I Walk in My Mother’s Socks

Note: Permission Slips is grateful to present this guest post by Lisa Bell Pachnos, a Chicago-area native, Northwestern University graduate and mother of three in New Jersey. She wrote this in August 2012, nine months after her mother, Sue Bell, had died. (The photo is of Lisa and Sue.)

Towards the middle of her life, my mother became a fitness freak. Beforehand, when I was a child, she told me that she rarely gave a thought to exercise. “My legs were just there to hold up the rest of my body,” she told me on a day when I had complimented her on the muscles that were now bulging from her calves.

blog - lisa and momOnce she began an exercise regimen, my mother was remarkable in her dedication. She rose before dawn most days and drove herself to the fitness center. Or, on days when she elected to stay at home, she could be found in the basement lifting weights, rolling on an exercise ball, executing complicated lunges or using the elliptical trainer. Even on weekends at Lake Geneva, she worked out with an exercise ball in the living room or took brisk walks around the neighborhood. Amazingly, she could carry on a conversation while in the midst of these exertions.

All of us have a part of ourselves, physically, in which we are disappointed. For my father, it has always been his thighs (a story for another time). For my mother, it was her “tummy.” Try as she might, she could never achieve the six-pack abs that she desired. Years later, it was that awareness of her abdomen that alerted her to the cancer growing inside of her long before it would have been detected by someone less self-aware.

Now, nine months after my mother passed away, I treasure everything that I inherited from her, such as jewelry, clothing, trinkets, and strangely enough, some of her socks. Oddly, it is the socks that I use the most often and that evoke the strongest memories.

Unlike many people, I find summertime extremely challenging. While working from home during the school year has countless benefits, working from home during the summer months creates stress. It’s a constant tug-of-war between the needs of my children and the needs of my workplace. Person time is fleeting at best.

So lately, to carve out that time, I have been donning my mother’s socks and rising during the gray light of dawn. I stride outside in those socks, plus my own sneakers and other clothes, of course, and start walking along our quiet street. Occasionally, I am joined by other two-legged creatures on bikes or on foot. However, I am usually accompanied by critters with four legs or wings.

This quiet time allows me to plan my day, ponder my weaknesses, make notes to myself–which I email to my computer via my phone–and otherwise breathe.

I am grateful for the lessons my mother continues to give to me — even through something as inconsequential as the socks she wore during exercise.

– Lisa Bell Pachnos, for Permission Slips, 28 April 2014
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Who Wants Less Stress and More Happiness?

This Huffington Post article provided a great jumpstart to my day. I’m moving forward this morning, more mindful of reducing my stress and increasing my happiness. My guess is this info graphic will do the same for you:


Enjoy your day!

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 23 April 2014

Doggone It

Many of you read Carol’s recent post announcing her hiatus from Permission Slips blogging (click here if you missed it).

I miss her already, and suspect that our loyal readers do, too.

Blog puppyCarol’s life is very full, raising the new puppy pictured here, managing a family that includes four children, ages 13 – 21, coaching the local high school’s JV girls tennis team, serving as an adviser to several start-up businesses, helping out with her family’s organic farm and playing tennis as often as she can.

I don’t know how she found the time to blog at all.

However, I think Carol enjoyed writing about the world around her. She is much more interested in politics, brain development, local government and sports than I am, and I believe readers enjoyed “hearing” her unique perspectives.

Personally, I liked it best when she wrote from the heart. Some of my favorite “Carol Posts” are listed here (click on the titles to read each post):

Carol and my friendship dates back more than a dozen years. Back then, our children were enrolled in the same Montessori preschool, but it was rare for parents to interact as many were dropping and picking up children on the way to and from work.

In early 2000, Carol’s third child attended my third son’s birthday party at a local play space. She approached me and said, “Everyone keeps telling me we need to get to know each other. I see you’re pregnant with your fourth child [due four months later], and I just found out I’m pregnant with my fourth.”

We immediately understood each other.

Since our kids are roughly the same ages, we started crossing paths more and more – at first-grade basketball games (her daughter was the only girl on the team), T-ball practices, PTA meetings, swim club events and while pushing full carts down supermarket aisles.

Our families became fast friends. After all, who else would invite a family of five or six to dinner?

And then, we started taking “Girlfriend Getaways” together (click here to read about one of our trips). This photo was taken on our Blog carol linda paris2005 trip to Paris, when I had my “mommy braces” (friends from Paris and London are at the photo’s right side).

After our third getaway, in response to friends who kept asking, “How do you do it?” we conceived of a book promoting and explaining the concept.

We attended a publishing conference in New York, secured an agent and met for hours each week to write our book proposal and sample chapters.

While our proposal was well received, publishers told us the timing wasn’t right – in the midst of a depressed economy – for a book about non-essential travel with friends.

So, we retooled our idea several times, and eventually decided to write a blog about frazzled women like us. We fine-tuned the blog’s concept as the time passed, and decided to keep it going as long as we were having fun and had something to say.

Three and a half years later, I’m still not sure where PermissionSlips is headed. We have a stable base of readers, get great feedback (mostly through emails and live conversations, not necessarily in the blog’s comments section) and seem to come up with fresh ideas each week. But I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort to expand the readership or try to turn the posts into a book.

Nevertheless, since I have made a career out of writing, I’m not ready to stop blogging. At the same time, I do get tired of hearing myself “talk” every week, so would really welcome submissions from others. If you’re interested in guest blogging, please let me know. The only requirement? Clear, concise writing that promotes some kind of “permission” (usually relating to the idea, “Give yourself a break.”).

And, please, if you have ideas for future posts, but don’t want to write them yourself, let me know. My goal is to make PermissionSlips as “user-friendly” and interactive as possible, for as long as I have the energy to keep it going.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 21 April 2014
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Would You Work 24/7 for Free?

Love this now-viral clip, showing job applicants learning the requirements for the Director of Operations job many of us hold:

Yes, it’s a bit dramatic, but it does make an interesting point. Now, I’m not suggesting parents should get paid for their work at home, but no one minds a little acknowledgement…

-Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 17 April 2014

Heading Home

It started with the realization that my kids’ spring break aligned with my second son’s lacrosse game schedule. We could travel to Ohio for two Saturday games – and even a mid-week one, if we wanted – and spend the rest of the week visiting friends and family nearby.

Using the frequent flier miles and hotel points my husband has accrued through his travel-dependent job, we could enjoy a low-cost, multi-city trip away from home.

However, at some point I realized that “home” was at every stop along the way.

At my son’s college, it’s clear that after a somewhat bumpy year, he is finally acclimated and determined to stay for the duration. His younger brother, following a night in the dorm, seems surprised – and a bit awed: “Everyone knows him, and everyone respects him! His friends say he’s already a legend.”

I know that when my son stays in our house this summer, he will miss his new home.

food carts nycWhen we arrive in NYC, where I lived from ages 21 to 31, I take a deep breath and think, “I’m home.”

My New York home is full of yellow taxis, blaring car horns, crowded, stinky subways, thick accents, food carts, chewy bagels, brusque shopkeepers and honest, straightforward people. Strangers who strike up conversations on the #1 train. A deli owner who complains that his son is slacking on the job. Street performers who pull onlookers into the act.

Home in New York is friends who leave work early and take busses and trains to meet me for a drink. Friends from my first journalism job, my long-surviving book club, my summer rental in Connecticut. Friends who literally watched me grow up, stood beside me all the while and still offer love and support.

A few days later, as we drive to my hometown from O’Hare Airport, I think, “No, this is home.” The familiar yellow-brick bungalows. Super Dawg’s French fries. Dunkin’ Donuts.

My childhood house has belonged to other families for 30 years. My mother’s apartment still does not feel like home. My brother’s house – which once belonged to a high school friend – is a bit more comfortable, but still isn’t home.

Evanston has changed significantly over the years. The Central Street Baskin and Robbins shop, where I learned to scoop ice cream and count change, disappeared long ago. So did Herdrich’s, the Fotomat, Mr. Meyer’s shoe store and Uncle Ed’s grocery.

The Prudential bank, where I established my first account and procured my first set of dishes, is now a Starbucks.Field's clock

Marshall Field’s, where we purchased special clothes that weren’t available in the Sears Catalog, was converted to condos, a restaurant and small shops years ago. Betty’s of Winnetka, where we searched for Cotillion and Prom dresses, is gone.

I walk around as a stranger in a strange land. I don’t bump into people I know. I’m not familiar with most of the restaurants and stores.

And then, my niece leads me to Bennison’s bakery, where I used to buy chocolate donuts and smiley-face cookies on the way to the YMCA for swim team, gymnastics and Y-club meetings.

The donuts and cookies taste the same. The Y still stands.

Early one morning, my oldest and dearest friend – who I met when we were babies – joins me at the hotel for breakfast. Talking with Ann is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. They fit just right. They’re comfortable. They know where you’re headed and where you’ve been.

The waiter appears at our table, and smiles in recognition. He’s the same server that has brought my family orange juice during at least 15 annual visits. His warm smile feel like home.

The following day, another wonderful old friend drives in from Chicago for breakfast. As always, we speak openly and honestly about our joys and challenges, our dreams and disappointments. My daughter, fresh out of bed, stops by our table. “Did you know I met your mom when I was your age?” Chris asks Pea. Again, home.

rocks skylineThat afternoon, several family members – both Evanston- and Seattle-based – walk to the lakefront. After an excruciatingly long, cold, snowy winter, the sun has finally made an appearance. Northwestern students cavort in shorts and T-shirts. Birds chir and squirrels scramble for food.

Chicago’s impressive skyline emerges in the south.

We stop at the large rocks that line the coast. The same rocks I had played on as a child, waiting for a turn on the sailboat. The rocks where my friends and I congregated as teens, where I sat with boyfriends and then, years later, watched my own children play.

Some of the rocks bear graffiti affirming couples, announcing feelings, marking occasions. They have been painted and repainted over the years, and yet, still tell the stories of many decades, of the passage of time.

It is then, and there, that I realize my home is not just located in one city; my home is where I feel strong memories and the love of forever friends and family.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 14 April 2014
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Despicable Mom

I was going to write about my daughter’s upcoming 14th birthday, an auspicious event that — I hear from many sources — will grant me entry into the “Despicable Mom” club.

Apparently, it happens all over the world. One day these darling little girls want to share information with their moms, try on their fancy dresses and high heels and act like little mommies when playing with dolls.

And then, poof, they wake up one day and hate all things related to motherhood. Especially the women who brought them into the world.

These formerly sweet young things roll their eyes. They sigh with exasperation. They question Mom’s fashion sense: “You aren’t going out wearing THAT, are you?” They embark on secret lives that take place via texts, Instagram posts and Snap Chats. Sneaky lives that depict Mom in a very unflattering light. They slam doors, leave tried-but-failed outfits in heaps on their bedroom floors and lock themselves in bathrooms for hours. At the school lunch table, outside lockers and in bus lines, they gather to discuss how stupid, mean and unreasonable their mothers have suddenly become.

If you don’t know a 14-year-old girl that fits that description, you haven’t looked very hard.

“Girls have to go through it,” my own mother said when I mentioned my dread. “Otherwise they would never move out. And you don’t want that, do you?”

Absolutely not. I love Pea enormously, but I do want her to go to college, launch a career, accomplish her goals and live happily ever after. Somewhere else.

My boys are very independent and the two that have entered college are doing very well…today. So, yes, I’m all about them moving on and out.

However, as it turns out, I may have a little more time with Pea by my side.

On Saturday, when my husband, Pea and our youngest son, Bodie, arrived at an 1830-ish bed and breakfast in Ohio, I looked at the fading woodwork, clouded windows and jagged rooftop and said, “Oooh, I hope it isn’t haunted.”

That was enough to send a certain super-mature, ready-for-makeup, high fashion and high school young lady into tears.

“I am NOT staying here,” she announced, planting herself, and her suitcase, in the middle of the root-rumpled sidewalk.

The rest of us mounted the steps and rang the bell. Pea reluctantly followed.

Our host, Tom, was anxious to tour us through the house and share a bit about its, and his late wife’s ancestors’, history. We learned about the vintage furniture, books and china, the house’s additions and the fact that the large eating area once served as an infirmary for the doctor who lived and worked there. Think Downton Abbey during World War I.

“Think about how many people must have died in this room,” Bodie said to Pea.

More tears.

Later, Tom told us he had been running the place alone for a decade, ever since his wife had died of a heart attack. In her sleep. In that home.

That was the proverbial last straw. Pea was ready to call a cab and find her own lodging. However, the $8 in her backpack wouldn’t have taken her far.

We climbed the stairs to the third floor, where we had reserved both bedrooms, each with a double bed and a single cot. The knotty pine floors creaked, the rafters had developed cracks, the upholstered chairs sagged and the wallpaper was just starting to peel.

I loved it all.

After we dined with our older son on the college campus, we decided to leave Bodie with him, to attend a party and sleep in his dorm. So, that left Pea with her choice of three beds, after my husband and I grabbed one of the doubles.

“I am NOT sleeping alone,” Pea stated. “After all those people died here, I’m sure their spirits are haunting the house.”

So, the three of us slipped on our jammies, climbed into bed and turned on the TV, which was showing “Modern Family.” Ironic, isn’t it?

It took about 45 seconds for my husband to fall asleep, and, after several minutes of jostling for space, Pea and I followed.

And then, in the middle of a deep slumber, something…or shall I say someone…woke me.

“I woke up thinking it was morning, but it’s only 11:30,” Pea said. “Now I can’t fall back asleep.”

“Well I can, and I will,” I replied.

“No!” Pea hissed. “I don’t want to be the only one up.”

So, a solid hour of tossing and turning ensued. Ain’t jet lag grand?

At some point, I whispered, “It’s too crowded and hot in this bed, and your dad is snoring. I’m moving to the other room.”

“Please, no,” Pea pleaded. “I’ll lie still.” She changed from her sweatpants and brand-new college sweatshirt into a t-shirt and shorts. Then she started poking at her father.

“Roll over. You’re snoring!”

Welcome to my world, Little Miss.

After being nudged one too many times, Dad grunted and moved to the cot. Pea spread into his former spot, and quickly fell back asleep.

I did not.

Soon after, I heard sirens in the distance, and wondered if my too-young-for-college-parties son was okay. I lay awake, waiting for a distress call from one of the boys.

Pea started snoring.

Yes, I’m ready for a little distance, and even a dose of temporary dislike, from the kids.

Linda Williams Rorem, 7 April 2014
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