my mom + michelle obama + maggie smith

Remember Michelle Obama!

I said these words to Elsa 4 out of 5 school days last week.

For better or worse, she’s learning a lot this year. More than she bargained for, actually.

Our oldest daughter…19 next month…has always kept a teeny-tiny circle of friends, and our son is what I’d call super chill. He’s nowhere near the orbit of conflict. Our youngest, though? She’s a butterfly. Last February when we told our kids we were moving from Colorado to New York, her response was, Imagine all the new friends I’ll make! If that gives you any idea.

She was the ‘new-and-shiny’ in 5th grade this year…in a small town…in a small school…in a class of 14 kids, and I’m well aware it could have gone either way: adoration or ostracization. She’s good-natured, confident and simultaneously at ease, and compassionate; kids are drawn to her in no time flat.

Trouble is, a few of them also want total control over her. And that’s become a source of social bullying–from a couple of kids and, hard to believe, even one mom.

We were warned at the start of the school year. This class–the girls, especially–have capital-C Conflict that’s been happening looong before we came on the scene. The good news is Elsa has fantastically supportive teachers, administrators, and staff who’ve fostered great connections with her. She’s made some good, true, safe friends. She knows and names when social bullying happens, and she’s learning not to take it personally. (But that burden grows tiresome.)

Needless to say, it’s been the catalyst for lots of conversation at home. Amongst all of us. Even her brother contributes random astute commentary just when you think he’s fully inhabiting the Land of Xbox.

As disruptive as it’s been, it’s been worthwhile, too. Because–here’s the for better or worse–I’ve promised her she’ll meet people her whole lifelong who will challenge her. In all sorts of ways. If she can learn a few good things now, she’ll be ahead of the curve when it happens again. (And maybe even again.)

~ For the record, Elsa’s on very solid ground and she is good. So not to worry. The principal is also good! We never heard a word from that parent again. ~

In helping our daughter navigate this, I find myself coming back to a few good women : :

one of my favorite pictures of my mom

Years ago…maybe I was 3o?…I was talking to my mom on the phone…about a situation that made me seethe. I was trying to manage my piece of it, but that was becoming harder and harder. I was reaching full capacity.

Now, my mom doesn’t dole out advice with regularity. She’s a good listener. She’s helpful. But she’s not one to say What you need to do is… So. The few words of advice she’s given to me have really managed to stick. In regards to being in conflict, this is the gist of what I remember:

“What matters at the end of the day is whether you’re proud of how you handled your part.”

I’ve replayed this in my head a few times since that ’05 phone call. It’s been a good double-check…a good gauge…for a clear conscience, I guess? (So you can sleep!).

Self-respect–instead of regret.

I guess it’s knowing you’ve been…true.

I also talk about mantras with Elsa. Having a quick line to call up, silently or aloud, in those moments. Moments she knows are toxic, petty, immature. Even Michelle Obama needed a mantra! I told her. And that’s all she really needed to hear…

photo credit: Reuters

We’ve pulled this out numerous times since our former FLOTUS first used it at the 2016 DNC:

When they go low, we go high

I don’t even have to say it anymore. Only, Remember Michelle Obama! and Elsa says it herself. M. O. projects just about everything Elsa wants to be, so that’s an instant boost. (I can see the boost when she says it. A smile in her eyes. Gets a wee bit taller.)


Maggie Smith.

She reiterates the message. In her way and with a few more words.

Sunday morning over coffee, I was looking through the book notes I’ve made in my bullet journal. (I make a point of doing that a few times a year. What good is it to take them if I never go back and look at them?)

Anyway–I read this, and it hit me over the head how well she rounds it all out:

“Do not allow someone else’s choices to ruin your waking hours or interrupt your sleep. The only words and actions you can control are your own; so focus on your own integrity, generosity, honesty. Rise above.” From her book: Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change.

The only thing I’ll add?

And ask for help when you need it.

Thanks. To this trifecta…and to the decades of classmates and friends and college roommates, colleagues and counselors and mentors and guides, friends we find in spaces like this!…who help us rise.

8 thoughts on “my mom + michelle obama + maggie smith

Add yours

  1. I love this so much… when raising my kids Pre-M.O. We had the same struggles. Sigh. Our mantra was Kill Them With Kindness… (because, of course, if you are truly being kind, you will never go wrong).


    1. That was the very tactic I took with the unhappy woman who worked at our old n’hood post office. Woo, did it take some time!?! But it worked–eventually. (And since neither of us was going anywhere–at least, for a while!–it beat the alternative.)


  2. Thank you for All of This, Carolyn – I’m glad Elsa is surrounded by folks who love her and can model what right actions look like … and the trifecta you shared at the end … those are words I’m taking to heart, too (and that Maggie Smith book is a new to me title that I NEED right now!) Happy Monday!


    1. Oh, Mary–that book! Please let me know when you get your hands on it! (I think a person could purchase this book by the case and gift it time and again.) (Not to mention read and reread, time and again!)


  3. You are doing some excellent parenting (which clearly runs in the family, based upon your mother’s advice). I’m glad that even with the pressures at this new school, Elsa is doing well. She’s clearly a resilient kid.


  4. I thought that beautiful photo of your mom was a old HS photo of You. But then I realized you are to young for that style.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: