Musings + Essays

Rebranding Witching Hour.

By: Jen Shoop

5:30-6:30 P.M. on weekdays are tough for me as a parent. Even with an intentional buffer built in, I find that we are all tired, the children are clambering for my attention, and I am daunted by the volume of discrete steps to complete within that timeframe (milk! dinner prep! cajoling my children to get into their seats! cajoling my children to eat! reminding them of table manners! tidying up the house! bringing in the mail! walking the dog! cajoling my children to get into their pajamas! making my way towards the multi-step bedtime routine! cleaning up the children’s dinner! the inevitable walking up-and-down of stairs to deposit toys, clothes, fresh water, etc!). I even removed bath time from the evening equation (my children now bathe after lunch/before nap and quiet time) to simplify things, but I still routinely find myself sucking in a big gulp of air and giving myself a little pep talk as I head into “the witching hour.” Of course, I feel guilty about my evening apprehensions. I spend most of the day away from them; I should relish that time. But it is often the site of resistance of the most inane and infuriating sort: “I don’t want that cup!” (sigh) and “I hate meatballs!” (not true) and “I want to eat outside” (when an inside dinner was just requested and accommodated). This is the well-worn territory of toddlerhood, but at 5:49 p.m., when I am myself depleted, I find myself occasionally paralyzed by my own indecision: I forget, what’s my take on cowing to these kinds of demands? I waver between the path of least resistance (just give her the other cup! don’t flinch at the ‘no meatballs’ comment! dinner inside it is!) and arriving at some sort of meaningful conversation with my daughter, who is clearly not really upset about cups and meatballs and rather in the mode of seeking attention or attempting to assert her own control or testing boundaries. As I said, well-worn toddler pasture that we routinely make our way through, but there’s something about that hour that both attracts and shades these familiar scenarios.

I was talking this out with Mr. Magpie the other day and I immediately thought of a good friend from a few years ago who was telling me about his sister, who felt trapped in her then-current circumstances. She didn’t like her job, she hated the town she was living in, she wasn’t even particularly happy or fulfilled by the relationships around her. He offered her some tough love along the lines of “if you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” Put a little more gently: you are the only agent of change in this story. Hers is an extreme case compared to my mild evening scaries, but the point still stood: if this is a routine challenge in my week, there must be ways to work through it more productively, with less friction. And my God — anything to avoid more mom guilt! Mr. Magpie and I decided we needed to redirect or “re-brand” witching hour, and it suddenly seemed obvious that the tiny emotional skirmishes that tend to dot our evenings might be corollary to the fact that my children want me to focus on them during that hour, not rush around the house tidying up, preparing dinner, etc. Which — I must be clear — itself gives me pause, as I need my children to also know that Mr. Magpie and I have responsibilities to uphold in the running of our house. It is good, I think, for them to observe the labor and love that goes into keeping our house as clean, well-stocked, and organized as it is. Still, the solution materialized with an embarrassing clarity: we now spend most of that hour outside, scooting around the cul de sac, chatting with neighbors, blowing bubbles, drawing with sidewalk chalk, walking the dog, and the like. Dinner is a little later and the living spaces are picked up after the children are in bed, but it is the best possible decision we could have made: we get everyone out of the house, into the fresh air, with phones and messy living rooms out of sight and out of mind, and let the day hang loose about us.

Have you ever “re-branded” a tricky part of your day or week, whether you have children or not? How did you do it? What helped?


+I had another major breakthrough along similar lines last year: “Three months into my 36th year, out of left field, I have suddenly made peace with the fact that daily chores, school drop-off and pick-up, and exercise are no longer interruptions to my routine. They are instead a part of the architecture of my day.”

+On my ongoing efforts to live in the present moment.

+The elegant but lopsided dance of motherhood.

+Things I love about my daughter.

+My son’s birth story still brings me to tears when I think about it. He is still the same way, too — as affectionate now as he was when he was first pressed to my cheek just minutes after he was born. I love him so much.

Shopping Break.

+After my parents-in-law bought the children bikes, I decided to upgrade our helmet situation. A few super cute children’s helmets I came across:








+These pendants are SO CHIC. OMG. Love the blue.

+Sleek tulip table, on super sale!

+ICYMI: this $155 dress is SOO GOOD. Agua Bendita on a budget. Bridgerton meets 2021.

+PSA: Dudley Stephens fleeces on sale in great colors here, here, and here.

+You can get a Dudley Stephens look for less with this Gap steal (at time of writing this post, marked down to $28!), this $7 score (?!?!?), and this Amazon find.

+More fall finds here.

+This $25 top serves up major Ulla vibes.

+Chic and reasonably priced finds that will beg the question: “where did you get that?!”

+My sister was just telling me she’s started using more clean household products and specifically uses a brand where you buy concentrates and fill your own spray bottles. These would make housekeeping chic…!

+Attractive $60 fireplace cover.

+A friend of mine worn one of these Cover rash guards to the pool and looked SO GOOD IN IT. I’m v tempted.

+I wear this puff-sleeved denim dress in a different colorway constantly (it was available in an acid wash earlier this year). I pair with Chanel flats!

+This versatile cardi is on sale for under $100.

+For my expecting mamas: this maternity pillow looks like a dream.

+This Etsy shop puts out the prettiest oversized baskets in great colors.

+More home organization must-haves.

+Patagonia vibes for less.

+Back to school finds for littles!

+These Velcro Supergas for little feet come in a great mint green color now.

+Ocean/sealife-inspired scores.

+Outnet score!

+My latest Amazon finds.

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4 thoughts on “Rebranding Witching Hour.

  1. Oh Jen, I can so relate to your sentiments here… I only have one child and yet still feel like we are rushing through the evening routine rather than connecting, but I just KNOW that I need to get her to bed at a good time so she gets a good night’s sleep for school the next day… and also at 3 1/2 she still does have big meltdowns when overtired. I love this idea of “re-branding” and it speaks to me of “reframing” — in the same way that I am really work to reframe toddler behavior, e.g., from stubborn to strong-willed; she’s not manipulating me, but rather it’s her JOB at this stage in development to push boundaries; “she’s not giving me a hard time, she’s HAVING a hard time,” etc. We’re also currently struggling with our morning routines as this has been a big change for her… for more than a year (since last March), we have had somewhat loosely structured mornings since we kept her home, whereas now with school I do have to watch the clock. She also generally has intense mood swings in the morning. One particular morning we were both having a rough time, and I decided to pause and simply say to her, “Mornings are so hard for us.” I was amazed at how she softened at that, and she climbed on my lap and I held her for a few minutes. It’s amazing how acknowledging that fact — it almost seemed like stating the obvious — validated the challenging emotions in both of us. Still working on “re-branding” our morning routines too, and I know we’ll get there… but I was struck by how powerful that pause was.

    1. Hi Mia – I love this moment you had with your daughter! I can totally imagine myself in your shoes and appreciate the inspiration. My sister is good about this with her own kids — just stopping to acknowledge when things are difficult, complicated, etc. Thanks for the reminder.


  2. Oh, I love this. Rebranding a tough time is so smart, and it must also be lovely for you to exhale a bit after work as you spend time outdoors with your family. I love this idea! We started doing something similar at the outset of COVID, by incorporating 2-3 neighborhood walks into our day, in all seasons and most weather conditions — and it’s been so helpful. The fresh air is a game-changer, and it’s good to realize that all of the household tasks can wait just a bit!


    1. 100% — “it’s good to realize that all of the household tasks can wait just a bit.” This struck me so hard — I am so the type to try to make sure the house is immaculate, everything away and in its place, everything done efficiently and at the right time, that sometimes I need to really shake myself so I don’t forget to soak up the cute, curious, funny little details of parenting two little humans right now. Thanks for this reminder.


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