The Slimmest of Griefs.

By: Jen Shoop

This is what I want:

A Friday night.

Mr. Magpie comes home from work early, around 5, greeted by an exuberant toddler, a bouncy, drooly 10-month-old, a loyal Airedale terrier, and a wife who grows more devoted by the day.

We have been through things together. Children (childbirth…!), home-buying, business-building and business-shuttering, losses, recessions, illnesses, deaths. Most recently, a pandemic, during which I have shaved his head multiple times in the bathtub of our master bathroom, while our 10-month-old son and three-year-old daughter watched us, entranced. This: the slenderest and most insignificant of intimacies, and yet —

Why have these little nothings occasionally undone me, made me feel alien in my own life?

But — there he will be. Or, there he is. I cannot disguise my irresolution with the future, or conditional, or present tenses in this post, if that tells you anything about the level of uncertainty in which we are living today.

No: there he is.

In his usual way, shockingly unruffled by the day, and even by the gritty subway, from which he has just emerged. One of the miraculously attractive things about him is that he always looks as though he has just showered. He is — as always — calm, and clean, and unperturbed. His briefcase in hand, his smile ready.

After the usual flurry of greeting — “daddy!” “who’s that, dada?” “dadadadadada!” “hi!” “the mail–” [shrieks, feet padding] “how was your day–” “dada!” “daddy look what I made!” [shrieks, laughter] —

We pour a glass of champagne — because. I am in my bathrobe, having washed and blow-dried my hair just an hour or two earlier, while micro was napping and mini was watching her iPad on my bed, feet from me, our parallel activities occasionally intersecting in conversation:

“Too loud,” she will have occasionally chided, looking up angrily at my blow-dryer. Other times, our exchange will have been punctuated by her laughter at a show. And still others:

“Can I have some wipstick, too, mama?”

I am dressed, made up. We clink glasses.

A sitter arrives.

We rush around:

Instructions on formula and bedtime and whether mini may have one or two Pepperidge Farm Verona cookies if she finishes her supper, which I have already placed on the counter, waiting for a quick zap in the microwave:

Buttered orzo, roast chicken, peas — all diced up small for my young son. One of those meals that I know, from the aggregate experience of having prepared every single morsel of food these children have eaten in the past many months, while under quarantine, that they will eat, soundly and without complaint.

Spritzes of perfume. Splintered conversation as we drink sips of champagne, linger in front of the closet mirror, select earrings and belts. Mr. Magpie complaining about what he should wear, tsk-ing me for not letting him know I’d be so dressed up as I slip into a possibly inappropriately formal dress for the occasion —

Wife!” he yells out, in part playful reproach and in part admiration, as I emerge from the closet in my new dress. His head is cocked, though, so I know it’s more of the latter.

We scurry out the door, kissing foreheads and leaving money for pizza and —

We are into the elevator, and everything feels quiet and hopeful as we run past Edwin at the front door:

“A taxi?” he asks, opening the door for us.

“No thanks, Edwin!”

“Four minutes til the next 1,” Mr. Magpie informs me, grabbing my hand as we walk-run toward the Subway.

We make that stilted New Yorker small-talk on the train: conversation in shorthand or even in silence, locking eyes, for example, over the man leaning against one of the poles, preventing anyone else from comfortably hanging on without rubbing her fists all over his tweed jacket. (Just, why do people do this?! How rude!) Mr. Magpie knows, instinctively, why I am making these eyes, and he rolls his own, and grimaces.

We emerge in TriBeCa, or West Village, maybe — ascending to a restaurant that makes us feel like a million bucks given its solicitous wait-staff and its discreet maitre d’ and its overlong list of complicated cocktails and its $19 appetizers and —

Mainly —

My beloved sister and my brother in law, my cousin and her husband, our dearest friends, my Mr. Magpie. All of us at a table, exchanging small-talk and laughter and the occasional hand squeeze or knowing sigh over a perfect meal in the most romantic of cities (when it wants to be).

The clink of glasses, the swish of dresses as my sister and I walk to the restroom, giggling — always! — over the stupidest of inside jokes that mean nothing to anyone but everything to me, her pretty face lit up by the candle at the sink in the restroom mirror —

Oh! Her face, so familiar to me —

It is the slimmest —

most inconsequential —

Of griefs but —


I miss it fiercely, the incandescence of being among people I love, in the embrace of good wine and good food, Mr. Magpie’s arm slung around my shoulder, the way time just slows into a honey trickle of happy conversation and the clank of forks borrowing spears of asparagus on neighboring plates and “could I have another glass, please?”

Surely moments like these will return, but in the pettiest of ways, I find myself grieving their utter irredeemability right now: the lost perfume spritzes, the missing eye rolls over the airhead leaning against the pole on the subway, the absence of clanking glasses, the mirage of my sister’s face in that mirror next to me.

Tout me manque.*

Post Scripts.

*I miss everything.

+We have and love these planters on our back patio.

+A perfect top with denim.

+My favorite juice glasses. More of my favorite drinkware here.

+Great gifts for littles.

+Target scores!

+Two really cheery dresses as we head towards warm weather: this and this.

+My favorite audiobooks.

+Great swim for summer 2022.

+Affordable basics for children.

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25 thoughts on “The Slimmest of Griefs.

  1. This is exactly what I’m missing as well, from the admittedly privileged perspective of waiting this out while working comfortably from home. What a beautiful, spot-on description of it! Last weekend I got “fancy” takeout so I decided to get ready as if I were actually eating at that restaurant (my boyfriend did as well!). When I bounded out the door to go pick up the food, I forgot for a split second that I wasn’t actually eating there and it definitely stung to remember that no, I would be back inside in a few minutes. But it will be that much sweeter when those moments return, and in the meantime (inspired in no small part by you!) making the most of home happy hours and dinners does help 🙂

    1. So true. Love the idea of getting dolled up for “fancy” takeout — sounds so fun 🙂


  2. Oh Jen, I LOVE this post! I felt like I was right there, watching that evening unfold (does that sound creepy? Ha!) Your storytelling is a gift, during quarantine and otherwise, but *especially* during quarantine.

    Your arftful use of the em dash… so lovely. The poetry within the prose made me pause. I read and re-read that part wistfully more than a few times, as I thought about the last evening I spent with a good friend B.C. (Before COVID), lingering over dinner and tea with conversation that nourishes my soul, until we were the last ones to leave the restaurant.

    “the incandescence of being among people I love” – YES. A 100x yes.

    Even my two and a half year old, to whom I can’t fully explain the reality of the situation, expresses every single day how she misses this friend and that friend, and all I can say is, oh sweetheart, I miss them so much too.

    It’s exactly what your other reader said: “the slimmest of griefs. Barely giving it space, and yet, knowing it means everything.”

    Yes. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. We can be both grateful and mournful at the same time.

    Thank you for putting all these complex emotions into words, in the unique way that you do.

    1. Hi Mia – You are so right in the way you phrased this: “we can be grateful and mournful at the same time.” That’s so how I feel right now — aware of my blessings and also mourning what I’ve lost. Thanks for this generous note, and for reading along. xx

  3. I so long for this! Your writing is beautiful as always. We will be so grateful for these joys when they return.

  4. Such lovely (and poignant) words. It is so very weird to think about the last time I did quotidian yet such important things: yoga in the studio, a library visit, weekly coffee with my friend who lives less than a mile away. And then just a day later, it all shut down.

    I’m recovering from cancer surgery and radiation treatments and would very much love to be hugged by my friends (and hug my medical providers, who have been so great). Those hugs will have to wait…such strange times. Onward!

    1. Oh, Sherri — so deeply sorry to hear you’ve had to endure these treatments and surgeries without the touch of friends, but — wow! Go you. So brave, so strong, so resilient! You will no doubt enjoy those hugs more than most of us when this is all over.

      Thank you for sharing this. Thinking of you.


  5. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. This puts into words things I did not have the words for – that disquiet that while we are with our families and safe and healthy, that there are monumental things we are missing. I love the way you phrase it – the slimmest of griefs. Barely giving it space, and yet, knowing it means everything. I keep dreaming about the things I look forward to post quarantine and I realize they are all parties, in various ways. But will that even be an option? Will we feel the same? How do we explain to the littles in the future that sense of losing the essence of a thing?

    1. Ahh – yes. I don’t even know how to explain, or if there’s a reason to explain, what’s been lost to our children?! I have to trust that things will return to some kind of normalcy, but maybe it will be like pre- vs post-911 in airports, where we can’t even remember what it was like when we could drop our loved ones off at the gate?

      Thanks for writing in and sharing this experience with me.


  6. I LOVE THIS PIECE. It’s so evocative! Thank you, thank you for reminding us about the simple pleasures of nights out, and giving us hope for future gatherings! They seem so far off at the moment …

    I love that WAYF floral dress! Definitely gives me Horror Vacui vibes 🙂


    1. Thank you, MK! I don’t think I’ll ever take a dinner out with loved ones for granted again…!


    1. Thank you, Dana! So sweet of you to say. I also choked up thinking about my sister in particular. She lives in Brooklyn but it’s like she’s back in London, where she lived for several years prior to relocating here — just too damned FAR from me right now.


  7. Ugh, yes. I keep thinking back to the last restaurant meal I shared with a friend, sitting at the bar of a natural wine place, tasting weird and funky wines. And the last workout I ran with my run group, elbow-to-elbow as we pulled each other through the last tough interval together. The last time I saw my parents, over Christmas (!). All these things, and more.

    1. I know — I know! Sometimes I think back to how blissfully unaware I was, how much I took for granted. A week before we started going into self-quarantine, we were out in Brooklyn with my sister and brother-in-law, drinking rose and laughing and talking about where we might eat out next. AHH! What I’d give for that.


  8. I loved this post, it captured perfectly all the small movements and moments that make for a perfectly lovely evening. Thank you for this ten minute escape into a tbc (time before corona), it is immensely appreciated as I sit at my desk, studying once again, and watch the rain fall.

    1. Hi Charlotte — Thank you so much. It was a poignant escape for me, too, taking the time to think about all the tiny details that used to go into a night out, all the frenzy of getting ready and leaving the children and all that.

      Thank you for taking the time to write in, and for reading along in the first place.

      Good luck with your studies!


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