The End

In other years, as August approached, we took a break from blogging to relax and enjoy the quieter rhythms of summer. This year, we've decided to make that break permanent, and end this blog.

No, we're not foolish enough to imagine we can hold our lives in the slow gear of late summer by not blogging. Ever again. Quite simply, we feel we're beginning to repeat ourselves, having covered many of the mannerly topics of motherhood. Some days, we just don't want to think about table manners, dinner partiesthank you notes, or even the mommy wars.

One of us (EHP) will continue blogging at Bottle Branch, shifting from a focus on manners to making things, but hopefully maintaining some of the verve, brevity, and authenticity we've striven for here. The other (EBB) will  continue working to make the world a more civilzed and mannerly place in the private sphere.

To celebrate our three and a half years blogging, we've put together a list of some favorite posts - a mixture of the most viewed, the most commented, and the most timeless topcis we've covered here at Manners for Modern Mothers.

We have so enjoyed creating this blog, more that we could have imagined at the outset. We thank you all, dear readers and friends, for reading, commenting, and otherwise participating in our discussion of manners, motherhood and the modern world.

An erratic lists of posts from Manners for Modern Mothers, 2010-2013

School pick up, or Sartrian cocktail party

*"The End" illustration by EHP. Yes, I'm crafty like that. Go check out my new blog.

On Kindness

I've been thinking a lot about kindness these days: the kindness we owe to each other, to strangers who cross our paths, and the kindness I hope to teach my children to express. Such kindness, of course, is the foundation of truly good manners, but its also deeper than that.

Sometimes I worry kindness takes years to develop, if one of my children gawks at an odd-looking person, or when they taunt each other endlessly. Other times, even my youngest can surprise me with his innate caring and solicitude.

Mostly, I have been thinking about something I read in January, a letter from Ariel Kaminer, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine's Lives they lived section.  In her letter, Ms. Kaminer describes three lessons she learned from late author, David Rakoff.  One of her lessons is "As fun... as it might seem to be witty and cutting, it’s probably better in the long run to be kind." So true. So true, but we sometimes need a reminder. Ms. Kaminer writes it all more beautifully than I can capture here. I only advise you all, dear readers to click through and read this inspiring letter.

Same circus, different tent

As summer 'vacation' settles upon us, we thought we might re-visit one of our older posts on the topic. 

Vacation, all I ever wanted?

For many mothers, summer “vacation” is no holiday. Never is this more true than when she decides to take a trip (yes, a “vacation”), say, for example, to a beach house filled with her own extended family. She is lucky to be there, lucky to have access, lucky to spend time at a scenic waterfront spot. Lucky indeed. So, how can it feel like such drudgery? Is it the endless cycle of changing into swimsuits, applying sunscreen, preparing snacks, dragging chairs, buckets, bags across the sand, supplying drinks of water, supplying clean towels, wiping sand out of eyes, and then cleaning everyone and everything up only to do it all again the next day? Is it the difficulty (exacerbated by the new setting) of keeping track of all the swimsuits, coloring books, hats, sunglasses, and favorite stuffed animals? Is it the exhaustion of letting the kids stay up later than normal, only to have them wake with the sun, ready for another busy day of vacation? Whatever it is, it can leave a modern mother feeling fatigued and, well, in need of a vacation from her vacation. But of course there is no time off from motherhood. Perhaps the modern mother can take solace in the fact that she is not alone, and the U.S. has recently been called “No Vacation Nation” for the paltry vacation time Americans typically receive and take from their paid jobs. Better consolation might be found by curling up with her digital camera after everyone is in bed, and flipping through the photos of the day: frolicking in the surf, sandcastles, learning to body surf. Her children’s happiness in the photos should help put the schlepping in perspective. These luminous and gritty days at the beach are quintessential childhood summer memories.  The modern mother can cling to their brightness and shake off the fatigue as she shakes the sand out of her beach bag.

Suffering from end-of-school-year fatigue?

The end of the school year can be overwhelming. As it all winds to an end – the grind of tracking down missing shoes, remembering permission slips, helping to pull together class projects – a mother can feel just plain fed up. So fed up that she can’t come up with words to convey the ridiculousness of it all. 

Then lucky for us, we can read and delight in Worst End of School Year Mom Ever on Jen Hatmaker's blog. Judging by the 1500+ comments on this post, she might have struck a nerve. Or, as our friend Catherine said, when she posted this on Facebook, "Oh yes." Thanks, Catherine for sharing. 

Have a great weekend, mothers, the finish line is in sight.

The curly bracket is here to stay... {Brace yourself}

I've been seeing lots of brackets these days. To be precise, curly ones like {these} which are also known as curly braces. And I can't decide: are they a little mis-used and maybe a tad pretentious? Or, are they fresh, fun and whimsical?

I'm probably reading too much into this micro trend, but I can't help wondering: what are you trying to say if you surround your initials, an invitation, or some particular words with curly braces? Are they simply a fancy substitution for parenthesis? A decorative embellisment? Or, to a cunning grammarian, do they mean something highly specific?

I like to consider myself gramatically well imformed, but the only place I've ever used curly brackets is in anxiety-inducing mathematical equations. Yet, curly brackets are a part of a standard keyboard, so they must have some importance. Feeling I might be missing something, I decided to do some research. When I struck out in Strunk and White, I turned to the internet and found this helpful post on Grammar Girl. (I had never encountered Grammar Girl before but it looks like great fun for anyone with a case of general grammar grumpiness).

According to Grammar Girl, the curly brace serves no gramatical function whatsoever, and exists primarily for mathemathics. In the exponent-free world, I guess that makes curly braces fair game for anyone wishing to add little whimsy to her written communication. In the age of the emoticon, the curly brace seems quaint and whimisical indeed.

* image from Mark and Graham

Friday Frivolity: Sandwich Bag Art

Day in and day out, packing school lunches can be tedious. The thrill of a clever and functional new lunchbox can wear off. The time and inspiration for perfectly adorable bento style lunches can run short. Leave it to a father, then, to come up with a speedier way to infuse his children's lunches with a sense of fun and whimsy, express love for his children and exercise his own creativity.

David Laferriere is just that father. Since 2006, he has be drawing quirky and clever pictures on the sandwich bags in his sons lunches, and posting photos of his creations on flickr.

The assembled photos are a thrill to peruse, and so its no surprise that they have been written about in more than one place, and slowly but surely his lunch bag photos have gathered a following.

We might not all be as deft with a Sharpie as Mr. Laferriere, but we can dream.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Stunned into Silence

This week, we've been stunned into silence by Monday's bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. No, neither of us was present and neither of us had friends or family who were victims. That makes us lucky. Yet, we mourn the loss of three vibrant and young Bostonians and the maiming of so many others.

While our thoughts are with the many victims and their families, we recommend Messing with the Wrong City a recent op-ed by Dennis Lehane. His piece so perfectly sums up some of the peculiarities of our adoped city. Bostonians like hard things (epic snowstorms, creaky public transportation, and unexplainable traffic patterns). Rich with medical institutions, grit, and, in Lehane words, "adoration for civility and intellect," Boston will not be cowed by such atrocious acts of terrorism, we're all just too contrary.

* We wish we knew who to credit for the image. We found it on Facebook, where it is rapidly going viral, just like Lehane's op-ed piece. 

Let Us Now Praise Famous Women

The Modern Mother of a Certain Age may be feeling sad today at the passing of two great leaders of her youth.  First, the formidable and fascinating Baroness Thatcher, Britain's "greatest post-war Prime Minister has died at the age of 87." (Telegraph, UK

 Photo courtesy of Time Magazine

And second, a lady of a very different pattern, Lilly Pulitzer socialite and fashion icon died this past Sunday at her home in Palm Beach.

Photo courtesy of NYTimes

They will both be missed by many a Modern Mother. 

To read more about the extraordinary  Mrs. Thatcher please visit the Margaret Thatcher Foundation

There can be no better tribute to dear Lilly, than the many pages of her creations that can be found on Pinterest.

Parenting advice from non-parents?

Sometimes it can be hard to take advice from a “childless bystander” but in a recent op-ed, the New York Times’ Frank Bruni makes it easy. His observations of modern parenting are deeply amusing and often true, especially his take on gratuitous praise and how parents sabotage their children’s eating habits by talking about them excessively. A few points seem a bit tired: when he describes modern parents as prone to “boundless fretting” it feels like Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness or New York Magazine’s July 2011 issue all over again. Happily, he concludes with the observation that most children turn out fine no matter how they are fed, transported, soothed, disciplined, etc. He’s certainly right about that. That, and the fact that all children these days eat way too many chicken fingers.

A Crisis of Conference

I never thought I would be one of those mothers - the ones who doubt, dismiss, disbelieve, when a teacher reports less than desirable behavior in her child, the mothers who assume that her child’s faltering performance at school stems from the school “not doing enough” or a problematic teacher. But then, I had never really been tested.

Sitting in a recent parent teacher conference, learning about my third child’s “learning differences,” I was surprised by my own reaction. Despite a careful, kind and well mannered delivery, the message somehow sounded like, “all of the other 1st graders sit quietly at their desks reading chapter books, while your child swings from the light fixtures, and barely writes his own name.”

Battling mounting anxiety and defensive thoughts like “their expectations are just too high” I managed to listen and ask questions. I could see where and how my child might need some support. In the end, the teachers and I pulled through this “crisis of conference,” had a civilized discussion and put a plan in place to help my flagging student.

Yet, I emerged humbled – not by the fact that one of my children will need tutoring, but more than a little surprised to find myself susceptible to the kind of defensiveness that can undermine an effective parent teacher relationship. I like to think of myself as a cooperative and open-minded person, not someone who would deny the existence of a problem.

In the end, I suppose I am lucky. Lucky, that good manners and good will prevailed, allowing us to proceed forward and do what is best for this child, whom I love so much.

Friday Frivolity: Momologue

Most mothers have had one of those moments: a moment when the patter she engages in with small children, her usual monologue (or shall we say momologue?* ) spills out into "real life." She might find herself pointing out the window and brightly exclaiming, "Look at the dump truck!" when riding in a car with friends. Or she might find herself biting her lip before suggesting, "careful!" as a friend steps out into a busy street.

However chagrined the modern mother might feel about such slip ups, she can rest easy she has never gotten so myopically focused on her role as parent to behave as the character in this fictional video.

Of course, the interesting point that this video highlights is something most of us instictively know to be true: many of the ways adults talk to children are not considerate, nor do they help a child make sense of the world a they experience it  Not so frivolous thoughts from a humorous video. Food for thought.

Have a wonderful weekend!

* Momologue: The patter in which mothers sometimes engage, a mixture of instructions (napkin in your lap!), admonitions (sit square on your chair!), and observations (look! the butter is shaped like a shell!).

I Have Fifty, Do I Hear One Hundred?

With school auction season upon us, we thought this old piece seemed particularly apropos.

Going, Going, Gone!
Reprinted, with permission, from March 22, 2011

Should the conversation begin to lag when you are talking to the mother of school-age children, one  sure way to avoid an awkward pause is to bring up school auctions.  A polite inquiry such as “Does your child’s school have an auction?” is usually good for upwards of 20 minutes.   In this time she will regale you with tales of the time she chaired/contributed to/attended the XYZ school auction and the horror or hysteria that ensued.  It is hard to pinpoint what exactly makes school auctions so fraught with peril but it undoubtedly has something to do with the combination of alcohol, competition, money and ego.  While we cannot, in good conscience, suggest the well mannered  mother avoid these gatherings entirely – after all they are for a good cause – she might want to follow some basic guidelines.

Pre-auction: if volunteering, show up when you said you would and do what you agreed to (see Committees).   It is also best not to voice your opposition or displeasure too loudly or you might end up chairing the event next year.  Additionally, have a strategy worked out with your spouse/date of how much you want to donate that night.  A “safe word” to stop your spouse or yourself in the heat of the bidding frenzy is also recommended.

During the auction: keep your wits about you and alternate between the hard stuff and a glass of seltzer to insure lucidity.  Eat something. Socialize, don’t crowd the bidding tables.  Remember, to the victor goes the spoils.  While you may feel good about it at the moment, do you really want those two weeks in Hilton Head or the taco party for 30?  Keep it friendly, this is for a good cause.  If you win wonderful.   If not, just think, the school gets more and you get to keep yours.  So really, in a way, you did win.

Post-auction: get in touch with the kind people who donated whatever it is you purchased as quickly as possible to agree on delivery.  Never complain or imply you overpaid.  Do not gossip - it is gauche to discuss who spent how much or who outbid his own bid three times.

Finally, the well mannered modern mother knows that while these events may be like a Prom with gasoline, alcohol and money thrown in, the best thing she can do is remain polite and adult about it all.  Thus avoiding incriminating photos of herself on Facebook the next morning.

Sheryl Sandberg makes me feel guilty

The saturating media coverage of Sheryl Sandberg, and her new book, Lean In have left me feeling a little guilty and a little confused. Like a splinter, something about her message lodged and irritated, and I wasn’t quite sure why. And then I read this post on Penelope Trunk’s blog.

In her post, Ms. Trunk, blogger, career coach, homeschooling mother, says, “I am doing a life that she [Sandberg] would hate” and feels bad she doesn’t measure up to Sheryl Sandberg’s stratospheric standard. Me too. (For those who have missed the barrage of media, Sandberg argues that women should aim high towards big careers and positions of power; they need not cut back and slow track themselves.)

The problem is, I never wanted the big corporate or government position. Ms. Sandberg might see this as downshifting before starting. I see it as normal for someone who seeks time for friends, family, creativity and contemplation. Doubtless, there are other women like me: those who aspire to be teachers, artists, botanists, therapists, among others. Are they all guilty of self-sabotage or downshifting?

Ms. Sandberg's analysis of women and workplace issues shifts much of the burden onto women themselves. Thus, inspiring that vague guilty feeling. Those women who don’t push forward against the glass ceiling become part of the problem and those who do push forward, but fail, appear to have not tried hard enough.

Ms. Sandberg is an amazing, accomplished individual. I hope many women and girls benefit from her  "You can do it!" message. I feel happy to live in a time and place where she, and women like her, can succeed so visibly and vibrantly. Yet, her life cannot be for everybody. Some women might not want it; others might not be so lucky.

Coming In For A Landing?

 image from Free Range Kids

A article making the rounds these days is Tim Elmore's  "Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids...And How To Correct Them."  The mistakes not the children.

It is a good reminder to let our children take risks, make mistakes and replace phony praise with genuine and merited encouragement.  Of course, chances are, if you read this blog, you have probably read The Blessing of A Skinned Knee, which is the gold standard of such parenting advice.

What I wonder is, it getting better?   Are more parents giving their children a little more freedom to make mistakes?  Are some of those helicopter parents coming in for a landing?  According to Free Range Kids letting your kids walk a couple of blocks in your own neighborhood may land you in jail.  This article on What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent - And What Makes a Great One suggests that there is still a lot of work to be done.

One result of such parental management seems to be the children who call home 8-10 times a day from college asking questions like "should I have a hot dog or chili for lunch?" or "Should I do my Econ or History homework first?"  One also reads about parents helping (?) to negotiate a person's first salary and calling a company's HR dept to advocate for their offspring


Friday Frivolity: Junk Food Wars

Here, at Manners for Modern Mothers, we've covered many parenting-related food concerns: healthy eating, unhealthy eating, organic food, and of course table manners. But we have yet to ask one astoundingly obvious question, asked recently in an essay by Yoni Freedhoff in U.S. News and World report. Why is everyone always giving my kids junk food? In his essay, Dr. Freedhoff takes aim at the sugary snacks and treats our young children are so frequently given. In the end, he suggests that, "people other than their parents giving children junk food shouldn't be considered 'normal.'"

As I push aside a batch of left over Christmas candy to make room for the haul of candy my children brought home on Valentine's day, I'm thinking maybe he's got a point. As a child, I took pleasure in the paper valentines given and received, but for my children and many others it seems to have turned into another opportunity to amass candy. Perhaps that's just the new normal, Valentine's day Peeps an all.

Friday Frivolity - Quite Funny, Really

I have just lent a friend the Downton Abby Season 2 Video Set which I borrowed from another friend last week and she (the borrower friend) almost cried she was so excited when I dropped it off.  She said that Season 2 and enough wine might just make February break bearable.  I felt the same once about Stieg Larsson's third Millennium novel.

 Image from Bella's Bookshelves

Anyway, if you are a fan of DA you must run, not walk, to check out this parody If Downton Abby took place entirely on Facebook: Seson 3, Episode 6

Image from

A really interesting (non-Downton related) piece friend Karsten shared this week was this one in the WSJ about running your family like a business.  What do you think?  Would your children benefit from agile development?

Happy President's Day Long Weekend.

Valentine's Day from Cranes to Oysters

Ah Valentine's Day: flowers, romance, a candlelit dinner for two - wait, rewind, never mind. 

Let's try this again. 

Ah Valentine's Day: or rather, the night before.  Also known as, the mad rush and gentle encouragement to get those valentines made for everyone in the class.  If ever there was a compelling argument for limiting class size it is the production of valentines.  Because no matter how cute the idea of paper origami cranes or construction hearts and doilies sounded the week before, in the 11th hour - oh and by the way, don't forget it's back to school night tonight - even the craftiest of modern mothers would pay big money for a box of self sealing Snoopy valentines from CVS.

Image from Liz Clayton Illustration

Should your Valentine's Day trend towards the epicurean you might enjoy this piece about oysters. 

 Image from ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Our friend Allison over at Daily Outfit has been very informative recently on being sexy as well as the seriousness of foundation wear.

Image from Daily Outfit

 Since everything holiday is better with a little Downton Abby we wanted to share these  17 Parenting Lessons From Downton Abby found in the Huffington Post.  And last but not least, have you heard about or seen the Sesame Street spoof Upside Downton Abby?  It is a hoot.  So whether you Valentine's Day is filled with paper and paste or more adults pursuits, we hope you have a good one.  xoxo

Burgeoning Bragging Wars? Or facebook failure?

Ah, bragging. Parental boastfulness has remained a favored topic here at Manners for Modern Mothers. Whether general bragging, bragging about eating habits, or even the terminology of bragging, such showing off is a precarious parental situation which we have revisited time and again.

Apparently, we are not alone. In “A Truce in the Bragging Wars” the New York Times reports mommy blogs have declared war on parental bragging and offers nine guidelines for “acceptable chest thumping.” Assuming one must brag at all, we applaud the suggestion that a parent should brag about the child not his/her parenting prowess, and agree that grandparents are an excellent audience.  However, we retain some reservations about the idea of offsetting boasts with admissions of shortcomings, as children will inevitably overhear and might not like to have parents report on bed-wetting habits, even if it is mentioned in conjunction with their perfect SAT scores. Above all, we have to wonder, can’t one strive to take the high road and remain above this fray?

Instead of raving about one's own offspring, perhaps we should remember to ask, "and, how is your family?" Of course, that would mean an actual conversation, not just status updates on facebook. Perhaps the problem is not one of bragging but changing communication and the prevalence of facebook/twitter/social media. On Motherlode, K.J, Dell'Antonia suggests that parents weary of excessive bragging might want to change their facebook feeds to see different friends. We might even go so far as to suggest that if it leaves you vaguely disgruntled, or makes you feel like an inadequate parent of underaccomplished children, then go cold turkey. Just don't forget to sign up for Manners for Modern Mothers by email: no vacation pictures, no reports of prizes won, and no brattling, just a few attempts at humor, the ocasional rant, and an ongoing discussion of manners in the modern world.

Ladies Of A Certain Age

We are fortunate to know some lovely ladies of a certain age who are extremely well-mannered but also unabashedly candid.  At first blush these traits might not seem consistent but it is, of course, possible to speak one's mind while  knowing which fork to use.  

These days, we all know one such lady, The Dowager Countess of Grantham.  Like a breath of fresh air she sails through Downton Abby leaving zingers, embarrassed youth and dropped jaws in her wake.

Photo courtesy of BTVision

 The question of whether is is possible to speak one's mind without hurting the delicate feelings of those around one is another matter.  With some of these ladies it is probably best to leave your sensitive feelings with the butler but you might want to keep your gloves on just in case. 

P.S. Apropos of nothing more than candid people with good hair,  we recently stumbled upon this delightful Jack Donaghy Insult Generator.  We hope you enjoy it.  Happy Weekend.

 Image from Johnnyetc

Winter weather fun

As temperatures hovered in the teens last week, we weren't thinking about manners much and we weren't posting either. We were just trying to figure out how to weather the wearying cold.

As an adopted New Englander, I've learned to embrace the family ski trips and pond skating but when I first saw this ice orb project on pinterest, I knew I had found something that could make me really love cold weather.

I was more excited than my children as we filled balloons with water and food coloring. And the thrill of peeling off the balloon was well worth the wait, not to mention the risk of color-stained gloves.
And now the roads are steaming and the snow is melting along with those ice orbs. Feeling sad to see the weather warm up, I know I have truly become a yankee. Now I'm just waiting for the weather to drop below freezing again so we can try ice bubbles.

Friday Frivolity: Twain and Tolstoy for Toddlers

Once again it’s Friday, and, once again, we’re writing about books. This week, its children’s books, specifically, little known children’s books by literary giants. On the Brain Pickings blog, the post 7 Obscure Children’s Books by Authors of Grown up Literature contains brief accounts of the origins of children’s books by James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and others.

Should the modern mother feel inadequate because her children's book shelves do not house Twain or Tolstoy? Hardly. Yet, many of the books on this list appear to be so delightful, none more than Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls, which includes this gem:

You ought never to take your little brother’s ‘chewing-gum’ away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.

Ah, the cleverness, the humor, and what a vocabulary! It makes this modern mother want to buy it right now, and I don’t even have any little girls. Perhaps this book will be for me.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday Frivolity - The Power of a Good Book

Speaking of reading (thanks Kate), if you are looking for a good laugh or a good mystery series, we recommend the following. 

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Happy Friday and Happy Long Weekend!

Happy New Year & New World

 It was a sad season, this past holiday and for that reason I couldn't wait to pack up the tree and assorted swag on January 1st.  It has all been stashed away with hopes for a better tomorrow.  This is one reason you haven't heard from us much lately -  since we tend to be a light-hearted blog (in our ironic sort of way) we just didn't seem to have much to say.  That and in light of so much sadness in the world - does it really matter if Sally calls you Mrs. Smith or "Hey you?"  What's really important is that Sally is around to yell at you at all. 

Another reason this humble correspondent hasn't had much to say lately is due to something going on locally.  A few weeks back all fourth grade parents in our town received an email telling us about a proposed curriculum change.  Starting in September it will be mandatory that all 5th graders in our town's seven elementary schools have their own iPads.  This will be a partnership (that means families need to buy the iPads unless need is demonstrated) and the children are to use these "educational tools" in the classroom and at home.  My extensive thoughts on this can be found over at TheSwellesleyReport.  Suffice to say, I find it all a bit concerning and the arguments in favor less than convincing.

 Image from

There was a presentation last night and the parents of the children in the pilot program were most enthusiastic.  They love it and thought it added much to the classroom and helped prepare them for middle school.  Children were able to (among other things) build their own websites, create their ideal societies and present them to peers via video - sounds great.  But is this compelling enough to mandate families purchase iPads for ten year olds?  Moreover, I was disappointed by the response to the parents who raised concerns.  Essentially the response was 'this is already happening, kids use iPads for games - we will teach them to use them as tools, this is the world today, other towns are doing it, this will close the digital gap,  you should get on board.'  There was very little discussion about the rightness of giving ten year olds these devices or the merits of 1:1 screen education vs. collaborative learning. Well, here's hoping I am wrong and it is a brilliant success.

More and more, these days, this modern mother finds herself feeling like a salmon swimming up stream.   Then again, does any of it really matter as long as the children are safe in school?

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