jen groeber: mama art

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

Found in the Fog

Last weekend was our last in Maine, or at least the last real day of summer for us.

I awoke early, crept to the window and was despondent. There was nothing, just a blanket of white, a fog so thick it pressed my breath right back into my throat. Crushing.

Through the fog  September 2014

Through the fog
September 2014

I lay back down, waiting for the house to wake up, lamenting this heavy end to summer, even my last day of paddleboarding in sweet silent peace, stolen from me.

Later, as I swept away the sand, stashed away the faded, water-stained Monopoly game and the decks of cards, dog-eared and missing Queens and Aces, the kids poked one another, wrestling and tattling and two minutes away from a visit to the ER or a major time out. Enough!

I gave them an assignment.

“Here are your sketchbooks and here are your art supplies. Draw your favorite summer memories. Everyone who participates in our art show gets a treat.” Then I returned to my cleaning and packing. The kids bent to their task.

Mercifully they colored for awhile with only an occasional, “Pass the red.” Or, “Does this look like a buoy?”

And finally, “Mama? Is it Wednesday tomorrow?”

Reid is so excited for her first day of kindergarten, or at the very least, for her new sneakers which, I admit, are awesome.

“No, baby. Tomorrow is Tuesday and then Wednesday is the next day.”
And then 5-year-old Reid turned to her 4-year-old sister,”I’m going to miss you, Cabot.”

To which Cabot replied, “I’m going to miss you, too.”

Sisters, side by side <br> September 2014

Sisters, side by side
September 2014

I had to take photos, it was that perfect a moment.

As I continued to wipe dried oatmeal off chairs and fold slightly damp beach towels to be pulled out in nine months, smelling gloriously of subtle mildew and clam flats and shells, I remembered leaving the beach each summer as a child.


Cape Cod, packed to head home
Dad too sick to stand, the boat on the VW
Summer 1984

My family only went away for two weeks or sometimes just one, and we slept in an unwinterized cottage, smelling of the damp salt air and woodsmoke. I marked my growth through these yearly glimpses of peaceful summer. The morning of our journey home, I’d walk down the street to the beach and stand in the shallows and say good-bye to the distant horizon. I would remind myself to remember this feeling.

Sister, sister, Mom, Jennie  Cape Cod  Summer 1975

Sister, sister, Mom, Jennie
Cape Cod
Summer 1975

As I continued cleaning the kitchen and the kids drew in the living room, I realized that those stolen summer days in Cape Cod were magical in part because they were the only weeks we had without my retarded brother Butchie, which seems a cruel realization for the last day of summer.

But for a child, can you imagine? Those were the only weeks without the incessant chatter of his television and his accompanying screams or cries or spitting. The squeak and cry of his leg braces and the smacking sounds of his inner arms against his head as he shook, shook, shook, back and forth, these were silenced for us. My fear of him being rushed off to the hospital, or worse yet, dying, were left back at home with the clutter, the pressures of school, the desire to fit in.

Those weeks my older sisters and younger brother and I would dig for clams or walk the sandbars or sail my father’s little faux-Sunfish sailboat.

And it’s not that I didn’t love my brother, Butchie. I loved him like I love having bizarrely large feet. First it’s nothing unusual, just life as you know it; then it’s an embarrassment; sometimes it makes you special; and finally, it is something that I appreciated for the miles and miles they would carry me through all sorts of terrain. And he carries me today. But still, it was exhausting.

At the ocean there was real silence. Even with my father’s feeding tube humming throughout the night and my mother’s tight rein, Cape Cod, to me, represented peace.

Ruminating over all this, I cleaned out the refrigerator, cleared out the dishwasher, scrubbed the toilets. When I checked in on the kids they’d drawn pictures of a favorite toy we’d picked up at a funky little gift shop, the jellyfish we’d watch from atop my paddleboard and the lobsterman pulling his traps.


Mica’s favorite new summer toy
September 2014

And of course, Jasper drew a picture of a yellow-haired boy on a kayak.

Jasper's favorite memory  September 2014

Jasper’s favorite memory
September 2014

I looked out the window to see that somehow the fog had finally lifted. The cove stretched before us, dead calm, with only the faintest mysterious wisps of feathery clouds hanging on the distant shore.

I took Jasper’s hand. “Want one last paddle in your kayak before you head to school on Wednesday?” He nodded and ran to get his suit on.

I dropped my mop, grabbed my paddleboard, and we headed out to back beach. I told him he was paddling with Mama today, to where the ocean meets the inlet meets the cove, further than he’d ever been on his own.

And as we charted territory new for him and blessedly familiar to me, he noticed every new detail. “Mama!” he called from behind me. “Is that a tuna boat or a lobster boat? Is that a yacht? The ferry!! Are those the corm’ands?”

“Cormorants,” I replied.

“Look! Is that the Sunfish we saw up on the dock yesterday? Like you and your sister sailed in Cape Cod?”

Inexplicably, almost lost in the fog, there was a tiny sailboat heading out of the distant cove. It was like there was my sister and I, headed out to sea in some Richard Bach parallel life.

Here we are, this beautiful first long paddle for my oldest with his mother by his side, exploring an unknown world, preparing for the wonders that await. And there we were, my sister and I, in search of peace on the summer ocean. It was like there were intersecting rings of time, circling back through the decades. Unreal.


Jasper and I, searching for peace in the fog
September 2014

We finished our paddle, returned to the house. Then I did the last of the cleaning, we packed the car, said good-bye for now, and began our journey, merging with all the other traffic heading south to first days of school and cluttered homes and the real life that awaits.

16 comments on “Found in the Fog

  1. lingeringvisions by Dawn
    September 9, 2014

    Yoiur children are wonderful artists!

    • jgroeber
      September 9, 2014

      Ha! Thank you. I will tell them you thought so. With two parents as artists, it’s inevitable that they’ll be doing a lot of artwork in their lives.

  2. kellylmckenzie
    September 9, 2014

    This post was rich with full on evocative memories. I can taste the salt in the air and feel the fog dampen my hair. Loved the parallels between your life now and your life then. May the next 9 months or so pass quickly. Here things are unfolding a bit differently. The teachers are still on strike so no kids are in school in our entire province. Summer continues. Weather is holding out too. Unseasonably hot and sunny. Frankly I could do with some of your fog!

    • jgroeber
      September 9, 2014

      Ah, the winter, the winter. It’s bound to last forever again this year, too. So perhaps a few extra days of summer is warranted up where you are.

  3. Carol Barrel
    September 9, 2014

    I love it! xoxoxoxo

    • jgroeber
      September 9, 2014

      Love you! And love how you love those silly kids of ours.

  4. kellylmckenzie
    September 9, 2014

    Such a richly evocative post. Can taste the salt and feel the fog dampening my hair. Here with the teacher’s strike continuing and the unseasonably warm, sunny weather, Summer continues. Frankly I could do with a little of your fog.
    May the next 9 months or so zip by. I look forward to reading about next year’s paddling adventures. And seeing more of your kidlets’ artwork!

  5. Burns the Fire
    September 9, 2014

    Beautiful and poignant, as always. What you’re describing rings more like real life, than the flurry of our manufactured world.

    • jgroeber
      September 9, 2014

      Sigh. I aspire to live up to your comments. They are aspiration-worthy, always.

  6. talesfromthemotherland
    September 9, 2014

    Beautiful, Jen. What wonderful memories (poop and all) you are building with your own family now. Having grown up in MA, this took me back to the beaches of my own childhood. As always, your writing is delicious.

    • jgroeber
      September 9, 2014

      Look at you Best Blogging Babe! You are en fuego, and I don’t even speak Spanish. See? I don’t know how you do it! And I can’t help but wonder which beaches you grew up near? North or south or the cape? Hmmm.
      Thanks for your kind words. Hopefully we can all warm our hands by the fire which is summer blog posts when the dreary cold of winter berates us for nine months.

      • talesfromthemotherland
        September 9, 2014

        I didn’t realize you lived on the East coast. For some reason I thought you were in Ohio, or something. Wow, Maine! Love it there! Much of my family is still on the Cape (Hyannis, Osterville, etc) and I grew up in Scituate, went to college in Boston. So… I know of what you speak, and it is near and dear.

  7. Anna Spanos
    September 10, 2014

    Oh I’ve missed reading your posts! This one was as beautiful as ever. Can Koukla and I come spend next summer with you?

    • jgroeber
      September 12, 2014

      Yes, please! We can do crazy creative things and go for runs and let our kids dig holes in the sand. 😉 At the very least we have to find a way to do this virtually. (And I’ve missed reading your posts as well!)

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2014 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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