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.

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.

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.

When I Go to My Mom’s House

My hubby, daughters, and I recently returned from a visit with my family in Pennsylvania. I was so glad that Baby G was able to meet my maternal grandmother, who helped raise me, during this time. They shared a heartfelt hello, and good-bye.

We stayed with my parents, as we always do. And as always, my mom made sure her house was ready for us. She put clean towels in our rooms, along with new clothes for the girls. (“Don’t worry about packing them anything!” she said.)

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My mom has a second freezer in the basement. When we arrived, she began thawing the food she prepared for our visit weeks earlier: breaded chicken, lasagna, stuffed cabbage rolls, zucchini fritters, and—per Little G’s request—lots of cookies. I think second freezers in the basement, bursting with goodies like these, may be distinctive of families of Italian-American heritage. 🙂

Towels, clothes, homemade food … all creature comforts. Who wouldn’t love to “come home” to these things? What I love about my mom’s house, though, is that these things symbolize her caring for my family and me.

All this caring takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort. Of course, this is what moms do.

I remember a moment soon after Baby G was born, when both my mom and Stanton’s mom were standing with me in my kitchen. My mom was staying with us for a few weeks to help out, and I mentioned that Charlotte did the same thing for her own daughter about a year and a half earlier. Playing with the new baby’s older sisters; getting their breakfasts, lunches, snacks (so many snacks!), and dinners ready; making sure they were clean and well-rested. Plus hundreds of other things that moms do every day, from putting Band-Aids on boo-boos (including the imaginary ones) to calling a plumber because the kitchen sink faucet is dripping (again). Basically, taking care of everyone and everything.

“You both did so much,” I remember saying to my mom and Charlotte.

They looked at each other and laughed. “Well, we’re battle tested,” Charlotte said. It was something any seasoned mom could relate to.

As the years move on, I want to create the kind of house that my mom has, and Charlotte has. And I want to be the kind of mom that they’ve been to their children (four each!). I want my daughters to know our front door is always open to them and their friends, and later their families. I want them to know I’ll always take care of them, whether they’re 4 years old or 40. When you come to my house, there will always be plenty of everything. Just bring yourself.

Another hope I have is that my girls will be as close as I am to my sister and brothers. During this recent visit, my sister took time off from her job in New York City to be with us. At one point, Jenna handed me a cup of coffee along with a plate of my mom’s Jimmy Carter Cake and said, “OK, let’s go.”

“Where?”

“To eat and watch an episode of Fright Night Lights, DUH.”

I laughed and followed my sister to the nearest TV, coffee and cake in tow. Because we love simply hanging out and sharing a cup of coffee together (Friday Night Lights reruns optional). It’s the little things, right, friends?

Yes.

I hope my daughters develop a similar bond. And I hope that as they journey along with their own lives, they come back to my house to reconnect.

I’ll need to get my own second freezer one day.

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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.