jen groeber: mama art

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

Give Me Strength

Easter, 1961 Latex, graphite and collage on panel by Jennifer Groeber

Easter, 1961
Latex, graphite and collage on panel
by Jennifer Groeber

Today I had one of those mornings. You know the mornings I mean.

I woke up a little late; he wouldn’t get his clothes on and rolled his eyes when I asked him for the fourth time; she kept losing her vitamin; none of them successfully brushed their teeth post-breakfast; he wouldn’t get his boots on; she screamed the whole time I brushed her hair, and then SHE screamed, too! On the way to the car he purposefully s-l-o-w walked, and no one put their ding dang seat belts on themselves. I’d begun with cajoling and imploring but had quickly accelerated to yelling and gesticulating dramatically, looking and feeling apoplectic.

Then the high school bus drove by which meant I would follow that dumb bus all. the way. to. school. Stop and wait. Stop and wait. Stop and wait. STOP. AND. WAIT!

I was so annoyed, I was breathless, heart pumping with irrational inflated annoyance. (Stop and wait behind the bus.)

Slow breaths I told myself. (Stop and wait behind the bus.) How do I bring this day back around? (Stop and wait behind the bus.) I turned on the radio and heard the song that totally matched my mood. Strong bass line, rhythm guitar, foot-stomping drum, crooning plaintive voice:

Monday morning runs to Sunday night

Screaming slow me down before the new year dies

Well it won’t take much to kill a loving smile

And every mother with a baby crying in her arms, singing

Give me help, give me strength

Give a soul a night of fearless sleep

Give me love, give me peace

Don’t you know these days you pay for everything

Got high hopes

I got high hopes

Got high hopes

That was it. That was it exactly.

My mother’s favorite line, better than shape up or ship out and I’ll give you something to cry about, was give me strength. Whispered, muttered, hissed and spat, GIVE ME STRENGTH was the chorus to every verse in her life. Stolen directly from the Serenity Prayer, which hung at the top of the stairs and which my mother read at my brother’s funeral, give me strength was her desperate plea.

July, 1976

July, 1976

When I flip through old photo albums it is always the photos of my mother slightly younger than I am now that draw me in the most. She is mature enough to feel some confidence; but young enough to still feel lovely. Sure she looks exhausted, but there is a gentleness about her posture, a sense that she is beginning to believe all the good things my father has been telling her for the last 20 years of their relationship. For a moment in her life, she is glorious.

Then there was my father’s failed surgery with him so weak and maybe it’s her fault somehow. And then my mother’s face is pinched, exhausted. She is perpetually rushed, totally frustrated. She needs a pacemaker and medicine for high blood pressure. She’s not sleeping. There’s no time for books or TV or anything that is solely hers. She’s fighting doctors and lawyers, pushing us forward, forward, always forward at what seemed like a breakneck pace towards what, I don’t know.

Yesterday morning my six year-old walked up to me out of the blue and asked, “So was Mom-mom able to spend time with you when you were a little girl or was she always just taking care of Uncle Butchie?” And he asked like he already knew the answer.

I know, I know. I was wondering what he could have possibly overheard me say to have come up with this. But I don’t think he got it from me. I don’t talk about these things in my home like that. I save that really sensitive, private stuff for blogging and ladies nights. Unless my mother talked about it, that came from inside him.

I was floored.

“Well… she didn’t… I didn’t… need so much care as Uncle Butchie and the others, I guess.”

He looked dubious. I continued.

“I always knew Mom-mom loved me.”

Then he looked positively sad.

“She baked me chocolate chip cookies sometimes. She made cocoa when we played outside in the snow. She didn’t play with me or read me books or tuck me in that I remember, but she did what she could.”

I think the chocolate chip cookies satisfied him and he moved on to asking about our days’ plans.

I kept thinking of examples I could have given: she cleaned our ears after Sunday night baths, made sure our clothes were always clean and folded, she did without so that we would always have what we needed. She scheduled the appointments, drove to the therapies, gathered the school supplies. I know it was my mother who budgeted for the gifts, wrapped them, baked the Betty Crocker cake. Why do we forget these things?


Jennie’s first birthday
February, 1972

Give me strength, I thought. It was inside her all the time as she chased us five children, fought the doctors, managed the well-being of my father, ran a household, tried to find her place in this confusing, overwhelming world, and yelled and hollered and hissed and whispered, give me strength. It is her refrain, our refrain.

That song is not one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. I’m more a Thunder Road/Growing Up/Rise Up kind of Bruce fan. But it reminded me.

Give me strength, give me love, give me peace, I got high hopes. Just be present, breathe deeply, do with whatever you have. Every mother with a baby crying in her arms singing give me help, give me strength.

14 comments on “Give Me Strength

  1. Heather Davis
    January 21, 2014

    Thanks buddy. Your posts give me strength. I was just telling a friend of mine how much fun we have with you guys, and how I am in awe of what an amazing mom you are. It is evident every time I spend time with your wonderful kiddos. You, and the boss, rock. xoxo

    • jgroeber
      January 22, 2014

      No, YOU are! (Giving me strength and an amazing Mom, that is. And rockin’!)
      We LOVE the time we spend with you guys, too. Even when the kids almost get washed away by Neptune. “Wait, just back up a little closer to the ocean. A little closer. A little closer. Just a little closer to the ocean… Right there!” >SPLASH!<
      Love seeing you here in the blogosphere! (Thanks for stopping in.)

  2. Heidi
    January 22, 2014

    Give me strength seems so much better than my usual refrain. I
    My Mom used to say it all the time as well. I haven’t been to church in years, but my usual angrily mumured, “Jesus Christ!” is less appropriate a prayer than the more classy and helpful, “Give me strength.” Would prefer my kids to remember that refrain…

    • jgroeber
      January 22, 2014

      You will smile to know that last night I found myself saying “Whatever…” three times in two hours as a response to something totally annoying someone said. Ack! So thanks for enlightening me to the seeds I’m planting in my pre-tween girls. At least we’re not saying, “I’d resign from motherhood but I can’t find the forms,” which was literally my mother’s number one refrain! I guess Bruce Springsteen won’t be writing that little ditty anytime soon.

  3. mollytopia
    January 22, 2014

    This is so good. And so good to remember all those thankless tasks we do as mothers. It’s easy to beat ourselves up for feeling impatient, or putting off their request so we can answer one more work e-mail etc. Why is it so hard to remember all the laundry, the dishes, the stories when we’re tired, all the mermaid tails we make and every other way we show up? Yes we need strength. We also need a massage : )

    • jgroeber
      January 23, 2014

      Aw, thanks for dropping by and saying the nicest things.
      A massage sounds awesome, especially on this snow day! (NO SCHOOL?! You’ve got to be kidding me.)
      What’s amazing (and makes me quake in my snow boots) is that I can’t remember much of the special, nurturing things my mother did for me as a child. She should have taken more photos as evidence. Or blogged.
      Now that I’m finished the mermaid bath times four, I’m off to do that laundry!

      • mollytopia
        January 22, 2014

        It sounds like your mom had a lot going on, and she held it together for all five of you (4+dad right?) without losing her mind entirely. No one ever takes pictures of us not losing our mind right? But they should – it’s totally noteworthy! I’m sure your little ones (2 yes?) will have many, many happy memories of you. Even if they aren’t formally documented : )

        • jgroeber
          January 22, 2014

          Interesting to report that I had four siblings and I have four kids. Coincidence? Hmm. What in the world does this say about my care-giving hang-ups?!
          But yes, I do so hope they have happy memories. And I do take photos, like all the time. Just in case.
          Thank you for checking back in, rock star!

  4. Michele
    January 23, 2014

    Your mom was a rock star! That is how you became a rock star! I am trying to remember all the little things my mom did. I wish she had written some things down like you are now! Would love to read them and see what she was thinking. Sound’s like you have figured this 4 children thing out pretty well! My mom did always say, the dishes can wait. Would you like to play a game? Will never forget that! 🙂

    • jgroeber
      January 30, 2014

      Love this comment (how did I miss it until now?!)
      Your mom was such a rock star, too. Your home was always a refuge for me, one short sprint barefoot through the snow!
      And it’s funny that tonight, while cuddling in bed with the oldest, he said, “I wish the days didn’t go so fast,” I told him I was going to make him start journaling (which is funny because he can’t write much yet!) and also that this is why I blog, so he can have these things written down. He said, “You blog to tell your girlfriends, blah, blah, blah.” Ha! We’ll see what they think of it over time.

  5. jenkporter
    January 23, 2014

    Your mom was gorgeous.

    • jgroeber
      January 30, 2014

      I couldn’t find your comment! It was lurking as a new comment but I couldn’t find it. What a novice I am! (Phew.)
      Thank you for the kind words about my Mom. She was, and still is, lovely. Clearly she pops up everywhere in my psyche, too, so I imagine she’ll crop up again (and again and again.) SOmething about our relationships with our moms as mothers ourselves…

  6. Margie S
    February 25, 2014

    I love the picture! Your mom did look beautiful and happy there (and so did the kids). I am fond of saying,” Give me the strength,” and yes, my children parody me saying that very quote. And I often think of George Kastanza’s mother ( from Seinfeld) when I say it and it makes me smile. At least they aren’t mimicking me rattling off a slew of obscenities (which is what they would do if they could follow me into my padded cell, I mean the bathroom).

    • jgroeber
      February 28, 2014

      The padded cell! Yes, any place to escape. Sometimes I drive the minivan and turn up the music in the back so I can have a moment of peace. While they’re jamming to Lumineers I can quietly mumble whatever profanity gets me through my day!

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