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.

Mom, Stinky Is NOT a Good Nickname

A sign of your closeness to someone else often is a nickname you have for them. These terms of endearment range from the classic (dear, darling, love) to the more creative (boo) to the downright delicious (honey, sugar, sweetie pie).

The ones we love best, we rarely call by their given names. This is based on my personal experience, anyway. I love my husband’s unique first name (Stanton), but hardly ever address him with it, instead using the shortened form “Stan”…and some other pet names that I won’t embarrass him with by sharing here.

Both our daughters’ names are deeply meaningful to us. Still, I usually shorten the already-short and sweet “Grace” to “G” when I greet my older daughter. We call Grace “Gracers” too. I’m not sure how this silly but affectionate habit started. And I have no clue when or why I began calling my younger daughter, Anna, “Stinky,” which may be as silly as you can get.

The other day, I overheard another mom call her daughter “Turkey.” I had never heard that one before, and it made me smile. The mom told me that, like “Stinky,” “Turkey” just kind of happened…and stuck.

Soon after, Anna looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, ‘Stinky’ is not a good nickname.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I promised to try to stick to “Anna” or “boo,” my other frequently used phrase for her. Then we headed to Perfect Blend, our favorite local coffee shop.

The ones we love best, we rarely call by their given names.

Right now, one of the seasonal blends at Perfect Blend is Kenyan Peaberry. It’s really good. I ordered a medium size for myself, and a couple of other items. Then I opened my wallet to pay, and saw my credit card wasn’t in there.

Note to self: Do not let the girls play Grocery Store with my wallet again.

“I might have enough cash,” I told the young man behind the counter.

He kindly told me not to worry. “We could start a tab for you,” he said. “You’re always here; you could pay next time.”

I thanked him for being so kind, and I did pay then. I did have to laugh, though. Was I really always at Perfect Blend?

“Yes, Mom,” Anna told me. “This is your favorite place.”

Sometimes the ones we love best know us better than ourselves.

I do love Perfect Blend. As a good local coffee shop should, it provides a warm, welcoming space for folks to gather, to replenish.

Many times I stop by with one or both of my daughters. Sometimes I meet friends there, or go alone to write.

On our most recent visit, Anna was rummaging through my bag. She pulled out a My Little Pony mini puzzle, Owl Diaries paperback, and handful of notebook paper. Anna waved the paper at me.

“What’s this for?”

I sipped my Kenyan Peaberry. “Mom always has paper in case she comes up with a good story idea.”

“Did you, Mom?”

“Well, the pages are still blank, Stinky…Anna.” (Life is one long lesson in humility, as J.M. Barrie once said.)

Anna stuffed the paper back in my bag, and got to work on the mini puzzle.

“This is your favorite place.”

Sometimes when I’m out and about, I overhear snippets of conversation that strike me. I don’t set out to eavesdrop (really!), but every now and then, my ears perk up at an especially quote-worthy moment, and I wonder about the rest of the story. For example, an older gentleman at Perfect Blend once said to the other older gentleman with him, “Now that was a good fortune cookie.”

Months later, I still wonder…what did that fortune cookie say? I wonder too…did the fortune come true?

(Let this be a lesson to any of my local friends who may be reading this: If you see me at Perfect Blend, and I’ve got notebook paper with me…lower your voice, lest you end up in a blog post. 😉 )

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Yesterday evening, both my daughters and I went to another of our favorite places, the Rail Trail. We took a walk and ended up at a nearby park. The girls started playing hide-and-seek.

There are lots of good hiding spots—behind trees, benches and stones. I watched for a while, and then the girls begged me to hide. “OK,” I agreed.

“One, two, three…”

I hid behind a stone. Seconds later, Anna found me. She laughed with delight and then said, “Now we get to chase you!”

“What!” I laughed too, and ran away.

Grace caught me easily enough, and the three of us collapsed on a bench, still laughing.

Anna rested her head against my chest. “Wow,” she said. “I can really feel your heartbeat, Mom.”

I didn’t have any notebook paper with me, or my phone or laptop. But that sentiment—I can really feel your heartbeat—struck me, and I knew I’d incorporate it into a piece of writing.

(Here goes.)

In my writing life, my goal is to get one piece of work published every year. Just one…at least one. A short story, an essay—anything to keep my portfolio current, and my standing as a writer credible.

It’s June now, and that hasn’t happened yet this year. One literary journal editor did email me one of the nicest rejection letters I ever received, and I appreciated his encouraging feedback on the short story I submitted. Still…no publication.

It can be easy to feel down when things don’t go according to plan. It can be easy to default to doubt.

I’d been feeling some doubt.

Then Anna told me she could really feel my heartbeat.

As unexpected as it seems, there’s amazing grace in hide-and-seek. There’s awesome energy in childlike games like that. Moments that allow us to really feel our heartbeat.

Moments in our favorite places, with the ones we rarely call by the names we first gave them.

Anna’s right, though. “Stinky” is not a good nickname.

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.

The Road to Wish Things

Down the street and around the corner from our home is a nature trail. Our family of four loves this long, paved path; almost every day, we walk or bike on it. (And sometimes, I end up carrying my younger daughter’s bike, and occasionally her too, back home. If you’re one of my neighbors and you happen to be reading this, then you know this is true. 😉 )

One afternoon recently, Anna and I were on the Rail Trail together. Anna pointed to a sunscreen dispenser, and wondered if her scooter could use a few squirts. “Scooters don’t need sunscreen,” I told her.

“But it would be fun, Mom.”

We moved along.

Spring is in full bloom, and Anna and I admired the deep-green grass and myriads of wildflowers on both sides of the path. Then Anna exclaimed, “Look, Mom! A wish thing.” She squatted down and pulled up a dried dandelion, not yellow anymore but puffy white—perfect for blowing.

Anna blew it, of course, after she made a wish. She spoke it out loud, so I heard her wish—and it made me smile—but it’s not my wish to share here, so I won’t. I’m sure you understand, friends.

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Possibly the best thing about parenthood, for me, is having the chance to experience childhood again. Moments like that—stopping to admire “wish things”…taking a deep breath…exhaling a wish.

Believing it will come true.

What we wish for evolves the older we get, the more life we see. In my experience, the wishes of our youth tend to be longish, and specific. For example…“Please can I have one of those watches that lets me talk to my mom from across the playground, that I saw another kid talking on to their mom? In pink, please, please, please.”

Flash forward about 20 or 25 years, and when we blow on dandelions (if we do anymore), we often exhale wishes for good health, or more good times together.

I read once that it’s similar with job titles. When you start out in your career, your job title usually is longer, more specific. One of my first job titles was something like “community programs and public relations assistant.” Or maybe it was coordinator rather than assistant. Still, I had about six words after my name in my email signature, when only one word is needed to describe the person in the top leadership position: CEO.

  …the wishes of our youth tend to be longish, and specific.

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. And I am. I’m not Jane Austen famous, or J.K. Rowling rich, but I’m so thankful to be doing what I love to do. I am grateful every day that I get to work with words for a living. It was a wish thing, from my childhood, that actually came true.

Would it be nice to, someday, be rich and famous too? If that were to happen—a huge if—it probably would be nice, sure. But by now, I’ve seen enough of life to know that those are not the things that make me happy…that take my breath away, as a dandelion through my daughter’s eyes does.

Because I’m a writer and, by default, book lover, I read to my daughters quite a bit. A couple of months ago, we read a book together for the first time that we just loved: “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. This is a beautiful story about a little girl named Alice Rumphius who dreams of traveling to faraway places, living in a house beside the sea and making the world more beautiful. She, too, makes her childhood wish things come true.

Miss Rumphius makes the world more beautiful by (spoiler alert!) planting lupine seeds near her seaside home, eventually covering “[f]ields and hillsides…with blue and purple and rose-colored flowers.”

This story is beautifully illustrated as well, and the girls and I marveled at the celebration of nature in the pages of “Miss Rumphius.”

But by now, I’ve seen enough of life to know that those are not the things that make me happy…that take my breath away, as a dandelion through my daughter’s eyes does.

Yesterday evening, Grace, Anna and I were on the Rail Trail together. We stopped at a park; the girls practiced cartwheeling and played Pirate Ship on some outdoor exercise equipment. I had left my phone at home so that I wouldn’t be distracted, so I sat on a bench and…well, that’s it.

I could have attempted some pull-ups on the exercise equipment, or joined in the fun of Pirate Ship, but…yeah, I just 100 percent loved sitting on that bench. 😉 The evening sun felt good.

As we got ready to head back home, Grace exclaimed, “Look!” She was pointing to a cluster of tall, skinny blue flowers. “Lupines!”

“Are you sure?” Anna and I looked.

I’m not positive, but I think Grace did find lupines in the park. The girls were delighted to have found something they had read about in their beloved story. I was happy they could get just as excited about lupines as they could about pink smartwatches.

As my daughters get older, I hope they still take the time to stop and admire lupines, squat down and blow wishes on dandelions.

I hope their wishes come true.

I hope yours do too.

The road to wish things.

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.

28 Quarters in a Ziploc Bag: A Laundromat Story

A sign next to the front door offered a welcome, of sorts: “Use machines at your own risk.” Lines of washers and dryers (front-load, high-efficiency and large-capacity) wrapped around the rectangular space. The voices of Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain filtered through the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh and whirrr-whirrr of the appliances. The sole TV hung overhead, in a corner and turned to “The View.” I don’t watch daytime TV—this isn’t a judgment, just a fact—and I had to Google those names together, “Whoopi Goldberg Meghan McCain,” to confirm exactly which show was on (I’m slightly embarrassed, but only slightly, at my lack of morning-talk-show trivia). 

That day, a late-fall morning, I was at a laundromat, for the first time in a very long time. It’s been a random, persistent convenience in my life that all the spaces I’ve called home have come equipped with a washer and dryer. My parents’ house, where I grew up. The house I rented with a friend, after college. The five addresses my husband and I have shared during our 11 years of marriage, from rental apartments to family homes we’ve owned—every one of them had a washer and dryer. 

I set my pink plastic laundry basket on the white-tiled floor. Overflowing from the basket was a comforter, very much in need of a clean. Which is why I was there, to wash my big comforter in a large-capacity washer. 

I made a fist around the Ziploc bag of quarters in my bag, making sure it was there. The metal on metal clinked and clanked. I had no idea how much it would cost to wash my comforter, how many quarters I would need, and I did something earlier that morning I’m not proud of: I shook some extra coins out of my younger daughter‘s piggy bank, just in case. 

My older daughter noticed, of course, saw me mid-shake. “Mom, what are you doing? Stealing from Anna?” 

“No, no…” 

It had been that kind of morning, already, and it was not even 10 o’clock.

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Clutching the bag of quarters, I peered at the pair of large-capacity washers. Another woman, about my age with similar shoulder-length brown hair, was using both of them. I wondered if there was some sort of laundromat etiquette. I wasn’t sure, so I asked the woman, “Would it be OK if I used one of these when you’re done with it?” 

She nodded yes, then added, “This one has twenty minutes left on it.” The little girl who was with her smiled at me.  

I smiled back, then thanked the woman. “I’ll be waiting over there.” I gestured to a row of chairs under a window, across from the TV, on which Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain now seemed to be exchanging heated words.  

She nodded again, and I retreated to a chair, with my comforter and quarters. 

Besides myself, the woman and her daughter, a few other folks drifted in and out of the laundromat. Two youngish men, in their early twenties. One of them wore a scarf that looked to be more for style than function; they were both hipster types. And then several older women, grandmother types, and one old man. After loading their laundry, the young men passed the time by fiddling with their phones, while the septuagenarians chatted with one another. 

What type might I be, I wondered? “Clueless, But Has Quarters”? Maybe…probably. 

I had brought a book to read, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” a creative nonfiction writing guide. Because when both girls are in school, as they were then, that time is (supposed to be) my writing time. Like many maternally disposed writers before me, though—and all moms in general—“my” time sometimes becomes “theirs.” The grocery store, post office, laundromat. When I find myself running errands for our family, I try to tuck in some writing-related work too. 

Thus, my book about writing. 

I wondered if there was some sort of laundromat etiquette.

When the woman gestured to me that her load had finished in the washer I was waiting on, I headed over, lugging my comforter. I fished the bag of quarters out of my bag. I gazed at the machine. Lots of dials. Lots of options for settings. Aaahh…what do I do? 

“I’m super sorry,” I interrupted the woman again, “but how does this work? Could you help me?”  

She helped me.  

I had 28 quarters in my Ziploc bag, and I inserted every last one of them into the coin slot. Clink, clink, clink. In case you didn’t know, as I didn’t, it costs $7 for one load in a large-capacity washer—at least, it does at that laundromat. More money than I’d thought it would be. 

“Now press that button,” the woman said, pointing to one of many buttons on the machine.  

I pressed that button, and the machine turned on and began washing my comforter. “Thank you so much.”  

The little girl beamed, clearly proud of her mom. 

I had 28 quarters in my Ziploc bag, and I inserted every last one of them into the coin slot…More money than I’d thought it would be.

Unlike me, my sister has lived in apartments in cities for years: Sunnyside, Queens, and now downtown Philadelphia. She’s used laundromats for years too. When I told her about this post I was working on, she said, “I hope the point of your story isn’t that people in laundromats are nice because of course they are.”           

“No, that’s not the point,” I replied.  

Although everyone had been nice. After my comforter was clean, I stuffed it back into my laundry basket. I didn’t have time to dry it because I had to pick up Anna from preschool. (Besides, I was all out of quarters.) The comforter was wet and heavy in the basket. As I was struggling toward the front door, one of the older women walked over and held it open for me. I so appreciated her kindness. 

But what was the point? I kept thinking about why that morning at that laundromat had resonated with me.  

The point is…sometimes I have no clue how convenient my life is. How easy things are, relatively. How much I take for granted—so many things, and the littlest things.  

Since that morning, I’ve been noticing laundromats more. Some have clever names, like Missing Sock and Dirty Harry’s. Others have signs that simply announce, “Laundromat,” as mine did. 

Weeks later, I was flipping through my book, the writing guide. A crumpled Ziploc bag floated out—the bag from the laundromat, the bag with my quarters. I had repurposed it as a bookmark and forgotten about it.  

I skimmed the bookmarked page. The author, Lee Gutkind, writes about the richness of experiences, which offer writers “more material, more reference points, more ideas” (page 237) for their work. I bookmarked that page because I agree.  

You can only learn so much from a book or sound bite. You have to have experiences.  

Even ordinary ones, because they offer insights 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 Your Life Feels Like a Sitcom: Mom/Holiday Edition

It was a somewhat typical weekday afternoon. Anna, home from preschool, perched on the family-room rug, safety-scissoring the cover of a Crate & Barrel catalog into hundreds of pieces. I sat nearby at the dining table, which doubles as my home office. My laptop screen was open to a style guide, and every now and then, I glanced at my phone. I would be talking soon with a writing-industry friend about some freelance work.

“Now remember, Anna,” I said. “While I’m on the phone, play quietly, please.” I would have turned on the TV, but had taken away TV earlier that day for…some good reason, I’m sure.

The phone rang. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. I began talking.

A few minutes later, things fell apart.

“Mom, Mom! I had an accident in the bathroom! Mom!”

I closed my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I told my friend. “You can probably hear Anna in the background.”

My friend laughed, incredibly kind and understanding. She has young children too.

Anna ran up to me. She tugged at my arms, my legs. “MOM!”

“I feel horribly unprofessional now,” I apologized again, “but I promise I’ll do a good job for you.”

Again, she was very kind, and we hung up soon after.

I helped Anna. As I did, I said, “You knew that was an important phone call. Did you have to yell so much?”

Anna cupped my chin in her hands. “I needed you.” She looked so sweet, and helpless, and…mischievous too.

I sighed.

A few minutes later, things fell apart.

Not long after, we picked up Grace a bit early from school. She had a well checkup with our pediatrician. Traditionally, these checkups occur around a child’s birthday. Grace has a summer birthday, and now it’s December, so…yes, I was a smidge behind scheduling this appointment.

“Mom, will I get any shots today?” Grace asked.

“Well…” I had just signed for both girls to get the flu shot. “Let’s not worry about that right now.”

Grace groaned. A nurse called out, “Leddy!”

As the three of us walked over, Anna smiled, pointed at Grace and said, “We’re here for my sister. Her.”

Grace and the nurse looked at me with knowing smiles. I sighed…again.

Yes, Anna was not pleased when she discovered she was getting the flu shot too.

Before we left, the pediatrician asked Grace to leave a sample. He handed her a blue plastic cup. The three of us crammed into the family restroom.

Anna stopped pouting to say, “I can’t believe Grace has to tinkle in a cup.”

“This is a little crazy, Mom,” Grace observed.

Let me tell you, friends… I stood there, in that family restroom, with both my daughters, one of whom had sabotaged my work-related phone call earlier and the other holding a blue plastic cup, currently… I stood there and I thought, Yes, this is a little crazy.

At that moment, it was only 3 p.m. Later that evening, Grace had her performing-arts class, and I was going to a book club. Stanton had thought he’d be home in time to be with the girls, but found out last-minute he wouldn’t…so a super-sweet neighborhood babysitter was helping us out.

Logistics. Changes of plans (or, Plans B, C and D). Mad dashes to the ATM for babysitter money.

Blue. Plastic. Cups.

Life can be a little crazy sometimes.

Sometimes my life feels so “a little crazy,” I almost can’t believe it. Maybe you’ve had this feeling too, at some point: your life as a sitcom.

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I don’t like to complain. I’m deeply grateful for my family, our good health, everything. I’m also conscious that there are folks with much graver circumstances, compared to my “a little crazy” inconveniences.

Still…it’s healthy to acknowledge whatever level of craziness exists. To take a breath, maybe even vent. Or, simply, laugh out loud.

I was venting and LOL-ing with my sister. Jenna is everything you could want in a sister. She listens, she’s objective, she often answers on the first ring. During one of our recent conversations, she said, “I can’t believe that happened. I mean, that is actually your life.”

Now, let me clarify: The words “that is actually your life” contained no envy, awe or admiration of any kind. Just bewilderment, friends. Straight-up bewilderment.

Some of our day-to-day moments can feel like an episode of “Modern Family” or “The Simpsons.” Life is happening, unfolding, getting a little crazy now…cue the laugh track…moving along now, keep it going, just keep go-go-going…

Life is happening, unfolding, getting a little crazy now…cue the laugh track…moving along now…

The sitcom-like sensation may appear particularly strong during the holidays. Stanton, the girls and I were driving home one evening, and we were admiring all our neighbors’ Christmas decorations. Strands of lights, homemade wreaths, candles in windows…

“Wow, Mom and Dad! They have a Christmas dragon!”

I peered out the window. Indeed, our next-door neighbors had set up a seven-foot, red-and-green inflatable dragon complete with sparkling lights and Santa hat in their front yard. Joy to the world.

In the spirit of Christmas, I had positioned a poinsettia in our front bay window. And had thought about lights for the front porch. But so far…just the poinsettia.

“Can we get a Christmas dragon too?” the girls asked.

I love my neighbors, and I honestly love their big, festive outdoor holiday décor. But… “I’m sorry, girls, we’re not getting a Christmas dragon.”

We didn’t even get a real Christmas tree. One year we (probably) will. I imagine the four of us would love heading out to a tree farm, all Griswold-like, and choosing our very own Christmas tree. Maybe even cutting it down. You can do that, I’ve heard.

But this Christmas…mm-hmm, we unfolded our artificial tree in the family room. The girls loved decorating it. For some reason, though, the tree leans forward, no matter what we do to fix it. Our tree refuses to stand straight up.

(“It’s pretty straight,” Stanton said, laughing, after reading a draft of this post.)

A lone poinsettia in the front window, and a pretty-straight artificial tree. Merry Christmas from the Leddys.

The sitcom-like sensation may appear particularly strong during the holidays.

Does your family send out Christmas cards? We do. We haven’t yet, but…we do…

Anna and I stopped by the post office to buy holiday stamps. I have a penchant for winter scenes: birds on branches, footprints in the snow. When it was our turn, I told the postal service clerk I needed holiday stamps.

“Do you want Santa Claus, the menorah or Kwanzaa greetings?”

“Um…do you have footprints in the snow?”

“All we have left is Santa Claus, the menorah and Kwanzaa greetings.”

I looked at Anna; she looked back. “Well, if those are our choices…we should probably get Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus,” Anna affirmed.

Choices abound during the holidays. Santa Claus, the menorah or Kwanzaa greetings? Artificial or tree-farm-chosen?

I’ve also had the opportunity to check yes or no for some holiday-related volunteer opportunities in our community. Party planning, group play-date hosting, fundraiser T-shirt selling. Forgive me, but…no, no and no. I just simply can’t do one more thing right now, I’ve tried to explain. I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but I am not Superwoman.

My apologies…but I’m not.

I just simply can’t do one more thing, I’ve tried to explain. I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but I am not Superwoman.

This past week, a short story I wrote was published in a literary journal. Friends and family very kindly shared their congratulations with me. I was chatting with a college friend, who’s also a mom, and she said she was impressed by me.

“Please don’t be impressed,” I told her. I meant it, 100 percent. If you only knew how “a little crazy” things can get around here…and the countless creative-writing rejections I get for every once-in-a-blue-moon email that begins with, “We’d like to publish your piece…”

Do you know what makes an impression, for me? What catches my breath, touches my heart? People—families—who power through.

Power through imperfection, and disappointment, and the darkness that can fall. Power through Plan B’s, C’s and D’s to find light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyday survivors.

Life as a sitcom. We all have our own cast of characters. Each of us plays the hero in our own story, of course. Then there’s the buddy character, the love interest. Beyond the characters, we have recurring themes, conflicts and punch lines.

Sometimes we’re the punch line.

But if we get to the closing credits…and see we’ve come this far, with our crazy but lovable cast of characters intact…let’s take a bow, shall we?

Because we made it, blue plastic cups and all.

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.

Published in The Sunlight Press

Friends, I’m delighted to share that The Sunlight Press has published my short story, “Imposter.” Check it out, and enjoy! Many thanks to this wonderful literary journal for sharing my work with the world.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s latest self-published short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

The Best Job I Ever Had

This past month, I edited résumés for a few folks. As I was working on the documents, I marveled at their array of jobs and experiences, the different, sometimes divergent steps along the way that led to now…and the next steps that were to come.

I thought, too, about my own professional biography—the various positions, the circuitous career path, the pauses that have come with parenthood. I’ve done a bunch of things, as you probably have too. My favorite thing? Working as a tour guide at my college, in Richmond, Va.

My official job title was “student admissions representative.” I served as an SAR from my sophomore through senior years, and I earned minimum wage, if memory serves. Something like $5.75 per tour, and each tour was about an hour, usually a little longer.

A few times a week, I walked prospective students and their families around the college campus. Showed them around, gave them local restaurant recommendations for lunch or dinner at the end. The SAR position allowed me to be with people, tell stories and spend time outside—my ideal trifecta.

Beforehand, the students and their families would have heard a presentation from the school’s admissions officers—facts such as application deadlines, number of majors and study-abroad programs, “where are they now” regarding notable alumni. Data. My job was to add the flavor, the feeling, the inside scoop…and I loved it.

I don’t know how many tours I gave in all, and I don’t know, either, if anything I ever said, on any of those tours, made a difference to anybody. I can say that parents seemed to trust me on my restaurant recommendations; I probably did drum up some business for Palani Drive, Mary Angela’s and Strawberry Street Café. Beyond that, though, I just don’t know.

It was fun while it lasted.

My job was to add the flavor, the feeling, the inside scoop…and I loved it.

During my senior year, I started thinking about what to do next, post-graduation. I was majoring in English, and had wrapped up an internship with a novelist, Erica Orloff, herself a graduate of the University of Richmond. Erica was gracious, instructive, inspiring—an amazing role model. How cool it would be to be like that, I thought.

I thought, too, about how much I enjoyed people. Being around them, hearing their stories and sharing mine, and—when I could, and when it was needed—offering a word of encouragement, some positive energy. I began researching graduate programs in counseling, and marriage and family therapy.

Every program I looked at required undergraduate courses in psychology and statistics, and I never took those classes. As much as I loved college, I didn’t want to prolong it with an extra semester (or two). So I stuck with writing.

My underlying goal with writing, though, is to encourage, as I would have done in a counseling setting. Whether through a mini essay like this, or a work of fiction, or someone’s résumé or business proposal—my hope is that the finished product is something that brings positive energy to the world.

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I happened to read an excellent Atlantic article, “What I Learned About Life at My 30th College Reunion.” Maybe you read it too. Writer Deborah Copaken notes, first and foremost, “No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated,” and I had to smile because…#truth.

I also smiled at her second observation (teachers and doctors seemed happy with their choice of career) and chuckled at her third (somewhat the opposite for lawyers). Then I had a chuckle at my own expense regarding No. 5, “Speaking of art, those who went into it as a career were mostly happy and often successful, but they had all, in some way, struggled financially.” (I recently joked with a friend that my e-book royalties alone won’t cover the cost of the girls’ college tuition.)

Copaken’s No. 13 struck a chord too: “Nearly all the alumni said they were embarrassed by their younger selves, particularly by how judgmental they used to be.” Life is eye-opening, and humbling, and I’m a better person now (stretch marks, cellulite and all) than I was then.

Education, medicine, law, the arts and so many other fields—so much to choose from, so much we can do. After dinner one evening, Anna (age 3) toyed with some career choices, astronaut and firefighter among them. “I want to be the boss,” 7-year-old Grace announced. Stanton and I exchanged a glance: mm-hmm, sounded about right.

Life is eye-opening, and humbling, and I’m a better person now (stretch marks, cellulite and all) than I was then.

I write every day, almost. Sometimes I get paid for the work I do. Other times I don’t. Now, for example, I’m writing my first novel; my goal is to sign a publishing contract with a small press by the time Anna starts kindergarten. Along with what I take care of for our family life these days, I still try to honor my writing life. Because if you tell people you’re a writer (and I do), you should write. You should aim to get published too ( 😉 ), but you definitely should write.

Once Anna joins Grace in elementary school, I’ll be sending out my own résumé. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find a job that’s a good fit. I’m excited to have colleagues and co-workers again. I’m uncertain (scared?) of what hiring managers will think of my current “title” of freelance writer/editor, which (not coincidentally) began shortly after my first child’s birth. I have no clue how everything will work out.

But one thing I know for sure.

College tour guide? It’s going to be hard to top that.

P.S. If you’ve never been to Richmond and happen to find yourself there…go to Palani Drive, and get the Shenandoah wrap. Grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, apples, Gouda and sherry walnut dressing—one of the best flavor combinations ever. You’ll love it.

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.