Thank You for Continuing to Hold

The water streaming out of the faucet whooshed as I washed a cutting board, then a fry pan, in the sink. Sitting nearby on a stool, Grace tapped her fingers against the kitchen countertop. Through the open window above the countertop, an afternoon breeze drifted in.

Every couple of minutes, a robotic female voice interspersed these sounds of water, rhythm and wind to say, “Thank you for continuing to hold. All of our agents are still assisting other callers. Please remain on the line, and your call will be answered in the order it was received.”

Two hours earlier, I had called Gap Customer Service. After the first few minutes on hold, I set my phone down, on speaker, while I put away laundry, played outside with the girls and now washed dishes back inside.

“Mom,” Grace groaned as I reached for the ice cream scoop, “that is so annoying.”

I shrugged. At this point, the automated message had become background noise.

“And,” Grace added, “I don’t think anyone is ever going to answer.”

If you call Customer Service, someone has to answer, eventually…right?

“No, I don’t think anyone will,” Grace said.

Huh. The eternal optimist in me paused for a moment of doubt.

…someone has to answer, eventually…right?

A month ago, I ordered some things for the girls: swimsuits, socks and face masks. The most important things were the face masks. And the only things that hadn’t yet arrived from the order were, yes, the face masks.

Two hours (and a few minutes) previously, I had checked the online tracking for the last remaining package, the face masks. The tracking noted “Shipment Acceptance at Post Office” in our town on July 7. Now it was July 15, Wednesday. The post office is 1 mile from our house. Where was the package?

I called the post office. A gentleman named Jack answered. I explained the situation, read off the tracking number. Over the phone, I heard Jack typing.

“Uh-huh,” he finally said, “the package was here. But it fell off the pallet, probably.”

“So is it, like, there on the floor?” I wondered. “Could you look for it?”

Jack laughed. “No, it’s not here anymore.”

“OK, ha, ha,” I said, trying to laugh too, “where could it be, then?”

Jack recommended I call Gap, which I did…two hours ago.

“Mom,” Grace said again, “just hang up. You’ve been waiting forever.”

Two hours in, though, friends, I was committed. I was committed to this call. Idris Elba himself could have been trying to reach me, and I would have clicked “Decline” just to keep my open line to Gap Customer Service.

(Next time, Idris.)

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There is, however, a fine line between committed and crazy. With my phone registering 2:07:14 for length of the call, I…hung…up.

“Anna and I already have face masks,” Grace said, trying to reassure me.

But it would be helpful to have backup pairs, right?

During the past four months, I’ve bought things I never thought about before—hello, face masks!—and done things equally out of the ordinary for myself. For example…gardening.

We have a flower bed in our front yard. In early summer, Stanton and the girls planted flowers here. It was a dad-and-daughters project.

First, Stanton went to Lowe’s and bought seeds and seedling starter trays. He and the girls planted the seeds in the trays, watered them regularly. They even transplanted them into egg cartons for reasons I didn’t pay attention to—a tip they’d read somewhere.

At last, The Three Musketeers transferred the meticulously-cared-for, starting-to-sprout flowers into the flower bed…and watered, but never weeded, them.

This past weekend, I realized how wild the flower bed looked. I also thought about how lovely many of our neighbors’ gardens’ looked. Thus, in a moment of Keeping Up With the Joneses Syndrome, I bent down and tore out bunches of weeds. The flower bed still looked wild, but less so.

The next few evenings, I returned to our front flower bed, gardening gloves on, and continued to pull out weeds. As of last night, you could see almost all the dirt in the flower bed. No longer was it one horizontal plot of alternating shades of green—stems and weeds.

I enjoyed the peace that weeding the garden provided, and seeing the result of my work, but long term, I’m probably not going to be much of a gardener. Also long term, I’ll encourage Stanton and the girls to do their own weeding. 😉

But I did totally appreciate the opportunity to try gardening. I can understand why people love it. Working with the earth; dirt, seed and water; creating something beautiful.

It’s a beautiful thing to hold something in your hand, nurture it, watch it grow.

There is, however, a fine line between committed and crazy.

The pandemic has compelled lots of handiwork that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Gardening, for one. DIY home-improvement projects.

(On that subject, let me just say I am officially done rearranging furniture in my house. I simply don’t have it in me to move one more bookshelf from one side of the room to the other in the name of optimal feng shui.)

Puzzles. I have jumped on the puzzles bandwagon, friends.

In the past few months, Stanton, the girls and I finished a 1,000-piece doughnuts puzzle; 500-piece three-toed sloth puzzle (the girls chose this one—thank you, National Geographic); 100-piece butterflies and Dog Man puzzles (also the girls); and 500-piece Nancy Drew Mystery Stories puzzle (my pick!). Currently, we have a 500-piece “Crazy Quilts” puzzle that’s nearing the finish line on our dining room table, plus a 200-piece “Frozen” puzzle that Anna just started.

Never before in my life have I spent this much discretionary income on puzzles.

Cooking and baking. My Facebook News Feed is full of pictures of friends’ and family members’ latest stovetop, oven and grill creations, as well as backyard summer harvest successes. Everything looks fantastic…and makes me feel a little sorry for my own family.

Since March 13, I have not made one new recipe. We’ve just been eating the same old same old. The cooking and baking bug simply didn’t bite this girl.

One new food thing I did is start buying these Hatfield pork loin filets. We like the Savory Brown Sugar and Texas Smokehouse BBQ flavors.

Sewing projects. And the most popular DIY sewing projects? Mm-hmm, I’d guess face masks too.

So, about my face masks…

The pandemic has compelled lots of handiwork that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Yesterday morning, I called Gap Customer Service again. Again, I was on hold. And again, I set my phone down on speaker while I made breakfast, drank multiple cups of coffee, cleaned up breakfast.

“Thank you for continuing to hold…”

About 40 minutes into the call, a human voice—a real person—broke through the automated messaging. “Hi, this is Kiana, how can I help you?”

I grabbed my phone. “Hello, hello, yes, thank you so much!” A real person!

“Yes, how can I help you?” Kiana repeated.

I explained about my order, the last remaining package and Jack’s guess that “it fell off the pallet.” “Do you have any idea where it might be?”

On the other end of the line, Kiana figured out, in approximately 30 seconds, that the package was en route. “You’ll get it in the next day or two.”

“OK, now I just want to make sure—because I’ve been on hold a lot, and I understand it’s a crazy time, no worries, but since I have you on the line—you’re telling me my package will be here, for sure, sometime soon?”

“Yes, it’s on the way,” Kiana assured me.

I breathed a sigh of…I really think it was joy, friends. Joy not because the girls’ face masks were actually coming, but because I was no longer on hold.

I thanked Kiana, and we hung up. I told the girls about the call.

“Wow,” Grace said. “Gap answered the phone.”

Two tries and a total of nearly two hours and 50 minutes later…yes, yes, they did. They answered the phone.

As the day went on, I thought about the many acts of holding. Being on hold, whether with a customer service call or the current situation worldwide. Holding out hope, holding down the fort, holding it together.

Life happens in the holding, I realized.

When we’re young, we learn to hold hands—our parents’, our siblings’, our friends’. “Hold hands and stick together,” we hear. We get our first bike, and we hold on. Then we go out into the world—college, work, whatever—and we do our best to hold our own.

When we’re old, or maybe not old but not well, and unable to do all the things we usually do…we can still hold the hands of the ones we love, the ones who have always been there.

Whether it’s exciting or boring or once-in-a-lifetime beautiful…life happens in the holding.

Thank you for continuing to hold.

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.

Birthday Party: A Short Story

The rain drip-dropped on the windshield, slow but relentless. Inside the Corolla, in the passenger seat, Alex slurped the last of her latte.

Behind the wheel, Caroline smiled. “Nice milk mustache you’ve got there.”

“I do?”

Mm-hmm.” Caroline rummaged through the center console, found a napkin. She held it out to Alex.

Alex folded her own hand over Caroline’s. Looked at her. Gently, Caroline pulled her hand back. The napkin fluttered back onto the console, between them. Alex rubbed at the milk mustache she couldn’t see, but was there.

“Alex…I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Fine.” Alex kept rubbing. The skin above her lip started to hurt.

Caroline folded her hands together on her seersucker skirt. “I’m sorry.”

“I said it’s fine.” Alex began tapping the empty Styrofoam cup against her leg.

“I’m still figuring things out…you said you are too…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Tap, tap, tap. “Just forget it.”

Caroline took the cup. “Let’s talk, OK? We always have good conversations. Come on.”

Alex thrust open the door. She didn’t have an umbrella, or a hood. The spray of rain on her face was cold, but felt good.

“Alex!”

“I have to go. My sister’s birthday party, I told you.”

“I know, I’ll drive you.” Caroline leaned over, and bumped the Lot A Student Parking Permit hanging from the rearview mirror. The plastic tag seesawed in rhythm with the rain.

In response, Alex slammed the door shut. She strode to the gazebo near the parking lot. Its weathered pine wood held years’ worth of lovers’ histories, pairs of initials carved into nearly every surface.

Alex blinked.

She fished out her phone, thumbed the Uber app. She kept her head bowed, but still saw when Caroline finally drove away.

She sniffled, wiped her nose on the back of her denim jacket. Drip-drop, drip-drip. The rain didn’t let up.

About half an hour later, Alex trudged toward the stoop of her parents’ house. Her mother had taped a neon-pink poster board announcing, “Happy Birthday, Maggie!” to the front door, as if her sister were celebrating her first birthday instead of thirty-first. There was glitter.

Alex hated glitter.

She walked inside, and tripped over a pile of wet shoes. Alex kicked off her own, adding the checkerboard-printed Vans to the pile.

“Hey, honey, we’ve been worried about you.”

Robert MacDonald joined her in the foyer. He wore a cone hat the same shade of neon pink as the front-door sign. It clashed with his striped sweater vest.

For the record, I’m not putting one of those hats on.

Robert shook his head. “I was by the campus, I could have picked you up. I called you, even texted you…”

“I was in a meeting. My writing tutor.” Alex cleared her throat. “I took an Uber over.”

“Your mother and I don’t think those are safe.”

“Well, if you would let me have my own car on campus…”

Ah, this conversation again.” Maggie joined them, holding a glass of wine.

Alex hugged her. “Happy birthday. Why didn’t you and Mitchell make a reservation somewhere, just the two of you?“

Maggie smiled. “We thought about it, but…you know Mom.”

Yep. “Where’s the booze?”

Robert trailed after them toward the kitchen. “This isn’t some fraternity party, Alex.”

Alex looked at her sister, and they both laughed. “I know, Dad.”

In the kitchen, their mother peered up from behind her oversized tortoise-shell glasses. “Alex, I said six, sharp.” Susan stirred at the wok, hissing on the stovetop.

The sweet-sharp scent of madras curry wafted from the kitchen to the adjoining den. Alex gagged. “Maggie picked Indian?”

Well, she wanted my chicken potpie…”

“My favorite,” Maggie interjected, handing Alex her own glass of wine.

“But,” Susan continued, spooning rice into a bowl, “I saw this recipe in the paper and had to try it.” Hiss. Susan snapped off the burner.

Alex glanced back at Robert, who had settled into his recliner in the den, returning to whatever he was watching on TV—a World War II documentary, it looked like. “You and Dad are the only people on earth who read the paper. Like, the actual paper.”

“Actually, not true, Alex.” Mitchell appeared, along with her brother, Bobby. “My stepfather’s subscribed to The Wall Street Journal for years.”

Alex just looked at him. Mitchell adjusted his cone hat (of course he had put one on), then retreated to the den. Bobby lightly punched her shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“School sucks. I forgot Maggie’s present in my dorm. What about you?”

Bobby drummed his fingers against the island. “Let’s see. Work sucks, and I forgot Mags’s present at my house.”

Maggie rolled her eyes. “You guys didn’t have to get me anything.”

Bobby smirked. “I didn’t. Juno did.”

“And you couldn’t even remember to bring it.” Maggie smirked back. “Impressive.”

Alex tried the wine. It was white, and tasted like water. “Wheres Juno?”

“Oh.” Bobby waved his hand. “Something with work.”

The sisters exchanged a glance. “Juno doesn’t like us,” Alex said. “Just admit it.”

“No, that’s not true…” Bobby cleared his throat, glanced at the documentary in the den. His body language said, Yes.

Susan approached their huddle at the island. She hugged her right arm around Maggie’s back. “I’m glad we’re all together.”

Alex set down her glass.

“Thirty-one years, gosh.” Susan pulled off her glasses and dabbed at her eyes.

Oh, Mom.” Maggie patted her arm.

“I’m sorry to be sentimental, but…” Susan pushed her glasses back on. “You’ll understand, when you have children of your own.”

Maggie paused. “If dinner’s ready, why don’t we eat?”

“Yes, everything’s ready. Robert, turn off the TV!”

The MacDonalds had bought their home three decades ago, an old, classic Cape Cod with all the accompanying character and coziness (or confined spaces, depending on one’s perspective). The two of them, along with their three children and Mitchell, squeezed around the mahogany table in the dining room. Susan had adorned the circular surface with a mason jar of flowers, and splash of neon-pink confetti.

No plates, though.

“Bobby, grab some, will you?” Susan began pointing to the various serving bowls and platters. “Rice. The curried chicken, and you can garnish it with the cilantro and sliced almonds. I heated the naan with olive oil and sea salt…”

Mitchell rubbed his hands together. “Everything looks great, Susan. And this was your first time preparing this dish? Unbelievable.”


“Oh, stop.” But Susan glowed.

Alex picked at a piece of confetti. “Mom.”

“Yes, honey?”

Any Hot Pockets in the freezer?”

Susan ignored her. Bobby returned with an armful of plates, and everyone began reaching for food. Alex filled her plate with rice and almonds.

Mitchell kissed Maggie. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

“Happy birthday, sis,” Bobby chimed in.

Maggie smiled around the table. She wore a sleeveless white lace top, and her long, dark brown hair lay in a loose side ponytail across her left chest. “Thank you, everyone. And thanks for being here.”

Robert smiled back, adjusted the cone hat on his head. “We love you, honey.”

Alex speared some rice.

After dinner, there was cake, and presents—the ones that had been remembered.

“Oh, honey, you shouldn’t have!” Maggie clutched a thick bracelet, its smattering of precious gemstones sparkling in the light. Again, Mitchell kissed her, his cone hat bopping against her forehead. Bobby checked the time on his watch, while Susan oohed and aahed over the bracelet.

Alex slipped to the kitchen. She squatted down and opened the wine refrigerator, in search of a red. Aha, an open Pinot Noir—her lucky night. She poured the rest of the bottle into a neon-pink plastic cup. Took a long sip. Breathed.

Her sister’s sudden appearance in the kitchen startled Alex. Maggie wiped a hand across her face. Her new bracelet kept sparkling.

“Maggie?”

Maggie gasped. “Alex.” Tears had gathered in her eyes, their shine matching that of the bracelet.

“Mags, what’s wrong?”

Maggie cleared her throat. “Nothing.”

Alex set down the cup. “You can tell me…”

No, everything’s fine.” But Maggie was shaking her head. She grabbed the empty wine bottle. “I’ll recycle this; be right back.” She hurried outside, just as their brother entered the kitchen, holding a half-full serving bowl of curried chicken and some plates. Why hadn’t Mom just made the chicken potpie?

“What’s Mags doing?”

Alex paused. “Recycling.”

Bobby unburdened his full hands by the sink. He glanced back at Alex. “I have to take off. Want a ride back?”

Alex nodded. She finished her red wine in a few more gulps.

By the front door, Susan hugged them goodbye. “Tell Juno we missed her,” she told Bobby. “Dad and I will add more money to your debit card,” she added to Alex. Robert waved from the den; the documentary was back on.

Alex sighed, opened the door. “Thanks.” She wasn’t thinking about her debit card, hadn’t even brought it up.

But the rain had stopped.

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Bobby started the car. The radio station was tuned in to a football game; Bobby turned the volume up. They careened through a puddle. Alex’s stomach did a cartwheel; she winced.

After Bobby drove through the campus entrance, he slowed down. “Do you want to go to your dorm, or…?”

“Dorm’s good.” Alex pointed. “That way.”

Bobby maneuvered slowly along a winding road, flanked on both sides by residence halls. Alex’s came into view. She started to gesture, but then gasped. On a pine bench in the front sat Caroline. Her stomach began cartwheeling again. “No, don’t—drive that way, drive away.”

“What?”

“Bobby, please.” Caroline looked their way, and she and Alex made eye contact through the passenger window. “Drive away, that way.”

Bobby kept driving along the winding road, until they were away from her dorm, and away from Caroline. Alex clutched her stomach, exhaled…gagged. “I don’t feel good.”

Huh?”


“I have to throw up.” She opened her door. Bobby was still driving—he ground to a stop, and Alex lurched out, onto a patch of lawn. She leaned over, threw up.
She saw pieces of almonds in the wet grass.

Her throat burned. Alex wiped her hand across her mouth. She glanced around. It was a Friday night, a little after nine o’clock, and hardly anyone was around now. Most people were getting ready to go out, and if anyone had seen her…well, she would just look like the typical dumb college kid who had pregamed too hard and gotten sick.

“Are you OK?”

Bobby was beside her now. Alex cleared her throat. “Yeah, I just didn’t feel good…”

You drink too much, or too fast? Or was it the curry?

She hadn’t had the curry

Bobby was looking at her. “What’s going on?”

“What?”

“What’s wrong, Alex?”

She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jacket. She gazed out into the night, then back at her brother. The way he was looking at her, waiting—she wondered if he already knew, or understood. She had read (online) that sometimes people did.

“Shouldn’t you go home, be with Juno?” she asked instead.

Bobby paused. “Juno and I—things probably aren’t going to work out with us.”

Alex blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“Yeah…” Bobby zipped up his gray fleece jacket. “She’s been staying at her mom’s for a couple months now.” He met her gaze, shrugged, then nodded.

“What happened?”

“Well…I don’t really want to get into it, but…basically, it’s my fault.” Bobby paused, reconsidered. “Mostly my fault.”

“I’m sorry, Bobby.” Alex sidestepped the almond-specked vomit on the lawn to give him a light hug.

He hugged her backtighter than she had hugged him. “It’s OK. It’s going to be OK.”

They let each other go, and Alex looked at him, still wondering but more certain. “Um…have you told anyone else yet? Mom and Dad?”

Bobby smiled slightly. “No, but I have to. Juno told me Mom’s been texting her about a girls’ night out…”


“Ugh, she’s been texting Mags and me about that too.” Alex did not do girls’ night out.

“I’ll tell them soon, and Maggie too.”

“Something’s going on with Maggie.” Alex’s hair blew in the wind. “I tried talking with her about it, but…”

Bobby toed his boot in the mud.

You know what’s going on?”

Bobby paused. “I don’t know anything for sure.”

That made two of them.

From behind Bobby, a figure appeared near the road. Alex would have recognized the tall red rain boots anywhere. Caroline walked over to them.

“Hey.”

Alex nodded.

Caroline stuck her hand out to Bobby. “You and Alex look related.”

“Brother,” Bobby confirmed, shaking her hand. “Bobby MacDonald.”

“Caroline Shelburne. We go to school together.”

Bobby looked at Alex. “Do you want me to stick around, or…?”

Alex glanced at Caroline. “No...it’s OK.”

Bobby glanced from her to Caroline. “OK, well…call me if you want. It’s just me at home.”

OK.”

Caroline waved goodbye. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too.” Bobby lumbered back to his car, then drove away.

Part of Alex wished she was in the passenger seat again. Another part of her wanted a toothbrush.

“So.” Caroline nodded toward a nearby pine bench. They were everywhere. “Can we talk?”

A third part of Alex needed to talk. So she said yes.

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.

If You Could Jump Into a Picture

To preserve our family’s memories, I order hard-copy prints of the pictures I take on my phone camera and then put them into photo albums. Pretty old school, I admit.

But I’m a writer. I like holding paper (glossy, matte, etc.) in my hands. I like feeling texture. Most of all, I like sitting alongside those I love—my husband, our two daughters—and flipping through the pages, together.

Previously, I made photo books through a popular online photo-printing company. Then a few years back, I felt the company’s quality had decreased. Thus, I eschewed photo books, apps and whatever other tech-savvy tools I don’t quite fully understand in favor of the kinds of photo albums your grandparents probably still use.

That’s just me for you, friends: practically a dinosaur.

I had some free time last week (!). I decided to scroll through the remainder of last year’s pictures and get these moments printed for posterity’s sake.

The last print in my 2019 photo album was of Grace from our August beach trip. After scrolling through my phone, placing my CVS Photo order and picking it up, I had about 70 new prints to add to this album. When I finished, the girls were excited to check it out.

“Ooh, I remember that,” Grace said, pointing to the first picture that followed the summer-beach-trip one. This picture showed the girls at Stride Rite with a multicolored row of footwear before them. That day, we had gone to pick out shoes for the upcoming school year.

“And I remember that!” Now Anna pointed—this time, a memory of her first movie-theater movie. (It had been “Toy Story 4”.)

I loved listening to my daughters reminiscing about the pictures, watching them point and remember: Grace’s first day of school, then Anna’s, page after page of soccer practices and games.

Biking on the Rail Trail, pumpkin picking, milestone memories like Grace’s first Broadway show as well as everyday moments like Anna’s peeking out from her hiding spot in the refrigerator.

“I can’t believe you fit in there!” Grace laughed.

Anna laughed along with her big sister. “I did!”

“Please don’t do that again,” I reminded my younger daughter.

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There really were a lot of pictures of the girls’ fall soccer season. This is what happens when you marry a man who, in response to the “All About Dad” fill-in-the-blank question “What he wanted to be when he grew up” from your younger daughter’s still-unfinished-five-years-later baby book, writes, “A dad or a professional soccer player.” 😉

Anna pointed to one soccer picture in particular. “That was the best Popsicle,” she said. In this picture, she was clutching a chocolate Popsicle (a Fudgsicle, technically) and holding up two fingers. She had scored two goals that day. The picture also memorialized Anna’s Fudgsicle mustache.

Almost all the soccer pictures had Popsicles in them. Because that’s what youth soccer is about, really. Getting outside; running around with your friends; Popsicles at the end. Scoring goals when you can (ideally in your team’s goal), but having a good time, mainly.

“That was the best Popsicle,” she said.

Grace smiled at the picture I had taken when we had seen “Beetlejuice” in November. “I loved going to New York City.”

“I loved that day too,” I agreed.

Anna flipped back and forth, back and forth, through the pages of pictures. “I wish I could jump into a picture.”

I blinked. What a cool, beautiful thought. To pop back in time, revisit a favorite moment, kind of like Mary Poppins and company with Bert’s sidewalk chalk drawing.

“What picture would you jump into?” I asked Anna.

Anna paused, but just for a second. “The ones with the Popsicles,” she said.

The ones with the Popsicles. Of course.

To pop back in time, revisit a favorite moment…

I was wondering, then…if you could, friends, what picture might you jump into? Or would you forgo this magical thinking to remain solidly in the present?

Now, I’m all about living in the present. I make my photo albums, but I love the here and now. If I could jump into a picture, though…I’d pick one that had my Poppy in it.

Any one would do (and I do have a lot). I’d go back for just a minute, give Poppy a big hug and head back home, back here.

One of the last times I saw my Poppy, I said, “I love you.” I said it several times, and then he waved his hand at me.

“All this, ‘I love you,'” he said. He told me I didn’t need to say it because he knew.

I still told him anyway.

Coincidentally (or not), Anna also told me I don’t need to tell her I love her from here on out. “You’ve told me, ‘I love you,’ one million times,” she said recently. “You never have to tell me again; I know, Mom.”

Even when someone knows something, someone else may want to express it.

Anna will have to hear my “I love you’s” millions more times, as Poppy did.

Any one would do (and I do have a lot).

Billions of people worldwide. Millions of moments. Despite these dizzying sums of people and flashes of time, all of our photo albums, from the hold-in-your-hand ones to the electronic versions, likely share more common ground than difference.

The things we all do throughout the seasons each year. The people we do them with. First days of school, vacations, holiday celebrations. Pictures we’d jump back into, if only to give one more hug to someone we once loved.

The pictures of our lives are everywhere. In photo albums. In picture frames on fireplace mantels, or hanging above them. On magnets that you buy at the end of soccer season, and then stick on the fridge. As backgrounds for our phones, and in camera rolls on them.

How lucky we are to have our pictures, especially the ones with Popsicles in them.

“That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet.” (Emily Dickinson)

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.

Real Mail, for a Change: The Joy of Christmas Cards

A couple of days ago, I reached inside our rectangular black mailbox. A little surprised, I pulled out a fistful of mail—real mail, letters from people I know and care about. (Although, to be fair, there also was some of the usual junk mail: promotional flyers and yet another L.L. Bean catalog).

I had been working but took a break to open these envelopes, some red and green, one winter white. They were all Christmas cards, and they all made me smile.

On one card, a family member’s three-month-old baby practiced his newly learned smile under the holiday greeting of “Fa La La.” On another, a good friend and her sweet husband wished us “Mele Kalikimaka” from a picturesque vista, possibly near their new home in Hawaii. Another card opened up to a heartfelt message, no picture needed.

I don’t know if sending Christmas cards is as common as it once was, considering the popularity of social media and rising eco-consciousness. Not to mention, the postage for a comprehensive family-and-friends mailing list can get pricey. All that being said, I do still mail out (some) Christmas cards, and I really enjoy receiving them.

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In the early years of our marriage, I sent Christmas cards to everyone from Stanton and my wedding guest list, basically—quite a bit of stationery and accompanying winter-themed stamps. As the years have moved along, there has been some ebb and flow to my mailing list, some editing and whittling down. As much as I love our old neighbors from our first home together in Richmond, Va., for example, I limit our season’s greetings to an emailed note and picture rather than printed year-end memento.

These days, I send cards mainly to our immediate family and old friends—a much more manageable stack of notes to write out than all the names on our wedding guest Excel spreadsheet.

Sometimes I cheat a little, and address envelopes to, for example, “Aunt Mary and Uncle John and family,” hoping that “and family” can adequately cover Aunt Mary and Uncle John’s three grown children and their multiple children…and knowing it really doesn’t. So yes, I cheat a little on my Christmas cards, friends.

I do a little hand delivery, too, with neighbors, friends from church, the girls’ teachers. Joy and peace from the Leddys (minus the Forever stamp). Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y). I know, I can be a bit of a weasel. 😉

Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y).

I call them Christmas cards, but it would be more accurate to say holiday cards. Some of my loved ones are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. Then there are those folks who celebrate everything, in addition to those who don’t recognize holidays. My mailing list represents all these variations of celebratory spirit, and I try hard to respect everyone’s preference.

Despite my best intentions, I had a bit of a snafu with one card this year. I wrote, “Merry, Merry Christmas!” before remembering that one half of this couple is Jewish. Thus, I added, “And Happy, Happy Hanukkah!” If I had been less distracted at the time (the girls were playing Teenagers, one of their favorite games, nearby), I would have defaulted to, “Happy Holidays!” I’m hopeful, however, that my friends will know I’m wishing them the best, as always.

This is what I love about holiday cards. I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me. I love seeing pictures of them and their families.

This is especially true of friends from college. My old friends—I mean, these are people I roomed with, ate meals with for years, grew up with. I love these people; I even married one of these people.

I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me.

I’m not an arts-and-crafts-y person, but at Christmastime, I like to hang twine across our fireplace mantel. Then I use wooden clothespins to hang up as many photo cards as will fit. Seeing the smiling faces of those I love truly warms my heart.

I heard a perspective recently that photo cards are essentially “family ads,” which struck me as cynical. We’re all grownups, and we all know nobody’s life is picture-perfect. I sense that the majority of us who exchange holiday cards with up-to-date pictures are simply keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year keeping all the balls in the air: work, life, kids, health, all the stuff.

My old roommate’s daughter is absolutely adorable, with blonde hair, a big grin and a sparkle in both her eyes, which I could see even in a picture, though not in person. “I’m really happy for Jackie,” I told Stanton—happy for her beautiful family, her professional success, everything. I think that may be part of being a grownup too: celebrating the good of others, the good in others, even when our formal celebrations (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) may differ.

For the past several years, our Christmas card has been an actual card, which is pretty off-trend, from what I can tell. That’s me for you, though. 😉 Then I stick a photo of Stanton, the girls and me in each card, which our family and friends can magnet to their fridge, repurpose as a bookmark, or display and then recycle.

My mom took the picture we used for this year’s card. We had a super impromptu photo shoot back in early November. “Do you want to go somewhere?” my mom asked.

I mean, yes, there are so many beautiful spots nearby, but… “You know, let’s just go in the backyard,” I said. It was a hectic weekend, to say the least.

Stanton dragged a bench outside. He and I plopped down and gathered the girls around us. “Smile!” My mom took some pictures; one was pretty good.

“Maybe one year we can have a real photographer take our picture,” Grace said afterward.

“Like, at a place,” Anna added.

“No offense, Nona.”

I laugh-cried. “Girls, I promise, one year a real photographer will take our Christmas-card picture at a place somewhere other than our backyard.”

Something for my family-and-friends mailing list to look forward to as well, no doubt.

…keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year…

I still have a handful of cards to send to my very-pared-down list of addressees. Hopefully they’ll arrive in others’ mailboxes before 2020.

As I was working on this piece, I was conscious someone might read it and think, “I haven’t gotten a card from that girl in years.” If so, my sincerest apologies. I wish I could exchange season’s greetings with all the wonderful people I’ve known over the years.

It can become a little much, though, in terms of both time and $, and I don’t have unlimited supplies of either. I truly understand when folks need to retire my address from their hard-copy holly-jolly wishes, and I hope others similarly understand in my case.

It is a beautiful thing, though—for everyone, everywhere, I imagine—to receive real mail for a change.

Happy Holidays, friends. ❤

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.

Do You Wear Adult Diapers, Mom? And Other Questions I’ve Recently Been Asked

How often do you go to the grocery store, friends? I’m so curious. I’m at Hannaford, our local grocery store, twice a week.

Sometimes I go grocery shopping by myself (flying out the back door late on a Saturday morning, still wearing what stores these days call “loungewear” but what are, in effect, pajamas). Almost always, though, I’m with my 4-year-old daughter, Anna, and almost always, we’re there in the afternoon after preschool pickup.

Such was the case one afternoon two weeks ago. Anna and I motored over to Hannaford, then maneuvered through the aisles. “Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a display. “Woody! And Forky! Mom, it’s everybody from Toy Story!”

I glanced at the Disney-inspired Laughing Cow cheese dippers. “Everybody’s there,” I agreed, moving us along.

We had a short list, relatively, and were almost done in no time. There was just one bullet point left to cross off. I steered into the feminine hygiene products section, and parked Anna to the side.

She peered forward. “What’s all this, Mom?”

“Just a second, honey.” I scanned the shelves for my preferred item.

“Mom.” Anna was staring at me, her eyebrows arched, the corners of her mouth tilted upward in a smile that was both dubious and devious. “Do you wear adult diapers, Mom?”

Uuuggghhh.

Anna, of course, noticed my horror right away. So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course. “DO YOU WEAR ADULT DIAPERS, MOM?”

“Will you please stop?” I hissed.

Now Anna was laughing, doubled over the grocery-cart seat. “Mom, I can’t believe it! You wear adult diapers!”

“I do not…”

Another woman was in the same aisle as us, and she was laughing too—kindly, but still. She patted my arm when she walked past us.

“Listen.” I could feel my face burning red with embarrassment. I clasped my hands over my daughter’s. “I need you to please stop saying that. Got it, dude?”

Anna nodded.

OK.

So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course.

Almost all of last week, Stanton was in D.C. for a work conference. His being out of town just so happened to coincide with an especially busy work week for me. Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

I had a phone meeting with two colleagues on Wednesday afternoon. One of these people was my boss. Grace would be home from school soon, and Anna was already home from preschool. I asked her to play quietly until I was done with my call.

“But I want to be with you,” Anna said.

“Honey, we’re almost always together,” I said. “I’ll be done very soon, I promise.” I called in to my meeting.

Almost immediately, Anna planted herself nearby, staring at me, arms crossed. I ignored her. She began crawling around my legs. I got up, moved to the kitchen. Anna followed me and yelled, “Mom, hang up, HANG UP!”

Ugh…again.

I turned on the TV. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. We’ve been trying to limit screen time, but…oh, well.

Still holding my phone, I cleared my throat. “Um…just wondering, did anyone hear that over here?”

“Yes.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Great. “I’m so sorry…I just turned on the TV…”

Both my boss and our other colleague were extremely kind and understanding. But still. Somebody screaming in the background, “Mom, hang up!” is not a good look when you’re trying to present yourself as a got-it-together work-from-home professional.

Later I asked Anna why she had behaved like that. “I love you so much, I just wanted to be with you,” she said. “And I don’t understand, Mom,” she added, “why don’t you just do all your work when I’m in school?”

I just looked at her.

Who among us wouldn’t love for all the pieces of all the puzzles to fall into place just so?

Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

So many questions. So little time.

During the past few weeks, different folks from the church we attend have called to ask if I could participate in various volunteer opportunities. I’ve also received emails from both my daughters’ schools, inviting me to helm or help with extracurricular fall-themed fun, such as a costume party and trunk or treat. Every now and then, too, a ping from my phone reveals a text wondering if I’m available to lend a hand with hosting a play date.

There were a few moments, lately, when I really could have cried. I like to think of myself as a kindhearted person…but I simply can’t say yes to anything else right now. Thus, I’ve been saying no to everything extra.

I love my family and my work, and that’s all I, personally, can do in this season of my life. Other folks can do more, and I admire them. I just know I’m not one of them.

I’ve found that, when I explain myself like this—when I acknowledge I’m not a Superwoman—people seem to understand. Or, maybe they worry they might trigger a nervous breakdown, and decide to steer clear… I guess I’ll never know which one it is. 😉

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Yesterday, Stanton made me a sandwich for lunch. Roast beef with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions on multigrain bread. He sliced an apple as the side. I enjoyed it so much, partly because I didn’t make it myself, and told him so.

“This is nothing, Mel,” he replied, settling into the breakfast nook with me.

But it was something. It is wonderful to feel cared for, even when the caring comes in the form of something as seemingly simple as a roast-beef sandwich. It is wonderful to feel cared for when you are the person who does so much of the caring (and grocery shopping, and puzzle-piecing).

Life is wonderfully unexpected sometimes. Sometimes there are more questions than we have answers for, or know how to answer. And sometimes things fall into place.

I have learned, despite my non-Superwoman prowess, not to give up. To say no or not now, but to keep going.

From now on, though, I’ll be maneuvering solo through the feminine hygiene products section.

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.

It’s OK If You Cry (and Other Things You Don’t Learn in School)

It was a Saturday morning. Stanton was driving, and the girls were in the backseat. We were on our way back to the town soccer fields.

Grace had already played her game, at 9 a.m. The four of us had been there together and were now heading out again for Anna’s 12 noon match, after a quick lunch (and more coffee) at our house. This would be Anna’s very first soccer game.

From the passenger seat, I overheard Grace (a veteran, you might say, at this point) giving her little sister some pro tips. There were orange slices at half time, Popsicles at the end. Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Sometimes the grass is wet, from dew or rain, Grace noted. Kids can fall. “If you fall, just get back up,” Grace said.

I smiled and turned around, just in time to see Anna nodding along, taking everything in. She trusted Grace, completely.

Then Grace paused, considered. “If you fall, you might get hurt. It’s OK if you cry.”

In that moment, friends, I wanted to cry. “Grace,” I said. “That’s beautiful advice.”

My older daughter smiled.

“What else, Grace?” Anna wondered.

Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Kids are back to school now, and every school day abounds with thoughtful curriculum and instruction. I love listening to Grace explain fact families to me, and looking at Anna’s preschool artwork. I’m deeply grateful for the girls’ wonderful schools and teachers.

Also, overhearing Grace’s soccer tips to Anna reminded me that sometimes we learn meaningful lessons outside classroom doors too. Athletic fields, playgrounds, performing arts stages—even sitting cross-legged on kitchen countertops, keeping our parents company while they prepare yet another after-school snack—all these places offer up additional spaces for learning.

“It’s OK if you cry” is a good first lesson for sure. There are times when life hurts; acknowledge that, let it out. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed; ask for help when you need it. Cry, and then try to move forward.

Here are some other lessons that I try to teach my children on a regular basis, and live out every day. And tell me, friends—what else should be on this list?

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2. Spend time outside every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to walk around the block, or sit on the front steps to open the mail. Give yourself a break from your desk, your screens, the unending stacks of dishes and piles of laundry indoors.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life. Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air.

3. Let the people you love know that you do. If your sister’s standing next to you, hug her. If, someday, she lives in another city, call her, get together; stay close.

Mail your oldest friends cards on their birthdays, and when they welcome a child into their family. Invite new friends over for dinner. Send your 91-year-old grandma, who took care of you when you were a baby, flowers every now and then, just because.

Don’t take your people or their love for granted.

4. Don’t keep score. Not in personal relationships, anyway. I called you, now it’s your turn to call me. I made dinner tonight, you’ve got tomorrow.

Tallying up life’s minutiae is painfully time-consuming, if not practically impossible. We each have our own strengths (and weaknesses). Aim for fairness. And if the circumstances start to feel unfair, bring that up; talk it through.

5. “No” is a complete sentence. Recently, a friend shared this perspective with me, from an article she had read, and I love it.

As we journey through life, peers may invite us into situations we may not feel good about. Later, people may offer us jobs that conflict with our values, or volunteer opportunities that conflict with our time. This has happened to me, and for years, I’ve tried to finesse my negative RSVP’s with diplomatic explanations and apologies. I realize now that a simple “no,” expressed kindly yet firmly, is enough.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life.

6. Home is and isn’t about the “stuff.” Anna calls our family room “the cozy room.” When I first heard her say that, I asked her why she liked to say cozy room. “Because this is where you snuggle me on the couch and read to me,” she replied.

That answer resonated with me. We’re lucky to live in the house we have, in the neighborhood it’s in. Those material things are important, yes. But what happens in that house—the time spent together, the warmth and safety and acceptance of the space—is equally important.

7. Sometimes, you need to let go. Of material stuff, for sure. The other day, I (finally) acknowledged I was never, ever going to fit back into a classic top I had worn for years. So I passed it along to our local clothing drop box, and hopefully somebody else will enjoy it as much as I did.

More difficult, however, can be letting go of the immaterial stuff. Memories of times that could have been better, people who could have treated us kinder. There’s no joy in being a grievance collector, though.

I was taking a walk, and all of a sudden, a memory came to mind. I shook my head, remembering this past irritation. Then I thought, just as quickly, it really is time to let that go. I breathed in deeply (the scent of pine needles, where I was now, content)…and did. It felt so good, friends—letting go.

8. Don’t underestimate the value of a good cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep. Mornings can be rough, and nightfall too. We can be frazzled at the start of day, sad or sentimental at the end. Just hang on ’til morning, and start the new day with a good brew.

9. There are a million other little things, tidbits I’ve picked up here and there, wisdom that’s become mine through “learning experiences” (less kindly known as “mistakes”).

I also want to tell my girls…go to the dentist regularly. Be careful with credit cards. Don’t vape; eat your vegetables. Watch “The Wire” and “Parks and Rec.”

Your first job probably won’t be your dream job. Still, do a good job. You’re investing in your growth, your future.

Things usually come full circle, and make sense in the end. Look for silver linings until they do.

Dine alfresco as much as possible. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores year-round.

Dark chocolate is more delicious than milk.

Travel—make sure you see London, Paris, San Francisco, Australia.

Be a regular somewhere. Overtip. Be generous when you can.

Two things you can never say too much: “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

There are a million other little things, but not enough time or space to share them here. And that is the main lesson I’d like to impart to my daughters:

10. Life goes fast; time is precious. Make the most of everything. Walk out the front door. Do stuff; have experiences. Get kinder and more patient with age.

You can always come home.

(Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me.)

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.

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.

That Didn’t Actually Happen

My sister called me one evening, later than she usually does. I felt a mild sense of concern. Answering the phone, I said, “Is everything OK?”

“Ugh, yes, calm down.”

“Ugh”—the universal beginning of yet another wonderful conversation between loved ones.

Jenna was walking home, and I said I’d stay on the line with her until she got there. “You don’t need to do that,” she replied. But I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard, so I insisted.

She asked me what I was doing. Because Stanton was out of town for work, I was doing what I always do when I’m home alone at night, with the girls sleeping upstairs: watching one of my TV shows. I told Jenna I was loving the first season of “Jack Irish,” an Australian TV noir series starring my favorite actor ever.

“Oh, God, Guy Pearce,” Jenna said.

(Love Guy Pearce.)

“What’s going on with you?” I asked. “Have you found a new urologist yet?”

“Endocrinologist! Endocrinologist.”

Right.

…I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard…

Jenna is taking a course for a certificate, and we talked about that. In the background, I could hear people talking, cars cruising by. Her background, I mean: Center City, Philadelphia.

My background, about 200 miles north near Albany, N.Y., consisted of lamplight, a throw pillow with “Lean On Me” imprinted on the front and my show paused on the TV screen.

“That’s awesome you’re doing this program,” I said.

Jenna mentioned something about the online certificate program I did.

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you do something through the University of California?”

“Oh, right…no, that didn’t actually happen.” I broke off another piece of dark chocolate. “I thought about it, though.”

“Ah, got it.”

Obviously, I was the sibling who grew up to become the big success. 😉 I tapped the remote control against my leg. “Are you almost home?”

“Ugh.”

phone-499991_1920I didn’t mind, at all, that my sister thought I completed a certificate program I never did. And I don’t think she minds (too much) that I’m never 100 percent clear on her health and wellness. But the thought did cross my mind: There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

Over the weekend, Stanton, the girls and I were getting ready for our friends’ party. The girls ran outside. I stuffed tissues, my phone and bug spray into my bag. Then I called to Stanton, “Do you have…”

“The keys? Yes.”

“No, do you have…”

“Yes, I have everyone’s water bottles.”

“Honey.” I looked at him. “I was going to ask if you had the corn and black bean salad. Why,” I added, “do you still try to finish my sentences?”

“Because I never can, right?”

“You never can,” I agreed. After all this time together, we are not one of those magical couples that can finish each other’s sentences.

Stanton nodded and then noted, “I do have the corn and black bean salad, and the Tostitos too.”

He had the Tostitos too. We were good to go, friends.

On the drive to the party, the four of us called my grandmother. It was her 91st birthday, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her over the phone. Yelled “Happy Birthday” to Grandma is more like it, because she has trouble hearing on speaker phone.

“We love you, Grandma!” Stanton, Grace, Anna and I shouted one last time, before hanging up.

I wasn’t sure if Grandma heard us or not…but she knew it was us.

There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

My birthday is in early April, and I was born in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every now and then, it snows in early April in Northeastern Pennsylvania. For years, I thought it had snowed the day I was born. I thought this is what my parents had said. This year, on this birthday, I discovered this wasn’t true.

“The day you were born was sunny and beautiful,” my mom mentioned, when she wished me a happy birthday.

“I thought it was snowing,” I said.

“The day we brought you home, it snowed,” my mom replied. “But not the day you were born.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this time, I had the story wrong. The story of my birthday, of all things.

My mom repeated that yes, I was born on a beautiful sunny day. And I admit, I like that story better. “Beautiful sunny day” sets a more picturesque scene than “freak April snowstorm.”

But how could that have happened? How did the details of something so important, so personal, get mixed up and stay mixed up for decades?

All this time, I had the story wrong.

When I write or edit nonfiction work, I strive mightily to make sure the information is correct. I fact-check names, dates, places. I proofread according to style guides, spelling out an acronym here and inserting a serial comma there. I consider questions of ethics, especially concerning people’s privacy.

I am the stereotypically Type A, minutiae-obsessed, red-pen-wielding editor.

In my personal life, though…not so much. For whatever reason, or excuse—I have two young children, so much is going on—the details sometimes fall through the cracks.

On some level, this matters. There are times when I could be a better listener. There are times when others could listen a little better to me.

And on another level…whether it was sunny or snowing, it was a beautiful day to be born.

Ninety-one years later, whether you heard the words or not, you know your grandchildren called to sing “Happy Birthday” on speaker phone.

Maybe things didn’t happen how we thought they did, or would. But there were people there for us—with us.

The knack for finishing each other’s sentences may be overrated.

It is a good idea, though, to have a long-distance bodyguard on speed dial.

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.

Remember the Time? On Family, Memory and Where You Keep Your Shoes

My sister mailed me a card for my birthday, a couple of weeks ago. The front said, “‘Remember the time…?'” followed by, “There are about a thousand different ways to end that story!” in multicolored font. I loved everything about it, from the sentiment to, especially, Jenna’s heartwarming note inside.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took one (excuse my amateur photography skills!) to illustrate my message here. I put my sister’s card in the last remaining spot, on the bottom, of the hanging card holder in the kitchen. See it there? You can also see our family’s kaleidoscopic collection of other well wishes for assorted birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, special occasions… Yeah, Marie Kondo probably wouldn’t approve. 😉

So—”‘Remember the time…?'”

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Inside the card, Jenna wrote about how she always enjoys our adventures and conversations. Over the course of our life together, there have been a lot of them—not “about a thousand,” but thousands upon thousands. Jenna, along with both my brothers, were there, and continue to be there, for…well, my life.

Last night, I was lying beside Anna as she drifted off to sleep, and all of a sudden, a long-ago memory came to mind. I don’t know why, but I thought about the refrigerator in my grandparents’ old house. Before I left for college, I put pictures all over it. I joked that I didn’t want Grandma and Poppy to forget me, so I transformed their fridge into a collage of photos and magnets.

After Anna fell asleep, I called Jenna to share this memory with her. Because your sister will always answer the phone, even if you’re calling about your grandparents’ not-sure-if-it-even-exists-anymore refrigerator. “Awww,” Jenna said when I told her.

“I also remember—I mean, I can almost see this—Poppy sitting in the sunroom, just smiling, his arms crossed, watching TV. And,” I added, “he’s wearing that blue polo shirt he always wore. You know the one…?”

“Yeah, with the pink on the collar.” I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, so, I just wanted to tell you about that…”

“Do you remember,” Jenna said—she really did send me the perfect birthday card—”every New Year’s, we would all go outside and bang on pots and pans? And set off Mom’s car alarm?” We laughed.

Maybe a little corny at times, and certainly loud a lot of the time, but this was/is our family…and I love them.

I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

I have been truly lucky with my husband’s family too. After I talked with Jenna, I called Stanton’s mom to say hello. Charlotte was exercising, and I apologized for interrupting her. She asked me how I was doing.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I just poured myself a glass of milk and am about to eat a cookie. I’m doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” (You simply can’t make this stuff up, friends.) Like with my sister, my mother-in-law and I shared a good laugh.

Stanton had just been in San Antonio for a conference, and I was glad he got to spend some time with his family while he was there too. It’s a busy season of business travel for him, and he told the girls about a few other upcoming trips.

I made the joke (in retrospect, not a funny one) to the girls, “What’s Dad doing home now, girls? Does he live here too?”

Anna gave Stanton one of her wonderful bear hugs. “Of course he lives here,” she said. “This is where his shoes are.”

Sometimes life lends itself to quotable moments.

Home is where you keep your shoes. It’s where you hang up your cards, and pictures. It’s where, at the end of the day, you call the people you love. You call them to share a memory, or just to say hello.

Home is where you get the best bear hugs too.

Remember the time?

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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.

 

Thank God for 4th Birthdays: The Blessing in the Everyday

The church that Stanton, the girls and I attend offers a “children’s time” in the beginning of each service. Two Sundays ago, our pastor led the youngster-focused sermon, which takes place on the steps near the altar. Her message centered on love, and loving one another even though differences may exist among us.

At the end of the sermon, someone raised their hand. From where we were sitting, Stanton and I couldn’t see who it was. The pastor asked, “Yes, do you have a question?”

A familiar voice replied, “I turned four.”

Laughter rippled throughout the church. Stanton looked at me. “Was that Anna?”

“Of course that was Anna,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.

The pastor laughed and kindly said to our younger daughter, “That’s wonderful, that’s a milestone.” Then Reverend Amy asked all of us to pray with her.

She began her prayer by saying, “Thank you, God, for fourth birthdays.” She continued with gratitude for other things, and prayed for bigger things, like unity.

It’s funny, and sweet, how simple (and, well, self-focused) a young child’s outlook on life can be. You want to talk about diversity and unity, finding common ground and/or meeting in the middle? Well…OK, but, I mean…I just turned four, you know.

For Anna’s birthday, we invited a few friends over for a very low-key gathering of unicorn-themed arts and crafts, games, and cupcakes. I am an anxious hostess; I worry constantly that everyone is having a good time, especially the birthday girl.

A side note: My husband may have something to do with my party-planning anxiety. The morning of Anna’s birthday gathering, Stanton turned to me, cup of coffee in hand, and said, “So, when is Anna’s party? What time are we doing that?”

I just looked at him, friends. Just…looked at him.

After the party that day, I knelt down beside Anna. She was sucking on one of the lollipops we had stuffed into the unicorn piñata earlier in the day. (Of course there was a unicorn piñata.) “Did you have fun?” I asked hopefully. “How are you feeling?”

Anna pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled at me. “Happy.”

I turned four. Happy. A lot of times, simplicity hits the spot—no grand gestures or big words needed.

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Fourth birthdays are worth remembering, though, are worth saying thank-you for. There’s a lot of blessing in the everyday.

Certainly we celebrate big milestones, and frame and mount above our fireplace mantels the professionally photographed and Photoshopped memories of wedding days, graduations and family reunions. But everyday moments? Those candid-camera shots of high fives and group hugs after winning the neighborhood bar’s Trivia Night, and quiet, contented camaraderie as dusk winds down a backyard barbecue? These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough,” attributed to a 13th-century theologian, Meister Eckhart. Now, I’m not a theologian, and I more comfortably identify as spiritual than specifically religious. This is probably why I feel this quote so much.

Thank you.

Two words, short and sweet. Simplicity, yet gratitude. Grace.

As a prayer, “Thank you” acknowledges something besides ourselves, and beyond ourselves. It doesn’t delve into doctrine, or get caught up in policies and procedures. Doesn’t split hairs about what various Scriptures may or may not mean. “Thank you” simply…acknowledges.

Despite its simplicity, “Thank you” is mighty. “Thank you” acknowledges, I didn’t do this myself. I’ve messed up, I’ve made mistakes, and yet here by the grace of beauty beyond my control and comprehension, this good thing came into my life.

I feel this way about my children, as many parents do. When I kiss Grace good night, or hold Anna’s hand until she falls asleep, I often think, Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Possibly I’m lazy in my relationship with my God. Maybe I should put more time into praying more eloquently. Lord knows I’ll rewrite a blog post, short story or magazine article until I feel the words are just right.

I mean it when I say I may be a spiritually and/or religiously lazy person. I’m not just saying that to be humorously self-deprecating. Saying you subscribe to spirituality, grace and, “Thank you”—just keeping it simple over here, folks!—can be a cop-out for addressing hard questions head-on. Letting yourself off the hook. (I have been known to cringe when conflict and hard questions arise, in other areas of my life.)

At the same time—and I mean this part, too—the times I have felt closest to God have been simple, everyday moments. Kissing my children good night. Picking blueberries with my family at Indian Ladder Farms, mountains majesty behind us.

My most heartfelt prayers have not been recitations of venerable benedictions and creeds, but words like, “Thank you.”

The blessing in the everyday.

These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

Another simple prayer, which I would guess is very popular, is, “Please.” Please let it be OK. Please don’t go until I get there to say goodbye. We often don’t even finish the sentence beyond the first word. Please. Please. Please.

“Please” and “thank you.” It may not be a coincidence that our most turned-to, from-the-heart prayers are these simple social graces we learned as children.

If you think about it, seemingly simple words help us express ourselves in the most profound moments of our lives. They are the words (and the prayers) we turn to when nothing else—nothing bigger, nothing better—will do.

Please.

Thank you.

Happy.

I do.

Sorry.

Hello.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Thank God for fourth birthdays.

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.