Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, friends. ❀

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.

Of Course the Noel Sign Lights Up: Merry Everything 2019

The day after we returned home from our Thanksgiving-break trip, I hauled the Leddy family artificial Christmas tree out of the basement. A trail of plastic pine needles followed behind me, from the top of the basement stairs to the front of the family-room bay window.

Clark Griswold would not approve.

“Do you think we’ll ever get a real Christmas tree, Mom?” Grace wondered.

“Yes,” I replied. Not this year…but one year, someday, absolutely.

Stanton searched for a yuletide playlist.

“Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road…”

I raised my eyebrows at my husband. He kept searching.

“No, Dad,” protested Anna. “I love that song.”

We both looked at our 4-year-old daughter. How did she know Lil Nas X?

“We listen to it at preschool,” Anna explained. “The clean version.”

Grace laughed; I laugh-cried. Stanton turned up “Jingle Bells.”

Stanton and the girls began hanging ornaments on our tree while I dug more Christmas decorations out of the basement.

Over the years, I scooped up our decorations during various post-Christmas sales. Thus, every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Stanton is rarely impressed with my bargain finds. “How awesome that this was 75 percent off,” I said, showing him my newest piece of decor, a wooden sign with “Noel” in capital letters, adorned with faux red berries and glitter galore (a Pier 1 find, obviously).

In a previous life, Stanton worked as a buyer. “The retail price isn’t the real price anyway, Mel,” he said, for probably the thousandth time in our life.

“Honey, please…I practically made money here.”

Grace pointed to the sign. “Mom, there’s a box here where you put batteries. Does this sign light up?”

“Of course it lights up, G.” I found it at Pier 1, didn’t I?

“Do you have any batteries?”

I’d get some on my next trip to Hannaford, I promised.

…every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Not long after, I drove to Hannaford. The lights at the intersection outside the grocery store weren’t working. People in their cars were treating this fairly busy intersection like a four-way stop, mostly cautiously, but—nervous Nellie driver that I am—I worried an accident could happen.

Once inside the store, I shared my concern with one of the managers I know, a friendly, hard-working young man. He told me the lights hadn’t been working since the morning before.

“I’m a little surprised no one has called the police or anything,” I said.

The manager said he would do that right now. “I think I have the number.”

I was confused. The number was 911, right?

But no, police departments have non-emergency numbers for situations like this. Within minutes—truly, minutes—two workers arrived and fixed the intersection lights. I was thankful for that.

“You solved the problem, Mom,” my daughters said, when I told this story to them later.

Not really, but a little. Solving problems, though—that’s a lot of what moms do, all day long.

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Grace and Anna love getting out and about. I do too; I’m all for it, truly. By about 6 p.m. on a cold winter’s Saturday, though, I’m usually 100 percent content to stay in, steep a cup of tea to perfection and engage in cozy indoor activities, such as reading or Family Movie Night.

This past Saturday evening, the girls were having none of that.

“It’s public skate at the Y, Mom! Let’s go ice skating! Come on, Mom!”

O…K.

If I didn’t have kids, I’d probably hibernate until spring. I’d stay in, drink hot beverages, binge-watch the rest of “Shameless” on Netflix. Maybe even write something a little longer, a bit more prestigious, than yet another blog post. 😉

That, however, is an alternate reality, friends, and overall, I’m wholeheartedly grateful for the reality I have.

Ice skating, sledding, snowman-building in winter—hiking year-round—swimming all summer—raking jump-worthy piles of leaves in fall—all right, come on, let’s do it.

“Come on, Mom!”

Yes, overall, I’m living the dream.

During the next few days, our children will be participating in a total of four end-of-year events. One holiday piano concert, two Christmas pageants and one performing arts holiday performance. There’s also a Christmas party following one of the pageants, for which I signed up to bring cookies. “Because no one ate the salad you brought that other time,” Anna reminded me. (That’s true: That other time, no one did.)

I mixed up some of these save-the-dates on the hard-copy calendar in the kitchen (I know, pretty old-fashioned to use a calendar you can actually write on), so our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

I needed to reschedule Grace’s overdue annual checkup, so circled “G – dr. appt!” and drew an arrow to a following weekday afternoon (making her overdue checkup even later). Anna came along, too, and I asked the receptionist if both my daughters could get (again, overdue) flu shots that day. She said yes, and I reached over to sign some forms.

With my other arm, I was holding Anna. At this point, her ears perked up. She clasped her hands around my neck, physically turned my head back up to face the receptionist, and hissed, “Tell her, ‘Anna does not want a flu shot.'”

The receptionist laughed; Anna frowned.

It’s always a good time, friends.

…our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

Who’s done with all their holiday shopping? Almost done? Yet to start?

You can put me in the “almost done” category. I ordered some things online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but I still have some gifts to pick out from I Love Books and Perfect Blend, two of my favorite local shops.

Stanton, the girls and I will be spending Christmas at my mom and dad’s house near Scranton, Pa., and when we show up on their doorstep, I always like to have some coffee from Perfect Blend on hand. Many of our moms and dads don’t really need any more stuff, but appreciate consumable gifts—such as my coffee shop’s Frosty’s Favorite and Sugar Cookie seasonal blends. This is my perspective anyway, and I hope I’m right.

And what do I want for Christmas, you ask? Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef, someone whose skill set includes handing out snacks every 15 minutes from 4 p.m. until dinner is ready.

“Mom, will you open the healthy drawer?” Anna recently asked as I was making dinner.

Grace sighed. “We don’t have a healthy drawer, boo.”

“Yes, we do.” Anna pointed to the cupboard above the coffeemaker.

Grace and I both shook our heads. “Honey, you know that’s the snack drawer,” I told Anna. “Just because you call it the healthy drawer doesn’t make it something different.” It didn’t change the fact that that part of the kitchen cabinetry was stuffed full of popcorn, chocolate and chips of all kinds (potato, tortilla and masquerading-as-not-junk-food veggie).

“Please can I just have the box of cheddar bunnies?”

All I want for Christmas is someone to manage early-evening snack requests.

Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef…

As cliché and corny as it sounds, what I most appreciate at Christmastime is time with my loved ones. Time is such a gift, I think.

I’m looking forward to driving from New York to Pennsylvania with Stanton and the girls, listening to Christmas music on the radio. Once we get there, I’m excited to catch up with my brothers and sister. Jenna and I want to watch some favorite movies together (“Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” here’s looking at you—and yes, Hugh Grant, the Minetola sisters adore you).

Riding shotgun, chitchatting, watching movies—these are such little things, yet they’ll be my biggest Christmas wishes-come-true.

What about you?

Whatever yours are and wherever you’ll be, I hope this time of year finds your heart happy too.

Merry everything, friends. ❀

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.

Do You Wear Adult Diapers, Mom? And Other Questions I’ve Recently Been Asked

How often do you go to the grocery store, friends? I’m so curious. I’m at Hannaford, our local grocery store, twice a week.

Sometimes I go grocery shopping by myself (flying out the back door late on a Saturday morning, still wearing what stores these days call “loungewear” but what are, in effect, pajamas). Almost always, though, I’m with my 4-year-old daughter, Anna, and almost always, we’re there in the afternoon after preschool pickup.

Such was the case one afternoon two weeks ago. Anna and I motored over to Hannaford, then maneuvered through the aisles. “Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a display. “Woody! And Forky! Mom, it’s everybody from Toy Story!”

I glanced at the Disney-inspired Laughing Cow cheese dippers. “Everybody’s there,” I agreed, moving us along.

We had a short list, relatively, and were almost done in no time. There was just one bullet point left to cross off. I steered into the feminine hygiene products section, and parked Anna to the side.

She peered forward. “What’s all this, Mom?”

“Just a second, honey.” I scanned the shelves for my preferred item.

“Mom.” Anna was staring at me, her eyebrows arched, the corners of her mouth tilted upward in a smile that was both dubious and devious. “Do you wear adult diapers, Mom?”

Uuuggghhh.

Anna, of course, noticed my horror right away. So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course. “DO YOU WEAR ADULT DIAPERS, MOM?”

“Will you please stop?” I hissed.

Now Anna was laughing, doubled over the grocery-cart seat. “Mom, I can’t believe it! You wear adult diapers!”

“I do not…”

Another woman was in the same aisle as us, and she was laughing too—kindly, but still. She patted my arm when she walked past us.

“Listen.” I could feel my face burning red with embarrassment. I clasped my hands over my daughter’s. “I need you to please stop saying that. Got it, dude?”

Anna nodded.

OK.

So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course.

Almost all of last week, Stanton was in D.C. for a work conference. His being out of town just so happened to coincide with an especially busy work week for me. Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

I had a phone meeting with two colleagues on Wednesday afternoon. One of these people was my boss. Grace would be home from school soon, and Anna was already home from preschool. I asked her to play quietly until I was done with my call.

“But I want to be with you,” Anna said.

“Honey, we’re almost always together,” I said. “I’ll be done very soon, I promise.” I called in to my meeting.

Almost immediately, Anna planted herself nearby, staring at me, arms crossed. I ignored her. She began crawling around my legs. I got up, moved to the kitchen. Anna followed me and yelled, “Mom, hang up, HANG UP!”

Ugh…again.

I turned on the TV. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. We’ve been trying to limit screen time, but…oh, well.

Still holding my phone, I cleared my throat. “Um…just wondering, did anyone hear that over here?”

“Yes.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Great. “I’m so sorry…I just turned on the TV…”

Both my boss and our other colleague were extremely kind and understanding. But still. Somebody screaming in the background, “Mom, hang up!” is not a good look when you’re trying to present yourself as a got-it-together work-from-home professional.

Later I asked Anna why she had behaved like that. “I love you so much, I just wanted to be with you,” she said. “And I don’t understand, Mom,” she added, “why don’t you just do all your work when I’m in school?”

I just looked at her.

Who among us wouldn’t love for all the pieces of all the puzzles to fall into place just so?

Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

So many questions. So little time.

During the past few weeks, different folks from the church we attend have called to ask if I could participate in various volunteer opportunities. I’ve also received emails from both my daughters’ schools, inviting me to helm or help with extracurricular fall-themed fun, such as a costume party and trunk or treat. Every now and then, too, a ping from my phone reveals a text wondering if I’m available to lend a hand with hosting a play date.

There were a few moments, lately, when I really could have cried. I like to think of myself as a kindhearted person…but I simply can’t say yes to anything else right now. Thus, I’ve been saying no to everything extra.

I love my family and my work, and that’s all I, personally, can do in this season of my life. Other folks can do more, and I admire them. I just know I’m not one of them.

I’ve found that, when I explain myself like this—when I acknowledge I’m not a Superwoman—people seem to understand. Or, maybe they worry they might trigger a nervous breakdown, and decide to steer clear… I guess I’ll never know which one it is. 😉

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Yesterday, Stanton made me a sandwich for lunch. Roast beef with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions on multigrain bread. He sliced an apple as the side. I enjoyed it so much, partly because I didn’t make it myself, and told him so.

“This is nothing, Mel,” he replied, settling into the breakfast nook with me.

But it was something. It is wonderful to feel cared for, even when the caring comes in the form of something as seemingly simple as a roast-beef sandwich. It is wonderful to feel cared for when you are the person who does so much of the caring (and grocery shopping, and puzzle-piecing).

Life is wonderfully unexpected sometimes. Sometimes there are more questions than we have answers for, or know how to answer. And sometimes things fall into place.

I have learned, despite my non-Superwoman prowess, not to give up. To say no or not now, but to keep going.

From now on, though, I’ll be maneuvering solo through the feminine hygiene products section.

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.