A Different Person Now: Embracing New Seasons

This year, I’ve had the experience of being one of the “older” (or, more seasoned) moms, at my younger daughter’s preschool. For several of the other moms, this is their first encounter with school. They’ve enrolled their oldest children for the first time, and drop them off and pick them up with their younger kiddos in tow—infant car seats, burp cloths and all.

On the mornings when Anna is in school, I walk to a nearby library to write. Several times, the other moms have invited me to join them in the school lounge. Many times, they camp out in there—similar to how I camp out in the library—and chat as they feed and change their babies.

Every time, I’ve thanked them as I’ve bowed out, apologizing that I had work to do.

The other day, I dropped Anna off. I smiled and waved goodbye to the other moms. And as I walked to the library, I realized I had been those moms, when Grace was starting that preschool and Anna was still a baby.

Not so long ago, that was me. My days were more flexible; I had more time for off-the-cuff commiserating about sleep schedules and first foods. But I wasn’t that person anymore; I was somebody different now.

I remember when both my girls were babies, all the cozy moments we had together, all the much-appreciated conversation I exchanged with other parents (some of whom became friends) at parks and playgrounds and anything that was open by 9 a.m. on a Saturday. I’m thankful for that time in our life.

I’m also thankful for this time now, when my children are a little more independent, and I can be a little more independent too.

Ice Skates

Earlier this week, I came across the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I remembered that this book was popular a few years ago. (Usually, I’m a few years behind on a trend.)

Have you read this book, friends? I just started it, but I’m enjoying it. I very much appreciate its message about living in the present and making the most of the present. For example, this passage on pages 117-118 struck me:

“And what about things from your own childhood? Do you still keep your report cards or graduation certificates…Let all those letters you received years ago…go. The purpose of a letter is fulfilled the moment it is received…It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

Kondo’s last line there resonated with me: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

That perspective gave me permission, in a way, to consider letting go of some things I’ve kept with me through some of our cross-country moves—some things that have been packed up in boxes since our season in Virginia, nearly nine years ago.

As you know, our family of four moved into our home here in New York this past spring. Seven months later, we’re fairly unpacked. In the basement, however, remain a few lingering boxes.

A friend of ours needed some boxes, which motivated me to unpack some of ours—three, to be exact. On Sunday afternoon, I opened up these boxes.

Opening up boxes—often an exercise in nostalgia.

I like to think of myself as a minimalist, but the truth is, like everyone else, I have more stuff than I think I do. I unpacked towels, a spare set of sheets, a beautiful robe I’ve worn probably three times. I found a hard hat (Stanton’s), an alphabet puzzle (the girls’) and a bunch of cords.

Marie Kondo has a thought about cords: “If you see a cord and wonder what on earth it’s for, chances are you’ll never use it again” (page 110). She advocates for discarding cords that are a mystery to you.

I didn’t discard our cords—I didn’t discard anything, except a few broken toys—but as this week has gone on, I’ve continued reflecting on new seasons…Kondo’s book…and the boxes we keep in our homes, closed up and stored away.

Opening up boxes—often an exercise in nostalgia.

It’s a new season, literally, here in upstate New York: winter. Yesterday morning, snow was falling as I loaded the girls into the car for school.

“Wow!” Grace exclaimed, gazing up at the sky.

“Build a snowman?” Anna asked, hopeful.

“Please get into the car, girls,” I said. “We’re almost late.”

Instead, Anna pointed at me and laughed with delight. “Mom! Snowflakes in your hair!”

I couldn’t help but smile. And I took a moment to take in the snowfall, and the snowflakes. It is amazing that each snowflake is unique.

I was talking with my brother Jared a few nights ago. As we were on the phone, the girls were yelling in the background. “Oh, my gosh,” I said.

“One day, you’ll miss this,” Jared replied.

People say that, but… “We’ll see,” I said.

There must be a happy medium between nostalgia, and Marie Kondo’s magic of tidying up (i.e., throw things away). A balancing act of respecting the past, and embracing the present. Embracing new seasons.

Every holiday season, families gather together. Sometimes when we get together, we find that we revert to roles or personas from our childhood that aren’t us anymore—that don’t represent who we are today. It’s an easy, perhaps even automatic, thing to do. We don’t have to do it, though. We can choose to be the person we are now, all the time.

Until, of course, we evolve into the person we are next. Someone with a little more silver in their hair, and hopefully some wisdom to go along with it.

Yesterday was a little bit of a long day. At the end of it, I was cleaning up in the kitchen. Stanton was on his way home, and the girls were in the breakfast nook; I had just refilled their cups of milk.

I overheard Anna say, “Mom is nice. Do you like Mom, Grace?”

“Yes, I love Mom, Anna,” Grace said, and I could picture her shaking her head a little at Anna. Because I know Grace, and that’s what she would do.

Something I didn’t know until it happened—and I imagine this is true for many parents—is how much I would love being someone’s mom. How much I would treasure that, even on days that are a little bit long, and ones when we’re almost late. Motherhood is an all-season, always-a-part-of-you state of mind.

Luckily, some things don’t change.

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.

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You’re Here TODAY

Earlier this week, I went to a physician for an annual checkup. Although, for me, the last time I had this “annual” checkup was about three years ago. My excuse for this negligence happened to accompany me to my doctor that morning: my 2-year-old, Anna.

Yes, Anna goes everywhere with me these days—literally. Errands during the day (grocery store, post office, you name it). My bed, most nights. The restroom, the locker room at the Y, and now my doctor’s appointment.

I tried to schedule this appointment for when my parents would be in town to babysit, but it just didn’t work out. So that morning, I told the medical assistant at the doctor’s office, “I appreciate that you all don’t mind my bringing my daughter.”

She replied, “Don’t worry.” Then she addressed Anna with a smile: “Would you like some stickers?”

Anna smiled back and shook her head. “How ‘bout lollipops?” Anna’s doctor, the pediatrician, has stickers and lollipops.

The medical assistant laughed and left to find lollipops. When she returned, she gave Anna the sweets and then turned her attention back to me. She asked me when I had last had a checkup.

“Three years ago, which I know is bad,” I began explaining. “I was pregnant with Anna, then I had Anna, then I was busy with both my daughters, then we moved, then…”

The medical assistant smiled kindly. “It’s OK,” she said. “You’re here today.”

You’re here today.

Anna smiled back and shook her head. “How ‘bout lollipops?”

The rest of my appointment went smoothly. The physician turned out to be kind as well, and Anna, thankfully, was happily occupied with lollipops, stickers and coloring books for the rest of our time there. I was grateful to have found such a great doctor’s office in our town.

After we left, I kept thinking back to what the medical assistant had said: You’re here today. Her words stayed with me all day.

You’re here today—what an uplifting message.

The medical assistant was assuring me, Don’t worry about what happened, or didn’t happen, the past few years. Today you’re on the right track. Focus on the present—what’s right in front of you.

Easier said than done sometimes, right, friends?

The next morning, Grace wanted to color a picture to mail to my grandmother. She couldn’t find the crayons. “Mom!” she called.

As it turned out, the crayons were on the kitchen table—truly, right in front of her. “Grace, remember, what’s the secret of life?” I said.

“Look,” Grace replied. Then she looked and spotted the crayons. “They’re right here!”

We both laughed.

Eyeglasses

Parents often have little sayings or words of wisdom that they say, over and over again, to their children—to the point where, possibly, they become annoying to hear. At some point in my motherhood, I said to the girls, “I’m going to tell you the secret of life. The secret is to look. Open your eyes.”

I don’t remember what prompted me to say that. (Maybe, like this most recent time, somebody didn’t see something that was right there.) And I don’t pretend to know the secret of life.

Myriad talents, from entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs to singers like James Taylor, have reflected on “the secret of life.” I can’t stay the pace with those reflections. Anyway, the “secret of life” spiel I give my daughters is, partly, tongue-in-cheek.

I do believe, though, that it’s important to look—to be present.

The medical assistant reminded me of that “be in the present” perspective when she said, “You’re here today.”

“The secret is to look. Open your eyes.”

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Kathleen came to visit. Kathleen and I went to school together from kindergarten through high school. We’re what the kids today call “Day 1’s”—friends for a long time.

As always, it was wonderful to see Kathleen and catch up. We reminisced about childhood moments. At one point, I grimaced at the memory of something my younger self had done and told Kathleen, “I can’t believe I was that person!”

I thought back to some other memories from the past. Things I wish I had done, or hadn’t. Moments I wish I had been there for, but wasn’t. I thought again—to myself this time—I wish I did that differently.

I wish I had been different.

You can’t go back. You can’t go back, friends.

You’re here today. What you can do is take what you’ve learned from the past and make good with it in your present.

And you can be present.

For all the years-behind annual checkups and annoying little sayings I blame on my daughters, they have brought a joy to my life I know I don’t deserve. They are absolute gifts in my life, friends.

One of the most humbling parts of my day is when Grace and Anna want to show me something they worked on in kindergarten or preschool. They’re so proud to share their newest math worksheet or watercolor painting with me. They hand it to me, beam at me, wait for me to tell them it’s wonderful and bear-hug them.

“Look, Mom!”

“Look! Me too, Mom! Look!”

You’re here TODAY.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Book Review: The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair Book CoverIn my high school history classes, I remember learning about Mesopotamia (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, fourth millennium B.C.); the Magna Carta (England, 1215); and World War I. In college, I took a course called Greek and Roman Values to satisfy my history requirement. I didn’t get much formal education regarding current events post-November 11, 1918.

This is why, in large part, I enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s new novel, “The Cuban Affair” (September 2017), so much. I learned so much intriguing history about Cuba, and the international politics surrounding it, in DeMille’s work of fiction.

DeMille traveled to Cuba as field research for this book, and he wonderfully incorporates the local colors and flavors from that trip into “The Cuban Affair.” As I read this book, I really felt Cuba. DeMille engaged all my senses with his descriptions of the climate, architecture and overall feel of the Caribbean island nation. Also, I didn’t realize how close Cuba is to Key West, Florida: just 90 miles.

I really enjoyed learning about Key West too. As always, DeMille gives his main character, Mac, a former military man, a wry sense of humor. (I don’t think you can write a Nelson DeMille book review and not use the word “wry.”) I loved Mac’s wry description of his bar hangout in Key West, occurring early in the novel: “The place was starting to fill up…Freaks, geeks, loveable weirdos, and a few Hemingway look-alikes. He used to live here, and you can see his house for ten bucks. You can see mine for free. Bring a six-pack.” These words helped me see the scene Mac inhabits, and gave me a sense of Key West’s laid-back, quasi-Lost Generation vibe.

I found Mac to be a fairly well-developed character. I appreciated his social-cultural reflections on Maine, where he grew up, and his current hometown of Key West, along with his perspective on military life and, by extension, Afghanistan. Mac struck me as a man who had been to war, as his character was intended. Two examples of Mac’s reflections: “Close by was the Zero Mile Marker for U.S. Highway One, the literal end of the road that started in Maine. I’ve had a lot of profound thoughts about that, usually fueled by a few beers,” and “Portland, though, was a good place to grow up and it’s a good place to grow old. It’s the years in between that are a challenge to some people.” (Pretty deep, right? I found myself reflecting on my own “years in between.”)

At the same time, Mac seemed older than 35, the age he was supposed to be. That’s pretty much how old I am, and some of his character behaviors (or lack of behaviors) didn’t ring true to me.

For example, Mac didn’t have cell phone service in Cuba. Shouldn’t that have driven him crazy? Not being able to text, not logging in to Facebook, not playing Hearthstone? Also, Mac goes out of his way to make snide remarks about novelist Richard Neville, who is a thinly veiled fictional version of Nelson DeMille (I love how DeMille made the last names similar!). DeMille may have been having some fun with his storied alter ego, but it was hard for me to believe Mac really would have cared enough about Richard Neville to prank him with a sweaty Hemingway T-shirt.

Much of the plot of “The Cuban Affair,” once Mac gets to Cuba, depends on a series of circuitous events happening. All these events—from hoped-for encounters to code words to restored Buicks—seem a little convoluted. None of that bothered me, though, because I so appreciated the taste of Cuba and U.S./Cuban history that DeMille serves up in his engaging story. I believe, though, that you need to read this story with some suspension of disbelief. Don’t think too critically about the practicality of the various plot points, and you’ll enjoy it.

It’s a fun story, overall, and funny too. Later in the story, the anti-Castro Cuban “godfather” Eduardo explains to Mac, “‘Almost all Cubans believed that the Castro regime would not last more than a year. That the Americans would not allow a Communist country to exist off its shores’”—to which Mac sardonically considers, “Why not? We’ve got California and Vermont.” I laughed out loud, friends. Why not, indeed?

As an aside, I liked the cover design. I thought the turquoise background featuring red palm trees, one of which showed Mac’s boat, correlated beautifully with the story. Turquoise brings to mind the Florida Keys; red signals Communism. The bright color palette stands out from DeMille’s previous books, many of which present darker, more ominous palettes (“The General’s Daughter,” “Plum Island,” “Up Country”).

I have read nearly all of DeMille’s books, and “The Cuban Affair” is one of my favorites because, to me, it felt fresh and different. I also sensed the hours upon hours of research DeMille had put into this Cuban adventure, and I appreciated that a lot. “The Cuban Affair” is a worthy read.

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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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.

The Christmas Presents I Remember

Yesterday morning, Anna and I stopped by our local post office. While Anna munched on crackers and thumbed through a display of bubble mailers, I addressed several flat-rate envelopes and stuck the last of our Christmas presents for family and friends inside. I felt two emotions at the same time—hope, that everyone would like what I’d picked out for them; and relief, that my Christmas shopping and boxing was now (literally!) wrapped up.

For all its festiveness, the end of the year can be a stressful time. Arranging get-togethers and travel plans with loved ones. Finishing work projects. And buying presents. Always…buying…presents.

To be honest, I love picking out presents for people. I especially love doing this for my daughters. Stanton and I are so looking forward to Friday morning, when the girls will open our Christmas presents for them before we drive to my mom and dad’s house in Pennsylvania.

I think Grace will love the blue watch we got her—actually, I know she will, because she told me that’s what she wanted: “a blue watch.” And I can picture Anna’s eyes lighting up when she opens her box of dress-up headpieces. And I picture…ripped wrapping paper on the hardwood floor; hot chocolate with marshmallows in mugs on the coffee table; and staying in our pajamas longer than we ever would on a normal Friday morning.

I thought back to my own childhood. I tried to remember, what were some of my favorite Christmas presents? I thought harder…

christmas-present

What came to mind, instantly—and as clearly as if it had just happened—was my parents’ living room. There was ripped wrapping paper there, too. And my Dad with a big Hefty bag, cleaning up.

I remembered my Dad.

And my Mom. In my memory, my Mom was sitting on the couch, holding a cup of coffee because she’d been up until 2 a.m. wrapping all the presents and baking the last of our Christmas cookies. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

My Dad and my Mom.

My brothers and sister, too—I remembered them. We were all there together. Later that day, my grandparents would come over…and other family and friends…and we’d celebrate Christmas all day long.

I remembered all those things very clearly.

Not one single Christmas present, however, is a clear memory. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

Christmas presents are fun—the giving and the getting. They’re especially fun for kids. It’s unfortunate, though, that some of the things related to the fun and festivity of this season can be stressful.

So if you’re feeling stressed right now, friends…if you still haven’t addressed all your Christmas cards (me neither!)…or wrapped your kids’ presents…or crossed off some lingering end-of-year to-do’s…take a breath. Take a moment.

Remember.

What the people you love will remember…is YOU. That you were there.

That you cared.

They love YOU.

Merry Christmas, all. 🙂

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Glitter, Tea and the UPS Guy: This Is Christmas

My desk is covered in specks of greeting-card glitter. Every evening for the past week, I’ve been writing out Christmas cards, a handful at a time, in the cozy corner space where I usually work on my magazine articles, blog posts and short stories. Maybe I’ll have everything mailed before the middle of next week—maybe.

As I scroll though my list of addresses, the names of family members and friends evoke memories of times, places and seasons in my life. Jenna, my sister—Pennsylvania, our childhood; and now New York, our new, shared home turf. Rick and Sara, college friends—Virginia. Steve and Dulce, San Antonio, the first years of our marriage. Every name a memory, and a gratitude I feel for love and friendship that stand the tests of time and space.

This year, I scooped up several boxes of Christmas cards during a buy-one-get-one-free sale at Hallmark. Stanton and I are still patiently waiting for my e-books to top Amazon’s bestseller lists; until then, we won’t say no to a bargain. 😉

Every name a memory, and a gratitude I feel for love and friendship that stand the tests of time and space.

Last week, I lost my voice—a cold going around, friends here guessed. I usually end each day with a cup of tea (accompanied by a piece of dark chocolate). Last week, I drank more tea than usual.

I fell in love with tea three Decembers ago, when Stanton and I escaped for a post-Christmas weekend getaway at a country bed-and-breakfast. The B&B hosted an afternoon tea time featuring Mighty Leaf, a richly flavorful whole-leaf tea. My go-to brands these days are Tazo and Yogi, which are satisfying without being budget-breaking.

That weekend at the B&B was when I felt first a tug in my heart to consider a little sibling for Grace, who was about 2½ at the time. The first year of parenthood had been hard for me, and for Stanton too. We fumbled with questions about how our new roles as “Mom” and “Dad” related to our relationship with each other, and our careers. And we struggled with issues that affect many first-time parents, from sleep to money to depression (OK, that was just me).

Two and a half years later, though, our family life had settled into a good rhythm. We agreed that another family member would be wonderful, if it was meant to be.

It was, and it is. I am so thankful, especially during this time of the year.

glitter

Like other moms I know, I’d rather do almost anything other than shop in a store with my kids. (“Mom, can I have this?” “Mom, I want that!” “Waaaahhh!”)

Thus, I did the majority of my Christmas shopping online this year. Amazon is a perennial favorite, of course. I also found great gifts (and sales!) at the Eddie Bauer, Pottery Barn Kids and Williams-Sonoma websites.

Our local UPS deliveryman is starting to feel like a friend, he’s been bringing packages to our front door so much lately.

The only downside to all my online Christmas shopping: The girls want to open the packages now.

“Not all the presents inside are for you,” I tried to tell them.

“We don’t care,” Grace sweetly replied. “We are so curious.”

“Geor! Geor!” exclaimed Anna. (Curious George, her point of reference.)

Glitter, tea and the UPS guy: This is my Christmas, friends.

Tell me about yours.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

The Things You Hold Onto

The closet was big but not well-ventilated. My sleeveless shirt clung to my skin. I couldn’t bring myself, however, to step out into the air-conditioned bedroom just yet.

Fifteen minutes earlier, I had opened the closet door with the intention of cleaning out this storage space. This closet contained a “neat mess,” as oxymoronic as that sounds. It was stuffed with boxes stacked atop one another, and odds and ends packed in here and there (a dented lampshade, kids’ art supplies, Christmas decorations).

I had intended to declutter this mess. I brought up three trash bags, just like professional organizers say to do—one for things to keep, one for things to donate and the other for the landfill. I was even filling up the bags at a fairly steady pace.

Every now and then, though, something from one of the boxes would catch my eye—stop me mid-declutter—and take me back.

This picture frame, for example, with this picture in it.

Evanses

That’s 18-year-old me with my two favorite neighbors of all time, Mr. and Mrs. Evans, on their front porch. I grew up next door to them in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m not sure who took this picture, but I took it with me to Richmond, Va., when I went to college there. I remember having it on the bookshelf in my freshman dorm room.

I remember Mr. and Mrs. Evans too, both deceased now. They always made time to talk with my siblings and me. They always bought whatever we were selling for our school fundraisers. They came to my wedding, and the videographer captured a moment of them dancing happily together. For all of these reasons—for the people they were—I hold onto this picture.

Another eye-catching find, a memory trigger: This antique decanter.

Decanter

Richmond, the summer of 2008. Probably as hot as it is now. Stanton and I stopped by an estate sale with some college friends. (We had been married a few months.) I want to say Jackie and Kevin were with us, but I’m not positive.

We were sitting outside under an expansive white tent, taking in the auction at the front, when all of a sudden Stanton gestured, and then even more suddenly he was the owner of this decanter.

No more estate sales for us, friends. It was a funny moment, though, a fun afternoon with friends, a memento worth taking with us from Richmond to San Antonio.

I read once that when people move from place to place and home to home, they often move the same boxes with them. And some of these boxes remain unopened through all the moves. But the folks to whom these boxes belong know the contents inside, and they know they matter.

They mean something.

They’re worth holding onto.

What are the things that you hold onto?

What are the mementos that you can’t let go of? What are the keepsakes that have outlasted your decluttering attempts and relocations?

And…why?

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.