Musings + Essays

Mothers and Daughters.

By: Jen Shoop

The other day, I was sprinting along an alleyway that cuts through a city block between 63rd and 64th streets, attempting to shave off a minute or two of transit time as I hastily ran errands in between nursing my son and writing. The alleyway is home to the side entrance of an apartment building on 64th, and there was a car stalled in front of it, occupying nearly the breadth of the alley. I noticed a woman about my mother’s age sliding into its backseat, looking wistfully over her shoulder. On the curb stood a young mother cradling an infant who couldn’t have been older than three or four days. And that young mother was weeping.

I knew, in an instant, what was happening:

This new mother was saying goodbye to her own mother as she set out to care for her newborn daughter on her own.

My heart constricted. Her tears and the need and concern and helplessness I saw in them felt like well-worn grooves in a track I used to travel. I had the decency to avert my eyes, but I longed to say something to that new mom, to that echo of my former self.

New motherhood is dizzying. It is a glut, a surfeit of — well, everything. There is so much — too much — to keep track of and experience all at once. It’s like running a marathon while reading a book and solving a math problem and balancing a ball on your nose and often while attempting to make it look effortless and beautiful. Drink enough water. Vitamin D drops. How much did she eat, and was that at 2 pm or 3 pm? I can’t remember when she last pooped. Doctor’s appointments. Should I be reading to her? Medication schedules. Sterilizing bottles, washing them. How long was her last snooze? Can I give her a pacifier or is that a no-no? Must order more diapers, a size up. Is it OK that she made that noise? Judy is taking her daughter to music classes already? A whole day went by and I don’t think I sang to her once. The Smiths are stopping by at 11. Should I pump now, or wait? Nanny interviews. Is it normal that I am still passing clots? Swaddling. Re-swaddling. Is she too hot or too cold? 2 scoops formula for every 60 oz of water. Shouldn’t I have lost more weight by now? Birth announcements. Pain in my left breast — what is mastitis again? Did her SSN card get lost in the mail? 40th percentile of weight. Google “jaundice.” Can a baby choke on milk?

My mother carried at least half the burden of these frets during my inaugural two weeks as a mother myself. She taught me many things during those early days, but above all reminded me, in her every word and gesture, of the high standard for motherhood she has modeled my entire life — one to which I continuously and assiduously aspire, even and especially now, two and a half years later — and that standard is all above patience and love.

“This too shall pass,” she said to me, on many occasions.

“It’s a phase,” she would remind me.

But also: “Isn’t she perfect?” and “Ohhh, how sweet,” and all of the tenured mom cooing and crooning that at first felt performative when it came out of my own mouth but that I now find myself reflexively echoing with my second child, all on my own, without her here to model them for me.

But mainly — above all the fracas of infant care, said directly to me

“I love you.”

How do we survive new motherhood without our own mothers, be they near or far, in this world or the next, down the street or across the country?

I am an extension of my mother’s gestures: her expressions, her instincts are folded in with my own. And I lean on her and all I have inherited from her every day, often subconsciously, often without acknowledgement. Witnessing this tender moment of intergenerational exchange between strangers — one mother’s departure so soon after the arrival of new daughter, one generation removed — and observing the unguarded overflow of love between them brought this to the foreground.

Thank you, mom.

P.S. Aren’t we lucky to be children? and more on my mother.

Post Scripts.

+This floral dress for a little one is gorgeous.

+Per my post on what to wear to a wedding this summer, I selected this one (more sizes here) for the nuptials I’ll be attending next weekend.

+Clever seating solution for small outdoor spaces.

+Loving this double-breasted trench dress situation. I actually have a similar one in heathered navy tweed by Veronica Beard that I like to wear with black tights, black turtleneck, and black pumps in the winter. Tres chic ca.

+Speaking of Veronica Beard: loving this elevated staple (pair with jeans and be on your way) and this major leopard moment.

+These collapsible fabric storage bins have been my BFFs for years now. The greatest way to organize out-of-season clothing in a closet, if you have the space. In my old Chicago home, I bought a dozen of these and had them all lined up on the top shelf, and I’d use a few for sweaters, a few for jeans, etc. So easy and tidy.

+I absolutely love this hand wash. We have it in our guest bathroom and I purposefully use it to wash my hands just for the soap. I’m also drawn to the medicinal-style branding. (This is also chic for a similar masculine aesthetic — for about half the price.)

+Speaking of bathrooms: check out this powder room.

+I like the rise, wash, and distressing on these jeans (under $100 — mom, don’t look; you’ll hate them). I’d pair them with refined pieces, like the perfect pointed toe flats (part of my shoe spree roundup) and an elegant blouse.

+Lately: the postpartum edition.

+Have I mentioned how much I love this sleepsack/swaddle thing for micro? It’s helped him sleep much, much better. He just sized out of the smallest size and I immediately ordered the next size up. (Thanks, Jen, for the rec.) This was just one of the new-to-me baby items I have been loving with micro!

+Dying over this pretty $113 dress!

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10 thoughts on “Mothers and Daughters.

  1. Jen, I love clicking to your past posts and catching up on these reflections. What a quick — but deep — moment of observation and empathy you’ve described here.

    My daughter was born in 2020, so I spent so much of the first 2 weeks of her life (often crying) on the phone with my mother. It will always be so deeply sad to me that my mom couldn’t be with me for my daughter’s birth, and didn’t meet her for a full six months. (My daughter is named for her!) Your note about your mother saying, directly to you, “I love you,” reminds me that whenever we now visit my far-away family, or my mother comes to visit us, she says, “I love my granddaughter, but I want to see *you*, *my* daughter.” I see lots of grandparents seemingly divert all of their attention and affection to the grandchildren, and my mother never fails to see *me*. No one loves you like a mother. <3

    1. I love this — my mom is the same way. I specifically remember when she came into the recovery room after I’d delivered my second baby, and I saw her eyes go immediately to the baby, and then she shook her head and came straight over to me: she needed to give ME the hug first :).

      Moms are the best.


  2. This post (and comments) brought tears to my eyes. It’s beautifully written — thank you!

    Love that Self-Portrait dress, too 🙂


  3. I read this post in conjunction with today’s on regrets. For my mom’s birthday this year, I offered to take my mom on a trip just the two of us. We have never done one and just booked our flights (to Portugal!)!
    All I want is more time with her, so in lieu of gifts for birthdays and holidays, I bought her flight. I can’t wait! I haven’t traveled internationally since I was pregnant with my first, and as my third turns one in a few weeks… it’s time! Wanted to share this as an idea of something you could do with your mom (and sisters), when you get to a more settled place as a mama of two – it takes time, but how worth it?!

    1. I love this. LOVE. I would have such a great time. Tucking this idea away confidently for future use.


  4. This brought me to tears as I lost my mom 7 years ago. My kids were nearly 7 and 4 when she passed but oh my how I could use her now as I navigate the teen years with my daughter. I never knew how much I would miss her. There are times when I wake up in the night with this awful physical ache just missing her.

    1. My heart. Oh, Sharon — I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry you have to navigate the teenage years without your mom, although I am sure she is guiding you in more ways than you realize! Thinking of you today. xx

  5. This made me cry as I wait for my train this morning. My mom died a few months before my son was born and we never really got to talk about him beyond discussing names. I’m lucky that I have an amazing mother-in-law who lives close to us, but I just feel so jealous of mom, tenured or new, who have their own mothers to lean on!!

    1. Sarah — Oh! My heart goes out to you and to Sharon above. I am thinking of you and hoping you take comfort in the fact that your mom is alive in your interactions with your son. I see my mom in myself all the time, but especially as a parent. I’m so deeply sorry for your loss. xxx

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