jen groeber: mama art

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


I am not someone who makes resolutions. The only resolution I made was in 1989, and it was to lose weight. In retrospect it wasn’t so much what one would call a resolution as an eating disorder. My people just don’t make resolutions. They look backwards, not forwards.

The journal I bought my husband on our honeymoon.

The journal I bought my husband on our honeymoon.

My husband keeps a journal. It’s not for the sort of navel-gazing that I, and every other “My So Called Life” junkie, popularized in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And it’s not a daily log of what he’s done or where he’s been. It’s a place where he records his thoughts at momentous times: our marriage, the birth of our children, miscarriages and the loss of a parent, birthdays, and yes, New Years. It’s a battered leather journal I found for him on our honeymoon, and on special occasions he’s read to me from it. In this journal he reflects on what’s passed, and he looks forward, too.

My husband once had a piece of paper taped over his desk that read Daily Decisions Determine Destiny. And you can probably already hear me teasing him about it during the newlywed years of our marriage. During the infertility years I looked at it with quiet sadness and resentment. One day, pregnant, I think with our oldest, we talked about it as we walked through the woods along the Wissahickon River in Philadelphia.

It went something like this: How in the world can anyone believe that Daily Decisions Determine Destiny?! If you need proof of the improbability of this, exhibit A is my mother. An only child raised by a cold father with just enough money in the house to get by and a mother who worked full-time as a waitress in a diner? Then she marries her dream man at 21 and shortly thereafter gives birth to a severely retarded child? Then two babies later another child who would battle to master multiple disabilities? And then shortly after that her husband goes into the hospital one man and returns another due to a doctor’s mistake?! Clearly, there’s no exhibit B needed. That’s like a Royal Flush. You can throw that down, take your money and walk away with that one.

And my husband totally got it. He folded. We were still in the throes of our fertility struggles as far as we were concerned and I think he either sensed that it wasn’t right to challenge a hormonal woman or more likely, he understood that for me, being told that Daily Decisions Determine Destiny felt like I was being told to fix the impossible, to plan away the unthinkable, to strive for something other than the inevitable.

But here’s the thing. In his journal, when my husband looks both backwards and forwards, he is taking a minute to measure the past and record it. And then, he is moving forward. He is taking his future in his hands, hoping and planning and leading the way. And damn if he doesn’t invariably set a lofty goal, whether personal or familial, for his school or his health, his children or his wife, and then meet it. His looking backward and forward, laying out the path, has allowed him to put into his mind, then onto paper, then into his future, our future, the improbable.

That day along the river path, he said that my mother is a strong survivor in a way he couldn’t imagine being, and that he sees that in me, too. He said he plans because he couldn’t imagine surviving such things. But we survivors need warriors and explorers to conquer the future. And don’t be mistaken, my warrior, he is a survivor in his own right.

Sometimes laying out a map, even an imagined one, is probably a good thing.

I have no journal, but I do have a blog. So in a loose and inexact non-specific psuedo-resolution noncommital way, I resolve to be even kinder to my children, to tell my husband more often how wonderful I think he is, to write and make art more (and more honestly when I do) and to be a better friend. Really it’s just me resolving to be me, but hopefully a smidgen better.


December 29, 2013.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy new year where you can accept the things you cannot change, and that you have the strength to change the things you can, and most of all, that you have the wisdom to know the difference between the two. (Oh, I should totally trademark that last bit. It’s good.)


Happy New Years, 2014! Cheers!

6 comments on “Resolution

  1. Pingback: The New Year Approaches…What are your plans? I hope they involve INSPIRATION! |

  2. talesfromthemotherland
    January 3, 2014

    This is just delicious. Beautiful, moving, and utterly delicious in its raw truths. You have so much talent; each post is a delight.

    • jgroeber
      January 3, 2014

      Holy, Hannah! You just made my morning. You think these things and then your girlfriends and husband say “You should write that down…” and then you do. And then… crickets. Hearing props from such a lovely and established blogger writer as yourself just made my morning. So now I have girlfriends, husband, TFTM and crickets. Oh my! (May all your resolutions come true in the new year!)

      • talesfromthemotherland
        January 3, 2014

        May all of yours come true as well. I’m glad Le Clown pointed the way to your blog a while back. I’m glad I stayed. Your writing is truly wonderful, and I think your husband and girlfriends know what they’re talking about. Stick with it; you have something to say, worth reading! Funny to hear myself called and “established blogger,” when I still see myself as so outside “the loop,” so often… and still feel like I need to scramble. Perception… hmm, it’s half the battle darlin’! Here’s to good things for both of us this year.

  3. Ailsa Steinert
    January 3, 2014

    Hi Jen Your new resolution post, eloquent and wonderfully reflective, set me off into thinking…for me, there is yet another way of looking at those daily decisions, actions, things. Remembering well my years at home with small children, and the paradoxes, resolutions, joys, and frustrations they brought, I do find now that the more I know the less I know, but among my current heroes – Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Francis the new pope (thank goodness and at last), there seems to be an echo of renewed respect for the daily round…

    As a child, I learned a lot by rote…things that I didn’t think much about at the time except to pass the daily questioning, but that are embedded somewhere in my soul… and I’ve learned to take them out on occasion now and examine them…like a sort of archeologist of the soul…one of them resonated when I read your post. Sacraments , I learned once, are outward signs of an inward grace…Emerson and Thoreau have a lot to say on that subject in a more eloquent and less defining mode…but I have long believed that the everyday is sacramental both for ourselves and those we touch, and so has incalculable value…inward grace (which is a wonderfully fluid and powerful word).

    Hard to articulate, but recently for obvious reasons, I have had more time to think about the everyday…and small things… like the chickadee with his black velvet head and sand colored chest feathers who is now doing a Fred Astaire imitation at my bird feeder in delight at outwitting the storm…

    Keep writing! (Have you ever read Anne Lamott? She is funny, irreverent, and wise…and your work reminds me a little bit of hers)

    Anyway, Happy New Year and love to all,



  4. jgroeber
    January 4, 2014

    Oh, my. Archeologist of the soul. “As an artist in my twenties and thirties I looked back to the past, to my childhood and my mother’s life. I wanted to discover and expose how and why things came to pass, an archaeologist looking through photo shoeboxes with a pencil in her hand.” Those are the opening lines of my artist statement for a show I had last year. How did you know? That is exactly what moves me, these moments of searching to discover something new and important in something old and mundane.

    And I love to contemplate the inward grace of sacrament, and the sacrament of every day. The closer these moments of every day get to pure survival, the feeding and cleaning and bathing and excreting, the closer they perhaps get to purity, right? And when are these things closer to survival than now, when my children won’t eat unless I feed them, won’t dress unless I help. I can see how the moments when they take these things on themselves will be both victorious and overwhelmingly sad. And that my mother never let go of those sacraments with my brother Butchie until the moment he died… that is a book of thought unto itself.

    Now, mentioning Anne Lamott to me? You could only thrill me more if you suggested that I was the unrealized love-child of Anne Lamott and David Sedaris in his early years. Because that would be my dream. 😉

    Oh, thank you for reading and for thinking about it and caring. If I had known a teacher such as you, my trajectory as a writing person may have been quite different. Perhaps there is still time to become the writer I wanted to be? I guess there is always time (until there’s not.)

    Happy new year to you and yours!

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This entry was posted on January 1, 2014 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .

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