On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade too.

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 Find Yourself Double Fisting Cotton Candy (and Other Stories)

How is everyone’s fall going? Fun? Festive? Fast and furious, perhaps? Yes, mine too—fast and furious, that is.

October was a whirlwind of apple picking, pumpkin picking, multiple Halloween events and Saturday-morning soccer games. All good fun, but…I am fall-festivities-ed out, and secretly delighted soccer season is over. To celebrate, I might stay in my pajamas until lunch time tomorrow.

Livin’ it up, friends, livin’ it up. 😉

On Halloween night, I was at the neighborhood fire station with the girls. They kindly host a party complete with balloon twisting, a bounce house, and treats galore. Stanton was tied up with a situation that is too convoluted to tell here, but he was on the way, he said.

Grace and Anna seemed oblivious their dad was MIA. Their trick-or-treat bags were overflowing from our lap around our street, and now they were in line for cotton candy. The firefighter operating the cotton-candy machine was wearing a white, head-to-toe poncho-type covering over his clothing.

It’s a sticky job, he told me.

I’ve heard, I replied.

I watched as he spun a huge cone of cotton candy for Grace…and kept spinning it. “Wow, that’s probably enough,” I said.

He shared with me that he had been having some trouble stopping the cotton candy from spiraling on the cone.

Got it. A common Halloween-party problem, I imagined.

Eventually, the gentleman pulled Grace’s cone away, presenting her with a fluffy pink sugar rush twice the size of her head.

Twice the size of my daughter’s head. I’m not exaggerating, friends.

“Yes!” Grace dug in.

Then Anna got hers, which was also outrageously big.

After a few bites each of cotton candy, the girls wanted to get into the bounce house. “Here, Mom!” They handed me their cones.

“Don’t eat mine,” Grace added.

I wasn’t even close to being tempted. “Be careful,” I said, as the girls clambered in to the bounce house. “And have fun. Also, I’m a little concerned you’re bounce-housing so soon after eating…try not to throw up.”

Be careful, have fun and try not to throw up—words to live by, one might say.

All good fun, but…I am fall-festivities-ed out…

I watched as Grace and Anna (dressed as a witch and monarch butterfly, respectively) ricocheted around the bounce house. “Hi, Mom! Woo-hoo!”

It was at this moment I realized I was double fisting cotton candy—cotton candy that wasn’t even mine.

Also at this moment, I realized the cotton candy was disintegrating. “What the heck?” I watched as the pink fluff began clumping up into tiny wet balls, which then slowly but steadily dripped onto my hands and wrists. “AHHH!” Halloween was getting crazier (and stickier) by the minute.

Somebody explained to me that the moisture in the air was causing the science experiment I was holding in both my hands. I think my neighbor, who’s a super smart geologist, is the person who told me this. The night had become such a blur, though, that I can’t say for sure—I’ll have to ask them. The bottom line is, I was ready to wrap things up.

Soon after, the girls and I began walking back home. We turned the corner and bumped into Stanton. “Dad!” the girls cheered.

I looked at my husband. “Hello there.”

“I’m so sorry,” Stanton said. He sighed as he hugged the girls and kissed me. “I know you can’t tell, but on the inside, I’m very frustrated with the situation tonight.”

For the record, friends, when I am frustrated with a situation, you can tell. You can tell on both the outside and inside.

Again, just for the record.

The four of us walked the rest of the way home together.

…I realized the cotton candy was disintegrating.

On Saturday morning, two days later, Stanton, Grace and I headed to New York City with Grace’s performing arts group. Her wonderful instructor had organized the trip so that the students could see a Broadway show and meet with the actors afterward.

This was Grace’s first time in the city, as well as her first Broadway show. When we began walking around Midtown Manhattan, I watched as Grace took in the skyscrapers, the iconic yellow taxi cabs, all the glitz and activity. “What do you think?”

“New York City is amazing and so busy,” Grace said. “I can’t wait to come back with Anna.” (My mom and dad were back at our house taking care of her.)

We’ll come back, Stanton and I promised.

We were seeing “Beetlejuice” at the Winter Garden Theatre. Before we arrived, I told Stanton and Grace to stop and turn so that I could take a picture against the backdrop of the Theater District. As I did, I bumped into another woman, and quickly apologized.

“Here, I’ll take a picture of the three of you,” she said, and she did.

“Thank you so much,” I told her, as she smiled and disappeared back into the crowd.

New Yorkers can get a bad rap for being rude, but in all my experiences, they’ve been incredibly kind and helpful.

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At the Winter Garden Theatre, Stanton, Grace and I found our seats in the mezzanine. We were in one of the front rows, and had an amazing view of the stage. I pointed toward the orchestra level below.

“When I was younger, like maybe in middle school,” I told Grace, “I came here, to this theater, to see a show called ‘Cats,’ and sat over there with Pop, Nona, Josh and Jared. Jenna was still little, so she stayed home with Poppy and Grandma.”

“Like Anna,” Grace said.

I smiled. “Yes.” Ah, the poor youngest siblings among us.

“Cats” went on to become one of the longest-running Broadway shows, and was the longest tenant at the Winter Garden Theatre, spanning more than 7,000 performances across nearly 18 years.

As a child, I had no idea I was watching musical theater history in the making. I also never could have imagined that nearly 20 years later, I’d be back in that same place, in the mezzanine, sitting alongside my college-sweetheart husband and the older of our two daughters. In that moment, waiting for “Beetlejuice” to begin, I felt a sense of wonder at how life can come full circle.

How life can bring you back.

Maybe the people are different, and the time surely is, but the place still stands as beautiful as it was back then. And now, like then, you feel lucky just to be there, to be part of it.

I was very grateful for that day.

 …I felt a sense of wonder at how life can come full circle.

Monday was the last day of the book fair at Grace’s school. I hadn’t made it any of the other days, so this was my last chance to join Grace during her lunch period to eat together and then pick out books. (“Everyone else had someone come, Mom.”)

First, I had to pick up Anna from preschool.

“I don’t want to go to the book fair,” Anna grumbled.

“Come on, honey,” I said. The school secretary printed off “Visitor” name tags for both Anna and me. I stuck mine on my jacket.

Anna threw hers on the ground.

“Really?” I asked her.

I can’t make this stuff up, friends.

Grace, Anna and I bumped into the principal, a lovely lady. “I didn’t know you had books published,” she said.

“Well, some of my stories have been published in magazines, but I self-published all my books,” I explained, not wanting her to be unnecessarily impressed.

“Still, that’s wonderful!”

Later, Grace noted, “Mom, you’re basically famous.”

“Awww, Grace, you’re so sweet, but…no, I’m not.” I hugged my daughters. “Do you know what makes me truly happy? Like, happier than being basically famous?”

“Dad, Anna and me,” Grace said.

“And Pop and Nona,” Anna added.

“And Josh and Jared and Jenna…”

The list went on. And the answer was yes, to every one of the names.

Be careful, have fun, try not to throw up, and stick together (even during the sticky-like-cotton-candy times).

Because when the curtain closes for the last time, that’s pretty much what it was all about.

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.

But We Had a Great Time

Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.

The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.

Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.

After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”

I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”

“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”

This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.

“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.

Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.

I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.

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Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.

But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.

We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.

Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.

…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.

Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉

Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”

Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”

Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.

I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.

Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

“Impossible,” I confirmed.

I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.

“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”

Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.

Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.

“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”

“What?” my daughters asked.

Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”

“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.

I nodded.

Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.

Anna chimed in that that was true.

Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.

Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.

If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.

It was a great time.

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.

I Think We Have a Game Plan

Mornings are…not smooth…in our house. Maybe yours too.

One morning recently, however, the girls and I arrived at Grace’s bus stop several minutes early. We weren’t rushing (that usually happens). Anna didn’t melt down on the porch, at the last minute, because she wanted a different hair accessory (that almost always happens). In my not-fully-caffeinated-yet state, I didn’t raise my voice for the girls to stop bickering about something (unfortunately, that pretty much always happens too—the bickering, and the voice-raising).

Things went so smoothly that particular morning, and we were early, that I remarked upon it. “Wow, girls,” I said. “I wonder how many times we’ve had such a good morning.”

Grace paused. A moment later, she said, “This is the second time.”

Aha. Out of the hundreds of mornings of our family life together, two times ever did things go smoothly.

There’s some perspective. I half-laughed, half-cried.

In the midst of our could-be-smoother mornings, and family life in general, I often find myself telling the girls, “Everything’s going to be OK. I think we have a game plan.” What mom isn’t a de facto coach and default cheerleader?

The game plan consists of making sure everyone has what they need for the day. Backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, science fair registration form (Grace), something green for show-and-tell (Anna). Then I consult our calendar to confirm where we need to be outside of routine spots like work and school.

When Stanton and I were first married, our daybreak conversations were, scientifically speaking, one thousand times more romantic than they are now.

“Honey, Grace’s science fair is tonight. Do you want to come home first, or meet us there?”

“Meet you there, gotta go, love ya, bye.”

One thousand times more romantic, scientifically speaking.

What mom isn’t a de facto coach and default cheerleader?

Stanton and I recently celebrated our 11-year wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a day together, just the two of us, which was rare, and lovely. Later that day, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Of course there was an Italian restaurant. There often is.

This Italian restaurant was small, with a small menu too. “But what they do, they do well,” reviewers wrote, over and over again. The ambiance was exposed brick, globe string lights, a view of the kitchen. Photographs framed on the walls. The kind of place that makes you feel at home.

As we were sitting at our table for two, we reminisced about the night we met. What’s an anniversary without a little reminiscing? Stanton said, “So, I don’t think I ever told you this, about that night…”

“I can’t believe,” I interrupted, “there’s something about you I don’t know. I just can’t believe there are any surprises left.”

As it turned out, there was one surprise left. Just one, friends. 😉 A funny story about something that happened about an hour before we met at a college party.

That night, that college party, goes back even longer—17 years ago. “I don’t have many memories without you in them, Mel,” Stanton said.

How did all this time go by? We asked ourselves this question, and—like everyone else who asks this question—had no answer.

We did agree, though, that it’s really nice to still like spending time with the person sitting across from you at a table for two.

As it turned out, there was one surprise left.

As a gift for us to enjoy with the girls, Stanton’s parents sent a globe. The girls have loved looking at it, gently spinning it, pointing out all the places around the world.

Stanton showed the girls Australia, where he spent a year after high school. He talked about the outback; Anna asked him about joeys, one of her favorite animals. “Let’s definitely go there someday,” she said.

That would be awesome, someday, we all agreed.

The globe has been a wonderful gift for discovery—conversation—possible game plans. Where to go (Lisbon), or return to together (La Jolla Cove).

Like many children, the girls say to us, “What are we doing today? Where are we going? Let’s go places!”

Just like the Toyota commercial, on repeat.

We load into the car, or climb on our bikes, or start walking.

Then…

“Aup-aup-aup!”

“Mom! Anna’s doing her dolphin voice, and it’s annoying me.” (The little sister loves animals.)

“Anna, please stop that.”

“Aup-aup-aup!”

“Mom!”

“Anna!”

“Oh, fine. Aup.”

They say it’s all about the journey.

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On Saturday evening, the four of us had dinner outside. It was warm, but windy. Still, I thought it would be fun to dust off the outdoor table and chairs, and embrace that spring had sprung after a winter’s worth of snowgirl-building, sledding and ice skating. All good fun, but let’s hear it for springtime.

The girls were sitting on the backyard patio. Through the sunroom window inside, I saw them munching apples and chitchatting. I was holding the last of the food to bring out when I saw one of the paper plates fly up and bop Grace on the forehead. “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed, as Grace and Anna doubled over in laughter.

When Stanton and I got back outside, the girls were still laughing. “Mom, Dad!” Anna greeted us. “Guess what!”

“I saw through the window!” I said. “Grace, are you OK?”

Grace nodded through her laughter.

“It’s so windy, the paper plate bopped Grace,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Then we started laughing hysterically.”

Now all four of us were laughing. “Anna, I love how you tell stories,” I said.

“We just started laughing hysterically, Mom,” Anna repeated.

I sank into a chair. “I may have had a bad idea, girls,” I said. “Eating outside when it’s windy.”

No, it’s fun, they assured me. Fun and funny.

My al fresco springtime meal had turned into a fun and funny family memory. Not the original game plan, to be sure, but where we ended up instead.

And in the end, that was wonderful too.

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.

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.