Musings + Essays

Do Small Things with Great Love.

By: Jen Shoop

This Mother Theresa quote is near-ubiquitous, possibly platitudinous (?), but the other day, it appeared, mirage-like, in my thoughts and I carried it around with me for the better part of the day:

“Do small things with great love.”

Knowing that these words came from Mother Teresa, I am of course inclined to imagine the humble and wordless ministrations of a caregiver wiping crumbs from the face of a child, or preparing a bed with clean sheets and hospital corners. Small things, done with solicitousness.

By contrast, how often do I absolutely race through the process of preparing breakfast for my children prior to thoughtlessly — almost robotically — clearing their plates and shuffling the morning right along into its next phase? On the one hand, this sort of perfunctoriness is necessary: I keep the household moving, and ensure my children are fed, brushed, and clothed by the time I sit down to my desk at 9 a.m. And sometimes the rote is a gift, clearing needed mental space for undertaking other intellectual or emotional work: I can be pouring milk cups while also pondering the American Scholar article my father sent or ingesting the news. Beyond that, I am not so spacey as to think that there might be hidden joy or rivulets of love to be found in selecting a plate for my daughter’s breakfast, or what have you. But still — could I maneuver myself to a place where many of the daily responsibilities in my life are achieved with love rather than an occasionally begrudging sense of conscientiousness or rule-followership? What might that look like? I am thinking specifically of the way my mother packed my lunch: always with a little love note on the napkin in her loopy blue script; the napkin invariably, artfully folded on the diagonal. Even the fact that she took the time to fold the napkin just-so speaks to me today: the tiniest of kisses. I also think of the way she will often turn down the coverlet on the bed before bedtime, or offer me a soda alongside a cup of ice. Small things, done with great care and consideration. I think, too, of my husband: the way he warms my plate before dinner, and chills my glass before a cocktail, and never declines the opportunity to plate my meal and garnish it, too. The way he sets my coffee out, prepared the way I like it, so it’s waiting for me at my desk. The fact that he never ever neglects to wrap my gifts, giving thought to the presentation itself.

I think there are also ways to do small things for myself “with great love.” This will either resonate with you or confirm your suspicion that I am bizarre beyond belief, but it is not an infrequent occasion for me to be sitting at my desk, parched with thirst, but not willing to get up to fetch water for myself because I’m in the throes of work, or I will be rushing around trying to put things away after running a few errands or cleaning up the house and will not pause to use the rest room or feed myself lunch until absolutely everything is tidied, finished, taken to the garbage, etc. I suppose you can chalk it up to “completion desire”: I am so task-oriented that I would rather finish something in its entirety than interrupt the flow. But after reading the Mother Teresa quote the other day, I got up and poured myself a glass of water when I was thirsty and later, when bringing home a bunch of fresh flowers, actually took the time to enjoy arranging them in a vase versus rushing to clip them, get rid of the debris, and sprint to the next thing on my list. If I am sounding schmaltzy, forgive me. But these tiny decisions appear to me as a new and miniature mode of self-care: doing the smallest of things with love for myself.

Shopping Break.

+Lounge shorts: I’m eyeing these Kules or these from Splendid. Love the retro styling on both.

+The perfect button-front sweatshirt in great colors — I shared a similar style for less a few days ago but like the cropped silhouette here, too.

+Just love this Brock-like blouse for under $100.

+SUPER love the simple, retro-esque (Wendy Peffercorn-like?!) styling of this Gap suit in both the on-trend ditsy blue floral and solid pink.

+Absolutely stunning floral dress for $140 – sort of a combination between Horror Vacui and Cecilie Bahnsen?

+Adore this stationery, and recently came across an Etsy shop that creates fun frames with a similar design via Being Bridget.

+Cute and clever printable indoor scavenger hunt. Wish I’d come across this back during peak-quarantine days.

+Some other great indoor activities for littles here. I did all of these, many of them multiple times over…

+Speaking of the great indoors: an indoor shrimp BBQ you must try. Only you could also do it outdoors, with friends, now 🙂

+Love this tiny little fan for the stroller.

+The cane detail on these shorts is amazing!

+Speaking of tennis, Marysia’s coveted scalloped tennis dress is back in stock here in white (run!!!) and here in black. More fun tennis and golf gear here.

+Such a small thing, but we now have a bunch of different keys for our house, for my parents’ house, etc, and I am out of key rings! I found some cute ones at an Etsy shop, including this rose embroidered style and this throwback motel style.

+Another great beach-to-cocktails dress.

+Lusting after these shorts.

+Also lusting after a Rimowa suitcase as my next investment whenever I travel…

+Love this dress in the sage green. The tiers make it!

+Just a reminder that these adorable blue gingham swim trunks are $10.

+And Janie and Jack marked down a ton of cute swim, including this precious lilac stripe swimsuit!

+While there: so wish this dress wasn’t sold out in mini’s size! The eyelet sleeves!!!

+Going to be needing a lot of new storage apparatus in our new home — I will have a walk-in pantry!

+Some of my favorite storage gear here.

+Ordered some extra silicon mats for the children. I find these a conveninent way to preserve our dinner table and catch spills, but my gripe is that they are a pain to dry after washing/wiping. I love that this set comes with those convenient cutouts so you can hang them from a hook.

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11 thoughts on “Do Small Things with Great Love.

  1. Yes, motherhood has strongly challenged my completion desire! So hard to be interrupted in the midst of things all day long. Some things I’ve learned to live with, while others still bother me because I know they will NEVER get completed (for example, cleaning the bathroom – if I say, I only have time to clean the toilet and the vanity right now, that pretty much guarantees that the shower will not get cleaned until the next time the toilet/vanity need it. Oh, well…)

    My mom also used to send napkin notes in our lunches! Despite the fact that (as I learned just recently) she did NOT enjoy packing lunches. Kind of makes it even sweeter! And since you mentioned breakfast…what are you feeding your kids for breakfast these days? I am in a kid breakfast rut and need inspiration! We mainly eat fruit and a muffin (I feel like I am constantly baking muffins! I usually freeze half of the batch) or Trader Joe’s frozen silver dollar pancakes. For some reason, no one but me will eat toast or eggs or oatmeal at the moment, and waffles are no longer a hit for my older child. Any suggestions welcome 🙂

    1. Oh the food phases! Ahhh! Stephanie! I am so in this “rut,” especially at dinner time. For breakfast, some things that have worked for my children: peanut butter and thinly sliced bananas on toast with a tiny bit of cinnamon sugar on top; cinnamon raisin bread toasted with butter or cream cheese; bagels and cream cheese or peanut butter; bacon (well, one likes it and the other doesn’t!); smoothies (one likes, the other doesn’t).

      Hoping some other mamas have better options to offer!!


      1. OH and so with you on the being-interrupted-while-doing-a-chore-you-dread-doing-in-the-first-place. So difficult! It’s like, “I don’t want to be doing this either, but I have to!” Grr!


    2. I have a recent recommendation for easy kids’ breakfasts — frozen ebelskivers from Whole Foods! They’re probably as easy to make as the TJs mini pancakes (heat on a baking sheet for 10 mins at 325), but the “puffy” aspect has been a big hit with my stepkids, esp. when served with maple syrup. I think at Whole Foods they’re named something along the lines of “Dutch Pancake Bites” and they’re sold by the bag in the frozen section.

    3. Thanks to you both! Will try some of these ideas…specifically curious about how cream cheese will go over! Jen, for dinners have you tried Dr Praeger’s? We love their little fishies, fish sticks, and spinach/sweet potato/kale/etc Littles (aka “dinos”). Easy to pull out of the freezer when you’re out of ideas, AND they’re healthy!

      1. Hi Stephanie! Thank you! We do have Dr Praeger’s on rotation in these parts, but your note reminded me to see what else they make besides fish sticks and those “littles.” My son loves everything they make so maybe there are ways to branch out…thanks!


  2. Thank you for sharing! How often do I want to “rush through” to bedtime, when, in fact, each moment is a chance to show my child love?

    I’m reminded of a quote by some spiritual teacher (wish I could remember who) that my yoga teacher in NYC shared with the class. Something like, “We think spirituality is sitting on a cushion and meditating, but that’s not it. Spirituality is folding the towels for your family members.” I loved the specificity — of course it is more or less a variation of your Mother Teresa quote — but something about mentioning that mundane act, folding the towels, gave me pause and, naturally, I often think of this line when I find myself folding towels. 🙂

  3. This quote resonates, and I think I know what you’re getting at, with including actions towards your own self — it’s easy to overlook oneself, especially when caring for young children, and it’s good to remind yourself that you are deserving of the same care, attention and love!

    I love that Brock-esque top from J.Crew! It reminds me of one that I bought from Faithfull and ended up consigning with The RealReal because it was a little too cropped. This looks like a good alternative!

    Also, I appreciate the Wendy Peffercorn reference 🙂 Cannot count how many times I watched that movie with my siblings in the 90s!!


    1. Sandlot for life…that movie is sewn into the fabric of my childhood! I swear I lived out some parts myself…


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