Musings + Essays

Wishbones and Backbones.

By: Jen Shoop

“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”

I stumbled upon this quote by food writer Clementine Paddleford the other week and have been carrying it around since.  Like a spare coin in a winter coat pocket, I’ll turn it over now and then, reach for it in moments of idleness.  Magpie-like, I cotton to its linguistic symmetry: the echo and reprisal of the bone.  And I rather like the sentiment, too: we shouldn’t sit back and wish for things in situations that warrant action and mettle.
But would I be splitting hairs if I said that I disagree with its dichotomization?
Because I often think that hopefulness can be its own kind of courage.
A couple years ago, there was a terminal illness in my family.  My sister called me one afternoon and said, “Would it be wrong of me to pray that she survives, entirely healed?”  I paused, my heart in my throat.  She added:  “Can’t I pray for a miracle?”
It takes a beautiful kind of boldness to ask such a thing.  It reflects an enormous faith, a staggering optimism.  She knew, too, the odds.
I think also of the many entrepreneurs I have known who have dared to imagine a different way of doing things.  Yes, what’s most often talked about is the doing in these stories, the backbone, as it were.  We love to hear about the hustle, the late nights, the 234 closed doors before the one yes, the extreme sleeplessness and cold calling and ramen-eating.  But we hear far less about the wishfulness at the dawn of such enterprises, the outsized ambition it takes to say: “I can imagine it differently.  And out of this entire multi-billion-person world, I am the one who can make it happen.”  Sure, this ambition can come from dark places — avarice, self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, jealousy, ruthless competitiveness — but it can also be borne of genuine curiosity, an engineer-like compulsion to improve a flaw or workflow, a desire to fix something.  (One mentor told me that good entrepreneurs are always “looking for the duct tape,” meaning that they’re drawn to solutions forged haphazardly, temporarily, as there’s likely a better, sturdier way about it.)
I think finally of the toast my friend’s father gave on her wedding day.  He said that when they brought her home from the hospital, they laid her on their bed and turned on a little music box that had been given to her as a gift.  They gazed down at their beautiful, two-day-old daughter while “When You Wish Upon a Star” tinkled across the room, and they both cried.  I have lingered long on the vision of their tender, fawn-like hopefulness as new parents, its shape so familiar and moving to me.
And so I know that I am taking Clementine Paddleford’s lovely sentiment and throwing darts at it, but in my final analysis, I pray that I am a woman of both backbone and wishbone, and that my daughter is the same.


+My top pick for my fall boot has a kitten heel.  I love that the kitten heel is en vogue right now, as it is highly practical for motherhood.  I am drawn to the Alexandre Birman Kittie (this python is to die) or the Aquazzura Quant.
+I love the idea of this Juliette blouse (for some reason it reminds me of Juliette from Romeo and Juliette) with light wash denim and these smart croc-effect loafers.
+Remember that Ganni mohair sweater (<<actually heavily discounted there) everyone wore last season?  And Other Stories has a pretty damn good lookalike.
+Thinking I need these for the fall.  I just noticed that Everlane’s cashmere joggers are also available (they were sold out for so long!) and am debating whether I need those, too.  (Many of you have offered rave reviews!)
+Saloni, for under $160!
+At J. Crew: this is back in stock in such good colors!, I love this in the pink, and how fun are these?!
+Reflecting on eight years of marriage put me in bridal state of mind.  I spotted this perfect-for-a-bride-to-be dress in the window on my Sunday walk to Church, and also thought how ideal these oversized bow slides would be for a tall bride or a beach bride.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

5 thoughts on “Wishbones and Backbones.

  1. Love this musing. I too believe, as Katie commented, that there is room for both backbone and wishbone, and different times one should rely on each one. 🙂

    I have been so curious about the Everlane cashmere sweats for years! I’m intrigued by Katie’s review, too — definite food for thought. I generally like Everlane’s products, but find that some categories (e.g. denim) are far superior to others (e.g. t-shirts)

    Those NewbarK sandals are sooooo good!

  2. Love your commentary on backbone and wishbone and I fully agree that there is plenty of room for both 🙂

    I may be in the minority here, but I didn’t love the Everlane cashmere joggers. I wanted to love them SO MUCH. But I felt like they weren’t that soft and the cut wasn’t that flattering (on me, at least!)

    On a more positive note, I bought two SZ blockprint dresses and have been wearing them to death. Thanks for the rec!!

    1. Thanks, Katie 🙂

      Good to know on the Everlanes! People love their stuff but I’ve had quibbles with a few products of theirs. SO glad you are loving the SZ blockprint dresses. I have been 100% LIVING in mine. As close as you can get to wearing a nightgown and looking cute 🙂


Previous Article

Next Article