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.
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!
+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.
+A sweet gift for a bride-to-be (with her new initials on it!)
+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!
+This dress for little ladies in the “boutique pink” pattern gives me major Gucci vibes.
+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.
+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!)