You might mistake the inside of my car for a landfill.
Empty travel coffee mugs and half-filled water bottles in the cup holders. Shoes, umbrellas and reusable grocery bags strewn across the floor. Pens that are missing their caps commingling with loose change and cough drops on the center console.
Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers everywhere.
“Yuck,” I said, opening a back door for the girls. “We really need to clean out the car.”
Grace and Anna were arguing about something, and didn’t reply. I made sure they were both buckled into their booster seats. Then I hopped in, too, and started the engine.
We were driving home from Dunkin’ Donuts. A little sugar rush to go along with all those Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers. #momoftheyear
From the backseat, the girls’ voices became louder. Grace was giving Anna advice, which Anna disagreed with. “No, Grace,” Anna said. “Come on. This is my real life.”
I smiled. This is my real life. Even 5-year-old Anna knew to take it seriously.
A little sugar rush to go along with all those Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers.
Sometimes I think it might be helpful if, along with the obligatory signs depicting miles per hour and where to stop, there were roadside displays with additional, equally indispensable messages. Inspired by my younger daughter, I think “This Is Your Real Life” would be a good one.
We all know, on a cognitive level, that we have one life. This is it, right here, right now. We know that.
On a day-to-day level, though…in the midst of actually living, getting things done, getting everyone where they need to be…the philosophy of “one life to live” can get lost in the practicalities of preparing meals, doing our jobs, signing kids up for summer camps, wiping up crumbs under the kitchen table for the seventh time that day and remembering to buy our spouse something delicious like a Cardona’s cannoli for Valentine’s Day.
One day this past week, Anna told me about something that was bothering her. I knelt down so that we could see each other eye to eye.
Oftentimes, my instinct is to talk—greet, break the ice, tell a joke or story, reassure, brainstorm next steps. It’s the communicator in me. Just as often, I need to remind myself to listen.
We tend to underestimate listening.
That day, I listened to my daughter. I asked some questions, but mostly, I listened. After a bit, Anna seemed less troubled, so I asked, hopefully, “Are you starting to feel better?”
Anna nodded. “Just talking to you.”
My heart melted; I gave her a hug.
We’ve all probably heard that there are many benefits of eating dinner together as a family. Stanton, the girls and I try to eat dinner together as much as we can, but it doesn’t happen every night. Some evenings, one of the girls will have an after-school activity, and I’ll make one of my famous meals-to-go (their favorite: macaroni and cheese with bacon) for the car ride home. Other times, Stanton will have a business dinner. And very rarely—again, I can’t stress how rare this is, friends—I’ll have dinner plans that don’t involve the three people I live with. 😉
When the four of us do gather for a family dinner, though, I love that time together. I love hearing Stanton and the girls tell the stories of their days. I love telling my own stories too.
Every now and then, one of the girls will spill their drink. As odd as this may sound, I also appreciate moments like this, moments of imperfection. I appreciate the opportunity to remind the girls, “Accidents happen, and that’s OK.”
Every now and then, too, my phone will buzz from the kitchen—a text, a news alert, a notification of some kind.
“Mom, your phone!” the girls will say.
“I’ll get it after dinner,” I’ll say. I don’t want to miss any stories (or spills).
This is my real life.
I don’t want to miss any stories (or spills).
I am not, of course, always making-eye-contact attentive or cool-as-a-cucumber calm. But I try to make an honest effort.
This past Saturday, I did some birdwatching. If you told me, 30 years ago, I’d grow up to become an amateur birder, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I’m pretty sure my younger self would have said, “Boring.”
Sometimes we grow up and surprise ourselves.
I went to Five Rivers, a nature preserve near our home. Five Rivers is breath-of-fresh-air beautiful, in all four seasons.
Saturday was cold but sunny. Through the windows of the visitor center, as well as outside on the grounds, I stood birdwatching. I easily could identify the Eastern bluebirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers (a kind of woodpecker). The Eastern bluebird is my favorite—its vibrant blue color is truly breathtaking. I saw other species of birds, too, but couldn’t tell what they were (still an amateur, you know).
During the winter, these local birds often gather near a patch of Christmas trees that the naturalists at Five Rivers have set up. They can shelter from the cold among the pine needles, and feed on the seed bells that have been attached to the trees. Birds that rely on seeds rather than fruits and nectar for food don’t migrate south in winter, which I only learned recently.
I like birdwatching because it’s calming, cathartic. It’s a back-to-nature break devoid of Dums Dums wrappers, to-do lists and phone buzzes. All it asks of you is that you look—really look.
It’s a back-to-nature break…
This spring, Grace and some classmates are participating in a lip sync. The song they’ll be performing is “Party in the U.S.A.” Lately, our family has been listening to the Miley Cyrus hit on repeat.
When I originally searched for “Party in the U.S.A.” on my phone, YouTube helpfully recommended other up-tempo favorites for my listening pleasure. Gotta love Big Data. The other night, as I was washing dishes and listening to music, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” started playing, a YouTube recommendation.
I felt like I was at a college party, a thought I later shared with Stanton. Stanton and I actually met in college, at a party. We reminisced about that night and the college-party-playlist songs that were popular then, in the early 2000s.
There was “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” of course, and “Come On Eileen.” “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, the first song Stanton and I danced to. Not to be confused with Jon Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” another classic. “Whenever, Wherever” (Shakira, before the Super Bowl halftime show with Jennifer Lopez). And you may remember that kids back then loved J. Lo and Ja Rule harmonizing in “I’m Real.”
The list goes on, as seemingly endless as a stack of red Solo cups.
Eighteen, nineteen years old—coming of age, although we keep moving forward, unfolding, evolving. Surprising ourselves, no matter the decade we’re in.
…coming of age, although we keep moving forward, unfolding, evolving.
I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done some thoughtless things. There are times I could have been a better person, or a smarter one.
The thought has crossed my mind, how nice it might be to have a rewind button. Go back to that moment, before I made that mistake, and live that slice of life better. Take back something I said. Most of all…be there. Be there for the people I love(d).
There are no rewind buttons in the real world, though. Luckily, there’s “next time.” Next times. Opportunities to do better, thanks to the wisdom earned from past experiences—from life, and living.
This is your real life: a messy car that’s been going places; a hug from a child that makes you feel like a million dollars; stories and spills, in equal measure; moments in nature that take your breath away; old songs you’ll always love.
Look around. Really look. You see it, right?
This is your real life, and it’s beautiful.
“…remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK” (Robert Fulghum, page 3, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”).
Photo credit: Pixabay
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.