Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me.

As she approached her half-century mark, Margaret (not her real name) seemed to have it all. She and her long-term boyfriend shared an apartment in the city, and looked forward to spending more time in their country home as soon as their blended-family nest emptied.

Margaret’s oldest child was doing well at a top-tier university, and her daughter would soon head to an Ivy League college. Margaret enjoyed work at a company she had spent more than 25 years with.

Wanted: New Life

Wanted: New Life

And then, just after her 50th birthday, everything changed.

Long-festering issues rose to the surface between Margaret and her significant other, and after months, she decided it was time to end the union.

At the same time, her company experienced a period of upheaval and layoffs, and Margaret realized she no longer felt sufficient loyalty or fulfillment in her position. She sought out and soon landed a new, challenging job with a different firm.

Perhaps most striking, once Margaret’s kids departed for school that fall, she, too, left the nest. She moved into a smaller apartment in a different neighborhood where, for the first time in her life, she began living alone. So, at 50, Margaret found herself with a new job, a new home, a new life as an empty nester and soon, quite happily, a new boyfriend. She recently bought a new car, as well.

For many women, these drastic changes would have seemed overwhelming, at best. However, Margaret sailed along, embracing the gusts that propelled her forward. “Maybe each of these big, mid-life changes was easier to manage emotionally because I didn’t have time to dread just one of them or to feel sorry for myself,” she recalls.

Margaret just kept putting one stylish shoe in front of the other.

The good news is that following an extremely tumultuous 50th year, Margaret is now as happy as ever, and feels optimistic about the infinite possibilities that lie ahead.

Perhaps most important, she has given herself permission to step back and contemplate where she wants to go in life, how she needs to attain her goals, who she wants to spend time with and what makes her content.

“I suddenly faced a whole new life and had to reconstruct what my day, my week, my future looked like,” Margaret says. “I made the decision to wake up every day looking at it all as a new adventure.  And that’s what this past year became for me. I am laughing a lot, I feel fortunate and I’m learning and growing.”

I’ve known Margaret for decades, and watched as she experienced major life events including losing her father and brother, marrying, moving to the suburbs – and later divorcing and returning to the city, raising two stellar kids, surviving layoffs and succeeding at several high-profile jobs.

However, in all that time, I have never seen her drive wane or her kindness harden. She is much more than a survivor, because she never played the victim. Margaret never lets life lead her; she takes the wheel and drives (to quote one of my favorite bands, Incubus).

As she explains, “Life is both long and short. I’ve found that leading it joyfully and authentically has been a choice. As trivial as it sounds, resentment, fear, paralysis, victimhood would just take away from the nice time I could be having instead.”

Margaret serves as a guiding light for women who need to escape unhealthy relationships, worry about being alone, sense they can achieve more in their careers or fear that it’s too late to make changes.

At 51, Margaret is in the prime of her life. I’m excited to see where the next 50 years will take her.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 29 April 2013
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Instagram Lives

instagram dogMy friend excitedly pointed to her phone and said, “I want to show you something. I finally figured out how to take great family photos. I said to my kids,’ Hey how about some Instagram shots?’ They immediately started posing and look what I got!” I perused her snaps and was impressed by the artsy, fun-loving photos.

Whenever I ask my family to pose for pictures I am immediately greeted with grumblings of “Oh, mom.” This is often followed by half-smiley annoying grimaces as I try to capture the “precious moments” of our time together. My friend had clearly developed a great mom-trick for getting reluctant teens to actually enjoy taking photos. Photo-messaging also works great for getting real-time responses.cousins berkeley instagram

To wit, just think about the migration of communication in the last few years from the dinosaur era of full-sentence emails to cryptic texting. If you have teens in your lives you know that you will get an immediate reply to a text, but will grow old waiting for a return phone call or email. If you really want a quick reaction, just post a picture. I experimented once with a family member after I got the “silent treatment” from a text and received a reply, “???” If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a question mark worth 500?

While the meaning of life may not be explained through this lens, it did make me ponder the actual user stats for the top social media sites and how our conversations have changed.

Facebook has over 600 million daily users while Twitter has 200 million active users. Our own WordPress host has 74 million blogs. Apparently, we at Permission Slips aren’t the only ones with something to say. However, these impressive numbers are now being dwarfed by the visual communication world. YouTube has 1 billion users with 4 billion views each day. Instagram, launched in October 2010 and recently bought by Facebook, has 100 million active monthly users with 40 million pictures posted daily! No wonder Facebook paid $1 billion for the 18-month-old company in April 2012. Just thinking about this makes me to want to “check-out” not “check-in” on Facebook.instagram sunset

While Pinterest seemed to start with great momentum it may be sputtering with its relatively modest 48.7 million users simply because it is too time consuming to cull through information. It’s so much easier to let others do the legwork and just “Like” something. Facebook has 2.7 million Likes per day and Instagram has 8,500 Likes per second according to Craig Smith, Digital Market Ramblings.

I have a file folder filled with long-hand letters written and received nesting with old “Kodachrome” snapshots. They not only provide great trips down memory lane, but serve as great insight into my younger self and relationships. While I mourn that my kids won’t have this file folder in their drawer, I am trying hard not to be judgmental about how my family communicates with each other. As long as we are communicating in some way, does it really matter how?  For now, I will make peace and look at this as a way to create more choices for my holiday card montage. No more grumpy gatherings of last-chance-before-the-holiday photos. Count me in as the most recent person to download the Instagram app. At least I was 3.8 seconds ago.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

April 22, 2103 permissionslips1gmail.com

 

Permission to Cry

bostonA few days ago, out of the blue, my 17-year-old son shared a memory from when he was in first grade. He recalled coming out of his room one morning and seeing me on the couch, red-faced and teary-eyed, as the TV showed images of the World Trade Center crumbling and the sky filling with dark smoke.

My son has been reminded of this horrendous act of violence and hatred thousands of times in his relatively short life.  I’m glad he remembers not only that our nation was the victim of terrorism, but also that his mother was moved by the tragedy.

He probably never saw me cry before that morning, and has rarely seen my tears since then.

Parents are supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. We are charged with raising little beings from the womb to the grave (ours or theirs, whichever comes first). We must keep them fed, clothed, housed and loved, and must ensure that they learn to read, write, ride bicycles and get along with others. Our job is to keep them safe and honest, so they can contribute positively to society.

We can’t insulate them from random acts of terrorism, such as yesterday’s bombing during the Boston Marathon.

This morning I saw a psychologist on TV, coaching parents to be the first to share news of tragedies with their kids. Good luck on that. With the prevalence of Smartphones and laptops, our kids usually hear the latest before we do.

We can, however, model how to react to tragedy. How to feel compassion for those affected. How to consider the impact on families, friends and communities. How to donate time or funds to organizations that can make a difference. How to avoid profiling or vilifying certain ethnic or religious groups, and instead wait for the truth to unfold.

Most important, perhaps, we can reveal that in the face of tragedy, we are simultaneously strong and weak, capable of envisioning a better world, and yet shedding real tears over unfathomable cruelty.

We need to show tears, not fear.

Of course, I want my kids to remember where they were and how they reacted when they heard about the events of 4-15-13. However, I also want them to recall how they felt learning that Martin William Richard, while watching the celebrated 26.2-mile race, lost his eight-year-old son, saw his daughter lose a leg and witnessed his wife getting a serious brain injury.

I want my kids to remember how my voice quivered when I told them about that family, and that I hugged them tightly and reminded them how much I love them.

I want to raise kids who feel love for their family and friends, and also feel deeply for the entire human race. I want them to learn and understand poet John Donne’s famous words: “Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in Mankind.”

-Linda Williams Rorem, 16 April 2013

Top 10 Tips for Teens

The teenage years are preprogrammed for rebellion; it’s a time when emerging adults must prove they are distinct beings, separate from their parents. And, it’s a time when middle- and high-schoolers must determine which of their parents’ rules work for them, and which need retooling or complete abandonment.

Not surprisingly, the teenage years are often fraught with friction, as these too-big-for-their-britches youth clash with parents, siblings, teachers and coaches on homework, personal hygiene, laundry, meals, promptness, relationships, illegal substances, curfews, sleep cycles and more.

To make matters worse, many parents are simultaneously dealing with unprecedented stress resulting from loosening reins, worrying about their kids driving or attending parties, trying to save for college, waiting up for late arrivals and, as often is the case, the hormonal surges of peri-menopause.

Last week, I became the proud parent of four teenagers, when my youngest turned 13; my oldest has four months to age 20. To say the least, I’m in the thick of it.

And so, to honor my works-in-progress, their buddies and my quickly-turning-grey and pulling-out-their-hair comrades, I present the top ten tips for teens – written from the teens’ perspective.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know many amazing teenagers who demonstrate none of these behaviors, and most of the time, my own can be wonderful. The following is an amalgamation of several stories I have heard or read, and is intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

1. Eschew hangers and drawers.

photo-18Simply dump your clean laundry on your bedroom floor, and operate from a system of piles. If you’re male, select whatever is on top of the pile each day. If the underarm area doesn’t smell too rancid, you’re good to go. If you’re a girl, rummage through the piles for the perfect outfit every morning. This may take five or six tries. Changes are much quicker and more efficient if you don’t have to fold or hang up anything.

2. Never complete homework in advance.

Why waste your time working ahead? We all know deadline pressure is the best motivator. And “deadline” is a loose term. It could mean “sometime after the due date and before semester grades are turned in.”

By the way, remember that screens are crucial during homework time. For focus, try listening to music. Don’t forget to have a movie playing on your laptop and Twitter or Tumblr up on your smartphone. You might even get some homework questions answered that way.

3. Ignore parental recommendations.

If your parents suggest music, clothing, movies, restaurants or hairstyles, press the MUTE button immediately. Later, you can revisit their recommendations. Check with a few friends to see if your parents were on to something. Then, if you follow the advice, make sure your parents know it came from someone else.

4. Avoid outings with parents.

If, by chance, you are free on a weekend night, never, ever go to dinner with your parents. You never know who might see you. If you have no choice but to agree, you can always feign nausea or cramps at the last minute. And if the dinner is unavoidable, be sure to have an exit strategy or excuse ready in case you spot friends or classmates. Locate the exits and bathrooms ahead of time. If you’re put on the spot, anniversaries and birthdays make good excuses.

5. Assure your parents that they are “the strictest.”

Have several examples on hand of parents who permit later bedtimes and curfews, provide larger allowances, ask for less help around the house, and are less nosey and more understanding. Keep in mind that this could backfire, though. (One of my kids, when arguing for a later curfew, said, “All of my friends have gotten speeding tickets or DUIs, and they have later curfews. I have never gotten in trouble, so why do I need to come in so early?” My response: “Do you not understand the principle of cause and effect?”)

6. Remember that curfews can be negotiated.

You’ll have to feel your own parents out on this one; some stress out if you’re a minute late, while others offer a five- to fifteen-minute grace period. No matter what, a quick text five minutes before deadline reading, “Need to deliver some dumb friends who got drunk and can’t drive,” will always buy more time. And, your parents will be happy that you were the smart one.

7. Know that if they leave it, teens will come.

Master all the tricks for when parents go away: leaving windows unlocked, copying and hiding house keys, conjuring up dummy plans to distract your in loci parentis, having friends park a block away – in an effort to foil nosey neighbors. If your parents head out, your friends will find out. Even kids who aren’t your friends will find out. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, parties can be organized in a flash. One local teen even threw a party when the parents went out for dinner.

8. Leave no trace behind.

Sadly for the kids, most party-throwers and attendees leave a few subtle signs. This includes: empty beer bottles in bushes, furniture slightly askew, water in liquor bottles, small stains on carpets, un-flushed toilets, even small pieces of tape indicating beer-pong boundaries. Don’t underestimate your parents’ prowess in uncovering clues.

9. Live in silence.

Real, live conversations are a thing of the past. When you “talk” to a friend, you’re really exchanging printed words via Facebook, text messages, Instagram, Twitter or the like. Entire relationships have begun, fluorished and ended without one face-to-face conversation. Speed and efficiency are always of the essence in communications. (My own kids have not even set up voice mail functions on their phone.)

10. Keep in mind that it’s all in the delivery.

The following phrases, delivered in earnest (text message is preferred) will undo almost any wrong:

  • U WERE RIGHT
  • I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO U
  • I M SO SORRY
  • I ❤ U
  • I M LUCKY U R MY PARENT

– Linda Williams Rorem, 15 April 2013a
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Non Parent Perspective

All it took was a little parenting advice by Frank Bruni in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times to light up the paper’s comment section and twitter trail last week. Readers responded with bristling backs to his opinion piece, “A Childless Bystander’s Baffled Hymn.” The ensuing commentary ranged from “Bravo” to “You know nothing.” Readers with negative reactions stated Mr. Bruni’s parenting observations were invalid because he has not raised children.

However, I found his perspective delightful and not at all judgmental. He openly conceded that his experience with kids was limited to being an uncle and that he lacked direct parenting practice. His article concluded:

“So parents: cut yourselves some slack. Take a deep breath. No one false step or one missed call is going to consign your children to an entirely different future. Make sure that they know they’re loved. Make sure that they know their place. And make peace with the fact that you don’t hold all or even most of the cards. There may be a frustrating sense of helplessness in that realization. But there’s a mercy, too.”

What’s not to like about that perspective?

Having raised four kids, I took no offense. Yes, there seems to be an endless stream of books, seminars and on-line forums that proffer parental instruction. There are pediatricians, school counselors and parenting peer groups. There are relatives, neighbors and religious organizations to chime in. However, most of us are eager for advice at all the life-stages of child-rearing. Often this is a rear-view mirror exercise as we seek validation for decisions we have already made. parent definition

Parenting is difficult and humbling. We chase after an ever-moving target. It feels at times that our parenting is “just in time.”  We encounter surprising circumstances that we did not foresee regardless of our preparation.

Delgirl from Lexington, Kentucky, summed up reader feelings most succinctly when she wrote, “We as parents, do the best we can. Please don’t judge us.” Responses such as Delgirl’s may say more about the over-tired stressed state of parents then the article itself.

After all, everyone’s home circumstances are only known to the participants. Mr. Bruni’s article leaned more toward cultural commentary than criticism.

As parents we spend lots of time worrying about “getting it wrong” but there are equally as many chances to “get it right.” Sheer odds are in our favor. Even a coin flip is correct 50% of the time.

My take away from the baffled non-dad was the “mercy rule.” We need not “cling to the possibility of perfection,” we just need to do our best.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

April 8, 2013 permissionslips1@gmail.com

In Defense of Dance Moms

Pea at T-ballMy daughter and I were catching up on one of her favorite shows last weekend — DVR’d because she can’t watch on weeknights – when her 17-year-old brother sauntered downstairs and joined us.

On screen, a handful of well-dressed, heavily made-up and cleavage-exposed women – apparently in their early 40s – sat on banquettes in a small room, which overlooked a dance studio where their preteen daughters were rehearsing.

Within a minute or two, my son caught quite a few catty, competitive and even downright nasty comments between the women, who were discussing the dancers, the dance teacher and the other moms.

“What is this crap?” my son asked. “And why are you letting Pea watch it?”

“It’s Dance Moms,” Pea and I replied in unison. I went on to explain that the Lifetime show (http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/dance-moms), now in its third season, is instructional because…well…I am a dance mom, too.

However, I’m not at all like Melissa, Kelly, Jill and the other moms. And Pea’s studio is nothing like Abby Lee’s.

At least I hope not.

Being a “dance mom” was never my intention. I didn’t grow up with the benefits of Title IX, which makes more sports accessible to young girls. I ran track, swam and enrolled in a few dance and gymnastics classes, but wished I could have done more.

I wanted Pea to have more opportunities, like her ball-crazed older brothers, so signed her up for every sport imaginable:

– In Tee Ball, at age four, Pea cried at practices, whether or not I stayed to watch. At bat, she cried if people cheered for her, and, if she miraculously managed to knock the ball off the tee, she slowly walked to first base, helmet covering her red eyes. After a few excruciating weeks, I let her drop out. Later, when one of her ex-teammates asked why she had quit, Pea replied, “I didn’t like the hat, I didn’t like the bat and I didn’t like the shirt.” After all, the team uniform wasn’t pink (see Pea scowl, certainly because of her shirt, in the team photo).

– That fall, she gave micro-soccer a try. Again, we saw tears at practice and half-hearted attempts during games. Pea liked talking to her friends on the field, but recoiled if the ball came her way. She refused to let me enlist her the next year. And then, a few weeks ago, she said, “I wish I played soccer.” The nerve.

– At six, she gave basketball a try. In a show of support, her three brothers filed into the gym for the first game. However, it soon became clear that 1) Pea couldn’t catch the ball, 2) she couldn’t pass the ball and 3) she wasn’t strong enough to lift the ball for basket attempts. As the game progressed, the boys started cringing every time a ball headed towards Pea. They never watched another game, and Pea announced it would be her first, last and only season.

– Next came lacrosse, a sport my boys loved. I was thrilled it was available for girls, and thought that Pea might enjoy and excel at it. Sadly, her hand-eye coordination lagged behind her friends’, and she soon gained a healthy fear of hard rubber balls. In fact, it appeared that Pea was praying that balls would not come her way, or that someone else would snag them. Coupled with Seattle’s soggy spring weather, it was a long, painful season.

– The summer swim league was a bit more successful, but when I signed Pea up for a pre-competition team during the school year, she was miserable – primarily because she was always freezing. I understood.

Soon after, Pea asked if she could take tap lessons. She convinced me that she would 1) not cry at practices and 2) stick with it. It wasn’t what I had planned for the girl, but I realized that it wasn’t “about me.”

Pea loved her classes. She certainly wasn’t a prodigy, but she learned quickly and loved every minute. The next fall, she added jazz class to the mix, and a year later, she tried out for, and made, the studio’s competition team.

After years of watching soccer, football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse from the sidelines, my husband and I were shocked by the dance-competition world.

It’s a bit off-putting to see nine-year-olds with false eyelashes, lipstick and provocative costumes, and even worse to see your own daughter – the baby of the family – dressed that way.

However, it quickly became clear she loved dancing in class and on stage, and much preferred creative costumes to Tee Ball t-shirts.

Pea has just completed her third year of competition, and I have embraced the sport.

I appreciate that through dance classes, performances and competitions, Pea has learned confidence and charisma, has built character and courage and has gained moderate success doing something she loves. She dances three hours a day, and she’s happy, healthy and very fit.

We are fortunate that her studio is well-run and the other girls and moms are kind and well-meaning. However, we do see and hear about some awful dance moms from other teams. So, when I watch Dance Moms with Caroline, I remind her that we all have a choice of how involved to get in our kids’ activities, and how to behave when we do so.

Linda Williams Rorem, 1 April 2013
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