By: Jen Shoop

*Image above of my son and I by Ryon Lockhart photography.

“The shock of motherhood, then as now, is in its selfishness: ‘We love our children in such a painful, frightening way that it seems to us we have never had any other neighbour.'”

Forgive the nested quotes, the germ by Natalia Ginzburg in The Little Virtues and the bran by Laura Feigel in this book review, but —

I found myself turning to these words instinctively, hungrily. Yes. This, half of the underlying dissonance of motherhood. The way I find my children and I husked together against the elements: my instinct to protect them from prying eyes, to deflect that which might sting. The way all else dissolves the moment I hear them cry my name, the entire world narrowing down to a point so sharp I feel the prick in my core. “It’s just you and me, babe,” I whispered as I rocked my baby girl in endless midnights that first year of her life. The flinging of the arms around my neck, the moments where only mama will do, the way I feel sometimes as though I might be consumed by my love for these tiny souls. I gather them to my neck like pearls. I hold them in the middle of the night. It’s OK, I love you, it’s OK. My son’s hands clutching the collar of my shirt, his head pressed against my chest. I carried him in that Baby Bjorn for the better measure of the first nine months of his life, a movable yin and yang. Mine and not mine, but inseparable as we marched through Manhattan.

It is strange, the way motherhood isolates and connects. I feel profoundly reassured when I talk with other mothers and think “aha! perhaps, then, I am not doing it all wrong!” — that, in fact, these tantrums are common, or that weaning is difficult, or that other parents have not had their children sleep through the night until a year of age, too. It makes me wonder, now, after years of benefiting from the generosities and empathies of other women, whether part of the reason why matrescence felt so lonely pertained to the root “selfishness,” as Feigel puts it, of motherhood: the way it calls us to turn our faces, heliotropically, to our new centers, these tiny beings around which we will forever orbit. Why else would I have felt so alone? I could not help but find myself distanced from all else in the face of these immovable, instinctual, calls-and-responses?

I find it a bit easier to connect now, to remember my neighborliness, than at the beginning, as a bleary-eyed new parent. I have had years to reflect on myself as a mother, to examine the taut lines between my children and I, to imagine how we might look to others. Navigating mini’s eye condition perhaps exacerbated and then accelerated some of this. Even still, I feel Ginzburg’s words with a kind of emotional immediacy that leaves me breathless, or perhaps supercharged in the way that enables ordinary people to lift cars in moments of emergency. Motherhood feels that way sometimes, natural to the point of primordial — as though I was born to forget everything but these two children.


+Similar conclusions: “She was how she kept time.”

+To the mom feeding her baby at 3:11 a.m.

+3 a.m. parties.

+On an unexpectedly emotional transition in motherhood.

+On building friendships through motherhood.

+You are enough.

+It is a blessing to be needed.

Shopping Break.

+This gingham skirt and top are SO cute. I would probably style separately.

+I shared a bunch of my favorite recent purchases for mini here.

+More cute finds for littles here.

+Love this La Double J-esque shirtdress, on sale for $139.

+Just the cutest side table ever.

+A fun new bath toy for your littles.

+These reusable, dishwasher-safe cups are great for hosting friends outdoors / vacations / grabbing a glass of wine for a walk around the neighborhood / etc.

+Need these shoes for spring/summer.

+CHIC and dramatic top.

+A classic, crisp striped tunic.

+Love these bookplates as a gift with a few favorite books for a new baby / a young child.

+My surprise favorite from the Brock x Minnow launch last Friday? These adorable shorts for boys! I feel like boys’ clothing can be so boring. Khaki, navy, seersucker. These are so fun!

+Cute little under-$100 date-night-on-vacation dress.

+These heels are fab. Great for a bride!

+A great faux fiddle leaf fig.

+LOVE these statement shorts.

+Lunch box notes. (And my favorite lunch gear for littles here.)

+Speaking of lunch, loved your delicious lunch ideas in the comments on this post!

+Adore the little Liberty of London pieces for littles from this brand.

+OK, you know I love a furlane…these bandana-print ones are fab!

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2 thoughts on “Heliotropism.

  1. What a quote. It particularly rings true for me in the earlier months/years (I write while nursing my eight month old). But I also like to believe motherhood can be an expansive state — that is, it can cause us to look outward, be more empathetic toward others (especially others with children), and even fight to change systems oppressing other families that might not be hurting our own kids specifically. I love the quote, “there is no such thing as other people’s children.” (I believe I first heard it from Glennon Doyle.) Recently, I am feeling more touched by the plight of all children and parents (e.g. A child whose working parent can’t afford medicine due to price gouging of meds in the US which is simply not present in other countries), even those dealing with specific issues I’m not grappling with — and wondering how some of the systems we live within could be overhauled to create a world where all children (not just my children) have a better chance for safe, healthy, happy lives.

    1. Hi Joyce – I could not agree with you more. I think this is one of the underlying dissonances of motherhood — that becoming a mother opened me up in ways I did not anticipate, made me connect more with other people, empathize/emote around the situations others were going through, etc, but that it also caused me to draw inward in the way Ginzburg references. I don’t know how to reconcile these two impulses but I feel them, often simultaneously, and they seem to continue to exist in contradiction with one another.


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