jen groeber: mama art

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

Melancholic Birthday Girl, Carry On

I’m a melancholic birthday girl, and it shows.

Adirondack chairs entirely buried in snow in the yard.

A view of the adirondack chairs in the yard
No one loves February
February 2015

I think my kids picked up on the impending doom of my birthday and my sad-sack state, because they were straight up punks for the week leading up to my birthday. The last thing I said before reading my dramatic bedtime selection from Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz on the eve of my birthday earlier this week may have been, “Are you really going to act this rotten? Because tomorrow is Mama’s birthday and you’re already ruining it. I will go away tomorrow and this is what I will carry with me!!” (Cue Mommy Dearest music.)

Jennie, at her birthday, surrounded by little girls in party dresses.

Jennie’s Sixth Birthday
(After Everyone Finally Arrived)
February 1977

February always gets me thinking about craptastic birthdays. Like the one when I turned six and no one came to my birthday party for the first hour because they all went to someone else’s birthday party first. Or on my twenty-first birthday when all my friends were too busy or ill to play so I went to bed early. Alone. At about 9 pm. Did I mention it was my twenty-first birthday? (Sigh.)

And so yesterday morning, the kids were rotten again. Grumpy and irritable and slow and blech. On my birthday!!

Four kids in carseats in the minivan looking annoyed.

These are not harbingers of goodwill
February 2015

We dressed in our coats, mittens, hats and boots. I yelled, they staggered through the snow to the car. And as I drove that windy little cut-through road, the narrow one they never plow, I pulled to the side to make room for a crazed woman in a fancy SUV barreling towards us. And BAM, her mirror snapped my mirror, we were thatclose. Time. Stood. Still.

She stopped and looked in my window aghast at the horrified faces of my kids and my shocked and annoyed birthday face peering right back at her, inches away.

Then I shook my head and waved her on. What with the snow banks looming on either side of the road and the proximity of our attached mirrors, there was no room for opening doors, aggrieved words, and so on. No room.

My minivan of children and grumpy Mama drove on. We caught our breaths, slowed our hearts back down. And I turned on the radio for my birthday song, to see what this year could possibly bring, what birthday wisdom could be found on the first song I hear on my birthday.

The song on the radio was almost over, all bang, bang, bang and bam, bam, bam. Like Katy Perry’s and Chris Brown’s wayward love child. No birthday gris-gris there. But ah, the next full song. There was a message there, and it was Fun.

You swore and said,
“We are not,
We are not shining stars.”
This I know,
I never said we are

Because this is exactly how I felt, with my bent back mirror and my naughty (albeit adorable) children, and my sagging, aging skin and visions of disappointing birthdays past. Not shining. Nothing shining.

If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone.
Carry on.
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground.
Carry on

And I finished driving the going-to-school kids to school. I passed the remaining ones on to an amazing babysitter with genuine hugs and kisses from Mama. I did an exercise class with a bunch of busy, hard-working women. And we laughed at how difficult it all was, at how good it felt to be in our collective skin, flexing our muscles, stretching our spirits.

I went home, finished cleaning everything up, and then grabbed my birthday itinerary for the day, made for me by my husband. I remembered who I used to be, things that I liked to celebrate, ways I liked to treat myself. I reveled in it it.

As the commuter rail chugged towards Boston I shed my Mama-mode, fielded calls from friends and sisters.

Wait, whose birthday was it?!  My daughter and our cosmetology-student-babysitter  February 2015

Wait, whose birthday was it?!
(My daughter getting a manicure with our cosmetology-student-babysitter.)
February 2015

There was a decadent mani pedi.  Loads of shopping paid for by a handful of gift cards. New prescription sunglasses with my birthday coupon. A quick drink of really good wine with an old friend who just happened to be in town.

How do you like the blouse?  February 2015

How does it fit? (@Anthropologie)
February 2015

Then my husband and I walked to dinner with a stop at the Lindt store for a great big bag of truffles. He had picked a restaurant known for oysters (even though he doesn’t eat oysters) just like on our first date when he picked a restaurant that had sushi (but he didn’t eat fish.)

My head is on fire but my legs are fine.
After all they are mine.
Lay your clothes down on the floor,
Close the door, hold the phone,
Show me how no one’s ever gonna stop us now.

I may have clicked my heels a few times. I definitely flirted with my husband and said outrageous things like, “I so do not look bad for 44!”

When the waiter said, “Your dessert of fresh berries is on us.” I may have replied drunkenly flirtatiously, “My dessert will be on you?” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

Life is always that way. You can always start from a melancholic place. But you can also end up holding your husband’s hand and marveling at how lucky you are to have four such amazing, healthy, happy kids.

You can begin with a crappy fifth birthday but end up with a Facebook page covered with sweet well wishes from the kid who sat in front of you in seventh grade, your high school band teacher, the first kids you ever taught (who are now nearing forty themselves), neighbors throughout your life, far-flung family and the gal-pals who support you in the school halls and the pick-up line.

Jennie, 5 Years Old February 25, 1976

Jennie, 5 Years Old
February 1976

There’s that knee-jerk response to the gloom and doom of birthdays and aging and February. And then there is the glory of celebrating the things we love, marveling at how our parts chug on each year, aging like a piece of beautifully polished wood furniture, growing stronger, smoother, and finer over time, if only we were willing to see it that way.

May we all find a way to more often choose the glory and the marveling over the gloom and doom. May I. (Even without the benefit of a good manicure and an afternoon of shopping.)

‘Cause here we are
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home

No one’s ever gonna stop us now.

~Carry On by Fun

25 comments on “Melancholic Birthday Girl, Carry On

  1. Matt
    February 28, 2015

    Well done, young lady. Always so thoughtful.

    Wishing you a very happy birthday, Jen, and many blessings to your family.

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Young lady! Yes!!! (The first time someone calls me ma’am… I must prepare for that.)
      And it was a very happy birthday. Thank you for your sweet well wishes, Matt.

      • Matt
        March 1, 2015

        I say “ma’am” a lot in an effort to be polite. Turns out, it’s not always taken politely. 🙂

  2. drawandshoot
    February 28, 2015

    A beautiful post, Jen. Those gentle reminders that life isn’t so bad…, perhaps even pretty great! Love this. Best wishes for your 44th year, may it be a really good one.

    • Burns the Fire
      February 28, 2015

      Too tired to find words, but what Karen said!

      • jgroeber
        March 1, 2015

        We can all pretty much always go with what Karen says, and definitely with what Karen photographs. Thank you, dear Brenda. xoxo

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Thank you.
      As I keep telling everyone, I’m 22… twice. And the second 22 have gone way more quickly but have been, in the aggregate, better I think. May we all have a better second half! xox

  3. Jenn Berney
    March 1, 2015

    First of all: wait a minute. Where can I find my own cosmetology-student-babysitter? Second of all: oh, I so wanted you to have the chance to say the aggrieved words because such things really burn me up lately, but of course it’s more important that your mirror was the only thing that was hurt, and also important that you were able to let it go.
    Third: As a fellow melancholic birthday girl (maybe it’s a winter birthday thing?) I loved this post.

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Wait. Better yet. We had two sitters tag in and out during the day. One is a NURSE whose mother is a pre-school teacher and the other is a cosmetology student! My kids had crafts, healthcare, and makeovers. Seriously.
      And since my mirror actually did bounce back (I’ve learned that it’s generally the moving car that gets the damage, thank goodness) I decided I ought to bounce back, too.
      You’re not a Pisces, too, are you winter birthday girl? Because putting a Pisces somewhere where her birthday is likely to be bleak and gray just seems wrong somehow.
      Hope yours was a happy one!

  4. katepeliot
    March 1, 2015

    Wow, GREAT birthday song! That song always reminds me of you anyways, ever since you pulled out your phone to play it on that quarter marathon we did a few years back, and I thought “I LIKE this girl!” Happy happy birthday! Xoxo

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Aw, shucks! And I love that… quarter marathon. It makes it sound very far. Ha!
      I think it was driving home from Dar Williams that won me out. (Although they never did play that “As Cool As I Am” song I was waiting to hear.)
      Thank you for the birthday well wishes! You’re the best!

  5. kellylmckenzie
    March 1, 2015

    That feeling of guilt free happiness when you are travelling further and further away from your beyond-happy-with-their-babysitter children? Priceless. Happy Birthday! And from my perspective? You are but a mere tot yourself.

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      How did I miss these comments?! I’ll blame it on the old age. (Is that acceptable yet?) And yes, it was a glorious adventure sneaking away and being a whole other me.

  6. Amy Reese
    March 1, 2015

    Jen, you are a shining star! Lovely post and big Happy Birthday hug to you! Happy Birthday!! I always feel a bit of a let down on birthdays. It makes it harder still when I don’t want to turn another year older. That’s hard enough. What a moment that was when you bumped mirrors in that skinny road and that you waved her on. If only she knew it was your birthday! It sounds like you had a wonderful day by the end of the day. Sometimes, you just got to wait for it, and it sounds like it was worth the wait. It’s hard to put the day in someone else’s hands. Everything has to click together somehow. Sounds like this one did!

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      I love your observation- sometimes you do just have to wait for the day to turn around. I’m always trying to help my kids turn their days around when they’re totally falling apart. “Just exhale and start again! Reboot!” But it’s so much easier said than done.
      In the end though, totally worth it.
      Thank you for those dear birthday wishes! They brightened my day (well, actually, my moth at this point.)

  7. momasteblog
    March 1, 2015

    Happy birthday. I can’t even stand how good your writing is. So real. I’m glad you were born.

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      How sweet is this comment? Thank you for such kind birthday wishes. Really.

  8. adventureswiththepooh
    March 2, 2015

    Happy birthday from delinquent me. So glad that your birthday ended up being quite wonderful in spite of a very stinky beginning. Hugs from your neighbor to the south. xoxoox

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      Ha! Not too far south. I imagine you’re knee deep in the same gray snow and stomach flus that I am way up here. 😉
      I’d hug you back, but I’m beginning to fear that in my house of sick-os, I may be Typhoid Mary. Egads!
      Where is SPRING?!

  9. UpChuckingwords
    March 6, 2015

    I smiled all the way through your craptastic ( love this word) day. Great reflective piece and happy belated birthday. I’m heading to Worcester this weekend …last time I went I could barely fit down the roads..hope I don’t lose a mirror. Ugh.

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      Worcester! So close. The one advantage to taking so shamefully long to reply is that I can now report that the roads are wide enough for two cars at once, although the gray snow banks along the edges are like backing into concrete, alas.
      Hope you made it back with both mirrors!

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2015 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood and tagged , , , , , .

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