The Silhouette of Christmas.

By: Jen Shoop

The other afternoon, my face brushed up against the edge of our sofa and I cringed at the tenderness in my still-healing forehead.  I had forgotten about my new scar for the better part of the day, but — ouch.  I permitted myself a minute to mope.  My plastic surgeon’s comment that “in six months, strangers won’t notice the scar” tumbled through my mind.  She had delivered the news as though it were a solace, a faint and encouraging nod behind it, and yet all I heard was “six months” and “strangers,” my mind immediately traveling to the glass-half-empty side of the equation: so what you’re saying is that my loved ones and I will still notice the scar.  Forever, probably.  Then I thought of something my mother had told me while I had cried to her about the incident: after a long “buck-up, camper” back-and-forth in which she played the part of the pragmatist and I played the part of the drama queen, she paused and said: “Vanity, thy name is woman.”  I had thought the comment appropriately, artfully callous at the time.  I deserved the mild admonishment.

And so I sat on the sofa holding both comments in my hands, feeling alternately sorry for myself and vexed with myself for tumbling into this self-indulgent maelstrom two weeks after the occasion, even after I have given more than sufficient thought to why it happened and what I might learn from it and even after I have written about it extensively and even after so many of you have sent me kind and encouraging messages.  Even now, as I write this, I roll my eyes at my self-absorption in returning to this topic. 

But I have a point.

I walked over to the mirror in our living room, ran my fingers up the wound.  I tilted my face to the left and the right.  I sulked.  And then: Vanity, thy name is woman.  I heaved a sigh and abandoned my visage, attending to mini instead.

Later that night, I tossed and turned.  I wasn’t solely agonizing over the scar, but it was flitting in and out of my thoughts, along with anguish over a floundering friendship, logistical anxieties surrounding our upcoming trip to D.C., and the usual surge of inane but urgent details surrounding motherhood and its tackle: signing up for a make-up class at mini’s ballet school before the semester ends, reminding her nanny about a schedule change, ordering more diapers.  I turned first to my phone to distract myself.  I putzed around Instagram.  I tottered into the account of Amanda Auer, and my heart stopped.

Amanda is mother to a toddler who has just undergone multiple heart surgeries and their complications.  Heart throbbing, I read through her posts, so full of hope and faith and yet the razor-sharp agony of seeing her daughter succumb to illness and travel through the necessary though horrifying machinery of medicine.  I found myself weeping.  I wept with empathy, horror, and sorrow for this mother.  I wept with tenderness for this little girl in the clutches of such a terrifying series of procedures.  The pictures rift my heart: the smallness, the sweetness, the brightness of her little girl against the dispassionate metallic bulk of the hospital apparatus around her.  I couldn’t help myself from imagining mini in the same situation, and so I wept with gratitude for mini’s good health. 

And then, most bitterly, I wept with guilt over my petty narcissism.  

I woke to a brand new frame of mind, overdue and welcome.  I have been carrying Amanda and her daughter in my heart, weaving them into my nightly prayers, stumbling upon them in my waking thoughts.  Their struggles are enormous and heart-wrenching but not mine and I so hesitate to maneuver myself and my modest heartaches into their orbit, but they have become the unwitting fulcrums to a much-needed change in my own attitude, the antidotes to my conceit.  They are the silhouette of Christmas I needed to remember: the cameo of the mother and her child sheltered from the brutish forces of nature, radiating hope.  


+More techniques for falling asleep when you’re fretting into the wee hours of the morning.

+Two of my other most-cherished moments of learning: what I learned from my grandmother’s reaction to the death of her daughter and the discovery that I am somebody (and you are, too).  Also this: you are enough.

+I have long held a special devotion to Saint Mary.  I find her saliently present in the turning points of my ongoing edification — when one of my best friends passed away, when Mr. Magpie was looking for a job, and now here, too.  About a decade ago, I found a small ceramic plaque of Mary on Etsy somewhat similar to this (though mine is all white) that I have hanging at my bedside.  It may be one of the most meaningful things I own.

+OK.  That was some heavy lifting for a Tuesday morning before Christmas.  Phew.  We’ll conclude on a happier note: this velvet dress, which looks strikingly similar to a Saloni (even the same goldenrod hue!) I’ve been swooning over.  

+Wishing I’d gotten my act together and ordered some of this wrapping paper to coordinate with our Christmas cards.  Thinking of ordering now so I’ll have some for next year.  Also love this.  But I will say I have loved my secret hack of buying a huge (inexpensive!) roll of kraft paper (there’s still time to order some before Christmas).  Does anyone else feel a twinge of guilt wrapping a big box in expensive wrapping paper?!?!  I like this kraft stuff for that reason.  I tie everything up with super-wide grosgrain ribbon in green or black and white stripe.

+Such a darling and versatile dress — for $35!  Layer over tights with black booties in winter or pair with sandals in summer.  Easy.

+I have long coveted one (or better yet TWO) of these leather footstools from longtime New York institution Scully & Scully.  They have the coolest accent pieces for home — a bizarre mix of traditional and whimsical.  Also adore these sheep.

+Guess WHAT!  If you liked the pearl embellished headband I bought last week but couldn’t quite legitimize the price tag, you’ll be ecstatic to discover this $10 headband.  No pearls, but very much in the same vein.  I ordered it STAT.  And, some good news: Target is currently offering free two-day shipping, so this could still come in time for Christmas in case you, like me, are planning on a pastel/pink/frou-frou holiday look.   (I’m wearing this exact dress on Christmas eve.)  

+ICYMI: This $100 jacket is getting insane reviews.  I love the edgy styling with the oversized pocket and in fact saw it on a chic little lady the other day at 70th and Amsterdam.  She wore it with fur-trim booties and looked amazing.

+So sad mini is too big for this.  I LOVE this dress.

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10 thoughts on “The Silhouette of Christmas.

  1. Just coming here to say what Alex said so eloquently. Be easy on yourself!

    Also: most years I use kraft paper and festive washi tape, plus bows or sometimes even (a lot of) baker’s twine in red & white. Love! xo

  2. I’ve thought about this post a lot (probably too much!) and two things struck me.
    1. I have to agree with Anna here. Looks matter, and are one way we’re judged as Western women. I have a million thoughts on the validity of this, but it’s also a fact. While you are so much more than your appearance, you are also an attractive woman who’s probably been validated and complimented on your appearance your whole life. You’re not a bad or superficial or vain person for identifying with your appearance. This is your face, forever, and changes to it- especially one caused by an unexpected injury- are not nothing.
    2. Your problem is small compared to what the family you mentioned are going through, and I too fell down the wormhole of her instagram feed. I am not someone who prays exactly, but they are in my thoughts along with everything they’re going through. No child/ mother/ parent should have to deal with that!
    That said, you don’t have to compare your problems with theirs! It’s good to have perspective, but also someone will always have it better or worse than you. I’m a pro at minimizing my problems and making myself feel guilty for my relatively ‘small’ problems, but that only serves to make myself feel like shit for feeling like shit. It’s exhausting! You are not stuck in a migrant detention camp, but you’re allowed to be upset about this! You’re allowed to mourn, even if it’s not a death, it’s not nothing! Sermon over, a fan as always. x alex

    1. Hi Alex — Wow, so much to unpack here and I appreciate all of your thoughts. You are right on all fronts. You know what I realized while reading your note? That I had swung way far on one side just after the fall (i.e., self-pity, self-consciousness) and then swung way far to the other (self-abnegation, self-guilt) after I saw that Instagram. Your post was a reminder that — as in most things — a moderate view is just right, and that’s where I find I have landed now that I’ve sifted through the full gamut of emotions. Sometimes I heave a sigh at the scar and sometimes I shrug it off. That’s probably about right. So thanks for making this pendulum swing I’ve gone through so transparent and for reassuring me that I’ve landed in the right spot.

      Your last comment, too, reminded me of one of the most powerful things a friend has ever told me: “pain is pain is pain.” No sense in creating some arbitrary scale to measure/compare the woes of various people. If you’re hurt, you’re hurt! Anyway, thank you so much for this meaningful and astute set of observations, and for taking my musings on board with such seriousness and thought. Lucky to have you in my world!


  3. Jen,
    I know that it might be deeply personal, but would you ever consider writing about your faith journey? I’m curious to see if it’s always been relatively linear (like my mother) or if becoming a mother has brought you closer to the church (like my sister) or if you’ve ever fluctuated as the “spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak” (where I am currently… in a new city with a new church that I don’t connect with, and a husband who is supportive but not catholic—aka doesn’t necessarily complain about me snoozing through mass haha.)

    Of course I understand if that’s too personal, but I believe it would be a beautiful and inspiring read!

    1. Hi Veronica! Oh man, I feel you. I have definitely gone through phases of my life where I have felt more connected to my faith, and others where I have felt more distant from it. I will give this some thought. I do think motherhood and some of the challenges of the past many years have led me to lean further into prayer — and also, maybe? At least for me? — age. When I was younger, I was in many ways convinced of my own immortality and my ability to reason through anything. As I’ve grown up and been through the ringer in various ways, I’ve been humbled by my own conceit and have found it easier to put faith elsewhere, as I find fewer and fewer things are absolute and true in this world. In my opinion, believing in any religion requires a suspension of reason. As I’ve matured, I’ve found this leap of faith easier to make. More to come on this — thanks for giving me something to chew on today! xo

      1. Thanks, Leah! Will definitely work it into an upcoming post. Been thinking on this for the last 24 hours. xoxo

  4. I encourage you to not be too hard on yourself for wanting your face to look a certain way. It’s your face! It’s the only one you have! Sometimes I feel as women, we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Shamed for not caring enough about our appearances or for looking imperfect, but then shamed for being “vain” if we admit we do care how we present ourselves to the world. Follow your heart and do what makes you feel good. Your feelings are valid, whatever they are!

    1. This is SO true, Anna. The message we hear is: “be low maintenance! go natural!” and then “invest in the most expensive procedures and skincare money can buy!” It’s conflicting. Thanks for writing this today 🙂 xo

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