It’s OK If You Cry (and Other Things You Don’t Learn in School)

It was a Saturday morning. Stanton was driving, and the girls were in the backseat. We were on our way back to the town soccer fields.

Grace had already played her game, at 9 a.m. The four of us had been there together and were now heading out again for Anna’s 12 noon match, after a quick lunch (and more coffee) at our house. This would be Anna’s very first soccer game.

From the passenger seat, I overheard Grace (a veteran, you might say, at this point) giving her little sister some pro tips. There were orange slices at half time, Popsicles at the end. Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Sometimes the grass is wet, from dew or rain, Grace noted. Kids can fall. “If you fall, just get back up,” Grace said.

I smiled and turned around, just in time to see Anna nodding along, taking everything in. She trusted Grace, completely.

Then Grace paused, considered. “If you fall, you might get hurt. It’s OK if you cry.”

In that moment, friends, I wanted to cry. “Grace,” I said. “That’s beautiful advice.”

My older daughter smiled.

“What else, Grace?” Anna wondered.

Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Kids are back to school now, and every school day abounds with thoughtful curriculum and instruction. I love listening to Grace explain fact families to me, and looking at Anna’s preschool artwork. I’m deeply grateful for the girls’ wonderful schools and teachers.

Also, overhearing Grace’s soccer tips to Anna reminded me that sometimes we learn meaningful lessons outside classroom doors too. Athletic fields, playgrounds, performing arts stages—even sitting cross-legged on kitchen countertops, keeping our parents company while they prepare yet another after-school snack—all these places offer up additional spaces for learning.

“It’s OK if you cry” is a good first lesson for sure. There are times when life hurts; acknowledge that, let it out. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed; ask for help when you need it. Cry, and then try to move forward.

Here are some other lessons that I try to teach my children on a regular basis, and live out every day. And tell me, friends—what else should be on this list?

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2. Spend time outside every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to walk around the block, or sit on the front steps to open the mail. Give yourself a break from your desk, your screens, the unending stacks of dishes and piles of laundry indoors.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life. Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air.

3. Let the people you love know that you do. If your sister’s standing next to you, hug her. If, someday, she lives in another city, call her, get together; stay close.

Mail your oldest friends cards on their birthdays, and when they welcome a child into their family. Invite new friends over for dinner. Send your 91-year-old grandma, who took care of you when you were a baby, flowers every now and then, just because.

Don’t take your people or their love for granted.

4. Don’t keep score. Not in personal relationships, anyway. I called you, now it’s your turn to call me. I made dinner tonight, you’ve got tomorrow.

Tallying up life’s minutiae is painfully time-consuming, if not practically impossible. We each have our own strengths (and weaknesses). Aim for fairness. And if the circumstances start to feel unfair, bring that up; talk it through.

5. “No” is a complete sentence. Recently, a friend shared this perspective with me, from an article she had read, and I love it.

As we journey through life, peers may invite us into situations we may not feel good about. Later, people may offer us jobs that conflict with our values, or volunteer opportunities that conflict with our time. This has happened to me, and for years, I’ve tried to finesse my negative RSVP’s with diplomatic explanations and apologies. I realize now that a simple “no,” expressed kindly yet firmly, is enough.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life.

6. Home is and isn’t about the “stuff.” Anna calls our family room “the cozy room.” When I first heard her say that, I asked her why she liked to say cozy room. “Because this is where you snuggle me on the couch and read to me,” she replied.

That answer resonated with me. We’re lucky to live in the house we have, in the neighborhood it’s in. Those material things are important, yes. But what happens in that house—the time spent together, the warmth and safety and acceptance of the space—is equally important.

7. Sometimes, you need to let go. Of material stuff, for sure. The other day, I (finally) acknowledged I was never, ever going to fit back into a classic top I had worn for years. So I passed it along to our local clothing drop box, and hopefully somebody else will enjoy it as much as I did.

More difficult, however, can be letting go of the immaterial stuff. Memories of times that could have been better, people who could have treated us kinder. There’s no joy in being a grievance collector, though.

I was taking a walk, and all of a sudden, a memory came to mind. I shook my head, remembering this past irritation. Then I thought, just as quickly, it really is time to let that go. I breathed in deeply (the scent of pine needles, where I was now, content)…and did. It felt so good, friends—letting go.

8. Don’t underestimate the value of a good cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep. Mornings can be rough, and nightfall too. We can be frazzled at the start of day, sad or sentimental at the end. Just hang on ’til morning, and start the new day with a good brew.

9. There are a million other little things, tidbits I’ve picked up here and there, wisdom that’s become mine through “learning experiences” (less kindly known as “mistakes”).

I also want to tell my girls…go to the dentist regularly. Be careful with credit cards. Don’t vape; eat your vegetables. Watch “The Wire” and “Parks and Rec.”

Your first job probably won’t be your dream job. Still, do a good job. You’re investing in your growth, your future.

Things usually come full circle, and make sense in the end. Look for silver linings until they do.

Dine alfresco as much as possible. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores year-round.

Dark chocolate is more delicious than milk.

Travel—make sure you see London, Paris, San Francisco, Australia.

Be a regular somewhere. Overtip. Be generous when you can.

Two things you can never say too much: “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

There are a million other little things, but not enough time or space to share them here. And that is the main lesson I’d like to impart to my daughters:

10. Life goes fast; time is precious. Make the most of everything. Walk out the front door. Do stuff; have experiences. Get kinder and more patient with age.

You can always come home.

(Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me.)

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.

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

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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.