Tell Me About Me: Stories Kids (and Grownups) Love to Hear

Both our daughters love when Stanton or I read to them. Lately, Anna especially has been requesting more and more time with books. She’ll pull one book after another off a bookshelf…stack them all into a tall, teetering pile…and then call, “Mom! Dad! MOMDADMOMDAD!”

We’ll hurry over. Anna will point to the pile. “Read all my favorite stories?” She’ll add a smile; we’ll sigh.

One afternoon, after reading for forty-five minutes or so, I felt my eyelids begin to droop. Many parents have found that reading to their children helps lull them, the kids, to sleep. For me, reading to Anna lulls me to sleep. I closed my eyes. “How about,” I suggested, “I tell you a story?” Telling a story—something I could do half-asleep.

Happily, Anna agreed. “Tell me about me!”

Kids love to hear stories about themselves, don’t they? Actually, we all do. So I began telling Anna the story of when she was born.

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

“I was so happy to see you,” I said.

“Mom gave me kisses,” Anna added. “Smooch, smooch!”

I’ve told her this story before, many times, and she loves it as much as I do.

“Yes, I kissed you so much,” I confirmed. “Then I gave you some milk…”

“Then I had scrambled eggs…”

My eyes blinked open. “What?” I started laughing. I had never said that, and obviously, Anna had not eaten any solid protein minutes after birth.

Anna frowned at me. “Stop laughing, Mom.”

“Honey, that’s not true. I did not give you scrambled eggs.”

“Yes, you did!” Now Anna was yelling. “I had scrambled eggs! I had milk and scrambled eggs!”

I could tell we weren’t going to be able to have a rational conversation. (This may be one of the hardest parts of parenting small children: dealing with wildly irrational behavior.) “If you say so,” I said.

Anna nodded. “Milk and scrambled eggs,” she said. “And Grace sang to me…”

I picked up with the story. “Yes, Grace sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to you when she met you…”

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

In telling a story, have you ever had to change it? To finesse the facts, so to speak, in order to move the conversation forward, as I did with Anna? Or, as my husband would say, lie?

(I don’t like to say lie…)

Storytellers—especially when they answer to “Mom” or “Dad”—are not court reporters, or accountants, or any other kind of official record keepers. And in family life particularly, we narrate these scenes of shared history not to develop a personal Encyclopedia Britannica, but to revisit and remember milestones and more everyday moments alike—all the occasions that make a family just that: a family.

The upcoming holidays will be prime time for family storytelling. At dinner tables, or on couches in front of TV’s showing a football game or animated movie, or wherever else we might gather with our loved ones…we’ll tell (actually, we’ll re-tell) the memory of, “That time when…”

If we’re lucky, we have lots of “times when.” Even if we wouldn’t have considered ourselves lucky at the time…every time was an experience. Every time became a story. And taught us something about life, or love, or surviving. Our “times when.”

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What stories do you re-tell holiday after holiday, year after year, so much so that everyone knows the punch line (but wants to listen anyway)? That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome. And more often than not, it makes any holiday stress worth it.

For those of us who celebrate Friendsgivings, or help serve holiday meals at soup kitchens, or spend the holidays in less traditional ways…storytelling probably appears on these menus too. We can’t help but make connections, or make sense of our lives, through stories. “To be a person is to have a story to tell,” said author Isak Dinesen.

From when I was growing up, and even now, I remember telling a story and then glancing at my sister, who’s seven years younger, to add, “You weren’t born yet.” Today, Grace does the same thing with Anna. We’ll be talking about Grace’s first birthday party, or first time flying on a plane, and Grace will inform Anna (not always graciously), “You weren’t born yet.”

To have not been born yet—to have missed out on that story in your family’s history—it’s the plight of youngest siblings everywhere, isn’t it?

Anna, as I’ve shared, has a flexible sense of history, and reality. So, bless her heart, she’ll often retort to Grace, “Yes, I was! I was born yet!”

(Luckily for our youngest siblings, they’re often the hardiest of us all.)

The truth is, the stories we tell—the way we remember things—they’re all imperfect. The details can get fuzzy in our memories…so we do the best we can in relaying those facts. And things don’t always start when we think they do, or end when we stop talking…stop telling the story.

Beginnings and endings can be just as permeable as our memories. Just as arbitrary. “There is no real ending,” according to Frank Herbert—“just the place where you stop the story.”

That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome.

What matters, I think, are the people. The people you were there with when the story unfolded in real time. The people you’re telling the story to now—the people you’re sharing the memory with.

When those people are the same—when you’ve been together, and stuck it out, since way back when—you’re lucky, friends. You’re lucky to have had family or friends along for so much of your journey: shotgun riders to your stories. And one day, you’ll be glad they’re there to help you remember the punch lines, and color in any details that you missed.

The people in the stories are what matter. Family. Friends, both old and new. People who passed through—people whom we miss, maybe—but to whom we feel gratitude for the wisdom they left us.

We shouldn’t stretch the truth too much, in the name of a good story. We should try to keep the facts straight. Anyway, a good story can stand on its own legs.

One day, I will tell Anna there were no scrambled eggs in her delivery room.

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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To Think You Might Have Missed This

Saturday morning is, arguably, many people’s favorite time of the week. It’s mine, for sure. Maybe yours too.

During the week, Stanton usually travels two or three days for work. In general, every Monday through Friday is a mad dash of school drop-off and pick-up, thrown-together meals and deadline-driven notes to self (“New tires, CR-V!” “Literary magazine submission!” “DENTIST!!!”).

Saturday morning, though…we’re all together. The girls still get up at the same time (they have yet to discover the pure joy of sleeping in), but the pace is relaxed, not mad-dash.

On a recent Saturday morning, Stanton got up with the girls and began getting their breakfast ready. The scent of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee soon lulled me into the kitchen too. Within a few minutes, the four of us were sitting together around the table in the breakfast nook.

Grace finished eating her waffle and asked for another one. I rose and toasted another round of frozen waffles. “More syrup, please!” Anna called.

“And butter, please!” Grace added.

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they? I brought the girls’ requests to the table. Grace opened a board book, then frowned. “Anna must have been looking at this,” she said, wiping her hands on her pajamas.

“Is it sticky?” I guessed.

Grace raised her eyebrows me. “It’s really sticky.”

Stanton and I met each other’s gaze and smiled. Yes, that sounded like Anna.

“My favorite story!” Anna pointed to the book. As she did, she knocked over some of Stanton’s coffee.

“Be careful, honey,” I said. Stanton wiped up the spill.

Anna smiled and shrugged. “It happens, Mom.”

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they?

Grace sighed. I’m a big sister, too, and I could guess what Grace was thinking about her younger sibling: Trouble. I love both my daughters so much; they each make me smile in their own ways.

“To think,” I joked to Stanton, “you might have missed this.” The spill, the stickiness, the general messiness—but a wonderful messiness—of a family’s Saturday morning.

The day before, Stanton had been out of town, a work trip. I had encouraged him to stay the night where he was and drive back, refreshed, in the morning. But he wanted to be here with us in the morning, he said.

“I would have missed it,” Stanton said, finishing wiping up Anna’s spill.

I loved him for saying that—for meaning it.

When you think about the people you love, and why you appreciate them, that’s the reason, often—the clichéd “because they’re there for you.” There for you. They do everything they can not to miss things, from big things to little things (like too much Saturday-morning syrup).

*

There have been some things I’ve missed. Not with my children so much, but with my siblings because of my children. Sometimes child-care logistics have encumbered my “being there” for my two brothers and sister. Luckily, my siblings have (usually) understood. The four of us are stuck with one another for life, so we’ll always, somehow, figure things out.

Later this week, I’m taking a bus into New York City to spend the day with my sister. “Do you want to see a show? Go to a museum?” Jenna asked me, when we began making our plans.

“Do you not know me at all?” I said; my sister laughed. “No, let’s take a walk, eat at cool little cafés and talk about Party of Five.” (Jenna and I have been rediscovering and analyzing the wonderful, underrated ‘90s drama through Netflix reruns.)

“Perfect,” Jenna said.

Little things.

*

I bought a new picture frame, with slots for four 4×6’s. I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, trying to find four good ones for this frame. A lot of the pictures made me smile. And a lot of them brought up happy memories from the past few months. Grace’s soccer games, Anna’s first day of preschool, Halloween.

The four pictures I chose for the frame, though, portrayed ordinary moments. Time with family and friends. Mainly candid shots.

The picture for Slot No. 4 shows Anna jumping into a pile of leaves I’d just raked—her smile big, her hair flipping up behind her. Grace had already jumped into the leaves, and in the picture, she’s smiling at Anna. Despite my amateur photography skills, I took the picture at the exact right moment to capture Anna’s delight, and Grace’s love for her sister.

I captured that memory, not a moment too soon.

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In reflecting on that memory—in looking at that picture—I have the same hope that my mom probably had for my brothers, sister and me: I hope they’ll be good to each other. I hope they’ll be in each other’s lives for a long time.

I hope they’ll be friends.

*

The holidays are approaching, quickly. For a lot of us, that means reunions and get-togethers with family and friends. Planning, travel, gifts.

Anything out of our routine can cause some stress. We’re creatures of habit; we excel in the “everyday,” while special occasions can throw us off.

I can feel some stress during this time of the year. Maybe you do too. If you do, maybe this will help; at least, it’s helped me.

I take a deep breath. I remember Thanksgivings and Christmases from the past, all those happy memories. And I remember they’re worth it—the memories, and the moments as they were happening, were worth the effort of being there for them.

I want to be there for them.

*

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” (Dr. Seuss).

It’s really sticky.

I want to be there.

Perfect.

I love you.

Yes.

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.

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.