Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, friends. ❤

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.

When Your Life Feels Like a Sitcom: Mom/Holiday Edition

It was a somewhat typical weekday afternoon. Anna, home from preschool, perched on the family-room rug, safety-scissoring the cover of a Crate & Barrel catalog into hundreds of pieces. I sat nearby at the dining table, which doubles as my home office. My laptop screen was open to a style guide, and every now and then, I glanced at my phone. I would be talking soon with a writing-industry friend about some freelance work.

“Now remember, Anna,” I said. “While I’m on the phone, play quietly, please.” I would have turned on the TV, but had taken away TV earlier that day for…some good reason, I’m sure.

The phone rang. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. I began talking.

A few minutes later, things fell apart.

“Mom, Mom! I had an accident in the bathroom! Mom!”

I closed my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I told my friend. “You can probably hear Anna in the background.”

My friend laughed, incredibly kind and understanding. She has young children too.

Anna ran up to me. She tugged at my arms, my legs. “MOM!”

“I feel horribly unprofessional now,” I apologized again, “but I promise I’ll do a good job for you.”

Again, she was very kind, and we hung up soon after.

I helped Anna. As I did, I said, “You knew that was an important phone call. Did you have to yell so much?”

Anna cupped my chin in her hands. “I needed you.” She looked so sweet, and helpless, and…mischievous too.

I sighed.

A few minutes later, things fell apart.

Not long after, we picked up Grace a bit early from school. She had a well checkup with our pediatrician. Traditionally, these checkups occur around a child’s birthday. Grace has a summer birthday, and now it’s December, so…yes, I was a smidge behind scheduling this appointment.

“Mom, will I get any shots today?” Grace asked.

“Well…” I had just signed for both girls to get the flu shot. “Let’s not worry about that right now.”

Grace groaned. A nurse called out, “Leddy!”

As the three of us walked over, Anna smiled, pointed at Grace and said, “We’re here for my sister. Her.”

Grace and the nurse looked at me with knowing smiles. I sighed…again.

Yes, Anna was not pleased when she discovered she was getting the flu shot too.

Before we left, the pediatrician asked Grace to leave a sample. He handed her a blue plastic cup. The three of us crammed into the family restroom.

Anna stopped pouting to say, “I can’t believe Grace has to tinkle in a cup.”

“This is a little crazy, Mom,” Grace observed.

Let me tell you, friends… I stood there, in that family restroom, with both my daughters, one of whom had sabotaged my work-related phone call earlier and the other holding a blue plastic cup, currently… I stood there and I thought, Yes, this is a little crazy.

At that moment, it was only 3 p.m. Later that evening, Grace had her performing-arts class, and I was going to a book club. Stanton had thought he’d be home in time to be with the girls, but found out last-minute he wouldn’t…so a super-sweet neighborhood babysitter was helping us out.

Logistics. Changes of plans (or, Plans B, C and D). Mad dashes to the ATM for babysitter money.

Blue. Plastic. Cups.

Life can be a little crazy sometimes.

Sometimes my life feels so “a little crazy,” I almost can’t believe it. Maybe you’ve had this feeling too, at some point: your life as a sitcom.

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I don’t like to complain. I’m deeply grateful for my family, our good health, everything. I’m also conscious that there are folks with much graver circumstances, compared to my “a little crazy” inconveniences.

Still…it’s healthy to acknowledge whatever level of craziness exists. To take a breath, maybe even vent. Or, simply, laugh out loud.

I was venting and LOL-ing with my sister. Jenna is everything you could want in a sister. She listens, she’s objective, she often answers on the first ring. During one of our recent conversations, she said, “I can’t believe that happened. I mean, that is actually your life.”

Now, let me clarify: The words “that is actually your life” contained no envy, awe or admiration of any kind. Just bewilderment, friends. Straight-up bewilderment.

Some of our day-to-day moments can feel like an episode of “Modern Family” or “The Simpsons.” Life is happening, unfolding, getting a little crazy now…cue the laugh track…moving along now, keep it going, just keep go-go-going…

Life is happening, unfolding, getting a little crazy now…cue the laugh track…moving along now…

The sitcom-like sensation may appear particularly strong during the holidays. Stanton, the girls and I were driving home one evening, and we were admiring all our neighbors’ Christmas decorations. Strands of lights, homemade wreaths, candles in windows…

“Wow, Mom and Dad! They have a Christmas dragon!”

I peered out the window. Indeed, our next-door neighbors had set up a seven-foot, red-and-green inflatable dragon complete with sparkling lights and Santa hat in their front yard. Joy to the world.

In the spirit of Christmas, I had positioned a poinsettia in our front bay window. And had thought about lights for the front porch. But so far…just the poinsettia.

“Can we get a Christmas dragon too?” the girls asked.

I love my neighbors, and I honestly love their big, festive outdoor holiday décor. But… “I’m sorry, girls, we’re not getting a Christmas dragon.”

We didn’t even get a real Christmas tree. One year we (probably) will. I imagine the four of us would love heading out to a tree farm, all Griswold-like, and choosing our very own Christmas tree. Maybe even cutting it down. You can do that, I’ve heard.

But this Christmas…mm-hmm, we unfolded our artificial tree in the family room. The girls loved decorating it. For some reason, though, the tree leans forward, no matter what we do to fix it. Our tree refuses to stand straight up.

(“It’s pretty straight,” Stanton said, laughing, after reading a draft of this post.)

A lone poinsettia in the front window, and a pretty-straight artificial tree. Merry Christmas from the Leddys.

The sitcom-like sensation may appear particularly strong during the holidays.

Does your family send out Christmas cards? We do. We haven’t yet, but…we do…

Anna and I stopped by the post office to buy holiday stamps. I have a penchant for winter scenes: birds on branches, footprints in the snow. When it was our turn, I told the postal service clerk I needed holiday stamps.

“Do you want Santa Claus, the menorah or Kwanzaa greetings?”

“Um…do you have footprints in the snow?”

“All we have left is Santa Claus, the menorah and Kwanzaa greetings.”

I looked at Anna; she looked back. “Well, if those are our choices…we should probably get Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus,” Anna affirmed.

Choices abound during the holidays. Santa Claus, the menorah or Kwanzaa greetings? Artificial or tree-farm-chosen?

I’ve also had the opportunity to check yes or no for some holiday-related volunteer opportunities in our community. Party planning, group play-date hosting, fundraiser T-shirt selling. Forgive me, but…no, no and no. I just simply can’t do one more thing right now, I’ve tried to explain. I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but I am not Superwoman.

My apologies…but I’m not.

I just simply can’t do one more thing, I’ve tried to explain. I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but I am not Superwoman.

This past week, a short story I wrote was published in a literary journal. Friends and family very kindly shared their congratulations with me. I was chatting with a college friend, who’s also a mom, and she said she was impressed by me.

“Please don’t be impressed,” I told her. I meant it, 100 percent. If you only knew how “a little crazy” things can get around here…and the countless creative-writing rejections I get for every once-in-a-blue-moon email that begins with, “We’d like to publish your piece…”

Do you know what makes an impression, for me? What catches my breath, touches my heart? People—families—who power through.

Power through imperfection, and disappointment, and the darkness that can fall. Power through Plan B’s, C’s and D’s to find light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyday survivors.

Life as a sitcom. We all have our own cast of characters. Each of us plays the hero in our own story, of course. Then there’s the buddy character, the love interest. Beyond the characters, we have recurring themes, conflicts and punch lines.

Sometimes we’re the punch line.

But if we get to the closing credits…and see we’ve come this far, with our crazy but lovable cast of characters intact…let’s take a bow, shall we?

Because we made it, blue plastic cups and all.

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.

The Secret Lives of Moms

Many a weekday morning when Stanton is out of town for work, I let the girls watch an episode of “Sofia the First” or “The Cat in the Hat” so that I can take a shower in peace.

Several times, when I haven’t used the “TV as babysitter” tactic, Anna has wandered into the bathroom and broached less-than-ideal early-morning conversation topics. For example… “Mom, your belly is so big and cozy.” And, “Mom, why is there hair on your legs? YUCK, Mom!”

Nothing like this kind of 3-year-old commentary to make me want to crawl back under the covers.

Grace also has been known to poke her head into the bathroom with an urgent question, as water is streaming down my body. “Mom, can you please find my headband with the pink bow? I need my headband with the pink bow, now. Please.”

“Girls. Girls.” I quickly rinse the conditioner out of my hair. “You’re only supposed to come in here if it’s really important, remember? Really important, or an emergency.”

Grace sighs. “Mom, my hair looks crazy! I need my headband, right now. The one with the pink bow,” she adds.

I turn off the water. “Is it possible…could you both possibly give me some privacy? For one minute?”

By this point, Anna has made herself comfortable on the tile floor, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or a 500-page, hours-of-fun sticker book in hand. “It’s fine, Mom,” she says, shrugging her little shoulders. “We don’t mind.”

My turn to sigh.

So yes…thank goodness for Netflix.

“Mom, my hair looks crazy! I need my headband, right now.”

The other morning, I clicked on Netflix. The girls were settled on the couch, patiently waiting for one of their favorite shows. On our Netflix, we have three profiles: Stanton, Melissa, and Grace and Anna. That morning, when I arrived at the screen of profiles, the “Melissa” one was highlighted.

The girls…went…crazy.

“Melissa! Melissa!” Grace noticed.

“Mom…is…Melissa!” Anna chimed in.

“YOU WERE WATCHING TV!” they yelled, pointing at me with big eyes and laughing, as if they had just discovered the world’s best secret.

I had to laugh too. Then I said, “Yes, it’s true, girls. Sometimes, after you go to sleep, I watch TV.”

They began laughing hysterically again. “Mom watches TV! Mom watches TV!”

God forbid I catch up on “House of Cards” or “Longmire” when I have a moment to myself, right?

Grace raised an eyebrow at me. “What else do you do after Anna and I go to sleep?”

I raised my eyebrow back at her.

The secret lives of moms.

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Our children know us so well, but we also keep things from them. I have some secrets, which are probably similar to yours.

I watch TV most nights, when I could be doing something productive instead. (If I never finish my great American novel, I have no one to blame but myself!)

When I’m couch-potato-ing, I usually have dark chocolate as my accompanying snack. But sometimes, sometimes, I give in to my true love: Cheetos.

I know you’re not supposed to eat “food” that ends in an “O” (Cheetos, Doritos, Ho-Hos…the list goes on)…but I’m a sucker for Cheetos.

My daughters know I strive for all four of us to eat healthfully…and they also know I love Cheetos. When we go grocery shopping together, I say, “Remember, girls, don’t let me buy…”

“Cheetos!” they yell.

“Yes!” I reply. “Mom does not need Cheetos.” (Gotta do something about that big and cozy belly.)

But sometimes, sometimes, I give in to my true love: Cheetos.

On a recent grocery-shopping trip, I maneuvered the cart down the “Chips” aisle to get Tostitos for Stanton. Super Bowl Sunday was coming up; he would need Tostitos. I grabbed a bag. (Original, not multigrain, of course. Why is multigrain Tostitos even an option?!)

Then I saw, out of the corner of my eye, on the bottom shelf…Cheetos.

Mmm…I could almost taste the cheesy, crunchy goodness.

While Grace and Anna were debating what they should be for Halloween nearly nine months from now, I snuck a bag of Cheetos into the cart. A little treat for me, for later.

The three of us got into a checkout aisle. That’s when Grace noticed the Cheetos. She looked at me with wide eyes, and an accusatory expression. “Mom…!”

“I know, I know,” I said. “Let’s not make a big deal about this.” I didn’t want Anna to notice too.

But of course… “Hey! Hey, MOM!” Anna pointed to the bright-orange bag.

“Anna, guess what.” Grace leaned across the front of the cart, where Anna was sitting. “Mom got Cheetos.”

“Cheetos?!” The forbidden fruit. Anna craned her body around and grabbed for the bag. “I want Cheetos! I want them, Mom!”

Great.

I tossed the Cheetos onto the checkout counter. “Anna, Cheetos aren’t healthy,” I said, shaking my head at her. “They’re junk food. Yuck!”

Anna shook her head back at me. “I love junk food! I want some junk food, Mom!”

Some of the people around us laughed. Others just looked at me. Just…great.

I exchanged a glance with Grace, who simply sighed and said, “Mom.”

Mom, you shouldn’t have gotten the Cheetos.

“I love junk food! I want some junk food, Mom!”

One last story, friends.

As you know, Anna often ends up sleeping in our bed. When Stanton is traveling, I usually just tuck her into our bed, rather than her own bed, so that I don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. (it’s always 3 a.m., like clockwork) to run into her room and then snuggle her back to sleep alongside myself. When Stanton is home, though, I do tuck Anna into her own bed so that he and I have some time together before her tiny body takes up a huge amount of space in our bed.

On one such morning, Anna woke up. Stretched her little arms. Rolled over and saw Stanton. “Dad,” she grumbled. (Like her mom, she’s not a morning person.)

“Dad!” Anna said again, pushing at him. “Dad, what are you doing here?”

I looked over. “Anna,” I hissed. “Dad’s still sleeping.”

Anna flung herself back my way. “Why is he here?” she asked again.

Why indeed, friends. Why indeed.

It very well may be impossible for our children to imagine that we, as moms, have moments in our lives that don’t involve them.

And you know, I’m guilty of this too, with my own mom. I called my mom on her cell phone once. She didn’t answer. I called my family’s landline phone. No answer again.

I remember being irrationally annoyed. Where was my mom when I needed her? What could she possibly be doing that she couldn’t drop that minute to answer my phone call?

(Do we ever grow up, friends?)

For many of us, I think we simply like to know, on a very basic level, that our moms are there. Are there for us. In an American culture where so many of us strive to stand out in the crowd, we like to know that there’s still one person who, no matter what, thinks the world of us.

Who will pick up the second we call. Who will stop showering, that second, to find our headband (the one with the pink bow), simply because our hair, currently, looks crazy.

For many of us, that person answers to “Mom.” For others of us, it’s “Dad,” or “Grandpa,” or the name of a good friend.

For my daughters, I’m that person. I love being that person to them.

But every now and then…I just want to binge-watch my favorite shows alone, in bed, with a serving size (or two) of Cheetos close at hand.

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.