On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

This Is the Part Where You Save the Day (Again)

A couple of Friday nights every month, Stanton, the girls and I have Family Movie Night. We borrow this cozy idea from friends of ours, who do it with their own three children. Probably other families (maybe yours?) have made it a tradition in their homes too.

One Friday recently, the four of us settled in together on the couch and turned on “Frozen.” The girls have watched the Nordic-inspired story many times before; Stanton and I haven’t seen it that much, but we pretty much can harmonize on “Let It Go” by heart. Still, it’s a good movie, and we didn’t mind watching it again.

At one point in “Frozen,” (our) Anna smiled and said, “This is the part I love.” The part, of course, was when Elsa hugs an ice-cold Anna, and the sisters’ love for each other saves them both—and saves the day for everybody.

“‘This is the part I love'” made me smile. Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Sometimes Grace will tell me how much she likes different teachers at her school, some of whom she hasn’t had yet. I’ll ask why. Every time, she’ll reply, “They know me.”

To be known—it’s a beautiful thing.

Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Many a weekday morning, I hustle Grace outside, my hair still wet from my shower, and watch as she walks down the block to the bus stop. I wait in our yard until I see her get on the bus. Anna, meanwhile, often is tapping on the front bay window from inside, saying she’s hungry for a second breakfast before her school starts, 30 minutes later.

Approximately 9 a.m., Monday through Friday: always a fun time.

I bump into various neighbors almost every morning around this time. Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet, yelling for your younger daughter to just get an apple, or a cheese stick, or “Fine, leftover Halloween candy is fine!” from the kitchen while watching down the block to confirm that your older daughter has safely boarded the school bus.

For better or worse, there are a handful of people on this earth who really know me. 😉

Once I said to one of these people, “For the record, I realize I look crazy every morning.”

“I’m not judging you if you’re not judging me,” he replied, which struck me as both kind and wise.

Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet…

One morning recently, Stanton was heading out a little later than usual. I felt less rushed, having him around, another adult in the house. I was in the kitchen making the girls’ lunches, sipping some coffee, when I overheard him amiably ask them, “So, what time does school start, girls?”

My.heart.nearly.stopped.

Did my husband—their dad—really not know the answer to that question?

I peered into the family room. “Honey…are you serious?”

Stanton held up his hands. “What?”

Thoughts began tumbling across my mind, one after the other. Nothing can ever happen to me. I can’t die, ever…or at least not until Grace and Anna have graduated from high school. If anything happens to me, they’ll never get to school on time…or soccer practice…or doctors’ appointments…

“Mel, just tell me, and then I’ll know,” Stanton said.

“Stan, how could you not have known?”

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This wasn’t, however, the hill I was going to die on, friends. It was a difference between Stanton and me, and possibly many other moms and many other dads. It was a difference, perhaps, in the same way that I never lock the bathroom door—just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in—while Stanton locks the door every time.

On the other hand, giving credit where credit is due, Stanton excels in other areas that aren’t my strengths. For example, he plays games all the time with our daughters. Actual games, like Crazy Chefs and Trouble, and make-believe games such as cops and robbers.

I, however, am not a big games person. Go to a park? Yes. Read stacks of books at the library? Count me in. Walk to a coffee shop? I’m there.

Break out the Pete the Cat Groovy Buttons board game, or you-pretend-to-be-Elsa-and-I’ll-be-Anna? Oh…only because I love you.

Grace and Anna have also (already!) shared they want their dad to teach them how to drive, about a decade from now. “Because you don’t know how to parallel park, Mom.”

I mean…truth. I haven’t parallel parked since the day I got my driver’s license. Thus, on numerous occasions over the years, I’ve deposited my car many blocks away from my destination to avoid parallel parking.

“Totally fine if you’d like Dad to teach you how to drive.” I’m not much of a games person, and not much of a car person either.

…just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in…

I’ve had my car, a Honda CR-V, for nine years now…and I’m still not exactly sure what all the buttons are for. I know how to start my car (not sure if this goes without saying… 😉 ). And turn on the radio, and click open the fuel tank—all the top-priority stuff. Some of the other dials and gauges, though…yeah, not too clear on all that.

This past Tuesday, Grace had her after-school performing arts class, as usual. I had been working from home all day, so hadn’t driven anywhere yet, which meant there was still ice on my car windshield from the particularly cold morning. “I really thought the sunlight would have melted this by now,” I told the girls.

Ask anybody: Sometimes I overestimate the power of natural sunlight.

I hadn’t defrosted the windshield since last winter, and was pretty sure but not positive which buttons to press. I pressed them, and not much happened.

“Mom, am I going to be late?” Grace wondered.

“Sweetheart, I promise, everything here is under control.” I frowned at the dashboard.

Anna laughed. “Everything is not under control, Mom.”

Who doesn’t love a backseat driver?

Stanton was at a meeting in Boston. I called him. He didn’t answer. I called him again. Still no answer. So what did I do?

Exactly, I called him a third time. Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call. And this time, mine did.

I explained what was happening. Stanton listened and confirmed I had pressed the right buttons. “Just wait,” he said, “and the windshield will defrost.”

Suddenly, the windshield wipers began swishing back and forth. What the heck? When had I turned those on? Grace and Anna started laughing. “MOM!”

But the windshield had defrosted, and the girls and I were good to go. Problem solved.

Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call.

I do my best to stay calm, solve problems. Sometimes I even save the day. Like this past Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the windshield situation.

“Whoops, Mom, I have a problem,” Anna called.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I was looking through notes, preparing for a conference call.

“I just went to the potty and accidentally dropped my bracelet in the toilet. Can you get it?”

Why? Why do things like this happen, and at the worst possible times?

No worries, friends. I’ll spare you the details of my heroics with the bracelet-in-the-toilet situation. That story ended, however, with this quote:

“Thanks for saving the day, Mom!”

But I mean…that’s what moms do, right? Time after time, over and over. We all know how the story goes, our own recurring Family Movie Night.

This is the part where you save the day (again).

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

When You Find Yourself Double Fisting Cotton Candy (and Other Stories)

How is everyone’s fall going? Fun? Festive? Fast and furious, perhaps? Yes, mine too—fast and furious, that is.

October was a whirlwind of apple picking, pumpkin picking, multiple Halloween events and Saturday-morning soccer games. All good fun, but…I am fall-festivities-ed out, and secretly delighted soccer season is over. To celebrate, I might stay in my pajamas until lunch time tomorrow.

Livin’ it up, friends, livin’ it up. 😉

On Halloween night, I was at the neighborhood fire station with the girls. They kindly host a party complete with balloon twisting, a bounce house, and treats galore. Stanton was tied up with a situation that is too convoluted to tell here, but he was on the way, he said.

Grace and Anna seemed oblivious their dad was MIA. Their trick-or-treat bags were overflowing from our lap around our street, and now they were in line for cotton candy. The firefighter operating the cotton-candy machine was wearing a white, head-to-toe poncho-type covering over his clothing.

It’s a sticky job, he told me.

I’ve heard, I replied.

I watched as he spun a huge cone of cotton candy for Grace…and kept spinning it. “Wow, that’s probably enough,” I said.

He shared with me that he had been having some trouble stopping the cotton candy from spiraling on the cone.

Got it. A common Halloween-party problem, I imagined.

Eventually, the gentleman pulled Grace’s cone away, presenting her with a fluffy pink sugar rush twice the size of her head.

Twice the size of my daughter’s head. I’m not exaggerating, friends.

“Yes!” Grace dug in.

Then Anna got hers, which was also outrageously big.

After a few bites each of cotton candy, the girls wanted to get into the bounce house. “Here, Mom!” They handed me their cones.

“Don’t eat mine,” Grace added.

I wasn’t even close to being tempted. “Be careful,” I said, as the girls clambered in to the bounce house. “And have fun. Also, I’m a little concerned you’re bounce-housing so soon after eating…try not to throw up.”

Be careful, have fun and try not to throw up—words to live by, one might say.

All good fun, but…I am fall-festivities-ed out…

I watched as Grace and Anna (dressed as a witch and monarch butterfly, respectively) ricocheted around the bounce house. “Hi, Mom! Woo-hoo!”

It was at this moment I realized I was double fisting cotton candy—cotton candy that wasn’t even mine.

Also at this moment, I realized the cotton candy was disintegrating. “What the heck?” I watched as the pink fluff began clumping up into tiny wet balls, which then slowly but steadily dripped onto my hands and wrists. “AHHH!” Halloween was getting crazier (and stickier) by the minute.

Somebody explained to me that the moisture in the air was causing the science experiment I was holding in both my hands. I think my neighbor, who’s a super smart geologist, is the person who told me this. The night had become such a blur, though, that I can’t say for sure—I’ll have to ask them. The bottom line is, I was ready to wrap things up.

Soon after, the girls and I began walking back home. We turned the corner and bumped into Stanton. “Dad!” the girls cheered.

I looked at my husband. “Hello there.”

“I’m so sorry,” Stanton said. He sighed as he hugged the girls and kissed me. “I know you can’t tell, but on the inside, I’m very frustrated with the situation tonight.”

For the record, friends, when I am frustrated with a situation, you can tell. You can tell on both the outside and inside.

Again, just for the record.

The four of us walked the rest of the way home together.

…I realized the cotton candy was disintegrating.

On Saturday morning, two days later, Stanton, Grace and I headed to New York City with Grace’s performing arts group. Her wonderful instructor had organized the trip so that the students could see a Broadway show and meet with the actors afterward.

This was Grace’s first time in the city, as well as her first Broadway show. When we began walking around Midtown Manhattan, I watched as Grace took in the skyscrapers, the iconic yellow taxi cabs, all the glitz and activity. “What do you think?”

“New York City is amazing and so busy,” Grace said. “I can’t wait to come back with Anna.” (My mom and dad were back at our house taking care of her.)

We’ll come back, Stanton and I promised.

We were seeing “Beetlejuice” at the Winter Garden Theatre. Before we arrived, I told Stanton and Grace to stop and turn so that I could take a picture against the backdrop of the Theater District. As I did, I bumped into another woman, and quickly apologized.

“Here, I’ll take a picture of the three of you,” she said, and she did.

“Thank you so much,” I told her, as she smiled and disappeared back into the crowd.

New Yorkers can get a bad rap for being rude, but in all my experiences, they’ve been incredibly kind and helpful.

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At the Winter Garden Theatre, Stanton, Grace and I found our seats in the mezzanine. We were in one of the front rows, and had an amazing view of the stage. I pointed toward the orchestra level below.

“When I was younger, like maybe in middle school,” I told Grace, “I came here, to this theater, to see a show called ‘Cats,’ and sat over there with Pop, Nona, Josh and Jared. Jenna was still little, so she stayed home with Poppy and Grandma.”

“Like Anna,” Grace said.

I smiled. “Yes.” Ah, the poor youngest siblings among us.

“Cats” went on to become one of the longest-running Broadway shows, and was the longest tenant at the Winter Garden Theatre, spanning more than 7,000 performances across nearly 18 years.

As a child, I had no idea I was watching musical theater history in the making. I also never could have imagined that nearly 20 years later, I’d be back in that same place, in the mezzanine, sitting alongside my college-sweetheart husband and the older of our two daughters. In that moment, waiting for “Beetlejuice” to begin, I felt a sense of wonder at how life can come full circle.

How life can bring you back.

Maybe the people are different, and the time surely is, but the place still stands as beautiful as it was back then. And now, like then, you feel lucky just to be there, to be part of it.

I was very grateful for that day.

 …I felt a sense of wonder at how life can come full circle.

Monday was the last day of the book fair at Grace’s school. I hadn’t made it any of the other days, so this was my last chance to join Grace during her lunch period to eat together and then pick out books. (“Everyone else had someone come, Mom.”)

First, I had to pick up Anna from preschool.

“I don’t want to go to the book fair,” Anna grumbled.

“Come on, honey,” I said. The school secretary printed off “Visitor” name tags for both Anna and me. I stuck mine on my jacket.

Anna threw hers on the ground.

“Really?” I asked her.

I can’t make this stuff up, friends.

Grace, Anna and I bumped into the principal, a lovely lady. “I didn’t know you had books published,” she said.

“Well, some of my stories have been published in magazines, but I self-published all my books,” I explained, not wanting her to be unnecessarily impressed.

“Still, that’s wonderful!”

Later, Grace noted, “Mom, you’re basically famous.”

“Awww, Grace, you’re so sweet, but…no, I’m not.” I hugged my daughters. “Do you know what makes me truly happy? Like, happier than being basically famous?”

“Dad, Anna and me,” Grace said.

“And Pop and Nona,” Anna added.

“And Josh and Jared and Jenna…”

The list went on. And the answer was yes, to every one of the names.

Be careful, have fun, try not to throw up, and stick together (even during the sticky-like-cotton-candy times).

Because when the curtain closes for the last time, that’s pretty much what it was all about.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

It’s OK If You Cry (and Other Things You Don’t Learn in School)

It was a Saturday morning. Stanton was driving, and the girls were in the backseat. We were on our way back to the town soccer fields.

Grace had already played her game, at 9 a.m. The four of us had been there together and were now heading out again for Anna’s 12 noon match, after a quick lunch (and more coffee) at our house. This would be Anna’s very first soccer game.

From the passenger seat, I overheard Grace (a veteran, you might say, at this point) giving her little sister some pro tips. There were orange slices at half time, Popsicles at the end. Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Sometimes the grass is wet, from dew or rain, Grace noted. Kids can fall. “If you fall, just get back up,” Grace said.

I smiled and turned around, just in time to see Anna nodding along, taking everything in. She trusted Grace, completely.

Then Grace paused, considered. “If you fall, you might get hurt. It’s OK if you cry.”

In that moment, friends, I wanted to cry. “Grace,” I said. “That’s beautiful advice.”

My older daughter smiled.

“What else, Grace?” Anna wondered.

Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Kids are back to school now, and every school day abounds with thoughtful curriculum and instruction. I love listening to Grace explain fact families to me, and looking at Anna’s preschool artwork. I’m deeply grateful for the girls’ wonderful schools and teachers.

Also, overhearing Grace’s soccer tips to Anna reminded me that sometimes we learn meaningful lessons outside classroom doors too. Athletic fields, playgrounds, performing arts stages—even sitting cross-legged on kitchen countertops, keeping our parents company while they prepare yet another after-school snack—all these places offer up additional spaces for learning.

“It’s OK if you cry” is a good first lesson for sure. There are times when life hurts; acknowledge that, let it out. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed; ask for help when you need it. Cry, and then try to move forward.

Here are some other lessons that I try to teach my children on a regular basis, and live out every day. And tell me, friends—what else should be on this list?

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2. Spend time outside every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to walk around the block, or sit on the front steps to open the mail. Give yourself a break from your desk, your screens, the unending stacks of dishes and piles of laundry indoors.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life. Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air.

3. Let the people you love know that you do. If your sister’s standing next to you, hug her. If, someday, she lives in another city, call her, get together; stay close.

Mail your oldest friends cards on their birthdays, and when they welcome a child into their family. Invite new friends over for dinner. Send your 91-year-old grandma, who took care of you when you were a baby, flowers every now and then, just because.

Don’t take your people or their love for granted.

4. Don’t keep score. Not in personal relationships, anyway. I called you, now it’s your turn to call me. I made dinner tonight, you’ve got tomorrow.

Tallying up life’s minutiae is painfully time-consuming, if not practically impossible. We each have our own strengths (and weaknesses). Aim for fairness. And if the circumstances start to feel unfair, bring that up; talk it through.

5. “No” is a complete sentence. Recently, a friend shared this perspective with me, from an article she had read, and I love it.

As we journey through life, peers may invite us into situations we may not feel good about. Later, people may offer us jobs that conflict with our values, or volunteer opportunities that conflict with our time. This has happened to me, and for years, I’ve tried to finesse my negative RSVP’s with diplomatic explanations and apologies. I realize now that a simple “no,” expressed kindly yet firmly, is enough.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life.

6. Home is and isn’t about the “stuff.” Anna calls our family room “the cozy room.” When I first heard her say that, I asked her why she liked to say cozy room. “Because this is where you snuggle me on the couch and read to me,” she replied.

That answer resonated with me. We’re lucky to live in the house we have, in the neighborhood it’s in. Those material things are important, yes. But what happens in that house—the time spent together, the warmth and safety and acceptance of the space—is equally important.

7. Sometimes, you need to let go. Of material stuff, for sure. The other day, I (finally) acknowledged I was never, ever going to fit back into a classic top I had worn for years. So I passed it along to our local clothing drop box, and hopefully somebody else will enjoy it as much as I did.

More difficult, however, can be letting go of the immaterial stuff. Memories of times that could have been better, people who could have treated us kinder. There’s no joy in being a grievance collector, though.

I was taking a walk, and all of a sudden, a memory came to mind. I shook my head, remembering this past irritation. Then I thought, just as quickly, it really is time to let that go. I breathed in deeply (the scent of pine needles, where I was now, content)…and did. It felt so good, friends—letting go.

8. Don’t underestimate the value of a good cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep. Mornings can be rough, and nightfall too. We can be frazzled at the start of day, sad or sentimental at the end. Just hang on ’til morning, and start the new day with a good brew.

9. There are a million other little things, tidbits I’ve picked up here and there, wisdom that’s become mine through “learning experiences” (less kindly known as “mistakes”).

I also want to tell my girls…go to the dentist regularly. Be careful with credit cards. Don’t vape; eat your vegetables. Watch “The Wire” and “Parks and Rec.”

Your first job probably won’t be your dream job. Still, do a good job. You’re investing in your growth, your future.

Things usually come full circle, and make sense in the end. Look for silver linings until they do.

Dine alfresco as much as possible. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores year-round.

Dark chocolate is more delicious than milk.

Travel—make sure you see London, Paris, San Francisco, Australia.

Be a regular somewhere. Overtip. Be generous when you can.

Two things you can never say too much: “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

There are a million other little things, but not enough time or space to share them here. And that is the main lesson I’d like to impart to my daughters:

10. Life goes fast; time is precious. Make the most of everything. Walk out the front door. Do stuff; have experiences. Get kinder and more patient with age.

You can always come home.

(Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me.)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

When You Have the Choice to Laugh or Cry

Summer is freeze pops, sunscreen and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming.

Grace, Anna and I were at the pool. My older daughter was swimming—actually swimming. My younger daughter, meanwhile, was alternating between adjusting her goggles, blowing bubbles and throwing a plastic ring for Grace to “fetch”—the myriad activities that little kids engage in when they’re in the water. Then Anna grabbed my arms and began bouncing up and down on my thighs.

“Mom!” Up and down, up and down. “You’re a trampoline!”

“No.” It was one of those moments when you could laugh or cry—it could go either way, equally. “I’m not.” Moms everywhere understand: I’m a person. A person.

Not long after, Anna overheard me tell another mom that I appreciated that my new swimsuit had adjustable straps. Minutes later, I felt the metal hooks on the adjustable straps zoom down.

“Anna!” I stopped my upper body from tumbling out of my swimsuit, as Anna continued to tug on the hooks. “Stop, honey.”

“But Mom, you have adjustable straps.” Anna smiled. “They’re fun.”

Laugh or cry…laugh or cry.

Speaking of my new swimsuit: I ordered it online. When it arrived in the mail, and I tried it on…well, let’s just say I wasn’t #twinning with the model from the website. I peered in the mirror.

Huh.

“Ooh, you got a new bathing suit, Mom!” As always, the girls were nearby.

“Mm-hmm. What do you think, girls?”

There was a pause.

“It’s OK if you don’t like it,” I assured them.

“I like the bathing suit,” one daughter (I won’t say who) said. “But I think it’s for someone who isn’t a little fat.”

Ouch.

“Yeah,” the other daughter (also anonymous in this story) agreed. “It’s just that, you look like you have a baby in your belly.”

Laugh or cry, laugh or cry…

“But you don’t! We know you don’t, Mom. You just look like that.”

I mean, whew. I just look pregnant in my new swimsuit.

“Mom.” Concerned, Grace hugged me. “I love you.”

Anna threw her arms around both of us. “I love you too, Mom. And I love your big, soft belly.”

We group hugged.

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The truth is—actually, there are two truths here. The first is, I do have belly fat. I gave birth to two children, am getting older and do zero (and I do mean zero) lower-ab exercises.

Stanton and I also just got into “The Wire” (15+ years later), and I’ve been spending many an evening beside him on our couch, engrossed in the show and munching on a bowl of raw Brazil nuts.

Just kidding, friends. You know I’ve got Cheetos or Doritos in that bowl.

😉

So I accept my body, as is. Could it be toned? Yes. Should I curb my late-night junk-food habit? Definitely…sometime soon.

Am I, overall, healthy? And happy? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is also “yes.”

The second truth is, I’m glad my daughters were honest with me. Children usually are honest—brutally honest, one might say. Ask any parent, aunt, uncle, teacher, babysitter, and they’d probably all agree: honest, to a fault.

As we grow up, we learn to temper our honesty with tact, diplomacy. I’ve worked in communications for years now, and I understand why finesse matters, in both professional and personal relationships. I get it.

I get it, and after our group hug, I told the girls they can always be honest with me. Even if they think the truth might hurt my feelings. I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom. I want them to know they can tell me anything, talk with me about anything.

They do now. And I hope they always do.

I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom.

Stanton, the girls and I recently went to the beach. All four of us had been looking forward to our family vacation, but Grace and Anna especially. And we did have a wonderful time—jumping waves, building sand castles, visiting a nature center on a rainy day.

Our last day there, I was swimming in the deep-blue water of Long Island Sound. Stanton and the girls were on the beach. It was late morning in Madison, Conn., and we were some of just the handful of tourists and locals there. The water glided over my shoulders, and when I looked ahead, I could see for miles—the open sea, endless. Since time began, human beings have been drawn to water.

“What was your favorite part of our vacation?” I asked the girls, once I came ashore.

Grace and Anna had been digging in the sand. Grace paused, considered the question. “Breakfast,” she decided.

I grabbed a towel. “Breakfast?”

“I loved breakfast at the hotel,” Grace said. “Especially the waffles.”

Stanton and I looked at each other. “Honey, we make waffles at home. What about the beach, the sand castles…”

Grace shook her head. No, definitely the hotel waffles. “That was my favorite part.”

“Me too,” Anna seconded.

Well, what do you know—the hotel waffles. (Laugh or cry?) “That’s great, girls.”

“That was my favorite part.”

Every blue moon, Stanton and I get a chance to go on a date, just the two of us. So we were out, sharing Irish nachos, drinking Shiner Bock draft (him) and red sangria (me). We’ve been each other’s date for 17 years now, and still enjoy each other’s company, which I’m deeply grateful for.

That being said…17 years is a haul. People know each other well by that point. So when, soon after our entrées arrived, Stanton said he was full and ready to head out whenever I was…I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Honey.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You want to take off your pants, right?” (This is all G-rated, friends: I promise.) When my better half comes home at the end of the day, he immediately changes out of his dress pants into a pair of athletic shorts.

Stanton smiled. “Right.”

“Do you ever even wash those shorts?” I wondered.

“That’s the wrong question.”

I nodded, understanding. “How often do you wash them?”

Stanton nodded back. “Bingo.”

Sigh. Not often.

Laugh or cry?

We both laughed.

Life is short. Despite its imperfections, life is beautiful too. The people we get to share it with are gifts.

That’s why, when I have the choice to laugh or cry…all things considered, I usually lean toward laughter.

“I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.” —Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY speech

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Twice in My Life I Got Really Lucky

Every few days, I find myself at the grocery store. One or both of my daughters is usually with me. Occasionally—very occasionally—I fly solo through the aisles of Hannaford, an experience many moms (including myself) would equate to a day on a desert island, pastel-colored drink with cocktail umbrella in hand.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience. The other day, the girls and I rolled into Hannaford. “Don’t forget the junk food, Mom,” Grace reminded me. She had actually written up her own list, and handed it to me.

I scanned her nearly-8-year-old penmanship: potato chips, Nantucket Nectars, ice cream… “We are not getting a dog, Grace. Hannaford doesn’t sell pets anyway—you know that.”

Grace laughed.

Anna, meanwhile, was climbing out of the cart I had just (thought I’d) fastened her into. “I have to go potty,” she said.

Finally we were rolling through the aisles again. You know how that goes, friends. Can we get this? Can we get that? Why can’t we get a dog today?

“Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a huge glass jar. “Pickles!”

“Don’t touch it,” I said. “Remember what happened that one time.”

Anna smiled and nodded. “But they cleaned it up, Mom.”

“But they’d rather not, honey.”

Moving right along.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience.

A few things ended up in the cart that were not my doing. For example, two bath bombs. The girls must have tossed them in when I was picking out shampoo. Also, a box of fortune cookies.

“What are these?” Anna asked, later at home.

I looked at the box on the breakfast-nook table. “What the heck?”

The girls laughed.

“You’re driving me…”

“CRAZY! We know! We love you, Mom! Can we have some cookies! Please say, ‘Oh, fine!'”

Oh…fine.

Two mornings ago, I asked the girls what they wanted for breakfast.

“Cereal and a fortune cookie,” Grace said. Breakfast of champions.

“Me too.” Anna clambered up beside her at the table. “Why is it called a fortune cookie?”

I explained that the little piece of paper inside each cookie was a fortune, or prediction for the future. Sometimes there were Chinese words with translations, and sometimes lucky numbers for lottery tickets.

In that moment, I was perched between my daughters, all of us still in our pajamas with our hair just-woke-up crazy—you know what I mean—and I felt a ripple of quiet contentment. “You know,” I said, giving them each a little squeeze, “twice in my life I got really lucky.”

Grace smiled. “Anna and me.”

“Yes.”

Then she jerked her thumb toward the family room. “I think you’re forgetting somebody.” (I swear this happened, just like that.)

And yes, I got really lucky with their dad too. Three times really lucky. Although, truth be told—really lucky countless times.

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We each have our own understanding of what lucky means. Lucky is hitting it big on a lottery ticket (maybe we used the numbers from a fortune cookie). Lucky is missing a flight, but meeting the love of our life while we wait—all the frustrating-at-first-glance detours that led to our true final destinations. Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together, seeing the Seven Wonders of the World and leaving behind legacies all our own.

What makes me feel lucky is the love and friendship I have in my life. My children, my husband, family and friends.

Later that day, I got a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. Kathleen and I have known each other since kindergarten, and I loved hearing her voice and catching up. We don’t always have the time to talk, but when we do, it’s effortless and heartfelt—a conversation that started 30 years ago and can hold until next time when needed. I’m deeply grateful for my good old friend, and told her so.

I’m deeply grateful for a good new friend, too, who stopped by soon after. When she came by, the house was a mess, and Anna was upside down on the rocking chair—but it was completely OK. I was happy to see her, and not concerned or self-conscious about the messy house (or upside-down parenting).

What a gift it is to have a friend who’s had your back since age 5, and another whom you don’t need to clean up for.

Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together…

Gifts, good luck, lucky breaks. Blessings. We don’t always use the same words, or speak the same language…but sometimes, we mean similar things.

Yesterday, the girls and I went back to the grocery store. We needed milk. That was all. But I believe it’s scientifically impossible to go to the grocery store, with two kids in tow, and buy “just milk.” So…we didn’t.

Once again, Anna tried to sneak different items into the cart. “No,” I said. “Put that back.”

“Oh, fine,” Anna said, in a flawless impersonation of her mom. She grabbed the bag and trudged back to a shelf.

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “That child,” she said (another flawless impersonation of yours truly). “She cracks me up.”

My daughters and I spend so much time together, they sometimes sound like me. I’m grateful for the time, the companionship, all the adventures. All the crazy, and all the love.

Love and friendship have been the biggest gifts in my life.

And twice in my life, I got really lucky.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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