I Only Know What We Need for Today

Tuesday afternoon, two Tuesdays ago. I was picking up my younger daughter from preschool.

“Mommy!” Anna exclaimed, opening up her backpack to show me her latest arts and crafts projects. The paint on one of them was still a little wet; a feather was falling off another one.

“How about we look at everything at home?” I suggested, stuffing the masterpieces back in. Then I overheard some of the other moms talking about the upcoming field trip. “Field trip?” I repeated, looking up.

The moms smiled at me.

“What field trip?” I tried again, adding, “I may have missed a note…”

One of Anna’s preschool teachers shared with me that the next class (there were three classes left, before the end of her school year) would take place at a local lake. The kids would hike around the lake, playing “I Spy” as they looked for birds, fish and other wildlife. A picnic would happen afterwards—and every child needed a parent to accompany them.

(That would be me.)

Anna beamed at me. “I have my very own field trip, Mom!”

I smiled weakly. “Mm-hmm, I just found out,” I said. “Yay.”

“I may have missed a note…”

Because I had been planning to write, as I do when both girls are in school. I was thisclose to finishing a story, and submitting it to a magazine. I would just finish it a little later than hoped for, I told myself, as I buckled Anna into her car seat. No problem.

Thursday morning, the day of the field trip, arrived. Stanton had headed out the morning before for a business trip. So that morning was a little more hectic than usual, as I packed up everything Grace, my older daughter, needed for kindergarten that day and gathered everything Anna (and I) needed for our hike/picnic. Water bottles, sandwiches, hoodies…

“Anna, there’s going to be a horse named Anna for you to ride at your field trip,” Grace was saying.

“A horse! Named Anna?!”

I reached for my coffee. “Grace, stop lying to your sister.”

“…no horse?”

In other school news, Grace’s class had started an “alphabet countdown” for the remaining 26 days of the school year. A was for stuffed animal, B was for brain buster… I scanned the countdown sheet to see what today, C, was for.

Aha, there it was: C was for candy.

“I want candy too, Mom!” Anna said. “I want candy on my field trip!”

I began opening and shutting kitchen cabinets. “I don’t think we have any candy.” Maybe there was something leftover from Easter…

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“Mom.” Grace raised her eyebrows at me. “You always have chocolate.”

My daughter spoke the truth: my hidden stash of good-quality dark chocolate that I—judge me if you must—prefer not to share with my family. Stanton’s got his chips and salsa; the girls have snacks galore: ice cream, Teddy Grahams, pretzels and Nutella, Girl Scout Cookies (still)…and raw veggies and hummus, of course (of course we have healthy snacks too…). Just leave me my chocolate, people.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. I broke off some of my last dark chocolate bar (with caramel and sea salt—arguably the most satisfying flavor combination!) so that my beloved firstborn could participate in C Is for Candy Day.

Grace gave me a thumbs-up.

The three of us began filing outside. I was carrying a bunch of stuff, and some of it was falling from my arms.

At the same time, my retired neighbor was pulling out of her driveway. She smiled and waved through her window. I would bet a huge amount of money, friends, that she was thinking, I’m glad that’s not me—and I’m not a betting woman.

Anna and I dropped Grace off at her bus stop. Then I realized I had left the directions to the lake in the breakfast nook. “Ugh.”

“Just use Google Maps, Mom,” Grace said.

“You know…”

“I know you like directions on paper,” Grace acknowledged. (She knows me too well.) “But you can do it.”

I looked at Grace. Then I looked at Anna, who smiled at me. “You can take me to my field trip, Mom,” she encouraged. “You can!” Ah…our children’s blind faith in us. 

Grace’s bus pulled up.

“Mom, one more thing.” Grace tapped my arm. “What’s tomorrow?”

“What?”

“Today is C Is for Candy—what’s for tomorrow?”

I had no clue. “I only know what we need for today,” I said. “Bye, love you, have a great day!”

I would bet a huge amount of money, friends, that she was thinking, I’m glad that’s not me—and I’m not a betting woman.

As I made my way to the lake, Google Maps confirmed for me why I prefer to look at a map and plot out my own route beforehand. There was road construction on one street. Another street had become one-way only since the last time Google Maps checked. And now Google Maps was rerouting me onto a highway during morning rush hour. (I excel at what you might call small-town, wide-open-spaces driving.)

“Merge onto NY-85…” Great.

Meanwhile… “I have my very own field trip,” Anna sang in the back.

Anna and I did arrive safe and sound at her field trip, thankfully. We actually were the first ones there, which worked out wonderfully, because parallel parking is another skill I’m not particularly strong in…so I was able to pull right into a great parking spot. Hallelujah.

The two of us took in the beautiful nature around us as we waited for others to arrive. Anna slipped her little hand into my big one. “I love my field trip, Mom.”

“Awww, I love you, honey.”

Everything with Anna’s field trip ended up being OK—really nice, actually. Later that day, Grace informed me she loved my dark chocolate. She also mentioned that she was excited about Family Math and Science Night at her school the following day, Friday (which also happened to be D Is for Favorite Drink Day).

Family Math and Science Night… Right. I had almost forgotten about that.

The early childhood years are fun. 😉

On Friday evening, my neighbor friend texted me. We were walking over to the school together with our kids. Would 5:45 p.m. be a good time to meet up, or maybe too early? she asked. (The event started at 6.)

I looked around the kitchen. I was in the process of making dinner (not ready yet). The counters were covered in unopened mail, Shopkins and, randomly, our birth certificates (an identity thief’s jackpot, should one happen to wander into our home).

(I’ve been meaning to organize all our important documents, under which “birth certificates” fall, into a filing cabinet. I’m optimistic this will happen…sometime soon.)

Another text, this time from Stanton. I read this latest piece of information: “Home between 10 and 11. Sorry so late. Ferry delayed due to weather.”

Stanton was on Martha’s Vineyard for work.

“Mom! We’re hungry! And it’s Family Math and Science Night, MOM!”

Maybe one day I’ll be stranded on a secluded island somewhere.

“5:45 might be a teensy bit too early,” I confessed in my text back to my friend. She kindly understood. In the end, we all made it to Family Math and Science Night, and everyone had fun—all’s well that ends well.

As last week wrapped up, I realized what a, well, not-smooth week it had been. I discovered important information about my children’s lives at the last minute (if field trips and C Is for Candy Day fall under the universal definition of “important”—but let’s not split hairs 😉 ). I still haven’t submitted my story. I did move the birth certificates to the master bedroom, but a determined identity thief might still find them.

We also lost Bernelly and Harriet last week, you might remember.

Oh, and there are no secluded islands in my near future.

I was thinking, though, that our family did make it through the week, one day at a time. And I was thinking that there are times in our lives, maybe even whole seasons, where that’s the philosophy we simply must work with, or make work: “I only know what we need for today.”

No shame in “one day at a time.” Maybe it’s not as impressive as a “five-year plan,” or as profound as a “big-picture approach.” But “one day at a time” can get the job done.

Something I’m very conscious of is that no matter how harried life may seem sometimes, what I’m so lucky to have now—my family, all of us healthy and here together—is what I hoped for so much (prayed for, really) years ago.

…”one day at a time” can get the job done.

It is such a gift to have people in your life who love you, and whom you love too. Even when you’re winging it day to day. (Maybe especially when you’re winging it, and trying to stay on top of all the stuff.)

If you happen to be winging it for people you love…let me assure you you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who is. And although it may be hard to realize in the moment, you’re very lucky.

Cheers to TODAY.

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.

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(Most of) the Boxes Are Unpacked Now: At Home One Year Later

A few days ago, Stanton, the girls and I marked the one-year anniversary of moving into our “new” home here in New York. I’ve heard people say it can take up to a year to feel moved in somewhere, whether physically as in a house or emotionally as in a season of life. In my experience, this one-year guidepost rings true.

As I’ve shared before, it took us three tries, over the course of six months, to figure out the best setup for the living room furniture. It took almost this whole past year to unpack all our boxes. Most of them are unpacked now, friends. Although a couple of them will remain in the basement, purposefully, for years to come…possibly forever. (Yes, I’m talking about the ones that contain Stanton’s college fraternity and general life-before-wife memorabilia. 😉 )

I felt an odd mix of comfort and accomplishment when I lugged my favorite cookbooks up the basement stairs, from a box, and nestled them into a bookshelf in the kitchen. (You might notice that Anna also likes to store one of her sticker books on this bookshelf, under “Jack’s Wife Freda.” This is life with kids.)

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It takes time to get a feel for a space (and a place)—to move in and settle in—to feel at home.

Something Stanton and I thought about, when we closed on this house, was converting the three-season back porch into an actual part of the house—hiring some help to put in installation, do whatever was needed to turn the porch into a den.

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We still might do this down the road. As the girls get older, they might appreciate having their own hangout, with a comfy couch and TV to spend time with friends. For the moment, though, we love this back porch as it is, especially now that it’s spring again—a pleasant space for after-school snacks and not-in-a-hurry weekend cups of coffee.

I’m thankful we followed the advice of our smart and kind Realtor, which was to move in and live in our house first, see how everything worked for us, and then commit to which projects might make the most sense. We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

We did take care of two projects within months of moving in. 1) We love the original fireplace in the living room, and on the recommendation of our home inspector, we had a masonry and chimney company rebuild parts of it so that it meets current safety standards. This was an important, non-cosmetic priority.

We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

2) Sadly, we needed to hire a company to remove the beautiful 100+-year-old Northern maple tree in the front yard.

A couple of months after moving in, we noticed that a woodpecker—the same woodpecker, every few days, it seemed—liked to get comfortable in this tree and peck at the wood. The girls loved looking for him, and watching him when he came. But we soon learned that when a woodpecker likes a tree, it’s a sign the tree is diseased. In our case, the bark had gotten sick and soft, and the tree was in danger of falling.

A bittersweet goodbye, for sure.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (trying to do a hundred things simultaneously—you too, right?!). Another future project might be to replace the current countertops with natural stone. Right now, though, what we have functions well.

I created a mini workspace for myself at the end of this counter, with a lamp, stool, and spot for my writing books and laptop. This is also where I look through the girls’ school folders at the end of each weekday, and try to hide and drink my coffee every morning. (For better or worse, my family usually finds me. ;) )

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After figuring out furniture arrangements and tackling essentials, it’s fun to decorate. I am not an interior designer, not by a long shot. But I do love great finds, especially when they’re cool and when they’re local.

One of my favorite finds has been this painting of a scene in Paris, which I came across at our church’s annual yard sale. I paid a small donation for it, and now enjoy it every day when I see it in the little hallway outside the guest bedroom.

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We love when family and friends visit us. Some of our visitors thus far (I won’t give them away 😉 ) have dared to sleep past the girls’ 6:30 a.m. wake-up. On these mornings, Grace and Anna have slipped notes under the guest room door with a simple, pointed message: “When will you wake up??? We want to play!”

The girls spend most of their time in the breakfast nook/sunroom, and I think I finally found the right piece to complete this space: this “cottage window” mirror from Pier 1. What I love most about this piece is how it reflects the sunset from the facing window at the end of each day, bringing the outside in (to quote many an HGTV interior designer I’ve heard over the years!).

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Something that took a much longer time than I ever thought it would was picking out window valances for the bedrooms. Possibly at some point we’ll get plantation shutters, my personal favorite window treatment, for the windows. We’re currently committed to valances, however (all the rods were installed when we moved in—we took the easy way out and just rolled with them). For example, Grace’s room…

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In another year or so, we need to repaint the living room/dining room—the current paint shows wear. We’ve decided to wait until Anna’s old enough to stop adorning the walls with her after-dinner handprints. 🙂

One last bit of home improvement, now that the boxes are mostly unpacked… This past weekend, Stanton and the girls planted flower and vegetable seeds in the back yard. We are all eagerly awaiting the first blooms and buds.

In true 3-year-old fashion, Anna asked, the very next day, “Why didn’t anything grow yet?”

It takes time, we told her. But just wait.

This is something I’ve learned, again and again, in my life, maybe beginning from the time I was little like my daughter. And it’s a worthwhile lesson, a good reminder for anyone in a not-quite-there-yet season of life: It takes time. But just wait.

Things will grow, will bloom, will fall into place.

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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.

What Where’s Waldo? Taught Me About Work and Life

My 3-year-old daughter was this close to nodding off for a post-preschool nap. Her head rested against my chest. I kept rocking—slowly, slowly—and reading the story I’d been reading for the past twenty-five minutes, my voice singsong like a lullaby.

I could almost taste the freedom of the upcoming nap. I’d make a fresh, hot cup of coffee (OK, two cups). The house would be quiet.

Best of all, I’d have time to work on a writing project. About two hours before we needed to walk down the block to pick up my older daughter from the bus stop.

I was so close to that happening.

Yes, cliffhanger revealed—it didn’t happen. Like many a maternally disposed freelance writer before me, I took a deep breath and resigned myself to working on my project later, much later, that day, after the kids had fallen asleep…but before one of them woke up in the middle of the night, in need of a sip of water or comfort from a bad dream or myriad other things that moms address with Sandman fresh in their eyes (while dads somehow, mysteriously, manage to sleep through all the 2 a.m.-ish drama).

Instead of napping, Anna wanted to find Waldo. She grabbed the puzzle book from the table and began looking for the bespectacled adventurer. “Where is he?” she wondered.

I peered at the page, a chaotically colorful beach scene. “Hmm.” I readjusted my gaze to the top of the page and started scrutinizing every square inch from left to right, top to bottom, as if I were reading again.

“Where is he?” Anna repeated.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working. Frustrated, I blinked. When I opened my eyes, I saw, instantly, the elusive character.

“There he is!” I pointed; Anna beamed.

I turned the page. Again, I didn’t try so hard to answer the question, “Where’s Waldo?” I simply looked at the page, as a whole, and once again, Waldo seemingly jumped out at me.

There he was, again.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working.

Some days, I struggle to find time to write. I depend on a pieced-together schedule of school, naps, babysitters and Burning the Midnight Oil to do everything I want to do, and need to do. My work/child-care puzzle resembles a page out of a “Where’s Waldo?” book.

But…it works. If I don’t let myself get bogged down by all the stuff—a displaced two hours here, not enough contract work there—then I can see that the puzzle that is my writing life as a mom works. I just need to look at the big picture, as I did with my daughter and her “Where’s Waldo?” book that afternoon.

The big picture shows me that motherhood has made me a better writer. More than anything, motherhood has taught me patience (oh, has it taught me patience). Bring on the impossible-sounding clients, tasks and deadlines—they’re nothing I haven’t already handled with my usually demanding and occasionally irrational children.

Motherhood has given me perspective. My early-20s, first-job-out-of-college self would shake her head or reach for the Tylenol Extra Strength if something didn’t go her way—if an assignment dared to unfold less than perfectly, or a chain of emails unraveled out of control, misunderstanding everywhere. The early years of parenting have clued me in to a liberating pearl of wisdom: To progress, you have to go with the flow.

And sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

Perfection is an even more elusive needle in the haystack than Waldo.

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As I was proofreading an earlier version of this essay that you’re reading now, Anna climbed onto my lap, reached for the laptop keyboard and said, “I want to push buttons.”

“No, honey.” I moved her hand away.

Anna wrestled her hand back. “Yes, I do!”

I closed the laptop. “You…drive…me…”

“Crazy!” Anna laughed. I must have said it a time or two (maybe three) before, if my preschooler could finish the sentence/sentiment.

Sometimes, work and life with kids is crazy. Everyone needs to be out the door by a certain time in the morning, when someone spills their cup of milk. Then someone else accidentally walks through it. Just as another family member gets a text about an on-the-job crisis. And then inevitably, someone will say, “I can’t find the shoes I want to wear today!

“Where are my shoes?”

(Always.with.the.shoes.)

…sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

I can only speak from my experience, which by nature is limited. But in my experience, what I’ve come to learn—what moments like “Where’s Waldo?” with Anna have taught me—is that motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

Being a parent has opened my eyes to emotions like joy, and concerns like environmental justice. I’m not perfect—not even close—but I’m more aware than I was before. I want to make the world as good as it can be, however I can, because my children (and, maybe someday, their children) are here in it.

When I write now, as a mom, it’s with this outlook in mind. How might this story I’m working on uplift someone? What lesson might it teach?

How might this grant proposal I’m editing make a difference in someone’s life, if the nonprofit I’m collaborating with wins program funding?

In my 13 years as a writer (half of those as a mother/writer), I’ve read articles and perspectives seeking to pinpoint why women writers’ journeys can be more challenging than their male counterparts’. The answer is fairly obvious.

The novelist Kim McLarin said, at a PEN/New England discussion on the topic of “Mothers & Writing,” “Stephen King has said that to get his writing done, he has to just close the door. Easy for him to say…If I close the door, someone’s calling child services on me.”

Kids do seem to contribute to the professional differences between (many, if not most) women and (many, if not most) men—not only in writing, but also in other fields, from science to law enforcement to sports. Once a woman becomes a parent, she’s a parent in a way a man simply is not, at least for the time she takes off to recover from childbirth. A mother experiences more of a pause in her life and in her work, even if for only a few days, or weeks, or months.

(Let’s not even consider here who usually hears and responds to the kids’ crying out at 2 a.m., knows the names and contact information for everyone from pediatric dentists to best friends’ parents, and remembers to schedule the munchkins for annual well visits, after-school programs, etcetera…)

Not every family, of course, consists of a mom and a dad. And not every family welcomes their children through childbirth; physical recovery isn’t an issue in these cases.

Generally speaking, however, motherhood can sideline professional goals, for a little while or, perhaps, longer.

Sometimes you hit that pause button, right?

…motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

On the other hand, motherhood can inspire even more admirable professional goals. Seven years later, I’m still a little surprised at the wild success of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I get that its early electronic versions made “Fifty Shades of Grey” easy and discreet for people to read. I understand erotica is a popular genre (it’s not my favorite genre, but I have read it). But the writing—the writing, friends.

The writing of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is bad. It is, objectively, bad. And it’s fan fiction, basically. I wrote fan fiction of my favorite TV shows when I was in high school (not something I like to brag about!)…and it was bad too.

According to Forbes, however, E. L. James has a net worth of $95 million. (My net worth? Like yours, nowhere near there.) The bottom line: The general public doesn’t care about the bad writing that is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I care, though. I care about the work I do. I care about leaving a legacy of writing that—if they read it someday—my daughters can be proud of.

Last week, a magazine let me know they had accepted a short story I had submitted to them. The story is about a woman’s despair, and surprising endurance. I think Grace and Anna will enjoy reading it someday, and I hope it will be an inspiration for other women much sooner.

The magazine will be publishing my story in about four months. I almost couldn’t believe their email of acceptance to me—I’ve had a humbling streak of rejections with my creative writing lately.

My family knows this, and so when I shared the good news with them, they were happy for me—especially the girls.

“Yay, Mom!” Grace cheered.

“MOM!!!” Anna yelled, clapping her hands. And one second later: “I want pizza!”

Work, life and kids can be crazy. Can be a hot mess. Can be a scene straight out of “Where’s Waldo?”

Every now and then, it helps to hit pause. To take a breath. To look at the big picture.

When you look at the big picture—your big picture—what do you see, friends?

Wherever you are right now, if you’re somebody’s mom or dad, then what you’re doing, whatever it is, it’s for that little person (or little people). They love you more than anything, and they count on you for everything. Whatever kind of work you do, whatever puzzle your work/life looks like, so much of it’s for them.

They may not know that yet. Possibly they won’t know it for years, not until they have a family of their own. So let me say then, on their behalf…because it took me a long time to recognize all the love and sacrifice my own parents put into my childhood…let me tell you, on your little people’s behalf, THANK YOU.

THANK YOU for where you are right now. THANK YOU for what you’re doing, and for everything you did, and for everything you will do. THANK YOU for making our world a better place.

(And a million other things too: It’s OK you can’t chaperone the field trip. I’m sorry I was rude. I’ll listen to your advice next time. I’ll stop rolling my eyes all the time. I know you tried. You were right. You were right. You were right. I love you.)

But mostly…THANK YOU.

(P.S. Where are my shoes?)

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.

Enough Is a Feast

How many loads of laundry does the average mom of small children do every week?

I wondered this as I schlepped yet another armful of toddler-sized clothes from the dryer onto the nearby dining room table. Fun fact: Less than half of these items ever make it from the dining room table to their rightful homes in my daughters’ bedroom drawers.

I’m going to guess that I run the washing machine about seven times every week. What about you, friends? More, or less?

I began sorting through the latest heap of tangled, still-warm footed pajamas, hoodies and nine-inch skinny jeans. Anna, who just turned 1, had already outgrown some of these clothes. I set them into a pile on the side. Within no time, that pile grew big enough to fill a large paper bag.

I gestured to the bag. “Bring this across the street tomorrow?” I asked my husband. There was a new blue bin in the shopping village parking lot where people in the community could donate clothes for children who needed them. Stanton said he would.

I surveyed the dining room table. There was a lot less at my fingertips now.

Later that evening, I pulled a box of Grace’s 12- to 18-month-old clothes out of the back of a closet. Three years ago, I had donated a lot of her recently-outgrown outfits too. But like many moms, I saved some “special” clothes—gifts from loved ones that had sentimental value; the red velvet dress that Grace wore for our first family photo; a light green T-shirt with two dogs chasing after a ball, “Having a Ball” stitched underneath, that I loved.

Within minutes, I had filled up Anna’s dresser drawers with these “new” clothes, plus the freshly laundered ones from the dining room table.

“Enough is a feast,” says an old Buddhist proverb. I’ve always liked this thought, and it struck me in that moment. We can share with others, give from our bounty, and still have plenty.

Stanton and I have been lucky to have family members and friends who have given us so much. More than we deserve, more than we can repay. True gifts, from the heart.

The most meaningful way to say thank you, we think, is by paying that kindness forward. Giving of what we have. Being people whom others can count on. Doing something productive and meaningful with the time we have on this earth.

Time. As we get older, we realize exactly how precious time is. How precious and how priceless.

The gift of our time possibly is the most valuable thing we have to give. I need to remind myself of this sometimes, especially on days when my dining room table is heaped high with laundry. With towels and bibs and all of Grace’s dance outfits.

To pause. To say yes to going down to the river together, instead of getting just one more thing done around the house.

“Grace, do we have enough bread to feed the ducks?”

“Got plenty, Mom!”

Enough is a feast.

Enough Is a Feast

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