Measures of Success and MUCH

Anna, our 2-year-old, has a knack for making Stanton and me smile. First, like many 2-year-olds, she’s a ball of energy, up for riding her new trike around the neighborhood one minute and practicing her t-ball swing the next. She’s a lot of fun. Throw in her big dimples and mischief-making grin, and we can’t help but smile.

We tell both girls, often, “I love you.” Grace replies with, “I love you too,” while Anna merely smacks her lips at us—kiss. When we say, “I love you so much,” Anna has her own shorthand for this expression too: “Much!”

In the morning, as Stanton is heading out, Anna scurries over to him, wraps her little arms around his leg and declares, “Much!” She accompanies her sweet farewell with a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-coated smooch to his crisp dress pants. Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

As I was writing this piece, this Emerson quote popped into my head (bold emphasis mine):

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Anna’s “Much!” expression, and her good-bye kisses to Stanton, made me think of this quote. Here, Emerson is giving us his definition of success: laughter, strength of character, gratitude, positive energy, service. All these things, of course, can’t be measured—at least, not easily.

It’s easier for us to measure “success” with numbers (we think). When we’re young, we take tests at school that assign us grades, scores and percentiles—how well we did on the tests. When we’re older, we think in terms of hourly wages, salaries and project fees—how good we are, our value to a company.

Life requires some level of quantifiable measurement. Test scores and, later, salaries work toward that objectivity. Unfortunately, numbers leave little room for bigger pictures, so to speak. They can’t tell us when a student arrives at school on an empty stomach, thinking about hunger instead of multiple-choice questions. They can’t help us understand why firefighters earn an average of $47,000 annually, while political strategists can take home six figures.

Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

Stanton volunteers as a coach for Grace’s preschool soccer team. Yesterday, I was scheduled to fill in for him at the weekly soccer practice because he had a work commitment. I joked with Grace, “You can call me Coach, all right?”

Grace smiled and said, “I’m going to call you Mom.”

Both my daughters teach me so much. In that moment, I realized that whatever we might accomplish in our lives—whatever titles we might answer to, whether Coach, or Doctor, or Mayor, or Pastor, or Professor—we’ll still answer to Mom, or Dad, or Aunt Jenna, or Uncle Brian to the handful of people in the world who mean the most to us.

And this handful of people, these kids of ours… Chances are, they’ll be the ones least impressed by our SAT scores (if we even remember them), diplomas and W-2 forms. In my experience anyway, this is just how life works.

Measures of Success Picture 6-13-17

When I was growing up, my dad won various awards from his company for his work. Once, our hometown newspaper featured an article about my mom, a teacher, for developing a “try other things besides TV” educational program. I have so much respect and appreciation for both my parents.

When my parents and I talk, though, what we talk about most are all the times we had together. The funny moments, the family vacations, the movie quotes that have become part of our family lore. (“Well, they say geniuses pick green. But you didn’t pick it.”) The awards and newspaper articles don’t come up.

I imagine the same, or something similar, is true for you and your family too.

A few years ago, I read this article on CNN’s faith blog, regarding “What people talk about before they die.” The article has stayed with me all this time. The author, a hospice chaplain, answers the question her article poses: “Mostly, they talk about their families.”

She goes on to add, “They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave…They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying…they reach their hands out to things I cannot see, and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy.”

This article speaks to what we remember on our last days. We remember our families. We remember “Much!”

I was reading the book “Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer!” to the girls one day recently. In the story, the title character and her lovable little sister, JoJo, pretend to be astronauts and blast off to explore the moon. Afterward, Grace announced she would like to be an astronaut when she grows up.

“Sounds great,” I said. “You’ll be a wonderful astronaut.”

Maybe Grace will be an astronaut someday. Maybe she’ll change her mind, as 5-year-olds often do, and embark upon another path instead. Stanton and I will encourage the girls to do their best in whatever interests them.

I’ll also encourage the girls to make time for the ones they love. To sit down to dinner with their families. To celebrate their friends’ weddings. To take trips, just because. Because…I know that moon landing will be awesome.

And I’m pretty sure, too, that the moments they’ll remember with the greatest joy—the moments that will carry them through their darkest days, and give them peace on their final days—are the ones like when a little person wraps their arms around you, smears a Cinnamon Toast Crunch kiss on your clean clothes and declares, “Much!”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

10 Things I’ve Learned From Children’s Books

Almost every day, I read a book called “Ruby the Copycat” to Anna. Maybe you’ve read this book to your child, or a child in your life, too. My copy of this story is nearly 30 years old; my mom introduced it to me once upon a time.

Anna loves this book. It’s about a girl, Ruby, who becomes enamored with her classmate, Angela, and begins copying everything about her—from the red bow in Angela’s hair to the poem she writes for a class assignment.

By the end of the story, Ruby learns the valuable lesson that her kind teacher, Miss Hart, imparts to her: “[You] don’t need to copy everything Angela does. You can be anything you want to be, but be Ruby first. I like Ruby.”

By the end of the story, Ruby and Angela also have become friends. Every time I read the last line of the book—“And at noon, Ruby and Angela hopped home for lunch”—Anna smiles and pronounces, “Happy.”

Children’s stories deserve happy endings.

Children's Books

At this point, I’ve probably read “Ruby the Copycat”—and I’m just guesstimating here—about 150 times. It hasn’t gotten old…yet. Not Miss Hart’s good advice (“be Ruby first”) or Anna’s literary analysis of the closing scene (“Happy”).

Maybe it’s just the writer in me. Or maybe we all can take away something meaningful from our children’s favorite stories.

Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned from the stories I’ve been reading and rereading to Anna and Grace lately. (What about you, friends?)

2. “The Adventures of Taxi Dog” – My sister gifted this book to the girls one Christmas. They love it. It’s about a homeless dog named Maxi who teams up with Jim, a taxi driver in New York City. Together, Maxi and Jim meet lots of interesting people and have adventure upon adventure.

That’s the moral of the story: You never know who might become a great friend, or which path may lead to amazing discoveries. Get out, make friends out of strangers, and discover.

3. “The Cat in the Hat” – We all know this one, right? Similar in theme to “The Adventures of Taxi Dog,” The Cat in the Hat encourages young readers to make their own fun, even when circumstances are less than ideal (a rainy day). Attitude is everything.

4. “The Day the Crayons Quit” – Have you heard of this clever tale? If not, check it out! Who knew crayons have personalities (and pet peeves) just like us?

For example, Red Crayon leaves this message for Duncan, the main character: “We need to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out coloring fire engines, apples, strawberries and everything else that’s red. I even work on holidays!” (The following page shows a red-filled picture of Santa.)

The underlying message: Think outside the (crayon) box.

5. “Goodnight Moon” – Ahh, the children’s classic so many of us love. We delight in the poetry of the story, the way the words soothe us. When I read “Goodnight Moon,” Anna points at the pictures, finding the different objects being referenced—the red balloon, the kittens and mittens.

There are some pictures, though, that don’t match up with Anna’s understanding of the words. Case in point: “telephone.” The telephone pictured is an old-fashioned rotary landline, not a cell phone. My 2-year-old and I have had several conversations about how the rotary phone is, in fact, another kind of phone.

Lesson learned from “Goodnight Moon”: Some things are true classics; they’ll never go out of style, like “Goodnight Moon” itself. Other things have expiration dates. (Good night and good luck, rotary phone.)

6. The “Fancy Nancy” series – Some life lessons from this super-cute and intricately illustrated series about a girl whose favorite expression is “Ooh la la!”: Any occasion can be a special one; you just need the right accessories or décor. You can never have too many glitter pens, or wear too much fuchsia. Despite the messes little sisters may cause, they’re better than the best dress-up clothes.

7. “Corduroy”Friends, family, home—these are the things that matter.

8. “The Princess and the Pizza” – Witty, fun and better than any Disney princess story I’ve read or seen. The big idea: Ladies, you don’t need a Prince Charming to make your dreams come true. Be the hero(ine) of your own story.

9. “Chocolatina”As unbelievable as it seems, there is such a thing as too much chocolate. (Sorry, girls.)

10. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” – Possibly my favorite children’s book, ever, and the girls enjoy it too. We love little Harold and his adventure-seeking imagination. This story celebrates creativity, roads less traveled and “thinking fast.”

What this story taught me: Dream big. Set sail. Climb high. Rest when you need to. Keep your wits (and your purple crayon).

And whenever you get the chance, go for walks in the moonlight.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.