The Befores.

By: Jen Shoop

Do you remember when we used to take our time?

Sitting barefoot on the deck of your house in Clarendon, twilight giving way to night?

Floating down the James River into the stillness of a Charlottesville summer, shoulders slowly bronzing, accommodating long pauses in conversation and the sense that the azure sky above us went on forever?

Afternoons with my feet in your lap, shadows crawling across the ceiling of my R Street apartment until we’d light a lamp in the crepuscular dim?

Mornings passing like honey, suffused in amber sun and twisted sheets and the languid and disorderly conversation as to whether we might go out, maybe, to the Farmer’s Market in Lincoln Park, or the dog park, or to just sit in the little square of the backyard, reading?

Now: every moment accounted for, so little give in our schedules.

I will not complain.

This is not an inequality, with angle brackets indicating a higher value in “the before times.” It is a clause, perhaps, beholden to its own conditions, complete and satisfying in its own way.

Still, I can miss the befores, the simplicity of planning to be together with no agenda, no curfew, not even the specter of concern about what a late night might do to the morning’s plans.

We talk now of “when the kids are off to college” — might we return to Manhattan living, just the two of us? When the city feels more manageable and less governed by strollers on subways and the strangle of little space? I imagine that life would bear a similar sprawl, with just you and me standing still in the center, spinning the world around us. But I know that cannot — will not — be the case. We are forever tied to these beautiful children we have, whether they live with us or not. There are four of us here now in the eye of the hurricane. As it should be.

So instead, I will just sit with those slow memories here in my lap. The way you held your beer down by your pocket, watching the stars emerge one by one above us. The slow reach of your arm for my innertube on the James River, to keep me close. Your Washington-Lee baseball t-shirt, worn thin by time, slipping over your head, as we’d prepare to leave for coffee in the morning — there was and is something distinctive about the movement; I doubt very much anyone does this like you do: clipped and sequential, the same tug at the end each time. Why do I feel blessed by these intimacies? Gifts, all of them, these befores, to which I return in gratitude today.

Post Scripts.

+On finding an easy kind of love.

+Mr. Magpie drove a Jeep named Party Girl in college. It was a big part of his mystique.

+The early days of our relationship.

+”There is something about growing old with you that continues to return me to my teenage years, as if every trip around the sun is also a reclamation of things past, every rotation a winnowing inward.”

+3 a.m. parties have changed in our time together.

+Total change of topic: what do you eat for lunch?

Shopping Break.

+This adorable gingham shirtdress is on its way to me. I cannot wait to be living in dresses again on the daily! You can get the look for less with this Target steal.

+Keep daydreaming of this OLDR top. Also love this exaggerated floral.

+OK, these personalized sippy cup bands are SO genius. So much better than a sticker that comes off, or sharpie! (Some of my favorite lunchbox gear for littles here.)

+Hill House marked down a few of its nap dresses – this iconic style in navy is 30% off! And I have gotten so (!) much surprising wear out of this jeweled top and pants set (both now 65% off). I wore it to my book club a week or two ago with a sparkly headband and velvet furlanes and am actually wearing them this week (in NYC!) with these fun earrings and some burgundy velvet pumps (can’t find exact in velvet but suede ones here).

+Very tempted by this $61 white nap dress

+THIS $88 belt will be a total MVP this season. Layer over long patterned dresses like this or this.

+SO many fabulous accessories out right now that I am loving, but had to add one more insanely chic and reasonably priced buy to the mix: these $40 handmade flower earrings!!!! Had to order!

+This sweater is the perfect shade of blue. Love the shape.

+For my brides to be. I imagine wearing this on a honeymoon, or for breach portraits.

+The platform espadrille trend at a great price point.

+Hard to resist this $59 top (marked down from $200) — such an easy, chic look with denim for spring.

+Gorgeous, well-priced scalloped sheeting.

+Speaking of sheeting, starting to ponder how I might outfit the new bunkbeds in our playroom on the top floor of our home. I am thinking of doing something like stars, swiss crosses, or stripes paired with shams with piping for a tailored look. Also love these shams because they can be personalized in super chic ways — like imagine with our last name in block letters across the front: SHOOP! Or a message in script like “night night,” “bon soir,” “sweet dreams.”

+On-trend top for under $50.

+LOVE this Chanel-inspired boucle dress for $60.

+Pretty floral flats.

+This SEA dress is charming! And a similar white eyelet number (sans appliques) under $100.

+A classic canvas tote for under $20 — take to a local monogrammer!

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16 thoughts on “The Befores.

  1. “The slow reach of your arm for my innertube on the James River, to keep me close.”

    Gahhhh, this line did me in. This post is perfect. I’ve been nearly that in love 2x before. Can’t wait for it to stick like Mr. & Mrs. Magpie ❤️

  2. I must admit that I’m so happy to be in this stage now that I don’t often think of the befores. (Maybe because the befores were entirely subsumed by graduate school and flailing on an academic job market? Many happy moments, but largely a time to which I don’t wish to return!) But I absolutely love the “15-20-25 years from now…” game. I have a very specific vision of visiting my children when they study abroad, ha!

    1. Oo, I love that idea, too. The fact that you don’t spend much time lingering on the befores suggests to me that you are exactly where you should be. A beautiful feeling!


  3. This reminds me of a memory I was recently turning over, thinking about how I used to go to spin class every Saturday morning (at a studio that no longer exists) and then walk around the corner to a little breakfast spot (that no longer exists!). Either blissfully alone or with some friends from class, I could usually spend AS LONG AS I WANTED eating and reading/chatting. Such a foreign concept these days! But the freedom came with a side of loneliness at the time, and I wouldn’t trade that for the chaotic, early childhood years we’re living now…not by a long chalk.

    1. Hi Stephanie — Yes! So hard to remember what it was like back then — surreal! — but equally grateful for what I have now.


  4. Dreaming of where our life might take us, once our children are out in the world on their own, is one of my favorite games with my husband. Are we living in a beach town, on an intercoastal waterway, with a boat? Are we living in Paris or still in NYC? A house in the country? So many ideas and so many dreams… it will be fun to watch them all take shape!

    1. I love this game! Landon and I have a funny quirk of immediately wanting to move/retire anywhere we visit. Haha – we spent time on the Eastern Shore in MD and immediately thought – “could this be us? waterfront? with a boat?” Now that we’re back visiting NYC, we’re like, “IT’S NEW YORK OR NOWHERE.” We’ll be visiting Charleston in a month and I’m sure we’ll imagine ourselves there, too. HA! I guess the point is – we can imagine ourselves anywhere so long as we’re together.


    1. I love it too! Had to double check the definition because it flew out onto the page and then I paused and thought, “wait, is that a medical term or does it really refer to twilight?” Ha!

  5. Love this. There is nothing like traveling life with your best friend. While each stage of life is so different, it is magical and wonderful. Your posts always remind me how lucky I am and to be grateful.

    Also rushed to purchase that Hill House top, such a steal.

    1. I completely agree with your note that each life stage is different, but in its own way “magical and wonderful.” Thanks for bringing that into focus for me.

      I love the HHH top! Yay!

    1. Eek! I meant to write Washington-Lee, Mr. Magpie’s high school in Arlington! Will make correction now — sorry! However, we have been to Lexington for a family reunion and I LOVED it there. Beautiful part of VA.


    1. Ah! Laura, it was a typo – I meant Washington-Lee High School, not W&L. Sorry for the error. Love VA though and love the W&L ladies who jumped out of the woodwork on this one!


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