#IWishMyTeacherKnew: Teen Edition

If you’re one of the sage people who avoids Twitter, you may not have seen these striking statements by one 3rd grade class in Colorado. So let me tell you: a teacher, wanting to understand her students’ lives better, assigned them this sentence to complete. “I wish my teacher knew…”

Holy heartbreak, the responses that came back. She, and a gazillion websites, have been sharing them on Twitter. Take these two:

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When I taught kindergarten in Watts, months after the ’92 riots, I didn’t have to assign that sentence to understand the world my kids lived in. They offered up their innocence on the altar of the classroom carpet, sitting crisscross applesauce, hands raised obediently: “They shoot a lot at night here.”

I can’t help but imagine what a high school teacher would learn if they assigned this sentence, “I wish my teacher knew….” Even in our gleaming public high school, kids face all kinds of stresses: poverty, abuse, brokenness. Perhaps: “I wish my teacher knew I have nightmares every night,” or “I wish my teacher knew I woke up at 4 a.m. to ride the public bus to get here,” or “I wish my teacher knew I haven’t seen my parents in over a year.”

But what difference would it make for teachers to know this? Their job is just to teach, right?

Half-right. As educator/humanitarian/visionary Chaim Peri writes in his book The Village Way, contrary to conventional wisdom, adolescence can be a time of great healing. And kids without loving adults at home need to look elsewhere for their mentors: to teachers.

Peri, founder of Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, works with traumatized teens — orphans, immigrants, exiles, and survivors of war in their home countries. They succeed like crazy, becoming productive adults, by re-creating the sense of “village” that Hillary Rodham Clinton brought into the American lexicon a few years back.

“We need to offer [teens] an aura of togetherness,” says Peri in his book, “a sense of inner coherence and emotional solidarity that defies the swirling chaos around us. We must recreate, intentionally, through the messages that we constantly broadcast to our children, the sense of belonging and togetherness that once defined human existence.”

“If I could tell every educator just one thing, it would be that each hour of the teenage years is precious, each experience as potent in its capability to heal or to wound as countless hours of childhood experiences.”

His call to action: each of us has it within ourselves to become a mentor and heal a child.

My husband and I heard Chaim Peri speak when we were in the midst of deciding whether to become stand-in mom and dad to an 18-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala. His talk sealed the deal.

Between stepping up and her move-in date we were scared as hell, worried that we were going to ruin our family’s happy life. We have never more wrong.

I’m not saying you have to welcome a stranger into your home to do a world of good. You can go to 826LA. Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It takes a village, and we are the village.

What other groups do you know that offer the chance to mentor? Share in your comments.

 

 

Thankful for: Kids Helping Other People’s Kids

A shout out for kids helping kids – good news in the midst of, you know, mostly blechy news.

Our public middle school’s Community Service Club is asking their fellow students to help Safe Place for Youth. (By the way, I am tooting the horn of other people’s kids. Mine are not in this club, though I must say they do community service. Sometimes under duress. But still.)

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Recall that all of SPY’s donated warm clothes and sleeping bags were destroyed in a fire.

Seeing these boxes bedecked with earnest handwritten pleas for donations was a welcome lift after the Parent Board meeting I had just left, which included the following snazzy agenda items:

  • Evacuation procedures in case of bomb threats!
  • Today’s “Shelter in Place Drill” (nee “Lockdown”) in case of active shooters!
  • Results from recent school fundraiser and pleas for several more fundraisers! (Because to be an excellent public school requires thousands of dollars more than they are allotted – for computers, science equipment, functioning sinks…you know, the “extras.”)
  • Gentle reminders about holiday gifts for teachers, because a little gift means a lot (see bullet point above re public school funding).

So the lovely part about this meeting was this news: Our heroic (yes, heroic; no snark or sarcasm should be read into this adjective) school administrators and counseling staff had identified two homeless families in our school. (That’s not the lovely part). The administrators had reached out to other school parents, and through the efforts, donations, and advocacy of many people, those families are now in temporary housing on their way to permanent housing, and have received donations of gift cards for supermarkets and restaurants so they can eat.

But wait, there’s more! Our counseling staff gives food gift cards to 25 additional families who, though housed, would go hungry without them. It’s especially crucial this week: with no school next week, those children miss their regular breakfast and lunch. (I’m cranky without breakfast for a day.)

Admittedly, with nearly 14,000 students in LAUSD homeless (no wonder LAUSD has its own Homeless Education program), helping two homeless families get housing is a drop in the bucket. But for those two families it is a waterfall of blessings. For the Community Service Club kids, whose collection boxes express their dream of a world that is kind, abundant, plentiful and whole, there’s no better lesson than this: changing the world one person, one coat, one meal, one family at a time is as good a way as any to change the world.

As overwhelmed as I can get by the enormity of need — to the point of doing nothing, because where to begin? — I appreciate the reminder, kids.

“Other People’s Kids”

I don’t want to be preachy, but sometimes I can’t help it. And that is okay, my dear readers, because you are the choir, and you forgive me.

Today’s sermon: There is no such thing as “other people’s kids.”

If they are kids, and if they are in crisis, and if we fancy ourselves grown-ups (not that I always do), they are our kids. We take care of them.

There, that wasn’t so bad. Simple, short and sweet.

In that spirit, I received in my inbox today a plea from Safe Place for Youth, a shelter just for teens, located in Venice, CA. A recent fire at a storage unit destroyed all of the warm clothes that had been generously donated to Safe Place for Youth to give to needy homeless teens. And even though we are in California (thank goodness) and not Minnesota (sorry Greg), the temps do dip: We broke out the hot chocolate last night; I’m wearing a sweater today. If this strikes a chord with you, click on the links above to help.

One last thing, if you’d like to get the word out about a place that needs help, please add your nominations in the comments here.

Laura

A Giveaway for International Book Giving Day!

I didn’t know there was such a thing as International Book Giving Day until my friend, writer and do-gooder Susan Schaefer Bernardo, told me. So it was inevitable that I would ask Susan, the author of a children’s book, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs if she’d write a guest post and yes, give a copy of the book to a Confessions of Motherhood reader. Everyone who leaves a comment will receive an e-book, and one commenter picked at random (scout’s honor) will receive a hard copy of the book. So make sure to leave a comment at the end of this post!

Susan says, “Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs was born out of love and loss.  I wanted my kids to know that I love them wherever they go — that we are connected even when we are physically apart.” 

Here is more from Susan:

When Laura asked me to write a guest post for this beautiful blog, I sifted through my memory for a captivating confession.  I’ve got lots, what with sixteen years of mothering two boys under my belt (a larger belt these days — I’ve been eating the crusts off their pb&j sandwiches).

I’ve got more confessions than my son has little-bitty Legos.  All those times they wore mismatched socks to school because I didn’t get the laundry done…Or how about the infamous day I threw my son into the pool to end a tantrum (he held tight and pulled me in with him!).

Here’s another confession: I was glad he clung to me, because I absolutely, positively hate letting go. I know, I know — it was clearly stated in the job description. Moms are meant to help their kids grow strong wings and show them how to fly the nest. I do…but at every step – the first day of pre-school, first sleepover, first driving lesson – it feels like part of my heart flies off with them.

My children’s book, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs was born out of love and loss.  I wanted my kids to know that I love them wherever they go — that we are connected even when we are physically apart. 

Mother love transcends all the “bad mommy” moments: it’s a love that isn’t conditional on how clean their rooms are or whether we got enough sleep last night. It’s a love permanently etched onto our hearts like the stretch marks etched onto our bellies. Love is an ever-present force of nature, as powerful as the moon’s gravity:

“It’s true the moon cannot reach down to hold your hand,

but she’s strong enough to pull waves onto sand.

Her invisible arms rock the tides by night and day,

Like my love holds you safely when I am away.”

The last few years have been challenging –a painful divorce (is there any other kind?), a transition from stay-at-home mom to working woman. The hardest part for me has been sharing custody. I miss my kids intensely, even though they are safe and happy with dad, too.

My friend Courtenay Fletcher and I take a lot of long “walk n’talks.”  In 2012, I shared how I missed my boys…and she shared her sadness about a friend dying of breast cancer and leaving behind a 5-year-old daughter. As we consoled each other, Courtenay recalled something her mother once said: “Even when we are apart, we see the same moon – and we can send each other hugs that way.”

That idea inspired me to write a poem. That poem inspired Courtenay to create beautiful illustrations. A book took shape, and we became two moms with a mission. We raised $10,000 on Kickstarter and printed 3,000 copies. (The book took nine months from conception to birth – how perfect is that?)

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs is a book for every child – it reassures kids they are always connected to the ones they love.  Soothing words for bedtime…and for hard times, too, when kids suffer grief or separation anxiety.  Writing the book helped heal the ‘child alone’ inside me, too.

Whenever I miss you, I will find a way to hug and kiss you….

Hugs by moon, and kisses by sun,

I’ll always love you, Little One.”

So that’s my big confession. I love my kids like crazy, and I’m willing to do the time for my crime. In fact, like every mother I know, I will happily serve a life sentence – and beyond.

——-

Author Susan Schaefer Bernardo and illustrator Courtenay Fletcher love to share Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs with kids and families in need…so they donate lots of copies to great charities like A Window Between Worlds, United through Reading, hospitals and more.  Once in a blue moon, they offer the e-book FREE so EVERYBODY can share the love. It might not be the world’s most profitable business model, but it works for them. Hardcover and Kindle versions are available at Amazon.com…if you love the book, please leave a review!

Be sure to comment below to receive your free e-book and a chance to receive a hard copy in honor of National Book Giving Day.

How to Help a Homeless Veteran

My grandfather was a war hero.

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My son’s artistic rendering of his revered great-grandfather.

I don’t mean because of his actions as a soldier in World War II, which were indeed heroic. I’m thinking instead of the heroism inherent in returning from the brutality of war and every horror that entailed, to take his place again as a husband and father, working hard to support his family, quietly and without recognition, like so many of his peers. Heroes.

A shameful percentage of veterans today do not have that opportunity for a simple life. They are homeless.

It’s terrible, we all know that, but maybe you’re like me, and get stymied at the “what can I, one small person, do?” Here’s one thing. Support an organization that helps veterans. Here’s one: PATH (People Assisting The Homeless).

PATH has housed 900 Veterans this year, as well as many other homeless individuals and families.

To support PATH, join “The Imaginary Feast” — which invites you to donate the amount you might spend on a night out, instead of asking you to come to a big fancy event. (Great idea, right?)

Imaginary Feast

“It Might Be Wonderful”

I was searching for the source of a quote I read years ago, whose essence has stuck with me, if not it’s precise language. It was attributed to Gloria Steinem.

She said, “The great thing about not knowing what comes next…” (and I thought, Yes? Yes? What is it? Please tell me what’s great about all this not knowing business!!) “…is that it might be wonderful.”

“That’s all? It might be wonderful?” Insufficient payoff for the terrible heaviness of not knowing.

I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to live into her radically optimistic world view. For me, not knowing what came next was painful, almost unbearable. In the cosmic sense, of course, none of us knows what’s next (earthquake, or flood, or call from the Nobel committee, etc.). But much of the time we think we do. We have enough information at least to predict what next month or next year brings. For me, the decision to sell our house a few years ago launched us on a journey of major not knowing. I wanted the quote as a lead-in to the book I’m working on about that journey.

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Because the journey has moved me toward understanding that quote. It has taught me that not knowing becomes easier.

Riverside Park at sunset

Not easy, but easier. I try to live more in the second half of Gloria’s statement than in the first. It might be wonderful.

Cannonball into Merry Meeting Lake, New Hampshire

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Laura on Rope Swing, Lake Todd (Newbury, NH)

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s up to us to make it wonderful.

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I didn’t find that quote today, but I did find a rich and deep interview of a curious and brilliant mind. I give you Maria Shriver interviewing Gloria Steinem, and two of my favorite passages from their conversation:

The most hopeful.

SHRIVER: Do you think that you ran a revolution? Do you think it was successful?

STEINEM: Well, first of all, I think we’ve just begun. If you think about the Suffrage Movement as a precedent, it took more than 100 years to get the vote and for that movement itself to run a certain course. We’re only about 40 years into this movement, so this particular wave of change certainly has a long way to go. It’s not in the past.

The most daunting.

SHRIVER: Is there some part of your life that you think represents a cautionary tale?

STEINEM: I think the biggest thing is probably that I wasted time.

SHRIVER: You feel like you wasted time? In what way?

STEINEM: I continued for too long to do things that I already knew how to do, or to write stories that I was assigned instead of fighting for stories that I couldn’t get, or doing ones that I thought were important on my own. The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is.

You heard her. Back to work.

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http://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/gloria-steinem/

Grandma Power: Electing Women and Protecting the Environment

This week is the Grandmother Power Blogging Campaign, brainchild of photojournalist Paola Gianturco and writer/inspirer Tara Mohr. The goal: to connect women to flex their power to change the world.

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Me and my grandmother, Lilli, on her (nn%&*st) birthday last year.

And why not? Grandfathers have run most countries and Fortune 500 companies. We could use more healing Grandma power, and Grandma strength. My kids are lucky to have two of the best.

In that spirit, today I bring you my mom, Fran Diamond, in her own words.

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Take it away, Mom!

My own Grandmothers, Rose and Sarah, gave me love, comfort and life lessons that are with me still. Grandma Rose enveloped me with pure love and endless admiration whether deserved or not. Baba Sarah loved me as much and set an example of humility and generosity. They set a high standard for being a grandparent.

Today my four grandchildren inspire me in so many ways, including the work that I do. Knowing that what I do affects them makes an enormous difference in the decisions that I make and how I look at things.

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For over forty years there have been two themes to my life’s work: Environmental activism and electing pro-choice, progressive women to public office.

In l968, I joined my husband and neighbors to fight against oil drilling along the coast of Los Angeles when it was threatened by Occidental Petroleum and Armand Hammer. After a twenty-year David vs. Goliath battle, “No Oil” won and the coast of Los Angeles is protected from off-shore oil drilling.

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Since l999, I have served on the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. Our mission is to restore and protect the surface and groundwater of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We have made tremendous improvements in water quality. Just looking at the Heal The Bay report card, you can see that many beaches that were given F, D, and C’s before are now A+ most of the time. When I see surfers in the water or families at the beach, and when my grandkids go boogie boarding, l know that my work is making a difference.

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That is what keeps me going, as hard as it is at times. When we are debating policy issues and scientific standards, I think what is best for those kids and the future. I see the beautiful, sweet faces of my grandchildren, and I know what I have to do.

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Even before I became an environmental activist, I worked to elect women to public office. In the early 1970’s there were no women in the U.S. Senate, or for that matter the California State Senate. Without women’s voices we don’t really have a representative democracy. Women bring a lot to the table that is different from men. I believe that women are more collaborative and naturally think of what’s best for children and families. It is my belief that when both candidates are equally qualified, we should vote for the woman until we are closer to parity in elective office. Right now there are only 20 women in the U.S. Senate out of l00. Next year we may have no women on the Los Angeles City Council or citywide office. That is shameful. That is not the world I want my granddaughters or grandsons to live in.

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That’s part of why I am working to elect Wendy Greuel to be the Mayor of Los Angeles. I have known and worked with both candidates for a long time. They are both good people. Wendy Greuel, however, is the most qualified and has the leadership skills to move L.A. forward. What I know about Wendy Greuel is that she listens to all sides, can make decisions and knows how to implement them. She knows how to get from A to Z. She is willing to tell people what they might not want to hear. She is tough, decisive and fair. Los Angeles has been a city for l63 years and we have never had a woman Mayor. Now it’s time. I know that both my granddaughters and my grandsons will benefit from having Wendy Greuel as Mayor.

This year I will turn 70. I have never been more inspired to achieve my goals. Maybe it is because of four amazing young people, Rebecca, Noa, Aaron and Emmett my adored grandchildren. Through them I can touch the future. And it is amazing.

This Time We Can Help

My eight-year-old son comes to me in the dawning day in mismatched pajamas. He hesitates for a moment before climbing into my warm bed, then he speaks: “Time to snuggle.”

It is this exquisite moment I am trying not to think of as I suppress a sob a few hours later this morning.  I am sitting at Sarah’s kitchen table, listening to a woman I’ve just met describe her eighth year. That was the year she survived the Holocaust.

I know eight so well. I picture my son’s 2nd grade classroom full of energetic, earnest and exuberant boys and girls, whose greatest concerns are mastering handball and subtraction. I picture her at eight years old, watching her mother fall victim to a death march they were forced to endure. Other women, younger and stronger, urging her to keep going. She says she would not have survived without their help. Here she is now in Los Angeles, telling her story, strong and secure, with children and grandchildren of her own.

I am at a meeting of the Steering Committee for the Funds for Holocaust Survivors in Urgent Need. I have found my way here due to the plea of one of my Torah study mates, Sarah Moskovitz, a pioneering therapist to child survivors.  They have organized because the last survivors, the children who survived concentration camps and ghetto annihilations and death marches, the children who watched their brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents die, the children who were miraculously hidden and saved by righteous gentiles, need help.

The Committee, many of them survivors or children of survivors, discuss the situation. There are about 10,000 Holocaust survivors remaining in Los Angeles. Of those, about 3,000 are at or near the poverty line. They make daily choices between food, medicine and rent. These children of the Holocaust need not be put through suffering again, when they have us, their communal family, to help.

Sitting at my side, Samara Hutman, Executive Director of Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project, expresses her view: “The world once stood by and allowed these most vulnerable people, these children, to suffer such agony. Now we have one last chance to do right by them.”

Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles provides help to these Survivors, but the financial support that once came from the German government as Restitution for Holocaust Survivors have now been cut. The need is great.

I’ve never done anything for Holocaust survivors. I’ve cried at films, I’ve visited museums, but I’ve done nothing. It seems so distant in time and place. But sitting next to a woman, elegantly dressed at this early hour, who says, “That was me. I lived that,” I am moved to action. Humbled by the strength and dedication of the people at this table, I offer what I can. We offer what we can. Jews, Gentiles, all of us. Like the women who would not let that little girl fall down when her mother could go no longer, we are their family.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact The 1939 Club at (310) 491-7802 or info@1939club.com or visit www.1939Club.com. To contribute, a tax deductible check may be written to The 1939 Club, 8950 Olympic Blvd. #437, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. You will be sent an acknowledgment and receipt. You may use the form below, or at visit the website of Kehillat Israel Synagogue.

Thank you.

“Biggest Massive Most Joyous Fiercest Action the World Has Ever Known”

Vaginas of the World Unite.

I thought that might grab your attention.

The quotation in the title is from Eve Ensler, playwright of The Vagina Monologues. From that play evolved V-Day, a campaign to end violence against women, celebrated every February 14th for the past 15 years.

One Billion Rising

One Billion Rising happens in one week, February 14, 2013, to honor the 15th anniversary of V-Day, and to put an end to violence against women.

The plan? Get together and dance your booty off, and pledge one thing you’ll do in the next year to bring about this change.

Why dance? Eve Ensler explains in a video posted today, that women don’t move freely or wear what we want, in order not to attract attention, to prevent attack. You don’t have to think Burkas, or even long skirts, long sleeves and wigs. Just think “She was asking for it.” So dancing freely can release us from that invisible, ever-present imprisonment and unleash energy and creativity to change the world. Plus, it’s fun!

An epidemic? One in three. One billion women worldwide are victims of violence. To victims, it may feel like it is just happening to you. One slap. One beating. One belt. But back up, take a broader look: genital mutilation, Irish Magdelene laundries, Afghan schoolgirls, the universal fear of walking alone that is instilled in us, whether gathering firewood at a refugee camp, or in any neighborhood I’ve ever lived in. “Don’t walk alone,” my mother cautioned. Imagine: what would it be like to not be afraid?

The question of why women haven’t revolted is a complicated discussion for lengthy books, not a quick blog. For now, we have an opportunity to make our voices heard together.

Here in L.A., on Valentine’s Day, you can dance downtown at Pershing Square at noon, or join a Debbie Allen-choreographed flash mob in West Hollywood at night.

Break the Chain Dance

You can donate to small but mighty non-profits that work with local victims of violence, like A Window Between Worlds, founded by Cathy Salser. Or you can help refugee women and children by taking action with Jewish World Watch, or donate to the Women’s Refugee Commission, in memory of co-founder Catherine O’Neill.

You can join or create a rising wherever you are. Meet people. Have fun. Or you can simply turn on the car radio while waiting in the school carpool line and dance in your seat.

Now for that pledge. The hard part. The work part. The part that makes you think, I’m just one person, what can I do? Remember, Everyone in the history of the world has only been one person. So start.

I pledge:

  • To teach my children respect for themselves and for others. For their own bodies and others.
  • To ask them why car and beer commercials use women’s bodies to sell their products, and ask if that’s respectful to women.
  • Not to allow violence (particularly the brother against brother variety) in our home.
  • To love them.
  • To dance freely, but never in a public setting that would really embarrass them on purpose (again).

What else?

It still doesn’t feel like enough. Fortunately, I know I am not alone. I am one of One Billion. And so are you.

Tell me your ideas. I’m listening. I pledge to share them.

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Miracle Makers in our Midst

Everywhere I look are stories of regular folks accomplish amazing things.

Today’s L.A. Times front page shares a story of how two very different men — a homeless victim of a beating, and an ER doctor — met and came together to help others. Totally inspiring.