Musings + Essays

This Is How It Happens.

By: Jen Shoop

CAVEAT: This post is a slightly more emotive (though still oblique and very mild-mannered) conversation with the pandemic in which we are currently living. Feel free to skip down to the post-scripts or check out my slices of joy post if you need nothing but happy feelings at the moment. So, so many of you have written to encourage me to keep up with the positivity and I intend to do so!

My grandfather used to pour his morning bowl of cereal before he went to bed at night. This was after his wife — my beloved grandmother — had passed on, and though I perceived the habit as bizarre, I understood in some sense that it had to do with her death and to leave it alone.

A friend’s mother fell down the steps and injured her ankle a few years ago, and she has never descended her stairs without a hand on the rail and a focus on her footwork since. My friend shared this with a look of exasperation and added, “I keep wanting to say, ‘You don’t need to do that!‘ but I bite my tongue.”

And then there are the folks who have kept a well-stocked pantry since the “Y2K” conspiracy, when everyone loaded their homes with tinned green beans and purified water and spare batteries just in case the world really did go haywire at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999. A bit much, we might think, to live in such a perennial state of vigilance.

And the people — myself, I will admit, included — who occasionally span the transept of the Church on Sunday morning to ponder points of egress in the case of an active shooter situation. An abundance of caution, etc.

And now, with this pandemic, I think: this is how it happens. This is how deep-seated habits are formed, the kind that just keep. The kind that will leave our children rolling their eyes: “Oh, mom. It’s fine. Don’t be so embarrassing.” As we frenetically scrub our hands, humming “Happy Birthday.” As we stock up on Purell when on sale and text our college-bound children: “2 for $5! I bought a whole case! Do you want some for your dorm, honey?” As we awkwardly circumvent hand-shakes, fumbling through salutes or fist pumps, much to the chagrin of our teens. As we find ourselves overly parsimonious with toilet paper.

My grandchildren will say: “She is so weird about not doing the kiss of peace in Church!”

And yours: “I don’t understand why she freezes so many loaves of bread in that damn freezer! She doesn’t need three loaves at any given moment?!”

Yes, this is how it happens: a very bad thing that leaves us forever changed, forever leery, forever determined to prevent is recurrence, no matter how much we realize our precautions have run a bit far afield.

Musing on this elicits an odd pairing of hope and melancholy, as I find myself already, presumptively — brashly, perhaps, given that I’ve no sense for the duration or personal import of this situation — contemplating what’s to come when the last embers of this wildfire are out, and at the same time wistful at its suddenly-transfigured image.

Just a month ago, I was going to be Jen, the granny with good shoes and an obsession with ironed sheets and her four sweet grandbabies (God willing). Now: Jen, the granny with a too-well-stocked-pantry who makes an ungainly peace sign at fellow parishioners at Church on Sunday morning, leery of germ-bearing palms. (But still with good shoes and those sweet grandbabies, mind you.) I am being intentionally flippant here, lest we veer to hard into the heaviness when I know so many of you are looking to me for escape and levity, but you get my drift:

This is how it happens

Post Scripts.

+Everlane is running 25% off their entire site until Friday. I love these boxy tees (own in multiples), these anoraks, and lived in this sweater in the pink color all winter.

+Cute hair ties!

+Everything is 30% off at LR!!! Still eyeing these, which I feel like would mate well with my entire closet.

+This console is so unique. Love.

+Adore this traditional, European-style romper for a baby boy. Would buy everything from this brand!

+I think I must own this skirt.

+Sweetest little set for a wee one (on sale!)

+Dying over this print!

+Love this little ditty.

+Things I use and love every single day.

+Spring finds for under $100.

+Ordered this for mini’s bathroom — love the color and the scalloped trim!

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18 thoughts on “This Is How It Happens.

  1. I have been thinking a lot about this too. I remember being sort of bemused when my husband told me his grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, rinsed and reused her dental floss and put zip lock bags through the dishwasher. I think I get it now!

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about the automation that is being implemented or will be implemented to make life more “contactless”, and all of the consequences of that.

    1. Totally — I’ve found myself already growing way more resourceful with the ingredients we have on hand, not willing to throw away even a scrap of produce in particular, which has become harder to come by. We are anxiously awaiting our next delivery of food, which is meant to come tomorrow, as we’ve now been without fresh produce for a few days and have resorted to frozen, which is totally fine but just not the same. My kids usually feast on fresh produce all day long! Grapes, apples, berries, bananas out to wazoo. Anyway, this has already changed me. I used to occasionally scrape excess grapes or berries from the children’s plates into the garbage (grubby fingers were in it! there’s a strand of shredded cheese mixed in!). Don’t think I’ll be doing that again.

      Anyway, good point about the automation element. And even things like grocery shopping — now that almost everyone is doing it digitally, are we forever changed? Will grocery shops become warehouses for pre-packaged bags we’ve ordered online rather than the more traditional retail experience? Can see both pros and cons…


  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so nice to see it so well written. Hang in there! Love from Portugal (also 3 weeks in)

    1. Hi Mariana!! How are things going over there? Glad this resonated with you, even if it is sad/wistful…


    2. Not great mas not too bad either: our government learned a bit from the horror in Italy and Spain and declared national emergency early on. I believe that has helped a bit. Personally, I’m grateful to be at home with my husband and children and to have a nice backyard for them to run around. Thank you for your blog, it is one of my slices of joy each day 🙂

      1. Oh!! Thank you so so much for the deeply sweet complement. This made my day :). Thinking of you all and glad to hear it’s not as severe over there!! xx

  3. Hey there – lovely post, I really enjoyed it. So true – all our little quirks come from something. I look forward to the day when we can look back and laugh at how we earned these mental scars. Remember when the whole world made bread!

    We’re in Western Australia where quarantine doesn’t seem to be as hard as you New Yorkers have it. Lots of space and an isolated city and we haven’t been hit badly – yet. Hope you and your family are doing well. Mind yourselves. x

    PS – in what seems an aeon ago, you recommended some white shirts and I invested in one! However, it was summer and too hot and now I fear we will skip the cooler months here. I look forward to debuting it 😉

    1. Yay, so glad to hear those t-shirts will be finally emerging! It’s the little things these days. I was so, so excited to pull out one of the “chic nightgowns” I mentioned in a post a few days back the other day. Such a nice change of pace.

      Thank you, Gilly, for the well wishes. Hoping it stays quiet and safe out in Australia.


  4. Echoing what Leah said — don’t shy away from engaging with the realities of our collective situation! I appreciate reading your takes, as ever.

    I think Anna is exactly right, that we are being “reprogrammed” in many ways. I have chafed against this, but in recent days have surrendered to the situation and feel slightly more at peace. I just keep praying that my loved ones, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and strangers will stay safe and healthy. It’s a terrifying situation. Thinking of my New Yorkers the most, and I count you as part of that contingent!


    1. Thank you – will continue to share what I can, mindfully. So glad you’ve come to a place of resignation or acceptance or peace or whatever you want to call it. We’re three weeks in. Maybe the initial shock and confusion is wearing down a bit and we’re all coming to the same place…


  5. It makes me think of my grandmother, who at 96 has several of these remnants still with her from living through the war and having so little at times as a young mother with three small children.

    I will periodically bring over burgers, fries and a soda for a treat for lunch from a fast food chain and even if she only leaves 8 fries left in the bag… they will always go into the fridge or freezer to save for later. Small things that make me think “Honestly, I can bring you another bag tomorrow” or something similar, but that her resourcefulness can’t let her throw out.

    You’re absolutely right – it’s interesting to think of what will stay with us from this and what our grandchildren will notice in the years to come.

    1. Yes – that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about! (Bless your grandmother! And I want those fries right now — ha!) Those stubborn life traits that won’t quit, no matter how much circumstances have changed.


  6. Absolutely. We are all being reprogrammed right now, in small and large ways both. Fascinating to think about what we will carry with us decades into the future. I have been doing a daily journal throughout my time at home (Day 24 and counting…), just jotting down observations and thoughts. I hope someday they will be interesting for my ancestors to read.

    1. Such an interesting idea – and I am sure it will be valued in the future. Reprogrammed is the right word!


  7. Sending you and your family lots of love and prayers as you bunker down in NYC. So unsure of everything right now. “Together we are stronger” (said by Keith Urban the other day!).

  8. Just want to write in support of your more direct engagement with the pandemic. My mind doesn’t permit me to escape it anyway, no matter what I try to do or read. As a fellow scared mom, I appreciate your thoughts! Thinking about your family.

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