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.

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You Have to Make a Mess Sometimes

I scrolled down the recipe, my all-purpose-flour-smudged finger clouding the laptop screen. On wax paper, roll dough into a 1/2-inch thick square. Yes, that was what I had forgotten during our grocery-store run an hour ago: wax paper.

“What do we do next, Mom?” Grace smiled at me expectantly.

“Hmm…we’re going to improvise.” I pulled out aluminum foil.

“Does the recipe say to improvise?”

I looked at my older, by-the-book daughter. She looked back. “Work with me here, honey,” I said.

“Yum, yum, yum.” Anna was sitting cross-legged on the countertop, scooping up rainbow nonpareils—we had accidentally spilled half the jar a few minutes earlier—and stuffing them into her mouth. Our baking adventure could be going a bit smoother.

(P.S. A fun fact: Aluminum foil is not a good substitute for wax paper, at least in terms of a surface on which to roll dough and then freeze it.)

Beeeeep.

“Mom!” both girls yelled simultaneously.

I held up my hands. “The oven is ready,” I explained. “Everything is OK.”

I peered at the screen. Bake until cookies are light brown, 18 to 20 minutes. I got them into the oven and set the timer.

“I can’t wait to eat them,” Grace said.

Anna looked up from her fistful of a sugar rush. “Me too.”

“We’re making these for Pop, for his birthday,” I reminded my daughters. “We have to save some for him too.”

The girls looked at each other, having a silent, sister-to-sister tête-à-tête in front of me. “Pop can have two,” Grace told me.

Anna nodded her agreement. “He’ll be fine.”

Two cookies out of twenty for the birthday boy—sure, that seemed fair.

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Approximately half an hour later, I let the girls sample a cookie—”Just one, ladies!”—as I’d promised. I poured milk into two glasses too, because everyone knows you can’t really enjoy a cookie without a glass of milk (or cup of coffee).

Then I knocked over one of the glasses of milk.

Milk splashed across the countertop, onto my legs, into a white pool on the floor. I closed my eyes, sighed.

“Mom.” Anna poked her head around the corner. “Do you have our milk yet?”

“Just one second, honey…”

Later that evening, I emailed a picture I took of the girls baking (snapped before things got messy) to my parents and Stanton’s. I shared with the grandparents that making the Funfetti shortbread cookies had resulted in a disaster of a kitchen.

Stanton’s mom always replies to my emails with thoughtful ones of her own. This time, she wrote back, “Just think how discouraging it would have been to have a messed-up kitchen and a not-so-yummy sweet!”

This note struck a chord with me. Because it’s true. You have to make a mess sometimes.

And sometimes, if we’re lucky, our mess yields something sweet. Funfetti shortbread cookies, for example. As I was writing this, I remembered a quote I’ve always liked: “One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” (Andy Rooney)

Cookies, Christmas morning—worthwhile messes, for sure.

…sometimes, if we’re lucky, our mess yields something sweet.

What about the messes we make that are far from sweet? The ones that are, simply, trouble?

Mistakes. Miscalculations. Faux pas and false steps.

Decisions that turned out to be bad ideas.

Around the time of my baking (mis)adventure with my daughters, I was talking with someone I care about. She expressed some doubts, some pain to me. I responded to her with my usual spiel about finding silver linings, things happening for a reason.

The more I thought about it, though…the more I thought, it’s OK to acknowledge you made a mess, plain and simple. It’s OK to look for silver linings…and not find them here. To say, “Here, we simply have a mess.

“I’m human. I made a mess. Now let’s move forward.”

We can recognize the humanity in others, but at the same time struggle to accept it in ourselves.

It can be difficult to forgive people. It can be even more difficult to forgive ourselves. But we do need to forgive ourselves…to recognize and accept our humanity…to move forward.

It’s OK to look for silver linings…and not find them here. To say, “Here, we simply have a mess.”

Even where we can’t find silver linings, we probably can uncover some learning experiences. Oh, learning experiences. Who doesn’t love those, right? 😉

Years ago, I made a mistake I still remember. I could have helped somebody more than I did. Why didn’t I? Partly, I was young and immature.

I’ve come to forgive myself for that lapse in judgment. Looking back now, I still cringe and think, Ugh, I could have been a better person. There was no silver lining there—none that I know of, at least.

There was a learning experience, though. When I have the opportunity, these days, to help people in a similar way, I do. I try to be a better person.

You have to make a mess sometimes, to become a better person.

And if you’re lucky, you make a mess, and you get two cookies on your birthday.

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.

 

On Making French Onion Soup

It was a rainy day. A drizzle in the beginning, and then a downpour.

“The earth needs a drink of water,” Anna said. This is how I explained rain to her, once upon a time, and she remembered.

I don’t mind rainy days. Every now and then, especially during summertime, it’s refreshing to take a break from sunscreen, water bottles and hours-long outdoor fun (swimming! sandboxes! biking!) and simply hang out.

Read on the front porch. Watch a movie. Go to the coffee shop (my personal favorite).

Or make French onion soup, as I recently did.

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For Christmas, my brother Jared gave me a copy of The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka. I’ve made several recipes from it since then, and liked them all. My favorite one probably is the recipe for French onion soup.

Do you like French onion soup, friends? It might be an acquired taste; I don’t know.

When I was growing up, there was a local restaurant called Jim Dandy’s. My family and I often dined there. And when we did, I ordered their French onion soup. It was hot and cheesy—what was there not to love? Jim Dandy’s made me fall, hard, for French onion soup.

The foods we prefer now, as adults, usually are the ones we loved as children. It’s why, even at the swankiest restaurants, you often find some version of macaroni and cheese on the menu. Sure, maybe it features bites of lobster. Maybe it boasts Beaufort D’Ete. But you know, and the restaurant knows, that underneath all the glamour and gourmet ingredients, you’ll take a bite and happily remember the Kraft version your mom or dad threw together way back when.

So I recreated that happy childhood memory—French onion soup—that rainy day.

But you know, and the restaurant knows, that underneath all the glamour and gourmet ingredients, you’ll take a bite and happily remember the Kraft version your mom or dad threw together way back when.

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The Skinnytaste recipe for French onion soup estimates that it takes about an hour and a half to cook, start to finish.

I read once that you can’t rush soup…and the home cook in me begs to differ. You can rush pretty much anything if you’re hungry enough, friends.

In this recipe, the onions go through three stages of cooking: 1) softening, 2) caramelizing and 3) simmering. Each stage is supposed to consist of 30 minutes each, but I’ve found you can get the job done in about 25 minutes per stage.

It’s pretty cool, I think, to watch onions transform through softening in the beginning…

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and then caramelizing…

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and finally simmering. I took this picture before adding the dry sherry, white wine and beef stock…but hopefully, you get a sense of the distinctions in the three stages here:

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I didn’t really start cooking until after Grace was born. Before parenthood, Stanton and I loved trying out different local restaurants together, and becoming regulars at our favorites. Given the choice, I still would rather make a reservation than make dinner. 😉

Over the years, though, I have found a fulfillment in feeding the people I love. There must be something innate or biological about this, because I really do love eating out. But when Grace or Anna ask for a second helping of the pasta and meatballs I make every week, or the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets we always have on hand in the freezer (that counts as semi-homemade, right?)…I feel good.

Given the choice, I still would rather make a reservation than make dinner.

Grace and Stanton share similar tastes. Basically, they both love red meat. Burgers, steak, tacos. Grace’s favorite fast-food chain is Five Guys. Do they like my French onion soup? The answer is no, although they will politely have a few spoonfuls. Anna, however, will sit down and enjoy a bowl with me.

Because French onion soup isn’t a crowd favorite in my house, I don’t make it all the time. Just on chance rainy days.

“Some people walk in the rain; others just get wet.” (Roger Miller)

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I didn’t think, when I was younger, that I would grow up into the kind of person who makes soup on a rainy day, and enjoys it. Instead of, say, the kind of person who does something just a bit more interesting.

In the moment, as we’re living life, it’s easy to forget the value in our many, seemingly mundane tasks. Preparing food for a family. Answering the phone when a friend calls, even though we don’t have much time to talk. Helping a co-worker save face. Waving another driver into our lane from the parking lot, even though it means we may not make the green light ahead.

It’s also easy to forget, or maybe not even consider, that who we are now…what we’re doing right now…maybe this is what was meant to be all along, even if the route to our current destination was circuitous, confusing or all-out crazy.

I’m not a great cook. I can’t create a recipe like I can create story. What I can do is (mostly) follow a recipe. I can make sure nobody is hungry. I can offer second helpings and listen to what happened during everyone’s day, and share some of my own.

I offered our neighbor, who told me she had a cold, some French onion soup. She said thanks, but no thanks. “I never really got into French onion soup,” she said.

“It’s an acquired taste,” I agreed.

Anna, who was with me, crossed her arms. “My mom?” she said to our neighbor. “Her soup is delicious.”

Our neighbor laughed; I did too. It’s nice to have somebody in your corner. “I’ll have to give it another try,” she said.

“It’s OK if you don’t,” I assured her.

Some things are acquired tastes.

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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.

You Made It Home Just in Time

Friday, about 5 p.m. I spooned freshly pan-fried slices of chicken, still hot, into plastic, pink dishes for Grace and Anna. I added another spoonful, this time of four-cheese macaroni and cheese, into each dish.

“Girls!” I called. “Dinner’s ready!”

The girls burst into the kitchen, and I ushered them into the breakfast nook to eat. From the basement, I heard the dryer beeeeep. Before I could run downstairs to grab our clean clothes, the front door creaked open.

“Dad!” Anna said, in between a mouthful of mac and cheese.

Grace ran to greet him. “You made it home just in time!”

Stanton hugged her. “Just in time for what?”

“Food!”

“And it’s good!” Anna yelled.

Beeeeep.

“Figure out what you’d like to eat”—my greeting to Stanton. “We’re almost ready to go.”

My maternal grandmother had just turned 90, and that weekend, my three siblings and I were gathering at my parents’ house to celebrate this milestone birthday. Stanton, the girls and I would make the drive that evening, about a three-hour trip south from our home. A manageable excursion, although traveling with kids is never easy, per se.

“Can we get McFlurrys before we go?”

“Honey, you and Anna just had ice cream.”

“Mommy, can I have more ice cream?”

“Mom! Anna just spilled her water, again!”

“Stanton! Where did you go?”

Traveling with kids. (And we were still in the house at this point.)

About an hour later, the four of us were on the road to my Pennsylvania hometown. The drive through the Hudson Valley and Catskills is panoramically beautiful; we watched the sun set, softening from orange to yellow, near the New York/Pennsylvania border. In between the girls’ eventual snoring in the backseat and Ed Sheeran’s bring-you-to-your-knees voice on the radio (“And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70”), the thought that runs through all moms’ heads mid-road trip ran through mine: Did I forget anything important?

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The next morning, Saturday, Stanton and I went for a rare walk together while my parents, brothers and sister entertained the girls. We took a route of back roads that my childhood best friend and I called “the monster walk” years ago.

“This is the monster walk?” Stanton asked, holding my hand as we trekked down a hill. (Kate, if you’re reading this, we were on Church Street at the time.)

“This is it,” I said.

Later, back in my parents’ kitchen, I told my family that I wanted to write a blog post (this is that post, friends) based on Grace’s quote from the evening before. “I love the idea of making it home just in time,” I said. Then someone said something witty, and I noted that that quote would make for a good post too.

My sister raised her eyebrows. “You’re just sitting here, waiting around for us to say something to inspire you.”

“That’s not…completely true,” I told Jenna.

Jenna and I began looking through a box of our Grandma’s mementos, which our mom had brought out of storage. Grandma had saved a drawing of a teddy bear I made for her when I was 6 or 7. “Awww.”

Jenna showed me some old family photos. We both agreed I had had some awkward years. I texted snapshots of some of the photos to family who weren’t able to be with us that weekend; we all shared some laughs (or, more accurately, LOL’s and smiley-face emojis).

Despite some cringe-worthy blasts from the past, I really appreciated having someone to share these memories with. I hoped, not for the first time, that my own daughters would stay close all their lives too.

On the subject of memories, my siblings and I had each come up with five memories of Grandma, that Josh typed up and then collected into a keepsake box—a “memory box” of sorts for our grandmother. One of Josh’s memories made us smile: When we were little, on half days from school, Grandma would pick all of us up (our parents would be working) and take us to Burger King for lunch. And every time, on our way out, Grandma would say, “Refill your cup before you go.” I’m not sure if Burger King still offers free refills (I haven’t been there since those half days from school with Grandma), but “Refill your cup before you go” isn’t bad advice, would you agree? 🙂

Jared remembered needing a ride to his after-school job at the Y. He was running late, and he called Grandma. “You got me there in 5 minutes,” he wrote for the memory box—and it should have been more than a 5-minute drive. (Grandma had a bit of a lead foot, back in her driving days.)

Despite some cringe-worthy blasts from the past, I really appreciated having someone to share these memories with.

Jenna had a sweet memory of coffee breaks with Grandma, going up to Grandma’s house (she lived just one block from us) for regular afternoon caffeine fixes and chitchat.

I remembered calling Grandma to tell her I was expecting Grace, and she would be a great-grandmother. Then I said, over the phone line from San Antonio to Northeastern Pennsylvania at the time, “Thank you for everything you did for Josh, Jared, Jenna and me,” to which Grandma replied, “You kids were my life.”

I remember that phone call, that conversation, where I was that day, and that was exactly what my grandmother said: “You kids were my life.”

When I was growing up, my family went to a local Italian restaurant, Perugino’s, for special occasions. We did not branch out; we went there all the time. Stanton’s parents also hosted our wedding rehearsal dinner there, which I may have shared here before. Perugino’s is very special to my family. Thus, we had to have Perugino’s for Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration.

We did not branch out; we went there all the time.

We got takeout this time—easier to eat at home. My mom ordered our old favorite, Chicken a la Andy, along with manicotti and pasta e fagioli. (Side note: If you go through life without trying Perugino’s Chicken a la Andy at least once, then I’m sorry to say, you have missed out just a bit, friends. 😉 )

Finally, we all sat down—my parents, my three siblings, Stanton, the girls, myself, and the guest of honor, my Grandma. My dad said grace, and then he and my brothers encouraged Grandma to say something. “Speech, speech!”

Grandma looked up from her spot next to Jenna. She has thin, gray hair now, and soft, wrinkled skin. She looked around. She isn’t used to being the center of attention, at least not these days. But she smiled and said, “It’s great to see everyone, and I’m happy to be here.”

Her words touched my heart.

My grandmother grew up humbly, the daughter of Southern Italian immigrants. Her life isn’t my story to tell, and I want to respect her privacy. But I will share that, like all of us, she had moments of sorrow and struggle, as well as those of joy.

So for her to say, very simply, that she was “happy to be here”—that was beautiful to hear.

What Grandma said also made me think about the journey we all travel. Life.

“It’s great to see everyone, and I’m happy to be here.”

The truth is, many of us (most of us?) will live fairly ordinary lives. When we reach age 90, if we’re lucky enough to do so, whatever big box of mementos we have probably will hold keepsakes of fairly ordinary moments: family dinners, high school and college reunions, weekend soccer and softball games, summer vacations at the beach, the occasional red-carpet night out memorialized with a tattered ticket stub. We won’t actually have walked that many red carpets ourselves.

And as the recent sad news about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain has showed us, even years of red-carpet walks doesn’t promise contentment or fulfillment. (For those who may need it, the number for the national lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.)

Rod Stewart, himself a living rock legend, noted, “You go through life wondering what it’s all about, and at the end of the day, it’s all about family.”

There’s a lot of beauty in living a fairly ordinary life, I think.

In looking around a table when you’re 90, seeing people you love and lived for, and being happy to be there.

In having a big box of tattered ticket stubs, old family photos and drawings your grandchildren made you—in finding joy and meaning in those seemingly simple things.

In taking a walk, watching a sunset, walking in a front door and getting a hero’s welcome home.

You made it.

You made it home.

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.

Last Call: Tell Me Everything

Every night, I rock my 3-year-old daughter, Anna, to sleep. Stanton thinks she’s old enough that my rocking her isn’t necessary. Just lay her down, tuck her in, he says.

It isn’t necessary, I agree, night after night. I just love doing it; she loves it too.

This isn’t efficient, he adds, as I sink into the old recliner, and Anna folds herself into me. “Squishes in to get cozy,” she calls it.

I’ll see you in about 30 minutes, I often say to Stanton. And he—he of adept efficiency—says he’ll see me then.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more. Especially if we have an older child, or older children, whose first instinct these days isn’t to reach for us, but to make requests and issue directives. Can I have a play date with Sophia? I’m tired of eating turkey-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch. Don’t walk me all the way, Mom.

At the end of the day, with my little girl, I’m unapologetically inefficient.

The recliner we have is almost seven years old. Stanton and I bought it a few months before Grace was born. It’s worn; creaky if you lean too much to the right; and the most comfortable seat in our house.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more.

The other night, I was rocking Anna. She wasn’t tired just yet. She was talking to me about Lizzy, my brother- and sister-in-law’s dog. She was saying she loved walking Lizzy, which she had done this past Thanksgiving when we were visiting them.

“Wow,” I said, surprised at her enduring memory. (I barely remember what happened yesterday.)

“Lottie and D-Daddy were there,” Anna went on. “And we walked and walked Lizzy. It was fun.”

“I’m so glad you have happy memories,” I said.

Anna nodded. “I have happy memories, Mom, but they don’t glow like in Inside Out.”

I smiled at Anna’s point of reference. “That’s OK, honey.”

Anna looked up at me with wide eyes. “There was a scary part, and Grace gave me a pillow and held my hand.”

They hadn’t watched the movie together in a while. Again, I was surprised at everything Anna remembered. “Because Grace loves you so much.”

“Yeah, I know that, Mom.” With the abundant self-confidence of a child. “Bing Bong is my favorite,” Anna added, laughing.

I laughed too. “I love all your memories.”

“But they don’t glow, Mom,” Anna reminded me. She snuggled against my chest. “And that’s what I remember.”

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As we go along in our lives, certain memories stick with us, for whatever reasons. Chance? Or maybe something scientific (a process involving synapses perhaps).

I have a clear memory of Anna, and that old recliner. Mostly clear, anyway. I’m not positive of the date, but I believe it was the day Stanton and I brought Anna home, or the day after. So Anna was three or four days old.

It was nighttime. I was in the nursery, holding Anna in the recliner. I had had a cold when I gave birth to Anna (it was February), and now she had the same cold. She could only breathe well if she was held upright; otherwise, she got congested, and coughed and sniffled. I held her upright all the time, for two weeks until she felt better. At that point, though, we were at Day 3 (or 4).

I was holding Anna against my chest, all seven pounds, eight ounces of her. Three years later, I can still almost feel her soft, newborn cheek against my chin.

Stanton walked into the nursery. He asked how I was.

I remember telling him, “I’m so happy.”

I remember that because it’s not something I say very often (which you may find surprising). I say I’m grateful all the time. Another popular self-description is frazzled. But happy—despite my glass-half-full nature, I reserve happy for moments of joy. Deep, conscious-of-something-beautiful joy.

That child was (is) my something beautiful, just like her big sister.

Stanton stayed near the door, looking at us. I remember thinking he looked oddly serious. “What?” I asked.

“I’ll take care of you and the girls,” he said.

That was encouraging to hear, considering I had just given birth to our child. Nice to know he wasn’t plotting a midnight escape, three (or four) days postpartum. 😉

My memory of that night is being happy (though exhausted), and hearing Stanton recommit that he’d stick around.

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random—a motley crew of people, places, blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it moments. Walking a dog, Bing Bong, the hand of someone who loves you.

Lately, after both girls are asleep, Stanton and I have been watching Cheers reruns on Netflix. (Welcome to our cheesy life. 😉 ) Cheers may come across as unsophisticated for today’s sitcom standards (the laugh track! Rhea Perlman’s over-the-top Carla Tortelli! Coach!), but it’s sweet, classic.

I get this, Stanton said recently. A local place. People who know you, people who care.

Who wouldn’t want that? I agreed.

Although, thinking back now, some of us wouldn’t want that. Some of us may prefer living more anonymously, adventuring far and wide, footprints in the sand and memories as picturesque as postcards. I’ve been reading The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, and I love this line from it: “There was no perfect way to live” (page 302).

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random…

However each of us lives, whatever differences there may be among us, I do hope everyone has a good share of happy memories.

Crazy how our minds can speed along a train of thought, a far-reaching railroad track of time, history and memory. Books, TV shows, favorite places, milestones like the birth of a child…nighttime.

The end of the day, with dark outside and lamplight glow in, often offers us the ideal setting for honest conversation. No rush. Tired so that we don’t finesse language, but speak from the heart.

The end of the day is a last call of sorts, whether we’re toasting at a Cheers-like place, winding down the day (the adventures, or the minutiae), or snuggling a child to sleep. Tell me everything…be here next time.

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.

I Only Know What We Need for Today

Tuesday afternoon, two Tuesdays ago. I was picking up my younger daughter from preschool.

“Mommy!” Anna exclaimed, opening up her backpack to show me her latest arts and crafts projects. The paint on one of them was still a little wet; a feather was falling off another one.

“How about we look at everything at home?” I suggested, stuffing the masterpieces back in. Then I overheard some of the other moms talking about the upcoming field trip. “Field trip?” I repeated, looking up.

The moms smiled at me.

“What field trip?” I tried again, adding, “I may have missed a note…”

One of Anna’s preschool teachers shared with me that the next class (there were three classes left, before the end of her school year) would take place at a local lake. The kids would hike around the lake, playing “I Spy” as they looked for birds, fish and other wildlife. A picnic would happen afterwards—and every child needed a parent to accompany them.

(That would be me.)

Anna beamed at me. “I have my very own field trip, Mom!”

I smiled weakly. “Mm-hmm, I just found out,” I said. “Yay.”

“I may have missed a note…”

Because I had been planning to write, as I do when both girls are in school. I was thisclose to finishing a story, and submitting it to a magazine. I would just finish it a little later than hoped for, I told myself, as I buckled Anna into her car seat. No problem.

Thursday morning, the day of the field trip, arrived. Stanton had headed out the morning before for a business trip. So that morning was a little more hectic than usual, as I packed up everything Grace, my older daughter, needed for kindergarten that day and gathered everything Anna (and I) needed for our hike/picnic. Water bottles, sandwiches, hoodies…

“Anna, there’s going to be a horse named Anna for you to ride at your field trip,” Grace was saying.

“A horse! Named Anna?!”

I reached for my coffee. “Grace, stop lying to your sister.”

“…no horse?”

In other school news, Grace’s class had started an “alphabet countdown” for the remaining 26 days of the school year. A was for stuffed animal, B was for brain buster… I scanned the countdown sheet to see what today, C, was for.

Aha, there it was: C was for candy.

“I want candy too, Mom!” Anna said. “I want candy on my field trip!”

I began opening and shutting kitchen cabinets. “I don’t think we have any candy.” Maybe there was something leftover from Easter…

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“Mom.” Grace raised her eyebrows at me. “You always have chocolate.”

My daughter spoke the truth: my hidden stash of good-quality dark chocolate that I—judge me if you must—prefer not to share with my family. Stanton’s got his chips and salsa; the girls have snacks galore: ice cream, Teddy Grahams, pretzels and Nutella, Girl Scout Cookies (still)…and raw veggies and hummus, of course (of course we have healthy snacks too…). Just leave me my chocolate, people.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. I broke off some of my last dark chocolate bar (with caramel and sea salt—arguably the most satisfying flavor combination!) so that my beloved firstborn could participate in C Is for Candy Day.

Grace gave me a thumbs-up.

The three of us began filing outside. I was carrying a bunch of stuff, and some of it was falling from my arms.

At the same time, my retired neighbor was pulling out of her driveway. She smiled and waved through her window. I would bet a huge amount of money, friends, that she was thinking, I’m glad that’s not me—and I’m not a betting woman.

Anna and I dropped Grace off at her bus stop. Then I realized I had left the directions to the lake in the breakfast nook. “Ugh.”

“Just use Google Maps, Mom,” Grace said.

“You know…”

“I know you like directions on paper,” Grace acknowledged. (She knows me too well.) “But you can do it.”

I looked at Grace. Then I looked at Anna, who smiled at me. “You can take me to my field trip, Mom,” she encouraged. “You can!” Ah…our children’s blind faith in us. 

Grace’s bus pulled up.

“Mom, one more thing.” Grace tapped my arm. “What’s tomorrow?”

“What?”

“Today is C Is for Candy—what’s for tomorrow?”

I had no clue. “I only know what we need for today,” I said. “Bye, love you, have a great day!”

I would bet a huge amount of money, friends, that she was thinking, I’m glad that’s not me—and I’m not a betting woman.

As I made my way to the lake, Google Maps confirmed for me why I prefer to look at a map and plot out my own route beforehand. There was road construction on one street. Another street had become one-way only since the last time Google Maps checked. And now Google Maps was rerouting me onto a highway during morning rush hour. (I excel at what you might call small-town, wide-open-spaces driving.)

“Merge onto NY-85…” Great.

Meanwhile… “I have my very own field trip,” Anna sang in the back.

Anna and I did arrive safe and sound at her field trip, thankfully. We actually were the first ones there, which worked out wonderfully, because parallel parking is another skill I’m not particularly strong in…so I was able to pull right into a great parking spot. Hallelujah.

The two of us took in the beautiful nature around us as we waited for others to arrive. Anna slipped her little hand into my big one. “I love my field trip, Mom.”

“Awww, I love you, honey.”

Everything with Anna’s field trip ended up being OK—really nice, actually. Later that day, Grace informed me she loved my dark chocolate. She also mentioned that she was excited about Family Math and Science Night at her school the following day, Friday (which also happened to be D Is for Favorite Drink Day).

Family Math and Science Night… Right. I had almost forgotten about that.

The early childhood years are fun. 😉

On Friday evening, my neighbor friend texted me. We were walking over to the school together with our kids. Would 5:45 p.m. be a good time to meet up, or maybe too early? she asked. (The event started at 6.)

I looked around the kitchen. I was in the process of making dinner (not ready yet). The counters were covered in unopened mail, Shopkins and, randomly, our birth certificates (an identity thief’s jackpot, should one happen to wander into our home).

(I’ve been meaning to organize all our important documents, under which “birth certificates” fall, into a filing cabinet. I’m optimistic this will happen…sometime soon.)

Another text, this time from Stanton. I read this latest piece of information: “Home between 10 and 11. Sorry so late. Ferry delayed due to weather.”

Stanton was on Martha’s Vineyard for work.

“Mom! We’re hungry! And it’s Family Math and Science Night, MOM!”

Maybe one day I’ll be stranded on a secluded island somewhere.

“5:45 might be a teensy bit too early,” I confessed in my text back to my friend. She kindly understood. In the end, we all made it to Family Math and Science Night, and everyone had fun—all’s well that ends well.

As last week wrapped up, I realized what a, well, not-smooth week it had been. I discovered important information about my children’s lives at the last minute (if field trips and C Is for Candy Day fall under the universal definition of “important”—but let’s not split hairs 😉 ). I still haven’t submitted my story. I did move the birth certificates to the master bedroom, but a determined identity thief might still find them.

We also lost Bernelly and Harriet last week, you might remember.

Oh, and there are no secluded islands in my near future.

I was thinking, though, that our family did make it through the week, one day at a time. And I was thinking that there are times in our lives, maybe even whole seasons, where that’s the philosophy we simply must work with, or make work: “I only know what we need for today.”

No shame in “one day at a time.” Maybe it’s not as impressive as a “five-year plan,” or as profound as a “big-picture approach.” But “one day at a time” can get the job done.

Something I’m very conscious of is that no matter how harried life may seem sometimes, what I’m so lucky to have now—my family, all of us healthy and here together—is what I hoped for so much (prayed for, really) years ago.

…”one day at a time” can get the job done.

It is such a gift to have people in your life who love you, and whom you love too. Even when you’re winging it day to day. (Maybe especially when you’re winging it, and trying to stay on top of all the stuff.)

If you happen to be winging it for people you love…let me assure you you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who is. And although it may be hard to realize in the moment, you’re very lucky.

Cheers to TODAY.

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.