Ready (or Not) for Some Quality Time?

On Monday afternoon, Anna and I walked to the bus stop to pick up Grace, as we usually do. During our walk back home, Anna told Grace that earlier, I had let her eat the last of the rainbow sherbet in the freezer (half a cup, tops—nothing worth bragging about, nothing to get upset about). But of course…

“What?!”

“Come on, Grace,” I said. “Didn’t I pack you a special treat in your lunch box today?”

Grace remembered, and smirked at her little sister. “Guess what, Anna,” she said. “Mom gave me the last juice box of pink lemonade.”

I groaned. “Was that necessary? Did you have to say that, Grace?”

Meanwhile, Anna had flopped onto the sidewalk, tears sparkling in her eyes. “I love pink lemo-lade!” she cried. “I want pink lemo-lade too, Mom!”

I tried to be reasonable. “Anna, you have nothing to cry about…”

“WAAAHHH!”

Why doesn’t reasonable ever work? “Stop having a fit, or…or you lose TV.”

Anna sniffled one last time. “I love TV.” I helped her back up, and the three of us continued walking home.

Why doesn’t reasonable ever work?

My hope, every weekday afternoon, is that the hours between 4 and 6 p.m. will be good quality time before the end-of-day rush of dinner, baths and bedtime. (Ahh…quality time.) That was my hope that Monday afternoon, after the pink lemo-lade meltdown. We got home, the sun was shining…

“Let’s play outside,” I suggested.

Now it was Grace’s turn to behave disagreeably. “There are bugs outside,” she informed me.

“They won’t bother you,” I said.

“No, they do bother me,” she replied, sighing. “I wish it were winter again. There are no bugs in winter.”

“Please, let’s enjoy this beautiful day,” I said—practically begged. “Let’s have some quality time!”

“Mom.” Anna was tugging at my arm.

I glanced down at her. “Yes, honey?”

“I want to build a snow girl, Mom.”

You’re killing me, Smalls.

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My vision of good, old-fashioned afternoon quality time never materialized. In fact, it would be accurate to say the afternoon spiraled downhill…almost immediately.

When the three of us got inside the house, I saw an email from Grace’s school, requesting that we return a bag of 10 books we had borrowed from the school’s reading program (two months previously) ASAP. I found nine of the books quickly, but the last one—Bernelly and Harriet: The Country Mouse and the City Mouse—remained elusive. I began thumbing through bookshelves, peering under couches and beds, searching through various junk drawers…

Then I received another communication, this time a phone call from my better half. “Something came up with work,” Stanton said. “I’m not sure when I’ll be home.”

“Do you have any idea?” I wondered.

“No, I have no idea,” Stanton confirmed.

“Mom.”

I turned my attention to Grace (multitasking!).

“Did you find Bernelly and Harriet yet?”

“I’m still looking…”

“I have to go, Mel.” Click.

“MOM!” Anna dashed into the guest bedroom (where the 9th out of 10 books wasn’t). “There’s a bug on top of the TV!”

Grace peered over Anna’s head. “There is! You have to kill it, Mom!”

“AAAHH! Kill it, Mom!”

(In case, at this point, you’re wondering…no, I did not make up any of these details. No, I did not embellish anything for dramatic effect. This is, unfortunately…a true story.)

Anna dashed into the guest bedroom (where the 9th out of 10 books wasn’t).

Every good story has the reader, or listener, wondering what happens next. So if you’re wondering, friends…what happened next was, I did indeed kill it (the bug). Then I heated up some meatballs for dinner, and boiled water for pasta. Next, I emailed Grace’s school to apologize for temporarily misplacing or possibly permanently losing Bernelly and Harriet (“Will you have to pay for a new book, like when you lost the book from the library?”), and requested advice on next steps.

Around 6:30 p.m., the girls and I sat down for dinner.

Now, these meatballs I heated up—we all love them. They’re store-bought, from my local grocery store, but they give any Italian mamma’s homemade, love-is-the-secret-ingredient meatballs a run for their money.

“I want another meatball, Mom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” Anna added.

“And what do you say, girls?”

“You’re welcome,” Anna replied.

Grace and I looked at each other and smiled. “Please, Anna,” Grace said. “And thank you.”

Anna looked at Grace. “You’re welcome,” she repeated.

I don’t remember much more of our conversation that evening. I do remember that at that moment, Grace laughed. Then Anna did, and soon I joined in too.

I also remember that I got each of us a second serving of meatballs. And I remember that I really appreciated sitting there with my daughters, around the table…just being together.

Sometimes quality time happens when we least expect it—when we’re in the moment, in communion with the ones we love.

It’s shortsighted for us to think we can say, “This is when it gets good. The good stuff is going to happen…now. Go, quality time!”

We have no way of knowing what, exactly, will happen next. We’re writing our story moment by moment—sometimes, imperfect moment by imperfect moment. We can try really hard and plan really well, but we don’t know what happens next…not in our real-life story.

We can try really hard and plan really well, but we don’t know what happens next…not in our real-life story.

Sometimes, quality time isn’t a perfectly planned, sunny afternoon, but a thrown-together dinner featuring store-bought meatballs (which you dig into after killing a bug…but before looking, one last time, for Bernelly and Harriet).

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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You Deserve It

I had a rare moment to myself. So I did what I usually do when that happens. Yes, you guessed it, friends: I went to my local coffee shop.

Most of the time, I’m at the coffee shop with one or both of my daughters. With my cross-body bag stuffed with coloring books and crayons, and my don’t-know-what-else-to-do-with-it hair in a ponytail, I look the part, to a T, of the cliched “mom in need of caffeine.”

That day, I had my cross-body bag once again, but this time, it contained a book I was reading, “Writing Down the Bones,” a writer’s handbook. I was yet another coffee-shop cliche that day: “hasn’t-given-up-yet writer.”

Sometimes you have to acknowledge the fact that you may have become a cliche (or two). (I acknowledge this fact in my life.)

I knew the lady behind the counter. We said hello, and I asked about her son. Then I joked that I was there without my kids for once. “I even brought a book,” I said.

“Enjoy,” she said. She handed me my coffee. “You deserve it.”

You deserve it—she was kind to say that. I think she even meant it.

Sometimes you have to acknowledge the fact that you may have become a cliche (or two).

I don’t live my life thinking I “deserve” things. Sometimes, this perspective is healthy, and helpful. I consider every good thing in my life a gift. There but for the grace of God—or, luck of the draw—depending on your take of the world. Whatever one’s perception, my “gift mentality” enables me to live each day, pretty much, with gratitude.

Living with gratitude is, for me, invigorating.

On the flip side of that coin… The very definition of “gift” is “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation” (Merriam-Webster). The matter of money enters the conversation.

That day in the coffee shop, I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation between the two older gentlemen at the table next to mine. One of them mentioned his recent Chinese takeout, and the fortune-cookie fortune that came with it. “That was a good fortune cookie,” he told his friend.

We have lots of fortune-cookie-type quotes related to money. Time is money. A penny saved is a penny earned. No such thing as a free lunch. All of these are off the top of my head—the list goes on.

Many of these adages are true. For example, time is money.

We have lots of fortune-cookie-type quotes related to money.

A while ago, I asked a high-school girl I knew to come over to our house to babysit Grace and Anna. I needed to finish a freelance project, and Stanton was working himself. She came and took care of the girls while I worked; they had fun; at the end, I handed her the cash we had agreed upon earlier.

“Oh, you don’t have to pay me,” she said. “I loved playing with your kids.”

Usually, I’m patient and easygoing. (If you ask my siblings, they’ll probably tell you differently, citing various disputes from childhood that they still remember… 😉 ) In that moment, though, I was a little impatient, a little contentious.

No, I told her. I do have to pay you. What you did—taking care of my children while I worked—was work too.

You deserve it.

She did end up accepting the cash.

The irony in this story is that what I (and my husband) paid her to babysit my (our) daughters, combined with what I (we) paid for previous child care, about amounted to my fee for my freelance project. Some folks may consider this a wash. Others may view it as an investment in the long run of a career.

It all depends on perception, right?

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It would have been easy for me to take advantage of this young woman, but I didn’t. I didn’t, partly, because I believe in what I said: Taking care of children while their parent(s) work is work too. And I didn’t take advantage of her because when I was younger, some people exploited me in that way.

In a few professional experiences I had, people in positions of leadership—power—paid me less than we all knew to be fair. Looking back on these experiences now, against the backdrop of current events such as Time’s Up and workplace equity, what is most disheartening to me is that the people who took advantage of me were women themselves.

We can’t advocate for women, publicly—equal economic opportunities, health and safety, overall common-sense fairness—and treat them unfairly, or unkindly, at the same time privately, if and when it benefits us and/or our bottom line. Whether they’re our babysitters at home, our assistants at the office…whatever they are, however they work for us. We especially can’t do this when we’re women ourselves.

I’ve been reading “The Female Persuasion” by Meg Wolitzer, an author I’ve long admired, and she speaks to this pretense in her novel too.

Because you do deserve it—a moment, without feeling guilty. Payment, as agreed upon. Fair pay.

We can’t advocate for women, publicly—equal economic opportunities, health and safety, overall common-sense fairness—and treat them unfairly, or unkindly, at the same time privately, if and when it benefits us and/or our bottom line.

Yesterday, I was reading about the latest political leader to fall from grace, as reported in The New Yorker. What is so horribly ironic about Eric Schneiderman, who allegedly assaulted multiple women, is that he championed #MeToo and #TimesUp in his law-enforcement work and spoke out against sexual harassment.

Very little surprises me anymore, though. My own experiences with abuse of power, as long ago as they happened at this point, showed me that people can represent themselves one way publicly and then behave differently privately. Hypocrisy happens across various lines: political party, sex and gender, class, race, religion, etc., etc.

For example, see also former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, former Oregon Senator Jeff Kruse or any number of politicians in recent months who have resigned due to abusing the power of their office, or flat-out abusing (physically or sexually) people.

I hope, and I’m hopeful, that we’re moving forward to a more honest future.

In the meantime, this is the message I want to pass along to my daughters, to any high-school student who babysits for me again, to anyone who is still growing up: Stand up for yourself. Be a stronger person than I was. And when you earn a position of leadership, treat the people who work for you—the men and women who make you look good, at the office and in your home—treat those people with respect and appreciation.

They deserve it.

You do too.

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.

A First-Timer’s Guide to Napa and Sonoma

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a three-day trip to Napa and Sonoma. It was our first time in California wine country, from New York. (We also were in the Golden State to attend our friend’s wedding in San Diego later that week—more about that adventure here.)

Before we left, I read everything I could find about Napa and Sonoma: various experts’ and visitors’ rankings of the best wineries in each valley; which valley, Napa or Sonoma, was more “you”; where to eat. I also asked friends who had been to offer up their recommendations, which they kindly did.

In this case, though, the best education was experience. Not until I set foot in Napa and Sonoma did I have a true feel for the place(s). Disclaimer: I’m not a travel expert, just someone who was recently there and would like to pass along what I learned, in the hopes it will help others.

Here’s what I figured out, then, along with some specific recommendations regarding wineries and restaurants. I hope this information helps you plan your upcoming trip.

And when you get there, enjoy.

Napa or Sonoma, or Both?

The Napa and Sonoma valleys are next to each other, separated by a mountain range (I believe it’s called the Mayacamas). It takes about 20 minutes or so to drive between Napa and Sonoma on State Highway 121—they’re super close.

A major difference is that Sonoma is more spread out, geographically, than Napa. It has roughly the same number of wineries, but on twice the land—an outdoorsman’s paradise, you might say. Napa, meanwhile, features a (breathtaking) landscape of one winery after another: vineyard after vineyard for miles.

When I was researching Napa and Sonoma, I read some reviewers’ perspectives that Napa and Sonoma differ in terms of vibe as well as geography. For example, Napa is more luxury SUV, reviewers wrote, while Sonoma is more Subaru. Napa is to Ralph Lauren what Sonoma is to T-shirts and jeans—those kinds of comparisons. I didn’t find these comparisons to be true, though.

In my experience, both Napa and Sonoma are friendly, welcoming places. Stanton and I loved them both (and we’re Subaru-type folks, in case you were wondering 😉 ).

If you’re making the trip to California wine country, then I recommend stopping by both valleys for a taste (literally) of both Napa and Sonoma, if you can.

Upon arriving in this picturesque part of the country, our first stop was Napa’s Domaine Carneros, known for their sparkling wines and gracious table service. Two thumbs up:

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Where to Go in Napa?

There are two main roads in Napa: State Highway 29, and the Silverado Trail. I much preferred driving along the Silverado Trail than Highway 29.

If you like scenic routes, the Silverado Trail is absolutely beautiful, and much less commercial than Highway 29. The Silverado Trail is also home to some wonderful “hidden gem” wineries. (Stanton and I loved Paraduxx, our favorite winery in Napa, and Frog’s Leap.)

A view of Frog’s Leap, from the charming back porch:

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Highway 29, however, features big-name brands like Robert Mondavi and Cakebread, which you may not want to miss. We did stop by V. Sattui for a picnic lunch, and can highly recommend V. Sattui (Napa’s most visited winery, according to reports) for fresh, delicious food options and an easygoing ambiance. Next time we’ll have to try their wine too (we were in between tastings!).

Post-lunch, I napped in a chair in V. Sattui’s courtyard, and the staff didn’t (seem to) mind:

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A note about wine, and wine tastings. Which wineries you choose to visit may (should?) depend upon what kind of wine you prefer to drink. If a winery is known for Chardonnay, and you live and die by bold reds, then you may not enjoy a winery that specializes in white wines, despite that spot’s numerous five-star TripAdvisor reviews.

On the other hand, let yourself be open to discovery, and pleasant surprise. Personally, I love red wine—Cabernet and red blends are my favorites—yet I tried a Zinfandel at Frog’s Leap, and was amazed by how much I enjoyed it.

…let yourself be open to discovery, and pleasant surprise.

Remember not to drink on an empty stomach, friends. For breakfast in Napa, I strongly encourage you to stop by The Model Bakery, recommended to me by my in-the-know friend Haeley of Design Improvised. Stanton and I went to their Oxbow Public Market location two mornings in a row. The breakfast sandwiches are fabulous, and I can’t say enough about the Chocolate Rad cookie. Trust me on this: Whatever you order, get a Chocolate Rad cookie to go with it. 🙂

Oprah (as in Winfrey) loves The Model Bakery’s English muffins so much that she has them flown in to her. The breakfast sandwiches feature these English muffins:

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Where to Go in Sonoma?

When you’re in Sonoma, be sure to check out Sonoma Plaza, the central gathering space. It includes a variety of art galleries, shops and restaurants, as well as historic sites such as Mission San Francisco Solano.

We visited Mission Solano during a morning walk through the Plaza. The nature here is beautiful:

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Of all the wineries we visited in both Napa and Sonoma, we had the most fun at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. It bills itself as the oldest premium winery in California, and is an Historic Landmark very close to the Plaza. The staff members dress up in 19th-century costumes (the winery’s founder was a European count), and their customer service is excellent (our tour guide, Tim, gave us amazingly generous pours!).

You are bound to have fun wine tasting inside one of Buena Vista’s caves:

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We also enjoyed our Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, about 10 miles from the Plaza. An enlightening tour, with amazing views of Sonoma Mountain opposite the vineyards.

If you’re eating in Sonoma, then I highly recommend the Sunflower Caffe and the girl & the fig as excellent lunch and/or dinner options.

In between wine tastings, I devoured the Smoked Duck sandwich at the Sunflower Caffe. Stanton and I split the Griddled Johnny Cake in the middle of the table; it is to die for:

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I hope what I’ve shared here helps you make the most of your visit to Napa and Sonoma. Cheers!

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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.

The Best Part Was the Hot Dogs

I read once, somewhere, to ask your child, “What was the best part of your day?” Not, “Did you have a nice day?” which tends to elicit a one-word response, but “What was the best part?” because that question can open up a bigger, more meaningful conversation.

Sometimes, I do ask my children the question, “What was the best part of your day?” Other times, my 8 p.m. inquiries are more along the lines of, “Why did you just push your sister?” or “Did you remember to brush your teeth?”

But sometimes, sometimes, everyday life lends itself to moments of reflection deeper than sibling shenanigans and personal hygiene.

On Saturday evening, I asked my 6-year-old daughter, “What was the best part of your day?” I was giving her and my little daughter, Anna, a bath.

Grace thought for a minute.

“Was it our bike ride?” I prompted. That morning, the girls rode their bikes along the nature trail near our house. I walked along with them, until Anna asked me to carry her (and her trike) the rest of the way.

(If you and I are Facebook friends, then you already know this, because I posted a picture of this moment after it happened. 😉 )

Grace shook her head—no, not the bike ride. I rinsed shampoo out of her hair.

“Was it your play date?” Two girls from Grace’s class had come over to play that afternoon. All three kids kindly included Anna in their fun: playing with dolls, make-believe games of “Sleepover” and “Firefighters,” simply running around in the backyard.

(Like most younger siblings, Anna believed her big sister’s friends were there to play with her as much as they were there to play with Grace. Ignorance is bliss.)

“I loved the play date, but…no, that wasn’t the best part either.”

I handed Grace a washcloth. “I know,” I said, smiling. “It was when Dad came home.” Stanton had been traveling for work and walked through the front door moments earlier.

Grace smiled back at me. “Actually, Mom,” she said, “the best part was the hot dogs.”

“No way.”

Grace nodded. “Yes.”

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Around the block from us is a fire station. The red-brick building was built nearly 100 years ago, and is staffed by volunteer firefighters. Throughout the year, the firefighters host a number of community events for our neighborhood: a biweekly fish fry during Lent, educational workshops for kids, a bounce house at Halloween.

As it happened that Saturday, the firefighters were holding an open house to recruit new volunteers. Grace, Anna and I saw them outside when we were heading back home after our bike ride (which had turned into my lugging Anna and her trike, remember).

The firefighters waved us over. I could feel sweat pouring down my face. Great—I was looking presentable as usual.

“Hi, guys,” I said, setting Anna down for a minute. “Sorry, but now’s not a great time for me to volunteer.” (I knew they were working on their female enrollment.)

The firefighters smiled. “No problem. Would you all like some hot dogs?”

Grace and Anna exchanged a glance, then a smile.

“We have a lot,” they told us. “And Gatorade too.”

“Grace!” Anna exclaimed. “We love Gatorade!”

“And hot dogs,” Grace added. So the three of us sat down outside the fire station for an impromptu lunch of hot dogs and Gatorade. When we picked up our short walk home a little later, the girls concluded the firefighters were very nice.

(But let’s be serious, folks: Who doesn’t love firefighters?)

I could feel sweat pouring down my face. Great—I was looking presentable as usual.

“That was the best part of your day?” I asked Grace that night. “Why?”

Grace shrugged. “It was nice. I love hot dogs, and you never buy us Gatorade.”

“Mom!” Anna waved at me, reminding me she was there too. “We love Gatorade!”

I’ve written before about “the little things.” About how little things (like an unexpected hot dog and some Gatorade) can make us smile, can stick with us.

I’ve also written about moments in our lives that become stories, when we never might have guessed they’d be story-worthy. But then they were.

So I’m trying not to repeat myself here. Trying to find a new inspiration to pass along.

Here’s what I’ve come up with, friends.

Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. (Stanton was supposed to come home on Friday, not Saturday, but his work plans changed.) And then you try to make the best of things, and Plan B falls apart too. (Carrying Anna and her trike for what felt like miles.) And then—then—out of the blue, someone asks if you’d like a hot dog.

Just…say…yes.

Put the kid down. Let the trike fall to the sidewalk. Let Plan C be that hot dog.

Sometimes, the best part of your day will be a hot dog. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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.

(Most of) the Boxes Are Unpacked Now: At Home One Year Later

A few days ago, Stanton, the girls and I marked the one-year anniversary of moving into our “new” home here in New York. I’ve heard people say it can take up to a year to feel moved in somewhere, whether physically as in a house or emotionally as in a season of life. In my experience, this one-year guidepost rings true.

As I’ve shared before, it took us three tries, over the course of six months, to figure out the best setup for the living room furniture. It took almost this whole past year to unpack all our boxes. Most of them are unpacked now, friends. Although a couple of them will remain in the basement, purposefully, for years to come…possibly forever. (Yes, I’m talking about the ones that contain Stanton’s college fraternity and general life-before-wife memorabilia. 😉 )

I felt an odd mix of comfort and accomplishment when I lugged my favorite cookbooks up the basement stairs, from a box, and nestled them into a bookshelf in the kitchen. (You might notice that Anna also likes to store one of her sticker books on this bookshelf, under “Jack’s Wife Freda.” This is life with kids.)

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It takes time to get a feel for a space (and a place)—to move in and settle in—to feel at home.

Something Stanton and I thought about, when we closed on this house, was converting the three-season back porch into an actual part of the house—hiring some help to put in installation, do whatever was needed to turn the porch into a den.

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We still might do this down the road. As the girls get older, they might appreciate having their own hangout, with a comfy couch and TV to spend time with friends. For the moment, though, we love this back porch as it is, especially now that it’s spring again—a pleasant space for after-school snacks and not-in-a-hurry weekend cups of coffee.

I’m thankful we followed the advice of our smart and kind Realtor, which was to move in and live in our house first, see how everything worked for us, and then commit to which projects might make the most sense. We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

We did take care of two projects within months of moving in. 1) We love the original fireplace in the living room, and on the recommendation of our home inspector, we had a masonry and chimney company rebuild parts of it so that it meets current safety standards. This was an important, non-cosmetic priority.

We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

2) Sadly, we needed to hire a company to remove the beautiful 100+-year-old Northern maple tree in the front yard.

A couple of months after moving in, we noticed that a woodpecker—the same woodpecker, every few days, it seemed—liked to get comfortable in this tree and peck at the wood. The girls loved looking for him, and watching him when he came. But we soon learned that when a woodpecker likes a tree, it’s a sign the tree is diseased. In our case, the bark had gotten sick and soft, and the tree was in danger of falling.

A bittersweet goodbye, for sure.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (trying to do a hundred things simultaneously—you too, right?!). Another future project might be to replace the current countertops with natural stone. Right now, though, what we have functions well.

I created a mini workspace for myself at the end of this counter, with a lamp, stool, and spot for my writing books and laptop. This is also where I look through the girls’ school folders at the end of each weekday, and try to hide and drink my coffee every morning. (For better or worse, my family usually finds me. ;) )

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After figuring out furniture arrangements and tackling essentials, it’s fun to decorate. I am not an interior designer, not by a long shot. But I do love great finds, especially when they’re cool and when they’re local.

One of my favorite finds has been this painting of a scene in Paris, which I came across at our church’s annual yard sale. I paid a small donation for it, and now enjoy it every day when I see it in the little hallway outside the guest bedroom.

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We love when family and friends visit us. Some of our visitors thus far (I won’t give them away 😉 ) have dared to sleep past the girls’ 6:30 a.m. wake-up. On these mornings, Grace and Anna have slipped notes under the guest room door with a simple, pointed message: “When will you wake up??? We want to play!”

The girls spend most of their time in the breakfast nook/sunroom, and I think I finally found the right piece to complete this space: this “cottage window” mirror from Pier 1. What I love most about this piece is how it reflects the sunset from the facing window at the end of each day, bringing the outside in (to quote many an HGTV interior designer I’ve heard over the years!).

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Something that took a much longer time than I ever thought it would was picking out window valances for the bedrooms. Possibly at some point we’ll get plantation shutters, my personal favorite window treatment, for the windows. We’re currently committed to valances, however (all the rods were installed when we moved in—we took the easy way out and just rolled with them). For example, Grace’s room…

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In another year or so, we need to repaint the living room/dining room—the current paint shows wear. We’ve decided to wait until Anna’s old enough to stop adorning the walls with her after-dinner handprints. 🙂

One last bit of home improvement, now that the boxes are mostly unpacked… This past weekend, Stanton and the girls planted flower and vegetable seeds in the back yard. We are all eagerly awaiting the first blooms and buds.

In true 3-year-old fashion, Anna asked, the very next day, “Why didn’t anything grow yet?”

It takes time, we told her. But just wait.

This is something I’ve learned, again and again, in my life, maybe beginning from the time I was little like my daughter. And it’s a worthwhile lesson, a good reminder for anyone in a not-quite-there-yet season of life: It takes time. But just wait.

Things will grow, will bloom, will fall into place.

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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.

Coincidence (or Fate) and a Few Wrong Turns: A San Francisco Story

About 17 years ago, I was standing outside a high school in my Pennsylvania hometown. It was a Saturday morning, and I was waiting to take the SAT II’s, in Writing and Math. At that time (and maybe still today), the majority of colleges didn’t require SAT II scores in addition to the much more familiar SAT scores. But a college I was interested in—the University of Richmond—did.

Like other writers before me, math has never been an intuitive skill of mine. There are times, today, when I’ll catch a glimpse of one of Stanton’s Excel worksheets on his laptop, chock-full of line after line of numbers and budget items for his job, and my eyes will literally glaze over. Excel = my cure for any bout of insomnia.

So 17 years ago, I was feeling confident about the SAT II in Writing, and concerned about the Math one. Part of my concern stemmed from my unfamiliarity with my new graphing calculator, which my handy SAT II prep booklet had instructed me to bring to the testing site that morning. What were all these buttons for again? Sine, cosine…I was pretty clueless.

Standing outside that sunny morning, I noticed a girl. She was tall and blonde, and—I’m relying on an old memory here, but I believe this next part is true, too—had a large supply of No. 2 pencils. This girl looked prepared, I thought. She also looked like a person who would know how to work the sine and cosine buttons on my calculator. I walked over to find out if she did.

As it turned out, the answer was yes. She was warm, friendly, helpful. She helped me with my calculator. We chatted some more, and I discovered she also was applying to and hoping to attend the University of Richmond. Popular colleges for high schoolers in our part of Pennsylvania include Lehigh University, Penn State and St. Joe’s in Philadelphia. It was extremely coincidental (or, perhaps, fate) that I bumped into anyone else thinking about that particular school in Richmond, Va.

As it turned out, the answer was yes.

Allison and I ended up heading six hours south and attending the University of Richmond together. She was my first friend in college. When she invited Stanton (whom I met in college, and whom Allison knows well, too) and me to her wedding in San Diego, this past weekend, we very much wanted to be there for her, if possible.

Flying from our home in New York across the country to California—that’s a bit of a trip, friends. Not a problem, but a bit of a trip, East Coast to West. Coincidentally, Allison’s wedding date fell around the same time as our 10-year wedding anniversary. Stanton and I decided to combine our good friend’s happy day with a mini vacation of our own—several days in Napa, by way of San Francisco. We flew out to the Golden State earlier that week.

Before we left for our West Coast adventure, my dad gave me his copy of the AAA TourBook for Northern California. I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore? We’ve got our phones with access to Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Uber. A guide book I could hold in my hand—of course my dad had one.

I did read through my dad’s AAA TourBook, but the Millennial in me couldn’t help but turn to Yelp for a first-morning-in-Northern-California breakfast spot recommendation. Yelp recommended the Beanstalk Café, not far from our hotel in Union Square—lots of good reviews, opening soon at 8 a.m., sounded perfect. Stanton consulted Google Maps on his phone for directions.

Seconds later, we trekked up one of San Francisco’s famous hilly streets for breakfast, my dad’s guide book tucked away in my carry-on back at the hotel.

I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore?

If you ever find yourself near Union Square in San Francisco, the Beanstalk Café is a solid choice for breakfast. Stanton and I both enjoyed their signature toast cups (bacon-wrapped scrambled eggs baked within bread—I could have eaten another one!) and coffee. I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee, in a lot of places, and this place’s coffee is amazing.

Now, I wasn’t planning on writing this post. If I was, then I would have taken a picture of my toast cup to show you, friends. I would have been that person styling and photographing her food (typical Millennial behavior, right, Dad?), instead of doing what generations before us have done with food—putting it in their mouth, and chewing.

But one hour into our San Francisco excursion, things took a turn for the story-worthy. (You never do know when your life is about to take a turn for the story-worthy, do you?)

Stanton and I had been to California before (San Diego, both of us; Monterey, just him), but never to San Francisco. Of course, we wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge; we had to. Also on the itinerary my Type A self had prepared weeks ago: A drive by 2311 Broadway, the house where Party of Five, one of my favorite TV shows, had been filmed.

“Ugh, Party of Five,” Stanton said, as we walked out of the Beanstalk Café.

“Come on, it will be fun!”

“What will you do there, Mel?”

“I just want to see it, Stan.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf. Then we came upon a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. Stanton gestured. “Let’s take the subway to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then we’ll take an Uber to Fisherman’s Wharf to pick up our rental car.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf.

“Why don’t we just take an Uber to both places?”

“Mel, the subway is right here.”

I frowned. “How about a trolley, or cable car? Those things are much more San Francisco.”

“But the subway is here, honey.”

Reluctantly, I fell into step with Stanton as we made our way down. “You know I don’t like being underground.”

“I do. You’ll be fine.”

We walked past a gentleman playing lively music on his guitar, as well as several folks engaged in questionable activities. “I’m also concerned about earthquakes.” I grabbed Stanton’s hand.

“The chances of that happening…”

Huh…I witnessed a few more questionable activities. “Stanton. I am officially out of my comfort zone.”

Stanton squeezed my hand. “We’re fine, Mel. I’ll just buy our tickets, and we’ll be at Golden Gate in no time.”

And when Stanton asked the lady behind the Information Desk how to get to the location, that’s how he described it: “Golden Gate.” (A mistake, as we would later learn.)

“Take the N train,” she told us.

“N?” Stanton repeated.

She nodded. “N as in ‘nasty.’”

The N as in ‘nasty’ train, friends…that should have been our first clue.

The lady directed Stanton to hold his ticket against an electronic reader. He did, and then walked through the turnstile.

“And what should I do?” I asked the lady.

She peered through her glasses at me. “Follow him.” (This is a direct quote.)

Follow him. Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

But I didn’t know then what I know now. So I followed him, friends.

Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

Two other things we should have asked that lady: 1) The N as in ‘nasty’ inbound or outbound train? We didn’t know, and we needed to know. And 2) at which station did we get off the train? Two major questions.

We ended up on the outbound train—an educated guess. Then I asked another rider where we should exit to see Golden Gate.

“The park, or the bridge?”

I smiled blankly. “Excuse me?”

“Golden Gate Park, or Golden Gate Bridge?” this lady said in accented English. “They are two different places.”

“Are they pretty close to each other?” Stanton asked, nodding optimistically.

The lady shook her head. “No.”

I looked at Stanton. “We have no idea where we’re going. Let’s get off this train.”

Stanton grunted his agreement, and we got off at the next stop. We walked back up to street level.

Have you ever seen the movie My Cousin Vinny? There’s a scene in which the title character’s girlfriend, played by the excellent Marisa Tomei, notes that she and her New York City-accented, leather-jacket-wearing boyfriend “don’t blend” in the small-town Alabama setting they’ve found themselves in.

Let me tell you, friends: Wherever in San Francisco we were that morning, at that moment, Stanton and I didn’t blend.

“Stanton…”

“I know, I know, I’m getting an Uber now.”

And then, like many a wife has done during a romantic getaway with her better half, I looked at my husband and hissed, “You did this to us. This is your fault.”

Never one to lose his cool (except when watching his beloved San Antonio Spurs), Stanton continued tapping at his phone.

“We have no idea where we’re going.”

Minutes later, we hopped into our Uber ride. “My husband may have mixed this up when he called you,” I said to the driver, as Stanton shook his head, “but we’d like to go to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge, not the park.”

“OK,” the driver said, confirming the information with his phone. He picked up another passenger, and we were off.

We drove along, and drove along some more. Then I noticed a street sign: Broadway. We continued along Broadway, a thoroughfare lined on both sides with gorgeously maintained Victorians. “Stan…oh, my gosh.”

“Mel, you should feel completely fine here…”

“No, no.” I scrolled through my itinerary (in an emailed “note to self”) and smiled. “This is the street the Party of Five house is on!”

The driver stopped and dropped off the other passenger at a home across the street from the site of the Salinger family’s many and varied dramas. (One of my favorite quotes from the series: “She’s a juvenile delinquent, Bai!” –Will to Bailey, regarding fun but troubled Jill, in the first season.)

“What are the chances?!” I rolled down the window and took a bunch of pictures, as any bona fide fan would do. Here’s one of them, for all the other Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox and Neve Campbell (circa 1994–2000) fans out there:

1_Party of Five

“I can’t believe that happened,” I said, as we began driving through Pacific Heights again. “That was the craziest coincidence. The subway, the N as in ‘nasty’ train, the wrong stop…all of that led to this.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, honey.”

“And I’m not upset with you anymore, Stan.”

“That’s good, too.”

Finally, we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s the picture of that, because you can’t go to San Francisco for the first time and not get a picture of yourself against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.

2_Golden Gate Bridge

A breathtaking place.

Stanton and I both loved walking the nature trails of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area surrounding the bridge. The setting, along the deep-blue Pacific Ocean, is amazingly gorgeous and refreshing. We could have stayed all day, simply walking and listening to the waves breaking.

We had to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, though, to pick up our rental car and head to Napa for a wine tasting reservation. Another Uber, please.

(A travel tip, for those who may not know: It’s difficult to find parking in San Francisco, and it can be expensive to park in the city, too. For example, it would have cost us about $60 to park a car at our Union Square hotel overnight, for just one night. Thus, we didn’t want to pick up our rental car until we were ready to drive it out of the city.)

I asked this Uber driver to bring us to Ghirardelli Square, which (according to my dad’s TourBook) was an easy walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. “The original Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is there,” the chocoholic in me informed the driver. He smiled politely, but didn’t seem interested.

Soon after, he pulled over at a busy intersection. Stanton and I exchanged a glance. “Is this Ghirardelli Square?” I asked him.

He smiled politely again, and pointed to his phone. “My phone says it is.”

My phone says it is. Even the Millennial in me will agree (as my dad certainly would) that there’s something unfortunate about that statement, about that philosophy. Stanton and I hopped out, crossed the street, and did indeed find Ghirardelli Square close by.

We enjoyed walking through the elegant space…

3_Outside Ghirardelli Square

…and partaking in Ghirardelli chocolate treats inside the red-brick building. (Impossible to resist.)

4_Inside Ghirardelli Chocolate

Fisherman’s Wharf, nearby, was much more tourist-y, but still fun to see. There was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on Jefferson Street, and any time I see one of those, I sense I’m in Tourist Trap Central. (Can you believe the hills?)

5_Fisherman's Wharf

We picked up our car, then bags at the hotel, and headed to Napa. On our drive back to San Francisco later that week, Stanton and I exited before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in order to explore the national recreation area again, this time on the north—we love this place. Absolutely beautiful. We conferred with our phones and my dad’s TourBook to find directions, and were mostly successful.

6_North Tower

However, we inadvertently drove into Sausalito, a lovely coastal town opposite San Francisco. It felt like a “hidden gem” find to us. The pace is a little more laid-back, and parking is easier. We had dinner at the Salsalito Taco Shop (gotta love that pun)—a seafood platter for Stanton, some lettuce wraps with chicken and veggies for me (pictured below).

7_Salsalito Taco Shop

How do we end up where we do? On a visit to an unfamiliar city…on a Saturday morning taking the SAT II’s…wherever we find ourselves right now, this very minute?

Some of us may believe that a life is a series of events, strung together across many years, a random collection of people, places and things. Life as chance, as coincidence. A valid point of view, to be sure.

Others of us may believe that some things are meant to be. That people, places and things come into a life for reasons. Even if the reason is simply to surprise and delight us with the apparent craziness of the moment (my Party of Five house moment), so that we can remind ourselves to smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

Have a little faith in the goodness of life, the beauty and resilience of it, and in the goodness of the people who surround us.

Or maybe life is a little of both, part coincidence, part fate.

I’m not going to make a case for one point of view or the other. I am, after all, the person who still isn’t quite sure how to use a graphing calculator, 17 years later. What do I know?

…smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

One thing I do know. This past weekend, my husband and I attended our good friend’s wedding. Allison looked radiant as she walked down the aisle holding the arms of her mom and dad. I felt tears come to my eyes.

I was happy for her, that she had found the perfect person for herself. I was grateful for our friendship, our love for each other.

(Because what good is anything—a special occasion, an ordinary day, a misadventure on a San Francisco subway that becomes a story—if you don’t have friends and family to share that journey with, and reminisce and laugh about it with later?)

Most of all, I was happy to be there.

Whatever coincidence, or fate, may have contributed to my being there, at that moment, to share in joy, friendship and all the good things that words often struggle to explain, and math and science can’t quantify…but that move us in life, and that we remember for years…

I was happy to find myself there.

(P.S. Congratulations and best wishes to the newlyweds. We love you. ❤ )

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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.

What Where’s Waldo? Taught Me About Work and Life

My 3-year-old daughter was this close to nodding off for a post-preschool nap. Her head rested against my chest. I kept rocking—slowly, slowly—and reading the story I’d been reading for the past twenty-five minutes, my voice singsong like a lullaby.

I could almost taste the freedom of the upcoming nap. I’d make a fresh, hot cup of coffee (OK, two cups). The house would be quiet.

Best of all, I’d have time to work on a writing project. About two hours before we needed to walk down the block to pick up my older daughter from the bus stop.

I was so close to that happening.

Yes, cliffhanger revealed—it didn’t happen. Like many a maternally disposed freelance writer before me, I took a deep breath and resigned myself to working on my project later, much later, that day, after the kids had fallen asleep…but before one of them woke up in the middle of the night, in need of a sip of water or comfort from a bad dream or myriad other things that moms address with Sandman fresh in their eyes (while dads somehow, mysteriously, manage to sleep through all the 2 a.m.-ish drama).

Instead of napping, Anna wanted to find Waldo. She grabbed the puzzle book from the table and began looking for the bespectacled adventurer. “Where is he?” she wondered.

I peered at the page, a chaotically colorful beach scene. “Hmm.” I readjusted my gaze to the top of the page and started scrutinizing every square inch from left to right, top to bottom, as if I were reading again.

“Where is he?” Anna repeated.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working. Frustrated, I blinked. When I opened my eyes, I saw, instantly, the elusive character.

“There he is!” I pointed; Anna beamed.

I turned the page. Again, I didn’t try so hard to answer the question, “Where’s Waldo?” I simply looked at the page, as a whole, and once again, Waldo seemingly jumped out at me.

There he was, again.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working.

Some days, I struggle to find time to write. I depend on a pieced-together schedule of school, naps, babysitters and Burning the Midnight Oil to do everything I want to do, and need to do. My work/child-care puzzle resembles a page out of a “Where’s Waldo?” book.

But…it works. If I don’t let myself get bogged down by all the stuff—a displaced two hours here, not enough contract work there—then I can see that the puzzle that is my writing life as a mom works. I just need to look at the big picture, as I did with my daughter and her “Where’s Waldo?” book that afternoon.

The big picture shows me that motherhood has made me a better writer. More than anything, motherhood has taught me patience (oh, has it taught me patience). Bring on the impossible-sounding clients, tasks and deadlines—they’re nothing I haven’t already handled with my usually demanding and occasionally irrational children.

Motherhood has given me perspective. My early-20s, first-job-out-of-college self would shake her head or reach for the Tylenol Extra Strength if something didn’t go her way—if an assignment dared to unfold less than perfectly, or a chain of emails unraveled out of control, misunderstanding everywhere. The early years of parenting have clued me in to a liberating pearl of wisdom: To progress, you have to go with the flow.

And sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

Perfection is an even more elusive needle in the haystack than Waldo.

needle-in-a-haystack-1752846_960_720

As I was proofreading an earlier version of this essay that you’re reading now, Anna climbed onto my lap, reached for the laptop keyboard and said, “I want to push buttons.”

“No, honey.” I moved her hand away.

Anna wrestled her hand back. “Yes, I do!”

I closed the laptop. “You…drive…me…”

“Crazy!” Anna laughed. I must have said it a time or two (maybe three) before, if my preschooler could finish the sentence/sentiment.

Sometimes, work and life with kids is crazy. Everyone needs to be out the door by a certain time in the morning, when someone spills their cup of milk. Then someone else accidentally walks through it. Just as another family member gets a text about an on-the-job crisis. And then inevitably, someone will say, “I can’t find the shoes I want to wear today!

“Where are my shoes?”

(Always.with.the.shoes.)

…sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

I can only speak from my experience, which by nature is limited. But in my experience, what I’ve come to learn—what moments like “Where’s Waldo?” with Anna have taught me—is that motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

Being a parent has opened my eyes to emotions like joy, and concerns like environmental justice. I’m not perfect—not even close—but I’m more aware than I was before. I want to make the world as good as it can be, however I can, because my children (and, maybe someday, their children) are here in it.

When I write now, as a mom, it’s with this outlook in mind. How might this story I’m working on uplift someone? What lesson might it teach?

How might this grant proposal I’m editing make a difference in someone’s life, if the nonprofit I’m collaborating with wins program funding?

In my 13 years as a writer (half of those as a mother/writer), I’ve read articles and perspectives seeking to pinpoint why women writers’ journeys can be more challenging than their male counterparts’. The answer is fairly obvious.

The novelist Kim McLarin said, at a PEN/New England discussion on the topic of “Mothers & Writing,” “Stephen King has said that to get his writing done, he has to just close the door. Easy for him to say…If I close the door, someone’s calling child services on me.”

Kids do seem to contribute to the professional differences between (many, if not most) women and (many, if not most) men—not only in writing, but also in other fields, from science to law enforcement to sports. Once a woman becomes a parent, she’s a parent in a way a man simply is not, at least for the time she takes off to recover from childbirth. A mother experiences more of a pause in her life and in her work, even if for only a few days, or weeks, or months.

(Let’s not even consider here who usually hears and responds to the kids’ crying out at 2 a.m., knows the names and contact information for everyone from pediatric dentists to best friends’ parents, and remembers to schedule the munchkins for annual well visits, after-school programs, etcetera…)

Not every family, of course, consists of a mom and a dad. And not every family welcomes their children through childbirth; physical recovery isn’t an issue in these cases.

Generally speaking, however, motherhood can sideline professional goals, for a little while or, perhaps, longer.

Sometimes you hit that pause button, right?

…motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

On the other hand, motherhood can inspire even more admirable professional goals. Seven years later, I’m still a little surprised at the wild success of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I get that its early electronic versions made “Fifty Shades of Grey” easy and discreet for people to read. I understand erotica is a popular genre (it’s not my favorite genre, but I have read it). But the writing—the writing, friends.

The writing of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is bad. It is, objectively, bad. And it’s fan fiction, basically. I wrote fan fiction of my favorite TV shows when I was in high school (not something I like to brag about!)…and it was bad too.

According to Forbes, however, E. L. James has a net worth of $95 million. (My net worth? Like yours, nowhere near there.) The bottom line: The general public doesn’t care about the bad writing that is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I care, though. I care about the work I do. I care about leaving a legacy of writing that—if they read it someday—my daughters can be proud of.

Last week, a magazine let me know they had accepted a short story I had submitted to them. The story is about a woman’s despair, and surprising endurance. I think Grace and Anna will enjoy reading it someday, and I hope it will be an inspiration for other women much sooner.

The magazine will be publishing my story in about four months. I almost couldn’t believe their email of acceptance to me—I’ve had a humbling streak of rejections with my creative writing lately.

My family knows this, and so when I shared the good news with them, they were happy for me—especially the girls.

“Yay, Mom!” Grace cheered.

“MOM!!!” Anna yelled, clapping her hands. And one second later: “I want pizza!”

Work, life and kids can be crazy. Can be a hot mess. Can be a scene straight out of “Where’s Waldo?”

Every now and then, it helps to hit pause. To take a breath. To look at the big picture.

When you look at the big picture—your big picture—what do you see, friends?

Wherever you are right now, if you’re somebody’s mom or dad, then what you’re doing, whatever it is, it’s for that little person (or little people). They love you more than anything, and they count on you for everything. Whatever kind of work you do, whatever puzzle your work/life looks like, so much of it’s for them.

They may not know that yet. Possibly they won’t know it for years, not until they have a family of their own. So let me say then, on their behalf…because it took me a long time to recognize all the love and sacrifice my own parents put into my childhood…let me tell you, on your little people’s behalf, THANK YOU.

THANK YOU for where you are right now. THANK YOU for what you’re doing, and for everything you did, and for everything you will do. THANK YOU for making our world a better place.

(And a million other things too: It’s OK you can’t chaperone the field trip. I’m sorry I was rude. I’ll listen to your advice next time. I’ll stop rolling my eyes all the time. I know you tried. You were right. You were right. You were right. I love you.)

But mostly…THANK YOU.

(P.S. Where are my shoes?)

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.