jen groeber: mama art

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

Building a Neighborhood One Cup of Corn at a Time

I needed corn for the crockpot. The Chicken Taco Bowl crockpot to be exact. Canned? Frozen? Honestly, no one cares. At my house we call them the “filler calories”, because each of our kids can put away as much groceries as an adult. And when I say adult, I mean Adam Richman, the competitive eater from Man v. Food. Did I mention that I have 4 kids between the ages of 3 and 6? The skinny five-year-old by the way is the one who literally eats four loaded tacos with guacamole, sour cream and cheese, and begs for more, and by more I mean a medium pizza and a few slices of apple pie.

So I immediately thought of my childhood neighborhood, the house next door to ours and the one across the street. I thought of those neighbors because they would have had canned corn, or a cup of flour or an extra egg. And then someone from my house would have run next door or across the street to their house, usually barefoot, even in the snow, and literally borrowed a cup of sugar.

Somewhere in suburban New Jersey 1968

Somewhere in suburban New Jersey

But not now. We live in a place where there are no sidewalks let alone neighbors. I used to have this random thing where I’d choke on food, and by choke on food, I mean, my husband gave me the Heimlich. Three times.

So when we first moved to the great north woods I remember teaching my oldest, then 3, to run down the hill, through the woods, across the big driveway and up the next hill to Miss Jane’s house if he ever found mama “sleeping on the floor not waking up.” (Can you imagine? It was the best post-pregnancy diet ever! I could only eat when someone over 48″ tall and trained in the Heimlich was present. It was awesome.)

Anyway, we do have corn within walking distance, but it’s growing in fields and only in-season and it’s what they call cattle-corn, I think. And we do have horses even closer eating dried corn. (Or do they eat oats? Or straw? I have no idea. I grew up in suburbia, remember? Where out-of-season corn was in a can on the neighbor’s shelf where it belongs.)

But none of these mountains of corn around me is people-eating corn and no one who owns it is going to bring me a cup anyway. Because we don’t know each other. Because we live a half mile away from each other, remember?

And I don’t want to drag four kids into the grocery store for corn when it’s not grocery day. As I like to say when faced by something as annoying as getting four kids into boots and jackets and in and out of four car seats for corn, “I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable.”

Quite honestly, I was missing the old neighborhood, the infinite New Jersey development-sprawl, the cracked sidewalks and above-ground pools, endless telephone poles and houses so close we would pantomime communication from one bedroom to another across the street when we were grounded.

But then I got to thinking. Instead of neighborhoods in which to raise my kids, we’ve got beautiful places to walk, beaches, preservation land galore. And if I think of it, I have a virtual neighborhood merely a text or phone call away. Play dates have replaced tag in the front yard with whoever happened to be around between 5 pm until the street lights went on.

And while we don’t have a literal village where we all meet and raise each others’ kids, we’ve created a community that rallies around friends in need, meets at beaches and farms and fields, will pick up your kid from pre-school if you’re stuck way, way out at the mall getting art supplies, and that will make you a casserole when you’ve had a baby, or even just because.


The kids at the farm fields
March 2014


Our houses are far-flung in neighboring towns hither and yon, but our little corn-sharing spiritual center? It’s all right here.

So I called a parking lot friend and she’s bringing the corn to the walking play date at the preservation property in my sidewalk-free neighborhood. She says it’s a bit frost-bitten, but I don’t really care.


A corn-carrying friend
March 2014

So here I am, building my kids’ neighborhood one cup of frostbitten corn at a time.

4 comments on “Building a Neighborhood One Cup of Corn at a Time

  1. Margie S
    April 1, 2014

    And some day your kids will be living in urban sprawl, pining for those beautiful, open stretches of land and sea. While it may be a bit isolating, it sounds like you have been able to make the best of it. It is amazing what these little people can put away!

    • jgroeber
      April 10, 2014

      Yes, yes to both the insatiable appetites and to the amazing land we live in. Every day as I drive my tremendous loop past fields of corn, horses, marshes, ocean and historic homes I can’t help but say, “Gees. This is the…” and the kids can finish for me, “… the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.”

  2. kellylmckenzie
    April 3, 2014

    Community! Where would we be without it. All at sea, lonely and without corn for the Chicken Taco crockpot number. This post reminds me of a dear friend who lived on an 8 acre parcel of land in the New Zealand countryside. My two and I stayed with her family for two months after my husband died and it was heaven. I’ll never forget the St. Patrick’s Day Supper at the community hall where everyone brought food and we danced til the wee hours. So much fun. And that time that,yes, she called on a neighbour to come and “deal” with her sheep who was sicker than sick and had to be put down. He was there for her as your pal was there for you. You are blessed.

    • jgroeber
      April 10, 2014

      What a wonderful story. Yes, this place feels like I would sometimes imagine New Zealand to be! (Although maybe more populated by a long haul, but still…) And how appropriate for you to be in a place both expansive and nuclear in the face of loss and recovery. We should all have neighbors who would change the world for us.

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

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