Last Saturday morning, I walked up Central Park West from my parents’ hotel to the New York Historical Society, about 16 blocks of lovely conversation with my father as I pushed mini in front of us in her stroller. It was unseasonably mild, and my father was in a particularly chipper mood. He’d run five miles through Central Park that morning (at over 70 years old, his daily exercise regimen would put Gwyneth Paltrow to shame) and then enjoyed a fabulous breakfast in his elegant hotel overlooking Columbus Circle. We chatted about this and that — the weather; the bumpy move to New York City; the book he’d just read on Ulysses S. Grant; the disgusting avalanche of sexual harassment stories that has been all over the news; his perspective that this, in tandem with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president and the Women’s March earlier this year, are together marking a watershed moment in our cultural history. “This will be the century of The Woman,” he said, thoughtfully. “It’s about time.”
We were heading toward an exhibit on the Vietnam War at the New York Historical Society. A Vietnam War veteran himself, he’s made something of a study of the war over the past decade; he’s written a memoir on his experiences, interspersed with wartime poetry from other generations; read countless books on the topic; and dedicated the better part of his retirement to eradicating veteran homelessness in the nation’s Capital. As we walked into the exhibit, we lingered over a guest book situated at the front entrance, inviting museum goers to answer: “What does the Vietnam War mean to you?” We flipped through the pages together, alternately moved and disgusted by the juxtaposition of notes like: “My Dad came back a different man — he flinches at loud noises and can’t talk about the war to this day. Proud of him, but sad to see we’ve not learned any lessons from the experience” alongside “I LOVE HARRY STYLES.” In other words: the hoi polloi speaking, volubly, through the pages of this book.
My father left a thoughtful note, identifying himself as a proud member of the 82nd Airborne division of the US Army, and proceeded through the exhibit studiously, pausing to study artifacts, commenting on his perception of them, sharing bits of his own experience.
As we neared the exit, he paused for some time over a section on the invasion of Cambodia. He turned to me said, “My commanding officer told me, two weeks before I was supposed to fly home, that he wanted me to head to Cambodia. We were planning to invade. Two weeks before I was supposed to get home. I resigned myself to the fate, and then a platoon mate — a buddy of mine –”
And then he stopped short, and touched my arm, and looked down, gathering himself.
“He said — Nurmi’s due to fly home in two weeks. Let me go instead.”
He touched his hand to his heart.
There, in the quiet and somber embrace of a polished-floor museum, watching my father’s eyes mist over and hearing this quiet and uncelebrated story of casual wartime heroism and generosity, I felt my heart break in four different places, and it occurred to me how urgent these exhibitions are — how necessary, how restorative, how vital. Here, with the common ground of a sanitized and educational proceeding in front of us, my father could confront a painful past and I could begin to understand it, and him, better.
My father’s story — and some of the other stories I’d read on placards, like the one about a Catholic priest who had courageously walked through enemy fire to get to the rest of his platoon in order to offer final rites to the dying, jeopardizing — and losing — his life in the process — also reminded me that sometimes the most painful, trying parts of our lives — of our TIMES — are dotted through with realizations about the goodness of people. My father could have left the exhibit indignant about the war, or bitter about his lot in being drafted to fight in a war he opposed, or upset at the reminder of how he was treated upon return (someone spat on him while he deplaned from his service abroad!), but instead, it was this: his deep gratitude to the selflessness of a platoon-mate.
Talk about perspective. All of the woes of the past month seemed to disappear. How could I have been so self-involved? But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but apply the lessons to my own — admittedly cushy and narrow and insignificant — set of recent travails: I thought about how emotionally challenging and physically exhausting the past month has been, but how it has also left me deeply grateful for my parents, who took me under their wing and cared for me, and for my network of readers and friends, who cheered us along, and for my very best friend who, when I thought I was going to have to drive mini and Tilly the 13 hours from Chicago to New York BY MYSELF, said simply: “I’ll fly out and we’ll drive together.” End of story. Can you imagine?! Just throwing her hard-earned vacation days to the wind for a two-day stress-fest at the wheel, all for me. I’m fairly certain that when I look back on this time, I’ll mainly remember her generous offer, and my doting parents, and the kind words shared on this blog.
In short: how critical these exhibitions are, in teaching us lessons big and small, about where we’ve come from and who we are and who we would like to be and not be. Strolling through the exhibit with my father and my daughter left me deep in thought for the better part of the afternoon about the modes of cultural transmission at our disposal.
How odd — how appropriate? — then, that, as I was walking Tilly that afternoon, I walked by a small cluster of protesters in Central Park yelling about damnation day and various religious-political topics. I noticed, with shock and dismay, a boy in their midst who couldn’t have been older than eight holding his own sign, which read — and I can hardly write this — FEMINISTS ARE WHORES.
So, yes, it was a day of deep thought about the transmission of cultural, moral, and political lessons from generation to generation, from parent to child, from my dad to me — and the onus upon me to in turn pass along the right kinds of lessons to my daughter, and in the right kinds of ways. One thing I have long admired about my father is his open-mindedness, his admission that he does not have all the right answers, and his even keel in talking through contentious topics. He is the smartest person I know, but he’s approachable. He changes his mind. He learns. He’s thoughtful. I aspire to his civility and sense of perspective, as it has afforded me a wide berth to wade through complex topics pertaining to religion, mores, politics.
Let’s just say he would never have forced a picketing sign into my hands; his mode of education has always been far gentler.
Moving on from these heavy thoughts, or carrying them with me — my 10 picks for this weekend.
Pick No. 1: The Statement Sweater
I’ve written a fair amount about statement sweaters this season, but I can’t stop — how chic is the cheery red sweater below? A few ways to get the look, all under $100: this $85 steal, this cableknit (which I own in the moss green!), and this amazing find in fabulous winter white.
Pick No. 2: The Cord Organizer
As you may have gathered, I’ve gone a bit of the deep end when it comes to organizing the closets and drawers of our home. I own so many kitchen bins, it’s kinda ridiculous, and my suitcases are essentially a grid of smaller compartments/pouches/compression packs (some good picks here!) — but a designated pouch ($58) for our chargers and earbuds and the like? #Must.
Pick No. 3: The iPhone Case
It’s kinda ironic that I made a snarky comment about gifting iPhone cases recently, because I was recently searching for some home office decor inspiration, and I came across the snap below. The thing that stood out to me about the snap below was not so much the chic desk and chairs, but that Goyard-inspired iPhone case with the sticker letters! I’ve never used a case on my phone (#riskybusiness), but…I think I need this one, and I want to adorn it with Anya Hindmarch leather letter stickers. (Or get the look for less with these, these, or these. I use the latter to adorn a few of my favorite notebooks!)
Pick No. 4: The Dog Toy
Tilly turned two (!) on the 7th, and I was on the hunt for a highly durable chew toy for her (she’s…spirited). Our favorite plush toys for her are by Fluff N Tuff, though we have found that not all Fluff N Tuffs are created equal. For some reason, the duck and the trout lasted much longer than all of the other ones we purchased her, some of which only lasted a day (yikes). So, I am giving this squeaky snake a try, which should be ideal for her favorite game: tug of war. Other items I considered (which will likely find their way into her Christmas stocking): this pig mat, this chew bone, this chew ring, and this rope/ball situation (horrifying, actually — I can just see her sprinting around our apartment with the ball dangling out of her mouth, knocking over ginger jars and the like). All of them got strong marks for durability. Any other recs?
Pick No. 5: The Bow Top
Sorry for all my late entrants into the festive holiday dressing category, but this new arrival ($78) could also be ultra chic for your next holiday gathering, and it’s demure enough to be paired with a pencil skirt for a holiday tea at the club — but fun enough to accompany some distressed denim for drinks with the girls. Speaking of holiday dressing, I wish this hadn’t sold out in my size. With a top knot, a red lip, and my favorite black heels?! YES.
Pick No. 6: The Gucci Belt
I know I’m bandwagoning here, but this is SRSLY The Age of Gucci and I want everything they make. UGH. Including the Gucci belt, which was kind of A Thing with bloggers last year, but I don’t mean wearing it the typical blogger way (aka, with high-waist jeans and a silky camisole and a chunky knit — don’t you feel like you saw this exact look 12091029109 times?). I like the looks below, which feel less trendy and more timeless.
Pick No. 7: The Thermal Tee
The last street style pic above reminds me of a striped thermal waffle-knit tee I wore in a recent Instastory and received a lot of questions about. Unfortunately, the exact shirt I was wearing is a few years old, but I just got one of these solid-colored thermals in the white color from Old Navy ($6?!?!?!) and wear it constantly. The coziest thing to throw on with cashmere joggers for a quick dog walk in the morning.
Pick No. 8: The Sanayi 313 Mules
As if we need another pair of mules, right?! But I’m in love with the over the top styles by Sanayi 313, and I love this particular pair! OBSESSED. Why does everything Olivia Palermo wear look incredible?
BTW — check out the whole Moda Operandi shoe sale section; there are INSANE finds, like my favorite Alexandre Birman sandals, on sale for 40% off!
ALSO, if you like the Sanayi 313 look but can’t pull the trigger, consider these bee-adorned
Pick No. 9: The Linen Pinboard
As mentioned above, I’ve been looking for inspiration for my home office decor, and I have recently decided I must have a linen pinboard on my wall to house the clippings and invitations and tags and so forth that I so often hoard in small piles in my drawers, taking some of the snaps below for inspiration: