What I do know is that he is a kid for whom “unscheduled” is the highest form of pleasure, that recess and lunch are still his favorite parts of school, and that ten years old is too young to be consumed by stress. Continue reading
I didn’t notice the air raid siren. Everyone else in our tour group was evacuating the pool area and heading inside to the hotel’s bomb shelter, but I was caught up in an “ice-breaker” conversation. My rabbi, dressed in her shorts and tank top for our first official day of a two-week tour, caught my eye, pointed to the sky, and said, “Rocket’s coming.”
Welcome, my friends, to Israel.
We were in Tel Aviv, and Hamas had just fired the rockets that would set off war. Our group of 70-plus members of Kehillat Israel synagogue, including my kids, nieces, parents, and parents-in-law, had arrived the night before and our heads were still fogged by jet lag. After the “all clear” was announced, our cantor tried to reassure us by describing the Iron Dome missile defense system, and adding that the places we were visiting that day had ample bomb shelters.
My niece, shaken but astute, asked, “What about while we’re on the bus?” Our Israeli guide answered, “If we are on the bus and there’s a siren, we get off, lie down in the road, and put our hands over our heads. Ready? Let’s go.”
I could be blasé and tell you that we only went to bomb shelters twice, so yeah, you know, no biggie. I could tell you it was nothing to be informed where the bomb shelter was each time we checked in to a new hotel, or to download an app that alerts you when the Iron Dome intercepts rockets, and when it does not.
On one level that would be the truth. Hamas’ daily barrage of rockets didn’t affect our trip much: We still went ziplining and rappelled down the Manara Cliff; we still swam in the Mediterranean and floated in the Dead Sea; we still prayed at the Western Wall and shopped for jewelry and Judaica in Jerusalem; we still ventured south to the Negev Desert to marvel at the geologic formation known as a “Machtesh Ramon” – a grand canyon-like wonder; we still visited Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust, and recalled the very reason for Israel’s existence, the constant battle to be.
But on another level, to say it was no big deal would be a lie. The rockets affected me deeply. On our last night in Tel Aviv, for example, my kids asked if they could have room service for dinner. Under other circumstances I’d have pushed them to come out, to experience a new city. But my first thought was that in the hotel they would be safer, closer to a shelter, not exposed. It was an easy yes.
We had to decide if it was too risky for us adults to go out. We had to calculate the value of enjoying a summer night in Tel Aviv and the possibility of shrapnel landing on our heads. After all, we were told the Iron Dome was 90% effective, but there was still that pesky 10%. We had to prioritize living or fear.
You know, the usual vacation decisions.
We went out to dinner. We came back unscathed. The tone of our visit was set: Life trumps.
As we enjoyed our adventures, I felt for family back home, who only saw images of rockets raining on Israel day and night, who didn’t see that for most of Israel, life went on as usual.
I felt for the people of Gaza, who Hamas sacrificed by pushing Israel to defend its people. I felt the frustration and hopelessness of it all – never more than when listening to Israeli Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh describe the futility of a peace process where one side’s leader can’t accept any negotiated peace without facing execution.
I brought home a keepsake from this trip, a bracelet with the words of the Jewish prayer Sh’ma engraved in silver. “God is One,” the prayer says. “We are all connected, we are all part of One,” my Rabbi elaborates. That’s pretty much the heart of it, no matter what God, or no god, you believe in.
“Wear the bracelet for protection,” the saleslady had said when I tightened it around my wrist.
No prayer or band of silver can protect me. I wear it anyway. I say it anyway. I close my eyes and imagine I am wrapping it around the world’s wrist, a dome of protection over every last one of us, all children of this earth.
I’m not all that with it, as my kids will tell you. To wit: I still don’t really know Buzzfeed is. Nonetheless, its buzzingness keeps coming up — three times this week! — so I figured I should look into it.
The first mention of Buzzfeed this week was by my niece, now a middle school graduate. She was telling me about the last day of school at her awesome, super academic, and totally amazing (this is me talking, not her) all-girls school, including when the teachers parodied their students in a skit-song about how all the girls are on Buzzfeed during class. (Um, say what now?)
The second mention of Buzzfeed was by the young woman sitting next to me on a flight. She works for Buzzfeed, in the software side. She’s also a stand-up comic.
Today Buzzfeed posted a blurb about how two fine young actors handled a group of papparazzi. Yay for Skeeter and Spidey!
To honor my dad for Father’s Day, I could tell you that the man never missed a dance recital, and that he always proclaimed me “the star of the show,” even when I was in the back row of the chorus.
I could tell you that, after reading the crappy first draft of my novel he proclaimed it “Pulitzer Prize” material, and he believed that.
I could tell you that there is no one else like him in the world, and that the greatest lesson he has taught me is to be true to yourself.
All of those things are true. And they are enough. But he also taught me not to be embarrassed by his wacky behavior, and to honor that lesson, I’m sharing a story embodying his wackiness. Happy Father’s Day to all those great men who teach, nurture and shower love on their children.
One moment my father was on the train. The next he was gone.
The year was 1979. There were no cell phones, but frozen yogurt was in its first craze.
My health-conscious dad loved it with strawberries, coconut, and carob chips on top. When he had a root canal and was holed up at home in his blue terrycloth bathrobe, he instructed my then-14-year-old older sister: “Listen very closely. I do not give you permission to get my keys on the counter (right there, see?), drive my car to Yogurt Mountain, and order me a large strawberry yogurt shake. Do you understand? You do not have permission to do that.” She understood all right.
It was a frozen yogurt craving that nearly derailed our family’s vacation from Boston to Washington, D.C. I learned on this trip that my mom was organized, responsible, prone to worry, and in charge of reservations, travelers checks and plane tickets. I learned that my dad was spontaneous, mischievous, and kept my mom on a “need to know” basis about certain of his plans (justifying her tendency to worry). For example, as we trudged along Boston’s Freedom trail, my dad said he was leaving to see a Red Sox game. My mom’s face showed chagrin, but not surprise. This was, after all, the man who took her to six baseball games on their honeymoon. She knew what she’d signed up for.
But one event on the trip best illustrated the essence of my parents’ characters. When our train from Boston to DC briefly stopped in New York’s Penn Station, my father, antsy from being cooped up for hours, stood and announced, “I’m going to get frozen yogurt.”
“You’re what?” my mom asked. “You don’t know if there is any frozen yogurt here, and the train is going to leave soon!”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.” Away he went. I listened to my Walkman. Sensing my mom’s agitation, I smiled at her, trying to reassure her that all was well. That’s when the train began to roll without my Dad on it.
My mom bolted into action. She instructed my sister to head to look for a conductor, and she went the other direction to do the same. I sat, utterly helpless, saving our seats. Then something moved outside my window. It was my Dad. He was jogging on the platform alongside the moving train, arms out, palms up, as if to say, “Now what?”
I looked back at him blankly. Then he was gone.
I stayed in my seat, heart beating fast. He didn’t know what hotel we were staying at in D.C. What would become of him? Would I see my father again? Then, like magic, my dad strolled down the aisle, took his seat, and picked up a section of newspaper.
“Dad! How did you get on the train?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, with a “no big deal” voice, but flashed a conspiratorial grin that said, “That was close.”
My mom and sister came back to report that they hadn’t found a conductor and to strategize. Seeing my dad, my mom stammered, “What…how…?”
“What?” he responded, playing dumb.
“Tell us what happened!” we demanded.
Much as he wanted to maintain a poker face, this escapade was too good to keep to himself.
“I couldn’t find frozen yogurt, can you believe it?” he began.
“Yes! How did you get on the train?”
“Okay. When I came back, I went to the wrong platform, so I had to run back up the stairs, then down to our platform. The train was leaving, and the conductor on the last car saw me running for it and called out, ‘Jump!’ So I jumped.”
My heroic, yogurt-seeking dad, jumped onto a moving train.
Thirty-five years have sped past since that trip. I have taken my own children to Boston and to Washington, D.C. Frozen yogurt is in vogue again (minus the carob). And my mother and father celebrate their 50th anniversary this month. My Dad continues to leave legendary travel stories in his wake (see, e.g. creating a stir with the KGB by running in Lenin Stadium), and my mother continues to sigh with a smile, revealing her deep appreciation for his impish grin, his “what could go wrong?” attitude, and for a life where there is rarely a dull moment.
The “girl as trophy” trope is being challenged again. The tragedy in Isla Vista has made us question how we — all of us, women and men — let it become thought of as normal. (This article sums it up nicely.)
I’m not laying blame on any one movie or filmmaker. It’s not all Judd Apatow’s fault. It’s everywhere you look, for time immemorial. I learned the role of trophy as a little girl watching Popeye and Bluto fighting for Olive Oil, for crying out loud. My kids see that cliche story line again and again, whether it’s Nickelodeon or PG-13 movies I shouldn’t let them watch. Even “The Most Interesting Man in the World” bears guilt for (or simply expresses) the culture that led a disturbed young man to a rampage as, in advance of Cinco de Mayo, he advised that it’s best to start “with two.”
(Granted these ladies are not blonde, but they are beautiful. And totally lucky to be with that guy.)
I am TIRED of the trope that women are the trophy. The object, not the subject. Did anyone think to ask these two ladies if they gave a shit about the old guy with the scratchy beard? No. Because if anyone did, I’m pretty sure they’d say, “Hell, no. It’s Girls Night Out and we’re going dancing with ourselves.”
I don’t have the answers. I’ll flail around, trying these tactics:
1. Drop an editorial comment while my sons watch TV, asking about the female-object-of-desire character, “I wonder what she wants to be when she grows up?” or “Why would she like either of those dudes?” or “I bet she likes math (or history, or art, or anything that’s about HER).”
2. Be a role model of a strong woman.
4. Watch and share any of the thousands of videos from http://www.Makers.com, mini-documentaries about pioneering women that PBS will be debuting this Fall, and which are immediately available on http://www.makers.com. I think I’ll start with the one about Violet Palmer, the first female NBA referee.
5. Don’t let up. We’ve got a world to change. For our boys and our girls.
What are the ways you’ve thought of to challenge these cliches? Please click the comment icon to the right of the headline above to share.
Imagine the shock to find this in my inbox from my on-the-case cousin:
I assume this is based on you.”
I clicked on her link to find that the “this” is a new TV show, “The Mysteries of Laura,” in which Debra Messing plays a single mom homicide detective who looks great in a bathing suit and spits out one-liners like she has a staff writing for her.
And that her name is Laura Diamond.
My first reaction was to feel violated: That’s my name!
Then I remembered: it’s not only my name. There’s a singer who got http://www.Lauradiamond.com first. There are scores of Laura Diamond’s on Facebook. Once I wasn’t even the only Laura Diamond in the room. At a Santa Monica wine bar, after seeing my name on my credit card the waitress said, “Laura Diamond is my best friend’s name. And she’s sitting right over there!” She gestured to a younger, prettier, brunette Laura Diamond. I wasn’t even the best-looking Laura Diamond in the room.
I have some thinking to do. Should I use this to my benefit, and pretend that the show is based on my secret other life? Should I embrace the fact that my name sounds like it belongs to a homicide detective? I mean, that’s hot, right? Or do I need a nom de plume, lest people think Debra Messing’s character is writing books?
I can either embrace my moment in the limelight, or go back to my family’s pre-Ellis Island appellation — NBC is unlikely to name a character Laura Dimondshtein.
I think the only thing to do is to claim her with pride. After all, I do love Debra Messing.
Laura Diamond’s of the world, do you have any suggestions as to how to handle this?
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.
You can even be a superstar basketball player (Happy birthday, Chris Paul!)
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.
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.
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.
Does a mom experience any sweeter feeling than watching quietly from the staircase as her child, unknowing that he is being observed, makes French Toast for her birthday? Dad is out of town, and this is my boy’s own idea. “I thought of it last night before I went to bed. If you were still upstairs, I would have cut a flower from the garden for you.” He is his father’s son.
His brother comes downstairs sleepily, “You woke me up!” He is his mother’s son. He needs ample sleep and many reminders of things like other people’s birthdays. Consoled by news that his brother has made French toast, he lumbers to the table and puts his head down on his beloved Calvin and Hobbes anthology. His brother and I don’t mention the occasion for the French toast, giving him a chance to remember on his own. After a while I figure I won’t hide the ball, I’ll put it right in front of him, give him a break.
“Can I tell you something?” I ask. I lean in to his warm body wrapped in footed pajamas and reveal, “Today’s my birthday!” He consents to a hug, a smile, and a “Happy birthday.” That’s a whole lotta lovin’ from this one, in his current phase, and I know it. It’s a good reminder to accept my boys as the people they are, brilliantly unique.
It’s no lie that these small gifts from my two vastly different soul-boys fill me up. (The icing on my cake? No morning squabbles, no rushing out the door for school. Birthday miracles is the only rational explanation.)
Arriving at school, another hug is reluctantly offered by the tough guy: “But in the car, mom, where no one can see us.” I take what I can get. But when we are on the sidewalk, I do something dumb. I can’t help myself: I hug him again anyway. I know it’s not good for our relationship. I know I should respect his boundaries. Aachh…I’ll start tomorrow. “Hugging you is like eating a cupcake,” I say, trying to explain my weakness on his terms.
(Cupcake and photo by Jessica Heisen)
His countenance brightens. “Speaking of cupcakes…!?”
I smile and say, “We’ll see.” If I play my cards right, there may be another hug and kiss in this day yet.
In anticipation of Mother’s Day…
It has been a magical seven years since I first published Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. Seven! My 9 year old was celebrating his first birthday when I began assembling motherhood stories as a project to save my sanity, not knowing what it would become.
I can say without bragging — because 19 of the writers in it are not me — that the book holds up. I am embarrassingly astonished that this is true. It’s a good little book! A shiny gem. My third baby.
If you would like to give Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood as a gift — for Mother’s Day, a baby shower, or a birthday — I would be delighted to send you a signed bookplate to stick in the front. It is available on Amazon or Lulu.com. Or, I’m going to go all full-service here, I can ship you signed copies myself, if you would like to order 2 or more.
Supplies are unlimited, so ask away!
You can let me know how many you want by e-mailing me at email@example.com, or leaving a comment (click the little word box at the top right of this entry to leave a comment).
With love and appreciation,