jen groeber: mama art

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

I have a third arm.

I have a third arm. It grows out of my abdomen and it’s turquoise. With a big white four-fingered glove hand. Like a cross between the monsters from Monsters Inc. and Mickey Mouse. And this arm does all the things I’d never do. Like squeeze the chubby little face of the child back-talking me. Sometimes when Reid is doing her schlump-shouldered Frankensteinian march to time out in slow motion steps, this arm pops out of my shirt and shoves her right between the shoulder blades. And then as she imaginary slow-motion pinwheels her arms like a cartoon Coyote vs. Roadrunner skit, and as she imaginary slips and falls towards timeout, well, I smile. My arm invariably makes my day better.


Reid’s timeout for eating gum off the carpet in Dick’s Sporting Goods.

No one knows about it, or almost no one knows.

I told a friend about it as we were hitting mile three of a four mile run. She looked at me in abject horror. And I realized that’s because she works full time. She thinks the annoying things her kids do are because she doesn’t spend enough time with them. I’m here to tell the working mamas that this real mama spends more than enough real time with her children and they are still darlings who really annoy, talk back, ignore instructions. My four children have put this imaginary arm on me, like an inverted umbilical cord, but angry.

I told my mom about this arm and she said she knew what I meant. That she had an imaginary third eye on the back of her head. I replied that she never had an imaginary anything because she had a real arm to real slap and real spank us, thank you very much. That was the 70’s, I get it. We’re lucky she didn’t down mother’s little helpers with a glass of scotch at noon while smoking Marlboro cigarettes (none of which she’d ever have done.) Nonetheless… let me reiterate, my arm is imaginary.

This arm is excellent for car rides. It can imaginary pinch back-talkers in the furthest row of the minivan, toss a sippy cup directly at the chest of the one whining for milky, and grab a six-year-old arm right before the punch lands on his sister. All this without ever pulling over.

Sadly this arm cannot use its power for good, only evil.

Yesterday as we were driving to school in the minivan, Mica asked me what happened with people’s room when they died. I asked, “Like you mean what’s a coffin?” His twin sister replied, “No. Like their stuff. What do you do with people’s stuff.” And so I went into how you keep some things, like how Mom-mom kept some of Pop-pop Groeber’s argyle socks and a teddy bear or two, but then she donated the rest so that someone else could use those things.


“No, no, no,” Mica answered. “Like what would you do with our stuff when we die?”

And I tried to see it from his point of view. He shares his room with his sister, would she get his stuff? If she goes first does he get the good bed by the window?

As the minivan followed the winding road I trace each morning, I found myself picturing the unthinkable and overwhelmed with surprise emotion. “I can’t say. I don’t… this can’t…” I croaked. Suddenly, all four sets of eyes were trained on the rearview mirror watching my face.

I pictured the closed door down the hall from one of my very best childhood friends’ bedrooms. How she once opened the door and showed it to me months or maybe years after her brother died, gone before it was even close to his turn. How everything was right where it had all been months before but how it was dead silent in there now, all the oxygen sucked right out.

Me and my childhood best friend in her driveway, 1982.

Me and my childhood best friend in her driveway, 1982.

Finally I answered, “I can’t even begin to imagine that. My heart would be so broken, a piece of me would be broken forever and ever. I couldn’t keep your room the same because it would break me and I couldn’t touch a thing because it would mean losing you more. I…” and I gasped for air.

I suddenly wanted my mean purple arm to turn into an eight-armed octopus of arms to reach back and hug each of my children. I wanted to hold each of those chubby, naughty faces, watching me with blue eyes, and tell them how much I love them.

“You guys are my everything, my heart. I am who I am because of you. I love you so much. That’s the only  answer I have for that question.”

And I rounded another curve of the winding, narrow road, with my third arm tucked safely away, and I drove on.


8 comments on “I have a third arm.

  1. dvb415
    October 29, 2013

    Amazing, Jen.

    Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:29:51 +0000 To:

    • jgroeber
      October 29, 2013

      And to think you knew us when. I know you recognize the faces in that 1982 photo! Thanks for reading.

  2. Michele
    October 30, 2013

    Beautifully said….. LYLAS!!!!!

  3. Anna Spanos
    November 2, 2013

    Oh thank you thank you thank you for this – I am that working mom who believes every tantrum my daughter throws is payback for the time I’m not able to spent with her. Thank you for allowing me to think (at least for the next three minutes, anyway) that’s it’s just something all kids go through, no matter how present and wonderful their moms manage to be.

    • jgroeber
      November 2, 2013

      Thank you for commenting so sweetly and making me feel like I’m a stay-at-home who can actually do something besides, well, stay-at-home. Sometimes, every once in awhile, I can write. 😉 I may need to do a scientific test on this: be mean Mama for a few days, be very kind for a few days, be absent for a few days, and see which evenings have the most tantrums. Ha!

  4. Moira Smith
    November 4, 2013

    The other day, Ruby did something obnoxious before turning and pouting away. I took the opportunity to give her the finger behind her back. It felt so good. Then I thought about your third arm. I loved that moment of camaraderie.

    • jgroeber
      November 5, 2013

      I’m not saying I’ve ever done that… (but I totally HAVE!) Makes we wonder what my mother made of me and my siblings when we were children. Perhaps she flipped us off… ha! It’s good to know I’m not alone.

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2013 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood, The Children, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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