This Is Your Real Life

You might mistake the inside of my car for a landfill.

Empty travel coffee mugs and half-filled water bottles in the cup holders. Shoes, umbrellas and reusable grocery bags strewn across the floor. Pens that are missing their caps commingling with loose change and cough drops on the center console.

Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers everywhere.

“Yuck,” I said, opening a back door for the girls. “We really need to clean out the car.”

Grace and Anna were arguing about something, and didn’t reply. I made sure they were both buckled into their booster seats. Then I hopped in, too, and started the engine.

We were driving home from Dunkin’ Donuts. A little sugar rush to go along with all those Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers. #momoftheyear

From the backseat, the girls’ voices became louder. Grace was giving Anna advice, which Anna disagreed with. “No, Grace,” Anna said. “Come on. This is my real life.”

I smiled. This is my real life. Even 5-year-old Anna knew to take it seriously.

A little sugar rush to go along with all those Dum Dums and Airheads wrappers.

Sometimes I think it might be helpful if, along with the obligatory signs depicting miles per hour and where to stop, there were roadside displays with additional, equally indispensable messages. Inspired by my younger daughter, I think “This Is Your Real Life” would be a good one.

We all know, on a cognitive level, that we have one life. This is it, right here, right now. We know that.

On a day-to-day level, though…in the midst of actually living, getting things done, getting everyone where they need to be…the philosophy of “one life to live” can get lost in the practicalities of preparing meals, doing our jobs, signing kids up for summer camps, wiping up crumbs under the kitchen table for the seventh time that day and remembering to buy our spouse something delicious like a Cardona’s cannoli for Valentine’s Day.

One day this past week, Anna told me about something that was bothering her. I knelt down so that we could see each other eye to eye.

Oftentimes, my instinct is to talk—greet, break the ice, tell a joke or story, reassure, brainstorm next steps. It’s the communicator in me. Just as often, I need to remind myself to listen.

We tend to underestimate listening.

That day, I listened to my daughter. I asked some questions, but mostly, I listened. After a bit, Anna seemed less troubled, so I asked, hopefully, “Are you starting to feel better?”

Anna nodded. “Just talking to you.”

My heart melted; I gave her a hug.

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We’ve all probably heard that there are many benefits of eating dinner together as a family. Stanton, the girls and I try to eat dinner together as much as we can, but it doesn’t happen every night. Some evenings, one of the girls will have an after-school activity, and I’ll make one of my famous meals-to-go (their favorite: macaroni and cheese with bacon) for the car ride home. Other times, Stanton will have a business dinner. And very rarely—again, I can’t stress how rare this is, friends—I’ll have dinner plans that don’t involve the three people I live with. 😉

When the four of us do gather for a family dinner, though, I love that time together. I love hearing Stanton and the girls tell the stories of their days. I love telling my own stories too.

Every now and then, one of the girls will spill their drink. As odd as this may sound, I also appreciate moments like this, moments of imperfection. I appreciate the opportunity to remind the girls, “Accidents happen, and that’s OK.”

Every now and then, too, my phone will buzz from the kitchen—a text, a news alert, a notification of some kind.

“Mom, your phone!” the girls will say.

“I’ll get it after dinner,” I’ll say. I don’t want to miss any stories (or spills).

This is my real life.

I don’t want to miss any stories (or spills).

I am not, of course, always making-eye-contact attentive or cool-as-a-cucumber calm. But I try to make an honest effort.

This past Saturday, I did some birdwatching. If you told me, 30 years ago, I’d grow up to become an amateur birder, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I’m pretty sure my younger self would have said, “Boring.”

Sometimes we grow up and surprise ourselves.

I went to Five Rivers, a nature preserve near our home. Five Rivers is breath-of-fresh-air beautiful, in all four seasons.

Saturday was cold but sunny. Through the windows of the visitor center, as well as outside on the grounds, I stood birdwatching. I easily could identify the Eastern bluebirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers (a kind of woodpecker). The Eastern bluebird is my favorite—its vibrant blue color is truly breathtaking. I saw other species of birds, too, but couldn’t tell what they were (still an amateur, you know).

During the winter, these local birds often gather near a patch of Christmas trees that the naturalists at Five Rivers have set up. They can shelter from the cold among the pine needles, and feed on the seed bells that have been attached to the trees. Birds that rely on seeds rather than fruits and nectar for food don’t migrate south in winter, which I only learned recently.

I like birdwatching because it’s calming, cathartic. It’s a back-to-nature break devoid of Dums Dums wrappers, to-do lists and phone buzzes. All it asks of you is that you look—really look.

It’s a back-to-nature break…

This spring, Grace and some classmates are participating in a lip sync. The song they’ll be performing is “Party in the U.S.A.” Lately, our family has been listening to the Miley Cyrus hit on repeat.

When I originally searched for “Party in the U.S.A.” on my phone, YouTube helpfully recommended other up-tempo favorites for my listening pleasure. Gotta love Big Data. The other night, as I was washing dishes and listening to music, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” started playing, a YouTube recommendation.

I felt like I was at a college party, a thought I later shared with Stanton. Stanton and I actually met in college, at a party. We reminisced about that night and the college-party-playlist songs that were popular then, in the early 2000s.

There was “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” of course, and “Come On Eileen.” “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, the first song Stanton and I danced to. Not to be confused with Jon Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” another classic. “Whenever, Wherever” (Shakira, before the Super Bowl halftime show with Jennifer Lopez). And you may remember that kids back then loved J. Lo and Ja Rule harmonizing in “I’m Real.”

The list goes on, as seemingly endless as a stack of red Solo cups.

Eighteen, nineteen years old—coming of age, although we keep moving forward, unfolding, evolving. Surprising ourselves, no matter the decade we’re in.

…coming of age, although we keep moving forward, unfolding, evolving.

I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done some thoughtless things. There are times I could have been a better person, or a smarter one.

The thought has crossed my mind, how nice it might be to have a rewind button. Go back to that moment, before I made that mistake, and live that slice of life better. Take back something I said. Most of all…be there. Be there for the people I love(d).

There are no rewind buttons in the real world, though. Luckily, there’s “next time.” Next times. Opportunities to do better, thanks to the wisdom earned from past experiences—from life, and living.

This is your real life: a messy car that’s been going places; a hug from a child that makes you feel like a million dollars; stories and spills, in equal measure; moments in nature that take your breath away; old songs you’ll always love.

Look around. Really look. You see it, right?

This is your real life, and it’s beautiful.

“…remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK” (Robert Fulghum, page 3, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”).

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.

Walking in Puddles on Purpose: Notes From the Mom Front

I’m not a morning person. I’m not a night owl either. If you want to catch me at my peak, 2 p.m.-ish is a good time.

Obviously, I’m a round-the-clock joy to be around.

😉

But I can do life, friends, and I do do it. I get up with Stanton and the girls. I go to bed at a reasonable hour, so that I’m somewhat well-rested by sunrise.

But…I’m really not a morning person.

The other morning, things took a dicey turn, as they usually do around 7:15 a.m. Stanton had an earlier-than-usual meeting, so left earlier than usual. We were low on groceries, and I was scrambling to make the girls’ lunches with the limited items left in our cupboards and fridge.

“Grace, how does a Nutella sandwich sound?”

Big sigh. “Fine, or I could buy lunch.”

Not today. “I need to add money to your account.”

“Great, can you do that?”

Anna began tugging on my pajama-pant leg. “I can’t do that now… What is it, honey?”

“I can’t have a Nutella sandwich, Mom.” Anna frowned at me. “The last time you did that, Miss Molly said, no nuts. Nutella has nuts: Nutella.”

Right. My bad. “You can have a jelly sandwich, Anna.” Just jelly, of course. No peanut butter.

Big sigh from the preschooler. “Mom, you know I don’t prefer the jelly we have. And I know you don’t like the word…hate…but I hate that jelly.”

Grace gasped. “Anna! Hate is a strong word.”

Anna nodded somberly. “I hate that jelly, Grace.”

Big sigh from the mom.

The other morning, things took a dicey turn, as they usually do around 7:15 a.m.

Kids can tell when their families need to restock the cupboards and fridge—their packed lunches for school give it away. One slice of their sandwich is the end piece of a loaf of bread (scientifically known as the booty here at Casa Leddy), whose “best by” date passed a couple of days ago.

Instead of fresh fruit, there’s a fruit-flavored snack, such as cherry Jolly Ranchers or unicorn power Pop Tarts.

(Side note: I have yet to determine exactly what flavor “unicorn power” is. Cherry, supercharged?)

I don’t know about you, but milk is always, always the first bullet point on my grocery list. I don’t even have to look in the fridge to confirm we need it. I just know: milk.

Meatballs and granola bars are two other omnipresent, grocery-list bullet points. Some days, all Anna eats are granola bars. “You’re going to turn into a granola bar,” I tell her.

“No, I’m not,” Anna replies with laugh, while unwrapping yet another chocolate-chip-chia granola bar. “I’m still Anna! Anna Virginia Leddy.”

“Honey…Virginia is Grace’s middle name. Yours is Parker, remember? Anna Parker Leddy.”

Anna looked at me, doubtful.

Whatever, friends…whatever.

Kids can tell when their families need to restock the cupboards and fridge—their packed lunches for school give it away.

Though not a granola bar or Anna Virginia, my younger daughter likes to call herself a glue stick. My glue stick, to be exact. One day, she was following me around the house, chanting, “Hold me, hold me.”

I asked Anna if it was possible for me to have a few minutes to make a phone call. The basement sink kept filling with water from both the washing machine and dishwasher, weirdly; Stanton and I really needed a plumber to come over (having given up, at this point, from DIY-ing the problem with YouTube tutorials).

“Impossible,” Anna replied.

Of course. “You’re sticking to me like glue, boo.”

Anna loved this metaphor. “I’m your glue stick, Mom!”

Perfect.

…having given up, at this point, from DIY-ing the problem with YouTube tutorials…

The plumber came. Solved the problem with the basement sink (the main line was clogged). Usually I’m the one who solves the problems around here, as moms everywhere can understand, but every now and then, it’s nice to have some (professional) help.

Some professional help with our often-hectic mornings would be equally nice, but the chances of that happening, friends, are improbable to not-a-prayer. No worries, though. “Everything here is under control” = my daybreak mantra.

Earlier this week, I was walking Anna to preschool. It had just rained, but was sunny again. I was holding Anna’s hand, navigating her around the puddles on the sidewalk, but she kept darting left, then right, splashing through the sun-kissed water.

“Honey…are you walking in puddles on purpose?”

Splash. “Yep!”

“Why, Anna?”

“Because it’s fun, Mom.” Splash.

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Life with kids lends itself to funny moments. Enough to fill a book, or at least a blog post.

Fall is settling in here in upstate New York, so I was browsing the Eddie Bauer website. Scrolling through the women’s pants section, picking out some new joggers and leggings. I work from home, you know; I like to keep things classy, polished.

😉

I found some joggers I liked. The product description said fleece, elastic waist. Bingo—checking all my boxes. I clicked “M.”

“Is M for Mom?” Anna appeared out of nowhere.

“No, M is the size. Medium,” I explained.

“Your size is medium, Mom?”

I nodded. “Did you think it was something different, sweetheart?”

“Large.”

That’s a direct quote, friends. One word. There you go, and thank you very much.

The product description said fleece, elastic waist. Bingo—checking all my boxes.

Truth be told, I adore my daughters. Adore. They drive me crazy in the morning, and give me little to zero privacy, and are the No. 1 and 2 reasons why my new fall wardrobe mainly consists of elastic-waist fleece joggers. And they have, for sure, offered up enough “funny” moments to fill multiple blog posts.

Grace and Anna have also made me full.

With personal fulfillment, there is no one-size-fits-all. Each of us “fills up” in our own way. Launching the business we always dreamed of, crossing the finish line of a hard-fought race, getting sober.

Walking in puddles on purpose, because it’s fun.

It is fun, you know. I had forgotten that.

Splash.

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 You Have the Choice to Laugh or Cry

Summer is freeze pops, sunscreen and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming.

Grace, Anna and I were at the pool. My older daughter was swimming—actually swimming. My younger daughter, meanwhile, was alternating between adjusting her goggles, blowing bubbles and throwing a plastic ring for Grace to “fetch”—the myriad activities that little kids engage in when they’re in the water. Then Anna grabbed my arms and began bouncing up and down on my thighs.

“Mom!” Up and down, up and down. “You’re a trampoline!”

“No.” It was one of those moments when you could laugh or cry—it could go either way, equally. “I’m not.” Moms everywhere understand: I’m a person. A person.

Not long after, Anna overheard me tell another mom that I appreciated that my new swimsuit had adjustable straps. Minutes later, I felt the metal hooks on the adjustable straps zoom down.

“Anna!” I stopped my upper body from tumbling out of my swimsuit, as Anna continued to tug on the hooks. “Stop, honey.”

“But Mom, you have adjustable straps.” Anna smiled. “They’re fun.”

Laugh or cry…laugh or cry.

Speaking of my new swimsuit: I ordered it online. When it arrived in the mail, and I tried it on…well, let’s just say I wasn’t #twinning with the model from the website. I peered in the mirror.

Huh.

“Ooh, you got a new bathing suit, Mom!” As always, the girls were nearby.

“Mm-hmm. What do you think, girls?”

There was a pause.

“It’s OK if you don’t like it,” I assured them.

“I like the bathing suit,” one daughter (I won’t say who) said. “But I think it’s for someone who isn’t a little fat.”

Ouch.

“Yeah,” the other daughter (also anonymous in this story) agreed. “It’s just that, you look like you have a baby in your belly.”

Laugh or cry, laugh or cry…

“But you don’t! We know you don’t, Mom. You just look like that.”

I mean, whew. I just look pregnant in my new swimsuit.

“Mom.” Concerned, Grace hugged me. “I love you.”

Anna threw her arms around both of us. “I love you too, Mom. And I love your big, soft belly.”

We group hugged.

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The truth is—actually, there are two truths here. The first is, I do have belly fat. I gave birth to two children, am getting older and do zero (and I do mean zero) lower-ab exercises.

Stanton and I also just got into “The Wire” (15+ years later), and I’ve been spending many an evening beside him on our couch, engrossed in the show and munching on a bowl of raw Brazil nuts.

Just kidding, friends. You know I’ve got Cheetos or Doritos in that bowl.

😉

So I accept my body, as is. Could it be toned? Yes. Should I curb my late-night junk-food habit? Definitely…sometime soon.

Am I, overall, healthy? And happy? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is also “yes.”

The second truth is, I’m glad my daughters were honest with me. Children usually are honest—brutally honest, one might say. Ask any parent, aunt, uncle, teacher, babysitter, and they’d probably all agree: honest, to a fault.

As we grow up, we learn to temper our honesty with tact, diplomacy. I’ve worked in communications for years now, and I understand why finesse matters, in both professional and personal relationships. I get it.

I get it, and after our group hug, I told the girls they can always be honest with me. Even if they think the truth might hurt my feelings. I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom. I want them to know they can tell me anything, talk with me about anything.

They do now. And I hope they always do.

I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom.

Stanton, the girls and I recently went to the beach. All four of us had been looking forward to our family vacation, but Grace and Anna especially. And we did have a wonderful time—jumping waves, building sand castles, visiting a nature center on a rainy day.

Our last day there, I was swimming in the deep-blue water of Long Island Sound. Stanton and the girls were on the beach. It was late morning in Madison, Conn., and we were some of just the handful of tourists and locals there. The water glided over my shoulders, and when I looked ahead, I could see for miles—the open sea, endless. Since time began, human beings have been drawn to water.

“What was your favorite part of our vacation?” I asked the girls, once I came ashore.

Grace and Anna had been digging in the sand. Grace paused, considered the question. “Breakfast,” she decided.

I grabbed a towel. “Breakfast?”

“I loved breakfast at the hotel,” Grace said. “Especially the waffles.”

Stanton and I looked at each other. “Honey, we make waffles at home. What about the beach, the sand castles…”

Grace shook her head. No, definitely the hotel waffles. “That was my favorite part.”

“Me too,” Anna seconded.

Well, what do you know—the hotel waffles. (Laugh or cry?) “That’s great, girls.”

“That was my favorite part.”

Every blue moon, Stanton and I get a chance to go on a date, just the two of us. So we were out, sharing Irish nachos, drinking Shiner Bock draft (him) and red sangria (me). We’ve been each other’s date for 17 years now, and still enjoy each other’s company, which I’m deeply grateful for.

That being said…17 years is a haul. People know each other well by that point. So when, soon after our entrées arrived, Stanton said he was full and ready to head out whenever I was…I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Honey.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You want to take off your pants, right?” (This is all G-rated, friends: I promise.) When my better half comes home at the end of the day, he immediately changes out of his dress pants into a pair of athletic shorts.

Stanton smiled. “Right.”

“Do you ever even wash those shorts?” I wondered.

“That’s the wrong question.”

I nodded, understanding. “How often do you wash them?”

Stanton nodded back. “Bingo.”

Sigh. Not often.

Laugh or cry?

We both laughed.

Life is short. Despite its imperfections, life is beautiful too. The people we get to share it with are gifts.

That’s why, when I have the choice to laugh or cry…all things considered, I usually lean toward laughter.

“I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.” —Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY speech

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.

What Where’s Waldo? Taught Me About Work and Life

My 3-year-old daughter was this close to nodding off for a post-preschool nap. Her head rested against my chest. I kept rocking—slowly, slowly—and reading the story I’d been reading for the past twenty-five minutes, my voice singsong like a lullaby.

I could almost taste the freedom of the upcoming nap. I’d make a fresh, hot cup of coffee (OK, two cups). The house would be quiet.

Best of all, I’d have time to work on a writing project. About two hours before we needed to walk down the block to pick up my older daughter from the bus stop.

I was so close to that happening.

Yes, cliffhanger revealed—it didn’t happen. Like many a maternally disposed freelance writer before me, I took a deep breath and resigned myself to working on my project later, much later, that day, after the kids had fallen asleep…but before one of them woke up in the middle of the night, in need of a sip of water or comfort from a bad dream or myriad other things that moms address with Sandman fresh in their eyes (while dads somehow, mysteriously, manage to sleep through all the 2 a.m.-ish drama).

Instead of napping, Anna wanted to find Waldo. She grabbed the puzzle book from the table and began looking for the bespectacled adventurer. “Where is he?” she wondered.

I peered at the page, a chaotically colorful beach scene. “Hmm.” I readjusted my gaze to the top of the page and started scrutinizing every square inch from left to right, top to bottom, as if I were reading again.

“Where is he?” Anna repeated.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working. Frustrated, I blinked. When I opened my eyes, I saw, instantly, the elusive character.

“There he is!” I pointed; Anna beamed.

I turned the page. Again, I didn’t try so hard to answer the question, “Where’s Waldo?” I simply looked at the page, as a whole, and once again, Waldo seemingly jumped out at me.

There he was, again.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working.

Some days, I struggle to find time to write. I depend on a pieced-together schedule of school, naps, babysitters and Burning the Midnight Oil to do everything I want to do, and need to do. My work/child-care puzzle resembles a page out of a “Where’s Waldo?” book.

But…it works. If I don’t let myself get bogged down by all the stuff—a displaced two hours here, not enough contract work there—then I can see that the puzzle that is my writing life as a mom works. I just need to look at the big picture, as I did with my daughter and her “Where’s Waldo?” book that afternoon.

The big picture shows me that motherhood has made me a better writer. More than anything, motherhood has taught me patience (oh, has it taught me patience). Bring on the impossible-sounding clients, tasks and deadlines—they’re nothing I haven’t already handled with my usually demanding and occasionally irrational children.

Motherhood has given me perspective. My early-20s, first-job-out-of-college self would shake her head or reach for the Tylenol Extra Strength if something didn’t go her way—if an assignment dared to unfold less than perfectly, or a chain of emails unraveled out of control, misunderstanding everywhere. The early years of parenting have clued me in to a liberating pearl of wisdom: To progress, you have to go with the flow.

And sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

Perfection is an even more elusive needle in the haystack than Waldo.

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As I was proofreading an earlier version of this essay that you’re reading now, Anna climbed onto my lap, reached for the laptop keyboard and said, “I want to push buttons.”

“No, honey.” I moved her hand away.

Anna wrestled her hand back. “Yes, I do!”

I closed the laptop. “You…drive…me…”

“Crazy!” Anna laughed. I must have said it a time or two (maybe three) before, if my preschooler could finish the sentence/sentiment.

Sometimes, work and life with kids is crazy. Everyone needs to be out the door by a certain time in the morning, when someone spills their cup of milk. Then someone else accidentally walks through it. Just as another family member gets a text about an on-the-job crisis. And then inevitably, someone will say, “I can’t find the shoes I want to wear today!

“Where are my shoes?”

(Always.with.the.shoes.)

…sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

I can only speak from my experience, which by nature is limited. But in my experience, what I’ve come to learn—what moments like “Where’s Waldo?” with Anna have taught me—is that motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

Being a parent has opened my eyes to emotions like joy, and concerns like environmental justice. I’m not perfect—not even close—but I’m more aware than I was before. I want to make the world as good as it can be, however I can, because my children (and, maybe someday, their children) are here in it.

When I write now, as a mom, it’s with this outlook in mind. How might this story I’m working on uplift someone? What lesson might it teach?

How might this grant proposal I’m editing make a difference in someone’s life, if the nonprofit I’m collaborating with wins program funding?

In my 13 years as a writer (half of those as a mother/writer), I’ve read articles and perspectives seeking to pinpoint why women writers’ journeys can be more challenging than their male counterparts’. The answer is fairly obvious.

The novelist Kim McLarin said, at a PEN/New England discussion on the topic of “Mothers & Writing,” “Stephen King has said that to get his writing done, he has to just close the door. Easy for him to say…If I close the door, someone’s calling child services on me.”

Kids do seem to contribute to the professional differences between (many, if not most) women and (many, if not most) men—not only in writing, but also in other fields, from science to law enforcement to sports. Once a woman becomes a parent, she’s a parent in a way a man simply is not, at least for the time she takes off to recover from childbirth. A mother experiences more of a pause in her life and in her work, even if for only a few days, or weeks, or months.

(Let’s not even consider here who usually hears and responds to the kids’ crying out at 2 a.m., knows the names and contact information for everyone from pediatric dentists to best friends’ parents, and remembers to schedule the munchkins for annual well visits, after-school programs, etcetera…)

Not every family, of course, consists of a mom and a dad. And not every family welcomes their children through childbirth; physical recovery isn’t an issue in these cases.

Generally speaking, however, motherhood can sideline professional goals, for a little while or, perhaps, longer.

Sometimes you hit that pause button, right?

…motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

On the other hand, motherhood can inspire even more admirable professional goals. Seven years later, I’m still a little surprised at the wild success of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I get that its early electronic versions made “Fifty Shades of Grey” easy and discreet for people to read. I understand erotica is a popular genre (it’s not my favorite genre, but I have read it). But the writing—the writing, friends.

The writing of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is bad. It is, objectively, bad. And it’s fan fiction, basically. I wrote fan fiction of my favorite TV shows when I was in high school (not something I like to brag about!)…and it was bad too.

According to Forbes, however, E. L. James has a net worth of $95 million. (My net worth? Like yours, nowhere near there.) The bottom line: The general public doesn’t care about the bad writing that is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I care, though. I care about the work I do. I care about leaving a legacy of writing that—if they read it someday—my daughters can be proud of.

Last week, a magazine let me know they had accepted a short story I had submitted to them. The story is about a woman’s despair, and surprising endurance. I think Grace and Anna will enjoy reading it someday, and I hope it will be an inspiration for other women much sooner.

The magazine will be publishing my story in about four months. I almost couldn’t believe their email of acceptance to me—I’ve had a humbling streak of rejections with my creative writing lately.

My family knows this, and so when I shared the good news with them, they were happy for me—especially the girls.

“Yay, Mom!” Grace cheered.

“MOM!!!” Anna yelled, clapping her hands. And one second later: “I want pizza!”

Work, life and kids can be crazy. Can be a hot mess. Can be a scene straight out of “Where’s Waldo?”

Every now and then, it helps to hit pause. To take a breath. To look at the big picture.

When you look at the big picture—your big picture—what do you see, friends?

Wherever you are right now, if you’re somebody’s mom or dad, then what you’re doing, whatever it is, it’s for that little person (or little people). They love you more than anything, and they count on you for everything. Whatever kind of work you do, whatever puzzle your work/life looks like, so much of it’s for them.

They may not know that yet. Possibly they won’t know it for years, not until they have a family of their own. So let me say then, on their behalf…because it took me a long time to recognize all the love and sacrifice my own parents put into my childhood…let me tell you, on your little people’s behalf, THANK YOU.

THANK YOU for where you are right now. THANK YOU for what you’re doing, and for everything you did, and for everything you will do. THANK YOU for making our world a better place.

(And a million other things too: It’s OK you can’t chaperone the field trip. I’m sorry I was rude. I’ll listen to your advice next time. I’ll stop rolling my eyes all the time. I know you tried. You were right. You were right. You were right. I love you.)

But mostly…THANK YOU.

(P.S. Where are my shoes?)

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.

Look, Mom: I Wrote a Story Too

I shut the top lid and press “on.” The old coffeemaker grumbles awake and begins brewing several cups of my favorite blend.

From the adjoining breakfast nook, my daughters are bickering—something about whose turn it is, or isn’t, to use a certain stamp. I poke my head around the corner. “Share, girls,” I say.

My older daughter crosses her arms. “I have been sharing,” Grace says. “She hasn’t.”

Rather than pleading her case, my younger daughter says, “Mommy! Hold me!”

I give Anna a hug and then settle her back beside her sister. “Girls,” I say, “there are a million things you can do in here. Color. Play with your Shopkins. Finish your cereal, maybe. Do something while I pack up your book bags.”

My 3-year-old frowns. “I don’t want to go to school today,” she says.

“You’ll have fun once you get there,” I reply.

She shakes her head. “No, I won’t. I want to stay with you, Mom.”

“I don’t,” Grace announces, for the record. “I want to go to school.”

My coffee better be ready soon. “Look,” I say. “Everyone has to go to school today, because Mom needs to write and Dad is working too. So…” I gesture to the crayons, construction paper and myriad amusements covering the table. “Please do something while I get your things ready for school.”

Anna sighs, but picks up a crayon. I return to the kitchen.

Story Image

For all I have to do to secure my writing time—the two different school drop-offs, snack and lunch preparation beforehand, the pleading (and, occasionally, yelling) for the girls to get along and remember to brush their teeth and, of course, find their shoes—I wonder if it’s even worth it. Especially considering that the majority of the writing I do now—essays submitted to literary magazines (and not always accepted), short fiction that I self-publish on Amazon, every post on my website here—is creative, a.k.a. not that lucrative.

The coffeemaker sputters to a stop. I pour myself a cup. Outside the window above the kitchen sink, the sun rises. The thought flickers across my mind, again: Is this even worth it? Or should I do something different?

“Mom. Look, Mom.”

Anna’s voice draws me back in. I turn; I look.

She’s smiling, proud. And she’s holding up a piece of blue construction paper, marked here and there with lines of crayon. “I wrote a story too,” she tells me.

I take in a breath. Then I smile; I kneel down. I look at the paper. “Wow,” I say. “You did.”

“Just like Mom,” Anna says. She drops her story at my feet, then runs off.

I pick up the paper—my daughter’s story. She wrote it because I write stories. She sees something of value, something worth mimicking, in storytelling. Just like when we visited the local firehouse for a field trip, and the girls spent the rest of the day pretending to be firefighters.

I hang her story up on the refrigerator, with Grace’s soccer-picture magnet from last season.

I could never not write creative nonfiction, or short fiction. I simply love telling stories, both those that are true and those I make up. It makes me happy when someone reads something I wrote, and lets me know it moved them in some way—made them laugh, or encouraged them during a difficult time.

And during difficult times in my life, writing has been healing to me. Either in helping me to make sense of my journey and to find meaning within the pain, or in escaping, for a moment, to a world of my own making. Often it’s easier to give fictional characters’ “Aha!” moments, rather than to stumble across our own.

I pick up the paper—my daughter’s story. She wrote it because I write stories. She sees something of value, something worth mimicking, in storytelling.

Originally, I submitted a version of this essay to a literary magazine I really like and read. Yesterday, the editor let me know it wasn’t a good fit for them right now. During dinner that evening, I shared with the girls what she said.

“What was your story called?” Grace asked.

I told her: “Look, Mom: I Wrote a Story Too.” (Based on a true story, as all good stories are. 😉 )

Grace smiled sympathetically. “Awww, that sounds cool, Mom.”

I smiled back. “Thanks, honey.”

Eventually, every creative type has a come-to-Jesus conversation with him- or herself. Is what I’m doing worthwhile?

I’ve been thinking about this, and the answer is—like many of the answers I arrive at—yes and no. Pros and cons for everything, shades of gray everywhere. But for sure, more “no” than “yes,” friends.

I want to contribute more financially meaningfully to our family’s life. E-book royalties and token payments for magazine pieces, while holding out hope for a big break à la Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney, don’t go very far toward summer camps and retirement savings.

Worth and value can be subjective, and are, but bottom lines don’t lie.

I’m excited, then, to dedicate more time to seeking out the kind of contract work I’ve done before, proposal editing and copywriting. I’m good at that stuff; I can do it. Fingers crossed, I can do it from home.

I’ll still do the creative writing I love, just more on the back burner.

Yet…Anna’s story still hangs on the fridge.

Kids…love…stories. We grow up, and we still…love…stories. We tell stories every day—from our quickest conversations with our neighbors, to our end-of-day heart-to-hearts with the ones who know and love us best.

I believe there is unity, and understanding, and love in storytelling. Deep down, we all might believe that.

That’s why I’ll never give up on it.

In the meantime…if you know anyone who could use some editing or writing help, send ‘em my way. 😉 ❤

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.

The Secret Lives of Moms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My turn to sigh.

So yes…thank goodness for Netflix.

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

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

The girls…went…crazy.

“Melissa! Melissa!” Grace noticed.

“Mom…is…Melissa!” Anna chimed in.

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

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

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

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

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

I raised my eyebrow back at her.

The secret lives of moms.

Secret 2-8-18

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

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

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

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

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

“Cheetos!” they yell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great.

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

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

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

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

Mom, you shouldn’t have gotten the Cheetos.

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

One last story, friends.

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

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

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

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

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

Why indeed, friends. Why indeed.

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

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

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

(Do we ever grow up, friends?)

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Moms, Make Time for Your Friends on BonBon Break

I’m so happy to share that my essay “Moms, Make Time for Your Friends” has been published in the wonderful online magazine BonBon Break. Head on over to check it out! Hope you enjoy, friends.

Many thanks to the lovely folks at BonBon Break for this awesome opportunity to collaborate.

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Don’t miss Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.