Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

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.

When You Have the Choice to Laugh or Cry

Summer is freeze pops, sunscreen and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming.

Grace, Anna and I were at the pool. My older daughter was swimming—actually swimming. My younger daughter, meanwhile, was alternating between adjusting her goggles, blowing bubbles and throwing a plastic ring for Grace to “fetch”—the myriad activities that little kids engage in when they’re in the water. Then Anna grabbed my arms and began bouncing up and down on my thighs.

“Mom!” Up and down, up and down. “You’re a trampoline!”

“No.” It was one of those moments when you could laugh or cry—it could go either way, equally. “I’m not.” Moms everywhere understand: I’m a person. A person.

Not long after, Anna overheard me tell another mom that I appreciated that my new swimsuit had adjustable straps. Minutes later, I felt the metal hooks on the adjustable straps zoom down.

“Anna!” I stopped my upper body from tumbling out of my swimsuit, as Anna continued to tug on the hooks. “Stop, honey.”

“But Mom, you have adjustable straps.” Anna smiled. “They’re fun.”

Laugh or cry…laugh or cry.

Speaking of my new swimsuit: I ordered it online. When it arrived in the mail, and I tried it on…well, let’s just say I wasn’t #twinning with the model from the website. I peered in the mirror.

Huh.

“Ooh, you got a new bathing suit, Mom!” As always, the girls were nearby.

“Mm-hmm. What do you think, girls?”

There was a pause.

“It’s OK if you don’t like it,” I assured them.

“I like the bathing suit,” one daughter (I won’t say who) said. “But I think it’s for someone who isn’t a little fat.”

Ouch.

“Yeah,” the other daughter (also anonymous in this story) agreed. “It’s just that, you look like you have a baby in your belly.”

Laugh or cry, laugh or cry…

“But you don’t! We know you don’t, Mom. You just look like that.”

I mean, whew. I just look pregnant in my new swimsuit.

“Mom.” Concerned, Grace hugged me. “I love you.”

Anna threw her arms around both of us. “I love you too, Mom. And I love your big, soft belly.”

We group hugged.

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The truth is—actually, there are two truths here. The first is, I do have belly fat. I gave birth to two children, am getting older and do zero (and I do mean zero) lower-ab exercises.

Stanton and I also just got into “The Wire” (15+ years later), and I’ve been spending many an evening beside him on our couch, engrossed in the show and munching on a bowl of raw Brazil nuts.

Just kidding, friends. You know I’ve got Cheetos or Doritos in that bowl.

😉

So I accept my body, as is. Could it be toned? Yes. Should I curb my late-night junk-food habit? Definitely…sometime soon.

Am I, overall, healthy? And happy? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is also “yes.”

The second truth is, I’m glad my daughters were honest with me. Children usually are honest—brutally honest, one might say. Ask any parent, aunt, uncle, teacher, babysitter, and they’d probably all agree: honest, to a fault.

As we grow up, we learn to temper our honesty with tact, diplomacy. I’ve worked in communications for years now, and I understand why finesse matters, in both professional and personal relationships. I get it.

I get it, and after our group hug, I told the girls they can always be honest with me. Even if they think the truth might hurt my feelings. I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom. I want them to know they can tell me anything, talk with me about anything.

They do now. And I hope they always do.

I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom.

Stanton, the girls and I recently went to the beach. All four of us had been looking forward to our family vacation, but Grace and Anna especially. And we did have a wonderful time—jumping waves, building sand castles, visiting a nature center on a rainy day.

Our last day there, I was swimming in the deep-blue water of Long Island Sound. Stanton and the girls were on the beach. It was late morning in Madison, Conn., and we were some of just the handful of tourists and locals there. The water glided over my shoulders, and when I looked ahead, I could see for miles—the open sea, endless. Since time began, human beings have been drawn to water.

“What was your favorite part of our vacation?” I asked the girls, once I came ashore.

Grace and Anna had been digging in the sand. Grace paused, considered the question. “Breakfast,” she decided.

I grabbed a towel. “Breakfast?”

“I loved breakfast at the hotel,” Grace said. “Especially the waffles.”

Stanton and I looked at each other. “Honey, we make waffles at home. What about the beach, the sand castles…”

Grace shook her head. No, definitely the hotel waffles. “That was my favorite part.”

“Me too,” Anna seconded.

Well, what do you know—the hotel waffles. (Laugh or cry?) “That’s great, girls.”

“That was my favorite part.”

Every blue moon, Stanton and I get a chance to go on a date, just the two of us. So we were out, sharing Irish nachos, drinking Shiner Bock draft (him) and red sangria (me). We’ve been each other’s date for 17 years now, and still enjoy each other’s company, which I’m deeply grateful for.

That being said…17 years is a haul. People know each other well by that point. So when, soon after our entrées arrived, Stanton said he was full and ready to head out whenever I was…I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Honey.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You want to take off your pants, right?” (This is all G-rated, friends: I promise.) When my better half comes home at the end of the day, he immediately changes out of his dress pants into a pair of athletic shorts.

Stanton smiled. “Right.”

“Do you ever even wash those shorts?” I wondered.

“That’s the wrong question.”

I nodded, understanding. “How often do you wash them?”

Stanton nodded back. “Bingo.”

Sigh. Not often.

Laugh or cry?

We both laughed.

Life is short. Despite its imperfections, life is beautiful too. The people we get to share it with are gifts.

That’s why, when I have the choice to laugh or cry…all things considered, I usually lean toward laughter.

“I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.” —Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY speech

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.

This Will Be a Funny Story Someday

Summer weekends are made for road trips, and this past weekend, Stanton, the girls and I drove two hours east to Connecticut to visit with family there. We set out on Saturday morning.

Grace and Anna had insisted on packing their own bags. Grace had filled her Little Mermaid suitcase (it had been mine, 30 years ago) with books, toys and some of her favorite clothes. Anna, meanwhile, had stuffed her entire underwear drawer into her striped backpack. Just underwear, and a box of Band-Aids. I had some extra things for both girls in my own big bag.

Five minutes into our drive, as if on cue, Anna asked if we were there yet. Not yet, we told her. “Here,” Grace added, passing Anna a coloring book and crayons from the Little Mermaid suitcase. “I brought you an activity.”

“Yay!” Anna got busy.

I turned in my seat. “Grace.” My older daughter smiled. “That was so thoughtful.”

Anna stopped mid-coloring. “I brought Band-Aids.”

“You’re so thoughtful too, Anna.”

Summer weekends are made for road trips…

We drove across the Castleton Bridge, the Hudson River below us glistening bright blue in the hot sun. The radio station had been static-y, but then Elton John’s voice glided through the car.

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…”

We had a lovely visit with my cousin and her family. Because we were in the midst of a heat wave, we stayed at their home for most of the day, enjoying catching up and playing with the girls. There were burgers and, later, takeout pizza from the family’s favorite local spot (every family has one), complete with Funfetti cupcakes that the girls got to frost and decorate.

We were all thankful for the time.

Stanton, the girls and I stayed at a hotel overnight, and then headed an hour north to Amherst, Mass. One of the beauties of New England is that so many cool places exist within just an hour or two’s drive. Our next destination: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

We wanted to have lunch before getting to the museum. “Can we find a McDonald’s?” Grace asked.

I groaned, but Anna cheered. “I want a McFlurry!”

“Why don’t we look for a cool little local place?” I suggested. I glanced at Stanton; he shrugged. He would have been happy with a Big Mac himself.

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We ended up stumbling across Atkins Farms, which perfectly fit the bill of “cool little local place.” At the deli, we ordered grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches for the girls, and Italian grinders for the grownups. We sat at a four-top with a view of the expansive country market: wooden cartons of rainbow-colored produce, fresh flowers galore, the aroma of freshly baked cider donuts everywhere.

“I love this place,” I said.

“You say that about every place,” Grace said.

After lunch, Stanton, the girls and I had such a good time at The Eric Carle Museum (just up the road from Atkins Farms). Stanton truly could have stayed another hour or so, working on a collage in the Art Studio or making music on the large, outdoor xylophone in Bonnie’s Meadow. But friends had recommended we check out the nearby Beneski Museum of Natural History, and the girls wanted to see the dinosaur skeletons and footprints there. So we hustled over and had another fun museum visit.

“I don’t think we could have planned a better road trip,” I said, as the four of us climbed into the car and began the 100-mile drive back home. Soon after, the girls fell asleep in the backseat. I sighed, content.

And that is when the air conditioning in the car stopped working.

We sat at a four-top with a view…

Around 5 p.m. Sunday on the East Coast, the heat index hovered around 100 degrees. Stanton pulled over into a service plaza on the Massachusetts Turnpike. I woke up the girls and got them out of the car, while Stanton popped the hood.

“What’s going on?” Grace wondered.

I explained that the AC wasn’t working. The girls asked if Dad could fix it. I glanced at Stanton, who appeared to be consulting Google for auto-repair tips. Hmm. “I don’t know.”

We entered the service plaza, and walked right into a McDonald’s. The girls’ eyes lit up. “Mom, can we get McFlurrys?”

“OK,” I said.

Grace pumped her fist. “Best day ever.”

Right-o.

Grace got an M&M’s McFlurry, while Anna opted for the new flavor, Galaxy Caramel. (Just FYI, the Galaxy Caramel McFlurry is extra sticky.)

After a while, Stanton joined us. He shared the unsurprising news that we wouldn’t be able to fix the AC then, and would need to drive the rest of the way with the windows down. Not the end of the world, we both agreed.

Back in the car, we put the windows down and started home again. Grace observed that the ride was noisy. Anna pulled her sneakers off, then aimed one toward the window.

“Don’t throw that out the window,” we all yelled.

“I’m just pretending,” she said.

Stanton glanced at me. “This will be a funny story someday.”

“Today is not that day, but yes, someday,” I agreed.

“Best day ever.”

Once, Grace asked me what kind of stories I write, when I submit fiction to literary magazines. Usually, stories about families, I told her. Of course, each family is imperfect in some way, because nobody wants to read a story about a perfect family (or a blog post about a perfect road trip 😉 ).

The truth is, the best stories are the ones from our own lives, from the times with our own families. Even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, or veered off course toward the end. Possibly especially during these times of adjustments and off-road adventures.

One thing I know for sure: The best stories happen when we’re with the ones we love.

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.

Cocoa Krispies Goodbye Kisses: What Love Looks Like Sometimes

Yesterday morning, Stanton said he was heading out. “Have a great day, girls,” he told our daughters.

Anna, in the midst of eating her breakfast, jumped off her seat. “Love you, Daddy!” She wrapped her arms around his legs, and started to kiss him.

“Whoa, careful there,” Stanton said. He grabbed a napkin and wiped some Cocoa Krispies off of the sweet child’s mouth. At which point Anna delivered her kiss to his navy dress pants.

The moment struck me. This is what love can look like, I thought: a Cocoa Krispies kiss goodbye. Heartfelt, off the cuff, a little messy but worthwhile—love, in a nutshell.

Soon after Stanton left, I brought the girls to soccer camp. It was Anna’s first time at a camp, and I was a little worried. “I could stay and do camp with you,” I said.

“Mom,” Grace hissed. “That would be so embarrassing for Anna and me. Plus, you don’t have shin guards.”

It was true: I didn’t have shin guards.

Anna cupped my face in her hands. “I love you, Mama, but will you please go?”

The irony was not lost on me, friends. Love, also, is letting go.

Heartfelt, off the cuff, a little messy but worthwhile—love, in a nutshell.

Eventually, I did go. I came back too, of course, and when I did, I loved hearing the girls’ stories from their time at soccer camp. There were Popsicle breaks (lots of them) and nice coaches and lots of fun, overall.

“I can’t believe how much I missed you both,” I said. I had grown so accustomed to having them around this summer. I asked if they had missed me too.

“Not at all,” Grace said.

“Just a little,” Anna reported.

I was happy, truly, that my daughters had had a wonderful time without me. Because I want them to be healthy, confident and emotionally strong. I wouldn’t mind if my older daughter missed me somewhat, but… 😉

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There’s so much to love about summer. Dining alfresco. Weekend trips to catch up with family and friends. Catching fireflies in mason jars.

And if you have kids, you also need to figure out how to keep everyone occupied for the several months that school’s out. Camp, child care, to grandmother’s house they go—every family engineers what works for them.

I’m grateful my work schedule can be flexible; the girls and I have been together a lot lately. And it’s been…well, crazy/beautiful.

One morning this past week, I was trying to finish a writing project. I was at my laptop in the kitchen, and the girls were playing on the back porch. Then I heard a crash, followed by Grace’s voice: “Don’t tell Mom.”

Generally not a good sign.

I had my own cringe-worthy quotable moment a few days later. The girls and I were at a playground with friends. Anna needed to use the port-a-potty, which she did. Then she didn’t want to leave the port-a-potty.

“Anna, come on,” I said. “Go play outside, or…I’ll eat all the Doritos.”

If my friend happens to read this, then she can attest that this is a true story, and a direct quote. Not that I’m proud of either of those things. But we had Doritos (a guilty pleasure) at home, and Anna knew I was capable of some serious damage.

(I wish I craved things like roasted fava beans or seaweed salad, which I do find delicious, but no, in moments of end-of-day tiredness…pass me the heavily processed nacho-cheese-flavored tortilla chips with the long list of ingredients on the label, MSG, Red 40 and all. Pass ’em on down, friends.)

Anyway…my threat worked. Anna got out of the port-a-potty, and I didn’t eat all the Doritos. Win-win.

…”Don’t tell Mom.” Generally not a good sign.

Anna’s still young, and a challenge can be that I’m still involved with many of her physiological functions. Accompanying her to the restroom. Applying sunscreen and bug spray. Answering the question, “Is this the right foot?” every time she reaches for her shoes. I don’t mind these things, but I feel I’m responsible for an additional body besides my own.

Again, not the most quixotic thesis on “what love is”…but love nevertheless: port-a-potties, OFF! and shoes.

As I drove the girls to soccer camp this morning, I told them about this post I was writing. “I started it last night,” I said. I had a few Doritos too, but I left that part out (poetic license, you know).

Grace asked me what the title of the post was, and I told her. I glanced in the rear-view mirror, and she was smiling. I smiled back.

The stuff that life’s made of happens in all these little moments, I think. And the biggest, grandest gestures may not be able to make up for missteps, or what we missed.

This is why I try to be patient as I carry Anna, dripping wet, to the restroom fifteen minutes after we got into the pool. And why I read one extra chapter to Grace before bedtime, and take the girls back to the library to see the newly hatched chicks even though we were just there the day before.

I’m not always patient, and I don’t read an extra chapter every night. But I try. Because I sense these things matter.

These things, and Cocoa Krispies kisses goodbye.

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.

All the Beautiful Pictures

Tubes of sunscreen on the back porch, flip-flops piled up nearby, the freezer stocked with ice cream and the lazy Susan cabinet with sugar cones—summer has settled in at our house, and yours too, I’m sure.

Summertime presents a picturesque backdrop. The other evening I was taking a walk alongside rows of century-old evergreens, and the pink-tinted clouds outlining the setting sun took my breath away. It was an Instagram-worthy moment, to be sure, and I almost did take a picture. But then I thought, no…be present, enjoy the moment.

Probably about half the time I’m present, enjoying the moment…and the other half I’m taking pictures, documenting life.

(Partially, I consider my picture-taking habit part of my “mom” job description. If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so images of the past ten years…the majority of them shot tilted upward, which women everywhere know shows our thighs from the most unflattering angle. P.S. Love you, honey! 😉 )

During a different walk, with the girls, Grace asked for my phone. She wanted to take a picture of a butterfly. I told her I had left my phone at home.

“So we can be present,” Grace grumbled.

“Agh,” Anna added.

Huh. “Right,” I said. “Be present together.”

The girls groaned.

Everything in moderation, I’ve tried to explain to my daughters, from screen time to swimming to ice cream. We don’t want to zone out, wear out, sugar-rush out. And I try to practice what I preach.

If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so pictures of the past ten years…

I’m a people person, though, and I do love keeping in touch with family and friends, sharing pictures through text, email and social media. I try to strike a balance between good days and not as good, moments that are both “proud mom” ones as well as “I can’t believe this happened.”

I try not to be annoying, or brag, although I’m sure I’ve done both at some point(s).

A while back, the girls gave me a sticker from a weather-themed sticker sheet. The sticker depicted a sun with “No Bad Days” scrolled underneath. We were driving in the car, on our way to somewhere, and I stuck the sticker under the car radio.

“Do you like it, Mom?” the girls asked.

Of course, I told them. I loved the cheerful-looking sun, and I appreciated the positive-thinking sentiment: “No Bad Days.” There are bad days, though, I told the girls, and that’s OK. We just make the effort to move forward from them.

Recently, I shared a picture, and a friend replied, “Beautiful!” It was a beautiful picture: summer, sunlight, glorious colors and smiles galore. And I thought…all the beautiful pictures.

Each of us may be, consciously or not, on a journey to collect beautiful pictures.

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We want to remember our good times, and our iconic moments. The first day of kindergarten, the time we arrived at the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

All the times we arrived.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and beauty can be found, too, in the moments we wouldn’t adorn with a “No Bad Days” sticker—in the times people showed up for us, were there for us in our darkest hours.

Still, our for-posterity’s-sake photo albums trend toward years of memories cast in perma-sunlight. Mine do, anyway. Why memorialize dusk?

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing. And if a fortune teller looked into their crystal ball and divined for us a lifetime of “No Bad Days”…who wouldn’t want that, at first glance?

My lifetime of 36 years thus far has run the gamut of “Clear/Sunny” to “Cloudy,” with wind speeds ranging from light to strong. There have been some scattered showers, and even a natural disaster or two. It has not been a lifetime of “No Bad Days.”

But if I had the chance to do it all over…I really think I would do it all over, even the truly dark hours. Because I’m not sure I could have ever known what happiness meant, until I felt sorrow too. “Inside Out” told this story too, several summers ago—and it wasn’t the first time a children’s story had a powerful truth to share.

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing.

Movies, we know, are pictures in motion. In high school, I loved the movie “Meet Joe Black.” It was long, clocking in at three hours, and a “box office bomb,” according to IndieWire. But I loved it then, and love it now. “Meet Joe Black” asks questions about life and death, love and family, and includes an awesome coffee-shop scene.

One of my favorite scenes is between Brad Pitt’s Joe Black character and an elderly Jamaican woman who is ailing. Her time on earth is winding down. She tells Joe, “So take that nice picture you got in your head home with you…If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us.” Joe asks her if she has some nice pictures; she says yes.

This summer, every season, let’s celebrate our beautiful pictures. Every gathering with loved ones, each beach trip, all the ice-cream cones too. Every pink-tinted sunset we pause to photograph, or simply savor as a memory in our head.

All the beautiful pictures represent our Mostly Sunny moments, and every one of us deserves some of those.

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.

Getting to the Good Part

“Mom.”

My 3-year-old daughter was tugging on a corner of the tie-dye T-shirt I had pulled over my head two hours earlier. “VOLUNTEER,” it noted on the back.

“I want to go home, Mom.”

All around us, elementary-aged kids were working on arts-and-crafts projects. Glitter, watercolors and stickers covered the tables. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” a banner proclaimed.

I squeezed Anna’s hand. “I need to take just a few more pictures.” The church’s camera drooped from a scratchy strap around my neck.

Anna flopped onto a chair.

I had offered to help out with any last-minute details for my older daughter’s Vacation Bible School that week. The last-minute detail I had been assigned: photographing moments from the week-long summer program for the last-day slideshow. Anna was my unofficial (and at times, reluctant) assistant.

I snapped a few candids. Group shots are best, the program’s directors had advised.

“I’m tired of volunteering, Mom.”

“I know, honey.”

“I want a snack, Mom.”

“In a minute, Anna.”

“Mom…I think I need to tinkle…I do need to tinkle, Mom!”

I grabbed Anna’s hand, and we ran to a restroom, the camera bopping against my chest in time with our flip-flopped footsteps. As I helped Anna onto a toilet, and then waited for her in the cramped stall, the thought crossed my mind: Things could be going smoother. (Note: This isn’t the first time this thought has crossed my mind, since becoming a parent.)

A little later, Anna and I picked up Grace. “Mom and I were volunteering,” Anna told her 6-year-old sister, adding, “It was boring.”

I groaned as the three of us weaved our way outside to the car. I hoped the VBS folks didn’t overhear Anna’s commentary.

Now Grace was tugging on my T-shirt.

“What, honey?” I searched through my bag for the car keys. Wallet, phone, the girls’ combs, lots of chocolate-chip granola bars…

“I’m happy you were here today, Mom.”

“Awww.” I stopped and smiled at Grace. “Why, honey?”

Grace smiled back. “I liked seeing you around.”

I definitely was a sight that day, with the camera and Anna in tow. What Grace said touched my heart, though. What she said, and how she felt—and how she made me feel, which was happy—made the craziness worth it.

“I liked seeing you around.”

Two days later, a good friend of mine shared the happy news that she and her husband were the new parents of a baby boy. They had been waiting a long time for this baby, and I was (am!) so happy for them. Worth the wait, I thought when I saw his picture.

Sometimes, we may wonder if what we’re doing is worth it.

The question comes to us in cramped bathroom stalls—in doctors’ offices—in the dead of night when we can’t fall asleep, our minds racing with worry and our hearts heavy with pain. Is…this…worthwhile?

It can be hard sometimes to answer that question with a “yes.” This, whatever it is we’re in the middle of, may not feel worth it, at the time. Maybe it even feels like a mistake.

And then someone tells you they’re glad you were there. Your being there—simply being—mattered. Or you witness something beautiful. The gift of a child…friendship…kindness. And you recognize that this is the good part.

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Getting to the good part may be a rocky road, with red lights and rerouting along the way.

Things can happen that hurt us, break our hearts, maybe even break pieces of us. Maybe we feel broken for a time. I’ve felt that way sometimes; I imagine every human being has.

Maybe we make peace with the hurt, the heartbreak, the broken pieces. Or we ignore it and move forward. Or we never get over the pain, but move forward anyway. There are thousands of different ways to respond because we’re all different, and we do life differently.

There are thousands of ways but no best way to make sense of the bad part.

When the good part comes, though, hopefully we find joy in it.

There are thousands of different ways to respond because we’re all different, and we do life differently.

On Saturday evening, Stanton, the girls and I had dinner in the backyard. We tried a new recipe, grilled shrimp tacos. After a crazy week, the grass under our feet and gently waning sunlight felt heavenly. “This is one of my favorite things,” I shared with my family. Being outside, being together.

“Me too,” Stanton said.

Anna looked up from her taco. “But what about ice cream?”

“I do like ice cream,” Stanton said.

“Yeah, that’s my favorite thing,” Anna said.

Grace nodded. “But dinner’s good, Dad.”

What are your favorite things, friends? What are the good parts? Whatever they are, I hope you enjoy them—I hope you find joy in them.

And I hope you know that you may be someone’s favorite. You may be the good part in someone’s life, even if they haven’t told you yet. Even if they haven’t been born yet.

Keep moving forward.

P.S. The answer is yes—it’s worth it.

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.

Not Quite There Yet: The Family Vacation

We’re knee-deep in summer, and the season of family vacations.

My husband let me know he needed to travel to Martha’s Vineyard for work the week of July 4th. The girls and I had never been, and we all decided it would be fun to go together. Stanton had meetings, but would join in on the family time when he could—a mini vacation of sorts.

Before embarking on our trip, I did what most parents (most moms?) do. Laundry. The grocery store for snacks.

I located everyone’s beach paraphernalia: swimsuits, cover-ups, goggles, towels, chairs, flip-flops, sunscreen.

I also stopped by Walmart to buy sandcastle-building equipment…and then learned Walmart had just sold its last beach bucket. Next stop: Dollar Tree, where I had better luck with beach buckets, sand shovels, and seahorse and starfish molds.

Now, we’ve become quasi pet owners, you might remember. Ping, our betta fish, joined the family this past spring. She needs a pinch—just a pinch—of fish food every morning. Just a pinch of fish food still requires planning.

I asked our neighbors if they’d pet-sit Ping while we were away. They kindly agreed. And then, because I couldn’t carry Ping and her two-gallon fish tank down the block…I wheeled her over in Anna’s stroller, to the raised eyebrows of some passersby.

You can’t make this stuff up, friends.

So began our family vacation.

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Our drive to the ferry for the island took about three and a half hours. We started out in the morning. I gathered stories, coloring books and crayons, puzzles—hours of fun—into a bag, and placed the bag between the girls in the backseat.

Like kids everywhere, about five minutes into our drive, one of the girls shared, “I’m bored.”

The other wondered, “Are we there yet?”

Not quite yet, girls. Not quite yet.

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As a kid on family vacations or reunions, did you ever have to bunk with a sibling, or distant relative? It can be a little tough, right?

It was a little tough for Grace, who informed Stanton and me after our first night in the hotel, “Anna kicks, and she takes up a lot of space.”

For such a little person, she really does. I so appreciate how kind and patient Grace (usually) is with her little sister:

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During our time in Edgartown, the girls loved playing at the nearby beach and swimming in the ocean, which we learned is technically Nantucket Sound. I loved the beach too, and I was excited to check out the other sights. I promised the girls Popsicles if they’d come exploring with me.

Popsicles: As good a bribe as any.

We played in Cannonball Park, admired the Old Whaling Church, and stopped in local shops like Murdick’s Fudge. We wrapped up our sightseeing by sitting at the dock, watching the harbor boats and Chappy Ferry rides. Later, I asked the girls what their favorite part had been.

“Pretending to fish with that string we found,” they replied.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s always the little things.

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There’s a saying, which you’ve probably heard, that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey. I think this is true, too, of family vacations. We can read the latest issues of Travel + Leisure and plan the most TripAdvisor-approved odysseys—or make the most of last-minute adventures—and then find that what we love the most, and what our loved ones remember, are the seemingly littlest things. And we can be anywhere in the world for this it-never-fails phenomenon to happen: Lake Como, or the lake that’s an hour’s drive from home.

Sometimes crazy things happen too. And a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come, for better or worse. For example…

When I was growing up, my parents, siblings and I went to Orlando, Fla. We were in Epcot one day when I became horribly sick. My mom brought me to the on-site infirmary, where the medical staff diagnosed me with food poisoning. Ugh.

(As I’m writing this, I’m shuddering at the memory. Shuddering and gagging.)

The Epcot folks took good care of me. Then, per Disney policy, they arranged for a wheelchair for me, to transport me back to our rental car.

You can bet my brothers begged my mom to photograph that moment for posterity’s sake. Good ol’ Melissa in a wheelchair at Epcot. “Take a picture, Mom!”

Decades later, that crazy moment from Epcot still comes up during family get-togethers. (What does your family remember at summer BBQ’s and Thanksgiving dinners?)

…a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come…

After we got the girls to bed one night, Stanton opened a bottle of red wine he’d bought. “This was surprisingly thoughtful of you,” I said.

“Glad I can still surprise you sometimes,” he replied, pouring two glasses.

Then, despite the thousands of brand-new TV and movie options available to us, we watched a rerun of “The Office.” Season 2, “Email Surveillance,” the episode where Jim doesn’t invite Michael to his party. It still made us laugh.

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On our drive back home, the four of us played the License Plate Game. Our family’s version of this game is to find license plates from the four states we’ve called home: Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Now, we acknowledge other license plates. Indiana, OK. Florida…Maine…North Carolina. Utah, whose license plate declares, “Greatest Snow on Earth!” We acknowledge other license plates, but we get excited about Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Driving through Massachusetts, it was, of course, easy to find license plates from neighboring New York and nearby Pennsylvania. I was amazed, though, to see more than a handful of license plates from the Lone Star State. There were a bunch of Texans in New England that holiday week—who knew?

We were about five miles from our driveway, and we still hadn’t seen Virginia. I was about to give up when, out of the corner of my eye… “Grace, look!” I pointed to the car to our left.

Grace’s middle name is Virginia, so she can recognize the word right away. She looked at the car, saw the white license plate with navy-blue letters, and grinned. “Virginia!”

Anna cheered. “We found Virginia!”

Indeed we did.

I loved our impromptu getaway. It wasn’t perfect, of course. We all had our moments, and traveling with kids is tricky, in general. But for all the moments we had together…I appreciated them so much. And some of those moments, possibly, will be ones we’ll remember years from now, when the four of us—a little older, and maybe not living under a shared roof anymore—are lucky enough to be gathered in the same place.

“For such a little person, she took up a lot of space. She kicked me all night.”

“Oh, you were fine…”

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“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” (Buddha)

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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.