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.

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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.