Must be your First Child

As a modern mother becomes a “seasoned parent,” she may gain confidence, based not on books and "experts" seen on The Today Show, but on having made and recovered from more than a few parenting mistakes, from having cobbled together some semblance of a harmonious family system, however temporary. And yet, when the well mannered mother stumbles upon this sudden awareness of her own, dare we say, parenting prowess, she remembers all the times when she made an “issue” out of nonsense. Maybe she worried obsessively about how she would ever put an end to her 9 month-old’s thumb-sucking habit. Perhaps when her child went on his first independent playdate, she called three times in the space of two hours. Or possibly, she used to look askance at any mother who preferred to read on a park bench rather than watch her child play. Whatever her former foibles, the well mannered mother remains acutely aware that parenting is a moving target, a learning process, and a more experienced mother might find her current worries about primary school homework foolish or naive. In the spirit of this awareness, she refrains from commenting, “Clearly, this must be your first child!” in many, many situations. When she overhears the mother of a toddler say, “I really think he is gifted, have you seen the way he stacks his books and lines up toys?” she moves on. When she witnesses a parent approach the school nurse to say that her kindergartener “didn’t really eat any breakfast this morning - what should we do about it?” she bites her lip. When a mother explains that her baby is “24 and a half weeks,” she admires the baby, rather than respond, “Weeks? Must be your first, if you’re counting that closely!” Because, what new (or new-ish) mother wants to have her inexperience remarked upon? What mother of any experience wants her weakness pointed out? So, even if she has to pinch herself to remember, the well-mannered mother tries not to let the phrase "must be your first" slip out, no matter how much she is thinking it.

There's an app for that

"If you want to put lipstick on a pig, there's an app for that." (App For That)

While the above quote has practically nothing to do with manners or mothers, it is nonetheless both witty and indicative of the times in which we live.  The larger point, doubtlessly not lost on the well mannered modern mother, is that there isn't really an app for applying lipstick to pigs.  Nor is there an app for the public tantrum,  dead fish, broken arm, bruised spirit, best friend moving, learning disability, or accident at the grocery store. And yet, these days, that is exactly what people/parents want.  They want a quick fix, a diagnosis, a solution.  They want to 'solve the problem' and get on down the road.   This is not to say the iPhone isn't a wonderful tool for parents/people.  Many a well mannered mother {your gentle authoress included} has survived more than a few travels thanks to the children's movies and games on her iPhone.   This is simply to say life is messy, people are variable and in most cases it is time and patience - not excel spreadsheets and parenting apps - that will 'fix' what not so long ago was simply called part of life.

Keeping the Peril out of Potlucks

The timeless and inelegant potluck dinner does not come naturally to everybody. Sophisticated urbanites might frown at the sight of 3 competing bean salads on the same table; Persons of sensitive palate might shudder at the thought of hummus served alongside lasagna; Germ-phobes might clutch their sides imagining the potential viral load of so many co-mingling dishes. Yes, a modern mother can be forgiven for imagining that the potluck supper falls firmly in the territory of graduate students, subscribers of Good Housekeeping, and anyone who likes to make casseroles requiring Campbell’s condensed soup. And yet, the potluck remains a surprisingly enjoyable staple of many parenting circles, so we would like to offer a few thoughts on “best practices” for this most unusual of parties.
(1) Aside from the obvious admonition to R.S.V.P. and give the hostess a vague idea of what you would like to contribute (appetizer, side dish, etc.), it just doesn’t matter what you bring. If you say you’ll bring dessert, make some brownies, buy a cake, whatever. Even if you take the time to bake your grandmother’s famous cherry pie, chances are, it may end up with the serving utensil from the orzo salad stuck into it, so don't knock yourself out. Its about the company, not the food.
(2) Bring your contribution in a dish ready to serve, with the appropriate utensil to serve it. You don’t want to spend the party searching for the hostess to ask for a utensil, or worse searching her kitchen yourself – she might be busy searching for the punch bowl she never uses, or even swilling a glass of Prosecco and enjoying herself.
(3) When the party is done, pack your dish and utensil and take them home, as is. An old tote bag, a plastic grocery sack, whatever you brought your dish in, should suffice. If you feel the hostess might like the left-overs, gently inquire about her preference, "I would love to wrap these up for your fridge, or would it be easier if I just took them home?" Our guess is that sparing the hostess of washing the dish and tracking you down to return it might just be the best hostess gift you could offer her.
In no time at all, the modern mother will be navigating the potluck with ease, and probably even enjoy herself. She is under no obligation, however, to follow up by donning a hair net and apron, taking up crochet, or joining a quilter's circle. Even ironically.

Porn for Mummy

Late one night when her husband is traveling, after putting her rowdy brood to bed, the well mannered modern mother takes a quick shower, hops in bed, reaches into her bedside table and pulls out a pile of well thumbed magazines.  On a rainy Thursday a different well mannered mother walks purposefully down the street in her trench coat and wellies. There is a naughty smile on her face.  With a giddy feeling in the pit of her stomach she looks left, she looks right and then suddenly she ducks down a side street and passes through a glossy black door.  There is a plaque on the building that reads only "To the Trade." 

Is it Voyeurism?  Fantasy?   An exotic diversion from the daily grind?  Whatever it is, there is no denying: many a modern mother loves her Fabric.  Wallpaper.  Trim.  Carrera Marble.  Glossy Photos of Glossy Kitchens.  Shelter Magazines.  House and Garden Tours.   Even in these uncertain economic times,  the Remodeling, Interior Design, Furniture, Paint & Wall Paper and Textile businesses combine to create a $200 billion dollar industry.

Now we could get all Sobby Sally at this point and talk about the Wall-e style waste created by renovating, remodeling and redecorating.  But really, who wants to read about that?  Instead let us  celebrate the sense of calm that some well mannered modern mothers feel when looking at wall paper books and lugging home tote bags full of fabric swatches.  Delicious moments just brimming with possibility and hope.  Now, thanks to the internet this feeling can be savored and enjoyed 24/7 in the privacy of one's own home.   No more bashful looks at the postman when the latest "issue" arrives, no more sneaking around design centers and meeting decorators on the sly.  We now have pleasure without the carbon print. Today!  At this very moment, the well mannered mother can simply pull up a chair and peruse the internet's latest gifts to the domestically obsessed.   There are numerous sites that cater to all different design proclivities from the elegant to the attainable.  So what are you waiting for?  Fabulousity is just a click away.   And no one will ever know.

Sick Day, What's That?

Some morning, a modern mother may wake up feeling as if she has been run over by a freight train. No, she is not suffering from a “morning head,” she is sick: feverish chills, aching body, and sand paper throat. She may roll over, remember that her husband is out of town on business, look at the clock and think, 1 hour and 15 minutes until I can deposit everyone at school. I just have to make it through 1 hour and 15 minutes, she repeats to herself, as she briefly closes her eyes again. She has to rouse herself. No sick days for mothers -- that’s what separates every mother from everyone else. Through her fog of illness, she rises to begin the morning chores and motions required to get her brood out the door and on their way to school: the dressing, lunch packing, breakfast eating, tooth brushing, dishwasher unloading, and that most crucial component of the morning routine, the nagging. She may move more slowly, she may look pathetic, but she will get it done. Woozy and feverish, she may even whisper, “Mommy’s not feeling well this morning. I can’t really talk because it hurts too much, so I need you all to do what you’re supposed to do, no complaining, no dawdling, no meltdowns.” She knows the children may listen or not; sometimes the tragedy of the blue dog shirt not being clean and ready to wear can overshadow any sincere sympathy for mother. But then, miracle of miracles, the gestures and wordless prompts start working. Everyone is clothed (socks included) and in the kitchen, cereal is poured, breakfast is eaten, teeth are brushed. She points at the lunch box on the counter and her 8 year old carries it to his backpack; she whispers “shoes!” and everyone dons both shoes and jackets; she grabs her keys and heads for the door and they follow like a line of ducklings. And they're not even late! When she returns home and collapses, she may briefly ponder the morning events. Maybe they behaved so well because they were so surprised to see me so quiet. Or, maybe this morning was the perfect example of “less is more” parenting. And, maybe she’ll even try a nag free morning again. Soon, and when she is better.


On occasion the well mannered modern mother/concierge/social secretary to the six-and-under-set will need to change her offspring's plans unexpectedly. Obviously the considerate modern mother aims to do this as infrequently as possible. But legitimate reasons do crop up for example: "I took one look at my hysterical preschooler at pick up today and knew he could not possibly handle an art class, t-ball, or play date at Alton's this afternoon." In such instances the well mannered mother must contact the party of the second part as soon as she knows her child will not be showing up as expected. A brief explanation and sincere apology are all that is required in such a case. Most well mannered mothers who have ever met a child will understand. However, there are certain mothers out there who might not. They might say something like "Really? Alton was really, really, really looking forward to this play-date. He only likes to go to Art Class with Sammy. He is going to be so disappointed. He has been looking forward to it all week. Are you sure you can't just bring him over so I don't have to tell my child anything he doesn't want to hear?"

 At this point the well mannered modern mother will do one of two things. 1) She will give in to this unreasonableness because she is a considerate person who does not like to cancel at the last minute and bribe, cajole, drag her exhausted child to whatever it is to spare poor Alton the enormous heartbreak of having his plans altered. Although, in truth, it is probably the mother's plans we are talking about here. Naturally, the event will be a disaster. Plus the well mannered mother will regret that she allowed herself to be manipulated in that way. 2) Hopefully, she will BE STRONG, smile down the phone line and kindly but firmly assure the other mother it just isn't possible at that time; comfortable in the knowledge she is doing the right thing for her child.

Happy Mannerly Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all our well mannered and well meaning readers and friends.  If it wasn't for mothers our blog wouldn't be here.  Come to think of it... Anyway, thanks for reading.  Best Wishes, Elizabeth & Elizabeth

Winning the Busy Contest

At this very moment, there is a contest raging in cities, towns and suburbs all across America. Not a contest of strength, endurance, or athleticism; not a contest of skill, intellect, or talent; not a contest of wealth or power. Whether they know it or not, many modern mothers have been entered into a busy contest.

With the winding down of the school year, the months of May and June can be packed with year-end recitals, sports tournaments, PTO wrap ups, year-end picnics, graduations, planning for the summer, planning for the next school year. The list goes on. All on top of typical family homework-housework-sports-and-activities routines. It’s enough to make a modern mother’s head spin. When she overhears rapid fire accounting of busy-ness passing as conversation ("Things are just sooooo crazy!), it’s enough to make her realize that sadly, the contemporary stereotype of the frenetic family is all too true.
What could possibly be behind all this busy-ness? And why would anyone want to glorify it? In a bygone era, one celebrated success and prosperity by lolling about on the French Riviera, or at the very least relaxing on the porch with a mint julep. But in today’s world, a tycoon keeps a busy schedule. Oprah, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, they all seem so busy. In today’s world, busy is status. And so the modern mother must keep with the times and stick to her schedule. But must she?

While there may be a variety of mother who smugly equates busy-ness with quality of life, viewing a packed schedule as a sign of success, prosperity, or a thriving family life, we suspect that many of our gentle readers may feel “crazy busy” to the point of being overwhelmed during this end-of-the-school-year season, wondering how exactly did things get this way? What can she do to make it stop?

Though we really don’t have big answers to these big questions (been pretty busy, you know), we can offer a few thoughts on coping with the frenetic feelings of spring. First, do not compete in the busy contest; do not engage in discussions of busy-ness -- your own, your neighbor’s, or Oprah’s. It will only make you feel more anxious. Should someone begin to enumerate her own busy-ness, suppress any impulse (however momentary) to "one-up" her by detailing your own crazy schedule. Second, keep things in perspective. If you’re crazy busy because you have an appointment for a haircut, followed by a thank-you-for-volunteering luncheon, followed by ferrying kids to various and sundry activities, that’s still a pretty nice life, even if it is hard to find time to squeeze in a work out. Finally, like so many things in motherhood, this too shall pass. The sleepless nights of parenting a newborn, the willful tantrums of toddlerhood, and the “crazy busy” season that is spring and fall for parents of school- age children.

With the onset of summer, a well mannered mother can say good bye to the spring busy contest, and hello to the “time for more sunscreen” season, the "sure, you can have a hot dog again" season, or the "maybe, possibly, have time to read a book" season. May we recommend CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!, by Edward M. Hallowell?

Tie One on Today

Tie on a necktie, that is. May 4th is national tie a tie day, as recently proclaimed by Antwone Fisher, author of the recently published book, A Boy Should Know How to Tie a Tie: And Other Lessons for Succeeding in Life.

The authoresses at Manners of Modern Mothers would like to salute Mr. Fisher and all the intrepid mothers (and fathers) out there who work hard to convince their sons that "handsome clothes" are really not that bad, endeavor to teach their sons to tie their own ties, and continue to strive towards civilizing their offspring.

More kudos to those mothers who manage to consistently have blazers, ties, dress pants, button-down shirts, and dress shoes, all of the approximate right size, and all clean, pressed, and waiting in the their sons' closets.

Shopping By The Rules

Depending on where the modern mother was living in the mid-90s and what she was doing with her free time she may have come across a book called The Rules, Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. This publication caused quite a stir at the time with many women feeling some of the "rules" (ex: "Don't Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls", "Don't Accept a Saturday Night Date After Wednesday) were anti-feminist and perhaps slightly ridiculous.  Other "rules" seemed to be more about having and projecting a confident persona (ex:"Be a creature unlike any other","Be Honest but Mysterious").

A friends recent question about how to navigate shopping in establishments where the workers attempt to create an aura of exclusivity/fabulosity by being less than friendly to the clientele, reminded your gentle authoress of the above book.  While one hardly wants to compare some people's strategies for finding a lifemate to purchasing fish, there are parallels her too delightful to be ignored. So the next time a well mannered modern mother wanders into an establishment that is not very welcoming she might try the following: Stand up straight.  Remember, she is a shopper unlike any other.  They are lucky to have her (and her children for that matter) in their emporium.  She should never be flustered by sales clerks who ignore her or condescend.  She is not looking for a new friend.  She wants 3 pounds of short ribs or a cashmere sweater.  She is polite.  She is cool.  She is calm.  She keeps her voice low so they need to lean in to hear her.   She never apologizes for not knowing more about farm raised scrod or why Christian Louboutin paints the bottoms of his shoes red.  She is not wasting their time - they are there to help her.  She doesn't talk too much.  She never buys something because she feels intimidated - she would not enjoy the product.  She is calm, efficient and pleasant.  Chances are, even the most uneffusive of sales people will remember such a confident and composed customer next time.

Of course there is another type of shopping experience entirely, where the owners and staff are welcoming, knowledgeable, friendly and may even offer samples.  In such cases the well mannered modern mother need only be her usual polite self, relax, and enjoy the cheese.
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