Musings + Essays

We Made It, New York.

By: Jen Shoop

Last Friday, Governor Cuomo announced that the COVID positivity rate in New York had dipped below the lowest recorded rate since the dawn of this pandemic. The same day, I took my daughter downtown to school for the last time. The synchrony of these two events struck me: two heavy, welcome brackets on a very intense year. Whew, I thought. We made it. Now, I have inwardly cursed our daily commute on more occasions than I care to admit, whether burrowing, drenched, through a downpour with her little wet hand in mine, talking animatedly to distract her from public urination on the Subway platform, imploring her to “please get on the train” on mornings where she’s just not feeling it, or pausing every few steps on the street in 15 degree weather to wipe her eyeglass lens clean from the steam generated by her mask — just the saddest sight, given that her other eye is covered by an eye patch in the morning. I have also inwardly cursed at standing outside of her school waiting for the doors to open on days that are rainy, or shockingly cold, or on which I am anxious to return home to tend to other affairs. I realize these are not all unique-to-New-York grievances. Drop-off in a car promises to bear parallel complications and frustrations: traffic, bad driving conditions, a child who needs something when you cannot turn to help. But still. Mr. Magpie and I have unofficially been counting down the number of remaining commutes for a few weeks now. (“Just ten left!” I remember him saying in our kitchen what feels like yesterday.)

And yet. That morning, I was adrift in emotion. Tears pricked my eyes when the conductor slid down the vestibule window to wave hello to my daughter, as he has done on countless mornings past. I felt a strange pinch when my daughter informed me that “it smells like gummy bears” on the descent to the subway stop — it truly does, for some reason, smell like gummy bears on those steps, and she frequently comments upon it — and then scramble to select a blue seat on the Subway “because blue is my favorite color.” I watched her push through the turnstiles and stand at the little square of mosaic artwork in front of which we routinely park ourselves while waiting for the train and extend her palms in anticipation of sanitizer at the top of the 23rd street stop like she was an old pro. Which, of course, she is. She skipped down the street, her hand in mine, commenting on this, that, and the other thing, and I realized how many mornings I have walked that same path, in alternating patterns of happiness and anxiety and anticipation and calm, and how much that little stretch of Chelsea has seen of my soul during this year of unbelievable stress and isolation.

Mr. Magpie pointed out that these morning treks have been a gift. Thirty minutes of one-on-one time with my girl, and thirty minutes of solitude on the return — all in, a guaranteed hour outside the apartment during a year of spending limited time outside, and without the option of being too distracted by work, or housekeeping, or what have you. Thirty minutes to soak up my first-three, now-four daughter, to listen to her chatter about everything skittering through her sweet mind, and always while holding her hand, itself a treasure in that I don’t know how long my daughter will willingly submit to this tenderness? And then thirty minutes to glaze over, or read my book, or sit in quiet, or scroll through Instagram on the way home. And in between those thirty minute sessions, a little sliver of time to exchange pleasantries or compare grievances or just stamp our feet in solidarity against the icy cold weather with the lovely parents of the school community to which I feel forever attached. I realized, as tears again filled my eyes later that morning when hugging one of the other moms goodbye, that those parents, as well as the faculty and staff of the school, were often the only other adults I spoke to on a daily basis during the pandemic. And in person, not behind a screen. I think it will take some time to digest the many ways in which COVID intersected our lives, and how important human touch and laughter and impromptu conversations about the weather are. We are resilient, yes, but there was something tinged-in-black-and-blue about saying goodbye to that school community on Friday. I say this nontrivially: in some ways, my daughter’s pre-school saved us this past year. It kept mini engaged and stimulated, it afforded our lives a needed routine, it presented an opportunity to connect with other parents, it got us out of the apartment, it reminded me that there are things beyond the narrow repetitions of our quiet home life.

And so I suppose that saying goodbye drew up some heavy feelings from the well — a goodbye-to-all-that relief and a hesitant parting of ways with kind people and a rhythm that has felt normal in a time that has felt anything but. In that way, the final day of school felt like the end of a measure of music. We are now waiting for the next drumbeat.

When I returned to pick her up that afternoon, I made a point of transferring from the 1 to the R/W at 42nd Street because there is a mosaic in one of the main hallways there that prominently features an Airedale Terrier, and mini has posed in front of it on countless occasions. “The Tilly of 42nd Street!” we call her. I gave her a quick little mental salute as I passed her by. Possibly the last time I’ll see her in awhile? As you might be gathering, I was succumbing spectacularly to a wistful nostalgia at the moment. I mean, get it together, Jen! It’s a Subway mosaic, and there is a pile of garbage in front of it. In front of the school, the families bade our goodbyes and made promises to keep in touch and took loads of blurry pictures, and then my daughter and I skip-walked to the Subway and I made assiduous efforts not to let my wistfulness cloud her ebullience. As soon as we’d gone beyond the turnstiles, mini started dancing and squirming in desperate need of a toilet, and the monitor showed a 1 train arriving in eight minutes, and we were still a 20 minute Subway ride from home. I guess there’s a first time for everything, and it just so happened that an emergency toilet break had to take place on the last day of school. We ran upstairs and fortunately found a coffee shop willing to accommodate her — the manager waved us right into the back, shouting the code after us. After the requisite haggling — “ew, I don’t want to use this toilet,” she sniffed upon entry; then, as we left the coffee house, she stated loudly and for the record: “that was the grossest toilet ever” — we took care of business and returned to the Subway, this time barely — and I mean barely — running onto the train before the doors closed behind us. A small miracle, that, as the monitor now showed the next 1 train arriving in 25 minutes.

The entire thing — from the unexpected assistance of strangers (thank you, coffee shop manager) to the unpleasant urgency of the situation — felt just right for our sunset journey home. A little ungainly, balancing moments of uncertainty and disgust with shocking warmth, but we made it by the skin of our teeth.

Whew. We made it, New York.

Post Scripts.

+On living in NYC during the peak of the pandemic here.

+On muddling my way through contracting COVID.

+Some very early proclamations on how COVID might change things — back at the very dawn of the pandemic.

+New York has never not been a shock.

Onto Lighter Things.

Writing this post was like a bloodletting. I am so inclined to think on the positive side of things, to keep on swimming, that I have to remind myself to sit with the uncomfortable weight of unpleasant happenings. It felt — if not good, then productive, or healthful. This year was a rough patch. Wishing all of us kinder seas.

And in that vein: a shopping break for those in need of a diversion.

+This $25 blockprint pillow is so good!

+The cut of this dress reminds me of my beloved Saloni.

+Dish scrubbers attractive enough to keep out.

+We are going on our first long car trip in a very long time in the next week — I am nervous. I panic-ordered tons of the stuff from this post and am going to stock up on unexpected snacks from Trader Joe’s because I rarely shop there and I think the kids will find the “new” exciting. I think mini will get a big kick out of this board (which looks like an iPad) and even though she’s a bit young, am going to try this travel game with her.

+Will report back with a review of the Rava after road-testing it!

+So many upvotes for Agolde if you’re in the market for denim shorts!

+A friend of mine recently mentioned how much she dislikes shorts that are sold with matching tops in traditional children’s brands. “I just want the cute top by itself — I don’t need five pairs of basic shorts!” I so heard her. You can buy these traditional-looking tops/bottoms separately here (love the gingham pocket with monogram!), here, and here.

+I got so many comments on the handful of pictures I posted on Instagram of mini on her last day of school — she was waving this pennant, which is SO brilliant, as one side reads “First Day” and the other side reads “Last Day” and it does not specify the age/grade-level, so we can use it for both children forever! Comes in tons of great colors, but I picked copper writing with navy ribbon so it would be gender-neutral, and I like the timelessness of it.

+Native-style shoes in a loafer format?! So fun.

+I am in love with these enamel tumblers. So cheerful! I first thought it would be cute as a toothbrush holder in the children’s bathroom but now I think I want an entire set for backyard drinking purposes. So fun!

+Hilarious: Mr. Magpie has expressed particular excitement about these two aspects of moving back to DC: a) renewing our now-lapsed COSTCO membership and b) buying a power washer. People are obsessed with this one.

+These pretty running shorts have been ultra-popular on this blog since I mentioned them last week. Speaking of tennis, though: this Zara (!) tennis racquet bag is SO good.

+On the topic of sportswear — I’ve heard a few bloggers rave about these $17 biking shorts as a less expensive version of Lululemon’s Aligns (select colors of which are on sale here).

+Another very popular item on le blog the last few days: this chic blue anorak.

+A seriously cute gift for a little girl.

+More great gift ideas for little ladies.

+Love these storage cubes in the fruit prints! I am queen of pouches and know I’d find a use for these, even if only for snacks in my diaper bag!

+Only a few left of this 50%-off-Staud and it is a STUNNER. So unique!

+This Emilia Wickstead was just further reduced and…AHHHH! Delicious.

+Dresses for every occasion.

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6 thoughts on “We Made It, New York.

  1. This is such a beautiful and heartfelt post! I loved how it evoked so many similar emotions. My stepdaughter graduated from 5th grade yesterday and I had to hold back tears many times throughout the ceremony and ensuing party … it was *such* a tough year and I’m so proud of all of the students and all of the families that made it through some of the hardest times, intact, grateful, and looking forward.

    Sending you all lots of love as you prepare for your move south (btw, I was chuckling so hard at your mention of the power-washer … cannot wait to have one of these puppies once I have outdoor space!! So satisfying to wash away all that grime!)


    1. I know — those graduations are such a powerful invitation to think about the year past, and to really take a step out of the daily grind of getting the children to school, lunch packed, hair brushed, etc. It was so moving.


  2. As I was reading this, I was flooded again with all my own emotions (as a preschool director) of our last day — relief, emotional exhaustion, sadness know how much I will (and do) miss those little ones during the summer months and their sweet mamas (and dads and grandparents) that we really only saw during carpool until the last few weeks of school. It was SUCH a long haul, keeping everyone safe and healthy and yet providing as much normalcy as we possibly could for those children. I tear up now, thinking “we made it!” through the most stressful, hardest school year ever. And yet, so much good, so much love and appreciation between teachers/staff and parents, flowing both ways. God was faithful in providing the much needed connection with other human hearts! So glad you found the same with your own preschool community — you are forever bonded over that shared experience. I’ll be praying for your new preschool community in D.C. It’s an often overlooked blessing. 🙂 xo H

    1. Hi Heidi – So lovely to hear this from the other side. I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been this year for teachers/staff/faculty! There were so many unknowns and so many things to consider/learn/evaluate/etc in the face of grave safety concerns. Wow! Hats off to you! You made it 🙂

      And thank you for the well wishes and prayers on our move! I think we’ve found the perfect school. It was kismet, actually — the same Montessori my youngest sister attended, and my children will be taught by the same absolutely wonderful, magnetic, caring teacher she had, who has grown quite close to our family over the years. Truly special!


  3. Jen! Congratulations on preschool! This post encompassed so many emotions I’ve felt in the last year, though we left NYC in July and I have not ridden the Subway since January of 2020 (!) But…. still. The often conflicting emotional undercurrents ring true in such a difficult-to-process time. I, too, am a consistent positive reframer, and I’m finding recently the power of not always making everything a silver lining, but rather sitting with what is.

    And as an aside, I recently reached the end of a journey, too! I welcomed my second son on May 30. (He sleeps on my chest now.) I can see how the ups and downs of his pregnancy, labor, and delivery, although at times feeling impossible, added up to a saving grace this year — something to think of beyond the restricting confines of our life, and resulting in a beautiful expansion of our family.

    1. Joyce!!! Congratulations, friend!!! Wow!!! I am wishing you a speedy recovery and smooth transition to life as a family of four. So glad the delivery is behind you and you can soak up all those sweet newborn snuggles and squeaks…and also sending you good vibes during this exhausting time.


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