Musings + Essays

Slender Frustrations.

By: Jen Shoop

During a recent cycling session, the instructor commented: “showing up for yourself enables you to show up for others,” meaning that taking the time to exercise would help me better serve the loved ones in my life. I was surprised at how much our recent conversations on downtime, self-care, and mom guilt (more here) inflected and even derailed the well-intentioned comment. It’s not that I disagreed with her, but there was something about the simplicity — the facileness? — of her suggestion that landed awkwardly. I found myself thinking, “If it were only that easy!” and shuffling through all of the conversations I’ve had with so many of you on this subject in the comments section and in real life with friends, too. It felt vaguely the way I felt when I was in graduate school, and someone not in my graduate school would make a simple and accurate comment about a book, and I would find myself nearly waterlogged by the twenty-two different ways I wanted to take the conversation. I remember specifically finding myself tongue-tied while talking about Junot Diaz with a friend. She’d found his tone off-putting, a view with which I very much empathized, but there was so much more to say about that. His books are laced through with interrogations of masculinity and performance. They are also a feat of “owned voice” cultural representation. It is a wonder to make the text sound like the spoken word — in this particular case, of a Dominican-American boy growing up in New York — while still standing on its own as a beautifully shaped piece of art. And then there is the question of the reader’s relationship to the narrator and to the text, too, and what that means about the tone and its reception, especially from the lens of cultural difference.

Anyhow, it’s interesting, the way that goes: the more we think, the more expansive and circumstantial and nuanced things can feel. I am reminded again of Voltaire: “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” I don’t mean that in a faux modest way. I mean, truly, that the longer we spend with something, the more we respect its intricacies and textures. (If I ever find myself feeling the opposite, I must remember to spend an afternoon wandering around subreddits on obscure topics like “the best manual coffee grinders.” There are multiverses of experts on the leanest of matters, and even they disagree one another.)

But. I do believe the instructor to be correct, and I think many of you do, too, even if the entreaty leaves us itchy in certain ways. And yet — what does it mean to “show up” for yourself? It is not always exercise, or self-advocacy in fraught relationships, or massages, or therapy, though those are, certainly, media. I have been thinking a lot on this, and specifically on the tiniest ways in which it can be done. One approach, borrowed from another blog, runs as follows:

“I made a list of all the teeny tiny things that frustrate me regularly. One of them was that my laptop charger only works if the battery pack is tilted at a 45 degree angle. And then I made a plan to fix it.” 

I love this inventorying: such a small but realistic way to make tiny, material improvements in your day. I realized that I feel similar angst when I am writing at a crowded desk, and yet I have tended to sit here with a stack of notepads and planners on my left and three different liquids to drink on my right and the various accretions of living with small children: a handful of legos, a string of beads, a metal inset shading from Montessori. I hate the way it makes me feel: half-situated, distracted. And it took Allie’s prompt to make me realize I need to commit to a clearing of the decks before descending to write. Much better.

I think taking the time to accommodate these slender preferences and tamp down these minor frictions will pay off manifold. If I learned anything from claiming fifteen minutes of my day in order to create a space to buffer, download, and transition between “work Jen” and “Mom Jen,” it is that self-care and improvements to quality of life do not always need to be grandiose, expensive, time-consuming endeavors. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding a new charger, or moving the stack of notebooks to your drawer, or just zoning out at your desk for a dedicated stretch of time.

Hoping today you find a minute to jot down some daily frustrations and see what can be done about them —



+On realizing that chores are a part of the architecture of my day (scroll down to the musing).

+Adjacent thought: re-branding difficult times of day. It was strange to revisit this post, as we have evolved so much as a family since the writing of this post. Which, honestly, I must write about some time on a separate thread because it gave me the most profound sense of hope. I mean, it is truly all a phase. And now dinnertime is no big deal and it’s just bed time that occasionally fills me with dread, as it is mini’s preferred site of recalcitrance. More on that later, but just to say, if you are IN IT as a mom today and wondering how moms do this [whatever “this” challenging thing means for you] for years and years, just know it truly will change. The knotty parts smooth out; other knobs form. Keep going.

+On that note, if you’re “in it” as a mom in general, I’m here to sit with you. And so are a lot of other Magpie moms. You are so not alone!

+Unrelated, but I still find the feedback on this three-year-old post on not getting into my first choice school absolutely fascinating. Ditto this post on choosing English as a major.

Shopping Break.

+I should have included this in yesterday’s roundup but fabulous swim trunks for little boys in two great colors. Might buy in both! TBH sometimes in the summer I dress him in swim trunks and a polo regardless of the plans for the day since they so often get wet/play in the sprinkler/pool and these are cute enough to double as shorts.

+I’m helping my mom find a mother-of-the-bride dress for my sister’s deferred wedding celebration later this spring and wanted to share a few spectacular finds that met her criteria (she prefers long, pastel/floral, with sleeves): this Giambattista Valli, this Erdem, this Needle & Thread, this Zimmermann, this Badgley Mischka (short so probably not her pick), this Brock Collection (extra 20% off), and this Rickie Freeman.

+I need to run a retraction, or revision. I bought a Dudley Stephens fleece this past fall after seeing SO many women wear and love them. At first, I did not get the fuss. I found myself reaching for other athleisure layers instead. But suddenly, I cannot stop wearing this thing. It’s been great layered under my parka on snow days because the funnel color keeps my neck/face warm, but it’s thin enough to not be bulky underneath. I also super love it over a seamless fitness tee (<<just bought this one). It is just a perfect pairing and I can’t explain why? But I love it? Anyway, I have been getting a ton of use out of my fleece, which is in a chic sage green color. I kind of want a second? Is this how it starts?

+My MIL gave me an enormous bag full of crafts, decor, baking accessories (i.e., cupcake flags) that she’d gotten at Michael’s for up to 80% off. Many of it is from the just-ended holiday season and I just put it all on my holiday shelf for next year. I was ECSTATIC. A few great finds that are part of the promotion:




+Speaking of Michael’s and Valentine’s Day, I just loaded up my cart with some more items for my children to work with over the next few weeks. How cute are this card making kit, these die-cut stickers, this pom craft kit, and this heart craft kit? All 20% off and great for idle hands cooped up thanks to cold weather / COVID. I also got this card set for my children to use for notes — I love the “air mail” vibes.

+Fun new phone case for spring.

+Recently bought some more of these inexpensive rope toy bins. Perfect for the Barbies mini just inherited from her aunts and myself — there must be 30 Barbies!

+This quilted reversible coat is so fun for spring. Throw on over a patterned dress or with jeans and a tee. Love.

+This dramatic swimsuit is on my radar for a beach trip this summer.

+Love these ruffled melamine plates. $16 for 4!

+Will be sharing a post full of spring/Easter dresses soon because I know I’ve been dripping them in here and there and several of you are looking for one, but wanted to mention this dress which I imagine pairing with a perfect blue cardigan like this or this at Church.

+Speaking of Easter, we have these soft-sided baskets, but I’ve always loved these with the scalloped liners. In NYC, space was a huge consideration so I needed the soft-sided ones that could lay flat for storage!

+The cuff on this striped top is fab.

+A grown up St. Patrick’s day moment.

+OH! This cardigan!

+Target run!

+In case you need a day of at-home pampering

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6 thoughts on “Slender Frustrations.

  1. About five years ago, I made a list of little things that were driving me nuts. Then, I methodically resolved these irritations. I now have tweezers, a nail clipper & a small magnifying mirror by my “comfy” chair. I have an extra pair of basic earrings in my purse in case I lose one when I am out & about. I have hand cream in every room of my house. I have a lint roller in my coat closet for last-minute primping. On & on my list went and it
    was so satisfying to complete my list! Now, I am quicker at resolving these little things.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing these small but meaningful improvements! I totally know what you mean. Earlier this year, I found myself running upstairs and downstairs every morning in search of my daughter’s hair brush before school. After some time, I realized I simply needed a second hair brush and I always kept it in a little cubby off the kitchen so it was right where I needed it in the A.M. Huge improvement with such a small expense!


  2. Yes, yes, yes! Especially when the huge things (work-life balance, COVID disruptions, etc.) feel impossible to solve, (I hear you on the “if it were only that easy!” frustration) trying to “tamp down minor frictions” is the only way to persevere. And as you suggest, doing so can be quite impactful! It’s a bit like tidying versus cleaning. I can only get to the deep clean once a week, and some projects even less often, but a daily tidy goes a long way toward preserving my sanity in the meantime. Thank you for your timely thoughts, as ever!

    1. P.S. My DS fleece (I have the Greenpoint) might be my most satisfying Instagram-influenced purchase of 2021. I love the funnel neck and how well it layers. I got the cream so that it would have the most versatility, but I saw your sage and thought, how pretty! Dare I try a color…?

    2. Hi Susie! I so love this note on tidying versus cleaning — such a great visual for the way small achievements, with slighter effort, can actually take us pretty far. Thank you for the reminder. Glad this resonated!

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