jen groeber: mama art

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

Littlewing, A Mother’s Anthem


Today it was cold, but with the promise of spring. At least that’s what we all told each other.

One Mama grabbed me by the arm, literally grabbed me, and wide-eyed and panicked she pulled me close right there in the pre-school parking lot.

“We are walking. We are walking Thursday. The sun will shine. It will be warm.”

She had me at ‘walking’. “I’m there. I am in.”

And by Wednesday the texts began to fly. I saw a mother in the hallway who’d been absent for a few days. The stomach bug.

But no matter.

“Are you in? Because we are walking.”

And she gave me that same desperate-eyed look I remember from when they were moving out of their house last spring, and the baby was crawling into boxes and down stairs, and the four-year-old had ENERGY, ENERGY, ENERGY (jazz hanndddssss.) It was one of the first times I had lifted my head enough to be generous. That day a year ago I said, “I’ll take her. I’ll take the four-year-old. It’ll be so easy. I drive right by your house. I have an extra car seat.”

Such a look of sweet relief, I saw myself in her exhausted face.

And on this day she turned to me, “Walk? I will walk!”

Because for all of us, stuck in our houses with our children and their germs and the hitting of the younger sister and the pushing around of the baby and the dark, dark mornings and darker afternoons, this day that smiled just a tiny bit, smelling finally a bit like spring, this was a revelation.

The weather was not so warm. But mostly the ice slabs had disappeared and the puddles rarely went over the tops of their boots, except for Mica who, like the polar bear that has not gotten the memo that the ice is melting, fell in to his waist. But no matter. We walked on. Some had mittens. Some discarded coats and hats and all.


Wild and free, along the marshes
March 2014

They ran into the reeds and grabbed the cattails and the long grasses. They climbed the remaining snow piles, tromped directly through the thawing goose poop, frozen in time since last fall. They threw their rocks in the ocean and nearly lost their boots in the suck and gum of the low tide flats.

I ran ahead and pulled them from the quicksand mud, zipped the jacket, retrieved the stuck monkey boy from the tree. In my Hunter boots finally breathing and walking, I was invincible.

And the Mamas, we talked about the winter, the darkness, how we’d missed each other, only a minivan away in the parking lot for the last four months but really a world away; only the next town over, but really a continent. Some worked from home or had gone places, done things, but still, but still, the winter.


I talked about the days I spent twelve hours indoors with no television watched and no play dates played, just me failing to be a good mother and four kids driving me to despair for twelve consecutive hours, repeat, repeat.

And I talked about the concerts my husband and I snuck out to this week, Tanya Donnelly and Throwing Muses at the Sinclair, a tiny, old concert space in Cambridge, all hipsters and 20-somethings and us. Then the next concert, Real Estate where it was all 19 year olds and 20 year olds with their brothers’ I.D.s or just 22, scraping together the money for the concert, but none left for the beer. The girl standing next to me watching Real Estate was adorable, and in love with them.


Real Estate at the Sinclair
and the young woman standing next to me
March 2014

She said to me, “I’m in college up the road. I’m so excited.”

And “I’ve been waiting to hear them.”

And “We’re so close! Maybe one will see me and fall in love with me.”

And I replied, “You are adorable. Ask for the set list. They will fall in love with you, but beware. In five years they’re high school teachers giving lessons on the side. Which is fine, but still, maybe not what you envision.”

And she looked at me.

“Ask for the set list,” I repeated. (And she did.)

These are the stories I told the Mamas.

We finished our walk with the children so muddy and wet and red-faced and someone’s two year-old straggling way back in the muddiest places. I tried to load the car but this one wandered away and this one wouldn’t go to the back row of the minivan and this one couldn’t climb into her carseat. “Seatbelts ON! Seatbelts ON! Just put your seatbelts ON!!!” Already the moment had tried to slip away in the things they won’t do even though I tell them over and over. “God, why won’t you just put your seatbelts on?!”

I looked out across the dirt and puddles to see the Mamas clustered close stealing one last breath of camaraderie or oxygen or freedom, the cattails gripped by muddy hands waving in their faces. I rolled down the windows, plugged my iphone into my car audio, cranked the volume and rolled down the windows.

The first time lightning hit me

Was the night I met your daddy

It flew down the dance tent pole

Threw me to the red dirt floor

And as I reached to him

For the very first time

Tiny fire flew from his hand to mine

Fixed me to the spot

Feu de grace

I want to tell you everything

I want to spare you everything


The second time it hit me

I was holding you

In the dead of night

In the dead of night it lit your eyes

It lit your eyes and stopped your cries

It stopped your cries and

Flowed through the bed

It flowed through the bed and

Fixed you to my breast

Fixed you to the spot

Feu de grace

So I gave you a name that sounds

Like far away

In hopes that you’ll run

From this place someday

As soon as your feet

Can carry your weight

Run from your people

Littlewing fly

We pull the fire from the sky

I want to tell you everything

I want to spare you everything


As we peeled out of the dirt parking lot, I looked in the rearview mirror, surveying the cocoon of the minivan and saw my mud-spattered kids nodding their heads, hair blowing in the marshy wind. Cabot’s mouth was open in a perfect O as she implored, “Littlewing, littlewing, little WING-ING-ING!”

I’d give up everyone

I’d give up every one of my days


[This footage isn’t from our concert (although there is some of that on youtube) but this is from Cambridge and it is live. This doesn’t do Tanya Donnelly justice; download the song and listen. Tanya Donelly, Littlewing.]

13 comments on “Littlewing, A Mother’s Anthem

  1. Burns the Fire
    March 28, 2014

    Feel like I was there with you. Thanks for a beautiful day.

    • jgroeber
      March 29, 2014

      Oh, I wish you had been there with us. How fun would that have been? Or better yet, at the concert.
      And thank you for stopping by.

  2. Kelly L McKenzie
    March 28, 2014

    OH the freedom of being outside and falling down and getting dirty and wet and over the top happy with life. I recognise those panicked “yes-I-am-walking-we-are-all-walking-when-can-we-goooooooooooooo!” faces. My fave was the time my pals and I grabbed our kids from preschool and schlepped down to the river to ride bikes. The working gang was out fortifying the bridge for potential earthquakes so we couldn’t bike very far BUT we got to watch the diggers and the men and the earth and the big trucks and BONUS splash at the river’s edge. Heaven.

    • jgroeber
      March 29, 2014

      It’s the little things in life, like cattails and earth movers and bulldozers and of course, the mud at the water’s edge. So glad you stopped by.

  3. dvb415
    March 28, 2014

    So good.

    • jgroeber
      March 29, 2014

      Because who doesn’t love a little live music? Or a walk through the marshes? Or both!

  4. Kim
    March 28, 2014

    I was there walking with you guys even though my physical self was at the Drs office with a sick kid… head was with you!!! More walks to come now that eternal winter may be coming to an end. I love this blog post, you are such a great writer!

    • jgroeber
      March 29, 2014

      Yes! You were with us. And you will be again. Perhaps this Thursday? Because we can only move closer to spring at this point, right?

  5. Sasha
    March 29, 2014

    Your pics and witty humor are very addicting! Love looking at your different posts!

    • jgroeber
      March 29, 2014

      Oh, thank you! Sadly, the writing of the blog and the checking in of the blog has also become mildly addictive. Ack! The good news is, even if something goes pretty wrong around here I can look at it and think for a moment, “At least this might make fodder for a blog post…” (As I contemplate the broken Simon Pierce hand-blown bowl shattered on the floor.) So glad you stopped by!

  6. jdavi339
    April 5, 2014

    Ok on the right post now I love this can fully relate and also love Tanya reminds me of Mary Chaapin Carpenter in a classy way:}

    • jgroeber
      April 10, 2014

      Yes to Mary Chapin Carpenter, and yes to walks (even when Mama has lost her brain!)

  7. Pingback: One Year Blog-o-versary, 100 Years | jen groeber: mama art

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This entry was posted on March 28, 2014 by in Surviving Motherhood, The Children and tagged , , , , , , , .

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