Take the Wheel and Drive

Last summer, during the phenomenal BlogHer’13 conference, Lean In‘s Sheryl Sandberg spoke at a breakfast, challenging attendees to think about what they would do if they weren’t afraid…and then do it.

While hundreds of bloggers filled out the large cards found at their tables and stepped into a photo booth to announce their new goals, many of us were too afraid to openly share our fears.

Since that time, though, I have contemplated what changes I would make, or how I would live my life differently, if I had no fear.

I think I’m fairly brave and I have taken some risks in my life, but I have to admit, I have let fear call the shots far too often.

For instance, decades ago I set out to write a novel, and was taking a fiction-writing class at New York University when I met my husband.

Bauer driving 4-10I have filled the past 20 years with reporting, public relations, editing and even technical-writing jobs, even though my husband said he would support my staying home to pen a non-fiction book.

In retrospect, I recognize I kept myself busy with paid work, because I was afraid to fail on my own time.

How about the rest of you?

Given the popularity of Sandberg’s book, as well as a new release from former Today show host Jane Pauley and a moving Bing commercial celebrating brave women, let’s call this the year of living fearlessly.

And, in that vein, I’m going to start my year’s soundtrack with a song by the alternative rock band Incubus.

Several years ago, a friend hosted a graduation party for her college-bound daughter, who I had grown close to through our summer swim and dive club.

Instead of presents, my friend urged party-goers to give her daughter a quote that held special meaning or might guide her through the coming years. After much thought, I decided to transcribe a few lines from the Incubus song “Drive” (1999): “Whatever tomorrow brings ill be there, with open arms and open eyes.”

Those words seemed very appropriate for Brenna, who has a beautiful, positive spirit and definitely greets each day with enthusiasm and an open heart.

However, I later realized the song resonated on another level; it’s about taking control of your own life, of not making choices based on others’ expectations: “Lately I’m beginning to find that when I drive myself, my light is found.”

But perhaps most important, lead singer/ songwriter Brandon Boyd is speaking of courage; of not letting fear dictate how we live our lives:
Sometimes I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear,
And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear take the wheel and steer.”

So, this year my goal is to live more courageously, and to stay in the driver’s seat.

I think it’s a valid objective for all of us. Are any fears controlling you?

  • Are you afraid to get out of a difficult relationship, or to give up a dysfunctional friendship? Do you worry about being alone, or about the repercussions of casting out a negative influence?
  • Have you refrained from confronting a friend or relative about something that truly bothers you, for fear of their reaction?
  • Have you stayed in a job too long? Have you stopped growing through your work? Do you dread going to the office each day, or watch the hours tick by slowly?
  • Is it difficult to ask for the promotion or raise you believe you deserve?
  • Are you letting the lack of funds keep you from traveling? Are you waiting for that “perfect time” to see the world?
  • Do you need a push to start over in a new city?
  • Are you afraid to take the necessary steps to give up drinking or smoking, wondering how you’ll live without those crutches?
  • If you need to lose weight or want to get into shape, are you afraid to take that first step with a gym membership?
  • Do you worry that if you are honest with your friends about your struggles, concerns or worries, they will think less of you?

If any of those worries resonate in your life, consider the amazing women who have overcome their own fears to attain goals and reach new heights, several of whom are celebrated in the new Microsoft Bing commercial:

This ode to some of 2013’s bravest women — including Malala Yousafzai, Gabrielle Giffords and Deb Cohen (who danced with her surgical team prior to a double mastectomy) — celebrates “a courageous group of women who have changed the world and shown us all what the human spirit can achieve.”

If they can overcome obstacles and live without fear, what’s stopping you?

Even Jane Pauley has jumped on the “fearless” bandwagon, with a new book that was mentioned in Sunday’s Parade magazine. In Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life (Simon & Schuster) Pauley shares advice for baby boomers – the youngest of which will turn 50 this year. She advises women to “remain engaged and take risks,” stressing that “Life is scary wonderful. It’s great to learn how resilient you can be.”

Okay, if you haven’t reached mid-life and have no idea who Jane Pauley is, perhaps actress Amy Adams might inspire you. In accepting her Best Actress Golden Globe award last night, Adams thanked her young daughter for “teaching me to accept joy and to let go of fear.”

That’s a great goal for all of us, don’t you think? Here’s to a joyful, fearless 2014.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 13 Jan. 2014
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Keeping Out the Ks: Exercising the Mommy Veto

It’s hard to avoid hearing about the Ks. In supermarket checkout lines, their faces, boobs and butts festoon magazine covers, with headlines screaming about sex tapes, cheating, divorces and drugs.

photo-24This “famous for being famous” family has (or had?) a reality show on TV. Talk show hosts joke about the dad’s plastic-looking plastic surgery results, the mom’s pretty much everything, the older girls’ weddings, the days-long marriage and the “directionally” named baby.

Like many Americans, my middle-school-age daughter can’t seem to divert her eyes.

In all fairness, I know precious little about this blended family. I have never seen the reality show and don’t read the tabloids. However, I’ve heard enough to believe that the girls have nothing to offer my daughter, and couldn’t possibly serve as positive role models. So, after Pea quoted the show one too many times, I banned it.

Yes, I exercised the “Mommy Veto.”

We all know that mothers, as top executives of the household, hold this power. It comes in handy when absolute reason won’t work, when a vote has taken place and mom is in the minority or when we just inherently know that a course of action is wrong.

This is also known as the “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the mom” argument.

I have used the veto to negate our family’s democratic process on several occasions (“we all voted and decided the next vacation should be at Disneyland”) and I have employed it to ban plenty of activities, from playing violent video games to attending sleepovers to wearing sweatpants to school.

Keeping out the Ks was a bit harder. Aside from the possibility of watching at someone else’s house, Pea has access to Netflix and YouTube on TVs, computers and even an iPad.

Now, let me take a moment to state that if you have no idea what show or family I am discussing, no worries. I barely know who they are myself.

And, because I don’t want to bolster my reasoning with actual facts, which would require my watching the show, I need to trust my gut and just say no.

I think my daughter – who is still quite sweet and compliant – really has stayed away from the TV program. At least she stopped mentioning the family, primarily because I said she couldn’t even utter the last name in our home or around me.

That “around me” took on new meaning when I found myself in Los Angeles with Pea and her friend Smiley not long ago. Like many visitors to the area, they were on the lookout for stars, and mentioned several they hoped to meet.

photo-23When the “K” name came up, I took advantage of the “teaching moment.” “Honestly, girls, why would you want to see them? They are famous for all the wrong reasons. They don’t actually do anything. They haven’t contributed to society in a positive way.”

The girls tried to argue the girls’ virtues, and, after gaining no ground, took a new tack. “The younger two are okay,” Smiley avowed. “Those girls didn’t ask to be famous. They don’t want to do the show. They volunteer at an animal shelter. Their dad [that Olympian whose last name starts with a J] hates doing the show, too.”

I listened to Smiley and Pea, and replied, “Those ‘J’ girls are about your age, so they should be working on their educations, not out partying. They should do something worthwhile with their lives, and if I see them, I’ll tell them just that.”

Pea was aghast, and screamed, “Mom, you wouldn’t!”

My reply: “Oh, you’d better believe I would. I would have no problem setting those girls straight.”

At this point, while the conversation was all in fun for me, I’m not sure Pea and Smiley thought I was joking.

Which is why they both panicked a bit, the next afternoon, when they spotted a lanky teenage girl walking towards us in Studio City’s quaint shopping district.

“That’s one of the J girls,” Smiley whispered. “I know it is. She’s with her friend [whomever].”

The fact that Pea also recognized the girl, and knew of the friend, set off an internal alarm. I made a mental “We’ll discuss this later” note.

So, yes, there I was, face to face with the celebrity I had banned from my house and my daughter’s vocabulary, the same girl I had promised to “set straight.”

Both Pea and Smiley stopped dead in their tracks, and looked at me quite nervously. “You aren’t going to say anything, are you?” Smiley asked.

“Of course I will,” I challenged. “I’m going to give her the ‘what-what.’ “ Pea was praying, almost visibly, that I was bluffing.

We smiled at the gorgeous girl and her buddy, and watched as they entered the store we had just exited.

After the girls in my charge calmed down, Smiley announced, “I’m going in to ask for a photo. She’s really nice; I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

“If she agrees, I’ll take the photo,” I offered.

“Please, please don’t say anything to her,” Pea begged.

I kept up the charade a little longer. “Maybe I’ll just suggest she get a real job when she’s older.”

Of course, the very sweet-seeming 15-year-old “J girl” agreed to a photo. And, after seeing her up close, all I could utter was,  “Wow, you have amazingly beautiful eyes.”

We’ll see if Pea takes me seriously the next time I make a threat. Meanwhile, the show, the magazines, and both the K and J words remain on the banned list. Why? Because I’m the mom.

–Linda Williams Rorem, 28 Oct. 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 permissionslips1gmail.com


Driving Me Crazy

High school boys shouldn’t own cars—at least that’s what I told my first two sons.

I’ve watched enough movies to know what dangers lurk when a teenager has wheels.

  • Those with a “need for speed” are likely to disobey speed limits, get tickets or crash cars.
  • Highly distractible kids find plenty of distractions in cars, such as load music, lively friends (in and out of the car), food and beverages.
  • Testosterone-charged boys could take advantage of young women in the back seat. (Ah, the memories of youth…)
  • When a kid has a car to call his own, he or his friends may be tempted to stash and consume illegal substances.
  • If a kid controls the keys, his parents lose an important bargaining chip: follow the family rules, or you won’t have permission to drive the family car.

So, when my first two boys turned 16, I stressed that we had a spare available, and if all went well, they would retain the privilege of driving it.

Then along came my third son, the “gear head.”

As a toddler, he loved wheels and speed more than his ball-crazed brothers. His first word was “truck,” he only “read” picture books showing vehicles and at his in-home day care, he made sure to “park” the push toy curbside before heading home.

He spent hours “driving” our Fred Flintstone-like foot-powered “mini-van,” and he treated his electric jeep like a real car – checking the tires and hosing it off in the driveway.

When Son #3 was about 10, we consolidated the funds we and Grandma would have allocated for Christmas and his birthday (Dec. 26) and bought him a gas-powered scooter. The kid could not have been happier, and he proved a safe and responsible driver.

However, he soon became bored with scooter #1, sold it via eBay or Craig’s list, and bought a bigger, faster model. Before long, he was spending all of his lawn-mowing money on parts to make a succession of scooters faster and, seemingly, louder. Friends started dropping off scooters, in various states of disrepair, that they – or their parents – had tired of.

He would track FedEx and UPS deliveries online, and sit by the window until the trucks arrived with the next shipment of parts. He spent hours watching YouTube videos explaining how to repair and improve two- and four-stroke engines.

Recently, he calculated that he had gone through 13 scooters, making a sizeable profit along the way.

My husband and I worried that our son would never be content; that he would always search for something faster and better, and that he would eventually get injured.

Last fall, soon after starting high school, he befriended an upper classman in his “Small Engine Repair” class, who tipped him off to a 30-year-old BMW “5-Series” being sold for a song; it just needed “a little work.”

Our son had saved enough money for the purchase (from the scooter sales and yard work), and would have plenty left over to pay for insurance. The fact that he was still 14 and not even old enough for driver’s ed was of little consequence.

My husband and I reaffirmed our stand: high school boys should not own cars.

And then, one day, I had a change of heart while thinking of my brother Rick, who passed away a decade ago.

Rick had spent his middle-school years buying, improving and racing tiny “slot cars.” He soon moved on to real engines, and turned a VW-Bug into a dune buggy before completing driver’s ed.

He continued to overhaul and sell cars throughout his teens, and, after college, moved to Hawaii to open a car-repair business and teach high school auto-mechanics.

So who was I to keep my own son away from gas-powered engines?

We broke down and made room in the driveway for the old Beemer.

Life changed suddenly for #3. He had a sense of joy and purpose that we had never before witnessed. Through online BMW forums, he discussed minutiae with men three or four times his age. Via Skype from Chicago, Uncle Al asked for a tour of the engine. Through Facebook, Uncle Dave, a BMW fan who lives in California, strengthened their relationship. And “Uncle John” (my first cousin) in Atlanta sent a BMW repair manual for Christmas.

He spent hours under the hood and taught himself to drive a stick-shift in our driveway. Once he turned 15 and started driver’s ed, he begged me to go on drives daily.

And then, six months before he would turn 16, my son was ready to sell the car.

Our first thought was, here we go again. He’s never going to be happy with one car, and will constantly crave something better.

On the other hand, we figured that Car #1 had been a great learning tool, and Boy #3 was ready to broaden his education.

So, with great sadness, we all watched our son’s first baby leave “the lot” last Friday.

The following morning, he came to the breakfast table with a sense of urgency: he had spotted an amazing 3-series BMW on Craig’s List. It was five years younger than Car #1, in near-perfect condition and amazingly cheap.

Who were we to argue?

–Linda Williams Rorem, 4 June 2012
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Sh*t Moms Say

Sometimes when I have conflict with my kids, I have been known to utter classic phrases such as, “I don’t care what they do at your friend’s house, this is the way we do it here.”  If I really get going I might launch next with, “Wait until you have kids of your own someday…”

Recently, these pronouncements were delivered at home with higher frequency as Seattle was literally “snowed in” for nearly a week. After the initial fun and coziness of making snowmen and drinking multiple mugs of hot chocolate wore thin, cabin fever began to set in. While this unexpected week of togetherness created both fun and friction, it also provided plenty of time to explore the latest hits on YouTube. My kids introduced me to a series of videos called “Shit (fill in blank) Say.” It all started — way back in December 2011 — with Shit Girls Say, featuring Juliette Lewis and written by Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard.

Shit Girls Say is a parody that pokes fun at stereotypically female ways of talking. This minute-long video has now been viewed over 12 million times. Further, it has spawned hundreds of variations by gender and ethnicity. Some are funny; others might be viewed as insulting, depending on your point of view. However, my teenage sons could hardly contain their peals of laughter as we watched together, Shit Moms Say

I have to admit, the stereotyping of the mom in the video was mostly true. My kids loved the vignette of the mom’s tirade being interrupted by a phone call. She manages, in the middle of a huff, to switch her tone on a dime and sweetly answer the call.

I loved the lines, “Am I the only one here who does laundry?” and “You have got to be kidding.” The exasperation and resignation after the actress opens the door to her teenager’s room is spot on.

I asked my kids what some of my repeat offending statements might be.  According to the experts in this house, I say “Sign off.” Apparently, I say it frequently and apply it universally, whether referring to Facebook or even a non-electronic activity that I want to end. I had no awareness of my liberal use of the phrase but, you know what, I like it.

One thing is for sure, it was good to be able to laugh at myself with my kids and then tell them we were done, “Because I said so.”

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Carol Lewis Gullstad January 23, 2012

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