Is This Really as Good as It Gets?

A few days ago, I did something out of the ordinary, especially for these socially distant times: I got out. Out, as in someplace other than the grocery store or nearby nature trail. Out, as in…my annual gynecologic appointment.

A part of me—admittedly, a very teensy-tinsy part—was somewhat looking forward to this diversion from my nine-weeks-and-counting insta-stay-at-home, homeschooling routine. “Is this really as good as it gets?” I wondered in a text to a friend beforehand, half joking—half not—as I pictured an examination room with female-anatomical drawings for artwork and latex gloves galore. Talk about ambiance.

As any good friend would, she replied with words of encouragement (and an “Lol!”).

Now, this kind of wellness checkup is supposed to be annual, but the last time I saw my doctor was…not last year. I’m fairly good about making regular doctor’s and dentist’s appointments for my daughters; I could be better with my own health.

Earlier this year, however, I learned an old classmate of mine had passed away from cervical cancer. She also had young children. We hadn’t spoken in years, but I felt very sad for her and her family. All of this was a wake-up call to me, and prompted me to make my (belated) appointment.

The day of my appointment, I began feeling stressed. What if something turned out to be wrong with me? What if, while I was out at a health facility, I somehow contracted COVID-19? I had also found out I needed to go to my doctor’s main medical office, in downtown Albany, rather than her neighborhood office that I could simply walk to in my suburban town, and I worried about where to park (I do not love city driving, as many of you know).

“Leave snacks for us, Mom,” Grace and Anna helpfully said, as I began getting ready for my big adventure. “And remember you said we could have screen time while you’re gone?”

Right-o. I sighed.

Stanton was nearby and glanced over at me. “Mel…the girls and I will drive you over, OK? And we’ll pick you back up when you’re done.”

“Honey.” I shook my head at him, knowing how busy he was with work. “That sounds like a waste of your time.”

“It sounds like a good use of my time,” Stanton replied, even-keeled as always.

In that moment, friends…I don’t think I ever loved him more. #littlethings

Talk about ambiance.

These days, it really has been all about the little things.

Recently, Grace was talking on the phone with my mom. I overheard my 8-year-old bragging, “My mom bought paints at the grocery store, and they were the last ones.”

It was true: I was delighted to find the last six-pack of washable paint at the grocery store (currently out of stock online). Once I got home and unpacked it, the girls oohed and aahed over the little bottles of purple, red, yellow, blue, green and orange. “Let’s have some fun painting,” I said, pulling out paintbrushes and construction paper, filling a bowl with water.

Ten solid minutes later…the painting fun had come and gone.

“Now what do we do, Mom?”

What to do, indeed. A common question posed to the activities director of Team Leddy.

Nevertheless, this isn’t unique. Many a mom is her family’s activities director, right? Pandemic or no pandemic, many moms fill this role (along with myriad other roles).

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In addition to the 10 minutes of painting, our new activities have included putting together a 300-piece puzzle that I picked up, curbside, from the wonderful folks at I Love Books and exploring a new part of the Rail Trail.

My family and I love the Rail Trail. We so appreciate the ability to simply take a scenic walk or bike ride, steps from our front porch. The Rail Trail, however, runs for nine miles, unfolding between downtown Albany and the village of Voorheesville. For years now, we had only walked and biked on the three miles closest to our home.

“Do you know what we should do?” I said the other weekend, shaking my head at both the simplicity of the idea and the three-year time frame it took me to think of it. “We should check out the other parts of the Rail Trail.”

Grace was instantly on board. “I love that you’re so adventure-y, Mom,” she said.

I gave her a hug. “Thanks, honey.”

“Adventure-y,” of course, is a relative term. Check out a new section of a nature trail? Count me in. Navigate city streets, with their alternating one-way roads and penchant for parallel parking? Cue a mini panic attack.

That weekend, Stanton, the girls and I did love experiencing several new miles of the Rail Trail together. We really look forward to going back again soon.

When I’m outdoors these days, I usually don’t wear a face mask. I can pretty easily keep six feet between myself and those around me. Indoors at grocery stores (or doctor’s offices), I do wear one, per New York State and CDC guidelines. I’ve also noticed that major retailers like Gap, Anthropologie and Madewell have been selling (and selling out of) face masks on their websites.

So much has changed, so quickly. I don’t think I’ve processed everything that’s happened these past couple of months, or mourned the things that have been lost. When all this winds down (whenever it does), I think I’ll probably need to take a moment and, simply, cry.

There’s a time for everything, and it’s important to acknowledge sadness as well as the good times we want to memorialize in family photo albums and online profiles. I recognize this. For me, though, now is not the time to cry. Like so many of us, I just have so much to do.

Later, though. Definitely later, friends.

…shaking my head at both the simplicity of the idea and the three-year time frame it took me to think of it.

During one of my recent Rail Trail treks, I was walking on the right side of the path, as a wrinkled, white-haired woman on the left passed me by. I smiled, nodded. She was wearing a face mask, but pulled it down to smile back at me.

Then this lady gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Keep going!”

This little old lady and her wonderfully positive attitude totally moved me, friends. I don’t know why; it was just one of those “little things.” “I will,” I replied, a little choked up. Then I added, “You too!”

“Oh, I will,” she said. She pulled her face mask back up and, sure enough, kept on going.

When I’m old, I’d love to be as active and affirmative as this woman I happened to meet, for just a moment, on the Rail Trail that day.

There are times to cry. Times to celebrate. Times to wake up and go to the doctor for an annual wellness visit.

And in the best and worst of times, I believe we always should keep going.

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.

Cocoa Krispies Goodbye Kisses: What Love Looks Like Sometimes

Yesterday morning, Stanton said he was heading out. “Have a great day, girls,” he told our daughters.

Anna, in the midst of eating her breakfast, jumped off her seat. “Love you, Daddy!” She wrapped her arms around his legs, and started to kiss him.

“Whoa, careful there,” Stanton said. He grabbed a napkin and wiped some Cocoa Krispies off of the sweet child’s mouth. At which point Anna delivered her kiss to his navy dress pants.

The moment struck me. This is what love can look like, I thought: a Cocoa Krispies kiss goodbye. Heartfelt, off the cuff, a little messy but worthwhile—love, in a nutshell.

Soon after Stanton left, I brought the girls to soccer camp. It was Anna’s first time at a camp, and I was a little worried. “I could stay and do camp with you,” I said.

“Mom,” Grace hissed. “That would be so embarrassing for Anna and me. Plus, you don’t have shin guards.”

It was true: I didn’t have shin guards.

Anna cupped my face in her hands. “I love you, Mama, but will you please go?”

The irony was not lost on me, friends. Love, also, is letting go.

Heartfelt, off the cuff, a little messy but worthwhile—love, in a nutshell.

Eventually, I did go. I came back too, of course, and when I did, I loved hearing the girls’ stories from their time at soccer camp. There were Popsicle breaks (lots of them) and nice coaches and lots of fun, overall.

“I can’t believe how much I missed you both,” I said. I had grown so accustomed to having them around this summer. I asked if they had missed me too.

“Not at all,” Grace said.

“Just a little,” Anna reported.

I was happy, truly, that my daughters had had a wonderful time without me. Because I want them to be healthy, confident and emotionally strong. I wouldn’t mind if my older daughter missed me somewhat, but… 😉

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There’s so much to love about summer. Dining alfresco. Weekend trips to catch up with family and friends. Catching fireflies in mason jars.

And if you have kids, you also need to figure out how to keep everyone occupied for the several months that school’s out. Camp, child care, to grandmother’s house they go—every family engineers what works for them.

I’m grateful my work schedule can be flexible; the girls and I have been together a lot lately. And it’s been…well, crazy/beautiful.

One morning this past week, I was trying to finish a writing project. I was at my laptop in the kitchen, and the girls were playing on the back porch. Then I heard a crash, followed by Grace’s voice: “Don’t tell Mom.”

Generally not a good sign.

I had my own cringe-worthy quotable moment a few days later. The girls and I were at a playground with friends. Anna needed to use the port-a-potty, which she did. Then she didn’t want to leave the port-a-potty.

“Anna, come on,” I said. “Go play outside, or…I’ll eat all the Doritos.”

If my friend happens to read this, then she can attest that this is a true story, and a direct quote. Not that I’m proud of either of those things. But we had Doritos (a guilty pleasure) at home, and Anna knew I was capable of some serious damage.

(I wish I craved things like roasted fava beans or seaweed salad, which I do find delicious, but no, in moments of end-of-day tiredness…pass me the heavily processed nacho-cheese-flavored tortilla chips with the long list of ingredients on the label, MSG, Red 40 and all. Pass ’em on down, friends.)

Anyway…my threat worked. Anna got out of the port-a-potty, and I didn’t eat all the Doritos. Win-win.

…”Don’t tell Mom.” Generally not a good sign.

Anna’s still young, and a challenge can be that I’m still involved with many of her physiological functions. Accompanying her to the restroom. Applying sunscreen and bug spray. Answering the question, “Is this the right foot?” every time she reaches for her shoes. I don’t mind these things, but I feel I’m responsible for an additional body besides my own.

Again, not the most quixotic thesis on “what love is”…but love nevertheless: port-a-potties, OFF! and shoes.

As I drove the girls to soccer camp this morning, I told them about this post I was writing. “I started it last night,” I said. I had a few Doritos too, but I left that part out (poetic license, you know).

Grace asked me what the title of the post was, and I told her. I glanced in the rear-view mirror, and she was smiling. I smiled back.

The stuff that life’s made of happens in all these little moments, I think. And the biggest, grandest gestures may not be able to make up for missteps, or what we missed.

This is why I try to be patient as I carry Anna, dripping wet, to the restroom fifteen minutes after we got into the pool. And why I read one extra chapter to Grace before bedtime, and take the girls back to the library to see the newly hatched chicks even though we were just there the day before.

I’m not always patient, and I don’t read an extra chapter every night. But I try. Because I sense these things matter.

These things, and Cocoa Krispies kisses goodbye.

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.

28 Quarters in a Ziploc Bag: A Laundromat Story

A sign next to the front door offered a welcome, of sorts: “Use machines at your own risk.” Lines of washers and dryers (front-load, high-efficiency and large-capacity) wrapped around the rectangular space. The voices of Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain filtered through the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh and whirrr-whirrr of the appliances. The sole TV hung overhead, in a corner and turned to “The View.” I don’t watch daytime TV—this isn’t a judgment, just a fact—and I had to Google those names together, “Whoopi Goldberg Meghan McCain,” to confirm exactly which show was on (I’m slightly embarrassed, but only slightly, at my lack of morning-talk-show trivia). 

That day, a late-fall morning, I was at a laundromat, for the first time in a very long time. It’s been a random, persistent convenience in my life that all the spaces I’ve called home have come equipped with a washer and dryer. My parents’ house, where I grew up. The house I rented with a friend, after college. The five addresses my husband and I have shared during our 11 years of marriage, from rental apartments to family homes we’ve owned—every one of them had a washer and dryer. 

I set my pink plastic laundry basket on the white-tiled floor. Overflowing from the basket was a comforter, very much in need of a clean. Which is why I was there, to wash my big comforter in a large-capacity washer. 

I made a fist around the Ziploc bag of quarters in my bag, making sure it was there. The metal on metal clinked and clanked. I had no idea how much it would cost to wash my comforter, how many quarters I would need, and I did something earlier that morning I’m not proud of: I shook some extra coins out of my younger daughter‘s piggy bank, just in case. 

My older daughter noticed, of course, saw me mid-shake. “Mom, what are you doing? Stealing from Anna?” 

“No, no…” 

It had been that kind of morning, already, and it was not even 10 o’clock.

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Clutching the bag of quarters, I peered at the pair of large-capacity washers. Another woman, about my age with similar shoulder-length brown hair, was using both of them. I wondered if there was some sort of laundromat etiquette. I wasn’t sure, so I asked the woman, “Would it be OK if I used one of these when you’re done with it?” 

She nodded yes, then added, “This one has twenty minutes left on it.” The little girl who was with her smiled at me.  

I smiled back, then thanked the woman. “I’ll be waiting over there.” I gestured to a row of chairs under a window, across from the TV, on which Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain now seemed to be exchanging heated words.  

She nodded again, and I retreated to a chair, with my comforter and quarters. 

Besides myself, the woman and her daughter, a few other folks drifted in and out of the laundromat. Two youngish men, in their early twenties. One of them wore a scarf that looked to be more for style than function; they were both hipster types. And then several older women, grandmother types, and one old man. After loading their laundry, the young men passed the time by fiddling with their phones, while the septuagenarians chatted with one another. 

What type might I be, I wondered? “Clueless, But Has Quarters”? Maybe…probably. 

I had brought a book to read, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” a creative nonfiction writing guide. Because when both girls are in school, as they were then, that time is (supposed to be) my writing time. Like many maternally disposed writers before me, though—and all moms in general—“my” time sometimes becomes “theirs.” The grocery store, post office, laundromat. When I find myself running errands for our family, I try to tuck in some writing-related work too. 

Thus, my book about writing. 

I wondered if there was some sort of laundromat etiquette.

When the woman gestured to me that her load had finished in the washer I was waiting on, I headed over, lugging my comforter. I fished the bag of quarters out of my bag. I gazed at the machine. Lots of dials. Lots of options for settings. Aaahh…what do I do? 

“I’m super sorry,” I interrupted the woman again, “but how does this work? Could you help me?”  

She helped me.  

I had 28 quarters in my Ziploc bag, and I inserted every last one of them into the coin slot. Clink, clink, clink. In case you didn’t know, as I didn’t, it costs $7 for one load in a large-capacity washer—at least, it does at that laundromat. More money than I’d thought it would be. 

“Now press that button,” the woman said, pointing to one of many buttons on the machine.  

I pressed that button, and the machine turned on and began washing my comforter. “Thank you so much.”  

The little girl beamed, clearly proud of her mom. 

I had 28 quarters in my Ziploc bag, and I inserted every last one of them into the coin slot…More money than I’d thought it would be.

Unlike me, my sister has lived in apartments in cities for years: Sunnyside, Queens, and now downtown Philadelphia. She’s used laundromats for years too. When I told her about this post I was working on, she said, “I hope the point of your story isn’t that people in laundromats are nice because of course they are.”           

“No, that’s not the point,” I replied.  

Although everyone had been nice. After my comforter was clean, I stuffed it back into my laundry basket. I didn’t have time to dry it because I had to pick up Anna from preschool. (Besides, I was all out of quarters.) The comforter was wet and heavy in the basket. As I was struggling toward the front door, one of the older women walked over and held it open for me. I so appreciated her kindness. 

But what was the point? I kept thinking about why that morning at that laundromat had resonated with me.  

The point is…sometimes I have no clue how convenient my life is. How easy things are, relatively. How much I take for granted—so many things, and the littlest things.  

Since that morning, I’ve been noticing laundromats more. Some have clever names, like Missing Sock and Dirty Harry’s. Others have signs that simply announce, “Laundromat,” as mine did. 

Weeks later, I was flipping through my book, the writing guide. A crumpled Ziploc bag floated out—the bag from the laundromat, the bag with my quarters. I had repurposed it as a bookmark and forgotten about it.  

I skimmed the bookmarked page. The author, Lee Gutkind, writes about the richness of experiences, which offer writers “more material, more reference points, more ideas” (page 237) for their work. I bookmarked that page because I agree.  

You can only learn so much from a book or sound bite. You have to have experiences.  

Even ordinary ones, because they offer insights 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.