At some point over the past year, I came across some essay or post on how to react to prickly or inappropriate questions (say, for example, about when you’re going to have your next baby), and the expert advised a response along the lines of: “I am surprised you feel comfortable asking me that.” A clever comeback, I thought, in that it both declines to answer the question and makes clear that the query was unwelcome. Only I am positive that I would not be able to get this out without sweaty fluster, and a tongue trip over the word “comfortable.” Though I am in agreement with its gesture, I know myself well enough to intuit that it would feel far too aggressive for me to trot out in a moment already piqued by hurt or shock or irritation.
What, then, to say?
I remember an incident awhile back where a guest in my new home asked “And what are you going to do with this?” as she gestured to our kitchen and family room. Do with this? The words hung out there for a minute before I realized she was insinuating that it was not to her (our?) taste and needed “work” in order to bring it up to par. (For context, we had not been discussing home design or renovation — she simply threw it out there, as though it was clear as day that something needed to be done in that space. She had, by contrast, complimented the back porch, which made the question feel particularly pointed.) In the moment, I said I was going to “dream something up” with our decorator and then changed the subject. Later, I felt angry. The comment had been, I think, rude, but I was mainly upset with myself for not having the backbone to say something like: “Oh, we love it as it is!” Which is the truth. We are currently making modest changes to it but it’s a perfect layout for us and I wouldn’t change a thing about its structure, flow, appliances, shape, etc. I am proud of it. It is certainly the nicest home I have ever lived in, and the kitchen is its heart. Instead of singing its due praises, I had immediately felt the need to agree with her assessment and implicitly malign our new and much-loved home.
This is a pattern with me: intense esprit de l’escalier after I politely agree with someone else to keep feathers from ruffling rather than speaking my own mind. I know, as I relive that moment, that I could never have managed a slick reply like: “I’m surprised you feel comfortable asking me that.” I lack even the stomach to go the “feign ignorance to draw out her intentions” route by saying something like: “…What do you mean by that?” It’s, simply, too cruel. I hate to see people squirm. And as I type this, I find myself fashioning her defense: she probably didn’t mean anything by it. Maybe she was generally asking about how we might decorate it. Maybe she was just making conversation and it came out weird. I have certainly asked inappropriate or untoward questions in my time, whether out of nervousness or ignorance or for the sake of making chatter. The more I type, the more I realize that it is better, for so many reasons, to just let things go. For one thing, it is more in line with my recurring intention: to live with more grace. To give people the benefit of the doubt. To let things slick off my back. Mr. Magpie often asks me, when I am upset about something and debating whether to make my point known or just let it go: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” Usually, it is not. Usually, it is better to just unclip and move on. Of course, there is a stark difference between letting a casual question about my home go and, say, sublimating some deep emotional hurt. For the latter — I must work through it and must figure out a way to communicate how I feel. But for the more frivolous barbs, what to do?
After some reflection, I have devised a narrow strategy for dealing with similar instances in the future. I try to force myself to wait five full seconds before replying. Sometimes I even pinch my hand during that time as if a mnemonic for reminding myself to stay quiet. During those five seconds (which is, by the way, a long time in casual conversation), I aim to give myself the space to assess my knee jerk instinct to agree and contemplate a more truthful response.
The end goal is this: the quiet conviction to say, “You know, I love it as it is.” And just leave it at that.
How do you deal with these scenarios?
+A good, inexpensive pair of shorts that come in tons of colors for my hiking habit this summer.
+A clever way to keep a closet smelling fresh. I think this will be my new go-to hostess gift.
+Diptyque now has some home cleaning products, including counter spray and dishwashing liquid. I am sure they smell heavenly! I do want to mention that for 1/4th of the price, you can get this excellent-smelling counter spray (in the Rose Driftwood scent), which smells like something from Jo Malone.
+Breeze white summer dress. I’d feel like a Greek goddess in this.
+Adore this chic woven dress. I have a category of “after 5 pm dresses” — the kind of thing I change into after work/writing/errands/daytime, before pajamas are appropriate. Nap dresses score highly, as do caftans. I shared my favorite house dresses last year here. I feel like this long woven style would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
+This swimsuit has been a best-seller this season, and now available in a fun nautical stripe.
+These ice cube molds are adorable — I use them a lot for activities/projects with the kids, including making “fizzy cubes” (look up the recipe from Mother Could!) and jello shapes.
+Obsessed with this oyster-shaped clutch (under $100!)
+Guys, I have had a whole saga about the bunks we bought for our upstairs room. We specifically bought this one from C&B because it said in February (and still says now) “in stock and ready to ship.” Perfect, because we wanted it in place before my niece and nephew visited for ten days in June, and everywhere else we looked had a delay until July or September. (My top pick was this one from Room and Board, which wouldn’t have shipped until September.) However, once purchased, we kept getting delay emails. Finally, it came to be mid-May and no bunk bed was in sight! I reached out and they confirmed that the bunk was on indefinite backorder because a specific panel had not come in yet. I know the furniture industry is struggling because of the pandemic and so there’s no use getting angry about it. It just is what it is. Anyhow, I decided to cancel that order. Coincidentally, then, a family member offered up a bunk bed they no longer needed, and I was ecstatic! Attractive, free, and easy to pick up locally. But then that fell through because they ended up needing to keep it. So then at the last minute we panic ordered this one from Target, which is I think one of the only bunk beds available for delivery within a few days in the entire world — we are now anxiously awaiting for it to be delivered. Will report back on quality once assembled!
+Our star-print bedding did arrive — it is SO cute!
+My favorite sneaky-easy but chic dessert: a scoop of sorbet with a float of champagne over the top, served in coupes like these.
+These keychains/bag charms are so adorable. Fun gift!
+Punchy embroidered tunic.
+My best friend during the summer months. So easy to apply to children, too!
+This jumpsuit is FUN.
+This float vest for children is so fun. More beach/pool gear for littles here and here. I will note that this puddle jumper cover is always very popular when I feature it, but I also invariably receive notes about children who have drowned because of them. My children still use them, but you might want to consider / read up on that before buying to make an informed decision.
+This little gingham suit for a little lady is adorable.
+These shorts remind me of something by Pucci! Would be fun to dress these up for dinner out.
+Speaking of Pucci: meow.