Why Are All the Characters Named Jack or Emma?

Years ago—decades, really—I bought a book called “The Baby Name Personality Survey,” published in 1991. I bought it not to name a child, but to name the characters in a story I was writing. I was in middle school in the early ’90s; yes, I’ve been writing forever.

I discovered “The Baby Name Personality Survey” at my then-beloved local bookstore, the Tudor Bookshop. In 2008, the Tudor closed it doors for the last time, citing “rent issues and the economics of independent bookselling.”

The Tudor sat at the corner of Wyoming Avenue, a main road in my Pennsylvania hometown, and East Union Street. Today on East Union Street, there’s a new-ish Italian bakery called AmberDonia, and whenever I’m “back home,” Stanton and I usually stop by here for a lunch of their Romeo and Juliet wood-fired pizza. To get to AmberDonia, we pass the old site of the Tudor.

Growing up, I loved the Tudor. I spent hours of my childhood browsing the titles on the bookshelves and poking through the display of charm bracelets, and corresponding charms, up front near the cash register. Back at my parents’ house, in my childhood bedroom, one of the dresser drawers (top left) still holds a charm bracelet from the Tudor.

If you’re a fan of “The Office,” there’s an episode (not sure which season, unfortunately) in which a coffee mug featuring the Tudor’s logo is on one of the characters’ desks. When I first saw that episode, I nearly burst with pride for my little bookstore, which was located about 20 miles from Scranton, the location of the fictional, Michael Scott-managed “Office.”

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Bookstores still stock baby-name books, but not “The Baby Name Personality Survey,” from what I can tell. It’s been years since I turned to “The Baby Name Personality Survey” myself. I did think of it the other day, though, as I worked on a story I’m writing.

I needed to name some new characters. They’re secondary characters, and I tend to give my secondary characters more original names than my primary ones. They’re not quite as essential, so more wiggle room exists for creativity (kind of like middle names).

I think this is true for a lot of authors. For example, the name Jack. How many main characters have you read whose name is Jack? “Jack” is relatable, an everyday guy, a “good guy.” Thus, Jack is everywhere, including headlining numerous TV shows (many of which are based on books): Jack Ryan, Jack Taylor, Jack Irish.

Historically female names have a little flair, are a little more fun, are a little varied. While we won’t find a Mary or Emma, say, leading the action in 9 out of 10 plots (not like Jack), we probably will find a female protagonist with a similarly short-and-sweet, not-too-unique moniker: Olive (Kitteridge), Lisbeth (Salander), Eliza (Sommers). To be fair to all the Marys and Emmas out there, though, yours was the name of choice for the heroines in classics like “Mary Poppins” and “The Secret Garden,” as well as “Madame Bovary” and Jane Austen’s aptly titled “Emma.”

In my last published piece of fiction, my main character was Heidi.

Thus, Jack is everywhere, including headlining numerous TV shows (many of which are based on books)…

So I was working on this new story, and I needed to name some secondary characters. As I have for many years now, I turned to Nameberry, which bills itself as “the world’s biggest baby name database” (online, of course). Maybe you yourself used Nameberry as you prepared to welcome a child into your family (or, like me, tried your hand at fiction).

Nameberry is a fun website, and it easily can become a time suck and rabbit hole. Out of curiosity, you might click on the link “Vintage Baby Names.” Thirty minutes later, you find you’ve “Joined the Conversation” on “Unfortunate initials?” or “Katherine, Katharine, or Kathryn?”

OK, admit it: You have an opinion on “Katherine, Katharine, or Kathryn,” don’t you? 😉 No worries, friends; I do too. (Katharine.)

Thanks to Nameberry (with an assist from the Social Security Administration’s “Top names of the 1980s” list), I found what I needed for my story.

The majority of the characters in my story were born in the 1980s. I also was born in the 1980s. (Side note: Melissa comes in at No. 7 on that Social Security Administration list, after Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah and Stephanie. I’m a product of my time, friends. A product of my time.)

Now, a problem an author has with creating a character who shares similarities to him- or herself (for example, born in the same decade, generation cohort, etc.) is that readers sometimes think the character is the author. This is especially problematic if the author is the same sex as the character, or grew up in a similar setting as the character, or has the same job as the character.

I’ve never been the character in any of my stories, friends. I wasn’t Heidi, for example. I made up Heidi; Heidi is fictional. Experiences from my real life informed my development of the character Heidi, but Heidi does not equal Melissa Leddy, the author.

Still, there are folks who don’t believe authors when they try to explain this. That’s OK; that’s just how it goes.

Because of this issue, though, I try to make all my characters different enough from myself so that people don’t say, “You were Heidi, right?” when they read my work. I also would never name any of my characters Melissa, even if it would fit the story. For an ’80s-bred female character, it’s easy enough to simply go with Jessica or Nicole (No. 8 of the ’80s, according to the Social Security Administration).

Now, a problem an author has with creating a character who shares similarities to him- or herself … is that readers sometimes think the character is the author.

My children are going back to school, very soon. We’re all excited about this…and we also know it’s possible (probable?) that school will need to close again and go remote again, at some point. And at this point, the girls will be back home with me.

My goal, then, is to finish this story before that happens. Finish it, and then get it accepted for publication somewhere. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I would love to get it published somewhere big.

For the moment, however, it’s a work in progress—all of it, from my story to back-to-school plans.

I’m sure there will be a plot twist or two. Conflict, of course. Always some conflict. And somehow, in some way, things will wrap up; “The End.”

Every good storyteller knows the ending doesn’t have to be happy, but it has to be satisfying. Maybe Jack or Emma didn’t get what they wanted—or what they thought they wanted—but there was a journey, there was growth, there was change.

Change for the better we always hope, in both stories and real life.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Were You Ever This Far?

At the end of the school year, Grace’s elementary school gave each student a questionnaire to fill out for a time capsule. A cool idea, I thought. The document sought memories such as favorite Zoom meeting and most interesting thing you learned. Then, the final question: “What will you most miss about quarantine?”

My 8-year-old scribbled her answer: “Nothing!!!”

No other answer, I noticed, elicited three exclamation points.

I laughed lightly. “Really, Grace?”

Grace set her pencil down. “Yep.”

On the back of the paper, Grace had drawn pictures, as requested, of some of her favorite things during this point in time: food (pizza) and activities (played Sorry! with Anna). “I love your pictures, honey,” I said. “Do you want to color them in?”

“Nope.” Grace left the breakfast-nook table.

I looked at the box of Crayola crayons, left untouched on the table.

There’s nothing wrong with black-and-white pictures. They’re simple, can be striking. And certainly, there are times when we look around the world and struggle to see Jazzberry Jam, Electric Lime and Mango Tango. We feel uncertain, discouraged…sad. We look around, or we close our eyes, and there’s no ROYGBIV or even shades of gray.

Still, I hold out hope for brighter days ahead.

And certainly, there are times when we look around the world and struggle to see Jazzberry Jam, Electric Lime and Mango Tango.

The girls and I were in the car, and we passed a sign, and then another, that said, “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd: Say His Name.”

“What does all that mean, Mom?” Grace asked. Anna was listening.

For a while now, I had been struggling with what to say to my young daughters, and how to say it. I remember thinking, before I was a mom, that I wanted to be open and honest with my children about anything—and I still do—and I remember thinking that I would…and that has been the harder part, friends. It is so, so easy to imagine what we would do in a future, hypothetical scenario, and much more difficult when that scenario arrives in real time, awaiting our reaction.

Holding the steering wheel, I explained what had happened in Minneapolis, and racism, and anti-racism. I tried to use words that would be appropriate for an 8- and 5-year-old. Every so often, I glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Do you have any questions?” I finally asked. “I’m not sure I explained any of this very well.”

Grace said she had followed along OK, and added she had already learned about some social-justice issues in school.

“And I learned about segregation in preschool,” Anna said.

In that moment, the sunlight reflecting off the windshield, I realized I needed to be more proactive with important conversations with my daughters, no matter how uncomfortable they might be.

…I remember thinking that I would…and that has been the harder part…

Summer is here, officially. With each passing day, I am more and more thankful for our backyard. I don’t take for granted how lucky we are to have a safe, green space right outside.

The girls love their inflatable pool—Stanton spends many a weekend afternoon stretched out on the chaise lounge—and I so appreciate the simple pleasuring of sitting nearby (in the shade!), writing.

I’ve been working on a new story. Possibly it will evolve into the novel I’ve always wanted to write; more likely it will settle into a piece of short fiction.

“What’s your story about?” Grace asked one sunny afternoon.

“Basically, it’s about a family,” I replied.

“Why,” Grace wondered, “do you always write stories about families?”

I paused. I hadn’t ever really thought about it, I told Grace, but I guessed it was because interpersonal relationships were interesting to me—an intimate group’s history, psychology, lifelong journey. I also guessed it was because, since growing up in a large family, “family” is one of the few subjects I consider myself something of an expert witness to—not expert, but expert witness. 😉

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Several weeks ago, I got a new (used) bike. Bikes can be hard to come by these days, but Stanton found one for me through Albany Bike Rescue, a wonderful local bike shop.

Next, I needed a helmet. Stanton swung over to Walmart and scooped up one of the very last helmets they had in stock…which actually was a youth helmet, the exact same one as Grace’s, in fact. As it turns out, however, I have a small head, so it’s a perfect fit.

Grace was delighted. “We’re twins, Mom!”

Now, according to Reddit and various other websites, a female adult should not wear a child-size bike helmet. I don’t take everything I read on the Internet to heart, though ( 😉 ), and besides that, bike helmets are “temporarily out of stock,” everywhere I check. So I’ve been rolling the dice, friends, and breaking in my fluorescent-pink-and-purple, matches-my-daughter’s helmet.

The biggest silver lining of this time, for me, probably has been the family bike rides Stanton, the girls and I now go on together. The four of us bike together every weekend, and the girls and I bike together throughout the week.

Pre-pandemic, the last time I rode a bike was more than 20 years ago. Even then, back in my Pennsylvania hometown, I didn’t bike that much, and didn’t enjoy biking nearly as much as I do now, with my family…with my girls.

One Sunday morning, Grace and I embarked on a “bike date” together, while Stanton and Anna stayed cozy at home to read books. The sky was baby blue, the sun was shining, the world was still quiet, still waking up.

Grace and I began biking on the Rail Trail. We biked past all our familiar spots: the little park, the Stewart’s next to it, the picnic table across from the green and pink mural, the Little Free Library that comes right after, the bench dedicated in memory of a woman whose favorite song was “Forever Young” (the Bob Dylan version).

We kept biking and biking. Grace smiled at me; I smiled back. “I love this,” Grace said.

“Me too.” It really was awesome, all of it—being together, being outside, feeling the breeze again and again.

Soon, our surroundings were less familiar, but still beautiful: wildflowers, a bridge, an abandoned barn. “Were you ever this far?” Grace asked.

I never was. And I loved it.

We biked past all our familiar spots: the little park, the Stewart’s next to it…

Nobody has given me a time-capsule questionnaire to fill out. But if they did, and if they asked, “What will you most miss about quarantine?”…my answer to that question would differ from my daughter’s.

I understand why Grace wrote, “Nothing!!!” I understand that many others may share that same sentiment, three exclamation points and all. I get it; I really do.

All things considered, though…and speaking only for myself…I will miss the extra time I had, that I never would have had otherwise, with my two daughters, who are growing up faster than I ever dreamed possible.

The extra time, and the bike rides.

“May you build a ladder to the stars / And climb on every rung / May you stay forever young.” (Bob Dylan)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

Birthday Party: A Short Story

The rain drip-dropped on the windshield, slow but relentless. Inside the Corolla, in the passenger seat, Alex slurped the last of her latte.

Behind the wheel, Caroline smiled. “Nice milk mustache you’ve got there.”

“I do?”

Mm-hmm.” Caroline rummaged through the center console, found a napkin. She held it out to Alex.

Alex folded her own hand over Caroline’s. Looked at her. Gently, Caroline pulled her hand back. The napkin fluttered back onto the console, between them. Alex rubbed at the milk mustache she couldn’t see, but was there.

“Alex…I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Fine.” Alex kept rubbing. The skin above her lip started to hurt.

Caroline folded her hands together on her seersucker skirt. “I’m sorry.”

“I said it’s fine.” Alex began tapping the empty Styrofoam cup against her leg.

“I’m still figuring things out…you said you are too…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Tap, tap, tap. “Just forget it.”

Caroline took the cup. “Let’s talk, OK? We always have good conversations. Come on.”

Alex thrust open the door. She didn’t have an umbrella, or a hood. The spray of rain on her face was cold, but felt good.

“Alex!”

“I have to go. My sister’s birthday party, I told you.”

“I know, I’ll drive you.” Caroline leaned over, and bumped the Lot A Student Parking Permit hanging from the rearview mirror. The plastic tag seesawed in rhythm with the rain.

In response, Alex slammed the door shut. She strode to the gazebo near the parking lot. Its weathered pine wood held years’ worth of lovers’ histories, pairs of initials carved into nearly every surface.

Alex blinked.

She fished out her phone, thumbed the Uber app. She kept her head bowed, but still saw when Caroline finally drove away.

She sniffled, wiped her nose on the back of her denim jacket. Drip-drop, drip-drip. The rain didn’t let up.

About half an hour later, Alex trudged toward the stoop of her parents’ house. Her mother had taped a neon-pink poster board announcing, “Happy Birthday, Maggie!” to the front door, as if her sister were celebrating her first birthday instead of thirty-first. There was glitter.

Alex hated glitter.

She walked inside, and tripped over a pile of wet shoes. Alex kicked off her own, adding the checkerboard-printed Vans to the pile.

“Hey, honey, we’ve been worried about you.”

Robert MacDonald joined her in the foyer. He wore a cone hat the same shade of neon pink as the front-door sign. It clashed with his striped sweater vest.

For the record, I’m not putting one of those hats on.

Robert shook his head. “I was by the campus, I could have picked you up. I called you, even texted you…”

“I was in a meeting. My writing tutor.” Alex cleared her throat. “I took an Uber over.”

“Your mother and I don’t think those are safe.”

“Well, if you would let me have my own car on campus…”

Ah, this conversation again.” Maggie joined them, holding a glass of wine.

Alex hugged her. “Happy birthday. Why didn’t you and Mitchell make a reservation somewhere, just the two of you?“

Maggie smiled. “We thought about it, but…you know Mom.”

Yep. “Where’s the booze?”

Robert trailed after them toward the kitchen. “This isn’t some fraternity party, Alex.”

Alex looked at her sister, and they both laughed. “I know, Dad.”

In the kitchen, their mother peered up from behind her oversized tortoise-shell glasses. “Alex, I said six, sharp.” Susan stirred at the wok, hissing on the stovetop.

The sweet-sharp scent of madras curry wafted from the kitchen to the adjoining den. Alex gagged. “Maggie picked Indian?”

Well, she wanted my chicken potpie…”

“My favorite,” Maggie interjected, handing Alex her own glass of wine.

“But,” Susan continued, spooning rice into a bowl, “I saw this recipe in the paper and had to try it.” Hiss. Susan snapped off the burner.

Alex glanced back at Robert, who had settled into his recliner in the den, returning to whatever he was watching on TV—a World War II documentary, it looked like. “You and Dad are the only people on earth who read the paper. Like, the actual paper.”

“Actually, not true, Alex.” Mitchell appeared, along with her brother, Bobby. “My stepfather’s subscribed to The Wall Street Journal for years.”

Alex just looked at him. Mitchell adjusted his cone hat (of course he had put one on), then retreated to the den. Bobby lightly punched her shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“School sucks. I forgot Maggie’s present in my dorm. What about you?”

Bobby drummed his fingers against the island. “Let’s see. Work sucks, and I forgot Mags’s present at my house.”

Maggie rolled her eyes. “You guys didn’t have to get me anything.”

Bobby smirked. “I didn’t. Juno did.”

“And you couldn’t even remember to bring it.” Maggie smirked back. “Impressive.”

Alex tried the wine. It was white, and tasted like water. “Wheres Juno?”

“Oh.” Bobby waved his hand. “Something with work.”

The sisters exchanged a glance. “Juno doesn’t like us,” Alex said. “Just admit it.”

“No, that’s not true…” Bobby cleared his throat, glanced at the documentary in the den. His body language said, Yes.

Susan approached their huddle at the island. She hugged her right arm around Maggie’s back. “I’m glad we’re all together.”

Alex set down her glass.

“Thirty-one years, gosh.” Susan pulled off her glasses and dabbed at her eyes.

Oh, Mom.” Maggie patted her arm.

“I’m sorry to be sentimental, but…” Susan pushed her glasses back on. “You’ll understand, when you have children of your own.”

Maggie paused. “If dinner’s ready, why don’t we eat?”

“Yes, everything’s ready. Robert, turn off the TV!”

The MacDonalds had bought their home three decades ago, an old, classic Cape Cod with all the accompanying character and coziness (or confined spaces, depending on one’s perspective). The two of them, along with their three children and Mitchell, squeezed around the mahogany table in the dining room. Susan had adorned the circular surface with a mason jar of flowers, and splash of neon-pink confetti.

No plates, though.

“Bobby, grab some, will you?” Susan began pointing to the various serving bowls and platters. “Rice. The curried chicken, and you can garnish it with the cilantro and sliced almonds. I heated the naan with olive oil and sea salt…”

Mitchell rubbed his hands together. “Everything looks great, Susan. And this was your first time preparing this dish? Unbelievable.”


“Oh, stop.” But Susan glowed.

Alex picked at a piece of confetti. “Mom.”

“Yes, honey?”

Any Hot Pockets in the freezer?”

Susan ignored her. Bobby returned with an armful of plates, and everyone began reaching for food. Alex filled her plate with rice and almonds.

Mitchell kissed Maggie. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

“Happy birthday, sis,” Bobby chimed in.

Maggie smiled around the table. She wore a sleeveless white lace top, and her long, dark brown hair lay in a loose side ponytail across her left chest. “Thank you, everyone. And thanks for being here.”

Robert smiled back, adjusted the cone hat on his head. “We love you, honey.”

Alex speared some rice.

After dinner, there was cake, and presents—the ones that had been remembered.

“Oh, honey, you shouldn’t have!” Maggie clutched a thick bracelet, its smattering of precious gemstones sparkling in the light. Again, Mitchell kissed her, his cone hat bopping against her forehead. Bobby checked the time on his watch, while Susan oohed and aahed over the bracelet.

Alex slipped to the kitchen. She squatted down and opened the wine refrigerator, in search of a red. Aha, an open Pinot Noir—her lucky night. She poured the rest of the bottle into a neon-pink plastic cup. Took a long sip. Breathed.

Her sister’s sudden appearance in the kitchen startled Alex. Maggie wiped a hand across her face. Her new bracelet kept sparkling.

“Maggie?”

Maggie gasped. “Alex.” Tears had gathered in her eyes, their shine matching that of the bracelet.

“Mags, what’s wrong?”

Maggie cleared her throat. “Nothing.”

Alex set down the cup. “You can tell me…”

No, everything’s fine.” But Maggie was shaking her head. She grabbed the empty wine bottle. “I’ll recycle this; be right back.” She hurried outside, just as their brother entered the kitchen, holding a half-full serving bowl of curried chicken and some plates. Why hadn’t Mom just made the chicken potpie?

“What’s Mags doing?”

Alex paused. “Recycling.”

Bobby unburdened his full hands by the sink. He glanced back at Alex. “I have to take off. Want a ride back?”

Alex nodded. She finished her red wine in a few more gulps.

By the front door, Susan hugged them goodbye. “Tell Juno we missed her,” she told Bobby. “Dad and I will add more money to your debit card,” she added to Alex. Robert waved from the den; the documentary was back on.

Alex sighed, opened the door. “Thanks.” She wasn’t thinking about her debit card, hadn’t even brought it up.

But the rain had stopped.

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Bobby started the car. The radio station was tuned in to a football game; Bobby turned the volume up. They careened through a puddle. Alex’s stomach did a cartwheel; she winced.

After Bobby drove through the campus entrance, he slowed down. “Do you want to go to your dorm, or…?”

“Dorm’s good.” Alex pointed. “That way.”

Bobby maneuvered slowly along a winding road, flanked on both sides by residence halls. Alex’s came into view. She started to gesture, but then gasped. On a pine bench in the front sat Caroline. Her stomach began cartwheeling again. “No, don’t—drive that way, drive away.”

“What?”

“Bobby, please.” Caroline looked their way, and she and Alex made eye contact through the passenger window. “Drive away, that way.”

Bobby kept driving along the winding road, until they were away from her dorm, and away from Caroline. Alex clutched her stomach, exhaled…gagged. “I don’t feel good.”

Huh?”


“I have to throw up.” She opened her door. Bobby was still driving—he ground to a stop, and Alex lurched out, onto a patch of lawn. She leaned over, threw up.
She saw pieces of almonds in the wet grass.

Her throat burned. Alex wiped her hand across her mouth. She glanced around. It was a Friday night, a little after nine o’clock, and hardly anyone was around now. Most people were getting ready to go out, and if anyone had seen her…well, she would just look like the typical dumb college kid who had pregamed too hard and gotten sick.

“Are you OK?”

Bobby was beside her now. Alex cleared her throat. “Yeah, I just didn’t feel good…”

You drink too much, or too fast? Or was it the curry?

She hadn’t had the curry

Bobby was looking at her. “What’s going on?”

“What?”

“What’s wrong, Alex?”

She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jacket. She gazed out into the night, then back at her brother. The way he was looking at her, waiting—she wondered if he already knew, or understood. She had read (online) that sometimes people did.

“Shouldn’t you go home, be with Juno?” she asked instead.

Bobby paused. “Juno and I—things probably aren’t going to work out with us.”

Alex blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“Yeah…” Bobby zipped up his gray fleece jacket. “She’s been staying at her mom’s for a couple months now.” He met her gaze, shrugged, then nodded.

“What happened?”

“Well…I don’t really want to get into it, but…basically, it’s my fault.” Bobby paused, reconsidered. “Mostly my fault.”

“I’m sorry, Bobby.” Alex sidestepped the almond-specked vomit on the lawn to give him a light hug.

He hugged her backtighter than she had hugged him. “It’s OK. It’s going to be OK.”

They let each other go, and Alex looked at him, still wondering but more certain. “Um…have you told anyone else yet? Mom and Dad?”

Bobby smiled slightly. “No, but I have to. Juno told me Mom’s been texting her about a girls’ night out…”


“Ugh, she’s been texting Mags and me about that too.” Alex did not do girls’ night out.

“I’ll tell them soon, and Maggie too.”

“Something’s going on with Maggie.” Alex’s hair blew in the wind. “I tried talking with her about it, but…”

Bobby toed his boot in the mud.

You know what’s going on?”

Bobby paused. “I don’t know anything for sure.”

That made two of them.

From behind Bobby, a figure appeared near the road. Alex would have recognized the tall red rain boots anywhere. Caroline walked over to them.

“Hey.”

Alex nodded.

Caroline stuck her hand out to Bobby. “You and Alex look related.”

“Brother,” Bobby confirmed, shaking her hand. “Bobby MacDonald.”

“Caroline Shelburne. We go to school together.”

Bobby looked at Alex. “Do you want me to stick around, or…?”

Alex glanced at Caroline. “No...it’s OK.”

Bobby glanced from her to Caroline. “OK, well…call me if you want. It’s just me at home.”

OK.”

Caroline waved goodbye. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too.” Bobby lumbered back to his car, then drove away.

Part of Alex wished she was in the passenger seat again. Another part of her wanted a toothbrush.

“So.” Caroline nodded toward a nearby pine bench. They were everywhere. “Can we talk?”

A third part of Alex needed to talk. So she said yes.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

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.

This Is the Part Where You Save the Day (Again)

A couple of Friday nights every month, Stanton, the girls and I have Family Movie Night. We borrow this cozy idea from friends of ours, who do it with their own three children. Probably other families (maybe yours?) have made it a tradition in their homes too.

One Friday recently, the four of us settled in together on the couch and turned on “Frozen.” The girls have watched the Nordic-inspired story many times before; Stanton and I haven’t seen it that much, but we pretty much can harmonize on “Let It Go” by heart. Still, it’s a good movie, and we didn’t mind watching it again.

At one point in “Frozen,” (our) Anna smiled and said, “This is the part I love.” The part, of course, was when Elsa hugs an ice-cold Anna, and the sisters’ love for each other saves them both—and saves the day for everybody.

“‘This is the part I love'” made me smile. Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Sometimes Grace will tell me how much she likes different teachers at her school, some of whom she hasn’t had yet. I’ll ask why. Every time, she’ll reply, “They know me.”

To be known—it’s a beautiful thing.

Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Many a weekday morning, I hustle Grace outside, my hair still wet from my shower, and watch as she walks down the block to the bus stop. I wait in our yard until I see her get on the bus. Anna, meanwhile, often is tapping on the front bay window from inside, saying she’s hungry for a second breakfast before her school starts, 30 minutes later.

Approximately 9 a.m., Monday through Friday: always a fun time.

I bump into various neighbors almost every morning around this time. Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet, yelling for your younger daughter to just get an apple, or a cheese stick, or “Fine, leftover Halloween candy is fine!” from the kitchen while watching down the block to confirm that your older daughter has safely boarded the school bus.

For better or worse, there are a handful of people on this earth who really know me. 😉

Once I said to one of these people, “For the record, I realize I look crazy every morning.”

“I’m not judging you if you’re not judging me,” he replied, which struck me as both kind and wise.

Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet…

One morning recently, Stanton was heading out a little later than usual. I felt less rushed, having him around, another adult in the house. I was in the kitchen making the girls’ lunches, sipping some coffee, when I overheard him amiably ask them, “So, what time does school start, girls?”

My.heart.nearly.stopped.

Did my husband—their dad—really not know the answer to that question?

I peered into the family room. “Honey…are you serious?”

Stanton held up his hands. “What?”

Thoughts began tumbling across my mind, one after the other. Nothing can ever happen to me. I can’t die, ever…or at least not until Grace and Anna have graduated from high school. If anything happens to me, they’ll never get to school on time…or soccer practice…or doctors’ appointments…

“Mel, just tell me, and then I’ll know,” Stanton said.

“Stan, how could you not have known?”

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This wasn’t, however, the hill I was going to die on, friends. It was a difference between Stanton and me, and possibly many other moms and many other dads. It was a difference, perhaps, in the same way that I never lock the bathroom door—just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in—while Stanton locks the door every time.

On the other hand, giving credit where credit is due, Stanton excels in other areas that aren’t my strengths. For example, he plays games all the time with our daughters. Actual games, like Crazy Chefs and Trouble, and make-believe games such as cops and robbers.

I, however, am not a big games person. Go to a park? Yes. Read stacks of books at the library? Count me in. Walk to a coffee shop? I’m there.

Break out the Pete the Cat Groovy Buttons board game, or you-pretend-to-be-Elsa-and-I’ll-be-Anna? Oh…only because I love you.

Grace and Anna have also (already!) shared they want their dad to teach them how to drive, about a decade from now. “Because you don’t know how to parallel park, Mom.”

I mean…truth. I haven’t parallel parked since the day I got my driver’s license. Thus, on numerous occasions over the years, I’ve deposited my car many blocks away from my destination to avoid parallel parking.

“Totally fine if you’d like Dad to teach you how to drive.” I’m not much of a games person, and not much of a car person either.

…just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in…

I’ve had my car, a Honda CR-V, for nine years now…and I’m still not exactly sure what all the buttons are for. I know how to start my car (not sure if this goes without saying… 😉 ). And turn on the radio, and click open the fuel tank—all the top-priority stuff. Some of the other dials and gauges, though…yeah, not too clear on all that.

This past Tuesday, Grace had her after-school performing arts class, as usual. I had been working from home all day, so hadn’t driven anywhere yet, which meant there was still ice on my car windshield from the particularly cold morning. “I really thought the sunlight would have melted this by now,” I told the girls.

Ask anybody: Sometimes I overestimate the power of natural sunlight.

I hadn’t defrosted the windshield since last winter, and was pretty sure but not positive which buttons to press. I pressed them, and not much happened.

“Mom, am I going to be late?” Grace wondered.

“Sweetheart, I promise, everything here is under control.” I frowned at the dashboard.

Anna laughed. “Everything is not under control, Mom.”

Who doesn’t love a backseat driver?

Stanton was at a meeting in Boston. I called him. He didn’t answer. I called him again. Still no answer. So what did I do?

Exactly, I called him a third time. Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call. And this time, mine did.

I explained what was happening. Stanton listened and confirmed I had pressed the right buttons. “Just wait,” he said, “and the windshield will defrost.”

Suddenly, the windshield wipers began swishing back and forth. What the heck? When had I turned those on? Grace and Anna started laughing. “MOM!”

But the windshield had defrosted, and the girls and I were good to go. Problem solved.

Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call.

I do my best to stay calm, solve problems. Sometimes I even save the day. Like this past Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the windshield situation.

“Whoops, Mom, I have a problem,” Anna called.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I was looking through notes, preparing for a conference call.

“I just went to the potty and accidentally dropped my bracelet in the toilet. Can you get it?”

Why? Why do things like this happen, and at the worst possible times?

No worries, friends. I’ll spare you the details of my heroics with the bracelet-in-the-toilet situation. That story ended, however, with this quote:

“Thanks for saving the day, Mom!”

But I mean…that’s what moms do, right? Time after time, over and over. We all know how the story goes, our own recurring Family Movie Night.

This is the part where you save the day (again).

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.

This Will Be a Funny Story Someday

Summer weekends are made for road trips, and this past weekend, Stanton, the girls and I drove two hours east to Connecticut to visit with family there. We set out on Saturday morning.

Grace and Anna had insisted on packing their own bags. Grace had filled her Little Mermaid suitcase (it had been mine, 30 years ago) with books, toys and some of her favorite clothes. Anna, meanwhile, had stuffed her entire underwear drawer into her striped backpack. Just underwear, and a box of Band-Aids. I had some extra things for both girls in my own big bag.

Five minutes into our drive, as if on cue, Anna asked if we were there yet. Not yet, we told her. “Here,” Grace added, passing Anna a coloring book and crayons from the Little Mermaid suitcase. “I brought you an activity.”

“Yay!” Anna got busy.

I turned in my seat. “Grace.” My older daughter smiled. “That was so thoughtful.”

Anna stopped mid-coloring. “I brought Band-Aids.”

“You’re so thoughtful too, Anna.”

Summer weekends are made for road trips…

We drove across the Castleton Bridge, the Hudson River below us glistening bright blue in the hot sun. The radio station had been static-y, but then Elton John’s voice glided through the car.

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…”

We had a lovely visit with my cousin and her family. Because we were in the midst of a heat wave, we stayed at their home for most of the day, enjoying catching up and playing with the girls. There were burgers and, later, takeout pizza from the family’s favorite local spot (every family has one), complete with Funfetti cupcakes that the girls got to frost and decorate.

We were all thankful for the time.

Stanton, the girls and I stayed at a hotel overnight, and then headed an hour north to Amherst, Mass. One of the beauties of New England is that so many cool places exist within just an hour or two’s drive. Our next destination: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

We wanted to have lunch before getting to the museum. “Can we find a McDonald’s?” Grace asked.

I groaned, but Anna cheered. “I want a McFlurry!”

“Why don’t we look for a cool little local place?” I suggested. I glanced at Stanton; he shrugged. He would have been happy with a Big Mac himself.

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We ended up stumbling across Atkins Farms, which perfectly fit the bill of “cool little local place.” At the deli, we ordered grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches for the girls, and Italian grinders for the grownups. We sat at a four-top with a view of the expansive country market: wooden cartons of rainbow-colored produce, fresh flowers galore, the aroma of freshly baked cider donuts everywhere.

“I love this place,” I said.

“You say that about every place,” Grace said.

After lunch, Stanton, the girls and I had such a good time at The Eric Carle Museum (just up the road from Atkins Farms). Stanton truly could have stayed another hour or so, working on a collage in the Art Studio or making music on the large, outdoor xylophone in Bonnie’s Meadow. But friends had recommended we check out the nearby Beneski Museum of Natural History, and the girls wanted to see the dinosaur skeletons and footprints there. So we hustled over and had another fun museum visit.

“I don’t think we could have planned a better road trip,” I said, as the four of us climbed into the car and began the 100-mile drive back home. Soon after, the girls fell asleep in the backseat. I sighed, content.

And that is when the air conditioning in the car stopped working.

We sat at a four-top with a view…

Around 5 p.m. Sunday on the East Coast, the heat index hovered around 100 degrees. Stanton pulled over into a service plaza on the Massachusetts Turnpike. I woke up the girls and got them out of the car, while Stanton popped the hood.

“What’s going on?” Grace wondered.

I explained that the AC wasn’t working. The girls asked if Dad could fix it. I glanced at Stanton, who appeared to be consulting Google for auto-repair tips. Hmm. “I don’t know.”

We entered the service plaza, and walked right into a McDonald’s. The girls’ eyes lit up. “Mom, can we get McFlurrys?”

“OK,” I said.

Grace pumped her fist. “Best day ever.”

Right-o.

Grace got an M&M’s McFlurry, while Anna opted for the new flavor, Galaxy Caramel. (Just FYI, the Galaxy Caramel McFlurry is extra sticky.)

After a while, Stanton joined us. He shared the unsurprising news that we wouldn’t be able to fix the AC then, and would need to drive the rest of the way with the windows down. Not the end of the world, we both agreed.

Back in the car, we put the windows down and started home again. Grace observed that the ride was noisy. Anna pulled her sneakers off, then aimed one toward the window.

“Don’t throw that out the window,” we all yelled.

“I’m just pretending,” she said.

Stanton glanced at me. “This will be a funny story someday.”

“Today is not that day, but yes, someday,” I agreed.

“Best day ever.”

Once, Grace asked me what kind of stories I write, when I submit fiction to literary magazines. Usually, stories about families, I told her. Of course, each family is imperfect in some way, because nobody wants to read a story about a perfect family (or a blog post about a perfect road trip 😉 ).

The truth is, the best stories are the ones from our own lives, from the times with our own families. Even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, or veered off course toward the end. Possibly especially during these times of adjustments and off-road adventures.

One thing I know for sure: The best stories happen when we’re with the ones we love.

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.

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.”

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.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

i-almost-shared-this-picture-11-18-16

Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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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.