My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog

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

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

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

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

Ah, the Pottery Barn catalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cue “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

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

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Versus…hello, home sweet home:

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

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

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

Photo credits: Pottery Barn

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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.

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Book Review: Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

So Everybody Knows You Here, Right?

The other day, my hubby and I stopped by the coffee shop across the street. He’d been there a few times before. I, on the other hand, head over with the girls a few times a week.

“So everybody knows you here, right?” Stanton said.

“They do.” Then I noted, “That’s a good quote.”

“It’s the song from that show. You know.”

“Well…not exactly.” 🙂

How wonderful, though, to be somewhere “where everybody knows your name.” What a comfort to walk through the door and feel at home.

Besides your home, what are the “places” in your life? The spots that are like second nature to you? Your hangouts, or your kids’?

I remember moving here to San Antonio in 2009. The only people I knew then were Stanton, his parents, and his two best friends. I remember feeling small in a big place.

I had a similar feeling a couple of weeks into my freshman year of college. One evening, I walked outside. I found myself at the Greek Theater, one of many beautiful spots at the University of Richmond. And among all that beauty, I began to cry. I just didn’t feel as if I belonged there.

Until I did. Until I found my “people,” and my places.

Writing connected me, both times, to my two new worlds. In college, I found a home in the English Department. I was a proud bookworm, working on creative writing projects and later spearheading the literary magazine. And in San Antonio, I started a blog about being “Not From Here.” “Not From Here” put me in touch with other writers and, ultimately, a full-time writing job. I loved that job as much as I loved the new colleagues I got to know there.

My people, and my places.

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Beginnings are hard, usually. The beginning of something new.

College. A new city. Any transition in your life.

In every transition, finding your new routine can be helpful. Life-saving, even. And finding your new people—that’s life-saving for sure.

I transitioned from working part-time, and having routine conversations with various writing clients, to staying home with my daughters earlier this year. I said indefinite good-byes to those clients, those conversations. I never expected that for this season of my life, I’d find my new people at the coffee shop across the street.

But then again, I never expected I’d meet my standing coffee date in college either, a few months after that night in the Greek Theater.

“What’s that saying, God laughs at man’s plans?”

I looked across the table at Stanton. “Something like that.”

“Well…you know.”

Yes. I did.

“OK, chai tea latte and coffee.” Tricia set our drinks down. “Enjoy, guys.”

I took a sip of my chai.

“Good?”

“Always is,” I told him.

What are the places in your life? And who’s been there with you?

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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.

YOU Are Blessed

I brought Baby G to her two-month checkup a few days ago. She measured in at the 55th percentile for weight, and 7th for height—nearly opposite of Little G. I smiled at our pediatrician. “So where Little G is tall and thin, Baby G is …”

“Perfect,” our pediatrician said, hugging Baby G. “She’s perfectly healthy. You have two healthy daughters. You are blessed.”

You are blessed.

My first thought was, how interesting to hear a doctor speak the languages of both medicine and spirituality, simultaneously. My second thought was, YES. Blessed.

When are we most aware of the blessings—or gifts; the good things—in our life? Maybe in quiet moments—rocking a child to sleep, feeling their breath against us. Or in noisy moments, like celebrations with loved ones.

Day-to-day life challenges us constantly, especially when we’re caring for young children. In the hustle and bustle, it can be easy to take our family and friends for granted. Health for granted. Life for granted.

Until someone reminds us, in sometimes the most unexpected of places: YOU ARE BLESSED.

You are.

Blessed.

One of my favorite quotes is this one, compliments of writer Thornton Wilder: “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

What are the treasures in your life?

Beyond that … beyond tallying up our treasures … why don’t we make them count? Pay forward the kindnesses done to us?

About two years ago, my hubby and I stumbled upon the Sunday morning church service we now attend every week with our two daughters. Sunday after Sunday, we’ve gotten to know the other young families there, too. And after Baby G was born, our church friends wrote out a meal schedule and alternated evenings for bringing dinners to us, for several weeks.

What a blessing, as any new parent knows.

And the next time I can bring a dinner to a friend who could use it, I will. Pay it forward. Make it count. “One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh said.

You are blessed.

Now be a blessing, too. ❤

YOU Are Blessed

(Many thanks to my good friend Kathleen for sending the beautiful bouquet pictured above for my recent birthday. Yes, she’s a blessing in my life!)

Real Life Can Be Messy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is real life.