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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My older daughter smiled.

“What else, Grace?” Anna wondered.

Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark chocolate is more delicious than milk.

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

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

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

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

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

You can always come home.

(Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me.)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s art, and there’s life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

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

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

I had a moment then, friends.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

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

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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 Rest is a Secret…or Not

One of my favorite spots for Saturday morning breakfast here in the Capital Region is Iron Gate Café. If you know me in real life, then you probably already know this—I recommend this local restaurant whenever the topic of weekend brunch comes up.

Located downtown near Center Square, Iron Gate Café serves up hearty, wonderfully seasoned meals in a renovated 19th-century mansion. It has lots of space, so folks usually need not wait long to be seated. The servers are always friendly.

There is also an Elvis room.

Stanton and I were there recently for breakfast. A Saturday morning, of course. Our friendly server poured two cups of coffee for us.

Now, another great thing about Iron Gate Café is that it serves Death Wish Coffee, a nationally popular coffee brand that’s headquartered in nearby Ballston Spa. I love Death Wish, but the coffee I tasted that morning was a little different—even more delicious than usual. “This is amazing,” I told the server. “Are you all still using Death Wish?”

She nodded and explained that Death Wish had created a one-of-a-kind blend just for them.

Years ago, I was the editor of a food and wine magazine, and part of me still loves getting this kind of “inside scoop” from the local dining scene. “Awesome,” I said. “What’s in the blend?” I took another sip of my coffee, trying to figure out the flavor combination.

Caramel, she said, in addition to something else that, days later, I’ve now forgotten (possibly chocolate)…but I do clearly remember her saying, “and the rest is a secret.”

I laughed, appreciating the sentiment. Who doesn’t love a secret family recipe of sorts? Stanton just smiled and shook his head, contentedly drinking his coffee, happy just to have it and not needing to know the story behind the beverage.

I was happy just to have coffee too.

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Although…as we were sitting there, I did think about how we often do want to know. Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty. This probably has been true since time began, and we tried to make sense of the world through stories, and later set sail across oceans and sent spacecraft sky-high to discover what else was (is) out there.

Today, technology continuously bridges the gap between uncertainty and discovery. “Just ask your phone, Mom,” my daughters encourage, whenever I say I’m not sure of something.

To some of us, phones are magic.

Yet as curious as I was about the flavor combination that morning (caramel, possibly chocolate and what else?), I really appreciated—more than anything—simply having that time together with my husband. To be there together, being present together…I appreciated that so much. I didn’t need to know all the details to know that I loved that moment.

Sometimes, simply being—simply being present—is sacred.

Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty.

When I see people together in restaurants, I often can tell (and maybe you can too) how well they know one another. How long they’ve been in one another’s lives…how many cups of coffee they’ve shared. This exercise is more art than science, but a dead giveaway once was when a man said to the woman he was with, “Now, what’s your sister’s name again?” Conclusion: Clearly, they were still getting to know each other.

People who look very good for each other at Iron Gate Café at 10 a.m. on a Saturday…mm-hmm, I’d guess they’re still in the early stages of knowing each other too. These couples stand in stark contrast to the still-pajama-clad groups of college students and youngish-looking roommates who roll in together, groggily requesting coffee, coffee, coffee. And then there’s everyone else, a wide range of folks in between these bookends—Stanton and I would fall somewhere in there, somewhere in the middle.

After a while, in relationships, in friendships…you know each other. There are things you just know. And sometimes, there are things you never do.

“We can love completely without complete understanding,” Norman Maclean wrote in his classic memoir (and my favorite book) “A River Runs Through It.” I have found this to be true. Maybe you have too.

This is why, then, I so appreciated the server’s saying that the rest of the coffee blend recipe was a secret. It’s OK, I think, to let some things be. To allow some real magic to exist the world. Even to be blissfully ignorant every now and then.

I told her all this, you know. After we finished our breakfast, I said, “I love that there’s a secret here.”

She glanced sideways, then said, “Actually…I forgot the rest of the ingredients in the blend.”

I gasped. “No way.” But she nodded; Stanton laughed.

And there went a perfectly good blog post, friends. 😉

But that’s life.

Just when you thought you figured it all out…just when you felt you had the answer you’d been waiting for, or reached your final destination (finally!)…hold on now, not quite there yet.

There’s still more to discover. Life can surprise you yet.

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.

 

Favorite Family Movies (or, Why We Just Watched Fletch for the 20th Time)

The week of Christmas, my parents’ house. Both girls had fallen asleep. Stanton and I sat with my two brothers and sister in the family room. The conversation topic at hand: what movie to watch.

We scrolled through the options on Netflix. I had read good things about “Bird Box,” and “Carol.” Jenna and I, halfheartedly, suggested “Love Actually” (predictably, Stanton, Josh and Jared groaned their dissent). None of these options, however, was ever a serious contender. We all knew—all five of us—that we would, in the end, settle on something we’d seen many times before.

That night, we watched “Fletch,” the ’80s cult classic starring Chevy Chase as investigative journalist Irwin M. Fletcher (and multiple aliases).

Chevy Chase once said Fletch was his favorite role. Personally, I prefer him as Clark Griswold. “Christmas Vacation” is another favorite in my family’s (admittedly short) list of beloved motion pictures. Sometimes, my dad and I even have text conversations consisting entirely of “Christmas Vacation” quotes. (“If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”)

I loved watching “Fletch” once again too, though. I enjoyed seeing Tim Matheson as Alan Stanwyck, before he was John Hoynes. His back-and-forth with Fletch still made me laugh. (“Do you own rubber gloves?” “I rent. I have a lease, with an option to buy.”) And still, I’m not entirely clear on the LAPD/drug trafficking story line, but that doesn’t impede my enjoyment of the film. It doesn’t matter, to me.

Why? Because “Fletch” is familiar—comfort food, in a way. And I would never think to watch it on my own, without my family. It wouldn’t be as fun: no one to quote punch lines with, no one to laugh with. No shared history, or memories, or paper plates of Doritos (a guilty pleasure, a few times a year).

Favorite family movies. We all have them. (What are yours?)

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While we were all together (in addition to rewatching “Fletch”), Stanton, my siblings and I took part in a local pizza place’s Trivia Night. Our team name? I Don’t Know, Margo, in reference to a “Christmas Vacation” quote (and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character, pre-“Seinfeld”). Of course our team name referenced a favorite family movie quote.

Trivia Night together was a lot of fun. Mostly because we had my brother Josh on our team, I Don’t Know, Margo, won. As we walked to our car afterward, Jenna led us in singing, “We Are the Champions.”

Yes, we were that family. 😉

That family, friends, similar to so many others. All with their share of joys, disappointments and inside jokes. And still coming together again, holiday after holiday, year after year, despite any distances or differences.

After our own Christmas vacation, Stanton, the girls and I got ready to head home. We all hugged one another goodbye. My sister told Anna, “I’ll miss you so much!”

Anna, 3 years old, smiled, shouted, “I’ll be back!” and ran out the front door. Anna makes me smile all the time, and I smiled then too.

“I’ll be back!”—this sentiment sums up why we watch the same old movies again and again. They take us back. Back in time, to a younger, more innocent, less complicated time. When everyone with whom we started out shared the same family room, the same TV.

Favorite family movies bring us forward and keep us together too. We look forward to the special-occasion and everyday reunions that encourage gathering, reminiscing…and cherished-movie rewatching (critics’ reviews, Rotten Tomatoes ratings and actors’ real lives notwithstanding).

“I’ll be back!”—this sentiment sums up why we watch the same old movies again and again. They take us back.

For all our movie watching (and rewatching), Stanton, the girls and I never actually watched a movie together, as a family of four. Kind of crazy, right? When the girls are watching TV, though, we try to get other things done.

We decided to have a super lazy, super cozy New Year’s Eve at home, doing something we’d never done: finally watch a movie together. I made French bread pizza beforehand, and Stanton built a fire in the fireplace. The four of us got comfy on the couch and watched “Beauty and the Beast” (the animated version). The girls had never seen it before and loved it, and Stanton and I enjoyed seeing it again. It was a really simple, really sweet time together, and maybe the start of our own tradition.

Later, after we tucked the girls into bed, Stanton and I tuned in to some of the Times Square Ball Drop news. The New Year’s Eve countdown was on, and winding down. In that moment, I felt an incredible sense of gratitude for my family.

For Stanton, there with me, and our daughters, upstairs. Both our sets of parents and grandmas, our siblings and their families, and our friends who are like family. We’re so lucky for all this love in our life.

When I think about life, and what it is and what it means, the first thing I think is beautiful. And the second thing is fragile.

I try to take care, then, with life and the people in it. I’ve made lots of mistakes, could always be a better person. I do try, though, to seek good, to give love.

Love is the little things. Watching (or rewatching) a movie with family. Speaking kindly to grocery-store cashiers, rather than checking our phones. Basically, being there for people…those we know and those we don’t. Being present.

Why not be present this New Year? Even if we already know all the punch lines.

“Those are three names I enjoy: Marvin, Velma and Provo.”

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.

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.