jen groeber: mama art

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

Life is More Than a Chopped Up To-do List

Today, at pre-school drop-off a convergence of exhausted harried Mamas met somewhere between the butterfly garden and the fairy garden.

We stood, sort of gasping for air, and my eyes darted from one Mama to the other.

“I feel like someone took the huge to-do list in my brain, put it in a blender and hit chop,” I blurted out.

“Yes, exactly!” said one mother, nodding.

“What’s that about?” responded another.

“Oh, I see a blog post in that one,” said the last.

This to-do list is in my head, by the way, because my old iphone won’t let me download a new to-do list app because it doesn’t support IOS7 and I can’t get to the Verizon store to upgrade or whatever it is I need to do, and also, because I’m an incompetent person, apparently. I don’t even understand that last sentence I wrote.

So it’s like this: “Get tableware and cutlery for the kindergarten parent reception to be held at our house,” and “Get a babysitter for back-to-school night,” and “What’s for dinner?” and “Empty compost bin,” go spin, whir, chop and become “Get compost for dinner, kindersitter recep, blargh, blurt, blog.” And the maggots hatch in the compost bin on the back porch while all the good babysitters get snatched up by other parents.

And I know this is truly an embarrassment of riches. Or an embarrassment of wishes. Or both. Because I have so much, all I ever wished for: my spouse, my kids, their wonderful schools, my friends, food to prepare, art to make, compost to compost. But perhaps this is also my downfall.

I have so much, and I have the ability to do so much, too. I can host the parent reception and help with the fundraiser and do the exercise class and make the prints for the solo printmaking show and take my kids to piano and soccer and stand by my husband at his big events.

There is a great big life to be lived out there. There are people to meet and adventures to be had and contributions I can make with a smile and endless energy. (Cue jazz handssss.)

Yes. I can do these things, and my mother couldn’t.

Mom, me, Butchie, sister, sister, Dad, brother Two years before my father got sick 1977

Mom, me, Butchie, sister, sister, Dad, brother
Two years before my father got sick

My mother was mostly weighted down by never having had the vision to see that that great big world actually existed, or perhaps even more, by the care of a child (or two) with disabilities and a husband she had to hold up, rather than stand beside. Her days were marked by driving us in circles, by pushing the able among us to achieve, by waiting in hospital waiting rooms and managing medicine and surgeries and recovery. Her life was almost entirely marked by us and all our needs.

(I can’t help but wonder for a moment if there wasn’t something to her unflagging focus on us, like a Zen-meditation on the familyfamilyfamilyfamily.)

But, I refuse to only have it be them, and I refuse to have it only be me. I refuse to be the bystander when I can be the facilitator. I just can’t do less when I can actually do more. Perhaps this more, more, more is what they call feminism gone wrong?

Because sometimes I can’t seem to shut off the expectations or the desire to perform and the pace is so fast and then I am the fat awkward guy on the treadmill who can’t keep up with the increasing speed of the turning belt, who stumbles and slips off the back of the treadmill, ending up face down on the rubber gym floor.

I want. I want. I want.

Christmas card photo?  September 2014

Christmas card photo?
September 2014

This weekend we packed up a bag of food, threw on some bathing suits and snuck out to the beach with the kids during this bizarre spell of 80˚ weather. Rather than wait in the long line at the grand and infinite beach we usually head to, we found a small beach, more of a boat launching site really, and we set up camp a few feet from our car. The sun was hot, the sand underfoot was perfect, and although the water was appropriately ice cold, the kids went diving and swimming like seals.


Or could this be the Christmas photo?
September 2014

The afternoon was uncharacteristic in so many ways for the last weekend in September. A strange lull between things-to-do and places-to-go found us perfectly still in exactly the right time and place, listening to the new David Gray on my husband’s portable speaker, absorbing the sun and breathing the air. Breathing the air. Breathing.

Before long my husband reminded me that it was time to go. I was crestfallen, and I couldn’t explain why.

I want.

I want that moment of still and calm, sitting on a sandy beach next to my soulmate while my kids run and dip and argue at the water’s edge. I want to feel that appreciation for all that is miraculously right override the exhaustion and confusion of day-to-day slogging it out. I do not want to focus on horrific acts of injustice, evil and prejudice in our world in order to remind myself that I am in fact lucky beyond words because the two are so absolutely disparate and unrelated as to be absurd. I want to silence the chopped up lists and judging words and nagging guilt that run through my mind most days.

And what I really, really want is that stolen moment of quietude and the inner peace necessary to acknowledge that I already have everything I could possibly need.

Ah, yes! The Christmas card photo!  September 2014

Ah, yes! The Christmas card photo!
September 2014

14 comments on “Life is More Than a Chopped Up To-do List

  1. mayabudhi
    September 30, 2014

    You took the words right out of my heart. Thank you for writing this.

    • jgroeber
      October 1, 2014

      What a sweet comment! Thank you for that.
      And why do we all know what this feels like? Perhaps if we ALL swam in the opposite direction we could slow the turning of the earth and get back some quiet time?

  2. sbhansen2014
    September 30, 2014

    I SO hear you. Juggling too many things? Always striving for more? Volunteering for stuff and trying to be everyone’s everything? ARGH! Where’s the peace? Thankfully, you see it and recognize it when you have it…a little time at the beach here and there. Hang in there. 🙂

    • jgroeber
      October 1, 2014

      Where’s the peace is right! That would be a perfect blog post. Although I’m afraid the answer always is that the peace ought to be inside us. But still…
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting as always. I love seeing your lovely gravatar pop up.

  3. Amy Reese
    October 1, 2014

    Your pictures are sooo lovely! Yes, that is the Christmas card photo. Look at you, you already have the Christmas card together. Now, you’re making me look bad.

    I’d say enjoy those beautiful moments, Jen. Yes, they are meant to be enjoyed. I’m trying to be more in the present lately. Tonight, my mind slipped only momentarily as I was backing out of my driveway, and I thought my kids were both in the car…a shriek, and then I realized my son wasn’t in yet. Nothing happened. BUT, oh what a scare! A reminder to focus on what’s in front of me, because really it’s all we have. Lovely post.

    • jgroeber
      October 1, 2014

      Ha! The truth is, that holiday card will still not go out until Valentine’s Day (which is why I’ve taken to calling it a “holiday card” most days.)
      And oh, the heart-stopping moment when you’ve lost track of a child, whether at a store or a festival or in a parking lot or the driveway. It makes you slow it all down (even as your heart races) to have momentarily kissed that alternate universe where the unthinkable happens. So glad all is well where you are. And that we both took moments this week to remember to focus and be in the moment.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  4. AH
    October 1, 2014

    This is amazingly written. I had a crazy year myself with so many family changes and then I went to Kenya for vacation, and I had a still moment on the mombasa beach, just watching the sun rise. It was so beautiful!

    • jgroeber
      October 1, 2014

      Oh, to find your spiritual center in Mombasa! Now that would be a wonder. But wherever it is, that moment of clarity is absolutely priceless.
      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Burns the Fire
    October 1, 2014

    My heart is full of your post. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Tandi
    October 5, 2014

    Where is the balance point between all the wonderful doing and experiencing, versus staying put, just being and observing? That day at the beach doing nothing much. How do we stay involved in our lives and communities and yet have time for contemplation? Wish I knew!

    • jgroeber
      October 5, 2014

      Right?! Today I spent the afternoon at the bird sanctuary standing perfectly still with seven young children and two other adults while chickadees ate sunflower seeds from our hands. Now that is balance.
      Although now I have to stay up late tonight to catch up on the household stuff I left undone… So, actually, I have no idea how to achieve balance, apparently. Ack!
      (So glad you stopped by and thank you for the comment, busy lady.)

  7. bethteliho
    October 6, 2014

    AW, this made me feel all mushy. What a gorgeous, introspective, reminiscent post. You’re so freakin’ awesome.

  8. Bespoke Traveler
    October 16, 2014

    There is a time for everything, but only if we make the time for it. It is odd that we feel guilty after standing still and observing, but if we didn’t take time for that how could we actively and meaningfully participate?

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2014 by in Surviving Motherhood and tagged , , , .

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