Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, friends. ❤

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.

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.

All the Beautiful Pictures

Tubes of sunscreen on the back porch, flip-flops piled up nearby, the freezer stocked with ice cream and the lazy Susan cabinet with sugar cones—summer has settled in at our house, and yours too, I’m sure.

Summertime presents a picturesque backdrop. The other evening I was taking a walk alongside rows of century-old evergreens, and the pink-tinted clouds outlining the setting sun took my breath away. It was an Instagram-worthy moment, to be sure, and I almost did take a picture. But then I thought, no…be present, enjoy the moment.

Probably about half the time I’m present, enjoying the moment…and the other half I’m taking pictures, documenting life.

(Partially, I consider my picture-taking habit part of my “mom” job description. If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so images of the past ten years…the majority of them shot tilted upward, which women everywhere know shows our thighs from the most unflattering angle. P.S. Love you, honey! 😉 )

During a different walk, with the girls, Grace asked for my phone. She wanted to take a picture of a butterfly. I told her I had left my phone at home.

“So we can be present,” Grace grumbled.

“Agh,” Anna added.

Huh. “Right,” I said. “Be present together.”

The girls groaned.

Everything in moderation, I’ve tried to explain to my daughters, from screen time to swimming to ice cream. We don’t want to zone out, wear out, sugar-rush out. And I try to practice what I preach.

If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so pictures of the past ten years…

I’m a people person, though, and I do love keeping in touch with family and friends, sharing pictures through text, email and social media. I try to strike a balance between good days and not as good, moments that are both “proud mom” ones as well as “I can’t believe this happened.”

I try not to be annoying, or brag, although I’m sure I’ve done both at some point(s).

A while back, the girls gave me a sticker from a weather-themed sticker sheet. The sticker depicted a sun with “No Bad Days” scrolled underneath. We were driving in the car, on our way to somewhere, and I stuck the sticker under the car radio.

“Do you like it, Mom?” the girls asked.

Of course, I told them. I loved the cheerful-looking sun, and I appreciated the positive-thinking sentiment: “No Bad Days.” There are bad days, though, I told the girls, and that’s OK. We just make the effort to move forward from them.

Recently, I shared a picture, and a friend replied, “Beautiful!” It was a beautiful picture: summer, sunlight, glorious colors and smiles galore. And I thought…all the beautiful pictures.

Each of us may be, consciously or not, on a journey to collect beautiful pictures.

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We want to remember our good times, and our iconic moments. The first day of kindergarten, the time we arrived at the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

All the times we arrived.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and beauty can be found, too, in the moments we wouldn’t adorn with a “No Bad Days” sticker—in the times people showed up for us, were there for us in our darkest hours.

Still, our for-posterity’s-sake photo albums trend toward years of memories cast in perma-sunlight. Mine do, anyway. Why memorialize dusk?

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing. And if a fortune teller looked into their crystal ball and divined for us a lifetime of “No Bad Days”…who wouldn’t want that, at first glance?

My lifetime of 36 years thus far has run the gamut of “Clear/Sunny” to “Cloudy,” with wind speeds ranging from light to strong. There have been some scattered showers, and even a natural disaster or two. It has not been a lifetime of “No Bad Days.”

But if I had the chance to do it all over…I really think I would do it all over, even the truly dark hours. Because I’m not sure I could have ever known what happiness meant, until I felt sorrow too. “Inside Out” told this story too, several summers ago—and it wasn’t the first time a children’s story had a powerful truth to share.

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing.

Movies, we know, are pictures in motion. In high school, I loved the movie “Meet Joe Black.” It was long, clocking in at three hours, and a “box office bomb,” according to IndieWire. But I loved it then, and love it now. “Meet Joe Black” asks questions about life and death, love and family, and includes an awesome coffee-shop scene.

One of my favorite scenes is between Brad Pitt’s Joe Black character and an elderly Jamaican woman who is ailing. Her time on earth is winding down. She tells Joe, “So take that nice picture you got in your head home with you…If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us.” Joe asks her if she has some nice pictures; she says yes.

This summer, every season, let’s celebrate our beautiful pictures. Every gathering with loved ones, each beach trip, all the ice-cream cones too. Every pink-tinted sunset we pause to photograph, or simply savor as a memory in our head.

All the beautiful pictures represent our Mostly Sunny moments, and every one of us deserves some of those.

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.

That Didn’t Actually Happen

My sister called me one evening, later than she usually does. I felt a mild sense of concern. Answering the phone, I said, “Is everything OK?”

“Ugh, yes, calm down.”

“Ugh”—the universal beginning of yet another wonderful conversation between loved ones.

Jenna was walking home, and I said I’d stay on the line with her until she got there. “You don’t need to do that,” she replied. But I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard, so I insisted.

She asked me what I was doing. Because Stanton was out of town for work, I was doing what I always do when I’m home alone at night, with the girls sleeping upstairs: watching one of my TV shows. I told Jenna I was loving the first season of “Jack Irish,” an Australian TV noir series starring my favorite actor ever.

“Oh, God, Guy Pearce,” Jenna said.

(Love Guy Pearce.)

“What’s going on with you?” I asked. “Have you found a new urologist yet?”

“Endocrinologist! Endocrinologist.”

Right.

…I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard…

Jenna is taking a course for a certificate, and we talked about that. In the background, I could hear people talking, cars cruising by. Her background, I mean: Center City, Philadelphia.

My background, about 200 miles north near Albany, N.Y., consisted of lamplight, a throw pillow with “Lean On Me” imprinted on the front and my show paused on the TV screen.

“That’s awesome you’re doing this program,” I said.

Jenna mentioned something about the online certificate program I did.

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you do something through the University of California?”

“Oh, right…no, that didn’t actually happen.” I broke off another piece of dark chocolate. “I thought about it, though.”

“Ah, got it.”

Obviously, I was the sibling who grew up to become the big success. 😉 I tapped the remote control against my leg. “Are you almost home?”

“Ugh.”

phone-499991_1920I didn’t mind, at all, that my sister thought I completed a certificate program I never did. And I don’t think she minds (too much) that I’m never 100 percent clear on her health and wellness. But the thought did cross my mind: There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

Over the weekend, Stanton, the girls and I were getting ready for our friends’ party. The girls ran outside. I stuffed tissues, my phone and bug spray into my bag. Then I called to Stanton, “Do you have…”

“The keys? Yes.”

“No, do you have…”

“Yes, I have everyone’s water bottles.”

“Honey.” I looked at him. “I was going to ask if you had the corn and black bean salad. Why,” I added, “do you still try to finish my sentences?”

“Because I never can, right?”

“You never can,” I agreed. After all this time together, we are not one of those magical couples that can finish each other’s sentences.

Stanton nodded and then noted, “I do have the corn and black bean salad, and the Tostitos too.”

He had the Tostitos too. We were good to go, friends.

On the drive to the party, the four of us called my grandmother. It was her 91st birthday, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her over the phone. Yelled “Happy Birthday” to Grandma is more like it, because she has trouble hearing on speaker phone.

“We love you, Grandma!” Stanton, Grace, Anna and I shouted one last time, before hanging up.

I wasn’t sure if Grandma heard us or not…but she knew it was us.

There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

My birthday is in early April, and I was born in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every now and then, it snows in early April in Northeastern Pennsylvania. For years, I thought it had snowed the day I was born. I thought this is what my parents had said. This year, on this birthday, I discovered this wasn’t true.

“The day you were born was sunny and beautiful,” my mom mentioned, when she wished me a happy birthday.

“I thought it was snowing,” I said.

“The day we brought you home, it snowed,” my mom replied. “But not the day you were born.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this time, I had the story wrong. The story of my birthday, of all things.

My mom repeated that yes, I was born on a beautiful sunny day. And I admit, I like that story better. “Beautiful sunny day” sets a more picturesque scene than “freak April snowstorm.”

But how could that have happened? How did the details of something so important, so personal, get mixed up and stay mixed up for decades?

All this time, I had the story wrong.

When I write or edit nonfiction work, I strive mightily to make sure the information is correct. I fact-check names, dates, places. I proofread according to style guides, spelling out an acronym here and inserting a serial comma there. I consider questions of ethics, especially concerning people’s privacy.

I am the stereotypically Type A, minutiae-obsessed, red-pen-wielding editor.

In my personal life, though…not so much. For whatever reason, or excuse—I have two young children, so much is going on—the details sometimes fall through the cracks.

On some level, this matters. There are times when I could be a better listener. There are times when others could listen a little better to me.

And on another level…whether it was sunny or snowing, it was a beautiful day to be born.

Ninety-one years later, whether you heard the words or not, you know your grandchildren called to sing “Happy Birthday” on speaker phone.

Maybe things didn’t happen how we thought they did, or would. But there were people there for us—with us.

The knack for finishing each other’s sentences may be overrated.

It is a good idea, though, to have a long-distance bodyguard on speed dial.

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.

But We Had a Great Time

Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.

The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.

Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.

After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”

I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”

“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”

This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.

“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.

Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.

I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.

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Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.

But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.

We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.

Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.

…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.

Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉

Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”

Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”

Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.

I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.

Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

“Impossible,” I confirmed.

I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.

“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”

Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.

Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.

“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”

“What?” my daughters asked.

Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”

“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.

I nodded.

Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.

Anna chimed in that that was true.

Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.

Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.

If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.

It was a great time.

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.

Remember the Time? On Family, Memory and Where You Keep Your Shoes

My sister mailed me a card for my birthday, a couple of weeks ago. The front said, “‘Remember the time…?'” followed by, “There are about a thousand different ways to end that story!” in multicolored font. I loved everything about it, from the sentiment to, especially, Jenna’s heartwarming note inside.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took one (excuse my amateur photography skills!) to illustrate my message here. I put my sister’s card in the last remaining spot, on the bottom, of the hanging card holder in the kitchen. See it there? You can also see our family’s kaleidoscopic collection of other well wishes for assorted birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, special occasions… Yeah, Marie Kondo probably wouldn’t approve. 😉

So—”‘Remember the time…?'”

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Inside the card, Jenna wrote about how she always enjoys our adventures and conversations. Over the course of our life together, there have been a lot of them—not “about a thousand,” but thousands upon thousands. Jenna, along with both my brothers, were there, and continue to be there, for…well, my life.

Last night, I was lying beside Anna as she drifted off to sleep, and all of a sudden, a long-ago memory came to mind. I don’t know why, but I thought about the refrigerator in my grandparents’ old house. Before I left for college, I put pictures all over it. I joked that I didn’t want Grandma and Poppy to forget me, so I transformed their fridge into a collage of photos and magnets.

After Anna fell asleep, I called Jenna to share this memory with her. Because your sister will always answer the phone, even if you’re calling about your grandparents’ not-sure-if-it-even-exists-anymore refrigerator. “Awww,” Jenna said when I told her.

“I also remember—I mean, I can almost see this—Poppy sitting in the sunroom, just smiling, his arms crossed, watching TV. And,” I added, “he’s wearing that blue polo shirt he always wore. You know the one…?”

“Yeah, with the pink on the collar.” I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, so, I just wanted to tell you about that…”

“Do you remember,” Jenna said—she really did send me the perfect birthday card—”every New Year’s, we would all go outside and bang on pots and pans? And set off Mom’s car alarm?” We laughed.

Maybe a little corny at times, and certainly loud a lot of the time, but this was/is our family…and I love them.

I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

I have been truly lucky with my husband’s family too. After I talked with Jenna, I called Stanton’s mom to say hello. Charlotte was exercising, and I apologized for interrupting her. She asked me how I was doing.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I just poured myself a glass of milk and am about to eat a cookie. I’m doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” (You simply can’t make this stuff up, friends.) Like with my sister, my mother-in-law and I shared a good laugh.

Stanton had just been in San Antonio for a conference, and I was glad he got to spend some time with his family while he was there too. It’s a busy season of business travel for him, and he told the girls about a few other upcoming trips.

I made the joke (in retrospect, not a funny one) to the girls, “What’s Dad doing home now, girls? Does he live here too?”

Anna gave Stanton one of her wonderful bear hugs. “Of course he lives here,” she said. “This is where his shoes are.”

Sometimes life lends itself to quotable moments.

Home is where you keep your shoes. It’s where you hang up your cards, and pictures. It’s where, at the end of the day, you call the people you love. You call them to share a memory, or just to say hello.

Home is where you get the best bear hugs too.

Remember the time?

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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.

 

All the Mistakes I’ve Made (So Far)

On our last day of summer vacation, I squeezed a dollop of sunscreen into Grace’s hand. “Mom,” she said, “remember that time you squirted spray sunscreen onto my face?”

I groaned. “Yes…one of the dumbest things I ever did.” That happened during a previous summer (“vacation”?), when Grace was 4, Anna six months old, and myself six months postpartum and still sleep-deprived.

Then, as now, we were getting ready to go swimming, and I didn’t know—how could I not have known?—that I could use spray sunscreen on my child’s body but not her face.

Seven-year-old Grace laughed. “You were supposed to spray it in your hand, and then rub it on my face.”

Anna, age 3 1/2, laughed too. “Geez, Mom!”

“My eyes and nose burned!”

I cringed at the memory. “OK, OK. Let’s talk about something else.”

“How about,” Anna brought up, “when you were pulling me in my little red wagon, and it tipped over?”

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “Remember when you did that, Mom? That was, like, this year.”

“Ugh, yes.” Walking home from our town’s Memorial Day parade.

“Mom.” Anna lowered her voice. “My head was bleeding.”

“I know, I know.” I closed my eyes at the horrible memory. “Why do you both remember so well all these mistakes I made?”

The girls just laughed.

I laughed (a little) too. “I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”

“We will,” Anna promised.

Grace nodded her agreement. “Of course, Mom.” Then she said, “Remember the time we were playing outside, and you almost dropped Anna?”

I buried my head in my hands.

“I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”

A few days later, Grace went back to school. I took some pictures to commemorate her first day of first grade (and I’ll do the same when Anna returns to preschool this week). Later this year, as I always do, I’ll compile these pictures, along with other good memories, into an annual family photo album.

I was thinking, though…decades from now, will the highlight-reel moments from these family photo albums actually be what my daughters remember? The first days of school, and first soccer games and piano recitals; holidays with extended families and friends; summer-vacation swimming (after all the sunscreen had been applied). All the wonderful, memory-worthy occasions.

Or—or instead, will the memories that stick top-of-mind for my daughters be a collection of my not-best-moments? “All the Mistakes Mom Made”?

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Well, if personal experience can offer any indication…then yes, unfortunately, my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them. Because I still remind my own mom of some of her snafus from my childhood. Which is, I am well aware, childish and pointless at this point…because I’m 35 and a mom myself, and I should cut my mom some slack.

But no, sometimes for no good reason, when talking with my mom, I remind her how she often was late picking me up from my high school volleyball practices. I, of course, sprayed sunscreen into my 4-year-old’s face, but my mom had the nerve not to leave work in time to pick me up from tossing a ball over a net with my classmates.

As a new mom, I promised my newborn daughter I’d never be late picking her up anymore. “Mommy may blind you with spray sunscreen, sweetheart, but she’ll be on time, gosh darnit.”

Life is humbling, isn’t it?

…my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them.

If my daughters were to ask me, in fact, what I’ve learned about life—what 35 years of experience and “learning experiences” (ahem, mistakes) have taught me—that’s what I’d tell them: Life is humbling.

You think you know what you’re doing, or what you’d do, and then you don’t.

You think you did something worth status-updating about, and then you learn about something even more impressive, or heroic, or selfless that someone else did.

You cause your daughter to fall out of a wagon and hurt her head, and then later that evening, she wraps her little arms around you and, totally unprompted, says, “I love you, Mom.”

Have you ever had a moment like that? I’m sure you have. A moment of humility and unconditional love, in which you recognize, “I’m so lucky. I have done nothing to deserve this. In fact, I’ve done stupid things, I’ve made mistakes, and yet I get the gift of this.”

My mom may have made some mistakes regarding timeliness and my volleyball practices, but she (and my dad) did a million things to give my siblings and me a loving and love-filled life. And of all the things, the best things were my siblings. (P.S. to Josh, Jared and Jenna: Really. 😉 )

…of all the things, the best things were my siblings.

I called my sister recently, and she answered but said she couldn’t talk. I remembered, from speaking with her earlier, that she was out with friends then. So I said, half-jokingly, “Are you really telling me you have something more important to do than talk to me?”

Jenna laughed, apologized…and hung up. She called me back the next day, and we talked then.

But I was only half-joking when I asked if she really had something more important to do. Because my sister is always there for me. We talk, text and email all the time about a wide range of topics covering varying degrees of importance (family, friendships and careers…the latest paparazzi photos of Prince Harry).

Over the years, Jenna has also helped me see our parents with more patient eyes. “You need to get over that,” she once said (probably after I brought up the volleyball practices for the 250th time).

I’m sure she’s right, about whatever it was. She usually is. I do, however, share my daughters’ talent for a long memory.

Which brings me back to my children, and our family memories.

It’s possible they’ll forgo the annual photo albums in favor of “All the Mistakes Mom Made.” Seventy years from now, Grace and Anna might be huddled over a kitchen table, cups of coffee in their hands and easy conversation flowing between them. And instead of reminiscing about apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms or sledding at Maple Ridge Park, they’ll recall the spray sunscreen. And the Memorial Day wagon incident…and on and on and on.

And when they’ve retold the last story of many, from “All the Mistakes Mom Made,” they’ll still have each other.

I’m extremely thankful for that.

I was telling my mom about this blog post. “I’m going to call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made.'”

“You should call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made So Far,'” my mom replied.

We both laughed. Then my mom noted that she made her share of mistakes too.

“I know,” I said (in that half-joking way of mine that doesn’t irritate my family members at all). “I didn’t repeat any of your mistakes, Mom.”

“Well, that’s great, honey.”

“I made a bunch of my own, though.” And I did—a bunch.

“I made a bunch of my own, though.”

Somewhere along the way, we grow up. Or we don’t, but hopefully we do. We grow up, and we realize our parents did the best they could. They made mistakes, and so did we. So do we.

We realize we are all perfectly imperfect. We recognize life is fragile, and beautiful, and not for forever. We can either forgive, forget and move forward, or dredge up every past misstep and choose ill will over joy.

I hope my daughters choose forgiveness and joy. And I hope they grow to be very old, and very happy, and get to have many cups of coffee and much conversation together, like the picture I have in my memory.

Even if they are conjuring up “All the Mistakes Mom Made” while reaching for the half-and-half.

(Oh, and Mom? Thank you. For helping me with this post title, and for all the other things I should have thanked you for, but never did.)

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.