My Other Heartbeat.

By: Jen Shoop

I first saw you in the face of my many baby dolls and first heard you in the cries of my three baby sisters.

While my friends talked about “playing house,” my sisters and I always referred to it as “playing mother,” because “home” was shorthand for “mom” and our mom was the center and circumference of our world. I loved to pretend to be her. I even called my little sisters “the girls,” just the way she did, even though I was technically one of them from her vantage. I loved to carry my baby sister Eleanor around, though she was over half my height, and I grew deft at bribing her into getting dressed in the mornings — a task I owned and loved, especially since no one else seemed to be as effective at it as I was — because these ministrations made me feel like my mom. I absorbed my mother’s gestures, too — the way she wiped down the counter in big swirls, the way she wrote in loopy cursive in her planner at her desk, the way she removed her left earring to cradle the telephone and finished every phone call with an “mmm — buh-bye.” I admired the way she talked to her own mother on the telephone, often while perched on the edge of her bed, or looking absently out her bedroom window, across the gray stoned patio of our home, discussing plans to play golf at the club together, or news of her siblings, or the excellent roast chicken she’d had out to dinner with my father. I would stand in the doorframe, tracing my fingers up the wall, listening to her and longing to be her.

For many summers, I worked as a mother’s helper, and then a baby-sitter, and then a nanny for various family friends and relatives — and I saw you in many of those children I cared for. I was especially fond of a little girl named Caroline and her little brother Tom, and I spent countless hours of my teenage years playing “monster” with them in the basement, cutting up grapes and peanut butter sandwiches for them in their kitchen, telling them stories long after I knew their parents wanted them to be asleep. I loved to spoil them. I snuck them extra goldfish and surprised them with toys borrowed from my own little sisters and permitted them that extra few minutes at the playground, though I was deeply responsible and felt the pinch of anxiety as I calculated just how late we’d be in getting home. I loved when Caroline would ask me to tuck her in and beg for an extra story about “Daniel and Tyler,” two semi-fictitious characters that peopled stories I’d told my sister Elizabeth since she was three years old and we had started sharing a bedroom. I saw glimpses of you in Caroline, and in the infectious way she threw her head back with abandon when laughing, and in the startled wideness of her eyes when I’d tell her a scary story — and, mainly, in the way I wanted to protect and care for her.

When Mr. Magpie asked what I wanted to do in life when we had just started dating, I said, without hesitation: “Be a mom.” And I saw you then, too, in a realer sense, because I knew from close to the moment I met him that Mr. Magpie was The One for me and that, God willing, he’d be the father to my children, too.

In short, my love, I waited my whole entire life for you.

Your birth was a shock, but then there was you. My smart, beautiful, brave, kind little you. I can’t quite fathom how we’ve gone from our first embrace on the hospital gurney as I was wheeled out of the operating room around 8 a.m. on March 5, 2017 to the way you leaned into my arms at Church this past Sunday to say “Mama?” — your eyes searching mine — “I love you.” Unprompted, sincere, pure — and startlingly capable. You are a familiar lump in my throat. And I still can’t believe you are mine, even though I know you better than the back of my own hand. I know you from your stubborn cowlick to the tips of your toes and can read your mood from across the playground.

But yesterday, as you scooted home from school, the clouds parted and rain spattered our faces. “Oh no, mama,” you said. “This is a problem.” Your precociousness caused three gruff-looking men in hardhats to laugh out loud, and the exchange left me both tickled and curious, as I puzzled over the provenance of that phrase. It didn’t sound like something your dad or I would say. And it dawned on me then, as it has with increasing frequency since you started school, that your growing up means sharing you with the world and all its many people. There was a time not long ago that I was usually able to piece together the seeming non-sequiturs of your logic — like why you said you saw ducklings while crossing Fifth Ave on the way to the doctor a few weeks back, and why you connected our dining room with my diamond ring. But now some of you is beyond my ken, and I’ve got to make peace with that.

There’s a phrase about having children — that it’s like walking around with your heart outside your body. And that is true. But for the past three years, it’s also felt like walking around with two hearts inside my body, because I feel every wound and injury you bear and your existence is so engrained in my own that it almost feels like you are an extension of me. It’s going to be tough to let you go off on your own with increasing measures of independence and self-direction, to accept that there will be times when your heart is beating all on its own, outside of my embrace and supervision.

Thank God we’ve got time before the teenage years.

In the meantime, my other heartbeat, just know I love absolutely all of you.

Post-Scripts: Mini’s Peter Rabbit Themed Third Birthday.

I’ve shared bits and pieces of our plans for mini’s birthday over the past few weeks, but we had sprinkle-flecked waffles (I’m obsessed with this overnight waffle recipe), balloons, and birthday hats for breakfast on her actual birthday and I surprised her with a cupcake when I picked her up from school. We opened up presents, called grandparents, and enjoyed pizza and cucumber (her request) followed by more cupcakes for dinner. She wore her cone birthday hat for three straight days, and we didn’t have the heart to discourage it.

For her birthday party, we went with a Peter Rabbit theme. I had initially commissioned Kate Chambers to do custom invitations like these for the party, but the turnaround time proved too long (I’d waited maybe a week too long to get that organized, it turned out), so I went with these boxed invitations, which were absolutely precious, too!

Mini wore this dress, these knee socks, this hairbow in the taupe color (actually more like lavender), and these shoes in the gold (what a steal!) I also just discovered these well-priced, perforated leather Mary Janes that must be mini’s this spring! Micro wore this precious striped bubble, which had Peter Rabbit vibes to it. And I wore this dress and these Lele earrings in blue.

We hired Juliette & Ella’s Playdate to lead a 45-minute music and movement class — and they were excellent. Cannot recommend more for moms in Manhattan! We served bagels, lox, and cream cheese from UWS institution Barney Greengrass as well as a gin-based punch (served out of a gorgeous old-fashioned waterford punch bowl from my parents!) to the parents and fruit, vegetables, and pre-smeared bagels cut into little wedges and placed in Peter Rabbit cupcake liners and arranged on melamine bunny and gingham printed plates* for the children. I organized the children’s food on top of mini’s play table, which I’d covered with this gingham throw and decorated with this felt garden set, this concertina card (which is actually a card, but served as the perfect little table decor!), this stuffed animal, and these bunny napkins. I also filled these adorable carrot treat boxes with Annie’s bunny crackers and presented them in wicker basket and set out a dish of Peter Rabbit fruit pouches for the littler babies. I had a tray of these inexpensive sippy cups filled with water or milk, which for whatever reason seemed to be a big hit (what is it about kids wanting to drink out of other kids’ sippy cups?). For dessert, we had mini cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens — the absolute best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted in my life, which is saying a lot because I used to live close to Baked & Wired in Georgetown. They are so good that I made a special trip to the East Side to get them, as they don’t deliver (gasp!). I decorated the cupcakes with these cupcake picks.

I pretty much bought out the entire Meri Meri Peter Rabbit party decor collection, as we also had this garland up in the archway that separates the front hall from the living room, where we moved the coffee table out of the way and held the music/movement “class.” I’d filled that room with these “matte chalk” finish balloons in shades of aqua, teal, and blue after an agonizing hour of filling them with air using this hand pump. Tying the balloons is particularly hard work — yikes. At any rate, back to Meri Meri: we used these plates for the kids and these (larger) ones for the parents, and had tons of these cups and napkins on hand, though we tried to serve all of the parents out of glassware, as it’s just nicer (especially when serving a fancy punch!)

Finally, I gave out goody bags using these bags. This was a misstep, as I’d intended to fill each with one of these board books, a sheet of these stickers, a package of these crisps, and bunny gummies. I feel like sometimes you just end up with a bunch of little knick knacks that no one needs and so — though I was tempted to go all out with various little Peter Rabbit add-ons — I was determined to stick to 1 book, 1 sticker sheet, and some snacks for the goody bags. Only the books didn’t fit in the bags! AH. Oh well. I filled in the empty space in the bag with a sheet of blue tissue paper and voila.

For mini’s birthday, we gave her a Meri Meri superhero set (she loves dressing up), some books and art supplies (she was especially excited about having her own smock), a Frozen Barbie (easily her favorite gift), a set of dinosaurs and dinosaur books (she is really into them at the moment), and a “flute.” (One of her friends has a recorder and she will NOT PART WITH IT when they play together — she is always asking for it. It is one of the most annoying sounds on earth, though…) Our hope is to try to get her something to read, something artsy, something musical, and then one or two toys each birthday. I really wanted to get her this beautiful set of dinosaurs, but by the time I found it, it wouldn’t have arrived on time. We also discussed getting her a Banwood bike but decided to wait just a little longer — maybe for Christmas this year? — as we are just now retiring the stroller and getting her to use her scooter more often. (I realize this is maybe a little late to get her out of a stroller, but it’s a pretty long walk from the subway to her school and sometimes it’s hard to pack in 3x as much time to accommodate her dawdling pace. Just a few days after her third birthday, she informed us she wanted to scoot to school from now on, and she’s been doing GREAT! Huge, huge milestone for us as we no longer need to schlep her stroller up and down subway stairs!) For reference, she has this scooter and wears a ladybug helmet, which always draws a lot of compliments.

She received so many incredible gifts for her birthday that I’ll need to share some in a separate post on what she likes most as a three year old. I have quietly withdrawn a few of her gifts and stowed them in her closet for a rainy day. (Shhh!) But a few standouts at the moment are this magnetic dress up set, this flamingo balancing game, furniture and accessories for her Maileg mice including a dining table, chairs, and food (SO CUTE), and puzzles! She also flipped out over an umbrella her babysitter gave her! We’ll be sending out thank you notes on this stationery.

WHEW. Just reading this back, I realize how much thought and preparation went into her birthday, but my mom always made our birthdays special, and I’m committed to doing the same for my own little other heartbeat.

*I am obsessed with these melamine plates — just ordered more! They are so sweet and great for serving children! I’m impressed with the quality. Perfect for Easter and beyond.

P.S. Time is truly a thief.

P.P.S. I love my diaper bag.

P.P.P.S. Perfect dress for a mama-to-be!

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13 thoughts on “My Other Heartbeat.

  1. I really related this post, though personally I never connected with the idea of being a mother and it was not something I ever dreamt, or even really thought, about. When I had my daughter, it was shocking how naturally being a mom came to me (albeit after a few weeks!) and how much I enjoy it even now. I find myself being so empathetic towards children and finding joy in them, whereas I never thought about that before and wasn’t even sure it was possible. Sometimes my heart breaks just looking at children and I’m sure I look like a super creepo smiling at strange kids.

    Also yeah, huge party goals. Great work! It looks like it was a lot of fun!

    1. I TOTALLY know what you mean. Do you ever find yourself smiling at a child / listening happily to her conversation with her mother and longing to tell the parent — “I’m not being creepy! I have two at home!! I promise!” All the time for me. Sometimes I just blurt it out — “I have a three year old at home too!”


  2. YES to Two Little Red Hens. My sister bought me some for my birthday a few years ago and I still remember how good they were. I also LOVE Baked & Wired (went to Georgetown for college + med school). I have some similarities to you for locations lived because I also used to live near Columbus Circle.. Magnolia on ~70th is also very good for cupcakes.

  3. Such an adorable, moving post — happy birthday to mini!

    I love hearing about how you planned for her party. My mom also put so much effort into our birthday parties growing up; it was so sweet and very much appreciated. You are a wonderful mother!


  4. So much of this resonated with me. I also try to do birthday parties with the special details I remember my mom doing for me. And I frequently say to my girls, “I’m so glad I get to be your mom.” Recently, my five-year-old looked up at me and said, “I’m so glad, too” and I just thought my heart would explode. And especially now as they’re getting bigger (my oldest is now seven and a half!) I am just blown away by the idea that they are mine and yet they are each so totally and completely their own person and I love them so big. It just makes my heart itch.

    1. Yes — totally! It’s such a tender sense of frisson, both being proud of who Emory is on her own and also fiercely connected and devoted to her and wanting her all to myself. Ha! Love all your thoughts here. So sweet. I need to hear this stuff this weekend!!


    1. Thank you so much! Yes! This is from the Death & Co cocktail book, Mr. Magpie’s bible:


      12 white sugar cubes
      8 oz club soda
      6 oz Tanqueray No 10 Gin
      2 oz aperol
      2 oz grapefruit juice
      2 oz lemon juice
      4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
      GARNISH: 6 grapefruit crescents

      In a pitcher, muddle sugar cubes with 4 oz club soda until the sugar is fully broken up. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the remaining club soda) and fill the pitcher three-quarters full with ice cubes. Stir until cold, then strain into a punch bowl over 1 large block of ice. Top with the remaining 4 oz of club soda. Garnish with the grapefruit crescents and serve with a ladle and punch glasses.


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