door knob

The Buffer.

I often understand and situate mini’s meltdowns alongside my impression that transitions are difficult for her. Whether we’re shifting from the weekend back to the school week, leaving a play date, or even ending a movie, I have long noticed that transitions trouble her. Many of you, along with various parenting experts, have corroborated this observation as a general tendency among toddlers, who as a general rule thrive on routine and consistency, and so we have attempted to the best of our abilities to smooth out the “transitional edges” by giving her plenty of forewarning. We talk through the logistics of the day during breakfast, idle in front of the calendar as a part of our bedtime routine to discuss the next day or two, and let her know — before she starts an activity — what she will be doing afterward. I am not above admitting that dangling the promise of something else just after a fun activity has been completed (“when we get home, we can do those new stickers!”) works rather well for her, though I am always keenly aware that this tactic falls somewhere just shy of bribery and so must be issued with care and sparing. I could talk at great lengths about all of this, but it’s only window dressing for the discovery, this past year, that —

I, too, struggle with transitions. For example, I found the comedown from the holidays particularly dispiriting this year, as odd and rather bare as they were. Upon reflection, I think the promise of the magic of Christmas morning and the exchange of gifts and the delicious meals and champagne we had planned was a much-needed crescendo in an otherwise monotone string of months. And so returning to the lather-rinse-repeat of the non-holiday season felt darkly trying, especially on the heels of the realization that it will take us a long, long time to get everyone vaccinated, and that my children and I are probably the very last on the priority list. (As it should be.)

But even in a micro sense, in the absence of coronavirus, I find transitions jarring. Specifically, I have a hard time toggling from “work Jen” to “Mom Jen” at 5 p.m. in the evening. It’s as if I cannot unclip my bike shoes from the pedals. A shadow-y version of Mom Jen rises from her desk, leaves the room, marshals the energy to plan dinner and pretend to be “Hulk” after an endless barrage of pleas from mini. (She loves — !! — to pretend to be Spiderman or Captain America, wielding the green lid of our Lego box as her shield, and she routinely insists either myself or Mr. Magpie assume the role of Hulk, which entails stomping around the apartment, zombie-like, yelling “HULK SMASH HULK SMASH HULK SMASH.” Is this not what you imagined me to be doing at a stray 5:37 p.m. on a Tuesday night? Ha!). At any rate, it is me but it is not me. Half of me is lost in thoughts of writing, or reading, or the latest comment from a Magpie, and the other half is prying a suspiciously small toy out of my son’s hand before it is ingested. I am peripheral, wraithlike. It is deeply unsettling. My mind whirs, alive — and my body, and the responsibilities it bears, is fumbling through other logistics. When I am in this space, I feel frustrated with myself, as though I am not doing anything well, as though I am going through the motions of motherhood and writing with no true fruit borne of any of it.

The solution for me has been The Buffer: proactively building in 15 minutes to decompress, shut Work Jen down, and toggle into Mom Jen mode. I have been so intentional and determined about this that I asked our nanny to adjust her regular hours such that she stays until 5:15, just so that I can honor that time, and just so that it doesn’t feel as though I’m ceding part of my workday by forcing myself to finish at 4:45 when I am accustomed to having my workday lap up against five o’clock. Now, when 5 p.m. rolls around, I get up from my desk. I stretch. I splash my face with water, brush my teeth, and then reapply my makeup, doubling down on the glossy black mascara and finishing with a spritz of perfume. I often change outfits entirely, and in recent weeks, have been wearing a lot of Hill House nap dresses and long dresses that permit movement and comfort from the likes of SEA, Ulla Johnson, Rhode, and Ganni in the evenings. Sometimes I lay on my bed for a minute or two, gathering myself, giving Tilly a scratch, or listening to some upbeat music. And I always tidy up my workspace, ritualistically clearing the desktop of any clutter, notes, stray pens, mugs.

I cannot tell you how much difference this makes. I feel as though I am shedding one exoskeleton and slipping into the other, and I emerge much clearer-headed and more intentional.

Mr. Magpie and I discuss the magic of The Buffer frequently, and he will occasionally even police the sporadic, errant couple of minutes spent pecking at my computer after 5 p.m.

“Jennie! It’s five!”

It dawned on me recently that Mr. Magpie has been applying this Buffer principle for a long time. Back when we used to travel, he always insisted we take an extra day of vacation time after we had returned from our destination to ease back into the real world. That is, if we flew back from somewhere on a Sunday, we’d take Monday off to recalibrate, tackle admin, or just sprawl out. It was so much easier to slip back into work having that extra day to decompress and adjust.

We talk about this principle more generally with regards to the six months during which we had no childcare and were attempting to hold down our full-time jobs and maintain sanity while living in tight quarters in Manhattan with two small children while a terrifying pandemic raged around us. Once we hired our nanny in late August, we designated the following couple of months as “Buffer” in a general and lax sense. If we ordered out more than we normally did, or let the children watch more TV than they should have, or asked our nanny to stay late more often than usual just so that we could enjoy a few nights free of the bedtime routine, we’d look at each other and say: “It’s buffer. We’re in the buffer zone.”

Because that’s what we were, in fact, doing: buffering. Holding ourselves in a temporary, cosseted space while processing the enormity of what had just happened. Giving ourselves the room to take a breath and the grace to admit that we needed a break from our children, or from the exertion of meal-planning and cooking.

I have been thinking a lot about this concept recently. Running is in its own way a buffer, too — both in how I use it temporally as a bookend to the morning, a closure before I enter the work portion of the day, and in its function as a liminal space where I can download and process things without interruption and also — strangely, blessedly — without the intensity or focus I would marshal were I simply sitting alone with my thoughts. When I am running, I feel pleasantly unburdened of anxieties. Thoughts arrive and depart with a kind of blithe rubberiness —

What is going on with these tantrums mini has been having?

That scene in Bridgerton!

We only have three rolls of toilet paper left.

COVID!

Is wraithlike the right word for that sentence in that post?

Did I remind Landon that the delivery guy is coming between 9-11?

No, really — wraithlike? Apparition-like? Phantom?

When will I see my mom again?

These concerns appear and retract, unable to penetrate my mood or derail my movements. They feel far lighter than they do when I am laying in bed with them at night, or fussing over them in the gray of an early dawn, or sitting alone with them while waiting for my order to be ready for pickup.

And yet my mind seems to be doing the work in the background, lumbering through the logistics and emotions without the exertion fully registering. Because it is usually on the cold, one-and-a-half-block walk back from Central Park, when I am catching my breath, that I find myself lining up resolutions and doling out action items with a calm to which I normally lay little claim.

In short, when I run, I am buffering: running yields the same delightfully clarifying effects of my 5 p.m. end-of-work buffer.

Sharing this concept in the event that you also struggle with the liminal and distracted space between work and motherhood — or whatever spheres you occupy, for that matter. Buffers! Let me know if they help!

Post Scripts.

+Writing this post made me realize how — in an ideal world — I would be able to carve out a separate physical space for writing to further assist with the designation between work Jen and mom Jen. It also made me realize how insanely lucky I am, as I know that there are many parents (including many that read this blog) who do not get any breaks, who have no space or time to themselves, and who are permanently living in that half-in-half-out situation of trying to parent while working. My heart goes out to you. I hope that there are small windows of opportunity to create space for yourself.

+The dotted lines between work and life.

+On interruptions, and trying to pray through them.

+A sweet gift for a bride-to-be (with her new initials on it!)

+Cute heart-print tights for a little love! (More Valentine’s Day outfit ideas here.)

+These flats are SO chic! They give me major high-end designer vibes, but cost under $200. So unusual — people will be eyeing you wondering if they are Bottega!

+Long live the shirtdress.

+This dress for little ladies in the “boutique pink” pattern gives me major Gucci vibes.

+WFH portable office essentials.

+This Doen blouse is SO cute (and on sale for under $90!). Sort of a twinning moment with your little one wearing this!

+This console is gorgeous.

+YES to this reasonably priced duster. (Great for nursing mamas!). Love the way it’s styled in the cream color with gray and white for a chic neutral palette.

+I get a lot of wear out of this sweatshirt.

+This micro MZ Wallace bag in the plaid is TOO cute.

+Am I the last person to know about these darling laminated (personalizable) bibs?! Just ordered a few for Hill!

+The sweater-and-bra combo that started it all. (When Katie Holmes wore it two years ago.) Now every brand and its sister has layered knits with bralettes! I love this variation in cashmere for under $200!

+ICYMI: NYC is still a shock.

+I saw these boots a week ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about them since.

+Such a fun, pretty top at such a fun, pretty price.

+File under: what to wear when you want to look like you’re not wearing pajamas but feel like you are: EXHIBIT A and EXHIBIT B.

+This sweater with the embellished buttons! Yes!

+And this fun leopard dress, 40% off! Love how Ganni continues to lean into animal prints.

+This sports bra looks like something a ballet dancer would own, and I dig it.

+From the same brand: have been eyeing these sweats for awhile. I hear that they are super flattering!

+This chic fleece is on sale for only $39 (70% off!)

18 Comments

  1. This is a brilliant concept! I, too, struggle with transitions (especially during this pandemic, it seems) and I am definitely going to use the “buffer” concept to give myself a little extra space and care when needed. Thank you!

    P.S. How I love a Ganni animal print! Ganni is one of my favorite brands, but I never thought to check Hampden’s site … love that they carry so much of it!

    xx

    1. It has been such a game-changer for me! I feel so much better about everything when I take the time to properly mark a transition, shift gears, etc. Let me know how it works for you!

      xx

      PS Also a huge Ganni fan!

  2. Ah yes — like M above, the commute was mine, and when it vanished, I really struggled, especially during the spring and early summer of trying (and mostly failing) to simultaneously work and parent. I use a run (or a walk) for a morning buffer as well, but a circle is different than a line–or I’ve got to start making the former more intentionally transitional! And couldn’t agree more on your postscript! Whether pandemic-situational or deliberate, full-time moms and full-time jugglers have my wholehearted awe + empathy.

    1. “A circle is different than a line” — so true and well-put!

      Yes x 10000 about full-time moms/full-time jugglers with no breaks. Do not know how they do it!

      xx

  3. Yes! Buffering! Thank you for putting words to this transition time. We do the exact same with vacation plans and take an extra day or two to unpack and do the laundry and get back into the daily rhythm, but I had not seen how important it is in our day-to-day life until you made light of it in this post. My children started a new school this year that’s a 15 minute drive and despite thinking it would be the most dreaded part of my day (all that “wasted” time driving to and from school three times per day) I look forward to it the most. It’s when all the kids are strapped into their seats and we talk about the day and transition into school-mode (and my time with the baby) and then home-mode (and I gear up for the most chaotic part of my day — homework, dinner, clean up, baths, bed). You’ve inspired me to carve out some buffering time for myself too!

    1. So interesting, Amy, now you’ve made me realize that the trip back from dropping off my daughter downtown is often a similar time of buffering for me, toggling out of mom mode back into work mode! So interesting how these little slivers of transit/in-between space function that way.

      xx

  4. This is such a lovely explanation of the effect of a run. As a working mom, I’ve always focused on the physical and logistical benefits of running as my exercise. No need to commute to gym, arrive at a specific time, make small talk with strangers before a class begins, pack a gym bag, etc. But before reading your post, I had not realized how much more fluid my often frenetic thoughts are during a run and immediately after. We all need that buffer. May you find more of it in 2021.

  5. My husband and I were just talking about this. He was saying that as much as his nightly commute through D.C. traffic was a pain, it provided him space between work and home. A chance to listen to music or a podcast and to switch gears before the dinner/bath/bedtime/cleanup rigamarole. I love not commuting, but interesting to think about the benefits it offered us. Ahhhh….hindsight!

    1. I can totally see this — like a built-in buffer! Just time to think, be quiet, shift out of work mode.

      xx

  6. Love this idea! I am one of the moms without regular childcare, although my mom does help out. I feel like whenever I do manage to get a break, as soon as I walk in the door or come upstairs after a workout, I’m thrown right back in the deep end. Immediate need for meal prep! Someone needs a diaper or trip to the potty! Etc. I’ll be brainstorming ways to ease this, if possible…

    And re: small toys in the baby’s mouth…eeek! I never realized how many toddler toys have teeny tiny pieces. File that under “things we didn’t have to think about with baby #1.”

    1. Totally know what you’re saying on all fronts — especially the note about “coming upstairs after a workout.” I feel like the minute I walk through the door after a run, there are 23 things that need to happen all at once! You’re making me wonder about using that 1.5 block walk home as an intentional, designated, buffer time, where I just remind myself “this is exercise Jen, easing into Mom Jen.” Wind-down.

      xx

  7. Appreciated this post and especially the P.S. as we are 10 months without childcare…. (I am a SAHM so can’t justify it but still think I *would* have gotten some if this were a non-pandemic time, in the name of my creative practice (writing) and general sanity.)

    However! Zooming out, I wonder if 2021 itself is a buffer. 2020 was horrible. 2021 promises to be…better. But let us all treat ourselves tenderly and with grace as we go through this likely months-long transition. xo.

    1. Oh man, Joyce! I so feel for you and the other SAHMs with no breaks whatsoever and the challenges/risks of finding help. You guys are SO TOUGH.

      Here’s to hoping that 2021 is a buffer!

      xx

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience. I have needed to create a similar transition space at the end of my work day, but struggled with what this looked like and how to cram it in. I’m going to ask our nanny to stay an extra 15 minutes and use your ritual as a guide – I think this will be so much better than my current attempts at decompressing! And – 100% with you on the morning run. It’s the best.

    KaLeena

    1. Hi KaLeena! I’m so glad this resonated and hopeful that 15 minute addition to your day proves as helpful as it has been to me! It has made a world of difference!!

      xx

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