Cheers to Family, Memories and Bill Pullman

Did you ever see the 1995 film “While You Were Sleeping” starring Sandra Bullock? My sister, Jenna, and I love this movie. We’ve watched it together…quite a lot. It’s a sweet story, with endearing characters and the requisite happy ending.

Also…Bill Pullman. I don’t know what it is about him in this romantic comedy—his shaggy hairstyle; his T-shirt-and-jeans-kind-of-guy vibe; his earnest personality—but Bill Pullman, friends. Love him in “While You Were Sleeping.”

Jenna was in town this past weekend. On Friday night, I handed her a stack of DVDs. “You pick,” I said, ever the gracious hostess.

Jenna thumbed through the selection. “Spanglish” (Stanton’s favorite), “My Cousin Vinny” (a Minetola family favorite), “Manchester by the Sea” (I borrowed this one from the library)…“While You Were Sleeping.” Jenna held up the DVD featuring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman embracing, the Chicago train tracks as their backdrop. “Obviously, we’re going to watch this,” she said, adding, “Duh!” for good measure.

“Yes!” I said. “Bill Pullman!”

“I know!” Jenna said.

“Why,” Stanton wondered, not for the first time, “do y’all like Bill Pullman so much?”

Family movie night, friends.

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Every family is its own tribe, with its own culture and customs. The foods we eat, the vacations we take, the movies we watch (over and over again). When people from different families get together, it can be like different cultures meeting—worlds literally colliding.

I love visiting new places, seeing new sights, getting to know new people. And at the end of the day, I love coming home too. Who doesn’t, right? Your bed, your favorite snacks in the pantry…your beloved DVDs on the bookshelf.

Jenna and I don’t share the same childhood address anymore. But as sisters, we share myriad growing-up memories. You can’t quantify the value of having someone in your life who knows you and has always known you—struggles…inside jokes…favorite movies…everything.

At one point this weekend, Stanton, Jenna and I stopped by a local restaurant. We ordered a bottle of red wine. When our server brought over the wine and three glasses, Stanton filled them up. One of us decided to, “Cheers.”

(This is the hitch with creative nonfiction: Memory is not reliable. You usually can’t remember, reliably, all the details—for example, exact quotes, and who said them. You can remember emotions, though, and often powerfully. How you felt, why something mattered. In that spirit, then, I’ll finish this story.)

So one of us decided we should toast. “Yes,” the two others agreed. And we toasted to family.

We go out in this world to discover—to work—to, simply, survive sometimes.

The world isn’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. But the older I get, the more conscious I am of appreciating the good things in life. Of acknowledging them. Of saying, “Thank you,” to people—while they’re here to hear it.

Cheers…to family. To happy memories. To a sister who will always choose to watch “While You Were Sleeping” with you, and to a husband who won’t mind.

To the good things, friends.

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.

You’re Annoying, I Love You, Talk to You Soon: On Siblings

This past Easter weekend, I got to see my three siblings. We gathered at my parents’ house for the holiday. It was really nice to be “home” together again.

Josh still lives and works in our hometown; Jared is near Philadelphia; Jenna has adopted Queens as her hometown; and I’m now up the Thruway in New York’s Capital Region.

When the four of us talk with one another, we still refer to our parents’ house, the house we grew up in, as “home.” The main reason for this, I think, is because siblings—and any people in close relationships—have developed their own shorthand over time. No backstory, explanation or even punctuation needed. On our group texts, I often communicate with X’s and O’s (and the occasional heart emoji), while Jenna prefers the eloquent, “AHHHH!!!”

Another reason for the “home as parents’ house” shorthand is because for many of us, we learn what “home” means through our families: our parents and those who are like parents; our brothers and sisters.

Home is one of those words that’s more feeling than language. Kind of like when I say to Anna, “I love you,” and she replies by giving me a hug—“I love you, too.” Home is like a hug: You are pulled (back) in; you are loved; you are known.

No one knows us quite like our siblings do. After all, they had complimentary courtside seats to all our cringe-worthy coming-of-age moments. While reminiscing during Easter dinner, Jared couldn’t help bringing up the memory of my wearing bulky sports goggles during my middle-school basketball-playing days.

“Again, with the sports goggles?” I said.

Our parents’ 35th wedding anniversary happened to be the next day, Monday. Jared had suggested we recreate an old family photo as our gift to them, a la this Huffington Post article. So we did.

We chose this picture, which hangs in our parents’ living room.

Original Picture

Then we asked Stanton (our honorary sibling) to make the new memory. Which he did:

New Picture 2017

The four of us haven’t changed much in 20 years, have we, friends? 🙂

Josh, Jared, Jenna and I laughed a lot as Stanton (and Grace!) helped pose us for this picture. It was fun. Later, our Mom and Dad told us they loved it.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, for all sorts of reasons. Certainly, simply having siblings doesn’t guarantee friendships with them.

In my personal experience, though, I am very thankful for my brothers and sister. And I hope, more than anything in this world, that my own daughters have many happy, healthy years together. Stanton, who has three siblings himself, agrees.

Siblings had those courtside seats to all our awkward years. They also were the people we shared summer vacations, Christmas mornings and much more ordinary moments with—instant playmates for after school, the best kind of comfort when Poppy passed away. We have a shared childhood, history, love. We may let others’ calls go to voicemail, but we answer theirs. Likewise, we know they’ll be there for us.

Something that touches my heart is watching my girls become close to my siblings, as I have. Whenever someone brings up Josh, for example, Anna smiles big and says the same three words in slow, sweet succession: “Josh—big—nice.” Yes, he is.

Life is funny. When we’re young, we argue about who gets to ride in the passenger seat next to Mom, or who got the biggest slice of dessert (“That’s not fair!”). When we’re older, what we really appreciate is getting together “at home” once again…with those familiar faces, telling the same stories over and over, so that even the honorary siblings know the punch lines.

“Again, with the sports goggles? You’re annoying.”

“I love you.”

“Talk to you soon.”

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Don’t miss Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

I’m Redshirting My Summer-Birthday Daughter: Our Family’s Story

“Higher, Mom! Higher!”

It was a Friday morning, and my daughters and I had been at the park for nearly two hours.

We began our time here at the jungle gym (1-year-old Anna gleefully tried to keep up with her big sister; I burned hundreds of calories dashing to save her life several times). Then we walked through the neighboring savanna (a bathroom break for Grace, diaper change for Anna and snacks for everyone included). Now we were back at the playground, and I was pushing both girls on a swing set.

“OK, hold on!” I pushed Grace higher.

“Woo-hoo!” she yelled.

“Woo!” Anna echoed, clapping her hands.

This was the kind of the moment that made parenthood—especially parenthood of small children—worth it.

Worth all the sleep-deprived nights in the beginning. Worth the sibling squabbling that followed, sooner than expected. Worth the tradeoff of weeklong romantic vacations for date nights close to home, in order to save for the kids’ 529 plans.

My girls were happy and getting along. The sun was shining. I felt caffeinated and energized, thanks in equal parts to my travel mug of coffee and the natural Vitamin D.

It was a storybook moment. We moms and dads know they don’t come as often as we’d like. When they do, though, we treasure them.

Grace has an August birthday. In a couple of months, she’ll turn 5. She’s eligible to begin kindergarten here in Texas this fall (the cutoff date is September 1), but I decided to give her one more year at home with Anna and me.

One more year to experience more of these spontaneous storybook moments with us, before our family life becomes busier with more formal education for Grace (and Anna) and more out-of-the-home work for me.

Educators, policymakers and others call this practice of delaying kindergarten for summer-birthday babies “redshirting.” Maybe you’ve dealt with it, too?

Kindergarten

A lot has been written about the advantages and disadvantages of having a child start their formal education at age 6 rather than 5. I’ve read through some of these articles, keeping in mind that there are pros and cons along every path.

One advantage that authors often point out is that the additional year can benefit children socially. I do think this will be true for Grace.

She’s sweet, smart and shy, especially in new situations. Being one of the oldest in her kindergarten class, then, probably will give her an extra boost of confidence.

I’ve watched Grace look out for the smaller kids in her preschool dance and gymnastics classes—as well as her own little sister and kids in the park. She’s naturally nurturing with littler kids. I can see her feeling comfortable and helpful as one of the oldest in her kindergarten class.

Another advantage that educators and policymakers indicate is the academic one. If a child starts kindergarten a year later, then they will have had an extra year to prepare for kindergarten—to learn the alphabet, count and follow directions. Grace already does these things fairly well; if anything, reviewing these items in a kindergarten class may not hold her interest, a disadvantage.

However, the majority of families that redshirt their summer-birthday sons and daughters tend to be highly educated, upper-middle class ones—those who can afford to provide another year of preschool and/or child care. A 2015 Atlantic article discusses how this socioeconomic divergence in redshirting can, unfortunately, further widen the skills gap between higher-income and lower-income kids.

I don’t want to contribute to this skills gap. I think, though, that one more year of storybook moments will be special for both my daughters. I think it will be a time we’ll look back on and treasure—for its spontaneity, its simplicity, its sweetness.

I’m looking forward to the year ahead with my girls. Grace will be attending preschool three days a week. Anna and I will continue our “Mommy and Me” time at the park, children’s museum and (let’s be honest) non-fun but necessary stops such as the grocery store and dry cleaner’s.

Together, all three of us are embarking on something new, too. Our city sponsors a volunteer storytime program, with the goal of encouraging youth literacy in those who could use a helping hand. I’m excited to join this program, a great volunteer match for a book lover, writer and mom like me.

This experience should be meaningful for everyone involved—the kids, me and my daughters. Grace especially will see firsthand the good that can happen when people from varying sides of a gap unite over reading and stories.

“To hell with facts! We need stories!” said Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Every child has their own story to tell. Correspondingly, every family has their own ethos, their way of life that works best for them. Redshirting kindergarten is the route that makes the most sense for us—it’s simply our family’s story.

“Higher, Mom! Higher!”

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.

New Baby in the House: 5 Must-Haves for Your Older Child

I became a mom for the second time about a year ago. My take-two crack at motherhood was a lot different from the first one: I knew what to expect this time around. I also knew the baby products that I did and didn’t need (crucial: diapers, and lots of them; not so much: diaper wipes warmer).

I didn’t know, though, that I needed to invest in some products for another member of the family: my older child, who was 3 when her younger sister arrived on the scene. As it turns out, I spent more time and $$ buying items for my older child rather than my newborn baby, who made do with many of her big sister’s hand-me-downs.

These things helped Numero Uno adjust to life with a sibling. Here you go, second-time moms and dads: five must-haves for your older child once baby comes home.

1. Easy-to-open snacks. The first few weeks after giving birth, you’ll have about two minutes tops to feed your older child breakfast (Cheerios), lunch (more Cheerios), and dinner (hmm…Cheerios?). And she’ll need snacks throughout the day, too.

I found it helpful to keep a variety of easy-to-open snacks, in easy-to-reach shelves in the pantry and refrigerator, handy for my 3-year-old. Think a box of crackers, a bag of Craisins, cheese sticks, and prewashed containers of fruit. This way, you’ll be able to feed and rock the baby to sleep without being interrupted (“Mom!”) to help slice an apple.

2. Activities for home. It can be hard to take your older child to their once-beloved library story time, swim lesson and gymnastics class with a baby in tow, especially in the first month. So plan some home-based activities to keep your kiddo entertained, but more simply at home.

Some examples: My older daughter can play for a long time with figurines such as Calico Critters and the cast from “Doc McStuffins,” setting up scenes and making up stories for them.

She also loves getting dressed up and acting out stories herself. Stores from Barnes & Noble to Party City sell great dress-up gear, for boys and girls alike, that can double as Halloween costumes come fall.

One more idea: a parachute like this one. There are so many things kids can do with a parachute.

New Baby in the House

3. An activity for outside the home. All that being said, it’s nice to have one activity outside the home that’s just for your older child, so that he/she feels special. Since my baby was born, my older daughter has been taking a dance class, which she’s grown to love. She feels special getting outfitted in her tights, leotard and bun, knowing that Mommy and Baby are taking her to something that’s “just for her.” 

4. DVD’s. Because there will be times when you’ll need to know your kiddo won’t run to the nursery just when the baby’s about to fall asleep. You’ll need a tried-and-true “babysitter” that will keep your child’s attention for an extended period of time. Common Sense Media has this great online resource of age-appropriate movie lists. I especially love the section entitled “TV and Movies That Promote Empathy.”

5. Bubble bath. A lot of times, I needed to give my older daughter a bath while holding my baby. In the beginning, Daughter No. 1 pouted because I wasn’t giving her my undivided attention.

Bubble bath, such as this one, helps with this problem. I can quickly wash my older daughter, and then give her some time to play with the bubbles while chilling on the bathroom floor with my baby and counting down to the moment I can enjoy a glass of bubbly myself.

Good luck, moms and dads!

Photo credit: StockSnap.io

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

You Know You’re a Second Child If…11 Signs

I gave birth to my second daughter earlier this year. Soon after, I realized that my parenting style with No. 2 was a bit different (lazier?) than it had been with No. 1. Kids, here are 11 signs that you’re a second child…and these are only through the first 10 months. Who knows what the next, oh, 18 years or so will bring? Hang in there.

1. Your mom prepared homemade, organic breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for your older sister, and you (Sister No. 2) just dined at Chick-Fil-A for the third time in five days. Pass the French fries, please!

2. In anticipation of your sister’s birth, your mom thoughtfully selected and had monogrammed designer onesies, bathrobes and swimsuits. Before you made your debut, your mom hauled those hand-me-downs out of storage and outfitted you in them. Maybe she even washed them first. So what if the monogram doesn’t match your actual name, except for the last letter that you and your sister both share?

3. Monogrammed outfits, diaper wipes warmer, shopping cart cover…the ‘rents went all out for their first bundle of joy. Meanwhile, you’ve learned to live with secondhand styles, room-temperature wipes, and riding shotgun around the grocery store, sans designer cushy seat for your tush. But you don’t know any different (or better), so you’re not complaining.

4. By the time your sister was your age (10 months), she was enjoying a rich social calendar of story time, swim lessons, museum visits and play dates. Um, play dates? Not in your vocabulary. You do have an always-available playmate, though (except when she thinks she’s too sophisticated for you).

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5. Also by the time No. 1 was 10 months old, your mom had already planned her first birthday party, a special event of Mindy Weiss proportions. The custom invitations had been designed, the perfect cake batter researched (e.g., visits to various local bakeries for cupcake taste testing—research sure can be tough!), and the favors ordered. Your first birthday party? Yeah, it’s going to be a cupcake after dinner at home with your regular party of four. Your mom may spring for a balloon or two, but you’re not holding your breath.

6. Your mom and dad are stretched thinner than they were the first time around, giving you more space to scoot off, explore and cause trouble.

7. Your family nickname is, in fact, Troublemaker.

8. At the same time, your parents know, in a way they didn’t then, that this baby time is fleeting, relatively. So you’re the spoiled recipient of hugs, kisses and snuggles galore from your mom and dad (and usually your older sister too, along with the occasional semi-jealous push that she claims was an accident).

9. Despite those occasional passive-aggressive outbursts, your favorite person is your older sister. Nobody can make you light up quite the way she can.

10. Your mom took approximately 1.3 million pictures of No. 1 and lovingly created photo book after photo book of her first few years, in three-month increments. Your mom has taken tons of pictures of you too…but for the foreseeable future, they’ll stay stored on her phone rather than artfully arranged in physical scrapbooks for posterity’s sake.

11. Your parents know what they’re doing (they didn’t with your sister—trust me). And about that sister, how lucky are you to have her? To be born into a ready-made family? Sometimes second place isn’t all that bad.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

No Back-to-Preschool Pictures This Fall

The summer vacation status updates in my Facebook news feed are beginning to get replaced with back-to-preschool pictures. And just the other day, Little G asked when she was going back to school.

We were driving home from a preschool friend’s birthday party. Little G had so much fun playing with all of her school friends who were there, some of whom she hadn’t seen since the Pre-K3 class ended in May. My hubby and I looked at each other.

“Maybe we should just have her go,” Stanton said under his breath.

“What?” Little G from her car seat in the back. She doesn’t miss a beat.

Stanton and I smiled at each other. And then, feeling a twinge of uncertainty, I said, “No, let’s stick with our plan.”

“What’s our plan?”

So I filled in our 4-year-old daughter. “We’re taking a break from preschool. You know how you stayed home with Mommy and Anna all summer? And we had girl time … we played together and took you to dance class …”

“And went to the coffee shop?”

Stanton laughed. Yes, dance class and the coffee shop: an accurate summary of the past three months with Little G and her baby sister. I nodded.

“We’re going to do girl time for a little longer,” I said.

Next fall, Little G will start either kindergarten or (because of her late-summer birthday) attend a final year of preschool. I hope to be writing and working more by that time, too. The sentimental side of me views this time until then as a special season for my two girls to simply be together and enjoy together, before recommitting to a busier family schedule.

“Play, dance class, and the coffee shop—OK,” Little G said.

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For two years, Little G’s preschool experience was wonderful—socially, educationally, and spiritually. And it was meaningful for me, too. Most importantly, her preschool provided quality child care for when I was working and, later, attending lots of prenatal appointments while awaiting Baby G’s arrival. And perhaps just as importantly, her school offered us a warm, loving community in which to connect with other families in similar stages of life.

I’ll miss seeing all our preschool friends on a regular basis—at drop-off, pick-up, and school events—as Little G will. At the same time, it’s fun to keep in touch and make the time to get together, just as we do with the other good friends in our life from our neighborhood, church, and library story time.

Ultimately, I think my girls will treasure this “year off” together. Of course, I could always be wrong. As Pam Brown once said, “Sisters never quite forgive each other for what happened when they were five”—or in the case of my daughters, 4 years old and 6 months. 🙂

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

7 Ways I THINK Baby #2 Will Be Different

DSCN5489I was just at my OB/GYN’s office. “Thirty weeks, right?” her nurse asked me.

“Hmm, sounds right,” I replied. And then I thought how different this pregnancy, Baby G’s, has been from Little G’s. For starters, I knew to the day (and corresponding fruit or vegetable) how far along I was with Little G. With Baby G? Not so much. (Although in case you’re curious, 30 weeks pregnant = baby the size of a large cabbage. 🙂 )

Probably my approach to parenting Baby G will be a little different from how I parented Little G, too, at least in the beginning. Here are seven ways that I THINK this second rodeo will be different. For those of you with two or more children … please “Leave a Comment” to share your experiences! I’m excited to hear from you.

So, this time, I THINK …

1.) I’ll be more prepared. At this point, I have some experience with diapers, car seats, pediatricians, white noise machines, and nursing/breastpumping/formula feeding. There won’t be such a big learning curve.

2.) I’ll be more focused on Baby G. Little G will be three and a half years old when her little sister is born. I’m very conscious now, in a way that I wasn’t then, of how time really does go by in a blink. So I’ve stocked up on takeout menus from our favorite restaurants. Found a new cleaning service. Told my writing clients that I look forward to catching up with them again in the summer, maybe fall. Because I’d really like to make the most of this new “blink of time” with my daughters.

3.) At the same time, I’ll be a little less attentive. Whenever newborn Little G whimpered, or stirred, or coughed, I darted over to her. Friends … I fine-tuned the reflex training of a Navy SEAL! I know now not to respond instantly, to let Baby G have a moment to try and settle herself.

4.) I’ll be less concerned about everyone else. While at the hospital in labor with Little G, I remember checking with a nurse about blankets for my mom and mother-in-law, who were cold in the waiting room. Now, I love both these ladies very much. But I know that everyone can take care of themselves, while I take care of myself.

5.) I’ll be more relaxed about food choices. When Little G started solids, I made her food myself, struggling to puree sweet potatoes and the like on roughly three hours of uninterrupted sleep, often when my hubby was traveling for work. Since then, I’ve concluded that packaged baby food is a wonderful time- and sanity-saving alternative. 🙂

6.) I’ll be less “activities” oriented. Little G and I began attending a weekly library story time when she was about six months old; we signed up for a mommy-and-me swimming class around 10 months; and we coordinated play dates with other mom/child duos at least once a week until she started preschool at age 2. At the time, these experiences were enriching, and we especially cherished (and still cherish!) the sweet new friends we made. But now, I feel as though we’ve been lucky enough to nurture a close enough community of friends through all of these activities, as well as our church and Little G’s preschool, that we can casually get together whenever works best for everyone, rather than scheduling formal lessons and events.

7.) And from Baby G’s perspective, I think she’ll probably be a little more laid-back and independent than Little G was, based on how I act toward her. Last year, the Huffington Post published this article about birth order and its effect on personality. I’m not a scientist, but I do think this article, and others like it, have some truth to them. This quote particularly struck me: “I know that no two children have the same set of parents, even though they live in the same family. Why? Because parents are different with each of their children, and no two children ever take the same role.”

Another revealing read is this one from Scientific American, “How Birth Order Affects Your Personality.” I thought the section on “Size Matters” was especially interesting—something I never thought about.

And, check out this funny article from Parents about “Raising Your First vs. Your Second Child.” Last up: I loved this article from BuzzFeed, “10 Ways Having a Second Child Is Different From the First.” No. 3 about fitness completely resonated with me: “First Child: Queen of Prenatal Workouts! Second Child: Life is your cardio.” YES! 🙂