What’s Still Here

I have two good friends whom I’ve known since elementary school. That would be more than 30 years now—a long time.

Both these women are on the “Favorites” list of my phone, along with my husband, parents and siblings. They grew up with me; joined in many a Minetola family game night at my parents’ house; not only came to my wedding, but were in it.

This past weekend, one of my buddies had a shower to celebrate her own upcoming wedding. It was in Pennsylvania, in our hometown. Beforehand, I worried that Pennsylvania might be added to New York’s COVID-19 list of restricted states. Thankfully, the Keystone State remained safe for travel; I was able to be there for my friend on her special day.

Sitting at a table at the outdoor gathering, catching up with my friend, seeing how happy she was—I was so happy to be there, friends. I was so happy to be there.

For many of us, this year of the pandemic has been one of loss. Loss of a routine, a job, health, safety and security, our sense of the world. We’ve lost time with people we love. We’ve lost track of time itself.

So much has been lost…and so much is still here too.

I saw that on Saturday. My good friend. Our thirty years of friendship: still here.

Memories we’ve shared—true, time has blurred the details some, but the things happened. We were there, together, for the things that happened. Thus, memories we’ve shared: also still here.

Still here, too, is another chance. If you’re reading this, that means you woke up. You have a new day, right in front of you. You get to choose how to approach it, what kind of energy to put into it. Choose Your Own Adventure, just like we did with those books back in the ’80s (there I go, showing my age again).

…so much is still here

On Sunday morning, Stanton, the girls and I sat with my mom, dad, brothers and sister around my parents’ breakfast table. My brother Jared made his delicious French toast. The last time he made it for all of us was Christmastime, the last time we were all together. Then, he crushed candy canes on top as the finishing touch—mmmm.

Grace and Anna asked if there would be candy canes. Not this time, Jared replied. But at Christmas—always at Christmas.

Earlier that morning, I had gone for a walk with my dad and sister. Coincidentally, Jared drove by the three of us on his way back to my parents’ house from the grocery store (where he’d gone for the French toast ingredients).

I know it’s a really little thing, but I loved seeing Jared driving back. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it was awesome to spontaneously see him on a Sunday morning. Of course, he made fun of the T-shirt I was wearing for my daybreak exercise (it said “Life Is Good” and had a pink heart—it’s OK, you can make fun of me too), but that’s what brothers (or at least, Jareds) do.

My dad, meanwhile, was wearing a T-shirt he’s had since he coached middle school basketball…which he hasn’t in decades. It’s a white T-shirt that has a picture of a basketball on the left pocket, along with—my favorite part—”Coach Minetola.”

I couldn’t believe he still had this T-shirt, but it made me smile. It was familiar, it was comforting, it was my Dad.

And it was my family, gathered around my parents’ table on Sunday morning. I so appreciated the ability to have a casual, natural, non-Zoom conversation with all of them, for a change.

I’m not knocking Zoom, at all. I appreciate what Zoom does to enable human connection. The person I am, though—maybe the person you are, too—if given the choice, I love the energy of being together: same room, same table, same platter of French toast.

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The girls go back to school soon. The COVID-19 infection rate here is below 1 percent, which is wonderful, especially compared to the spring. Our school district is offering elementary school students the choice between in-person or remote learning.

I struggled with this decision, friends. It would have been an easier decision if the infection rate was more than the state guideline of 5 percent, or if those in leadership roles here weren’t acting conscientiously. I easily could have leaned toward remote learning.

But it seems that New York has the virus spread under control, currently. And based on my understanding, our school district has developed a detailed, thoughtful reopening plan. Last but not least…the girls really want to go back to school, as in a school building. They want that energy of being together.

So that’s the plan. It’s not a perfect plan. The girls will need to wear face masks almost the entire time they’re at school. They’ll need to stay at their own desks, spaced six feet apart from those around them, for much of the day. I understand why all these safety measures need to happen, I completely understand, and at the same time, I hope everyone will be OK, students and teachers alike, in these different (difficult) circumstances.

What families figure out to do this school year is a deeply personal and often unsettling choice. I’m very conscious that everyone is making the decision that feels best for them and their child(ren). I also know that if one or both of my daughters happens to get sick at school, I’m going to feel terrible, and terribly guilty. There are no easy answers here, and certainly no best one.

They want that energy of being together.

To get ready for the school year, I’ve been going through the girls’ clothes. Figuring out what still fits (and gets worn), what of Grace’s to save for Anna, what to donate.

I’ve also been going through the girls’ closets. They each have a big, wide walk-in closet, and each closet is…a…disaster zone. I ran over to Walmart one morning and bought a bunch of see-through storage containers.

Stealthily, I’ve been filling the containers with the majority of the mess of stuff from the closets—various stuffed animals, games we don’t play much, hundreds and hundreds of random, mismatched pieces of Calico Critters, Shopkins, Magna-Tiles, Mr. Potato Head, LEGO’s… I’ve just been stuffing it all in, friends, and then lugging these containers down to the basement to…well, hide indefinitely. Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m hopeful this will help keep the girls’ closets and rooms less disaster-zone-like.

Something the girls don’t need is new clothes. They have plenty of those. Still, the three of us sat down together and picked out new first-day-of-school outfits (online).

The girls’ first few days of school will be virtual, actually. Still, the first day of school is something special. A new milestone, cause to take note of and celebrate. In Anna’s case, it’s her first day of kindergarten. (My baby!) Thus, we picked out official first-day-of-school outfits.

Things may be different this school year, but they still can be wonderful. They still can be celebrated.

Things may be different … but they still can be wonderful.

One of my favorite books is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. I have it here next to me as I’m typing now, sitting at the kitchen countertop with my second (reheated) cup of coffee of the morning. I imagine this isn’t an especially prestigious title to put on a pedestal, and if any of my former English professors or fellow magazine editors read this, then I imagine, too, they might shake their head.

What about Jane Austen, Homer, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hemingway? Yes, I’ve read the “great” literature, and yes, it’s great. But this little book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”—it moves me. It moves me, friends.

Anna’s starting kindergarten, as you know, and I think about what she’ll learn this year, what will stick with her as she moves through her school years, through her life. I wonder if she’ll have memories of face masks, and desks six feet apart, and social distancing. I hope she’ll learn, as Robert Fulghum writes in his book, some of the “[w]isdom … there in the sandpile”: ” … Play fair … Live a balanced life … LOOK.”

As he wraps up his book, Fulghum notes, “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives … Good people who are always ‘there,’ who can be relied upon … You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

I’ve been lucky to have good people in my life. Friends I’ve known since I was 6 years old; friends since then who are also dear to me; family who have been beside me the whole time. Every one of them has uplifted me in some way, has meant something, and I hope I’ve returned the favor a time or two myself.

You are more important than you think.

LOOK at what’s still here.

Take care and be well. ❤

“Something that is loved is never lost.” —Toni Morrison, “Beloved”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

What I Mostly Wanted to Say

Aah, August. Hot, sticky, sunny, buggy—what’s not to love? The thing is, my older daughter’s birthday is in August, so for that reason—and that reason only, friends—it’s one of my favorite times of the year.

We recently celebrated Grace’s ninth birthday. Nine. It went fast, just like everybody said it would.

Occasionally, everybody is right.

Our original birthday celebration plan, to be at the beach, was canceled (here’s looking at you, COVID-19). Thus, Grace and I (with an assist from Anna, per usual) developed a Plan B: to celebrate by dropping off birthday treats and goodie bags at friends’ homes. I didn’t want to be in the car all day, so I asked Grace to pick just a few buddies.

Next, we noodled over a theme for the goodie bags. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: My daughters love party themes. Their final answer was…ice cream. Yum.

I ordered pink goodie bags depicting ice cream cones, lollipops, doughnuts, cupcakes, slices of cake—all sorts of cavity-inducing heaven. Then we needed to fill the goodie bags. A quick search revealed that ice cream-shaped erasers were in stock. Perfect; “Add to Cart.”

We also found a multipack of a mini activity book entitled “Sweets!” I can’t resist a book with an exclamation point in its title—”Add to Cart,” along with a multipack of Play-Doh. Because everybody loves Play-Doh, as Grace noted.

The girls and I agreed that it wouldn’t work to give actual ice cream as the birthday treat, so we settled on sugar cookies with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

Before lunchtime on Grace’s birthday, the girls and I packed the goodie bags into the car (leaving Stanton behind to make bacon cheeseburgers). We stopped by everyone’s houses. Beforehand, I had said not to worry about presents, that simply seeing friends would be a huge gift—but still, folks surprised Grace with incredibly thoughtful signs, balloons and gifts.

All these kindnesses moved me, and Grace. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” we said.

This was her sweetest birthday, Grace and I agreed afterward. Sweet, with exclamation points to infinity.

Perfect; “Add to Cart.”

The next day, Grace called my mom. Grace wanted to thank her for the birthday present she had sent. I was in another room, but I overheard Grace’s end of the conversation and could tell she was answering questions my mom was asking: the goodie bags, her friends, the whole day.

Then I heard Grace pause and say, “What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.”

I poked my head into the room. Grace looked over at me; I patted my heart. Grace smiled.

Sometimes, things strike you. However you feel comfortable describing it—touch your heart, move you, wake you up—I think you know what I mean, and I’m sure you know it when it happens to you.

“What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.”

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My grandmother’s birthday falls earlier in the summer. Like many nursing homes, the one she’s at doesn’t allow visitors, so I didn’t see her on her birthday. That day, I called her room, but nobody answered.

I left a message. I don’t remember exactly everything I said, but I know I talked loudly so that Grandma could hear me. I also know, in the beginning, I said, “Hey, Grandma, it’s Melissa—Happy Birthday, I love you!”

I repeated that at the end, too: “I love you!”

I tried to make my voice sound happy, with an exclamation point and everything, but my voice broke at the end. I had started to cry because I didn’t know (and still don’t know) when I’ll see my Grandma again.

But I wanted to say, “I love you.” It was what I mostly wanted to say, so I said it twice, at the beginning and end.

Funny how the critical messages we want to leave with people, the words we feel compelled to convey, are some of the simplest, most common expressions in languages around the world.

Thank you. I love you. Hey, it’s me!

…so I said it twice, at the beginning and end.

I’m a spiritual person, but a lazy one. I feel badly about that, but like some other things I feel badly about…I don’t actually do anything about it. Maybe one day.

The night of Grace’s birthday, and the night after, I lay down with my daughters before they went to sleep. I often do this, squished in between them in Grace’s bed. Since the pandemic, they’ve been having regular sleepovers.

I lay there, the ceiling fan whirring overheard, the night light glowing near the dresser. I try to treat the girls equally, no favoritism, so I put my left hand on Grace’s leg (she was on my left) and my right hand on Anna’s.

The night of Grace’s birthday, Grace told me she loved the day. “Thanks, Mom.”

“No worries,” I replied.

The next night, after having a quiet day to take a breath and recover from the goodie bag deliveries and last-minute present wrapping, I lay there again. And I lay there longer than usual, reflecting on how time just keeps moving and just so appreciating, in that moment, being cozy with my daughters, the most precious parts of my life (even when they drive me crazy, even when life is crazy). I patted Grace’s leg, and squeezed Anna’s hand.

Through the dark, Anna whispered, “I love you.” It’s a beautiful thing for a child to say, unprompted.

It was another of those wake you up/move you/touch your heart moments. “I love you too,” I whispered back.

I closed my eyes. I felt a tear roll down my face. I felt love.

I wanted to say a little prayer, but it had been a long time since I’d prayed.

I know only a handful of prayers by heart, and I’m not much for formal theology anyway. I tried, though. I kept my eyes closed, still holding my girls.

What I mostly wanted to say was, thank you very much.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Shaving Is Optional

I clipped a yellow plastic barrette—one of my daughters’, somehow found in my bathroom—into my hair, above my forehead. Leaning over the sink, I squinted into the mirror. I am nearly blind without my glasses, but I had set them on the countertop so that I could wax my eyebrows.

DIY facial hair removal while visually impaired, using hot wax: I suspect there’s an advisory or helpful hint against this somewhere.

😉

My “Jungle Book”-esque eyebrows were driving me crazy, though, and I had to take care of business, plain and simple. Again, I leaned over the sink. Yep, time for some much-needed personal grooming. This time, I closed my right eye. With my right hand, I raised the wax strip in my hand to my right eyebrow. Carefully, I pressed it against my skin.

I’ve been waxing my own eyebrows for years now, and the key is carefulness. Just be careful, precise, patient. Oh, and do it in a quiet setting.

After a moment, when I felt I’d shaped my eyebrow the way I liked, I got ready to pull the wax strip back, got ready to rip the stray hairs from my skin. This is the part where you don’t want to make a mistake, lest you lose your whole eyebrow (or eyeball). One, two…

“Mom!”

Oh. My. GOD. My right eye blinked open. I felt some eyelashes begin sticking to the wax strip above. Nooo.

“Mom!” Now my 5-year-old was tugging on my T-shirt. “I need a Band-Aid, Mom!”

Gingerly, I closed my right eye, again, and tugged the wax strip away. Rrrippp.

“Mom!”

I exhaled. “Anna.” I didn’t need 20/20 vision to look and see that, more likely than not, my younger daughter had yet another imaginary injury that required a Band-Aid.

I was, however, curious about the appearance of the right side of my face.

A little scared, I glanced in the mirror. Just as quickly, I breathed, relieved. Thank goodness: The interrupted home wax job had turned out…not terribly.

“Mom.” Now Anna was frowning at me. “That’s my barrette.”

I frowned back. “You must have been able to see I was in the middle of something. Why didn’t you ask Dad for help?”

“Because I want you, Mom. Something inside me wanted you.” Anna beamed.

Sigh.

This is the part where you don’t want to make a mistake…

The pandemic has compelled us to spend lots of time with some people (the ones we live with) and not as much with others (those we don’t). Still, something that has struck me is I believe, during the past four and a half months, I’ve talked on the phone with my siblings, mom and mother-in-law, and oldest friends more now than ever before. I still feel very close to all these people, even when we aren’t physically close together, and I’m very grateful for that.

Interestingly, some of these phone conversations have lent themselves to writing inspiration. For example, my sister and I were recently discussing our shared love for that favorite of summer picnic staples: potato salad.

“I freaking love potato salad,” Jenna said.

I laughed, and wholeheartedly agreed. Then I mused, “That might be a fun title for a blog post. ‘I Freaking Love Potato Salad.'”

It would be fun, Jenna said…but what would it be about?

A good question. Perhaps “I Freaking Love Potato Salad” was best left as a quarantine quotable.

Another time, I speed-dialed my dear friend Kate. My timing excellent as always, I had called right as she was about to jump in the shower. We caught up quickly, but I understand how important personal grooming is, especially when you have young children, which Kate also does.

“Go take a shower, and we’ll talk another time,” I said. Then I added jokingly (but not really), “Shaving is optional.”

Kate laughed. And I thought, now that might be a fun blog post title too. Personal grooming, the impact of kids on time for showers and such, family life during a pandemic.

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Last week, Stanton needed to be in Lake Placid for work.

“Take us with you,” Grace, Anna and I begged. We had been nowhere but our backyard since Christmas, our Rhode Island beach vacation had been canceled, and we wanted to go somewhere (anywhere!).

Stanton took us with him.

This was my first time in Lake Placid, and the Adirondacks. What a breathtakingly beautiful place, and wonderfully welcome change of scenery. I so appreciated sitting on the lake beach with the girls, swimming with them in the surprisingly warm water, walking along the quaint Main Street together.

However…I wouldn’t call this time away from home a bona fide vacation. No, friends, this was a trip. As delightful as this break in routine was, it was undeniably a trip.

For starters, Stanton was working almost the whole time. Now, I’m not complaining, at all…but I am saying, you know you’re on a trip, not a vacation, when you as the sole parent haul a red Radio Flyer wagon (overflowing with towels; a sand bucket set; and cooler stuffed with graham crackers, juice boxes and Lunchables) to the beach, while instructing your children to hold hands and maintain six feet of distance between themselves and anyone else they may see. Because, that’s right, there’s a global, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Yeah…that’s about the time you know you’re on a trip.

😉

Another clue that you’re on a trip, not a vacation, is when you hear yourself telling people (in my case, my daughters), “This is fun, isn’t it? Isn’t this just the sweetest time together?”

In my case, I said these words as I was pushing Anna in her stroller around picturesque Mirror Lake, with Grace trailing behind us.

“I want to go swimming, Mom,” Grace said.

“It’s 8:30 a.m., honey.” I kept pushing the stroller. “The lifeguards aren’t there yet.”

Anna popped her arm out. “I need a snack, Mom.”

I had snacks, of course. Of course I had snacks, even though we had just eaten breakfast. I passed Anna a GoGo squeeZ.

(Hint: If you packed a) applesauce pouches, b) a stroller or c) both applesauce pouches and a stroller, then you probably are on a trip, not a vacation.)

“Can we turn around, Mom?”

“Grace, come on.” I gestured around. “Let’s enjoy this beautiful morning walk. Ooh, look, aren’t those red berries pretty?”

Grace glanced at them. “Those are poisonous.”

I half-laughed, half-cried. “Come on,” I pleaded. “This is fun.”

…that’s about the time you know you’re on a trip.

During our Lake Placid break, the girls slept in the upstairs loft of our suite, while Stanton and I were on the lower level. Stanton and I so appreciated having some time, at the end of each day, to talk, share a bottle of wine…and watch “Friends” reruns on TV. Does it get any more romantic than that, may I ask?

The truth is, I love those little things of talking, drinking red blends and watching TV with my husband. They’re cozy, comforting, sensual in their own way.

Grace’s ninth birthday is coming up, and Stanton and I marveled at how nine years have already gone by. I remembered when Grace was a newborn, how totally overwhelmed I was as a first-time mom. Looking back now, years later, I still feel pangs of guilt over things I could have done differently/better.

Nine years later, I’m still no candidate for Mom of the Year Award, but… “I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along,” I told Stanton.

“Most people do,” he said.

We squeezed hands.

“I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along…”

Hindsight is 20/20…even when you take your glasses off so that you can wax your eyebrows before your 5-year-old barges into the bathroom.

Most of us, I like to think, do the best we can at each moment in time, especially when we’re doing things for our family. I also think most of us—most moms, anyway, most women—are too hard on ourselves. We probably should cut ourselves some slack.

The older I’ve gotten, though, the less inclined I’ve become to give hard-and-fast advice. Because the more I experience of life, of the world, the more I sense there are more questions than answers, more shades of gray than moments of black or white. The less inclined I’ve become to give advice, and the more interested I am in listening to others’ stories too.

Yet there are a few things I feel fairly certain of.

1.) Lock the door to the bathroom…especially in your own home.

2.) Call your parents. Call your siblings. Call your oldest and dearest friends. If you’re lucky enough to have any of these people in your life…now is a good time to call them.

3.) Put the phone down. Go outside. You’ll feel better.

4.) Maybe it’s a trip, not a vacation, but there will be good memories to hold onto.

5.) When there are 1 million new TV shows to choose from and you can’t decide which to waste the last 30 minutes of your day on…there’s no shame in watching the same “Friends” rerun you’ve already seen several times before. You know, “The One With..”

6.) Shaving is optional.

Shaving is always optional.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

On Reaching the End of the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s right, friends: 80.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

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

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

Ah…life.

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

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

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

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

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

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

“How is it?” we asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agreed.

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

How to win at dominoes.

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

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

“What should we order, Mom?”

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Twice in My Life I Got Really Lucky

Every few days, I find myself at the grocery store. One or both of my daughters is usually with me. Occasionally—very occasionally—I fly solo through the aisles of Hannaford, an experience many moms (including myself) would equate to a day on a desert island, pastel-colored drink with cocktail umbrella in hand.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience. The other day, the girls and I rolled into Hannaford. “Don’t forget the junk food, Mom,” Grace reminded me. She had actually written up her own list, and handed it to me.

I scanned her nearly-8-year-old penmanship: potato chips, Nantucket Nectars, ice cream… “We are not getting a dog, Grace. Hannaford doesn’t sell pets anyway—you know that.”

Grace laughed.

Anna, meanwhile, was climbing out of the cart I had just (thought I’d) fastened her into. “I have to go potty,” she said.

Finally we were rolling through the aisles again. You know how that goes, friends. Can we get this? Can we get that? Why can’t we get a dog today?

“Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a huge glass jar. “Pickles!”

“Don’t touch it,” I said. “Remember what happened that one time.”

Anna smiled and nodded. “But they cleaned it up, Mom.”

“But they’d rather not, honey.”

Moving right along.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience.

A few things ended up in the cart that were not my doing. For example, two bath bombs. The girls must have tossed them in when I was picking out shampoo. Also, a box of fortune cookies.

“What are these?” Anna asked, later at home.

I looked at the box on the breakfast-nook table. “What the heck?”

The girls laughed.

“You’re driving me…”

“CRAZY! We know! We love you, Mom! Can we have some cookies! Please say, ‘Oh, fine!'”

Oh…fine.

Two mornings ago, I asked the girls what they wanted for breakfast.

“Cereal and a fortune cookie,” Grace said. Breakfast of champions.

“Me too.” Anna clambered up beside her at the table. “Why is it called a fortune cookie?”

I explained that the little piece of paper inside each cookie was a fortune, or prediction for the future. Sometimes there were Chinese words with translations, and sometimes lucky numbers for lottery tickets.

In that moment, I was perched between my daughters, all of us still in our pajamas with our hair just-woke-up crazy—you know what I mean—and I felt a ripple of quiet contentment. “You know,” I said, giving them each a little squeeze, “twice in my life I got really lucky.”

Grace smiled. “Anna and me.”

“Yes.”

Then she jerked her thumb toward the family room. “I think you’re forgetting somebody.” (I swear this happened, just like that.)

And yes, I got really lucky with their dad too. Three times really lucky. Although, truth be told—really lucky countless times.

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We each have our own understanding of what lucky means. Lucky is hitting it big on a lottery ticket (maybe we used the numbers from a fortune cookie). Lucky is missing a flight, but meeting the love of our life while we wait—all the frustrating-at-first-glance detours that led to our true final destinations. Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together, seeing the Seven Wonders of the World and leaving behind legacies all our own.

What makes me feel lucky is the love and friendship I have in my life. My children, my husband, family and friends.

Later that day, I got a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. Kathleen and I have known each other since kindergarten, and I loved hearing her voice and catching up. We don’t always have the time to talk, but when we do, it’s effortless and heartfelt—a conversation that started 30 years ago and can hold until next time when needed. I’m deeply grateful for my good old friend, and told her so.

I’m deeply grateful for a good new friend, too, who stopped by soon after. When she came by, the house was a mess, and Anna was upside down on the rocking chair—but it was completely OK. I was happy to see her, and not concerned or self-conscious about the messy house (or upside-down parenting).

What a gift it is to have a friend who’s had your back since age 5, and another whom you don’t need to clean up for.

Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together…

Gifts, good luck, lucky breaks. Blessings. We don’t always use the same words, or speak the same language…but sometimes, we mean similar things.

Yesterday, the girls and I went back to the grocery store. We needed milk. That was all. But I believe it’s scientifically impossible to go to the grocery store, with two kids in tow, and buy “just milk.” So…we didn’t.

Once again, Anna tried to sneak different items into the cart. “No,” I said. “Put that back.”

“Oh, fine,” Anna said, in a flawless impersonation of her mom. She grabbed the bag and trudged back to a shelf.

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “That child,” she said (another flawless impersonation of yours truly). “She cracks me up.”

My daughters and I spend so much time together, they sometimes sound like me. I’m grateful for the time, the companionship, all the adventures. All the crazy, and all the love.

Love and friendship have been the biggest gifts in my life.

And twice in my life, I got really lucky.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

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Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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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.

You’re Here, and That’s Enough

I was standing, looking out the window streaked with rain. Holding my phone in one hand and my 9-month-old daughter in the other. I was listening as my friend shared some sad news.

She sighed, cleared her throat. I told her I was sorry. And added that I knew there was nothing I could say to make her feel better—I was just very, very sorry.

“I feel,” my friend said, “that I’m failing, at everything.”

Like any friend would, I told her that wasn’t true. You’re not failing.

I could almost see her shaking her head on the other end of the line. So I added, “You’re here. Just being here is enough. Right now, just getting through the day—that’s awesome.”

I thought back to times in my own life when I was sad, as my friend was. And I believe it’s true. When life disappoints you, or hurts you, or scares you, making it through each day, one at a time, is a victory.

“How much easier would it be to, you know, run away?”

She laughed. I was happy to hear her laughter.

You don’t hear much about grown-up runaways, do you?

You do, though, hear about adults who walk away. Partners leave each other, in work and in life. People who have been together for years, husbands and wives. Friends. And saddest of all: parents. Moms and dads who walk away from their families.

It takes strength to stick around during discouraging times.

Times will get better, though. You have to believe that.

But for now, as I told my friend, you’re here. And that’s enough.

Romy and Michele

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