Almost Normal

Last week felt almost normal. On Monday morning, I went to the dentist. My appointment originally had been scheduled for mid-March, but, like myriad other early-spring plans, had been pushed back because of the pandemic.

“Would it be OK if I brought my two daughters with me?” I had asked beforehand. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get a babysitter for 8 a.m. that day.”

The receptionist, also a mom, had said, “No problem, I completely understand.” She asked, though, that the girls wear masks.

Masks? Of course, I’d replied. Face masks have become part of the “things” we pack up as we’re leaving the house.

Wallet, phone, keys, masks? Check, check, check, check, ready to go.

Face masks have become part of the “things…”

Many more buildings and businesses have reopened here in the Capital Region of New York, which is encouraging to see. On Tuesday, the girls and I drove over to Stuyvesant Plaza. Our main destination: Stride Rite for new sneakers for the girls.

The outdoor shopping village featured more benches than I remembered—in an effort to facilitate alfresco social distancing, I guessed—and the flowers in the omnipresent hanging baskets were in full bloom.

“This is awesome!” Grace and Anna cheered. They were delighted to be somewhere other than our backyard or the local bike path. I was too (dentists’ offices usually aren’t that much fun, even in the best of times).

The three of us wore our masks into Stride Rite, and used the complimentary hand sanitizer upon entering.

Everywhere we went, we discovered, had hand sanitizer abundantly available. Meanwhile, everyone we chatted with, from store employees to other customers, was friendly and patient. It seemed as though folks were glad to be out and about again, while respecting the value in sanitizing and social distancing.

After the girls decided on their sneakers, we picked up a book of stamps at the post office and then stopped at Starbucks for coffee (me) and sweets (the girls). The three of us arrived just in time to grab the last remaining table outside.

It felt like a win, friends. #littlethings

…the flowers in the omnipresent hanging baskets were in full bloom.

Later, I needed to call our bank. During the call, the customer service representative asked if I would update some information.

Sure, I said. First, I verified Stanton’s and my email addresses.

Next, the woman asked my occupation.

I paused. “Hmm…”

“Homemaker, or unemployed?” she helpfully suggested.

Are those the only two options? I wondered. “I’m a contract writer/editor for a college,” I said, “but they haven’t needed me for a few months.”

“OK, so…”

“Right, so…” I don’t know what the customer service rep filled in for my occupation. It shouldn’t have seemed like a trick question. In this time of widespread layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions, however, it was.

“Next time, just say ‘writer,'” Stanton said later. “You are a writer, Mel.”

I really can’t express the gratitude I feel for my husband’s (my best friend’s) respect for my writing, despite its current state of diminished paychecks, and lack of Pulitzer Prizes. ❤

Are those the only two options? I wondered.

Crazily enough—or maybe not so crazily enough—this pandemic and its accompanying repercussions (stay-at-home safety measures, overwhelming news reports, etc.) have given me the time and space to work on some fiction writing.

Many an afternoon, I glance at Google News so that I have a general sense of what in the world is going on in the world. Then I set my phone aside and, while the girls are playing in their inflatable pool—arguably the best $99 I ever spent—I write in a notebook with a pen, old school style.

The notebook I’m currently using started out as Grace’s. It has doughnuts on the cover (all shapes, sizes and colors) and 60 sheets inside, the first handful of which feature drawings Grace did in both pencil and crayon. The drawings are very good, and I didn’t mean to poach my 8-year-old’s notebook. I had filled up another one, though (one of my own), and the doughnuts one just happened to be right there, when I needed a notebook.

Grace said it was OK.

You see, if I use my laptop to write, it’s too easy for me to break away from Microsoft Word and begin clicking on websites. Same with my phone. Then before I know it, I’ve spiraled down an online rabbit hole of information overload (and anxiety), or selected “Place Order” for another picture frame, throw pillow or other home decor item that we really don’t need (even though “Up to 50% Off Everything AND Free Shipping!!”).

Note to self: Beware of multiple exclamation points in advertising copy.

😉

Thus…in this time of supercharged video conferencing, remote communication apps and technological prowess, I am retreating (regressing?) from my devices in favor of a doughnuts notebook and ballpoint pen…at least momentarily.

I have found when I write like this, pen to paper, writing in my own hand, that I am very much in the moment, in the zone, with the story. Writing fiction right now, also, has been wonderfully refreshing escapism. And who knows—the end result may even be something some folks will want to publish, and other folks will want to read.

If so, I’ve already decided: We’ll celebrate with doughnuts.

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Speaking of doughnuts (and why not keep speaking of doughnuts?)… Last Thursday, the girls and I went to Indian Ladder Farms, our first time there this whole year, I think.

Grace and Anna stuffed their pockets with quarters. Once we arrived, they cranked their bounty into the animal-food machines, cupping their hands underneath as the food flowed out. The girls fed some goats while I snapped the obligatory pictures for our summer-fun family photo album.

After running out of quarters, the three of us walked over to the market. Inside, we bought a half dozen of Indian Ladder Farms’ regionally famous apple cider doughnuts (yes, we’d like the ones with the sugar on top), as well as a large Jamaican Me Crazy coffee for, mm-hmm, yours truly. “I have not had this coffee in so long,” I told the lovely lady behind the counter.

She smiled and told us to enjoy.

Indian Ladder Farms is a century-old agritourism site, located in a space of breathtaking natural beauty. I had been concerned about its sustainability during this difficult time, but was encouraged to see about 20 new picnic tables that had been dispensed outside the market, inviting folks to enjoy their market fare outdoors, or carry out takeout from the adjoining Yellow Rock Café (indoor dining is currently unavailable). So many local businesses are making huge efforts to safely serve their customers, and I hope they all come out OK and possibly even better than before.

As always, the apple cider doughnuts did not disappoint, and I drank every last drop of my Jamaican Me Crazy.

Speaking of doughnuts (and why not keep speaking of doughnuts?)…

It’s been good to begin feeling “almost normal” again. There’s still a long way to go, of course, and there’s also no going back. Moving forward, things will be/stay different. But really, I have no idea what’s going to happen.

In addition to forgoing my laptop in favor of a doughnuts notebook, I’ve been trying to be—cliché alert!—present. I’ve been making an effort to really be in each moment, to look my daughters in the eye when we’re together and be there, and most of all, to take each day as it comes and not get too bogged down with what might happen a few weeks out, a few months out, the rest of our life.

For me, it’s been helpful to center on one day, only. Today.

Today, I can get up. I can get moving. I can make my girls breakfast (and then a snack half an hour later). 😉

Today, I need to do these three things. I can do that, today.

I can handle today, what is right here in front of me today.

…I’ve been trying to be—cliché alert!—present.

Yesterday, I was in the backyard with the girls. They had been swimming, but were taking a break in chairs near the pool. Earlier, I had brought out two bottles of Gatorade and a box of Ritz crackers for them to share while I wrote nearby (doughnuts notebook and pen: check!).

“We’re probably going to eat this whole box of crackers, Mom,” Grace said, ripping apart another sleeve.

“And drink all the Gatorade,” Anna added, guzzling from her bottle.

I kept scribbling in my notebook, not completely paying attention. “OK, girls.”

The girls began laughing triumphantly. “Oh, my gosh! The whole box of crackers and all the Gatorade!”

Now I looked up and started laughing too. “OK, just…just hang on a minute.”

It was a normal moment. We were in the backyard, livin’ large on Ritz crackers and Gatorade, inflatable pool nearby. But when I looked up from what I was doing, looked up and joined my daughters in that present moment…it was beautiful, and felt almost holy to me.

To be together. To be there.

Cheers to TODAY.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

If I Stress Clean Everything, Maybe I’ll Feel Better (or Maybe Not)

On Friday morning, I got the girls ready for school, and then to school, before dashing to a meeting. After my meeting, I stopped by my regular grocery store for a few things. I had a short list: garlic bread for our pasta dinner later, and Lysol wipes.

I had heard people were buying Lysol wipes like crazy; they were marked as “currently unavailable” on Amazon (I checked on Thursday night). I better get some too, I thought, before they went the way of dinosaurs, shoulder pads and Waldenbooks.

I pulled into the parking lot and could barely find a spot. It was about 10 a.m. on a Friday—not usually Hannaford’s prime time. Huh?

I walked into the store, and there were no shopping carts at the main entrance. Zero. The inside of the store, meanwhile, was filled with people of all ages—not the typical older retiree/stay-at-home parent/flextime-schedule employee crowd you tend to find at a grocery store on a weekday morning.

I did, however, find a cart at the side entrance.

A little disoriented, I wheeled my cart into the household cleaners aisle. Much of the shelf space was bare. Makeshift signs for the Lysol and Clorox products noted, “Limit 2 per customer,” but none of these products were left.

I could have stocked up on Dr. Bronner’s, Mrs. Meyer’s and Incredible Pink supplies—Hannaford was in no danger of running out of these brands, I can report. But I already have a bunch of this all-natural, eco-consciously packaged, pleasantly scented, not-sure-if-it-actually-kills-germs stuff at home. Yeah, I’m all good in that department, friends. 😉

I better get some too, I thought, before they went the way of dinosaurs, shoulder pads and Waldenbooks.

At least I could get garlic bread; I did. As I wheeled my cart through the store, I noticed the carts others were pushing—carts overflowing with canned goods, pasta, paper products.

I’m not a hoarder (very much the opposite, actually). Not a panic buyer. There have been moments in my life when I have been laughably unprepared, yet managed to muddle through.

In this moment, though…Friday morning at Hannaford…I felt more and more unsettled, in a very physical way. I moved slower. I kept shaking my head, confused, uncertain.

I saw people buying a bunch of stuff…and so I bought a bunch of stuff too. I didn’t really know what to get (never was a Girl Scout, you know), so I grabbed rice, beans, cereal, soup, lots of meatballs to freeze (showing my Italian-American roots here), two cartons of my husband’s favorite spicy trail mix, and coffee (a no-brainer, amirite?).

Maybe I should have started coronavirus quarantine stockpiling weeks ago, months ago. It just never crossed my mind that there would be such a run on basic supplies…like toilet paper.

There really was no toilet paper left at Hannaford that day. No. Way. I stared at the empty shelves. This is an Internet meme, I thought.

Except…it was real life.

I got in one of the crowded checkout lines. Paid, drove home. I began unloading my new stockpile…and then the power went out.

I called Stanton. “It really feels like it’s the end of the world,” I said.

“It’s not,” he said.

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As Friday unfolded, I received email after email with updates regarding our daily life. First, the girls’ schools were closed for Monday. Then they were closed Monday through Friday. Now they’re closed until April 1…but possibly later.

Our church services: now online. Spring lacrosse: canceled. Grace’s friend’s birthday party: postponed. The girls’ dentist’s office: hours and appointments currently suspended.

Anna and I were actually at our beloved local library that Friday afternoon when they made the decision to close early that day, and to remain closed until further notice. “We’ll miss all of you so much,” I told the librarians, whom I (used to) see at least once a week.

During the past three and a half years we’ve lived in this town we love, many of these folks in our community, from the librarians to the teachers at the girls’ schools to the baristas at my favorite corner coffee shop, have become, if not exactly family or friends, then certainly part of the fabric of our everyday life—the part that adds fullness, humanity, joy. It is weird to have these mandatory hiatuses from these people, these places.

And trying to keep up with all these communications can be a little overwhelming. I’ve received emails that various work due dates have been pushed back, which is helpful because, simultaneously, I’ve received emails with information regarding Grace’s and Anna’s learn-at-home curriculum for, let’s see here, the foreseeable future.

Side note: Pre-COVID-19, I never considered homeschooling my children. The thought never crossed my mind, not even in a dream…or nightmare… 😉

All attempts at humor aside…I know I have nothing, really, to complain about. I’m self-aware enough to recognize there are people who are truly struggling. For the moment, our family is healthy, thank God, and managing OK.

I am concerned about my 91-year-old grandmother, who lives in a nursing home that (understandably) isn’t allowing visitors right now. I’m not sure when I’ll see her again. I worry about my mom and dad, both of whom I love very much and both of whom are in their 60s. They live just a three-hour drive away from us, but I’m not sure when it would be wise for all of us to get together again. Overall, though, I feel as though we all are doing the best we can be doing.

It is weird to have these mandatory hiatuses from these people, these places.

Over the weekend, I cleaned our house, did a bunch of laundry, organized the girls’ dresser drawers (a seemingly insurmountable spring-cleaning task, the weekend before). Subconsciously, I must have been thinking, If I stress clean everything, maybe I’ll feel better.

Spoiler alert: Everything is clean, but mostly, I still feel…unsettled.

I don’t know when my little world, and the whole world, will feel more settled again. Impossible to know.

However, some things that have provided encouragement… Friends have been sharing helpful and creative “learning at home” ideas through Facebook. Because of this, I learned about the amazing lunch doodles that Mo Willems is hosting through the Kennedy Center. The girls watched an episode yesterday for the first time, and loved it. I’ve always loved Mo Willems, and now especially for this act of kindness toward children out of school due to closures.

Both a friend and a family member shared the idea for a neighborhood “shamrock hunt” yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day. The girls and I cut out, colored and Scotch-taped shamrocks to our front window, and then took a walk around the neighborhood to find other shamrocks. We didn’t find many others, but we did bump into various friends who were also out and about. It was so good to catch up, chitchat, commiserate…at a six-foot, socially safe distance, of course.

Thus, friendship has been encouraging. Family has been encouraging. Last week, Stanton’s company decided to halt employees’ business travel, and so he’s been home with us more, which has been really nice. We recently started watching the series “Luther,” which has provided wonderful, much-welcome end-of-day escapism. This increased family time together also prompted me to try spending the end of the day engaged with the ones I love, rather than scrolling through the news for the latest headlines (and horror stories).

Another silver lining during this time is that I am really, truly appreciating the food we have. Our family is not wasting anything because we’re not sure when we can replenish certain things, with grocery store lines being so long and store deliveries taking longer as well. It’s true that sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until we don’t have it anymore, or it becomes more difficult to have.

I’m also really, truly appreciating my daughters. They’ve been so sweet to me as I try (and struggle, quite a bit) to semi-replicate their classroom teaching. Yesterday, Anna slapped a heart sticker on my sweatshirt (“Good job teaching, Mom!”), and Grace helped me access some online materials (of course my 8-year-old’s technology skills surpass my own).

Since Friday morning, I’ve learned…yes, there really is no toilet paper. No, stress cleaning doesn’t really help. Friendship does help; family is everything; there are still silver linings.

Be well, all. Looking forward to when things are better. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Do You Wear Adult Diapers, Mom? And Other Questions I’ve Recently Been Asked

How often do you go to the grocery store, friends? I’m so curious. I’m at Hannaford, our local grocery store, twice a week.

Sometimes I go grocery shopping by myself (flying out the back door late on a Saturday morning, still wearing what stores these days call “loungewear” but what are, in effect, pajamas). Almost always, though, I’m with my 4-year-old daughter, Anna, and almost always, we’re there in the afternoon after preschool pickup.

Such was the case one afternoon two weeks ago. Anna and I motored over to Hannaford, then maneuvered through the aisles. “Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a display. “Woody! And Forky! Mom, it’s everybody from Toy Story!”

I glanced at the Disney-inspired Laughing Cow cheese dippers. “Everybody’s there,” I agreed, moving us along.

We had a short list, relatively, and were almost done in no time. There was just one bullet point left to cross off. I steered into the feminine hygiene products section, and parked Anna to the side.

She peered forward. “What’s all this, Mom?”

“Just a second, honey.” I scanned the shelves for my preferred item.

“Mom.” Anna was staring at me, her eyebrows arched, the corners of her mouth tilted upward in a smile that was both dubious and devious. “Do you wear adult diapers, Mom?”

Uuuggghhh.

Anna, of course, noticed my horror right away. So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course. “DO YOU WEAR ADULT DIAPERS, MOM?”

“Will you please stop?” I hissed.

Now Anna was laughing, doubled over the grocery-cart seat. “Mom, I can’t believe it! You wear adult diapers!”

“I do not…”

Another woman was in the same aisle as us, and she was laughing too—kindly, but still. She patted my arm when she walked past us.

“Listen.” I could feel my face burning red with embarrassment. I clasped my hands over my daughter’s. “I need you to please stop saying that. Got it, dude?”

Anna nodded.

OK.

So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course.

Almost all of last week, Stanton was in D.C. for a work conference. His being out of town just so happened to coincide with an especially busy work week for me. Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

I had a phone meeting with two colleagues on Wednesday afternoon. One of these people was my boss. Grace would be home from school soon, and Anna was already home from preschool. I asked her to play quietly until I was done with my call.

“But I want to be with you,” Anna said.

“Honey, we’re almost always together,” I said. “I’ll be done very soon, I promise.” I called in to my meeting.

Almost immediately, Anna planted herself nearby, staring at me, arms crossed. I ignored her. She began crawling around my legs. I got up, moved to the kitchen. Anna followed me and yelled, “Mom, hang up, HANG UP!”

Ugh…again.

I turned on the TV. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. We’ve been trying to limit screen time, but…oh, well.

Still holding my phone, I cleared my throat. “Um…just wondering, did anyone hear that over here?”

“Yes.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Great. “I’m so sorry…I just turned on the TV…”

Both my boss and our other colleague were extremely kind and understanding. But still. Somebody screaming in the background, “Mom, hang up!” is not a good look when you’re trying to present yourself as a got-it-together work-from-home professional.

Later I asked Anna why she had behaved like that. “I love you so much, I just wanted to be with you,” she said. “And I don’t understand, Mom,” she added, “why don’t you just do all your work when I’m in school?”

I just looked at her.

Who among us wouldn’t love for all the pieces of all the puzzles to fall into place just so?

Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

So many questions. So little time.

During the past few weeks, different folks from the church we attend have called to ask if I could participate in various volunteer opportunities. I’ve also received emails from both my daughters’ schools, inviting me to helm or help with extracurricular fall-themed fun, such as a costume party and trunk or treat. Every now and then, too, a ping from my phone reveals a text wondering if I’m available to lend a hand with hosting a play date.

There were a few moments, lately, when I really could have cried. I like to think of myself as a kindhearted person…but I simply can’t say yes to anything else right now. Thus, I’ve been saying no to everything extra.

I love my family and my work, and that’s all I, personally, can do in this season of my life. Other folks can do more, and I admire them. I just know I’m not one of them.

I’ve found that, when I explain myself like this—when I acknowledge I’m not a Superwoman—people seem to understand. Or, maybe they worry they might trigger a nervous breakdown, and decide to steer clear… I guess I’ll never know which one it is. 😉

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Yesterday, Stanton made me a sandwich for lunch. Roast beef with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions on multigrain bread. He sliced an apple as the side. I enjoyed it so much, partly because I didn’t make it myself, and told him so.

“This is nothing, Mel,” he replied, settling into the breakfast nook with me.

But it was something. It is wonderful to feel cared for, even when the caring comes in the form of something as seemingly simple as a roast-beef sandwich. It is wonderful to feel cared for when you are the person who does so much of the caring (and grocery shopping, and puzzle-piecing).

Life is wonderfully unexpected sometimes. Sometimes there are more questions than we have answers for, or know how to answer. And sometimes things fall into place.

I have learned, despite my non-Superwoman prowess, not to give up. To say no or not now, but to keep going.

From now on, though, I’ll be maneuvering solo through the feminine hygiene products section.

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.

Twice in My Life I Got Really Lucky

Every few days, I find myself at the grocery store. One or both of my daughters is usually with me. Occasionally—very occasionally—I fly solo through the aisles of Hannaford, an experience many moms (including myself) would equate to a day on a desert island, pastel-colored drink with cocktail umbrella in hand.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience. The other day, the girls and I rolled into Hannaford. “Don’t forget the junk food, Mom,” Grace reminded me. She had actually written up her own list, and handed it to me.

I scanned her nearly-8-year-old penmanship: potato chips, Nantucket Nectars, ice cream… “We are not getting a dog, Grace. Hannaford doesn’t sell pets anyway—you know that.”

Grace laughed.

Anna, meanwhile, was climbing out of the cart I had just (thought I’d) fastened her into. “I have to go potty,” she said.

Finally we were rolling through the aisles again. You know how that goes, friends. Can we get this? Can we get that? Why can’t we get a dog today?

“Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a huge glass jar. “Pickles!”

“Don’t touch it,” I said. “Remember what happened that one time.”

Anna smiled and nodded. “But they cleaned it up, Mom.”

“But they’d rather not, honey.”

Moving right along.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience.

A few things ended up in the cart that were not my doing. For example, two bath bombs. The girls must have tossed them in when I was picking out shampoo. Also, a box of fortune cookies.

“What are these?” Anna asked, later at home.

I looked at the box on the breakfast-nook table. “What the heck?”

The girls laughed.

“You’re driving me…”

“CRAZY! We know! We love you, Mom! Can we have some cookies! Please say, ‘Oh, fine!'”

Oh…fine.

Two mornings ago, I asked the girls what they wanted for breakfast.

“Cereal and a fortune cookie,” Grace said. Breakfast of champions.

“Me too.” Anna clambered up beside her at the table. “Why is it called a fortune cookie?”

I explained that the little piece of paper inside each cookie was a fortune, or prediction for the future. Sometimes there were Chinese words with translations, and sometimes lucky numbers for lottery tickets.

In that moment, I was perched between my daughters, all of us still in our pajamas with our hair just-woke-up crazy—you know what I mean—and I felt a ripple of quiet contentment. “You know,” I said, giving them each a little squeeze, “twice in my life I got really lucky.”

Grace smiled. “Anna and me.”

“Yes.”

Then she jerked her thumb toward the family room. “I think you’re forgetting somebody.” (I swear this happened, just like that.)

And yes, I got really lucky with their dad too. Three times really lucky. Although, truth be told—really lucky countless times.

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We each have our own understanding of what lucky means. Lucky is hitting it big on a lottery ticket (maybe we used the numbers from a fortune cookie). Lucky is missing a flight, but meeting the love of our life while we wait—all the frustrating-at-first-glance detours that led to our true final destinations. Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together, seeing the Seven Wonders of the World and leaving behind legacies all our own.

What makes me feel lucky is the love and friendship I have in my life. My children, my husband, family and friends.

Later that day, I got a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. Kathleen and I have known each other since kindergarten, and I loved hearing her voice and catching up. We don’t always have the time to talk, but when we do, it’s effortless and heartfelt—a conversation that started 30 years ago and can hold until next time when needed. I’m deeply grateful for my good old friend, and told her so.

I’m deeply grateful for a good new friend, too, who stopped by soon after. When she came by, the house was a mess, and Anna was upside down on the rocking chair—but it was completely OK. I was happy to see her, and not concerned or self-conscious about the messy house (or upside-down parenting).

What a gift it is to have a friend who’s had your back since age 5, and another whom you don’t need to clean up for.

Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together…

Gifts, good luck, lucky breaks. Blessings. We don’t always use the same words, or speak the same language…but sometimes, we mean similar things.

Yesterday, the girls and I went back to the grocery store. We needed milk. That was all. But I believe it’s scientifically impossible to go to the grocery store, with two kids in tow, and buy “just milk.” So…we didn’t.

Once again, Anna tried to sneak different items into the cart. “No,” I said. “Put that back.”

“Oh, fine,” Anna said, in a flawless impersonation of her mom. She grabbed the bag and trudged back to a shelf.

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “That child,” she said (another flawless impersonation of yours truly). “She cracks me up.”

My daughters and I spend so much time together, they sometimes sound like me. I’m grateful for the time, the companionship, all the adventures. All the crazy, and all the love.

Love and friendship have been the biggest gifts in my life.

And twice in my life, I got really lucky.

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.