A few weeks ago, I read a blurb about Elise Loehnen’s new book, On Our Best Behavior, that read: “Women equate ‘being good’ with self-denial.” I couldn’t un-hear it. It seemed to burble up in many of my subsequent conversations with friends and surface in my own self-reflections, almost unbidden.
Is it true? What does it mean to be “good” anyway?
There is a lot to unpack here. Candidly, I wrote a long and splintering essay with fledgling thoughts on the matter and then decided that there were so many blind spots in my writing that I scrapped the entire thing. I was contending with my Catholic heritage, the work ethic that generations of my family have prized, my unhealthy relationship with food in my teenage years, my identity as a high-performing student for much of my early life — and the entire conversation felt high-stakes, presumptive, and dimly-lit. I am climbing down to give myself more space and time to sort through it all. But I wanted to leave the provocation with you, in case it invites parallel, hopefully helpful, self-reflection.
In the meantime, I have a rivulet of thought feeding into the subject matter that has been jangling around in my pocket, clamoring for attention:
I recently read that Olympic Gold Medalist Nastia Lukin once said: “Never quit on a bad day.” Her point: if you are seriously unhappy in a pursuit, and continuously returning to the option of quitting, make that choice on a day where things are going well so you can trust your intentions. I was thinking about this in an abstract sense, as it relates to the overall concept of “being good.” What I like about Lukin’s quote, and I’m stretching it wildly out of context, is the way it reminds us to unclip from the situations in which we find ourselves by assessing, clear-eyed, whether today represents a bad performance or a good one, and then refusing to permit ourselves to make any brash decisions when things haven’t gone great. It’s a powerful recipe for resilience. There have been so many times, especially in parenting, where I feel as though my entire worth is summed up in my performance as a mother on that particular day. I am thinking specifically of an afternoon where I shushed my toddler daughter when a visiting friend was playing too aggressively with her, and she was whimpering for my attention. “It’s OK, she’s just playing,” I insisted, while the girl’s parents looked on. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I saw that I was saying this mainly to accommodate or smooth over the parents’ experience. That night, realizing my mistake, seeing that I had suppressed my daughter’s discomfort in favor of “not making things awkward” with adult friends, I cried for a long time and told myself I was a bad mother. How could I have whisked her aside like that? How could I not have been a stronger ally? I went to a dark place, one in which I categorized myself as “a bad mom.” Now, when I think about that experience, I want to tell myself: “Don’t give up on a bad day. Don’t write yourself off. Recognize that you erred, and make a commitment to change. But don’t swing wildly into categories and labels that will change the way you perceive yourself.” To my credit, I think, I have endeavored to take my daughter’s voice seriously no matter the audience since. As it turns out, that experience re-conditioned me in legible, conscious ways. I’ve thought of it crisply on many occasions, including in situations where other adults (camp counselors, doctors, parents) are telling my daughter “just jump into this ball pit!” or “now let me have your finger for the blood draw!”, and she’s withdrawing into herself, panicking. I witness a flashback of myself shushing my daughter at two and I intercede in apology, letting her know I am on her side, and that I can help her through the scenario.
I guess what I’m saying is that the missteps, the bad days, the screw-ups should not tempt us to give up on ourselves. They are part of the long, metronomic rhythm of motherhood: keep going.
It’s interesting, the way art mimics life, or vice versa, because much of my experience with writing plucks on the same chord. Earlier, I mentioned that I scrapped an essay that claimed half a day of writing. I was frustrated by my cloudy thinking and my even cloudier writing, but the sensation was familiar to me, and I knew exactly what to do. I would not browbeat, or tell myself I was stupid, or scoff at my own misshapen writing. I would instead close out the word processor, take a break, and “make like a goldfish,” sitting down a few hours later to start something new. Writing has taught me a lot about failing, recovering, and not dwelling on the down beats. There are always blank pages ahead in which I can remake myself.
+The saltings of motherhood.
+It’s just that — we’re here for such a short time.
+This under-$100 dress from Zara is giving major Agua Bendita vibes.
+I’ve shared this gauze top so many times but I cannot stop wearing it. My favorite thing to throw on when I want to feel like I’m wearing a t-shirt but look more pulled-together/intentional. So soft!
+These raffia espadrilles are a 10 for me.
+MAJOR swoon over this dress from Ulla J.
+Chic outfit — $105 for both top and shorts and can be remixed so many ways. Love this vibe for European city exploration.
+Ordered these classic navy swim trunks for Mr. Magpie.
+Cute smocked summer dress for a little love for under $25.
+Was anyone fast enough to score a pair from the Adidas Sambas x Wales Bonner collection?
+How cute are these strawberry ice molds?
+These beach chairs are so chic!
+Love this breezy J. McLaughlin dress.
+Love these cheeky new cocktail napkins that Half Past Seven released in collaboration with the ever chic Caitlin Fisher.