Possibilities

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The notebook paper is warped and stained with coffee from the mug I knocked over when I pushed my laptop screen away from my “maturing” eyes. An accident, though you may tell me there are no such things.

I blot the paper dry, and the mark it leaves on it does not obscure what is written in my 17-year-old’s hand: “College Possibilities.” His list, unnumbered, stretches more than halfway down the horizontal blue lines, in penmanship neater than years past. He is thinking about his future.

I time-travel backward, and sit at this same table writing a list of names for the baby who is still a part of my body, who at 17 will still be part of my body in a way he will never understand until he is a parent. I try out the sound of each name, closing my eyes to envision what each collection of syllables and histories and meanings might predict for this as-yet unmet soul, how he might live into the sound of them.

Over the next 12 months, he will do much the same with his list, trying on each for fit as best as he can. If time is not linear, the lists sit side by side.

I could find that list of baby names if you gave me an hour, folded into a journal or photo album or baby book. I could place my hands on it, wipe its spine coated with dust, particles of our skin and sweat that have collected these past 17 years.

In the end, none of the names on my list rang true. Days after he was born, it was my sister’s suggestion that wrapped him lightly like a cloud, wide enough to allow any adventure he might choose — artist or clown, athlete or sage — wherever his big heart may lead. I hope his list of possibilities does, too.

Nature

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A pregnant lady in a bikini stands at the shoreline, her gorgeous tanned belly stretched to capacity, a leash looped around her wrist. The muscled dog at her feet holds himself back, ready to spring toward the waves rolling in and away. She casts her eyes down at the phone held in both hands, its spell cast over her.

I say aloud, to no one but myself, or maybe the pelicans skimming the surface of the water, How sad.

But as soon I say that, I think about what my kids would think of the lady at the beach with her dog and her phone. Not sad at all. Not even a drop of sadness, Mom! Just the way it is.

Last night, thirsty, I pressed a glass against a plastic lever on my refrigerator. Electricity and metal pipes that run under asphalt and concrete filled it with cold water. I did not go to a stream, bend down, cup my hands. On another plane, an ancestor said, how sad.

I have had the unplugged beach, and its restorative power. I want my children to know what it feels like to sit at the shore alone with their thoughts, to get lost in their heads, to share their thoughts only with themselves or the ocean or the birds, not the connected metallic world contained in their hands.

But who am I to judge, a hypocrite who dictates these words into my phone as I sit on the beach watching her, watching the dog, thinking about how I’m going to type it up later and press publish.

Video by Laura Diamond

Sage

It is my baby’s 17th birthday. The kid is funny, possessing a sense of humor that ranges from dry to raunchy, but always quick. He is thoughtful, inquisitive, and kind. I ask him if he would like to be my guest blogger today, offload my responsibility.

What does that mean? he asks.

You share your thoughts. I publish them.

He accepts. The first draft of his pearls of wisdom come without hesitation: Life is short. Eat cake.

Got it.

Then he says, No no no, wait. He thinks more, then says, We waste our lives worrying about what we have to do instead of doing what we want to do.

It has been a while since he cried anguished tears over the cruelty of having to spend his childhood doing something he hated — going to school. The cure was pulling him out for a year of independent study; after that he could not wait to go to back. Nine months in, he and his generation got sent home again; be careful what you wish for.

I think about his words of wisdom while scrubbing egg off a pan and loading dishes into the dishwasher.

I guess washing dishes is a have to?

Yeah, I guess. The dishes have to get washed. Is it a waste of life to do it? He is playing a new video game, but listening: Though sometimes washing dishes can be relaxing.

Hmm. I notice the metal sponge in my hand scraping yellow and white off steel, the cool splash of water on this warm day, the proximity to him giving us a chance to chat, his observation transforming my have-to into want-to.

Happy Monday.

Why This Mom Relaxes into Summer When the End is Near

Around our town the burgeoning sound of children’s protest and despair can be heard rising up toward the burnt July sky, as they realize that with the arrival of August, we are dangerously close to the first day of school, bearing down like a runaway freight train too close to stop before it smashes us. If the stewards of your school district also have decreed that summer ends mid-August, then you too have heard these sounds, the “why oh why’s” and the “woe is me’s” with which I fully concur; school should start in September.

But the calendar is also why I have finally relaxed into the pace of unscheduled lazy summer days. I did not have either the foresight, spine, or budgetary willingness to sign my kids up for endless camps. So with me working from home, they were left to their own devices — really, they were left alone to interact only with their devices, if only I would leave them alone. You must know that means the first half of summer featured ample nagging on my part. (Me: “Go play!” Them: “We are playing!” Me: “I meant outside!” Them: “Where’s the extension cord?”) I kid.

But with only two weeks left, I can let go! Now it’s not weeks of this conflict stretching before me, it’s mere days. So I surrender to days that have no goals or plans besides waking up and staying in pajamas until at long last someone must walk the dogs or go to the market because we are hungry. Days that are not filled with unique enriching activities, but if I’m lucky have been sprinkled with boogie boarding and soccer at the beach, water balloons or card games. And days that are filled with, yes, truly countless hours of xBox and YouTube videos. And I think, what was I so worried about? Will I remember to relax when next summer comes?

For now, August is upon us. There are only two weeks left. Have a great summer.

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.

Writer’s Life: Marin Thomas

Marin Thomas is the author of more than thirty western romances, and her first Women’s Fiction title — THE PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS (Berkeley/NAL) – was released March 1. Seeing as Marin played NCAA basketball for the University of Arizona Lady Wildcats, this season of college basketball Madness is the perfect time to talk about her new book, how she came to writing and who influenced her. Meet Marin:

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

I’ve learned that forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give or receive. Not until I became a parent and found myself navigating the rough waters of raising teenagers did I experience a parenting epiphany. I realized that the mistakes my parents had made raising me had been committed with the best of intentions. Every parent strives to do the right thing, but often we’re winging it as we go. Acknowledging the mistakes I made with my children has enabled me to forgive my own parents and appreciate the difficulty of parenting on all levels.

Forgiveness is a common theme in many of my books because it paves the way to a richer, sweeter more meaningful life.

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

I write in the spare bedroom of our home. What I love most about my office is my desk. My husband purchased the Texas Ranger style monstrosity for me after I sold my first book to Harlequin in 2004. To date I’ve written over thirty books sitting at this desk.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Listen more, talk less.

Who inspires you?

My mother, who is now deceased, continues to inspire me each and every day. She was a bookaholic before the term became popular and she passed her love of reading on to me. She became my biggest cheerleader when I confided in her that I dreamed of becoming a published author…before self-publishing was even an option. Then she became my biggest fan when I finally sold. With each book I write, I give a quiet thanks to my mother for supporting my dream.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about supporting the University of Arizona Alumni Association and the Letter Winners program. I credit my college experience with changing my narrow view of the world and broadening my horizons. I grew up a middle-class girl in a small southern Wisconsin town with little diversity. My athletic scholarship exposed me to different races, religions, and philosophies. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t gone to college.

In 1982 I learned my first lesson in racism. While participating in a basketball tournament in rural Alabama our team was not allowed to eat in the main dining room of a restaurant because we had an African American coach and several African American players. Instead, we were escorted to a back room, where we ate in silence behind closed doors out of sight of the other diners.

I’d like to believe my experiences in college have made me a more sympathetic, caring human being. The small-town girl who graduated high school in Wisconsin is a far cry from the one who graduated college five years later and it has nothing to do with earning a degree.

What books do you recommend?

I’m a member of a wonderful group of women authors called The Tall Poppies. I’ve read several of their novels and would highly recommend any of them. You can find a list the authors and their books at www.tallpoppy.org

HEApromiseMarinThomas

“There’s a big promise in this book: love, redemption, and a story so gripping I couldn’t put it down.” – #1 NY Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

Marin Thomas grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. She married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony at the historical Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. They currently live in Houston, where she spends her free time junk hunting and researching her next ghost tour.

On Balance…

I came across author Susie Orman Schnall as I browsed the Penn Alumni magazine section looking for my update about publishing a novel. I was sandwiched between two other announcements of novels being published —  before mine was classmate Cheryl Della Pietra announcing publication of her novel, Gonzo Girl. After mine was Susie announcing publication of her second novel, The Balance Project.

The novel emerged from an interview series of the same name. The Balance Project is “a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews with inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance.” Susie has just published interview No. 148 (mine). What prompted her quest to understand the notion of balance in women’s lives?

“I’ve always been curious about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified ‘doing it all’ craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does ‘it all.’ Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better.” – Susie Orman Schnall

 

I recommend you skim the list of interviews and read a few — who interests you? A writer? A chef? A fashion designer? A journalist? They’re in there.

Allow me to suggest a few, women whose stories are windows into many different ways we make life happen:

No. 56: Nicola Kraus, Author and Creative Coach (author of many novels, including The Nanny Diaries)

No. 100: Reese Witherspoon, Actor/Producer (as if you need me to tell you)

No. 107: Bobbi Rebell Kaufman, Reuters Multimedia Anchor and Reporter (In the spirit of the Penn Alumni magazine that connected me to Susie in the first place, Bobbi is a fellow Penn grad)

And, okay, here’s mine (as if you haven’t heard freakin’ enough about me in the past year. I know.)

I have a feeling you’ll want to spend some time with these interviews, browsing, recognizing parts of yourself, wondering about paths not taken and paths you might yet take, remembering that this business of living can be thrilling, overwhelming, satisfying, crazy-making, enervating and energizing — and that we’re all doing the best we can. The interviews are fun peeks into alternate lives, and above all else, reminders that none of us is in this alone.

 

Seen through a Snowstorm: Creations Take On Their Own Life

We drove to Mammoth to celebrate my firstborn’s birthday: 15.

FIFTEEN. To you that may sound little, depending on your point of view, but indulge me. It’s as big as he’s ever been.

The weather conspired against us. It will snow all day, both days, with 50 mph winds. Lucky me, I’d decided in advance that I wasn’t skiing this time. It’s not my cup of cocoa, let’s say; I am preoccupied with falling, even before I put my boots on. My job today is ski support from the comfort of the lodge, writing and reading contentedly. Family bonus: I spare my husband having to worry about me while keeping track of the kids, too.

It’s not about the skiing, anyway, our trip. It’s about board games. It’s about meals together, and movies in the room. It’s even about the travel days, together in a car driving through California’s desert-to-mountain landscape. It’s the offhand conversations, singing with the radio, brothers watching TV shows sharing an iPad… and no fighting all day?! This is the good stuff. This is the good stuff. Did I mention 15?

At this moment I am sitting in the lodge looking out at near white-out conditions. My feet are cold despite two pairs of socks and boots. I’m supposed to be working on Novel 2. I’m in the first draft. I feel like I’m still learning how to write — in a good way — and hope to always feel that way. Bits of positive feedback for Shelter Us still trickles in, which feeds my determination to keep on writing. Like yesterday, I received an e-mail from a fellow She Writes Press author, Barbara Stark-Nemon, who had just read it and kindly shared with me the review she’d posted on Amazon and Goodreads. It began with a quote that I thought sounded so beautiful and then I realized, happily and with surprise, Duh, she’s quoting ME. I didn’t recognize my own words. My sentences took on their own life, they were not part of me anymore. They grew from me but became themselves.

I glance up and outside to the mountain. The glare is bright and my eyes take a moment to adjust. There’s the ski lift, there’s a tree, there’s the snow blowing across the sky. A faint body moves against the mountain through that snowy haze. I can’t see my boys, but I know they are out there, separate from me and gloriously growing into themselves, swooshing or falling all on their own.

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How Trump Inspired Me to Teach My Children

“Did you hear what Trump said about keeping Muslims out of America?” I asked my son the other morning before school. He was looking at the L.A. Times Sports section while I made breakfast. It was the week after the mass murder in San Bernardino, and we hadn’t talked about it. Maybe because I’d been too anxious about all of it, or too busy with getting life taken care of — kids to school, work done, make dinner, repeat.

“Well, they do sort of want to kill us,” he answered softly. His face said, “isn’t that a reasonable move?”

My stomach dropped as I questioned my bona fides as a parent: Had I allowed my child to become a xenophobe? Where had I failed?

Actually, I understand how a young teenager could feel this way. If you read headlines that “Islamic terrorists” are killing people around the world and down the freeway, it is not irrational to agree with the simplistic sentiment “we should stop letting them in until we get to the bottom of this.”

Folks are scared. So the plain notion — keep ’em out, lock the doors — makes sense, unless you read beyond headlines. Unless you are aware of history. Unless you remember America turning away Jewish refugees, and interning Japanese Americans. Unless you know context. And as his mother, that’s where I come in.

I confess, we haven’t talked much about terrorism. His world view is based on many things, but he doesn’t know what I believe, and he needs to know. He may not know that while terrorists claim to be “Islamic” they do not represent Islam. It is not top of mind that targeting any religious group – creating registries, shutting down places of worship, banning refugees – is 100% contrary to American values, and our Jewish values.

I am ashamed of my omission. I grew up in a home where we debated politics, where my parents taught us about initiatives or candidates they supported or opposed, and why. I thought I’d recreated that home just by being myself, but clearly I hadn’t. Or not enough.

How did that happen? It dawns on me that, unlike my parents, I shield my kids from many aspects of my life rather than incorporate them. Where my mom schlepped me with her to the market or dry cleaner or political rally, I go to the market — and call my Congressman — while my kids are in school. It’s easier for me. But the consequence is I am not transmitting my values. We miss opportunities to talk. And in these times, it is more important than ever to talk about what we believe, what kind of world we want to live in.

Back in the kitchen, my heart raced as I envisioned my son slipping into the darkness of Trump-ism because I hadn’t taught him better. I had one minute to set him straight before sending him off to school. I trotted out everything I could think of, not sure what might pierce his focus on the NFL match-ups for the weekend:

“Islam is not a violent religion. Most Muslims are peaceful.”

“Muslims are just like Jews and Christians. We’re cousins!”

“If a bad guy was a Jew, that wouldn’t make all Jews bad, would it?”

“Remember when we visited Manzanar, the internment camp? That’s what happens when we scapegoat an entire group of people, when we act based on fear.”

“Even Dick Cheney thinks Trump is off his rocker!”

He puts the paper away, ties his shoes, and I take a breath.

“Did you hear anything I said?”

“It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”

There is so much more to say. I want to tell him that the world is a safe place, despite the headlines, and that we do not have to live in fear, or act out of fear.

I need to work on my speech, but the conversation has started.

They Get Taller Than You

Sometimes the most biting truths, the ones that come as the biggest shocks, are the most obvious. You miss them because they are in you, you are breathing them.

For instance, my sister said the other day, speaking of her daughters: “I never had the conscious thought, ‘One day I will wake up and they will be taller than me.’ I knew it, but I never thought about it. Then when it happened I thought, I wish I could go back to yesterday and just be aware that that was the last time.”

I had my own “so obvious I refused to look at it” moment last week. Those kids you’re so consumed with raising to be responsible, productive, independent souls, will someday actually go do that. They will become their adult selves, they will move out and onward and become people you have to make a date to see for dinner.

Of course this is not news — we began saving for college when they were born — but I have refused to look at it. Maybe it is denial. Or maybe it is getting caught up in the demands of today, that tricks you into feeling that your life will always be exactly as it is right now.

In my first year as a mother, I spent so many red-eyed 3am’s rocking my baby in my arms that I felt that that would be my life forever. I would forever hold his entire weight in my arms and absorb the rhythms of his body in my heartbeat.

It’s all I can do now to remember that feeling.

So last week the realization that time is passing grabbed my face in its palms. It forced me to look at it. My sons are 11 and 14, which translates to “we have time, but also, not so much.” That infant is in high school.

What prompted this realization? A jokey conversation we had about how much my teen is going to love living on his own, doing what he wants, watching football all weekend uninterrupted. The next morning, I woke as though remembering bad news, recalling that conversation. Then I came downstairs with a different attitude toward making breakfast and packing lunches. It’s just a short time more. It’s just a short time more.

It was the same lesson I learned in that dark bedroom, the first year of his life: “This is finite. Be in the moment.” It settled me down, reminded me that the bad and the good of it were not forever. Life’s plans would catch up to us. Mothering babies taught me to be in the moment like nothing before or since. It’s part of why that first year felt like it lasted so long. Each day had more in it.

That’s all I want now — to elongate the days together. But staying in the moment is harder with bigger kids. The days race by. They play on their own. They want their own space. I try to stay close. I offer a back scratch. I look at them and wonder if today is the last day I am taller than them.