Dirty Laundry

Sunday morning I lost track of time as I lay in bed finishing the novel for book club.

Exhibit A - Laundry

Exhibit A - Laundry

I looked at the clock and leaped up with a start, realizing that I had forgotten to prepare the vegetarian dish for my son’s Sunday school teacher, Amanda. Today was the “Coming of Age” ceremony and the parents had decided to put together a cooler full of ready-to-eat meals as a thank you gift for Amanda, who eschews meat.

I flew downstairs and begin to prepare the food. 8:00 a.m. – I should be OK.  I threw in a load of laundry and advised my four children that we needed to be in the car and leaving the driveway at 10:00 a.m. sharp.  We needed to arrive by 10:30 a.m. to serve cake to the first service of Coming of Age parents and kids.

I ironed three shirts, one for each of the boys, so they could wear something nicer than a logo T-shirt and basketball shorts. I gave Rugby, the family dog, his daily half-hour walk. I showered and finished tossing the meal together in a plastic container. So far, so good.

My mental checklist for leaving: keys, wallet, video camera, Amanda’s gift and four children clean and presentable.

While the chaos was unfolding, my soon-to-Come of Age son was running around the house saying he had no socks because “Mom, you haven’t done laundry in like three weeks.” I told him that in fact I had done laundry as recently as three days ago and that it was a throughput problem. The lack of socks was due to his penchant for throwing dirty socks on the bedroom floor.

The socks cannot be washed if they are not in the dirty clothes pile, “a law of simple physics,” I explained. I had an idea: It was time for Connor’s Coming of Age with Your Laundry ceremony.

Two years earlier, my daughter had lodged similar complaints about the inadequate laundry service that I was providing. I took care of that by turning over the duties of her clothing completely to her. Suddenly, the complaints about me — at least the dirty laundry — evaporated and I was a much happier mom. Connor was about to meet the same fate.

My new laundry ceremony would involve a full introduction to the sacred soap altar, the pile of laundry pulpit and the inner sanctum of the dryer.

While I was delighted with the off-loading of the chore, I began wondering if my excitement about bowing out of laundry duty was symptomatic of a much larger problem.  It seems that I had fallen into the trap of excusing my kids from responsibility because I considered it a priority that they study or just have some unstructured time. Why was it better that I became the person doing most of the household drudgery in a home filled with six capable people?

As a teenager, I did my own laundry, helped with meal preparation and clean up and did other tasks to help out the family. Yet, I was not requiring the same from my own kids until I had reached the breaking point. I had trapped myself into doing too much and it was time to give myself permission to delegate more to my kids and not feel guilty.

When children are young it is understandable that more needs to be done for them. But, as kids get older we aren’t doing them any favors when we do too much. We are creating a situation that might interfere with healthy relationships at home and later in life.

The Coming of Age ceremony at the church had triggered a rite of passage at home that perhaps in the end was for both mother and son. It was time to pass more than the car keys to the next generation.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, May 30, 2011


Take Back the Weekend

A friend from the “old neighborhood” had a landmark birthday yesterday, and as I flipped through albums looking for a photo to send her, I was reminded of the simpler days of our youth.

Remember when weekends were anticipated, and cherished, for their endless hours of unscheduled time? When you woke up to limitless possibilities of an uncharted day? When a stroll or bike ride to the playground held the promise of serendipitous encounters?

In my own family, we six kids checked in now and then with our parents, but they didn’t track or accompany us in our every move.  My mom’s motto for sports and activities was: If you can get there on your own (by foot, bike or bus), you can participate.

For my parents, Saturdays and Sundays provided respite from their respective jobs. A weekend morning called for a full pot on the Mister Coffee machine, a slow read of the newspaper and a few hours to take on the New York Times crossword. Relaxing afternoons included catching up on novels, magazines and TV sports games.

Now, weekends filled with my four kids’ activities make me gasp for air. By Sunday evening, I’m cranky and exhausted, anxious for the school- and work-week to begin.

The attached is a real schedule from a few years back, showing which parent (R or L) had to make each drive or attend various events on a spring Saturday.  Every weekend during football and lacrosse season, when I had three boys playing on different teams, the schedule looked similar. During the winter, when my boys swam on a year-round team, the logistics were less complex, but we spent endless hours on hard bleachers in humid swim clubs, often nearly an hour away from home.

Now that my oldest two are in high school and the first-born can drive, Saturday obligations have eased a bit. However, weekends still wear me out.

I realize that the busy-ness is partly my choice.  I have four active, athletic kids, and for the most part, my husband and I allow them to choose their own activities…even when the impact on the family is significant.

It’s really up to us to “take back the weekend” before the kids head off to college and our nest empties.

As such, I’ve decided to try to make some changes. I hereby grant myself permission to:

  • Sleep in on a Saturday morning; the kids can fix their own breakfast (Cliff bars make a healthy-enough meal);
  • Miss the occasional sports game, or sneak away at half-time;
  • Let a child travel with another family to an “away” game, with the understanding that I’ll take the next turn;
  • Buy cookies or cupcakes for the sports-team party, instead of baking them at home;
  • Make the kids miss a social gathering if they can’t find their own transportation;
  • Watch the weeds grow and the dust-bunnies congregate;
  • Allow the laundry to pile up for another day or so (as long as everyone has clean underwear, we’re good, right?);
  • Order groceries online, for delivery;
  • Unplug the home phone and put the cell phone on “vibrate”;
  • Avoid the mall and help the kids find what they need on the Internet (when I was young, my family routinely “shopped” via the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalog);
  • Curl up on the couch with a good book in the middle of the day;
  • Say “No” to social engagements, without a good excuse;
  • Send a check to a fundraiser, or nothing at all, instead of dressing up for a formal event;
  • Skip church and read a sermon printout later;
  • Order takeout food Sunday evening, to avoid spending the afternoon in the kitchen;
  • Ignore email until Sunday night or early Monday morning;
  • Make smarter choices about how I spend my, and the family’s, time.

Looking back on my own childhood, I recall the joy of camaraderie with good friends, walking to the Five-and-Dime with loose change in my pocket, taking the bus “downtown” for Slurpies and shopping, biking to the beach for a lazy summer day of sun-bathing, spending winter afternoons at the neighborhood park-turned-ice rink and watching old movies with my parents and siblings.

I remember my parents spending weekend days together, just hanging out in our home.

It’s time I allowed my family similar memories and experiences. How about you?

– Linda Williams Rorem, 23 May 2011

Woman’s Best Friend

We stared deeply into each other’s big brown eyes and I decided – yes, it was true love.  He expressed his mutual feelings with a passionate lick across my cheek. No, this is not the first line from the latest Nora Roberts romance novel. It is the true story about a dog.
Today I was mulling over a recent interaction with my teenage children. We had a discussion about gratitude. Well, actually, it was more like a mommy monologue. This was the kind of conversation where I elevate my voice and not so patiently explain the need to be more thankful and less, you know, teenage-like.
Not only were my kids unmoved by my outburst, they were even less impressed by my assertion that recent studies conducted at both UC Davis and the University of Michigan concluded that practicing gratitude can make someone happier. At least some expression of thankfulness by my offspring would make me happier.
That got me thinking about a special friend who displays gratitude daily without fail: Rugby, the family dog.
I love my dog. He is always happy to see me, whether I have been gone for two days or 20 minutes. He eats what I prepare him for dinner – without complaining – and is always a member of the “clean plate club.”  Every day he seems to thoroughly enjoy his food even though it has been the same meal 7 days a week for 8 years.
Rugby’s always willing to accompany me on a hike or walk, which often occur at his “suggestion.” He never rolls his eyes at me after we have spoken;  in fact,  he just stares at me a lot. And, best of all, he only barks at strange noises and people, not me.
This contrasts sharply to teenage children on any given day. Not only do they “bark” when in a foul mood, sometimes they even growl. They are always hungry,  yet often put out by the time, quantity or type of food at mealtime. And, unlike my golden retriever who prefers to be with me, they prefer time with their friends.
Yes, I’ve decided that on occasion it is perfectly justifiable to love my canine pal with the expressive eyes and twitching nose more than my children. True, he doesn’t clean his room when asked, but then again,  neither do the humans in the house. He has never slammed a door in his life; he only tries to nudge them open if there is something good on the other side.
Thank you, Rugby, for unconditional love, your warm furry face and never talking back or giving me “lip.” You are truly a woman’s best friend.
Carol Lewis Gullstad
May 15, 2011

Celebrating Super-Heroes

A recent Newsweek article about President Obama’s mother included the quote, “Motherhood is always an act of courage.”

Without a doubt, Stanley Ann Dunham demonstrated courage: marrying a Kenyan when inter-racial marriages were still widely illegal; divorcing him; moving young “Barry” to Indonesia; and later divorcing her second (possibly abusive) husband.

However, I don’t think the act of getting pregnant or giving birth makes a woman brave; many people walk into pregnancy and motherhood by mistake or without much forethought.

When my seventh-grade classmate Hattie conceived a child, hid the pregnancy and decided to raise the baby (with her mother’s help) at age 13, I don’t think the word “courageous” was on the tip of school administrators’ tongues. 

The mom who literally walked away from my neighbor and her three young siblings may have shown personal courage, but it was in the act of abdicating, not embracing, her role as a mother.

However, the friend who brought a child with Down syndrome into a large and busy household most definitely exhibited courage – and continues to do so every day.

The acquaintance who served as a foster parent and then adopted two siblings born to a crack-addicted woman enjoys Super-Hero status.

And finally, the woman I met at a fundraiser on Friday night shows bravery beyond belief.  Listening to her story, I gained a new understanding of the word courage.

Nancy and her husband adopted two children the first time they traveled to Russia; they knew they didn’t want to raise an “only” child, so figured it was easiest to bring home two at once. The boys were then ages two and three, and the four became an instant family.

However, Nancy explained, having seen some of the other 750,000 Russian children who needed parents, she and her husband decided they couldn’t let well enough alone.  “We looked around the house and decided how many children we could fit,” she explained.

Just 18 months later, they returned from Russia with four biological siblings, ranging from ages four to 11. Integrating six children into an American community, teaching them English, advocating for them at school, nurturing their broken spirits and working to understand their psychological challenges…Now that’s bravery.

Of course, Nancy and her husband downplay their acts of heroism. “We adopted the children because we just really wanted to be parents,” she said. 

So, when I asked Nancy what the phrase “motherhood is an act of courage” means to her, she replied that the courageous part of motherhood “is in accepting kids for who they are and who they’re supposed to be, as opposed to who you dreamed they would be.”

I think any parent can relate to the challenge of reconciling one’s own expectations with the reality of raising a creature who thinks and acts for himself, often in unexpected ways.

And it’s that aspect of unpredictability, the “unknowns” that come along with raising humans that require bravery.  Every day, we witness courageous acts in our own lives, or in those of our fellow community members:

  • Leaving children at day care or with babysitters, needing blind trust in what really will transpire while you’re away;   
  • Driving in rush-hour traffic or in difficult conditions when you have youngsters on board;
  • Abandoning a cart full of groceries at the store so you can exit quickly with a tantrum-crazed two-year-old;
  • Calming an eight-year-old who’s about to have a tonsillectomy, major surgery or chemotherapy;
  • Calling another parent to apologize after your offspring has hurt – mentally or physically – their child;
  • Advocating for your child at school, so he or she can receive additional assistance;
  • Allowing a son to play football, or a daughter to jump off a high-dive;
  • Fleeing from an abusive relationship in order to protect yourself or your children;
  • Sending a child off to college;
  • Convincing a child to enter rehab…

Yes, the challenges we mothers face – some mundane, some extreme — do require courage.  And yet, we rarely think of our roles in that way.  We love our children the minute they appear in our lives, and we effortlessly, and unthinkingly, engage in countless acts of heroism simply to provide for and protect them throughout their lives.

So, this Mother’s Day, take a look at your own acts of courage, and celebrate your intentions – not just your successes.  And finally, let’s remember to support and encourage the other mothers in our lives.  Oftentimes they don’t recognize their own strengths.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 8 May 2011

Hugs, Handshakes and Betty Crocker

General Mills's logo.

Image via Wikipedia

General Mills Friends

Betty Crocker logo used until 2003
Image via Wikipedia

This time of year reunions are rampant. The events might be traditional high school and college milestone gatherings such as the “10 year” or the “25 year.” Or, they may be family centered activities accompanying a wedding or graduation. This weekend I attended one inspired solely by the passage of time.

The reunion was a gathering of people who had worked at General Mills Inc. in Marketing during the 1980s and 1990s. Technically speaking we were General Mills alumni. The face of General Mills Inc. (GMI) known to the public is the iconic American cook and household adviser, Betty Crocker. Betty was well into middle age long before Rachel Ray was born. GMI also has American favorites Cheerios, Hamburger Helper, Yoplait and the Pillsbury Dough Boy in its stable.

You may wonder why 200 former work colleagues would fly from all corners of the U.S. for a weekend in Minneapolis just to see each other. It can be summed up in one word: friendship.

None of the attendees had ever experienced an alumni gathering of this kind, but the greeting of old colleagues was met with wide smiles and more hugs than handshakes, despite the formality of the corporate setting. There was genuine happiness as we eagerly sought our former office buddies with rounds of “Can’t believe how good it is to see you.” And, there were many personal thanks given to each other for mentoring, friendship and encouragement offered years ago.

The official company mantra during my tenure at GMI was Speed, Innovation and Commitment.  In retrospect, the motto sounds like a tag line at the end of a commercial for the armed forces. In trying to recall these words I came up with a new trio to describe my time at the “Mills”:  Humility, Trust and Collaboration. There was always someone smart to turn to for advice (Humility). I knew my colleagues would work hard and deliver results in an ethical manner (Trust). Completing projects with a team was more efficient and rewarding than going solo (Collaboration). I wish I had utilized these tenants better in the early years of my career. They were the foundation for a great work environment and friendship.

Mills hired us all fresh out of MBA programs around the country. We were attracted to the training and the Minneapolis Midwestern environment known as “Minnesota Nice.” We worked long hours, but we bonded and made lasting friendships that went beyond “industry networking.”

I truly appreciated the work ethic and values of my colleagues and personal integrity remains a distinct cultural hallmark of GMI. The high level of trust we had in each other removed one of the major stressors that many work situations dish up on a daily basis.

I was also always grateful for the help of friends that extended beyond the job. Minneapolis was 2,000 miles away from my family, so when I was pregnant with my first child my friends were my support system. Anne provided me with the definitive list of what is needed to stock a nursery. Sarah gave me a list of questions for interviewing a babysitter or nanny. Vivian offered her full analysis of day care centers she had checked out in the Twin Cities.

After the formal reunion program ended I continued on to lunch with a group of girlfriends from GMI days (pictured above). Our current job descriptions post GMI range from promoting Georgia – the country, not the state—to large corporate roles, to small entrepreneurial ventures, to non-profit foundations to stay-at-home mom. Yet, the connection to each other transcended time, geography and profession.

In our blog Linda and I often talk about the importance of taking time for friendships in the course of daily life, and this includes work. During lunch time women are often the ones to eat lunch at their desk or run errands – a necessary reality of lives that are pressed for time. But, the cultivation of friendships within work can be critical to not only our careers, but also our well-being.

Good friends are vital in any setting.  Friends help lighten the load of solving work problems and can end up being our greatest source of personal support, too. Business lessons are learned, but friendships must be earned. Relationships take time to nurture and need to be a priority in the daily grind. So, my take away and advice I would give to my younger self is:

1. Develop a Wide Network of Friends. Run fewer errands and take more time for lunch with friends. You will have more support for work and personal endeavors.

2. Take Advantage of the Resources Around You. Use colleagues as sounding boards for business problem solving; they may offer insights that you haven’t considered. They are only a few steps away.

3. Cultivate Relationships Outside Your Immediate Work Circle – Exchange ideas often and freely, you never know when you can change the course of someone’s life or they can change yours.

Carol Lewis Gullstad


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