A mysterious shipment, a hero, and a good deed.

A man named John Boettner recently received a box containing 36 copies of my novel, SHELTER US. Trouble is he hadn’t ordered them. He contacted Amazon, that renowned lover of books and humanity, and was told “just destroy them.”

An author himself, he couldn’t toss them like garbage. Instead, he took the time to find my website and contact me to see if I wanted to claim them.

I’m writing to publicly say, THANK YOU, JOHN BOETTNER.

Turns out Mr. Boettner isn’t only an author and book hero. He’s also a teacher hero, and a founder of Teen Press. Watch this short trailer about how he inspires kids, and you will hear advice from Oprah Winfrey, Al Gore, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie. (Seriously, watch it. You know you crave good news.)

His book, HEY MOM, CAN I RIDE MY BIKE ACROSS AMERICA? is described as:

Dead Poets Society meets Stand By Me, as five real 12- and 13-year-olds ride their bicycles 5,000 miles across America. They want to see if their country is as wonderful as their teacher says it is.” (You can get it at Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and public Libraries. And yes, it is of course available on the A-word site, too.)

Many of you know that I’m happiest on my bike, that I prefer kayaks to motor boats, acoustic guitar to electric. I’m an analog person in a world moving at warp speed, where Amazon will have your box delivered in an hour…even if it’s occasionally to someone else’s door. So it is wonderfully fitting that this teacher hero and bicycle guru was the unintended recipient of my books. The universe sometimes works in mysterious ways.

I have yet to solve the mystery of how Mr. Boettner received the box of books, or for whom it was intended. If no one claims it, I may ask him for one more favor if he’s willing — to offer them to his students, local non-profits, shelters, and libraries. I have great appreciation for the generosity you have already shown. And in that spirit of gratitude, thanks to Amazon for leading me to the work of this teacher/author/all-around good guy.

“Not Everything Is About Parenting…”

“Not everything is about parenting,” a wise man told me recently, kindly, with a smile. It got me thinking, why for me does everything always get back to parenting? Am I stunted? Do I have tunnel vision?

Maybe because I learn the most from the people who call me Mom, and I’m trying to live up to the responsibility of passing good values to them.

Of all my vocations — including part-time lawyer and writer — Mom is what matters most to me. I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about how to win a case, or how to craft a plot, as I do trying to be the best mom I can be. (Emphasis on trying.)

When my son’s bike went missing from the front of his elementary school, instead of rifling off, “That stinks. We’ll get you a new one,” the parenting questions rocketed across the sky, whistling “there’s a teachable moment here!” as they flew by.

I had told him that in our little town, it was okay not to lock his bike. I had taken joy and pride from the feeling that I was giving him a childhood free from fear and violation. When he lamented “why did this happen?” I had choices of how to answer. Should I teach him to cast blame — say, “maybe it was one of the homeless people who live here now, or one of those high school students who walks past every day?” Should I shrug and say  “I don’t know” and quietly commiserate? Or should I say, “I’m not saying it’s okay to take something that belongs to someone else, but maybe someone needed it more than you do”? Would that cushion the blow, give him gratitude for knowing that he can have a new one with the snap of his fingers? I don’t know if I’m right, but I chose the last two.

And what about replacing his bike? I recall how I felt when my beloved red Radio Flyer tricycle was stolen from our driveway when I was three years old. I was fatalistic: “Well, my friend, we had a good time together, but now you’re gone. It was good while it lasted.”

When my grandfather immediately replaced it with an identical red Radio Flyer tricycle, I wasn’t purely overjoyed. I remember feeling surprised, even confused. “You mean, you get more than one tricycle in this life?!?!” A quick replacement was my family’s way of making things all better. And while I’m sure I enjoyed riding the new one, in some ways it cheapened the beauty of my love affair with my first tricycle. It was replaceable.

So of course, being me, I thought about this when considering whether, how quickly, in what manner, to replace my son’s bike. On the one hand, he shouldn’t be bike-less forever because I had told him it was okay not to lock his bike. He wasn’t careless with it. And he rides it to school every day. But I paused before replacing it too quickly, remembering that feeling that if everything is replaceable, they lose their meaning.

Ultimately, my son quickly graduated from feeling hurt to, “The silver lining is I get my first new bike! Can I have one that is neon green with blue stripes?” I scoured the landscape to get him exactly what he wanted, which, as family tradition would have it, was gifted by his grandparents. The look on his face — and the spit-take — were priceless.

Do I overthink things? Yes! But is it the worst thing to consider what lessons I’m imparting with my actions and words? While raising children can be overwrought and over-thunk in this day and age (especially by yours truly), taking time to pause, to consider my response, is how I consider what kind of person I want to be. I don’t have all my answers yet.

The truth is, I’m figuring the world out right along with my kids. So if parenting is the effort to consider what are my values, and what values do I wish to pass to the next generation, then perhaps everything should be about parenting. I think this wise man would agree.

bike

How to Make Mother’s Day Memorable

Although misplacing my nine-year-old son has become a commonplace experience, it is nonetheless still unsettling.

The first time, he was eighteen months old, in the yard playing one moment, and nowhere the next. I found him in the dark garage — the second time I looked — shuffling amidst the dangerous-to-a-toddler bikes, laundry detergent, old paint.

Now he’s nine, and when he is “lost” it’s usually because he is trying to be. At the park during his brother’s lengthy baseball games, he has free reign to roam. He has discovered that if he scales a fence he can explore the adjacent canyon. It’s a great place for imaginative play, running, and being in nature, but also far from watching eyes and help should he get hurt. He is supposed to ask permission, yet my most common exclamation at the park is, “Emmett!! Where are you?!”

But my most unnerving “Where’s Emmett?” episode happened May, 12, 2013. Mother’s Day.

It started with a Mother’s Day plan to go for a family bike ride, the four of us, leaving all digital devices at home at my request. Together we would ride from our home in Venice a few blocks to the bike path, up the Boardwalk to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for a breakfast of chocolate crepes.

Chocolate bribe notwithstanding, Emmett wouldn’t budge. His happy place is home, in pajamas, playing.

uploaded June 2013 217

He daaaaawdled. His older brother, on the other hand, is about action, always first to be ready. He was already on his bike, itching to go. Here’s where I made my mistake.

To stall, I called out to Christopher, “Aaron and I will ride once around the block while Emmett gets ready.” Christopher, who was getting the last bike out of the shed, did not hear. But Emmett did. And as Aaron and I glided away, unbeknownst to anyone Emmett took chase. Nothing motivates him like the desire not to fall behind his brother. Thus, when Christopher came out of the shed, no one was there. He assumed we had started for the bike path, so he headed there. When Aaron and I finished our circle, no one was home. We also headed to the bike path.

Fifteen minutes later, we three found each other in Santa Monica. We looked around, asked with incredulity, “Where’s Emmett?” The only answer was a pit in my stomach.

“I’ll head toward home,” Christopher said. “We’ll search the Farmer’s Market,” I answered. We sped off, scouring our sections of the bike path, the wide beach on one side, the chaotic Boardwalk on the other.

At the Farmer’s Market, I rushed past parents watching their children dance, shouting my child’s name with a panic-infused voice I couldn’t disguise. A market official asked what was wrong, and, following protocol, she called the police.

Although my memory fails me increasingly, certain experiences do not fade, such as the first time you describe to a police officer the clothing your child wore when he left the house, his height, his hair cut, the color of his eyes. You may not think you are paying attention to how your child dressed himself any given day, but you will surprise yourself with the way memory tightens. “Black shorts, to the knees, with two white stripes on each side. Red Clippers shirt. Chris Paul, not Blake Griffin. Orange socks. White sneakers. Double knotted.”

He was not at the Farmer’s Market. “Let’s go back to the beach,” I said to Aaron, who was by my side all along. It was all I could think to do. But it was Aaron who saved the day, suggesting, “Maybe we could ask someone to borrow their phone, and call Dad. Maybe he found him.” That’s what we did.

“I’ve got him,” Christopher answered.

Emmett had never left our block. He had chased Aaron and me, missing us on the first rotation by a moment. Around and around he went, but by that time we were gone. A family walking down the street saw him in front of our house, obviously distressed, and let him use their phone. He knew our numbers, and called our cell phones. Which rang at home.

Meanwhile, dizzy with relief, my last task before heading home was to to tell the Farmer’s Market lady that all was well, that she could call off the cops. No can do, she said. They would send a squad car to our house to see for themselves.

“Are you Emmett?” the officer asked. “Are you okay?”

Emmett spared us by letting his thoughts — “Are you kidding? With these idiots to watch over me?” — go unspoken. “I’m fine,” he answered.

“Sir, we were two minutes away from putting a helicopter in the air to look for your son,” the officer told Christopher.

I wonder, was it a slow crime day? Was our story so suspect? Are we now on the Child Protective Services watch list? And I wonder, what is the point to such scares that sear our memories? What good can come from scars left by an hour of panic one Sunday morning? Just this: That in every mundane goodbye kiss, every hug shrugged off too soon, every “see you after school,” lives a prayer in miniature: Let my children be safe, and let them be strong; let them be kind and be treated with kindness. And, for the love of God, let there be no need for police helicopters today. Amen.

IMG_2538

Laura Diamond is the editor of the best-selling anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and the author of the forthcoming novel Shelter Us.