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.

Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

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.

Check Out My 9th E-book, You Have to Make a Mess Sometimes

I’m happy to share, friends, that my newest e-book (my 9th one!) is now published and available on Amazon.com. Please check out “You Have to Make a Mess Sometimes: Creative Nonfiction Stories.” Enjoy + let me know what you think + spread the word.

From the Amazon book description: “In the fall of 2018, writer Melissa Leddy gathered together 19 of her most-read posts from the previous year. All these creative nonfiction stories originally appeared on her website, Melissa Leddy: Writing at Its Most Heartfelt. She reworked them and organized them in a way that provides flow. Most of all, she hopes they provide encouragement…a hearty laugh or quiet chuckle here and there…the chance to breathe, and keep breathing…

“The stories feature Melissa’s signature writing style: a from-the-heart tone underscored with self-effacing humor. Readers will appreciate the wisdom she shares from everyday moments, in pieces ranging from the playful ‘Ready (or Not) for Some Quality Time?’ to the uplifting ‘You Are Where You’re Supposed to Be.’

“Dig in. When you finish ‘You Have to Make a Mess Sometimes,’ you’ll feel refreshed, renewed…full.”

True Love Is Staying Awake

Like most moms, I have no problem falling asleep the second my head hits the pillow at the end of the day. Kids, work, life, family and friends, the grocery store, dropping off and picking up at various summer camps, ordering supplies for an upcoming birthday party—no, I don’t struggle with insomnia. Other things, yes; inability to nod off, no.

One evening this week, Stanton was telling me a story from his day. My eyelids kept drooping down, but every now and then, I said, “Hmm.” Then I yawned.

We’ve known each other long enough that the yawn didn’t offend my husband. “It’s OK, I know it’s not that interesting,” he said.

“Please tell me the rest,” I said. I blinked my eyes open. “I promise I’ll stay awake.”

I was promising to not fall asleep. Not to listen, exactly, or ask follow-up questions. But simply to be awake, to be there.

A couple of nights before, Stanton had gotten up twice to comfort Grace, who was sick. She had called out, and he had heard instantly and sprinted up the steps to her room. At one point, I remember squinting through the darkness at the clock on the desk in our room: 3:02 a.m.

Grace will be 7 soon, in just a few days. Talk about blinking—the past seven years have gone by in a blink.

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I remember one night before Grace was born. It was the middle of the night, past midnight probably. I was hugely, uncomfortably pregnant and couldn’t sleep (one of the last times in my life this happened). My tossing and turning in our bed woke Stanton; we decided to take a nocturnal walk.

We were living in San Antonio then. Even at dusk, the August temperature was hot, and we held hands loosely, our skin sticky. We shuffled through our neighborhood, winding our way around cul-de-sacs and under live oak trees.

I don’t remember what we said as we walked. But we did walk, together. Stanton stayed awake.

True love is staying awake.

We may not realize this. Not if we rely on pop culture for wisdom regarding true love, or social media for inspiration of what devotion looks like.

The girls and I were just in a local bookstore, I Love Books. We wandered through the aisles, our flip flops gently slapping against the light-blue wooden floorboards. Then on a shelf of coloring books, I noticed one, “Harry and Meghan: A Love Story.”

I couldn’t help myself, friends—I flipped through it. (Doesn’t every girl who grew up in the ’90s have a soft spot in her heart for the fun-loving royal ginger?) The coloring book proclaimed, “Their love captivated the world!” and featured drawings of Meghan’s engagement ring, flutes of Champagne, and Buckingham Palace.

I wish any couple only the best, including the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I wish them all the good things: joy, adventure, the comfort of each other. A problem with so many pop-culture depictions of love, though, is that they don’t show what happens next.

What happens after the last bit of bubbly has been sipped.

After the honeymoon wraps up…when real life begins. There are no coloring books glamorizing “[Insert Names Here]: Our Long Road to Parenthood.” Or “When [Name] Lost Her Job,” or “The Year [Name’s] Dad Was Diagnosed With [Fill in the Blank].”

“Harry and Meghan: Middle Age”—no, I can’t see that one flying off the bookshelves.

A problem with so many pop-culture depictions of love…is that they don’t show what happens next.

It’s important to show what happens next so that our visions of love and romance are rooted in reality. So that we don’t grow up, couple up, and then come face to face with hardship…and have no idea how to handle it or stick together.

The last gasp of a wedding day…the final montage of a romantic comedy…the curtains closing at a Broadway show or high-school production of “Beauty and the Beast.” These are all moving moments. Emotional highs. We leave feeling satiated…exhausted.

And then it’s the middle of the night, and someone we love needs us. We’d rather be sleeping, but we go. We stay awake.

Publishers may not immortalize that response with a coloring book. We ourselves probably wouldn’t post an update to our Twitter feed. “Up at 3 a.m.?” It’s not quite as ❤ -able as “Date night!” or “Class of ’05 reunion!” or “Impromptu house party!”

It’s not quite as ❤ -able (on Twitter, anyway), but sometimes, it means everything in real life.

Sometimes, true love is staying awake.

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.