The car clock says 7am as I turn right on PCH, Aaron in the passenger seat next to me, on our way to school. We are tired from sleeplessness related to this unconscionable heat wave, and to Grandma Lilli dying. … Continue reading
For my family, 2015 has been an “interesting” year. Before I head out to the market with Thanksgiving shopping list in hand, and before the days tumble over each other headlong into December, I wanted to sit and give thanks.
Thank you, readers. For inviting my words into your minds, letting them linger and simmer and blend with your own thoughts and experiences.
Thank you, writers. For brilliant words that inspire me to try harder, for sharing what you’ve learned on your path, and paying it forward.
Thank you, booksellers. For graciously welcoming me this year. For selling books. You do it because you love it, I know, but I thank you anyway.
Thank you, She Writes Press. For your innovation and vision. For your community.
Thank you, my old friends. For holding in your memories a “me” from before motherhood, the one who was funnier and less serious, so that I can sometimes catch a glimpse of that girl. Thank you for still being near.
Thank you, my “new” (e.g. of the past 15 years) friends. For lighting the way forward. For being an extended family to mine. For carpooling, for venting and listening to vents, for the occasional “Moms night out.”
Thank you, music.
Thank you, dancing.
Thank you, my sons. For teaching me how to parent you. (I don’t mean the little things, like “can we please have Grand Theft Auto.” Sorry, that’s a no, because I can’t handle “virtual” violence on top of the actual violence we know about in the world.) I mean, thank you for telling me things like, “We need more of you than you’ve been giving.” Thank you for giving me the chance to do better.
Thank you, my husband. For your creativity. For your incredible parenting. For your humor. For your positive outlook. For singing in the house.
Thank you, my whole family — my sister, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially my parents. For being present. For being cheerleaders. For being healthy and thriving, even though that’s mostly up to chance.
Thank you, good fortune.
Thank you, dumb luck.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
If words could build a force field around us, if a prayer of gratitude could keep us safe, healthy, fulfilled, and loved…
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Last week my husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. I have often thought that one of the keys to our marriage has been our similarities, such as when one spouse suggested dumping our house to be nomads for several months and the other said, “I was thinking THE SAME THING!” See what I mean? You gotta be on the same page for that whack.
But there is a fundamental way in which we are not the same: one of us meets challenges head-on, sticks with projects that are difficult, and stays calm and patient throughout. The other one is easy to quit, throw in the towel, and call in the experts to do it for her. (I knew you knew which was which.)
Case in point: The anniversary grill.
This year we decided to get a grill as an anniversary present to ourselves. Somehow that icon of backyard suburbia had eluded us lo these many years. So my husband sprung into action, went to Home Depot and came home with a grill. One minor problem. A pre-assembled grill would not fit in our small trunk, especially not with two boogie boards left in the trunk. Oops.
That’s the point when I would have said “never mind, maybe we’ll grill next summer,” or “let’s pay for delivery.” But Christopher, undaunted, bought an unassembled grill, opened the box (because even that box didn’t fit in the car), put all the separate pieces in the trunk, and brought it all home.
He got home, we unloaded the parts, and everything was still hunky-dory.
Until he took a look at the instructions.
I left him to it. He had opened this Pandora’s box of grill himself, and I trusted he would see it through. That’s how he rolls. A lesser person (me) would have dragged it all to the curb with a sign that said “Free.”
When he finished he asked, “Are you done sitting outside?”
“For now I am,” I answered. “Why?”
“Because I’m going to go try the grill and I don’t want to kill both of us.”
“Please don’t die,” I said.
Bravely he went outside. I stayed close to the phone ready to dial 911. All was well.
The next night we ate burgers and hot dogs surrounded by the family that had raised me to call experts for engineering feats (like lightbulb replacement), and we basked in his glow of utter competence. A keeper, this one.
Morning confession: I let my son watch television all afternoon yesterday when he should have been at a sports practice. (I’m not saying which kid, or which practice, so they can both maintain plausible deniability. ) He was tired, he needed a day off, it was plain to see. I know, I know: here was a chance to teach him the value of digging in and working to fulfill a commitment to a team, to himself, and he would have learned that exercise can make you feel better, he’d be happy when he was done. But I was tired, too, tired of schlepping and lugging. Tired of being mindful of what lesson I should teaching.
Let’s call it instead a lesson in when to take a breather. A lesson in the value of down time. A lesson in me listening to his expressed desires and not superimposing my idea of what’s right.
It’s all in how you look at it. In fact, that’s the most important lesson I want to teach my kids: the power of perspective. We can control how we see things, and we can strive to have a perspective of gratitude, to have a world view that looks through lenses of appreciation.
The author Andy Andrews’ new book, The Noticer Returns, has a lot to say about perspective. (I had the chance to interview Mr. Andrews for What The Flicka, which you can read here.) Without spoiling the book for you, here’s one example of a positive perspective. A character is in debt up the wazoo. But he views this depressing situation from a different angle, and comes to see his credit unworthiness as a positive: He will not go into debt again. He will do things differently going forward.
The “perspective story” I’ve been re-telling a lot lately – because it’s short, sweet, and involves baseball so my kids will listen – came from Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben:
A little boy wants to show his Dad what a great baseball player he is. He tosses the ball to himself and tries to hit it with his bat. Three times he swings and misses. Before his father can console his son, who is clearly not a natural, the boy exclaims with wild joy: “Dad, I’m a great pitcher!”
I think of this story when circumstances feel glum. I’m corny, but for me it works. It makes me consciously find the positive. No matter how much I’m dreading something, if I do this I always find something positive, some small different way to look at a situation. It’s flexing my appreciation muscles, and they are getting stronger, more supple and quicker to find the positive glimmer each time.
So instead of seeing my boy’s afternoon of mindless vegetation in front of the tube as a mothering breakdown, I will appreciate the rare joy of him thinking he’s got a “nice” mom. I’ll take that whenever I can get it.
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There can be no doubt about who is the favorite for “Meanest Parents” award. After threatening to take away our son’s smartphone, we have now taken away ice cream, cupcakes and candy. S’mores have been banished; is there a greater summer sin?
This one wasn’t my idea. My husband hatched it while helping our niece with her bake sale last Sunday.
Imagine the scene: A gorgeous day, adorable children shout out to hapless Farmers’ Market shoppers, “Help sick kids! Buy brownies!” Our sons march through the crowded pedestrian street bearing a banner that points people to their cousin’s stand. To put our money where their mouths are, they get their Dad to cough up $20 for the cause.
They figure that entitles them to three baked goods each. After they gobble chocolate chip cookies, and inhale luscious brownies-baked-with-cookies, but before consuming their regular brownies, a friend of mine and her teenaged daughter come over. The mom buys a cookie; her daughter does not want one.
“She’s not eating sugar because of a dare,” her mom explains.
“How long has it been?” I ask, amazed by a child avoiding sugar on her own initiative.
Screeching halt. Christopher breaks the silence. “I wish someone would dare me not to eat sugar for a month.”
Too easy; I grant his wish.
That’s how this began. One by one, ours sons and I all signed on. Thirty days, no sugar. Here’s how it’s going.
Minute 1. I put the boys’ untouched brownies back on the For Sale tray. They must have been too full from their cookies and brownie-cookies before to make an uproar. So already, this is going better than expected.
Day 2. Breakfast. Following the rule of our teenaged inspiration, we allow reasonable cereal. No to Lucky Charms or Coco Crispies, but yes to wholesome Puffins or Heart to Heart, and all fruit. That’s normal for us, so no mutiny yet. One glitch: Our beloved vanilla yogurt with granola is not okay. I buy plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, sprinkle in chopped up strawberries and blueberries, and am surprised to find it creamy, yummy and satisfying.
Day 3. Goodbye après-swimming lesson lollipop. Our swimming teacher rocks, but I could live without the lollipop bucket. I let my kids have one every time. But today when my son asks, “Can I have one, Mom?” my eyes give him the answer he already knows: “Not for 29 more days.” There is no whining or debate. This dare is powerful potion.
Day 4. A kind and generous friend offers the boys cookies with lunch. But they resist that strong temptation. I am amazed. Then I realize it’s because I’m there. Still, that’s two sugar hits they missed, and I never had to say “no.” Christopher comes across a Hershey Bar in his office, a remnant from a camping trip. He begins to unwrap it, then remembers the dare and changes course. I stop at Starbucks and although my eyes linger on the case of pastries, I get tea and add milk and honey.
Day 5. Our son goes with friends to a water park. They stay all day. I don’t even ask about the dare. What happens in Soak City, stays in Soak City.
Day 6. We go for an end-of-summer movie matinee. Instead of going The Candy Baron (what has become our four-bag-filling tradition), we say yes to a small popcorn and a bag of Pirate’s Booty. This dare is gaining power every day.
Day 7. The grandparents take the boys to the Dodgers game. Wait — I’m not event that bad! I don’t breathe a word about the dare. Neither, apparently, do the boys.
The verdict as we approach the close of one week? Glorious success, slips and all. We are far from perfect, but perfect is not the goal. Our modest dare is a much needed reset button, a detoxifying opportunity, and an impetus to read labels. It is also a wake-up call to the volume of insidious sugar hits that pile up in a day, a week, a month. All those harmless lollipops and innocent chocolate kisses that appear at the barbershop, the dry cleaner, the market, the after-school activities. When school starts this week, that will multiply into birthday donuts or cupcakes that every child wants to share. I’m no birthday Grinch, but we have to work together, right? I believe what I read about sugar being addictive and a carcinogen, so as a loving mom I try to limit it. Which means that when my kids get sweets from other sources, I don’t get to be the fun one bringing them to the ice cream store or baking them a cake. I’d like a little more of that fun.
For now, the omnipresent treats have met their match in the beauty and power of a sugar-free experiment borne of a bake sale. At the very least, it has helped us pause before reflexively accepting every sweet that is offered. Perhaps it will only last the week. Perhaps we’ll make it the full thirty days. As for three years, don’t bet on it.
May is a big month for we thespians who make up the Diamond-Heisen parental team.
Christopher is reprising of the role of Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls (the first time was in the 10th grade; this time is at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. Maybe it should be called “Goys and Dolls”?) He’s so shy in front of an audience, and a camera, and a microphone, it’s a wonder we could get him back on stage.
It opens this Friday, which may be responsible in part for the pit in my stomach.
It’s not that I’m nervous to perform. I’m nervous that I won’t remember my story.
I’m taking a quick break from memorizing my story and figuring out the “who-picks-everyone-up-after-school” schedule to boast about the two women who are the brains and hearts behind Expressing Motherhood, Jessica Cribbs and Lindsay Kavet.
In her return to The Today Show, Maria Shriver interviewed them (in Lindsay’s backyard) about the Expressing Motherhood show, the creative impulses that led to its development, and what it means about modern motherhood. Maria could write a few stories herself.
No word yet on when the piece will air on The Today Show, but I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, wish me and Christopher luck!