jen groeber: mama art

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

On Acrobats, Motherhood and Friendship

I am a circus performer. I am the tightrope walker, the fire breather (although usually only in the morning before brushing my teeth), the clown in the striped shirt doing jazz hands for a laugh, the juggler of crockpots and soccer cleats and overdue library books, the sexy woman jumping through hula hoops, the spackled old woman in go-go boots herding cats and dogs. Yup, I’m her, too.

Look, kids! The clown and the sexy woman jumping through hoops!  Story Land  Summer 2013

A jazz hands clown
and a sexy woman jumping through hoops!
Story Land
Summer 2013

And I am an acrobat, twisting and turning jumping from thing to thing overhead, grabbing hold and letting go.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to be a teacher. But then I had kids and my body turned into a living human clown car.

You know, “C’mon! There’s no way another kid could come out of… holy cow! Another kid just came out of her. Sweartagod!” I think that was when I joined the circus.

And Mom-ing meant no longer teaching, and with that went so much of the day-to-day chicken soup for my soul. There’s very little positive reinforcement from an infant you’re trying to breastfeed but he has an ear infection and he’s cutting a tooth and you don’t know that because you actually just met him.

My new job became playgrounds and early intervention appointments for gross motor and fine motor followed by aquatic therapy and hippotherapy, music classes at the library and early learning classes at the local early learning sort of place for delayed kids. Cheerios and hotdogs were cut into half moons; Goldfish, Bunnies, and apple slices were shoved into pie holes only to be shat out three hours later. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Friends at the bird sanctuary  Late Winter 2014

Friends* at the bird sanctuary
Late Winter 2014

And as I brought my kids to the pool, the farms, the parks, the bird sanctuaries, whenever I’d see a cool new Mom, it’s embarrassing to admit, I’d try to pick her up.

“Do you come here often? Because our kids really seem to get along? Er, would you ever, I mean, if you ever wanted to, which is to say, if we exchanged numbers maybe we could meet up again? On purpose?”

But usually, actually, almost always- phht. Not so much.

I get it. She was busy, I was busy. The timing was wrong. We had disparate interests, different taste in minivans. It just wouldn’t have worked out! Maybe her dance card was full. Perhaps I reeked of desperation and butt ointment. I definitely reeked of soured breast milk and kid pee.

Mama friends walking  October 2013

Mama friends walking
October 2013

And so now, this weekend, seven years later, when I stood on the sideline of the first U8 soccer game of the season and I knew moms who didn’t even know each other, such that I was making introductions, it felt like a miracle. And these aren’t just people people, these are amazing people, working moms and stay-at-home moms, community activists, world-changers, artists and healers and Super Moms, at least they are to me.

Ah, still, I’m not quite getting at the heart of it.

Since becoming a mother I have had those days where the kids were just too much and I was crouched down low, holding back frustrated tears in the pre-school hallway and some Mama friend reached out and fixed it. Or the day we were at the autumn festival and one of my kids just disappeared? And as I ran frantically around, having left my other three with a fairly random Audobon guy, my cell phone kept buzzing with a call from a Mama friend. And so I ran back to the parking lot, the final place I would check before I… well, what do you eventually do when you’ve lost a child at an autumn festival?! There I saw the friend, the one trying to call me, and she was standing by her car with her phone in one hand and my four-year-old daughter in her other.

Mama friend surrounded by children  Summer 2013

Mama friend surrounded by children
Summer 2013

I have stood on a stone bridge over the marshes in 10° weather rubbing the back of a friend who was doubled over, not from the cold, but from sadness with the sudden realization that our parents will die before us, that for some of us, this may be sooner than we thought, it may be imminent. It may be horrible. I stood and rubbed her back so that she knew she was not alone in this, so that I knew that I was not alone in this.

We have packed bags and sand toys and bundled children and gone to the beach on brilliantly cold days. We have picked strawberries and raspberries and apples, built snowmen and sledded, hunted crabs and monarch butterflies, following the seasons as our kids get bolder, more cranky; as they get stomach bugs and lice, allergies and weird diagnosises, as we realize that they might read first or last, be strongest or weakest.


A day at the beach
January 2014

I’m not sure how these friendships will grow and change as the seasons pass and soccer turns to lacrosse or baseball, theater for one and Lego robotics for another, or as we go back to work, or begin to volunteer, take up tennis or running marathons, as some get divorced or move, as we need to care for infants less and our parents more. As perhaps, someday, I almost cannot bear to write it, we have to care for one another because of some sickness or horror that is too much, too much. No, I do not know what our next challenges look like.


A magical party
October 2013

Yet I know that I am an acrobat spinning through the air, letting go and taking hold, attempting feats far bigger than I, secure in the knowledge that I have a safety net of mother friends to catch me. And I know that I am also a rope, knotted with other ropes, creating a web of friendship that allows my fellow acrobats to let go and take hold, knowing that they are safe, too.

Building beach forts  Fall 2013

Building beach forts
Fall 2013

I don’t say how grateful I am nearly enough. But, I would guess, if given the free moment, after drop-off, before taking the car to the mechanic, in-between cleaning up breakfast and planning dinner, after bath time but before reading The Bobbsey Twins, we would all sit for a moment and say, “Thank you so much for all that you are.”

Please know that those days when we both turn away to our individual minivans after a run or a chat or a hug and I say, “Love you!” I actually mean that I love you and that I will do my best to never let you fall, and if you do, I will be there to catch you.

Glorious beach days with glorious friends  Summer 2014

Glorious beach days with glorious friends
Summer 2014

(* Let it be known that I wish I had taken more photos, better photos, of my dear friends near and far. Because no one wants a toothy selfie on a blog. Sigh.  I just didn’t take enough lyrical hipstamatic photos to suffice…)

29 comments on “On Acrobats, Motherhood and Friendship

  1. Burns the Fire
    September 19, 2014

    Love, love, love! That’s the way to start the day.

    • jgroeber
      September 20, 2014

      Consider yourself in the net, my dear.

  2. The Dose of Reality
    September 19, 2014

    Such an EXCELLENT post! Good girlfriends (especially since becoming mothers) are truly the key to survival! :)-The Dose Girls

    • jgroeber
      September 20, 2014

      Yes, yes to good girlfriends. Where in the world would we be without them? And I love that you two girlfriends have created this blog-baby together. Just beautiful!

  3. Samara
    September 19, 2014

    Ahhh. Brenda is so all about love. She’s the one who told me it’s the most important force in the universe.

    And this post is SO all about love. How I wish I had met Mama friends these past lonely 11 years. The first time you commented on a post of mine, you said in real life we’d hang out at the playground together. But the blogosphere would have to do.
    And that’s all I’ve really found since moving to the burbs. Mama friends in the blog world. So, this morning, I love your post. But I am a little jealous. And a tiny bit sad. xoxo

    • jgroeber
      September 20, 2014

      I can’t believe you remember that comment! Actually, you have such a good memory for people and their junk. Which makes you even more attractive as a Mama friend. Are you living in Stepford-ville? Because even with the randy t-shirts and shredded denim and badass shoes (which is all hot by the way, but could be misconstrued as intimidating), your out-there-ness is just so strong and beautiful. Irresistible. I can’t resist anyone who lets crazy out of the bag. It’s so needed. It keeps my crazy company.
      And for the record, it did take me six years to actually manage to write this honestly. And I may have been dissed by a Queen Bee or two today at soccer. Sigh. Seventh grade all over again.
      But the blogosphere, I think, counts. So consider yourself Mama-friended.

      • Samara
        September 21, 2014

        I do, sweet friend. I definitely do. ❤

  4. Kelly L McKenzie
    September 19, 2014

    Oh those days! My pathetic bleats of “Hi! Our children look to be the same age…” So damn awkward. Bring on the days of teams and sports and school and true connection. Cannot stress enough how much my world expanded then. Yes to the mom friends. Happy to report the friendships continue long after that last blast of the soccer whistle.

    • jgroeber
      September 20, 2014

      Are you saying that maybe after the final soccer whistles blow, we Mamas can actually get a glass of wine and catch up without little kids pooping on the bean bag chair? As I recall, you wrote a post about you and some friends taking an apple pie cooking class? Now that sounds like some good girlfriend time. Especially if there’s wine. (Did I write wine twice? Oops.)

  5. Maryann
    September 19, 2014

    Thank you Mama Jen — it’s so wonderful to imagine you in your own communities (including this one, in the blogosphere) building excitement in the lives of so many mamas.

    • jgroeber
      September 20, 2014

      I hope you know that when I typed “community activists” and “world-changers”, I thought of you. Because you are one of the Mamas who have been there since the inception. And your friendship is one of the corner anchor pieces that holds the whole net together. Thank goodness.
      We build excitement. 😉

  6. Jenn Berney
    September 22, 2014

    Love this even though it made be a bit wistful since my best mama friends all live hours away. Still, I don’t know how I’d cope without them. And I love it that you are a clown car. So much. 🙂

    • Jenn Berney
      September 22, 2014

      ( I meant it made *me* a bit wistful, but I do have a cold and apparently that’s making my typing all nasal-sounding. )

      • jgroeber
        October 1, 2014

        Ha! How weird that I read this the right way the first time! And that I’ve taken this long to comment? And I really do feel like a human clown car. So glad you get it!

  7. lingeringvisions by Dawn
    September 22, 2014

    I’m in my mid fifties and single. Those girl friend relationships are mre imoortant than ever now. Hold onto them.

    • jgroeber
      September 23, 2014

      Yes, I can see how that would be true. And thank you for the reminder. My mother never gave herself the time to nurture her friendships and now that we’ve all moved on, she’s pretty much alone, untethered in some ways. That support network is invaluable.

      • lingeringvisions by Dawn
        September 23, 2014

        Oh that’s sad for your mom but I’ll bet she has friends who are home alone feeling the same way.

  8. Anna Spanos
    September 24, 2014

    I thought a lot about this post this week. It was beautiful and honest and moving, as are just about all of your posts, but this one struck a particular chord, because I honestly don’t have anything even remotely like this in my hometown. Maybe it’s because LA is such a transient place that we don’t develop as many long lasting relationships as this, or maybe it’s because most of my friends have followed a path that didn’t lead to kids, or maybe it’s because I’m myself just a transient anomaly who’s actually FROM a place where nobody seems to be from. But whatever the reason, I wish I had more of this here.
    I just posted a profile from one of my old friends from grad school who’s one of my few mommy friends. She’s also one of the few people I know who’s actually from LA. But in an ironic twist of fate, she left before getting pregnant! Her child is officially Canadian!
    I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, other than your post has inspired me to reach out and build more mommy relationships – not just for me, but for my daughter. But it also made me really, really thankful for the mommies I do know, both here and far away, who are going through this right along with me.

    • jgroeber
      October 1, 2014

      Those Mama friends are so dear, right? I have one friend who moved to Boston two weeks after I moved to Philly and then she told me she was moving back to Philly the day I told her I was moving back to Boston. And yet the amazing thing? She’s still one of the best, whether six hours drive or 45 minutes. That I’ve finally made a group of Mama friends locally, whether besties or parking lot friends, is astounding to me. It took five solid years, I tell you. For some reason, it was way easier when I was working. Maybe it’s the fact that motherhood has us tucked away in our individual silos with our children and responsibilities every extra moment. But we need those friends. Even those far away ones we meet through the interweb. 😉 They all count in that safety net.
      And thank you, always, for commenting. I devour your comments, even if it takes me a week to reply. (I’m a crappy friend like that.)

      • Anna Spanos
        October 3, 2014

        Well you know, after thinking about that post for a week, I thought about my comment for a week (so your week-long response is actually right on schedule with how my brain works right now). That weekend I drank beer late into the night with my married but childless best friend. I had a Sunday picnic with my 100% broke and bohemian maid of honor and our two daughters. I had a long heart to heart with my perpetually single but happy writer bestie. And I realized how valuable all of these relationships are – no matter how similar or dissimilar our lives are. And then I got your response and remembered the value these “virtual” relationships are to me as well. Weird, but true! So yeah, they all count. Because that safety net is as wide as we want it to be (even if sometimes we don’t quite see it).
        Um, and the new design – isn’t your layout different? Has it really been that long since I scrolled through your homepage that I forgot what it looked like? Or I could have been on a different device than usual? Who knows – maybe I’m just working to much and going a little crazy because of it…

        • jgroeber
          October 5, 2014

          Ha! I think I need a new look, so maybe that’s why you thought my page had changed. You were projecting a new and improved future.
          And I LOVE the sound of that weekend you had. Friends, friends, friends galore, and the more different and unique their journeys, the better. It helps to have someone right where you feel like you are, but sometimes it’s that old point of view, that new vantage point, the empathy that comes from love rather than experience, that fills you up. Cheers to you and cheers to friends, near and far, old and new. 😉

  9. Anna Spanos
    September 24, 2014

    Oh, and I like the new design :).

  10. talesfromthemotherland
    September 25, 2014

    I would be nowhere without my buds. Period. And, have I told you lately that I continue to love EVERY. WORD. YOU. WRITE? Just beautiful, Jen. (she said repetitively, for lack of better words). xo

    • jgroeber
      October 1, 2014

      Aw, shucks! And you’re one of the best!
      Buds are absolutely essential. How pathetic it’s taken me 95 posts to note that? But I have to say, friendships are bigger than words can contain.

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This entry was posted on September 18, 2014 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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