Taco Night Spiral: On String Bracelets and Second Chances

Droooomm. 7:15 p.m., Wednesday. I was hustling the vacuum through the first floor of our house.

The girls had made bracelets in the family room after dinner, and bits of bright pink, blue and yellow string popped against and across the more subdued colors of the family-room rug. And…dinner. Dinner had been tacos, and moms everywhere know that when you serve tacos for dinner, you will find taco-shell crumbs along with crumbles of beef (and some shredded cheese, for good measure) underneath the table afterward.

I know all this, and it’s fine, truly. For my sanity, though—and the relative sanitation of our home—I need to take 10 minutes at the end of a bracelet-making taco night to clean up all the tiny pieces of string in the family room and crumbs in the breakfast nook.

Grace and Anna were getting their pajamas on upstairs. Over the droooomm of the vacuum, I heard my older daughter’s voice drift down the stairs. I stopped vacuuming. “What, honey?”

Actually…let me be completely honest here. What I really said was, “Grace. How many times do I have to tell you and Anna, I can’t hear you when I’m vacuuming, taking a shower or on a completely different floor of the house?” In this case, we were two for three. Why can’t you just walk down the stairs instead of yelling over the vacuum?

I had walked over to the stairs, and was looking up at Grace. She was frowning. “Mom…I can’t find the bracelet I just made. I think it fell off my arm downstairs. And…”—now Grace’s lips began trembling—”I’m worried you might have vacuumed it up.”

I paused. A valid concern. “OK, well…let’s think positive. I’ll look around down here…”

Out of nowhere, Anna flew down the stairs. Wearing a leotard, I happened to notice, not her pajamas. Grace followed.

“Girls…”

I heard a gasp: Anna. She tapped the see-through canister of the vacuum. “Grace, look.”

Another gasp, this time Grace. “MY BRACELET!”

Agh.

Actually…let me be completely honest here.

Around this time, Stanton called. He was in Lake Placid for work, but we put him on FaceTime so that he could see Grace’s bracelet wedged among the tangle of dust and debris in the vacuum canister.

“Mom did it,” Anna said.

Even across the miles and mountains, I could picture Stanton shaking his head. “It’s going to be OK, girls.”

As things turned out, however…it actually was not OK. I opened up the canister and, with a plastic fork, scooped out the bracelet. What we discovered, though, is that the bracelet had broken apart during its suction-powered journey from the family-room rug through the vacuum to the canister.

I sighed. “I am so sorry, Grace.”

A little later, I tucked both girls into bed. I spent some extra time saying good night to Grace. She was being brave about her broken bracelet. I rested my hand on her head and told her I loved and appreciated her so much.

“You really are such a gift,” I added. “Just like Dad and I felt when we named you.”

Grace asked what I meant. I said we decided on her name, Grace, because it means gift, and we wholeheartedly thought of her being born—my healthy pregnancy with her—as a gift.

“Awww,” Grace said.

I blinked. “I told you that before, right?”

Grace shook her head.

I almost couldn’t believe it. “How did I never tell you that?” Amazing the things we thought we said, or did…but didn’t.

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Memory is a tricky thing, and it is many things. Sentimental; unreliable; rose-colored; blurred or buried; crystal clear. Sometimes, it’s several things—several conflicting things—at once.

When Grace was born, I remember feeling both joy-filled and overwhelmed. I was a first-time mom, and besides being exhausted by everything my new baby needed, I deeply missed having my own mom closer to me at that time. Similarly, I was so happy after giving birth to Anna three and a half years later…and I also remember feeling so sad at times too.

Reflecting on this time, though—my first few years of motherhood—what hurts me the most is that I wasn’t the kind of mom I wanted to be, the kind my daughters deserved. Then again, maybe I’m not the only woman on earth who needed a few years to grow into motherhood. To grow into more endurance, patience and multitasking skill.

What I feel now, nearly nine years into motherhood, is deep gratitude. I’m so grateful for what I believe to be a second chance to be the best mom I can be to my girls (although—disclaimer—I’m still a work in progress).

Soon after Stanton returned from Lake Placid, we were chatting in the kitchen, catching up. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing—getting ready to pour myself another cup of coffee, that sounds right—but suddenly, unexpectedly, Stanton pulled me into his arms and gave me a big hug.

Now, this is noteworthy, friends, because my husband is not generally affectionate. (In our relationship, the affectionate one would be yours truly.) Also noteworthy was what he said next. I won’t embarrass Stanton by quoting him here; also, some things are sacred. The gist of the quote, though, was that the good things in life—love, parenthood, family—get even better with time.

…the good things in life—love, parenthood, family—get even better with time.

We’ve had some rainy days here in the Capital Region of New York. Not much snow this winter, overall, but quite a bit of rain. “Ugh, rain,” I’ve overheard both children and grownups groan.

I don’t love rain either, but I don’t mind a rainy day every now and then. The persistent pitter-patter of raindrops gives us permission, in a sense, to pause…to breathe…to be still.

This has been my experience, anyway. In better weather, I go, go, go with my family. Ice skating, biking, swimming, hiking. And I love being active. But once in a while, it’s beautiful to simply be.

You might say rainy days are made for that: simply being.

On a recent rainy day, I (finally) wrote some thank-you notes I’d been meaning to write, for Christmas presents, as well as some other thinking-of-you cards I’d been meaning to send. All the people I mailed these notes to, I love very much, but of course, like so many of us, I probably don’t let them know as often as I should. I’m thankful this rainy day gave me the chance to do this.

I’ve learned—through experience, unfortunately—that sometimes we don’t get another chance to mail the notes we’d been meaning to send.

I like the country-music band Florida Georgia Line, and I love their song “May We All.” It’s on my getting-dinner-ready playlist (right up there with “Dynamite” and “Thinking Out Loud”—it’s a hodgepodge, I know). These lines in particular speak to me, especially as I’m plastic-forking a broken string bracelet out of a vacuum:

“May we all do a little bit better than the first time
Learn a little something from the worst times…
May we all get to have a chance to ride the fast one
Walk away wiser when we crashed one
Keep hoping that the best one is the last one…”

Some things can’t be fixed; they stay broken, it’s true. Coexisting in the space of brokenness, however, is hope. Healing. Rainbows after the rain.

Grace.

Experience has taught me this…fortunately.

Coexisting in the space of brokenness, however, is hope.

A couple of days after our dramatic taco night, my Grace held up her arm. She had made another string bracelet.

“I love it,” I said.

“Do you know what, Mom?”

I didn’t know.

“This one is even better than the one you vacuumed.”

I gave her a hug. “That’s awesome, but I’m still sorry.”

Grace hugged me back. It was OK.

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.

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.

When They Do High Fives, It’s Time to Go

The wall of floor-to-ceiling windows ran the length of the waiting room, which was about the size of a two-car garage. I sat on a black pleather couch on the right side of the room, my bag and jacket beside me, along with the sports section of yesterday’s newspaper. The sports section was there when I sat down.

I had brought my car in about 10 minutes before. The light that signaled “oil change needed” had clicked on a week or so earlier. That morning, I was driving—en route to someplace else—and saw the sign for the local auto repair shop. I stopped, impromptu.

The gentleman inside was older, mostly bald, wearing a rumpled, short-sleeve white dress shirt. We exchanged “good mornings,” and I asked if they had time for my oil change.

“Have you been here before?” he asked.

“You all fixed my air conditioning last summer,” I said.

They would have my oil changed within 45 minutes, he told me.

And they did.

As I was waiting, I worked my way through some emails, did some writing. Another older man walked through the waiting room with a brown, four-cup carrier of coffees from Stewart’s; I wished one was mine.

I’ve been running around like crazy for weeks now, it seems, and possibly, so have you. It’s always something, isn’t it? Deadlines, oil change, part of an order that needs to be returned because reason 25) wrong item sent.

That morning, I was driving—en route to someplace else…

After the oil change, I continued to my destination: kindergarten registration for my younger daughter, my baby. The registrar’s office was located at the school district’s high school. The night before, I had gathered all the required documents: Anna’s birth certificate, multiple proofs of our residency, current immunization record.

Anna watched me. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with me tomorrow, honey?” I asked her.

She shook her head and then smiled. “I bet the kids there will think you’re a mystery reader, Mom.”

“Awww, honey.” I smiled back. “I don’t think high school kids have mystery readers anymore.”

Anna remained skeptical.

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Both Grace and Anna began ice-skating lessons this month, a beautiful Christmas present from Stanton’s mom and dad. Thus, the girls and I have been spending our Sunday afternoons this winter at the local ice rink.

Anna’s lesson is first, followed by Grace’s. Then there’s “open skate” for anyone who’d like to stay and keep skating. Grace always does; Anna reliably doesn’t.

Where is Stanton during all this fun, you might wonder? Well, about a year ago, he joined our church’s choir, and the choir just so happens to practice during the same time frame as the girls’ ice-skating lessons. Funny how schedules can work out sometimes. 😉

There’s a bit of an art to dressing for winter sports, including ice skating. When you start out, whether you’re outside or in, you’re going to be cold. You need a warm jacket, heavy socks, gloves.

Once you start moving, though, you’ll get hot. So you need another layer or two underneath, for when you unzip or remove the first layer. And with ice skating, especially with children, you need to give yourself at least five minutes, but preferably closer to eight, to get the skates laced up. It’s a bit of an art, and a bit of a process.

This past Sunday, the gray door to the indoor ice rink clanged shut behind the girls and me. I gestured to the counter to our right. “Let’s get your skates, team.”

I got Anna layered and laced up. Grace and I walked her to her coaches. “Have so much fun, honey,” I said. “I’m right here if you need me.”

“I won’t need you,” my baby declared.

Man.

It’s a bit of an art, and a bit of a process.

While Anna had her lesson, Grace and I sat in the bleachers. This month, I have really been appreciating this time together with Grace while Anna skates. I feel as though Anna often is with me, but Grace not as much because she has school plus after-school activities. It has been truly wonderful, then, to simply hang out and chat with my older daughter. Hanging out, chatting, really seeing each other.

My time with Anna, while Grace has her lesson, is a little less chatting and a little more running around: the water fountain, the restroom, the stack of magazines that Anna likes to flip through in search of rip-and-sniff perfume samples.

After Anna and I had been waiting for Grace a while, Anna suddenly announced, “It’s all done.”

I glanced toward the ice. Folks were still out there. “How do you know, honey?”

“They’re doing high fives.” Anna tugged on my arm. “Come on, Mom. When they do high fives, it’s time to go.”

I’m always struck when a child makes this sort of announcement—wisdom, matter-of-fact, from the youngest among us.

From the earliest ages, human beings look—look around—begin to understand how the world works.

Anna was right about the high fives. Moments later, my daughters and I headed home.

 …wisdom, matter-of-fact, from the youngest among us.

Anna will turn 5 in a few weeks. Per Anna’s request, I’m planning a low-key, dinosaur-themed birthday party. One of the bullet points on my to-do list this week, along with the oil change and kindergarten registration.

“What do you want your theme to be, Anna?” Grace had asked her little sister. This is often my daughters’ first question regarding event planning.

Initially, Anna had wanted dragons, but—this may or may not surprise you, friends—dragon-themed party supplies are hard to come by.

“How about doughnuts?” I suggested. “We could get doughnut balloons, and decorate doughnuts…it would be so cute!”

Anna frowned at me. “Your birthday can be themed doughnuts, Mom. I want dragons.”

For the record: My April birthday will not be themed doughnuts. There will, in fact, be no theme. Except perhaps, “Let Mom sleep in.”

Eventually, we settled on dinosaurs for Anna.

I remember everything about when each of my daughters was born, eight years ago for Grace and almost five years now for Anna. I remember everything. It all feels like both “just yesterday” and “so long ago.”

This past weekend, the girls and I were grocery shopping. Anna was sitting in the cart, which I was pushing through an aisle. Grace was searching the shelves for pancake mix, the last item on our list.

I must have mentioned that a friend was getting married because Anna said, “When I grow up, I don’t want to get married. I want to live with you forever, Mom.”

“Awww, you definitely can live with me forever, sweetheart.”

“I’m not sure if I want to get married, Mom,” Grace noted, “but I do want my own house. Maybe I’ll live next door.”

I hugged my daughters. “Perfect.”

A gray-haired woman, pushing her cart past us, glanced back and smiled. “I’m actually planning my youngest child’s wedding now,” she said.

I smiled back. “Did it all go by fast?” Everyone always says it does—probably because it’s true.

She snapped her fingers. “Like that.”

Like that. I could believe it.

“Found it!”

I turned my head and took in Grace again, triumphantly holding a box of pancake mix.

Pancake mix. High fives. Time to go.

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.

But We Had a Great Time

Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.

The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.

Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.

After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”

I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”

“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”

This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.

“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.

Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.

I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.

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Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.

But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.

We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.

Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.

…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.

Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉

Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”

Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”

Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.

I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.

Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

“Impossible,” I confirmed.

I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.

“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”

Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.

Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.

“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”

“What?” my daughters asked.

Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”

“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.

I nodded.

Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.

Anna chimed in that that was true.

Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.

Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.

If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.

It was a great time.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

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.

 

I Can’t Picture You Old

My mom and dad came to visit, this past weekend. It was wonderful to see one another.

On Saturday afternoon, I smiled as I watched my dad play soccer with Stanton and the girls. They passed Grace’s gray, much-kicked soccer ball around the backyard. Every so often, one of them scored in the portable goal, which Stanton had set up to the right of a cluster of maple trees.

Later, my parents said they would get good rest that night. I complimented my dad on his enduring soccer skills. Years earlier, he had coached my brothers’ youth soccer teams. Then my mom noted that my dad wasn’t as young as he used to be.

For a moment, I really had to pause. Then I shook my head. “I can’t picture you old,” I told my dad, and my mom.

For me—and maybe for a lot of us—we think of our moms and dads as ageless. Or, if not ageless exactly, then we think of them as always there. This is how I think of my parents, anyway.

I can’t imagine a time in which I don’t receive an email from my dad, in which he signs it “GG”—short for Gordon Gekko, a reference to “Wall Street.” My family and I joke that my dad has only ever seen the same handful of movies over and over again (“Wall Street” among them, right up there with “Rocky” and “The Godfather”). In my replies back to my dad, I sign off with “Bud,” the name of Gekko’s protégé—all old, inane inside jokes, because we’re nothing like these movie characters.

When I check my email, I consider it a given that a note from my “GG” will be somewhere in the mix, just as I have faith that my mom will answer her phone every time I call. You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith.

You might be right.

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While I can’t picture my parents “old,” I have noticed some aging on my husband’s part (sorry, buddy). Stanton’s hair has thinned a bit in the back. “Wow,” I said, the first time I noticed.

“Thanks, Mel,” he replied.

The past few years have been somewhat of a downhill slog for me too, cosmetically speaking. Case in point: I really should work on my abs. With the best of intentions, I got a kickboxing DVD that promises it will help sculpt them. All I have to do is get up early enough to sweep, squat, kick…but I choose sleep every time. Let’s hashtag it, friends: #hopelesscause.

You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith. You might be right.

While my parents were here, Stanton and I enjoyed a rare brunch date at the Iron Gate Cafe in downtown Albany. This is one of our favorite local restaurants. We sat at a table for two alongside an exposed-brick wall, and had many cups of coffee as we talked.

When you’re the parents of young children, it can be tricky to truly “talk.” Conversations often focus on logistics—who needs a dentist appointment, what time Parents Night at the elementary school starts, when is the absolute latest we can mail in the soccer-picture-order form. So over Stanton’s Bacado omelet and my breakfast BLT, we really appreciated the time and space we had to break bread, literally and figuratively.

We did talk about the girls, of course. And about my writing and his work, and future trips we wanted to take together. “We’ve got to see Maine,” I said, and Stanton agreed.

As we talked, I noticed that everyone around us was talking too. Folks at the other tables were gathered together…talking. Enjoying one another’s company, as well as the food.

I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people take pictures of themselves and their surroundings, wherever I am, that I was actually struck by the talking/non-picture-taking. How awesome, I thought, for all these people to be engaged with their families and friends. To be present.

In so many ways, it’s healthy to be present. And to live in the present. To appreciate the time we have right now, because the truth is, time ticks away from us, quietly yet relentlessly.

How awesome…To be present.

When my daughters are older, one thing I want to pass along to them is to appreciate men like their dad, and mine. Men who value good conversation, and listen to them (and don’t mind unsculpted abs). Men who get outside and revel in the fresh air, rather than get lost in their phones, TV’s and other toys. Kind, hearty men.

Across the ages, some things stay timeless. Honesty, courage, respect for humanity and the Earth that sustains us all. Those values don’t grow old.

In the face of our humanness and impermanence, sometimes the best we can do for our children and families is live the morals of the stories we tell.

Before my parents headed back to Pennsylvania, we all gathered in the breakfast nook. We had some coffee and apple cider doughnuts from nearby Kleinke’s Farm (another excellent local stop). Anna was telling us about her preschool, and my dad joked that his early childhood education came from the School of Hard Knocks.

“Huh?”

“I’m kidding, sweetheart.” My dad smiled at Anna. “Pop didn’t go to preschool.”

“Poor Pop!”

I smiled at my daughter, and my dad. I love my dad incredibly, and throughout all these years, this is what I’ve learned from listening to my dad’s stories—these have been the morals of his stories: Bring people together. Make them comfortable, make them feel welcome, make them laugh.

The content of the story doesn’t matter so much as the context. School of Hard Knocks or creative nonfiction or a story made up at bedtime, it doesn’t matter. What matters is making people feel better because you were there, gathered together with your story.

I can’t picture you old.

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.

Last Call: Tell Me Everything

Every night, I rock my 3-year-old daughter, Anna, to sleep. Stanton thinks she’s old enough that my rocking her isn’t necessary. Just lay her down, tuck her in, he says.

It isn’t necessary, I agree, night after night. I just love doing it; she loves it too.

This isn’t efficient, he adds, as I sink into the old recliner, and Anna folds herself into me. “Squishes in to get cozy,” she calls it.

I’ll see you in about 30 minutes, I often say to Stanton. And he—he of adept efficiency—says he’ll see me then.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more. Especially if we have an older child, or older children, whose first instinct these days isn’t to reach for us, but to make requests and issue directives. Can I have a play date with Sophia? I’m tired of eating turkey-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch. Don’t walk me all the way, Mom.

At the end of the day, with my little girl, I’m unapologetically inefficient.

The recliner we have is almost seven years old. Stanton and I bought it a few months before Grace was born. It’s worn; creaky if you lean too much to the right; and the most comfortable seat in our house.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more.

The other night, I was rocking Anna. She wasn’t tired just yet. She was talking to me about Lizzy, my brother- and sister-in-law’s dog. She was saying she loved walking Lizzy, which she had done this past Thanksgiving when we were visiting them.

“Wow,” I said, surprised at her enduring memory. (I barely remember what happened yesterday.)

“Lottie and D-Daddy were there,” Anna went on. “And we walked and walked Lizzy. It was fun.”

“I’m so glad you have happy memories,” I said.

Anna nodded. “I have happy memories, Mom, but they don’t glow like in Inside Out.”

I smiled at Anna’s point of reference. “That’s OK, honey.”

Anna looked up at me with wide eyes. “There was a scary part, and Grace gave me a pillow and held my hand.”

They hadn’t watched the movie together in a while. Again, I was surprised at everything Anna remembered. “Because Grace loves you so much.”

“Yeah, I know that, Mom.” With the abundant self-confidence of a child. “Bing Bong is my favorite,” Anna added, laughing.

I laughed too. “I love all your memories.”

“But they don’t glow, Mom,” Anna reminded me. She snuggled against my chest. “And that’s what I remember.”

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As we go along in our lives, certain memories stick with us, for whatever reasons. Chance? Or maybe something scientific (a process involving synapses perhaps).

I have a clear memory of Anna, and that old recliner. Mostly clear, anyway. I’m not positive of the date, but I believe it was the day Stanton and I brought Anna home, or the day after. So Anna was three or four days old.

It was nighttime. I was in the nursery, holding Anna in the recliner. I had had a cold when I gave birth to Anna (it was February), and now she had the same cold. She could only breathe well if she was held upright; otherwise, she got congested, and coughed and sniffled. I held her upright all the time, for two weeks until she felt better. At that point, though, we were at Day 3 (or 4).

I was holding Anna against my chest, all seven pounds, eight ounces of her. Three years later, I can still almost feel her soft, newborn cheek against my chin.

Stanton walked into the nursery. He asked how I was.

I remember telling him, “I’m so happy.”

I remember that because it’s not something I say very often (which you may find surprising). I say I’m grateful all the time. Another popular self-description is frazzled. But happy—despite my glass-half-full nature, I reserve happy for moments of joy. Deep, conscious-of-something-beautiful joy.

That child was (is) my something beautiful, just like her big sister.

Stanton stayed near the door, looking at us. I remember thinking he looked oddly serious. “What?” I asked.

“I’ll take care of you and the girls,” he said.

That was encouraging to hear, considering I had just given birth to our child. Nice to know he wasn’t plotting a midnight escape, three (or four) days postpartum. 😉

My memory of that night is being happy (though exhausted), and hearing Stanton recommit that he’d stick around.

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random—a motley crew of people, places, blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it moments. Walking a dog, Bing Bong, the hand of someone who loves you.

Lately, after both girls are asleep, Stanton and I have been watching Cheers reruns on Netflix. (Welcome to our cheesy life. 😉 ) Cheers may come across as unsophisticated for today’s sitcom standards (the laugh track! Rhea Perlman’s over-the-top Carla Tortelli! Coach!), but it’s sweet, classic.

I get this, Stanton said recently. A local place. People who know you, people who care.

Who wouldn’t want that? I agreed.

Although, thinking back now, some of us wouldn’t want that. Some of us may prefer living more anonymously, adventuring far and wide, footprints in the sand and memories as picturesque as postcards. I’ve been reading The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, and I love this line from it: “There was no perfect way to live” (page 302).

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random…

However each of us lives, whatever differences there may be among us, I do hope everyone has a good share of happy memories.

Crazy how our minds can speed along a train of thought, a far-reaching railroad track of time, history and memory. Books, TV shows, favorite places, milestones like the birth of a child…nighttime.

The end of the day, with dark outside and lamplight glow in, often offers us the ideal setting for honest conversation. No rush. Tired so that we don’t finesse language, but speak from the heart.

The end of the day is a last call of sorts, whether we’re toasting at a Cheers-like place, winding down the day (the adventures, or the minutiae), or snuggling a child to sleep. Tell me everything…be here next time.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

When a Picture Falls Out of a Book

One corner of my kitchen countertop is a mess, always. Stuff just accumulates there.

My daughters’ ponytail holders. My Us Weekly magazines (I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit, I’ve been a subscriber, off and on, for years). Stanton’s various electronic gadgets. Pens, batteries, coupons, Shopkins, the occasional card. Lots…of…stuff.

The other day, I tried to clean up some of the stuff. Scoop the ponytail holders into a drawer. Recycle the magazines. Then I picked up an overstuffed file folder and a coming-unbound book—“Chocolatina” by Erik Kraft, one of the girls’ favorites—and a picture fluttered out of the jumble of paper and pages.

This picture:

When a Picture Falls Out

This picture shows my three siblings and me with our mom and her parents, our Poppy and Grandma. I’m the cute one. Just kidding, friends. 😉 I’m the one wearing the orange shirt.

My brother Josh is making bunny ears on my head. My other brother, Jared (in the striped shirt), would grow up to become the cute one. My sister Jenna is resting her head on the table.

I’m not sure whose birthday we’re celebrating here. If one of them is reading this, maybe they’ll help me out. (Hint, hint…)

I emailed this picture to my family, along with some old friends who have been around us Minetolas so long, and sat at that kitchen table with us so much, that they, too, know all the characters in this story.

Jared replied all: “photo cred: John Minetola?” That would be my dad, and I replied that yes, I thought so. Otherwise, he would have been in the picture.

This was before the selfie stick era, you know.

When this picture fell out of that book, I wasn’t expecting it. But instantly, after I picked it up, I smiled.

I smiled because it was a happy memory. Not a perfect memory—whose birthday cake was that?—but a happy one, because we were all there together. And I’m grateful that we still do gather around that table, many years later, for dinners and rounds of Uno and other normal, nothing-special moments that actually are special in their togetherness.

Poppy, of course, has since passed way, five years ago now. I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place.

I do wish he could have been here to have met Anna. I know he would have loved everything about her—every little thing, from her dimples to the mischievous twinkle in her eye, which is exactly like his.

Poppy did have a chance to meet Grace, about a year and a half before he died. I will always remember the way he leaned over to her—an old man with glasses, looking with big love at my baby—and said, “I hope you live to be 90.” Grace looked back, and I like to think she understood what he said.

Sometimes, our best pictures are the ones we don’t take. But our memories, strong and enduring, of times that touched our hearts and stay with us forever.

“I hope you live to be 90.”

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo writes that it can be difficult to organize pictures. Not only do we file them into photo albums, but we also stick them into books as bookmarks, or magnet them to the refrigerator, or pull them out of our photo albums to send to loved ones. Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Have you ever opened a book, or knocked a day planner to the floor, and a picture or other memento fell out, rousing a memory?

What did you remember, friends?

Reflecting on a past moment, we might slip on our rose-colored glasses. We might romanticize a time, long gone, that we struggled through in real time, years ago.

I’ve had my moments with rose-colored glasses, and romanticism too. I’ve had my moments, friends.

People aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. Life is beautiful, and it’s also humbling.

Life is both/and; shades of gray, not black and white.

Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Poppy loved nature. The older I get, the more I love and seek it out too.

Last week, my parents were in town for the girls’ winter break. One morning, I brought my dad and Grace to Five Rivers, a nearby nature park. We spent some time bird-watching at the visitor center, using binoculars to look out the expansive windows. We spotted many eastern bluebirds, and even an opossum.

“Poppy would have loved this,” my dad said.

I agreed.

“The best thing about a picture,” Andy Warhol said, “is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” I loved seeing Poppy again in the picture that fell out of the book. I so appreciated remembering him, too, when I was bird-watching with my dad and my daughter.

Years from now, I wonder if my daughters will stumble upon an old picture, or frayed certificate of participation that I saved—a memento of some kind. So much of our life is digitized now, but we still keep hard copies of this and that here and there.

I wonder what Grace and Anna might find. I wonder what they’ll remember.

I hope they’ll skim over the imperfect parts. The persistent morning rush and end-of-day crankiness. My forgetting Anna’s teddy bear on “Bring Your Teddy Bear to Preschool Day” (that happened yesterday), Stanton’s coming home later than he’d said (two nights ago).

I hope they’ll skim over those parts, and remember that we loved them. At the very least, that we tried.

That is, after all, what families do: Love. Work. Play. Be there for one another. Try.

This quote made me laugh, so I’ll end with it, for your enjoyment too: “My whole family is lactose intolerant, and when we take pictures, we can’t say, ‘Cheese.’” –Jay London

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

The Christmas Presents I Remember

Yesterday morning, Anna and I stopped by our local post office. While Anna munched on crackers and thumbed through a display of bubble mailers, I addressed several flat-rate envelopes and stuck the last of our Christmas presents for family and friends inside. I felt two emotions at the same time—hope, that everyone would like what I’d picked out for them; and relief, that my Christmas shopping and boxing was now (literally!) wrapped up.

For all its festiveness, the end of the year can be a stressful time. Arranging get-togethers and travel plans with loved ones. Finishing work projects. And buying presents. Always…buying…presents.

To be honest, I love picking out presents for people. I especially love doing this for my daughters. Stanton and I are so looking forward to Friday morning, when the girls will open our Christmas presents for them before we drive to my mom and dad’s house in Pennsylvania.

I think Grace will love the blue watch we got her—actually, I know she will, because she told me that’s what she wanted: “a blue watch.” And I can picture Anna’s eyes lighting up when she opens her box of dress-up headpieces. And I picture…ripped wrapping paper on the hardwood floor; hot chocolate with marshmallows in mugs on the coffee table; and staying in our pajamas longer than we ever would on a normal Friday morning.

I thought back to my own childhood. I tried to remember, what were some of my favorite Christmas presents? I thought harder…

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What came to mind, instantly—and as clearly as if it had just happened—was my parents’ living room. There was ripped wrapping paper there, too. And my Dad with a big Hefty bag, cleaning up.

I remembered my Dad.

And my Mom. In my memory, my Mom was sitting on the couch, holding a cup of coffee because she’d been up until 2 a.m. wrapping all the presents and baking the last of our Christmas cookies. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

My Dad and my Mom.

My brothers and sister, too—I remembered them. We were all there together. Later that day, my grandparents would come over…and other family and friends…and we’d celebrate Christmas all day long.

I remembered all those things very clearly.

Not one single Christmas present, however, is a clear memory. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

Christmas presents are fun—the giving and the getting. They’re especially fun for kids. It’s unfortunate, though, that some of the things related to the fun and festivity of this season can be stressful.

So if you’re feeling stressed right now, friends…if you still haven’t addressed all your Christmas cards (me neither!)…or wrapped your kids’ presents…or crossed off some lingering end-of-year to-do’s…take a breath. Take a moment.

Remember.

What the people you love will remember…is YOU. That you were there.

That you cared.

They love YOU.

Merry Christmas, all. 🙂

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.