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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Finding Happiness When Life Has its Own Plans

johnsonfamilyRecently, a bright, lively, beautiful, capable, involved and all-around amazing woman in our community received the shocking diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. True to her nature, she immediately began to face this unforeseen challenge with strength, courage, calm and even humor.

Openly and honestly, Diane has shared details and feelings about this experience on her CaringBridge website. (Click here for access.) While all of Diane’s posts are engaging and thought provoking, her thoughts on appreciating kindness and finding happiness “when my life is not what I had planned” could benefit all of us.

We are so honored that Diane agreed to share excerpts from her inspirational posts with PermissionSlips readers.

May 1, 2014, 9:26 pm
I have been diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma Stage 4 lung cancer and it has metastasized to my spine in my C4 vertebrae. We were totally and completely shocked at this diagnosis.

[I am undergoing radiation treatments] to shrink or eradicate the existing tumor in my C4 vertebrae. It is not feasible to undergo major surgery like lung removal when another tumor could resurface in another spot immediately thereafter. [Also], this tumor is in a very difficult place to reach, making it nearly impossible to remove. The hope is that chemotherapy will reduce the one existing lung tumor and halt the progression of anything else that might develop.

Will this cancer and chemotherapy be the fight of my life? Yes. I welcome your prayers and wishes for improved health. I will need all the help, miracles, luck and good medicine that I can find.

May 10, 2014, 1:40 pm
I am calling [this] a full offensive attack. I plan to use every means possible to fight against my opponent. I want to meet people who were diagnosed with STAGE 4 LUNG CANCER, [given a 5% chance of survival, like me] and beat the odds. I want to get their advice on what to do as I wage this major battle.

I want to say one huge THANK YOU to so many people who have sent texts, cards, emails, phone calls, visits, etc. with kind and loving wishes for me and our entire family. I can honestly say that the only good thing that has come from this cancer is the touching of hearts I have experienced.  I wish I had been living my life showing my affection and appreciation for everyone in it as much as I am experiencing now.

It is so easy to overlook and rush past a kindness, while forgetting to mention it to the giver. I am going to make it a point to not save these appreciations, compliment and affirmations silently inside of me. We would all be better off if we tried to express these warm thoughts to others more often.

June 9, 2014, 12:09 pm
Well, life has stabilized in the last few weeks. I had my second round of chemo. For the first five days, I didn’t feel well and had a heavy taste of salt in my mouth. I really couldn’t eat. Hah! I guess I was carrying around this spare tire on my waist for a good reason – it was sort of like “nourishment from the mother ship” for a while there! Anyway, after five days, the horrible taste and fatigue decreased dramatically and I reentered the world of the living. Since then, I have felt good and have surprised myself with [my] energy.

The bulk of my thoughts have been on a subject that is rather new to me: HOW DO I FIND HAPPINESS WHEN MY LIFE IS NOT WHAT I HAD PLANNED? I think we ALL deal with this to some degree – maybe we are waiting for a promotion, or for our house to sell, or waiting for school to be over, or WHATEVER you want changed in your life. Right now I just have a REALLY BIG subject that is not what I wanted or planned in my life. After interviewing cancer survivors and reading extensively, I am seeing that the most successful cancer warriors simply accept this unplanned life change and look for all the love and goodness around them. As trite as it sounds, it boils down to actually LIVING each day with love, happiness and appreciation.

For me, [what I call] OPERATION 5% involves utilizing all the drugs and treatments from traditional western medicine, and incorporating various whole-body health modalities like massage, visualization, acupuncture, meditation and energy healing.

The last component of OPERATION 5% has been my appreciation for the absolutely overwhelming love and support I have received from my family, friends and extended community. I can’t thank people enough for all the love you have sent my way – meals, dog walks, cards, texts, drive-by hugs, prayers, outings, jokes, jokes and more jokes, kind words, invites for my family, inspirational messages, flowers, emails and so much more. I am feeling the love and channeling all that energy to my T-cells to attack this cancer. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be fighting this with support from all of you!

June 20, 2014, 10:50 pm
[My first CT] scan showed there has been no advancement of the cancer, my lymph nodes are no longer inflamed and the bone tumor is either greatly reduced or gone and showing healthy bone regrowth. I am tolerating the treatment quite well, and looking and feeling good. Overall it was a very positive review. . . I believe I convinced my doctor that with my personal battle I [call] OPERATION 5%, I INTEND to be one of his cases who beats this cancer back and I INTEND to continue a normal life for much longer than what the textbooks [predict]!

Now I am continuing to be very realistic with my prognosis. . . BUT… I’ll put it this way…when you are given an unexpected, short-term, terminal prognosis at age 54 (while you still have young kids to raise)…and you can beat this thing back a bit…well, I am going to take my five minutes in the sunshine and celebrate.

I am a FULL BELIEVER that all the good karma from my friends has contributed greatly to my OPERATION 5%. I want to ask you to expand that support to someone else in your circle who is fighting their own battle (whatever it may be). Believe me, anything helps – a note, text, hug, joke, book, errands, food, prayers – it all builds up the person in need.

– Diane Johnson for Permission Slips, 23 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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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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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:

http://huff.to/1jCx4WS

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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