Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

It trickled in like rivulets. DC. Home. What ifs that pooled in the bottom of half-drunk glasses of wine while we’d talk late into the evening, my legs curled beneath me on the couch. Stray idylls in moments of parental fatigue — “can you imagine if we lived closer to our families? Saturday mornings, we could take them over to ride bikes with Doe or run around Liz and Jamie’s backyard with the cousins?”

Widening streams of escape, loudening whispers of promise. D.C. Home. The setting up of Redfin alerts — “just look at this house! Only three minutes from your parents’! Look how much more space you get for your money!” The long walks around Jackie O. Reservoir, spilling out dreams of a future with a backyard and a Weber kettle grill and childhood friends only a fifteen minute drive away. The vision of my father-in-law or brother-in-law dropping by with tools, supervising Mr. Magpie’s handiwork. Tricycles in a driveway; quaint, healthful-seeming chores of mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage for our growing children. Borrowing suitcases or folding chairs from my parents’ garage. Holidays simplified, travel-free. School pick-up, drop-offs at Little League or ballet — all with a car at our disposal. Backyard drinks with old friends who have known us since we were five or six ourselves. Would we consider joining my parents’ country club? What if mini eventually attended my beloved alma mater, Visitation?

Then it came in waves. Meeting my mother for walks and manicures and lunches. Fulfilling her dream of finally taking her granddaughter to the ballet at the Kennedy Center. Cousins growing up together, introducing one another to their little pods of school friends, attending camp and Sunday Mass and everything in between together. I shared some of these fantasies with a friend and she said, “You know, Jen? Life happens between the drumbeats. And I can see why you’d want those pauses with your family next to you.” Then, suddenly, the image of myself, standing uninvited but welcome at the foot of the stairs leading up to the cheerful room where my mother often sits at her desk: “Mom? Just dropping off the dish you lent.” The raiding of her fridge for an apple on the way out. Those willowy, trivial intimacies I have missed. Sitting with my sister on her front porch, barefoot and cooing over her newborn. “Can you pick up ice for the cooler on the way over?” she might ask. My father-in-law on the sidelines at soccer games, my mother-in-law sewing Halloween costumes. Blue crab on their patio, with cold drinks and cicadas and the thickness of D.C. in the summer. Close enough to be there for our parents if they ever need us. Close enough to have them when we need them — which is, frankly, always.

Breakers roared. D.C. Home.

So we did it —

Rearranged our lives, worked through the logistics, calculated timetables and leases and school deadlines, and now we are moving home to D.C. this summer and few decisions in my life have felt simpler, more correct.

It occurs to me that every other move in my life has felt fraught with peril. Each one a tightrope walk into the unknown, with new jobs or impossible timelines or foreign cities or absent networks. Just long, blind lunges into the new. Growth happens there, in those terrifying moments, to be sure.

But this: more of a clear-eyed glide into parts known, and for that I am awash with gratitude. A net beneath us. The sensation as a teenager turning off Connecticut Avenue onto Tilden Street just after I’d gotten my license: a relaxing of the shoulders, a feeling I was safe along that legible corridor where I knew every tree and curb and the cars likely to be parked on the street, and where the only two possible dangers were someone riding too close on my tail and not being prepared for the U-turn I’d need to make at Linnean Ave to curl back up the boulevard towards home, or an over-ambitious left hand turn by an aggressive driver off 29th Place. That is to say: I was still moving, still out there, but at a vastly diminished likelihood of threat. Home field advantage.

Is this what happens in your late 30s? Security begins to outweigh the thrill of the new, the possible? Perhaps, too, we have been re-conditioned by the responsibilities of our lives right now and it has all been amplified by the strain of COVID and the absence of family over the past year and a quarter. And then there is the aging of our parents, the birth of another baby to my sister in a couple of weeks: the pull of family, our hunger for their help. Also on my mind: the age of our children and the mounting desire for more space, less complicated logistics, extra hands. As an example, we had been dancing around how we might get both of our children down to the school that we have loved so much for mini on the subway next fall. One child, when the school was en route to Mr. Magpie’s office downtown (pre-COVID), was perfectly fine. One child, when we had to go out of our way to take her downtown while both of us have been WFH during COVID, has been less than ideal but doable. Two children — especially when one will be in a stroller and Mr. Magpie will still be WFH — looms indomitable. We had explored buying a car for the purpose, but even then: double-parking on a busy street twice a day, running the risk of tickets, maneuvering around parking garages, the unpredictability of traffic especially in inclement weather, the added headache, the cost! (There is a joke that having a parking spot in Manhattan is like taking on a second lease.) No, no, we’re being crazy, we told ourselves. We should move them up to a school closer to our apartment. Then: But we love that school! Mini is thriving there! And it has a great track record with exmissions! And there are no AMI-certified Montessoris in walking distance! And wouldn’t it be weird to move mini for the final year of her Montessori program, especially if we are staying in NY long-term and such decisions do matter when thinking about where she will go to grade school? Do we move back downtown?

Of course, logistics around school, work, and childcare with small children are complicated no matter where you live, but they were growing ultra-knotty for our tastes, and it seemed that most of the solutions were expensive or inconvenient or undesirable, like ceding multiple hours of my day in transit between drop-offs and pick-ups, or paying for a nanny to help with logistics in addition to private school enrollment for two children, or sending them to a non-Montessori, or keeping mini at her school and sending micro to a different school, or moving again.

I have always admired the New York families that raise their children here, but now more than ever — what determination, accommodation, and expense it requires. And what an experience for the children!

So make no mistake about it: we are not leaving on bad terms with New York. I will forever remain grateful for my time here. ILNY. It is dazzling, unknowable, too big for words, still a shock, the most exciting place I will ever have lived. And it is where my boy was conceived and born. Where mini came into her own as a little human with a big personality. Where I settled into myself as an adult — where I owned my interest in writing, where this blog took off, where I came to terms with the shuttering of a previous business, where I began the slow process of reconciling my outsized visions of myself with the reality of the world. It has been kind and unkind to us, but mainly kind. In a strange way, in spite of the challenge of living here during this pandemic, our New York years have been the gentlest of our lives as a married couple: this is where we found a stasis, a rhythm, felt as though we flipped from waiting for the next thing to happen to sitting in the next thing, in wonderment and disbelief. “We live in New York?” we still ask each other. “We have two children?!”

I am proud we made a life here. It is true, I think, what they say: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. (Even more true, I might suggest, if you make it in NYC during a pandemic.) New York has been an education. We are three and a half years into a city that is exhausting and electric and disgusting and wonderful and where there have been, on balance, far more moments of magic than of malaise. There are mornings where I run through Central Park and feel positively filled with joy. There are moments of snowfall and daybreak and low-lying fog and autumn chill and summer haze where I look out on the city, or traipse down my favorite tree-lined street on the Upper West Side, and I am awash with wonder. What a phenomenal place to live. It presents a breath-taking, movie-set backdrop to everyday life. And everything is accessible, deliverable, only a 15-minute ride away by Subway. The entire world at our fingertips. Interesting people and exciting food and diverse perspectives and provocative culture and — for better or worse — it’s rare I leave the apartment without seeing something worth sharing with Mr. Magpie upon return.

“New York always makes it up to you,” our friends told us when we first moved in, as we shook off a traumatic move to the city. “She’ll come through.” That has proven true. For every strange encounter on the street and icky dripping of mysterious subway juice onto your head (this happens, just ask any New Yorker) there have been life-affirming moments with neighbors and strangers alike. It is equally true, though, that this past year has been rough given COVID constraints and the interminable stretches of weeks spent largely at home in our apartment with two small and active children. I will never forget calling my Dad while still symptomatic with COVID-19 and somehow trying to look after two children without leaving our apartment going on 16 or 17 days, all while we knew so little about the virus but could measure its mounting severity by the number of ambulances we heard careening down the street every other minute and the growing desertion of tenants in our building.

“This is hard,” I told him through sudden tears. It felt like the understatement of a lifetime.

When we first spoke with one of the agents who might be helping us buy a home in D.C., she concluded the call by saying:

“Two children, a dog, a Manhattan apartment, two full-time, work-from-home jobs, during COVID? You must be good people.”

I don’t know if it made us good people, but I feel tougher on this side of things.

I just laughed: “We made it somehow.”

After we hung up, I realized how true that rang. We made it somehow. Not just through a bumpy stretch in NYC, but four stressful moves in under nine years; the building of new lives in two enormous, foreign-to-us metropolises; several major career changes; the births of two children; the purchase and sale of a home; the founding and shuttering of one business and the nurturing of a second–and all while a good distance from our parents and all while knowing in some subconscious sense that we eventually imagined ourselves back in D.C. and therefore never felt truly settled. But God is good. What a ride this has been. So there is another sense of the phrase that emerges: we made it somehow — meaning, we built those opportunities and forged those decisions and invited ourselves to the incredible experiences the past ten years have held. We made our way to that feast. And now homeward we go.

We made it.


+More on my love of D.C.

+A small corner of New York that I will always treasure.

+What it was like living in NYC during the peak of the pandemic here.

+On making it through that rough patch in NY.

+I am sure this move will have its share of strange emotions but, as of now, it is mainly marked by a sense of purpose and peace. Still, interesting to read my thoughts on our intercity move here. It is always chaotic to move!

+We have so much to figure out ahead of us, but, knowing that we will be buying a car again (soon), I already know I want to buy Clek carseats.

+This Sezane sweater is perfection.

+J. Crew does it again.

+My favorite unfussy sippy cups for little ones in great spring colors.

+Sweet cardigan for a little lady ($22).

+This houndstooth sweater is so fun. I stocked up on cardigans along these lines while nursing — perfect to throw over a nursing tank.

+TBBC has just the cutest jammies right now. And so sad I missed out on their darling Polly Play dress in the classic bow pattern in mini’s size!

+I ended up buying this birthday dress for mini to wear to school on her actual birthday, and I have a separate Sal e Pimenta one for her to wear to her little birthday playdate the following morning. Too cute!

+I just can’t say no to a long white dress.

+If you are in the market for a dress for any occasion, I think I have you covered here and here.

+Cute everyday dresses for your little one on sale for $21 here, here, and here.

+Your toddler boy’s summer wardrobe.

+Warm weather finds.

+Love this fitness pullover in both the white and moody blue colors!

+Funky little sweatshirt for your little man for $15. More statement sweatshirts for little ones here.

+Small kindnesses from loved ones and strangers.

+Such a gorgeous dress.

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117 thoughts on “Homeward.

  1. GULP (that’s me swallowing a happy sob …!) I believe (I hope!) I sent you well wishes on Instagram when you announced this, but reading your full post about your upcoming move — well, it gave me chills and made me more than a little teary. I am so happy for you! What an exciting, fulfilling, and happy time it must be as you prepare to move home. What a gift it will be to be so close to your families <3

    Having lived in New York for 8 years, I definitely agree with the time-worn sentiment that "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere". So true. New York is a tough broad, but man, does she dazzle! I feel fortunate that I had the chance to live there for most of my twenties. I still have hope of ending up there again someday, maybe in retirement — having grown up 20 miles away, it's still like home to me in a way.

    Anyway! Congratulations, congratulations — I am truly so thrilled for you and your family!


  2. I am so incredibly excited for you! This move seems to make so much sense and I love reading about how much you are looking forward to it. I am also selfishly excited because I am moving to DC this summer and can’t wait for more of your recommendations. Or possibly an in-person book club when COVID allows? Sending you lots of good vibes for house hunting!!

    1. Thank you SO much Pooja! To DC we go!!! Sending you good vibes for a smooth transition. We’ll have so much fun comparing notes. Looking forward to connecting with my Magpies in the 202 🙂


  3. I just can’t contain you happiness for you Jen! I have family in Manhattan (my husbands grandfather) and though we have absolutely adored visiting, I’ll never forget our visit when my middle child came down with hand foot and mouth while there. Our visions of being a Manhattan family felt absurd suddenly. We missed our creature comforts home in Charlotte so desperately and stopped idealizing a BIG city life. We have family in DC as well and it’s much more like Charlotte in my eyes. I don’t have to drive very far at all to get to preschool and our top destinations which is ideal to
    Me, but we have room! I have with neighbors what you are describing and it is a gift beyond measure. Being able to say “let’s go outside” and all you need to do is walk out the door is a joy I cannot wait for you to experience with your little ones! I hope all goes well from now until then

    1. Thank you so much, Brooke!! So excited to be able to open a door and go outside — barefoot, pajamas, whatever! So excited for that. I am really so moved by all of the outpouring of encouragement and support you all have shown me!! 🙂


  4. Congratulations Jen! Truly evocative writing, as always! Your posts on DC are my personal favorite. While I didn’t grow up in DC, I lived there for a couple of years, moved away for work, and have longed to move back. I too am finally moving back to DC this spring (I was originally planning for December but Covid).

    I will admit that I have had second thoughts ever since the logistics of moving back to DC fell into place. Is DC the right place for my significant other and I given that we didn’t grow up there and don’t have family there (yet)? How will we create a social circle while working from home even after the pandemic? Would Boston have been a better decision due to proximity to friends, family, beach towns we adore, and skiing? Is Covid going to eventually make it possible for us to grow in our careers while living in a cozy coastal town instead of a city? Who knows! But this post made me more sure of the decision to move and see how I feel, and it made me excited too!

    My significant other and I will be renting for the first year while we determine where to buy. I’m leaning towards Georgetown, but friends in the area have said I will feel differently after exploring other neighborhoods. I can’t wait to see your moving/decor posts! Congratulations again!

    1. Hi! To DC we go!!! This will be fun to experience alongside one another! I so hear you on the flurry of questions and moments of self-doubt. I have felt confident on the decision to move to DC but have had other big life decisions that have left me similarly uneasy about the tradeoffs I have been making at the time, especially around career trajectory and, of all things, school for our children! (Who are, mind you, just-four and not-yet-two.) We have also looked back on decisions, like buying a house in Chicago, and wondered whether we made the right choice there, as we ended up needing to sell it less than two years later and it was kind of a headache to go through that. But we always come back to this: we trust ourselves to make the best possible decision we can make given the limited information we have at any given moment. That’s the best we can do: mitigate risk in the face of imperfect information. So we, too, draw up pros/cons lists, talk endlessly about the “what ifs,” but it often comes down to gut intuition! Anyway, if I may, I feel the same way about you — obviously smart, driven, thoughtful, introspective. It does not sound like you are rushing headlong into a decision based on short-term gains. It sounds like you have been pulled there for a reason not yet clear to you but that will all click into place at some time in the future.

      Anyway — as a Magpie reader once wrote to me: “You made the choice. Now go boldly!”

      Let’s go boldly!!


  5. I left NYC for similar reasons and there were so many layers to saying goodbye. The writer Catherine Newman has a great philosophy that guides her decisions: “people over things.” And I think this applies to place as well — for me, the proximity to the people I love and cherish comes before any specific place. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of that choice – their work is industry specific and that’s where the industry is…or they can’t afford to relocate… or a million other valid reasons. But I found myself at a crossroads. I realized that I was no longer waiting for the “raising a family” chapter of my life to begin – it had begun! And then I thought – wait did I envision my family being a big presence in my children’s lives? The answer was a loud YES. Part of the reckoning with leaving was also to come to terms with the idea that I was now not just making choices for myself but for my children. I wasn’t a singleton, I was a mother. And I believed if I really asked myself that their lives would be richer closer to their family (and mine too!) than to any of the wonderful enchantments the city has to offer. I think leaving NYC will take more wrestling and feel at times sad and poignant as the realness of it creeps up on you. But a year from now or even six months from now as you settle into the weekly rhythms of seeing your family, you’ll know this was right. This was a courageous bold choice! I’m excited for you!

    1. Thank you, Emily! So interesting and helpful to hear your thought process. Your note underscores the fact that we have always moved according to career opportunity, and that for many years, even while living in NYC, it simply did not occur to us that DC (of our own volition, absent a career transition) was a possibility. This was a fortunate circumstance where Mr. Magpie was able to get permission from his boss to relocate permanently — such a testament to him and to the flexibility of the organization he works for. Anyway, it really opened up doors for us to be able to make this bold change, which – as you note – will bear a mix of emotions. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience!!


  6. Congrats! I’m so happy for you and your family! We had planned to move to San Diego from Colorado but ended up in Maine- 2 hours from my parents and about 1.5 from the rest of my extended family- and it has been such a gift! I grew up seeing my grandparents and cousins about once a year ( since they were in Boston and I was in VA) and the fact that my parents are little man’s favorite people makes my heart sing. It is also such a gift to see your parents as grandparents on a regular basis and watch that bond develop. Moves are always difficult and stressful ,even in non Covid times, so I wish you the best and hope it goes as smoothly as it can!
    Give DC a hug for me

    1. Thank you, Shannon! I have really loved hearing from so many women who made similar decisions and have never regretted it. Feeling so encouraged and excited!

      Moving — yuck. One of Mr. Magpie’s key comments about this entire transition has been that “this must be the last move we make for at least fifteen years.” I agree. We’ve moved every two years or so since we were married. Enough! Ready to settle in.

      Will give DC a big Shannon Calnan hug!


  7. Hi – So very happy for you and your family with this HUGE decision. I am sure your parents and siblings in DC are beside themselves with joy. Best wishes and look forward to reading about this new journey.

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