Musings + Essays

Breaking Curfew.

By: Jen Shoop

The other night, Mr. Magpie came home to me moping around the apartment with a headache and a nothing-can-go-right attitude.  It had all started around 4 p.m., when I was already tired after a day on my own with mini and Tilly, and I opened our overstuffed pantry cabinet and three boxes tumbled out and fell on my head.  Seconds later, Tilly shredded an important receipt that had been on my desk and minimagpie managed to get a hold of a mercury glass candle holder, which she promptly smashed all over the floor.  It was a miracle she wasn’t hurt, but the minute I had her safely in her crib, I sliced my finger on a shard of glass and then grumpily spent the next half hour using tongs to pick up the remaining shards in the thick-pile carpet, then sweeping, then vacuuming, then vacuuming again.  I even changed mini’s sheets and carefully wiped down her bed and floor in the event that any shards had been on her clothing.  Meanwhile, mini had frozen the iPad and Tilly had eaten a fish stick off the kitchen counter.


I was Alexandra and the no-good-very-bad day.

Mr. Magpie came home and angels trumpeted.

“I’m so glad you’re home,” I said, eager to offload my woeful tale onto a sympathetic ear.  He listened, patiently, nodding and offering appropriate condolences that reminded me — if I’m being honest — of how petty I was being, and then suggested a glass of wine.

“No,” I sniffed.  “I have too much to do.”

“Come on!  I think you should change your plans and plan on having a good night.”

He had a point.  I needed to plan on having a good night if I wanted one.  It reminded me of something a good girlfriend of mine said to me.  She’s a little on the clumsy side (which I say with love, and to which she would also readily admit), and she told me that she’d recently broken one of her mother’s champagne flutes.  “Oops!  I didn’t mean to!” she cried, bending to pick up the pieces.  Her mom had replied: “Well, sometimes you have to mean not to.”  My friend shuddered a little bit when she told me this — it was an earnest mistake, after all! — but she said it had changed her outlook, had made her a bit more cautious, a bit more careful, and that she was less clumsy as a result.  It felt the same, in a way, with my bad mood.  I could have just continued to let bad things pile onto my day, or I could mean not to.

So I changed plans.  I asked Mr. Magpie for a little quiet time to myself.  I neatly copied the remaining items on my to-do list into tomorrow’s column (I use this and love it because — even though it’s enormous — it offers me enough space to fully outline my daily plans), closed my laptop, and retired to my room.  I changed into my favorite white cotton robe and then scrubbed my face and started from scratch, with a fresh face of makeup — including my new favorite foundation (has anyone else tried this?!  I’m OBSESSED.) and my tried and true serum.  I gussied up my hair with dry shampoo, which I then blow-dried (the secret to not making dry shampoo look like…dry shampoo) and, of course, the best round brush known to man. I put on my favorite body oil and then changed into a feminine dress similar to this and put on oversized floral earrings almost identical to these.

After putting mini to bed, I tidied our living room, lit a candle (we’re now burning this and it smells DIVINE — not overly floral; very fresh and summery), put on the new Leon Bridges album, and poured myself a glass of wine.  Normally, I feel rushed to get dinner on the table shortly after mini’s down for the night in order to get into bed by nine for an hour of reading before I drift off to sleep.  But tonight, I sat down in the blue armchair by the window overlooking the courtyard and did nothing.  We polished off some outrageously delicious lomo iberico (charcuterie) and some smoked ricotta on little Italian semolina crackers.  We decided to order in rather than cooking the steak and beets and asparagus in our fridge — which we rarely do.  We chatted about this and that — nothing and everything — and sat down to a late supper.  I stayed up later than usual that night, watching You’ve Got Mail for the trillionth time and enjoying what Mr. Magpie and I call “bed wine” — i.e., the evening’s final glass of wine, in bed, with pajamas on.

Somehow, a day of minor devastations gave way to an evening of small perfections.

A few days later, I listened to a Goop podcast in which a therapist explained that she often asks female clients struggling with the roles they fill: “Do you experience pleasure?  Do you give yourself permission to be excessive, or reckless, or non-responsible?  Do you always go to bed at a certain time because you have to wake up the next morning or do you still on occasion just allow yourself no curfew so that you don’t have to feel that you’re a child in your own house?”

I immediately sprang into defensive mode: “Well, I can’t just be irresponsible; I have a baby and a dog to look after, and what would happen if I didn’t answer when the realtor called or the landlord emailed with a question, or if we didn’t have enough paper towels, or if I forgot the milk for mini…!”

After a minute, I swallowed — hard — as I realized I had been flailing wildly against her innocuous (or non-innocuous, come to think of it) query.  It dawned on me that the small perfections of the other night had been largely correlated with my minor transgressions against the order of things in our household — an order that I and I alone enforce.  (Mr. Magpie is noddingly acquiescent with the routine, but he’s far more likely to live in the moment than I am and — as shown above — far more likely to encourage a last minute change in plan.)  The twenty minutes to myself that is usually family time.  The evening outfit change.  The languid happy hour.  The order-in dinner.  The late supper and later bed time.  The bed wine.  I’d even left the dirty dishes in the sink!  I had given myself permission, that night, to just do what I wanted to do.

Now — I’m an organized, disciplined person, and planning is in my nature.  I’ll never toss routine to the wind or “just go with it,” as a general proposition.  But I learned the other day, after the podcast prodded some self-reflection, that I need to give myself permission to “break the norm” on occasion.  I was deeply struck by the therapist’s phrasing: “do you just allow yourself no curfew?”  Do you just allow yourself.  I had not thought about how strictly I had been policing my own behavior until that moment — and for what?  For why?

Today, if you’re anything like me, I’d like you to give yourself permission to go off the tracks in some small way — dessert for dinner!  An extra cocktail!  No curfew!  Fries instead of salad!  Clothes on the floor!  No alarm!  Play hookie!  Whatever it is — allow yourself to not feel like a child in your own home, because sometimes you really need it.

Post Scripts.

When I want to go “against type,” I wear my denim jacket (also love this embellished style), or a plain white t-shirt with distressed jeans, or Golden Goose sneakers.  I usually dress with a bit more polish and femininity; these pieces make me feel different, edgy.

Have any of you played this game or this game?  I’m thinking of buying one or the other for our upcoming friend vacation!

For inspiration, I have had this book on badass women (from Hilary to Gaga) in my cart for a long while.  But I’m also giving myself permission to read fluffy sidecar books, like this, or the latest Elin Hilderbrand.

Dog owners: do you have any indestructible toys you love for your pups?  We adore the Fluff N Tuff plush toys, which tend to last a long while, and nothing beats some good old tennis balls (a ball lasts about a week in Tilly’s paws — Jeff Bezos must mistake me for an avid tennis player).  But everything else that pledges indestructibility fails.  Has anyone tried this?  Suggestions?

This reminded me of Mr. Magpie; we get ramen about once a week, and this made me laugh for some reason.  I don’t even understand the joke it’s making but I like it.

I have about five blue-and-white striped oxford-style shirts, but…this one?  Yes pls.

Reflections on another big moment of self-discovery.

Glow drops?!  I must try this.




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24 thoughts on “Breaking Curfew.

  1. Jen, I can totally relate to this kind of “horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day” — ugh! Why does it seem like these unfortunate things happen in multiples? I love that thought about “meaning to” and that we can *choose* to turn our day around or view things from a different perspective. I love how your Mr. Magpie encourages you on that front — my husband tends to do the same to me when I wallow! He often suggests even a 10-minute walk in fresh air and something as simple as that vastly improves my mood.

    I can also relate to this idea of “policing our own behavior” — I find myself doing that all the time! I sometimes feel like I can’t let a single ball drop — because it also feels good to be DONE with something! I’ve had several people in my life remind me that the laundry will always need to be done, kitchen has to be cleaned, etc etc but it’s ok to just let things be for a while in exchange for my mental health. The world won’t stop turning if the dishes wait for a little bit. My problem with breaking curfew is that sometimes I’m up WAAAAY too late if I’m in the middle of a great book I can’t put down. I know I’m so late in chiming in here, but I’m so glad you broke curfew that evening! And ending with You’ve Got Mail — the best! (How can one not feel good after a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan rom-com?)

    1. This is SO accurate, Mia: “Why does it seem like these unfortunate things happen in multiples?” I don’t know whether it’s just a Murphy’s Law kind of thing, or whether it’s a bad energy you put out there, or whether you’re just more likely to string together bad experiences and think of them as “a bad day”? I don’t know, but it is very true that when it rains, it pours.

      It was good to re-read this post because I struggle with this exact mindset you mention here: I’d rather just be DONE with everything and sit down when I feel like everything is tied up neatly. My cousin observed this of me while on vacation this past week — “Jen, I feel like you’re always buzzing around tidying, sorting, merging, etc. Can I help?!” She was so sweet to offer to chip in but the comment made me realize I really need to let it go more often…


  2. I really love this. I, too, have a tendency to be too rigid in my self-imposed expectations, often without even realizing I am doing so. I am working to learn that releasing my grip can sometimes (even often!) be a good thing.

    1. Hi Rachel — Totally. I’ve actually found myself talking about this dozens of times with dozens of different people since hearing the podcast and writing the post, and I’m now a lot more aware of the “rules” I’ve set for myself and when and how I can/should break them.


  3. Amen to wine and snack trays and twenty minutes’ peace as cure-all’s (and to level-headed significant partners-in-crime)! Also, this spatial dunderhead is hijackjng the “mean not to” philosophy. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, what do you think of the new Leon Bridges? IMHO “Bad Bad News” is a good good song, but the rest have yet to resonate (whereas pretty much all of Coming Home was love at first listen).

    1. Dunderhead – love that word. And yes to snack trays and wine!

      I liked the new Leon Bridges, although I have to say I treated it more like background music (i.e., didn’t particularly pay much attention to lyrics or anything), and it felt just right for an evening of relaxing. I don’t know what that says about the album — none of the songs stopped me in my tracks or jumped out at me — but I liked it…

  4. Just wanted you to know that the Tuffy brand dog toys are fantastic. They have a rating system based on how “chewing aggressiveness”. We had a Bernese Mountain dog who could kill any squeaker in an hour or less – until we found the stuffed Tuffy toys with the black trim on them. Available on Amazon but we purchase them at our local pet boutique. The large octopus was a particular favorite of our big boy! xx

  5. The idea of feeling like you have a curfew really resonates with me. I have a baby and a full time job, and I am tired most of the time. I don’t go to bed as early as I’d like because I only have a few hours each night to spend with my husband, prepare and eat dinner, relax and watch some TV, work out, and attend to personal business – going to bed early doesn’t feel like a viable option. At the same time, neither does going to bed later than my usual (11-12) time. I feel bad about it, especially on weekends when my husband would like to stay out and/or up later, but I’m just so tired already and the idea of getting only a few hours one night, feeling awful the next day (or few), and not being as engaged with my daughter is just too unappealing! I don’t like the feeling of having a curfew but am not sure how to change it for this current stage of life.

    1. Hi Leah — I completely get the struggle and never did I feel it more keenly than while on vacation in D.C., when all I wanted to do was stay up chatting with my siblings into the wee hours of the night, but then mini was waking up every few hours and would wake up for good at 5:30 a.m., and I’d feel like a zombie all day. It was just too hard! So, sometimes we need to keep curfews for peace of mind. But, every now and then, when the timing is right, it’s fun to break the rules a bit, to hell with the consqequences.

  6. So glad you were able to turn your day around! I’m very Type
    A, and very often need things done a certain way… and sometimes (oftentimes) good having my husband remind me to step back, pour that glass of wine/put out some cheese, and that the world won’t come to an end because XYZ didn’t get done.

    My sister-in-law brought “What Do You Meme” to Christmas this year and it was a lot of fun to play. We love board games, and if you’re looking for recommendations, I highly recommend Matthew Baldwin’s annual board game review, published annually around the holidays in (link to last year’s below):

    I’ve bought games off his lists the last several years as part of our holiday tradition, and have enjoyed all of them. There are so many games out there it’s hard to know where to start sometimes!

    And one can never have too many striped oxfords! I just realized my everyday clothes selection is 75% blue-and-white striped shirts, and honestly, I’m not upset about it. (The remainder are stripes of different colors, ha, and the occasional floral print top – though I did just order the lemon-print one from BR you featured the other day!) The quasi-uniform makes it easy to get dressed in the morning!

    1. Totally Type A all the way, too. Fortunate that we’ve both found partners that balance us out! Thanks for the tip on games!! Great idea. xo

  7. I love this post, I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your routine and the pressures of the world. It is so important to remember to cut yourself some slack.

    Also – there is NOTHING more luxurious than bed wine.

  8. I love this post. I’m so glad you were able to turn your day around by mindfully realizing that you had the power to make it so. I LOVE the podcast quote from the therapist — reminds me of something my therapist would say to me! I think it’s really important for women to think that way about themselves & their choices. I certainly put a ton of pressure on myself to have things done a certain way, but it’s so liberating to remember that we are the architects of our days (our lives!)

    Did you end up ever getting that Hanes x Karla crew tee? If not, I have a piece of advice on fit: depending on how you like your tees sized, I would size up. I am usually a small in tops and ended up taking a large (!) so it would have a bit more breathing room. The medium would have given me a more fitted look than I like, and I don’t think the small would have even fit right! This could be because I have a relatively large bust for my size, but just a word of caution if anyone is looking to try it out.

    P.S. What Do You Meme is HILARIOUS and I highly recommend it. My sister brought it to Christmas this past year and we were all howling with laughter! It’s funny without being too crude or racist, which is always my problem with Cards Against Humanity, for example.

    P.P.S. The keychains made me smile! The pink one is definitely referencing a Talking Heads song of the same name … give it a listen, it’s a good one!

    1. Chiming in here on the Hanes x Karla tees – they are seriously the BEST white tee out there, but I completely agree that you need to size up. I also am normally a small in tops but ordered up as a precaution and while the medium fits nicely and is perfect for a smooth line underneath a sweater or blazer without being skintight, I do wish I had ordered a large for a more relaxed look come the summer months. The neckline also sits quite high on the neck, well above the collar bone, which I personally like and think is quite chic but I can see that it would be annoying if you feel like a higher neckline is choking.

      Having said that, as I emerged the other morning dressed in plain mid-wash blue jeans, white Stan Smith sneakers, the tee, hair pulled back in a pony and no make up, my boyfriend looked at me and said ‘woah – you look pretty’ – that’s the power of this tee!

      1. Good to know! And wow, what a compliment. I don’t know what could sell the shirt better than hearing that! xo

    2. Thank you for all of this. You are so right in framing it as a “decision” and “a choice” — we are the architects of our days! We have the agency to turn things around. And thank you so much for the tips on the tee, the game, the song! xo

  9. Re: indestructible dog toys—not a “toy,” per se, but deer/elk antlers are the most durable object (a bone substitute really) we have ever found. They are the only object we can trust our bulldog mix to enjoy alone (all else is torn to shreds in short order and immediately ingested). They are pricey, but will last for a LONG time!

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