jen groeber: mama art

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

What I Remember, There You Are

It begins like this.

My alarm goes off and I get out of bed. My husband is already awake, because he is an early bird.  I get out of bed, and I go to my youngest’s room. Her hands are thrown up over her head and her face is turned to one side, just so, and she looks like an infant, although she is five.

child in bed

Sleeping like a baby
January 2016

I kiss her, and I crawl over her in her bed so that I can nuzzle her delicious neck, and I say it’s time to wake up, baby, it’s time to wake up. And as I move away she reaches up her arms and pulls my face down next to hers. She is warm and her breath smells sour, and I can’t stand how much I love her. And then I tell her to get up out of bed. I will be back.

Then I go to her oldest brother’s room. He is asleep, and perhaps he has his favorite snuggle near his face although I would never say that because he is An Eight-Year-Old Boy, practically a grown-up, and An Eight-Year-Old Boy doesn’t sleep with green stuffed frog snuggles.

I sit next to him, and I stroke his cheek because his skin is lusciously warm and soft. I rub his ears, which I call his goat ears, because at the end of his first day at farm pre-school I touched his ears and they were so puffy and soft I wondered if there was something wrong. And then I realized that his ears had grown into that soft goatness months ago, and I had never noticed until I’d sent him away for his first day of school.

He gets out of bed because he is responsible, and he limps into the bathroom and then comes right back out and immediately sets to work getting dressed.

I go to the twins’ room last. They lay in opposite repose. One is cuddled up wearing footed sleepers, covered entirely by his blankets and large stuffed animals, and he is curled around himself like a nautilus shell, the sharp features of his small face barely peeking out from behind Suspenders, the lion.

boy in bed

Sleeping boy and Suspenders
January 2016

His sister is across the room spread across the bed like a starfish, arms and legs exposed at every edge of her ever-shrinking nightgown, no blankets anywhere nearby. Her Raphael-esque face is turned to the side, rosy and warm, and her panda named Cocoa or Bamboo is strewn on the floor. There are markers without caps staining her bedspread and a journal with a lock and key at her feet.

Their room is an ice box. Shivering slightly, I bend and pick up the bundle of blankets that is my boy, and I carry him out into the hallway, scooping up his clothing for the day as I go. Then I unzip his footed sleepers and peel them from his warm chest while he is still curled up tightly. (Stripping him naked is the only way I stand a chance of getting him out the door in time.) His twin sister rolls out of bed, and plods past us slowly towards the bathroom.

I go back to my youngest’s room, lift her from her bed and dress her and she tilts and leans sleepily. Then out in the hallway I help snap snaps and get small neck holes over surprisingly large heads. Along the way I move the wash into the dryer, put a dirty load of clothes into the washer. I throw the snow clothes downstairs that dried overnight in the dryer, including inexplicably, one black boot that somehow clunked along for hours on tumble dry. I dress in whatever clothes I laid out for myself late last night and head downstairs.

I start the stove, get out the juicer, find the yogurt. I line up four plates and four small bowls and four spoons and four forks. I heat up the griddle, start the toaster, crack some eggs, scoop out some yogurt, peel bananas, slice an avocado. For my husband I make an omelette, and I juice whatever vegetables and fruits I can find in the refrigerator.

This is what I do.

But somewhere between getting dressed and putting a load in the washer this morning, I looked out the window, and I noticed the way the snow contrasted against the two naked, black trees in our front yard. I suddenly wondered what the view from my bedroom window was growing up. We had two trees in our front yard, a crab apple and a maple. I remember them from the crab apple fights I had with my siblings, but mostly also from old photos, but I don’t remember what they looked like from my window.

I don’t remember my mom coming in to wake me up. I think it was my brother’s morning screams that pulled me out of slumber. I think my mom made instant oatmeal from small packets or we had cereal. Probably we didn’t have orange juice because it was too expensive. And I was allergic to milk, so maybe I had nothing to drink in the morning. I don’t remember though. I don’t remember.

And when I think about my children’s mornings before they were school age, when they were just infants, I don’t quite remember that either. Did I get up and breast-feed the baby first? I think I made waffles a lot, but I’m not sure why. I didn’t make them eggs though. I know that. Did I dress them first, or did I let them eat breakfast in their pajamas? Was Mica always the hardest to wake up?

I do remember heading into the room some mornings and seeing the twins at 18 months old standing at the ends of the cribs, lined up end to end, facing each other just an arm’s length away from one another. They would throw all their stuffed animals into each other’s cribs until all the animals had missed the other’s crib and lay in a pile on the floor in-between them.

I remember that.

And maybe childhood stories don’t matter, the specifics of a fight I had with my sister over whether or not I was keeping our shared bedroom clean enough, or the night I was passing her my glow-in-the-dark Jesus, and I fell out of bed and sliced my hand open on the edge of my canopy bed. Does it matter what I remember and don’t remember?

But I have already forgotten exactly how most of the routine went for my children just a few years ago. And since to me now they seem all grown up, I think that maybe this morning’s routine isn’t special at all. Maybe this is how it will be forever. Until I realize that in a couple years we may have a whole new morning routine, because they will be entirely different children.

Each day will be just slightly evolved from the last. One by one they will outgrow their booster or no longer want an egg for breakfast, or will pick out their own clothing, or will be able to wipe their own butt or do their own hair. Each day will change a tiny bit and each year will change in large ways, until my morning is nothing that I would even recognize.

This whole ritual will somehow disappear as if it never was until I am a woman living with her husband having her own schedule in the morning, checking to see if I got an email or text from my kids. And what will they remember of this time?

This morning they sat at the counter, and they ate the breakfast that I made them. Mica only had to eat four slices of banana, because he hates them so much. I sent my oldest upstairs to bring down toothbrushes and toothpaste so that everyone could brush their teeth after breakfast because our pediatrician asks them every time she sees them if they brush their teeth twice a day. I yelled at everyone to get their socks on, and then I lined up the girls, first one and then the other, and I put their hair in bunches and a braid. I added a ribbon and a headband with flowers. They cried and pulled away but I sang them a sweet song about a mother’s love, and they stopped.

girl getting hair done

January 2016

Then my motley tribe headed to the mudroom and they pulled on boots and packed sneakers, then ran back out to the living room to check the pile of dried coats and snow pants and mismatched mittens and they shoved them into backpacks or put them on heads or hands.

kids getting ready for school

The mudroom
January 2016

And then I started the car from inside, because my new minivan has a remote-starter, and I checked my Fitbit which had nearly 2000 steps, although I have done almost nothing. And my oldest ran outside first because he is the most responsible. And everyone else dawdled, and I herded them out cajoling and yelling. They threw their backpacks in the passenger seat, tumbled over each other into booster seats and car seats, struggling to get seatbelts around puffy coats.

kids in minivan

Wait. This looks just like the old minivan
January 2016

I ran out in a flurry carrying my cup of juice and started the car for real and turned on the radio.

That Vance Joy song, Fire and the Flood, was playing, and I nodded to myself. Because this is what my morning looked like today.

Anywhere I go there you are

Anywhere I go there you are

There you are

There you are

 And maybe that’s all that any of us needs to remember.

30 comments on “What I Remember, There You Are

  1. Single Mom Thrives
    January 26, 2016

    Wow, just wow. So many goosebumps and my eyes tearing up. I like to think we must all have these overwhelming thoughts, feelings, memories we don’t remember. I have many dark spaces in my memory & I don’t quite know why. Probably because i wasn’t present, instead on survival mode.

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2016

      Right? Why do we forget so much? Someone this morning suggested it’s because we have so very much going on, and such great responsibility as new moms, that we’re never really present. Which is likely true, but absolutely tragic. Survival mode is right. Which is why I write. So that I can maybe every once in awhile remember something and then tell my kids about it someday, even if it’s only through my lens.
      Thank you so much for dropping by here. I so love seeing a new face.

      • Single Mom Thrives
        January 29, 2016

        You’re so right! I have said, HOW have I forgotten these moments? SIX years of my life, GONE. Glimpses, at best. I see photos and can’t remember that day, let alone that moment, and thank God for phones with cameras. It is tragic. We are in the trenches of motherhood for those first years and you do not KNOW how later, you won’t remember them. You never think that is possible! You will never forget these moments. Until you do. It’s dark space and you wonder, where did the time go? where was i? In my case, I was so busy trying to find an escape from it all, 3 kids under age 4, plus one older one, plus an emotionally void marriage and more, that now it is purely dark space. thank you for sharing!

  2. Burns the Fire
    January 26, 2016

    Beauties, all of you. xo

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2016

      You are. No, you are. (And thank you.)

  3. chrissyfarren
    January 26, 2016

    Sound like beautiful chaos to me.

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2016

      Ah, thank you. It’s only if you can make yourself stand still for a moment in the midst of that chaos that you can actually see the beauty.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. Sarah Durkee
    January 26, 2016

    Beautiful, as your writing always is!
    This one really got me, because yesterday was my youngest’s 23rd birthday :). But I will still never forget the baby carrots, the Barney pajamas, the endless chicken nuggets, the names of the stuffed animals and the dozen or so Pokemon who charmed me, the smell of wet snowsuits. And thanks for making me remember the view from my bedroom window so vividly from two houses (the first, our yard with the split rail fence and Euclid Ave lazily empty, hopscotch chalked. The second, a huge willow tree, a tiny brook.) ❤️

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2016

      How is it you hit on my life so exactly? (Minus the Barney because no one does Barney anymore, apparently.) But the Pokemon, which literally arrived in my house a week ago, and the wet snow pants which arrived this weekend. Thank you for sharing your own gorgeous memories. Give a hug to that amazing 23-year-old of yours. Good to see that with all that parenting, one can still remain totally hip, totally cool, totally awesome. Maybe there’s hope for me after all.
      (So good to see you here!)

  5. lafriday
    January 26, 2016

    Oh. You make my heart ache for those days. You will remember more than you realize. I can transport myself to Kate’s nursery as I gently rocked in the Dutailier rocker, the room dimly lit by a small teddy bear lamp, nursing her as I softly sang lullabies. At 25 she is expertly sanding the floors of her apartment and creating a nest across the country from me. She astounds me with what she doesn’t remember–and even more with the “nothings” that she does. You are a lucky mother, and you have lucky children.

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2016

      Oh, how I love these long ago memories juxtaposed against such current strength and independence. Bittersweet. And I really hardly remember so much. Especially (and most shamefully) of the twins’ experience. There was so much going on. Not the first time or the last time is perhaps a tough time to fall into. So glad I’m at least capturing tiny pieces now (and so appreciative of the tribe of Mamas who share these experiences with me. Thank you!)

  6. kellylmckenzie
    January 26, 2016

    Beautifully crafted. I was right there with you all the way through. Beautiful chaos, indeed.

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2016

      Especially those photos. That whirlwind in the mudroom of jackets and boots swirling around. (And I spent the entire day last Friday cleaning and organizing that mud room! That’s the ORGANIZED version! Oy!) But I always think of that Erma Bombeck story where she talks about the young mother now an older mother who once lamented that everyone made a mess of her clean rooms, and now there’s no one IN her clean rooms. I think I’ll always choose chaos.

      • lafriday
        January 27, 2016

        When my daughter was home during the holidays, the house quickly reverted to her messy lapses. I have finally “evolved” past the war of wills when she was still in my care (“I am your MOTHER, not the MAID!”). Now I welcome the chaos because it means my girl is home and the chaos is coupled with laughs and hugs and her 5’11” frame climbing into my bed early in the morning for a cuddle–still. Yes, chaotic bliss.

  7. Matt
    January 27, 2016

    I would never want to trivialize the significance and value of a mother’s love for her children, the morning pre-school routine, or the thoughts and feelings and memories such moments inspire.

    I just know that, generally speaking, I’m not the slightest bit interested in reading about mothers getting children ready for school.

    Yet, when you tell it, I never want to look away.

    I always say this, and it might even sound insulting to the wrong person but I don’t believe you take it as such: Your ability to draw magic and meaning from the seemingly mundane is exceptional.

    And for all who drink it in, and pause to contemplate all the things you contemplate, we’re reminded what it really means to be human.

    The importance of doing that for people cannot be overstated.

    Thank you, Jen.

    • jgroeber
      January 27, 2016

      Oh, ha! This is the best worst comment ever. I had to read it three times.
      Because I kept thinking, “Oh, wait. Did he just…?” (Yup. Yup, he did.)
      And yes, I get it. And I thank you.
      Because a part of ME doesn’t even want to be there for the morning routine and the cooking of the eggs and the putting of the compost and the drying of the mittens. Because is that all there is?
      But then again, how do we all even let a single millisecond of this life slip by? Each brush of their hair, each button buttoned. (And honestly, each brush of our own ever-thinning hair, too.) This is all there is, whatever it is, and it’s all so very small in it’s vastness that it could just disappear, like a Lego down the drain. Poof.
      (Funny, I just remembered- When I taught drawing I used to talk a lot about the negative space, the space around the object, often just emptiness. And I talked about how very important it is, it’s shape and what we do with it. It’s just as important as the object, if you know what I mean. The space around the thing is just as much a part of the whole as the thing. But we get so wrapped up in the thing that we so often miss it. Woah, that’s way more Zen than I usually ever am. I’m going to go fold some laundry now.)

  8. Stacy di Anna
    January 28, 2016

    Gorgeous post. ❤ "The whole ritual will somehow disappear…" is where I am inching closer to, day by day (*tears*). A beautiful reminder of how every single early morning is precious — all rumpled hair and mismatched jammies — and to work to store those days in our long-term memory, not just pass through from one morning to the next, burning through chores and checking off our lists. xo

    • Stacy di Anna
      January 28, 2016

      PS – I devoured “The Year of Magical Thinking” — thanks so much for the recommendation!

  9. Anna Spanos
    January 29, 2016

    Okay, so could you for just once write a post that doesn’t make me cry? Like just once? This is so beautiful, such a lovely meditation on life and on parenting that almost – almost – makes me feel better about adding another kid into the mix over here.

    • jgroeber
      February 14, 2016

      Ah, hormone tears. I swear, I’m not that sad a writer. (Okay, maybe just a little bit I am.)
      But it’s all so bittersweet. Really. So good to see you here, before the newborn days take over. (To smell a newborn head again… I sigh.) Sending you rest and good mojo. And hugs.

  10. adventureswiththepooh
    January 29, 2016

    Ah, Jen. I am right there with you. Funny that our posts went up on similar themes on within an hour of each other. Those kids of yours sound luscious. I hope that we can look back at these posts one day and appreciate them for the snapshots in time that they are. Thank you for another gorgeous post. xo

    • jgroeber
      February 14, 2016

      I already feel like this was three years ago. Which might be a commentary on how long I take to respond to a comment (sorry!), but really shows how things change in a week. Thank you for visiting and for all the inspiration your blog offers, always.

  11. Dawn Quyle Landau
    February 5, 2016

  12. Jennifer Berney
    February 6, 2016

    Thank you for mentioning the morning sour breath. One of my children has this going on. I relish it, and then feel weird about relishing it. I mean it’s bad but not foul the way grown-up bad breath is. So I snuggle him and enjoy the human-ness of it and I wonder how other moms feel about their kids and their morning breath. And now I have at least one answer.

    • jgroeber
      February 14, 2016

      Ha! Yes. And better yet, they appear to relish our stink. Because when I’m feeling especially foul and rascally, I stick my stinky armpit over my kids’ faces. Their reply? “It just smells like you plus perfume, Mom!” Which maybe I stink all the time (sad but possible) or maybe the stink of those we love is just another smell to cherish. Even morning sour breath.

  13. winky lewis
    February 14, 2016

    all so good. every little bit.

    • jgroeber
      February 14, 2016

      Look at you. If Sally Mann showed up here I’d be only slightly more honored. Slightly.
      Thank you for dropping by and for your kind words. If I could write like your photos feel, that would be something. Sigh.

  14. divyamehra1410
    February 21, 2016

    Okay so, I love reading your posts. They are amazing, full of life and genuinity. I am 18 and I have no idea about motherhood or for that matter ,the responsibilities involving that profession. But when I read your posts, I somehow get a brief idea of the whole scenario.
    It is utterly beautiful that you are able extract the pulp from your normal day schedule and serve it to your readers, chilled with ice-cubes of memories, tangy and sweet taste of originality , that we are obliged to do nothing but savour the fine taste of your blogs.

    • jgroeber
      March 16, 2016

      How am I just seeing this beautiful comment now? It got lost amid snow days and naughty children and birthdays (mine!) and life. But thank you for your sweetly thoughtful words. Truly. What a lovely piece of inspiration to push me along as I wrangle another post.

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