jen groeber: mama art

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

Leaving the Nest, an Ode to Pre-School

My youngest child is finishing her time at the most amazing school ever. She is graduating from pre-school.


Graduation Day
June 2015

I know everyone thinks that their kids go to the most amazing schools. Or at least, as a former teacher, I wish everyone felt that way. But still. Our school is beyond Lake-Woebegone special.

These are some of the things she has said about her school just this week.

Today I played with Charlie. Not Charlie the llama. Charlie the boy.

One of the farmers brought us a worm and the worm was so big it was the biggest worm I ever saw and it pooped in my hand!

Today we went up to the big house to play with the sisters. What I love best about the sisters is that they let us do crafts. Sometimes they come down to school in a big car and a grown-up takes care of them just like a grown-up takes care of us. But because they’re so old and we’re so little.

We got a new chicken today but it stays in its cage because it doesn’t know the other chickens yet and they might bully it which is not nice.


Today I shoveled dung. And it was so much fun!!

There is a wind turbine and a pig name Strawberry. There are donkeys who we are not allowed to feed or pet but we always do anyway.

This school is not for everyone. I have had parents say it smelled too much like a barn or a wet dog… Because there is a barn. Also, wet dogs.

The ornaments they make us for Christnas gifts are crafted from seed pods, milkweed shells, the wool from one of the sheep that smells nastily like natural lanolin and whatever it is that makes sheep smell bad. They are the kind of ornaments that will not stand the test of time because one year soon we will pull out our big plastic ornament bin to find that a mouse or a squirrel or some other wayward critter has eaten it away or used it to craft a home for its young. Which makes those ornaments eternal in a way, too.

The children sing songs about the trees, mountains, rivers, Monarch butterflies, and the passage of the seasons. They make neck warmers from scraps of fleece or stuffed rag dolls out of discarded socks. They do dances for Haiti with their homemade Haitian scarves made from tie-dyed recycled rags or paper towels they will compost later.

More than anything though, they grow wings, and not net polyester or gossamer wings. They grow feathered bony things made of sturdy, confident stuff.

They stomp around jumping from wood fence rails and climbing rocks or snowdrifts or hills that must feel like mountains. And this flock of teachers corral our winged creatures into the school yard, they lead the way tromping through the woods, or kneeling in the garden or being one with the tadpoles and fish and beaver and birds. These women build alphabets out of earth and pile blankets on the floor so the children can burrow under them to hibernate for the winter like mice or whatever it is that hibernates under the snow in the winter, ready to emerge older and wiser in the spring.


Bird in the nest
June 2015

I mean, they literally go out to one of a few actual human-sized nests for snack or story or a lesson.


Bird out of the nest
June 2015

They tuck under trees or in a native American neshwetu, even in the deep cold of winter. Especially in the deepest cold of winter. They are guided and taught, cuddled and read to, instructed and challenged, and eventually, even for my last born (especially for my last born) they are pushed from the nest to take flight.

It is an experience like none other, this return to the things we were born of.

And I hope it is a seed, too. I hope it is a seed that will be planted in their bony feathered wings. Even as those wings become arms and those smelly farm chore boots become sneakers or sandals for the beach or dress shoes for the recital. And that these seeds will sprout somewhere in their memory, somewhere dark under a fallen tree, where the mushrooms grow. And this memory will surface when they are thirteen and painfully lost in a self-hating hormone haze, or eighteen trying to decide whether to lead or to follow, or twenty-two and deciding whether they choose to feed the world, feed their flock or merely line their own larder.

Or perhaps the memories of these days buried deep in their collective psyche will next surface when they hold their own boot-clad offspring, bundled up to march off into the woods for an adventure that will plant a seed of muck and marshes and the earth and love in the next generation. And on and on.

My daughter is finishing her time at this garden farm of a school. Next week she will drag her recycled shopping bag full of colorful drawings and seed pods, muddy boots and feathers, across the cobbled courtyard and out into the lot for the very last time.

Next stop, oh my goodness, kindergarten.

And like the nubs on my childrens’ small backs where I secretly know that their bony wings once grew, I dream they will carry this magical place with them for life.


Graduation day, holding back tears
June 2015

15 comments on “Leaving the Nest, an Ode to Pre-School

  1. ailsasteinert
    June 13, 2015

    Yay Jen…that is wonderful!

    • jgroeber
      June 14, 2015

      Thank you for celebrating our tiny achievement. I knew you’d appreciate our cabin in the woods.
      “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…”

  2. AnnaMarie
    June 13, 2015

    I Love this story and the picture! All children should get to experience school like that! I hope you all have a Wonderful summer with lots of fun adventures!

    • jgroeber
      June 14, 2015

      Oh, thank you. My goal this summer is to enjoy them… no matter how annoying they get!
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Amy Reese
    June 14, 2015

    Ah, what a tender moment to see her graduate from pre-school. This school sounds absolutely amazing, a kid’s dream school. I want to go there. It makes me kind of wish all of school could be like this with such creativity and a nurturing environment. I love the bird’s nest. Wow, your last to kindergarten, but so wonderful that she had this great experience to grow sturdy wings to face the world. What a magical post, Jen! xo

    • jgroeber
      June 14, 2015

      Can you imagine if we could invent a lifetime worth of pre-schools for ourselves? What would yours be? A writer’s colony in the mountains by a lake? There’s still time…
      Thank you for your kind words and for celebrating with me!
      Here’s to making our own ideal learning environment!

      • Amy Reese
        June 14, 2015

        Mine would definitely be by a body of water! Thanks, Jen. xo

  4. Burns the Fire
    June 14, 2015

    Oh, Jen. I gobbled this post. And I remembered that this whole blog is a gift for your children. You did not foresee that is a gift to us all.

    • jgroeber
      June 14, 2015

      Ah, such sweet words. It’s amazing to see how the time has flown, how the times have changed in my little corner of the world and how many beautiful people I’ve found along the way (this means YOU)… It’s been a gift to myself, too.
      Thank you for always saying the dearest things.

  5. lisa soininen
    June 15, 2015

    love this one 🙂 i totally cried last year when we left – what a special place!! i miss you all at pilates – hope it is still going well for you!


  6. donofalltrades
    June 15, 2015

    That little hippie school sounds pretty sweet! I like to go tithe best myself sometimes. Hope you’re doing well. Paddle boat season?

  7. Jennifer Berney
    June 16, 2015

    OMG, the nests! I want my kids to go to a place where they can say that exact same sentence about Charlie.

  8. UpChuckingwords
    June 16, 2015

    I live in a small rural New England town, Not as earthy as yours but very traditionally connected to the community and values. I feel so blessed having raised a family here. This post choked me up a bit as my youngest is graduating HS in 4 days. You captured how I feel exactly at this moment :

    “More than anything though, they grow wings, and not net polyester or gossamer wings. They grow feathered bony things made of sturdy, confident stuff.”

    She flies and she soars! And you should enjoy the journey, every second and it’s all worth it. Even my tears right now…

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2015 by in The Children and tagged , , , , , .

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