Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.
The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.
Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.
After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”
I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”
“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”
This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.
“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.
Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.
I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.
Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.
But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.
We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.
Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.
…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.
Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉
Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”
Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”
Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.
I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.
Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”
“Impossible,” I confirmed.
I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.
“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”
Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.
Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.
“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”
“What?” my daughters asked.
Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”
“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.
Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.
Anna chimed in that that was true.
Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.
Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.
If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.
It was a great time.
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.