By: Jen Shoop

I have been sorting through the house in small bursts of energy, clearing out board books and toddler-sized shoes my children have long since outgrown; donating mounds of clothing no longer worn; weeding dried-up markers and scribbled-through coloring books; surreptitiously depositing cheap and broken toys into the waste bin when small eyes are not around. (A friend of mine recently said: “Little did I know how much time I’d spend hiding things in the trash as a mother.” It rang deeply true.) January is auspicious in that way: it invites a kind of discipline that evaporates by mid-March.

In the corner of my office, I’ve been collecting infant and baby gear that have emerged as a part of this clearing-out for our housekeeper, who gave birth to a little girl last year. I have accumulated two bags full of board books, one of pastel crib sheets and blankets which I’ve been hanging onto for God knows what purpose (as we moved mini to a big girl bed months ago), and one of assorted stuffed animals and baby toys. Every few days, my eyes settle on these bags and I find myself, almost without restraint, plucking out the red Elmo, or the wind-up giraffe stuffy, or some other toy or book, and placing it instead on my chair in the office.

“I can’t give this away,” I say, as I remember my son rolling around in the crib with that Elmo in his pudgy fingers, or my daughter rocking back and forth on unsteady baby legs, listening to the tinny music of the giraffe.

No,” I tell myself, firmly, returning them to the bags. “These will be more loved by someone else.”

These are not heirlooms. These are, frankly, items barely loved by my own children. (Trust me, I kept all their favorites.) But oh my God —

isn’t this the way of motherhood?

The way a triviality can pinch?

The way, when faced in some material way with the distance between now and the mornings you laid in your bed with our couple-day-old infant in your arms, it feels as though you might collapse beneath the weight of your love for your own child?

In those moments, I compulsively re-watch a string of videos of my daughter doing and saying funny things in a lispy, balloonish baby voice — each viewing part pleasure, part punishment — and I marvel at everything about her. There is one in which I have caught her after she’s stripped our entire just-made bed of its linens.

“Why did you take the sheets off of our bed?” I ask her. I sound stern.

“Because I don’t like it like that,” she says, her tiny hand running absent-mindedly over the bedding piled on the floor. She looks up at me, and it is clear she’s uncertain whether she is in trouble. Her eyes are wide and expectant. I must have smiled off-camera at this point, because she then smirks and repeats, with smugness, “I don’t like it like that” again, and rolls around in the discarded linens.

I hungrily absorb everything about her in these videos, and I see that she is much the same today. Each clip feels like a piece of a blueprint for the little lady she’s become and becoming. She is funny, but concerned with getting in trouble. She is loquacious, but all eyes — highly, sharply observant with a tongue to match. Her hair is nearly always askew, but she is tidy beyond that: she’s always been gentle on her clothes, far less likely to stain or rip them than her brother. A Magpie reader once told me that mothers hang onto all the versions of their children. It’s all there, inside. I chew on this for a minute, wanting to reject it because I am consumed with a sense of loss. Did I adequately cherish every first and last? Did I drink them up in all their baby glory? Was I too busy cleaning the kitchen to notice the last time she said “yogrette” instead of “yogurt”? Too exhausted to mark the final night my son would whisper (as he did for weeks): “God bless you and God bless you and good night” as I’d close the door? It’s been ages since I rocked him to sleep. One random night I no longer remember, my arms were aching under his weight, and I was semi-numb to the embrace given its routineness — and I had no idea he’d never need me to do that again. It is gutting, the way these tendernesses can disappear in the setting of a single sun.

But I know this is no way to think. Equally, I know there is nothing to mourn. My babies are still my babies. Mini remains funny and precocious and curious and quick to laugh and all those things she was at two. Still, I sit there feeling it all. Missing her baby cheeks, but loving the cheeky nearly-six-year-old humor she brings home each day. Sitting with the Elmo in my lap, and then wondering what to pack them for lunch tomorrow. Feeling the pinch, and then soothing myself back to life —


+Motherhood is a surfeit.

+”Early motherhood — at least for me — demanded a withdrawal, and I was not always at peace with that change. Still, looking back, I am struck by the extraordinary acts of metamorphosis I performed to make my way through. Because during that time, I was becoming. I was spinning myself into the loving mother I have become.” More of this essay here.

+On visiting my high school for my 20th reunion.

Shopping Break.

+I just ordered two new pairs of jeans to try: these Khaites I’ve been eyeing forever and these Citizens everyone seems to love. This pair from Gap also turned my head.

+This Zara reminds me a LOT of my Toteme cardigan.

+OMG this Gap rainbow stripe sweater!

+20% off sitewide at Serena and Lily. You can see my favorite finds here. I especially love these embroidered shams, which we’ve used on our primary bed for years now. They add lovely texture and depth to the bed. I put them in front of both plain white european shams and sleeping pillows.

+I cannot stop thinking about a pair of dad sandals for this summer…

+This tiered khaki colored blouse is SO chic (and under $100)! OMG. Perfect for work or imagine paired with white jeans?

+I’ll be needing this $50 dress in both colors, yes indeedy. So cute with sneakers or leather slides!

+Speaking of summer dresses, this Faherty dress is on sale for only $50! I love throwing dresses like this on over swimsuits, or to run after the children. So chic!

+This knit pouch would be cute in a diaper bag for baby items — it reminds me of Louis Vuitton!

+I have a weakness for white blouses. Just love pairing with denim for an easy everyday look.

+Just added this little clip lamp to my cart for mini. She loves to read in bed.

+Cutest colorblocked sneaks for a little lady. I just bought mini this pair of Nikes for basketball. (The rest of her basketball/athletic wardrobe here!)

+Really cute patterned blouses from a new-to-me brand.

+Have been hearing good things about this liquid eye shadow.

+Cute personalized plate for a little one.

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11 thoughts on “Pinches.

  1. A bit late to the party here, but wanted to say that this post really resonates this week…my (nearly 3yo) baby started preschool! All is going well, and it’s only two mornings a week, but…it’s like crossing a line and she’s not a baby anymore! We have her newborn photos displayed in the living room, and it breaks my heart a bit to look at it everyday. I wonder if it is the baby phase in particular that causes this nostalgia, or will I be feeling similarly about kindergarten when my 5yo is, say, 10? I guess we’ll see. Like I’ve said before, I wish there was a way to have a baby all the time without ending up with 20 children! But like you said, life is a bit easier now that they are a bit more self-sufficient, which cheers me a bit when I’m mourning the passing of baby years.

  2. I feel all of this so potently as well! Thank you for putting it into words. My next thought whenever this sweep of nostalgia and longing hits is to wonder about a third… how did you put that thought to bed so to speak… or was it never on the table?

    1. Hi Emily! I am too close into this decision to really explain it well…will one day write about this subject. But for me, I always thought I wanted a big brood of children (being one of five) and even told Landon, when we were young (!) — like just dating — that I wanted to have six children when I grew up. (Yikes, can’t believe he didn’t run the other way.) After Hill, though, I kept waiting for that feeling of “being ready to” or feeling a nudge in that direction. But honestly? I have a profound sense that our family is complete as is. I don’t know what impact having one of both genders played into this mentality (e.g., would I want another if I had two girls or two boys?), but I do feel in my heart that our family is full.

      I will also confess that there are a few practical matters that I think have shaped this feeling. First, I have now had two c-sections on top of an existing surgery scar I had from childhood. I know women do more c-sections than this, but being cut open three times in the same spot and recovering…it is rough. And I know risk factors go up with each subsequent c-section, AND with my age, too. So there is a practical, risk-averse side of me that feels this is the safest thing. Second, my life is SO FULL right now. Like, I don’t know how my sister (who has three) balances all the schedules, routines, classes, milestones, doctors appointments, etc! I feel like I’m barely hanging on with two. I also feel like — finally — with my son at 3.5 and my daughter nearly six — life feels a bit easier. The children can play unsupervised and mainly not get hurt or into too much trouble. They can both participate in the same camps and after school activities. Soon they will be at the same school. There are significant economies of scale all of the sudden with them being sort of “lumped together” in the same age group? I just feel like I cannot imagine going back to the newborn wilderness and marching my way back to here. I would do it of course if someone handed me a newborn tomorrow, but I have a sense of peace being where I am now.

      Of course. Writing this post tore my heart out and made me miss those early newborn squeaks and snuggles. I remember laying in bed with Hill for days on end just after he came home from the hospital. My husband was with Emory, and I just laid in bed with him and remember consciously telling myself to lean into that. I’m so glad I did. I really feel like I soaked up the brand new baby days with him. There are other phases of his life, though, that I feel I was only half-alert…like during the depths of the pandemic, sans childcare, still running a business, trapped in our apartment. It was really rough. I just don’t know that I was absorbing him like I wish I could have — didn’t have the capacity! Was in survival mode.

      OK, that’s a helter skelter of thoughts but — the bottom line — I simply feel like our family is complete. And no amount of prodding myself (“don’t you want one more?”) has changed that answer.


      1. This has helped me so much. I was nodding my head along to everything you said. I too have a boy and a girl and felt right from the moment I heard I was having my daughter that our family was complete. But it’s wild how while I consider myself a very confident and self-assured person, these thoughts of doubt have crept in.. largely coming from exterior forces, not any great well within me. Not from a true calling. Thank you for always beautifully putting your thoughts into words.

    2. Oh I am so in the depths of this mental game too, already. I appreciate your thoughts on this, Jen (and, as always, find myself silently nodding in agreement with many of the things you mention). I’ve visited that COJ post previously, too! For some reason, I’m stuck at the idea of “I want one” or “I want 3+” … for a number of reasons, in both cases – far too many to attempt to assemble into any logic here. I grew up as one of three and cherish my siblings (now… until about age 20, questionable). For that reason, I always imagined a large family – truly, my ideal reference point is the family in The Family Stone, every time I picture the cozy chaos and joy of a bigger family. My best friend is also one of five, which always seemed exotic and alluring in its own way. But now that I have (a very small) one child, I simultaneously think “HOW do people do more than one?!?!” on every level.

      I almost want to take the question off the table for myself for a year. It’s near-constant in my mind, especially with decisions around keeping baby things, the near-term car we plan to buy, trips we want to take, etc. etc. But then, of course…. biology, as women, comes into play too. And the assumed benefit of siblings closer in age (for them… at least; semi chaos for the parents, I assume).

      Cutting myself off here, but suffice to say this weighs heavy on my mind, too! Appreciate the candor shared, but also know how personal and private these decisions or circumstances can be. Off to re-read that COJ post + comments again…

      1. Oh yes – you’ve hit on so many of the practical and logistical matters that go into the decision! Stuff like “do we get rid of the bassinet?” that forces the conversation even when you aren’t ready for it. FWIW, I knew 100%, unblinkingly, I wanted a second. It was never a “do we…?” It was “when do we…” But with the third, I kept all the baby stuff just in case, and just kept waiting for a day to feel like I was pulled in that direction, but never was. Now we are in the midst of divesting all the baby stuff. Even though I feel completely at peace with where we are — feel like our fam is complete! — it is STILL sad. I still feel a ping/twinge. It is just SO hard to say goodbye to a chapter that — while insanely chaotic — was so warm and tender and love-filled and snuggly. I have been trying to sort of separate the nostalgia feelings from anything that might resemble a “ohhh I want another baby” thinking.

        I don’t think any of that is helpful to you (?) but just saying that it’s a complicated knot of issues, emotions, logistics, practicalities…


        1. It is helpful, thank you! I love reading posts (and comment threads) like to help frame my own decisions and approach to logistics around children, consider new perspectives from mothers and non- or future- mothers alike, and find joy in the moments I have with my daughter now. There are so many “what ifs” in life, but determining our family size and future is an especially big one.

          1. I so feel this!! I actually had a long chat about this subject with a girlfriend over the weekend and she burst into tears! She was completely blindsided by it, too. Just shows how intense and close to the surface this subject is for a lot of us in child-bearing years!


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