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?

school-2276269_1920

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

+

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.

You Look Like You Have People With You

Most Sunday mornings, our family of four attends the 9:30 service at a neighborhood church. We very much appreciate the warm community we’ve found there, and the chance to take a seat, take a breath, reflect. And…the girls don’t sleep in, so by 9:30, we’ve already been awake for hours. (“What are we going to do now, Mom?”)

A fellowship follows the service. As the talented pianist plays the postlude, Grace and Anna make a beeline for the hall where tables of cookies, fruit and juice await.

One Sunday recently, they dashed off as usual, Stanton close behind. I gathered up our coats, hats and water bottles. I shrugged my own coat on, and noticed that one of the buttons was loose. Something to take care of…some other time.

I reached the fellowship hall, and bumped into a fellow congregant. He smiled. “You look like you have people with you,” he said, gesturing to my arms full of stuff.

I smiled back. “I do, somewhere in here.” Then I added, “I love that quote; it would be a great title for a blog post.”

He joked that he’d have to be careful what he said around me. “I don’t disparage people in my writing,” I promised. But I can’t help when inspiration strikes.

This is that post, friends.

I’ve been wanting to write this post since that Sunday. It’s been at least three weeks now, maybe four. Other things seemed to keep popping up, most of them related to the people I have with me.

At times, our people’s stuff can weigh us down (all those coats!). The weight can be physical, or emotional. Then a moment might happen that makes it all feel worth it.

This happened to me, just yesterday evening. Snow began falling around 6 p.m. The girls thrust their hands toward the front bay window. “Look, Mom, look! Maybe school will be closed tomorrow. We can build a snow girl together!”

I very nearly cried. Because Stanton has been traveling for work since Monday morning. All of us are traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving this weekend. There was already no school on Monday because of Veterans Day, and all I wanted was a few hours today to finish cleaning, packing and maybe even writing…alone.

I did not want…to build a snow girl.

button-3491976_1920

Later that night, I tucked Grace into bed, and then Anna. Anna wrapped her little arms around my neck. “I love every part of you, even your eyeballs,” she said.

“Awww, thank you, honey.” I kissed her good night, and then lay beside her until she was asleep, our heads sharing a pillow.

When I looked at Anna, her breathing gentle in the moonlight-burnished room, her hand on mine, I felt a deep sense of gratitude, for both my daughters. For their good health, their safety, who they are.

When I think of my family, I think of a lyric from an old song I used to like (and one you may remember) called “Butterfly Kisses.” Bob Carlisle sings, “With all that I’ve done wrong, I must have done something right”—to deserve the love in his life, specifically his daughter.

I feel this way, completely. For as good as I may look on the outside (my frequent 9:30 church attendance and all), I could do and could have done better, kinder. I am lucky to have my people, and all their stuff.

“I love every part of you, even your eyeballs.”

When Stanton isn’t home, I usually sleep upstairs with the girls, in Anna’s bed. I’m right there if they need me. One night this week, Grace woke up with a bad dream, so I switched beds to talk with her and sleep beside her. A few hours later, Anna awoke and noticed I was missing. “MOM!!!”

We were all pretty tired by the end of that day, so I turned on “The Boss Baby” for the girls. I watched some of it with them.

I really like this movie (any other grown-ups want to join me in that admission? 😉 ).  I love the brothers’ shared quote, at the end: “Every morning you wake up, I’ll be there. Every night at dinner, I’ll be there. Every Christmas, I’ll be there. Year after year after year. We will grow old together.”

The sentiment in these words speaks to having “people.” Friends, family, those we love. Relationships oblige give and take—from lots-of-coats holding and snow girl-building, to end-of-day movie watching and good-night kissing.

We all appreciate solo moments when we can recharge. Sometimes, we may not get as many of these moments as we like. It’s a beautiful consolation prize, though, to have folks who are there for us…year after year after year.

Now excuse me, friends, while I go help build a snow girl.

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.

When a Picture Falls Out of a Book

One corner of my kitchen countertop is a mess, always. Stuff just accumulates there.

My daughters’ ponytail holders. My Us Weekly magazines (I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit, I’ve been a subscriber, off and on, for years). Stanton’s various electronic gadgets. Pens, batteries, coupons, Shopkins, the occasional card. Lots…of…stuff.

The other day, I tried to clean up some of the stuff. Scoop the ponytail holders into a drawer. Recycle the magazines. Then I picked up an overstuffed file folder and a coming-unbound book—“Chocolatina” by Erik Kraft, one of the girls’ favorites—and a picture fluttered out of the jumble of paper and pages.

This picture:

When a Picture Falls Out

This picture shows my three siblings and me with our mom and her parents, our Poppy and Grandma. I’m the cute one. Just kidding, friends. 😉 I’m the one wearing the orange shirt.

My brother Josh is making bunny ears on my head. My other brother, Jared (in the striped shirt), would grow up to become the cute one. My sister Jenna is resting her head on the table.

I’m not sure whose birthday we’re celebrating here. If one of them is reading this, maybe they’ll help me out. (Hint, hint…)

I emailed this picture to my family, along with some old friends who have been around us Minetolas so long, and sat at that kitchen table with us so much, that they, too, know all the characters in this story.

Jared replied all: “photo cred: John Minetola?” That would be my dad, and I replied that yes, I thought so. Otherwise, he would have been in the picture.

This was before the selfie stick era, you know.

When this picture fell out of that book, I wasn’t expecting it. But instantly, after I picked it up, I smiled.

I smiled because it was a happy memory. Not a perfect memory—whose birthday cake was that?—but a happy one, because we were all there together. And I’m grateful that we still do gather around that table, many years later, for dinners and rounds of Uno and other normal, nothing-special moments that actually are special in their togetherness.

Poppy, of course, has since passed way, five years ago now. I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place.

I do wish he could have been here to have met Anna. I know he would have loved everything about her—every little thing, from her dimples to the mischievous twinkle in her eye, which is exactly like his.

Poppy did have a chance to meet Grace, about a year and a half before he died. I will always remember the way he leaned over to her—an old man with glasses, looking with big love at my baby—and said, “I hope you live to be 90.” Grace looked back, and I like to think she understood what he said.

Sometimes, our best pictures are the ones we don’t take. But our memories, strong and enduring, of times that touched our hearts and stay with us forever.

“I hope you live to be 90.”

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo writes that it can be difficult to organize pictures. Not only do we file them into photo albums, but we also stick them into books as bookmarks, or magnet them to the refrigerator, or pull them out of our photo albums to send to loved ones. Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Have you ever opened a book, or knocked a day planner to the floor, and a picture or other memento fell out, rousing a memory?

What did you remember, friends?

Reflecting on a past moment, we might slip on our rose-colored glasses. We might romanticize a time, long gone, that we struggled through in real time, years ago.

I’ve had my moments with rose-colored glasses, and romanticism too. I’ve had my moments, friends.

People aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. Life is beautiful, and it’s also humbling.

Life is both/and; shades of gray, not black and white.

Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Poppy loved nature. The older I get, the more I love and seek it out too.

Last week, my parents were in town for the girls’ winter break. One morning, I brought my dad and Grace to Five Rivers, a nearby nature park. We spent some time bird-watching at the visitor center, using binoculars to look out the expansive windows. We spotted many eastern bluebirds, and even an opossum.

“Poppy would have loved this,” my dad said.

I agreed.

“The best thing about a picture,” Andy Warhol said, “is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” I loved seeing Poppy again in the picture that fell out of the book. I so appreciated remembering him, too, when I was bird-watching with my dad and my daughter.

Years from now, I wonder if my daughters will stumble upon an old picture, or frayed certificate of participation that I saved—a memento of some kind. So much of our life is digitized now, but we still keep hard copies of this and that here and there.

I wonder what Grace and Anna might find. I wonder what they’ll remember.

I hope they’ll skim over the imperfect parts. The persistent morning rush and end-of-day crankiness. My forgetting Anna’s teddy bear on “Bring Your Teddy Bear to Preschool Day” (that happened yesterday), Stanton’s coming home later than he’d said (two nights ago).

I hope they’ll skim over those parts, and remember that we loved them. At the very least, that we tried.

That is, after all, what families do: Love. Work. Play. Be there for one another. Try.

This quote made me laugh, so I’ll end with it, for your enjoyment too: “My whole family is lactose intolerant, and when we take pictures, we can’t say, ‘Cheese.’” –Jay London

+

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.

Decluttering: Good for the Soul

Do you ever open your closest door…or peek into the kitchen “junk drawer” (every kitchen has one, right?)…or try to park your car in the garage, only to discover it doesn’t comfortably fit because of all the bikes and strollers and golf clubs and inflatable pool toys—do you ever do these things and feel burdened by the stuff of your life?

I do.

And I don’t even have that much stuff, relatively. But like a lot of Americans, I have more than enough. My family and I have plenty.

This time of the year, the Thanksgiving season, makes me especially conscious of our many material comforts. It prompts me to pass along the things we don’t use anymore, or all that much, to those who have an immediate need for them. It also encourages me to declutter before the end of the year, so that I can start the New Year feeling refreshed.

Decluttering

Decluttering. Psychologists have written about how it reduces stress. Health benefits abound, both mental and physical. Decluttering does a soul good.

Do you feel like decluttering a bit? Here are some tips to get you started, friends.

1. Start small. Focus. Planning to declutter your entire home in a Saturday afternoon can cause even more stress than your overflowing garage does.

But giving yourself 20 minutes to sort through your pantry and toss out everything that’s expired—that’s a focused, doable goal. You’ll feel successful when you accomplish it. Not to mention energized to tackle the next focused project.

2. Organize. Put everything in its “home”—for example, jackets hanging in closets instead of on the backs of the dining room chairs (ahem, my house!) and random puzzle pieces collected together rather than scattered across the coffee table (my house, too). You can find organizing solutions everywhere from Pier 1 (baskets, bookcases, trunks) to The Container Store.

3. Donate or discard anything you haven’t worn or used or played with in the past year or so. (This also presents the perfect opportunity to gift the nearest Goodwill donation station with the clothes you’d rather not see your husband wear anymore! 🙂 )

One possible exception: Baby clothes or gear for future family members. But even then, you probably don’t need to hang on to everything. For example, clothes can fade and lose their shape after an extended time in storage. Consider sharing some of your surplus with someone who may have an immediate need for it.

4. Make physical memories digital. I have a cardboard box that’s stuffed with magazines I’ve written for, dating back to about 2005. My goal for the upcoming New Year is to scan each article that features my byline, create a PDF portfolio of all the articles, and then recycle the 10 years’ worth of paper I’ve been holding on to.

You can do something similar with old newspaper clippings, sentimental photos, and your kids’ preschool arts and crafts. Check out this blog post, “Digitizing Your Kid’s Art.”

5. Be mindful when you bring new things into your decluttered space. ‘Tis the season for catalogs galore, all touting don’t-pass-them-up holiday sales. More often than not, I toss these in the recycling bin before they can make it into our newly organized home.

One more resource: Scroll through this “Amazingly Awesome Pre-Holidays Declutter Guide.” Happy decluttering, friends! And happy holidays, too.

Photo credit: Gratisography

+

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