Announcing: The 20 Wishes Idea

Twenty Wishes book (photo by Paul Kennar)

Do you ever feel stuck?  Like each day sort of just creeps into the next.

Do you ever feel lost?  Like you’re not quite sure what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. 

Do you ever feel like you’re in search of a spark?  Like there’s something out there, waiting for you, and if you could find it your whole life would experience a domino-effect of positive consequences.

I do.  Sometimes.  Sometimes it’s because I’m 43 years old, and my body feels much older and weaker than my chronological age.  Sometimes it’s because I miss my teaching career.  

Which is why I enjoyed the last fiction book I read, Debbie Macomber’s Twenty Wishes.  

The title is based on the premise of the novel.  A group of women each decide to create a list – “an inventory of wishes.”  Not practical to-do items, but “twenty dreams written down.”  Each woman had a different list of “wishes and hopes for the future.”  One character wanted to learn to belly dance.  Another character bought herself a convertible.  Still another desired a pair of red cowboy boots.

While reading about these women and their wishes, I thought about what would be on my list of wishes.

– Visit my pen pal, Aya, in Japan.

– Travel to Paris with my husband and son.

– Drive a convertible – with the top down.

– Go for a gondola ride in Venice, Italy.

– Explore the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

– Sightsee in New York including stops at the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.

 

Writing my own list is more difficult than I thought it would be.  As one character so aptly stated, “Sometimes I think we’re afraid to admit we want certain things.  Especially things that contradict the image we have of ourselves.”  

I’m still working on my list.  Most of my items have to do with travel, and it’s not so easy for me to just pack up and go.  So I need to work on creating a list that also includes items that are more easily achieved here in Los Angeles (and not as expensive as traveling to Japan). 

Meanwhile, those are mine.  Readers, I’d love to read your wishes.  Feel free to share in the comments section.  

 

 

Here’s Why Invisibility Isn’t Always a Super Power 

My son and I playing handball. Disabilities don’t all look the same.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture a disabled person.  Keep that image in mind.  

What does she look like?  

How does she behave?  

What can she do?  

What can’t she do?  

What does she need help with?

 

Now, tell me if these descriptions match the picture in your imagination:

A woman and her son ride their bikes in their neighborhood.

A woman spends 30 minutes in her garden, weeding, pruning her bougainvillea vine, re-arranging large pots, and then sweeping up the mess she made on the sidewalk.

A woman goes for a leisurely walk in her neighborhood, bending over to smell a light pink rose, stopping to admire a butterfly that is perched on a leaf.

A woman sees her ninety-year-old neighbor arrive home in an Uber.  Her neighbor struggles to hang the grocery bags from her walker.  The woman goes across the street, and carries the bags for her neighbor, helps her neighbor into her house, and brings each bag into her neighbor’s kitchen.

 

What if I told you the woman above was me.  And what if I told you that according to the state of California, I am also a disabled woman.  Do my actions match the mental image you had?

Probably not.  Most people have a very limited idea of what a disabled person looks like.  I know I used to.

Which brings me to my newest essay.  Last week, The Mighty published my personal essay “Why ‘Invisibility’ Is Not a Superpower When It Comes to Illness.”  You can click here to read it. 

And remember, just because you can’t see someone’s pain, doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting.

 

 

Who Else Wants to Be Like RBG?

It began like this:

I heard some things.  I read some things.  I liked those things.  I learned some more.  And now I, like countless others, proudly declare my admiration and respect for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Back in March, my husband and I visited the Skirball Cultural Center to see the exhibition Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I was in awe of all this remarkable woman has accomplished, and I was astounded by all that I didn’t know.

We then watched the RBG documentary, and my interest continued growing. 

Now I just finished reading Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.

You can read the book, watch the film, and learn the facts.  But here are a few things that are staying with me:

  1. This woman doesn’t stop.  No matter what.  Two bouts with cancer.  The death of her husband.  She still keeps going, keeps fighting.  Going to work, fighting for equality. 
  2. Looks can be deceiving.  Upon first glance, you may think RBG is just a small little woman.  Don’t be fooled.  She’s powerful in mind, body, and spirit.  (The woman works out with a personal trainer twice a week.)
  3. Theirs was a beautiful marriage, a union of true partners.  (RBG’s husband, Marty, passed away in 2010. They were married for 56 years and knew each other for 60.)
  4. RBG always sees the bigger picture:  I think gender discrimination is bad for everyone, it’s bad for men, it’s bad for children.  Having the opportunity to be part of that change is tremendously satisfying.  Think of how the Constitution begins.  ‘We the people of the united States in order to form a perfect union.’  But we’re still striving for that more perfect union.  And one of the perfections is for the ‘we the people’ to include an ever enlarged group.”

 

Continuing Our Family’s Anti-Perfection Lesson

True Perfection – Ryan, Four Days Old

The other night during dinner, my son told me that some of his classmates told him he’s a “perfect student.”

“I told them there’s no such thing as perfect,” he said to me.

I was glad.  I’ve been telling Ryan the same thing his whole life.  Perfection isn’t real.  Effort, true and honest and hard effort, is real.

I’ve been very conscious of not using the word “perfect” when it comes to describing anything Ryan does.  I think perfection is an unrealistic expectation, and I remember what it felt like to believe that people expected me to behave perfectly.  In fact, the only time I can remember using the word “perfect” in relation to Ryan was on the night he was born.  As I held this tiny new human being in my arms, and looked at his large, wide-awake, dark eyes and marveled at his very existence, I cried and said, “He’s perfect.”  Over and over again.

But back to my 5th grader’s perfection.

“Why do they say you’re perfect?” I asked.

“They say it’s because I do my work, and I get good grades.  They ask me how I do it, but I didn’t know what to tell them.  I told them I just do it.  Because it has to be done.”

I smiled.  “I think that runs in the family.  We’re really good at figuring out the job that needs to be done, and then trying hard to do that job well,” I said.

“How does it make you feel when they call you perfect?” I asked.

“Good.  Proud,” Ryan told me. 

Our conversation made me think of an essay I wrote several years ago, “Do What You Need to Do” about a lesson my parents taught me about doing “what it takes to get the job done and accomplish your goal.”  That essay was published in the anthology, Lessons From My Parents: 100 Shared Moments that Changed Our Lives.

The lesson continues.

 

An Evolution of Words

 

This week my son, and all the fifth graders at his school, will be watching a video whose content strives to help pre-teens “understand the maturational changes they are beginning to experience and accept these changes as a normal part of growth.”  (That’s what the school note said).  I signed the form, giving my son permission to view this short film at school. 

If you’re not familiar with this, it’s pretty standard protocol at about this age.  Boys and girls watch separate movies, usually with the school nurse in attendance, and also participate in a question/answer session.

It’s one more sign that my sweet boy, while still my sweet boy, is also becoming a bigger boy.  A bigger boy who will soon grow into a young man.

When Ryan was younger, my husband and I never used the anatomically correct words “penis” and “vagina.”  It was “pee-pee”  – serving as both a noun, your body part, as well as the verb, the action you did in the bathroom.  I remember a former co-worker disagreeing with me, chastising me for not teaching Ryan the word “breasts” instead of “boobies.”

But really, cutesy words are just a part of young childhood.  “Paci” for “pacifier,” “piggies” for “toes.”  Often these words were used long after Ryan could pronounce the correct words.

It has made me think of the evolution of words our family has used over the years, some of which Ryan tells me are no longer acceptable.

For example, each week Ryan and I go grocery shopping and before checking out, we always walk by and admire the “beautiful cakes” section.  But, my now-eleven-year-old insists that I refer to it as the “bakery section.”

Here’s another one.  Ryan and I like snacking on chocolate chips (our favorites are at Trader Joe’s).  He used to call them “baby chocolates” which I thought made so much sense based on their size.  I still often refer to them as “baby chocolates,” but now my son reminds me to use their real name, “chocolate chips.”

And just for fun, I’ll share two of my own kid-friendly words I used back during my own childhood.  I called slices of American cheese “square cheese,” based on its shape.  And for no reason that I know of, I used to call Fritos “munch-a-bunch.”

Readers, I’d love to hear from you.  Any words you remember from your childhood?  Or any childhood words you’ve carried with you into adulthood?  Feel free to share them in the comments section!

 

The A to Z List of A Mom’s Jobs

Last week, I made a trip to the market to buy a jar of pickles for my son’s science project. (The experiment – to find out which would grow mold faster: a bowl of spaghetti or a pickle.)

I visited our public library to return the books my son had used for a research project.  (I had also checked out these books almost two months ago.)

I made chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  (In all fairness, they were the break-apart and bake kind.)

I comforted my son during the night when he awoke from a bad dream.  (He felt so uneasy, I wound up lying down on his rug until he fell back asleep just so I would be nearby.) 

I played many rounds of “Heads Up.” (My son holds the record with 15 correct guesses.)

I cooked while trying to ignore the bowl of moldy spaghetti on my kitchen counter. (The pickle just shriveled up).

And in between all that, there were the meals and the clean-up.  The bills that were paid.  The plants that were watered.  The zipper that was unstuck.

In other words, there are a million little, and not-so-little, things that moms do every day just because they are moms.  Because they care about their children.  Because no matter how they do it, all moms are basically trying to do the same thing – help their children be happy, healthy, and safe.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share with you a post I wrote a few years ago for MomsLA.com.  Click here to read the A to Z List of a Mom’s Jobs.

  

Champion Role Models

At the March 30th, 2019 Clippers game.

It all began because our son, Ryan, borrowed a sports-themed Sesame Street DVD from the public library.

Abby Cadabby was teaching viewers the word “champion,” and she used her magic wand to “poof” Blake Griffin beside her.  He thought he’d been summoned since he was a slam dunk champion.  Instead he was going to participate in a chicken-calling contest – which he won.

And that’s how our son, and our family, became a Los Angeles Clippers fan.

For many, the Clippers weren’t the easiest team to like.  They haven’t won any championships.  Yet.  They’ve had their difficulties and scandals (I’m not  going to name their former owner).  They’ve had to live under the shadow of a more popular Los Angeles team and have always been regarded as the “underdogs,” and “the other L.A. team.”

But not in our house.  Blake brought basketball, Clippers basketball, to our family.  We began referring to the players by a series of initials:  BG (Blake Griffin), CP3 (Chris Paul), DJ (DeAndre Jordan), and JJ (J. J. Redick).  My son was intrigued that a daddy was coaching his son (coach Doc Rivers, son Austin Rivers – now playing on the Rockets).  Ryan even wondered if his daddy could be his coach when he grew up and played for the Clippers.  

Not one of those players is on our current team.  We’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s not very easy for players to have a Dirk Nowitzki-like career.  That just because someone has a contract doesn’t mean they will stay on the team.  That trades are as much a part of the game as the shoes.

Yet we love our current team even more than we did our “initials” team.

This year’s roster includes guys who can most likely go shopping at their local Target without being recognized and asked for autographs.  These are guys who are professional basketball players.  It’s their job.  And some of them smile while they play, like they haven’t stopped marveling at the fact that they’re getting paid (a lot of money) to run back and forth in shorts and try to put the ball through the hoop. 

These are guys who didn’t get much play time before finding their way to Doc Rivers and becoming a regular part of the starting line-up (Landry Shamet).  These are guys who are praised for their off-the-bench prowess (Lou Williams), their spirt (Montrezl Harrell), and their grit (Patrick Beverley).  This is the team without a “superstar” – a team made up of players who all contribute to the overall team win.  Because that’s what basketball is – a team sport.  No one player can do it all.  

And then there are the extended members of the Clippers organization; the people you see on the sidelines.  The people who make you feel like you, as a fan, are a part of something special.

Actor Billy Crystal – Harry Burns to me (When Harry Met Sally) and Mike Wazowski to my son (Monsters, Inc.).  A longtime season ticket holder.  A fan and supporter through the highs and the lows.  

Owner Steve Ballmer, who sits courtside (even during away games), wearing his red and blue shirts.  Clapping and shouting, kicking his feet and turning red with the same excitement my son has shown on Christmas morning.  

The Voice of the Clippers, Ralph Lawler, who is retiring after a forty-year career.  40 years of reporting, of optimism, of professionalism and all with a team that didn’t always win a whole lot.

Before the 2018-2019 season began, the Clippers were counted out.  We were a rag-tag team of no-name players apparently.  Then the trades were made in February, and with the loss of players such as Tobias Harris, our Playoff chances were lost too.  Or so they said.

Except every time our Clippers are told they can’t do something, or they won’t do something, they do it anyway.  And that’s why as a mom, I love that my son is watching the Clippers.  This season especially.

Ryan is 11.  He stands in front of the mirror and sees strength, intelligence, and good looks.  He’ll tell you he’s going to be an astronaut, a professional basketball player, a singer, a doctor.  He believes it’s all possible because no one has told him otherwise.

But someday they will.  Someday someone will count him out, because that’s life.  And that’s when he has to channel our Clippers.

Our Clippers aren’t in possession of a Championship title yet.  But they gave the defending champs a great run.

And to this organization, this mom would like to thank you for being role models for my son and for demonstrating what it takes to be a champion.

 

An Inspiring Life

I recently completed reading John Glenn: A Memoir.  This hardcover book has sat on my bookcase since I bought it and read it when it was published in 1999.  I re-read it now because, twenty years later, I didn’t remember much of what I had read the first time around, and I wanted to see if this book should continue to remain a part of my permanent library taking up valuable shelf space.

From a reader’s/writer’s perspective, the book showed me what not-to-do.  I found myself skimming through parts that contained too many details, felt like too much information, and only served to delay the story.

But I’m still glad I read it. 

John Glenn, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, could have easily lived his life resting on his laurels, boasting of his accomplishment as the first American to orbit the earth.  But he didn’t.  He continued living and learning.  He served as an executive for RC Soda, and later, served more than twenty years as a United Sates Senator.  And then at the age of 77, returned to space as a member of the crew of STS-95 onboard the shuttle Discovery.

I think the biggest takeaway I got from reading the story of this special man’s life is that you don’t have to let one thing define you.

That’s the message I want my son to know and truly believe in his heart.  That he doesn’t have to choose just one thing to be “when he grows up.”  There aren’t limits to what he can achieve and there should be no limits to what he aspires to try.

 

At a Fork in the Road

Because April is National Poetry Month, I have a story I’d like to share with you this week.

A few months ago, my son and his fifth grade class were instructed to memorize Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Granted, it’s a famous poem with an important message.  But why did my son need to memorize it?  And in the fifth grade?  (I don’t think I read it until high school).  His teacher never explained the reason(s) behind her assignment or why this particular poem was chosen.

I worked with Ryan, as he learned the poem line-by-line.  I tried to take it a step further, talking to him about the poem and asking him questions his teacher wasn’t asking at school.  

“What does it mean to you?”  

“What do you think the poet is saying?”

We had a discussion about the poem and poetry in general – that, like many types of art, there isn’t always just one way to look at, read, or interpret a piece of art.

Ryan wasn’t overly impressed.  The poem became a chore.

And months later, his teacher must have forgotten about it, because Ryan’s class never was asked to recite the poem.

I fear that an experience like this may turn Ryan off from poetry.  Though I hope not.  These early experiences with art really do have so much power and influence over our later choices and our later opinions about what we like and don’t like, what we’re good at, and what we think we’re not-so-good at.

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, my classroom teacher painted over one of my watercolors-in-progress, and after that, I never wanted to take an art class.  In fact, I never wanted to draw or paint again.  (To read more about it, click here and read my personal essay “Too often, teachers extinguish a student’s spark” that was published in the Christian Science Monitor back in 2004.) 

For now, Ryan and I talk about poetry in terms of song lyrics.  It’s fun and enjoyable and an organic way to learn – the way all learning can be.

 

My Job

As I tell my son, one day my name will be on the spine of a book. For now, my name is inside -these anthologies each include a personal essay I have written.

My now-eleven-year-old son gave me the biggest boost the other day, and he doesn’t even realize it.

Ryan told me that during lunch the other day, kids were talking about their parents’ jobs and some of his friends asked what my job was.  It’s a fair question.  After all, I take my son to school each morning, and I’m there each afternoon to pick him up.  I’ve accompanied his class on a field trip to The Getty Center, and I attend all his class performances.  

“I told them you’re a writer,” Ryan told me.

And I smiled.  A writer is, by definition, one who writes.  And I do.  Nearly every day.  My writing time is divided between assigned posts for MomsLA.com and personal essays for my memoir-in-progress and those I submit for publication. (Update –  I have received word that two of my essays have been accepted and will be publishing sometime in the future.  I’ll keep you posted).

“I told them you’re writing a book,” he continued.

Ryan knows that I have a collection of “stories” (his word for my personal essays) that I am working on compiling into a book.  

“And one of my friends said she’ll buy your book when it comes out,” he said.

I smiled.  

“So, what’s your book going to be about again?”

I told Ryan, “It’s about living with an invisible illness.  What it’s like to do all the things I do but having an illness people can’t see.”

He was satisfied with that answer, but I was curious about something else.

“Ryan, did you tell them I used to be a teacher?”

“No.  Because that was before.  And now you write.”

“Do you even remember when I was a teacher?” I asked him.

“No,” he said.  (I left teaching in March 2013.  Ryan was almost 5 at the time.) 

It’s important to remind myself that if I hadn’t left my teaching career, there’s no way I would be writing as much as I am now.  And I certainly wouldn’t have published as much as I have. 

And my son wouldn’t be telling his friends his mom is a writer.