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.

Mary Carmen LAWomen15

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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.

Women Fast for 15

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

#IWishMyTeacherKnew: Teen Edition

If you’re one of the sage people who avoids Twitter, you may not have seen these striking statements by one 3rd grade class in Colorado. So let me tell you: a teacher, wanting to understand her students’ lives better, assigned them this sentence to complete. “I wish my teacher knew…”

Holy heartbreak, the responses that came back. She, and a gazillion websites, have been sharing them on Twitter. Take these two:

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When I taught kindergarten in Watts, months after the ’92 riots, I didn’t have to assign that sentence to understand the world my kids lived in. They offered up their innocence on the altar of the classroom carpet, sitting crisscross applesauce, hands raised obediently: “They shoot a lot at night here.”

I can’t help but imagine what a high school teacher would learn if they assigned this sentence, “I wish my teacher knew….” Even in our gleaming public high school, kids face all kinds of stresses: poverty, abuse, brokenness. Perhaps: “I wish my teacher knew I have nightmares every night,” or “I wish my teacher knew I woke up at 4 a.m. to ride the public bus to get here,” or “I wish my teacher knew I haven’t seen my parents in over a year.”

But what difference would it make for teachers to know this? Their job is just to teach, right?

Half-right. As educator/humanitarian/visionary Chaim Peri writes in his book The Village Way, contrary to conventional wisdom, adolescence can be a time of great healing. And kids without loving adults at home need to look elsewhere for their mentors: to teachers.

Peri, founder of Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, works with traumatized teens — orphans, immigrants, exiles, and survivors of war in their home countries. They succeed like crazy, becoming productive adults, by re-creating the sense of “village” that Hillary Rodham Clinton brought into the American lexicon a few years back.

“We need to offer [teens] an aura of togetherness,” says Peri in his book, “a sense of inner coherence and emotional solidarity that defies the swirling chaos around us. We must recreate, intentionally, through the messages that we constantly broadcast to our children, the sense of belonging and togetherness that once defined human existence.”

“If I could tell every educator just one thing, it would be that each hour of the teenage years is precious, each experience as potent in its capability to heal or to wound as countless hours of childhood experiences.”

His call to action: each of us has it within ourselves to become a mentor and heal a child.

My husband and I heard Chaim Peri speak when we were in the midst of deciding whether to become stand-in mom and dad to an 18-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala. His talk sealed the deal.

Between stepping up and her move-in date we were scared as hell, worried that we were going to ruin our family’s happy life. We have never more wrong.

I’m not saying you have to welcome a stranger into your home to do a world of good. You can go to 826LA. Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It takes a village, and we are the village.

What other groups do you know that offer the chance to mentor? Share in your comments.

 

 

Lost in Translation

birthday cake

It was the vehemence of the assault that surprised me. The attacker: my son. His weapon: my birthday cake. My birthday was last week. With Maria in our family now, I knew this year would be different than the usual … Continue reading

Introducing Spring, and Maria

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The bees are having an orgy with our bottle brush tree. It’s blooming like mad. Needle thin magenta red flowers are exploding all over the place. They land in my hair as I trim its branches to unblock the backyard gate – … Continue reading

Embarrass Your Kids Now, They’ll Thank You Later

My kids keep telling me to stop embarrassing them.

There are three general categories of embarrassing incidents about which they complain:

1) Being friendly and talking to “everyone” (e.g. “anyone” in public who is not in our immediate family);

2) Singing loudly in public places, like the local Rec Center parking lot, for no apparent reason;

3) Shouting “I LOVE YOU, HONEY” when I drop them off at school.

Okay, the last one I have to own. That is embarrassing. And it may have been on purpose to embarrass them. Embarrassing one’s children is not only a family rite of passage, it is an important life lesson: I learned at a young age not to let other people’s choices embarrass me. I am responsible only for my own.

As my father’s daughter, I learned this as a matter of survival. My father, an anti-smoking zealot since the 1950’s (e.g. before it was cool), would bring a squirt gun or handheld fan with him to public places — movie theater, sports venue, restaurant, party. Recall, if you can, the typical smoker’s posture: wrist tilted back, cancer-stick burning between second and third fingers, smoke spiraling away from their own face. A flick of the fan’s button blew secondhand smoke back into the offending smoker’s face. That seemed fair.

The squirt gun, however, was a different level of combat. Its purpose was to extinguish a burning cigarette from a distance. Squirt guns having notoriously unreliable aim, my father’s life was in more immediate danger from the smoker than from the smoke.

I recall the defining moment in my adolescence when I had an epiphany about not being embarrassed by my parents. At my 8th grade graduation, as I lined up with one hundred fourteen-year-olds to enter the auditorium, my father approached me and said in his loudest voice for all to hear, “LAURA, DON’T WORRY. I WON’T EMBARRASS YOU. I PROMISE, NO MATTER WHAT, LAURA DIAMOND, EMBARRASSING YOU WOULD BE THE LAST THING I WOULD DO.” He grinned his I-crack-myself-up grin, I shook my head and smiled, and I realized in that moment that he could not embarrass me. He was him. I was me. (It couldn’t have hurt that he was, and is, a wonderful father.)

Still, I have promised my kids that I would stop the intentional embarrassments — the “I love you’s” in front of school are now always private, quiet affairs.

But there will remain embarrassments, the ones that are expressions of who I am — the spontaneous singing, the talking to strangers. When my kids ask me to stop these, I now borrow a response I heard my friend tell his child: “I will always be who I am, and I am not going to change that.”

I gotta be me. And I hope they learn the freedom to be who they are.

I think it’s working. My younger son offered this a few days ago: “I think it’s better to be unique than to be like everyone else.”

Full heart balloons of YES! floated through my body, out my ears, through the open windows and high above the house, popping in the spring sky, raining down a resounding prayer of “please always feel this way.”

I’m not saying this is an easy attitude to achieve or maintain, as it runs contrary to the adolescent condition. But for better or worse, my kids will get plenty of practice not taking personally my embarrassing ways. I feel a song coming on…

Never a Dull Moment, With The Big Questions Kid

Have you ever told your children that it was good to be bored? Have you ever flailed trying to explain why, even to yourself?

Let me define boredom for my purposes: an absence of outside stimuli (e.g. XBox, Wii, FB, Instagram, television, the usual suspects), as well as an absence of creative ideas coming from within. Stasis. Quiet. Spaciousness.

I heard two super smart women sing the praises of boredom this week. Each relayed a story of a different psychological study.

At the Literary Women festival in Long Beach on Saturday, author Aimee Bender described a study in which one group of people were given an exceedingly boring task — copying phone numbers out of the phone book — and then right after were given plastic cups and told to do something creative with them. A control group of non-super-bored folks were given the same cups, same instruction. The bored-to-death folks ran away with the creative assignment, cutting out spirals and snowflakes and lord-knows-what-else with their plastic. The non-bored folks made an effort at some pyramid-thingy. The takeaway? Boredom led to pent up creativity bursting to be released.

The second study about boredom was relayed by Rabbi Amy Bernstein. People were asked to sit alone in a waiting room. There was nothing to do in the room. No one was allowed a phone, a book, a pencil and paper. Nothing but one’s body and mind. For fifteen minutes they would have to be alone with their thoughts. There was one activity in the waiting room: a button that, when pushed, gave off an electric shock. You won’t be surprised, will you, when I share that many folks preferred the pain of electric shock to being with their thoughts for fifteen minutes?

When I told my kids about this study, before I could finish, my 10-year-old son offered he gladly spin in circles for 15 minutes.

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It came as no surprise to me that this kid had no problem with the idea of fifteen minutes to himself. He lives for it. Yes, he gets addicted to screens like the rest of us. But he is a soul who needs quiet moments, too, room to hear his own thoughts. That’s when the cool stuff happens: the wide-eyed realizations and the biggest questions.

Early one morning, we ride our bikes to school. “What does it all mean?” he asks, navigating the sprinklers and bumps in the sidewalk. “I mean, we are just specks in the universe, Mom!”

We roll along, him in front, leading, and me trying to keep up.

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