Do You Know You’re Lucky?

This past Thursday, the girls and I drove to our local Y, as we usually do. I practice yoga in a morning class there, while Grace and Anna play in the Kids’ Korner with other little ones and several sweet (and patient!) babysitters. The essential principle of yoga is breath—breathe deeply and consciously; be present in the moment—but, ironically, many Thursday mornings are a breathless rush to get everyone fed, dressed and packed up before banging out the back door.

On this particular Thursday morning, I parked the car. Slung my yoga bag and the diaper bag over my left shoulder. Hoisted Anna up in my left arm, grabbed Grace’s left hand in my right and clicked the car locked.

“Fun!” Anna yelled as the three of us hustled across the parking lot, the spring breeze tousling our hair. (Grace sometimes observes that she and Anna have “gold” hair, while, “You got some gray in yours, Mom.”) Anna flung her arms up in the air. I stumbled, then steadied myself. Anna, in pure Anna fashion, threw her hands around my neck and laughed, causing Grace to laugh, too.

An older lady was walking toward us. She smiled and said, “Aren’t you lucky to have your hands full?”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling back at her. I am lucky.

Do you ever stop and remember you’re lucky, friends?

It might be hard to consider ourselves lucky. We think about the challenges of day-to-day life. We think about how things could be better. We worry about our aging loved ones—our jobs, our bills—the world we’re leaving for our children.

Do You Know You're Lucky

In the fall, I happened to hear a missionary speak. He quoted a news report (this one, I think) that reported that the world’s average salary, based on the data available, is about $18,000 a year. Another statistic: More than one-third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day.

I don’t know your personal or professional statistics. I do know, though, that you have Internet access. You can read; you’re educated. You have access to food, water, warmth. You have time.

You’re lucky, right? All things considered…the answer is probably yes.

Some of us use the words “lucky” and “blessed” as synonyms. I’m not sure they are. But I do appreciate this sentiment from Albert Einstein (who called himself agnostic): “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Life, we know, is more complicated than that—miracle or not; black or white; all or nothing. Whatever our life philosophies or spiritual perspectives, though, we understand the concept of “glass half full.”

Those of us who struggle with emotional or mental health can grasp for the glass half full, and not find it. I empathize with this struggle. It’s not always easy—not always possible—to simply “snap out of it” and “count our blessings.”

This is true as Mother’s Day approaches. Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for those of us who have lost our mothers, or our children, or a vision we once had of “family.”

I’ve shared before that my first pregnancy, before Grace, ended in miscarriage. I’d rather not bring this experience up in my writing anymore—I don’t want to exploit it for the purposes of telling a story, or making a point. I bring it up now, though, because I still remember, vividly, a time in my life when I felt very, very sad.

Two evenings ago, I watched the FRONTLINE/NPR documentary on “Poverty, Politics and Profit.” Maybe you saw it too. The lead journalist reported on several families’ struggle to find affordable housing. She also reported on corruption within the low-income housing industry—corruption within both federal agencies and private companies. The documentary ended with an image of several elementary-aged children watching as their mother’s minivan was repossessed because she had fallen behind on the car payment. When these kids and their mom weren’t able to find space at a homeless shelter, or stay with family and friends, the minivan was where they slept—until that moment.

It can be hard, for all sorts of reasons, to feel lucky.

But I am.

And if you’re reading this, you probably are too.

Be well, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Sometimes, Our To-Do Lists Can Wait

A few days ago, I told my husband, “I really need to write on Saturday.” I’d been working on a magazine article, and had to finish it and submit it by the approaching deadline. Stanton completely understood and encouraged me to take whatever time I needed. He would take care of the girls, which is what I do during the week when he’s working.

Saturday came. In the early afternoon, Anna was napping. I got my car keys. Stanton and Grace were reading on the couch, the sunlight streaming in from the window behind them. In that moment, I realized I hadn’t talked with Grace lately.

Yes, I always ask her how school is. I give in to her request for a cup of Scrabble Junior Cheez-Its as I’m on the phone with her dentist’s office. I plead with her to play quietly in her room while I rock Anna to sleep in hers.

But we hadn’t really talked lately.

So, car keys in hand, I said, “Grace, why don’t you come with me?”

Grace perked up. “But you have to write a story.”

“I can always do it later tonight. But now, would you like to come to the coffee shop with me?”

“Just me and you?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

Grace grinned.

to-do-lists-image

A bit later at the coffee shop, Grace and I sat across from each other at a table for two. Grace was eating a cookie. I had a cup of coffee and a muffin. We chatted about her classmate’s upcoming birthday party and which present he might like, and her ice skating lesson the next day. I remembered something I wanted to include in my article, and scribbled the idea down in the notebook I always carry in my bag.

This notebook of mine has scribbles galore—countless stories waiting to be told, someday.

“Mom, I know a great story you can write,” Grace said.

I put my pen down. “What is it, honey?”

Grace finished chewing. “Me and Grace went to Perfect Blend together…and that was a very special day,” she said. “The end.”

I felt a lump in my throat.

“Do you like my story, Mom?”

“I love you, Grace,” I replied instead.

We have so many things we have to do every day. Some are nonnegotiable. But sometimes, our to-do lists can wait.

I meant to write a magazine article that Saturday afternoon. I had a date with my daughter instead.

As it turns out, we wrote a meaningful story together anyway.

“‘Me and Grace went to Perfect Blend together…and that was a very special day…The end.'”

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.

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.

My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog

Every evening after dinner, Stanton usually takes a walk with the girls to our neighborhood mailboxes, just down the street and around the corner. It takes the three of them about fifteen minutes to walk back and forth—check the mail, chat with some neighbors, “find the moon” (Grace loves pointing it out to Anna).

These fifteen minutes give me enough time to run the vacuum cleaner through the kitchen and adjoining family room, the part of our house that is concentrated with crumbs, dirt and random disposable clutter by 7 p.m. I often try to sort a load of laundry into the washing machine too. And I always take a minute to enjoy a square of my favorite dark chocolate bar—guilty pleasures, guilty pleasures.

A few evenings ago, Stanton and the girls returned from their routine walk. “We got the mail, Mom!” Grace announced, depositing it on the freshly vacuumed family room floor. Anna squealed and ran through the pile, ripping some junk-mail flyers and leaving a trail of shredded paper in her wake.

“Thank you, guys,” I said. Then I noticed one of the pieces of mail on the floor: the newest Pottery Barn catalog.

Ah, the Pottery Barn catalog.

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Like many suburban moms, I enjoy flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog. Every page, every artfully staged person-less scene offers an escape into a serene space (free of crumbs, dirt and clutter). Simultaneously, all of these picture-perfect settings remind me that I’m far from achieving the aspirational Pottery Barn life.

The Pottery Barn brand is classic, gracious and organized—very organized. If you live a Pottery Barn life, for example, then you come home to this fashionable yet functional storage system:

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This scene looks so bright and inviting, I’d love to jump right into it. Unfortunately, the mud room entrance to my house looks more like this, especially after the girls and I get back from the pool. Yes, not quite as Instagram-worthy:

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Please don’t judge me too harshly, friends. 🙂

After an afternoon of swimming, what better way to chill than to hang out in the family room, right? Who wouldn’t want to kick back in this Pottery Barn family room—clean, cozy and wonderfully coordinated:

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Now let me introduce you to a typical afternoon around here:

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Cue “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Finally, a tale of two dining rooms. First, the Pottery Barn prototype:

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Versus…hello, home sweet home:

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For the moment, my beautiful dining room table serves as a landing spot for several loads of laundry. Hopefully these clothes (and other odds and ends) will get put away by the weekend. And hopefully we’ll break out our own candlesticks and wine glasses for a well-appointed family dinner sometime soon.

When you fill the scenes of your life with people, you also open the door to everything that those relationships bring about: beach towels on summer days, picture frames and greeting cards in the family room, and life happening everywhere.

My life is not a Pottery Barn catalog. I am so grateful for the people who make that possible. What about you?

Photo credits: Pottery Barn

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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.

I’m Redshirting My Summer-Birthday Daughter: Our Family’s Story

“Higher, Mom! Higher!”

It was a Friday morning, and my daughters and I had been at the park for nearly two hours.

We began our time here at the jungle gym (1-year-old Anna gleefully tried to keep up with her big sister; I burned hundreds of calories dashing to save her life several times). Then we walked through the neighboring savanna (a bathroom break for Grace, diaper change for Anna and snacks for everyone included). Now we were back at the playground, and I was pushing both girls on a swing set.

“OK, hold on!” I pushed Grace higher.

“Woo-hoo!” she yelled.

“Woo!” Anna echoed, clapping her hands.

This was the kind of the moment that made parenthood—especially parenthood of small children—worth it.

Worth all the sleep-deprived nights in the beginning. Worth the sibling squabbling that followed, sooner than expected. Worth the tradeoff of weeklong romantic vacations for date nights close to home, in order to save for the kids’ 529 plans.

My girls were happy and getting along. The sun was shining. I felt caffeinated and energized, thanks in equal parts to my travel mug of coffee and the natural Vitamin D.

It was a storybook moment. We moms and dads know they don’t come as often as we’d like. When they do, though, we treasure them.

Grace has an August birthday. In a couple of months, she’ll turn 5. She’s eligible to begin kindergarten here in Texas this fall (the cutoff date is September 1), but I decided to give her one more year at home with Anna and me.

One more year to experience more of these spontaneous storybook moments with us, before our family life becomes busier with more formal education for Grace (and Anna) and more out-of-the-home work for me.

Educators, policymakers and others call this practice of delaying kindergarten for summer-birthday babies “redshirting.” Maybe you’ve dealt with it, too?

Kindergarten

A lot has been written about the advantages and disadvantages of having a child start their formal education at age 6 rather than 5. I’ve read through some of these articles, keeping in mind that there are pros and cons along every path.

One advantage that authors often point out is that the additional year can benefit children socially. I do think this will be true for Grace.

She’s sweet, smart and shy, especially in new situations. Being one of the oldest in her kindergarten class, then, probably will give her an extra boost of confidence.

I’ve watched Grace look out for the smaller kids in her preschool dance and gymnastics classes—as well as her own little sister and kids in the park. She’s naturally nurturing with littler kids. I can see her feeling comfortable and helpful as one of the oldest in her kindergarten class.

Another advantage that educators and policymakers indicate is the academic one. If a child starts kindergarten a year later, then they will have had an extra year to prepare for kindergarten—to learn the alphabet, count and follow directions. Grace already does these things fairly well; if anything, reviewing these items in a kindergarten class may not hold her interest, a disadvantage.

However, the majority of families that redshirt their summer-birthday sons and daughters tend to be highly educated, upper-middle class ones—those who can afford to provide another year of preschool and/or child care. A 2015 Atlantic article discusses how this socioeconomic divergence in redshirting can, unfortunately, further widen the skills gap between higher-income and lower-income kids.

I don’t want to contribute to this skills gap. I think, though, that one more year of storybook moments will be special for both my daughters. I think it will be a time we’ll look back on and treasure—for its spontaneity, its simplicity, its sweetness.

I’m looking forward to the year ahead with my girls. Grace will be attending preschool three days a week. Anna and I will continue our “Mommy and Me” time at the park, children’s museum and (let’s be honest) non-fun but necessary stops such as the grocery store and dry cleaner’s.

Together, all three of us are embarking on something new, too. Our city sponsors a volunteer storytime program, with the goal of encouraging youth literacy in those who could use a helping hand. I’m excited to join this program, a great volunteer match for a book lover, writer and mom like me.

This experience should be meaningful for everyone involved—the kids, me and my daughters. Grace especially will see firsthand the good that can happen when people from varying sides of a gap unite over reading and stories.

“To hell with facts! We need stories!” said Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Every child has their own story to tell. Correspondingly, every family has their own ethos, their way of life that works best for them. Redshirting kindergarten is the route that makes the most sense for us—it’s simply our family’s story.

“Higher, Mom! Higher!”

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.

A Hostess Cupcake Can Take You Back

“Be right back,” our next-door neighbor Sophia said.

The girls and I watched as she dashed inside her house. It was about 5 p.m. on a weekday, and the four of us were drawing with sidewalk chalk on Sophia’s driveway. The afternoon before, we had done the same thing on our driveway, so much so that the entire slab of concrete was covered in chalky pictures (Grace and Sophia) and scribbles (Anna).

This afternoon, Sophia had told us that her driveway had room for more pictures and scribbles.

Now, Sophia darted back outside. She held her hands out to us—two Hostess cupcakes. “These are my last ones,” she said.

Anna squealed and grabbed for one.

“Awww, thank you, Sophia,” I said. “You’re so nice.”

I read once, somewhere, that children like hearing that they’re nice. It boosts their self-esteem, apparently. Whenever my own child or someone else’s does something kind, I do my best to tell them so.

“What are these?” Grace wondered, eyeing the cupcakes. She could tell they were something good.

“These are called Hostess cupcakes,” I said. “I remember eating them when I was little. I haven’t had one in a long time though.”

“Why not, Mom?”

“Well…” I unwrapped the cupcakes for Grace and Anna. Sophia watched us, smiling. Where to begin? The saturated fat? The sugar? The infinite shelf life?

www.legends1027.com - Hostess cupcakes

No, I wasn’t going to be “that” mom and ruin this sweet moment for these children with a soapbox on nutritional value.

“The truth is,” I said, “my mom used to buy these for me. But they’re not something I buy for myself. In fact,” I added before Grace could pepper me with another “Why?” “I remember the exact kitchen cupboard in my mom’s house where she kept our Hostess cupcakes.”

I also remembered, growing up as the oldest of four kids, that I often “claimed” and labeled any sweet treats that I wanted to save for later. I would grab a Hostess cupcake, scrawl “MELISSA’S FOOD: DO NOT TOUCH” across the packaging in black marker and hide it somewhere in the kitchen. (It goes without saying that my brothers and sister didn’t really appreciate me until our adulthoods.)

Sophia shared with us that her mom had bought these for her too. Then she said, “I miss my mom.” Her mom was out of town for a bit.

There are times that I, as a grown woman, miss my mom too. She lives halfway across the country from me—two plane rides, as Grace describes. I could only imagine how a child would miss her out-of-town mom.

That afternoon, I told my little neighbor that her mom must love her so much to buy her Hostess cupcakes. I had a feeling, though I didn’t read it anywhere, that kids like hearing that their families love them.

“My mom does love me,” Sophia agreed.

“I knew it,” I said.

Grace ate her last bite of chocolate cupcake. Anna licked some of her vanilla crème filling. Then her cupcake slipped from her fingers onto the driveway.

“Oh, no!” Sophia exclaimed. “That was my last one, remember?”

I did remember. I remembered how thoughtful it was for a mom to make sure her kitchen had a few sweet treats in it. I remembered how hard it was for a kid to share those treasures with other kids.

I scooped up Anna’s cupcake. I told Sophia again that she had been so nice and that the girls had loved their cupcakes. Sophia told me that I should get some cupcakes like hers the next time I was grocery shopping.

“You should, Mom,” Grace said.

Anna licked at the last of the vanilla crème filling on her fingers.

“Maybe,” I said.

Grace and Sophia rolled their eyes at each other.

Kids know what “maybe” usually means—“no.” I remembered that from my childhood too.

The kitchen cupboard with the sweet treats. The annoying-oldest-sister “claiming” of food. The eventual generosity that comes with motherhood.

“For sure, though,” I said, “we’ll do chalk together again really soon.”

The girls agreed that that sounded good.

Photo credit: Legends 102.7 WLGZ

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

8 Times Motherhood Has Tempted Me to Run Away

Every mom has those moments—those frustrating, messy and horrifying moments when you feel on the brink. When you question if you can get through another minute of all the drama and demands of life with small children. When you fantasize about running away, preferably to somewhere quiet and warm, for just a day (or two…maybe three tops).

Here are eight recent times when motherhood may or may not have tempted me to catch the next flight to Anywhere But Here. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t. You gotta hang in there, friends.)

What are yours?

1. You have a great idea for the story you’re writing. Breathlessly, you divulge the details to your 4-year-old (as usual, she’s your primary companion). She nods and then nods some more, without looking up from her dollhouse filled with the blended-family casts of “Doc McStuffins” and “Frozen.”

“Remind me about this later, OK?” you say.

Finally, the 4-year-old sighs. “No, Mom. Try to remember yourself this time.”

Ouch.

2. It’s 7:45 a.m. You’re a mom, and so of course you’ve been up for several hours already—yet you’ve only managed to consume about two teaspoons of coffee from your 30-ounce “Death Before Decaf” mug. You put the mug in the microwave (again). Heat it up (again). The microwave buzzes, done (again).

You open the door, just as you notice your 1-year-old underfoot, crushing Rice Krispies with a meat tenderizer all over the tile floor. You trip. You accidentally knock the mug over. Coffee spills across the microwave and onto the floor.

Sigh. You really needed that caffeine.

The 1-year-old begins tenderizing Rice Krispies in the spilled coffee.

Yeah, you really needed that caffeine.

3. “Whoops, Mom.”

“What? Whoops, what?”

From the hall bathroom, your 4-year-old reports: “I dropped your car keys in the toilet.”

Great.

4. About five minutes later… “Whoops.”

“Now what? Whoops, what?” Can’t you have just one minute to renew your expired driver’s license online?

“I forgot to close the front door, and Anna just crawled out it.”

What the…! That’s the 1-year-old.

“Anna!”

Runaway

5. You’re late for the 4-year-old’s dentist appointment. She doesn’t want to go—big surprise. We have to go, you tell her. NO, she replies. Finally you bribe her to get into the car with promises of unlimited screen time for the rest of the day.

OK, where’s the 1-year-old? There she is…and she’s unwrapped one of your feminine-hygiene products. Where she found it, God only knows, but within the past minute and a half, it’s become her most prized possession on this earth. She will not let it go. Let it go, Anna; please let it go.

NO!!!

Whatever. You load her into the car too. And then the three of you arrive at the dentist’s office, your 1-year-old still proudly clutching the aforementioned unwrapped feminine-hygiene product.

Just…great.

6. You finally find a babysitter you love. Your kids seem to love her too. Then kid No. 1 asks if you’re going to have the babysitter come again. “Do you want me to?” you ask.

The response: “No.”

What’s with all the “No” and “Whoops” around your house these days?

7. You’re returning a stack of “Curious George” DVD’s and one board book to the library when you notice a sign for Early Voting for your state’s primary election. You happen to have your voter registration card on the floor of your car, along with a pile of other unopened mail. You decide it will be a good idea to do your civic duty early, even though you have the kids with you.

Reality: It is not a good idea. The line is longer than you thought and is moving s…l…o…w. The 1-year old begins literally climbing the walls of the library/polling place. The 4-year-old, meanwhile, leans against a chair and crosses her arms. (This is an eerie reenactment of yourself, circa the teenage years.)

In a moment of genius, you hand the 4-year-old your driver’s license and voter registration card. “These are super important, and it’s your very important job to hold them and take good care of them,” you tell her. She looks mildly interested, and you pat yourself on the back for inventing such a fun game while you grab the 1-year-old off the walls and distract her with YouTube clips on your phone.

Almost an hour later, you’re at the front of the line. You smile at the 4-year-old. “OK, honey, where are those very important things?”

The 4-year-old smiles back. “I hid them,” she says.

8. Your husband returns from a five-day, four-night business trip. This, of course, means you’ve been dealing with the kids, the house and the general everyday life stuff for roughly 112 hours solo too. So the hubs walks in the front door at 8:30 p.m., seconds after you finally got everyone to bed.

You greet each other, hug. “How are you doing?” he asks.

You shrug, exhausted. “How about you?”

“Man, I’m tired,” he replies.

You glare at him. You must look homicidal because he backs up a bit.

Sorry, buddy, but you have *no idea* what “tired” means. Moms do, though. And this is why we (sometimes) want to run away.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.