Before and After

“Before” and “after”—this is how I sometimes think about this year, 2020. Before mid-March, before the pandemic. And then after. Maybe you do too.

The before part was short, only two and a half months into the new year. After, though? More than five months later, we’re still in after.

The other day, I stood in a socially distanced checkout line at the Stewart’s off the Rail Trail. The girls and I had walked over for ice cream (them) and coffee (me).

Before the pandemic, I bought nearly all my to-go coffee at my favorite local coffee shop. I still do go there, but Stewart’s—a regional convenience store/gas station beloved for its ice cream selection—has become my other go-to caffeine fix.

That day, the girls relayed their requests to the friendly young woman we’ve come to know who works behind the counter: rainbow sherbet for Grace, mango dragon fruit sherbet for Anna. After she scooped their treats into kid-size cones, I asked her to please add a small coffee for me too.

“And,” I said, rifling through my wallet, “would you punch my Scoop Club card?”

No problem, the server replied. She punched two slots in my “Buy 10 ice creams, get the 11th one free” card. The girls were now three punches away from a free ice cream.

A slender, white-haired man with a dark blue bandana over his face was waiting behind me. He was very tanned, wore a T-shirt and jeans, and held a single bottle of—I think it was Diet Coke, but it may have been Coors Light. The label was gray, and I saw it for only a second, probably less. But he had just this one item, and so I said, “Thanks for being patient,” gesturing to my Scoop Club card, the girls’ two ice creams, etcetera.

He waved his hand. “Life’s too short to be in a rush.”

I smiled, although nobody saw because I, too, was wearing a face mask. I finished paying, said goodbye.

Life is too short. Some of us feel this more keenly than others. Age has something to do with it, experience too.

I always appreciate these kinds of chance moments of everyday wisdom.

Another day this week, I was in another line when another moment like this made me smile.

This time, I was at Customer Service in the grocery store. I showed the gentleman behind the counter my receipt from a previous visit, when I had accidentally been charged $13.89 instead of $6.50 for frozen pizza (pepperoni, in case you were wondering).

“I usually don’t do this, but that’s more than double the price, so…”

No problem, the man said, handing me seven dollars and some change.

I thanked him, then added, “Kind of embarrassing, right? I wasn’t overcharged for fruits or vegetables, but frozen pizza.”

The sides of his eyes crinkled, and I could tell he was smiling behind his face mask. “At least it was organic.”

I laughed. “Right.” I’m pretty sure my organic frozen pizza had the same long list of questionable ingredients ending in -ate and inclusive of “gum blend” as, say, DiGiorno or Tombstone.

But at least it was organic. 😉

I always appreciate these kinds of chance moments of everyday wisdom.

Almost every evening this summer, I’ve gone outside to our front flower bed to water our flowers. The time I’m usually there is about the same time my next-door neighbor goes outside to walk her dog. Thus, we’ve had fairly regular, off-the-cuff conversations and gotten to know each other better than before.

I realized, at some point this summer, how much I appreciate bumping into my neighbor at the end of the day. She’s nice; it’s nice to talk, to have human connection beyond my nuclear family that’s inside the house; it is, simply, a nice, new routine. It’s been a nice thing about “after.”

One evening recently, my neighbor said the flowers were looking good.

I thanked her, and added that I couldn’t believe how good they really did look—this was definitely the longest Stanton and I had ever kept plants of any kind alive.

“It makes me happy seeing you out here watering them,” my neighbor said. “I can tell they give you joy.”

I hadn’t thought of it quite like that, but I do feel a sense of satisfaction from my front flower bed. The joy, though—I think the joy comes from the human connection that surrounds the flowers. From my next-door neighbor whom I see when I water them each evening. From another neighbor who gave us pointers when we first planted them. From folks taking a walk and passing by, who also say the flowers are growing well.

To quote Mark Twain: “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.”

picnic-1208229_1920 (1)

Since March 13, I hadn’t made one new recipe. Not a one. I was feeling a little badly about this, especially when I kept seeing mouthwatering-looking photos of my friends’ food creations in my Facebook News Feed. It seemed as though all my friends were preparing amazing dinners for their families, and I was feeding my family…well, frozen pizza. For five months and counting.

Thus, inspired by social media-induced guilt, I headed over to my favorite local bookstore. They have a small though well-curated Cooking section, and I perused the cookbook titles. One cookbook was beautifully photographed, but I doubted I’d actually make the recipes. The other had accessible-looking recipes, but I wasn’t a big fan of its author (a Hollywood actress).

“Need any help?” the bookstore manager stopped to ask me.

“Agh, yes, please,” I replied. I explained what I was looking for: a cookbook of recipes I’d actually make, that my family would actually eat.

The manager suggested three ideas: anything by the Barefoot Contessa, “The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100” and “13×9: The Pan That Can.” Gratefully, I thanked her. (As easy as online shopping can be, you really can’t beat your local bookstore for personalized help like this, in my humble opinion.)

Ultimately, I ended up buying…”13×9: The Pan That Can.” Earlier this week, I made my first recipe from the book, Italian roast beef slider melts. And that night, four out of four Leddys were members of the Clean Plate Club.

That felt like a win, friends.

Thus, inspired by social media-induced guilt…

Before mid-March, I enjoyed chitchatting with people—anyone, everyone. Smile, say hello, get some good vibes flowing—why not, right? Why not be kind, be positive?

After, though… As the days and months have rolled along, and we’re still in the “after”… I find myself not simply enjoying but truly feeling the joy of so many quick, spontaneous conversations with friends, neighbors, people next to me in checkout lines.

All these encounters offer up a variety of things: cookbook recommendations, encouragement, everyday wisdom. More than anything, they remind us of our shared humanity, and our need for one another.

The white-haired man with the Diet Coke (or was it Coors Light?) was right: Life’s too short.

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.” —Mark Twain

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

What’s Still Here

I have two good friends whom I’ve known since elementary school. That would be more than 30 years now—a long time.

Both these women are on the “Favorites” list of my phone, along with my husband, parents and siblings. They grew up with me; joined in many a Minetola family game night at my parents’ house; not only came to my wedding, but were in it.

This past weekend, one of my buddies had a shower to celebrate her own upcoming wedding. It was in Pennsylvania, in our hometown. Beforehand, I worried that Pennsylvania might be added to New York’s COVID-19 list of restricted states. Thankfully, the Keystone State remained safe for travel; I was able to be there for my friend on her special day.

Sitting at a table at the outdoor gathering, catching up with my friend, seeing how happy she was—I was so happy to be there, friends. I was so happy to be there.

For many of us, this year of the pandemic has been one of loss. Loss of a routine, a job, health, safety and security, our sense of the world. We’ve lost time with people we love. We’ve lost track of time itself.

So much has been lost…and so much is still here too.

I saw that on Saturday. My good friend. Our thirty years of friendship: still here.

Memories we’ve shared—true, time has blurred the details some, but the things happened. We were there, together, for the things that happened. Thus, memories we’ve shared: also still here.

Still here, too, is another chance. If you’re reading this, that means you woke up. You have a new day, right in front of you. You get to choose how to approach it, what kind of energy to put into it. Choose Your Own Adventure, just like we did with those books back in the ’80s (there I go, showing my age again).

…so much is still here

On Sunday morning, Stanton, the girls and I sat with my mom, dad, brothers and sister around my parents’ breakfast table. My brother Jared made his delicious French toast. The last time he made it for all of us was Christmastime, the last time we were all together. Then, he crushed candy canes on top as the finishing touch—mmmm.

Grace and Anna asked if there would be candy canes. Not this time, Jared replied. But at Christmas—always at Christmas.

Earlier that morning, I had gone for a walk with my dad and sister. Coincidentally, Jared drove by the three of us on his way back to my parents’ house from the grocery store (where he’d gone for the French toast ingredients).

I know it’s a really little thing, but I loved seeing Jared driving back. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it was awesome to spontaneously see him on a Sunday morning. Of course, he made fun of the T-shirt I was wearing for my daybreak exercise (it said “Life Is Good” and had a pink heart—it’s OK, you can make fun of me too), but that’s what brothers (or at least, Jareds) do.

My dad, meanwhile, was wearing a T-shirt he’s had since he coached middle school basketball…which he hasn’t in decades. It’s a white T-shirt that has a picture of a basketball on the left pocket, along with—my favorite part—”Coach Minetola.”

I couldn’t believe he still had this T-shirt, but it made me smile. It was familiar, it was comforting, it was my Dad.

And it was my family, gathered around my parents’ table on Sunday morning. I so appreciated the ability to have a casual, natural, non-Zoom conversation with all of them, for a change.

I’m not knocking Zoom, at all. I appreciate what Zoom does to enable human connection. The person I am, though—maybe the person you are, too—if given the choice, I love the energy of being together: same room, same table, same platter of French toast.

people-2569234_1920

The girls go back to school soon. The COVID-19 infection rate here is below 1 percent, which is wonderful, especially compared to the spring. Our school district is offering elementary school students the choice between in-person or remote learning.

I struggled with this decision, friends. It would have been an easier decision if the infection rate was more than the state guideline of 5 percent, or if those in leadership roles here weren’t acting conscientiously. I easily could have leaned toward remote learning.

But it seems that New York has the virus spread under control, currently. And based on my understanding, our school district has developed a detailed, thoughtful reopening plan. Last but not least…the girls really want to go back to school, as in a school building. They want that energy of being together.

So that’s the plan. It’s not a perfect plan. The girls will need to wear face masks almost the entire time they’re at school. They’ll need to stay at their own desks, spaced six feet apart from those around them, for much of the day. I understand why all these safety measures need to happen, I completely understand, and at the same time, I hope everyone will be OK, students and teachers alike, in these different (difficult) circumstances.

What families figure out to do this school year is a deeply personal and often unsettling choice. I’m very conscious that everyone is making the decision that feels best for them and their child(ren). I also know that if one or both of my daughters happens to get sick at school, I’m going to feel terrible, and terribly guilty. There are no easy answers here, and certainly no best one.

They want that energy of being together.

To get ready for the school year, I’ve been going through the girls’ clothes. Figuring out what still fits (and gets worn), what of Grace’s to save for Anna, what to donate.

I’ve also been going through the girls’ closets. They each have a big, wide walk-in closet, and each closet is…a…disaster zone. I ran over to Walmart one morning and bought a bunch of see-through storage containers.

Stealthily, I’ve been filling the containers with the majority of the mess of stuff from the closets—various stuffed animals, games we don’t play much, hundreds and hundreds of random, mismatched pieces of Calico Critters, Shopkins, Magna-Tiles, Mr. Potato Head, LEGO’s… I’ve just been stuffing it all in, friends, and then lugging these containers down to the basement to…well, hide indefinitely. Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m hopeful this will help keep the girls’ closets and rooms less disaster-zone-like.

Something the girls don’t need is new clothes. They have plenty of those. Still, the three of us sat down together and picked out new first-day-of-school outfits (online).

The girls’ first few days of school will be virtual, actually. Still, the first day of school is something special. A new milestone, cause to take note of and celebrate. In Anna’s case, it’s her first day of kindergarten. (My baby!) Thus, we picked out official first-day-of-school outfits.

Things may be different this school year, but they still can be wonderful. They still can be celebrated.

Things may be different … but they still can be wonderful.

One of my favorite books is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. I have it here next to me as I’m typing now, sitting at the kitchen countertop with my second (reheated) cup of coffee of the morning. I imagine this isn’t an especially prestigious title to put on a pedestal, and if any of my former English professors or fellow magazine editors read this, then I imagine, too, they might shake their head.

What about Jane Austen, Homer, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hemingway? Yes, I’ve read the “great” literature, and yes, it’s great. But this little book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”—it moves me. It moves me, friends.

Anna’s starting kindergarten, as you know, and I think about what she’ll learn this year, what will stick with her as she moves through her school years, through her life. I wonder if she’ll have memories of face masks, and desks six feet apart, and social distancing. I hope she’ll learn, as Robert Fulghum writes in his book, some of the “[w]isdom … there in the sandpile”: ” … Play fair … Live a balanced life … LOOK.”

As he wraps up his book, Fulghum notes, “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives … Good people who are always ‘there,’ who can be relied upon … You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

I’ve been lucky to have good people in my life. Friends I’ve known since I was 6 years old; friends since then who are also dear to me; family who have been beside me the whole time. Every one of them has uplifted me in some way, has meant something, and I hope I’ve returned the favor a time or two myself.

You are more important than you think.

LOOK at what’s still here.

Take care and be well. ❤

“Something that is loved is never lost.” —Toni Morrison, “Beloved”

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

What I Mostly Wanted to Say

Aah, August. Hot, sticky, sunny, buggy—what’s not to love? The thing is, my older daughter’s birthday is in August, so for that reason—and that reason only, friends—it’s one of my favorite times of the year.

We recently celebrated Grace’s ninth birthday. Nine. It went fast, just like everybody said it would.

Occasionally, everybody is right.

Our original birthday celebration plan, to be at the beach, was canceled (here’s looking at you, COVID-19). Thus, Grace and I (with an assist from Anna, per usual) developed a Plan B: to celebrate by dropping off birthday treats and goodie bags at friends’ homes. I didn’t want to be in the car all day, so I asked Grace to pick just a few buddies.

Next, we noodled over a theme for the goodie bags. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: My daughters love party themes. Their final answer was…ice cream. Yum.

I ordered pink goodie bags depicting ice cream cones, lollipops, doughnuts, cupcakes, slices of cake—all sorts of cavity-inducing heaven. Then we needed to fill the goodie bags. A quick search revealed that ice cream-shaped erasers were in stock. Perfect; “Add to Cart.”

We also found a multipack of a mini activity book entitled “Sweets!” I can’t resist a book with an exclamation point in its title—”Add to Cart,” along with a multipack of Play-Doh. Because everybody loves Play-Doh, as Grace noted.

The girls and I agreed that it wouldn’t work to give actual ice cream as the birthday treat, so we settled on sugar cookies with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

Before lunchtime on Grace’s birthday, the girls and I packed the goodie bags into the car (leaving Stanton behind to make bacon cheeseburgers). We stopped by everyone’s houses. Beforehand, I had said not to worry about presents, that simply seeing friends would be a huge gift—but still, folks surprised Grace with incredibly thoughtful signs, balloons and gifts.

All these kindnesses moved me, and Grace. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” we said.

This was her sweetest birthday, Grace and I agreed afterward. Sweet, with exclamation points to infinity.

Perfect; “Add to Cart.”

The next day, Grace called my mom. Grace wanted to thank her for the birthday present she had sent. I was in another room, but I overheard Grace’s end of the conversation and could tell she was answering questions my mom was asking: the goodie bags, her friends, the whole day.

Then I heard Grace pause and say, “What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.”

I poked my head into the room. Grace looked over at me; I patted my heart. Grace smiled.

Sometimes, things strike you. However you feel comfortable describing it—touch your heart, move you, wake you up—I think you know what I mean, and I’m sure you know it when it happens to you.

“What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.”

girl-1357485_1920

My grandmother’s birthday falls earlier in the summer. Like many nursing homes, the one she’s at doesn’t allow visitors, so I didn’t see her on her birthday. That day, I called her room, but nobody answered.

I left a message. I don’t remember exactly everything I said, but I know I talked loudly so that Grandma could hear me. I also know, in the beginning, I said, “Hey, Grandma, it’s Melissa—Happy Birthday, I love you!”

I repeated that at the end, too: “I love you!”

I tried to make my voice sound happy, with an exclamation point and everything, but my voice broke at the end. I had started to cry because I didn’t know (and still don’t know) when I’ll see my Grandma again.

But I wanted to say, “I love you.” It was what I mostly wanted to say, so I said it twice, at the beginning and end.

Funny how the critical messages we want to leave with people, the words we feel compelled to convey, are some of the simplest, most common expressions in languages around the world.

Thank you. I love you. Hey, it’s me!

…so I said it twice, at the beginning and end.

I’m a spiritual person, but a lazy one. I feel badly about that, but like some other things I feel badly about…I don’t actually do anything about it. Maybe one day.

The night of Grace’s birthday, and the night after, I lay down with my daughters before they went to sleep. I often do this, squished in between them in Grace’s bed. Since the pandemic, they’ve been having regular sleepovers.

I lay there, the ceiling fan whirring overheard, the night light glowing near the dresser. I try to treat the girls equally, no favoritism, so I put my left hand on Grace’s leg (she was on my left) and my right hand on Anna’s.

The night of Grace’s birthday, Grace told me she loved the day. “Thanks, Mom.”

“No worries,” I replied.

The next night, after having a quiet day to take a breath and recover from the goodie bag deliveries and last-minute present wrapping, I lay there again. And I lay there longer than usual, reflecting on how time just keeps moving and just so appreciating, in that moment, being cozy with my daughters, the most precious parts of my life (even when they drive me crazy, even when life is crazy). I patted Grace’s leg, and squeezed Anna’s hand.

Through the dark, Anna whispered, “I love you.” It’s a beautiful thing for a child to say, unprompted.

It was another of those wake you up/move you/touch your heart moments. “I love you too,” I whispered back.

I closed my eyes. I felt a tear roll down my face. I felt love.

I wanted to say a little prayer, but it had been a long time since I’d prayed.

I know only a handful of prayers by heart, and I’m not much for formal theology anyway. I tried, though. I kept my eyes closed, still holding my girls.

What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Shaving Is Optional

I clipped a yellow plastic barrette—one of my daughters’, somehow found in my bathroom—into my hair, above my forehead. Leaning over the sink, I squinted into the mirror. I am nearly blind without my glasses, but I had set them on the countertop so that I could wax my eyebrows.

DIY facial hair removal while visually impaired, using hot wax: I suspect there’s an advisory or helpful hint against this somewhere.

😉

My “Jungle Book”-esque eyebrows were driving me crazy, though, and I had to take care of business, plain and simple. Again, I leaned over the sink. Yep, time for some much-needed personal grooming. This time, I closed my right eye. With my right hand, I raised the wax strip in my hand to my right eyebrow. Carefully, I pressed it against my skin.

I’ve been waxing my own eyebrows for years now, and the key is carefulness. Just be careful, precise, patient. Oh, and do it in a quiet setting.

After a moment, when I felt I’d shaped my eyebrow the way I liked, I got ready to pull the wax strip back, got ready to rip the stray hairs from my skin. This is the part where you don’t want to make a mistake, lest you lose your whole eyebrow (or eyeball). One, two…

“Mom!”

Oh. My. GOD. My right eye blinked open. I felt some eyelashes begin sticking to the wax strip above. Nooo.

“Mom!” Now my 5-year-old was tugging on my T-shirt. “I need a Band-Aid, Mom!”

Gingerly, I closed my right eye, again, and tugged the wax strip away. Rrrippp.

“Mom!”

I exhaled. “Anna.” I didn’t need 20/20 vision to look and see that, more likely than not, my younger daughter had yet another imaginary injury that required a Band-Aid.

I was, however, curious about the appearance of the right side of my face.

A little scared, I glanced in the mirror. Just as quickly, I breathed, relieved. Thank goodness: The interrupted home wax job had turned out…not terribly.

“Mom.” Now Anna was frowning at me. “That’s my barrette.”

I frowned back. “You must have been able to see I was in the middle of something. Why didn’t you ask Dad for help?”

“Because I want you, Mom. Something inside me wanted you.” Anna beamed.

Sigh.

This is the part where you don’t want to make a mistake…

The pandemic has compelled us to spend lots of time with some people (the ones we live with) and not as much with others (those we don’t). Still, something that has struck me is I believe, during the past four and a half months, I’ve talked on the phone with my siblings, mom and mother-in-law, and oldest friends more now than ever before. I still feel very close to all these people, even when we aren’t physically close together, and I’m very grateful for that.

Interestingly, some of these phone conversations have lent themselves to writing inspiration. For example, my sister and I were recently discussing our shared love for that favorite of summer picnic staples: potato salad.

“I freaking love potato salad,” Jenna said.

I laughed, and wholeheartedly agreed. Then I mused, “That might be a fun title for a blog post. ‘I Freaking Love Potato Salad.'”

It would be fun, Jenna said…but what would it be about?

A good question. Perhaps “I Freaking Love Potato Salad” was best left as a quarantine quotable.

Another time, I speed-dialed my dear friend Kate. My timing excellent as always, I had called right as she was about to jump in the shower. We caught up quickly, but I understand how important personal grooming is, especially when you have young children, which Kate also does.

“Go take a shower, and we’ll talk another time,” I said. Then I added jokingly (but not really), “Shaving is optional.”

Kate laughed. And I thought, now that might be a fun blog post title too. Personal grooming, the impact of kids on time for showers and such, family life during a pandemic.

bathroom-2460377_1920

Last week, Stanton needed to be in Lake Placid for work.

“Take us with you,” Grace, Anna and I begged. We had been nowhere but our backyard since Christmas, our Rhode Island beach vacation had been canceled, and we wanted to go somewhere (anywhere!).

Stanton took us with him.

This was my first time in Lake Placid, and the Adirondacks. What a breathtakingly beautiful place, and wonderfully welcome change of scenery. I so appreciated sitting on the lake beach with the girls, swimming with them in the surprisingly warm water, walking along the quaint Main Street together.

However…I wouldn’t call this time away from home a bona fide vacation. No, friends, this was a trip. As delightful as this break in routine was, it was undeniably a trip.

For starters, Stanton was working almost the whole time. Now, I’m not complaining, at all…but I am saying, you know you’re on a trip, not a vacation, when you as the sole parent haul a red Radio Flyer wagon (overflowing with towels; a sand bucket set; and cooler stuffed with graham crackers, juice boxes and Lunchables) to the beach, while instructing your children to hold hands and maintain six feet of distance between themselves and anyone else they may see. Because, that’s right, there’s a global, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Yeah…that’s about the time you know you’re on a trip.

😉

Another clue that you’re on a trip, not a vacation, is when you hear yourself telling people (in my case, my daughters), “This is fun, isn’t it? Isn’t this just the sweetest time together?”

In my case, I said these words as I was pushing Anna in her stroller around picturesque Mirror Lake, with Grace trailing behind us.

“I want to go swimming, Mom,” Grace said.

“It’s 8:30 a.m., honey.” I kept pushing the stroller. “The lifeguards aren’t there yet.”

Anna popped her arm out. “I need a snack, Mom.”

I had snacks, of course. Of course I had snacks, even though we had just eaten breakfast. I passed Anna a GoGo squeeZ.

(Hint: If you packed a) applesauce pouches, b) a stroller or c) both applesauce pouches and a stroller, then you probably are on a trip, not a vacation.)

“Can we turn around, Mom?”

“Grace, come on.” I gestured around. “Let’s enjoy this beautiful morning walk. Ooh, look, aren’t those red berries pretty?”

Grace glanced at them. “Those are poisonous.”

I half-laughed, half-cried. “Come on,” I pleaded. “This is fun.”

…that’s about the time you know you’re on a trip.

During our Lake Placid break, the girls slept in the upstairs loft of our suite, while Stanton and I were on the lower level. Stanton and I so appreciated having some time, at the end of each day, to talk, share a bottle of wine…and watch “Friends” reruns on TV. Does it get any more romantic than that, may I ask?

The truth is, I love those little things of talking, drinking red blends and watching TV with my husband. They’re cozy, comforting, sensual in their own way.

Grace’s ninth birthday is coming up, and Stanton and I marveled at how nine years have already gone by. I remembered when Grace was a newborn, how totally overwhelmed I was as a first-time mom. Looking back now, years later, I still feel pangs of guilt over things I could have done differently/better.

Nine years later, I’m still no candidate for Mom of the Year Award, but… “I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along,” I told Stanton.

“Most people do,” he said.

We squeezed hands.

“I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along…”

Hindsight is 20/20…even when you take your glasses off so that you can wax your eyebrows before your 5-year-old barges into the bathroom.

Most of us, I like to think, do the best we can at each moment in time, especially when we’re doing things for our family. I also think most of us—most moms, anyway, most women—are too hard on ourselves. We probably should cut ourselves some slack.

The older I’ve gotten, though, the less inclined I’ve become to give hard-and-fast advice. Because the more I experience of life, of the world, the more I sense there are more questions than answers, more shades of gray than moments of black or white. The less inclined I’ve become to give advice, and the more interested I am in listening to others’ stories too.

Yet there are a few things I feel fairly certain of.

1.) Lock the door to the bathroom…especially in your own home.

2.) Call your parents. Call your siblings. Call your oldest and dearest friends. If you’re lucky enough to have any of these people in your life…now is a good time to call them.

3.) Put the phone down. Go outside. You’ll feel better.

4.) Maybe it’s a trip, not a vacation, but there will be good memories to hold onto.

5.) When there are 1 million new TV shows to choose from and you can’t decide which to waste the last 30 minutes of your day on…there’s no shame in watching the same “Friends” rerun you’ve already seen several times before. You know, “The One With..”

6.) Shaving is optional.

Shaving is always optional.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Thank You for Continuing to Hold

The water streaming out of the faucet whooshed as I washed a cutting board, then a fry pan, in the sink. Sitting nearby on a stool, Grace tapped her fingers against the kitchen countertop. Through the open window above the countertop, an afternoon breeze drifted in.

Every couple of minutes, a robotic female voice interspersed these sounds of water, rhythm and wind to say, “Thank you for continuing to hold. All of our agents are still assisting other callers. Please remain on the line, and your call will be answered in the order it was received.”

Two hours earlier, I had called Gap Customer Service. After the first few minutes on hold, I set my phone down, on speaker, while I put away laundry, played outside with the girls and now washed dishes back inside.

“Mom,” Grace groaned as I reached for the ice cream scoop, “that is so annoying.”

I shrugged. At this point, the automated message had become background noise.

“And,” Grace added, “I don’t think anyone is ever going to answer.”

If you call Customer Service, someone has to answer, eventually…right?

“No, I don’t think anyone will,” Grace said.

Huh. The eternal optimist in me paused for a moment of doubt.

…someone has to answer, eventually…right?

A month ago, I ordered some things for the girls: swimsuits, socks and face masks. The most important things were the face masks. And the only things that hadn’t yet arrived from the order were, yes, the face masks.

Two hours (and a few minutes) previously, I had checked the online tracking for the last remaining package, the face masks. The tracking noted “Shipment Acceptance at Post Office” in our town on July 7. Now it was July 15, Wednesday. The post office is 1 mile from our house. Where was the package?

I called the post office. A gentleman named Jack answered. I explained the situation, read off the tracking number. Over the phone, I heard Jack typing.

“Uh-huh,” he finally said, “the package was here. But it fell off the pallet, probably.”

“So is it, like, there on the floor?” I wondered. “Could you look for it?”

Jack laughed. “No, it’s not here anymore.”

“OK, ha, ha,” I said, trying to laugh too, “where could it be, then?”

Jack recommended I call Gap, which I did…two hours ago.

“Mom,” Grace said again, “just hang up. You’ve been waiting forever.”

Two hours in, though, friends, I was committed. I was committed to this call. Idris Elba himself could have been trying to reach me, and I would have clicked “Decline” just to keep my open line to Gap Customer Service.

(Next time, Idris.)

birds-1601101_1920

There is, however, a fine line between committed and crazy. With my phone registering 2:07:14 for length of the call, I…hung…up.

“Anna and I already have face masks,” Grace said, trying to reassure me.

But it would be helpful to have backup pairs, right?

During the past four months, I’ve bought things I never thought about before—hello, face masks!—and done things equally out of the ordinary for myself. For example…gardening.

We have a flower bed in our front yard. In early summer, Stanton and the girls planted flowers here. It was a dad-and-daughters project.

First, Stanton went to Lowe’s and bought seeds and seedling starter trays. He and the girls planted the seeds in the trays, watered them regularly. They even transplanted them into egg cartons for reasons I didn’t pay attention to—a tip they’d read somewhere.

At last, The Three Musketeers transferred the meticulously-cared-for, starting-to-sprout flowers into the flower bed…and watered, but never weeded, them.

This past weekend, I realized how wild the flower bed looked. I also thought about how lovely many of our neighbors’ gardens’ looked. Thus, in a moment of Keeping Up With the Joneses Syndrome, I bent down and tore out bunches of weeds. The flower bed still looked wild, but less so.

The next few evenings, I returned to our front flower bed, gardening gloves on, and continued to pull out weeds. As of last night, you could see almost all the dirt in the flower bed. No longer was it one horizontal plot of alternating shades of green—stems and weeds.

I enjoyed the peace that weeding the garden provided, and seeing the result of my work, but long term, I’m probably not going to be much of a gardener. Also long term, I’ll encourage Stanton and the girls to do their own weeding. 😉

But I did totally appreciate the opportunity to try gardening. I can understand why people love it. Working with the earth; dirt, seed and water; creating something beautiful.

It’s a beautiful thing to hold something in your hand, nurture it, watch it grow.

There is, however, a fine line between committed and crazy.

The pandemic has compelled lots of handiwork that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Gardening, for one. DIY home-improvement projects.

(On that subject, let me just say I am officially done rearranging furniture in my house. I simply don’t have it in me to move one more bookshelf from one side of the room to the other in the name of optimal feng shui.)

Puzzles. I have jumped on the puzzles bandwagon, friends.

In the past few months, Stanton, the girls and I finished a 1,000-piece doughnuts puzzle; 500-piece three-toed sloth puzzle (the girls chose this one—thank you, National Geographic); 100-piece butterflies and Dog Man puzzles (also the girls); and 500-piece Nancy Drew Mystery Stories puzzle (my pick!). Currently, we have a 500-piece “Crazy Quilts” puzzle that’s nearing the finish line on our dining room table, plus a 200-piece “Frozen” puzzle that Anna just started.

Never before in my life have I spent this much discretionary income on puzzles.

Cooking and baking. My Facebook News Feed is full of pictures of friends’ and family members’ latest stovetop, oven and grill creations, as well as backyard summer harvest successes. Everything looks fantastic…and makes me feel a little sorry for my own family.

Since March 13, I have not made one new recipe. We’ve just been eating the same old same old. The cooking and baking bug simply didn’t bite this girl.

One new food thing I did is start buying these Hatfield pork loin filets. We like the Savory Brown Sugar and Texas Smokehouse BBQ flavors.

Sewing projects. And the most popular DIY sewing projects? Mm-hmm, I’d guess face masks too.

So, about my face masks…

The pandemic has compelled lots of handiwork that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Yesterday morning, I called Gap Customer Service again. Again, I was on hold. And again, I set my phone down on speaker while I made breakfast, drank multiple cups of coffee, cleaned up breakfast.

“Thank you for continuing to hold…”

About 40 minutes into the call, a human voice—a real person—broke through the automated messaging. “Hi, this is Kiana, how can I help you?”

I grabbed my phone. “Hello, hello, yes, thank you so much!” A real person!

“Yes, how can I help you?” Kiana repeated.

I explained about my order, the last remaining package and Jack’s guess that “it fell off the pallet.” “Do you have any idea where it might be?”

On the other end of the line, Kiana figured out, in approximately 30 seconds, that the package was en route. “You’ll get it in the next day or two.”

“OK, now I just want to make sure—because I’ve been on hold a lot, and I understand it’s a crazy time, no worries, but since I have you on the line—you’re telling me my package will be here, for sure, sometime soon?”

“Yes, it’s on the way,” Kiana assured me.

I breathed a sigh of…I really think it was joy, friends. Joy not because the girls’ face masks were actually coming, but because I was no longer on hold.

I thanked Kiana, and we hung up. I told the girls about the call.

“Wow,” Grace said. “Gap answered the phone.”

Two tries and a total of nearly two hours and 50 minutes later…yes, yes, they did. They answered the phone.

As the day went on, I thought about the many acts of holding. Being on hold, whether with a customer service call or the current situation worldwide. Holding out hope, holding down the fort, holding it together.

Life happens in the holding, I realized.

When we’re young, we learn to hold hands—our parents’, our siblings’, our friends’. “Hold hands and stick together,” we hear. We get our first bike, and we hold on. Then we go out into the world—college, work, whatever—and we do our best to hold our own.

When we’re old, or maybe not old but not well, and unable to do all the things we usually do…we can still hold the hands of the ones we love, the ones who have always been there.

Whether it’s exciting or boring or once-in-a-lifetime beautiful…life happens in the holding.

Thank you for continuing to hold.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Almost Normal

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

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

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

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

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

Face masks have become part of the “things…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It felt like a win, friends. #littlethings

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

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

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

Next, the woman asked my occupation.

I paused. “Hmm…”

“Homemaker, or unemployed?” she helpfully suggested.

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

“OK, so…”

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

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

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

Are those the only two options? I wondered.

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

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

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

Grace said it was OK.

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

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

😉

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

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

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

donut-1761520_1920

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

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

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

She smiled and told us to enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be together. To be there.

Cheers to TODAY.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Were You Ever This Far?

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

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

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

I laughed lightly. “Really, Grace?”

Grace set her pencil down. “Yep.”

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

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

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

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

Still, I hold out hope for brighter days ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

adult-1807500_1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I never was. And I loved it.

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

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

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

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

The extra time, and the bike rides.

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

First It Was Toilet Paper, Now It’s Trampolines

Sunshine, bug spray, a socially distant picnic at a local creek. Memorial Day came and went, the unofficial start to summer.

I remember how, earlier this year, I began looking into assorted summer camps, trying to plot out a fun June, July and August for my two daughters. I had already registered them for a performing arts camp, and had made “notes to self” to sign them up for basketball camp and Vacation Bible School, too, once those registrations opened.

And what summer vacation would be complete without a beach trip? Stanton had prepaid for a beach house rental in a postcard-perfect oceanfront New England town, to coincide with Grace’s birthday in August.

“I can’t wait to turn nine at the beach,” Grace had said.

The ongoing pandemic, as you can imagine, has turned our summer plans upside down, and probably yours as well, friends.

The most disheartening update, for Stanton and me, was learning that our beach house reservation needed to be canceled. We’re grownups, so we can roll with the punches, but we hated disappointing the girls.

Grace amazed me by taking the news of the called-off birthday beach trip in stride. When I told her, Grace opened her eyes wide, in disbelief, then paused—considered—and said, “It’s OK. I’ll still have a good birthday.”

I almost cried as I bear-hugged Grace. I was so happy and thankful to hear her say this. Because life usually doesn’t unfold as we perfectly planned it to, does it? It takes a measure of maturity and perspective to power through the rainy days (and weeks, and months…), and it’s never too early to begin building up this inner strength.

summerfield-336672_1920

Just as Grace was determined to still have a good birthday, I was determined we’d still have a good summer. I kicked my currently-on-hold research skills into high gear and began Googling at-home summer-fun ideas. Gardening, sidewalk chalk, mud-pie-making…

“Can we get a trampoline, Mom?” the girls asked.

I hesitated to say yes. I worried about the girls’ getting hurt while bouncing around. Still, I looked into different trampolines, read other parents’ reviews as well as Consumer Reports. Finally, my eyes bleary one evening, I felt I had a good option for a trampoline. I’d sleep on it and make a final decision in the morning.

Rise and shine. I poured myself some coffee, clicked on the link to my trampoline, and…a new message appeared on my computer screen: “Product Not Available.”

What?

I refreshed the page, as if that would make a difference. It didn’t. Product still not available, two seconds later.

I clicked through trampoline links on other websites, and variations of the same message appeared everywhere. Currently unavailable. Temporarily out of stock. Arrives sometime between July 15 and October 31. 

Now, a few trampolines were available to sell and ship immediately, but these usually featured one-star ratings, price tags north of $1,000 and/or customer reviews that warned, “This is a scam website, DO NOT BUY.”

Grace’s jaw dropped. “First it was toilet paper, now it’s trampolines.”

I had to admit, that seemed to be true.

Anna crossed her arms. “When will this stinky coronavirus be over?” A million-dollar question.

I breathed in. Breathed out. “Girls, I promise, everything’s going to be OK.”

This time, Grace and Anna didn’t look so sure.

But if you say something enough times, maybe it will come true, right? 😉

…variations of the same message appeared everywhere. Currently unavailable. Temporarily out of stock…

Trampolines were out, at least for the time being. I began noodling over other ideas for backyard summer fun. Sandbox? Camping tent? Inflatable pool?

Why, yes…an inflatable pool sounded like a good idea. The word on the street was that local pools wouldn’t be opening this summer, or would be opening at reduced capacities on a first-come, first-served basis. I don’t have a talent for arriving first, or early, so having our own pool of sorts made sense.

Click, click, click. I did quick online searches at all the usual suspects: Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dick’s, Lowe’s.

“Mel…what are you doing?” Stanton wondered. I must have had an intent (or, crazed…) look about me.

“Finding a pool,” I said. “We have to get one right now, before they sell out. Summer fun is selling out, Stan.”

Stanton didn’t share my sense of urgency, but signaled his support.

About a week later, our pool arrived.

The girls cheered as the delivery man walked toward our front porch, a cardboard box under his arm. “That’s our pool!” they said.

He was an older gentleman, and he laughed. “That’s great,” he replied. “No more running through the sprinkler, right?”

The girls actually had been running through the sprinkler just a few days before, and I told him so. “You made our day, really,” I said.

“Good. Have fun, girls,” he said before he drove away.

Summer fun is selling out…

Now, setting up the pool…it was a process, friends. Of course it was a process.

First, Stanton had to level the backyard where we were putting the pool. We had decided on this particular spot because it gets direct sunlight from late morning until early evening, which would keep the water a comfortable temperature.

Then we had to lay out the new heavy-duty tarp I had also ordered online. Next step: Inflate the pool with the pump from the air mattress currently collecting dust in the basement.

Yours truly dug through the dust to find the pump. Check.

The girls clapped. “Woo-hoo, let’s fill it up!”

I dragged the hose across the driveway to the backyard, to the pool. At this point, Stanton’s and my T-shirts were drenched in sweat.

Then…a glitch.

In my haste in ordering the pool, I hadn’t read the entire product description. If I had, then I would have known the pool had a “max fill” line. The max fill line, friends, is about the midpoint of the pool.

I gazed at our new, half-full but max-filled inflatable pool. Was this even going to be fun?

“Mom!” The girls had thrown on their swimsuits hours earlier, and were now splashing around in the water. “This is the best, Mom!”

I collapsed in a chair. Thank God.

Of course it was a process.

Every afternoon this week, Grace and Anna have spent hours in the backyard, in the pool. It has been even nicer than what I imagined, back when I was furiously researching summer-fun ideas.

The girls keep calling for me to come in too. I keep calling back that I’m totally fine sitting nearby in the shade, doing what writing I can while reapplying sunscreen and dashing back into the house to fulfill snack requests. (“Do we have any more of that unicorn confetti ice cream, Mom?”)

The truth is, kids don’t really need that much in order to have a good time. We don’t need that much, in general. Having a good time isn’t always the point, anyway. Sometimes we simply have to do things, or get through things, out of responsibility, morality, humanity.

The other day, I noticed a batch of yellow flowers near the pool. Buttercups. I squatted down to get a better look, and smiled. I remembered, so clearly, seeing this same kind of flower (weed, technically) in backyards when I was growing up: my parents’, and my grandparents’.

I also remembered, as a child, rubbing the silky petals of those long-ago buttercups against my skin, watching to see if real butter would spread off. I believe I was standing beside my Grandma then, but I don’t know for sure.

I remember my grandparents’ backyard: the buttercups, the freestanding wooden swing they had in the shade, Poppy’s tomato plants on stakes alongside the garage.

What I would give for one more walk with my Poppy from the back porch steps to his tomato plants, or to sit beside my Grandma in her nursing home today.

And of all the things in the world we could talk about—from the stories that make global headlines to the big questions philosophers have been considering for generations—I know all we would talk about would be our family, probably Grace and Anna most of all. That would be all, and that would be everything.

Currently, we do not have a trampoline. We do, however, have toilet paper. We also have a half-full, though max-filled, inflatable pool. We have good days, and bad days too.

We have one another, and we’re going to have a good summer no matter what.

I hope you do too, friends. ❤

(P.S. Thank you, Grace, for the blog post title, and for being the inspiration for the whole post. I love you.)

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Is This Really as Good as It Gets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right-o. I sighed.

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

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

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

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

Talk about ambiance.

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

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

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

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

“Now what do we do, Mom?”

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

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

brush-96240_1920

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

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

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

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

I gave her a hug. “Thanks, honey.”

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

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

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

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

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

Later, though. Definitely later, friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

A Place to Eat Chocolate, Alone (Sometimes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My new nook: complete.

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

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

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

IMG_2274

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you!” was the reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled back. “Good. Me too.”

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

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

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.