In the Quiet and Bare.

By: Jen Shoop
"Early motherhood -- at least for me -- demanded a withdrawal, and I was not always at peace with that change. Still, looking back, I am struck by "the extraordinary acts of metamorphosis" I performed to make my way through. Because during that time, I was becoming. I was spinning myself into the loving mother I have become."

A girlfriend of mine with three young boys recently lamented, “I see friends doing all of these things — like going away on girls’ trips together — and I just have no idea how they’re doing it.” A flurry of disparate thoughts drew immediately to the surface, in seek of expression. This is a brief season of life. What nobody tells you about breastfeeding (which she is currently in the midst of): you are tethered to the baby until you wean, which is both a blessing and a challenge. Comparison is the thief of joy. Social media is bioluminescent, anyway: we see sparks in the dark water without knowing the full outline of things. For all we know, those moms are making tough tradeoffs to be on those trips.

But I saw the shape of her solitude, and also the familiar strain of “Does everyone else ‘get it’ but me?”

Phases of motherhood can feel achingly lonely. Even when you know that there are mothers all over the world — hell, all over your neighborhood! — shuffling out of bed to quiet midnight cries just as you are, and marching through the same morning routines just as you are, it can feel at times as though you are a tiny planet orbiting around a tiny universe, colliding with nothing. An enclosed atmosphere.

Earlier this year, I read excerpts from a fascinating book on winter by author Kate May. In it, she writes:

“It is all very well to survive the abundant months of spring and summer, but in winter, we witness the full glory of nature’s flourishing in lean times…Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Some of this language does not fit the context of motherhood: early motherhood is anything but “lean.” But there is a rich parallel here in the sense that early motherhood — at least for me — demanded a withdrawal, and I was not always at peace with that change. Still, looking back, I am struck by “the extraordinary acts of metamorphosis” I performed to make my way through. Because during that time, when my social life and desire for domestic organization and even my bandwidth to attend to my older daughter ran uncomfortably thin, I was becoming. I was spinning myself into the loving mother I have become. I was discovering new angles, new strengths, new tendernesses that I had never before seen in myself.

What I mean to say to my friend, to myself, to my fellow Magpies, is that we are in a season of life, and that the foliage looks different now. It is OK to embrace that view for what it is. It is OK to say no to social engagements. It is OK to not volunteer to be class mom. It is OK to skip the birthday parties. It is OK that you are not the mom hanging out with the other moms after carpool. You can give a friendly wave and crawl quietly into the hibernation of winter at home. As I wrote elsewhere on this subject: “our movements in times of adversity need not always be so frictional and against the grain. Maybe there are seasons designed for fallowness. Maybe we learn important things there, in the quiet and bare.”

To my moms in the quiet and bare:

I see you.



+A candid chronicle of my struggles with breastfeeding, part I and part II.

+A beautiful part of those midnight wakeup calls.

+On doing the little thing.

Shopping Break.

+My Dad (a many-time marathoner and longtime daily runner) has been raving about Saucony’s new Endorphin 3 running shoe. He is not usually prone to exclamations, but he wrote me a text that read: “It may be the best running shoe I’v ever had. Light but great cushion.” I think I am going to order a pair next.

+Another great Toteme-inspired striped knit — this one $71.

+Target is running a buy-one-get-one-50%-off deal on all shoes. A great time to buy a pair of trending Western boots (Isabel Marant vibes) and throw in these fab rain boots, too (love the sleek, minimalist design and come in such great colors). Alternately: their popular clog boot (reminiscent of No6’s celebrated style) is included.

+I love a fall headband moment. I’m into this Jennifer Behr in the topaz velvet for pairing with everything. I also love these braided ones, this suede one in the burgundy, and this corduroy one.

+A great kitchen runner for this season. (Has an anti-slip back!)

+I’m kind of obsessing over new-to-me label Autumn Adeigbo. This top is insanely cute and this dress is adorable (and like 70% off).

+We are hosting a little fall party for the neighborhood (Mr. Magpie smoking a pork butt to make pulled pork!) in a week, and I bought these adorable lanterns to string up with twine between the trees and these affordable gingham tablecloths for the event.

+Target has some really cute boots for little girls at the moment — love these floral Doc Marten-inspired ones (imagine with cableknit tights << these are THE best; I buy ever year! and a little jumper), these Western ones, and these lugsoles (they look like the Native Treklites!)

+And you can match with her in these!

+I straight up love this Anine Bing “Paris” sweatshirt, and also this Frame one, but you can get the look for less with this ASOS steal.

+This cropped cord jacket in the khaki color would look so cute over a fall dress.

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12 thoughts on “In the Quiet and Bare.

  1. Jen – to the extent you are up for the challenge, can you make this into a downloadable backdrop (for phones or computers) = maybe with the winter imagery and the quote? Im’ not sure but I want to keep this sentiment close to me as I so so so resonate with it.

  2. These words were much needed today! I’m at a different stage of womanhood. Struggling terribly with menopause while juggling my career, my marriage and new role as caregiver for my elder mom. Trying to navigate through this to discover new angles, strengths, and tenderness, but it is hard. Some days I feel so alone, overwhelmed and lacking patience.. Recently read a quote that resonated. When feeling shrouded by clouds and fog, remembering the sky is always blue. Onward we must go.

    1. Hi Anne – Thank you so much for sharing this. I am moved and stirred by how much more broadly applicable the concept of “wintering” is to so many different phases of life, as you and other Magpies have commented here. I am so sorry you are feeling alone (you are not, as these comments attest!) but hoping this imagery helps, or at least provides an alternate narrative or visual to the current state of affairs. Sending you love.


  3. Our kids aren’t babies anymore (sob) but I’m having similar feelings. We’re about a week into potty training our younger daughter and I was just whining to my husband that I feel like I’ll never be able to go anywhere again! Or be able to let down my guard and just relax in my own home. My brain knows this is temporary but it’s hard not to feel like this is just how we live now, staying near to a bathroom at all times! It’s so hard to be patient with all the false alarms, and the accidents late in the day when we thought we’d finally made it accident-free. On top of that, we’re trying to get the oldest out of pull ups at night, and just started using a pee alarm. I think we’re making progress but we’re still changing a lot of sheets in the night. I hear stories of kids who just “got it” or didn’t really have accidents, and it’s hard to fathom. Anyway, I’m here with the other moms feeling isolated! Someday we’ll be on the other side 🙂

    1. Oh man, Stephanie – your comment really resonated with me. I have always felt like a black sheep amongst my mom crew when it comes to a) getting my children to sleep through the night and b) toilet training. Both have been long, long, long, long processes, whereas most of my friends have moved through them with aplomb and success. The toilet training was particular agony with my daughter — it took so long! And they say not to “go back to diapers” once you’ve started, and so you’re just like “whoops, did I try to early? Oh well, hang on tight, we’re stuck here for the next six months.” It is arduous. You will get to the other end, but I completely empathize with your sentiments. I agree that “leaning into the hibernation” during this period is sort of the right way to think about it, though I came to this revelation late.


      1. Yes! Our first go round was also looooong and frustrating! So much so that I’ve been dreading starting again. These strong-willed little people are v resistant to my suggestions to “just go try.” Thanks for commiserating!

        1. An involuntary shudder went through me — “just go try.” Ah! It’s too close to home. Yes, can commiserate on this subject for hours.

  4. This message also resonates for those of us that are still single while most of our friends aren’t, and when we don’t wish to be. Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. I needed this this morning! I am coming out of a stretch of a few days of either sickness or teething with a 6 month old. I love the line “I was discovering new angles, new strengths, new tendernesses that I had never before seen in myself.” thank you!

    1. Hi Sarah – I’m so glad this reached you at the right moment. The teething stretches can be so bumpy – and it is SO familiar to me to muddle through a string of days wondering, second-guessing, whether they might be sick, or it’s just teething, or it’s a sleep regression, or ? Hang in there, friend. xx

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