jen groeber: mama art

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

Interview With My Mom, An Education

Mom and Jennie, One Week Old  1971

Mom and Jennie, One Week Old

My Mom’s a talker. She can talk on and on and on. Which means I come by it honestly, anyway. And although I never expected it, I realize now that her voice influences so much I do, whether I’m acting in reaction to a memory of my childhood or I’m just too much like her, but in different circumstances. Most days, it could go either way.

As she grows older and I grow older, I’ve begun to realize that so many of the stories she’s told me throughout our lives have turned to a shadowy mass of gray in my mind. And when she’s gone, I’ll be an orphaned child, with no one to tell me these things clearly again. So from now on, as long as she’ll let me, I want to take a moment every now and again and record her voice, telling me things I ask of her. This is our first go.

Blogosphere, meet my Mom. She’s a corker.

Mom, meet the blogosphere. They seem mostly pretty nice, except for ravizumibeatboxx and thailandrentalhouses, who I can’t vouche for.

(To set the scene, it’s the last night of her most recent visit, the kids are in bed, we’re both slightly exhausted with one another, and we’re sipping wine on the couch.)

Me, my new glasses and my Mom  October 2014

Me, my new glasses and my Mom
October 2014

ME: Mom, when you saw me with my new glasses after not seeing me for like six months by choosing to live in Virginia near my sister instead of living up here near me, and you said, “Are those new glasses, Jennie? Is that’s what’s in style now?” What did you mean by that?

MY MOM: I thought they looked nice on you. And people where I live now wear wire rims. I like yours more than mine and that’s the truth.

Me: Also did you or did you not fall flat on your face on my porch before even entering my house during this visit?

My Mom: Yes. I did. I slipped on a wet leaf and took a ‘wipe out’ as your children said.

Me, smugly: And did I yell at you?

My Mom: No, but you seemed discouraged. (Whispers *peeved*.)

(I ignore the *peeved* comment.)

Me: What does the word “blog” mean?

My Mom: To tell all and unnecessarily. I personally wouldn’t blog.

Me, protesting: But you did write a Christmas letter that told everybody every detail of our lives for, like, 20 years. And you do tell random people in the grocery store everything.

My Mom: But it’s all about you and your beautiful husband and kids. All my dining people know you and your husband and kids. I would show them pictures… but I don’t have any recent ones. (Sighs deeply and looks meaningfully at me.)

Me, ignoring her implied plea for school photos: Looking back on your life, what are you most proud of?

My Mom, sighing: My marriage.

Me: That’s it?

My Mom: It was extremely happy and our four (corrects herself) five children. We did it once and we did it right.

Me: What surprised you the most so far in your life?

My Mom: In my life? (Pauses) I guess giving birth to my first child who was extremely disabled and handicapped… and was accepted and had a happy life and was loved.

My mother and Butchie May, 1962

My mother and Butchie
May, 1962

Me: What is your greatest disappointment?

My Mom: At the time it didn’t mean much but at the time that I didn’t have a higher education, the only person who went to college was… blah, blah, blah. (Goes on a long monologue about a friend who went to college and studied the French Horn or something like the French horn, I couldn’t type it fast enough and it wasn’t all that important.)

The only photo I could find of my mother and I from 1973 until 1997  Yale graduation  1993

The only photo I could find of my mother and I from 1973 until 1997
Yale graduation

Me: That surprises me that you said that.

My Mom: This is now. I didn’t feel that way 40 or 50 years ago. It didn’t matter then. I supported your dad and it was like a twofer.

Me: If you could do anything at all in the whole entire world tomorrow, what would it be?

My Mom: Still have my husband alive. (I grunt for some reason.) Seriously. To say things. Why didn’t I say this? Why didn’t we do that?

Bobbie and Bruce  25th wedding anniversary  1985

Bobbie and Bruce
25th wedding anniversary

Me: Is there anything you wish your children understood about you that we don’t?

My Mom: No. Because I think they know me. (Pauses.) For better or worse. I think I’ve changed. I used to be a neat nick and T.P. Bobbie, Time and Place Bobbie. Dad was the opposite.

Me: I don’t remember you that way.

Mom: When you were younger you could eat off my floors, but I wasn’t the mother you were. I ironed my husband’s shirt, I did diapers.

Me, taken aback by both the praise for my mothering capabilities and the judgement on my house-keeping skills: Are you saying you can’t eat off my floors?

My Mom: Nope. I think you do an amazing job, and you pick up and sweep up every night. That’s all you need.

Me: Huh. That’s not how I remember our childhood house.

My Mom: I guess when dad got ill I didn’t care about the dusting and the tidiness, making your beds. I never made you kids do housework. I never made you clean…

Me: Except holidays.

My Mom: Yes, that’s true.

Me: Anything I missed? Anything you want to add?

My mom, getting to the heart of the matter: I think I’m a strong woman, through the last 50 years or whatever. I have no regrets for what I did except for what I didn’t do, those two vacation trips we [your Dad and I] did. The paddle boat trip. We had a nice trip. And I wish I’d gone to college. It didn’t mean then what it does now. But I helped your father so that he could go, and I guess that’s the same thing.

Me, surprised: Wow. Okay. Excellent.

My Mom: Now I would like to enjoy my children and my grandchildren because I think that’s what dad would have wanted.

Me: Thanks, Mom. That’s it. Good night.

We hug and she goes to bed. I take her to the airport absurdly early the next morning.

Mom and I, on a visit home  April 2014

Mom and I, on a visit home
April 2014

And it only struck me just now, a few weeks after our actual conversation, when I finally make the time to type this up, that I should have said more. I should have said thank you for educating us all, Mom, for the BAs from Yale, Albright, University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, and the loans, if we needed them, for the MFA, the MBA, the JD, the MD. Thank you for reminding me to cherish every moment with my husband, no matter the trials and tribulations. And just… thank you.

(This is a belated reply to the WordPress Weekly Challenge, Interview, which has been percolating in my head for weeks.)

27 comments on “Interview With My Mom, An Education

  1. shwetashwet
    November 21, 2014

    This is beautiful! x

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  2. kellylmckenzie
    November 21, 2014

    When is this charming, with it and wise woman next coming out for a visit? At that time take her out to get new glasses. I love yours. She would look amazing in a new flashy pair and as she says, she likes yours better than hers.
    Please tell her this interesting tidbit I get from my 92 year old mom on a regular basis. “I wish I’d gone on and done more education.” Background: when I was entering gr. one (youngest of three) Mom dropped me off and went and enrolled at the local university. Went on to get her BA and Masters in Fine Arts. Then taught at that institution for 7 years. Fine. She still feels she should have gotten more education. I can’t help but wonder as we get older what we wish we’d done more of.

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      Ha, I actually did help pick hers, but like seven years ago. They were as hip as I could get her at the time! And I don’t see her going back to school, but she has joined the bocce team at her new retirement villa, which has me thrilled. She never played bocce before and she’s now a scoring player. Who knew?
      As I’m slopping though my forties I’m trying to do the stuff I wished I’d done right now. Start that blog (check), write that book (soon…), make that art (working on it.) All in good time!

  3. Burns the Fire
    November 21, 2014

    Please tell us this is your first of many interviews with your Mom. How I love this and want more!

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      So glad you get it. And yes, I’m thinking I should start a whole category, “Interviews with My Mom.” Because who doesn’t wish they’d done more of that?
      Thank you.

  4. motherhendiaries
    November 21, 2014

    This was a lovely piece… your mom sounds adorable .. well done her, and well done you! Plus I’m sure your floors are just fine!

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      She likes to do the sweeping under the table when she comes to visit. It’s gratifying with four kids. Even if you just did it that morning, you’re still bound to find half a hotdog, 40 Perler beads, 10 crayon shards and lots of clay and food crumbs. I’m training my 7-year-old though so there’s hope for my future. 😉
      And yes, my Mom is strangely adorable. Although I wasn’t kidding. She’s a corker.

      • motherhendiaries
        November 22, 2014

        Aww she sounds like it! Bless her… As for the things under the table, I sympathize! Though my kids are grown, we now have 2 grandsons. When they are over, I don’t know how many noodles or bits of rice or play doh I will find under the table… globs of paint, potato chips, peanuts, dead raisins, mushy bits of apple skin the youngest doesn’t want to eat, and grape skeletons. My floor is a rubbish magnet, obviously. Because the boys are perfect little angels – hahaa! xx MH

  5. dodgysurfer
    November 21, 2014

    What a brilliant idea. I feel the same about my mum, I should cherish our time more and learn more from her. She’s 81 and still an incredible selfless force of nature. Your mum is lovely and this is a very sweet post in the nicest sense of the word. Getting to all the meaningful stuff is something we don’t often do, and clearing up misunderstandings is so good to do.
    To see so few regrets, and to know that you will not regret this conversation is heartwarming. Hope that makes sense! 🙂

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      Thank you so much, dodgysurfer. And you’re right. We don’t often get to the meaningful stuff, especially with our parents. Loved this comment, it made total sense.

  6. David van buren
    November 21, 2014

    The last three blog posta have been especially fantastic.

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      Or as Mica would say, pastah. 😉 I totally read it as correct on my first read-through. How funny is that?
      So glad to see you here. As Christmas approaches I’ve been wondering if Santa’s best helpers have been busy listening to children’s hopes and dreams for the season.
      Thank you.

  7. David van buren
    November 21, 2014



    Poster (in Boston accent)?


  8. Amy Reese
    November 21, 2014

    Nice! Now I want to interview my mom! This is so timely, Jen, because she had a bad fall. To make a long story short, I thought I lost her. I will see her in a few days. If we have some quiet time, I want to interview her. Thanks for the inspiration! I bet your mom knows you appreciate her.

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      Yes, yes. Do the interview. All the thinking about the meaning of things we writer/artist types do and the answers might really be an interview away, but only for a limited time. Do it.
      I’m already thinking about my next one.

  9. talesfromthemotherland
    November 22, 2014

    I wish more than most other things, that I had recorded the people I love, speaking to me… just like this. There are so many questions I wish I’d asked, or might have asked but now forget their answers. It would so great to hear those voices again. My mother and father in law called on our anniversary, in Feb, less than a month before she would suddenly die. I have not erased them singing “Happy Anniversary to you,” and once in a while, I play it… and our whole family stops, and feels grandma again.

    I have so often been impressed by your mother, when reading posts about your childhood. At a time when SO many handicapped children were sent away, she raised Brucie at home. It’s amazing, actually. That four of you went to such prestigious schools and all did so well, it doubly so. While I see Amy’s point (she probably knows), I would correct that “should have,” and call her… and send her a card. As a mother whose children have grown, I can attest: it means a lot.

    Beautiful, beautiful post… for all that is said, and all that wasn’t.

    • jgroeber
      November 22, 2014

      I’m on the regular call list with my Mom. I actually win the award for most regular calls most months. And I’ll be reading this to her shortly. Plus I’ve already begun to think about the next one.
      The mother-daughter thing is such a complicated connection. The interview lets me consider what it is I want to ask and then to plug along recording the answers instead of diverging on an oft-visited tangent. (My childhood home was pretty messy, actually. Things with Butchie always made it hard to actually keep things clean.) But yes, if I push through to the next thing, I can see how she meant it to be, and how she pictures it, which is invaluable.
      Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comments. Such insight…

  10. Kim
    November 23, 2014

    I loved this. I really did. This is a lovely interview… and let me just say, your mom is quite a special woman!

    • jgroeber
      December 20, 2014

      Thank you for that. Looking forward to seeing her this Christmas and hopefully if things slow down a bit, I’ll manage time for another interview. What to ask her next time though? Thoughts?

  11. KMD
    November 23, 2014

    Priceless blog on mother, mothering.

  12. Anna Spanos
    December 5, 2014

    Wow, this is wonderful. I’ve been trying to convince my mom to do a guest post for a while and she only ever says, “No, I don’t think I would want to write about that.” Several people I know have lost their parents recently and it makes me crazy with fear that my parents will die – most especially my mom. I don’t know what I’d do without her, and it kills me that she never got to have the kind of voice out in the world that I get to have. Thank you for this. I’ll go back to badgering my mom this weekend…

    • jgroeber
      December 20, 2014

      I loved this comment. So ashamed I’m just replying now. Perhaps this week I can actually catch up on things during break. Oh, wait… when the kids don’t have school it’s actually the opposite of break.
      And yes, you absolutely have to interview your Mom. This one was a bit of revelation. Her plane arrives in two days so prepare for Vol. II of the Mom Interviews. What to ask her though?

  13. Char Weigel
    December 15, 2014

    Jen! Your touch is light while your words are deeply moving. Thank you.

    • jgroeber
      December 20, 2014

      How lovely to find you here?! And thank you for your kind words.

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This entry was posted on November 21, 2014 by in Memory, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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