The Quiet Hour.

In the afternoons, I put micro down for his second nap at 3 p.m. and then settle mini into the large striped armchair in her bedroom with her iPad for a cool hour of quiet. I am desperate to tidy, to clean, to put away, but I have learned in the past month that I am better to everyone — including myself — if I have absconded, selfishly, with my precious hour. Someone wrote, of parenting during this pandemic, that we would do well to remember the concept behind “In case of emergency, put on your own mask before assisting others.” That is to say that we must forgive ourselves if we turn on Frozen 2 for the umpteenth time in order to gather ourselves, or shower in isolation with Mariah Carey turned all the way up, or complete a yoga video, or read. In some irritating negotiation with mom guilt, I find that planning and supervising activities with mini in the mornings makes me feel better about giving her screen time in the afternoons in order to slip away with my hour. But the point is: many of you are being asked to do the impossible, and we must find ways to take care of ourselves lest we fray under the pressure.

And so, for the past week, during my quiet hour, I have been climbing into bed, closing my eyes, and listening to Tom Hanks narrate Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House in the bright light of the afternoon, windows open. It is, perhaps, the next best thing to a walk outside. It is restorative and escapist and there is something about Tom Hanks’ familiar and distinctive voice that reassures me.

A smart friend of mine described his narration of the book as “an obtuse male delivery of the obtuse male perspective on a history of a family.” I laughed at that. There is something blockish about the semi-rushed, uninflected way he speeds through segments of the book, but then I find his voice lingers and curls around some of the more poignant bits, like when describing the way young Maeve falls ill after her mother leaves or recounting the scene in which Danny sees Maeve in the school office after their father has passed, and the effect is heart-rending.

The imagery, the characters, the cinematic quality of the book: I am deeply in love and am dreading its end. The experience has been a godsend during these times where I find it difficult to focus on words on paper. (Though I have just started this chart-topping easy read and it is flying by.)

What other audiobooks do you recommend?

And what do you do during your quiet hour (if you can manage it)?

Post Scripts.

+The phrase “the quiet hour” reminds me of one of my favorite books from childhood: The Napping House, which I just ordered for mini. Who else remembers this? A few other books she is loving right now: Make Way for Ducklings, Caps for Sale, and this Peter Rabbit board book. I find her recreating the story of Peter Rabbit with her little toys — she is highly concerned with Mr. MacGregor.

+After noticing the moon still in the sky early one morning last week, mini has been very curious about space, so I’ve been serving up as many planet-related activities as I can find. She loves listening to this (irritating) planet song and we decorated print-outs of the planets and then taped them on the “house” Mr. Magpie created out of enormous boxes in her bedroom. (If you don’t have big boxes on hand, Amazon makes it easy with one of these adorable pre-fabbed houses.) I have to say the box house has been a huge hit — Mr. Magpie even created a tunnel entrance on one side of the house and micro LOVES crawling through it! And mini spends portions of every day coloring it, taping things to its sides, etc. So now we have her own solar system there. I also found her this dot marker activity book, this space sticker book, and this planet book.

+I am in love with Paravel’s new tote bag! I love it in either the domino black or paloma colorways.

+This toile skirt! $30!!! (Reminds me of the pattern on my Staud dress.)

+This pearl hair clip!

+The pattern on this darling bubble for a baby girl — I can’t!!! I would snap this up so quickly if mini could still wear it…

+Obsessed with the “roquefort” print on this dress…would be dreamy with my cameo earrings.

+Ordering this candle for spring next.

+A sweet print on an easy-to-wear blouse.

+An elegant way to organize your linen closet or your changing table top or even your pantry (bulky things like bags of chips/pasta?). More organizing ideas here.

+This dress reminds me of Felicity Merriman in the best possible way and I just added it to my cart. (Are you a fan of American Girls, too?)

+These denim shorts for mini — yes!

+Transform your master bath into a spa with this, this, and fluffy white towels laundered in the most beautifully perfumed detergent. Make your vanity a little more elegant and ordered by placing facial cotton, q-tips, etc in these jars. It’s the little things…

+More small ways to brighten your week and more little luxuries for your home.

+I think I might live forever in this longline cardigan in the white color.

+Loungewear lust list.

15 Comments

  1. Seconding a recommendation for Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth! Bel Canto has been on my list FOREVER. I haven’t read The Dutch House yet (something about its description wasn’t grabbing me?) but your description of the audiobook version has me intrigued.

    Also: I am so with you on taking slices of the day to recharge instead of needing to be productive every minute … I find that quarantine has been more mentally/emotionally exhausting than I anticipated, and time to relax is MUCH needed! I’ve been going to bed earlier, too.

    P.S. I love Otherland candles! I first discovered them at The Wing and really enjoy their scents (and pricing! Pretty fair for a status-y candle)

    xx

    1. Definitely going to be reading more Patchett. I’m nearly done with “Dutch House” (takes a long time to get through an audiobook, I am finding, as I listen to it in dribs and drabs) and I am smitten. Oh, the characters!!!

      xx

  2. That roquefort print dress would be a beautiful pairing for those cameo earrings! That pearl & cameo combination is tempting me terribly…

    I too have struggled with focusing on words on paper lately. I finished one book a week or so ago and have been floundering with my second quarantine book. Which book have you been enjoying? (The link isn’t working for me at the moment)

    1. Yes!!! I know, those earrings are just TOO GOOD. I had to have them for myself. Mine are slated to arrive tomorrow…wheee!!!

      I have been reading “The Glass Hotel,” by the author of “Station 11.” It’s a quick read so far.

      xx

  3. This is perfect timing, as I just finished listening to “Lady in Waiting,” the autobiography of one of Princess Margaret’s ladies in waiting (who had an extraordinary life even beyond that association). It’s delightfully read by the author in her aristocratic accent. I recommend it!

  4. That pre-fab house is way more aesthetically pleasing than whatever cardboard monstrosity is currently in our living room (which is happily coming down today – but my daughter loved playing in it so I guess it was worth it) – ordering it for the next time she wants a hideaway. We’re into snails, lizards, and worms right now here…

    I’ve been eyeing that Paravel bag too but do I really need another tote? (Yes, but my husband may beg to differ.)

    Have the Ann Patchett ebook on hold at the library – love her other books, looking forward to this one too.

    1. Exactly — our big cardboard mess brings me rotating reactions of joy (because they love it so, and I adore the way she’s marked up the sides with her current interests: a solar system, Peter Rabbit stickers, a lot of “Es”) and anxiety (AHHHH — I want to take it down every morning when we dial in for the morning session of her preschool!)

      xx

  5. I just finished reading the Dutch House and it was the perfect book for Right Now. Not too taxing, transporting, an easy villain to latch on to. I had a great time imagining the interiors of that grand house.

    Your afternoon respite sounds lovely. Little things feel big these days, don’t they?

    1. So well-put: the smallest things have become treasures. A draft latte in my fridge; a fresh fruit delivery; one single hour of quiet solitude. Delicious right now.

      Andrea is intriguing. I have a lot of thoughts about her…

  6. I never thought I’d be one of those moms, but today I set my alarm early and woke up before my toddler, to get some work done. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to working up early, but I have to say, that hour before he woke up was so quiet and peaceful and enabled me a few extra minutes to answer emails, start a few projects, enjoy a cup of coffee and read this post! I don’t know if I’ll be doing it every day because I love a few extra minutes of sleep, but as my family is in week 5 of quarantining + working + watching my 2yr old, I’m realizing I need to try and find a few minutes for myself, and not to feel guilty about it. I think it’s a struggle for all moms everywhere, especially during this time. Thinking of the things we “should” be doing and that we need to constantly find engaging activities for our kids but it’s important to remember to take a moment for ourselves too. Thank you for sharing

    1. So glad you did this for yourself, even if it meant losing an hour of sleep. I crave that quiet time when I can do something to completion — write an email, listen to a full thirty minutes of my audiobook, take a shower, without the squeal or cry or inquiry of a little person next to me 🙂

      xx

  7. Jen,

    I am in my first quiet “40 minutes” of the day since that’s how long my newborn tends to nap and though I “should” be doing dishes, I turned to your blog for comfort instead. 🙂 The Dutch House! I saw Ann Patchett speak on the opening night of her book tour in Brooklyn. She is amazingly kind and humble. She spoke about how she got Tom Hanks to agree to do the audio. Long story short: She had interviewed him for his book “Uncommon Type” and she had loved Meryl Streep’s performance of Colm Toibon’s “The Testament of Mary” and decided to send him an email asking him in a “miss every shot you don’t take” mentality. 🙂 She has a book list on her site that might interest you: annpatchett.com/booklist

    Also, have you read “Bel Canto” and “State of Wonder” and “Commonwealth”? Loved them all.

    And this reminds me, I’ve never listened to “The Testament of Mary” though I do have it downloaded, so might start it in my next quiet 40 minutes 🙂 xo.

    1. Aw – thank you for your company :). I LOVE this anecdote about Ann Patchett and Tom Hanks. So charming. Also a reminder that even Somebodies can feel like Nobodies some times, which is…poignant?

      Have never read any of her other books though I know they are well-loved. Will definitely be reading more after this introduction.

      xx

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