jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Learning to Fly

This week Mica and his sister turned 5. And Mica rode his two-wheel bike three miles today.*

As with so many milestone accomplishments that we each celebrate in our respective families, that doesn’t begin to describe what actually happened. As my mother-in-law says, let me build you the clock (to tell you the time.)


Mica, three days old

Mica was born two months early. He and his twin sister were so tiny, their heads were the size of small avocadoes, and they spent a month in isolettes in the NICU in Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

That month is mostly a blur, but I distinctly remember kangarooing Mica on my bare chest. I pulled the neck of my t-shirt open and I slipped him inside for warmth, like I could shoplift him right out of the hospital between my breasts. When the nurse took him from me, she held him by the nape of his neck, Mama cat-style, with his head, arms and legs hanging down so she could use her other hand to untangle his cords. Offended at being removed from my cozy bosom, he bleated like a lamb, “Wah, wah, wah!” It is my favorite memory of the NICU. The nurse looked up at me surprised at the strength of his cries and said, “You won’t have to worry about this one. He’s a fighter!”

But I worried.

Mica, after surgery, February 10, 2009

At two months he was diagnosed with sagittal craniosynostosis, a hernia and hydrocele. At four months they opened his scalp from ear to ear in order to cut open all the sutures of his skull, and they also set his hernia straight.

At six months he started only reaching with one hand. The doctors examined him for a brain bleed but found none. Diagnosed with torticollis he started Early Intervention in Philadelphia along with his sister. We began weekly therapy, practicing reaching, doing inverted crunches on a medicine ball, stretching his legs so that his knees didn’t always lean in and his feet didn’t always splay out. We taught them both how to roll over. When Mica’s one-armed army crawl left him spinning in circles, we taught him to crawl using both arms.

The therapists used words like low muscle tone, muscle spasticity, sensory overload. As the sister of someone with extreme disabilities on the spectrum of autism and cerebral palsy I knew what they were and were not saying. When pressed, our dearest therapist shrugged her shoulders as if to say, we work with what we’ve got. Which was true. We worked.

Reid and Mica, 11 months old

Reid and Mica, 11 months old


Mica, hippotherapy, 3 years old

At a year they got helmets. We taught him how to crawl, how to get from lying down to sitting up, step-by-step. They did weekly swim therapy, OT, PT, reading groups, pre-pre-school classes. These therapists were my first friends in Massachusetts and they saved us, they saved me. We drove Mica over an hour each way to attend a half hour of hippotherapy, and there, Mica did sit-ups on a horse. On a horse!

Mica, Theratogs, one and a half years old

Mica, Theratogs, one and a half years old

Reid learned to walk and never looked back. Mica got a therapy suit called Theratogs, which consisted of 27 pieces of neoprene, elastic and Velcro that we’d reassemble every morning. Twenty-seven carefully placed pieces, people! We borrowed a baby treadmill and sang the ants go marching while holding the waistband of his pants so he could finally learn the motion of walking.

At exactly 18 months old Mica took his first steps. After that we walked on sand, down hills, through water, in snow, pushing things, pulling things, kicking things. He got braces for his ankles and orthotics for his shoes. After Early Intervention ended for Reid, Mica continued with OT. He’d lay on a scooter on his belly, walk up and down five flights of stairs, dive into ball pits, and I’d drag in trikes and bikes for him to try to ride up and down the hallway.

Every single day we’d do gross motor games at home, obstacle courses, walks, runs, stairs, balance beams, trampoline, or swimming.

Finally, Mica’s octogenarian orthopedist retired and the new young guy said to me that some people were naturally good at sports and some people weren’t. Just like that. Really?! I was both angry and relieved. We never went back. Over time the specific therapies and physicians all petered out although the habits of perpetual cross-training remain.

Writing this, it all sounds so crazy. I don’t even remember doing half this stuff, but there it is. Finding photos from that time I was startled to see how chubby and tired I looked. Then I remembered, I was pregnant with #4.

I do recall that in every hospital and therapy session we’d see children with far greater hurdles to overcome. We always knew we were lucky: to have Early Intervention and our therapists, to have the resources, to have good insurance and good health.

And yet, it’s only right that we take a moment to celebrate.

This week Mica and his sister turned 5. And Mica rode his two-wheel bike three miles today.

And It. Was. Amazing.


Mica, riding his bike for the first time, age 5


*For the record, Reid rode a two wheeler at three and a half after watching Jasper ride a two-wheeler for the first time. It took Reid two weeks of watching her big brother to figure it out for herself. Touche, young orthopedist. Touche…

8 comments on “Learning to Fly

  1. dvb415
    October 20, 2013

    Awesome, yet again…

    My wife is an occupational therapist and owner of Aspire Pediatric Therapy here in GA, so this story touches close to home (yet again).
    She asked me to forward this story to her, so she, in turn, could share it with her OT and Speech staff. Margaret knows how hard her staff works….sometimes they can’t give any more….this will inspire them to keep going. And our successes keep us going. And it’s great to hear it from a parent’s perspective. Score.

    Awesome, I say. Congratulations Mica and Mom.


    Sent from my iPad


    • jgroeber
      October 21, 2013

      Thank you so much! And please tell your wife thank you from me. We never get to say thank you to the people who helped us most. The people who came into my home to work with my kids week after week, and who sat in a pool, or stood in freezing stables, hour after hour, they did so much for our whole family. They might never hear about the difference even a couple therapy sessions or a few encouraging words meant, but as with teaching, it can mean the world.

  2. Kate
    October 22, 2013

    Yey Mica! Congratulations and you are an inspiration to us all…and so is your amazing mother. I remember much of this after I was so lucky to meet you all at Birth to 3!! After reading it and remembering it, I don’t know how you did it all??!! And yet you did. And your son rode his bike on 2 wheels…3 miles! Wow. Can he teach Grace & Reed??

    • jgroeber
      October 22, 2013

      Are you kidding? My twins want to BE your twins. Or at least trade in their respective twin-mate for yours! Your family was another one of the very finest gifts we received in those years. Scrumptious monk-a-roonies, all.

  3. Kristen Wilson
    October 27, 2013

    Groeber, you’re really starting to make the rest of us look bad. I would hate you if I didn’t love you so much! Rock on, mother!

    • jgroeber
      October 27, 2013

      Ah, don’t you know? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it really doesn’t make a sound. Without Mama-friends and gal-pals like you, near and far, to inspire, advise and hear, this little blogger-wannabe, attic-artist would be falling over in silence. Silence, I say. So, right back at you, super-cool, Mama-artist!

  4. Pingback: Who Doesn’t Love Dessert (Happy Birthday, Baby Girl) | jen groeber: mama art

  5. Pingback: On Learning to Read, A Study in Adjusting Expectations | jen groeber: mama art

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This entry was posted on October 20, 2013 by in The Children, Uncategorized.

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