Last week, I revisited an old post from the depths of lockdown and I found tears drawing close to the surface. Those were hard times. I did not write about it then, the wound too-tender, but when I caught COVID in March 2020, it was severe, to the point that I wondered if I would need to go to the hospital. I now joke that I “took to my bed for a month,” like some kind of fin de siecle dandy, but the truth is that my illness then was one of the scariest times of my life. I specifically remember searching deep corners of the Internet in a thick, febrile haze, trying to find out “how long into a case of COVID before you know you will need to go to the hospital” and “average length of COVID illness.” At the time, there were no answers, no reputable sources with which to consult. There were only headlines, and horrific stories of young, healthy people who looked like me dying from it. This was early enough into COVID that we were told not to get tested because tests were not yet plentifully available, and we needed them for front-line workers and people with compromised immune systems, for whom an early diagnosis might be more meaningful. I was tormented by the story of Amanda Kloots, a celebrity fitness instructor whose seemingly hearty husband had caught COVID and was dying in the ICU. (He eventually did pass away.) This is hard to put on paper, even now, but I remember not wanting to go to the hospital because I would have had to go by myself — my husband would have needed to stay with the kids, and hospitals weren’t permitting companions entry anyhow — and I did not want to die alone.
I carried these morbid thoughts on top of the unusual pressure of caring for two very young children while also running a business, having no childcare, and being confined to a small Manhattan apartment. It was a hard time for me.
Woof. These are dark, tough admissions; I am sorry to drop them on your doorstep this Tuesday. But they are also truths, and I feel now, three years out, capable of looking directly at them. They are also useful context for explaining why the essay below, which I am republishing today with modest edits, pulls at my heart.
At the same time, revisiting my musings now, I am keenly aware that I was navigating the impossible questions of the quarterlife roam that exist with or without COVID. The pandemic did heighten some of the intensity around them, but I know many of you are sitting at the other end of this essay pondering the same kinds of things today: should we move closer to family? what does it mean — emotionally, socially, professionally — to leave New York [or wherever you currently are]? are we prioritizing our careers sufficiently in this decision? at what moment will it become clear that NOW is the time for a change?
If you are blinking at this screen wondering the same things:
Continue to follow the circle of thought. Know that it is often a long coil, but one day, you will feel a tiny internal shift that moves you from 50% sure you want to make the decision to 51% sure. I can almost give you the coordinates as to when this happened for me. Mr. Magpie and I used to talk long walks along the Jackie O. reservoir, and one chilly, early spring morning, he asked, as we walked along the East side of the pond: “Should we do it?” And I knew what he meant, and I knew that after answering “no” or “I’m not sure” to that question for nearly a year, I needed to say “yes.”
In the meantime, have the late-night back-and-forths with your partner. Draw up lists of pros and cons. Solicit advice and then sift through it. Go in one direction and then lean back against it. Talk through all the logistics and complexities. Travel to strangely detailed contingencies, like the possible high schools your children might one day attend if you settle in X neighborhood, and how you might find a local caregiver, and how long it would take to get to the closest grocery. Know that nothing is permanent. Trust yourself.
All this to say: I am sending love to my fellow friends in the quarterlife fracas. It can feel like you are solving math equations to which no one can possibly know the answer. In Enchantment, Katherine May mentions that “the earth offers replies, not answers” (paraphrase) and the distinction has been on my mind since. So much of adulthood is about accepting that subtle difference as a condition of life: there are very few absolutes, very few things that are obvious and uncontestable. My quarterlife meanderings have taught me to accept inputs rather than answers, and to wade through their jaspe and ambiguous shades with patience. However, as I write below: the sun will still rise in the morning. Your toddler will still sing “The Wheels on the Bus” and the smell of lilac will still remind you of your grandmother and you will still love the way your husband looks with his baseball cap on backwards. That is to say: the patterns that matter will persist, no matter when or where you choose to move, or which job you elect to take or quit, or what decision you make with regard to childcare.
The sun will still rise.
Onward we go…!
A few weeks into quarantine, our super informed us that ours was one of four or five units (out of dozens) left occupied in our building. An informal survey of my Manhattanite friends revealed that more than half had fled the city to spend time with family or rent houses upstate or out East. Three sets of friends with young children moved away permanently. So to the readers who have asked whether recent events have prompted us to re-evaluate our decision to live in New York City: yes.
Yet here we are, with no immediate intentions to leave. I’m not sure whether our outlook would be the same were it not for the proximity of Central Park, which has become an extension of our daily living space. We sojourn there for an hour or two after lunch, grateful for its sparsity, at least in some of the corners we have claimed for ourselves in recent weeks. I took the picture above earlier this week, struck by its lucid conjuring of the essence of childhood: my little scavenger with bare feet and bird-like eyes, seeking treasure in the grass, or maybe dodging a worm, or — doing something else perfectly suited to a three-year-old’s self-directed curiosity. You would never know she was standing just a few yards from Central Park West, with the blare of sirens and honk of horns her routine and unremarkable soundtrack.
If there is anything positive I can say about coronavirus, it is that it has reminded me that life finds a way. Babies are born, lovers are married, and still my three-year-old will come home in the afternoon with twigs in her hair and stories of the bee that crawled into her pink shoe.
“But mama said ‘Shoo, bee,'” she explained matter-of-factly to her father, recounting the incident upon return home, her attentiveness to this nothing of a story catching me off-guard and leaving me unexpectedly swallowing, hard, in the hallway of our apartment, the purity and narrowness of her thoughts stirring — or maybe relaxing — something in me. So too when I find myself tripped up by her incessant interrogation: “But what does a drain do?” and “Why is that car white?”, as I fumble with my mask. Her precociousness–her unflustered toddlerness–momentarily blots out the intensity of these times.
Life finds a way.
And so Mr. Magpie and I talk at length about what we want, what might be best for our children and our careers, and how to reconcile all of that with not only the presence of coronavirus but the lumbering reality of logistics. It is an incalculable math problem. How to weigh, for example, the impossible privilege of dining out at Prune (currently and possibly forever closed) and dropping by the Met and enjoying a largely pedestrian life where the pediatrician is one block (one block!!! one block!!!) away and nearly anything in this incredibly cultured and diverse city is at our fingertips, with the uncertainty around when this damned virus will die down and our current lust for a square of hedge-lined backyard, preferably visible from a squat window over a farmhouse sink, from which I can watch my two babies play in the grass while the sun sets? Is it the times speaking or am I just at that stage of life where space matters more? How often do we truly take advantage of the city anyhow? How much more would we value it if we committed to a couple of visits each year while living elsewhere? Would we visit after all? Would we find ourselves those insufferable urbanites mourning the lack of delivery options, never quite “over” our brief stint in NYC? It feels impossible to imagine moving of our own volition versus following our careers, but are we at one of those times in life, and possibly in history, where “the impossible” is prudent?
Recent life experiences have left me circumspect when contemplating the unknown. I find myself grittier — better able to fare life’s inevitable dips and twists — but cautious, especially when I find myself inclined to do something based on near-term pain.
And so we sit in this city, in our tight quarters, soaking in the small pleasures where we can find them, clinging to one another.
All to say: at 34, I wrote that life had taught me that it was OK not to have everything figured out. Specifically:
“In my 20s, I didn’t quite know who I was, but I believed I could do or be anything; I was amorphous, evolving — but the world around me felt crisp, knowable, navigable. In my 30s, I know who I am with a kind of true blue certainty (I am somebody!!!), but feel less convinced of my agency, less confident in my grasp on the world. It’s as if I went from being far-sighted to near-sighted; I didn’t know what I didn’t know in my 20s, and now I know what I don’t know — and so my conviction in the shape of things has shifted, shrunk, concentrated in on only the small world around me, the narrow sphere in which I know that 1+1=2. The mathematics beyond skew.”
At nearly 36, I write to let you know that I still don’t know — and in fact know less? — but that it’s still OK. After all, the mathematics in my own home still computes. Tomorrow morning, my daughter will spring straight out of bed at 6:02 a.m., pad into my bedroom, and let me know “the sun is coming up, mama”–and we’ll do it all over again.
+Ordering this Rhode top.
+Love this dress in the bright orange.
+Love these French farmhouse-inspired tablecloths (all under $100).
+Cheerful Sunbrella pillows for your patio.
+Fun jeweled satin slides — a great pick if you don’t want to wear heels but need to look dressy.
+This “daydream crew” looks like it’d be a workhorse — perfect layer for tossing over a fitness tank / beneath a jacket.
+These $30 linen pants are a chic everyday option — just pair with a striped tee or white tank.
+St. Laurent’s tribute sandals are a great designer alternative to the Hermes Oran sandal.
+Obsessed with this Evi Grintela shirt dress. I could live in shirtdresses.
+Inexpensive hobnail acrylic drinkware for your outdoor meals this summer.
+Love this ric-rac trim top from La Veste.