jen groeber: mama art

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

I Am Afraid


Mica lost a tooth
May 2014

Mica lost his first tooth today. It’s been wiggling in his mouth, nestled in his tiny deep-ocean gums like a pearl, since mid-winter. Today, in honor of Roald Dahl, it came out while he was sinking his teeth into the first giant peach of the season.

Leaving the grocery store with the peaches in a bag tucked in our cart, right before the momentous event, I saw an older woman walk by us, turning to watch us with a look on her face, old or tired or tinged with anger. It may have been because I’d opened the trunk of the minivan remotely, the sweeping trunk door almost hitting her.

Checkout line at Market Basket  May 2014

Checkout line at Market Basket
May 2014

But it seemed like more than that. If it had been a movie it would have happened in slo-o-o-o-ow motion, her pushing an empty cart, dodging the lifting door, searching the parking lot to see who had caused this near assault, me bent in half, pushing a grocery cart with three children and $276 worth of groceries. Our eyes met.

Future past, past future.

I am afraid that someday I will be that woman and I will walk alone through Market Basket fumbling for my keys, my purse, my wallet, my glasses, my list, scanning the parking lot for something I’ve missed because I will feel like I lost something, like I left something important behind. Because I will be alone.

I am afraid that I have not paid enough attention to these days that are speeding, faster and faster, as each of my children grow and change and mature in these utterly strange and magical ways.

I am afraid that those future days when my children have moved on with their lives, that my husband and I will sit across from each other in a restaurant, both sagging and distracted, with nothing to say, not at all like the vibrant, stylish seniors we’d imagined.

Once started, I couldn’t stop.

4. I am afraid that when my kids all begin school I will not be able to write the book I’ve promised myself I’d try to write or get the big art exhibits I’d envisioned.

5. I am afraid that when my kids all begin school that my life will actually feel the same as it does now, that somehow all that found time will get swallowed whole by auctions and birthdays, doctors appointments and laundry, and worse yet, that these important Mom things will feel small compared to the worldly things I’d envisioned.

6. At night when I wake up I am afraid that someone is creeping into my room to kill my husband and I,

7. or I am afraid that someone is sneaking stealthily down the hall to steal one of my children, like that little girl out west who wasn’t brought home for years and years.

8. I am afraid that I don’t know which is worse, losing one child or having all grow up having lost their parents tragically.

9. I am afraid they are both worse. (They are both worse.)

10. I am afraid that I will not do a good enough job protecting my children

11. from intruders

12. from classmates

13. from their own adolescent bad decisions

14. or from themselves and the voices in their heads that might someday tell them that they are not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough.

15. I am afraid that I worry about the wrong things, that the time I’ve put into this should have been put towards that, that I’ve spent my attention and time and spiritual energy foolishly.

16. I am afraid that they will only remember my petty mean moments rather than how I lay awake thinking about them, that they will never know that their father and I go on date night and talk about them, about the funny things or the sad things, our hopes and fears for them, the beautiful things they do that stop our hearts right in our chests…

Just now, driving home from school with these fears building and swirling in my mind, Mica lost his tooth somewhere on the floor of the minivan.

As I pulled into the driveway, he climbed out of his car seat in the back row looking positively despondent.

“I lost my tooth.”

“I told you not to take it to school. I told you not to take it out of the plastic cup with the lid.”

“I put it on my knee and then it fell off.”

“It’s gone? What were you thinking?”

And I had that sudden loss swirling in that list of fears. His first tooth. Another child misplacing a tooth. I will not have this bother me less just because it happens every time! That was a tiny part of his body now laying on the floor of the dirtiest minivan, among the crumbled rice cakes (which look shockingly like a baby tooth, it turns out), the Fig Newman dust, the crushed Corn Chex.

And so I took the car seat out, disassembled it in the driveway just as it started to rain. I swept the minivan and then pawed through every disgusting piece of detritus as the rain melted it all into worthless sludge.

Mica schlumped away and then started playing with his siblings in the rain, laughing and running and being free. I wanted to be furious.

Why was I the only one who cared about this?

Later, after I’d put the car back together and come in out of the rain, I found Mica in his room playing quietly with his Perplexus ball all by himself.

He looked up at me with his little wizened eyes.

“Mica, I just want to let you know that even when you can’t show you care about something, that even when you don’t know how to care about something like losing this tiny piece of you, I want you to know that I care. I will always care.”

“I know, Mama. I know.”

Showing big brother the tooth  May 2014

Showing big brother the tooth
May 2014

(Inspired by the loss of Mica’s tooth, the woman in Market Basket parking lot and the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, listing towards something.)

45 comments on “I Am Afraid

  1. dvb415
    May 27, 2014


    • jgroeber
      May 27, 2014

      OMG good? Or OMG bad? Or OMG, you’re totally with me, parenting is nuts?

      • dvb415
        May 28, 2014

        OMG good. OMG great. Universal truths relayed through your personal prism. It takes a lot of guts to bare your soul. One of the best things I’ve ever read. And yes, I am totally with you.

  2. Burns the Fire
    May 27, 2014

    Boom, pounds the heart.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      As always, so beautifully put. Thank you.

  3. Ann St. Vincent
    May 27, 2014

    This was really lovely. That’s my OMG to you. I can completely relate.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Oh, thank you. That’s exactly what I crave. The Aha Moment and then the Me, Too.

  4. Margie S
    May 27, 2014

    Dear Jen- you so beautifully illustrated all of our parental desires, fears and dreams. That struggle with self actualization and parenting can be difficult. One day at a time;) You will get through this and continue to find that ever fluid balance. Second thing for sure, you will never become boring or stagnant. Stay healthy, your four children will be around for a long time.
    P.S. I just love how your son never questioned your level of interest or intent on finding his lost tooth. Awesome!

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      That son, no matter how he infuriates or misdemeanors (can I verb that?), he always gets it. Thank you for reading and for the kind comment.

  5. evelyneholingue
    May 28, 2014

    There will be days when you will miss these days (busy with little kids) but also many days when you’ll be as busy with so many other things filling your life. It is a journey without any rehearsal and each part is up to us (well, sometimes, not entirely).
    Enjoy this stage in your life.
    The tooth story is lovely, too, by the way.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      I love this comment. So it’s always this hamster wheel of racing along to stand still, huh? So glad I’m blogging it then. Because as much as I run on the same hamster wheel, it does seem as if someone keeps changing up the bedding in my cage and so on. Same as it ever was. (Oh, wait. That was my next post!)

  6. girl in the hat
    May 28, 2014

    Wow. Beautiful writing. My children made me terrified for the first and last time– last because it does not stop.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      There is nothing I fear more than everything about my children. It’s lucky they infuriate so often and need so much day-to-day care (food, hugs and butt-wiping), because otherwise I could just live in this place of fear.

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  8. Karuna
    May 28, 2014

    I also really liked your piece. I agree with the other people who commented so will say something from a different perspective. I’m a psychotherapist and you did a piece of work in this post that in our kind of therapy process we (the therapists that do this work) call cycle feelings. For that you pick one feeling (usually mad, sad or scared) and write or say all of the things that you can find inside about that feeling……. so in this case it was I’m afraid that…… over and over again. You go as deep as you can go with it and continue until they run out or you sense that you’ve done enough. Did your fears dissipate after you did the list? Hope so! Cycling feelings is a valuable tool.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      I am ashamed it’s taken me so long to reply to this one. I love the change of vantage point and the insight you offer. I’m holding that “cycling feelings” thing in my back pocket for a rainy day. It makes so much sense to dig around and name the junk blocking our internal doors and windows. And I do think racing through it until the internal room is clear really helped me to let go. Thanks for that comment.

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  10. kellyinrepeat
    May 28, 2014

    I know someone who stopped having children after the first because she said she couldn’t bear to worry about another person that much twice. Beautifully written. My children used to ask me what the toothfairy did with the teeth and I told him that she planted them and grew tooth plants to make dentures for old people. If nothing else, I feel like I have fed them rich imaginations ….

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      I love the story you wove for your children. I always tell me kids I don’t really know too much about these magical beings. How could I possibly? But I may add this option as a lovely possible truthiness.

  11. kellylmckenzie
    May 28, 2014

    Ouch. Like watching my life all over again. If it’s any comfort I am now in the “yikes what if they are all grown up and both want to go away to university?” phase and it is actually quite lovely and magical and happy. Wish I could grant you the ability to press the fast forward button to zip into the future for just a couple of minutes to check it out.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      It might be fun to zip the fast forward button for a moment to see that it all works out, but what if it doesn’t? Ack! Also, I always hate when I do that with books (which I often do.) For now I’ll just keep lamenting publicly that I have no idea how it all turns out. I have no idea, and I’m sticking to it. Ha!
      And I hope that if they do go away to university, they choose a fun destination so you can travel there to visit them and then tell us about it.

  12. adrianapridemore
    May 28, 2014

    I think all parents, or at least moms, have all those same fears running around in their heads. The trick is to be prepared for the bad but don’t obsess about it or you will miss all the amazing things that only happen once as your kids get older. I used to worry about everything that could possibly happen. Then suddenly I realized my kids were growing up in spite of all that and I wasn’t enjoying it. So I told myself not to sweat it. Handle it when it happens, don’t be careless, and take the time to go laugh and play in the rain with your kids. I wish you the best. We are all in this together.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Yes, we are all in this together. So true. And it’s not the big fears that get me. It’s the fear that I’ve missed something that gets me the most. Why is that?

      • adrianapridemore
        June 11, 2014

        I think we fear missing something because all that fun stuff only happens once. You can do it again but it truly only happens once. Kinda like first impressions.

        • jgroeber
          June 13, 2014

          Yes. And because if the little things (as well as the big things) aren’t memorable, then are they still meaningful? I mean, yes, of course. But also, not so much. If I didn’t try to hold tight I’m afraid I’d be the sisyphus tree in the forest, falling down, falling down, falling down, but making a sound? Who knows?!

  13. Matt
    May 28, 2014

    I think you’re magic.

    • Cynthia novotny
      May 28, 2014

      We should all be the Mom she wants to be, kids are amazing!

      • jgroeber
        June 11, 2014

        And thank you, Cynthia. Kids are amazing, even my ragtag little ruffians. 😉

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Now that’s the sweetest comment yet. Thank you.
      (And if by magic you mean I can get avocado and paint stains out of striped sundresses, that would be an unfortunate no. I can make boo-boos better most of the time though.)

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  15. Cynthia novotny
    May 28, 2014

    Slow down and enjoy! It will be over before you realize. Your blog is the journal I kept though not shared. You are a great Mom and may not be appreciated until the kids are older. KeeP up the good work – kids look amazing! And so do you!

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Thank you. I do think of the blog as the journal I’ve always meant to keep. This is the most consistent I’ve ever been. Turns out, I needed to feel the pressure of someone else’s eyes to allow me to take the time to reflect. Now if only I could feel like other people depended on me to do yoga and get regular massages I could live a WAY healthier and more relaxed life…

  16. ponymartini
    May 29, 2014

    I thought I was the only one who worried about their kids being kidnapped in the middle of the night. Maybe we are the same mom? Freaky 🙂

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Right? MissFannyP at The Adventures of Fanny P posted that she actually woke up during the night because her young son was making noise. She found out that a “Barefoot Soldier” (I paraphrase horribly here) was standing behind the door. Her son later asked who the man was. Gives me horrors to even type it. The thieves stole all valuables but the family was physically unharmed. Seriously. Like, the week I posted this thing. I did not need to know that (and probably you didn’t either) but it made me realize that my cuckoo fears aren’t totally unfounded. Our kids will be fine. Life is good. But maybe it doesn’t hurt to carry a baseball bat with you when your son wakes you in the middle of the night. Ack!

  17. Jenn B.
    May 30, 2014

    Yes to all of this, and yes to 4 and 5 especially. Time is such a mystery, especially when it comes to parenting. I have no time. I have nothing but time. So, like you, I worry about how my relationship to time will change when my kids need me less.

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Ah, you’ve put it so well. Yes, yes. And maybe changing relationships is only right, but I hope with change I can grow, too.

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  19. talesfromthemotherland
    June 8, 2014

    Man! All those afraids could give a girl shingles! Says the older mom, who wants you to slow down and take a deep breath… even though these crazy days lead to beautiful writing. xo

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014

      Did you see me NOT posting anything for a week?! Also, not doing comments for two weeks?! Tell me you’re proud of me. 😉 You know you are. I had a lot going on so. I. took. it. EASY. How about that? Even this old dog can learn a new trick!

    • jgroeber
      June 11, 2014


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