A Prayer for Purple Swords and Pratfalls

I come home from the market and see a purple foam sword lying on the just mowed lawn. It is a prop, along with an orange nerf gun, green ninja discus, and plastic machete, in a movie that four 11-year-old boys are making. I’m not sure what this flick is rated, but knowing one of the actor/writer/directors pretty well, I’d say it’s a safe bet that it’s PG for some violence. And, okay, mildly offensive language.

And something about this makes my soul smile.

A soul needs to smile.

I don’t know if it’s real or it’s only my perception, but it seems that our younger son and his friends have a certain innocence and openness to imaginary play that had already been abandoned by his older brother and his peers at the same age. The older boys were all sports all the time at 11 years old, which can be wonderful, but that passion can lend itself to trash talk and alpha male preening, in some instances. Give me sword-fighting and pratt falls any day.

Meanwhile on the lawn, the boy holding the camera calls action. Another boy aims a nerf bow and arrow, and releases its projectile toward a third boy. “You missed!” the target says. They fall down laughing.

It is May already. Next month these boys will graduate from elementary school, and two months later they will enter middle school. I know things will change. I’m not naive.

But I’m hopeful.

I pray for them to maintain enough innocence that they will still make movies, that nerf guns and green frisbees will still unleash their imaginations, that they will still play together unselfconsciously on a perfect spring afternoon, and that the only “drama” will be the storylines they create for the big screen.

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Watching dailies of their scene.

In Honor of Oliver Sacks: “Home School” Day

Yesterday the little one felt sick-ish. The kind of sick that comes from school starting in August, and it being so hot, and yes maybe there is a little tummy virus going around. The kind of sick that let him swim in the ocean with his brother at sunset last night.

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The kind of sick that inclines his mother to let him sleep past the time he’d have to wake up and rush to get ready for school this morning. The kind of sick that prompts her to declare this Monday a “home school” day, because where his mind travels when unencumbered is vastly more interesting than what happens in any one day of school.

To wit: He enters the dining room this morning, where I am reading Oliver Sacks’ obituary, one of this era’s most unique life stories: sent at six years old to an English boarding school with an abusive headmaster at the onset of World War II; returned home at ten years old, to fall in love with the periodic table of elements and its unchanging, unemotional constancy; taught at eleven years old by his surgeon mother to dissect humans; and growing to become the unconventional, compassionate scientist and humanist we came to know through his words.

It is into this mindset my boy presents himself for evaluation. He holds his stomach with both hands, a low grown emanating from his lips. (And to think he says he doesn’t like acting…).

I look up from the newspaper and feel his forehead, kiss his cheeks.

“I don’t think I have a fever,” he preemptively says. “I feel a little cold.” This spoken observation turns his gears. He sits down next to me and thinks. “You know what’s weird,” he continues. “When it’s 80 degrees outside we feel so hot. But when we touch our skin and we are 98.6 degrees, we feel normal.”  And…I have made my decision. We have a question that will be more fascinating to him than fractions or long division or today’s grammar lesson. I declare today a “home school” day.

I should know better; experience teaches me that his spoken observation will probably be the length and breadth of his inquiry. That I have exaggerated ambitions for how a “home school day” will go. That he will spend his day not exploring human biology but playing Legos (okay, fine) and pleading to watch noxious cartoons (which will turn me into a white hot meanie). But it’s early yet, and my fantasies are not yet splattered.


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So we hope for a day that is not wasted. A day that would honor Sacks, who wrote after his diagnosis of metastasized cancer, “It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me….to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

I come to my blank page, the calming sound of Legos being sifted and rearranged in the room next to me, and begin a morning of writing. I pray for that unadulterated voice to play in my head, the one that must be captured in the moment I hear it, because it evaporates just as quickly. When it comes it is a flash of nirvana. It is finding true north.

When the words don’t come like that, which is most of the time, I must poke around for them, writing too much, sweeping away the excess. The goal in it all? To create characters that reveal the beauty and mystery of the human experience as richly as the character the world has known as Oliver Sacks — as intriguing, seductive, textured and fascinating a character as any that has ever been written.

The Legos still sift behind me. Questions are asked, prompting more questions — “Are sharks mammals? What makes a mammal? Is it hair? Why do our heads grow so much hair?” A day of inquiry and investigation is still possible. He has yet to sneak off with his iPod, and I have yet to have to snatch it from him, leading to the inevitable kerfuffle. There are books yet to write and to read. Discoveries yet to make. The day is young. Everything is possible.

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Recommended Summer Reading: “a perfect book for the summer…more than fluff”

I woke up to a foreign sound in LA — rain. Normally I’m thrilled when we are doused. When a storm broke out last month, I ran out to greet the downpour, singing and dancing in the puddles. I have witnesses.

But today? The one day that I have been nagging everyone to go out and attend a book party? Really, rain?? Don’t you know how fragile we Angelinos are? What’s it going to take to get my peeps out to the bookstore tonight? Champagne, wine, festivities, cookies, and THIS REVIEW!

I was drawn to Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond because I love family dramas. Sarah Shaw is the stay-at-home mom of 2, well 3 if you count her daughter that only lived a few short weeks. Though it has been a few years, Sarah has not been able to pull out of her grief and it is putting a strain on her marriage. But this isn’t the part that captured my attention. It was the homeless woman with a small child that captured mine and Sarah’s attention.

I knew how Sarah felt as she passed by the young woman. I so want to help someone who I see is in need. Sarah feels an extra attachment to the young woman because the death of her daughter. She can’t get the woman out of her mind. She must do something. Her greatest desire is to bring her home and give her shelter. Yet her husband isn’t keen on the idea obviously.

The story is told through the eyes of Sarah. A woman who cares deeply for her family, even the child who didn’t live to see her first birthday. However, it is the all consuming grief and guilt that keeps her from fully being in the moment with her family. It’s all she can do just to go through the motion. Until she meets Josie, the homeless mother. This may just be what Sarah needs to pull herself past her grief.

The story is so well told that you begin to think of Sarah as more than a character in a book. She could be the woman you see in the pick up line at preschool or the mother sitting on the park bench as her children play in the sand box.

Normally I would not think of a story like this as a summer read. I typically think of fun and fluff. Yet, I do think Shelter Us would be a perfect book for the summer. There are layers of emotional depth without being too heavy. There are enough sweet moments to balance out the grief and guilt. The writing also has a beauty to it that makes the story flow effortlessly.

If you are looking for more than fluff this summer, then I highly recommend Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond.

I’m looking forward to seeing you tonight!

With deep appreciation to the reviewer and my community,

Laura

Never a Dull Moment, With The Big Questions Kid

Have you ever told your children that it was good to be bored? Have you ever flailed trying to explain why, even to yourself?

Let me define boredom for my purposes: an absence of outside stimuli (e.g. XBox, Wii, FB, Instagram, television, the usual suspects), as well as an absence of creative ideas coming from within. Stasis. Quiet. Spaciousness.

I heard two super smart women sing the praises of boredom this week. Each relayed a story of a different psychological study.

At the Literary Women festival in Long Beach on Saturday, author Aimee Bender described a study in which one group of people were given an exceedingly boring task — copying phone numbers out of the phone book — and then right after were given plastic cups and told to do something creative with them. A control group of non-super-bored folks were given the same cups, same instruction. The bored-to-death folks ran away with the creative assignment, cutting out spirals and snowflakes and lord-knows-what-else with their plastic. The non-bored folks made an effort at some pyramid-thingy. The takeaway? Boredom led to pent up creativity bursting to be released.

The second study about boredom was relayed by Rabbi Amy Bernstein. People were asked to sit alone in a waiting room. There was nothing to do in the room. No one was allowed a phone, a book, a pencil and paper. Nothing but one’s body and mind. For fifteen minutes they would have to be alone with their thoughts. There was one activity in the waiting room: a button that, when pushed, gave off an electric shock. You won’t be surprised, will you, when I share that many folks preferred the pain of electric shock to being with their thoughts for fifteen minutes?

When I told my kids about this study, before I could finish, my 10-year-old son offered he gladly spin in circles for 15 minutes.

Spinning

It came as no surprise to me that this kid had no problem with the idea of fifteen minutes to himself. He lives for it. Yes, he gets addicted to screens like the rest of us. But he is a soul who needs quiet moments, too, room to hear his own thoughts. That’s when the cool stuff happens: the wide-eyed realizations and the biggest questions.

Early one morning, we ride our bikes to school. “What does it all mean?” he asks, navigating the sprinklers and bumps in the sidewalk. “I mean, we are just specks in the universe, Mom!”

We roll along, him in front, leading, and me trying to keep up.

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“How Do I Cherish Life More?” This Kid Wants to Know

Our fourth grader had a question: “How do I cherish life more? It goes by so fast. How do I slow it down?”

I don’t even know where to begin. Is this the mischief maker? The prankster who loves to break dance? He is all of the above. He is ten and he feels the speed that has taken him from baby to here.

This awareness isn’t new. He has longed for babyhood, toddlerhood, little-hood before. He has suffered through the realization of his own mortality. He gets that all this, that he himself, will not last. Now he says things like “cherish.” I’m so out of my league.

His father’s response: “Do me a favor. Just consider, a little bit, the idea of becoming a rabbi some day.”

And then, “Appreciate what blessings you have in your life, as often as possible.”

Yes to both from me.

And also, now that I’ve had time to consider, I would add:  Taste a strawberry verrry slowly. Look in my eyes for five seconds once a day. Stand in a patch of sunlight, close your eyes, and take a breath and feel it heat your skin.

I don’t need a clock or calendar to tell me time is passing too quickly. My 13-year-old son has outgrown his shoes from September, and he trick-or-treats without parental supervision. My niece fills out college applications, and new strands of white hair pop up on my head. These markers are more than enough clock and calendar to tell me that I need to cherish life more, too.

I step outside. It is a beautiful fall day. The rain last week washed our sky and I can still smell what it left behind — a sprouting blade of grass, a walk in search of puddles, a whopper of a double rainbow, and desperate hope for much more to come.

Best Birthday Gifts for Mom

Does a mom experience any sweeter feeling than watching quietly from the staircase as her child, unknowing that he is being observed, makes French Toast for her birthday? Dad is out of town, and this is my boy’s own idea. “I thought of it last night before I went to bed. If you were still upstairs, I would have cut a flower from the garden for you.” He is his father’s son.

His brother comes downstairs sleepily, “You woke me up!” He is his mother’s son. He needs ample sleep and many reminders of things like other people’s birthdays. Consoled by news that his brother has made French toast, he lumbers to the table and puts his head down on his beloved Calvin and Hobbes anthology. His brother and I don’t mention the occasion for the French toast, giving him a chance to remember on his own. After a while I figure I won’t hide the ball, I’ll put it right in front of him, give him a break.

“Can I tell you something?” I ask. I lean in to his warm body wrapped in footed pajamas and reveal, “Today’s my birthday!” He consents to a hug, a smile, and a “Happy birthday.” That’s a whole lotta lovin’ from this one, in his current phase, and I know it. It’s a good reminder to accept my boys as the people they are, brilliantly unique.

The birthday morning brigade

 

It’s no lie that these small gifts from my two vastly different soul-boys fill me up. (The icing on my cake? No morning squabbles, no rushing out the door for school. Birthday miracles is the only rational explanation.)

Arriving at school, another hug is reluctantly offered by the tough guy: “But in the car, mom, where no one can see us.” I take what I can get. But when we are on the sidewalk, I do something dumb. I can’t help myself: I hug him again anyway. I know it’s not good for our relationship. I know I should respect his boundaries. Aachh…I’ll start tomorrow. “Hugging you is like eating a cupcake,” I say, trying to explain my weakness on his terms.

Cupcake and photo by Jessica Heisen

(Cupcake and photo by Jessica Heisen)

His countenance brightens. “Speaking of cupcakes…!?”

I smile and say, “We’ll see.” If I play my cards right, there may be another hug and kiss in this day yet.

Throwback Thursday: My Kid’s Words Take Me Way Back, Deep

If you’ve been on Facebook at some point in your life, you’ve seen people calling out “Throwback Thursday” and then sharing some cool photo they dug up. 

See, this one just came up while I was writing!

See, this one just came up while I was writing!

It’s odd how things catch on. Like why not Throwup Thursday, why isn’t that a thing? Why not dust off some college era shots of you and your pals tossing back tequila shots and the aftermath.

Well, I guess we know why not. You have to do more than alliterate. You have to have intrinsic value. And there’s something valuable, something that moves us when we see our loved ones as they were in times gone by. The retro shot of them their underwear on a slip ‘n’ slide, or riding a bike sans helmet, or cuddling a baby. It’s a sort of mirror. It’s nostalgia porn. We’re addicted.

Since I’m about more about words than images, I enter the throwback craze with a quote from my kid that I wrote down two years ago, age 7. I found it by accident just now. I never would have remembered it, my memory becoming increasingly unsticky and riddled with holes. I tell you, it’s worth writing down the things they say, even if like me you have no system for finding or saving them. Because, like me, you may happen upon one while looking through worn yellow legal pads for something else that you can’t find but need right away, and you will be taken to another place, by something you thought noteworthy enough at the time to pause, find a pen, and record.

“I believe in two things that are probably impossible…”

That caught my attention. That must have been when I grabbed for the pen.

“…The Loch Ness monster, and when I die I’ll come back in other lives.”

 

(Hope ol' Lochy isn't in here!)

(Hope ol’ Lochy isn’t in here!)

 

To believe in something that you simultaneously deem to be “probably impossible.” Is that the definition of faith? I said I believed in them both, too. No one’s proved us wrong yet.

 

 

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.

Recovering from Mother’s Day

I had my worst Mother’s Day, to date. No one woke me with burnt toast. I was awakened by Emmett, actually, but it was with a beautiful hand illustrated book he had made about how much I love him.

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And a bracelet made from paperclips and tape.

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All good. Aaron gave me nothing, because in Middle School the teachers don’t do that shit for you, and he didn’t get around to doing it himself. That’s another discussion.

But I didn’t want gifts for Mother’s Day. What I wanted for Mother’s Day, all I wanted, was to go on a bike ride on the beach.

Aaron was happy to oblige. He was dressed and ready to go. But Emmett, oh that darling, sloooooow and “I don’t wanna do it” Emmett, was not cooperating.

You know what? I can’t even bear to tell you more. It’s too harrowing to relive. So I’m going to let Christopher’s Mom give it to you straight, the story he told her on the phone at the end of the day, which she succinctly boiled down to its essence:

“Laura wanted to go on a bike ride for Mother’s Day to the Farmer’s Market.”

        Okay, I’m piping in. YES, that’s all I wanted!!!

“Somehow, Laura, Aaron and Christopher arrived there in two groups and found that Emmett (who had procrastinated at home) wasn’t with them. Christopher thought he was with Laura and Aaron, and Laura thought he was with Christopher.

“Not only that, but they had all left their cell phones at home.”

       Because we wanted, just for a day, to be unplugged. And we were all supposed to be TOGETHER.

“Laura went to search the Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market manager called the police, who were about to dispatch helicopters, while Christopher raced home on his bike. He found a very shaken up Emmett with his bike in front of their house, who had tried to call all of them, and thank goodness met a nice neighborhood family who helped him!

“All’s well that ends well.”

I still want my damn bike ride.

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Watch Your Language! Moms Talking Dirty

We interrupt this week of Grandma Power to get down and dirty with some real Confessions of Motherhood. Well, it’s scripted, but based on reality, the new web show, “Benchwarmers,” co-starring my friend Katie Goodman, from Broad Comedy.

Its premise: Ever wonder what those women on the park bench are talking about as their kids play in the sandbox? Lots and lots of sex.

benchwarmers

I must have raised my kids at the wrong park.

When they were babies, I was one of those parents hovering in the sandbox, damaging their psyches (another blog for another day).

Now I’ve graduated to the bench, while one child plays basketball or baseball, the other plays tag or caveman. I sit with a book, or sometimes get conscripted into the game of tag if there’s no one better to play with. But so far nothing comes close to Benchwarmers.

I’m gonna find a new bench.