Permutations of Love.

By: Jen Shoop

On Tuesday night, I tossed and turned. I tried every trick in the book, including those breathing exercises: “Focus on your breath. In, out, in, out. Think about your lungs expanding and filling with air. Every time an errant though arrives, slick it away.” Futile maneuvers, all: my focus rolled away from me like yarn. Instead, I continued to fixate on all the details of my son’s imminent first day of school. Had I packed the extra masks as instructed? I’d need to get the first-day-of-school flag down. Would he sit still for a picture? What backdrop? The sinister lurked just beneath: how had I not spent more of our mornings together soaking him up? Why had I not knelt beside him to run trains over the blue rug in his bedroom that morning last week he patted the ground beside him, commanding me to “play, mama”? Oh, it was agony — to lie awake on the penultimate night of his babyhood and recount all my missteps and oversights as his mother. The entire saga was tinged with the bruiselike tenderness of just having made it through this bumpy patch with the children at home too-long — mini had been out of school for nearly a month and a half! –and my patience worn thin. I have tried, I told myself. I have done my best, I insisted. The pit in my stomach turned its cheek at my remonstrances.

Tuesday night, I still felt mother to a baby. Wednesday morning, I watched a small blonde boy march straight across the icy street, hand in his father’s, and straight into the care of his new teacher, without so much as a glance in my direction. I signed a form, indicating his temperature that morning (COVID protocol) and, in the fluster of exchanging clipboards and sliding my daughter’s backpack over her shoulders and balancing on the crunchy snow of the curb, he was whisked away from me wordlessly. I knew this was for the best, having lived through and observed many more protracted separations on the pavement in front of school. But still — a throb. I insisted Mr. Magpie pull the car up so we could spy on him as he filed into the outdoor play area in front of his Montessori. He waited behind another child for his turn to scoop birdseed into a dish. His head cocked to the side as he lowered the dish in, as if estimating. The gesture seemed jarringly mature. Has he always done this? I could see half his face — determined, curious — and I felt again the divisive pique of motherhood: that these children are mine, but that they also belong to themselves. That tiny shift of his head sent me into a nearly physical distress over the thought that he would soon be entering the classroom, and sitting at his small table, and waiting in line for the toilet, and that I would not bear witness to any of those small happenings. When he is near me, I can envision his thoughts and wants. I can sense mounting frustration, can gauge by gait whether he is tired, recalcitrant, excited, can even anticipate what he might be retrieving as he wanders into a particular room in the house. Now, it feels as though those tethers have been clipped. He is his own.

I returned home, crying the entire way, and texted a girlfriend of mine who went through a similar, emotional transition with her second child starting school last fall. She reassured me in all the right ways. She shared that her son has blossomed while in school, and that she treasures listening to the voices of her two children chatting about teachers and classmates and concepts like “hemispheres” and “alphabet sounds” (they are also a Montessori family) at night. She reminded me that our sons are developmentally ready to be away, and that they need time apart from their moms. And then she said: “But you should let yourself feel all the feels. It just shows how much you love your role as a mom.”

The words came like a hug. I realized that instead of using this transition as an occasion to browbeat over moments I have missed or blindly marched through in my son’s baby years, and instead of mourning his babyhood, I could welcome this moment to just sit with the awareness that I love him so much I don’t want anything about him to change. And to see that there is nothing dark or rueful or terminal afoot: it is all borne by the same love that carried him into this world. He is mine, and he is not mine, and my emotions around these truths are just permutations of love.

So sitting here today with droopy hearts dancing in my eyes.

Until 11:30. When I pick him up, and remember that he is not really gone so long (two hours?) and that he is still the same wee man who will not sit still to let me dress him and loves to roar “IRONMAN!” and pilfers milk from me at 5 p.m. on the dot like a little street urchin. “Milk?” he pleads, his eyes raindrops. He will be that boy until he’s not, and then I will love the next version of him, and then the next, and then the next, and so we will continue on, improvising through every shade of love.


+”…Do all parents feel this way as their babies grow?  This toggling between togetherness and separation?  The merging and submerging of the self?  I will occasionally see in her the expression of her nanny, or the learnings from a class.  “Elmo,” she insists when she sees the bright red cartoon character on a juice box or advertisement, though I have never shown her Elmo.  Where did she learn that?  And I cock my head and think, “My little shadow has ventured away from me and learned something new.” Settling into parenthood, I think, is a gradual drawing and redrawing of the lines around the self.  This is me, this is not me.  You are an extension of me, you are your own self.  I carry you in my heart, you are my heart outside my body.” More of these thoughts (not far from the ones above, but written two years ago!), here.

+In case you caught the reference, big old hearts dancing in our eyes is a lyric from a John Prine song Mr. Magpie loves.

+Another musing born of a great John Prine song.

+My thoughts here reminded me of the Shel Silverstein quote: “I can be someone’s and still be my own.”

+Things I love about my daughter.

+Transitions are tough.

Shopping Break.

+This shirt sold out like ten times — so cute and versatile, and currently on sale!

+Love (!) this button-front sweatshirt in all the colors!

+I have always loved Matouk’s scalloped, quilted Savannah table linens and they are currently on sale, plus an extra 25% off, here!

+Love some of the new lighting from S&L, especially this sconce and this task lamp, and I just laid eyes on this fabulous statement lamp from CB2!

+This cashmere-blend half-zip sweater is SO good — love the periwinkle blue color!

+OO! Just love this dress. Feels fresh and fashion-forward.

+Little English just launched some super sweet Valentine’s pieces for little ones, including these pajamas and this cherry dress. More sweet Valentine’s finds here.

+Random recent Amazon purchases: these dental hygiene tools which I know many of you swear by, a scribble scrubbie for mini (fun little weekend diversion), and forest green Crocs for micro (?!?! I had serious heartburn over this purchase but the school said his LL Bean slippers were difficult for him to wear at school for some reason (not enough traction) and they are all supposed to have non-character-riddled indoor shoes, so they recommended these).

+TRULY love this cardigan — the length, the texture, the color.

+Determined to wear more non-denim pants this year and tempted by this pair (on sale!) from Marine Layer. Would pair with a striped tee. I like the cinch at the ankle. I also like these VBs, on sale for only $75 — technically denim but lavender!

+Tiny pearl huggies.

+Did you end up ordering Valentines? I went with these for mini (will pair with these keychain fidget toys) and these for micro (will pair with these pullback trucks). I also just discovered that Minted does really cute photo ones.

+This bluetooth keyboard is a clever workaround for those of us who do a lot of typing on our phones.

+This Etsy shop has the sweetest crochet mobiles for babies. I bought one for mini with dogs years ago and have packed it away to hand down to someone else!

+These popular mini Uggs were restocked and are available in tons of colors.

+Cute $12 hat for a little.

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18 thoughts on “Permutations of Love.

  1. I bookmarked this post awhile back, and now return to it, sitting on the couch next to my now 3 year old, bawling my eyes out, anticipating my own Tuesday night in the not too distant future as we prepare to find a preschool. Thank you for the comfort.

    1. Ohh Melissa!!! Feeling all the feels right alongside you. It was a really rocky transition for me, too — sending you love and grace.


  2. I am a grandmother of 7 now, but reading about your experience took me right back to when my own son and daughter were tiny, and I felt exactly as you do now. Our children are now grown with families of their own, but how wonderful it is to relive that memory of my little ones alongside you with yours. Thanks so very much for this lovely reminder of those special moments in our lives.

    1. Oh Nancy — thank you so much for this note! Was just telling my husband how reassuring it has been to hear from so many tenured moms in response to this post. Thank you for the solidarity. xx

  3. Oh!! This made me tear up – and I am not a mother! The love you have for your children is just so apparent through screen – I hope that one day they are able to read these posts!

  4. Oh you are experiencing motherhood at its best! It’s hard on so many levels. You should acknowledge these feelings (which you obviously are) because they only display your love and concern for your precious children.
    I remember I cried at my youngest sons 5th birthday party because I was facing the fact that he was no longer a baby! I just felt lost. Very emotional!

    1. Thank you, Cynthia, for this note, which reminded me both how not-alone I am in these emotions and reaffirmed what my friend said: “It just shows how much you love your role as a mom.” Thank you!!!


  5. This post today hit home, as I sit at the breakfast table with tears streaming after reading. And, my baby is 33! I lament his growing from my sidekick who never wanted to sleep away from home and who I thought would always be by my side, to the fine husband and father he has become. I love the way you have reminded me that he has blossomed in this growth away from me.

    1. Oh Jeanne! I’m sorry to have left you in tears but I am really touched by the fact that we can share this sentiment…even when our sons are 30 years apart in age! Wow! It makes me realize how deep-seated and long-running these emotions are.


    1. Hi Diana – I’m so moved by your note, and the ones from Jeanne and Cynthia. All three of you are tenured moms who went through these transitions long ago and are reminding me that it’s OK to be weepy, that I will get through this, and that it’s all just LOVE. And what’s scary about love? Thanks for chiming in.


  6. Oh, Jen. I feel just the same way. I said nearly the exact same thing to my husband yesterday (our daughter’s first day back at “school” after 2 weeks with us):

    When he is near me, I can envision his thoughts and wants. I can sense mounting frustration, can gauge by gait whether he is tired, recalcitrant, excited, can even anticipate what he might be retrieving as he wanders into a particular room in the house. Now, it feels as though those tethers have been clipped. He is his own.

    It was such a privilege to know every moment of her day those weeks that we were together!

    Thank you, thank you, for extending your friend’s hug to all of your readers with this: “It just shows how much you love your role as a mom.”

    P.S. I was a lapsed reader for those couple of weeks — good to be back 🙂

    1. I’m so glad I wrote this when I did then! I really needed to hear those words from my friend, and I’m so glad they resonated with you, too. Just paying her graciousness and wisdom forward. It really resituated the entire emotional saga for me. It went from being something debbie downer-ish and mawkish into something about love and gratitude. It was transformational!

      Still — hang in there. For me, this transition has been one of those sneaky-hard mom traps. I didn’t even anticipate how deeply I felt about this until it was upon us! I was caught unaware! Thinking of you as you navigate the same.

      Glad to have you back!


  7. Hi! A fashion advice request if you will- I bought the denim Larroude flats you recommended and they are great! But- any advice on how to style them? I am a traditional mom of two who is more comfortable in J. Crew/Patagonia/J. McLaughlin than nap dresses and glam. Any advice is appreciated!

    1. Hi Mary! Ooh those are so incredibly chic! I think these would look fab with jeans (yes, denim on denim!) and a white button down. They speak for themselves! I also would absolutely wear these with a solid-colored shirtdress, especially the ones from Daphne Wilde. (You might consider her “Stella” or “Bee” or “Giovanna” styles — classic and chic.). I also just noticed that my beloved Boden tiered shirtdress (I have in the figgy pudding color in corduroy) is marked down to under $100:


      Something like that — fab with these flats.

      Chic chic chic!


    1. Hi! Thank you – this is what our former Montessori asked for as well. Maybe will just stick with those and return the Crocs! Thanks for the reminder!


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