Measures of Success and MUCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Catching Up With My Dad: 5 Moments

This past week, my mom and dad visited with the girls and me for a couple of days. Stanton was out of town for work, and Anna had just turned 2—great timing for a catch-up. They would give me a hand with the girls, and also deliver some belated birthday presents to Anna.

*

When my parents arrived, my dad hauled a cooler into the house. The cooler contained a huge amount of food that my mom had prepared for my family and me: stuffed shells, minestrone soup, coconut chicken, zucchini fritters, and lots and lots of cookies. There’s a custom, I think: When you grow up Italian-American, you bring your loved ones homemade cookies.

And in my family, it’s customary that my mom handles the cooking and baking, while my dad hauls the cooler.

Teamwork.

*

On Wednesday, I encouraged my dad to come along with me to pick up Grace from preschool. “There’s a McDonald’s drive-thru on the way, so we can stop to get coffee,” I added. Ever a fan of Micky D’s, Dad agreed.

When we got to McDonald’s, I pulled into the drive-thru. “You know, it’s faster to order inside,” my dad said.

“All we’re getting is two coffees,” I replied.

“I’m just saying…”

“By the way,” I interrupted, “do you have any small bills? Because I only have a twenty…”

“Sure, honey,” my dad said, reaching for his wallet. You have to love dads.

I ordered our coffees, Dad paid, and then we pulled up to pick up our order. A lady opened the window and said, “I’m so sorry, we just ran out of coffee. But we’re brewing a new pot.

“It’ll be ready in two minutes…maybe three.”

I sighed. We might be late picking Grace up.

“It’s faster to order inside,” Dad repeated.

I looked over at him. “You know you’re aggravating me.”

Dad smiled. “I know you very well, and yes, I know I’m aggravating you.”

*

The next day, Thursday, the Capital Region saw its first real snowstorm of the season: about 11 inches. Dad did a few rounds of shoveling the sidewalk and driveway. Then I bundled Grace up so that she and her “Pop” could play in the snow for a bit.

My mom and I watched them through the windows (Anna was napping). I smiled as Grace and my dad chased each other through the still-falling snowflakes, tossed snowballs at each other, and shook tufts of snow off the pine trees.

After 15 minutes, they hustled back inside. Grace requested hot chocolate. “Me, too!” my dad said.

“Since when do you drink hot chocolate?” I wondered.

“Hot chocolate would hit the spot right now,” Dad said.

Later that day, he told me he only asked for some because Grace was having it. But I think he really did want hot chocolate that day. (Sorry, McDonald’s drive-thru.)

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*

That evening, my parents headed back to their hotel. They always stay in hotels because Dad snores loudly and, thus, can be a noisy houseguest. “Thanks for all your help,” I told them.

Later that night, I noticed that my dad had dragged the trash cart out for pickup in the morning. I do this when Stanton’s traveling for work, and I can do this—but Dad’s small, thoughtful gesture touched my heart.

I called him to tell him so.

“You’re welcome, honey,” he said. “We’ll see you in the morning to say goodbye.”

*

In the morning, my dad and I dropped Grace off at preschool. On the way back, we chatted about driving in winter-weather conditions, something I’m not practiced at after 11 years in Virginia and Texas.

“If you feel your car slipping on ice, don’t brake hard,” Dad said.

“Take your time; go slow,” he added. “Don’t worry about what the car behind you is doing.”

Good advice in general, right?

Thanks, Dad. P.S. Love you.

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

36 Things I Want to Tell You

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

“I am so bored, Mom.”

“Waaahhh.”

“Everything is boring.”

“WAAAHHH!”

I closed my eyes.

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

“DADA! DADA! DAAADAAA!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls, in case you’re still listening…

2) Say yes to new adventures.

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

4) Be thankful. You have plenty.

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

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

7) You never have to pretend with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18) Believe in something bigger than yourself.

19) Do your best.

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

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

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

23) Don’t make fun of anyone.

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

25) Be cautious with credit cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep going on, even during your most difficult moments.

Because life is beautiful.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

The Things You Hold Onto

The closet was big but not well-ventilated. My sleeveless shirt clung to my skin. I couldn’t bring myself, however, to step out into the air-conditioned bedroom just yet.

Fifteen minutes earlier, I had opened the closet door with the intention of cleaning out this storage space. This closet contained a “neat mess,” as oxymoronic as that sounds. It was stuffed with boxes stacked atop one another, and odds and ends packed in here and there (a dented lampshade, kids’ art supplies, Christmas decorations).

I had intended to declutter this mess. I brought up three trash bags, just like professional organizers say to do—one for things to keep, one for things to donate and the other for the landfill. I was even filling up the bags at a fairly steady pace.

Every now and then, though, something from one of the boxes would catch my eye—stop me mid-declutter—and take me back.

This picture frame, for example, with this picture in it.

Evanses

That’s 18-year-old me with my two favorite neighbors of all time, Mr. and Mrs. Evans, on their front porch. I grew up next door to them in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m not sure who took this picture, but I took it with me to Richmond, Va., when I went to college there. I remember having it on the bookshelf in my freshman dorm room.

I remember Mr. and Mrs. Evans too, both deceased now. They always made time to talk with my siblings and me. They always bought whatever we were selling for our school fundraisers. They came to my wedding, and the videographer captured a moment of them dancing happily together. For all of these reasons—for the people they were—I hold onto this picture.

Another eye-catching find, a memory trigger: This antique decanter.

Decanter

Richmond, the summer of 2008. Probably as hot as it is now. Stanton and I stopped by an estate sale with some college friends. (We had been married a few months.) I want to say Jackie and Kevin were with us, but I’m not positive.

We were sitting outside under an expansive white tent, taking in the auction at the front, when all of a sudden Stanton gestured, and then even more suddenly he was the owner of this decanter.

No more estate sales for us, friends. It was a funny moment, though, a fun afternoon with friends, a memento worth taking with us from Richmond to San Antonio.

I read once that when people move from place to place and home to home, they often move the same boxes with them. And some of these boxes remain unopened through all the moves. But the folks to whom these boxes belong know the contents inside, and they know they matter.

They mean something.

They’re worth holding onto.

What are the things that you hold onto?

What are the mementos that you can’t let go of? What are the keepsakes that have outlasted your decluttering attempts and relocations?

And…why?

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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.

What Are Your Family Traditions?

8_What Are Your Family TraditionsAll the ladies in my family love Michael Strahan. Not for his football prowess, of course, but for his friendly, easy-on-the-eyes morning-talk-show presence. And I especially love this quote he once shared: “I have the best memories as a kid eating ice cream. It was a family tradition that I had with my father. It was nice.”

Many family traditions involve food, it seems. I myself remember, as a child, stopping by a local ice cream shop called Curly Creme with my mom, two brothers, and sister. Curly Creme specialized in soft ice cream, and operated during the summer only. Throughout my childhood, my summer vacations included weekly cones of chocolate-vanilla “twist” custard from this homegrown institution. I can almost—almost—still taste that rich two-in-one flavor.

Beyond encounters with ice cream ( 🙂 ), family traditions include customs both big and small, from multigenerational holiday getaways to Saturday-morning basketball games in the driveway.

These days, Little G and I have fallen into a cozy Sunday-afternoon mother-daughter tradition that I love, and that I hope Little G loves, too. After we get home from church and have lunch with my hubby, we give him some time to himself (yesterday he watched his beloved Texans play the Jaguars) while we head over to one of my favorite local coffee shops.

Our mother-daughter date includes hot chocolate for me and a chocolate-chip cookie for Little G. We make ourselves comfortable at a table for two, and I bring along a coloring book and crayons in case we feel creative. A lot of the time, though, we simply enjoy hanging out together—people watching, listening to the overhead music, and flipping through the various magazines on hand.

I stumbled across this article, “Creating a Positive Family Culture: The Importance of Establishing Family Traditions.” The article notes, “Traditions, when done right, lend a certain magic, spirit, and texture to our everyday lives.”

At first glance, there may not seem to be much magical about chocolate-chip cookies from a coffee shop. But maybe the magic lives in the experience—of carving out time together, of being in communion with each other. The article also notes that “through regular family dinners or activities, the centrality of familial solidarity is instilled.”

What do you think, friends? What are your family traditions? What makes them magical?