Motivation to Teach Tactful Correspondence

"Oh, I already have this book." Or, "I don't really play with the big legos anymore." Oh, the brutal honesty of children. Maybe the well mannered mother didn't have the time and/or presence of mind to deflect some of her children's too-honest responses to presents this year. There's always next year: they will be a little older and possibly throwing out social lies by then.  In the mean time, the modern mother might want to review the "Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?" adage with her children, lest any relatives begin grumbling about "bratty children" and give up on her brood entirely.

More importantly, as they approach thank you notes in the lull between Christmas and New Year's, the modern mother might want to help her children work on tactful correspondence. As a motivational tool, we pass on these cards from children posted on someecards

Happy Festive Time of Year!

When our big plans for a rousing Holiday Blog encountered sick children, unexpected travel and traditional Christmas chaos we decided to do what any marginally clear-thinking modern mothers would do.  We let some of the non-essential stuff slide.  We have been trying to focus on the important things this week, trying to keep it simple, reminding ourselves that the holidays are about friends and family not stress and perfection.  Here's hoping!

Merry Christmas.  Happy Everything!

Elizabeth & Elizabeth

Friday Frivolity - Who is this guy?

He's a little retro and frankly a little creepy.  Yet with an alacrity reserved for super heros and high-speed trains in other countries this guy has raced to the #1 spot of Christmas icons.  Five years ago, who had ever hear of The Elf on the Shelf?  Now, he is everywhere.  Our imperfect research suggests that 96% of the second-grade day is currently spent talking about him, comparing elves, writing him notes, sharing the notes one has received from him, leaving him snacks and wondering where he will turn up tomorrow.

picture courtesy of Google Images

The Travails and Triumphs of Trimming the Tree

When the time comes to deck the halls, the modern mother might like to imagine venturing into a forest  with a husband dressed in plaid, ax in hand. Their cheerful children would carol as they stomp through the snow, with rosy cheeks and frosty breath.

In reality, though, the process of taking a large woody plant from curbside to living room, can be, well, excruciating. For the suburban family, it may typically involve a cash exchange in a corner parking lot, some swearing and/or sweating as the tree is transported, multiple “straightenings” which require at least one adult person to lie belly down on the carpet, suffering a hailstorm of evergreen needles, which of course leads to more swearing.  And all this, before a strand of lights or a single ornament have been added.  

Once the tree is officially positioned, the modern mother can breathe a sigh of relief and let the melee begin. Nevermind, the tangled strings of lights, the crushed or broken ornaments, and/or the fact that all adornments will end up on the bottom third of the tree.  Her children are laughing.  They are remembering holidays of past years. Most importantly, they are not fighting.  

As the ruckus proceeds, the well-mannered mother can collapse in a chair, hum along to some holiday music, look from the shining lights on the tree to the shining faces of her children, and marvel at how exhausting and exhilarating this business of mothering can be.  

* photo from proforged via flickr

Friday Frivolity - Holiday Card Therapy

No one looking in the same direction?  Eyes crossed?  legs uncrossed? One sibling giving the other bunny ears?  Or the bird?  No matter how unmannerly the modern mother may think her own attempts at Holiday Cards she can take comfort, and hopefully have a good laugh, looking at the brilliant website Awkward Family Photos.  Don't miss the cat picture.

Photo from Awkward Family Photos obviously

Air Safety

From time to time the usually well mannered modern mother may find herself in a situation upon which she may look back with a certain amount of chagrin.

The story may go something like this.  The well mannered, financially savvy father may have found a wonderful deal online whereby if he applied for a credit card through a certain, shall we say, lesser know airline he could then fly his family of four to and from Florida for the low, low price of $89.99 or something like that.  And so, while applauding her beloved spouse's economic acumen, the normally well mannered mother (who is admittedly a nervous flyer at the best of times) might have found this a bit unnerving.  Her jittery state was in no way assuaged upon arriving at the check in counter and finding herself surrounded by persons who looked like they might have needed to let their parole officers know they were intending to leave town.  Nor did it help when the cheery airline employee asked "Would you like to use our check-in kiosk or are you paying cash?"  Cash?  It also seemed a bit unusual that so many people had packed their belongings in large trash bags and were using plastic grocery bags for carry-ons.  Yet, one does not like to judge a book by its cover.

So our intrepid travelers move on through security.  Despite all the recent media hype this might be quite painless.  Is it possible, wonders the modern mother, that terrorists are only interested in targeting legitimate, name-brand airlines?  With forty minute to board the modern mother might decide a medicinal Bloody Mary might be just what the doctor ordered.  Nothing like a little Dutch courage and next thing you know the modern mother and her family are all aboard and ready to go.

Fast forward 3 hours and approximately as many more medicinal Blood Marys later.  It has been a pleasant enough flight and the air hostess has now asked everyone to prepare for landing.  The plane is descending rapidly when suddenly two rows in front of the usually well mannered mother there is mamba music.  Some person has left on his phone.  Now we all make mistakes, and the modern mother likes to believe that if the offender had simply turned the phone off that would have been the end of the story.  But what does this person do?  He starts TALKING on the phone AS THE PLANE IS LANDING!  Decorum aside, that is DANGEROUS. Who knows how much attention air traffic pays to these no-name airlines?  What if signals got crossed and the flight is run into by a real plane like Delta or US Air?  In any event, it is at this point that a normally well-mannered mother might decide to say something very loudly in an otherwise silent airplane cabin such as,  "STOP TALKING and TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  THE PLANE IS LANDING!"  And when he continues on the line "WOULD YOU PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR PHONE NOW!" or something like that.

Of course the instant the well mannered mother has succeeded in her reprimand and realizes the entire plane is now staring at her, she would turn bright red and be quite embarrassed even if she has saved countless lives.  Because one never likes to make a scene.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo Images

Isn't Life Sweet?

Does the use of an expensive vacuum siphon coffee making machine make one superior?  Does importing custom cabinet knobs make one a connoisseur? Does purchasing 78 varieties of scotch, or rum, or vodka make one an expert? An authority? A taste-maker? 

Perhaps we all know someone who would answer yes to these questions. Doubtless, our readers know better. The world is a big place and we are lucky to live here and now where choices are endless. One can readily purchase lemon grass, truffle oil, and free trade organic chocolate (85% cacao, or course) at the supermarket, sushi on every street corner, and 200 varieties of mircobrew beer at the local liquor store.  

Yes, most of our lives are sweet. Our world is filled with variety and luxuries, large and small, but partaking in those luxuries just makes us lucky, not superior.  

A Goodie for Gift Givers

As the holiday season takes off, the modern mother might find herself in a whirlwind of presents to be purchased (or made), labelled, organized, and distributed: teacher gifts, hostess gifts, holiday gifts for parents, children, husband, siblings, and maybe even the family dog. How will she keep them all straight?  How will she make them all look festive, adorable and giftey?

One place to start would be with these gift tags from Lobird Stationery. We discovered them via Summer is a Verb, and are still trying to choose favorites. Featuring whimsical illustrations and customizable ribbons, they're sure to add a little thrill to your gift giving.  

The Delicate Dance of Receiving a Compliment

Ah, compliments.  Anyone can toss one out,  "Your kaftan is to die for!" "Have you lost weight?" "My your house looks lovely this evening..." It's easier than a good tennis serve.  It is the return of course, that can trip one up so easily.   In these effusive times,  when every pause in conversation is filled with "I just love you handbag" it is harder than ever to come up with the correct mannerly response to such unsolicited and often hollow-sounding praise.

In an effort to be modest (or possibly point our her superb retail skills) a recipient may find herself saying something like "Oooh thanks!  Target, for just $19.99 - can you believe?" or "I got it at Bloomies with double coupons - I saved a bundle I can tell you!"

Then there is the serve and volley situation. Sally says, "Oh I love that skirt" Jane shoots back "Thank you, I've been admiring your shoes all evening."  Sally, "And your hair looks fabulous." Jane, "Look at your bracelet!" These gals could go all night.

Occasionally, although this seems to be the metier of the older generation and European ladies, one still hears "Oh, this old thing? I've had it for ages" in answer to a compliment.  This response is elegant in its modesty but may have the (hopefully) unintended side effect of making the complimenter feel a bit silly for liking some 'old thing' even if it is vintage Dior.

So we come to this blogger's favorite response to any compliment, which for some reason seems harder and harder to stand by in these days of constant chatter.  It is of course, wait for it... the classic and oh-so-simple "Thank you." Yet, we ask ourselves, amid all the babble around us, is it enough? Is it enough to assume the person giving you a compliment is sincere?  Is it enough to be grateful for the kind words of praise and demonstrate this in the most genuine and brief way possible?

Let's hope so.

Why We Trouble with Thank You

In a culture of indifference and vulgarity, a world where RSVPs are optional and asking a boy to wear a tie is unheard of, the well mannered modern mother can sometimes feel besieged.  Why?  Why should she insist on table manners and thank you notes from her children?  Why should she cajole her children into dressing appropriately for the occasion? Why should she request that her children look the hostess in the eye when thanking her?

With a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, the modern mother can put those questions to rest, or at the very least, feel justified in insisting on traditional manners. According to the story, Thank You, No, Thank You, the act of being thankful can make you happier, healthier, more successful.  For adults, this can mean higher incomes, higher resistance to viral infections, and better sleep. For children, it can mean a higher grades, fewer stomach ache complaints, and more satisfaction with school, friends, family.

Whatever those measures of "success" really mean, teaching children to say thank you, in writing and in person, helps them to acknowledge their own gratitude. It helps them recognize their own blessings, maybe even gives them a bit of humility and respect.

And so, well-mannered mothers and readers, you can all pat yourselves on the back, knowing that for once, social science agrees that you are doing something right. And if you want to put those studies to the test, trying being extra thankful, and see if you sleep better or maybe even get a raise.

Thanksgiving Thoughts for the Modern Mother

Happy Thanksgiving to our well mannered friends and readers!

For those of you who will be cooking tomorrow, we can only assume that you in the process of determining your recipes, unearthing your china or crystal, polishing the silver, amassing various ingredients, and mapping out the cooking sequence. For this, we leave you in the capable hands of epicurious, Cook's Illustrated, Streaming Gourmet, or whatever your go-to source for cooking tips, instructions, inspiration. We would be amazed if you have time to check in on our blog today and so wish you poise and strength in the face of in-laws, longer than expected roast times, and other people's grumbling and sometimes less-than-thankful children.

For those of you attending a Thanksgiving Dinner you might want to arrive with a quirky card as well as some flowers and a bottle of something strong to make up for those cards and your own potentially naughty children.

Whatever your plans, we hope you can take a moment to laugh at some of the decidedly unconventional  Thanksgiving cards available at Enjoy!

* reader discretion advised for some of the user-generated content on (not those pictured here), which might not always display the high standards, discretion, and subtlety or our readership.  

The Art and Science of Royal Watching

Declare independence.  Check.  Have revolution.  Check.  Become global superpower.  Check.  And yet few things are nearer and dearer to many Americans than the Royal Family.  Not that we would want one here of course, but having them over there in the land of Shakespeare, Paddington Bear and Christopher Robin is somehow very comforting.  Comforting like one's own delightfully loving if exceptionally kooky family once one has moved away from home.

So the well mannered modern mother can be forgiven for feeling a little giddy last week when hip and handsome Prince William at last announced his engagement to the stylish and confident Miss Kate Middleton.  Like all engagements this one offers the embattled Royal Family hope for happier times ahead.  Let's hope this happy news will quiet all that nasty chatter about abolishing the monarchy and take the world's mind off the train wreck that was the previous generations' nuptial disasters.  Plus, and even the New York Times should love this - Prince William is marrying what the British would call a commoner.  Kate is chic, she is smart, she is poised but noble blood does not run through her veins. William's father was not allowed to marry such a person the first time round (that worked well) and his Great-Uncle had to abdicate the throne because he insisted on marrying such a person.

Maybe the well mannered America mother is excited to read about the ring, the dress and the guest list for the next 8 months as she is waiting to exit the supermarket.  Or maybe there is something deeper going on here.  Maybe the well mannered modern mother is truly excited to see that, just like in America, one's past does not define one's future.  Viva la Revolution!

Pictures from Google Images

The Modern Mother's Little Helper

The sight of the take out coffee cup can produce a little thrill: A treat! What pleasure awaits inside? 
A caramel macchiato? A vanilla latte? Or the ever delicious and simple, cup of hot tea? 

But there can be a little bit of guilt associated with a daily treat of coffee. 

Or, even a lot of guilt. And the well mannered mother does not want to contribute to that!

There are many boring re-useable coffee cups out there, but somehow, they take out the fun, 
make that morning cup of coffee feel like less of a treat, more like the chemical dependency it may actually be.

Thankfully, with this "to go" coffee cup, the thrill is back!  

The fact that it's reusable, dishwasher safe, and not breakable (BPA-free) plastic only adds to the fun. 

There are 7 colors to choose from:

And yes, we actually went to Bed Bath and Beyond, paid full price (all $6 of it) and haven't stopped using them since.  

Been There, Done That

The modern mother of a certain age might find herself feeling a sense of déjà vu when shopping for clothes these days. She may see oversized sweaters with dropped shoulders, cowboy boots, short skirts with tiers of ruffles, puffed sleeves, neon colors, sperry topsiders, stirrup pants? 

She may have ignored all the warning signs of the 80’s resurgence that began a few years ago. She may even be firmly in favor of updating her style, but what if changing with the times means changing back, and changing back to something she might rather forget?  When confronted with clothing so reminiscent of her more awkward though admittedly younger self, she may respond, “been there; done that; not doing it again.”  

Improving with age “like a fine wine,” is a tired cliché, but perhaps, the modern mother can imagine that she has, in fact, improved: more confident, more put together, secure in her own personal style. And so, she can hold her head high, and pick and chose which (if any) 80’s styles to add to her repertoire, imagining that she wears all things better now than she did back then, if only because she is more experienced and does not feel compelled to dress identically to her two best friends. 

* images from current offerings at The Gap, Anthropologie, and The Gap, respectively, but the 80's resurgence abounds elsewhere too. 

Friday Frivolity: The British are Coming!

The most adorable new catalogue called Cath Kidston landed in our post box the other day.  It took a few minutes to decide whether it was retro-kitsch-cute or something best left to the well mannered grannies of the world.   Then all was made clear.  You see, it's British.

We shall let the Tea Towels

Tea Cosies

Pin Cushions

and IPhone Cases

tell the story!

Photos from

Is it an Invitation or a Negotiation?

Well mannered modern mother dials phone.
Ring, Ring "Hello!"
"Hi Jane, it's Sally"
"Hi Sally!  How are you?"
"Super, thanks.  Would you and Bob would like to come to dinner on Saturday the 17th?"
"Hold on let me get to my calendar..." Brief time laps, children and dog heard scuffling in background.  "Oh rats, we have a thing.  We can do the following Saturday the 24th, Friday the 16th or the 8th of next month."

Now what?  Does the mannerly modern mother acquiese and simply pick one of the dates her friend has offered?  Does she point out that she did not call and say "We would love to get together with you and Bob, shall we pick a date?"  Does she inform her friend that this is a dinner party, she has two other couples lined up and she does not accept reservation?  Most likely it is best to simply say "Oh dear, none of those dates work for us.  Let me noodle this and get back to you by email.  I would love to meet for coffee sometime soon."

Maybe it is because people are so crazy busy these days or maybe it's just that people are used to managing their schedules to suit themselves that they have forgotten what it means to be a guest rather than a patron.  But in general it is probably best for the modern mother to "put on her listening ears" and try and assess the type of invitation being extended before launching into an alternate proposal that will work best for her.

Speaking of working best for her, a friend recently sent over this stunning piece from the WSJ's blog The Juggle.  As you know, dear frequent readers, we have great respect for The Juggle as it does a nice job of addressing many issues facing the modern mother.  But this piece in defense of "Maybe" as the way the author responds to an invitation especially, as she writes, "Now that I have kids, whose schedules and moods are even more variable than my own, I’m even more apt to say maybe to events." seems something of a cop-out.  She does acknowledge that her approach "...can make it hard to plan, say, a seated, plated meal, but I really don’t have the time or energy to throw those types of shindigs anyhow."  But don't despair!  Apparently there is hope for the well mannered human race.  Of the 78 comments that blog piece received every response we read pointed out that such an approach is hardly thoughtful and does not take into account the feelings and plans of one's hostess.  Well they didn't say it quite like that.

Shall We Dance?

One day, a well mannered mother may find, in her mailbox, an invitation. An ecru envelope, addressed in an elegant looping script to her 10 year-old son. From inside, an equally lovely invitation emerges. An invitation to dancing school. 

Some mothers may consider the arrival of this invitation cause for celebration. At last! A place and occasion to learn nearly obsolete social skills like offering an arm, good posture, and escorting a partner. Other mothers may consider it worthwhile to have her children go to dancing school if only to be included in this social ritual, and to enable her children to laugh congenially about the cotillion years later in life. A less well mannered mother may even send her child for perceived improvement of her own social status, as suggested in a recent New York Times article

But this modern mother might feel ambivalent. She glances through the window and sees her son playing soccer in the yard. He lunges for the ball, falls and emerges covered in clinging leaves. He’s shouting, disheveled, and dirty. Send THIS child to cotillion?  He can barely remember to put socks on when he gets dressed in the morning. He doesn't even speak to girls. He still can't get enough bathroom humor. But perhaps that’s exactly the point. 

So, she sighs, imagining how big the bribe will have to be, how much negotiation and cajoling will be required. She supposes it will be worth it, but will not make the mistake of thinking a few classes in fox-trot and "standing as a sign of respect" will instill in him a deep sense of common human courtesy. How to put others as ease, to be gracious, and even truly kind will have to come from her, his mother, but it can’t hurt to have him learn a little bit of protocol, and the rumba to boot.  

*image from the New York Times, "A Dancing School for Little Adults"

Real Food Friday

Had it with those generally well mannered kiddies hopped-up on Hershey's and strung-out on Skittles?  Once the little dears have had their fill of Halloween sweets you might want to check out this delightful blog full of recipes and tips to help you prepare healthy, kid-friendly meals.  We particularly like the weekly menus and < 30 minute meals.  Bon Appetit!

Is it Your Job or Our Job?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal blog The Juggle came right out and said what many well mannered modern mothers have know all along.  Namely, in order for one spouse to achieve a high level of success the other spouse needs to have a more supportive role.  The article was about uber successful professionl women and in that case the husbands had assumed the support role.   This can mean staying at home full time or a scaled back or reduced work schedule.  Or, as the article said, "In other cases, if both spouses work full-time, very time-intensive jobs, it sure helps if at least one makes enough money to pay for lots of help and child care."  So however you slice it - someone needs to manage life at home.

This leads us to the question: if one well mannered spouse is supporting another well mannered spouses career, is it his job or their job?  Should the at-home spouse have a say in career decisions?  Strategy?  Entertaining?  Does she get to review big presentations or a pitch to the boss for a raise?  In these days when it is just as likely the at-home spouse has an advanced degree as the working spouse - does she owe it to the family to weigh in?  If not, what does it mean to be a corporate wife exactly?

Does it mean that the well mannered modern mother's job is to make the well mannered father's life flawless and make sure that he is always, always, available to focus on his job?  Sick child, demanding client,  they need me in Brussles tomorrow, big deal heating up, strategic partner melting down, school conferences, 'No worries Honey, you do what you need to do, I've got it covered.' seems to be the kind of support most firms are looking for.  This formula appears to work very well for many happy couples - just like it did on the home front during WWII and in the Lower Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherer culture.

Voting for Adulthood

Every two years, and sometimes in between, the well mannered mother puts forth her best effort to vote. Yes, she may feel over-scheduled and “crazy busy.” Yes, her day may be over-stuffed with unfulfilling errands: dog to the vet, fix the treadmill, auction meeting, fill out forms for gymnastics, and more. Even more daunting: when will she ever find the time to decide how to fill out her ballot?  What exactly will be her position on the Comprehensive Permits and Regional Planning Initiative ballot question? Which candidate for “third district councilor” should she select? 

Regardless of these obstacles, the modern mother persists in her plan to make it to the polls.  She persists because she does not want to re-enforce any emerging stereotypes of “weary women non-voters.” She perseveres because she truly does want to set an example for her children and she may even have opinions about the issues, the candidates. Most of all, she soldiers on because voting is the adult, the responsible, the right thing to do. Stepping into the polling booth, she steps into the world of adult concerns and issues, however tedious and banal the lexicon of the ballot. 

Whatever her party affiliation, whichever candidate the well mannered mother selects, her simple act of voting declares her in favor of adulthood, declares her confidence in her powers of intellect, discernment, and ability to cram one more “errand” into her already jam-packed day.  

Happy Halloween! A Reading List for Candy Overload

One of Halloween's minor hazards can be candy overload. Should any of our well mannered readers find themselves fretting about all the candy their children will be gobbling up this weekend; should any readers experience or witness candy overload; should anyone actually find some time to do some reading, we offer a fun, candy-centric reading list.

(1) For anyone who missed this story in Wednesday's New York Times, Is Candy Evil or Just Misunderstood?

(2) For those readers who believe candy may be misunderstood, 5 Superpowers of Candy, from Strollerderby.

(3) For others who are fairly certain that candy is bad, if not actually evil, Halloween Candy: The Good, the Not So Bad, and the Stuff that Rots Teeth,  from the Mommy Files.

(4) For sheer hilarity, The 9 Grossest kinds of Candy No Adult Should Give Out On Halloween, from the Huffington Post.

(5) Finally, for some good ideas of what to do with all of it, 25 Things to do with Halloween Candy, from

*Image from This Mama Cooks 

It's Not About the Book

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a suburban mother, in possession of a young family, must be in want of a book club.* And to what end? Will they peruse Pride and Prejudice? Take on The Happiness Project ? Will they read David Foster Wallace or stick with Danielle Steele? The list of literary possibilities goes on. Luckily, the choice is hers and the variety of book clubs is endless, though most involve some drinking of wine, talking about schools, families, and husbands, as well as discussion of an actual book. Sometimes even a book about something besides schools, families, husbands.

Admittedly, there can sometimes be negatives: having to read yet another book about Afghanistan, the one member who vociferously hates every book or domineers discussions, or even the scheduling and organizational email mayhem involved with getting a group of 8 to 10 adults together these days. But the modern mother who finds herself, joining a group of intelligent, like-minded adults for dinner and conversation once a month can count herself lucky, even if she doesn’t always love the book.

Some modern mothers may choose to become conscientious objectors and eschew all book clubs. Perhaps they would rather curl up on front of The Millionaire Matchmaker. More likely, they don’t want to be obligated to spend precious time reading dubious books selected by committee. Whatever her reasons, the conscientious objector will doubtless find alternative reasons to get out of the house in the evening, mingle with her peers and satisfy her curiosity about the larger world: a lecture? a film festival? a gathering to learn about local non-profits? a consciousness raising? (Well, maybe not that last one.)

Like it or not, book clubs come with the territory of suburban motherhood, much like kitchen renovations, trunk shows, and summer house rentals. And since it's not really about the book, the well mannered mother can embrace her book club as an opportunity to stay current on topics fit for adult conversation, all while enjoying some camaraderie and a cocktail, if she is so inclined.

*with apologies to Jane Austen, the patron saint of women's book clubs, and author of Pride and Prejudice, which opens with the inimitable line, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

The Child of my Friend is not my Child's Friend

Again?  The friend of my child is not my friend's child.  Semantics aside,  every well mannered mother has been there or will get there at some point.  There being the sometimes sticky situation where your child does not care for the company of your friend's child or vica versa.

Less successful approaches to this problem include: talking to your friend about what your child says is wrong with her child, 'making' your child be friends with your friend's child (very Mommy Dearest, that one), taking family vacations where the children are together as often as possible in the hopes your daughters will one day feel the same connection as you and your friend.

As most modern mothers will learn over time, but we are willing to print right here and save you years of anguish, it is best to accept the situation and work around it.  Planning adult dinners at home or out which do not include the children usually works best.  If your friend continues to suggest family outings you might want to say something like "Thank you but we would love to catch up with just the two of you," or "How about an adult outing this time?"  Hopefully she will catch on.  If not, you might need to be direct and simply say "Petunia is at an age where she has requested she be allowed to socialize with her own friends and opt out of family gatherings if she chooses."  If Petunia is five this might sound a bit silly.  In any event,  adults should have the maturity and social skills to navigate around the ever-changing social whims of their children and maintain friendships despite their children.

Your child will still need to interact with your friend's children occasionally and when she does she should be held to your usual high standard of mannerly conduct.  By allowing your child to choose her own friends and not having friends thrust upon her she might discover she wants to get to know her mother's friend's child.  Then again she might not.

Friday Frivolity: Lunchbox Love

Because ruining the planet just isn't polite!  For the well-mannered mother with dreams of reducing her carbon footprint, we suggest that the Goodbyn lunchbox can help her cause. With five compartments that hold everything from bagels and bananas to a handful of raisins (organic, of course), the modern mother can pack an entire lunch without disposable baggies, plastic wrap, or pre-packaged snacks. She then snaps on the lid and, voila! low-waste lunch complete. For at least one modern mother, it's lunchbox love.  

The Delicate Art of Costume Negotiation

For the modern mother, Halloween can be a mixed bag. Costumes, carving pumpkins, cider and candy:  its all so much fun! As October 31st approaches, she may envision her children trick-or-treating in home made costumes, flushed with excitement, felt totes dangling from their hands as they shuffle through fallen leaves on the sidewalks of their neighborhood.

But then, as costumes are discussed, reality sets in. Her pre-schooler rejects her offer to make him the hilarious chicken costume. He hates her idea of going as his favorite food: sushi. He doesn’t even want to talk about a hand-me-down shark costume. Instead, he insists on being Batman like every other boy in his preschool class. For a another modern mother, it might be a daughter insisting on Sleeping Beauty for the pink dress. For a mother of older children, it might be the rock star diva costume, or the bleeding scream costume. Different costumes, same problem: child craves commercial and tacky, mother envisions charming, original, home made.

Perhaps the conflict results from creeping expectations for the holiday now known as “the other Christmas” among retailers. Whatever the reason, the modern mother and her child must reach a detente. So, in the delicate art of costume negotiation, what is a mother to do?

She could wheedle, connive, convince her child that he really does want to dress as an egg salad sandwich, or whatever her choice would be. But she risks taking all the fun out of it by imposing her own taste. Not to mention stamping out the very independence and creativity she so craves.

Conversely, she could shrug it off and let her child choose, however much she may shudder at the thought of the over-priced and cheaply made costume. The well mannered mother should never consider herself defeated if she lets her child parade around in some chintzy piece of raw-edged rayon for which she overpaid.

Finally, she could collaborate with her child on a costume they both deem worthy. With luck, she and her child will create something fun and original and have a wonderful time doing it. This collaborative mother may even reach some state of maternal nirvana, or at the very least, achieve the status of apparently perfect mother.

Whatever the process (though we lean toward options 2 and 3), there's always next year. Without a doubt, costume negotiations will be different every year, and with each child.  She may even find her child's passion and enthusiasm for his costume (cheesy scrap of fabric, or not) more than adequate compensation for relaxing her standards of taste.

*image from

Surprise! There is no such thing as Privacy on the Internet.

This weeks brouhaha over facebook's latest lack of privacy reminds one of something a very proper grandmother used to say,  "Don't ever put anything in writing that you do not want the whole world to read."  Of course, that was long before the age of Internet and no doubt grandmother's concerns were around explicit love letters or nasty comments about Aunt Edna falling into the wrong hands. Nowadays when the modern mother posts pictures/video of herself in less than flattering or possibly highly provocative poses on social networking sites she should not be surprised if there is some sort of fall out.  Whether those pictures end up being forwarded to millions or being seen by unintended observers, the modern mother really has no one to blame but herself.

We are in no way sanctioning the corporate sharing of user data without individuals' consent - but let's not be naive here.  Let's remind ourselves why facebook is valued at $33 Billion.  It's not because of FarmVille.  It's because they and Google and Yahoo and Amazon know everything about you.  Hopefully in the aggregate but apparently not, as this latest breech again illustrates.

Sadly, a user of social media sites can rant and rave all she wants about her 'privacy' on the world-wide web and her 'rights' as a non-paying user of a service no one is forcing her to use.  Unless she convince 6 million of her friends to vacate the site she is unlikely to effect much change any time soon.  Instead, dare we suggest a little discretion?  Risque photos aside, the only 100% effective way a well mannered modern mother can keep her personal information personal is to not put that information on the internet.   This being said, we do hope you continue to log on now and again to read this blog.  Thank you.

Dresses and Pears and Bears Oh My!

Our editorial board has decided to devote Fridays to the more frivolous side of manerly motherhood (as opposed to the serious and hard-hitting pieces you are used to reading here).    So, going forward Elizabeth and I will be featuring some of our favorite manerly mother accoutrement.  N.B.  We do not receive any kind of compensation from anyone (unfortunately) so anything featured herein has been chosen by us simply because we like it.

So, on with the frivolity! 

It would be hard not to be well mannered in theses fetching designs by Kayce Hughes.  Her children's line is called pears and bears and will hopefully inspire the youth among us to behave adorably.  The women's line is chic yet functional  -  like the well mannered modern mother herself. 

Time May Change Me...

There may come a time in a modern mother’s life where, in the space of a single year, she finds herself resigning from her job, taking up tennis, renovating a kitchen, fretting far too much about homework and children's activities, wearing ballet flats, doing some yoga, and turning 40. Am I turning into a stereotype? She may think. Do I look exactly like everyone else? (Because they’re looking kind of old, like 40ish.)

Then, on a night out, a “ladies night out for a cause,” she may meet another mother (a friend of a friend) who has also taken up tennis, resigned from a job, turned 40 and renovated a kitchen, also in the space of a single year. To the outside world, they may seem the same; their cares, their interests may seem narrow and boring.  But the modern mother can shrug, and enjoy the moment of making a new friend, knowing that though they may seem identical from a distance, we all have rich, varied, nuanced lives. Besides, in the classic phrasing of David Bowie, "Time may change me...." Or, everything may change again in the space of another year, and who knows how?

Everything I Know About Parenting - I learned from Zagazoo

George and Bella are exceptionally well mannered parents in the face of adversity - namely, their son, Zagazoo.  If you read only one book about life, children, and pelicans - this is THE ONE.  Zagazoo is by Quentin Blake the British author and illustrator.  If you love the book you can now also have the wallpaper.

Post-Corporate Mom Syndrome

Most modern mothers have all been there, in the volunteer committee meeting, where someone chimes in with, "The volunteer scheduling is an orthogonal issue here, let’s focus on truly impactful ways to communicate the book fair to our families." Or we've heard, "Net-net, auction profits are our best KPI (key performance indicator), so we should aim to grow profits by 50%." Maybe we’ve even heard something along the lines of, "Let’s circle back to the appetizer menu later and move on to the next action item: napkins. Cocktail size? Dinner size?"

But, why?  Why pepper a conversation about a small school fundraiser or community event with language from an aspiring MBA study group? Why let such atrocious corporate speak creep into everyday exchanges? Are we trying to invoke past achievements? Trying to pretend we’re all back at work? Are some of us suffering from some type of post-corporate mom syndrome? 

Yes, many of us might be guilty of tacking a “Please advise.” on the end of an email to a friend collaborating on a class potluck. (It's faster than tapping out "Let me know what you think" on an iphone, after all.) Yet, let us all attempt to be less affected, less focused in false indicators of accomplishment. Let us aim to be authentic, direct, more human. 

In the end, while the well mannered mother might wince at corporate speak in the school-volunteer setting, there are times when she may be grateful for the common sense underlying it; like when a post-corporate mother keeps the discussion moving by suggesting,  “Let’s take this discussion offline and move on to the next agenda item.” 

And what do you do?

From time to time the well mannered mother may find herself at dinner party seated next to a young woman.  This woman may be well educated, urban, well traveled and happy to talk about the differences between the vodka in Helsinki and Reykjavik through the entire soup course.  In fact, she may be happy to talk about just about any aspect of her colorful life and give you her opinion on an incredible range of topics.

At first, the well mannered modern mother is just happy to be sitting down for the first time all day.  But then it slowly begins to dawn on her that this Holly Golightly has failed to ask her a single question.  About anything.  At all.

 As she turns to the older gentleman on her right for the fish course she wonders "Do I seem so old and uninteresting that it has not occurred to this young woman that my opinions might be additive? Relevant? Should I start throwing in my own bio?  'Back when I lived in that walk up in Paris' or 'When my company went public...' (tacky)  Maybe I should torture her with stories of my adorable (ha!) children and school potlucks (painful).  Does she think she knows me because I have three children and live outside the city?  Or is this just an example of the over-praised, self-absorbed 'younger' generation?" 

 Perhaps at this point, the well mannered mother finds herself wondering which is worse: the sometimes sticky question of "What do you do?" or the presumption that you do nothing and have nothing to say? 

As the well mannered mother sits there conversing with the nice older man on her right she may begin think how far away his life seems from hers right now.  Retired, living by the water, going where he wants when he wants.  Wow.  Then it might hit her, to Miss Fancy Pants on her left the idea of being well, a well mannered modern mother probably seems about a billion zillion light years away.  Ah ha!  OK.  She gets it.  But in the meantime someone should really teach these kids some manners.

Boys, Books, and Bathroom Humor

The modern mother of a boy may occasionally worry that her son may never read anything other than Captain Underpants.  While this bathroom humor classic can be an excellent inducement to read, (and even a little bit funny) she may hope that her son will move on to books without flatulence, underwear, or intentional mis-spellings. The well mannered mother may also wonder how she is ever going to curb potty mouth dinner conversation, if her son is reading Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger at bedtime. Such a mother can find inspiration in a recent opinion piece, "How to Raise Boys who Read" in the Wall Street Journal.  Read it here and then head to John Scieszka's website, "Guys Read" for some book ideas.

Stop the Draft!

We have written before about the most polite way in which a well mannered modern mother can decline a volunteer opportunity.  However, in that post we mistakenly assumed that "no meant no."  But it has recently been brought to our attention that there is a certain volunteer elite (let us call her the alpha mother) completely impervious to rejection.  Our source tells us that after she, a well mannered mother, politely but firmly told the alpha mother she could not help with a project;  manila files arrived in her mailbox and an email of her acceptance was sent to the wider community.   Nervy, we know.  And sneaky too.

So, now what?  Lest we forget, being well mannered does not mean being a push-over and anyone who mistakes a polite demeanor for a timid or compliant nature had better look out.  This is the point at which the mannerly mother must demonstrate the iron hand beneath the velvet glove, and not put up with such artifice.  We recommend an email responding to the alpha's email to the wider audience politely pointing out her mistake. (i.e. Dear Madame X, I am terribly sorry that you mistook my refusal to chair the Sunny Hill Spring Dance in the attached email of September 8th, as an affirmation...)   We all know sometimes it takes a village to keep things running smoothly and if a school-wide event such as a fair is taking place every parent should, if possible, help out.  But remember you are no one's Girl Friday.

It is the psychology of this behavior that is most interesting.  Does the alpha mother assume that because we or our children belong to a certain community, we are obligated to give back how and when she wants us too?  Or does she feel manipulated into a role and so assumes she has the right to manipulate other people in the same way?  Or maybe she has simply found that  ignoring people's protests is the most effective way to get them to do what she wants.   Yes, well, as Peggy Olson recently said to Don Draper's weepy secretary "Your problem is not my problem." So, while it may take a village,  the alpha mother's problems are not your problems and your life and your time are your own to manage as you see fit.

Design by Anne Taintor

Who Buys the Carrots in this Family?

* image from

Upon hearing about the baby carrot industry’s plan to package and market baby carrots like junk food, to give carrots attitude, and make them cool, the modern mother might think something like, “Does the world really need carrots with hip packaging? Can’t we all just eat food? And most importantly, could the rustling of a brightly colored snack wrapper possibly fool anyone, even a child, into thinking carrots taste just like “Spicy BBQ” Bugles

When this modern mother (for the purposes of blogging research, of course) goes to the Baby Carrots marketing website and finds her children drawn in like moths to a flame, swarming to see the source of its enticingly generic rock soundtrack, she may find herself surprised at the marketing campaign's effectiveness. She might be thinking, "idiotic," but her children find it riveting. 

 *Image from, Xtreme Xrunch Kart

And she might realize then and there that she objects to the obnoxious marketing of actual junk food (not carrots) as much as its lack of nutritional content. The baby carrot campaign may be a bit funny as parody, but mostly the outrageous dudes, sexy women, and extreme sports are just cheesyeven if the product is not. 

When she asks her children “Does it make you want to eat baby carrots?” they mumble “Yeah…uh...totally” without removing their eyes from the screen. And so, this modern mother might shrug and even mutter, “whatever,” just like the dudes in commercials.  After all, she buys the carrots in the house and she knows which ones she will choose. 

Don't Do Anything!

Like the philosophical argument that sometimes not making a decision is in fact a decision in itself;  is it possible (we are asking here) that at times the best thing a well mannered mother can do is nothing at all?  Certainly there will be times when a mother does not care for her young child's choice of smarty mouthed friend.  Or think that her child is not spending his free time is a worthwhile way.  Or wish that he had thought longer and differently about a certain homework answer.  In these and practically any other situation a modern mother has the ability to 'do something' to change these things.  She can attempt to 'manage' the friendship by making her child unavailable or pointing out the flaws in his choice of companions  (N.B. often the stamp of parental disapproval is all a child need to find someone truly cool).  She can enroll him in more activities so his free time is not "wasted" in her opinion.  And she can reasonably and calmly sit down with her child and explain at length why he should re-do his homework to produce the answer she thinks is best.

Sure it may be exhausting but what is the alternative?   Trusting that her child will eventually figure out what he needs in a friend?   Letting her child come to her with a proposal of how he would like to spend his free time?  Letting him get a bad grade on a homework assignment?   But then what?  By that time he may not be in the popular crowd or have missed the opportunity to play ice hockey or not gotten into that ivy league school.  At which point his life will be over.   Or, maybe, let's look on the bright side for a moment, maybe he will emerge a confident, capable, happy person who did not spend his youth being molded into someone else's idea of a successful person.   Plus, maybe the well mannered modern mother can relax for a while  and take comfort in believing that doing nothing is really doing something after all. *

*This advice does not apply to truly dangerous or destructive behavior.  In such cases a parent should absolutely get involved and help her/his child in any way possible.

The Lesson of the Twice Forgotten Lunch

There is a horrible feeling, a cringe-inducing regret a mother can get when she knows she has let her child down. For example, on the way to school she may have told him she would bring his forgotten lunch, but then she promptly forgot. She went about some morning errands, a meeting, the gym, the supermarket, and then she came home at noon to find the packed lunch sitting expectantly on the kitchen counter.

A shock of recognition and remembrance of that morning conversation: “Don’t worry; I’ll bring it in.” A vision of her child sitting forlorn and empty handed among chattering friends as they obliviously scarf down go-gurts. And a mad dash to carry that lunch to him (her baby!) before lunch period is over. 

Of course, this mother knows the school staff would not let her child go hungry. She knows that a forgotten lunch is a small inconvenience, an opportunity for her son to recognize his own resilience. She knows not to sweat the small stuff, the blessing of the skinned knee, and blah, blah, blah. Yet, she cannot help but feel aghast, a bit sad that she has let her child down, even in this small way.  Because, well, she’s his mother and she can’t help but want to fix everything for him, to make things perfect for a child she loves so much. 

But why? Why the guilt, when her rational mind knows better? Perhaps guilt is just a condition of motherhood. Or, maybe it’s because her baby is actually 10 and not very needy. Most of the time, he’s excellent company, and she knows this probably won’t last. Only 10 and already, there are fewer things he needs from her. No more teeth to brush, no more hair to comb, fewer puzzles to help him solve. He continues to grow and thrive, forgotten lunch or not, perfect mother or not.  

These changes are, of course, cause for celebration – not just for his growing self-sufficiency, but also for his mother’s new-found freedom. Yes, this modern mother may look forward to watching her son grow up, but she may also feel a twinge of wistfulness for the much younger child he once was. Her regret over the twice forgotten lunch might not really be guilt at all, but a swirl of nostalgia and surprise that these first 10 years slipped by so fast.  

I'd rather be in Paris

We discovered this wonderful story, "Kiki and Coco in Paris," by photographer Stephanie Rausser on the website Absolutely Beautiful Things.  Please click HERE to enjoy. 

Half-Full, Rose-Colored Glasses

No doubt most every well mannered mother on the planet remembers being told 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.' as she was busy growing into her well mannered self.  In fact, she has probably said it to her own offspring once or twice.  And really, the longer we live, the wiser this advice seems.  For, at the end of the day, who really wants to be around gloomy, negative, catty people?  Most every modern mother knows one - the old friend or new acquaintance who emanates negative energy and universal dissatisfaction.  Not only do you feel fatigued after a visit with this person you also feel irritable, depressed and mad at yourself for spending your valuable free time in such an unproductive way.

Of course everyone gets a bit down now and again and can be excused a good gripe session.  After all what are friends for?  But in general, we have found that a positive,  rose-colored, glass half-full attitude gets one further in life and makes it a lot more enjoyable.  No one is advocating being a big phony or pretending everything is wonderful if it isn't.  Yet many times given the choice, it is usually just as easy to think of something pleasant to say as it is something snide or unkind.  At the risk of sounding all new-age touchy-feely: the more positive energy the well mannered modern mother emits the more she receives and the more pleasant her world becomes.

Playing the Santa Card

For families who celebrate Christmas, the grip that December 25th, and specifically, Santa have on the minds of young children can be surprising. Take this recent exchange:

4 year old: "Mom, how many days until Christmas?"
Mother: "A long time. Three and a half months."
"But how many days?"
"I don't know, like 100?"
"Is that a lot?"
"Yes, I just told you it’s a long time. Why are you asking about this? We just started school."
"Because I can't wait until Christmas! Is it coming soon?"

Given the extraordinary power of the man in the red, fur-trimmed suit, it can be tempting to sometimes play the Santa card with a seemingly innocuous statement like, "I don't know, I think you might want to do a little be better job cleaning your room. Santa likes a clean room." Or, “Santa likes it when children eat all their green beans.” After all, visits from Santa can entail considerable effort on the part of a mother - why not try to get some cooperation and good listening out of it? Why not play the Santa card? And, more importantly, is September too early to start?

We leave our thoughtful, well-mannered readers to answer these questions as befits their own family dynamics. All we can say is, if and when you choose to "play the Santa card," do so with restraint, unless you are willing to go to elaborate lengths to back yourself up, as in this hilarious "Letter from Santa at your Birth."

What ever you do, don't invoke Santa in discussions of honesty: "Santa doesn't like children who lie!" Really. Dangerously hypocritical territory.

A (Homework) Room of One's Own?... Maybe Not.

The “latest” parenting research can often just be a huge guilt trip, but other times, it can provide welcome support for the status quo.

A recent New York Times article, “Forget What You know About Good Study Habits” may fall into the latter category for many a modern mother. It may provide some peace of mind for all those mothers struggling to “clear a consistent, quiet homework workspace” in a boisterous house, or a mother feeling inadequate because she is unable to fit “quiet consistent homework time” into a hectic schedule.

The article reports on recent studies showing that shaking things up, moving study spaces, studying in several short sessions about may actually improve academic performance. Go figure. And, go ahead, encourage your child to practice those spelling words in the car on the way to gymnastics, to fill out math worksheets at the kitchen table, and lie on the floor while completing vocabulary exercises. For once, not being the organized mother might actually have some benefits.  

Memo to My 19 Year-Old, Babysitting Self

I know you’ve really been enjoying babysitting this summer, and not only for the $20 an hour you earn as a college student babysitter in a resort town. (For the record, 20 years later, $20 an hour is STILL a lot of money for babysitting.) You actually enjoy children, maybe even want to have a few some day. You will, and when you do, you may find yourself looking for a trustworthy babysitter.  But back to you, my 19 year-old self: I have a few words of advice about those babysitting jobs.

First, all parents want their child to have “a really fun time,” but they also don’t want to come back to find their house (rental or not) looks like its been ransacked by a band a marauding pre-schoolers.  Cajole the kids into helping you pack up the 20 puzzles you've done together, put the dishes in the dishwasher, put the markers away, legos in the lego box. Parents are not expecting you clean up after them – only that you leave the house habitable and its not that hard. In the distant future, you will find yourself doing these things on a regular basis.

Second, if the mother mentions that her 3 year-old seems “a bit crabby today,” nod politely and hope he hasn’t tuned into evil-child incarnate.  Don’t chime in with commentary about how he screamed for 2 hours and tried to head-butt his baby sister the last time you were there. Chances are, she’s merely trying to acknowledge that her child is not uniformly delightful; she is not inviting critiques. 

Finally, if the parents seem a bit tipsy when they come home, they are. Just take your payment and get out of there. Don’t let them embarrass themselves. They’re like 40 or something, after all.  And you will be too, before you know it.  

Back To School Jitters

No doubt many a well mannered modern mother has faced the back to school jitters.  A new kindergartner, a nervous third grader, a tween starting middle school, prehaps even someone going off to college.  Yet, in one way these are the easy jitters.  The ones the well mannered mother herself remembers; the ones to which she can relate and respond in comforting and credible ways.  And if she can't there is always the internet.  A quick google of the words 'back to school jitters' yields numerous strategies for helping your progeny to cope with the stress of it all. 

But what about the mannerly mother herself?  What about her own personal jitters?  Is she smiling beneath the tears - secretly rejoycing to 'have her house back' or just glad that her work-life juggle will be a bit easier with everyone back in school?  Or is this next chapter calling into question her own place in the world?  Now that her children are is school all day - what should she do?  Get a "real" job?  Ramp up the volunteering?  Train for a marathon?  Take up tennis? Put the last 8 years of photos into albums?  Sort the toys in the basement?  Quit her job, fire the nanny and learn how to become a lady who lunches?  To some, no doubt, the possibilities are endless.  To others it's just another lap around the gilded cage.

So good luck getting your little ones off on their first day and good luck figuring it all out yourself.  Once you do, please drop us an email - we'd love to know how you did it.

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