You Made It Home Just in Time

Friday, about 5 p.m. I spooned freshly pan-fried slices of chicken, still hot, into plastic, pink dishes for Grace and Anna. I added another spoonful, this time of four-cheese macaroni and cheese, into each dish.

“Girls!” I called. “Dinner’s ready!”

The girls burst into the kitchen, and I ushered them into the breakfast nook to eat. From the basement, I heard the dryer beeeeep. Before I could run downstairs to grab our clean clothes, the front door creaked open.

“Dad!” Anna said, in between a mouthful of mac and cheese.

Grace ran to greet him. “You made it home just in time!”

Stanton hugged her. “Just in time for what?”

“Food!”

“And it’s good!” Anna yelled.

Beeeeep.

“Figure out what you’d like to eat”—my greeting to Stanton. “We’re almost ready to go.”

My maternal grandmother had just turned 90, and that weekend, my three siblings and I were gathering at my parents’ house to celebrate this milestone birthday. Stanton, the girls and I would make the drive that evening, about a three-hour trip south from our home. A manageable excursion, although traveling with kids is never easy, per se.

“Can we get McFlurrys before we go?”

“Honey, you and Anna just had ice cream.”

“Mommy, can I have more ice cream?”

“Mom! Anna just spilled her water, again!”

“Stanton! Where did you go?”

Traveling with kids. (And we were still in the house at this point.)

About an hour later, the four of us were on the road to my Pennsylvania hometown. The drive through the Hudson Valley and Catskills is panoramically beautiful; we watched the sun set, softening from orange to yellow, near the New York/Pennsylvania border. In between the girls’ eventual snoring in the backseat and Ed Sheeran’s bring-you-to-your-knees voice on the radio (“And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70”), the thought that runs through all moms’ heads mid-road trip ran through mine: Did I forget anything important?

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The next morning, Saturday, Stanton and I went for a rare walk together while my parents, brothers and sister entertained the girls. We took a route of back roads that my childhood best friend and I called “the monster walk” years ago.

“This is the monster walk?” Stanton asked, holding my hand as we trekked down a hill. (Kate, if you’re reading this, we were on Church Street at the time.)

“This is it,” I said.

Later, back in my parents’ kitchen, I told my family that I wanted to write a blog post (this is that post, friends) based on Grace’s quote from the evening before. “I love the idea of making it home just in time,” I said. Then someone said something witty, and I noted that that quote would make for a good post too.

My sister raised her eyebrows. “You’re just sitting here, waiting around for us to say something to inspire you.”

“That’s not…completely true,” I told Jenna.

Jenna and I began looking through a box of our Grandma’s mementos, which our mom had brought out of storage. Grandma had saved a drawing of a teddy bear I made for her when I was 6 or 7. “Awww.”

Jenna showed me some old family photos. We both agreed I had had some awkward years. I texted snapshots of some of the photos to family who weren’t able to be with us that weekend; we all shared some laughs (or, more accurately, LOL’s and smiley-face emojis).

Despite some cringe-worthy blasts from the past, I really appreciated having someone to share these memories with. I hoped, not for the first time, that my own daughters would stay close all their lives too.

On the subject of memories, my siblings and I had each come up with five memories of Grandma, that Josh typed up and then collected into a keepsake box—a “memory box” of sorts for our grandmother. One of Josh’s memories made us smile: When we were little, on half days from school, Grandma would pick all of us up (our parents would be working) and take us to Burger King for lunch. And every time, on our way out, Grandma would say, “Refill your cup before you go.” I’m not sure if Burger King still offers free refills (I haven’t been there since those half days from school with Grandma), but “Refill your cup before you go” isn’t bad advice, would you agree? 🙂

Jared remembered needing a ride to his after-school job at the Y. He was running late, and he called Grandma. “You got me there in 5 minutes,” he wrote for the memory box—and it should have been more than a 5-minute drive. (Grandma had a bit of a lead foot, back in her driving days.)

Despite some cringe-worthy blasts from the past, I really appreciated having someone to share these memories with.

Jenna had a sweet memory of coffee breaks with Grandma, going up to Grandma’s house (she lived just one block from us) for regular afternoon caffeine fixes and chitchat.

I remembered calling Grandma to tell her I was expecting Grace, and she would be a great-grandmother. Then I said, over the phone line from San Antonio to Northeastern Pennsylvania at the time, “Thank you for everything you did for Josh, Jared, Jenna and me,” to which Grandma replied, “You kids were my life.”

I remember that phone call, that conversation, where I was that day, and that was exactly what my grandmother said: “You kids were my life.”

When I was growing up, my family went to a local Italian restaurant, Perugino’s, for special occasions. We did not branch out; we went there all the time. Stanton’s parents also hosted our wedding rehearsal dinner there, which I may have shared here before. Perugino’s is very special to my family. Thus, we had to have Perugino’s for Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration.

We did not branch out; we went there all the time.

We got takeout this time—easier to eat at home. My mom ordered our old favorite, Chicken a la Andy, along with manicotti and pasta e fagioli. (Side note: If you go through life without trying Perugino’s Chicken a la Andy at least once, then I’m sorry to say, you have missed out just a bit, friends. 😉 )

Finally, we all sat down—my parents, my three siblings, Stanton, the girls, myself, and the guest of honor, my Grandma. My dad said grace, and then he and my brothers encouraged Grandma to say something. “Speech, speech!”

Grandma looked up from her spot next to Jenna. She has thin, gray hair now, and soft, wrinkled skin. She looked around. She isn’t used to being the center of attention, at least not these days. But she smiled and said, “It’s great to see everyone, and I’m happy to be here.”

Her words touched my heart.

My grandmother grew up humbly, the daughter of Southern Italian immigrants. Her life isn’t my story to tell, and I want to respect her privacy. But I will share that, like all of us, she had moments of sorrow and struggle, as well as those of joy.

So for her to say, very simply, that she was “happy to be here”—that was beautiful to hear.

What Grandma said also made me think about the journey we all travel. Life.

“It’s great to see everyone, and I’m happy to be here.”

The truth is, many of us (most of us?) will live fairly ordinary lives. When we reach age 90, if we’re lucky enough to do so, whatever big box of mementos we have probably will hold keepsakes of fairly ordinary moments: family dinners, high school and college reunions, weekend soccer and softball games, summer vacations at the beach, the occasional red-carpet night out memorialized with a tattered ticket stub. We won’t actually have walked that many red carpets ourselves.

And as the recent sad news about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain has showed us, even years of red-carpet walks doesn’t promise contentment or fulfillment. (For those who may need it, the number for the national lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.)

Rod Stewart, himself a living rock legend, noted, “You go through life wondering what it’s all about, and at the end of the day, it’s all about family.”

There’s a lot of beauty in living a fairly ordinary life, I think.

In looking around a table when you’re 90, seeing people you love and lived for, and being happy to be there.

In having a big box of tattered ticket stubs, old family photos and drawings your grandchildren made you—in finding joy and meaning in those seemingly simple things.

In taking a walk, watching a sunset, walking in a front door and getting a hero’s welcome home.

You made it.

You made it home.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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The Secret Lives of Moms

Many a weekday morning when Stanton is out of town for work, I let the girls watch an episode of “Sofia the First” or “The Cat in the Hat” so that I can take a shower in peace.

Several times, when I haven’t used the “TV as babysitter” tactic, Anna has wandered into the bathroom and broached less-than-ideal early-morning conversation topics. For example… “Mom, your belly is so big and cozy.” And, “Mom, why is there hair on your legs? YUCK, Mom!”

Nothing like this kind of 3-year-old commentary to make me want to crawl back under the covers.

Grace also has been known to poke her head into the bathroom with an urgent question, as water is streaming down my body. “Mom, can you please find my headband with the pink bow? I need my headband with the pink bow, now. Please.”

“Girls. Girls.” I quickly rinse the conditioner out of my hair. “You’re only supposed to come in here if it’s really important, remember? Really important, or an emergency.”

Grace sighs. “Mom, my hair looks crazy! I need my headband, right now. The one with the pink bow,” she adds.

I turn off the water. “Is it possible…could you both possibly give me some privacy? For one minute?”

By this point, Anna has made herself comfortable on the tile floor, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or a 500-page, hours-of-fun sticker book in hand. “It’s fine, Mom,” she says, shrugging her little shoulders. “We don’t mind.”

My turn to sigh.

So yes…thank goodness for Netflix.

“Mom, my hair looks crazy! I need my headband, right now.”

The other morning, I clicked on Netflix. The girls were settled on the couch, patiently waiting for one of their favorite shows. On our Netflix, we have three profiles: Stanton, Melissa, and Grace and Anna. That morning, when I arrived at the screen of profiles, the “Melissa” one was highlighted.

The girls…went…crazy.

“Melissa! Melissa!” Grace noticed.

“Mom…is…Melissa!” Anna chimed in.

“YOU WERE WATCHING TV!” they yelled, pointing at me with big eyes and laughing, as if they had just discovered the world’s best secret.

I had to laugh too. Then I said, “Yes, it’s true, girls. Sometimes, after you go to sleep, I watch TV.”

They began laughing hysterically again. “Mom watches TV! Mom watches TV!”

God forbid I catch up on “House of Cards” or “Longmire” when I have a moment to myself, right?

Grace raised an eyebrow at me. “What else do you do after Anna and I go to sleep?”

I raised my eyebrow back at her.

The secret lives of moms.

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Our children know us so well, but we also keep things from them. I have some secrets, which are probably similar to yours.

I watch TV most nights, when I could be doing something productive instead. (If I never finish my great American novel, I have no one to blame but myself!)

When I’m couch-potato-ing, I usually have dark chocolate as my accompanying snack. But sometimes, sometimes, I give in to my true love: Cheetos.

I know you’re not supposed to eat “food” that ends in an “O” (Cheetos, Doritos, Ho-Hos…the list goes on)…but I’m a sucker for Cheetos.

My daughters know I strive for all four of us to eat healthfully…and they also know I love Cheetos. When we go grocery shopping together, I say, “Remember, girls, don’t let me buy…”

“Cheetos!” they yell.

“Yes!” I reply. “Mom does not need Cheetos.” (Gotta do something about that big and cozy belly.)

But sometimes, sometimes, I give in to my true love: Cheetos.

On a recent grocery-shopping trip, I maneuvered the cart down the “Chips” aisle to get Tostitos for Stanton. Super Bowl Sunday was coming up; he would need Tostitos. I grabbed a bag. (Original, not multigrain, of course. Why is multigrain Tostitos even an option?!)

Then I saw, out of the corner of my eye, on the bottom shelf…Cheetos.

Mmm…I could almost taste the cheesy, crunchy goodness.

While Grace and Anna were debating what they should be for Halloween nearly nine months from now, I snuck a bag of Cheetos into the cart. A little treat for me, for later.

The three of us got into a checkout aisle. That’s when Grace noticed the Cheetos. She looked at me with wide eyes, and an accusatory expression. “Mom…!”

“I know, I know,” I said. “Let’s not make a big deal about this.” I didn’t want Anna to notice too.

But of course… “Hey! Hey, MOM!” Anna pointed to the bright-orange bag.

“Anna, guess what.” Grace leaned across the front of the cart, where Anna was sitting. “Mom got Cheetos.”

“Cheetos?!” The forbidden fruit. Anna craned her body around and grabbed for the bag. “I want Cheetos! I want them, Mom!”

Great.

I tossed the Cheetos onto the checkout counter. “Anna, Cheetos aren’t healthy,” I said, shaking my head at her. “They’re junk food. Yuck!”

Anna shook her head back at me. “I love junk food! I want some junk food, Mom!”

Some of the people around us laughed. Others just looked at me. Just…great.

I exchanged a glance with Grace, who simply sighed and said, “Mom.”

Mom, you shouldn’t have gotten the Cheetos.

“I love junk food! I want some junk food, Mom!”

One last story, friends.

As you know, Anna often ends up sleeping in our bed. When Stanton is traveling, I usually just tuck her into our bed, rather than her own bed, so that I don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. (it’s always 3 a.m., like clockwork) to run into her room and then snuggle her back to sleep alongside myself. When Stanton is home, though, I do tuck Anna into her own bed so that he and I have some time together before her tiny body takes up a huge amount of space in our bed.

On one such morning, Anna woke up. Stretched her little arms. Rolled over and saw Stanton. “Dad,” she grumbled. (Like her mom, she’s not a morning person.)

“Dad!” Anna said again, pushing at him. “Dad, what are you doing here?”

I looked over. “Anna,” I hissed. “Dad’s still sleeping.”

Anna flung herself back my way. “Why is he here?” she asked again.

Why indeed, friends. Why indeed.

It very well may be impossible for our children to imagine that we, as moms, have moments in our lives that don’t involve them.

And you know, I’m guilty of this too, with my own mom. I called my mom on her cell phone once. She didn’t answer. I called my family’s landline phone. No answer again.

I remember being irrationally annoyed. Where was my mom when I needed her? What could she possibly be doing that she couldn’t drop that minute to answer my phone call?

(Do we ever grow up, friends?)

For many of us, I think we simply like to know, on a very basic level, that our moms are there. Are there for us. In an American culture where so many of us strive to stand out in the crowd, we like to know that there’s still one person who, no matter what, thinks the world of us.

Who will pick up the second we call. Who will stop showering, that second, to find our headband (the one with the pink bow), simply because our hair, currently, looks crazy.

For many of us, that person answers to “Mom.” For others of us, it’s “Dad,” or “Grandpa,” or the name of a good friend.

For my daughters, I’m that person. I love being that person to them.

But every now and then…I just want to binge-watch my favorite shows alone, in bed, with a serving size (or two) of Cheetos close at hand.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

To Think You Might Have Missed This

Saturday morning is, arguably, many people’s favorite time of the week. It’s mine, for sure. Maybe yours too.

During the week, Stanton usually travels two or three days for work. In general, every Monday through Friday is a mad dash of school drop-off and pick-up, thrown-together meals and deadline-driven notes to self (“New tires, CR-V!” “Literary magazine submission!” “DENTIST!!!”).

Saturday morning, though…we’re all together. The girls still get up at the same time (they have yet to discover the pure joy of sleeping in), but the pace is relaxed, not mad-dash.

On a recent Saturday morning, Stanton got up with the girls and began getting their breakfast ready. The scent of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee soon lulled me into the kitchen too. Within a few minutes, the four of us were sitting together around the table in the breakfast nook.

Grace finished eating her waffle and asked for another one. I rose and toasted another round of frozen waffles. “More syrup, please!” Anna called.

“And butter, please!” Grace added.

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they? I brought the girls’ requests to the table. Grace opened a board book, then frowned. “Anna must have been looking at this,” she said, wiping her hands on her pajamas.

“Is it sticky?” I guessed.

Grace raised her eyebrows me. “It’s really sticky.”

Stanton and I met each other’s gaze and smiled. Yes, that sounded like Anna.

“My favorite story!” Anna pointed to the book. As she did, she knocked over some of Stanton’s coffee.

“Be careful, honey,” I said. Stanton wiped up the spill.

Anna smiled and shrugged. “It happens, Mom.”

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they?

Grace sighed. I’m a big sister, too, and I could guess what Grace was thinking about her younger sibling: Trouble. I love both my daughters so much; they each make me smile in their own ways.

“To think,” I joked to Stanton, “you might have missed this.” The spill, the stickiness, the general messiness—but a wonderful messiness—of a family’s Saturday morning.

The day before, Stanton had been out of town, a work trip. I had encouraged him to stay the night where he was and drive back, refreshed, in the morning. But he wanted to be here with us in the morning, he said.

“I would have missed it,” Stanton said, finishing wiping up Anna’s spill.

I loved him for saying that—for meaning it.

When you think about the people you love, and why you appreciate them, that’s the reason, often—the clichéd “because they’re there for you.” There for you. They do everything they can not to miss things, from big things to little things (like too much Saturday-morning syrup).

*

There have been some things I’ve missed. Not with my children so much, but with my siblings because of my children. Sometimes child-care logistics have encumbered my “being there” for my two brothers and sister. Luckily, my siblings have (usually) understood. The four of us are stuck with one another for life, so we’ll always, somehow, figure things out.

Later this week, I’m taking a bus into New York City to spend the day with my sister. “Do you want to see a show? Go to a museum?” Jenna asked me, when we began making our plans.

“Do you not know me at all?” I said; my sister laughed. “No, let’s take a walk, eat at cool little cafés and talk about Party of Five.” (Jenna and I have been rediscovering and analyzing the wonderful, underrated ‘90s drama through Netflix reruns.)

“Perfect,” Jenna said.

Little things.

*

I bought a new picture frame, with slots for four 4×6’s. I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, trying to find four good ones for this frame. A lot of the pictures made me smile. And a lot of them brought up happy memories from the past few months. Grace’s soccer games, Anna’s first day of preschool, Halloween.

The four pictures I chose for the frame, though, portrayed ordinary moments. Time with family and friends. Mainly candid shots.

The picture for Slot No. 4 shows Anna jumping into a pile of leaves I’d just raked—her smile big, her hair flipping up behind her. Grace had already jumped into the leaves, and in the picture, she’s smiling at Anna. Despite my amateur photography skills, I took the picture at the exact right moment to capture Anna’s delight, and Grace’s love for her sister.

I captured that memory, not a moment too soon.

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In reflecting on that memory—in looking at that picture—I have the same hope that my mom probably had for my brothers, sister and me: I hope they’ll be good to each other. I hope they’ll be in each other’s lives for a long time.

I hope they’ll be friends.

*

The holidays are approaching, quickly. For a lot of us, that means reunions and get-togethers with family and friends. Planning, travel, gifts.

Anything out of our routine can cause some stress. We’re creatures of habit; we excel in the “everyday,” while special occasions can throw us off.

I can feel some stress during this time of the year. Maybe you do too. If you do, maybe this will help; at least, it’s helped me.

I take a deep breath. I remember Thanksgivings and Christmases from the past, all those happy memories. And I remember they’re worth it—the memories, and the moments as they were happening, were worth the effort of being there for them.

I want to be there for them.

*

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” (Dr. Seuss).

It’s really sticky.

I want to be there.

Perfect.

I love you.

Yes.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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.