Lessons from my Grandmother: You Have to Breathe

I walk through the neighborhood in what for me is an uncommon pose – earbuds in, sunglasses on, shunning the world. I’m listening to a meditation app I purchased months ago. I programmed it to remind me every morning to meditate, and I ignore it every day. I decide to try it again. I choose from its menu: Stress-reduction, Sleep, Gratitude, Happiness. I pick the last. Everyone can use some more happiness.

It’s sort of cheating to walk while meditating, I think, as the lady’s calm voice tells me to sit straight and close my eyes, but it’s what I’ve decided to do. The meditation lady can’t judge me; today’s 12 minutes of happiness are about self-love, and learning to stop self-criticizing and comparing. So there will be no judgment of my walking-while-meditating. Besides, I once heard that “walking meditation” is a thing, so I have cover.

It’s also likely cheating that I’m carrying letters to the mailbox, but multi-tasking makes me happier, so good for me. Still, my fingers can’t release and relax entirely until I drop those off. Once I release them, I concentrate more on my breath, and not getting hit by a car when I cross the street.

“Feel any physical discomforts in your body. And rather than wish them away, acknowledge them, be aware of them, send kindness to them. Breathe into them.”

I forget to breathe and instead consider that I’m generally happy enough, so maybe this meditation on “happiness” might be wasted. Maybe I should have picked a different category. Patience. Forgiveness.

But as I turn the corner past a gorgeous house, bigger and newer and for sure cleaner than mine, I realize that I have been judging myself, thus decreasing my happiness. I’ve been judging my frustration over my writing not flowing lately. The app lady isn’t saying “don’t feel frustrated,” I think she’s telling me not to judge myself for being frustrated, not to judge my writing being stuck. Embrace or accept the frustration. Let it be.

Hmm, I think I feel happier?

My grandmother had radiation treatments for a tumor in her jaw earlier this year. They were not easy, but the tumor was painful and keeping her from eating, so the treatment was necessary for her comfort. The treatments were twice a day.

Just getting out of her building, into and out of a car, and back again, twice in one day was a herculean task. Her attitude could have been, “Forget it, I surrender.” But instead she chose to face it: “If that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do.” I accompanied her a few times.

The waiting room of a radiation treatment clinic can remind you of what you have to be grateful for. As I sat waiting for my grandmother to be called, a 17-year-old boy in Nikes and a forty-something man in a black suit and kipah asked each other how radiation was going for each of them – it was the exhaustion they agreed was most difficult.

For Lilli, the most difficult part might have been going from seated in her wheelchair to lying on the metal platform. At home, she was often scared just to go from her wheelchair to the couch. Courage. Here, she  had to lie down on the cold, hard metal, no cushion, no pillow – no guardrails. They placed a hard plastic mask shaped to her face over her, and she had to stay motionless while the platform ascended closer, closer to the source of the radiation that would hopefully give her more time, with less pain. She was allowed to drape over her a small, soft, blanket knitted by Marni.

I had more than once been in dark movie theaters with Lilli, when she was the only person in the audience to scream out in fear when a slightly startling event took place. Stillness, quietness, in the face of fear was not her natural state.

The two radiation technicians treated her respectfully and tenderly. She was no doubt afraid. Of falling off. Of being zapped with radiation. Of cancer. Of dying. But she did not complain or cry. She did not ask “why me.” She did what had to be done.

They called me back in when the treatment ended.  The two technicians were helping her into the wheelchair.

“The key is meditating,” she said to all of us. “You have to breathe.”

She would be back later that day. The tumor would shrink enough to give her more comfort, more time. To give us all more time. And maybe a few more lessons in happiness.


Ballroom Dancing circa 2002


Laughing with all 7 great-grandchildren, Oct 2015.





We Always Root for Overtime

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

There is something about a grandmother’s love.

I had dinner with my grandmother last night, with my husband and our sons.

It was her birthday. I can’t say her age. It is not allowed. But it doesn’t matter, does it? What matters is I had dinner with my grandmother last night. Here I am, a woman with a husband and a high schooler and a tween, my own half-century mark in the oncoming headlights, and I still get to soak in my grandmother’s love. I am not the 7-year-old girl sewing pink satin overalls for her teddy bear with her grandmother, or the 11-year-old practicing tap dance routines with her grandmother, or the 14-year-old swimming in her grandmother’s pool “performing water ballet” and imploring her to watch my handstands. I am a grown up. But she is still, as ever, her.

There is something about a grandmother’s love, and a grandfather’s. These days I identify mostly as the Mom, the middle generation, so when I think of grandparental love I think of my kids with their grandparents. I think of my parents and my husband’s parents, and the way their faces beam when they play with their grandchildren, and teach them, of the way they comfort and care.

My sister reminded me that for both of us, our vivacious redheaded grandmother is not just a model of positive attitude, but a source of solace when we are blue. I don’t know what her magic is, but I’ve always known I could find some relief on the other end of her telephone line when I needed it. When, at 15, I had just received the ugliest haircut ever, I dialed her number and she said, “Laura, it’s growing even as we speak.” That did the trick. I stopped freaking out, and she was right: it grew. When I felt lonely, without friends, I called her and knew that even her answering machine would tell me, “I really want to talk to you. Please leave a message.” I called back to hear her recorded voice say it again. It’s not just what she says, it’s how she says it. There is something in her voice that reassures, “everything is going to be okay.” She believes it, so I do, too.

There is something about a grandmother’s love. Even today, my sister, cousins and I feel it. On a phone call, I know that after I say, “Hi Grandma, it’s Laura,” I will receive the gift of hearing, “Laaaaaaurrrraaaa!” in response. As if the whole world is brighter because I am in it.

There is something about a grandmother’s love. It tells you: everything you are is enough.

“Happy birthday,” we say, and we each hug her goodnight. “I love you, Grandma.” I hope she knows how much.



The Fabulous Grandma Lilli


And the next generation of grandmothers…

Grandma Joyce (aka "Jujee")

Grandma Joyce (aka “Jujee”)


Grandma Fran (aka "Nanny")

Grandma Fran (aka “Nanny”)









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.

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.


IMG_3821                              IMG_3820

And a bracelet made from paperclips and tape.


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.


Grandma Power: Electing Women and Protecting the Environment

This week is the Grandmother Power Blogging Campaign, brainchild of photojournalist Paola Gianturco and writer/inspirer Tara Mohr. The goal: to connect women to flex their power to change the world.


Me and my grandmother, Lilli, on her (nn%&*st) birthday last year.

And why not? Grandfathers have run most countries and Fortune 500 companies. We could use more healing Grandma power, and Grandma strength. My kids are lucky to have two of the best.

In that spirit, today I bring you my mom, Fran Diamond, in her own words.

   Emmett 114

Take it away, Mom!

My own Grandmothers, Rose and Sarah, gave me love, comfort and life lessons that are with me still. Grandma Rose enveloped me with pure love and endless admiration whether deserved or not. Baba Sarah loved me as much and set an example of humility and generosity. They set a high standard for being a grandparent.

Today my four grandchildren inspire me in so many ways, including the work that I do. Knowing that what I do affects them makes an enormous difference in the decisions that I make and how I look at things.

Graduation 004

For over forty years there have been two themes to my life’s work: Environmental activism and electing pro-choice, progressive women to public office.

In l968, I joined my husband and neighbors to fight against oil drilling along the coast of Los Angeles when it was threatened by Occidental Petroleum and Armand Hammer. After a twenty-year David vs. Goliath battle, “No Oil” won and the coast of Los Angeles is protected from off-shore oil drilling.


Since l999, I have served on the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. Our mission is to restore and protect the surface and groundwater of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We have made tremendous improvements in water quality. Just looking at the Heal The Bay report card, you can see that many beaches that were given F, D, and C’s before are now A+ most of the time. When I see surfers in the water or families at the beach, and when my grandkids go boogie boarding, l know that my work is making a difference.


That is what keeps me going, as hard as it is at times. When we are debating policy issues and scientific standards, I think what is best for those kids and the future. I see the beautiful, sweet faces of my grandchildren, and I know what I have to do.



Even before I became an environmental activist, I worked to elect women to public office. In the early 1970’s there were no women in the U.S. Senate, or for that matter the California State Senate. Without women’s voices we don’t really have a representative democracy. Women bring a lot to the table that is different from men. I believe that women are more collaborative and naturally think of what’s best for children and families. It is my belief that when both candidates are equally qualified, we should vote for the woman until we are closer to parity in elective office. Right now there are only 20 women in the U.S. Senate out of l00. Next year we may have no women on the Los Angeles City Council or citywide office. That is shameful. That is not the world I want my granddaughters or grandsons to live in.


That’s part of why I am working to elect Wendy Greuel to be the Mayor of Los Angeles. I have known and worked with both candidates for a long time. They are both good people. Wendy Greuel, however, is the most qualified and has the leadership skills to move L.A. forward. What I know about Wendy Greuel is that she listens to all sides, can make decisions and knows how to implement them. She knows how to get from A to Z. She is willing to tell people what they might not want to hear. She is tough, decisive and fair. Los Angeles has been a city for l63 years and we have never had a woman Mayor. Now it’s time. I know that both my granddaughters and my grandsons will benefit from having Wendy Greuel as Mayor.

This year I will turn 70. I have never been more inspired to achieve my goals. Maybe it is because of four amazing young people, Rebecca, Noa, Aaron and Emmett my adored grandchildren. Through them I can touch the future. And it is amazing.

Wanted: Powerful Older Women

Last night we saw Lincoln. The only thing more shocking to the House of Representatives than abolishing slavery was the notion that it could some day lead to the unnatural, ungodly practice of women voting.

Change is slow. S L O O O O O O W. Women vote, we elect Senators and Governors. (no Presidents.) But we still are less than. We are still bombarded with messages of what a woman ought to be — sexy and servile and scrubbing. (Really, watch fifteen minutes of television, no skipping commercials, then tell me if I’m wrong.)

We need countervailing messages of powerful, creative, self-confident women. We need role models. My nieces might look toward my generation. But my generation must look to our mothers. Grandmother power!

I really liked Tara Mohr’s article on this topic today. Inspiring to anyone who has ever felt like trying something new, but stopped themselves with the thought, “I’m too old to do that.”