jen groeber: mama art

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

August is the Cruelest Month

Getting ready for the next step  August 2015

Getting ready for the next step
August 2015

This morning, as my husband walked out the front door, he reminded me that the painters were coming tomorrow and that we needed to vacate the house. They would come in and move everything away from the walls and they would paint the downstairs walls and baseboards for us. Tomorrow.

“What?!” I replied, stomach clenching, eyes darting.

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “They’ll just move everything away from the walls and paint and then move everything back. Like new. That’s what they do.” And then he left.

I stood in our pristine living room. “But they expect it all to look like this,” I said out loud, gesturing to the artistically displayed pile of books and the plumped cushions displayed neatly on couches, “and it really looks like this.”

I turned and walked dejectedly through the piles of Legos on the floor into the family room/kitchen area, the place where the actual living happens. The bookshelves piled left to right and up to down, every square inch covered with old Highlights magazines and art books, early readers and overdue Diary of a Wimpy Kid books from the library.

Birdhouses, low-hanging fruit  August 2015

Birdhouses, low-hanging fruit
August 2015

I looked at the “art supplies area” a lopsided pile of Hello Kitty coloring books, pipe cleaners, clay building kits, airbrush marker sets and water color paper and canvas board for tempera paintings, the bucket of hot glue guns and wood stumps, googly eyes, sequins, felt.

Then into the mudroom. “Oh, my god.” The mudroom, it defies description. The boots, the rain jackets and bags on bags on bags of Little League and tennis and. Oh. My God.

I sighed.

Even our windows around the kitchen table are covered, absolutely covered, with the artwork the kids have made this year, their first writing, Thanksgiving turkey hands, a tempera Christmas tree, window sills littered with little sculptures and clay doo-dads and things made from clothespins.

And the problem here, the real problem is that it is August, mid-August. And August is the cruelest month. It is the Sunday night of summer. It is the beginning of the end.

And this August I prepare for the youngest of my children to begin kindergarten. I had no time to prepare for this by the way. Last year I sent the twins to kindergarten. The year before, my oldest began kindergarten.

I have not processed this.

And suddenly this morning, in a matter of minutes it washed over me like a tsunami. Like the tide had been pulling away, away and I had looked curiously at the bottom of the ocean, the little crafted treasures lost there, the fish flopping around in surprise to feel the water receding. And I had turned my back on the crashing wave that loomed just over my shoulder.

So I began with the “art area” and I tried to be ruthless. This is where I have tucked away their little rainy day moments of hot glue and feathers, have tossed the sewing machine and the patterns we made for their first sewn stuffed animals. I grabbed the pile of painted wooden bird houses, low hanging fruit. I took the wooden disc with my son’s name on it from his first day of kindergarten last year, and with arms filled I walked over to the trash can.

I sorted through the coloring books, some filled with hasty, crazy scribbles, others carefully filled in as their confidence and skills grew. I set aside workbooks they might still use, a few books teaching beginning math, the alphabet.

While I stacked and sorted (be ruthless, be ruthless) the four of them found my youngest’s farm pre-school “graduation book” from this past May, the thing painstakingly made by her pre-school teachers, filled with photos of classmates, first poems and stories about the gardens, the butterflies, the ocean. My four children sat in their makeshift pajamas, mismatched tees and pants and my husband’s old cast-off t-shirts, and they remembered their own pre-school graduation books.

Meanwhile I gathered a stack of paper drawings and dog-eared coloring books and walked to the recycling bin. I took the sculpture made from old styrofoam meat containers and added it onto the pile of birdhouses and (heart clench) my son’s wooden name tag. all getting buried in the trash can.

I walked to the windows to begin removing the artwork from the windows, the chatter of my four children in the background continuing, and I gasped.

Art gallery  August 2015

Art gallery
August 2015

The pain in my chest is too much right now. August is too much. The first words they wrote, their first books, the painted portraits, the drawing of my handprint next to my son’s handprint turned into talking monsters that say, “For Mom,” and inexplicably, “Begin.”


I stand staring at the print my youngest and I made from styrofoam meat trays this past Spring on a rainy day while I was printing a woodcut. She’d made this beautiful amazing thing, two artists working closely together, mother and daughter. For a minute I have no idea how I’m going to do this. I do not feel equipped for this. I am paralyzed.

The kids have moved on to singing songs now. Shut Up and Dance, actually.

I am sitting writing, trying to catch my breath. The air conditioner kicks in and the drawings on the windows flutter behind me.

I am no closer to getting prepared for these painters. But every minute September 9th moves closer to me nonetheless.

They are going to arrive tomorrow, these anonymous, efficient, professional painters, and they are going to paint over all the fingerprints, they are going to repair the place on the wall that my oldest son’s head dented when he fell out of his highchair, they are going to remove the sneaker scuff marks and crayon scribbles.

And then in a few short weeks I will dress my kids in cool new outfits, strap shiny backpacks on their backs, line them up on the porch for a first day of school photo, a first day of school for every last one.

And I know that these piles of papers, these wooden birdhouses and pipe cleaners, tiny sculptures and handmade books about robots and butterflies, cannot protect me from the changes that are coming. The fingerprints on the walls, the marks made along baseboards  by tiny just-crawling babies, these things cannot hold back the tide.

I send the kids outside in bathing suits, turn on the sprinkler. They dance and scream, shimmering in the August sun, and they thrash through the droplets of  water, moving forward, always forward.

I’m going to the trash can to get my son’s wooden disc from the first day of kindergarten last year, the one with his name on it. And then I am going to return to the windows and take down the artwork.

My son's name tag  AUgust 2015

My son’s name tag
August 2015

I breathe.

Begin. Begin.

15 comments on “August is the Cruelest Month

  1. Burns the Fire
    August 30, 2015

    Breathe, begin, breathe, end, breathe. Repeat.

    Sending love, laughter and a crafty box to keep the stuff you just can’t throw away.

    • jgroeber
      August 30, 2015

      Oh, will you ever be down in my area again? Because I would love to drive out to meet you for coffee and show you my crafty box filled with garbage and see you find magic in all the people around you. Thank you for your sweet, sweet comment(s). Always.

      • Burns the Fire
        September 1, 2015

        You know what I would love? To sit down at a junk pile and make stuff with you. To talk, and talk. For sure I’ll be in Boston next year, now when are you coming to Montreal?!!

  2. Linda Friday
    August 30, 2015

    Oh, yes. Yes. They are always moving forward and it is our job to push them all the while we want to hold them tightly in that suspended moment. My heart is breaking for you.

    • jgroeber
      August 30, 2015

      It’s such a funny moment. I am Dr. Dolittle’s push-me-pull-you about my children. Part of me just wants a half hour to myself. But when I get it, I wonder what they’re doing, I scan back through recent photos of them. I am so excited to not be their #1 (and only) summer camp counselor once school starts, but I can’t stand that this means that another summer has passed (and that they’re growing up so fast.) Alas.
      Thank you for your lovely comment, and for getting it.

      • Linda Friday
        August 30, 2015

        If it’s any consolation, I have a tempera-painted American flag that my 25-year old painted in kindergarten, framed and hanging on my dining room wall. I also recently rifled through a box and found the triptych of a chrysalis’ transformation into a butterfly that was also from kindergarten. As soon as I saw the butterfly, the whole evening came back to me. Hang on to that name tag.

  3. Anna Spanos
    August 31, 2015

    I feel like I go through this every day, every weekend, and I only have one! But now that the second is on the way I feel nearly panicked – how am I going to find time to sort through it all, to identify the important things, to understand which are memories that must be kept and which are scribbles that I’ll never think about again? Usually I start with all those damned Highlights magazines…
    Good luck with kindergarten. My little one goes into year two of the montessori cycle 1 tomorrow, whatever that means and for what it’s worth. But she will have a new shiny backpack and crisp new clothes, and somehow this time it feels bigger than just another year at preschool. I might regret all those Highlights I got rid of when she finally makes it to kinder…

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2015

      Ha! Yes. We only throw out the Highlights when they’re a year old or too shredded to pick up. We have big bins labeled for each kid and I use the art wall to decide what stays. If it seems special enough to hang on the wall then it gets to be saved in the box. But still, it’s hard walking to the recycling bin with the other stuff.
      This morning my daughter dropped and broke the plate she has been using for over a year. It’s a ceramic plate she painted herself at one of those pottery places. I wanted to cry. We had a set of four (each child made one) and now we’re down to two. You can’t put a beautiful broken ceramic plate in the keepsake box… can you? (Oh, there may be a post in that.)
      Hope the pregnancy is going well. FInd a pool to float in if you can. It was my favorite part of pregnancy, floating in the pool as the baby(ies) floated in me.

  4. 2readmom
    August 31, 2015

    This made me so sad, my oldest started preschool, and I need to do the exact same thing.

    • jgroeber
      September 8, 2015

      How am I just seeing this now?! It must be because my youngest is beginning kindergarten tomorrow. I’m suddenly realizing that the world has passed me by. Sigh.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. May I recommend “special boxes”? It’s the purgatory I place piles of things I can’t get rid of so that my children can throw them out in twenty years themselves. It eases the transition. 😉

  5. laineyloveslife
    August 31, 2015

    Mommas are sentimental, keeping a lot of stuff that account children’s progress. I keep a lot of things as a kid (just like my mom) and I’m afraid I’m going to be worse than her when I become one — that’s happening soon.

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2015

      Someone once kindly said I make meaning out of minutia, and I think it’s true that I try to do that, that I’ve always tried to do that, even when I was just a teenager with a very messy bedroom filled with junk. Each thing has such a story. Maybe by writing the stories we can release ourselves from the piles of actual stuff? I hope so. One’s basement can only get so full!
      Good luck with the pregnancy and new baby.

  6. pujagokarn161289
    September 2, 2015

    You write beautifully. Each post you write tugs at something in my heart. Looking forward to reading so much more from you! I’d love to meet you and your family some day.

    • jgroeber
      September 8, 2015

      Such a sweet comment. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: Last First Day of School | jen groeber: mama art

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This entry was posted on August 30, 2015 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood, The Children and tagged , , , , .

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