Second best

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Oh, what a week, including one daughter home from school yesterday, a second one home today. What I think they need most of all is sleep. School, away games, late-night practices, and even later-night homework, and it's not yet October. And, in our case, it's not yet high school. But it reminded me of a New York Times interview with Debora Spar, president of Barnard College and author of a new book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, which came out this week.

In the interview, Spar says Barnard women are "coming out of high school exhausted," after years of fighting for perfect SAT scores, working to get into AP classes, and trying to balance all those many, many sports and extracurriculars. In her book, Spar advocates "satisficing," or settling for second best. "Sometimes second best is really good," Spar says, "and second best is much better than fourth best or worse."

She gives an example of coming home from work, saying a quick hello to her 8-year-old, and rushing back out the door. "Where are you going?," her son asked. To a PTA meeting at your school, she said. "Why?," he asked. Because I want to be involved in your school community, she told him. "But I want you here," he said. And after that, she never attended another PTA meeting.

During late-night homework sessions this week, I finished The Art of Fielding, a book I resisted for too long, thinking I had enough baseball in my real life. And if I'm completely honest, I also resisted because I tend to prefer books written by women. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this - it's ridiculous - but it's true. After reading this book, I hope I've learned a lesson. This is a story about baseball, yes, but also about relationships, home, fear, failure, and love. It paints such a true picture of college life and the friendships formed there, particularly male friendships:

"Schwartz held out his fist and Henry bumped it with his own, and Pella could tell from their somber, ceremonious expressions that their feud, or whatever you'd call it, had ended. Men were such odd creatures. They didn't duel anymore, even fistfights had come to seem barbaric, the old casual violence all channeled through institutions now, but still they loved to uphold their ancient codes. And what they loved even more was to forgive each other. Pella felt like she knew a lot about men, but she couldn't imagine what it would be like to be one of them, to be in a room of them with no woman present, to participate in their silent rites of contrition and redemption."

Be brave

Friday, September 20, 2013

I went walking with a friend tonight, and she told me about two brave things her children had done recently that hadn't turned out the way they hoped. It's so hard to understand when you're 14 or 11, but it's the bravery that matters, not the outcome. I've been thinking about bravery this week - about not letting fear get in the way - since coming across these two quotes I love.

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"- Spencer Johnson

"Be you, bravely"- author unknown

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

What they're wearing now

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I always wished for a brother. During a drawn-out tomboy phase, I envisioned someone who would play basketball with me on the driveway or skateboard down the hill. When I was a teenager, I pictured a sibling who would be both protector and friend and who would bring home his own fun friends. What I never thought about were the clothes.

But in our house, at this moment, it's all about the clothes. My oldest daughter has become almost more interested in her brother's closet than her own. My youngest daughter looks carefully at what he's wearing and wants to wear the same. Suddenly, athletic shirts and shorts, crew socks, boy fleece, and grey T-shirts are all the rage.

The child least interested in fashion is leading the fashion pack. Who knows how it began or how long it will last. For one of us, it can't end soon enough. Because not only is the style of clothing appealing, the actual clothes are best of all. And he'd like his sweatshirt to stay on the shelf of his closet, not to find it at the bottom of his sister's backpack. He wants his socks to remain in his sock drawer. "That's mine!," I'll hear him yell from upstairs.

I suspect this may be his lot in life, and he certainly won't be alone. Sometimes the boy clothes are just better. But for now, I'll play my part, that of backup. "That's his," I'll say. "Go get your own jacket." I'm happy with my role: I know in seven short years, he'll be gone, and I'll no longer need to help defend his drawers. I'm confident he'll be ready. He's getting such good practice.

(If you're interested in more feminine fashion, Kate Spade is having a 75 percent off sale, but it ends tonight, so hurry.)

While the drawings are still girly, the everyday clothes are less so. Illustration by Livvy Fletcher.

Getting off the phone

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sooner or later, I was bound to drop my phone in the pond. Nearly every day I take our dog, Clementine, to a nearby pond to swim, and typically I'm holding a leash, a small bag of treats, and always my phone. This particular day, I put my phone under my arm to throw a stick, and it slipped and fell in the water.

It spent the next few days charging in a bowl of white rice. Each time I took it out of the rice and unplugged it from the charger, the phone turned on and off at will until it quickly lost all power. Even the short trip from charger to desk was too far, so back it would go.

I needed a new phone, but time got in the way, and for several weeks I did nothing about it. I simply left the phone charging and checked emails and texts from the kitchen counter. And I realized: not having my phone with me was something of a life-changer. Before, when I was stopped at a red light, I would check my phone. Before, while I waited at the orthodontist for a child to be done, I would read emails, send texts, or look at Instagram/Facebook/Twitter. I'd hear the ping of a new email or the different ping of a new text, and I would check as soon as I could.

Not having a phone with me meant sitting quietly at a red light, or reading a magazine at the orthodontist, or, even better, talking with the person beside me. I realized that before the phone-in-pond incident, I was on it all the time. I'd like to think I was better about it around my children, but I know I wasn't perfect. I know this because one night my oldest daughter, Kate, said to me, "I think not having a phone has been good for you."

I bought a new phone this weekend. I feel more comfortable having it with me when I'm out. But I'm going to try to hold on to my new after-the-phone-fell-in-the-pond life. I'm going to sit at a red light and pretend it's back home, sitting in a bowl of rice. I'm going to leave it in my bag while I'm waiting at the orthodontist. I'm going to try to be a little more present. And when I take Clementine for a walk, I'm going to leave it on the kitchen counter.

(Photo by Livvy Fletcher)


Friday, September 13, 2013

Several people I follow on Pinterest collect quotes, as I do. They've named their boards such things as "Words to Live By," "Wise Words," and even "Wordy Candy." I have a board of quotes, the name of which is "Quotes." I could do better. But the important thing, I suppose, is coming across words that are thought-provoking and a good reminder of something. Words to live by.

The end of the week seems like a good time to share some of these thoughts, and I'll start by sharing two.

"Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big. Because to them, all of it has always been big stuff." - Catherine M. Wallace

"The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" - Arabian proverb

I hope you have a happy weekend.

(Photo by

Good things online

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two new-to-me Web sites I'm loving, plus one not-as-new but always good:

A group of bloggers - writers, photographers, stylists - recently got together and started Clementine Daily. I love it for its name but also because it's like getting a favorite magazines in the mail - or email - every day. House tours, interviews, fashion, food, and a daily quote that I like most of all.

Have you heard of Tradesy? It's a site where you can sell clothing items - jackets, handbags, sweaters, etc. - you no longer need or want, and Tradesy will do all the work, including sending you a pre-paid shipping box once an item sells. You can go there to shop, too, of course, and I just spent more time than I should have looking through an assortment of size 10 shoes.

I've been reading Sweet Paul Magazine for some time now but always get excited when a new issue comes out - and a new issue just came out. The photography is gorgeous, and there's always something good - from recipes (salmon stir-fry for dogs!) to travel (Stockholm) to interesting kitchen finds. I think you'll enjoy.

First day

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

While I've been thinking a lot about this blog, I haven't actually been writing this blog. My excuse is summer, filled with lots of children all the time. But then suddenly yesterday, they were gone, leaving a dog behind and a mother with a lump in her throat. There are changes this year, as there always are, including the first year of middle school as well as the last. It was a big day.

I won't say summer flew by, because it didn't always feel that way, but it was good. Good to be off schedule, good to go away and come home again, good to move a little bit slower.

The slower pace meant more time than usual to read, which I'm always grateful for. I just finished The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani and couldn't put it down. I also liked Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and Oprhan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I re-read one of my all-time favorites, Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen. I cried hard throughout the book, which my husband says is proof I loved it. He's right. Now I'm looking for my next good book. Any recommendations?

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