You’re Annoying, I Love You, Talk to You Soon: On Siblings

This past Easter weekend, I got to see my three siblings. We gathered at my parents’ house for the holiday. It was really nice to be “home” together again.

Josh still lives and works in our hometown; Jared is near Philadelphia; Jenna has adopted Queens as her hometown; and I’m now up the Thruway in New York’s Capital Region.

When the four of us talk with one another, we still refer to our parents’ house, the house we grew up in, as “home.” The main reason for this, I think, is because siblings—and any people in close relationships—have developed their own shorthand over time. No backstory, explanation or even punctuation needed. On our group texts, I often communicate with X’s and O’s (and the occasional heart emoji), while Jenna prefers the eloquent, “AHHHH!!!”

Another reason for the “home as parents’ house” shorthand is because for many of us, we learn what “home” means through our families: our parents and those who are like parents; our brothers and sisters.

Home is one of those words that’s more feeling than language. Kind of like when I say to Anna, “I love you,” and she replies by giving me a hug—“I love you, too.” Home is like a hug: You are pulled (back) in; you are loved; you are known.

No one knows us quite like our siblings do. After all, they had complimentary courtside seats to all our cringe-worthy coming-of-age moments. While reminiscing during Easter dinner, Jared couldn’t help bringing up the memory of my wearing bulky sports goggles during my middle-school basketball-playing days.

“Again, with the sports goggles?” I said.

Our parents’ 35th wedding anniversary happened to be the next day, Monday. Jared had suggested we recreate an old family photo as our gift to them, a la this Huffington Post article. So we did.

We chose this picture, which hangs in our parents’ living room.

Original Picture

Then we asked Stanton (our honorary sibling) to make the new memory. Which he did:

New Picture 2017

The four of us haven’t changed much in 20 years, have we, friends? 🙂

Josh, Jared, Jenna and I laughed a lot as Stanton (and Grace!) helped pose us for this picture. It was fun. Later, our Mom and Dad told us they loved it.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, for all sorts of reasons. Certainly, simply having siblings doesn’t guarantee friendships with them.

In my personal experience, though, I am very thankful for my brothers and sister. And I hope, more than anything in this world, that my own daughters have many happy, healthy years together. Stanton, who has three siblings himself, agrees.

Siblings had those courtside seats to all our awkward years. They also were the people we shared summer vacations, Christmas mornings and much more ordinary moments with—instant playmates for after school, the best kind of comfort when Poppy passed away. We have a shared childhood, history, love. We may let others’ calls go to voicemail, but we answer theirs. Likewise, we know they’ll be there for us.

Something that touches my heart is watching my girls become close to my siblings, as I have. Whenever someone brings up Josh, for example, Anna smiles big and says the same three words in slow, sweet succession: “Josh—big—nice.” Yes, he is.

Life is funny. When we’re young, we argue about who gets to ride in the passenger seat next to Mom, or who got the biggest slice of dessert (“That’s not fair!”). When we’re older, what we really appreciate is getting together “at home” once again…with those familiar faces, telling the same stories over and over, so that even the honorary siblings know the punch lines.

“Again, with the sports goggles? You’re annoying.”

“I love you.”

“Talk to you soon.”

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Don’t miss Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

18 Signs You’re Home

Earlier this week, I was at my neighborhood Hannaford, a regional grocery store chain in upstate New York and New England. Anna was sitting in the shopping cart, munching on Goldfish (contentedly, but not for long), while I zipped us up and down the aisles, finding what we needed and tossing everything in the cart. Clementines, green beans, tortillas, red enchilada sauce, macaroni and cheese (always macaroni and cheese).

Stanton, the girls and I have been living in the Albany area for six months now, and after these six months, I have a pretty good feel for this grocery store—where everything is, which cashiers are fastest, the girls’ new favorite deli meats (who knew Grace would discover she loves salami?).

I was feeling more and more “home” every day. Then in the soup aisle, I recognized a familiar face: one of the pastors from our church. “It’s great to see you,” I told her—and it was.

One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is not knowing anyone yet. Not having friends, or people you can turn to for doctor recommendations, or any sort of community—yet. So for me, that morning at Hannaford was special, in its extraordinary ordinariness. 1) I knew my way around the grocery store aisles. 2) I bumped into a new—dare I say—friend.

I was home.

Here are a few more signs, friends, that you’re home.

3) You have new local favorites at “your” grocery store. These days, I can’t imagine not having Against the Grain Gourmet three-cheese frozen pizza, which I discovered at Hannaford, in my freezer, or Dominick’s Gourmet Pasta Sauce in my pantry.

4) You have usual orders at some favorite local stops: your neighborhood coffee shop, the pizza place, the deli outside your office building. You don’t need to study the menu before you walk in or call ahead; you already know what you like.

5) You know where the light switches are, and which lights they’re for.

One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is not knowing anyone yet. Not having friends, or people you can turn to for doctor recommendations, or any sort of community—yet.

6) You have some tried-and-true “things to do” with out-of-town visitors. We’ve been lucky that already, quite a few family and friends have come to visit us in our new hometown.

We’re still learning the ropes, but we feel pretty good about taking summer guests to the nearby Five Rivers nature trails and TwisT ice cream shop; folks in fall to one of the many beautiful surrounding apple orchards; and winter travelers to the New York State Museum downtown for a ride on the historic carousel.

We have yet to experience spring, but look forward to the annual Tulip Festival in Washington Park and whatever else may be in store.

You have some tried-and-true “things to do” with out-of-town visitors.

7) You’re home when you have a driver’s license and corresponding license plates for your current state.

8) And when you can enter your ZIP code at the gas station from memory, rather than consulting a Post-it stuck on the back of your credit card.

9) You’ve figured out other logistics: your primary care physician, your kids’ dentist, your older daughter’s dance studio, your younger daughter’s library story time, an auto repair shop you can trust (thank you, Broadway Auto Clinic!).

10) Your wallet contains membership cards for some of these places (e.g., the local library, fitness center, figure skating club).

11) You can get around without needing to Google Map every move.

12) A place’s roads are cool symbols of local culture, I think. I see a lot of Vermont license plates in my community, reminding me that the border of the Green Mountain State is just an hour’s drive away. Along with these license plates come bumper stickers with sayings such as “Eat, Sleep, Ski, Repeat” and “Go Vegan.”

Back in my San Antonio neighborhood, on the other hand, I saw many Nuevo Leon license plates (Nuevo Leon is a state in Northeastern Mexico, about 250 miles from the Alamo City). In my seven years there, I’m pretty sure I never saw a “Go Vegan” bumper sticker in South Texas. 🙂

Your mental pictures have readjusted.   

You can get around without needing to Google Map every move.

13) You can chat in a semi-knowledgeable manner about local life. For example, I was happy to pass along to another “new-to-here” mom that kindergarten registration is happening now, which I had heard about from my dance studio mom friends. It really does take a village.

14) You have new local websites to check in on (www.timesunion.com, www.alloveralbany.com, New York State Writers Institute).

15) You have a feel for the local lingo. When people tell me they’re going “downstate,” I now know they’re referring to New York City—which is worlds different from “upstate” (although there seem to have been conversations about what exactly “upstate” entails). And in winter, when neighbors mention they’re spending the day at “Maple Ridge,” I know they mean the local ski ridge as opposed to the local park of the same name.

16) You know your mail carrier and UPS guy. And they know not to ring the doorbell around 2 p.m., when your toddler is napping.

17) You’re stocked up on gear. By which I mean, I haven’t owned a pair of snow boots since before age 22, when I graduated from the University of Richmond and then spent the next 11 years in Virginia and Texas. Neither has Stanton. Thanks to L.L. Bean, however, we’ve got new winter gear, and we’re prepared (hopefully!) for everything from snow shoveling to sledding and snowman-building this season.

Your mental pictures have readjusted.

18) Stanton, the girls and I were lucky to have a wonderful holiday season, and I hope you did too. We spent Thanksgiving in Texas with his family, and Christmas in Pennsylvania with mine. We got to catch up with lots of loved ones—share happy times together—everything was great, and very special.

Late on New Year’s Day, we got the girls to sleep. We had just driven back to Albany that afternoon. So after the past few weeks of holiday traveling and several rounds of bedtime stories, we were alone together in the living room.

We got comfortable on the couch. Stanton opened a bottle of Saratoga lager. I had my evening cup of tea. We turned on an old episode of “Parks and Rec.” Lamplight glimmered across the TV screen, and on the beer bottle.

Stanton stretched. Sighed. “It’s good to be home,” he said.

It made me happy to hear him say that.

And I agreed.

couch

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.

Settling Into Our New Hometown: The Beginning

In the summer of 2009, Stanton and I moved from Richmond, Va., to San Antonio. We road-tripped southwest over the course of a weekend, stopping to sightsee and sample local flavors along the way. I remember devouring the best macaroni and cheese of my life at Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Birmingham, Ala., and walking on the beach in Biloxi, Miss., before driving to New Orleans for café au lait and beignets.

Fast-forward to this summer. Moving cross-country with kids leaves little wiggle room for epicurean indulgences or “the scenic route.” About two minutes into our flight from San Antonio back to the East Coast, Grace wondered, “Mom, are we there yet?” just as Anna wiped her chocolate-covered hand across my khakis.

If you’ve ever been on a plane for a three-and-a-half-hour flight and seen a mom traveling solo with two small children, trust me: Nobody wants to be “there yet” more than that mama. 😉

Once the four of us arrived together at our new home, though, we were excited to begin exploring our surroundings. First up: The girls couldn’t wait to pick dandelions in the backyard. Kids—it’s always the little things.

1_Backyard

Now, you have to figure that whenever there’s a big change in your life (new baby, new job, new home—whatever it is), there will be a bump or two along the way. Something probably will not go as smoothly as it could.

For us, the major bump was our moving company. Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver the furniture from our Texas house to our New York house when they said they would—it arrived much later than promised.

The silver lining in this experience was that there wasn’t much for us to do in our mostly unfurnished new house. So the girls and I got out and about right away and began getting to know our new hometown.

One of our first stops: The library.

2_Library

Our local library has a wonderful children’s section, which the girls love. A friendly mom whom I met there invited us to join her and her Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group at a nearby park the following day. So we did.

All the moms were kind and welcoming. I very much appreciated them, as well as the “inside scoop” they shared with me about other fun, family-friendly local activities. Thanks to these moms, we’re making plans to visit neighboring apple orchards, the New York State Museum and indoor trampoline parks.

3_Park

I’ve been here in the Albany area just a short while now, but I’ve figured out that Dunkin’ Donuts is the locals’ chain coffeehouse of choice. There is an awesome-looking local espresso bar about a mile from our home, and I can’t wait to drop in and do some writing, too. In the meantime, the girls and I have been hitting up the closest Dunkin’ for our afternoon pick-me-ups.

4_Dunkin Donuts
On the second or third night in our new home, I was surprised to feel a lump in my throat. Earlier that day, I had received a “thinking of you” package from my San Antonio friend Haeley. Coincidentally, two other good friends from San Antonio (Ashley and Michelle) had also texted to let me know they were thinking of me. I cared for and appreciated them and their friendship so much, and was feeling a sense of “friendless-ness” in my new hometown.

6_Notebooks

Making friends and developing friendships take time. I have been touched, though, by the friendliness of everyone I’ve met so far, from the MOPS group to the college students who serve up great sandwiches at “The Village Butcher” by the espresso bar to our neighbors. One afternoon, our next-door neighbor stopped by with this lovely bouquet of sunflowers from a local dairy farm, right after another neighbor dropped off a container of freshly sliced watermelon and strawberries.

7_Flowers

These kindhearted gestures have helped Stanton, the girls and me settle in and begin to feel at home.

One evening, the four of us were eating a simple pasta dinner together in the dining room. Grace and Anna were sitting at their “Frozen”-themed activity table, while Stanton and I were sitting cross-legged on the floor (our furniture had not yet arrived, remember). We were eating and talking, and I looked around and thought, “I couldn’t be happier.” So I let them know, as you should in moments like this: “I love you guys so much. This is all I need. I mean it—this is everything to me.”

“Love you too!” Grace yelled. It was nearing her bedtime, and she was getting silly.

“You!” Anna yelled along, throwing her hands up.

I looked across the “Frozen” table. Stanton looked back and winked.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Home isn’t what you have, or where you live. It’s who you’re with.

Home is who you’re with.

8_Extra Napkin

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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.

Decluttering: Good for the Soul

Do you ever open your closest door…or peek into the kitchen “junk drawer” (every kitchen has one, right?)…or try to park your car in the garage, only to discover it doesn’t comfortably fit because of all the bikes and strollers and golf clubs and inflatable pool toys—do you ever do these things and feel burdened by the stuff of your life?

I do.

And I don’t even have that much stuff, relatively. But like a lot of Americans, I have more than enough. My family and I have plenty.

This time of the year, the Thanksgiving season, makes me especially conscious of our many material comforts. It prompts me to pass along the things we don’t use anymore, or all that much, to those who have an immediate need for them. It also encourages me to declutter before the end of the year, so that I can start the New Year feeling refreshed.

Decluttering

Decluttering. Psychologists have written about how it reduces stress. Health benefits abound, both mental and physical. Decluttering does a soul good.

Do you feel like decluttering a bit? Here are some tips to get you started, friends.

1. Start small. Focus. Planning to declutter your entire home in a Saturday afternoon can cause even more stress than your overflowing garage does.

But giving yourself 20 minutes to sort through your pantry and toss out everything that’s expired—that’s a focused, doable goal. You’ll feel successful when you accomplish it. Not to mention energized to tackle the next focused project.

2. Organize. Put everything in its “home”—for example, jackets hanging in closets instead of on the backs of the dining room chairs (ahem, my house!) and random puzzle pieces collected together rather than scattered across the coffee table (my house, too). You can find organizing solutions everywhere from Pier 1 (baskets, bookcases, trunks) to The Container Store.

3. Donate or discard anything you haven’t worn or used or played with in the past year or so. (This also presents the perfect opportunity to gift the nearest Goodwill donation station with the clothes you’d rather not see your husband wear anymore! 🙂 )

One possible exception: Baby clothes or gear for future family members. But even then, you probably don’t need to hang on to everything. For example, clothes can fade and lose their shape after an extended time in storage. Consider sharing some of your surplus with someone who may have an immediate need for it.

4. Make physical memories digital. I have a cardboard box that’s stuffed with magazines I’ve written for, dating back to about 2005. My goal for the upcoming New Year is to scan each article that features my byline, create a PDF portfolio of all the articles, and then recycle the 10 years’ worth of paper I’ve been holding on to.

You can do something similar with old newspaper clippings, sentimental photos, and your kids’ preschool arts and crafts. Check out this blog post, “Digitizing Your Kid’s Art.”

5. Be mindful when you bring new things into your decluttered space. ‘Tis the season for catalogs galore, all touting don’t-pass-them-up holiday sales. More often than not, I toss these in the recycling bin before they can make it into our newly organized home.

One more resource: Scroll through this “Amazingly Awesome Pre-Holidays Declutter Guide.” Happy decluttering, friends! And happy holidays, too.

Photo credit: Gratisography

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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.

 

When I Go to My Mom’s House

My hubby, daughters, and I recently returned from a visit with my family in Pennsylvania. I was so glad that Baby G was able to meet my maternal grandmother, who helped raise me, during this time. They shared a heartfelt hello, and good-bye.

We stayed with my parents, as we always do. And as always, my mom made sure her house was ready for us. She put clean towels in our rooms, along with new clothes for the girls. (“Don’t worry about packing them anything!” she said.)

30_When I Go to My Mom's House

My mom has a second freezer in the basement. When we arrived, she began thawing the food she prepared for our visit weeks earlier: breaded chicken, lasagna, stuffed cabbage rolls, zucchini fritters, and—per Little G’s request—lots of cookies. I think second freezers in the basement, bursting with goodies like these, may be distinctive of families of Italian-American heritage. 🙂

Towels, clothes, homemade food … all creature comforts. Who wouldn’t love to “come home” to these things? What I love about my mom’s house, though, is that these things symbolize her caring for my family and me.

All this caring takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort. Of course, this is what moms do.

I remember a moment soon after Baby G was born, when both my mom and Stanton’s mom were standing with me in my kitchen. My mom was staying with us for a few weeks to help out, and I mentioned that Charlotte did the same thing for her own daughter about a year and a half earlier. Playing with the new baby’s older sisters; getting their breakfasts, lunches, snacks (so many snacks!), and dinners ready; making sure they were clean and well-rested. Plus hundreds of other things that moms do every day, from putting Band-Aids on boo-boos (including the imaginary ones) to calling a plumber because the kitchen sink faucet is dripping (again). Basically, taking care of everyone and everything.

“You both did so much,” I remember saying to my mom and Charlotte.

They looked at each other and laughed. “Well, we’re battle tested,” Charlotte said. It was something any seasoned mom could relate to.

As the years move on, I want to create the kind of house that my mom has, and Charlotte has. And I want to be the kind of mom that they’ve been to their children (four each!). I want my daughters to know our front door is always open to them and their friends, and later their families. I want them to know I’ll always take care of them, whether they’re 4 years old or 40. When you come to my house, there will always be plenty of everything. Just bring yourself.

Another hope I have is that my girls will be as close as I am to my sister and brothers. During this recent visit, my sister took time off from her job in New York City to be with us. At one point, Jenna handed me a cup of coffee along with a plate of my mom’s Jimmy Carter Cake and said, “OK, let’s go.”

“Where?”

“To eat and watch an episode of Fright Night Lights, DUH.”

I laughed and followed my sister to the nearest TV, coffee and cake in tow. Because we love simply hanging out and sharing a cup of coffee together (Friday Night Lights reruns optional). It’s the little things, right, friends?

Yes.

I hope my daughters develop a similar bond. And I hope that as they journey along with their own lives, they come back to my house to reconnect.

I’ll need to get my own second freezer one day.

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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.