jen groeber: mama art

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

Learning to Go It Alone

I just realized that I hate to be alone.

I was standing and wiping the counter, putting dishes in the dishwasher, mindlessly eating granola off the kids’ plates, and I kept looking for my youngest daughter at the kitchen table. But she’s not there. She’s in kindergarten for her first week of school, kicking butt and taking numbers.

four kids in front of garage door

First week of school
September 2015

And by the way, if you had told me five years ago that I would be lamenting the absence of my four children, getting all weepy verklempt over the sweet, sweet sound of silence, I would have told you to shut the front door.

Like, literally. Here’s my keys, there’s the minivan, make sure all four of them put their seat belts on, I’ll see you in three hours and SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. Because five years ago when I had four kids in diapers (how you like me now?) I would have given anything to have a moment of peace to go to the bathroom, then take a shower, then actually dry my hair. In that order. Included in that would be the scrubbing of incessant fecal matter out from under my nails.

All four kids in Cabot's crib. Ages, 3, 1 1/2, 1 1/2 and 4 days old.

Can you imagine the amount of activity in this house?!
May 2010

But now… Now my hands are poop-free, or as poop-free as one can hope in a house filled with dirty kids. And the quiet mom-only hours of the day are spread before me like a vast and endless ocean of clean laundry that covers the entire laundry room floor waiting to be folded.

And it’s not that I don’t have anything to do. I have lists of things to do. My lists have lists.

In fact, yesterday I was looking through the cabinet over my desk for something to write my lists on. I’ve been stuffing all manner of deskish thing into this cabinet for five years. And just as I went to slam the cabinet door shut, a perfect little blank journal fell out and hit me on the head, like a flash of inspiration from the heavens. And so, today I’ve begun my many lists in that journal.

  1. Clean out the cabinet over the desk

The list is getting longer by the moment. There’s a reason I’m a stay-at-home Mom, and it doesn’t involve eating bon-bons or registering for an account at Ashley Madison. I have to go to the grocery store and Dick’s Sporting Goods and the farmstand and the doctor.

But without the weight of four kids grabbing stuff from the shelves as I trudge down the aisles schlepping $250 worthy of groceries plus 200 lbs. of kid flesh, I feel sort of untethered. Like the huge Hello Kitty balloon that flew away at my daughter’s fourth birthday party last year, over the trees and the houses, out to some distant ocean for a one-hundred-year-old sea turtle to choke on.

And in this real-life metaphor, I’m the balloon, untethered. And I’m also sort of the choking turtle.

There was a mother at the library yesterday with a newborn baby and I walked so closely behind her attempting to sniff that new-baby smell that I’m pretty sure she almost called the police on me. Because… baby stalker. And today a friend stopped by to drop off some awesome hand-me-downs, and I sort of wouldn’t let her leave. Even though her car was running. And she kept stepping out the door away from me. Then I went to get a mammogram so that people would talk to me and hang onto my boobs in a slightly aggressive way.

Like my kids used to do. (Sigh.)

In silence there’s just me, amplified. There’s the me I was when I was a kid and the me I was right out of college and the me when I worked my butt off full-time. Mostly though, there’s just stay-at-home me, with all the other delightfully distracting noise turned off. Is she going to write a book or make some art or do something interesting? I don’t know. I mostly stayed away from her these past five years. She was such a hot mess.

So for now I’ve got to add that to the list, somewhere between 4.) Fold twelve loads of laundry and 8.) Take a shower.

Here’s to all the moms making lists now that the kids have all returned to school. Join me. 

5.) Figure out how to be alone.

Because that lady at the library doesn’t want either of us that close to her newborn, and insurance only covers one mammogram a year. 

Yes. It’s time.

just me

Just me
September 2015

26 comments on “Learning to Go It Alone

  1. Burns the Fire
    September 16, 2015

    Hello, you. xoxo

  2. Matt
    September 16, 2015

    If you’ve got 50,000-75,000 words in you, musing on life and parenting and the human experience, I think there are a great many people who would like to read that, Jen.

    And I know you’ve had all of five seconds to try to figure out what you’re going to do on school days for the next however many years, but putting things to paper could prove beneficial on a variety of fronts.

    Some responsible and understanding citizen picked up the deflated balloon and disposed of it properly.

    And that 100-year-old sea turtle perseveres. Swimming free. Hard to kill.

    Hope you and your family are very well.

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      You’re BACK! (Or at least, still alive, which is more important. Yay!)
      Thank you for the Hello Kitty absolution. I just bought 8 huge plastic tubs to organize the laundry room and kids’ closets and Legos and now I’m feeling guilty about the floating continent of plastic in the ocean. Please tell me someone’s got that, too. Sigh.
      And thank you most of all for the words of writing support. It’s a hard belief to keep afloat one’s self- I can do it, I can do it, I can do it. Every bit of buoyancy helps.
      Good wishes to you, too.

  3. pujagokarn161289
    September 16, 2015

    Wow! You never fail to be my five minutes of absolute reading delight. I look forward to reading your stuff and a post notification from you brings an automatic smile to my face. Reading you is a great break.

    As far as the figuring out how to be alone goes, I’m going through that phase recently for very different reasons. Mainly to know about myself and love myself again. One thing that made it interesting was childhood hobbies like origami for me. See if that works for you.

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      How sweet is this comment? I never think that the things I write could be a bright spot in someone else’s day. Thank you for that.
      And I love the childhood-hobby wisdom. Writing and art have always been happy places for me and so, in a way, I started my blog two years ago in preparation for this moment, too. I’ve been off the art for a few weeks, but I feel a woodcut rising up inside me.
      Lastly, I’m wishing you sweet, healthful, self-loving thoughts today and every day. We’re all such magical creatures, we ought to be brimming with love for ourselves all the time.

  4. laineyloveslife
    September 16, 2015

    I’m about to take the plunge into mommyhood and my days will soon be filled with mommy duties.. taking care of a child, and a rushing to get 5 minute showers including removing fecal matters out from under my nails. 🙂

    You have always amused me with your stories, Jen. Thank you! I’m ready for whatever life is goingto throw at me simply because moms like you remind me that it’s okay to not be perfect and it’s okay to feel not okay sometimes. Being a mom is a wonderful thing – sometimes chaotic, more often fulfilling!
    ✽‿✽ ❤︎ laineyloveslife

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      What a sweet compliment. Thank you. And I aim to be the sort of Mom of whom my daughters can always say, “I could so do better than that!” Ha!
      Wishing you a happy baby, sleep-filled nights, and good friends and family to help you on the ride.

  5. michellebellah
    September 16, 2015

    What!!? You’re telling me I will one day be alone in my home with blow dried hair?!? I’m just not seeing it.

    Enjoy your days – hope they are as a fastlyslow as mine (with 3 kids 4 and under wreaking havoc), and that you start your lists with “write a post” so I’ll have something to read on my phone while nursing my aggressive boob grabber…

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      Totally blowed my hair dry yesterday. How do you like me now? 😉
      Enjoy that aggressive boob grabber for me (that may not have come out right) because it seriously goes so fast. It’s such it’s own stage. I seriously see moms with strollers, and I can barely remember it.
      And thank you so much for reading. I’m glad my post gets to hang out with you every so often, especially if you get to sit down when reading it.

  6. with-beautiful-eyes
    September 16, 2015

    Judging by the things you write, you will learn! Not having them around me for part of my day makes me appreciate my kids more when they are home. Good luck cleaning out the cabinet over the desk!

    • jgroeber
      September 16, 2015

      Yes! I already get more excited to see them at the end of the day. Although they’re so fried after school that I sort of can’t stand to be around them once they’re home for 20 minutes. Such grumps (Them, not me! I swear.)
      And while I can’t speak for the cabinet over my desk, I can attest to the cleanliness of my laundry room floor. Baby steps.

  7. rarasaur
    September 17, 2015

    “And in this real-life metaphor, I’m the balloon, untethered. And I’m also sort of the choking turtle. ” I loved this. I get this.

    And I can’t wait to see what adventures unfold in your new frontier. ❤ You will continue to do glorious things, I am sure of it.

    • jgroeber
      September 17, 2015

      Sigh. A dinosaur sighting. The best! Thank you.
      You will continue to glorious things, too, Rara. I’m certain of it.

  8. Stacy di Anna
    September 17, 2015

    Whatever is next, I hope all your dreams come true, for you and your babies. I’ll be here, cheering you on. Thank you for the chats yesterday!

    • jgroeber
      September 17, 2015

      Thank you. And, you’re welcome.
      So glad to have connected in our parallel universe lives.

  9. adventureswiththepooh
    September 17, 2015

    Ha ha ha! You are hilarious, Jen! Love you.

    • jgroeber
      September 17, 2015

      Thank you. You know you were one of my very early blog inspirations, don’t you?

  10. emilygroeber
    September 17, 2015

    Oh, Jen, I wish we lived closer so I could get to know you better, but then I would never get to my list! This has been a summer of becoming “untethered” for me and Gerry. Aaron is now going to college in Flagstaff two hours away (living with cousin Adam!) and Andrea is in her new apartment and full-time job. With my father’s unexpected passing in July, there are moments when I definitely feel adrift, like I’ve lost my bearings, my anchor. I’m sure it’s just a phase, something to get used to. Whatever you choose to do with your “free” time, I’d sure love to read more of your writing!

    • jgroeber
      September 17, 2015

      Ah, the untethering. I used to be a college counselor and I pretended to understand how trying the college process (and beyond) was for parents. And in retrospect? I. Had. No. Idea. None.
      And I was sorry to hear of your father’s passing. To feel like you’ve lost your roots right when your kids try out their wings, I can’t imagine how disorienting and… sad that would be. Like, big sad. But you know they never fly further than they can fly home and those roots your father provided are forever.
      Wish we could go for a walk or have some tea or something, too.

  11. Dawn Quyle Landau
    September 17, 2015

    It’s amazing how many years and transitions I’ve had, ahead of you, to figure this out… and I still don’t have my book out there! It’s such a precious time in your life as a parent, but seriously, carpé! And find your groove, Stella. It’s there, under the laundry and the dirty plates and the sweet smells of empty bedrooms… you’ll find it. Until then, I love sharing these quiet moments with you. xox

    • jgroeber
      September 17, 2015

      I think of you and your imploring me to set aside the time to write. I also had no idea about these days on the other side of August. That there would still be laundry and errands and the school nurse calling. That hour a day to write is one slippery fish, impossible to hold onto.
      I’m working on my groove though. Thank you for the inspiration and for the support. I love sharing these quiet moments, too. (P.S. My youngest is standing here looking at your picture and she says hello! Now I need to go play Uno. And so it goes.)

      • Dawn Quyle Landau
        September 18, 2015

        Well give your yummy “youngest” a big hug from me! I adore that little face… best date I’ve had in ages! And yes, the fish is very slippery, but worth holding on to. It just requires a few breathes, patience, and slipping into the groove… it’s vital!

  12. Anna Spanos
    September 22, 2015

    I remember my first moment like that – my husband had taken my daughter somewhere for an afternoon. I was all caught up on housework and job work and errand work, no longer nursing, and the laundry for once was one hundred percent, completely done. And I felt so alone all I could do with my amazingly precious free time was cry. What the hell!?!
    I used to love, LOVE, being alone. As in, I planned to never get married so I would never have to compromise my alone time. But then life progressed, as it had a tendency to do…
    Now I’m a bit petrified that I not ever going to have another one of those moments, or at least not for another five, ten years or so. But somehow I know that I’ll probably respond in just the same way I did the last time.

  13. Jennifer Berney
    September 22, 2015

    “Four kids in diapers” might be the most terrifying phrase I’ve ever read. Enjoy the quiet. You’ve earned it.

  14. lafriday
    September 26, 2015

    Jen, I am with Matt: please take time to write those words. And don’t get too swept up in the laundry and the dirty dishes. Put your writing or art at the top of the list. You’ll get everything else done in the afternoon before the kids come home. If you don’t do it NOW, you will be facing a much bigger hole when your kindergartner heads out the door for college. It happens in the blink of an eye. Trust me.

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This entry was posted on September 16, 2015 by in Surviving Motherhood and tagged , , , .

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