Permutations of Love.

By: Jen Shoop

This morning, I am re-publishing an essay I wrote two years ago, when sending my son off to school for the first time. Perhaps you will relate to its pitch as you wind up the school year, prepare to send your child to sleep away camp for the first time, or watch your child graduate. I, too, was reflecting on its sentiments this past week as I placed a few orders for my son’s imminent fifth (!) birthday. I know we carry all the ages of our children inside, but the agony of not having those ages here-and-now, freckle-faced and wide-eyed in my lap, burns like a loss. But! Today I find myself reassured. None of these emotional stabs and twinges are nefarious, or harmful. They are love made manifest.

If you’re rounding the corner or closing a chapter in your motherhood journey, sitting with you today.


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 post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation. Image via.

+Cute, well-priced cover up. Also love this rainbow striped one, which could also be worn as a day dress. I did end up ordering this rainbow striped pareo from Cesta I’d been eyeing for awhile!

+While we’re talking swim, a few standout suits: this lavender eyelet Solid & Striped, this Zimmermann, this dramatic Maygel Coronel, this striped Staud, and this botanical Agua Bendita.

+Amazing Amazon steal — such fun patterns!

+A great summer dress for something like a graduation, end of year school event, etc.

+Seashell earrings are trending right now — love these TBs. Look for less with these or these.

+Love this strapless mint green dress from hip label Posse.

+Chappywrap just launched a lightweight version of its popular blanket for summer. Such great prints!

+Hanna Andersson has some cute kids separates for summer – love this striped skort, this red white and blue tee for FOJ, and this cheerful dress.

+Don’t miss FRP Collection’s new summer collection. WOW! You know how much I love my mint green petite Sylvie bag. I might need this pink crochet, too.

+I think this romper is adorable! I might cinch with a belt.

+If you are sending a little one off to camp, how cute are these jammies and this camp stationery?

+Drooling over these Prada mini bags.

+Freda Salvador restocked its popular woven flats in some fab summer colors.

+This sailor-style dress for a little lady…!

+$30 striped dumpling bag.

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20 thoughts on “Permutations of Love.

  1. This feeling is getting me, although my son is 2 and preschool won’t begin until fall next year. He’s started telling us about his dreams! He is his own. He is so precise in his language and right now loves to tell mama everything. I get all his thoughts unfiltered from the source. I know the separation of preschool will be a new world for us both, and he will dwell in one I won’t have access to. It’s compounded by the fact that he will be learning in French. He’s already picking it up so fast that I feel the need to sprint after him. But even if English is his mother tongue, he will be a Francophone in ways I can’t hope to comprehend. It’s tough as expats, as immigrants, to know that his childhood will be so far from our own. And yet, this is what we chose and we are so delighted to have the choice. But that feeling you got, watching through the fence, is the chance to see your child mirrored through the perceptions of others! Like when you go on a double date and from the corner of your eye you see the other couple interacting with your spouse and you’re reminded that they’re magnetic, sparkling, a strength and warmth you’ve grown used to like a stone worn smooth. Mom’s group helps me the same ways because after a bad day in the toddler trenches, you get to see from someone else all the things you’re getting right. The way my son says please and thank you, the way my friends notice me parenting him and keeping my cool even if I don’t feel cool inside. This is all of a pre coffee jumble, but even if I’m not communicating it well, your words resonate years and an ocean away.

    My little daughter is only 5 months, and up until now I’ve been seeing her as a newborn. She started crawling like lightning over the weekend, and now I have to accept that this fast little girl in 12m clothes grabbing everything is a proper bouncing baby. Probably my last baby! And it went like a blink. I am so proud and fascinated and impressed with my children. Being their mother is the great masterwork I have put everything towards. But also looking forward to the days when they will be in school and I can once again have solitary time in front of my laptop to write.

    1. I relate to everything you’ve written here — you’re not alone. It’s such a jangle of emotions, insights, etc. You’re proud of your son for making his way into the world; you miss him. I can’t imagine how much this is magnified by the dislocations of living so far from home! A lot to chew on. Thanks, as always, for sharing.


  2. 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.


  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!!!


  6. 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.


  7. 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!


  8. 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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