Musings + Essays

On Loosening Expectations.

By: Jen Shoop

I am in two books clubs and let me tell you — there has been close to nil reading happening in my house over the past few weeks. It’s not that I’m in a book rut. I’m reading interesting books — books I’m excited about, including this Ann Patchett! — but I find myself in one of those phases where I need to just close my eyes at the end of the day, or glaze over while watching one of my comfort shows for a few minutes before drifting into sleep, and I cannot marshal the faintest of energy to open my Kindle instead. At the same time, I find the prospect of not finishing a book before its appointed book club convening disproportionately unsettling. Do you remember the movie Casper with Christina Ricci? In it, there is a lot of talk about ghosts having “unfinished business” and the notion was delivered with such gravity that I remember turning it over with concern in bed at night as a girl. What did it mean, “unfinished business”? There was an air of the sinister about it. (Did I have any to worry about?) Now, I get it. The specter of an unfinished book, or an item not checked off my list, will trail me throughout my day, clouding an otherwise productive afternoon. In a certain sense, this solicitousness is a gift: I attribute no small measure of my successes in life (even the most trivial of achievements, like a hitch-free day trip to Brooklyn for which I’d packed my diaper bag perfectly) to over-preparation and dedication to detail. But in another sense: ugh. It is difficult to unwind myself from the minutiae that do not really matter.

This month, an alternative path materialized. I released myself from the expectation of finishing the books on time. I elected to pass on participating in my book clubs for the next month or two — maybe through the summer. It seems outrageously obvious typing it out here, but I am such a rule follower that I had previously not even considered it an option (!)

So I’m just here to say that if you are also contorting yourself or your evenings to accommodate something that should be fun, or that is elective, or that ranks trivial compared to other responsibilities, you can also give yourself permission to opt out for the time being. It is temporary. There is a Rilke quote that many of you Magpies have shared with me over the course of my writing this blog: “just keep going / no feeling is final.” We usually cluster around this quote when sitting with heavinesses and complexities that feel undigestable at the time: his are words that permit us to feel whatever we need to feel, to own the full gamut of emotions that the current situation elicits. I am not going through anything heavy (actually the contrary: happy! but frenetic), yet I find myself also warming my hands around the concept that this situation is temporary, and that none of its exhaustions or stressors are “final.” We will soon be on the other side, less busy, more situated, and life, and its book clubs, will resume.


Other things you might need to hear today…

+You are enough.

+You are change.

+Never grow a wishbone where a tailbone ought to be.

+Weaning is hard. Thinking of all my mamas struggling with breastfeeding at the moment. Thinking so much of you. Sometimes you don’t want to hear “fed is best.” Sometimes you want everything to just work out. I am rooting for you.

+”Not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry.”

+A la Rilke: “It is OK to feel your way through things, to find yourself landing on different sides of the coin, to live in a semi-permanent state of ambivalence.”

+If you are in any way “in the arena”: think of the howling wolves.

Shopping Break.

And for lighter fare…

+Always a best seller in summertime: these Hermes Oran lookalikes.

+This adorable pearl-handled wicker bag was just restocked ($20!), as is this under-$50 style — both sold out a week or two ago but are back!

+A chic way to get the layered gold necklace look for less if it’s not an everyday style for you. If you would wear it closer to daily, might be worth investing in one of these crazy chic Aligheri necklaces. (I love the idea of these necklaces with a saucy black dress for date night.)

+More fun jewelry for summer.

+And some date night at home ideas here.

+This button-down is a good way to liven up your white work shirt collection. (Would make even a black pencil skirt look interesting!)

+Discovered this outrageously chic new label from Natalie. This lemon dress is so good, too!

+Floral sandals for your little lady.

+Everyone’s favorite peplum rash guard for littles.

+Ric rac trim espadrilles!

+Round wicker dog bed!

+SunnyLife makes cute life jackets for littles if you have access to a boat this summer! (This one is a unicorn!)

+OK, cutest picnic basket ever ever ever.

+Great blouse. More great summer blouses here.

+A fun, under-$200 wedding guest dress. Even more wedding guest dress options under $230 here.

+Love this trunk-style coffee table (on sale). So smart for a small space! Game storage, etc.

+This candle has been tres popular, as have these earrings.

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6 thoughts on “On Loosening Expectations.

  1. This really resonates with me! I am similar in the sense that I am a rule follower to a T, and take obligations extremely seriously … but sometimes I bring on stress when it isn’t necessary at all. Thank you for the reminder that it’s OK to opt out from time to time! 🙂


    1. We are definitely twins in this regard — I know we’ve shared similar experiences in the past!! Always have to remind myself of this.


  2. SO much yes to this sentiment of loosening expectations, especially over the last 16 months! I remember back in March sending text messages to several mom friends — “We made it through one year of pandemic parenting! High five!” This past year I’ve really tried to prioritize certain things and let go of other things — to not sweat the small stuff. Most recently though I had to remind myself of this again, as my daughter caught some kind of illness (not COVID, thankfully) and was particularly clingy this past week. I let go of “dedicated” time for solo exercise, simplified our meals significantly, and just embraced the idea of lots of extra snuggles.

    1. Thanks for this note, Mia. I actually really needed to hear this today despite writing this post just last week. I’m sitting here in my running clothes, frantically trying to calculate how much time I have to work before I can squeeze in a run in order to accommodate afternoon plans and I just realized — you know what? It’s too much. Lean into the fact that you cannot get everything done, take a few things off your plate, and move on.

      Thank you.


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