I frowned at Anna. “No more green Popsicles for you. And you need to remember to say, ‘Thank you, too.”

The girls called a (somewhat grudging) truce.

As we grow up, somewhere along the road, we do learn the futility—the uselessness, the emptiness—in trying to keep track that the count is “fair.” One for you, one for me. Another one for you, another one for me. Life doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes you’re ahead; sometimes you’re not. Once in a while there’s a tie, but much of the time, there’s a winner…and there’s the rest of us. Or, we “win” in different ways, at different times. Everyone has their own vision of a blue ribbon, their own personal picture of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

…somewhere along the road, we do learn the futility—the uselessness, the emptiness—in trying to keep track that the count is “fair.”

Stanton and I recently received the latest issue of our college’s alumni magazine. Now, there’s a lesson in humility. Flip to the back of your alumni magazine, where your classmates can send in news from their postgraduation journeys, and compare their biographical highlights to your own. (I never do this, of course. 😉 )

There are people my age, people I know, who have become law partners and head coaches, who have made Forbes lists, who have fostered children and fought for social justice and made big differences in the world…already. Moments like these, I sigh with face-saving relief that I didn’t email in a note about my newest self-published e-book release. Because when you start comparing one set of circumstances to another, finding parallels—and remembering what matters—become difficult.

Which is why the most fulfilling course of action is to focus on your life. What you’re holding in your hands. This is what I believe, anyway, and it’s what I hope to impart to my children.

A quote I’ve always liked is this one, from Willie Nelson: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” I don’t think you need to be a hippie, country-music fan or churchgoer to appreciate the truth in his message. The message of looking at the good in your life, really seeing it, and feeling gratitude.

I understand, though, if it may take a source more credible than Willie Nelson to make an impression. So consider this fact from Harvard Medical School: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” The University of California at Berkeley recommends writing in a gratitude journal three times weekly, as a practicable guide to cultivating gratitude in your life.

Count your blessings, not other kids’ Popsicles—the kindergarten version of this life lesson, perhaps.

The message of looking at the good in your life, really seeing it, and feeling gratitude.

Grace just finished up kindergarten. She loved kindergarten, and I’m deeply grateful for that, for her wonderful teacher and school. I’ve shared before that one of my favorite books is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.

My undergraduate and graduate degrees in English obliged me to read all the classics, to discover and appreciate everyone and everything from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Toni Morrison. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit that Robert Fulghum’s little book of essays is one of the few pieces of literature I turn to (return to) time and again. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten strikes a chord with me.

During one season in his life, Robert Fulghum was a minister. He writes, “I am sometimes amazed at what we did not fully grasp in kindergarten…I was always taken aback when someone came to me and said, ‘I’ve just come from the doctor, and he told me I have only a limited time to live'” (page 6).

He goes on to recall, “I was tempted to shout, ‘What? You didn’t know…Where were you the week in kindergarten when you got the little cup with the cotton and water and seed? Life happened—remember? A plant grew up and the roots grew down…a few days later the plant was dead…Life is short. Were you asleep that week or home sick or what?'”

Life is short. Time is limited. The little cup, the water and the seed.

Anna actually got her cup, water and seed this past school year too…in preschool.

From a very young age, we all understand that our time here has an expiration date. We don’t know when, exactly. But we know life is not for forever.

Why would we ever choose to spend…the precious time we have…being jealous of someone else? When right in front of us, more often than not, we have abundance upon abundance upon abundance?

The past couple of years, I’ve been lucky to be able to spend some good time with my grandmother. She turned 90 earlier this month, as I shared last time. My Grandma lives in a personal-care facility now. Do you know what I’ve noticed, friends, when I’ve gone to visit my Grandma there?

I’ve noticed that pictures—lots and lots of pictures—adorn the walls and decorate the desktops of my Grandma’s room, and others’ rooms too. Pictures of family and friends. And I’ve noticed that that is what perk up nonagenarians like my Grandma: visits from those people whose pictures provide their current wall decor.

That’s what these older folks spend a lot of their time—their very precious, limited time—talking about too. Chitchat about family and friends is right up there with the day’s menu (everyone likes the baked ziti) and upcoming bingo night.

…we have abundance upon abundance upon abundance…

I’m speaking from my narrow personal experience, of course. I am fairly certain, though, that around age 90, the majority of people don’t bring up childhood Popsicle squabbles; the size of their once-upon-a-time paychecks, cars and homes; and the highlights they sent in to their alma maters.

Time to stop being jealous. Time to remember what matters.

And beyond that…why not be downright happy for other people, when they have good news to share? When they accomplish something they’ve worked hard for, something they’re proud of? Or when they make a mistake, and they get the gift of a second chance?

Who among us made all the good things in their life happen completely on their own?

Can we all acknowledge that, at one time or another, each of us accepted a helping hand (or two)? And maybe we even owe some of our good fortune to a random roll of the dice—a lucky break or total fluke? And possibly, just possibly, we find ourselves sitting where we are today by the grace of God and nothing more—nothing we can take any credit for.

Stop being jealous. Remember what matters. Be happy for others.

Lend a hand if you can.

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.

Check Out My New E-book, Grace Notes!

grace-notes-cover-1-1-17Confession: I’m not a morning person. Maybe you aren’t either. Or maybe you are, but you could use another boost of energy as you sip your favorite blend from the “World’s Best Mom” mug your preschooler hand-painted last week.

This is the purpose of “Grace Notes: Start Your Day on a Positive Note.” “Grace Notes” is my new e-book, and I hope you’ll check it out!

Part creative nonfiction, part personal growth, “Grace Notes” brings together some of my most-viewed recent blog posts, each with a message of positive energy. I hope that these pieces give you the momentum you need to start your day with a hearty, hope-filled, “Yes!” Here’s to a truly “Happy” New Year, friends.

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

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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.