The Befores.

By: Jen Shoop

This morning, republishing an essay from the archives, because it’s been on my mind this summer, as I observe that we’ve entered a new phase of parenting, which in turn feels like a new phase of our marriage. When I wrote this piece back in 2022, we were still in sippy cups and early bedtimes and now our children can pour themselves cereal and play without supervision in the house, in the yard, even in the cul de sac by our home. (I still can’t believe it…!) It feels in a sense that time has bent back on itself. We have a bit more freedom. We’re better able to take our time. Even without childcare in the afternoons, I’m often surprised by how much I can accomplish. The children can capably (albeit spottily — there are many interruptions) preoccupy themselves for a few hours before we descend for dinner. It doesn’t feel like “the befores” but rather like “a middle”? If you are still in the early years of child-rearing, I hope this note gives you a sense of peace: though the baby and toddler years are precious, they are demanding — and things do ease up, or at least they have for us. I know mothers to older children are probably saying: “Just you wait…” and of course every phase presents its own challenges. (We are deep in a bickering phase, and tempers flare at the drop of a hat. I also did not know I’d already be talking about body image with my seven year old.) But this season, with children 5 and 7, feels like a golden age. We are all unspooling a bit.


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.

The following content may contain affiliate linksIf you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+This striped linen Boden is a dream.

+I saw this striped knit dress on Nicole Cassidy and now can’t unsee it…so chic, especially with the contrasting turquoise jewelry! This J. Crew dress has a similar vibe for less.

+Speaking of turquoise, she’s wearing Lizzie Fortunato (which — did you know you can borrow jewelry, like this LF piece, at Rent the Runway? Kind of clever for these trendier styles!) But anyway, I can’t stop thinking about turquoise for summer. I love this Nest Jewelry with the chunky pearl center, this JB x JB, and this Dorsey necklace. The latter is so unusual and special — love the idea of layering it with my Clemence and a white dress.

+Another Dragon Diffusion look-for-less. Chic!

+If the trendy La Ligne knit striped shorts are out of budget (or sold out before you could snag), try this $55 pair! So cute with a chunky white knit for chilly beach evenings. Also love these (more expensive) Frank and Eileens.

+Another fun take on the jelly trend.

+Colored acrylic wine glasses for outdoor fun.

+OMG this gingham maxi skirt.

+Another Rixo slam dunk.

+Cutest little wicker lamp. Under $50!

+Summer skin essentials.

+I basically refuse to take this bralette off. It is so comfortable and breathable. All the best undergarments here.

+I keep hunting for Loretta Caponi scores on TRR. I might need to buy this and this. Also find myself eyeing these Celine Cabas totes.

+Gorgeous $108 dress. Love it in the red. Looks like it could be La Ligne?

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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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