“It Might Be Wonderful”

I was searching for the source of a quote I read years ago, whose essence has stuck with me, if not it’s precise language. It was attributed to Gloria Steinem.

She said, “The great thing about not knowing what comes next…” (and I thought, Yes? Yes? What is it? Please tell me what’s great about all this not knowing business!!) “…is that it might be wonderful.”

“That’s all? It might be wonderful?” Insufficient payoff for the terrible heaviness of not knowing.

I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to live into her radically optimistic world view. For me, not knowing what came next was painful, almost unbearable. In the cosmic sense, of course, none of us knows what’s next (earthquake, or flood, or call from the Nobel committee, etc.). But much of the time we think we do. We have enough information at least to predict what next month or next year brings. For me, the decision to sell our house a few years ago launched us on a journey of major not knowing. I wanted the quote as a lead-in to the book I’m working on about that journey.

moving day

Because the journey has moved me toward understanding that quote. It has taught me that not knowing becomes easier.

Riverside Park at sunset

Not easy, but easier. I try to live more in the second half of Gloria’s statement than in the first. It might be wonderful.

Cannonball into Merry Meeting Lake, New Hampshire

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Laura on Rope Swing, Lake Todd (Newbury, NH)

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s up to us to make it wonderful.

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I didn’t find that quote today, but I did find a rich and deep interview of a curious and brilliant mind. I give you Maria Shriver interviewing Gloria Steinem, and two of my favorite passages from their conversation:

The most hopeful.

SHRIVER: Do you think that you ran a revolution? Do you think it was successful?

STEINEM: Well, first of all, I think we’ve just begun. If you think about the Suffrage Movement as a precedent, it took more than 100 years to get the vote and for that movement itself to run a certain course. We’re only about 40 years into this movement, so this particular wave of change certainly has a long way to go. It’s not in the past.

The most daunting.

SHRIVER: Is there some part of your life that you think represents a cautionary tale?

STEINEM: I think the biggest thing is probably that I wasted time.

SHRIVER: You feel like you wasted time? In what way?

STEINEM: I continued for too long to do things that I already knew how to do, or to write stories that I was assigned instead of fighting for stories that I couldn’t get, or doing ones that I thought were important on my own. The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is.

You heard her. Back to work.

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http://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/gloria-steinem/

How You Look At It: Perspective on a “Wasted” Afternoon

Morning confession: I let my son watch television all afternoon yesterday when he should have been at a sports practice. (I’m not saying which kid, or which practice, so they can both maintain plausible deniability. ) He was tired, he needed a day off, it was plain to see. I know, I know: here was a chance to teach him the value of digging in and working to fulfill a commitment to a team, to himself, and he would have learned that exercise can make you feel better, he’d be happy when he was done. But I was tired, too, tired of schlepping and lugging. Tired of being mindful of what lesson I should teaching.

Let’s call it instead a lesson in when to take a breather. A lesson in the value of down time. A lesson in me listening to his expressed desires and not superimposing my idea of what’s right.

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It’s all in how you look at it. In fact, that’s the most important lesson I want to teach my kids: the power of perspective. We can control how we see things, and we can strive to have a perspective of gratitude, to have a world view that looks through lenses of appreciation.

The author Andy Andrews’ new book, The Noticer Returns, has a lot to say about perspective. (I had the chance to interview Mr. Andrews for What The Flicka, which you can read here.) Without spoiling the book for you, here’s one example of a positive perspective. A character is in debt up the wazoo. But he views this depressing situation from a different angle, and comes to see his credit unworthiness as a positive: He will not go into debt again. He will do things differently going forward.

The “perspective story” I’ve been re-telling a lot lately – because it’s short, sweet, and involves baseball so my kids will listen – came from Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben:

A little boy wants to show his Dad what a great baseball player he is. He tosses the ball to himself and tries to hit it with his bat. Three times he swings and misses. Before his father can console his son, who is clearly not a natural, the boy exclaims with wild joy: “Dad, I’m a great pitcher!”

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I think of this story when circumstances feel glum. I’m corny, but for me it works. It makes me consciously find the positive. No matter how much I’m dreading something, if I do this I always find something positive, some small different way to look at a situation. It’s flexing my appreciation muscles, and they are getting stronger, more supple and quicker to find the positive glimmer each time.

So instead of seeing my boy’s afternoon of mindless vegetation in front of the tube as a mothering breakdown, I will appreciate the rare joy of him thinking he’s got a “nice” mom. I’ll take that whenever I can get it.

 

Want more “Confessions of Motherhood”? Get Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, the best-selling collection of true stories. Read reviews. Get Kindle here, or paperback at Amazon.com and select independent bookstores.

Sugar-Free? I Dare You.

There can be no doubt about who is the favorite for “Meanest Parents” award. After threatening to take away our son’s smartphone, we have now taken away ice cream, cupcakes and candy. S’mores have been banished; is there a greater summer sin?

This one wasn’t my idea. My husband hatched it while helping our niece with her bake sale last Sunday.

bake sale

Imagine the scene: A gorgeous day, adorable children shout out to hapless Farmers’ Market shoppers, “Help sick kids! Buy brownies!” Our sons march through the crowded pedestrian street bearing a banner that points people to their cousin’s stand. To put our money where their mouths are, they get their Dad to cough up $20 for the cause.

They figure that entitles them to three baked goods each. After they gobble chocolate chip cookies, and inhale luscious brownies-baked-with-cookies, but before consuming their regular brownies, a friend of mine and her teenaged daughter come over. The mom buys a cookie; her daughter does not want one.

“She’s not eating sugar because of a dare,” her mom explains.

“How long has it been?” I ask, amazed by a child avoiding sugar on her own initiative.

“Three years.”

Screeching halt. Christopher breaks the silence. “I wish someone would dare me not to eat sugar for a month.”

Too easy; I grant his wish.

That’s how this began. One by one, ours sons and I all signed on. Thirty days, no sugar. Here’s how it’s going.

Minute 1. I put the boys’ untouched brownies back on the For Sale tray. They must have been too full from their cookies and brownie-cookies before to make an uproar. So already, this is going better than expected.

Day 2. Breakfast. Following the rule of our teenaged inspiration, we allow reasonable cereal. No to Lucky Charms or Coco Crispies, but yes to wholesome Puffins or Heart to Heart, and all fruit. That’s normal for us, so no mutiny yet. One glitch: Our beloved vanilla yogurt with granola is not okay. I buy plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, sprinkle in chopped up strawberries and blueberries, and am surprised to find it creamy, yummy and satisfying.

Day 3. Goodbye après-swimming lesson lollipop. Our swimming teacher rocks, but I could live without the lollipop bucket. I let my kids have one every time. But today when my son asks, “Can I have one, Mom?” my eyes give him the answer he already knows: “Not for 29 more days.” There is no whining or debate. This dare is powerful potion.

Day 4. A kind and generous friend offers the boys cookies with lunch. But they resist that strong temptation. I am amazed. Then I realize it’s because I’m there. Still, that’s two sugar hits they missed, and I never had to say “no.” Christopher comes across a Hershey Bar in his office, a remnant from a camping trip. He begins to unwrap it, then remembers the dare and changes course. I stop at Starbucks and although my eyes linger on the case of pastries, I get tea and add milk and honey.

Day 5. Our son goes with friends to a water park. They stay all day. I don’t even ask about the dare. What happens in Soak City, stays in Soak City.

Day 6. We go for an end-of-summer movie matinee. Instead of going The Candy Baron (what has become our four-bag-filling tradition), we say yes to a small popcorn and a bag of Pirate’s Booty. This dare is gaining power every day.

Day 7. The grandparents take the boys to the Dodgers game. Wait — I’m not event that bad! I don’t breathe a word about the dare. Neither, apparently, do the boys.

The verdict as we approach the close of one week? Glorious success, slips and all. We are far from perfect, but perfect is not the goal. Our modest dare is a much needed reset button, a detoxifying opportunity, and an impetus to read labels. It is also a wake-up call to the volume of insidious sugar hits that pile up in a day, a week, a month. All those harmless lollipops and innocent chocolate kisses that appear at the barbershop, the dry cleaner, the market, the after-school activities. When school starts this week, that will multiply into birthday donuts or cupcakes that every child wants to share. I’m no birthday Grinch, but we have to work together, right? I believe what I read about sugar being addictive and a carcinogen, so as a loving mom I try to limit it. Which means that when my kids get sweets from other sources, I don’t get to be the fun one bringing them to the ice cream store or baking them a cake. I’d like a little more of that fun.

For now, the omnipresent treats have met their match in the beauty and power of a sugar-free experiment borne of a bake sale. At the very least, it has helped us pause before reflexively accepting every sweet that is offered. Perhaps it will only last the week. Perhaps we’ll make it the full thirty days. As for three years, don’t bet on it.

Hanging Up the iPhone

Knowing your gut and standing by it is the holy grail of parenthood.

As a mom of two boys, twelve and eight, there are some circumstances where it’s easy to follow my gut: swimming lessons, completed homework, good manners. Other times I waver, caving to pleas for junk food (why must Gatorade be so red, Cheetos so orange?).

Right now my gut tells me to bury my twelve-year-old son’s smartphone in a cement grave. But do I have the fortitude to do it?

Last year, in anticipation of him becoming a middle schooler, we gave him his Dad’s old Android. We thought we were being moderate, in a neighborhood where kids get iPhones for elementary school graduation. We wanted to be able to get in touch after school — and Dad wanted a new phone. We should have given him a no frills, just-for-calls, flippy deal. Because that old clunky Android still had games and texting, giving him his first addiction to tech, and leaving us nagging him about Putting The Damn Thing away.

Mistake number two came less than a year later. As The Damn Thing got slower and older, our sweet, mostly-responsible son asked if he could buy an iPhone with his own money. We were caught off guard. We consented, sliding down that slippery slope.

Pay attention, learn from my error. Don’t take your eye off the ball like I did. It doesn’t matter that he used his own money. Because buying a kid an expensive gadget is only part of the problem. The other part is a kid having a sleek, user-friendly pocket full of video games, 24/7 social interaction (and attendant hurt feelings), instant gratification, and increased addiction. Add to that my saying Yes to Instagram under the naïve misimpression that it was an outlet for artistic photography, not a Facebook alternative, and we had ourselves a problem.

It’s not that he’s using his phone to search for porn (yet). He uses it for appropriate things – checking scores, keeping in touch with friends, playing a few games. Even if (hypothetically speaking) he screws up and sends a less-than-kind text, it provides life lessons – how to make a sincere apology and take responsibility for your actions.

It’s not that it’s inherently evil. It’s that it’s always there. It has become another member of our family. It comes with him everywhere, and if it’s not with him, he is jonesing for it.

I’m no saint with mine. I get the addictiveness. But at least my habit started at age forty, not twelve. That’s forty years of having to find other solutions to boredom, like books and bike rides and conversations. Forty years without radiating reproductive organs. (He may want children someday.)

The first generation iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, six years ago. In my defense, in the scheme of things that’s not much time for us parents to have figured this stuff out. Here’s my dilemma: if my gut now tells me that my child should not have an iPhone, one I gave him permission to spend a lot of his own money on, how do I take it away? How do I extract him from the social connection he feels from texting or “following” his friends? Have I gone to a place from where there is no turning back?

I hear the voice of the Mommy and Me facilitator from toddler years: You are allowed to change your mind. You are not stuck with every mistake you make. It’s not all fun, after all: having an iPhone bought us more rules, more bending the rules and more nagging about following the rules. And it brought me the unease you feel when you are going along with something that feels wrong.

Now that’s a feeling that a middle schooler can relate to.

I know what I should do. If I can work up my nerve, I should explain that we tried something, I made a mistake, and my gut is telling me this isn’t working. The added benefit is modeling how to listen to your own values, not your peers, when figuring out the best way forward.

I’m not expecting this to be easy. The tantrums of a two-year-old who had to give up my keychain-as-toy is going to be a delightful memory when facing the tantrum of a middle schooler asked to give up his iPhone. If I work up the bravery to take this step, you’ll know from the sound of wailing wafting from our direction.

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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Watch Your Language! Moms Talking Dirty

We interrupt this week of Grandma Power to get down and dirty with some real Confessions of Motherhood. Well, it’s scripted, but based on reality, the new web show, “Benchwarmers,” co-starring my friend Katie Goodman, from Broad Comedy.

Its premise: Ever wonder what those women on the park bench are talking about as their kids play in the sandbox? Lots and lots of sex.

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I must have raised my kids at the wrong park.

When they were babies, I was one of those parents hovering in the sandbox, damaging their psyches (another blog for another day).

Now I’ve graduated to the bench, while one child plays basketball or baseball, the other plays tag or caveman. I sit with a book, or sometimes get conscripted into the game of tag if there’s no one better to play with. But so far nothing comes close to Benchwarmers.

I’m gonna find a new bench.

 

It Takes a Village, and Mine is Yummy

I’m noticing connections between parenting and writing this week. Both can be thankless pursuits. You do the work because you love it, or some days because you simply have to, but not because you expect rave reviews to come at the end.

Both can be solitary, like in those dark wee hours trying to comfort a painfully uncomfortable newborn, an all but faded memory to me now. And the solitude of writing is, for me, the antidote to the communal chaos of motherhood.

Both have intrinsic rewards, like hearing a perfect phrase in my head and simply transposing it to the page, or having my second-grader inexplicably wake up to a Mommy-phase, kisses included.  First Friday March 2013

Both take villages to make them work. Grandparents and sisters and friends offering fresh arms to rock a baby, or take them out to a movie; or those same grandparents, sisters and friends sharing the results of that solitary writing time.

Today I’m honored to have the latter kind of of support from the wonderful Jessica Heisen. Her food and photography blog, CopyCake Cook has some seriously tantalizing recipes and photos, and she’s sharing me as her featured artist of the month. Please check it out, and spend some time browsing her site. Whether you’re in the middle of a juicing frenzy (Christopher), freaking about what’s for dinner (me) or a richly chocolate mood (you know who you are), the gal does it all. I’m hoping to get some blogging tips from her, to take mine to the next level.

Yes, it takes a village. I give thanks for mine.

Read between the lines

My sister and I had a favorite sight gag as kids. Hold up your middle three fingers toward someone, palm facing you and say, “Read between the lines.”

This is something different.

Our eight-year-old is assigned to read 20 minutes every night. And every night, as we open a book to read, he rolls over and says, “You read. I’m too tired.” We try gimmicks – “I’ll read one page (or paragraph, or sentence) and then you read one!” Mostly he refuses, and mostly I give in and read to him. With his school reading scores pretty strong, I justify it thusly: it’s a wonderful thing to be read to, we are building cozy memories.

But still I worry (of course I do). “He must do the assignment! He must improve! He could be reading at an even higher level!” (Trust me, as I write this I am even annoying myself.) I continue to pester him about reading, and he continues to resist.

Then, this morning, a most inexplicable turn of events. On the drive to school, the little guy agreed to help his brother practice lines for the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. Motoring along the palm tree lined Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Blvd., my son who balks at reading The Hardy Boys aloud, eloquently read aloud the immortal words, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?”

He did the entire scene, until he bumped with embarrassment over the word “breast.” It went downhill from there, screeching to a halt at the word “marriage.” He had a problem with saying he would get married to his brother. “Daddy,” he said with no room for negotiation, “you have to say the M-word, cuz I won’t.”

This from a kid who has no qualms spouting words more commonly known by their first letter. Which reminds me, I think he’d enjoy our old sight gag.Image

 

Easy Peasy Resolutions (To Make Me The #1 Most Hated Mom)

Resolution #1: More patience.

Even if it’s the 15th time I’ve asked them to do something (get dressed, flush the toilet, turn off the TV), I would just feel so much better about myself if I did not turn into a witch in the process. Instead I could, for example, gently unplug the Wii and throw it in the black bin, gracefully smiling with a glowing peaceful aura surrounding me through it all.

Resolution #2: Less worrying.

Even though worry is in my DNA, I am always happier when I let it go. Let it go…

Resolution #3: More dinner parties.

By which I mean more time with friends. Even if that means ordering pizza on the spur of the moment. I resolve this every year, but routinely let it slip away. I’m getting too old for that.

Resolution #4: Less video games.

Imagine: If I had the nerve I would throw out the Wii, melt down the cell phones, short circuit the computers. In their place I would provide stacks of jigsaw puzzles, a chess board, Scrabble and Rummy Cube, with music playing (any kind, I’m not a total control freak) and lots of crafty things to glue and build. In short, I would be the world’s most hated mom.

I’m not brave enough to go there yet, so I’d better really work on Resolution #1.

Happy new year, one and all.Image

The (Great Big Parenting) Book

As some of you know, I’ve become something of a Torah study geek of late. Weirder still – my sister is now hooked, too.

It’s something I never ever never pictured myself doing. I thought it was for people who, you know, believed that Torah is the word of God, and that we’re supposed to do things because the Torah said so, unquestioning. Not me. Never me. I am a Reconstructionist Jew who sees divinity in the miracles of the universe — like the tides, sunsets, and the way my brain is telling my fingers how to move so I can express my ideas to you. I can get a little spiritual, but don’t begin to tell me that God wrote us a story or that, come Yom Kippur, he is taking names.

So how did I become a Torah Study groupie?

Read all about it in this week’s Jewish Journal, available in print for you traditionalists, too.