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Maggie Smith Mother Essentials
Mother Essentials

Mother Essentials: Maggie Smith

Written by Emy Merritt

Photography by Devon Albeit

Even if you don’t know Maggie Smith’s name at first glance, you might know her words. In 2016, her poem “Good Bones” went viral, moving readers across the world—and for good reason. The award-winning work is tender, vulnerable, and exquisitely crafted. It holds space for both despair and hope, delight and fear. Just last year, the Ohio-based talent’s memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, became an instant New York Times best-seller. And this year she’s back with a brand-new project: her first-ever children’s book, My Thoughts Have Wings. It’s a beautiful story about softening kids’ anxieties and fears, inspired by evening conversations with her own children (Violet, 15, and Rhett, 11). Smith writes that her “hope for the book—and purpose in writing it—is that it might make tuck-ins a little sweeter, a little calmer, a little easier for other families.” Below, the prolific wordsmith (she also penned Goldenrod in 2020 and Keep Moving in 2021) shares her current Mother Essentials—which are as creative, intentional, and carefully crafted as her work. Enjoy!

Daily Walks. “I joke that I walk everywhere—to the library, restaurants, even the UPS store, arms full of boxes—but it’s true. I’m often out with my Boston terrier, Phoebe, in the morning. Later, once the kids are home from school, my daughter and I take a long walk and catch up that way. Kids talk so much more on the move than at the dinner table, I’ve found.”

Warby Parker Glasses. “A couple of years ago my eyes became too dry and sensitive to tolerate contact lenses, so I’ve worn progressive lenses (ahem, a euphemism for trifocals) daily. I own several pairs, all from Warby Parker. My favorite pair is the Della in Viridian.” Della Frames, $95, Warby Parker.

Favorite Pen. “Pens are very important to me as someone who always writes longhand first. My go-to pen, both for writing and for signing books, is the Uniball Vision Elite in black. It writes like a dream.” Uniball Vision Elite 12-Pack, $21.90, Amazon.

Portland Leather Oversized Tote. “I haven’t checked luggage in years. I’ve managed 10 days in France, and two weeks in L.A., with only a carry-on bag and this large tote. It holds a TON of stuff, and fits easily under the airplane seat. I can also use it as a laptop bag or daytrip bag once I reach my destination.” Oversized Leather Tote with Zipper, $216, Portland Leather.

Wrinkle Releaser. “I found this a couple of years ago and haven’t traveled without it since. Now I leave my steamer at home, and I almost never need to use a hotel room iron. Brilliant.” Downy Light Fresh Wrinkle Releaser, $1.99, Target.

Playlists. “I’m a Gen X-er who grew up making mixtapes, so I love making playlists. It’s in my DNA. I make playlists for my books, including Keep Moving, Goldenrod, and You Could Make This Place Beautiful.” Maggie Smith Playlists via Spotify.

Beauty Emergencies. “I call things you have to stop and look at immediately, things that are gorgeous but fleeting, ‘beauty emergencies.’ It’s not unusual to hear my son yell ‘Beauty Emergency!’ when he sees the sunrise in the morning, and we all come running. Every day is full of beauty emergencies—we just have to pay attention.”

My Thoughts Have Wings. “My first book for children was inspired by bedtime conversations with my own kids. My hope for the book—and my purpose in writing it—is that it might make tuck-ins a little sweeter, a little calmer, a little easier for other families.” My Thoughts Have Wings, $18.95, Bookshop.

Rollerskates. “When lockdown began, my best purchase was a pair of retro rollerskates, like the ones I had growing up. I’d skate with my neighbor, Wendy, and with my kids—Violet learning on rollerskates, Rhett skateboarding. We even made a rollerskating playlist.” Impala Aqua Quad Skate, $84.95, Amazon.

Rothy’s. “I love a pointed-toe shoe, but I need a comfortable flat I can walk in. This shoe covers both bases, plus they’re machine washable and lightweight to pack.” The Point, $155, Rothy’s.

Oil Cleanser. “If you’d told me when I was teenager that I would someday willingly put OIL on my face, I would have laughed, but here we are. My sensitive combination skin has never been happier.” Begin Again Gentle Cleanser, $40, Dr. Elsa Jungman.

Maison Margiela Perfume. “I wrote about my love of perfume in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, but my absolute favorite is By The Fireplace, part sweet, part smoky. Imagine a campfire marshmallow. I think this is the scent my son thinks of as ‘the mommy smell.’ Prepare for compliments.” Maison Margiela REPLICA By The Fireplace, $165, Sephora.

Card Games. “At ages 15 and 11, my kids don’t want to play board games as often as they once did, but we still love playing cards. Our favorite is the addictive Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza. And yes, we absolutely trash talk each other while we play.” Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, $9.84, Amazon.

Camp Chairs. “During soccer season, we keep these chairs in the back of my SUV so that we have comfortable seating for my son’s practices and games. They also come in handy for outdoor concerts and impromptu picnics. It’s good to be prepared!” Coleman Cooler Portable Camping Chair, $44.98, Amazon.

Supergoop PLAY Sunscreen. “My kids and I have sensitive skin, and this formula is perfect for all three of us—it’s gentle and absorbs quickly. I keep a large pump bottle in the house and another in the car.” PLAY Everyday Lotion SPF 50 with Sunflower Extract, $36, Supergoop.

TickTalk Watch. “My kids’ childhood looks a lot like mine; it’s not unusual for my son to be out playing in the neighborhood for hours on end. I wasn’t ready for him to have a phone, so this watch is the perfect solution. He can message and call me, but he can only talk to friends and loved ones that I add to his contacts. It’s been great for his independence and my peace of mind.” TickTalk Watch, $199.99, Amazon.

Glean Handmade Soap. “My dear friend Dawn McCombs makes this soap—and bath bombs and candles—by hand in small batches, and it’s absolutely ruined me for other soaps. We all have our favorites: mine is Every James Dean Movie, Violet’s is Dark Cocoa and Cinnamon, and Rhett’s is the Boba Tea.” Handmade Soap, $8, Glean.

Spicy Chili Crisp. “My daughter Violet and I are obsessed with this chili crisp. We add it to stir fry, ramen, soup, even scrambled eggs. Once you start adding chili crisp to things, good luck stopping.” Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp Hot Sauce, $12.69, Amazon.

Newsletter. “I started my newsletter, For Dear Life, in January 2023, and it quickly became one of my favorite projects. Social media feels very catch-as-catch-can, so it’s been wonderful to have a closer, more direct relationship with other readers and writers, without being at the mercy of the algorithm.” For Dear Life via Substack.

For more MOTHER ESSENTIALS, peep our recent features on Van Leeuwen Ice Cream co-founder LAURA O’NEILL, author and doula BRANDI SELLERZ-JACKSON, designer CLARE VIVIER, Miles & Milan founder Shennel Fuller, GRACE NA of Pistola, the designers behind MILK TEETH, photographer NICKI SEBASTIAN, Duster co-founder MELISSA MAGSAYSAY, Herman Miller creative director KELSEY KEITH, chef VALERIE GORDON, artist ERIN JANG, Chicago party mom KRISTEN KAZA, Hedley & Bennett founder ELLEN MARIE BENNETT, Mochi Kids founder AMANDA STEWART, chef CRISTINA KISNER, chef CAMILLA MARCUS, artist CAROLINE Z HURLEY, Just Date founder SYLVIE CHARLES, food icon AMANDA HESSER, Prickly Pear founder MONA BAHRAINI, Solace Summer founder MEGAN BRE CAMP, Wonder Valley co-founder ALISON CARROLL, OZMA designer HEIDI BAKER, author TIFFANY ROSE SMITH, and PHOEBE SUNG of Cold Picnic.

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