Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

One October evening each fall, we’d all stay late and cluster on the field hockey field for “Marshmallow Roast,” an evening of sketch comedy drafted by each of the four high school classes that involved gentle ribbing at the expense of the faculty and administration, some sneering about freshman puerility, cheap shots at rival high schools in the area, and a lot of inside jokes. I’d cluster with my girlfriends on the grass, my fists tucked under the ends of my faded sweatshirt, my feet cold in tube socks and J. Crew suede clogs, shivering against the October chill. We’d laugh, or pretend we were too cool to laugh, depending on the way the wind blew, but it really was funny–or at least funny in that high school way of gesturing towards shared secrets. At the end of the night, pods of fresh-faced teens wearing faded Visitation sweats and sloppy ponytails tied off with ribbons descended from the field toward the parking lot and the academic buildings at an ambling pace. There was occasional chanting and singing and ripples of laughter across the campus, and scattershot chatter among my own girlfriends, with whom I was happily ensconced, and something about the tradition of it all and the insidership it conferred and the en masse egress of schoolmates across a sleeping campus awakened something in me: I was self-aware enough even then, at that flitty and unfocused age, to worship the delicious sensation that I belonged.

Two mornings ago, I was driving back to my new home via Bradley Boulevard, route of countless excursions in my teenage years, and as I strained to remember which road off Bradley had been home to a high school friend of mine, I flashed back to traipsing through the grass after Marshmallow Roast with my girlfriends, including my now-deceased friend Elizabeth, and I felt a sudden warmth, a near second-skin kind of envelopment. These roads, and the destinations they linked, run like grooves through my high school memories. Parties, baby-sitting gigs, sibling drop-offs, high school dances, trips to the Chevy Chase Club pool, movie screenings at the Bethesda theater (what was it called? not “the 4000″…though I used to hang out there a lot, too, in eighth grade — IYKYK) and the occasional joy ride: driving the streets with girlfriends and no where to be. I didn’t feel so much the anticipated tug of nostalgia, or the uncanniness of deja vu — just the sensation of traveling roads to which I belong, and which have at times in my life belonged to me.

Does New York belong to anyone, I wonder? Do we only belong to our home towns? Can you make a new town the center of your world’s gravity with time? With family? With determination?

I don’t know, but I am very happy to be home.


+More memories from high school with my friend E.

+On the erosion of memories of a deceased love one.

+Female friendships and the things that matter.

+Memories from my first day of high school.

Shopping Break.

+This ruched top (under $50) gives me Staud vibes. Love in both colorways!

+Not-basic white top to pair with all the skirts in your closet — like this!

+This rug looks so cozy — like a sweater or throw blanket underfoot! (I hate the word cozy, but it really is the correct application in this case.)

+Chic changing table gear. Imagine stocked with all the chic baby lotions and potions from Palorama or Dr. Sturm!

+Speaking of baby care, I still believe Tubby Todd is the best ointment in all the lands. This Essentials set would be a cute gift alongside a personalized robe or hooded baby towel (<<a friend of mine gifted me some of these from Nordstrom’s house brand, and they were my favorites! Much longer than the PBK ones, so easier to wrap around a tiny baby!)

+Great beat-the-heat everyday dress.

+And another beat-the-heat style — just ordered this myself.

+What are you watching on TV these days?

+Recently went on a hunt for cute wrapping paper — I nearly always land at Rifle Paper. I love this for children’s birthdays, this for a baby gift, and this for nearly any occasion, and bought some of all three! I also found a few other cute sources on Etsy: how cute are these chintz bunnies and these watercolor bows?! And on Amazon: chic gray gingham (imagine with a dusty pink ribbon), lemon print on kraft, hydrangeas, and sea life.

+Courtney Grow insists that once you try these inexpensive underwear, you’ll never go back. I’m testing them out because I’m a die hard Hanky Hanky pan. She recommends sizing up one size…no one likes tight underwear.

+The design of this $38 rain coat is amazing — such a great silhouette, adore the striped lining, and comes in tons of great colors!

+LOVE this faded sweatshirt.

+Think I’m ordering these for mini’s new room.

+Fun statement earrings.

+Pretty $12 table cloth…can you even believe the price?!

+CRAZY chic one-piece swimsuit at a closeout price…and lots of fun cover-ups to go with it!

+I want to try this body scrub.

+So into this acrylic stool.

+I’m not a lug sole kind of girl, but these Pradas….

+Adore this Pink City Prints dress!

+OK, these sandals are so fun. Imagine with a breezy white dress — an exclamation point!

+Meanwhile, these also-fun sandals are only $20 in select sizes. So fun!

+This tote from a new collab between Clare V. and Marlien Rentmeester is too cute!

+In case you’re shopping for your man.

+In case you’re itching to add some new beauty finds to your regimen…

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14 thoughts on “Belonging.

  1. I totally agree — there’s something about being in one’s hometown (esp. at this age?) that evokes intense nostalgia, especially for the high school years! I feel it every time I visit my parents and drive around the places where I grew up.

    That said, though, I ALSO feel rather nostalgic when visiting New York, where I lived for 8 years post-college, or speaking of college, when I drive around the campus of my alma mater (completely coincidentally only a handful of miles from where I now live). I think any place where one lived can evoke similar feelings, though I’m sure one’s hometown will often evoke the strongest feelings in that way.


    1. Yes! I think Claire’s point about high school being one of the ages during which you develop the strongest memories is super interesting, and rings very true to me. I remember so much from that time…


  2. I moved back to my childhood hometown last summer and you’ve captured how I feel so eloquently — not nostalgic, but, yes, home, and so frequently thrown into heady memories (I think I read somewhere that high school is when we form our strongest memories). Although: New York feels much more like a city that left its imprimatur on me now that I’ve left (as any city you live in long or well or vividly does). I was just listening to an episode of Freakanomics on what makes America weird, and one of the factors we—but especially New York —rank extremely highly on is individualism. The sociologist interviewed notes that is because of immigration: people who leave their home countries or hometowns tend to be more individualistic; people who stay tend to be more collectivist. (Neither is better—they each bring out very different traits.) anyways, food for thought on how we can have multiple hometowns, I suppose!

    1. Hi Claire – Wow, now THAT is food for thought. I wonder where that leaves us — somewhere between individualists and collectivists? (Though I assume he is talking in broader brush.).

      Thanks for sharing! Will be thinking on this for awhile.


    2. I agree on the vivid high school memories! I moved from NYC to 40 minutes away from my hometown and they’re still coming in strong.

      Thanks for sharing about individualistic vs. collectivist mindset, Claire! It’s really resonating for me especially as I’m reading Lahiri’s novel Namesake, which follows a couple who immigrates from Calcutta to Boston and then their grown children years later; it’s making me ponder a lot about the lack of community in some spaces in the U.S., particularly post partum, and about how spread out so many families are when jobs drive locations. That said, and this now strikes me as a particularly American approach, I’ve recently realized it’s kind of up to me to create my own motherhood community. Ha!

  3. Love these thoughts. I’m younger (not married, no kids) but have older siblings who both wound their way home after testing the waters in various other cities. I loved my childhood and my hometown, but don’t see myself ending up back there. That thought — of not ending up back there — triggers it’s own type of strange nostalgia. There is something so comforting about knowing your hometown through-and-through. Knowing the cut throughs, the hole-in-the-wall cafe with your off-menu order, the high school with the math teacher who will never retire, that doesn’t feel possible to replicate in a new city or town. Of course there are also delicious aspects of discovering a new home, but it is difficult to imagine ever feeling such a deep comfort in any place but my hometown.

    1. Hi Louise! Oh man, you nailed the comforts of belonging to a hometown. All those tiny details! Yes! xx

  4. I just typed and deleted about 4 separate trains of thought in response to this question, so clearly this reflection you shared struck a nerve! I think a sense rootedness and belonging is going to evolve differently for everyone. One of my cousins-in-law is from Iran and moved to the US only about 10 years ago, in her mid-twenties. Yet she speaks with absolute certainty when she says that the U.S. is where she feels the most at home and that there is nothing left for her in Iran.

    1. Hi Anna – So fascinating! You’re now making me think about elements of cultural belonging or inheritance — or disharmony and disinheritance, as the case may be. This, though: “I think a sense of rootedness and belonging is going to evolve differently for everyone.” Yes to this! SO interesting to hear how different people associate (or don’t) with their hometowns in these comments.


  5. Spent many a middle and high school evening at UA (United Artist) in Bethesda…RIP.

    It’s interesting listening to your perspective as someone who left and has returned. I have all of those same memories from growing up in DC, but I think because the routes and paths I take now are just as much a part of my “grown up” everyday life, the feelings surrounding those memories don’t really resurface. Or maybe I’ve just lost my nostalgia 😉

    1. UA!!! THAT WAS IT! I’ve been racking my brain for that name. Oh man, so many memories there. I got my first and only ticket by making an illegal turn in that area just after I’d gotten my driver’s license, too!

      I totally can imagine that if you’ve not left the area, these areas just feel like…these areas. Oh man, it’s unlocking some serious memories for me though! Mainly it’s just so nice to have everything feel so familiar, so legible. Like not having to rely on Google Maps, understanding cut-throughs, etc…I guess I didn’t realize until moving back that there’s an exertion that comes with navigating new spaces that runs in the background for years and years in a new city.

      A lot of thoughts on this that are just beginning to coalesce.


  6. My husband and I recently took our baby to my hometown for a visit. Driving around gave me a type of nostalgia I haven’t experienced before. Perhaps it’s rooted in having my own child now and thinking of what his childhood will be like? It felt dreamlike to be back this time.

    The Container Store has a fantastic inventory of wrapping paper around the holidays. I loved going to pick out rolls at the Tenleytown store when we lived out that way!

    1. Hi Kate — I so agree, I do think some of the nostalgia has to do with raising my own children here and imagining all that’s ahead of them. There are two boys two doors down from us who are 5 and 7 years old, and Emory is 4, and I’m just like swooning over here because it was my absolute dream to live two doors down from two older boys. Ha!

      Thanks for the tip on Container Store. I’ve been in there a few times (the one at Tenleytown, actually) since moving and it’s just such a great store TBH.


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