*Image above via the chicest boutique, Pietra Madrid.
I saw a post on Instagram a few weeks ago that made the point that much of the day-to-day work that goes into parenting — especially for stay-at-home parents — is invisible to most of the world. No one is ever going to recognize you for ordering hats and gloves at the end of summer so you’re prepared for the first frost, or meal-planning on your phone to ensure your child has a diverse and interesting diet, or doing the mental math to ensure you have enough snacks and diapers for your next trip out, or running back upstairs to grab someone’s lovey because you know it will be needed come nap time in the car. And yet these tiny, unseen tasks add up to a full-time job — and that’s not even accounting for the emotional labor that goes into parenting! I’m talking pure logistics here. Mr. Magpie and I were reminded of this during our trip last week, for multiple reasons. First, despite my efforts not to intimidate my parents-in-law (who graciously stayed with our children while we were on the Eastern Shore), I still handed them a three-page-long guide full of important numbers, notes, and scheduling details. Typing out the order of operations prior to school in the morning scared even me, a multi-year veteran of the morning rush. Second, preparing for only 48 hours away from our children required a herculean effort in the days leading up to the getaway. There were extra groceries to be ordered, arrangements to be made with caregivers and school, thinking through what needed to be laundered, the coordination of timetables, etc. Finally, our first morning waking up in the hotel room, I remember glancing at the clock after (bliss of bliss!) reading in bed for an hour or so, and noting it was 8:07 a.m. “Let’s get coffee and walk around — that way we can be back in time for our 10 a.m. massages.” In my head, I assumed that by the time we’d gotten dressed, brushed teeth, and bundled up, it would be at least 8:45 a.m., maybe a little later, and then that would give us a leisurely hour for coffee, pastries, and meandering around St. Michael’s before we’d need to head back. I was mystified when, instead, we were out the door about 10 minutes later. I realized I’d not accounted for the fact that I did not have two wriggling children to inveigle into getting dressed and coax into coats. There were no pitstops in the pantry to grab snacks, “two minute warnings,” or last-minute sprints to the toilet.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was — nice? reassuring? — to have my parents-in-law tell me, “Wow, there’s a lot that goes into this!” when we returned. They’d been through it themselves raising Mr. Magpie and yet it is so easy to forget all the slender maneuvers that go into a day of looking after young children. Frankly, I’d partly forgotten myself given how in the weeds I’d been for 2.5 years without a single night away. I’d become inured to its intensity. And so it felt lovely to have that labor seen for some reason, and it brought to mind a mnemonic from a different sphere:
A few years ago, a Montessori school teacher told me that she preferred to praise children by recognizing their hard work rather than celebrating the final product. I’ve always loved the way Montessori refers to classroom activities as “work,” which is partly made possible by the fact that many Montessori activities are borrowed from household chores, i.e., children learn to polish silver, pour water from pitchers, cut vegetables, arrange flowers, etc., and partly a beautiful, quiet way of suggesting that children — and what they do in the classroom — are important. “Mommy works, Daddy works, and so do I,” is the theme. “I matter,” is the subtext. Anyhow, I watched as this teacher would tell my daughter: “I can tell how hard you worked on this,” and “Wow, look at the shapes over here, I can see how careful you were keeping them in the lines,” and “Ooh, I love the colors you picked out while working on this.” Something inside stirred. I saw at once an echo of the frame of mind I’ve cultivated in my own creative work for many years: process over product.
Along the same lines, there was an interesting essay I came across recently that included the following insight: “College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: ‘I love to watch you play.’”
Somewhere along this breadcrumb trail — somewhere between the invisible labor of parenting and the teacher’s insistence on recognizing process rather than product and the notion that we can enjoy ourselves more when we are being told we are wonderful to behold, regardless of outcome — there is a tie that binds. It’s not about praise or victory — it’s about celebrating the effort. Sometimes all we need is to be seen.
Will be carrying this around with me as I head into Thanksgiving week and think about all the people who make my life possible and whose work often goes unremarked. As an example, there is a crossing guard at the intersection before my daughter’s school and — on a close to daily basis — she enables me to make a difficult left-hand turn in a heavily trafficked school area. My husband and I joke that, were it not for her, the daily drop-off would be protracted by about ten or fifteen minutes, because no one wants to let anyone cut in during rush hour in Washington, D.C. Writing up this post, I’m realizing I need to pause and thank her, and — more generally — need to take this moment as a prompt to step outside myself and let others know I see what they’ve been up to.
+On getting into a flow in the creative process.
+Whew. I still get misty-eyed thinking about the last day of school last year.
+Quiet thoughts on parenting.
+I just ordered these navy corduroy overalls — they are 30% off with code Q4U7!
+My favorite sports bras. Cheap, great colors, good quality, and so much more comfortable than Lululemon.
+PSST: Early Black Friday 25% off promotion at Little English with code BFCM25. They make my favorite printed turtlenecks, overalls, and sweaters for little boys! (<<Micro owns all of those exact items, plus many more from this brand. So well made.)
+Just ordered one of these velvet jewelry organizers to give as a gift. Substantive on its own or paired with some fun statement jewelry.
+Cute red mini dress — that bow in the back!
+OO yes I love this tartan coat.
+More fab statement toppers here.
+Gorgeous floral fall midi skirt.
+Love a Gucci moment.
+These Story Orchestra books make such great gifts (they play pieces of classical music, and illustrate the stories they evoke), and this one is on sale for 50% off at the time of writing this post.
+These dri-fit fitness tops are super cheap, come in great colors, and would be a good stocking stuffer for a exercise-loving man in your life. Did I mention they have UPF50?! More reasonably priced gifts (under $30) here.
+Upgrade your house numbers with these chic copper ones.
+Do you buy your dog Christmas gifts? I ordered our Airedale a new name tag (Tilly’s is outdated with an old address on the back), some fancy dog shampoo, some holiday dog treats, and a new toy from her favorite (most durable) brand. Her birthday is in December so I also bought her these birthday-themed biscuits.
+This adorable printed dress is corduroy!!!
+Still a few sizes left in this popular houndstooth coat, currently on sale!
+It seems appropriate to organize gift wrap as a woman in my late 30s.
+This satin blazer is MAJOR.