Shades of Grey, Revisited

Dear Readers. If we have your attention, then either you’re returning to Permission Slips after our very long absence, or you have found us for the first time. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with today’s post. Earlier this week, a friend of ours distributed an email announcing a very important, life-changing decision. To protect her privacy and to keep her friends from “un-friending” her on FaceBook (in truth, she isn’t much of a user), we have changed the names. However, you will soon see that names are not integral to this hilarious, yet poignant, story:


What I’m about to share is something that I have grappled with for many, many years. It’s extremely personal, and the decision to share it did not come easily, so I would greatly appreciate your full and complete understanding.

I’m almost 52 years old and I have decided that I am going to let my hair go grey. Yep, after almost 15 years of trips to the salon every four weeks, I’m going au-naturel. No, I’m not going to crawl into a cave and start eating granola, so you can pull your jaws off the floor.

Why, you ask, in today’s hyper-social environment of “50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30” am I choosing to take this drastic step in my life? I can only answer with this I’m tired. I’m tired of fretting over those first few grey roots that seem to pop up just days after visiting my stylist. I’m tired of buying those stupid little mascara wands to “paint away my grey” in between salon visits. I’m tired of the exorbitant expense of coloring, and I’m tired of not wanting to look my age just because it’s some sort of social taboo.

As I get older (and more tired), I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up with the rest of the world. When I look at those celebrity magazines that I used to devour when I was younger, I don’t even know who half the people are. Who is that child in the see-through gown hanging onto that dude with the eyeliner who appears twice her age? And why doesn’t HE have to dye HIS hair? Why do men get more distinguished looking with a little silver at their temples, but women just look old? When did we agree to this universally accepted understanding of the inequality between men and women and growing old gracefully? Can’t we women just BE?

Why is it that every time I go to the salon (which is often, remember), 98 percent of the clients are women in various stages of wraps, extensions, straightening, curling, highlights, and dye jobs? Sometimes when I’m in my stylist’s chair, being spun around this way and that, I feel a little like a lab rat alongside a bunch of other lab rats spinning in their stylists’ chairs. Who are we trying to impress? The men with the silver on their temples, or all of the other lab rats in the world?

We seem to be on this never-ending quest of trying to look younger, hotter, skinnier, and sexier. Which then opens up a whole other can of worms about women and their insecurities and why we feel a need to one up each other so that we can feel like we are the prettiest Disney Princess in the room. C’mon, admit it. You’ve all either given, or been given, the head-to-toe-to-head once-over by another woman before. And who the hell naturally looks like a Disney Princess in real life anyway? I digress. Sorry.

The point is, I’m an average, middle-aged brunette. Even if the brunette part of me is “re-grown” every four weeks at the cost of $150 bucks a pop. Average is not a dirty word. I’m not super intelligent, but I AM smart enough to know that I’m not super intelligent. I’m not stunningly beautiful in a Halle Berry-Jennifer Lopez kind of way, but I have been known to turn a few heads back in my day. I’m not artistic, but I like dabbling in arts & crafts and rearranging the furniture every six months just to drive my husband crazy, and I’m not a fantastic cook, but I can follow a recipe without giving my family food poisoning. So why can’t my average-ness, grey hair and all, be enough? Because society says it isn’t? This is the question that I’ve been struggling with lately.

The first time I approached my then-stylist about going grey was about 12 years ago. I was in her chair embracing my lab-ratness and casually stated, “Hey, I’m thinking about letting my hair go grey.” I’m telling you, it was as if all the oxygen was sucked out of the room. Blow dryers stopped, laboratory beakers imploded, conversations shut down mid-sentence, and all heads whipped around to glare at me. The owner of the salon literally came running over to me and looked me dead in the eye. “Rachel,” she said, “you are much too young to even think about that and you are not allowed to even broach the subject again for another 10 years.” Hand to God, Girl Scout’s honor, that’s how it happened.

The other night I was at a Board of Director’s meeting. About 15 of us were present and we were going over policies and procedures for the organization. Needless to say, my mind started to wander. As I looked around the room, I noticed there were many, many shades of “color.” I’m guessing the average age in the room was tipping toward early to mid-40’s and/or early 50’s. Of all the shades of “color” in the room, only one woman was embracing her grey and she was ROCKIN’ IT! I wanted to shout, “You Go, Girl! I’m with you!”

One of my BFF’s has refused to color her hair from the get-go. I’ve known her for more than 20 years and never understood why she was so firm in her belief. I totally get it now. I should have followed her lead years ago, because we would be blue-haired bosom buddies now!

On a recent trip to see family, I paid close attention to women’s hair color as I was walking through the airport. Again, many, many shades of the rainbow, but only TWO women rockin’ their grey. Clearly, they were in their 80’s, but they were still rockin’ it!

During a Girls’ Night Out with my mother, sisters, niece, and oldest daughter, I announced that I had something important to share. The questions started to fly: “You’re moving back here?” “You got a new job?” “You are going on a fun trip?” “No,” I replied, “I’ve decided to let my hair go grey.” My niece just laughed. My mother stared at me blankly. My daughter asked if I was still going to wear mascara, and my sister, totally deadpan, said, “I’d rather you moved back here.” Thanks, Fam. Love you, too.

My husband, who God put on this earth just for me (although sometimes I think the devil had a little hand in the matter, too), says I should go through with it because he would love me no matter what. Yeah, right. He likes to look at pretty things (read: women), so we’ll see. He thinks I’m obsessed with some kind of anti-establishment soapbox, which is probably a little true. However, if he can’t accept my grey hair after over 30 years of our being together, then something is seriously wrong. After all, he is responsible for more than half of the grey on my head. If he promises not to make derogatory comments about my grey hair, then I won’t make snide remarks about his lack of hair. Besides, I can always go back to coloring (insert shit-eating grin emoji).

Don’t get me wrong; if you’re a lab rat and choose to color your hair, I’m not going to judge you. Well, maybe just a little, but seriously, it’s your prerogative. To be honest, the only reason I’m sharing this information is because it holds me accountable. Will I actually go through with it? Who knows? My resolve gets a little stronger each day. And, yes, I promised my daughter to continue wearing mascara and shaving under my arms. Right after I slip on my Birkenstocks.

I’ve already notified my stylist, who is all for it. First, she has to “research” how to approach it because OMG, like, she’s never, like, had anybody, like, make the leap before. God bless her bleach-blonde processed highlights. Just kidding. She’s totally awesome and has been extremely supportive.

Maybe I’ll start a movement! Would you dare to go grey? Just imagine a world where women unite and toss the likes of Paul Mitchell and Vidal Sassoon (both MEN, mind you) out on their color-lovin’ asses! In the words of a current political candidate who colors/combs over his hair WAY too much … Get ‘em outta heyah!

I wonder, if we women did unite against the social norm, and were more accepting of each others’ averageness, grey hair and all, would we become a less catty gender? Nah, probably not. Wishful thinking…

P.S. I’m also thinking about trading in my Mercedes SUV for a Subaru hatchback. Granola anyone?

– A “Brave, 50-Something Woman” for Permission Slips
Somewhere near Seattle, 22 April 2016

Bokol Haram and the Privilege of Reading

This time of year, newspapers and magazines are filled with “summer reading” suggestions, and friends – in person and online – ask others for tips for “beach reads” and long flights.

However, when I sat at the boarding gate and walked down the aisle of a recent flight (and looked around my own house, for that matter), I saw kids watching videos and playing games on their iPads and smart phones. Not a book or magazine was in sight.

Is it just my perspective, or are kids turning away from the printed word?

According to, 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read. About half of 4th graders report that they read “almost every day,” while just 20 percent of 8th graders can say the same. Not surprisingly, illiteracy is directly linked to juvenile crime, economic hardship and poor health.

And so, when more than 250 young girls in Nigeria are abducted by Bokol Haram because they want to learn, they ache to become literate, why aren’t American kids more interested and appreciative?

summer readingWhen I was growing up, the local library held summer reading contests. My friends and I loved walking home from the library with armloads of books, and – certainly because we had fewer entertainment options – we couldn’t wait to dive into the stories  and chart our accomplishments. I know, times have changed, and I need to get past my nostalgia.

Nevertheless, I’m so glad that nostalgic adults like me are supporting the efforts of LeVar Burton, who is working to bring back Reading Rainbow.

Most of you recall that Burton hosted the PBS kids’ show for 23 years, from 1983 to 2006. Reading Rainbow, which framed episodes around children’s books, earned 26 Emmy Awards and a host of other accolades during its long run.

After its cancellation, Burton, along with his business partner Mark Wolfe, purchased the rights to the Reading Rainbow franchise and created a tablet app to promote literacy.

More than a million downloads later, the two are now working on an online version, and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to make the website – with interactive reading activities and lesson plans – available to under-funded classrooms.

As I read in Parade magazine yesterday, Burton’s Kickstarter campaign raised a million dollars in each of its first three days, for a total of $5.4 million before it closed last week. The original target was to $1 million. I find that a very hopeful sign.

So, for now, I’m going to remind my kids how fortunate they are to be surrounded by books, and I will encourage them to spend part of each summer day or evening curled up with a book. In fact, I’m going to grab an Ann Patchett book and model that right now.

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 7 July 2014
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Letting Kids Be Kids

It may be extreme to call it “Revenge of the Nerds,” but the “fast,” uber-popular, pot-smoking, risk-taking and all-around “cool” kids from middle school may be the duds at your 10-year high school reunion.

Or so claim the authors of a new study, “Whatever Happened to the ‘Cool’ Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior,” which was published June 11 in the online journal Child Development.

Starting with seventh and eighth graders in middle school cafeterias, the researchers looked at attractiveness, popularity, romantic behavior, “social competence,” substance use and deviant (stealing dollar bills from parents, sneaking into movies) or criminal behavior among nearly 200 study participants over a period of 10 years.

DSCN1510The researchers, defining “pseudomature behavior” as “a desire to achieve social maturity without a concomitant level of emotional and behavioral maturity,” hypothesized that “…minor delinquent activity, precocious romantic involvement and a focus on physical appearance in friendships…linked to early adolescents’ strong desire for peer approval…will predict popularity in the short term…but fade over time.”

Those of us who have attended high school reunions know this to be true.

Even worse, the study’s researchers surmised that precocious behavior – and “overemphasis upon impressing peers” — could lead to lifelong problems in romantic relationships, serious deviant (or criminal) behavior and/or abuse of alcohol and marijuana.

The problem, the study found, is that “adolescents are most likely to engage in [this] behavior when they lack confidence in their capacity to meet the developmental challenge of managing peer relations.” As a result, they don’t hone the tools required for “competence in social relationships in the longer term.”

What’s more, “early reliance on upon minor acts of delinquency to impress peers may…lead to a greater likelihood of associating with deviance prone peers, who in turn would only be impressed by more and more serious acts of deviance over time.”

For more information about these findings, New York Times writer Jan Hoffman interviewed the study’s lead author, Joseph P. Allen, a University of Virginia professor of psychology, for the June 23 article: “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23.”

“These young teenagers sought out friends who were physically attractive; their romances were more numerous, emotionally intense and sexually exploring than those of their peers; and they dabbled in minor delinquency — skipping school, sneaking into movies, vandalism,” Hoffman writes.

Ten years later, in comparison to their “slower-moving” middle-school peers, the study participants had a “45 percent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use and a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior, from theft to assaults.

At age 23, Dr. Allen notes, those who were socially advanced at age 13 “are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent.…They’re still living in their middle-school world.’

“Those early attempts to act older than they were seemed to have left them socially stunted,” Hoffman states.

Asked to summarize the research findings, Dr. Allen told Hoffman that while they were busy focusing on social status through risky or “pseudomature behaviors,” the teenagers missed a “critical development period.”

“At the same time, other young teenagers were learning about soldering same-gender friendships while engaged in drama-free activities like watching a movie at home together on a Friday night, eating ice cream,” Hoffman writes, adding that Dr. Allen urges parents to “support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t “popular.”

“To be truly mature as an early adolescent means you’re able to be a good, loyal friend, supportive, hardworking and responsible,” Dr. Allen told Hoffman.

So, for parents, caregivers and teachers, the important lesson is to let kids be kids. We need to help young teens resist the urge to act older, dress sassier, hang out with influential, older kids and experiment with pot and alcohol.

I think this was easier when we were young. Throughout middle school, I read avidly and spent my weekend nights babysitting. I certainly wasn’t the most popular girl in the seventh grade, and I didn’t care. I knew that once I entered high school, I would gain both social status and a social life through the religious-based youth group my siblings had joined.

I’m sure that the skills those pursuits taught me – reading for pleasure, taking care of kids, earning and managing money – have served me better than premature “seven minutes in Heaven” would have.

Today, short of spending a dozen years in the African bush, as did the main character’s family in Mean Girls, how can parents insulate kids from the social pressures required for popularity?

Today’s youth can watch nearly any movie or TV show via Netflix, Hulu or iTunes. They listen to internet radio on their phones and laptops, and can read blogs, Facebook posts and foreign newspapers at any time online. Through the TV show TMZ, they can track the moves and mishaps of celebrities, and via Twitter they learn what those stars eat for lunch, wear to the gym and drink in clubs.

With screens at their fingertips seemingly nonstop, teens experience a spectrum of influence that far exceeds anything those of us born before 1980 could imagine.

So how do we slow it all down? How do we give our kids permission to remain kids longer? What are your ideas or successful strategies? We’d love to read your comments below.

Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 30 June 2014
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Dads and the Atticus Finch Standard

Every Father’s Day, I enjoy scrolling through the photos and tributes friends post on Facebook. I love reflecting on life with my own father, who died when I was 22, and time with my husband, who – more than any other achievement – cares about being a good dad.

I think he, like many fathers of his generation, holds himself to the “Atticus Finch standard.”

20091206Caroline&RichMIChildrensChoir 019I would imagine that most people born after World War II were inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird – either in the form of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 book, or the film, which came out two years later and won three Oscars, including one for Gregory Peck, who played Atticus.

What’s not to love about Atticus? He is calm, patient, loving and thoughtful. He models high morals and a great work ethic. He reads voraciously on his own and with his children. Atticus allows his children the freedom to play outdoors and make their own mistakes, and takes advantage of “teachable moments.” And perhaps most important, he is present in his children’s lives.

Atticus tops numerous “best of” lists, including “Top 10 Father Figures in Literature” and “Top 10 Father Figures in Film.” Of course, these accolades are not surprising, given that the book has been named “Greatest novel of all time” and “best novel of the [20th] century.”

While my husband is not a lawyer, not exactly even of temperament, not a widower and not a Southern gentleman he, like Atticus Finch, takes his role as a father very seriously, and makes every effort to spend time with his children.

When the kids were young, he read to them and told bedtime stories at night. He invented “Star Wars” games and watched Jurassic Park and The Aristocats 10,000 times. He suffered through sleepless nights in bunk beds during Y-Guides and Y-Princess campouts.

My husband spent countless hours on bleachers, watching everything from T-ball practices to long swim meets to high school football games and dance recitals.

Now, he engages in meaningful conversation during family dinners and puts his smart phone and laptop away during weekends and vacations.

Perhaps most important, he is present in our home and family.

Much has been written about the negative impact of fatherless families. According to a recent blog post, one out of every three U.S. children – 15 million in all – lives without a father. From 2000 to 2010, a period in which the U.S. added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million.

This blog, “The Fatherless Generation,” notes that coming from fatherless homes is attributed to a strikingly disproportionate amount of suicide, homelessness, behavioral disorders and imprisonment among youth, particularly boys.

While the impact of fatherless families on young women is harder to quantify, my guess is it is no less severe. In fact, a host of recent studies and books have delved into the issue.

In the Psychology Today article, “How Dads Shape Daughters’ Relationships,” Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD, wrote,“If there was a dad or other male caregiver in your early life, he probably set the first model of how a relationship with a man would be…[A] woman’s early relationship with dad, who is usually the first male object of her love, shapes her conscious and unconscious perceptions of who she can expect and what is acceptable in a romantic partner.”

Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father, notes that when a father is absent from his daughter’s life at a crucial time, she can become “frozen” relationally, and “There is a void in her life and the search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships which usually result in some really poor choices.”

I learned of this connection a decade ago, while speaking with another mom during a preschool field trip. This woman told me she had spent time volunteering at a Planned Parenthood facility in a very conservative part of Texas.

She recalled that she had seen women of all ages, from young teenagers to 40-somethings, struggling with unwanted pregnancies – mostly because they lacked consistent romantic partners. When I asked if she could draw any conclusions or generalities from this experience, she said, “Definitely. Those woman all had one thing in common: no stable father in their lives.”

I shared this with my husband, and he took the information to heart. While by nature he prefers watching sports on TV, throwing a football in the yard and floating down a river with a fly-rod in hand, he became an involved father to his little girl.

He wants his daughter to remember that they played dress-ups and read books about princesses. He sat on the floor and played out Barbie and Ken scenarios with her. He watched dance, piano and choir recitals and even volunteered to join a group of “dancing Santas” for a children’s choir show.

Today, while Pea is a teenager and not particularly open to heart-to-hearts with her dad, his impact on her life remains strong. She is confident and driven and, so far, has not sought affirmation in the wrong places.

Like Scout Finch and Harper Lee, Pea knows her daddy loves her, and that he is watching.

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 16 June 2014
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Husbands and Fathers in Pink Tutus

I can’t imagine my husband or three sons strutting about in pink tutus, but then again, I’m not sure anyone imagines that breast cancer will impact their family.

So far (knock wood), that particular cancer has not touched our clan.

Nevertheless, most years I choose to join thousands of runners in the Race for the Cure, which raises funds for the breast cancer awareness and research activities of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Yesterday was no exception.

RFTC pink moustacheAnd as I neared the site of the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, with the Jetson’s-like Space Needle in view, I couldn’t help noticing that each year the race seems to attract more men…in pink tutus.

As Martha would say, this is “a good thing.”

I can’t recall how many runners joined me in New York’s Central Park for my first Race for the Cure, back in 1991, but I don’t remember seeing many men or much pink. In fact, that race was where the Komen Foundation, which held its first race in Texas back in 1983, debuted its iconic pink ribbon.

Here in Seattle, for several years our local lacrosse team encouraged players and their families to sign up for the RTFC as a group. I distinctly remember when our group’s top finisher was a high schooler whose mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He didn’t don a tutu, but he certainly ran for a reason.

Yesterday, apparently about 6,000 of the 8,000 participants in Seattle’sRFTC tutus and carriage
RFTC events ran or walked for a reason, too. According to the Komen Foundation, three-fourths of those who participate in RFTC events – something like 1.6 million people in 150 cities around the world – have survived breast cancer or have a close friend or family member impacted by the disease.

At the Seattle Center, I saw very fit runners in short shorts and tiny singlets, competing for  medals and personal-best times. I also saw red-faced, sweat-drenched athletes who had not trained adequately for the event, and slow, but smiling, walkers of all ages and shapes.

I spotted elderly and ailing people in wheelchairs, kids in strollers and wagons, babies in backpacks and women from all “walks of life” wearing “survivor” shirts and scarves over their hairless heads.

Groups of runners and walkers gathered in coordinated outfits, such as tutus and feather boas and funny hats, with signs on their backs naming the women they were honoring.

Yesterday, instead of focusing on my 5K time, I took note of the diverse crowd, smiled at the survivors, chuckled at the costumes, cheered for the children and felt compassion for those who had lost loved ones.

I headed back home feeling happy that we humans value, and gather strength from, community.

-Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 2 June 2014
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#Hope and Spring

Hope is an essential characteristic of the human psyche. It’s a common feeling or emotion, but sometimes we need a reminder, or permission, to believe that hope can help affect outcomes.

While one dictionary states that hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” and “grounds for believing that something good may happen,” Wikipedia tells us that “hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.”

I was riddled by hopeful sentiments as I tried to fall asleep last night:

–       Hope that my 18-year-old son would return from a party safe and sound;

–       Hope that my large Golden-doodles would let me sleep in;

–       Hope that my son in California would heal quickly (he had ACL reconstruction surgery last Saturday) and find direction for his next steps;

–       Hope that the weather reports would prove wrong (which is often the case here), and that the sun would shine on Memorial Day. The garden needs attention!

–       Hope that our country would renew its focus on gun control, so tragedies like the one in Santa Barbara won’t reoccur;

–       Hope that friends who suffer from cancer will find serenity, and perhaps miracles.

I am certain that the cup of coffee I ordered in the afternoon wasn’t really decaffeinated.

photo-5This morning, however, I still feel hopeful, and have found some wise, encouraging words on the internet.

I am reminded of the innocent hope that young children feel. Hope that they will feel special on their birthdays, that Santa will deliver on Christmas, that when a new school year begins, they will find good friends in their classes, and hope that they will perform well in sports.

I recall the song my friends and I used to repeat at the corner playground, while climbing the jungle-gym:

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie
In the sky hopes…

(To hear Frank Sinatra’s rendition, click here.)

Often, I hear the encouragement my mother offered when I struggled to learn how to read and ride a two-wheeler, repeating the words from The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”

And, of course, I recall the oft-quoted stanza from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man (ca. 1733):

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. 

I am reminded that the swallow is a symbol of hope, as it’s one of the first birds to appear each spring, and I think about the promise that crocuses and chirping birds and budding trees bring each March.

And let’s not forget Obi-Wan Kenobi, who in Star Wars serves as Princess Leia’s “only hope.” We all know how that story turned out.

This morning, I am devouring information on hope in a Wikipedia essay. I learned that Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson argues that hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. Positive thinking like the “Little Engine’s,” she says, “bears fruit when based on a realistic sense of optimism, not on a naive ‘false hope.’ ”

The essay tells me that psychologist C.R. Snyder links hope to the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal.

I read that followers of Hinduism make a strong connection between karma and hope: “In Hindu belief, actions have consequences, and while one’s effort and work may or may not bear near term fruits, it will serve the good, that the journey of one’s diligent efforts (karma) and how one pursues the journey,[41] sooner or later leads to bliss and moksha.”

As I pull weeds today, I resolve to contemplate how hope can comfort and motivate so many of us to move forward, yet in so many different ways. I am mindful that hope is embodied in:

  • The man using the last $10 from his paycheck to purchase a lottery ticket;
  • The feeble widow carrying cups of quarters from one slot machine to another in Reno;
  • The child trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve, anxious about what he will find under the tree;
  • A woman who has discovered she is pregnant, hoping that the little being will grow and thrive and emerge as a healthy baby;
  • The new father imagining his newborn’s future – perhaps better than his own, perhaps following in his footsteps;
  • The proud parents, aunts and grandparents at commencement ceremonies over the coming weeks, hoping that the graduate will find happiness and success in life;
  • The recent graduate, preparing her resume, making connections on LinkedIn and perusing ads on Craig’;
  • The rainbow that appears at a low moment, convincing a sad, lonely, sick or depressed person that all will turn out well;
  • The crowd at a baseball game, when it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, the home team is losing by several runs, the bases are loaded and the beloved slugger is up to bat;a
  • The brain-trauma survivor, continuing painful therapy;
  • The destitute family in Mexico, watching a team of church-group youth build them a small home. (Thanks to Dylan Sullivan for this amazing video.)
  • The political prisoner or prisoner of war, continuing to believe he or she will be released. I think of Louis Zamperini – the 1930s track star-turned Navy pilot-turned lifeboat- and Japanese POW camp survivor, whose life was documented in Laura Hillenbrand’s amazing novel, Unbroken, and his own memoir, Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II: “Yet a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope. What happens is up to God.”
  • David Sheff and his son Nic, whose years of drug addiction, sobriety and relapse were chronicled in David’s best-seller Beautiful Boy and his latest novel Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, and who said in a recent interview: “I…realized how lucky we were. After multi-treatment programs when we were hopeful, and then multiple relapses, when we were once again terrorized and terrified, Nic was doing great – now he’s been sober for five years.” 
  • The local friend with Stage 4 lung cancer, who writes witty, heart-wrenching, grateful, honest and hopeful updates on her Caring Bridge website: “I want to meet other survivors in the 5% Club – those people who were diagnosed with STAGE 4 LUNG CANCER, and given very poor odds, yet beat the odds.  I want to speak to these people and get their advice on what to do as I wage this major battle.”

Today, I give myself permission to focus on wisdom from the esteemed writer Anne Lamott: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”

–       Linda Williams Rorem, PermissionSlips, 26 May, 2014
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Summertime, Bummer-time

Facebook is flooded with photos of prom couples, college graduates and end-of-school-year celebrations. And that can mean only one thing: kids shall soon chant, “School’s out for summer!” For many of us older types, while summer vacation means increased family time, more sunshine and, hopefully, less stress, it does put pressure on the household “help.” Here’s how those employees are affected:

The Short-Order Cook: It seems that during summer, one meal bleeds into the next. Kids wake up at different times, so breakfast can stretch from 6:30-11:30 am. Lunch may follow an hour later, afternoon-snack requests fill much of the day and dinner comes all too soon, especially for kids rushing off to sports practices, swim meets and social events.
The Solution: Create a sign indicating the chef’s hours. Kids who wake up too late can pour themselves cereal. Those who miss dinner can enjoy cereal again. Those who want the chef’s daily specials will soon adjust.

The Scullery Maid: An obvious end-product of extra mouths and additional meals is dirty dishes. Countertops brim with dirty plates, glasses and silverware – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have kids who “bus” their own tables.
The Solutions: For starters, buy a bunch of colored plastic cups or water bottles, and assign one color to each family member. Ask them to reuse those vessels throughout the day. As for the dishwashing situation, take a page from my wise friend Jennifer McClellan’s book. She recently noted on Facebook: I ran a little experiment yesterday. I left the dishwasher open and the racks pulled out. Obvious, right? Dishes were still put in the sink. Dear children, please note that the magic sink fairy has never, not once, found our home. Jen, keep trying; you rock!

The Housemaid (home-based men–no sexism intended here): With bodies underfoot all day, the house soon becomes cluttered with shirts, shoes, boxers, bikinis, towels, flip flops, magazines and dishes, which are strewn about haphazardly. The task of keeping the place picked up is nothing short of back-breaking.
The Solution: Confiscate items left in “public” places, and let the kids buy them back at thrift-store prices. As for bedrooms, close doors. You may also tie room-cleanliness to specific privileges, such as cell phones, TV time or car usage, depending on how much you care about what’s behind those doors. In our home, the threat that a pile of clothes makes a great home for spiders works well enough.

The Laundress: The volume of dirty clothes seems to triple for every family member (quadruple for those who usually wear school uniforms) during summer months. Count on several outfit changes per day, as well as loads of soggy beach towels. For many, throwing clothes into the laundry hamper is a valid response to “please fold and put away clothes you have barely worn” (see “The Housemaid”).
The Solution: Summer is the perfect time to teach kids how to wash, dry and fold their own clothes.

The Referee: With more bodies under foot for more hours of the day, conflict is inevitable. Fights over toys, X-box time, TV selections, teenage hours (complaining about noise in the early am; creating too much noise late at night) and car privileges keep the family referee blowing his or her whistle nonstop.
The Solution: One very wise friend wuold break up every tussle and argument by sending all who were involved into time out together, to work through the problems on their own. Wish I had thought of that.

The Lifeguard: Okay, sitting pool- or lake-side while kids cavort in the water and sand seems like a dream job, doesn’t it? No sympathy needed…unless you live in Seattle (as I do), where “summer” doesn’t officially start until July 5. In other words, the first few weeks of summer vacation are typically cloudy, rainy and cold. The kids don’t seem to care, and require the lifeguard’s attention anyway.
The Solution: Here in Seattle, it’s called Polar Fleece.

The Social Chairman: Those with young chlldren know that summer days require an endless stream of phone calls and emails to set up playdates and carpools, and the task of supervising young people’s activities is exhausting.
The Solution: Remember the good old days when you went outside as soon as the sun warmed the sidewalk, walked or rode your bike to the neighborhood park or pool, and played with whomever showed up? When you stayed outside until your mom called you in for dinner? Okay, I recognize that’s nostalgia, not a solution.

The Chauffeur: Of course, the Social Chairman’s job requires chauffeur services, as well. Kids need rides to wim lessons, sports-team practices, playdates and camps.
The Solution: If you live in a safe community, let capable kids walk, ride bikes and take city busses whenever possible. If not, make friends that can help with carpools. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Car time is conducive to great conversations and life lessons, and before you know it, they’ll be driving on their own.

The Sports Team Manager: Kids who play team sports can have wicked summer schedules, with practices, games and out-of-town tournaments. For the four years our oldest played select baseball, our summers revolved around his schedule. All four kids competed on a summer swim and dive team, and that kept us all busy for most of the summer, too.
The Solution: Use carpools, give yourself permission to miss practices and even a game or two. But most of all, enjoy the time together. Some of our family’s best summer memories came from our baseball weekends.

The Watchdog: For parents of teens, and especially those who are home “visiting” from college, this is the most stressful summer job. Kids typically stay out later more days of the week when they have endless amounts of unstructured time. Often, but not always, bad choices ensue. And no matter how kids spend their time, most parents don’t rest easily until the kids are home safe.
The Solution: Set reasonable curfews, perfect the art of napping and pray.

The Born-Again Parent: This may be the toughest summer job of all. On the one hand, you’re thrilled that your child survived a year away from the nest. You missed him or her enormously. You spent hundreds of dollars on care packages and Starbucks or Subway gift cards.  You worried incessantly and breathed more easily after every text or phone call.  And then suddenly, they’re back. You can no longer keep the fridge, and especially the milk, sufficiently stocked. You struggle with all of the forementioned jobs. Your family’s gas consumption increases and your sleep quality decreases. And you really can’t blame college kids. They have grown accustomed to all-you-can-eat, take-what-you-want cafeterias that include  dishwashing services, dorm-cleanliness standards (or lack thereof), loud music, unchaperoned parties and curfew-free weekends. They have grown unaccustomed to parental voices and wisdom.

The Solution: Set reasonable rules, restrictions and curfews before major problems ensue.  Most of all, enjoy having your babies in your midst again. The clock is winding down. – Linda WIlliams Rorem, 19 May 2014 20140519-104533.jpg Photo courtesy of Lisa Nordale, whose college-age son just returned home

Guilt and the Modern Mother’s Day

I can’t help thinking Anna Jarvis would be proud.

Yesterday, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were flooded with meaningful posts and photographs commemorating mothers of all ages.

Many of us felt joy seeing photos showing generations of hard-working moms grouped together, younger versions of moms whose minds or bodies have suffered and tributes to those who have left us too soon.

blog - Justin mother's dayYesterday the nation’s 85 million mothers – as well as their children and spouses — celebrated the fruits of Anna Jarvis’ labors. Jarvis, a native of Webster, WV, is considered the driving force behind Mother’s Day’s founding 100 years ago.

The tenth of 13 children born to Granville and Ann Jarvis, Anna gained inspiration from her mother as she embarked on a meaningful career, and cared for her mom in her later years.

Her idea for giving mothers their day in the sun came to fruition when Jarvis was nearly 60 years old, as President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day.

Yes, the holiday has been over-commercialized, and many of us cringe at the sappy TV commercials, the endless racks of greeting cards and the bountiful, over-priced displays of chocolates and flowers.

Jarvis experienced the beginnings of this commercialization, and, according to the book Women Who Made a Difference, once stated that “a printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself.”

I hope Permission Slips readers were able to convey and receive meaningful messages yesterday. Most important, I hope you treasured the teacher-led classroom projects, the hand-written cards, the texts, voicemails and electronic tributes. (Pictured here is a Mother’s Day painting from my second son, a dozen years ago. It still hangs in my office.)

And, finally, I give you mothers permission to continue to struggle with this lifelong, confusing, contradictory, overwhelming and incredibly rewarding job. In my opinion, this conundrum is best explained by the esteemed essayist Anna Quindlen, who gives mothers permission to accept their imperfections and mistakes. I, for one, take solace in these words.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 12 May 2014
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How to Put a Bad Day in Perspective

What could have been a wonderful Sunday simply wasn’t to be. In fact, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The morning schedule looked all clear, so I rose early to attack a photo project for a relative. Sitting at my desktop computer at 7 am, I started scrolling through photos to make my selections.

And then, I heard a tree fall – this time not on my home — saw a bright flash and watched the computer screen go dark.

photo (7)It’s not unusual, on this heavily wooded island, for tree branches to fall on power lines. So, three or four times a year, we lose our electricity source – usually for 12 to 18 hours, but sometimes for several days, and once for a full week.

I knew what the day held: no computer power, no internet, no hot water.

I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I checked the newspaper’s weather report, and noted that the torrential rainfall should continue for several days.

So, the plants I purchased at Home Depot would spend another day in their plastic containers. The weeds would have another week to flourish in the garden. The lawn’s edges would remain ragged.

Walking past the laundry room, I realized that I had forgotten to move the crammed dark load from the washer into the drier. It would remain soaked for another day.

Fortunately, my cell phone was working. So, I texted my oldest son, who is awaiting knee surgery that will derail his college football plans, at least for the near future. I feel terrible for him, as football has served as a wonderful focus for his energy and dreams.

Next, my daughter and I drove to the health club to shower and get ready for our National Charity League chapter’s senior celebration. (While it was a hassle to haul everything to the gym, we do recognize we are fortunate to have somewhere to find warm showers, blow driers and bright lights.)

The luncheon was lovely, I went to a chocolate tasting afterwards, and our family later enjoyed a dinner out together. The day was definitely on an upswing.

Back at home, we settled into the living room, turned on the gas fireplace and read books by candlelight. It actually felt wonderful to unplug for an evening.

And then the call came: news that a young man we know had died suddenly. My heart aches for my son, who was good friends with the guy, as well as for his parents and our community at large.

Images of this young man are vivid in my mind. I can see him at our kitchen table, where he sat for countless meals and discussions about life. Whenever he entered our home, he filled every room with his positive energy, charm and broad smile. He was, as one friend just said, “a big teddy bear.”

Suddenly, the power outage, the rain, the musty clothes and the delayed projects seemed incredibly trivial. This young man will never see another day, and his family will never feel whole again.

My day was just a tough one, and some days are like that. Even in Australia. At least I have the promise of tomorrow.

Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 5 May 2014
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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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