By: Jen Shoop

A few nights ago, I was dancing in the kitchen with my son in my arms — his head tilted back in joy, a smile stretching across his face. My daughter found us:

“Now my turn, mama – now my turn!”

I told her she was too big to be carried, but she persisted:

“My turn, can I have a turn?”

My daughter is a newly-minted seven-going-on-seventeen-year-old, and knows how to huff and eye roll and stamp her feet with the best of them, often responding to my husband and I with a sarcastic “…really?”,

and the other day I poked my head out the front door to call her for dinner,

and didn’t recognize her shape in the neighbor’s yard.

She was wearing her new flared leggings (a specific, passionate request) with a braid down her back, and it was the first time I’d misplaced her figure.

In the hospital, bleary the day after she was born, I had panicked to Mr. Magpie after the nurses had taken her out of the room to the nursery so that I could try to close my eyes: “What if I don’t recognize her?” He assured me that all the bassinets were marked, and added:

“Are you kidding? You’d know that cry anywhere, already.”

He was right, of course. I could pick her sound out of a million near-identicals. Her smell, too. The way she runs. Her rippling laugh. The shape of her toes.

But I’d looked across the yard, and not recognized her for a split-second, and I think this mis-sighting blurred my vision for a spell,

Because that night we were dancing in the kitchen, after she pawed at my shirt for a turn, I sat down on the couch and pulled her into my arms and bounced her on my knees and tickled her arms and swung her back and forth in my lap,

and she laughed and laughed,

and I saw her at 1, and 3, and 5,

and as a newborn in a hospital bassinet —

all the versions of her, returned to me, as though a matryoshka doll unlidded —

and I realized that she is still my baby girl, still needing to be tickled and held and swung around in my arms. She is seven. She believes in Santa, and wonders whether her dolls get up to mischief when her back is turned, and lays her head on my shoulder while I read to her at night. Only seven. I can’t let her posturing as an older girl, modeled on the teens who baby sit her, and the fact that my husband and I are often mired in conversations about rule-setting and reinforcements, obscure this truth:

She is little, and she needs love in the big ways, but in the little ways, too.

She needs not only boundaries and homework reminders and “what do you think?” conversations but impromptu back rubs and hand squeezes and fingers-running-through-hair. We say “I love you” ad infinitum in our house — several times a day, at least — but I had forgotten that she can still fit on my lap, and be swayed back and forth, and that she craves these tendernesses, too.

There is a possibly apocryphal haiku attributed to the Japanese poet Basho that runs:

To quiet down

the unsettled heart

of the daughter

A beautiful portrait of motherhood, isn’t? A piece of it, at least — one glinting prism of the stained glass composite: the centricity, the purposefulness, of a mother’s quieting presence. Today I sit here and think:

How many nights did I rock my girl to sleep? How many mornings did I carry her, plastered to my chest, in her carrier? How lucky I am to have her still seeking umbrage in my arms, and how snugly she fits.

Post Scripts.

+We carry all the ages of our children inside.

+Even so, it can be hard to say goodbye to each phase.

+The saltings of motherhood.

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+Pretty tiered linen maxi from Boden – love the Liberty floral trim.

+FUN spring/summer bag from J. Crew. While you’re there: they just released a gauze button-down and we all need it in white.

+A bag from seasons past that I regret not snagging: the Khaite Amelia. You can get the vibe for less with this Demellier or this Pam Munson.

+Love this scalloped stepping stool in a girl’s room / bathroom.

+A lovely hostess gift. I also just ordered these lemon coasters to give as a hostess gift! Another (less expensive) go-to: this peach hot honey.

+The chicest little hand cream.

+The Outnet has some fabulous event-ready dresses for spring: this for a cocktail or garden party, this for black tie, this for preppy-leaning outdoor gathering (dress up/down!)

+Spanx’s AirEssentials half-zip is a great transition-to-spring staple. I love the yellow color!

+Cheerful play dress for a little lady.

+Can’t stop thinking about these fun sunglasses for summer…

+Lake just released children’s birthday pajamas! So cute.

+The actual cutest backpack I’ve ever seen for a little.

+For my scent enclave girlies: what are we thinking about these punchy scents from Jo Malone, like Yuzu Zest and Sunlit Cherimoya?

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26 thoughts on “Matryoshka.

  1. “How many nights did I rock my girl to sleep? How many mornings did I carry her, plastered to my chest, in her carrier? How lucky I am to have her still seeking umbrage in my arms, and how snugly she fits.”

    This is so beautiful. I only have a 10 month old and am tearing up!

  2. I was not able to have children. I know of what you speak though. I am the oldest of 7 siblings and three of my siblings blessed me with being one of their children’s godmother. One of my godsons lives in a different country so I am not able to see him too often. The other a goddaughter and godson are going to be 21 and 18 in the next coming weeks. It just seems like yesterday that I was tending to my goddaughter as my sister was recovering from cancer and I used to take my godson to a parent and child preschool as my other sister had other children to tend. The preschool this godson attended had a “Parent” attend with the child–so that was me for two years.
    In earlier years I was a “parent” to my younger siblings. So I have seen my siblings hit milestones too.
    In the last few years we have lost both parents and that is a loss that is hard on each one of us.

    1. Wow – what a loving sister and aunt you are! Those must be such special, treasured relationships for your nieces and nephews.

      I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your parents — sending you love.


  3. This one hit me in a particularly tender spot and I’ve been sitting with it for the last day . Our daughter is likely to be our only child (despite our fervent wishes otherwise). So I frequently find myself fighting the quickly passing days/weeks/months and thinking, “it’s all going too fast! I don’t get to do this again!” and missing how snugly I used to be able to cradle her in my arms. But then I see her still chubby hands or how tiny she still looks when her dad is holding her, and how every age and stage is my new favorite and I realize that she’ll always be my baby, even when she’s old and gray. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to worry— every version of her is indelibly imprinted on my heart.

    1. Oh Iris! Sending you love – you absolutely will carry all her ages with you. I find that so reassuring, too.

      Thanks for chiming in.

      Motherhood is a surfeit!!


  4. Jen, this pulled at my heartstrings like no other! Especially this:

    “and I saw her at 1, and 3, and 5,

    and as a newborn in a hospital bassinet —

    all the versions of her, returned to me, as though a matryoshka doll unlidded —

    and I realized that she is still my baby girl…”

    Yes to all of this!
    My daughter is 6 and one moment will act so mature with her big words (“Mama, it was mesmerizing!” Ummm, what?!) and the next moment will make a specific request to “hold her like when she was a baby”, close to my chest so I can sniff her head. The fact that she smells the same as she did when she was a baby (we’ve always used the Weleda baby calendula line) is such a grounding sensory experience for me.

    Also, I’m still here hoping you someday publish a book of essays/short stories about motherhood. 😉

    1. Aw – I know – we use Mustela and Noodle and Boo and I have the same sensory reaction to them!

      Thank you so much for letting me know this touched you, and for your constant encouragement! I would love to publish a book one day…


  5. Once again, your musings bring tears to my eyes. The love you shower on your children will come back to you in spades. Our daughter is 30, lives and works in NYC and travels the world in her high- powered corporate job. But when she comes home to visit us she will often crawl into bed with me at night to watch TV and ask me to rub her back. I can’t tell you the joy this brings me.

    1. Hi Kate – What a lovely note — thank you so much. I love the image of your daughter crawling into bed with you — so special, so sweet. xx

  6. Jen, this one KILLED me!! When did they get too big to be carried? As my 6yo (often) says, it’s not fair! I’m definitely stealing extra squeezes from her, and honoring every “up” request from my 4yo while I still can. If anyone needs me today, I’ll be in the bed…

    1. Aw – I will admit to shedding several fat tears while writing. It is SO hard. Now snuggle that girlie!


    2. Stephanie—“ When did they get too big to be carried?” killed me in turn!! I’ve had some tough tough days lately with my 2 year old. Generally I’m the gentlest parent, but he’s putting himself in danger lately and I find my voice going shrill with high alert. I need to spend more time snuggled up with him, he’s big for his age (4-5 year old clothes already) and so verbal, but he’s so little too. I needed this reminder not to wish away today!

      1. Kelly, you captured my sentiments/instincts so well, too…my daughter is so independent, and opinionated, and mature, and sometimes I forget how young she really is! Since the night I described here, I’ve been much more mindful of showering her with physical affection.


  7. How beautifully written. This brought me to tears as I have two six year old girls myself. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, friend – I know you get it, then! I was telling a friend of mine that I expect so much (too much?) of my daughter, as she seems so mature and funny and knowing, but at the end of the day, she’s still SO little. She needs all the love and tenderness.


  8. So sweet, Jen. Even as a 28 year old, I still need my mom’s love and tenderness. Sitting next to her on the couch and resting my head on her shoulder or being on the receiving end of one of her hugs is still so comforting to me and makes me feel like everything will be okay.

    1. Amen – I agree. Sometimes I go to her and surprise myself by bursting into tears over something I didn’t even know was bothering me. I feel like I sometimes “hold it all in” until I’m with her.


    2. Sarah, I agree! I am 27 and read this thinking how I still call my mom when I need my heart settled. I love her so!

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