Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

I recently realized that I have grappled with an unarticulated impression that we are living an alternity right now, an otherness that is “getting in the way of” or somehow distinct from “real life.” How often do I say: “when things get back to normal…” or “whenever this is done…” or “post-COVID…”? And yet, spring has given way to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and winter, soon, to spring again. My children sprout with new abilities and awarenesses. Hill’s crawl disappeared into a wobbly totter months ago and now he lays claim to one speed only: a sprint. He loves lions and trucks. He has a preternatural sense for the clock turning 5:30 p.m., as he always rises from his play at that time, hooks his small hand in mind, and leads me to the door of mini’s bedroom so that I can pour him milk as he waits for me to prepare his dinner. Mini returns home from school singing “there was a man who had a dream / his name was Martin Luther King,” and calls “bon soir!” over her shoulder, and informs me that she is “painting a self-portrait” and that “‘bepectacles’ [spectacles] is another word for glasses,” and says, calmly, as I hover listlessly over the dining table speckled with puzzle pieces, abandoning one possible placement, “It’s OK, mama. Just try again.” I run in circles through Central Park, kneel to pray, spend too much money attempting to reverse time through elaborate skincare regimens, read outrageous or beautiful or smeh books, write outrageous or beautiful or smeh things, make the same five or six dinners my children will deign to eat at 5:30 p.m. every evening, laugh at text chains with my siblings, make a mockery of myself dancing to The Freeze Dance Song for the amusement of my children, make eyes at Mr. Magpie at 4:09 p.m. on Saturday afternoons (“but how will we ever get to bedtime?!”), sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the soft darkness of my daughter’s bedroom, tut over the current state of affairs with fellow parents in the school drop-off line, text girlfriends who have just given birth, tamper with the way I organize and conceptualize my day, call my mother while I walk Tilly at 7:15 p.m. — not so much to say anything of specific importance, but because the gesture and connection means everything, belabor dinner delivery options, dodge detritus and unsavoriness on the sidewalks and subways of New York City, watch entire series of television, make small-talk with the doorman, toast to minor successes and celebrations, acquire and manipulate new words, cry on Mr. Magpie’s shoulder from the challenge and stress and over-a-year-long absence of my mother’s arms around me, agonize over parenting decisions, FaceTime siblings and parents and friends, linger over puzzles, restock our pantry and medicine cabinet with alacrity, relish Mr. Magpie’s extraordinary culinary skills, and navigate the bric-a-brac of parenting and the colossal load of household admin, which has somehow only intensified in the wake of this world-stopping, time-bending pandemic.

That is to say – I continue to live my life. The pandemic has constricted its latitude in various ways, but not, as it turns out, in one of the ways that matters most: I still move through my days capable of the same wide spray of emotions. I laugh at Ted Lasso and memes from my sister and mini’s deadpan “was that a duck?” after my son breaks wind; I cry when the son dies in Hamnet and when a girlfriend calls with heartbreaking news and when Mr. Magpie, prompted by a Table Topics for Kids card asking “what is happiness?”, explains to my two small children: “Happiness is finding your perfect match and making her your wife.”

I am not living an alternity, or a rehearsal, or a dressing room. I am living, to quote HRH Mary Oliver, “my one wild and precious life.”



+So strange to revisit posts from early on into the pandemic. Can barely read them — they give me heartburn.

+More Mary Oliver richness here and here and here.

+If poetry is a bit too far afield for you to read, can I recommend her excellent, quiet, observant book of essays?! Spectacular.

+These are the aforementioned Table Topics cards — a welcome diversion during the long dinner hour. Highly recommend! Mini loved them!

+My favorite footwear investment in 2020. I wear these nearly everyday while commuting with mini to school. Warm, waterproof, and I dig the style.

+Cutest rosebud bubble.

+In my cart for Hill’s spring wardrobe.

+Adorable sippy cup. Other cute prints available, too!

+This tote!!!

+PSA: Westman Atelier is now carried by Sephora, in case you’re a VIB and want to rack up points there (plus, they currently offer free shipping). I’m obsessed with their foundation stick, blush stick, and highlighter. 10/10 would recommend all three.

+Gorgeous dress — perfect shade of blue, and with a perfectly oversized bow to boot.

+I think we all ordered the same adorable (well priced) personalized cards. I actually got ours done up with just our last name: “SHOOP!” So fun!

+I also think we’re all looking for small ways to refresh our homes — this roundup of great pastel finds for kitchen was very popular.

+A Mango new arrival I missed the first go around — this trench in the muted green!

+This plaid rain coat is also super cute, though I’m still holding out for a Stutterheim the next time I need a new raincoat.

+Speaking of, there are a bunch of Stutterheim raincoats for men on super sale here in great colors. Contemplating buying the green or brown for my man.

+These are Mr. Magpie’s rain boots — a little more refined/less clunky than other styles I’ve seen.

+For children, I love the ones from Petit Bateau and TBBC (these are unlined, so better for warmer months). Gap sometimes has good ones, but not currently. I like the traditional styling of this $30 style from Amazon, too.

+More good rain gear.

+Pearl hair clips. I added these to my cart (for mini, or maybe myself…) for my next order of Palmolive and paper towels.

+Sensory play ideas for little ones.

+Chic bath mats!

+This post also brought to mind the pandemic musings here and here.

+If these aren’t the cutest overalls…

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25 thoughts on “Onward!

  1. I loved this post, Jen — thank you for capturing what it feels like to live right now, as the pandemic continues on. In some ways, it’s been hard for me to accept that time marches on in this new way, but at the same time, it’s liberating to admit that this is just our new normal. And as Ansley said below, I love how your act of listing out daily activities reifies them and allows you to witness them, to show that life goes on! This is inspiring to me.

    I also love those Simone Rocha-esque pearl clips! May have to throw them onto my next Target order…


    1. So glad this resonated, MK. This is our new normal. Although, since writing this post, I have been encouraged by vaccinations and case count drops and hope we will have a NEW new normal soon 🙂


  2. This post just perfectly captures life right now! So different and so much the same. This is really hitting home for us right now in the lead up for our baby’s first birthday. For such an interminable year, it really has flown by in many ways! Thanks for the reminder of how much life is going on in the midst of it all.

    1. Hi Stephanie – Yes, yes! Interminable and flying at the same time. Such a weird experience with little ones. Never were the words “the days are long, the years are short” more true. I look back at pictures of Hill from only 6 months ago and I’m astounded at the changes.

      Keep on keeping on!!


  3. I love this post and it brings up so many emotions for me. I’ve definitely been living as if this isn’t “real life” like you said and, as we come up on a year of living like this, it’s really hard to swallow that this is real life since I so desperately don’t want it to be. It is amazing how much you can see the passage of time through your children’s changes too. Somehow, my second baby is going to turn one in April and has lived his entire life during this pandemic. It’s been the longest, but also fastest year. As a planner, I love the phrase mentioned “be where your feet are” and need to repeat that to myself. I have such a tendency to worry about the future that I don’t stop to enjoy the present. A mundane thing, but one that shows a tiny step toward accepting that this is life now – I decided to get a real desk chair since there is no end in sight to working from home. Thanks again for this post. You have a way of putting things I’m feeling into words. A great reminder to stop waiting for “after Covid”.

    1. Oh Sarah – I’m so glad this resonated with you! I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have had a baby in COVID times and realize that his entire life has been shaped by this pandemic. I was talking to my brother the other day about a related concept — about how small my son’s world is. He’s basically lived his entire life within a few square block radius of our apartment. I was wondering what that meant, wishing I could show more to him, and my brother said: “He’s little; he’s fine. Give him love and some Duplos to play with and you’ll get through this.” I so appreciated his pragmatism at that moment.

      Anyway, right there with you. Good for you for buying that desk chair!!


  4. What a beautiful piece, Jen. You can let Mr. Magpie know that he brought me to tears with his words too. “Happiness is finding your perfect match and making her your wife.” Is there anything better than being so cherished?!

  5. We are considering finishing our basement (a very un-NYC dilemma) and I find myself wondering if we’d even be having the conversation if we were not in the midst of a pandemic. With a 4 and 5 year old at home 24/7, the extra space would be nice to have. But, what will our life look like post-pandemic. Two kids in school, dance and golf and tennis and who knows what other activities…and then I panic a bit at the thought of all that running around and resolve to enjoy these days with very open schedules. Still doesn’t solve the basement though. 🙂

    On an unrelated note, which Westman Atelier product would you recommend if you were only going to try one? I don’t wear foundation often, but do enjoy a good glow on my face.

    1. Oh yes – I think of the same things. As an example, mini was off of school for the holidays for weeks and it was a challenge keeping her preoccupied, busy, etc while we were largely indoors. But then as soon as she resumed school, I realized I’d not adequately/fully appreciated the lack of structure, the lazier mornings, the absence of battles over bundling up to go to school at a specific window of time every morning. Just a reminder to – in the words of Sarah below – “be where your feet are.”

      But more generally – it is TOUGH to make these big decisions (like finishing a basement, moving out of a city, adopting a dog, buying a car, having the next child) in the context of this pandemic of indeterminate length. I don’t know how to think through the calculus either…

      For Westman – I think you’ll LOVE the Lit Up stick (get 10% off with code CLEAN10):

      It is one of my FAVORITE beauty products ever. I gloss it on over my cheeks, under my brows, on the tip of my nose most days. It is totally clear (no color at all) so it just affords the prettiest gleaming dewy effect.


  6. I needed to read this today!!!

    I’ve been mourning that this has taken a year from my early 20s – dating, going out with friends, dancing in crowded bars, traveling for quick weekend trips, concerts.

    But the truth is that I’ve progressed in my job, am in the process of applying to law school (eek!!) and probably spend MORE time on facetime and zoom with my far-flung friends from college than I did before the pandemic. I’ve traded happy-hours with friends in the city for quiet nights watching the NBA with my parents and brother and am just cherishing this time with them (I quarantined with my parents for March through Sep and am now still in their “pod”)

    This was a great reminder that life HAS continued and is continuing, at this very moment.

    1. Way to go, Molly — yes! To all of this! I also have mourned the absences of things, events, experiences, but thinking back on what we’ve been able to do this year and what we do every single day (!) is encouraging. Life marches on!


  7. One more thought… 🙂 Read Jeremiah 29 this morning and was struck by God’s instruction to the exiles to plant their crops, raise their children, etc, all while waiting for His restoration and the ultimate plans he had for them – plans to prosper and not to harm! In other words… there’s LIFE to be LIVED while you’re waiting. xo H

  8. What a lovely piece of writing! I love the vignettes that add up to a day and a life. A friend once gave me the advice, when I’d moved to a new city and was missing the life I’d left, to be where my feet are – to live in the here and now. At the end of the day, I still steam broccoli and let the dog out and ponder whether I’m enjoying my book. Thank you for the reminder to be where my feet are.

    1. I love this Sarah. “Be where your feet are!” Reminds me a bit of “bloom where you’re planted” — but less pressure because I’m not always blooming 😉 [Nor are flowers, for that matter…] Thanks for sharing!

    2. Oh I love that, Sarah — “be where your feet are.” I’ll be carrying that with me. Thanks for sharing.


  9. Loved this. Not sure if this is true for anyone else, but these days–so isolated, so repetitive–can feel unreal or unmarked, unwitnessed. Writing out the activities as you have (so eloquently!) reifies them somehow. Lovely!

    1. Hi Ansley – Yes! Writing out that litany of daily activities was eye-opening and reassuring to me, too. It reminded me of how much we are all doing, feeling, living, accomplishing — pandemic be damned.


  10. What a timely observation! In the past two weeks I’ve been giving preschool tours to prospective parents and hear myself saying “in years past we have… (taken field trips, hosted spaghetti dinners, conducted school-wide chapel, hosted Bible studies for moms, etc…) and next year we’re hoping to return to (at least some of) those things.” In listing those activities, am I also diminishing (or dismissing?) all the amazing adjustments of this school year and the creative approaches we’ve employed so our students can have an enriching and successful school year? We continue living and doing and teaching and loving and aging (!) even in the midst of all this otherness. Brings to mind a book I recently finished, “A Tale for the Time Being” — our “time being” is simply life right now, however “other” it seems.
    On another note, my granddaughter received a mini pack of the Table Topics for Kids in her Chick Fil A kids meal and we had such a fun hour with her going through them! Those little minds never cease to amaze me. 🙂
    Hang in there, Jen; I suspect we may very well look back on this “time being” in amazement and gratitude for the lessons, even though our world seems very small right now. Have a blessed day! xo H

    1. Hi Heidi — That is SUCH a good point, focusing on how many amazing adjustments we have all found ourselves capable of during this time. I just got off a call with someone who said: “When we were heading into winter, I thought, ‘I just can’t do that. I can’t survive a long, cold winter with a two year old in the context of this pandemic. But now it’s February. It’s cold and gross and snowy outside. But you know what? We’re doing it! We did it! And we’re almost to spring.” I was so spirited by that sentiment. A reminder of the quote that several Magpies shared in response to the icebreaker the other day — “I can do hard things.”


      1. Oh! And I totally agree on the astounding things children say in response to those Table Topics prompts! I’m always flabbergasted by not only my daughter’s ability to grasp an open-ended question, but to return with something creative and thoughtful!


  11. THANK YOU! Needed to hear this today. One cannot stay in this suspense of ”just wait, until everything goes back to normal“, while at the same time not knowing whenever that shall be.

    1. So glad this resonated! Yes, completely. It’s been a strange headspace to think of this situation as temporary — it hinders me from doing things, encourages me to defer other things, etc. It’s been much better for me to face this as the reality of our present for the foreseeable future.


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