the beat goes on


 I like routines. Call them rituals, if you’re feeling fancy. Call them predictably mundane, if you’re feeling twenty-two. I love rituals and especially writing rituals. When my bloggy friends cover the same topic again and again, I find it as comforting as soup. Ordinary, yes, but still damn good. Besides, it is downright tradition to become boring with age—probably also to love soup more too, come to think of it.

Let’s all slow down and have a bowl of soup! I will someday happily exclaim to my eye-rolling grandtweens.

thirtysixWhether because of motherhood or just plain aging, I’ve grown increasingly fond of writing and reading about the commonplace. There are writers who have elevated this practice to a fine art. Take, for instance, David Sedaris’ New Yorker articles on topics such as: shopping trips to Tokyo with his sisters, the turtle he watched being fed pizza, and his adventures in fitbit-induced garbage clean-up [See also: Commonplace by Dina Relles]. I am not quite so clever in how I write about my experiences. I am always telling, rarely showing. But before you think I’m digging for compliments, you should know I’m okay with that truth about myself. I’ll get to that in a moment.

When I turned thirty-six, I felt an itch again to write about my age, an age that pulls me closer to forty than thirty. Though only a year had passed since I last wrote about age, I’d begun to feel a persistent shift that, imperceptible as it may have been to the outside, was monumental in my head. But it felt a little too indulgent to travel that road again so soon, even for a self-obsessed navel-gazer like me (I’m paraphrasing from one of my favorite blog comments of all time. Thanks for setting me straight, Anonymous Troll!).

Then again, screw it. Life is short. Let’s talk about me again.

Now seems like a good time because I just celebrated my half-birthday. Yes, I still mark the passage of these milestones, if only in my mind, but an Eeyore’s sigh has replaced an exclamation point at the end of the thought, “Closer to my next birthday than my last.” Timing is also good because Vivi just turned eight, and I have been wanting to write her a letter on her birthday.

When Vivi turned six, I stopped my tradition of writing the girls birthday letters on my blog to give them some privacy back. In this era of oversharing, I’m still glad I did that. But one thing I miss is being able to pull up the letters to reread at any time. Although I may have written the girls private letters for their recent birthdays, Lord knows where I put them. The greatest thing about blogging about my family, as I’ve often repeated, is that it keeps my memories in a place where I can find them later.

Inspired by my friend Kristen, who wrote a series of real and poignant letters to her daughter called “If you ask me…,” I’m sharing some changes I’ve experienced lately in the form of a letter to my daughter. I hope that by charting my growth, my girls might learn these lessons earlier than I did, but I don’t pin all my hopes on that possibility. I recognize people change throughout their lives as part of normal growth. As Auden pointed out:

“Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

-W.H. Auden, found on an archive post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog

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Some references I make below will be way past their expiration date by the time Vivi reads this letter, but “you,” the Other Reader, might be interested in them, so here they are:

And as for the bomb I drop mid-letter about moving to Boston, I realize I’m burying that lede. But it’s a story for another day, and if you read on to the end, you’ll get the gist of why.

Dear Genevieve,

Eight is an age I recall well. You are so like me in so many ways: your tendency toward organization and planning, your passion for recording everyday life in a journal, your love of letter writing, and your desire to make everyone happy. These traits will serve you well; though your sensitivity and openness will certainly lead to being hurt, I do not worry about whether you’ll come out strong from those situations. Here’s where our likenesses diverge. I know you’ll stand up for yourself because a braver girl has never lived than you. Thanks to Glennon Doyle Melton, I have learned to tell you that your only jobs are to be brave and kind, and I hope you believe it. You already live up to the task.

Because I know it will please your organized heart, I tried to pool my thoughts below into categories. But enough explaining. Let the navel-gazing start!

1. acceptance

I don’t want to give you the impression that I obtained confidence suddenly in my mid-thirties and that, “you will too if you just hang in there long enough!” Rather, I had to make a conscious effort to build up the courage to accept my flaws, realize that I deserve love and support, and stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ unnecessarily. You say you’re sorry a lot right now. I try to undo that need for you, even though I realize I’m likely the person who put it in your mind to begin with, since it’s what I do. Call it a product of being raised in the genteel south.

It’s not that we should never apologize, just that sometimes we do it so much that it becomes burdensome to other people, like a tic, a need to be reassured that everything is okay. Sometimes it is better to say thank you instead of apologizing. Like yesterday, when I was late picking you up. I looked your teacher in the eye and instead of apologizing profusely, I said, “Thank you for staying late with them. I appreciate it.” An apology would have required him to say something like, “No worries!” In this case, my thanks gave him recognition he deserved for the good deed without forcing him to make me feel better about myself.

Acceptance, to me, means acknowledging you aren’t perfect and forgiving yourself for those imperfections, even embracing them. Your quirks are what make you, you! I learned this lesson from Gretchen Rubin when reading The Happiness Project and Better than Before. A big part of her message is to accept your quirks as part of who you are.

Here’s a quirk of mine that I’m sure you’re all too familiar with. I talk and talk way past the point that the other person has understood my meaning, and then I keep on talking: I am a teller, not a shower. Gretchen calls her rule, “Be Gretchen,” because she realized that although she was odd about certain things, it made her happier to accept those things and be different than it did to try to fit in. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful one too.

Maybe the primary message to Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In was for women to build up their confidence enough to accept their flaws and stop apologizing, although I didn’t take it that way when I was reading it. She seemed to be saying, “Everywhere I go, women are doing it all wrong!”, but I couldn’t glean any specific tips from her. It was like, “Get a mentor! But don’t ask anyone to be your mentor because that’s too needy!”

But luckily, Sheryl isn’t the only source of feminism; there are far better badasses in my generation. Cheryl Strayed is my (and everyone else’s) writing guru and all-around feminist badass. Her Dear Sugar essay, “Write like a Motherfucker,” is the stuff of legend. Recently she offered a great counterpoint to the challenge to “Stop Apologizing.” She noted there are two kinds of apologies, the one we give when we’ve done something wrong, and the other that acknowledges someone else’s pain. “I’m sorry you’re hurting,” we say. It took me a few sessions of marital counseling with your dad to acknowledge the merits of such a phrase, but I’ve grown to accept it, and the more willingly I offer it, the more natural it becomes.

Feminist comedians are doing a great job of moving the conversation forward. Amy Poehler is another example I look for in a public mentor. In fact, I recall back when I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants that my favorite story wasn’t even about Tina herself, although she too is a feminist badass. It was instead the anecdote regarding Jimmy Fallon having told Amy a joke of her’s wasn’t ‘cute,’ and Amy shouting at him, “I don’t fucking care if you like it!” This is 100% Boston Badass Woman (she’s from Burlington), and it’s the primary reason I’m excited to move you back up to that area this summer. Boston has its flaws, chiefly its latent and blatant racism, and it is as cold as well digger’s ass in January. But it is also a place that raises women who stand up for themselves. I have no doubt you’ll do just that.

Last September, on my lady-friend trip to Colorado, I devoured Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. It is a feminist manifesto. Read it. But first, brush up on some of the best of Amy’s comedy, like Parks & Recreation and clips she did on SNL, like her Sarah Palin rap from Weekend Update when she was a week away from delivering a baby. PURE comedy gold. Amy’s insistence on her point of view, and her unflinching ability to look straight into anyone’s eyes and say, “I deserve to be here!” inspires me.


2. grace

I’ve been hearing this word more often in the context of describing my actions toward others (and by ‘more often,’ what I mean is: at all). Of course my first reaction is to mimic Elaine, “You think I have GRACE?!” I’ve never been described as graceful in the physical sense, for obvious reasons, i.e., several broken bones, countless bruises, etc. But on further thought, I truly believe when I’m described as having grace it’s because of #1 on my list, the self-esteem that comes from accepting ourselves. It’s like that old adage, “You can’t forgive others until you’ve forgiven yourself.” Or maybe that’s a brand new adage I just created, and if so, you should use it. It’s a good one. You could insert other words for forgive, like love, tolerate, admire. It works!

The older I get, the less black and white the world is becoming. I think it’s by seeing most situations as gray, by admitting I can’t see all sides and that there are plenty of mysteries and complexities to any situation, that I’m able to offer others grace. Whatever grace I have to offer always comes back to me again. I still fall short so often, but the good and bad news is we never stop having chances to offer and receive grace.

3. slay

Around my birthday, my neighbor begged me to come work at the public health non-profit organization where she had just started a job because they needed so much help. I didn’t exactly saunter into that room, but I will admit I was the most nonchalant I’ve ever been in a job interview. I have to imagine it’s how many men probably approach their everyday lives, but for me it was highly unusual. The thing was, they loved me! They wanted me even though I was up front with them that I didn’t want to work full time and that I probably wouldn’t take the job for more than six months. I got the job!

I came home from that day feeling I could do anything

“The perception of meaning, as I see it, more specifically boils down to becoming aware of a possibility against the background of reality or, to express it in plain words, to becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation.” -Viktor Frankl

The hurdles that had kept me from pursuing my dream of nursing school were still there, but I decided that day to stop telling myself it was impossible and just DO IT. I sat down at my computer and immediately got to work doing the last few things I needed to apply. I registered for a microbiology class at the local community college and modified my new work schedule to allow me to attend the lab on Friday mornings. I asked my old faculty from graduate school to write me recommendation letters, again. Then I wrote a damn good essay, closed my eyes, said what the hell, and sent my applications to Northeastern and Columbia.

When the holidays came, I stuffed my face too full of food to do any real pondering, as usual, except for the time spent preparing for my annual “I need to cleanse my body of all this sugar!” elimination diet/eating disorder. When I was still emerging from that yo-yo, I got the word. It seems that Columbia could use a gal like Justine. And I was all:


I’ll admit my reaction after elation was to wonder: why me. I mean really, why me??

A week later, I witnessed Beyoncé’s incredible Formation video and Super Bowl performance. The confidence it must have taken to dream up and enact a sea of female dancers dressed as Black Panthers, and the courage and power she demonstrated on that stage in front of thousands of white male football lovers and millions more on TV…well, it awed me. Then the negative reactions that followed such a wonderful display of powerful female art dismayed me. But in another way, I felt boosted up by the positive reactions from the girls and women between your generation and mine, whose voices rose up above the hate to say that we will not suffer the disregarded and diminished fate of the women who came before us.

Then a fog lifted from my brain, and I immediately thought, I KNOW WHY ME. Me because I worked my ass off to become a birth doula even while damn near every person within earshot of this decision would offer their unsolicited opinion of why this idea was no good. I did it anyway, not because I knew it would help my career, but just for its own sake. In discussing the success of his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said, 

“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Me because I’m the one who had to schedule middle-of-the-night sitters so I could kiss you tiny toddlers on your sleeping cheeks after I dragged my ass out of bed to attend 30-hour births. Me because I’m the one who stood by the side of fifteen brave laboring women, three of whom were LGBTQ, while they attempted to navigate a health system not always committed to giving them the evidence-based births they wanted and needed, and did not even necessarily recognize their right to be mothers. Me because I am the hen who ground every last grain to make bread. 

Even though you know by now that I turned down Columbia to go to Northeastern in Boston instead so I could bring you girls home again, I will always be able to say I AM the reason I got into Columbia.
Because I slay. We slay. You slay.

Love, Mama

on mothers & writing

I went with my friend Anjali to this Q&A talk yesterday. After navigating the odd elevator system that didn’t want to allow us down to the floor of the event—and being reminded yet again of how awkward Bostonians can be when faced with a situation in which they must speak to strangers (A tip, y’all: just smile, for starters)—we finally plopped into our chairs close to the front and found ourselves with a few minutes of idle chitchat to spare.

I happened to notice people in the audience taking candid photos of the authors with their phones and asked Anjali, a published author, what she thought of this phenomenon. She laughed and cheerily replied, “It hasn’t happened to me yet!” But we agreed the lack of privacy must be challenging for a public figure. (In case you didn’t know this about me, I am not the most photogenic in candid photos.)

The opening speaker informed the audience it was only the second time in twenty five years PEN New England hosted such an event. If I had felt lucky prior to that moment for learning about the event, adding it to my calendar, and remembering to attend (and even to shower first!), that feeling couldn’t compare to the satisfaction this remark stirred, with a twist; I flinched under the weight of responsibility to listen up and listen well. Because I can’t wait another twenty five years to hear this stuff and neither can you, I’m posting a recap today.

on mothers and writing - heirloom mothering

Heidi Pitlor, the Best American Short Stories series editor and author of a forthcoming novel, The Daylight Marriage, served as moderator. She asked the group great questions, such as what they did to cope with feeling isolated, how they juggled the multitude of tasks and the judgment of other mothers, and about the beginning of motherhood and writing.

Heidi shared her own story of the clash of the two; once, while nursing her twin infants, she received a call from Alice Munro that she couldn’t answer because she had her hands full but also couldn’t not answer because Hello! Alice Munro. How’s that for an image of the moment we’ve all had in which we realize what we thought we could do was actually impossible? She also said probably my favorite one-liner of the event, while answering a question about how to manage a career, motherhood, and writing:

“I wish I’d married rich almost every day.”

on mothers & writing - heirloom motheringClaire Messud, whose novel The Last Life Mishiko Kakutani referred to as mesmerizing, spoke about her “vague faith it would all work out” and how, while attending the Bread Loaf writers conference early in her time as a mother, she realized she had no idea how it would work out. She compared the extreme sabotage she inflicted on herself by taking on too much to the Black Knight of Monty Python and the Holy Grail who, even when limbless, shouted, “Come back here and take what’s coming to you!” As a woman who loves a good Monty Python reference, I decided then Claire must be a cool chick too.

[A note about Claire: I just read a New York Magazine article about her and her husband, New Yorker book critic James Wood, in Vulture, from which I gleaned I should never allow a New York magazine writer to interview me. I thought it a bit snarky and rude. However, I did particularly enjoy this passage:

“There’s been a great deal of closely spaced difficulty to sort through,” she says. “You know that Katherine Mansfield story, ‘The Fly’?” It’s about a fly being slowly drowned in ink. “Well, I am the fly. Every time I hope that things will get better, somebody drops another inkblot on me. So it seems to me if there were a divine lesson it would be to stop hoping that the blots will cease, and instead to come to terms with it … At some point you have to think, All right, it’s not as if someone is promising you something easier or better. You have to be grateful to get it done at all… [The fundamental questions of my life are] how to balance the relation between art & life? (between the interior & external worlds)? how, as a woman raised to care for others, do you claim space for yourself? at what cost? in what state of delusion?”]

on mothers & writing - heirloom mothering

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Megan Marshall (whose book about Margaret Fuller I bought and had signed, woot!) spoke in a measured, gentle way about the challenges of motherhood. She noted how daunting it was to be a mother in the 1980’s, when most of her friends eschewed both marriage and motherhood. She related a funny story about a time the Phil Donahue show wanted her on to talk about her book on single women. After blathering on (her words) about her book, Megan finally admitted to the show’s producer she was feeling exhausted from just returning home from the hospital with her baby, at which point the producer said, “Me too! We have to get you on this show.” The lesson from that experience, she said, was not to hide your true feelings but just be who and how you are.

After growing up a latchkey kid, Megan didn’t want that experience for her children, so she did much of her writing in waiting rooms and in the car at soccer games. She described the crushing disappointment of having a column accepted at the New York Times that she realized she could no longer write now that she faced a mother’s obligations at home. She shared a favorite essay by Anne Tyler from the book The Writer and Her Work, called “Still Just Writing,” which was named for what a fellow parent asked Anne at school pick-up. The most animated I saw Megan was when she took a vehement stance against men who compare book publishing to birthing. “Writing a book is not like having a baby,” she said. Indeed.

on mothers & writing - heirloom mothering

Kim McLarin, a fellow southerner and frequent contributor to WGBH’s Basic Black, is author of a memoir I hope to get soon with the title that makes me chuckle every time, Divorce Dog. Kim offered a raw, real portrayal of a woman who isn’t so in love with the concept of motherhood but then discovered it also brought her “unexpected gifts.” In revealing her truth, she gave us permission to feel the ambivalence creeping in that we’d normally push away. I scribbled down a Virginia Woolf quote she shared:

“Killing the Angel in the House (is) part of the occupation of the woman writer.”

Kim inspired me when she said she wrote a whole book simply by following the 1,000 words per day rule for 50 days. The moment I decided to get over my typical starstruck shyness and come on stage to shake Kim’s hand was when she admitted moving to Boston was a difficult adjustment for many reasons. Thank you, Kim, for saying my truth out loud.

on mothers & writing - heirloom mothering

When facing the audience, Lily King, author of the novel Euphoria, flashed us a bright smile and sparkly eyes. Lily described a moment in her mothering career in which she attempted to calculate how much time she spent with her children compared to writing; she eventually sought therapy for a condition she called “way too much math and not enough writing.” She said that, like Sue Miller when writing The Good Mother, she created awful mother characters as a way to confront her fear of bad parenting. I laughed when imagining her trudging downstairs after writing and feeling suddenly buoyed by her own self-righteousness at being a better mother than the terrible character she invented.

On the whole, I found the authors to be at once intimate and distant, much like our surroundings, which included the furniture of a cozy living room and the sterile lighting and temperature of an operating theater. There were several snafus with the microphones that would have been comical if they had been more able to laugh at themselves and each other. The setting perhaps appropriately reminded us that these were not our friends up there dishing on their difficulties, and yet, slices of the talk were sublime. When questions were opened to the crowd, Anjali asked whether the authors ever needed to let go of a third passion to pursue motherhood and writing, and the authors came alive in their response, in the way that a fantastic question can produce such liveliness.

Later, in response to an emotional outpouring from an audience member about her diffcult-to-follow difficult life, Kim deftly cut right to the point, figuring that what this woman needed was not to be promised she can write now but to be told it’s okay that she can’t. She was sent home with a mission: read the biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, who didn’t write her first book until her 50’s. I jotted her name down as well.

My selfish reason to post these notes about the event is that I desperately want to recall the wisdom—with ne’er a platitude in sight—those kind ladies passed on to me. I fear that if I don’t dump my brain out onto this page while it’s still fresh, I’m doomed. I’ll wake in the middle of the night and flail about in bed, hoping against hope to find the thread of recollection, the way in those first days of motherhood I’d perform a frantic, groggy hunt amongst my sheets for the phantom baby I thought I had fallen asleep nursing but who was actually sleeping peacefully in her crib. But just maybe, if I come back and read these words again later, I’ll remember they gave me permission to fail, to be who I am, and to ignore my kids long enough to write those thousand words a day. I hope so.

Lena in

Are you planning to read Lena Dunham’s memoir? I’ll probably wait for the audiobook; that’s been my preferred method for witty female memoir lately. Notables over the past year include (n.b.: I included links to Audible, but to be honest I’ve been borrowing them from the library via these little loaner MP3 players.):

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (Anna Quindlen)
Bossypants (Tina Fey)
Wild (Cheryl Strayed)
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson)
The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)
Mom & Me & Mom (Maya Angelou)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)
I Don’t Know What You Know Me From (Judy Greer)

I was impressed by Dunham’s film, Tiny Furniture (which you can stream on Netflix). I also like her HBO show Girls despite, or maybe because of, its flaws. But before we get into Girls, let’s talk about its obvious predecessor for comparison, Sex and the City. I devoured S&TC in almost one go in my early twenties. This was me at twenty-two: painting rooms in my mom’s old house and propping up her tiny TV/VCR combo on the nearest counter/toilet/stair so I could watch a five-season Blockbuster-rental marathon of S&TC.

Lena in - heirloom mothering
Me, right before we painted that kitchen, probably talking to my new boyfriend Nate on what is definitely my old Garfield phone. Check out those over-plucked eyebrows. As Lena says, “she is looking for it.” Or as Britney says, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”

Does S&TC lack luster in comparison to Girls? By today’s standards, S&TC is certainly less awkward and controversial than we might once have proclaimed it to be (“It’s glossy,” says every person everywhere). You could even argue it was a show by a man in his forties who mansplained a fantastical version of sex as a single woman. But let’s put aside Big’s deus ex machina in the final episode for a moment to consider the series as a whole. I contend it was controversial once, in an edgy, raw, and important way. I loved this critique in The New Yorker. Let’s just say Carrie probably paved the way for Hannah to exist as a character at all.

Whatever the pros and cons of Girls versus S&TC are, I give my own future twenty-something girls a thumb’s up to screen Girls some day (Screen on what is the question…on their phones? their watches? their contact lenses?). Maybe one reason I’m enthusiastic about Girls is I am just so ready to be over all the shows with a whiny male protagonist (Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Dawson’s Creek, I could go on but you get it) and move on to a show with an honest—albeit yes, whiny—female protagonist. Lena Dunham has just the right mix of intelligence and self-deprecation I love. I agree with Meghan Daum, who wrote in NY Times magazine that Dunham’s “combination of extreme self-reference and extreme lack of vanity feels almost like a supernatural power.” She’s a mashup of Seinfeld‘s Elaine (“You think I have GRACE?!”) and Nora Ephron.

I know, I talk about Nora Ephron, like, A LOT. But I really loved her. She was an important figure in my life, a feminist bellwether, a sharp critic, and a lady every woman I know would have liked to have as a friend. A little over two years after we lost her, I find myself going back to my favorite stories and even my favorite eulogies (NYT’s Gail Collins, and oh yes, who could forget Dunham’s very own tribute in the New Yorker).

Cup of Jo featured a bunch of advice videos Dunham made in tandem with her book’s release, and I think they’re just as splendiferous as Girls, if not more so because they’re from a real girl to other real girls everywhere. Lena Dunham promotes my kind of feminism: the stumbling, unapologetic, earnest kind. If I had to choose between Dunham’s brand of feminism and Sheryl Sandburg’s, I’d pick Lena any day. I like to think Nora would agree.

Mrs. Sandburg, bring me a dream…

Stubborn, pushy, aggressive, know-it-all, bossy. Our culture uses these words to describe girls’ behavior more than boys’, according to Sheryl Sandburg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign. We prize leadership qualities in boys, but in the same breath we admonish girls for bossing their peers around. Sandburg argues bossiness is a trait we should cherish in a young girl who could grow up to become a CEO.

I know what you’re probably thinking. This story came out in March, so it’s old news, right? Well, not for everyone; if you’ve got a Girl Scout, the beat goes on. But I’m not here to rehash all the #BanBossy criticism or lay out a new argument against or for it. Plenty of eloquent writers have done so already (my personal fave is Ann Friedman for NY Mag). I would, however, like to dish on what it’s been making me think about lately. Be warned, I have more questions than answers. If you find such a scenario off-putting, skip down to “tl;dr.”

Here goes. While I don’t agree with all aspects of Ban Bossy, some elements ring true in my life. With a natural leader as a child, I do wonder how much I should be controlling her bossy behavior. Am I stamping out what I should be cultivating?

If I had to sum up last year’s kindergarten classroom using a fire metaphor, I would say the girls were stoking their leadership bonfires all on their own. They were on top of their game. Meanwhile, the boys didn’t do much of anything discernibly constructive at all. Rather, they seemed content to start tiny chaotic fires (yes, we’re still speaking in metaphors, thankfully), follow behind the girls adding randomly sized sticks and logs to their carefully-constructed fires, or ignore the girls completely and return to their discussion of which is the best shark (not a metaphor; that’s literally what they did 50% of the time). Perhaps it would be a good idea to consider using a different word than “bossy,” but I’m confident these girls won’t be easily deterred; if anything, they could stand to learn a thing or two about fire safety being gracious.

Go ahead, call me old-fashioned, but I have some science on my side. Evidence shows women’s unique contributions in the boardroom—like empathy and a view of the big picture—are positive to the team. Thus, it stands to reason we should promote women in the boardroom to act like themselves, not like men. Assuming the data holds water, shouldn’t we continue with our womanly ways? Why must we encourage women to adopt the qualities of men? Wouldn’t we create a generation of women and men who both lack those unique and necessary qualities?

Ban Bossy also misses the point when it focuses on removing a word from the conversation instead of starting a new conversation. Telling people what they can and can’t say seems, dare I say, bossy? I do give the campaign credit for trying to start some new conversations, such as their suggestions not to interrupt girls as much and to encourage them to raise their hands more.

Here’s what I wonder, in a nutshell. Is there a way to encourage our daughters to lead and boost their self-esteem while still teaching them qualities like empathy and grace? Or am I just programmed to think of Sheryl Sandburg’s own leadership as bossy because she’s a woman and lean away from her because of it? If a man were the champion of this cause of improving girls’ self-esteem, would I be more likely to listen to him?

Letter from my kindergartner this summer. I submit it as Ex. A, evidence of a potential future role as the diplomat who gets the job done.