Where to find a muse? Look right in front of you.

Muse. (v) To wonder; (n) A mythical source of creative inspiration.

For years motherhood was all I could feel, think, or write about. It drenched me (though sometimes it felt more like drowning) and consumed me. From the first days of feeding, changing, and tally-marking pees and poops (must make sure the pipes work), to driving tests and college applications, motherhood has been a 100% all-in operation.

But the intensity and shock do give way. We do settle into our skin. We do find a new normal. This is not a bad thing for humans, but not optimal for writers. Faded along with the initial shock and the keeping my head above water, went my muse.

I have been in the market for a new muse. While I wait, I write what’s in my heart. My grandmother’s story has a lot to say. She keeps me company — part guardian angel, part gossip partner. I’ve written about her here, here, and here; I’m sure I will write more.

And then there is Maria, who joined our family almost four years ago, just after her 18th birthday. Her story, and our joined stories, lately command my mind. She is a refugee and a role model. A college student and a pre-school teacher. She is like a sister and daughter, a cousin, niece and granddaughter; yet she belongs fully to another family. She is a confidante and a sage, a knowledge-sponge and a striver. She is vulnerable and strong, disciplined and determined, and an empathy-conduit between the worlds she straddles. She is a laughing, living, longing reminder that politics is always about real people.

Feels like the motherhood muse may have a new chapter…

 

 

How My Baby (a Teenager) Taught Me that Puppies Are Like Babies

When I tell someone we have two new puppies, the reaction goes, “Puppies are so cute! Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!” Followed immediately by, “It’s like having babies.”

I grant that there are many similarities. They are crazy cute. I am more housebound than I would like to be. And they pee in inappropriate places. But that’s where the similarities end for me. I feed them from a bag not my body, baby wipes are only for their ears, and I can leave them in a crate in a pinch.

Last week, my 15-year-old echoed the “puppies are like babies” sentiment, saying that raising puppies will help prepare him for being a father. (Awww…!) There’s some truth there: caring for puppies exercises your patience, love, and forgiveness. It requires you to do or say the same thing over and over and over before they “get” it. And at setbacks and joys alike, you must remind yourself “this too shall pass.”

One moment with the puppies recently reminded me of a feeling I had in my early days with an infant. About 15 and a half years ago, in the wee dark hours of the night I sat in a rocker with my baby in my lap for a middle-of-the-night feeding. He was asleep in my arms, finished with his milk, and the crib loomed a mere four feet away from us. I had never yet managed to get this love out of my arms and into his crib without him waking and crying (I would later discover co-sleeping, Praise Be). Hoping this would be the first time, that I would soon return my groggy self to my own bed, I slowly rose, glided soundlessly across the room, leaned my body over the crib with his body against mine until the mattress accepted his weight, I ever sooooooo slooooowly stood up. I waited. YES! I had done it! He was still sleeping! I was ebullient! I felt like I’d scaled a mountain! Cured cancer! Could do anything!

My comparable puppies moment: that same son and I gave them a bath.

The puppies had been playing in the yard after the sprinklers had been on, digging a hole in wet soil. They were filthy. White paws were dark brown. We couldn’t let them in the house. A bath was mandatory.

We had never done this before. There was no special puppy tub, and the kitchen sink seemed too big for these guys. How would we accomplish this? Where to begin? We retrieved a towel, a bucket, and put two inches of warm water and soap in it. Good enough start. My son stood ready with the towel while I put the first dog in. With a little rubbing, the dirt came off. I handed the surprised, wet pup to the waiting, towel-holding arms of my son, and repeated. These two baths lasted less than 30 seconds, and we had two clean, dry puppies!

We were so inordinately proud of ourselves we high ten‘ed.

That was no small thing. My son is a great kid, wonderful to be around. But I’m the mom, the one who asks about homework and reminds about appointments, so sometimes it feels like we are moving in opposite directions, like friction is our default. Joining forces to give the puppies their first bath, exulting together in that new-parent feeling of accomplishment, reminding ourselves of our bond, was a priceless moment that made every other little puppy mess well worth it.

A lot like having a baby.

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I Need A Hero: The Family Room Scene

The setting:

A family room in California. Late September, 5pm. A smattering of worn socks are strewn on the floor, alongside a sneaker and a flip flop. Lego pieces, the small ones perfect for inadvertently stepping on, hide in the carpet’s pattern. A throw blanket that had been strategically placed by the mother on the dirt-stained arm of the sofa is strewn on the floor, next to last week’s classwork spilling out of a backpack. A licked-clean popsicle stick takes up company on the floor with an empty plate that looks like Nutella may have been consumed there. We hope it was Nutella.

A child reclines on the sofa, absorbed in Volume 4 of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. He folds the page where the next chapter begins, and lumbers over to a stool next to his mother, who is just now reading the newspaper.

Kid: (Sighing) I think I want to join the Army. Or Something.

Mom: Well, that’s two different things. The Army, and Something. What’s Something?

Kid: I don’t know. I want to be a hero. Like Percy Jackson.

Mom: There are a lot of ways to be a hero that don’t involve bullets.

Kid: Like a fireman?

Mom: Uh huh…Actually, I was thinking of something else. I was reading about MacArthur Geniuses, and one hero who’s an environmental engineer, who learned how to take wastewater and turn it into energy.

Kid: I just like to fight.

Mom: I have an idea.

Kid: What is it?

Mom: You’ll be my hero when you pick up your socks, Legos, and dirty dishes.

Kid: #&$%#

And…SCENE!

 

My Mother’s Day Gift to You: What Not To Do

The greatest meaning a person can find in life is in service to others. (And also to have fun while doing it.)

There’s not only one way to help your fellow humans. You can be Nelson Mandela (who was confirmed the winner of the South African presidency on this date in 1994).

You can be a Mother Teresa.

You can be a Marie Curie.

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You can even be a superstar basketball player (Happy birthday, Chris Paul!)

LA Clippers Point Guard Chris Paul - STACK

You can  be a teacher, a doctor, or volunteer your time in a school. You can even, against all odds, be kind and patient and forgiving in a Trader Joe’s parking lot at dinner time.

     (Kidding. That’s not Trader Joes. No Priuses.)

Or, like me, your highest calling for service may be making other parents feel better about the job they’re doing.

There was the time I forgot to register my son for kindergarten. There was last Mother’s Day when I lost the same kiddo and the police were alerted. And there’s this afternoon, when his adamant insistence that he is not going back to swim team broke my resolve that he keep going because it’s good for him.

“Have a backbone,” I counseled my dear friend yesterday, a mother of one-year-old twins. “If I could do one thing different as a parent, I would have a spine.” I would, like some of my peers claim to do, require “a sport and an instrument every semester.” I wonder, do their kids push back as hard, do they bristle at these must-do’s, or do they actually want to play lacrosse and clarinet?

Swim team per se isn’t important to me, but he has rejected every other sport he has tried and I am hyper-aware of the call to arms that our children must be active or face ruin! Move! Get up! Run in place in front of the TV for godssake! Just don’t be still! I believe my son objects to the structure of team sports and after-school lessons. After six hours in school, he wants to come home, goof off, play on the trampoline…and watch lots and lots of television. (I usually have the backbone to hold off on the last one.)

As we approach the carefree unstructured days of summer, I must practice saying, “Go outside and play.” I will try to summon the strength of my convictions, and I will fail to meet my standards.

As ever, I will offer myself as your source of Scheudenfraude, so that no matter what happens you will be able to say, “At least I’m not as bad as Laura…”

You’re welcome, in advance.