jen groeber: mama art

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

Naked Self-Portraits, A Love Story

When I met my husband he had an 18” neck and a 36” waist, he had that kind of build.

I had been unloading art supplies from my 84′ VW rabbit convertible to my third floor studio space in a glorified attic over an old train station in downtown Baltimore. It was the summer of 98’. I was wearing cut-off denim overall shorts that were shellacked with paint, old running sneakers and a ratty tank top, all this soaked with sweat, the road dirt kicked up during my drive from New Jersey and the dust and debris from a dilapidated art studio abused by countless artists through the decades. I looked del-i-cious (if you’re into sweaty, sloppy, and short.)

When I saw my husband that day for the first time he had his finely muscled arms flexed around a big box of art supplies, and although in retrospect I know he must have been sweaty, too, that’s not how I remember it. He looked glorious: tan, strong, military-style buzzcut, off-white t-shirt and pressed khaki shorts. My new roomie and I were walking up the hill and he was crossing the sidewalk in front of us. We paused, gobsmacked. He was like an ad from a magazine. He may have even said, “Hello, ladies.”

IMG_9007

Seriously? Yes.
In the studio.
Summer 1998?

I disliked him immediately.

When people ask how we met, I always begin by saying that we didn’t like each other at all the first summer we met.

My husband cuts me off with the “real” story, his version. It begins like this:

It was the first day of our MFA program, the day after moving into our studios, and we were presenting projected slides of our artwork. We’d stand in front of the small auditorium at a podium and awkwardly describe who we were and what we were doing in the MFA program as we projected huge images of our artwork behind ourselves.

I always try to interject here that this was the moment when I realized that this confident, muscled guy was smart and incredibly talented. His slides of sketchbooks layered with art historical references ranging from Jasper Johns to Botticelli had me hooked. This guy was beyond good.

But he always interrupts here and brings the story back to me and my slides, about how I stood there in front of everyone with these huge portraits, naked self-portraits to be exact, and how I’d pointed out the way I had painted my socks and hiking boots (on my otherwise nude body), or the blender on the counter next to where I sat (nude), or my dog (laying on the floor below my nude body.) And he says he just knew. He knew that anyone who could nonchalantly point these things out, just stand there utterly exposed and yet either too oblivious or confident to care, had something. He knew that we were going to be together.

I have always wanted to be that woman he describes in this story.

After we were married and we’d tried and tried and tried for five years to get pregnant, he’d planned a summer trip to Nova Scotia for the two of us. It was on this trip that we decided both that we’d had enough, and also that we were enough. We were done trying for babies, feeling the loss, injecting the medicine, drawing the blood. We would name our first house Jasper instead of our first child, and we would be enough for one another.

It was foggy that whole week in Nova Scotia, staying in this cliffside house where we could hear the roaring of the ocean on three sides, but could never see so much as a single wave. For seven days.

He made a painting of me that trip.

Jen Oil on canvas over panel painting by Timothy Johnson

Jen
Oil on canvas over panel
painting by my husband

 

I always thought the painting was just about the fog in a general sort of way, but a few years back I heard my husband describe it at a gallery talk to students. He said it was about us, that the fog was a metaphor for our not knowing. That it was about love in the face of that, that it was about me.

It is four children and a lifetime later, now. My friends can’t believe this, but my husband still shops for me: sassy shoes, funky sweaters, badass boots, practical Victoria’s Secret cotton bras, sweetly sexy cotton shifts to sleep in, dotted running shirts and winter running tights.

I want to be that woman.

I want to be the strong, sassy, sexy, brilliant, fearless woman who he sees in his mind’s eye when he tells that story about when we first met, who he envisions when he picks out red polka dot pin-up high-heeled summer sandals.

IMG_9021

I want to be the woman who rocks these shoes.
February 14, 2014

There are moments when I get so frustrated in our day-to-day life; when he says that we need to straighten up the mud room, that maybe we could plan the meals out at the beginning of the week instead of getting to Thursday and only having frozen sausage and hotdogs to work with, that we need to communicate better about our chaotic schedules. And even though he says we (and maybe he actually only means we… probably he really only means we), I think he means me. And I think I’m not being that amazing woman he envisioned when he fell in love with me. I am furious for being caught out in that lie.

But down the line, after the flurry of my fury, of the bumping of pots and pans and cabinet doors, he always holds me, spoons me right to sleep. And in the morning, every morning, this beautiful, brilliant, handsome, hard-working man (who, although his neck has shrunk and his waist has perhaps grown an inch or two, is so much more sexy and handsome than he ever was way back when), this man, my husband, convinces me again that I actually am the something wonderful he thinks I am.

Here’s to another Valentine’s Day trying to grow one step closer to the people -wives, daughters, mothers, friends- we envision for ourselves, and a word of gratitude for the ones who think we’ve already done it. Thank you, baby.

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27 comments on “Naked Self-Portraits, A Love Story

  1. giselacarmona
    February 14, 2014

    I enjoy reading you so much, Jen! Thanks for sharing your love with us, your readers… Have a great Valentine’s weekend!

    • jgroeber
      February 20, 2014

      Aw, thanks! Love needs to be shared. Am I right? 😉

      • giselacarmona
        February 20, 2014

        Indeed!!! Have a great day!

  2. Burns the Fire
    February 14, 2014

    Beautiful, Jen. The story and you both.

    • jgroeber
      February 20, 2014

      Thanks so much. It’s always hard to capture that something-something, the “ingrediente segreto” as Strega Nona would say.

  3. Kelly
    February 14, 2014

    If we could see ourselves as our lived ones do…. If only for a moment…. Lovely post.

    • jgroeber
      February 20, 2014

      Especially as women, if we could see ourselves, both physically and personally as our loved ones do… Well, I imagine we’d be both shocked and relieved.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. talesfromthemotherland
    February 15, 2014

    Well. You just made me cry. Beautiful. Really beautiful. (You, and the story.)

    • jgroeber
      February 20, 2014

      Not tears! (Me, too. Something about wanting to be enough but already being enough, if you know what I mean.)
      And thank you.

  5. dvb415
    February 15, 2014

    Wonderful story, told in the Groeber style. I believe you came from another planet or another dimension to make our lives a little bit brighter. Thank you.

    • jgroeber
      February 20, 2014

      Thank you for that. It’s so good to see you back here on planet-groeber, my home, where the nutty escapades roam, where the children and the antelope play. You’ve been missed!

  6. Jennie Saia
    February 18, 2014

    Brenda brought me to you, and I’m already so glad. I cannot ever get enough of reading about real love, and this post in and of itself is a treasure trove.

    • jgroeber
      February 20, 2014

      Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. There really isn’t ever too much love, is there? Even on Valentine’s Day. (Except maybe when my kids are all crawling all over me. That gets to be a bit much sometimes…) 😉

  7. DCTdesigns
    February 20, 2014

    Jen is it wrong that I’m in love with this post? Well too bad b/c it is incredible.My Aunt used to say “find the person that brings out the best version of you. That is the person you want to spend a lifetime with”. Sounds like you found him, that your husband holds that space for you even on the days when you forget to fill the shoes.

    • jgroeber
      February 21, 2014

      Oh, this is perfect! For the days I forget to fill those shoes. And at 5’3″, my size 9 feet should fill any shoes. But you are so right. Sometimes I can’t or won’t or didn’t. But he keeps buying me those sassy shoes. That is love, am I right?
      Thank you for reading and commenting.
      (Your Aunt is a genius.)

  8. Margie S
    February 21, 2014

    I am not particularly fond of Valentine’s day but I am fond of this post:) Like your painting, you bare it all in your writing. You still got it kid;)

    • jgroeber
      February 21, 2014

      How cool are you for stopping by? And commenting?
      Thanks so much for the words of support!

  9. Michele
    February 21, 2014

    Jen, I just love this piece of your life! This was written so perfectly! A tear ran down my face. It is so fantastic that you found someone that loves you so completely the way you should be loved. You are an amazing, wonderful, talented, lovely woman that is meant to find her happily ever after. You rock!!!! (And your husband is the bestest in my book!!!) Well, next to my hubby… (LOL) Keep on bloggin!!!

    • jgroeber
      February 22, 2014

      Yay! Thank you. Can you remember sitting on the porch playing the game of Life? Ha! I remember what a big deal it was to get the husband, that the kids were a tax write-off and that being a teacher meant you’d earn less than a third as much as a doctor! Absolutely prophetic!

  10. adventureswiththepooh
    February 21, 2014

    Love it. Wonderful, chica. Warms me up on this cold night.

    • jgroeber
      February 22, 2014

      Oh, what a lovely comment! Thank you.

  11. falzalnz
    March 5, 2014

    I enjoyed every second I spent reading this. Thank you.

    • jgroeber
      March 9, 2014

      Aw, thanks for stopping by. Come again…

  12. girl in the hat
    July 18, 2014

    Beautiful writing.
    I identify with wanting to be the woman who rocks the shoes.
    I also remember giving up having another child and being done with trying. It was so beyond sadness it was only relief I felt at that point. (And before you know it, we conceived again. WTF?)

    • jgroeber
      July 19, 2014

      Yes! What is it with the dessert we didn’t order? Who keeps ordering me dessert?!
      And thank you for the kind words. Your writing is positively sumptuous, so I especially appreciate a compliment from you.

  13. lafriday
    March 8, 2016

    Oh! I had to follow the trail to see the pin-up shoes. As I just said on the post that led me here: now I am tearing up. Lord, you are a lucky woman–and I think you ARE the woman he sees when he buys you glorious footwear.

  14. jgroeber
    March 12, 2016

    Does anyone actually click on the links, I wondered. And the answer is, “Yes!” (Yay!)
    And thank you for believing in the woman behind the red polka dot shoes. It’s a work in progress for all of us, I imagine, but so worth striving for.
    May we all channel our inner polka dot shoes.xo

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