This is Marriage. This is 18. This is Life.

We had planned a quiet anniversary celebration, since the school board transformed what used to be a summer night into a school night a few years ago.

Our first anniversary was a trip with friends to Hawaii.

Our third was a walk to a park with our baby in a stroller.

Our fourth through seventeenth…well, who can recall the details? A few dinners, a few nights with sick children, a few vacations, a search through my mind’s records would likely reveal.

But our eighteenth anniversary will be remembered as the day we got our first puppies. Two.

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Officially I have lost my mind.

After years of saying no, I felt ready for a dog. A single dog. We discussed this in May, decided to wait until the end of summer, when travels were done. And then today our friend brought over four puppies for us to choose from.

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The cuteness was the problem. How to choose? Add to that so many voices– the friend giving them away, my mother-in-law, my sons, my nieces, even my husband — insisting that a single dog would be lonely without a companion.

I tried using the rational mind: “Most people we know with dogs have just one dog.” And “My mental health is more important than the dog’s mental health.” But the rational mind does not always win. Because, remember, the cuteness.

When it was time for the woman with the puppies to go, pressure was applied. But it didn’t take that much. And now we have two dogs.

And so an 18th anniversary becomes trip to the pet store for supplies. Becomes friends coming over to see the new puppies. Becomes nieces coming back and back again to cradle the pups. Becomes an uncle coming to visit. Becomes my sons trying out names and playing with them and cleaning up after them, and feeding them and getting pillows for their bedtime crate. Become my incredulous parents popping by to wish us a happy anniversary. Becomes an impromptu barbeque, and opening a bottle of champagne and Martinelli’s cider, which had been cooling in the refrigerator since last year.

If ever there is a time to uncork some celebration, this is it. This is 18 years of marriage. Kids. Family. Friends. Blessings abounding. And, now, dogs.

This is life: Full and overflowing, throwing some caution to the wind, saying yes.

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Watching Olympics is more fun in a group.
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Let’s hope this lasts all night…?

 

 

 

 

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.

Time traveling, to the present.

I know how to time travel. I do it all the time. Backwards: I see a spot on the sidewalk near my home and remember a morning more than a decade old, when I sat down, pregnant and exhausted, to wait out a three-year-old’s tantrum and cry my own tears. Forward: four more years until my firstborn goes to college.

Then what you want to do is close ranks.

You want to hold your growing children close, and you want to do more than freeze time, you want to push time backwards, squish them back to being almost 4 and 7, and not almost 11 and 14, and yourself not 46. 46! You want to hear only their giggles, not their fights. You want to hold the best moments, the photo of them jumping from bed to bed, the older son catching the younger, airborne and naked and laughing. You want to thread yourselves together, beads on a string — mother-father-son-son, the four of you only, connected and always.

And then you want to do the right thing. You want to say to the mother of the girl who is alone, I will take care of her, of course I will. She can join us, she can break our circle, let the beads fall off the string, rearrange them. And so you do, and you grieve for what you think you’ve lost. And you marvel at the new design, different, but not lesser. And you try to hold the present.

Lost in Translation

It was the vehemence of the assault that surprised me. The attacker: my son. His weapon: my birthday cake.

My birthday was last week. With Maria in our family now, I knew this year would be different than the usual last-minute birthday cards. Birthday celebrations in Guatemala have unique traditions, which I learned about one afternoon during a front yard soccer game a few days before my husband’s birthday.

Maria, who had joined our family two weeks earlier, called me over and whispered in Spanish, “I have an idea for Christopher’s birthday. I’ll wake up at 4 a.m….” Wow, I thought, is she going to prepare a feast for when he awakes two hours later? She’s amazing! “And I’ll wake up the boys at 4 a.m.,” she continued, “and we’ll come into your room at 4 a.m. and sing songs and pour ice water on him!” Her face was overtaken by a huge smile.

Which I had to snuff out, even if it was culturally insensitive. “No. No way. Do NOT do that. He will not like that.” She took the note, and instead made a huge, colorful birthday banner, taped to the dining room wall after he went to bed. Lovely. Two weeks later, we celebrated my older son’s birthday in a similar way. No middle of the night birthday anarchy. I had protected them from this particular cultural exchange.

Cue my birthday. I had seen hints that Maria and the boys were at work on an art project, heard giggling and whispers, and was happy the three of them were getting along so well. On the morning of my birthday, I woke up to the sounds of them scampering about. I felt content, not only because I knew there was something special planned for me, but because this experiment of welcoming a stranger into our family was succeeding beyond my wildest dreams. I had never expected my boys to come to love Maria, nor so quickly.

At 6:30 a.m. Maria and the boys entered our bedroom. Aaron held a beautiful cake that read “Happy Birthday Laura” in flowing red icing script, and candle flames lit the dark bedroom. Maria held an iPad playing “Happy Birthday” in mariachi style. Emmett held a camera, recording the moment. I felt loved and appreciated.

I made my wish, and then I blew out my candles. Before I could inhale my next breath, I was inhaling my cake and my son’s fist behind it. He pushed the entire quarter-sheet cake up onto my chest and chin. That was their plan. Ha ha ha. Feliz cumpleanos.

But my 14-year-old kept going. He grabbed the cake and shoved it at my head. Cake flew everywhere: on me, my pillow, the bed, the floor, the rug. When he finally stopped, the cake was destroyed. I was crestfallen. Either he had misunderstood Maria’s instructions and innocently taken it too far, or he had become overcome by aggression over every fight about too much screentime.

It felt like the latter — “Does he hate me that much?” I wondered. I tried not to cry. The kids sort of helped Christopher clean up. I got in the shower. Though I tried not to let it, it colored the rest of my day, a charcoal hue that came with me on a hike underneath otherwise blue skies. I tried to shake it off. By day’s end, we had moved on, and eaten the entire cake.

A few days have passed, and I’ve recovered from the hurt feelings. I still don’t know if the intensity of the cake attack was motivated by suppressed anger, or the thrill of permission to run amok. I look for a lesson regardless, something to salvage.

Perhaps it is this: I have entered the era of Mother to an Adolescent. There will be friction and misunderstandings, disagreements and disputes. But at the end of the day, we come together. We share the ample sweetness there is, in all its delicious imperfection.

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How to See Miracles

My grandmother Lilli Diamond has taught me many things. Among some of the lasting lessons:

  • The Yiddish word for “stickshift” is…“stickshift”;
  • If someone declines your offer of a banana, offer him half a banana (because why would anyone in his right mind turn down a banana??)
  • Laugh every day, even if you “gotta crack your own self up.”
  • Use hyperbole to heighten one’s sunny outlook, as in “This is the best hot dog I ever had! In my whole life I never had a hot dog as good as this!”

This last point deserves explanation. A person could think such extravagant exuberance could dilute genuine emotional power; if everything is grand, nothing is. But it’s the opposite. She says it with such enthusiasm, she convinces you. She convinces herself.

(On the other hand, maybe the hot dog warranted the outburst; she eats fruit for dessert every day, and disdains those at her old folks’ home (her words) who order ice cream. And I’m thinking – Grandma, if not now, when?)

So forget the hot dog. Let’s try another example. A few minutes ago she called to tell me: “It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.” Let’s hear it, Grandma. “Today, when the girl went down to the dining room to get my oatmeal, they were all out. Guess what I had for breakfast? I had the scone that you brought me yesterday!” To some, a rock-hard day-old scone; to her, a Hanukah miracle.

“I know I’ve told you this before,” she said to me yesterday as we crept toward the dining room at lunchtime. We were trailing behind another lady using a walker, and a man in a wheelchair passed us – unfair advantage, he had an aide. She paused to allow herself a fit of laughter at the incongruousness of where she found herself and her self-image. “I sometimes imagine that I’m in a play,” she continued, “and I’ve gone to the Director, and he has handed me my sides. ‘You’re going to play an elderly lady. Go to hair. Go to makeup. Go to costume,’ she looks down at her outfit and starts laughing again. ‘Go to props,’ she says, shaking with giggles and grasping her walker. ‘And go live at that Belmont with all the old people.’” She is playing a role – her outside a far cry from her inner life.

I laugh with her. We may cry a little, too. But right now we stand in a bubble, no one else can come in. Not the helpful staff, nor the perplexed residents. It’s our moment. I breathe in whatever I can from her. I inhale her amazement at the ordinary moment, her ability to find something wonderful or hilarious in the midst of a depressing milieu, her determination to sustain and entertain herself, an 18-year-old spirit in a…an older woman’s body.

How to Reduce Stress in a Ten Year Old (And What Does He Have to Stress About Anyway?)

Braces, Round One, were removed from my 4th grader today.

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Exultation! But just for a while.

A second round is sure to come two years from now. That’s how they do it nowadays: Expand their jaw with a torture device that requires parental “cranking,” to make us complicit; smack braces on the widened mouth; remove braces; allow one week respite before a retainer that will become the subject of anxiety dreams involving naked dumpster diving (we’re always naked in anxiety dreams); after the last baby teeth fall out and adult ones grow in, apply Braces Round Two.

This is progress.

If you are my child’s grandparents or teacher please skip the next sentence. I intentionally scheduled today’s orthodontist appointment to start when recess ended. I let him miss instructional time instead of play time.

I have my reasons. One night last week, the 4th grader, lying on his bed in the honest hour, that twilight moment after lights out when truth is told to parents, said, “My body feels so much stress. My head and my heart are filled with stress. It’s not good for your heart, right?” Even his stress was stressing him.

What could a 4th grader (with one of the nicest teachers in the school, no pandering) feel stressed about?

Maybe it was transitioning from summer. Maybe it was the quizzes he had to catch up on after missing two days of school for a family Bat Mitzvah in Pennsylvania. Maybe it was missing his dogs, who live in Pennsylvania because they are actually his grandparents’ dogs. He does have a beautiful relationship with Bucket and Bumper. Like human long distance relationships, it’s all honeymoon, no day-to-day dreary logistics, like poop gathering or vomit cleaning.

So maybe he was sad or stressed by those things? I don’t know. What I do know is that he is a kid for whom “unscheduled” is the highest form of pleasure, that recess and lunch are his favorite parts of school, and that ten years old is too young to be consumed by stress. When given the option, it was an easy choice to protect recess.

Don’t think I haven’t reminded him multiple times of what I did for him. I get a lot of “meanest mom!” flung my way; I’m going to milk this as long as I can.

STOMP your heart out

This is totally how we sweep around my house.

Of course not. This is STOMP, which I saw for the first time when I wasn’t all that much older than  my kids are now. It blew my mind when I saw it. Nothing had ever been so downright funky-to-the-beat, imagination-en-fuego as this. It is deservedly an international juggernaut of a show, with permanent companies running in London and New York.

It has been in L.A. before and I’ve missed it. Not this time — I’m taking my boys this Wednesday (yes, a school night, yes, a test the next day), and I cannot wait to watch their minds blown. Especially my budding drummer. There is a chance that I will be the most excited of all of us, that I will embarrass them by shrieking like the Beatles are on stage. All I can say is, that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Look out kitchen drawers, look out mops and buckets, look out whatever we will get our hands on.  It’s gonna be epic.

 

STOMP

Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd. (near La Cienega) Beverly Hills

Tuesday, December 17 to Sunday, January 5

http://www.stomponline.com