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.

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.

The Road to Wish Things

Down the street and around the corner from our home is a nature trail. Our family of four loves this long, paved path; almost every day, we walk or bike on it. (And sometimes, I end up carrying my younger daughter’s bike, and occasionally her too, back home. If you’re one of my neighbors and you happen to be reading this, then you know this is true. 😉 )

One afternoon recently, Anna and I were on the Rail Trail together. Anna pointed to a sunscreen dispenser, and wondered if her scooter could use a few squirts. “Scooters don’t need sunscreen,” I told her.

“But it would be fun, Mom.”

We moved along.

Spring is in full bloom, and Anna and I admired the deep-green grass and myriads of wildflowers on both sides of the path. Then Anna exclaimed, “Look, Mom! A wish thing.” She squatted down and pulled up a dried dandelion, not yellow anymore but puffy white—perfect for blowing.

Anna blew it, of course, after she made a wish. She spoke it out loud, so I heard her wish—and it made me smile—but it’s not my wish to share here, so I won’t. I’m sure you understand, friends.

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Possibly the best thing about parenthood, for me, is having the chance to experience childhood again. Moments like that—stopping to admire “wish things”…taking a deep breath…exhaling a wish.

Believing it will come true.

What we wish for evolves the older we get, the more life we see. In my experience, the wishes of our youth tend to be longish, and specific. For example…“Please can I have one of those watches that lets me talk to my mom from across the playground, that I saw another kid talking on to their mom? In pink, please, please, please.”

Flash forward about 20 or 25 years, and when we blow on dandelions (if we do anymore), we often exhale wishes for good health, or more good times together.

I read once that it’s similar with job titles. When you start out in your career, your job title usually is longer, more specific. One of my first job titles was something like “community programs and public relations assistant.” Or maybe it was coordinator rather than assistant. Still, I had about six words after my name in my email signature, when only one word is needed to describe the person in the top leadership position: CEO.

  …the wishes of our youth tend to be longish, and specific.

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. And I am. I’m not Jane Austen famous, or J.K. Rowling rich, but I’m so thankful to be doing what I love to do. I am grateful every day that I get to work with words for a living. It was a wish thing, from my childhood, that actually came true.

Would it be nice to, someday, be rich and famous too? If that were to happen—a huge if—it probably would be nice, sure. But by now, I’ve seen enough of life to know that those are not the things that make me happy…that take my breath away, as a dandelion through my daughter’s eyes does.

Because I’m a writer and, by default, book lover, I read to my daughters quite a bit. A couple of months ago, we read a book together for the first time that we just loved: “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. This is a beautiful story about a little girl named Alice Rumphius who dreams of traveling to faraway places, living in a house beside the sea and making the world more beautiful. She, too, makes her childhood wish things come true.

Miss Rumphius makes the world more beautiful by (spoiler alert!) planting lupine seeds near her seaside home, eventually covering “[f]ields and hillsides…with blue and purple and rose-colored flowers.”

This story is beautifully illustrated as well, and the girls and I marveled at the celebration of nature in the pages of “Miss Rumphius.”

But by now, I’ve seen enough of life to know that those are not the things that make me happy…that take my breath away, as a dandelion through my daughter’s eyes does.

Yesterday evening, Grace, Anna and I were on the Rail Trail together. We stopped at a park; the girls practiced cartwheeling and played Pirate Ship on some outdoor exercise equipment. I had left my phone at home so that I wouldn’t be distracted, so I sat on a bench and…well, that’s it.

I could have attempted some pull-ups on the exercise equipment, or joined in the fun of Pirate Ship, but…yeah, I just 100 percent loved sitting on that bench. 😉 The evening sun felt good.

As we got ready to head back home, Grace exclaimed, “Look!” She was pointing to a cluster of tall, skinny blue flowers. “Lupines!”

“Are you sure?” Anna and I looked.

I’m not positive, but I think Grace did find lupines in the park. The girls were delighted to have found something they had read about in their beloved story. I was happy they could get just as excited about lupines as they could about pink smartwatches.

As my daughters get older, I hope they still take the time to stop and admire lupines, squat down and blow wishes on dandelions.

I hope their wishes come true.

I hope yours do too.

The road to wish things.

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.

How Did I Miss This?

For a few mornings in a row, my older daughter refilled her cereal bowl with a second helping. I’d like to say it was a second helping of something whole-grain or sugar-free, but no…it was definitely Cocoa Krispies, friends.

The fourth or fifth morning, I helped Grace pour more milk into her bowl, atop the second helping of Cocoa Krispies. I watched as the milk splashed over the cereal, quickly misting into swirls of chocolate in the bowl. And that’s when I realized—my 7-year-old daughter needed a bigger cereal bowl.

She was using a small pink plastic bowl, which she’d been using since she was a toddler. Of course she needed a second helping of cereal every morning—she’d long outgrown these bowls. That moment, that morning, I felt a mix of both “aha!” and “agh!”…because how could I not have noticed this?

I’d been there with my daughter, every morning, every breakfast…and still, I missed this. Something right in front of me, something so obvious.

“I’m so sorry, Grace,” I said.

“Mom, it’s fine,” she replied.

The right size of a cereal bowl—not a life-or-death matter, to be sure. But…I hadn’t been paying attention.

I’d been there…and still, I missed this.

Stanton, the girls and I start and end our day in the breakfast nook of our home. We love this cozy space. Previous owners of our Cape Cod added this room to the back of the kitchen, and a big window overlooks the backyard. One evening, I was sitting at our L-shaped bench and table, and looked out the window.

It’s mid-May now, and the trees outside are flush with leaves. But it seemed to me that just yesterday, the view outside my window had unveiled bursts of the trees’ spring blossoms, airy puffs of white, pink and green.

“Stan, look,” I said, pointing. “When did the blossoms turn into leaves?”

Stanton didn’t know, either.

But we agreed that, like the blossoms, the leaves were beautiful too.

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Things like this happen all the time, one thing after another, that I realize too late.

I forgot my parents’ anniversary. That day last month, I called my mom at the end of the day, as I usually do. “Hi Mom, I’m super busy,” I said. “I just wanted to call, say hello. How was your day, anything I should know about?”

“Well…today was our anniversary.”

Agh. I felt horrible, and said so.

My mom said not to worry, it was fine. Just as Grace had said. But still. Often I’m distracted, self-absorbed, overwhelmed…or simply not paying attention.

Another mom texted one morning last week, asking if I was walking Grace to the elementary school for Walk to School Day. “Ugh!” I texted back. I had forgotten.

We managed to walk to school that day, arriving with seconds to spare. “We did it,” I said, hugging Grace good-bye.

Grace said thanks, hugged me back and then ran into the red-brick building with her friends.

At which point Anna poked her head out from under her stroller canopy. She reminded me that she couldn’t be late for preschool, which started in several minutes.

And off we went, friends. Off we went, before my 9:30 a.m. meeting.

Things like this happen all the time…that I realize too late.

In the meantime…Anna and I perused the sale section of the West Elm website one afternoon this week. After much discussion, we picked out new, larger cereal bowls for Grace (and Anna too, of course).

After I clicked the “Place Order” button, Anna asked, “Are they here yet? Did they come?”

I reached for more coffee.

As I was trying to finish writing this post, Anna asked if she could watch TV. I said no, it wasn’t a TV day. She then said, “Come on, Mom. Because if I don’t watch TV, then what I want to do is push your buttons, and that would be distracting. Please, Mom, please.”

Anna meant the buttons on my laptop, but I smiled at the irony in the expression “push your buttons.” Then I laughed because…honestly, I was just so tired. Anna started laughing too, and threw her arms around me.

“I love you, Mom! And…TV?”

“You’re driving me…”

“Crazy!” Anna kept laughing. “I know, Mom. You tell me all the time.”

All the time.

All the time.

Sometimes, without our even realizing it, all the time goes by. And we were right there, the whole time, and didn’t really notice. Not until something happened that woke us up a little.

For me, that was a cereal bowl.

I try to be kind to others, kind to myself. Try to meet people where they are, and do better the next time when I make a mistake. So I can let the cereal bowl, and the trees, and my parents’ anniversary go. Let it all go.

But I am going to make an effort to be more conscious, pay more attention.

Sometimes, without our even realizing it, all the time goes by.

I’m not sure how successful I’ll be in this new endeavor toward mindfulness. I can envision myself failing miserably at it, in the weekday morning rush and calls for “Mom! Mom! Mom!” at various hours of the day (and night). For example, just a few nights ago: “Mom, there’s no clean underwear in my underwear drawer! What am I going to do, Mom?” And I thought—yes, you guessed it, friends—AGH.

But I’m going to give it a shot.

Because one day you’re eating Cocoa Krispies out of a pink plastic bowl, and the next, you’re the person in charge of somebody else’s clean underwear drawer.

If you don’t pay attention, it can all go by in a blink.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

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.

Thank God for 4th Birthdays: The Blessing in the Everyday

The church that Stanton, the girls and I attend offers a “children’s time” in the beginning of each service. Two Sundays ago, our pastor led the youngster-focused sermon, which takes place on the steps near the altar. Her message centered on love, and loving one another even though differences may exist among us.

At the end of the sermon, someone raised their hand. From where we were sitting, Stanton and I couldn’t see who it was. The pastor asked, “Yes, do you have a question?”

A familiar voice replied, “I turned four.”

Laughter rippled throughout the church. Stanton looked at me. “Was that Anna?”

“Of course that was Anna,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.

The pastor laughed and kindly said to our younger daughter, “That’s wonderful, that’s a milestone.” Then Reverend Amy asked all of us to pray with her.

She began her prayer by saying, “Thank you, God, for fourth birthdays.” She continued with gratitude for other things, and prayed for bigger things, like unity.

It’s funny, and sweet, how simple (and, well, self-focused) a young child’s outlook on life can be. You want to talk about diversity and unity, finding common ground and/or meeting in the middle? Well…OK, but, I mean…I just turned four, you know.

For Anna’s birthday, we invited a few friends over for a very low-key gathering of unicorn-themed arts and crafts, games, and cupcakes. I am an anxious hostess; I worry constantly that everyone is having a good time, especially the birthday girl.

A side note: My husband may have something to do with my party-planning anxiety. The morning of Anna’s birthday gathering, Stanton turned to me, cup of coffee in hand, and said, “So, when is Anna’s party? What time are we doing that?”

I just looked at him, friends. Just…looked at him.

After the party that day, I knelt down beside Anna. She was sucking on one of the lollipops we had stuffed into the unicorn piñata earlier in the day. (Of course there was a unicorn piñata.) “Did you have fun?” I asked hopefully. “How are you feeling?”

Anna pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled at me. “Happy.”

I turned four. Happy. A lot of times, simplicity hits the spot—no grand gestures or big words needed.

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Fourth birthdays are worth remembering, though, are worth saying thank-you for. There’s a lot of blessing in the everyday.

Certainly we celebrate big milestones, and frame and mount above our fireplace mantels the professionally photographed and Photoshopped memories of wedding days, graduations and family reunions. But everyday moments? Those candid-camera shots of high fives and group hugs after winning the neighborhood bar’s Trivia Night, and quiet, contented camaraderie as dusk winds down a backyard barbecue? These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough,” attributed to a 13th-century theologian, Meister Eckhart. Now, I’m not a theologian, and I more comfortably identify as spiritual than specifically religious. This is probably why I feel this quote so much.

Thank you.

Two words, short and sweet. Simplicity, yet gratitude. Grace.

As a prayer, “Thank you” acknowledges something besides ourselves, and beyond ourselves. It doesn’t delve into doctrine, or get caught up in policies and procedures. Doesn’t split hairs about what various Scriptures may or may not mean. “Thank you” simply…acknowledges.

Despite its simplicity, “Thank you” is mighty. “Thank you” acknowledges, I didn’t do this myself. I’ve messed up, I’ve made mistakes, and yet here by the grace of beauty beyond my control and comprehension, this good thing came into my life.

I feel this way about my children, as many parents do. When I kiss Grace good night, or hold Anna’s hand until she falls asleep, I often think, Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Possibly I’m lazy in my relationship with my God. Maybe I should put more time into praying more eloquently. Lord knows I’ll rewrite a blog post, short story or magazine article until I feel the words are just right.

I mean it when I say I may be a spiritually and/or religiously lazy person. I’m not just saying that to be humorously self-deprecating. Saying you subscribe to spirituality, grace and, “Thank you”—just keeping it simple over here, folks!—can be a cop-out for addressing hard questions head-on. Letting yourself off the hook. (I have been known to cringe when conflict and hard questions arise, in other areas of my life.)

At the same time—and I mean this part, too—the times I have felt closest to God have been simple, everyday moments. Kissing my children good night. Picking blueberries with my family at Indian Ladder Farms, mountains majesty behind us.

My most heartfelt prayers have not been recitations of venerable benedictions and creeds, but words like, “Thank you.”

The blessing in the everyday.

These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

Another simple prayer, which I would guess is very popular, is, “Please.” Please let it be OK. Please don’t go until I get there to say goodbye. We often don’t even finish the sentence beyond the first word. Please. Please. Please.

“Please” and “thank you.” It may not be a coincidence that our most turned-to, from-the-heart prayers are these simple social graces we learned as children.

If you think about it, seemingly simple words help us express ourselves in the most profound moments of our lives. They are the words (and the prayers) we turn to when nothing else—nothing bigger, nothing better—will do.

Please.

Thank you.

Happy.

I do.

Sorry.

Hello.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Thank God for fourth birthdays.

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.

Paper Plates Will Work: On Keeping Family Traditions Simple

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

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

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

Family traditions…really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they aren’t always fancy, friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…I wish them joy, and inside jokes.

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

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

Undeservedly lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditions can be what we make them, right?

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Getting to the Good Part

“Mom.”

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

“I want to go home, Mom.”

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

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

Anna flopped onto a chair.

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

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

“I’m tired of volunteering, Mom.”

“I know, honey.”

“I want a snack, Mom.”

“In a minute, Anna.”

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

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

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

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

Now Grace was tugging on my T-shirt.

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

“I’m happy you were here today, Mom.”

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

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

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

“I liked seeing you around.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too,” Stanton said.

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

“I do like ice cream,” Stanton said.

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

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

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

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

Keep moving forward.

P.S. The answer is yes—it’s worth it.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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