The Black Lash Backlash

My boys’ battle to keep their little sister from growing up continues its tireless and frustrating path.

With the two oldest off at college, Bodie now soldiers on alone, at home. However, it turns out his cause may yet take on a national scope.

Consider this recent scenario. During dinner, Bodie glances at Pea and notices her long, full lashes. “Pea, are you wearing MAKEUP?” he asks, not so gingerly.

photoHe reaches over, pinches her lashes between his thumb and forefinger, gives a good yank and examines the residue. “See? My fingers are BLACK! That means you’re wearing mascara,” he shouts.

“I just wear a little bit,” my eighth-grade girls replies.

“You shouldn’t be wearing ANY makeup,” Bodie advises. “You’re too young.”

Pea takes another bite of pasta to avoid a reply. So, I come to her rescue, more or less. “Bodie, what are you going to do next year, when Pea is with you in high school?” I ask. “Do you expect her to go make-up free then?”

Yes,” he says. “And when I drive her to school, I’m going to keep a sponge in the car so I can wipe her makeup off.”

“You know, Bodie, lots of girls who are forbidden to wear makeup just put it on in the school bathroom,” I suggest.

“Okay, so I’ll get Pea’s class schedule and follow her around school with my sponge,” he asserts.

Glad he has that one figured out. And, fortunately, Bodie may find support in his make-up free crusade.

Although check-out line tabloids routinely splash “shocking” “stars without makeup” photos across their pages, in an effort to debase the celebrities’ beauty-queen status, some models have begun championing the natural look.

In fact, last week the New York Times Style Magazine ran an article subtitled, in part, “A face without makeup looks wholesome and shows confidence.”

Rachel R. White’s article mentions that at the recent 2014 collection runway shows, “There was little or no makeup… with models channeling the confident girl who’s too cool to care.”

White quotes Tatcha skin-care founder Victoria Tsai, who notes that models have realized, “When you step out from that veil of makeup, you are inviting people to look at you as a person.”

I think we all should give ourselves permission to do that — at least from time to time.

However, the article cautions, the look only works for those who have taken great care of their skin, with sunscreens and expensive lotions. I guess it’s too late for those of us who slathered on baby oil and sunned ourselves with aluminum-foil-covered record albums.

Tsai points out that in Asia, where the “no-makeup trend” has existed for quite a while, “They spend more money on skin care and less on makeup.”

I definitely fall into that camp (witness my recent Orogold bill), and hopefully my daughter has grown up believing, as I do, that “less is more” when it comes to face paint. Thankfully, my husband agrees.

The general public may have started to climb on board. Last week, my kids’ former nanny Sara Bradley-King Compaglia  posted a Facebook link to Karen Alpert’s Baby Sideburns blog, which advocated attempting makeup-free week. Alpert was inspired by her young daughter, who asked for lip gloss because “I want to be pretty!”

Alpert wrote, “I know that one day she’ll want to wear lipstick and eyeliner and glitter eye shadow and all other s&#@ that’s going to drive me up an F’ing wall, but I don’t want her to think she HAS TO wear it to be beautiful.”

So, Alpert decided to go makeup free for a week, and cover up every single mirror in her home during that period.

Compaglia decided to join in after seeing her own 19-month-old daughter attempt to apply blush. “NOT what I had in mind for her!” she noted.

As for Pea, while she definitely prefers a “natural” look, she won’t forego the foundation that covers the red spots that are the bane of many teenagers’ existence. And, having honed her makeup artistry through dance and choir performances, she loves helping me “doll up” for big nights out.

So, I decided to speak with Bodie privately about his ongoing concerns. “Why are you so worried about Pea wearing a little makeup?” I ask. “She’s a good girl, she’s really balanced and grounded, and she isn’t boy-crazy yet.”

“I just don’t want her to think she’s older than she is,” he replied. “Girls who wear a lot of makeup are trying to look too grown up.”

I can’t argue with his desire to preserve her innocence a little longer. At least, he suggests, until he departs for college.

–  Linda Williams Rorem, 25 November 2013
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Facebook Dos and Don’ts for Dads

Today’s guest blogger is Toby Suhm, a “super dad” with a super good sense of humor after his daughters tell him what he is allowed to post on Facebook.

Like many parents of teenagers, I struggle to balance my desire to stay relevant in the rapidly evolving world of social media with the feeling of a drowning man – I am having trouble keeping my head above water.  Instagram, Snapchat, Pintrest, Twitter, Viber, Vine… who can possibly keep up? Thankfully, MySpace has fallen by the wayside, so I don’t have to worry about that one anymore.

I recently shared one of my daughter’s athletic competition pictures on my Facebook page. In my comments I mentioned that I was probably violating Facebook Posting Rule #4 by posting the sports picture, but thought the risk was worth it. I got a number of queries –  what are the Facebook Posting Rules?  Simply stated, “The Rules” are  guidelines my daughters have given me to keep from embarrassing them or myself on Facebook. Bear in mind my daughters are 19 and 16 years old; virtually anything I do embarrasses them.suhm family

A year or so ago, they gave me this set of five rules – plus I’m pretty sure, the sixth one implied. The girls tell me they are for my own protection, so I won’t embarrass myself.  I think we all know the real reason for the rules…

  1. Is it longer than one sentence? If so, don’t post. Now I appreciate brevity as much as the next guy, but really, who can communicate anything meaningful in one sentence? Even in a speech renowned for its brevity, Abraham Lincoln needed 10 sentences to deliver the Gettysburg Address. How can I possibly communicate anything in Facebook in one sentence or less?
  2. Is it bragging? If so, don’t post. This one I actually sort of get. Who likes to constantly read posts from people strutting around on-line, thumping their chests and spouting off? On the other hand, isn’t that the whole reason behind Facebook? Look at what interesting things I’m doing! Look at my amazing kids. Isn’t my pet the cutest thing you have ever seen? How do you like these photos of our recent kitchen remodel?
  3. Is it political? If so, don’t post. I claim that I don’t post anything blatantly liberal or conservative, but, rather interesting, thought-provoking, middle-of-the-road essays and editorials that cause one to stop and ponder the issues. My daughters say that’s not possible. Anything remotely political is going to offend at least some of your friends.
  4. Is it about your daughters? If so, do you have their permission? If no, don’t post. Refer to #2 above. The whole reason for Facebook’s existence if you are a parent is to post pictures, newspaper articles, updates and “A” English essays from your kids. I don’t consider it bragging, just keeping family and friends updated on what they’re up to. Besides, if I had to get their permission, I’d never get to post anything.
  5. Are you using the Facebook “check-in” feature from a sporting event, movie theater, restaurant, activity, venue, roadside attraction, monument or anywhere else on planet Earth? If so, don’t check in. This one has always confused me because my daughters, and every person below the age of 30 I know, checks in on Facebook about 25 times a day. But for some reason, if I try to check in from the Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy soccer match of the year, I am violating rule #5 and am in the Facebook equivalent of a time-out.
  6. If in doubt, don’t post. It’s always good to a have a blanket, catch-all rule to fall back on.
    Italiano: versione ombreggiata e ingrandita de...

    Italiano: versione ombreggiata e ingrandita del simboletto “like” di FB (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Other than that, I have their approval to post pretty much anything I want on FB.

Toby Suhm November 4, 2013

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If you haven’t already seen this funny list, check out: 17 Reasons Why The Kids Don’t Like Facebook Anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 16 Sept. 2013

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Instagram Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Lewis Gullstad

April 22, 2103


Top 10 Tips for Teens

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Eschew hangers and drawers.

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

2. Never complete homework in advance.

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

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

3. Ignore parental recommendations.

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

4. Avoid outings with parents.

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

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

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

6. Remember that curfews can be negotiated.

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

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

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

8. Leave no trace behind.

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

9. Live in silence.

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

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

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

  • I ❤ U

– Linda Williams Rorem, 15 April 2013a
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Permission Slips Revisited

Just over two years ago, Carol and I returned from a publishing conference in New York with renewed enthusiasm about our writing project: a book about girlfriend getaways. Classmates, literary agents and editors all had taken an interest in our idea, and encouraged us to seek ways to spread the word and build an audience.

Within a few weeks of that trip, we inaugurated our blog, “Permission Slips,” which has grown to become a weekly reminder that we all should take better care of ourselves and tune out what others think we should do and be.

As we have continued to find new ways to share our stories, our audience has grown dramatically. We now have an abundance of email recipients, Facebook followers, WordPress subscribers and even Twitter and Instagram friends. However, as middle-aged moms, we do struggle to keep up with the constantly evolving technology at our fingertips. (Our teens just stand back and laugh…)

Over the past two years, we have thoroughly enjoyed looking at the statistics that our WordPress site provides. For instance, we can see a map that shows our readers come from 92 different countries, primarily the U.S., U.K. and Canada, of course, but also distant outposts including Albania, Cyprus and Jordan.

Each week, we can see how our readers navigate to our site, and know that most of you find us through Facebook, email links and our abbreviated posts on Seattle-area Patch sites.

It’s often humorous to note the search terms that lead readers to us. Over the past year, the most popular searches included “stress,” “50 Shades of Grey hard and soft limits,” “frazzled women,” “laundry,” and, of course, “permission slips” for various issues and outings. Those terms certainly speak volumes about our collective state of mind.

Along the same lines, we note that our tags about friendship, relationships and family seem to resonate the strongest. We will keep that in mind as we embark on our third year of blogging, and ask that you will continue to provide us with feedback and new readers through your shares and word of mouth.

In honor of our second anniversary of blogging, we are debuting a new look, which we think is cleaner, more engaging and easier to navigate. Let us know if you agree, or what you would change.

And finally, we decided to commemorate this milestone with a list of our personal favorite (not necessarily most-read) “permissions.” After checking out our list, please let us know which posts–either listed below or from our archives—have spoken loudest to you. Based on your feedback, we will post our “reader favorites” soon.

Following are our Top 10 Favorite Permission Slips (double-click on each link to re-read the post; be patient, as it may take a moment to load):

  1. The Mean Mom Club: Permission to Be a Tough Parent
  2. Sandwich Generation: Permission to Take Breaks to Refuel
  3. Good Friends Keep Us Healthy: Permission to Prioritize Girlfriend Time
  4. Dirty Laundry: Permission to Make Kids do Their Share
  5. Love and Lecture, Then Let Go and Live: Permission to Loosen the Reins
  6. Beginnings and Endings: Permission to Mourn and Move On
  7. The Kids are Alright: Permission to Raise Less-than-Perfect Kids
  8. Senior Road: Permission to Appreciate Milestones
  9. Dog is My Co-pilot: Permission to Love Four-Legged Friends
  10. Sh*t Moms SayPermission to Laugh at OurselvesWe look forward to hearing from you.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 12 Nov. 2012
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Just Another Day in the Life

Last Saturday started much like any other. Son #3 needed to arrive at the high school by 7 am to catch a bus for a cross-country meet. Sadly, we wouldn’t see him run, as we had committed to watching #2 son’s high school football game in Idaho, just across the state line.

So, at 6:15 I woke #3 and his friend, who had spent the night, tried (unsuccessfully) to interest them in breakfast, packed a bag of protein bars, water and cheese snacks, and delivered them to the school with 30 seconds to spare.

Then, it was back home to wake my daughter and get her to a mother-daughter charity-league meeting by 8 am. There, I ate a bagel, drank a cup of decaf and communed with friends. At the meeting’s conclusion, I passed my girl off to her aunt and cousins, who would take her for the day.

My husband met me in the dog park with “son” #4 (the Golden-doodle), so we could exercise him before heading for Idaho.

Next, it was off to the airport for our noon flight to Spokane (my husband wisely suggested we fly instead of drive; because he travels for work, we have plenty of frequent-flier miles).  Lunch was a bag of trail mix purchased in the airport gift shop.

We battled traffic en route to the field (some 40 miles away), arriving just in time for the game’s start. It was a beautiful, sunny day; the team played well, but lost. Our son played well, but not as much as we had hoped. We communed with the many parents who had made the trip the prior evening, ate soft-serve ice cream and popcorn for a second lunch, and at the game’s conclusion, rushed back to the airport for our 6:30 flight home – the last one out of Spokane that evening.

Back in Seattle, we collected our daughter, checked in with #3 son, played with the dog and settled in for the evening. I gave my husband “permission” to watch the Huskies game he had taped (the team played poorly, and lost); my daughter and I rented a movie (I missed most of it; very uncharacteristically, I spent most of the time on the phone). Dinner was… hmmmmm… I think I grabbed a yogurt at about 9 pm.

Did I mention it was my birthday?

Many years ago, I would have felt very crabby about spending my birthday in such a fashion. I always had high expectations for a fantastic day, but never knew how to let others know what I wanted or anticipated. Perhaps this was because I came at the tail end of a large family, or maybe because I lacked the skills and confidence to assert my wishes; at any rate, I almost always ended my special day feeling underappreciated and disappointed.

As a mom, it was worse. I soon learned that “special days” are a myth; our duties and pressures don’t cease on Mother’s Day and birthdays, despite the best efforts of spouses and kids. So, I often felt cranky about having to chauffeur, cook, clean up, cajole and cheerlead on those “vacation days.”

Over the past few years, Carol (my friend and blogging partner) and I have worked to practice what we preach. We spend our work time discussing and writing about how women need to give themselves permission for breaks; to take care of their own mental and physical needs, so they can remain happy and healthy enough to help others.

So, a while back, we started treating each other to an annual birthday lunch (her big day comes four days after mine) in a waterfront neighborhood about 30 minutes from our homes. We would dress up, drive towards the Puget Sound, walk along the beach, soak in the sunshine and clean, salty air (Septembers in Seattle are spectacular) and then stop for a long lunch.

The change of scenery and routine always made us feel that we had taken a mini vacation.

This year, we instead rented a two-person kayak near the University. We enjoyed a picture-perfect Seattle day, paddling in calm waters under sunny skies. Those few hours served to re-energize both of us, and our personal happiness cups were filled.

I didn’t stop there, though. Knowing that Saturday would be somewhat occupied, I booked a spa visit for Friday afternoon. In all honesty, I’m a low-maintenance gal; my friends say I should spend more time on my hair, makeup, nails and skin. I do prioritize time for work outs every day, but otherwise take a very “au naturel” approach to my appearance. So, the spa trip was definitely an unusual treat.

At a lodge northeast of my home, I soaked in an outdoor hot tub while sipping herbal tea, and then underwent an “exfoliating body wrap” and an “anti-aging facial.” I felt pampered, relaxed and rejuvenated. And so, between the spa and the kayak, time with friends and time to reflect, I had taken care of me.

Others would treat me later on. My husband and kids booked a brunch for the day after my birthday, and a good friend and her daughter invited my daughter and me to dinner Sunday night. Other friends scheduled a birthday lunch for later in the week.

So, while my actual birth date wasn’t all that special, I still felt happy and well-cared for (and my skin felt fabulous). Because of that, I was able to enjoy what the day brought, instead of focusing on what was missing. And, back at home, many wonderful surprises awaited: flowers, gifts, cards, emails, texts and phone messages, and a Facebook page filled with lovely notes from good friends from throughout the years.

Yes, it was just another day, but it was a wonderful one.

 – Linda Williams Rorem, 10 Sept. 2012
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Hard and Soft Limits for Teens

Any parent who thinks raising toddlers is the toughest job doesn’t have teens in the house.

The “terrible teens” are longer-lasting and less predictable; as more than one mom has said, “I never know what child I’m going to get in the morning.”

Those of you enduring the teen years know that on some days the kids act pleasant, cooperative, appreciative and respectful, and other days they are absolute beasts, limiting conversations to monosyllables, leaving heaps of clothes on bedroom floors, sleeping well past noon and defying family rules.

“This, too, shall pass” is the mantra I repeat on those difficult days.

Don’t get me wrong: I have four great (not perfect, but perfectly presentable) children who – on most days – demonstrate love, kindness and respect.

However, as we prepare to send our firstborn back to college, I’m reflecting on the strife that we endured this summer.

We were warned. Community members with older kids told us that when a child returns home after his or her first year of college, the family inevitably experiences a severe culture clash: college freedoms vs. house rules.

For nine months, our son set his own hours, returning to his dorm room and waking whenever he pleased. He didn’t have a curfew and didn’t need to check in with parents late at night. He ate whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. No one asked him to clean his room or wash dishes. He didn’t have a job, so did whatever he wanted during the weekend. And, most likely he engaged in the weekend-night activities that most college kids enjoy.

Back at home, we parents wanted to know who he was with, what he was doing and when he would be home. We offered one seating for dinner, which didn’t always fit with the his schedule. We asked for dishes to go into the dishwasher and clothes to go into the hamper or laundry room. We made it clear that college-kid “activities” were not allowed in our home.  We expected our son to earn money for college expenses. We were, in our boy’s own words, “a buzz kill.”

I know that these conflicts were par for the course, as the child was ready to use his wings while we parents wanted to continue establishing roots. (“Good parents give their kids roots and wings,” Jonas Salk once said. “Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.”)

I explained that we have more parenting work to do, as he is not yet an adult, and that the part of his brain that guides judgment is not yet fully developed. “Researchers have studied young men’s brains, and know that the frontal lobe is not completely connected until the mid-20s,” I said.

“Well, they haven’t looked at my brain,” he countered.

At times this summer, I threw up my arms and said, “Okay, just stay safe. My bottom line, hard limits are to prevent irreparable life changes: no drunk driving, no unwanted pregnancy and no drug addiction.”

I’m curious how the rest of you handle your kids’ college breaks. What are your hard and soft limits (and no, not the kind in Shades of Grey) for teenagers? Please leave your tips, as well as your frustrations, in the comments box below.

 — Linda Williams Rorem, 17 Aug. 2012
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