Writer’s Life: Susie Orman Schnall

I chose today’s interviewee with Mother’s Day in mind. Susie Orman Schnall, author of the novels On Grace and The Balance Project, is also the creator of an interview series also called The Balance Project to explore one of her deep curiosities: how do successful women in many fields balance the demands on them, especially work and motherhood? Below, you’ll read how she answers that question for herself. Meet Susie:

Susie Schnall

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

Through parenting my three boys, I’ve learned that everything can change in an instant, the journey is often more important than the outcome, flexibility is everything, never take a “phase” too seriously — either positively or negatively — because it will most likely end, and a warm hug cures almost everything. All of those apply to writing. I’ve also learned through my almost 15 years of parenting, that I enjoy being a very hands-on mother and they enjoy having me present in their lives, which means I can’t treat writing as much as a full-time job as part of me would like.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

We have a small sitting room in the entry to our master bedroom that I’ve turned into an office. It’s my favorite part of my house because everything in it is mine, no boy detritus piles up in it as it does everywhere else in my house, and I feel I’ve accomplished so much there.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

I’ve always loved the quote, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (—Mary Oliver)

Who inspires you?

Women who are able to toss off the mantle of expectations society places upon them and live their lives authentically. And Lin-Manuel Miranda.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

This is a sore subject for me because I’m not actively involved in any charity at this time. Since I was young, I have always volunteered for non profits, and I’ve worked professionally for two, served on the board of one, etc. As part of my quest to be somewhat balanced and not load too much onto my plate, volunteering for an organization is one of the major things I don’t currently do right now. I give a little time here and there to my kids’ school, other committees, etc., and my husband and I donate money to various causes, but I don’t give time to the degree that makes me feel like me. I know that I will get back to it and I’ve accepted and embraced that. I also struggle with which organizations to support because there are so many worthwhile ones, I have a hard time saying no to any of them. But I especially connect with organizations that give children opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I’m reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She wrote it in 1955 but her wisdom and truths about being a woman resonate so deeply with me.


Susie Orman Schnall grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout her career, she has worked for advertising agencies, non-profit organizations, Internet companies, and magazines doing marketing, communications, website creation, and writing. Susie’s writing has appeared in local and national publications, most notably in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Writer’s Digest and Glamour, to name a few. Susie has written two award-winning novels. Her first, On Grace, is about rediscovering yourself as a woman after motherhood. Her second, The Balance Project, is about work-life balance and was inspired by an interview series she does with working women on her website. Susie lives in Purchase, NY, with her husband and their three boys. More information at susieschnall.com.

 

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We Survived The Mother’s Day Camping Trip!

The Doritos in the dryer lint are a telltale sign that we’ve been camping. It’s one of those permissions, to eat what I otherwise designate as “poisonous” on regular days. I know this is a crummy lesson, that fun and junk food are partners. I know there are better, stronger, more fit and pure parents who bring trail mix and fruit and make their children do 10-mile hikes. Good for them. But this is us, and our goal this weekend was to bring everyone home alive and uninjured, with family connections renewed.

Mission accomplished.

This wasn’t a given. When we pulled into the campground at Dennison County park near Ojai, the welcome sign warned us to beware of rattlesnakes. As we set up our campsite, Emmett noticed a low mound of dirt with a 2-inch diameter hole at its apex, in and out of which swarmed red ants. This, conveniently next to the picnic table.

We ate, set up the tent, and looked around at our gorgeous surroundings.

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The afternoon stretched out in front of us. Now what? Hide and seek, one suggested, and off we went. Yes, this was why we were here. Playing together, in nature. I chose my hiding spots by the views they afforded.

Then…boredom set in. We played musical chairs, with one of us singing while the other four ran in circles around camp chairs. We read. “It feels like the longest day ever,” Maria said. I didn’t disagree. Christopher said, “Let’s go get ice cream,” and our spirits lifted. We drove the short distance to town and found Ojai Ice Cream across from Libbey Park, where we would spend the next few hours playing on a jungle gym designed for 5-12 year olds, and then playing “Avioncito,” an advanced version of hopscotch Maria taught us.

Back to the campsite. After a dinner of burnt hamburgers and hot dogs came the raison d’camping: s’mores. (See above re: junk food and fun.) Soon after came words I often say but never hear from my children: Can we please all go to bed? It was 9 o’clock.

Maria was nervous about being eaten by animals, so we put her in the center of the tent. As we turned off the last flashlight, Emmett reached toward me and held my hand. In the morning, he looked at me before dawn and said “Happy Mother’s Day,” then we both fell back to sleep.

I had suggested camping for Mother’s Day because I craved time with my children away from our usual habitat. It was everything I’d hoped for.

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Best Mother’s Day Gift … Time Together in the Great Outdoors

Mother’s Day has been a bit of a fiasco in recent past. Police helicopters and lost children and whatnot. (Father’s Day hasn’t fared much better — we had a lifeguard-rescue-from-riptide situation two years back. Where was I while my progeny fought for their lives? Reading a book on the sand facing away from the sea.)

The biggest dramas now are our “disagreements” about electronics in my home. My kids and I do not see eye to eye on what constitutes a reasonable amount of time spent on screens. They would like full access 24/7, without interference. Their dad and I would like to see their eyes sometimes. Rather than risk an argument this Mother’s Day weekend, my request was to go camping.

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This was a great hike in Stowe, Vermont! Maybe we’ll hike this weekend!

It’s not that I love camping. I don’t. It’s that I want to be with my family away from the lure of iPhones, and laptops (mine included) so badly that I will sleep on dirt. Happily. Whatever it takes.

We don’t camp a lot. We’ve got some basic equipment — sleeping bags, a tent, the trunk of our car — but we’re pretty inexperienced at this. Added to the circus this year is Maria, our new daughter I’ve told you about.

I told her we were going camping this weekend.

She said she’d like to go. And then: “Que es camping?” What’s camping?

My Spanish is pretty good, but I don’t know “tent” in Spanish. I fumbled through explanations and pantomime. I think I told her  camping is sleeping outside, under material, in a bag. And she still wants to come! We must be pretty fun.

We will show her what camping is: eating hot dogs and s’mores until you’re sick, playing games, cuddling in the cold, seeing a true night sky when the rock you are lying on keeps you awake all night, rising with the sun, and having only each other and the great outdoors to entertain us when we wake up.

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Kids having fun in nature. Be still my heart.

I look forward to the whole thing, and give thanks that it’s only one night.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Laura

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Mother’s Day again: Vote for Wendy Greuel for Mayor

I’ve heard from friends today and the past few days asking — who should I vote for for Mayor? One said, “I’ve never been undecided this close to election day. Who are you voting for?”

Well, since he asked, I’m happy to tell him. I’m voting for Wendy Greuel.

Let me say, there’s a wee tad bit of discomfort in talking about this. There are some lovely people with a different point of view. I’ve got no problem with that. I’m not trying to shill for votes (okay, yes, well, I am) but I’ve got two very good reasons for doing so:

1. A friend asked my opinion, so I’m giving it to him in this very private way. (Really, I don’t have that many readers.)

2. I was very impressed with Wendy after meeting her, and I’ve heard excellent reports of her can-do effectiveness from people I trust.

3. My Mom asked me to.

Some of you know my mom. She is fantastic. She is hard-working, loving, committed to healing the planet (and really needs to learn to say “no” more when asked to serve on committees or, ahem, to babysit…pleading guilty here). She is a woman who walks the walk. Literally. She has canvassed and gone door-to-door and made phone calls (I hope you were polite to her).

Last night she asked me to do her a little favor, while I was in the “Expressing Motherhood” show to express my mother’s deep wish, to tell people who may be wondering, who may be undecided, to please vote for Wendy. Do it for your city, do it for yourself. And if all else fails, do it for my mom. .

Pandering for votes, or helping undecided friends make up their minds, or simply a belated Happy Mother’s Day.

Thanks for listening.

Laura

 

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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DELIVER ME is Now on Kindle!

DELIVER ME is Now on Kindle! 

Deliver Me for Kindle

Some of you may be on your third or fourth Kindles. Me, I’m not a Kindle fan – it strains my weary eyes — but I get the attraction. Books! Now! In hand! No waiting! When the rest of my book group greedily downloaded Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings for our next selection, I had to settle for being number 230 in line on the library waiting list. (On the plus side, there are 20 copies systemwide!) If I don’t finish it in my allotted three weeks, I’ll have to relinquish it to number 231 in line, or knowingly keep an overdue book.

This happened last month to my twelve-year-old, who could not finish his 500 page tome in three weeks, what with homework and baseball and basketball and Wii. The man at the library advised him to keep it, finish it and consider the fine to be “rent.” We went with that. 

So while I am still Kindle-less, I am finally catching up to the rest of the modern world.

Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood is now available on KindleReader reviews are here.

If you want to share it with a friend, however, you’ll have to loan them your whole Kindle, or get one in print. That’s one more reason to love books in print. You can pass them on.