The Christmas Presents I Remember

Yesterday morning, Anna and I stopped by our local post office. While Anna munched on crackers and thumbed through a display of bubble mailers, I addressed several flat-rate envelopes and stuck the last of our Christmas presents for family and friends inside. I felt two emotions at the same time—hope, that everyone would like what I’d picked out for them; and relief, that my Christmas shopping and boxing was now (literally!) wrapped up.

For all its festiveness, the end of the year can be a stressful time. Arranging get-togethers and travel plans with loved ones. Finishing work projects. And buying presents. Always…buying…presents.

To be honest, I love picking out presents for people. I especially love doing this for my daughters. Stanton and I are so looking forward to Friday morning, when the girls will open our Christmas presents for them before we drive to my mom and dad’s house in Pennsylvania.

I think Grace will love the blue watch we got her—actually, I know she will, because she told me that’s what she wanted: “a blue watch.” And I can picture Anna’s eyes lighting up when she opens her box of dress-up headpieces. And I picture…ripped wrapping paper on the hardwood floor; hot chocolate with marshmallows in mugs on the coffee table; and staying in our pajamas longer than we ever would on a normal Friday morning.

I thought back to my own childhood. I tried to remember, what were some of my favorite Christmas presents? I thought harder…

christmas-present

What came to mind, instantly—and as clearly as if it had just happened—was my parents’ living room. There was ripped wrapping paper there, too. And my Dad with a big Hefty bag, cleaning up.

I remembered my Dad.

And my Mom. In my memory, my Mom was sitting on the couch, holding a cup of coffee because she’d been up until 2 a.m. wrapping all the presents and baking the last of our Christmas cookies. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

My Dad and my Mom.

My brothers and sister, too—I remembered them. We were all there together. Later that day, my grandparents would come over…and other family and friends…and we’d celebrate Christmas all day long.

I remembered all those things very clearly.

Not one single Christmas present, however, is a clear memory. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

Christmas presents are fun—the giving and the getting. They’re especially fun for kids. It’s unfortunate, though, that some of the things related to the fun and festivity of this season can be stressful.

So if you’re feeling stressed right now, friends…if you still haven’t addressed all your Christmas cards (me neither!)…or wrapped your kids’ presents…or crossed off some lingering end-of-year to-do’s…take a breath. Take a moment.

Remember.

What the people you love will remember…is YOU. That you were there.

That you cared.

They love YOU.

Merry Christmas, all. 🙂

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Advertisements

My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog

Every evening after dinner, Stanton usually takes a walk with the girls to our neighborhood mailboxes, just down the street and around the corner. It takes the three of them about fifteen minutes to walk back and forth—check the mail, chat with some neighbors, “find the moon” (Grace loves pointing it out to Anna).

These fifteen minutes give me enough time to run the vacuum cleaner through the kitchen and adjoining family room, the part of our house that is concentrated with crumbs, dirt and random disposable clutter by 7 p.m. I often try to sort a load of laundry into the washing machine too. And I always take a minute to enjoy a square of my favorite dark chocolate bar—guilty pleasures, guilty pleasures.

A few evenings ago, Stanton and the girls returned from their routine walk. “We got the mail, Mom!” Grace announced, depositing it on the freshly vacuumed family room floor. Anna squealed and ran through the pile, ripping some junk-mail flyers and leaving a trail of shredded paper in her wake.

“Thank you, guys,” I said. Then I noticed one of the pieces of mail on the floor: the newest Pottery Barn catalog.

Ah, the Pottery Barn catalog.

WP_20160607_012

Like many suburban moms, I enjoy flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog. Every page, every artfully staged person-less scene offers an escape into a serene space (free of crumbs, dirt and clutter). Simultaneously, all of these picture-perfect settings remind me that I’m far from achieving the aspirational Pottery Barn life.

The Pottery Barn brand is classic, gracious and organized—very organized. If you live a Pottery Barn life, for example, then you come home to this fashionable yet functional storage system:

2

This scene looks so bright and inviting, I’d love to jump right into it. Unfortunately, the mud room entrance to my house looks more like this, especially after the girls and I get back from the pool. Yes, not quite as Instagram-worthy:

3

Please don’t judge me too harshly, friends. 🙂

After an afternoon of swimming, what better way to chill than to hang out in the family room, right? Who wouldn’t want to kick back in this Pottery Barn family room—clean, cozy and wonderfully coordinated:

4

Now let me introduce you to a typical afternoon around here:

5

Cue “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Finally, a tale of two dining rooms. First, the Pottery Barn prototype:

6

Versus…hello, home sweet home:

7

For the moment, my beautiful dining room table serves as a landing spot for several loads of laundry. Hopefully these clothes (and other odds and ends) will get put away by the weekend. And hopefully we’ll break out our own candlesticks and wine glasses for a well-appointed family dinner sometime soon.

When you fill the scenes of your life with people, you also open the door to everything that those relationships bring about: beach towels on summer days, picture frames and greeting cards in the family room, and life happening everywhere.

My life is not a Pottery Barn catalog. I am so grateful for the people who make that possible. What about you?

Photo credits: Pottery Barn

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

In Search of the Perfect Store-Bought Meatball

I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, known for its breathtaking mountains, coal-mining roots and multiethnic food culture. There are German beer gardens (bars) and historically Polish churches, which serve up buttery pierogis and mouth-watering kielbasa at their seasonal bazaars. And in my old neighborhood, you couldn’t drive more than a few blocks without cruising past the front door of a pizza parlor or Italian restaurant.

My Italian-American family and I enjoyed a steady diet of “pies” from Revello’s, Three Guys and Victory Pig (the only pizza place I knew that offered pint-sized cartons of chocolate milk to accompany its square-shaped, deep-fried pizza). Meanwhile, you could find my parents, my three siblings and me at Perugino’s down the street for every birthday, New Year’s Eve and high school graduation. My standing order was Chicken Ala Andy, breaded tenderloins sautéed in white wine and then drizzled in a lemon-garlic sauce.

For a long time, there was even an Italian-American grocery store, Zachary’s, on the corner of Bennett and Kelly streets, just one block from my maternal grandparents’ house (and I grew up just one block from my grandparents, Poppy and Grandma). Zachary’s closed its doors some time ago, but back in the day, you could find specialty cold cuts like capicola and mortadella behind the deli counter, along with freshly made Italian sausage and containers of seasoned olives.

Mr. Zachary always asked kids if they wanted a slice of cheese; they always said yes.

Italians, of course, have a love affair with food, and this was true of the Italian-Americans I grew up with—my own family not least among them. This epicurean passion flourished in full force every winter, when my mom spent hours preparing homemade ravioli, sauce and meatballs for our Christmas Day dinner.

Now, my mom’s meatballs—mmm, I can almost taste them now. The three main ingredients were a combination of ground veal, beef and pork with Parmesan cheese and garlic. Succulent.

Meatballs

Today, I make my home in San Antonio, more than 1,500 miles from that old neighborhood and my mom’s cucina. It’s hard to find authentic Italian-style meatballs here in South Texas, where the main food group is Mexican cuisine. While I love ceviche, puffy tacos and fajitas as much as the next girl, I do miss my mom’s meatballs.

When my mom visits, she generously makes several Pyrex pans of her meatballs for my husband, our two daughters and me. On her last visit, my girls (ages 4 and 1) watched as she prepared her meatball mixture. They also enjoyed sampling the fruits of her labor afterward.

It goes without saying: My mom’s homemade meatballs didn’t last long in my house after she headed back to the East Coast.

“Mom, is this Nona’s meatball?” Grace asked one weeknight, pointing skeptically at the meatball atop her plate of gemelli pasta.

I told her no, we had already eaten all of Nona’s meatballs. I had bought these at the local grocery store.

Grace slumped back in her chair. “This is too spicy. I want a Nona meatball. Can you make one?”

With my 1-year-old underfoot, I had barely been able to boil the water for the pasta and heat up the store-bought meatballs in the oven, let alone cook, from scratch, my mom’s meatball recipe.

“Can you, Mom?”

I scooped Anna up before she could begin pushing the trash can around the kitchen, her latest developmental milestone. Then I knelt beside Grace.

“I have an idea,” I told her. “We don’t have any of Nona’s meatballs left, and I can’t make them right now either. But we can find another wonderful meatball. A second-best, store-bought meatball. Deal?”

Grace still looked skeptical. Anna began wiggling out of my grasp. “It will be fun,” I announced.

We needed to find something not quite as zesty as our first store-bought meatball, the H-E-B Spicy Italian Style Pork Meatballs. Thus, the next time the girls and I went grocery shopping, I picked up a package of Aidells Italian Style with Mozzarella Cheese Meatballs.

I loved these chicken meatballs. I also loved that they were fully cooked; all I had to do was heat them up stovetop in my favorite (store-bought) marinara sauce.

Grace, however, found them too spicy for her taste, again. At first, Anna seemed to like this meatball, but then she began grunting for her sippy cup of water. Too spicy for her, too.

“I don’t know, Mom,” Grace said. “Maybe Nona should come back. Or you should make her meatballs.”

“Both good ideas,” I replied, gobbling up some dinner (while standing at the kitchen island, of course—moms rarely sit when they eat). “In the meantime, though, we’re going to find the perfect store-bought meatball. Sound good?”

Grace picked at her pasta.

I found myself grocery-shopping solo the next time, which gave me the opportunity to peruse the meat market shelves in a more laid-back state than if Grace and Anna were riding along in the grocery cart, asking for a snack every couple of seconds. I spotted a container of Italian-style turkey meatballs. Both the girls liked turkey. I decided to give these meatballs a try.

That night, I served Grace her pasta with a turkey meatball on top. I cut another one up into tiny pieces for Anna and put them on her high chair tray. Anna took a piece, tasted it and gulped it down. Then another, and another.

“Mom.”

I looked over at Grace, who was chewing and smiling. “Mom, I love this meatball.”

“You do?”

“Yes! And I want another one!”

“You do!” I spooned another meatball onto Grace’s plate.

She smiled again. “You did it, Mom.”

I smiled back at her. Mamma mia, how about that—I had found the perfect store-bought meatball.

The Italian-Americans back home wouldn’t think that was much of an accomplishment. A store-bought meatball? A turkey one at that?

“Mom…another one!”

“You want a third meatball?”

Grace laughed. Anna joined in.

Yes, I’d done it.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

New Baby in the House: 5 Must-Haves for Your Older Child

I became a mom for the second time about a year ago. My take-two crack at motherhood was a lot different from the first one: I knew what to expect this time around. I also knew the baby products that I did and didn’t need (crucial: diapers, and lots of them; not so much: diaper wipes warmer).

I didn’t know, though, that I needed to invest in some products for another member of the family: my older child, who was 3 when her younger sister arrived on the scene. As it turns out, I spent more time and $$ buying items for my older child rather than my newborn baby, who made do with many of her big sister’s hand-me-downs.

These things helped Numero Uno adjust to life with a sibling. Here you go, second-time moms and dads: five must-haves for your older child once baby comes home.

1. Easy-to-open snacks. The first few weeks after giving birth, you’ll have about two minutes tops to feed your older child breakfast (Cheerios), lunch (more Cheerios), and dinner (hmm…Cheerios?). And she’ll need snacks throughout the day, too.

I found it helpful to keep a variety of easy-to-open snacks, in easy-to-reach shelves in the pantry and refrigerator, handy for my 3-year-old. Think a box of crackers, a bag of Craisins, cheese sticks, and prewashed containers of fruit. This way, you’ll be able to feed and rock the baby to sleep without being interrupted (“Mom!”) to help slice an apple.

2. Activities for home. It can be hard to take your older child to their once-beloved library story time, swim lesson and gymnastics class with a baby in tow, especially in the first month. So plan some home-based activities to keep your kiddo entertained, but more simply at home.

Some examples: My older daughter can play for a long time with figurines such as Calico Critters and the cast from “Doc McStuffins,” setting up scenes and making up stories for them.

She also loves getting dressed up and acting out stories herself. Stores from Barnes & Noble to Party City sell great dress-up gear, for boys and girls alike, that can double as Halloween costumes come fall.

One more idea: a parachute like this one. There are so many things kids can do with a parachute.

New Baby in the House

3. An activity for outside the home. All that being said, it’s nice to have one activity outside the home that’s just for your older child, so that he/she feels special. Since my baby was born, my older daughter has been taking a dance class, which she’s grown to love. She feels special getting outfitted in her tights, leotard and bun, knowing that Mommy and Baby are taking her to something that’s “just for her.” 

4. DVD’s. Because there will be times when you’ll need to know your kiddo won’t run to the nursery just when the baby’s about to fall asleep. You’ll need a tried-and-true “babysitter” that will keep your child’s attention for an extended period of time. Common Sense Media has this great online resource of age-appropriate movie lists. I especially love the section entitled “TV and Movies That Promote Empathy.”

5. Bubble bath. A lot of times, I needed to give my older daughter a bath while holding my baby. In the beginning, Daughter No. 1 pouted because I wasn’t giving her my undivided attention.

Bubble bath, such as this one, helps with this problem. I can quickly wash my older daughter, and then give her some time to play with the bubbles while chilling on the bathroom floor with my baby and counting down to the moment I can enjoy a glass of bubbly myself.

Good luck, moms and dads!

Photo credit: StockSnap.io

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

Book Review: Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Unfinished-BusinessLike other women who’ve tussled with how to combine work and motherhood, I read about this topic when I can. Consider others’ perspectives. The past few years have given us plenty to consider—“Lean In” (Sheryl Sandberg, 2013), “Maxed Out” (Katrina Alcorn, 2013), and “Overwhelmed” (Brigid Schulte, 2014).

And those are just the books I’ve read. There are lots more, including Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive” (2014) and Sophia Amoruso’s “#GIRLBOSS” (2015).

Now we have one more in the mix, “Unfinished Business” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Some background: Slaughter was the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, her dream job that she accepted in 2009. Her boss was Hillary Clinton. Slaughter gained universal attention in 2012, however, when she wrote The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

Slaughter notes that her work/family piece became “one of the most-read articles in the 150-year history of The Atlantic, with an estimated 2.7 million views” (page xxi).

“Unfinished Business” expands upon that piece, at times in moving prose that I didn’t expect (a pleasant surprise!).

I really appreciated this book. Slaughter is successful both professionally and personally, and yet she writes with sensitivity and thoughtfulness on the importance of care in personal and family life. I found her writing from this vantage point to be a bit unexpected, and wholly refreshing. Because taking care of those you love is hard work, especially when they’re needy (young children, or older parents). Appreciate and value the economy of care—this is the central idea of “Unfinished Business.”

Meanwhile, here’s an example of Slaughter’s sensitivity: “As I have tried to put myself in others’ shoes, I have confronted again and again the obvious but too often overlooked point of just how much money matters…Money buys a safety net, relieving stress and providing resources and resilience against the buffets of fate. Yet millions of American [families’ choices]—whether and how much to work versus whether and how much to stay home to care for children or parents—are not really choices at all; they are driven by economic imperatives” (page 4).

Slaughter is right: Money does matter. Money also helps make life easier for high-achieving working mothers, such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who often use it to buy help around the house (and who often prefer not to acknowledge it). A 2013 Daily Beast article entitled “The True Cost of Leaning In” explores this topic more. To engage in both work and motherhood, a woman probably relies on a helping (hired) hand (or two, or maybe three) for babysitting, cooking and housecleaning. Historically, less privileged women of color have provided these services.

How refreshing for Slaughter to acknowledge this—to acknowledge that in an endeavor to have it all, it seems impossible to do it all.

To this point, Slaughter opens up a dialogue about the term “womanism,” which author Alice Walker coined “as a larger umbrella term that included feminism but focused more on the experiences of women of color and oppressed groups more generally” (page 88). Questions that I have for a book, and a movement, like “Lean In” are, “Are you speaking to all women (or just white, educated, upper-middle-class women)? And are you acknowledging the women unlike yourself who have helped you along the way?”

With “Unfinished Business,” Slaughter does reach out to all women. She acknowledges them. Again, how refreshing.

Another of Slaughter’s moving passages, in which I choked up, is this one: “Often caregiving is about reliability: simply being there when being there is important to your child, your parent, or your spouse. And it’s about support: focusing on someone else’s needs and figuring out how to meet them, whether finding a lost sock, book, or cellphone or offering a genuinely attentive ear” (page 103). This passage moved me because personally, I agree with it, in its poignancy and simplicity. And somehow, this passage resonates even more with me because a woman of Slaughter’s stature—an expert in foreign policy and mother of two boys—wrote it and believes in it, too.

I feel as though Slaughter might be able to relate to what I myself wrote in this recent blog post, “The Detours in Your Life”: “Sometimes, I feel as though I’ve been driving along a detour for four years now, since I became a mom. In that time, I’ve tried to combine two things I love: writing, and taking care of my children. It’s been tricky. I’ve worked on lots of freelance projects, cobbled together with various child-care arrangements. No situation thus far has been a seamless fit.”

A seamless fit. Slaughter devotes much of the second half of “Unfinished Business” to how families in the U.S. might be able to find a work/family fit that, while not seamless, at least isn’t “Maxed Out” or “Overwhelmed.” The second half of her book focuses on “Changing Lenses” (working toward valuing caregiving more) and “Getting to Equal” (which includes insights such as “Don’t drop out, defer,” “Focus on results,” and “Vote for more women”). In the final few pages, she reminds us of her solutions to America’s “Unfinished Business” with a section about “The Care Economy” (pages 240–244).

Overall, “Unfinished Business” by Anne-Marie Slaughter is a thoughtful read and refreshing addition to the literary realm of work/family reflections.

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

Real Life Can Be Messy

I’ve worked in the writing industry for nearly 10 years now, and along the way, I’ve learned that art goes hand-in-hand with text. Pictures help tell stories, make them come to life. The story can be anything from a press release to a magazine article to a business proposal—it doesn’t matter. More often than not, words need imagery for readers to say, “Aha! Got it.”

This is especially true for blog posts, including those on lifestyle and women’s blogs. (Examples: The Nest Blog and Bizzie Living.) It’s why I’ve been trying to incorporate more (and hopefully better!) pictures into my recent blog posts, particularly when I write about everyday life and family activities.

Then one afternoon earlier this week, I felt compelled to take this picture:

14_Real Life Can Be Messy

Little G was sick that day, with a runny nose and cough. By lunchtime, I was tired from getting up with her several times the night before (and the night before that) to help her blow her nose. Then Little G informed me she didn’t feel like taking a nap, even though she (and I!) really could have used the rest.

You know what I thought. That’s right: “Great.” 🙂

By the end of the afternoon, you might have mistaken our living room for a landfill. And something inside me said, “Take a picture.”

Because sometimes, media ranging from blog posts to alumni newsletters to the Restoration Hardware Baby & Child Source Book can represent life in somewhat of an unreal way. Filtered, Photoshopped, staged. And sometimes we can come across these (mis?)representations on social media, too, where the pictures from family and friends may hit closer to home. (“I wish my New Year’s Eve snaps had turned out as festive as theirs!”)

So along with my recent mood-lighting-enhanced representations of writing thank-you notes in the serene evening hours, and baking Orange Dark Chocolate Blossoms as a cozy mommy-and-me activity with Little G …  moments like the above “my living room/day looks like a landfill” happen in my life, too.

Real life can be messy. And mine is no exception.

It seems that life gets messier as we get older. We have more responsibilities. More people count on us, especially our children. It also seems that we’re most needed in the messiest of moments.

For example, a sick day—never fun. But as a parent, you have to be there for that. You have to show up. And you have to show up for all the other messy moments, too. What do you think, friends?

A short time after my hubby and I got married, I started a new job, associate editor at a magazine. There were some cool perks, such as appearing on local TV shows and attending VIP events around town. Meanwhile, my hubby got a promotion. We had just closed on our first house. A family member told us, “Everything’s coming up roses for you two.”

Yes, for a while. Then Stanton’s Fortune 500 company filed for bankruptcy; he was laid off. And the cool perks at my magazine gig didn’t cover all our living expenses, so we eventually sold our first home together.

I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey: “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” It’s probably unromantic of me to share, but this is what I think about when I think about Stanton, a.k.a. my standing Saturday night date for 13 years and counting. If given the choice, yes, we’ll opt for the limo, but we have no problem with public transportation.

Life is a series of ups and downs, of building and rebuilding, of taking the cushions off of your living room couch and putting them back on again.

I think our children can learn a lot, maybe even their most meaningful lessons, from moments of messiness, too. A sick day. Seeing their mom or dad take care of them. Measure their medicine; read them their current favorite story over and over again; cuddle up to watch the same “Sofia the First” episode together. Caring, patience, unconditional love.

Runny noses, buses sometimes, topsy-turvy living rooms.

This is real life.