In Praise of Tiny Gratitude

Most days I feel like gratitude is my superpower, and I can turn away from the crap and orient myself toward reverence for all that is good — as small as a dog offering her tummy for a scratch, or a piano playing in the other room, or as wide as Christopher’s steadfastness, patience and love.

Some days it is harder to find that reverence. There’s a lot of sadness, near and far, and rustling up gratitude feels like a heavier lift than usual. On this day of heightened emotions — both gathering with joy and missing with ache the people we love — from a posture of humility, I go tiny: gratitude for finding my computer charger. Gratitude for finding a matching sock in the laundry. Gratitude for joints that bend and stretch without pain, and the sense of smell when the maple caramel pumpkin pie comes out of the oven.

It occurs to me that these are not tiny at all. Neither are these “tiny stories” (in 100 words or less) of gratitude from around the country I pass along (hoping the link goes past the paywall.)

Wishing you a happy, ample, or (fill-in-the-blank for whatever you need) Thanksgiving.

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Did I love it enough?*

No matter how we try, can we savor a moment as much as we should?

A young man and his mother in black raincoats, stand in front of a waterfall with their mouths open to catch snowflakes on their tongues

Did I love it enough?

Those three quick days with our son, popping into his life for a weekend, then back out. Arriving on his doorstep straight from the airport, feeling the moment it takes to reinhabit our connection, then the swoosh that wraps us up like a swaddle in our mother-father-child circle.

His hug, for me, is what resets it. It says more than a love poem. It feels like storing up for winter.

Did I love it enough?

The stepping into his living room from outside, wiping the already wet and leaf-sogged bottoms of my shoes on the small rectangle of cloth at his door. These Oregon trips are always waterlogged. A quick exchange of hellos with his Cherub-faced friend, another mother’s baby graduating from college this year, then the three of us go off to dinner, our route drawn by Google maps to a restaurant we have never been to.

“Are your synapses firing, Mom?”

He’s teasing me about a rant where I said I want to do new things and go new places because it makes our time feel longer (or so said some TV show that I told my family about, which he will not let me forget). Tomorrow we will leave his college town for a new adventure an hour away, two nights with our boy in a cottage on the McKenzie River. But did I love it enough, these familiar streets, his favorite sports bar, playing pool with his friends?

The next day, Christopher drives and I soak in the views from the passenger seat. The full rushing river. The steady rain. Forests of Douglas fir. Colors of fall, specifically northwest beautiful — more yellows than browns — so different than the desert beaches of our southern California autumn.

Closer to our destination, the trees wear char marks from last season’s fires. Some are blackened halfway up, yet recover and yield to green at their tops. Others end in shards scraping middle sky. Oregon fires have become a season to themselves, prompting me to check my Weather App for air advisories. When the fires came again last month and my son’s town’s air filled with smoke, I asked if he needed an air purifier and N-95 masks.

“You sent them last year.” (Unspoken, perhaps: they’re still in their boxes.)

Beneath my conscious awareness, but in my bones, is the memory of another drive with just the three of us, headed to the ER near midnight because our son’s breath scraped his lungs and he might not be getting enough. When he fell asleep next to me in the backseat and his breathing eased, we turned around; the ER seemed worse than guarding him through the night, listening for the tightness again. The next day the pediatrician gave us an inhaler and said, as his body grows so will his airways, and this proved to be true.

The rains have washed the air; it smells like life. We walk along a trail it took us three tries to find, then retreat inside to get dry, gaze at the river, read books, and — here’s the most important thing — watch college football. He takes a break to do some work, and we watch the river go by and talk about where to have dinner.

The guy at the diner in the Astros shirt shows us a photo on his phone of a waterfall twenty-six miles away. “This one is visible from the highway. There’s another waterfall, but you have to hike two miles to see it.” And because our son wants to see a waterfall, and also wants his Sunday watching ESPN Redzone on his couch, and because I see how much he works — writing, interviewing, editing, and publishing — I want that for him, too. A waterfall from the road will be plenty.

The snow surprises us as we get closer to the falls. We had not noticed the elevation gain or the temperature drop. There is a small parking lot and a well-marked sign. We step out in too-light rain jackets and follow a steep, slick path.

You might watch a waterfall forever and not be able to decide which is more powerful — the sound or the sight. A million gallons of energy pour, spilling, endless, relentless, backsplashing against the river it is part of. Snowflakes fill the air, thick and fuzzy, and accumulate on the trees. I understand why we say “take your breath away” and that something beautiful is “stunning.” .

“Woooow! This is crazy!” My son’s awe sends a tickle down my neck.

“My synapses, Aaron!”

He tips his head back and sticks out his tongue to catch slushy snowflakes in his mouth, and I think, that is the best idea anyone has ever had and do the same. I see the sky above, the trees tilting toward it, and dancing melting dreamflakes landing on my face and tongue. The waterfall behind us never thinks of slowing down.

Before we go, one of us says, or maybe we both do, “I love that when we go home, this is still here, still happening.”

Did I love it enough, these days with my son? Soaking up time together. Building a fire. Playing Catan. Talking about what keeps him awake at night. Falling asleep to the sound of the river rushing by.

Can you ever love it all enough?


[*After the poem “November” by Maggie Dietz]


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

If you would like another way to support my writing, follow me on Medium.

Unexpected Gift of a Writing Practice


How it may break me of the nasty “helpful” habit.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

At our Thursday morning zoom writing group, a poem is read, a timer is set, and we write without stopping. Moving the pen in this way can loosen us up and let out the juicy stuff, surprising us at times with where the subconscious may lead.

Except minutes into the session, my son’s “G’morning” as he rouses himself from bed breaks my focus. Is it a little gravelly? Is he sick? Even as my pen moves, my mind starts ticking through “should do’s”: I should ask if he is feeling okay. I should offer him lozenges. I should find a Covid test.

No, that’s not it. I should keep writing.

I should. But one quick reply to let him know I am here can’t hurt. Checking that my zoom is muted, I shout upstairs, “I can help you in thirty minutes.” Good for me! Protect my writing practice. This is a revolution! My declaration of independence!

The next thirty minutes will be my internal civil war.

Because, I mean, I haven’t made his lunch yet, something I do most days — not because I think he can’t do it, of course, but well, we both like me to do it. And he does not know that I bought the good bread for sandwiches yesterday.

No, no, no. I am not stopping to make his lunch.

Except now I hear him say something to Christopher, who is out of commission with Covid, and my brain tunes out my inner voice and tunes into theirs. A vector pulls hard on me to get me off my chair to see what they need.

No, no, no. No getting up. But maybe just one text? There is good bread in the pantry, and sliced turkey, and yogurt, and apples.

Ahhh. A hit of helping settles me down. Now I can focus on the writing.

Except was that a sneeze? Now half my brain (more than half, let’s be honest) is occupied with, who was that? do we have tissue? and shouldn’t I go buy a Covid test this very instant?

No, no, no, no, no. Stay here with your pen, your notebook, your fellow writers, creating collective energy. Stay until the timer says you are done.

It takes more strength than it ought to, resisting the reflex to jump away from my work into what I think they need. Running around doing for others feels like home base — extra points if I have to give up my own thing to do it!! The martyr game is my jam!

Next time, I think, just tell them in advance that I will be unavailable for ninety minutes. But it is only me I need to tell: Stay put. Atta girl.

If it takes scribbling garbage until the timer beeps to keep my butt in this chair and break the impulse to jump into everyone else’s business, well then let that be one more way writing saves me.

My arm is getting tired. Good. Keep going. Keep writing like your life depends on it, every word showing you how strong you can be.


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. http://lauranicolediamond.medium.comMedium, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

At College Application Season, A Message to My Son

“What I’m Telling You is Yes Yes Yes”

Photo by Drahomír Posteby-Mach on Unsplash

To my beloved high school senior:

It is college application season. You and your friends are being asked to condense your whole beings into 650 words, the grades you have earned, and a list of activities that caught your teenage interest. Is it any wonder you drag yourself to the desk? Who could go with grace to this task whose stakes feel so high?

Before you submit yourself for inspection to a committee that will decide if you are “worthy,” and before these schools with the big names that look so good on sweatshirts have their chance to pronounce your worth—allow me to answer:

Yes yes yes.

My dear heart—you who did not patent an invention, or work in a cancer research lab, or get elected president of, well, anything— you are amazing.

You excel at kindness, and making your parents laugh. You have a philosopher’s mind, a nurturer’s soul, and a prankster’s sense of humor. You notice when someone is standing outside the circle, and say, let’s make the circle bigger. You know how to stop a bully with a look.

Forgive my hyperbole; it’s about to get extra: you are the shining light of God’s eyes. I know you don’t believe in God, but can you think of a word that better captures the beauty of your unique soul? (If you can, use it in that essay.)

What I’m telling you is, Yes yes yes.

Before the envelopes, thick or thin, begin to arrive; before you even submit your requests; what I am telling you is you have all you need inside you to craft a life that fills you.

I am not saying, my sweet kiddo, that it will be smooth sailing. There will be times in life when you will question your worth. I tell you this from experience. Impostor syndrome comes to everyone, myself included. (Even the Queen of England, I am sure of it, had her moments of looking around Westminster Abbey, feeling the weight of the crown and sceptre, and pinching herself.) You will wonder, Who am I fooling? Who am I to write a book? To stand at an Open Mic? To dream of greatness?

What I’m telling you in a voice that is loud and clear and bold: you are everything.

So, when you do, you know, eventually, hopefully before the deadlines, send off those applications, know that your worth is not waiting to be decided. It is already as steadfast, whole, and unassailable as my love.

___

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

___

*This essay was prompted by the kickass poem, “God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught.

This is What We Are Given

The author’s family, circa 1972, photographer unknown

This is what we are given.

An invitation — to write, to meet, or maybe to listen — and the discernment to accept or reject.

Hunches, gut reactions steering us toward yes or no, if we can get quiet enough to listen.

I heard a doctor on a podcast describe being in a sensory deprivation tank, floating in total darkness and silence, in water that matched her body temperature so that even her sense of touch was numbed. In that space, she discovered the ruckus going on inside her body. So much more than heartbeat and breath, she heard the orchestra of her organs at work. Seduced by their surprising song, she spent an hour listening and could have stayed longer.

This is what we are given.

The pumping heart, the growing (or decaying) bones, the flesh and ligaments connecting head all the way to feet — ours to use until we cannot.

The rituals of fall, the birthday of the world, reminding us that we can set and reset intentions. The chance to forgive ourselves and others for forgetting. The awareness that we will have to do it all again next year because we are human, and forgetting is what we do best.

We are given a planet that holds all the remedies to what ails us — ways to capture carbon, or cure diseases — if only we can harness our minds to find them, a treasure hunt for survival.

This is what we are given.

Foaming soap. Soft rugs. Baby powder. Washcloths.

A mother who sang a lullaby with the words changed, so that her baby will never fall from a broken bough; and a father who told the story of my birth as “Oh good! Another girl!”

Parents who let a seven-year-old design a t-shirt proclaiming in simple black letters on a light blue field, “Laura the Great,” worn in rotation with a YMCA t-ball team shirt.

I was given almost zero athletic ability, and a sports-loving dad who taught me to play football and baseball, and every arcane rule governing them. I was given a sister who could launch a football in a perfect spiral across our lawn, farther than I ever could hope to throw it, and the chance to see that I did not have to be good at everything to be cherished in the world.

If I could give you anything, it would be this: To know your greatness is complete, and it is non-negotiable.

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Medium, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Why Do You Write?

One reason is universal: to share our stories and remember.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

For generations, authors have offered their personal musings in answer to the question, why write? Joan Didion, said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Cormac McCarthy, was less precious: “I don’t know why I started writing. I don’t know why anybody does it. Maybe they’re bored, or failures at something else.”

As for me, I write to try to understand this vast, surprising, and sometimes heartbreaking world. To enter a moment and hold it, examine it up close. I write to make life feel more real — to make the glowing moments shine brighter and to make the painful moments more bearable.

Read the full post at Medium


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow her on Medium, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

What to Do When the World Goes Mad?

Stand your ground for beauty


Photo credit: Author

My son reads us the headlines aloud from the CNN ticker that updates every few minutes.

“There’s a guy they’re calling the Ghost of Kyiv. He shot down six fighter jets.” 

I understand why this Ghost has captured my son’s (and the world’s) imagination. Like Snoopy’s need to fight the Red Baron, there is a hunger for hope to conquer evil. Or at least to take a swing at it. Most of us feel helpless here on the ground. 

He says that folks are not sure if the Ghost is real, “or if he is an urban legend the people of Ukraine need right now.” Real or not, Twitter users are cheering the real downing of the Russian planes and helicopters. I cannot cheer, though, reflexively thinking of the mothers of those Russian pilots, whose dead bodies are not myths. Who are victims of Putin, too.

He pipes up with another horror story from the news ticker. “On Snake Island, a tiny island, eighty Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded by Russian warships. The warships told them to surrender or die.” They did not surrender

How can this be happening? How can this carnage be real? How can missiles fall and tanks roll while I am ensconced with my family on a weekend trip to the snow, planned when the strangest thing happening in the world was Covid?

“Go to Google Earth,” I say. I need to see our planet looking like a big blue marble, insignificant, with no borders drawn on its curves and swirls. 

I cannot stop madmen from starting wars. (No one can, apparently.) So I try to locate the balance between sorrow, empathy and gratitude, to allow myself to enjoy the rare gift of a conversation with my son while we traipse through fresh snow. For the beauty around us, as fragile and as temporary, as it may be.

My father’s father was born in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1917 before the Soviet Union existed. He died in 2000 after the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

“Go back to the view of Earth from space,” I urge. “See if you can find us.”


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow her on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and here at LauraNicoleDiamond.com.

Hey Friday, Thank God It’s You.

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

The weeks do not fly so much as they race. A frantic regatta of days, each one catching a greater gust and passing the others. Before you have a chance to say, Hey, Monday–you again? you are greeting Friday with, Thank God it’s you.

Time is playing its tricks on me.

It feels fluid again. Not as disorienting as at the doldrums of the pandemic, when I felt compelled to share the occasional “PSA: Today is Monday”, but not the same as Before. I have one foot in the pandemic and one out. One foot in retreat, and one standing in the wide world. The mind tries to keep up with these gymnastics; my center is doing the splits.

These trickster days become wicked prankster years. Lying on my side in a colonoscopy recovery room (for goodness sakes!), a purple-grey gown wrapping my body and propofol wearing off, I asked the nurse — a kid half my age, within spitting distance of my own kids’ age — how did I become 52? It was supposed to be my parents in there, and me off at college. He smiled, understanding I was telling him, I was your age once. This is waiting for you, too.

An hour earlier, I had texted my friend from the dressing room, “Do I want the twilight or the full knockout?” This is the kind of thing we ask our friends now; this same girl I asked for boy advice at 14, love advice at 27, and parenting advice…well, still.

And maybe it is not all bad, to lose track of days and hours, or even years. To have to pause when you wake up while you figure out what day it is, and what role that means you will play: Am I packing someone’s lunch, or sleeping in? Am I planning my family, or my empty nest? To make dinner plans with a friend, look into her eyes and forget the years, or better yet, to see each of those years, those wisps of gray materializing at our crowns (okay, fine — mine, not hers), like shimmering medals for having arrived at this mile marker, with the finish line (god willing) far from our view.

With love, a few extra deep breaths, and appreciation for your time here,

Laura

P.S. In case you missed it, I think you’ll enjoy my post this week on Medium: How to Structure a Writing Retreat, which pertains to life beyond writing, and could just as easily have been called, “How to Slow Down and Do Whatever the Heck Calls to You.”

And remember you can follow me on Medium for free, or subscribe for unlimited access to all of Medium’s articles, which supports my work and that of other writers.


Laura Nicole Diamond is the author of Shelter Us: a novelDance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow more of her writing on Medium.

Finding Fullness

My uncle found a trove of mementos in our grandmother’s apartment after she died, and passed them to my father, who shared them with my sister. This morning we began to look at them.

Read the story at Medium (and follow there to not miss a post).

Love,

Laura


Laura Nicole Diamond is the author of Shelter Us: a novelDance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow more of her writing on Medium.