Mind Your Ps and Qs

So I’m standing in the Starbucks line, rushing to grab a decaf before my first class, and the family in front of me is holding things up.

Three elementary-school-age monkeys are climbing on their mother, the register and the display case, throwing mom items to purchase, and just as quickly and rudely, swapping for other treats.

“I want this,’ a mop-haired girl announces as she hands a chocolate-covered graham cracker to her mother. “No, wait, I want these chocolates instead!”

The two boys are similarly grabbing, pushing and decreeing what their parent should pay for. “Don’t forget the whipped cream!” the oldest one yells.

It’s always when you’re in a rush, right?

When all is said and done, the mom and her kids move to the end of the counter, to wait for their drinks. None of them thanks the young lady at the register, nor turns to apologize to those in the growing line behind them.

Now, I know I’m going to sound like a cranky old lady (I’m really not that old), but I’m a stickler for manners. They, like compliments, don’t cost a cent, but (like pennies in Canada) seem to be in short supply.

I learned from the best. My mother’s mother demanded thank-you notes when she sent birthday checks or Christmas gifts. In fact, she stopped sending one of my brothers his annual five bucks because he never replied with a word of thanks. (I believe he thought that was a fair trade-off.)

My mom didn’t know the meaning of “helicopter,” and perhaps allowed us to act a bit more “free” and unruly than our friends. Just ask our next-door neighbor, Roy, who on a regular basis, after the inevitable mayhem occurred (another broken toy, a hole in the new blow-up wading pool), would yell, “Alan and Linda, it’s time for you to go home.”

However, I’d like to think we always left with a hurried, “Thanks for having us!”

As soon as my sister Jean could read (she has Down syndrome, so this was no small achievement at age eight), my mother gave her a book entitled What Do You Say, Dear?

Jean and I delighted in the outrageous situations and engaging Maurice Sendak illustrations, which sneakily taught correct manners in social settings:
• You bump into a crocodile on a crowded city street. What do you say, Dear?
• The Queen feeds you so much spaghetti that you don’t fit in your chair anymore? What do you say, Dear?

On the school playground, we all enjoyed a group game called “Mother May I?” which involved penalties for not saying those three words before taking steps towards an endpoint. We all got the point.

I made sure my own kids knew to say “please” and “thank you,” while making direct eye contact, as soon as they could talk. Don’t get me wrong; they are not perfectly behaved young people, but they certainly are polite.

My kids look adults in the eye, give firm handshakes, carry their dishes to the sink and give thanks for meals. I demand they write Thank-You notes for gifts, kind gestures and parties (and I think of my beloved Nana every time).

In fact, I always told my oldest child, who was something of a loose cannon in grade school, that his manners could minimize the damage. He and I both agree that this was borne out on several occasions.

When my kids invite friends to the house, they demand they say hello and good-bye to me, and clean up after themselves. Just this summer, I overheard my 18-year-old tell a friend, who had slipped in through the basement door, “You need to go upstairs and say ‘Hi’ to my mom.” I like to hear “thanks” when they leave, too.

Last week, while I was hosting book club (if you’ve seen the mac ‘n’ cheese commercial, you have a good sense of our meetings), a new friend of my 16-year-old’s came and went without a word. She may have been intimidated by our group, but afterwards, I texted my son, “Don’t let that happen again.”

Perhaps most important, recent studies have shown that gratitude leads to happiness. To see the now-viral video making the rounds on Facebook, click here.)

So, let’s all remember to mind and model our Ps and Qs (a phrase my sister learned from a wonderful teacher who also valued manners). We’ll all be happier for it.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 30 September 2013
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Musings From a Recovering People Pleaser

This woman is so young, yet seems to be so wise. We could all learn something from her post about saying “No.” (We touched on this two weeks ago, in case you want to revisit our perspective.)

for the love of hope

For those of you who don’t know, I’m what they call a “people pleaser” at the core of my nature. I spend way too much of my time and energy thinking about how to make people happy even if it makes me sad; if I absolutely have to say “no” to people, I spend heaps of hours mulling over their hurt feelings and searching my heart for how I can make things better.

I used to think this “people pleasing problem” was really not a problem at all. I mean c’mon, I’m TOO NICE?! I want people to be happy. I want people to like me. What’s the big deal?

However, over the last few years I’ve learned how this is indeed a big deal. It’s exhausting and self-deprecating. I try to take care of other people and be all selfless, and really I only end up hurting myself and…

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To Donate or Not: How to Decide?

According to the calendar, it’s officially fall.  I know this not just from the crisp air and the Halloween decorations festooning the stores. I know this from the avalanche of charity solicitations that seem to arrive daily. A quick survey of my email inbox, voice mail and U.S. mail yields appeals for local schools, cancer research, political races and children abroad. There are door bell ringers pitching support for the local high school sports teams and candy sales by youth groups. There are tables manned outside my local grocery store soliciting donations to food banks, clothing banks and environmental causes. Their are victims of floods, shootings and accidents needing help.

I could be well fed in the next few weeks simply by attending fundraising lunches, dinners and cocktail gatherings. Many of these organizations are championed by friends and acquaintances with heartfelt appeals. Some proposals come from strangers. While they are all deserving of time and even money, my family struggles with determining the right mix of priorities. We also want to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.


Donations (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

Should we support causes closer to our own backyard? What is our backyard?

Is it the schools our children attend?

Is it our city, our region, our country?

What about the rest of the world? How can we decide with all these competing interests?

These are all highly personal questions that can only be addressed by honestly asking questions such as: What is my budget? What are my personal values? Do I care about everything equally? Would I rather direct all my resources in one area to affect as much change as possible or spread my donations and effort around?

In addition to aligning our personal values there is also the question of how much of our money donated actually makes it to the charity’s direct programming. It is well-known that when purchasing a box of Girl Scout cookies for $4.00 the individual troop receives only 50 cents.  I sure wish the troops got more for their efforts.

If you have questions about the legitimacy of an organization there is a highly regarded non-profit organization, Charity Navigator, that has useful tools on its website for making informed decisions: http://www.charitynavigator.org/. Their research is extensive and in addition to charity rating evaluations there are site sections such as “Tips for Donors” that include best practices, tips for giving in times of crisis and questions to ask charities before giving. There are top 10 lists which include charities that have overpaid CEOs and charities that consistently receive a high rating. This site provides an easy way to filter.

Armed with information and self-reflection we may feel better about the groups we support: however, that might also mean saying“no” to some. The final step is to give yourself permission to not feel guilty about your choices. People are passionate about their causes and a turn down can seem personal. Permission Slips recommends a simple statement, “I really appreciate your efforts and support your cause, but need to pass on donating at this time.”  Then, feel good because you have done what you can to help, based on your personal priorities.

Let us know how you decide.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, September 23, 2013


Update on Guatemalan Adoption

For those of you who were interested in Amy Slack’s efforts to bring her adopted daughter, Lilly, home from Guatemala, we have good news to share.

Lilly visaThis past week, Amy traveled to Guatemala, completed paperwork and acquired a Visa for Lilly. From the looks of their Facebook photos, both are ecstatic to be united. Lilly will soon start settling into the Slacks’ home in New Jersey.

In case you missed the blog posts in June (or need a refresher), here are links to our three-part story of Amy and Lilly’s amazing, heart-wrenching journey towards each other:





Feel free to leave your good wishes for Amy and Lilly in the comments section below. 

– Linda Williams Rorem, 18 Sept. 2013

Top-Ten Reasons We Don’t ‘Just Say No’

One of the most-repeated catch phrases of the 1980s was, “Just say no,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to Nancy Reagan’s oversimplified solution to America’s drug problems.

Those of us who have felt pressured to reciprocate favors, take on extra tasks at work, down one more JELL-O shot at a party, perform menial elementary-school tasks, help acquaintances move and/or bleach a son’s baseball pants an hour before the game know that Nancy’s advice is easier said than done.

photo-22My sister and I were lamenting our difficulties with the word the other day. An artist and college-art teacher, she has two exhibitions coming up early next year, and will need to scale back her extracurricular to allow for studio time. She has been practicing her “No” for weeks.

For my part, I’ve had a rough couple of months, and want to keep my obligations minimal so I can de-stress. I also want the freedom to visit the sons who have left the roost.

After comparing notes about our challenges, we contemplated why so many of us have difficulty turning down requests. And so, I came up with 10 different reasons why “NO” can seem the hardest word (sorry, “Sorry”):

1. We see a genuine need and want to handle the request. It feels good to feel helpful and useful, and even – depending on the demand – to be a hero.

2. We think we’ll enjoy the task or opportunity, and it’s worth jamming up our schedule to take it on. Fair enough. We just need to remember not to complain about how busy we are afterwards. No one wants to hear us whine about our own bad choices.

3. We worry that “No” will hurt our careers. Oftentimes, we must say “Yes,” even when the task seems heinous or overburdens our workload. It’s important to appear ambitious, hard-working and part of the company team. However, as Jim Carrey pointed out in the 2008 film, being a Yes Man has its downside, too. No one should serve as a doormat.

4. We fear that if we say “No,” we’ll lose future opportunities. Those with freelance careers understand this all-too-well. If you turn down a job, the potential employer must find someone else to take it. And if that someone else does it better, faster or cheaper, they will get the repeat business. As such, last summer, I completed an editing job at 6 am on a Swedish-hotel computer, just to ensure I would get the next assignment.

5. We over-estimate the time we have available for the additional task, or underestimate the time it will consume. I think most of us have, at one point or another, erred in this area. A few years back, some foreign friends asked me to read their daughter’s master’s thesis, which she needed to write in English. I had no idea that the thesis would top 10,000 words on a complicated subject. I might have said “No” or set a fair price if I had foreseen the favor’s scope.

6. We need to be needed. Face it, when someone asks us for a favor, tells us they value our expertise or could trust only us with the task, we feel flattered. I think this is especially true for those who swap careers for diaper duty.

7. We want to forge a relationship – either business or personal – with the person needing our help. My husband agreed to help me with a fly-fishing article when we were “just friends.” See what I mean?

8. We want to maintain good relations with the person making the ask. Perhaps this explains the high teenage-pregnancy rate. Let’s attribute some drug and alcohol overdoses to this, too. However, it can be true for people of all ages, particularly parents. In fact, my sister just pointed out that my son’s request for a new car falls into this category. (She’s right, of course.)

9. We feel guilty leaving friends/associates high and dry. Here’s where it gets especially tricky. Being asked for a favor doesn’t make us obligated to perform it.  If the friend in need can’t find another sucker, it’s their problem, not ours. Repeat after me: “Sorry, but I can’t do it.”

10. We want people to think we are “nice,” and “nice” people do not say No. Several books have been written on this aspect of “No,” so instead of elaborating, I’ll just link to a few here, here and here.  However, I’ll offer this recent example:

This past Saturday, my daughter and a friend had tentative plans. Since my husband wanted to watch a late-afternoon football game, I suggested Pea, the friend and I go to a movie at that time. She suggested a film we both wanted to see, and the friend countered with a film Pea had no interest in. She agonized over her reply, not wanting to hurt the friend’s feelings.

“Look, if you really don’t want to see that other movie, don’t agree to it,” I coached. “Reply again with the movie you want to see, or another idea, and make sure she knows you aren’t interested in her choice.”

“What if I tell her that something came up and I can’t go?” Pea asked. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“No, if you come up with a lame excuse of not being able to go out, and then run into her at the multiplex theatre, it will be even worse,” I said. I explained that this way, if the friend was adamant about her choice, she could invite someone else, as could Pea.

Pea and I ended up at the movie alone. (We loved it.) She is just thirteen and dealing with middle-school girls right now. My hope is that helping her learn “No” now will come in handy when she’s dating, as well as later, when she’s an employee, a spouse and a parent.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 16 Sept. 2013

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One Dose Oxytocin

“Can I trade you half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your chocolate chip cookie?”

English: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, m...

English: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, made with Skippy peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly on white bread. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to starting elementary school our best buddies live in our neighborhood. We form new friendships through games of hide ‘n’ seek, racing bikes and sharing favorite mud pie recipes. After entering school we progress to making connections in class or through shared after-school activities. Through our high school and college years we become more discerning, selecting friends based on purposeful experiences and values. Finally, in early adulthood, our work and hobby networks may define the company we keep.

As we have children of our own we come full circle. We have adult friends who are our neighbors and perhaps even “seasonal friends” – the ones who we sit next to in the school auditorium or bleachers.

It seems that some of our most treasured relationships might be based on random occurrences: right place, right time. Yet, they mean so much more. Great friends make us feel calmer and happier and even make uneven trades of sandwiches for cookies.

We’ve devoted blog space over the years to the physiological need to get our “friendship high” from the hormone oxytocin.  It has been proven in medical studies from institutions ranging from UCLA to Harvard: the more oxytocin is released, the better we feel.

Since it is in our best health interest to increase the production of oxytocin in our brain, what is the relationship to prescription drugs? If you know anyone who had surgery lately, the “go to” drug is oxycodone. It is used to relieve pain from injuries, arthritis, cancer and other conditions. Some common variations are Percodan (oxycodone and aspirin) and Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen). It is also widely abused.

It makes me wonder why doctors don’t prescribe oxytocin along with the narcotics. Imagine walking away from a medical procedure with the following notation, “Take one oxycodone, one ibuprofen and see one friend every 4 hours.”friend dose

I experimented with this dosage in the last 6 months. While my two-person-trial would never qualify for the New England Journal of Medicine, I swear it works. I am going on record: next time you are ill for any reason, try this easy remedy. However, this restorative elixir does come with one known side effect, you may become addicted to your friends.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

September 9, 2013 permissionslips1@gmail.com

What Shall I Be When I Grow Up?

It’s deer season.

I’m sure you’ve seen them in supermarket aisles and Starbucks lines, masquerading as middle-aged women. The “headlights are shining on me, so where do I go?” looks gives them away.

In Mommy Speak, that look translates to: “My youngest (or only) child just left for college; what shall I do with my life now?”

photo-21This scenario is far from novel. For centuries, women have stepped back from careers, hobbies and/or friendships to devote themselves to raising progeny.

Mothers fill their at-home hours and days and years with child-related tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundering, tutoring, coaching and coaxing.

They allocate considerable thought and worry to their kids’ well-being, at all hours of the day and night (more during the day with small children; more during the night with teens).

And then, seemingly suddenly, those little ones become young adults, moving boxes into dorm rooms and tacking posters onto new walls.

After a long, tearful drive or flight back to an empty-feeling house, the female parent takes a look in the mirror and asks, “if I’m not needed as a mom, who am I?”

(Of course, what these ladies don’t yet know is they may hear from their college kids more than ever, at least for the first few days or weeks, and that their work as nurturers, guideposts and bankers is nowhere close to conclusion.)

The fact remains, every fall a new crop of middle-aged women suddenly gains significant free time, and these re-purposed parents have an opportunity to “opt back in” to the workplace – re-starting a career, swapping part-time for full-time work or moving into a position with longer hours or more travel.

Fortunately IMHO, we women have the flexibility to step back onto career tracks without explaining resume lapses; the time spent at Toys ‘R Us, sitting on bleachers and driving carpools. We have choices and opportunities to reset and find new paths.

I used to harbor resentment about swapping a fulfilling career for primary parental duties. While I continued to work part-time for many years, I found balancing home and office work quite stressful. Like many working mothers, concerns about home life interrupted my time at work, and thoughts about work disrupted time with the kids. I never felt 100 percent dedicated to either realm.

I passed up chances to chaperone field trips (really, who doesn’t want to sit on a school bus with 60 eight-year-olds singing “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall”?). I couldn’t serve as Room Mother and missed Preschool Association activities and PTA meetings.

At work, I kept one eye focused on the clock and dreaded phone calls about playground injuries, diarrhea or vomiting. I dined at my desk, turned down Happy Hour invitations and left meetings at 5 pm sharp, leaving work undone and calls unanswered.

Work bled into my home. I distinctly recall speaking on the phone to a journalist, when I was in public relations, propping the phone under my chine as I cradled a nursing infant in my left arm and scrambled some eggs with the other arm.

The last straw came a few months later, when I took a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter while pushing my youngest, in a Baby Jogger, up a steep hill to meet my kindergartner after school. We could barely communicate over my huffing and puffing, the baby’s babble and the passing traffic.

So, with four kids ranging from two to eight, I “opted out” of that wonderful PR job and refocused energies. Fortunately, because I am blessed with “portable” skills — writing and editing — I knew I would never want for paid work.

Nevertheless, frustrations marred my new path. Every time a freelance deadline loomed, a child would spike a fever and demand cuddling all night long. My husband would return from business trips and question why I was glued to my keyboard at 12:30 am.

However, my resentment dissipated as I realized I had the better job. I could find work when I needed or wanted it, but also could choose to spend time with the kids. I could serve cupcakes at classroom parties and build LEGO creations in the afternoon. My husband didn’t have those options.

My work provided balance, maintained my sanity and kept my skill set sharp. And, as motherhood made fewer demands on my time. I was able to increase my work hours. I’m now enjoying my fifth career as a part-time French teacher, and still write and edit on the side.

So, that’s the point I’d like to share with the lost ladies lurking in the produce department: yes, it may seem that your primary job has ended, and in terms of day-to-day operations, it has. However, because you’re a woman, you’ll probably find new opportunities around the corner. Your next career may begin with an online or community college course, a volunteer position, an offer to help a friend, a Craig’s List ad or a Linked In profile.

Give yourself permission to try something new, and watch those headlights guide you forward.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 2 September 2013
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