Not Your Typical Hawaiian Vacation

Spring break begins this Friday, and it seems that half of my community will head to Hawaii for the week. After one of the wettest, coldest winters on record, who can blame them?

Nevertheless, I’m often struck by Hawaii’s allure. When I think of those Pacific islands, I don’t envision sandy beaches, thrilling waves, luaus and poolside Mai-Tai’s. Instead, I recall time with my oldest brother in the impoverished, rural Puna area (where he taught high school), near the end of his too-short life.  

Fortunately, those melancholy thoughts are bolstered by warm memories of the visit my mom, daughter and I made when Rick was still ambulant.

My mother dislikes travel and detests hot weather, so I never expected to visit Hawaii with her.  However, when her first-born was ill, she flew to the Big Island with me and her then-two-year-old granddaughter. (I left the boys at home, as they were old enough to attend summer camps during the day, while Dad worked.)

The trip – probably the first and only one we three would take alone together – proved therapeutic on many fronts.

Because the Puna area isn’t teeming with tourists, hotels are scarce; we were fortunate to find rooms in the Kalani Oceanside Eco-Resort, less than a mile from my brother’s home in Pahoa.  This New Age retreat and cultural center, which offers wellness vacations as well as hula lessons, is hidden away on a lush 120-acre parcel, a stone’s throw from the ocean. We rented two tidy rooms in a small guesthouse, which also housed a prosperous ant colony, several two-inch-long roaches and a couple of shy gekkos, who darted across the walls every evening.

We soon realized that the center catered to extremely earthy, hippie-ish people, and that its retreats drew same-sex crowds.  A set of rules posted near the pool announced “Clothing Optional After 7 pm,” but many swimmers didn’t wait that long to shed their suits. The image of my 70-year-old mother, with her button-down shirt and nicely pressed khaki pants, and my toddler, in her favorite pink one-piece, relaxing poolside when a couple of buck-naked, clean-shaven men arrived for water play still makes me chuckle. “Out of place” wouldn’t begin to describe us.  

We were able to laugh about our “educational” lodging choice, and to enjoy long talks as we strolled through the property. Somehow, the “wellness resort” proved a wonderful antidote to the pain we felt, watching someone we loved lose his battle against lung cancer.

During that week, we made three trips to Hilo, 45 minutes away, for my brother’s radiation treatments. Rick never complained about his health, and mustered enough energy for one activity—such as hiking to a waterfall or exploring a lava field—each day. My “definitely two” daughter provided welcome giggles and diversions, including the time she tore off every stitch of clothing during a rainstorm at the zoo (perhaps she was inspired by our friends at the pool). Throughout the week, I enjoyed meaningful conversations—about, and not about, the situation—with my mother.

Five months later, when I returned to Hawaii with one of my other brothers, Rick’s condition had deteriorated markedly. That time, sight-seeing was out of the question, and laughter was rare. Two weeks later, on Christmas Day, he died.  

So this week, as friends pack their bags for their beach vacations, I feel a tinge of sadness and nostalgia. At the same time, I smile to think of how three generations of women waded through a difficult time together. “Girlfriends” do enrich our lives.

-Linda Williams Rorem. 28 March 2011

Dinner With Mom – Sort Of

Mark Twain photo portrait.

Image via Wikipedia

My friend Noreen told me a funny story this weekend. Noreen had offered to take her teenage daughter and a friend out for pizza Friday night.  Her daughter responded positively and the pair jauntily hopped in the car. Upon arriving at the restaurant, Noreen’s daughter spotted a group of friends and quickly migrated away from her mother, at a sufficiently far distance, leaving Noreen to have beer and pizza alone.  

Observing Noreen’s situation, a seemingly thoughtful stranger approached the table and inquired if Noreen was dining solo. When Noreen responded yes, hoping she might get some company, the restaurant patron promptly removed the unoccupied seat– adding an exclamation point to the not-entirely-surprising evening.

Take heart, Noreen. As Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. ”

Noreen spent the rest of dinner observing the interactions of the teens, smiling in appreciation of the fun being shared by the gaggle of girls.

We all know from our own experience and those of our children that our friendships take center stage in adolescence. According to Susan Paxton, PhD., University of Melbourne, Australia, “These friendship networks, or cliques, are a vital part of the social world of most teenage girls.”

As we age we most certainly place a higher value on family than we did as teenagers, yet our girlfriends remain very important to us even as grown women.

The evening prior to the pizza predicament, Noreen had thrown a fun St.Patrick’s Day party at her house. After the traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner, the men attending the party left the table and huddled by the TV to watch “March Madness” basketball. The women, however, lingered around the dinner table, creating a tight circle at one end that facilitated more intimate conversation about child-rearing issues, school sports-team politics, jobs and vacations.

The women directly faced each other laughing and talking over a variety of topics in rapid succession. The men sat side by side, all eyes looking toward the TV even when directly addressing each other in conversation.

All had fun, but each gender experienced the company of peers in a completely different way. Women throughout their lives continually seek and enjoy the benefits of female friendship–a topic more fully explored in our forth coming book, The Frazzled Mom’s Guide to Friendship and Renewal.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, March 21, 2011

Don’t Come Fly With Me!

While perusing a parenting magazine at the doctor’s office last week, I spotted a reader’s tip for easing a child’s first flight. Before her eight-month-old son’s inaugural trip, this woman wrote notes explaining that “Henry” was a novice flier and might become agitated or noisy. She attached the pre-apologies to candy bars, which she handed to those sitting nearby before takeoff.

Wish I’d thought of that when my kids were babies. I’m still haunted by memories of flying with my young children:

–          Wanting to hide as my first toddler joyfully, and loudly, cruised the aisles all night long on an overseas flight (we didn’t heed warnings that Benadryl could excite, instead of sedate, some children);

–          Enduring glares from countless adults in the row ahead, who were clearly tired of their seat backs being kicked and the tray table being slammed up and down;

–          Watching my husband emerge from the bathroom with a naked 19-month-old wrapped in an airline blanket, knowing that we had neither additional diapers nor a spare outfit;

–          Trying to quell my three boys’ screams, while they fought over the window-shade’s position or turns on the GameBoy;

–           Begging an older couple to separate, so my tearful two-and-a-half-year-old daughter wouldn’t be seated six rows away from me…

I used to dread flights with the kids, but knew they were a necessary evil if I wanted to visit far-flung family and friends. (And, of course, airplane rides were infinitely better than car trips…)

Now that the kids can entertain themselves, and I can even take girlfriend getaways without them, flights serve as the first stage of unwinding. After all of the pre-travel preparations, when I finally take my seat on the plane, I start to relax and let go.

The longer the flight, the happier I am. For instance, when flying from Seattle to Europe, I look forward to nine hours of peace, when I can just sit and be waited on. I can watch movies, read a book without interruption, complete an entire crossword or Sudoku puzzle or just stare at the airline-magazine maps and dream.

When I fly without family, I have the illusion of being in control of my time. I can take naps, knowing that no one will wake me to help find “stuff.” Nobody wants to talk about a bad day, and no one needs me to resolve conflicts. Phone solicitors can’t interrupt dinner and I’m not distracted by text-message or “You’ve Got Mail” chimes. I don’t have to cook, clean up, walk the dog or let the cat out. I don’t have to endure rush-hour lines at the grocery store, load eight bags into my Smart Car and then remember the one item I really needed.

Airplane fights are terrific “me” time now. If the flight is long enough, I can enjoy a meal that someone else has prepared, knowing that no dirty dishes await me. I can even drink a few glasses of wine without worrying about the impact. And, if I spill my drink, someone will hand me a few napkins and a “fresh one.”

I can put on an eye mask, insert ear plugs and tune everyone else out.

In fact, sometimes the flight feels like vacation enough.  During rough stretches at home, I fantasize about cashing in frequent-flier miles, hopping on a plane and flying across the country and back one day, just to get a break and catch up on reading. In fact, I’m starting to feel the itch to do so now…

Linda Williams Rorem, 14 March, 2011

The Brain Needs Friends to Thrive

Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

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“The brain craves community,” exhorted  Dr. John Medina, New York Times best-selling author of Brain Rules. He pleaded passionately last week to a lunchtime crowd of young parents that humans were not intended to live in isolation and that we could not survive, yet alone thrive without affectionate relationships.

Yet almost nothing is more isolating for young mothers than raising children.  Mothers need social connections.

Dr. Medina stated his case that parenting is a relational enterprise at a gathering of Seattle-based PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support group) From the organization’s website, the “primary focus is on bringing together communities of parents for mutual support and social connections.” The demand for work and services provided by PEPS currently exceeds availability.

In our Jan. 17 blog, “Good Friends Keep Us Healthy,” Linda discussed the mental and physical  benefits of friendships.  Whether it is the release of the calming hormone, Oxytocin, or simply the increase in our longevity, the evidence continues to build that live, human interaction is critical to our well-being.

Another PEPS luncheon speaker, Tina Eide, expanded, “The meaning of life is the ability to build connections in a huge world.”  Eide’s shared how close bonds with girlfriends were a lifesaver and lifeline for her when she became a single parent.  Friends supported her when she left an abusive relationship by providing childcare, meals and emotional support. Her speech was moving and from the heart.

The PEPS website is filled with testimonials about how the group has been invaluable to many women. “PEPS gave me support, encouragement, a shoulder to cry on and people to share the little tiny wonders of my son that only another mom could enjoy. Most importantly though, PEPS gave me a place to feel safe when I was questioning everything I was doing and friends that, no matter how old my kids get, I will remember forever.”  –  Allison Jones, PEPS Group Participant.

It is indisputable that women, regardless of whether or not they are moms, need a network of relationships with people who can provide emotional support.

Our upcoming book will explain why girlfriend relationships are vital to women’s health, what prevents busy moms from nurturing those relationships and how women can reintegrate friendship time into their busy lives.


Carol Lewis Gullstad

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