Measures of Success and MUCH

Anna, our 2-year-old, has a knack for making Stanton and me smile. First, like many 2-year-olds, she’s a ball of energy, up for riding her new trike around the neighborhood one minute and practicing her t-ball swing the next. She’s a lot of fun. Throw in her big dimples and mischief-making grin, and we can’t help but smile.

We tell both girls, often, “I love you.” Grace replies with, “I love you too,” while Anna merely smacks her lips at us—kiss. When we say, “I love you so much,” Anna has her own shorthand for this expression too: “Much!”

In the morning, as Stanton is heading out, Anna scurries over to him, wraps her little arms around his leg and declares, “Much!” She accompanies her sweet farewell with a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-coated smooch to his crisp dress pants. Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

As I was writing this piece, this Emerson quote popped into my head (bold emphasis mine):

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Anna’s “Much!” expression, and her good-bye kisses to Stanton, made me think of this quote. Here, Emerson is giving us his definition of success: laughter, strength of character, gratitude, positive energy, service. All these things, of course, can’t be measured—at least, not easily.

It’s easier for us to measure “success” with numbers (we think). When we’re young, we take tests at school that assign us grades, scores and percentiles—how well we did on the tests. When we’re older, we think in terms of hourly wages, salaries and project fees—how good we are, our value to a company.

Life requires some level of quantifiable measurement. Test scores and, later, salaries work toward that objectivity. Unfortunately, numbers leave little room for bigger pictures, so to speak. They can’t tell us when a student arrives at school on an empty stomach, thinking about hunger instead of multiple-choice questions. They can’t help us understand why firefighters earn an average of $47,000 annually, while political strategists can take home six figures.

Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

Stanton volunteers as a coach for Grace’s preschool soccer team. Yesterday, I was scheduled to fill in for him at the weekly soccer practice because he had a work commitment. I joked with Grace, “You can call me Coach, all right?”

Grace smiled and said, “I’m going to call you Mom.”

Both my daughters teach me so much. In that moment, I realized that whatever we might accomplish in our lives—whatever titles we might answer to, whether Coach, or Doctor, or Mayor, or Pastor, or Professor—we’ll still answer to Mom, or Dad, or Aunt Jenna, or Uncle Brian to the handful of people in the world who mean the most to us.

And this handful of people, these kids of ours… Chances are, they’ll be the ones least impressed by our SAT scores (if we even remember them), diplomas and W-2 forms. In my experience anyway, this is just how life works.

Measures of Success Picture 6-13-17

When I was growing up, my dad won various awards from his company for his work. Once, our hometown newspaper featured an article about my mom, a teacher, for developing a “try other things besides TV” educational program. I have so much respect and appreciation for both my parents.

When my parents and I talk, though, what we talk about most are all the times we had together. The funny moments, the family vacations, the movie quotes that have become part of our family lore. (“Well, they say geniuses pick green. But you didn’t pick it.”) The awards and newspaper articles don’t come up.

I imagine the same, or something similar, is true for you and your family too.

A few years ago, I read this article on CNN’s faith blog, regarding “What people talk about before they die.” The article has stayed with me all this time. The author, a hospice chaplain, answers the question her article poses: “Mostly, they talk about their families.”

She goes on to add, “They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave…They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying…they reach their hands out to things I cannot see, and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy.”

This article speaks to what we remember on our last days. We remember our families. We remember “Much!”

I was reading the book “Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer!” to the girls one day recently. In the story, the title character and her lovable little sister, JoJo, pretend to be astronauts and blast off to explore the moon. Afterward, Grace announced she would like to be an astronaut when she grows up.

“Sounds great,” I said. “You’ll be a wonderful astronaut.”

Maybe Grace will be an astronaut someday. Maybe she’ll change her mind, as 5-year-olds often do, and embark upon another path instead. Stanton and I will encourage the girls to do their best in whatever interests them.

I’ll also encourage the girls to make time for the ones they love. To sit down to dinner with their families. To celebrate their friends’ weddings. To take trips, just because. Because…I know that moon landing will be awesome.

And I’m pretty sure, too, that the moments they’ll remember with the greatest joy—the moments that will carry them through their darkest days, and give them peace on their final days—are the ones like when a little person wraps their arms around you, smears a Cinnamon Toast Crunch kiss on your clean clothes and declares, “Much!”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Being There for Dinner

The boiling water bubbled over the saucepan. Sssssss! The stovetop hissed.

Grace screamed. Anna followed suit.

“Everything’s OK,” I said, grabbing the pot. I drained the just-cooked pasta in the colander in the sink.

The timer on the oven began beeping: the meatballs. The girls crowded into the kitchen.

“Girls, you need to move…”

The front door opened, then closed. “Dad!” The girls rushed out of the kitchen. Someone tripped and fell on the way; crying ensued.

Welcome to the end of the weekday in many families’ homes, right? Mine. Maybe yours too.

For a while, I would finish making dinner around 6 o’clock. Stanton usually would be home by then. I’d set the food on the dining room table, encourage my family to help themselves, and then retreat to the kitchen to begin cleaning up everything that had gone into preparing the meal.

And, I won’t lie: I often would enjoy a few minutes’ peace to eat by myself without one of the girls climbing into my lap or grabbing from my plate.

Then one evening, about a month ago, I glanced at the dining room table. Anna was sitting on Stanton’s lap, snuggling against his chest. Smudging his dress shirt with her sticky fingers, but they looked cozy and happy nevertheless. Grace was talking about her day at preschool, her eyes wide and excited.

I glanced at that dining room table, and…I missed my family. I wanted to join them. Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

Such a little thing, such a Captain Obvious moment—to sit down for dinner with the people you love the most. Probably not even worthy of being written about, right? But I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed doing it. Clearly, I hadn’t done it all that much, because it resonated with me. Sitting face-to-face with my family, instead of standing alone a room away—what a difference.

Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

A couple of weeks later, I was at the library and came across this book title: “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” by Miriam Weinstein. It was calling my name; I checked it out. During the next few days, I read through it. This book has a wealth of insights, but the ones that most struck me were these passages in which the author quotes theologian Bill Huebsch:

“‘Things work out when you cook and wash dishes together. It’s hard to sit down to table with someone you haven’t forgiven…In most of our lives, meals are also memorials. Almost everyone, when they speak of their lives, they speak about meals’” (pages 146-147).

Wow, I thought. And, yes.

Family, food, forgiveness, memory, life—all intertwined.

When my daughters are older, I’m not sure what they’ll remember about their childhood, or our family dinners. Like all parents, I hope they have many happy memories. I do know, though, that I want them to remember that I was there, at the table with them, instead of missing in action in the kitchen.

I’ve been trying to make this happen. Not every evening…but more often than not. Because life can get hectic. You can’t always be the ideal version of yourself.

Yet.

Being There for Dinner

“Don’t Blink” was a hit country song by Kenny Chesney, about 10 years ago. I heard it just the other day, and these lyrics have been replaying in my head ever since:

“…When your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip it over and start again”

The theme of the song, of course, is that time goes by in the blink of an eye.

When I’ve been sitting down with my family now, I’ve been looking at them, really seeing them. There’s something beautiful about making eye contact with someone you love, and holding that gaze, and connecting. Really connecting.

“‘It’s the facing each other that’s important’” in how we eat, according to scholar Witold Rybczynski in “The Surprising Power of Family Meals.” “It’s the fact of sitting face-to-face, inviting interaction, give-and-take, that matters most” (page 87).

Family—food—face-to-face. Pretty simple.

Something I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, is that the simple stuff is the good stuff. This past Sunday, I made Hamburger Helper for Stanton and the girls for lunch—Stanton’s request. “It’s been years since I’ve had Hamburger Helper,” Stanton said.

“Huh, I wonder why,” the foodie in me replied (the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun).

For years now, I’ve been experimenting with gourmet and/or novel recipes for my family—herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, lime chicken tacos, everything I wrote about here. Why would I bother with Hamburger Helper, when I could prepare something amazing from scratch?

…the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun…

I made the Hamburger Helper. Sat down with Stanton and the girls. Anna took a bite: “Mmm!” Stanton was ready for a second helping within, it seemed, seconds. And Grace declared that she liked my Hamburger Helper almost as much as the frozen pizza I “make.”

The simple stuff is the good stuff. Family. Food. Face-to-face. Hamburger Helper or herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, it doesn’t matter.

As long as you’re there.

I want to be there.

What about you, friends?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

36 Things I Want to Tell You

One afternoon recently, Anna was uncharacteristically cranky. I had a cold, Stanton was traveling for work, and Grace kept telling me she was bored.

“I am so bored, Mom.”

“Waaahhh.”

“Everything is boring.”

“WAAAHHH!”

I closed my eyes.

“I wish Dad was here. Everything is fun when Dad’s here.”

“DADA! DADA! DAAADAAA!”

“OK, that’s it.” I tossed two granola bars, two sippy cups and my cell phone in the diaper bag. “Let’s go.”

Grace peered at me. “Where are you taking us?”

“For goodness’ sake, Grace…” Anna yelled as I buckled her into her car seat. “We’re just getting out of the house for a little bit.”

A few minutes later, we arrived at our local library. The library has a spacious children’s section that the girls love: a reading corner, lots of toys, an aquarium. Best of all, we usually bump into other kids and parents we know from around our community—instant play dates for the girls, and grown-ups for me to chat with.

Sure enough, that afternoon the girls built train tracks and worked on puzzles with other kiddos. I didn’t want to spread my germs, so I hung back but very much appreciated everyone’s improved moods.

At one point, Grace gave me a hug. “I’m happy we came here,” she said. Then she added, “You just have to walk out the front door, right, Mom?”

I blinked. “Grace—that’s something I say.” Whenever the girls, or I, are feeling cranky or a little down, I usually say, “Walk out the front door”—by which I mean, we’ll feel better if we get out, get some fresh air, interact with the greater world.

“Yeah,” Grace agreed, “that’s what you tell us. Walk out the front door.”

I’ve known this for a while now, that 5-year-old Grace hears everything I say. What I didn’t realize, though, is that these things have started to stick with her. And that they could make a positive difference in her life as she grows up.

“Walk out the front door” is one of my biggest philosophies. Experience life. Make the best of everything.

Here are some other things I want to tell my children. What do you want to tell yours, friends?

Girls, in case you’re still listening…

2) Say yes to new adventures.

3) And don’t be afraid to say no. Respect what’s right for you.

4) Be thankful. You have plenty.

5) Say, “Thank you,” especially to people who are serving you.

6) Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be ashamed.

7) You never have to pretend with me.

8) Reach out to the kids who are alone at the sidelines on the playground, or in the school cafeteria. Smile. Say hello.

9) If you don’t like the way something is, don’t whine. Fix it. Solve the problem.

10) Exercise daily. You don’t necessarily have to run six miles, or go to the gym for an hour. But move. Stretch. Dance.

river

11) Drink lots of water. Eat whole foods. Save room for dessert.

12) Don’t stare at people or situations you don’t understand. But do ask me or Dad or someone you trust to help you understand them.

13) Tell the people you love that you love them. Call them. Keep in touch. Send cards, and make time to get together. One day you may not have the chance.

14) Don’t have regrets. Mistakes, yes—although I like to call them “learning experiences.” But regrets—no.

15) You will have “learning experiences” long after you think you should be done with all the learning. 🙂 That’s OK, though.

16) You aren’t better than anyone. Maybe you’ve had better luck. Or made better decisions. But you are not better than anyone. Treat everyone respectfully.

17) Believe in the goodness of people, and in the goodness of life.

18) Believe in something bigger than yourself.

19) Do your best.

20) Any goal that means something to you will take longer to achieve than you think it will. And it will be harder than you imagine. Hang in there.

21) In general, transitions are hard. So ease into them. Take your time.

22) True love is not spring break sex, or beautiful jewelry, or big houses. It’s sacrifice and sticking together—all the things that happen after every romantic comedy and wedding reception ends. It’s taking care of each other. It’s visiting your 89-year-old grandmother with you on New Year’s Day. True love is deep, quiet moments of joy.

23) Don’t make fun of anyone.

24) People have more in common with you than they do different from you. Seek out the common ground.

25) Be cautious with credit cards.

26) Just because you can afford to buy something doesn’t mean you have to, or should.

27) If you want to sleep well at night, live well within your means.

28) When you hear your favorite song on the radio, turn it up. And sing along.

29) Turn off the TV. Put your phone down. Open your eyes to the world around you; be present.

30) Go to your doctor and dentist for regular checkups. Preventive care is less expensive, in the long run, than treating health issues.

31) Things I know about money: It comes. It goes. You need a certain amount to be comfortable. You can’t take it with you.

32) Things to splurge on: Good food. Experiences. Travel. And things not to: Stuff.

33) Some of my favorite places I’ve ever been: the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia; La Jolla, California; Capri, Italy. If you get the chance, visit them too.

34) The best boxed brownie mix: Ghirardelli Double Chocolate. I’ve tried them all, girls, from generic brands to top-of-the-line organics. Nothing’s as yummy as Ghirardelli Double Chocolate.

35) It’s hard to say goodbye. Try saying, “Until next time.”

36) Basically, what I know about life is…it’s beautiful. It’s humbling. It goes on.

Keep going on, even during your most difficult moments.

Because life is beautiful.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Settling Into Our New Hometown: The Beginning

In the summer of 2009, Stanton and I moved from Richmond, Va., to San Antonio. We road-tripped southwest over the course of a weekend, stopping to sightsee and sample local flavors along the way. I remember devouring the best macaroni and cheese of my life at Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Birmingham, Ala., and walking on the beach in Biloxi, Miss., before driving to New Orleans for café au lait and beignets.

Fast-forward to this summer. Moving cross-country with kids leaves little wiggle room for epicurean indulgences or “the scenic route.” About two minutes into our flight from San Antonio back to the East Coast, Grace wondered, “Mom, are we there yet?” just as Anna wiped her chocolate-covered hand across my khakis.

If you’ve ever been on a plane for a three-and-a-half-hour flight and seen a mom traveling solo with two small children, trust me: Nobody wants to be “there yet” more than that mama. 😉

Once the four of us arrived together at our new home, though, we were excited to begin exploring our surroundings. First up: The girls couldn’t wait to pick dandelions in the backyard. Kids—it’s always the little things.

1_Backyard

Now, you have to figure that whenever there’s a big change in your life (new baby, new job, new home—whatever it is), there will be a bump or two along the way. Something probably will not go as smoothly as it could.

For us, the major bump was our moving company. Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver the furniture from our Texas house to our New York house when they said they would—it arrived much later than promised.

The silver lining in this experience was that there wasn’t much for us to do in our mostly unfurnished new house. So the girls and I got out and about right away and began getting to know our new hometown.

One of our first stops: The library.

2_Library

Our local library has a wonderful children’s section, which the girls love. A friendly mom whom I met there invited us to join her and her Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group at a nearby park the following day. So we did.

All the moms were kind and welcoming. I very much appreciated them, as well as the “inside scoop” they shared with me about other fun, family-friendly local activities. Thanks to these moms, we’re making plans to visit neighboring apple orchards, the New York State Museum and indoor trampoline parks.

3_Park

I’ve been here in the Albany area just a short while now, but I’ve figured out that Dunkin’ Donuts is the locals’ chain coffeehouse of choice. There is an awesome-looking local espresso bar about a mile from our home, and I can’t wait to drop in and do some writing, too. In the meantime, the girls and I have been hitting up the closest Dunkin’ for our afternoon pick-me-ups.

4_Dunkin Donuts
On the second or third night in our new home, I was surprised to feel a lump in my throat. Earlier that day, I had received a “thinking of you” package from my San Antonio friend Haeley. Coincidentally, two other good friends from San Antonio (Ashley and Michelle) had also texted to let me know they were thinking of me. I cared for and appreciated them and their friendship so much, and was feeling a sense of “friendless-ness” in my new hometown.

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Making friends and developing friendships take time. I have been touched, though, by the friendliness of everyone I’ve met so far, from the MOPS group to the college students who serve up great sandwiches at “The Village Butcher” by the espresso bar to our neighbors. One afternoon, our next-door neighbor stopped by with this lovely bouquet of sunflowers from a local dairy farm, right after another neighbor dropped off a container of freshly sliced watermelon and strawberries.

7_Flowers

These kindhearted gestures have helped Stanton, the girls and me settle in and begin to feel at home.

One evening, the four of us were eating a simple pasta dinner together in the dining room. Grace and Anna were sitting at their “Frozen”-themed activity table, while Stanton and I were sitting cross-legged on the floor (our furniture had not yet arrived, remember). We were eating and talking, and I looked around and thought, “I couldn’t be happier.” So I let them know, as you should in moments like this: “I love you guys so much. This is all I need. I mean it—this is everything to me.”

“Love you too!” Grace yelled. It was nearing her bedtime, and she was getting silly.

“You!” Anna yelled along, throwing her hands up.

I looked across the “Frozen” table. Stanton looked back and winked.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Home isn’t what you have, or where you live. It’s who you’re with.

Home is who you’re with.

8_Extra Napkin

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

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:

14_Real Life Can Be Messy

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.