Words Meant to Be Shared

It may have been the glass of red wine with dinner. Or the 3-hour time change. Or my mother’s delicate snoring in the bed next to mine in our hotel, that kept me awake our first night in New York. Yet, as I pulled the pillow over my head, planning a Duane Reade earplugs run, I was grateful to be able to hear that sound, to sleep near my mother, still.

Our reason for being here: the Jewish Book Council (JBC) and its author networking conference, aka the “Pitchfest.” In those wakeful midnight hours, I ran over and over my two-minute pitch.

You get two minutes. Two minutes to summarize seven years of writing, revising, abandoning, and returning to a manuscript that represents your most personal ideas and emotions. You sit in a filled-to-capacity sanctuary (thinking everyone here wrote a book, too??), waiting for your turn to tell the savvy book festival planners from around the country why they must choose your book for their communities. And you pinch yourself because you’re one of the authors, and everyone in this room loves books as much as you do.

When it was my turn, I left my written notes on my chair, I looked out at the audience, remembered that they wanted me to nail it, and took a breath. I talked to them like I was talking to my mom, telling them about my labor of love. And instead of two minutes it happened during a single encapsulated, time-not-passing, bubble of a moment.

Here’s what I said:

One of the most beautiful commandments in our tradition is to take care of the stranger – the vulnerable and powerless. This always resonated with me, but even more so after I became a mom. I began to see everyone – even a homeless person on the sidewalk – as someone’s child. But like many people, I struggle with wanting to help and not knowing how.

In my novel Shelter Us, Sarah, a mother of two who is grieving the death of an infant, sees a young homeless mother and child, and she can’t stop thinking about them. Remembering her late mother’s many examples of caring for “the stranger,” moves her to reach beyond her comfort zone and try to help them.

Writing about Sarah’s journey allowed me to explore the difficult question of how we respond to the need we see every day. But even more, it was my way of wrestling with a mother’s universal fear that the worst could happen to her child. Sarah, who suffered that loss, sings a Hashkivenu prayer to her children at bedtime, asking for God’s sheltering arms to keep them safe. The song she sings, “Shelter Us,” I first heard at Jewish summer camp, and its primal yearning has stayed with me all these years.

Shelter Us raises some wonderful questions to explore together:

Who are today’s strangers and what are our responsibilities to them as Jews? 

Can helping others heal our own wounds? 

What are the values we want to pass to our children, and how do we communicate them? 

In what ways did Torah study impact my thinking and writing? 

How do we move beyond our fears, to savor the small, beautiful moments of parenthood that are all too fleeting?

And then it was the next author’s turn.

As soon as I sat down I was thinking of what I’d wished I’d said: This book has great blurbs by brilliant bestselling authors! Library Journal recommends it for book clubs! You’re gonna love it! You’re absolutely gonna love it!

But, like life, there are no do-overs. There are words you will wish you didn’t leave unsaid.

My mom is sitting behind me as I write these words to you, and she’s about to leave to spend a day in the city with cousins, while I go do more book stuff. “Mom,” I call out before she leaves. “I have to tell you something!” She stops, a  look of concern floats across her face. And I try to tell her what she means to me.

 

 

Time traveling, to the present.

I know how to time travel. I do it all the time. Backwards: I see a spot on the sidewalk near my home and remember a morning more than a decade old, when I sat down, pregnant and exhausted, to wait out a three-year-old’s tantrum and cry my own tears. Forward: four more years until my firstborn goes to college.

Then what you want to do is close ranks.

You want to hold your growing children close, and you want to do more than freeze time, you want to push time backwards, squish them back to being almost 4 and 7, and not almost 11 and 14, and yourself not 46. 46! You want to hear only their giggles, not their fights. You want to hold the best moments, the photo of them jumping from bed to bed, the older son catching the younger, airborne and naked and laughing. You want to thread yourselves together, beads on a string — mother-father-son-son, the four of you only, connected and always.

And then you want to do the right thing. You want to say to the mother of the girl who is alone, I will take care of her, of course I will. She can join us, she can break our circle, let the beads fall off the string, rearrange them. And so you do, and you grieve for what you think you’ve lost. And you marvel at the new design, different, but not lesser. And you try to hold the present.

Books Everywhere, For Everyone

Two book-related tidbits I’ve got to share, before I turn in for the night.

First, I have one more exciting book giveaway, the last before Publication Day, June 8! I appreciate the support of these authors. In the path to publication, I have found authors as a whole to be a generous, supportive bunch, oozing camaraderie. To reach the giveaway, you can go to my Facebook author page and click Authors You Need to Know About Giveaway tab, or just click on the “Shelter Us Giveaway” link in the right margin.

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The second book-related anecdote I must share is the e-mail I received today from our intrepid 4th grade Room Parent — a saintly woman — who desperately sought to squeeze out one last burst of parental volunteerism on behalf of the school book fair (wherein our kids blow $40 on “educational” toys and erasers, and we parents wonder why there are no new books in their backpacks).

Her entreaty:

Final two days of book fair!!! Can you help out?  I know everyone is exhausted and it is the last thing you might want to do – volunteer again. But the kids love it!!!! And who wouldn’t want to handle a bunch of sweaty dollar bills and count tons of pennies?

I signed right up.

Happy reading, whatever’s on your bedside table…

 

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

Recovering from Mother’s Day

Laura Nicole Diamond:

With one week to go beforel Mother’s Day, I’m hit with a bout of PTSD from the disaster two years ago: losing our then-8-year-old son on the Venice Boardwalk; bringing in the police; and all because we wanted to take a bike ride and leave our cell phones at home. It turned out it was our version of Home Alone. This year we’re going to try camping. With our track record, there will most certainly be bears.

Originally posted on Laura Nicole Diamond:

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…

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To Welcome the Weekend…SHELTER US Book Giveaway!

We have been speaking a lot of Spanish since welcoming Maria into our family. To return the favor, my boys recently taught Maria to say, “Thank God it’s Friday.” 

Heck yeah.

What better way to start the weekend than with the promise of a new book? Head on over to Goodreads, where you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 Advance Reader Copies of my forthcoming novel SHELTER US.

Just click here: http://bit.ly/ShelterUSGiveaway

While you’re there, you can try “Ask the Author” — questions about writing, publishing — heck, even Spanish. I can’t claim to have any answers. You can add me to your “Want to Read” shelf, too, if you’re in the mood.

I wish you the best of luck. And, of course, tomorrow is Independent Booksellers Day, a great day to visit your local indie bookstore. Tell ’em I sent you. :) And enjoy the weekend.

An Exquisite Hunger for Action

I went to City Hall this morning to support the LAWomen15 — women fasting to advocate for a $15 minimum wage. The organizers had told me I could fast today “in solidarity” with them. My husband would be skipping breakfast for a scheduled blood test, so I could be in solidarity with him, too. I thought I’d do it.

I skipped my usual coffee and cereal while the kids got ready for school. I absentmindedly popped a raspberry into my mouth as I made their lunches. It’s easy to forget to fast when food is abundant.

As I was about to leave for the trip downtown, something caught my eye: On the kitchen counter, half an apple glistened on wooden cutting board. It had been a small apple to begin with. I’d sliced it and put it in my son’s lunchbox, along with raspberries, a granola bar, and a slice of pizza from last night’s dinner.

I considered the apple. I thought about how I’d feel stuck on a crowded freeway, my stomach empty. I could imagine its crunchy, moist, sweetness refueling my brain and body.

I ate it.

Hunger is something so painful that if you do not have to experience it, if you have a choice, you are compelled to relieve your discomfort, to satisfy your body’s basic need.

Some of the women who are fasting — full-time employees of McDonald’s and Burger King and Walmart — routinely choose between food and rent. That is NOT okay.

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The LAWomen15 had not eaten for 14 days. They are being heard. Mayor Garcetti came down from the tower to the street to speak to them, saying he supported their action. Some Council members did the same. Then the women, followed by clergy of all faith, solidarity fasters, and supporters like me walked into City Hall. The women addressed the Council, the people who can change their situation.

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They spoke eloquently. They were received with respect. They had sacrificed deeply, putting their bodies in jeopardy, to tell these sympathetic people, who had eaten breakfast and looked forward to lunch, that they needed to act with haste.

I followed them out of Council chambers, and left City Hall.

I walked two blocks, unapologetically knowing that food was my destination. I ordered a three dollar coffee, and felt both awe and guilt that I spent that much on empty calories that disappeared from the cup in two minutes. As I prepared to eat my gourmet sandwich, an uncommon, authentic sensation rolled through me: This called for a blessing. I took a deep breath, and exhaled a prayer of immense gratitude for the food I was about to eat.

Complacency is companion to plenty. I suffer from it as much as anyone, as much as the elected officials accustomed to studies, commissions, and five-year plans. Let these valiant women’s fast create an exquisite hunger for action.

Will Leaders Listen to Hungry Women? #Women15

Women are starving on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. How is it possible that news of eight women on a hunger strike for a livable minimum wage escaped my notice?

If you also haven’t heard, I’ll fill you in. On April 16, several women began a fifteen day fast to demand immediate action to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

What’s the urgency? In a letter addressed to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. City Council, written on the fifth day of their fast, they explained:

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Women comprise a high percentage of minimum wage workers, and many are the sole parent or earner. As the fasting women wrote to L.A.’s leaders, “Women’s equality means raising the wage to nothing less than $15 so we can truly afford child care, prevent family evictions, and fully participate in the workforce.”

Put another way: if you care about alleviating hunger and homelessness, about ensuring that children have quality day care and are ready to learn when they go to school, implement a livable minimum wage. The rest gets solved.

Some argue that a $15 minimum wage is a job killer. But competing studies support each side’s position. The only thing we do know with 100% certainty is that our current situation is failing. People are hungry. Family homelessness is rising. Multiple families live together in garages. Even full-time wage earners qualify for and receive government assistance. That last fact should galvanize everyone, from liberal to liberatarian. Reliance on government support depresses not only the economy, it dampens the spirit. In the California Department of Social Services offices recently, I witnessed men and women and children wait for hours to meet with case workers in order to continue receiving adequate funds for food and rent. It amounts to mountains of wasted time, frustration, and indignity, instead of hours working for dignified wages.

Yes, there are details to be worked out Should tips be included? Should small businesses be excluded? Our leaders have decisions to make. But one thing should be settled: the urgency and need for immediate action for low-wage workers is real. City leaders should act as though it is the size of their paychecks at stake. That it is their family’s pantry that is empty.

L.A. may be behind the curve compared with our sister cities of Seattle, SeaTac, San Francisco, Oakland, who have adopted a higher minimum wage, but I, for one, believe L.A.’s leaders have the courage, compassion, and vision to accept the challenge.

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Thoughtful, respectful comments and dialogue are appreciated.

Laura

Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway!

I have never before used the word sizzling in a blog post. (You can check me on this. If you find that I have, I will publicly announce your doggedness and my wrongness.)

But today is about sizzle! And gifts! Announcing the “Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway!”
Click here for giveaway

To celebrate the impending publication of Shelter Us (June 8), we’re having a giveaway party. All this week, register to win a gift bag of summer reads and a $50 Sephora gift card. And while you’re doing it, if you want to show some love and like my FB page, or check out my fellow authors, have at it.

Whether this April day is showing you dreary gray skies or the possibility of blue, hang on — summer is on its way. Wouldn’t winning this bundle of books brighten your day?

Enjoy,

Laura