Musings + Essays

Peace and Plans.

By: Jen Shoop

Ironic, that I had a post about parenting triumphs scheduled for publication yesterday, because this weekend had me feeling much more like a flounderer than a victor. Mr. Magpie has been traveling a fair amount the past few weeks, which feels consistent with what friends are saying: COVID restrictions seem to have finally ebbed, and travel has returned. A part of me wants to celebrate this return to normal affairs. Do you remember when we were clawing at the news, pondering whether school, travel, holidays would ever look the same? Beyond that, Mr. Magpie deserves the solitariness — we all do. I think many of us are still unspooling from the pandemic. It has felt like a gradual easing back into things, but with scant latitude to reflect on what’s happened, what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained. I spend a lot of time in reflection, and even I have only a slippery grasp of the matter. Any parcel of time where we find ourselves alone, at a remove, from the homes and lifestyles in which we have lived for the past many years is bound to provide some room to process. So, I want that for Mr. Magpie. Not that he was airing out, exactly, though; most of his travel was work-related, with its attendant stresses and responsibilities. Still, ever the Pollyanna, I want to find the good.

But on a functional level, I have felt ill-rehearsed for these solo parenting sojourns. The first weekend, I scheduled too little, and the days felt enormously long. I spent most of my time in dispute mediation, listening to grievances about “she got the blue cup last time” and “I don’t want his foot on my chair.” The second weekend, I scheduled too much, and was teetering on exhaustion come four p.m. — just when I was heading to yet another activity, and dinner and bedtime still loomed large at the end of the horizon. By the end of this period of travel, I felt drained to the point of ornamental. I could scarcely pony the energy to arbitrate, or worry that micro’s sweater had an enormous chocolate stain on it as we headed into dinner at my family’s club. Well, I did worry about that last thing. But I could also sense the storm brewing, as though a highly-tuned weather sensor, as I contemplated micro’s reaction to me yanking off the sweater I’d bribed him to wear in the first place, dabbing it with detergent and hot water, blotting out the excess, and then placing back over his head. I mean, I could have picked a different sweater, but it was a whole coordinated look that also dovetailed beautifully with my daughter’s outfit. And so I chose to just leave him in it. I know these things are objectively unimportant, but I do take pride in the way my children present themselves, and so this was truly an instance of throwing in the towel.

On Sunday night, as I marched through the usual countdown to bedtime procedures (inevitably met with a chorus of whines and acts of resistance), I sprinted upstairs to ready the children’s bedrooms for sleep: draw the blinds, turn down the covers, turn on the sound machines, dim the lights. In the midst —


Like the tenured mom I am, I paused to listen first, before responding in any way. I could hear a kind of pouty whine from my daughter and could tell she was OK but that she’d probably broken something. I sprinted back downstairs. She had dragged a decorative and unstable cowhide-topped footstool over to the kitchen counter so she could tell Siri to “play Halloween music,” lost her balance, and grabbed onto our glass cake stand to steady herself. It had smashed on its side, sending shards of glass all over the countertop and floor. Our airedale was blithely trotting through it.

I should have checked to make sure she was OK. I should have consoled her. Accidents happen. And she was just trying to turn on Halloween music, for God’s sake!

Instead, I huffed and puffed around, frustrated that on top of trying to get the children to bed, I was now picking up glass and worrying that our dog was traipsing shards of it through our living room.

Somehow, we got through it, and we got through my son’s bedtime, and as I slipped into my daughter’s room — final stop on the bedtime train — I spotted her crouched on the ground playing with her LOL Surprise Dolls. “I’m sorry, mommy,” said one doll to the other. “That’s OK, honey,” the other replied. My heart sank, then rose. I hated that she was performing an apology, but I loved that it ended so affectionately.

I pulled her into me. I told her that it was OK. That accidents happen. That I had been more upset about the glass breaking than at her. That I expect a lot of her because she is a loving and thoughtful person. I realized at some point that I was talking more in generalities than about the incident at hand. I was talking my way into realizing that I am too hard on her. She nodded, snuggled with me, and then returned to playing.

I went downstairs, sat on the couch, and cried. There were many things I could have done differently, could have done better, this past weekend. As I conducted an audit, I kept returning to this new and uncomfortable insight: I am too hard on her. She seems so mature, and responsible, and lately, I have been calling her “my helper girl,” because that’s what she is. She can nearly always get my son to put on his shoes, finish his breakfast, use the toilet when I cannot. She sets the table. She offers to help carry things when my hands are full. She usually says, “Yes, mama” when I ask her to find her brother, or grab her sweatshirt, or put on her shoes. This morning, my son went ballistic because he wanted the red plate for breakfast, and as I contemplated how to handle the situation given that we had seven minutes to finish eating, get dressed, and get out the door for an on-time arrival at school, my daughter said: “Here, Hill, have mine.”

But she is five. A baby. She looks at me with her knowing eyes, she insists on hearing “the full joke” when my husband and I are laughing about something too mature for her ears, she asks me to read every word on the Nat Geo page, but still, she is just five. I cannot forget that.

It is difficult to feel these truths, and doubly difficult to stare at them in black and white on a page.

But I am learning. One strange truth of motherhood is that it is a journey rather than a place. A mode rather than a role. I dried my eyes and finished my self-assessment the way I always do: by asking, “Do they know they are loved?” Yes. And so I told myself there was nothing to do but make peace with myself, and plans for tomorrow. Peace and plans.

And onward we go —


+I must mention that I had some great feedback coming off the heels of this challenging night. Several moms said: “They remember the good stuff — go easy on yourself.” I hope that is true. I hope they remember the night we had happy meals on the carpet of our living and watched Homeward Bound, the afternoon we spent decorating our home for Halloween, the morning we all cuddled in bed. I found that response very reassuring.

+Related: On my forever desire to make life special for the kids.

+On the emotions of sending a child off to school for the first time.

+An oldie but a goodie: 9 things that surprised me about having a c-section.

Shopping Break.

+I will, of course, be immediately replacing the cake dome / punch bowl she broke. We received it as a wedding gift and it’s been in HEAVY USE for over a decade. We use for its intended purposes, and also as a fruit bowl.

+OMG! These $100 black velvet flats are beyond adorable with the little bow!

+Two seriously fun sweaters: this Ba&sh and this SEA.

+Obsessed with the color of these burgundy taper candles for a holiday tablescape.

+Love this look from head to toe: VB top and Paige bottoms. Or, a variation I’m planning to put together with two items I own: this Alemais top, these pants.

+Did you all see HHH’s puffer jackets?! SO cute and actually designed to be highly functional/performance-oriented. (You can ski in them!)

+Adorable recipe box.

+Another great fall floral blouse for under $150.

+OMG, this Lego lunchbox!

+A few children’s items I’m loving today: this Boden sweater, this plaid mini skirt, and these navy Vans I just bought for micro.

+I also did a big shop at J. Crew for some extra fall basics for children — they’re running crazy promotions, with some sale items an extra 70% off. I bought mini this cord skirt to wear with this turtleneck (she’s going to love the pattern) along with a few of their heart tees and leggings. For micro: this, this, this, this.

+Obsessed with these placemats.

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10 thoughts on “Peace and Plans.

  1. This is such a thoughtful essay. I love how intentional you are and how much you reflect on your children and your choices. It shows an incredible depth of love for your family.

    I don’t have children, but the way you describe your daughter reminds me a lot of myself. Type A, perfectionist, excelled in school, always wanted to be helpful. Somewhere along the way I got lost in the message that my value as a person equated to my “goodness,” or my willingness to help or do the right thing or perform as expected. Alongside that was a lessening of my own individual thoughts, perspectives, and attitudes, especially if they went against the norm or were antithetical to the specific views of my friends or my family.

    As I grow throughout my adult years I’ve been unlearning some of these lessons and growing deeper into who I am as an individual, who might not be “good” all the time but is valuable all the same. My life is wonderful and it has been a joy to discover more of myself. I fully believe that your daughter will thrive through those tendencies, too!

    1. Hi Rachel! Thank you for the thoughtful and vulnerable reflection. I am similar to you, and I have heard these characteristics are common in eldest children, especially eldest girls (both my daughter and I are the older sisters in our family). I’m sure a part of being raised first, and also being raised to nurture younger siblings. Your note was a good reminder to take care with the language I use in my home around “being good.” One thing that continues to startle me as I, too, “grow deeper into who I am as an individual” is that — in spite of my Type A personality — I somehow know that even if I make mistakes, take missteps, make a wrong turn in my career or a relationship, I can work my way back. Perhaps I am too optimistic in this way, but I do continuously practice the ideas of “onward,” “tomorrow is a new day,” “if you win you win, if you lose, you learn,” etc. I don’t know where this came from, but it has helped me through.

      Your language also reminded me of one of my all-time favorite poems by Mary Oliver:

      You do not have to be good.
      You do not have to walk on your knees
      for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
      You only have to let the soft animal of your body
      love what it loves.


  2. Sending lots of love and solidarity. These moments are *so hard*. I feel a lot of guilt around the nighttime exhausted-race-to-bedtime and subsequent feeling of “I miss her” while finally resting on the couch. We’re also battling with feeling so sweet on the weekends, so gratified that our toddler is clearly so so happy to just be home and spend time with us — which is in turn paired with heightened sadness that she “has to” go to school every day, which is clearly tiring for her (hence the exhausted race to bedtime). There are so many push-pulls to parenthood!

    1. Yes!! Thank you for the solidarity. There really are a lot of push-pulls — emotional whiplash, Landon and I call it. You go from depletion to heart-overflowing-with-love in one second flat. xx

  3. I RELATE SO MUCH. I tell myself that at least I can learn from these incidents and do better next time. But it is still SO hard not to feel like I am scarring them for life! I also try to apologize for not reacting well…which is super hard when my internal monologue keeps saying “if she would just act right in the first place, none of this would be happening!! Why am *I* apologizing??” It is truly exhausting. Also prayer – trying to muscle through on my own levels of patience and discernment is not working, so I ask for help whenever I think about it.

    1. Thank you for the solidarity!!! You get it. It is one of the most challenging aspects of parenthood at the moment, with my children testing boundaries at all times. xx

  4. You’ve written about your perfectionist tendencies here before, so it would make sense that if you’re hard on yourself, you’d be hard on your daughter too. In a sense, I can relate to her in this situation. I was also a very well-behaved in my early years (your classic easygoing second child), which meant that my parents got accustomed to it. If and when I veered off my usual script, they didn’t expect it so they didn’t react well. Hang in there. You’re doing great.

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