jen groeber: mama art

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

Motherhood is… (A Toenail in Your Eye)


I’m still in my pajamas.
Mother’s Day 2014

I should have something to say about Mother’s Day. When Tim asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day I initially said I wanted two hours to go use the printing press over at the school to get some prints done. Last night I downgraded. I wanted to sleep in.

It’s sad to think that the things I wanted for Mother’s Day involved not being with my children. Mother of the Year, 2014, you are mine.

This morning I was looking through my own archives, the weird note-taking app on my phone and ipad where I hastily type in random sentences like, “The concept of contaminated time,” and whole blog posts, lists of things for Jasper’s birthday party next weekend and my grocery list. I found the following.

“It was mani pedi day with the girls while Tim took the boys to the Meat House. I was cutting Reid’s toenails and one hit my eye. Fast forward 12 hours, and I was getting ready for bed. I dabbed at my eye after moisturizing and pulled out a (wait for it…) toenail covered in eye booger. What are the chances statistically? My brother is an actuary. I should ask him. Because if that had been a diamond ring or a set of car keys that had flown through the air and embedded themselves in my body we would never have seen them again.”

And that sort of sums it up on most days. Motherhood is dabbing at your eye and finding a child’s toenail crusted in boogers. Just my body absorbing the refuse that I trim off their bodies, me absorbing them.

And so then I got to thinking about what motherhood is.

Motherhood is laying in bed every night, surrounded by children, reading them books, because I love making all the voices, and the gift of reading is so priceless, and it might be the only time I’ve had my feet off the ground all day.

Motherhood is late nights lining up containers for the lunches, cleats for soccer, coats and hats and mittens for school, packing the bags, slicing the apples. Rows and rows of planning for their futures big and small.


Soccer anyone?
May 2014

Motherhood is that first moment I saw them each, even if it wasn’t until two days after the umbilical cord was cut, and even if they were in those plastic boxes with wires and tubes and such. Even if I couldn’t touch them with my hands, to watch their little chests flutter as they filled and emptied, filled and emptied, breathing outside of me, while inside I still tried to breath for them.


Meeting Reid for the first time.
October 2008

I got to thinking about the mothers around me. How motherhood is volunteering at a school, at the auction, for the town composting initiative or to build the playground, to invest in their futures, to show up, show up, show up. How it’s doing the seatbelts and carrying them into the school, taking off the boots and slipping on the shoes in a hallway crowded with other mothers (and fathers and care-givers) as we prepare them for the world outside our immediate care each day. Bringing them to sports or dance or doctors and watching, encouraging and waiting.

I got to thinking about my family. About my mother-in-law and how motherhood is absorbing  a daughter-in-law and treating her like she’s your own daughter. It’s about caring for your grandchildren in the way that you wished you could have cared for your own children. It’s about selflessly giving time and smiles and hugs and empathy and acceptance no matter the circumstances to this new daughter you’ve absorbed into your heart.

I thought about my sister and how motherhood is being a doctor and a church singer, mixed drink master, mother to two. And in the midst of all this, also being a mother to every other mother who shows up to her office, to all their children, and to her baby sister who texts and calls at all hours of the night sharing symptoms and photos of rashes and sores. Motherhood is taking hold of all these other people and calmly and doggedly pushing at the problems until they are made better.

And as always I circle back to my mother for whom motherhood meant accepting her lot, plugging along, pushing everyone forward. Clothing and feeding and driving and preparing. Motherhood meant preparing for the day when she would hold her fifty year-old, firstborn son and then call each of her other children to say, “Butchie is gone. He’s gone.” It’s sitting there as she absorbed the draining warmth of his skin into her own, and inhaled the air that held his last breath. Motherhood is holding on to this piece of yourself that is outside of yourself, but that never really disconnected from all you do and everything you are, forever.

Jennie, 1st birthday February, 1972

Mom, Butchie, me, sister, sister
February, 1972

Yes, perhaps that is at the heart of it. Motherhood is that. Motherhood is holding on to this piece of yourself that is outside yourself as if it was still inside you. Whether born of our bodies, or with otherwise shared lineage, or birthed through marriage, or adoption or fostering or care-giving. Motherhood is the toenail in the eye, the children at the school, your sisters and friends, and mother-in-law and mom. It’s not pretty, but it’s powerful.

Gladly absorbing them.
Mother’s Day 2014

Happy Mother’s Day to all the people who care for the ones who inhabit their hearts.

19 comments on “Motherhood is… (A Toenail in Your Eye)

  1. Janice
    May 11, 2014

    This line gave me goosebumps. “Motherhood is holding on to this piece of yourself that is outside yourself as if it was still inside you.”

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Ah, thank you for understanding me, Bean. xoxo

  2. Anna Spanos
    May 11, 2014

    My mother’s day gift was a few hours alone in the house to work on that damned thesis that I still haven’t finished – and to instead procrastinate by reading this. Beautiful as always (though I wish I could say it didn’t make me cry?).

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Ha! It was so hard to make any use of that “free” time gifted to me on Mother’s Day, too! It was like, without my kids around on Mother’s Day I had to be thinking about my kids on Mother’s Day.
      You are a dear one to spend that oh-so-precious time on this little blog. Thank you.

  3. momasteblog
    May 11, 2014

    OMG this is stunning. I was feeling so angry because my Mother’s Day was about 300x more work than any other day and cost me a ton of time and money to orchestrate for everyone. I’m jealous of how gracious and graceful you are and enraged at myself that I can’t be the same.

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Ha! Getting enraged at ourselves seems to be the classic refrain. But it’s so hard when you have to hoof it on the day that you want to sit and bask, or at the very least (or most!), be left alone with yourself. May I recommend shingles? Actually, maybe not, but I would recommend throwing up on Mother’s Day. last year they left me alone and moved the brunch to my lovely Mother-in-law’s house. 😉 I am rarely gracious or graceful, especially not these last four weeks. But I aspire. I definitely aspire.

  4. adventureswiththepooh
    May 11, 2014

    Jen – this was gorgeous. Just gorgeous. You are a gorgeous human being, and so generous of soul and spirit. Love this one. You outdid yourself.

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Oh, such a sweet and lovely compliment. Thank you, inspiring blogger Mama.

  5. Margie S
    May 11, 2014

    Cheers to the many facets of motherhood and to a wicked – awesome muthah! Happy Mother’s Day! LOL, here’s to may more toenail eye snots, so to speak.

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Woot, woot!
      Happy Mother’s Day yourself! Hope you had loads of time to max and relax or at the very least, enjoy being a Mama!

  6. sbhansen2014
    May 11, 2014

    Beautifully written. Thank you, Jen.

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Thank you for getting it (and commenting.) It takes something to be able to understand how motherhood really is like a toenail in the eye.

  7. evelyneholingue
    May 12, 2014

    Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all of your readers. Four children is a happy number. I have four as well and almost as close as yours, although much older now.
    These days you are living now don’t last forever but the love doesn’t fade and go away. Only less toe nails in the eye but as many worrying and also joyful moments.

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Oh, lovely comment. that was like a Mother’s Day card. I do hope the love lasts and the fleshy hugs, too. I’m willing to let the toenails go, though.
      Hope your Mother’s Day was joy-filled!

  8. Burns the Fire
    May 12, 2014

    Crying. Thank you.

    • jgroeber
      May 18, 2014

      Right? Motherhood is funny like that. Well, not so much funny as poignantly, heart-meltingly funny.

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