When Your Life Feels Like a Sitcom: Mom/Holiday Edition

It was a somewhat typical weekday afternoon. Anna, home from preschool, perched on the family-room rug, safety-scissoring the cover of a Crate & Barrel catalog into hundreds of pieces. I sat nearby at the dining table, which doubles as my home office. My laptop screen was open to a style guide, and every now and then, I glanced at my phone. I would be talking soon with a writing-industry friend about some freelance work.

“Now remember, Anna,” I said. “While I’m on the phone, play quietly, please.” I would have turned on the TV, but had taken away TV earlier that day for…some good reason, I’m sure.

The phone rang. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. I began talking.

A few minutes later, things fell apart.

“Mom, Mom! I had an accident in the bathroom! Mom!”

I closed my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I told my friend. “You can probably hear Anna in the background.”

My friend laughed, incredibly kind and understanding. She has young children too.

Anna ran up to me. She tugged at my arms, my legs. “MOM!”

“I feel horribly unprofessional now,” I apologized again, “but I promise I’ll do a good job for you.”

Again, she was very kind, and we hung up soon after.

I helped Anna. As I did, I said, “You knew that was an important phone call. Did you have to yell so much?”

Anna cupped my chin in her hands. “I needed you.” She looked so sweet, and helpless, and…mischievous too.

I sighed.

A few minutes later, things fell apart.

Not long after, we picked up Grace a bit early from school. She had a well checkup with our pediatrician. Traditionally, these checkups occur around a child’s birthday. Grace has a summer birthday, and now it’s December, so…yes, I was a smidge behind scheduling this appointment.

“Mom, will I get any shots today?” Grace asked.

“Well…” I had just signed for both girls to get the flu shot. “Let’s not worry about that right now.”

Grace groaned. A nurse called out, “Leddy!”

As the three of us walked over, Anna smiled, pointed at Grace and said, “We’re here for my sister. Her.”

Grace and the nurse looked at me with knowing smiles. I sighed…again.

Yes, Anna was not pleased when she discovered she was getting the flu shot too.

Before we left, the pediatrician asked Grace to leave a sample. He handed her a blue plastic cup. The three of us crammed into the family restroom.

Anna stopped pouting to say, “I can’t believe Grace has to tinkle in a cup.”

“This is a little crazy, Mom,” Grace observed.

Let me tell you, friends… I stood there, in that family restroom, with both my daughters, one of whom had sabotaged my work-related phone call earlier and the other holding a blue plastic cup, currently… I stood there and I thought, Yes, this is a little crazy.

At that moment, it was only 3 p.m. Later that evening, Grace had her performing-arts class, and I was going to a book club. Stanton had thought he’d be home in time to be with the girls, but found out last-minute he wouldn’t…so a super-sweet neighborhood babysitter was helping us out.

Logistics. Changes of plans (or, Plans B, C and D). Mad dashes to the ATM for babysitter money.

Blue. Plastic. Cups.

Life can be a little crazy sometimes.

Sometimes my life feels so “a little crazy,” I almost can’t believe it. Maybe you’ve had this feeling too, at some point: your life as a sitcom.

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I don’t like to complain. I’m deeply grateful for my family, our good health, everything. I’m also conscious that there are folks with much graver circumstances, compared to my “a little crazy” inconveniences.

Still…it’s healthy to acknowledge whatever level of craziness exists. To take a breath, maybe even vent. Or, simply, laugh out loud.

I was venting and LOL-ing with my sister. Jenna is everything you could want in a sister. She listens, she’s objective, she often answers on the first ring. During one of our recent conversations, she said, “I can’t believe that happened. I mean, that is actually your life.”

Now, let me clarify: The words “that is actually your life” contained no envy, awe or admiration of any kind. Just bewilderment, friends. Straight-up bewilderment.

Some of our day-to-day moments can feel like an episode of “Modern Family” or “The Simpsons.” Life is happening, unfolding, getting a little crazy now…cue the laugh track…moving along now, keep it going, just keep go-go-going…

Life is happening, unfolding, getting a little crazy now…cue the laugh track…moving along now…

The sitcom-like sensation may appear particularly strong during the holidays. Stanton, the girls and I were driving home one evening, and we were admiring all our neighbors’ Christmas decorations. Strands of lights, homemade wreaths, candles in windows…

“Wow, Mom and Dad! They have a Christmas dragon!”

I peered out the window. Indeed, our next-door neighbors had set up a seven-foot, red-and-green inflatable dragon complete with sparkling lights and Santa hat in their front yard. Joy to the world.

In the spirit of Christmas, I had positioned a poinsettia in our front bay window. And had thought about lights for the front porch. But so far…just the poinsettia.

“Can we get a Christmas dragon too?” the girls asked.

I love my neighbors, and I honestly love their big, festive outdoor holiday décor. But… “I’m sorry, girls, we’re not getting a Christmas dragon.”

We didn’t even get a real Christmas tree. One year we (probably) will. I imagine the four of us would love heading out to a tree farm, all Griswold-like, and choosing our very own Christmas tree. Maybe even cutting it down. You can do that, I’ve heard.

But this Christmas…mm-hmm, we unfolded our artificial tree in the family room. The girls loved decorating it. For some reason, though, the tree leans forward, no matter what we do to fix it. Our tree refuses to stand straight up.

(“It’s pretty straight,” Stanton said, laughing, after reading a draft of this post.)

A lone poinsettia in the front window, and a pretty-straight artificial tree. Merry Christmas from the Leddys.

The sitcom-like sensation may appear particularly strong during the holidays.

Does your family send out Christmas cards? We do. We haven’t yet, but…we do…

Anna and I stopped by the post office to buy holiday stamps. I have a penchant for winter scenes: birds on branches, footprints in the snow. When it was our turn, I told the postal service clerk I needed holiday stamps.

“Do you want Santa Claus, the menorah or Kwanzaa greetings?”

“Um…do you have footprints in the snow?”

“All we have left is Santa Claus, the menorah and Kwanzaa greetings.”

I looked at Anna; she looked back. “Well, if those are our choices…we should probably get Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus,” Anna affirmed.

Choices abound during the holidays. Santa Claus, the menorah or Kwanzaa greetings? Artificial or tree-farm-chosen?

I’ve also had the opportunity to check yes or no for some holiday-related volunteer opportunities in our community. Party planning, group play-date hosting, fundraiser T-shirt selling. Forgive me, but…no, no and no. I just simply can’t do one more thing right now, I’ve tried to explain. I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but I am not Superwoman.

My apologies…but I’m not.

I just simply can’t do one more thing, I’ve tried to explain. I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but I am not Superwoman.

This past week, a short story I wrote was published in a literary journal. Friends and family very kindly shared their congratulations with me. I was chatting with a college friend, who’s also a mom, and she said she was impressed by me.

“Please don’t be impressed,” I told her. I meant it, 100 percent. If you only knew how “a little crazy” things can get around here…and the countless creative-writing rejections I get for every once-in-a-blue-moon email that begins with, “We’d like to publish your piece…”

Do you know what makes an impression, for me? What catches my breath, touches my heart? People—families—who power through.

Power through imperfection, and disappointment, and the darkness that can fall. Power through Plan B’s, C’s and D’s to find light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyday survivors.

Life as a sitcom. We all have our own cast of characters. Each of us plays the hero in our own story, of course. Then there’s the buddy character, the love interest. Beyond the characters, we have recurring themes, conflicts and punch lines.

Sometimes we’re the punch line.

But if we get to the closing credits…and see we’ve come this far, with our crazy but lovable cast of characters intact…let’s take a bow, shall we?

Because we made it, blue plastic cups and all.

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.

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Answering to Grace’s Mom: A Surprising Joy

One afternoon recently, Anna and I headed over to Grace’s elementary school. Parents and other family members can join their kids for lunch, and this had been on my to-do list for, let’s see, the past year. #gettingthingsdone

Grace’s kind teacher invited me to come in a bit early so that I could read a story to the class before the lunch period.

“Yay!” Grace said.

Anna frowned. “I don’t want to read.”

“You can sit next to me on the rug,” Grace told her little sister.

Anna kept frowning.

That afternoon, I stuffed my tote bag with several seasonal story selections, lunch for Anna and me, and water bottles. Anna and I arrived at Grace’s school right on time. I like to tell people they can count on me to be right on time, or a smidge behind schedule—but definitely, reliably not early.

Grace smiled when Anna and I walked into her classroom. I knew many of the other kids from around the neighborhood, sports and other activities, and they smiled too. “Hi, Grace’s mom!” they said.

I so appreciated how welcoming the whole class was, and I loved reading a story (“The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything”) to them. The whole time, Grace kept smiling at me. After story time, Anna and I followed Grace to the cafeteria. Grace showed us where to sit. A lot of kids crowded around me, which had zero effect on my ego—I knew I was the daily novelty.

“Grace’s mom, can you open my straw?” one of the kids asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

“Mom,” Anna hissed. She was huddled beside me. “I need help too.”

I gave Anna her turkey and cheese sandwich.

“Grace’s mom! I have a sandwich too,” another kid said. “My mom cuts the crust off because I don’t like it.”

“That’s so nice,” I said.

Anna was tugging on my arm. “Mom. I don’t like crust either, but you left mine on.”

I glanced at her. She scrunched up her nose. “You’re going to be OK, honey.”

A lot of kids crowded around me, which had zero effect on my ego—I knew I was the daily novelty.

I loved dropping in at Grace’s school that day. I was there for about thirty minutes, and I loved everything about that time. I recognized that Grace was happy I was there, and I remembered that being there means a lot to people. I felt deeply grateful I was able to be there.

I also felt something I wasn’t expecting, something that really surprised me. I felt joy when my daughter’s classmates and friends called me “Grace’s mom,” when they addressed me in that way.

It made me smile. It was sweet, and innocent.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t a child (girl) who spent hours dreaming up names for her future children. Instead, I surveyed baby names websites for ideas on what to name characters in stories I was writing. I wasn’t an instinctively motherly person.

Even now, I know there are things, maternally, I could be doing more wholeheartedly. Like, play more games with the girls. (Although they often cheat, at everything from Candy Land to the Dr. Seuss Matching Game.)

Still, I could be more fun…and less selfish. During the fellowship after church on Sunday, Anna revealed to another lady, “My mom ate all our Pirate’s Booty again.” Grace chimed in that they had discovered the empty bag in the trash.

Yeah…all true stories, unfortunately.

…Anna revealed to another lady, “My mom ate all our Pirate’s Booty again.”

What touched my heart most of all, I think, in being called “Grace’s mom” is that Grace beamed. Grace was proud…of me. Despite all the things I could have done (and could do) better, she still wanted to claim me as her mom.

And I am proud of Grace. I love being her mom, and Anna’s too.

Somebody out there (a graduate student, maybe) probably could write a paper about the detriments of answering to “[insert name of child]’s mom.” I used to write papers like that back in my own graduate school days, and I can envision the discussion: loss of identity, sense of self dependent on relationship status, a note about postmodernism thrown in for good measure. Some of that would even be true.

When we become parents, we do experience a loss, of carefree-ness. We let a more carefree part of ourselves go, and settle into a more grown-up role. There is so much we gain too, though.

I’ve always been more of a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” person. Loss and gain, rather than just loss or just gain. Shades of gray, not black or white.

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Sometimes, even “both/and” comes with its own set of headaches. After Stanton and I got married, I used both last names (my maiden and married names) on everything: my driver’s license, address labels and, most importantly to me, bylines for articles I wrote.

As a writer, I cared about the continuity between what “Melissa Minetola” and “Melissa Minetola Leddy” wrote. And as a partner, I cared about honoring the love I have for the person who’s encouraged me in my writing since we were freshmen in college. Time after time, all three of those names took up quite a bit of space on identity documents, stationery and mastheads. Until I decided it was time to give readers (and the general public) more credit. People would be able to figure out who I was if I signed off as, simply, “Melissa Leddy.” (This is, of course, just my experience, and what made sense for me. Everyone’s different in what works for them.)

As a girl, I named the characters in my stories, instead of my future children. Storytelling has always been part of my life. I loved reading to Grace’s class that afternoon, as “Grace’s mom.” Just as much, I loved participating in our town’s Local Author Fair, also this fall.

It was the first time I was part of an author fair. I sat at a table with a poet on my left, and a military memoirist on my right. The poet brought a vase of fresh-cut flowers as the backdrop for her display of books (stunning!), and the memoirist unveiled a bowl of candy, which attracted lots of passersby (who doesn’t love Jolly Ranchers?). I’m going to remember these tricks of the trade for next time. I had made bookmarks, which a few folks took.

An older woman asked if she could buy a copy of one of my books. “Well, they’re e-books,” I said. “So you can buy them online.”

She laughed. “I don’t read e-books!”

I laughed a little too. “OK, well, you can have one of my bookmarks then.” She didn’t want one of those either.

At that moment, Stanton and the girls walked over, and I waved to them. They beamed at me.

“Awww, who’s this?” the poet asked.

“This is my husband, Stanton, and these are our daughters…”

“I love your book fair, Mom!” Grace said. She lowered her voice. “But that lady should have taken your bookmark.”

“It’s OK, honey…”

“Can I have a bookmark, Mom?” Anna reached for the stack.

“Hang on, honey…”

Stanton leaned over. “We’re proud of you,” he whispered.

I hadn’t sold an e-book yet, and the local older-adult population didn’t seem interested in my free bookmarks either…but I so appreciated my husband’s saying that, and my whole family’s support and encouragement. And their being there.

When someone you love looks at you with love simply because you showed up to read a story to them and their friends—that’s a beautiful feeling. It’s also a beautiful feeling when that same person looks at you that same way when you’re trying to publicize stories you wrote (with mixed results… 😉 ).

Pet names, pen names, nicknames, Twitter handles and aliases… The name game can be a intricate one. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter as much as you once thought it did.

Sometimes, someone says something, calls you something (“Grace’s mom”), and it simply feels right. And it gives you joy. You never imagined it would…but that’s life for you.

Life is full of surprises. Some good, some bad. We do our best to grow with each ebb and flow.

We do our best to be there.

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.

I Can’t Picture You Old

My mom and dad came to visit, this past weekend. It was wonderful to see one another.

On Saturday afternoon, I smiled as I watched my dad play soccer with Stanton and the girls. They passed Grace’s gray, much-kicked soccer ball around the backyard. Every so often, one of them scored in the portable goal, which Stanton had set up to the right of a cluster of maple trees.

Later, my parents said they would get good rest that night. I complimented my dad on his enduring soccer skills. Years earlier, he had coached my brothers’ youth soccer teams. Then my mom noted that my dad wasn’t as young as he used to be.

For a moment, I really had to pause. Then I shook my head. “I can’t picture you old,” I told my dad, and my mom.

For me—and maybe for a lot of us—we think of our moms and dads as ageless. Or, if not ageless exactly, then we think of them as always there. This is how I think of my parents, anyway.

I can’t imagine a time in which I don’t receive an email from my dad, in which he signs it “GG”—short for Gordon Gekko, a reference to “Wall Street.” My family and I joke that my dad has only ever seen the same handful of movies over and over again (“Wall Street” among them, right up there with “Rocky” and “The Godfather”). In my replies back to my dad, I sign off with “Bud,” the name of Gekko’s protégé—all old, inane inside jokes, because we’re nothing like these movie characters.

When I check my email, I consider it a given that a note from my “GG” will be somewhere in the mix, just as I have faith that my mom will answer her phone every time I call. You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith.

You might be right.

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While I can’t picture my parents “old,” I have noticed some aging on my husband’s part (sorry, buddy). Stanton’s hair has thinned a bit in the back. “Wow,” I said, the first time I noticed.

“Thanks, Mel,” he replied.

The past few years have been somewhat of a downhill slog for me too, cosmetically speaking. Case in point: I really should work on my abs. With the best of intentions, I got a kickboxing DVD that promises it will help sculpt them. All I have to do is get up early enough to sweep, squat, kick…but I choose sleep every time. Let’s hashtag it, friends: #hopelesscause.

You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith. You might be right.

While my parents were here, Stanton and I enjoyed a rare brunch date at the Iron Gate Cafe in downtown Albany. This is one of our favorite local restaurants. We sat at a table for two alongside an exposed-brick wall, and had many cups of coffee as we talked.

When you’re the parents of young children, it can be tricky to truly “talk.” Conversations often focus on logistics—who needs a dentist appointment, what time Parents Night at the elementary school starts, when is the absolute latest we can mail in the soccer-picture-order form. So over Stanton’s Bacado omelet and my breakfast BLT, we really appreciated the time and space we had to break bread, literally and figuratively.

We did talk about the girls, of course. And about my writing and his work, and future trips we wanted to take together. “We’ve got to see Maine,” I said, and Stanton agreed.

As we talked, I noticed that everyone around us was talking too. Folks at the other tables were gathered together…talking. Enjoying one another’s company, as well as the food.

I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people take pictures of themselves and their surroundings, wherever I am, that I was actually struck by the talking/non-picture-taking. How awesome, I thought, for all these people to be engaged with their families and friends. To be present.

In so many ways, it’s healthy to be present. And to live in the present. To appreciate the time we have right now, because the truth is, time ticks away from us, quietly yet relentlessly.

How awesome…To be present.

When my daughters are older, one thing I want to pass along to them is to appreciate men like their dad, and mine. Men who value good conversation, and listen to them (and don’t mind unsculpted abs). Men who get outside and revel in the fresh air, rather than get lost in their phones, TV’s and other toys. Kind, hearty men.

Across the ages, some things stay timeless. Honesty, courage, respect for humanity and the Earth that sustains us all. Those values don’t grow old.

In the face of our humanness and impermanence, sometimes the best we can do for our children and families is live the morals of the stories we tell.

Before my parents headed back to Pennsylvania, we all gathered in the breakfast nook. We had some coffee and apple cider doughnuts from nearby Kleinke’s Farm (another excellent local stop). Anna was telling us about her preschool, and my dad joked that his early childhood education came from the School of Hard Knocks.

“Huh?”

“I’m kidding, sweetheart.” My dad smiled at Anna. “Pop didn’t go to preschool.”

“Poor Pop!”

I smiled at my daughter, and my dad. I love my dad incredibly, and throughout all these years, this is what I’ve learned from listening to my dad’s stories—these have been the morals of his stories: Bring people together. Make them comfortable, make them feel welcome, make them laugh.

The content of the story doesn’t matter so much as the context. School of Hard Knocks or creative nonfiction or a story made up at bedtime, it doesn’t matter. What matters is making people feel better because you were there, gathered together with your story.

I can’t picture you old.

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 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.

True Love Is Staying Awake

Like most moms, I have no problem falling asleep the second my head hits the pillow at the end of the day. Kids, work, life, family and friends, the grocery store, dropping off and picking up at various summer camps, ordering supplies for an upcoming birthday party—no, I don’t struggle with insomnia. Other things, yes; inability to nod off, no.

One evening this week, Stanton was telling me a story from his day. My eyelids kept drooping down, but every now and then, I said, “Hmm.” Then I yawned.

We’ve known each other long enough that the yawn didn’t offend my husband. “It’s OK, I know it’s not that interesting,” he said.

“Please tell me the rest,” I said. I blinked my eyes open. “I promise I’ll stay awake.”

I was promising to not fall asleep. Not to listen, exactly, or ask follow-up questions. But simply to be awake, to be there.

A couple of nights before, Stanton had gotten up twice to comfort Grace, who was sick. She had called out, and he had heard instantly and sprinted up the steps to her room. At one point, I remember squinting through the darkness at the clock on the desk in our room: 3:02 a.m.

Grace will be 7 soon, in just a few days. Talk about blinking—the past seven years have gone by in a blink.

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I remember one night before Grace was born. It was the middle of the night, past midnight probably. I was hugely, uncomfortably pregnant and couldn’t sleep (one of the last times in my life this happened). My tossing and turning in our bed woke Stanton; we decided to take a nocturnal walk.

We were living in San Antonio then. Even at dusk, the August temperature was hot, and we held hands loosely, our skin sticky. We shuffled through our neighborhood, winding our way around cul-de-sacs and under live oak trees.

I don’t remember what we said as we walked. But we did walk, together. Stanton stayed awake.

True love is staying awake.

We may not realize this. Not if we rely on pop culture for wisdom regarding true love, or social media for inspiration of what devotion looks like.

The girls and I were just in a local bookstore, I Love Books. We wandered through the aisles, our flip flops gently slapping against the light-blue wooden floorboards. Then on a shelf of coloring books, I noticed one, “Harry and Meghan: A Love Story.”

I couldn’t help myself, friends—I flipped through it. (Doesn’t every girl who grew up in the ’90s have a soft spot in her heart for the fun-loving royal ginger?) The coloring book proclaimed, “Their love captivated the world!” and featured drawings of Meghan’s engagement ring, flutes of Champagne, and Buckingham Palace.

I wish any couple only the best, including the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I wish them all the good things: joy, adventure, the comfort of each other. A problem with so many pop-culture depictions of love, though, is that they don’t show what happens next.

What happens after the last bit of bubbly has been sipped.

After the honeymoon wraps up…when real life begins. There are no coloring books glamorizing “[Insert Names Here]: Our Long Road to Parenthood.” Or “When [Name] Lost Her Job,” or “The Year [Name’s] Dad Was Diagnosed With [Fill in the Blank].”

“Harry and Meghan: Middle Age”—no, I can’t see that one flying off the bookshelves.

A problem with so many pop-culture depictions of love…is that they don’t show what happens next.

It’s important to show what happens next so that our visions of love and romance are rooted in reality. So that we don’t grow up, couple up, and then come face to face with hardship…and have no idea how to handle it or stick together.

The last gasp of a wedding day…the final montage of a romantic comedy…the curtains closing at a Broadway show or high-school production of “Beauty and the Beast.” These are all moving moments. Emotional highs. We leave feeling satiated…exhausted.

And then it’s the middle of the night, and someone we love needs us. We’d rather be sleeping, but we go. We stay awake.

Publishers may not immortalize that response with a coloring book. We ourselves probably wouldn’t post an update to our Twitter feed. “Up at 3 a.m.?” It’s not quite as ❤ -able as “Date night!” or “Class of ’05 reunion!” or “Impromptu house party!”

It’s not quite as ❤ -able (on Twitter, anyway), but sometimes, it means everything in real life.

Sometimes, true love is staying awake.

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 Making French Onion Soup

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

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

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

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

Or make French onion soup, as I recently did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and then caramelizing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s an acquired taste,” I agreed.

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

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

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

Some things are acquired tastes.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Last Call: Tell Me Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wouldn’t want that? I agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.