What have you learned lately?
I came across this provocation while scrolling through social media and spent the better part of a rainy walk home from Citarella — where I’d picked up Spanish mackerel, a small bouquet of ranunculus, and a baguette — marinating on it. (To be fair, I also stopped into the hellhole more commonly known as the Upper West Side Fairway, where shopping is a full-contact sport, because one small head of frisee at Citarella cost $5.77 — FIVE SEVENTY SEVEN — and it cost 1/5th that next door at Fairway, and homegirl needed some bitter lettuce for dinner. I had it in my head as the perfect accoutrement to my planned Spanish mackerel dish.) At first, I scrambled to think about something concrete I’d learned in 2017. I hadn’t studied a language, or picked up a new sport, or traveled, or —
But wait. Yes. I’ve learned a lot in the last year. A lot about caring for a child, about what pregnancy and birth do to a woman’s mind, body, and soul, about what it takes to move across a country, about how to piss off readers (<< being facetious), about running and dissolving a business. But if I could hone in on the chief learning from 2017? That would be how to advocate for myself. And more specifically, how to work up the courage to do so. I used to worry that asking for things or pushing for clarification or disagreeing with someone would make me seem impolite, or annoying, or unlikeable. I’m a people pleaser by nature, so even the mildest friction is wont to make my stomach churn. But you don’t need to be a jerk to make your point. A very smart person once told me that a well-timed, thoughtful question almost always outweighs a strident, know-it-all declarative in terms of intellectual heft. Over the past year, I’ve learned to advocate for myself by asking questions.
Specific examples, big and small:
+I was quoted a certain price for partial highlights at the salon I tried a week or two ago when I made the booking. When I went to check out, I was surprised to see the total $50 higher than expected. The old Jen would have shrugged and forked over her credit card. The new Jen paused and said: “Hm — would you double check the rate for that colorist? Because I was quoted x.” It turned out the stylist had increased her rate at the dawn of the new year, but, because I’d mentioned that I’d been quoted a different rate, they honored her former rate.
+While fundraising, I was in the hot seat, peppered with questions and made to feel about an inch tall. I found that the only way I could achieve a sense of equal footing was by turning the tables and asking questions about the investors. What was their investment philosophy? What KPIs mattered most to them? How many deals had they made in the last year? How involved were they as investors? At the end of the day, though the power dynamic will always be in the favor of the investor, an investment is a transaction between two entities, and we had every right to interrogate them. I believe it made them respect us more, too — it showed them that we were in the mode of learning and evaluating.
+When we ran into a snafu (understatement) with the move-in to our new apartment, I ended up contacting the leasing agent directly rather than going through my (inept) broker. Keeping emotion entirely out of things, I asked her — politely — a series of questions about the status of our application. “How long on average does it take the board to approve?” “If you were in our shoes, would you be doing anything differently?” “Is there anything at all I can get to you to make your job easier?” The result was a sense of rapport and openness between myself and the agent, and she personally saw to it that the application was expedited on my behalf.
Similar stories cropped up when it came to switching pediatricians (the first was a very bad fit), dealing with the dozens (!) of botched online deliveries/orders we routinely encounter now that we literally have everything delivered, interviewing nannies, managing nannies, and just the bric a brac of running a household (I now routinely ask for new customer discounts whenever it occurs to me! what’s the worst thing that happens — someone says no?)
In short, I’ve learned to look out for number one. I also look out for number two — my husband — and number three — my baby — and usually not in that order, but you know what I mean. No one is going to do my bidding for me. Nothing is going to fall into my lap. To take a quote from an entirely different arena, Michael J. Fox once said of Parkinson’s, a horrible disease of which he is afflicted: “The cure isn’t going to fall from the sky. We need to start throwing rocks at it.” That’s more or less how I’ve come to think about most things in life — nothing just happens to you. You make it happen through intentionality and work. And, as someone who struggles with being direct, questions are my preferred methodology. They feel less aggressive and tend to open the door for empathy.
This year, I’d like to learn how to be patient. Not necessarily with people — I consider myself fairly forebearing with my loved ones — but rather, with my days. I coil up into a funk when things don’t go my way, or when I’ve been unsuccessful in ticking off the majority of the items on my to-do list by 2 PM, or when I realize, with a heavy sigh, that my intention to work out, go grocery shopping, clean the house, and spend quality time with minimagpie in a single afternoon just won’t happen. I am too type A for my own good. Most of the moms I admire have figured out how to go with the flow, how to shrug things off when there’s a change in plans or the outfit you’d planned for a big event has been soiled by 9 a.m., or your baby screams through the entirety of the over-priced music class you’ve made your way into, dashing your fantasies of educational mommy-baby time. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. So this year, I’d like to learn to be patient when the chasm between expectation and reality widens.
What have you learned recently, I wonder? What do you want to learn next year?
While I’m on this general topic, I thought I’d share a few things that keep me organized on a daily basis:
+My Day Designer. I use this less as a diary/to track appointments (I do that digitally using Google Calendar) and more as a running to-do list. I record even the tiniest of intentions here — things like “clean out humidifier,” and “give Tilly a bath,” and “restock bathrooms with toilet paper.” Because I find that these menial tasks can somehow together take up the better part of a morning, and when I can tick them off as I complete them, I feel like I’ve made progress — instead of wondering where the hell the day’s gone. Also, whenever I need to remember to check on something — confirm a refund was processed, schedule an appointment, follow up on an email inquiry, etc — I’ll flip forward to an appropriate day later this week or month and make a note: “Follow up on X.”
+A julep cup of Le Pens and Sharpies in every color under the sun and a drawer full of post-its. I don’t know why, but these tools make me feel prepared. I’m always jotting down things on Post-its and affixing them to various pages of my day designer. Phone numbers, ideas for blog posts, quotes, reminders — they all make their way onto post-its.
+The Wunderlist app. I keep wishlists, grocery lists, to-do lists, blogpost ideas, etc on this app (which you can install on both mobile and desktop, and sync across devices), and I can share them with Mr. Magpie. It’s wonderful because if Mr. Magpie happens to run out to the grocery, he can check the app and see what else is on the list, and vice versa.
+These file organizers to keep all important documents, bills, etc sorted and off my desk. They can look chic, too, when lined up on a bookshelf, especially if you pick a color that complements your office space.
+Random, but with a small space, we try to keep as much stuff hidden as possible to avoid the feeling of clutter. These 3M hooks are a wonderful hack for things like oven mitts, which we now keep hanging on the inside of our kitchen cabinet thanks to these hooks. I’m also planning to affix some to the inside of mini’s closet door to sto
A couple of organizational items on my current (Wunderlist) wishlist:
+These magazine organizers. I currently keep my magazines in a huge and unsightly stack that I in turn shuffle around my apartment — sometimes on my desk, sometimes on my bedside table, sometimes on the coffee table. Being able to keep them in one place, upright, would be an easy way to keep things tidy in the home.
+This is going to sound ridiculous, but I need a spot to keep whatever bag I’m wearing for the day (usually my diaper bag). I usually fling it onto an armchair in the living room or on the floor next to my desk, where Tilly noses through it. But there’s this little 1.5-foot spot directly to the left of my desk that would be the perfect location for a stool or ottoman that I could in turn use to stow my bag and keep it off the ground. I’m considering this, this, or this. We have a few chinoiserie pieces elsewhere in the room, so any of those might work, though they may also compete with the orange and white print of my upholstered desk chair. Maybe this solid white one is a better bet. I would love to splurge and have one of these made in the les touches fabric in a smaller size, but we still need other items, like proper dining chairs, and those are higher priority big purchases at the moment…
+Mr. Magpie makes fun of the number of acrylic organizers we have in all of our cabinets and closets — but they keep things tidy without obscuring them! I just ordered two of these for my eye makeup/blush/etc situation. I use this to keep my lipstick organized. My only gripe with it is that the height of the organizer is a little high for many lipsticks — it works great for glosses, which tend to be in taller wand bottles. Still, love having things tidily organized.
P.P.S. This is so extra.