jen groeber: mama art

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

We Went to the Ocean

We went to the ocean this weekend.

kids climbing rocks

Walking on the finest line
April 2016

I was resistant. “But we’ll miss three lacrosse games and two birthday parties and a lacrosse practice and an invitation to go to the movies with friends,” I said in that way that only a truly spoiled First World Mom could say.

“Oh my goodness. Then it’s the perfect weekend to get away!” exclaimed one of my wiser walking friends. I had to ponder that. “But we’ll miss so much…” I finished lamely.

And yet we went to the ocean anyway.

And a little bit everyone was bummed to be missing the big events. Even my husband was in doubt enough to attempt a family vote midweek to ascertain interest and perhaps facilitate buy-in.

“We’ll miss the party at the roller rink?”

“But we’ll stop for pizza on the way out of town! And maybe gelato, too,” he cheered.

“Wait. I’m missing my best friend’s gymnastics party?!”

“Yes. You are,” I agreed.

“How about we stop at Whole Foods?” replied my son, bargaining.

What about Whole Foods?” echoed my husband.

“We’ll stop at Whole Foods and get whatever we want?” my son pressed.

The weekend rode on that fine of a hair. Whole Foods or no?

But we went to the ocean anyway (and we didn’t even stop at Whole Foods.) While we would have been partying with friends in our smooth roller skates we were instead walking through the woods along the cliff trail, building fairy houses and gasping at the view of the churning ocean down below.

As I would have been checking on my mini-viral Scary Mommy blog post, instead I was turning over stones to look for small eels and crabs to hold in our hands and then toss back to the ocean. And during the time we would have been playing lacrosse games I snuck out to paddle board, my board smacking against early spring waves unready to be ridden. Well aware that the lobstermen would forever be talking about the crazy woman out on the water, I put on my wetsuit and water booties to ameliorate everyone’s concerns.

ocean view

A lone paddler on the ocean, water temps 40ºF
April 2016

I laughed to myself as I headed out into the cove. This was my first time out in the new wetsuit, an L.L.Bean shortie, a children’s size XL. It entertained me that in Maine sizes, an XL child is the same as a middle-aged mother of four.

As I dug into the water getting my bearings my mind began to slow just a hint from my frenetic land-locked jumble of spinning thoughts. I contemplated the implications of those words, middle age. At 45 I’m now pretty officially middle aged. And the kids are no longer toddlers, despite the occasional size 5T I find in the bottom of their musty pajama drawer left from last summer, smelling of salt air and, inexplicably, sunscreen.

boys at the ocean

Brothers throwing stones at the ocean
April 2016

I thought about how these days of drawn out hikes along rocky beaches and feral lunches guided by our own internal schedule seem to be slipping away, shoved carelessly to the side by our youth lacrosse league, piano lessons, homework, school commitments or the five birthday parties we get invited to every weekend. We are heading into the thick of it, where there’s just so very much that we can’t bear to miss that we will instead miss all this.

boy asleep

Doing absolutely nothing on a dock
April 2016

The girls’ and boys’ lacrosse games were won without Coach Jen and her three U9 lacrosse players on the field, although I’m not sure if the boys lacrosse coach will hold the two missed games against them. I’m sure there will be fallout back at school after the kids realize there might be some party favor bags or group memories they missed out on collecting. Also, I saw a picture on Facebook of a cluster of seven-year-old girls filling a minivan on their way to Zootopia. How in the world could our family night out for Indian food and The Jungle Book compete with five mewling seven-year-old girls resplendent in BFF necklaces and hair accessories?

girl on a swing

April 2016

It is clear that I am middle aged (despite the children’s XL) and they no longer toddle. Yet this weekend there was this: our children walking to the end of the island to buy a small wooden lobster boat, a lacrosse ball tossed around in the field with mom, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean in a room filled with bunk beds amidst the raspy breathing of your siblings and the musty smell of almost-summer.

girl on a swing

April 2016

There was the metallic crystalline bite of the chilled saltwater air moving like centuries-old ghosts around me as I walked on water this weekend, and how those chilly ghosts pressed away the incessant fog of too much, too many, right now. And then my wee birds were left with the breathless flight of the swing, unhinging their bellies from their throbbing bodies in a rise and fall, until we were all returned to earth, grounded on ever-shifting stones alongside the pull and surge of the ocean, at once eternal and fleeting. For this single weekend we nearly were timeless, ageless, permanent in our adherence to the ever-changing cycle of tides and the mysterious thrumming heartbeat of family.


I need the sea because it teaches me,

I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,

if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,

or only its harsh voice or its shining

suggestion of fishes and ships.

The fact is that until I fall asleep,

in some magnetic way I move in

the university of the waves.

~Pablo Neruda, excerpt from On the Blue Shore of Silence

boy with a boat

Suggestions of fishes and ships
April 2016

20 comments on “We Went to the Ocean

  1. Burns the Fire
    April 20, 2016

    Thanks for the vicarious thrill, the pounding, placid sea. xo

    • jgroeber
      April 20, 2016

      So grateful to have you along! xo

  2. lafriday
    April 20, 2016

    “There was the metallic crystalline bite of the chilled saltwater air moving like centuries-old ghosts around me as I walked on water this weekend, and how those chilly ghosts pressed away the incessant fog of too much, too many, right now.” So evocative, Jen. You made the right decision to pause at the ocean. My 25-year old is here for the week and we are trying to cram too many things into this compressed life we now share twice a year. After reading this, I wish we hadn’t made so many commitments. Sigh.

    • jgroeber
      May 16, 2016

      Oh, no! Please tell me I have fifty years until they’re twenty-five years old. I’m not ready. And I’m so guilty of chaotic weekends, but I’m so glad we took that one for ourselves. I always love seeing you here. Thank you for dropping by.

  3. Kim
    April 20, 2016

    What a wonderful post, Jen. What a wonderful weekend too!!!

    • jgroeber
      May 17, 2016

      It’s a weekend that seems a million miles away now! How quickly a month flies by. Hope yours has been filled with great things!

  4. Stacy di Anna
    April 21, 2016

    “We are heading into the thick of it, where there’s just so very much that we can’t bear to miss that we will instead miss all this.” You got that exactly right. And when you come out of that thick, there will be driver’s licenses, girlfriends/boyfriends, colleges far from home… all manner of things which will cause the thick to dissipate. What a beautiful choice you all made for your weekend, Whole Foods or not!

    • jgroeber
      May 17, 2016

      Oh, not boyfriends and girlfriends and college! Too fast, this life of ours. And thank you for sharing this post on your blog. Amazing how our bookend experiences mirror each other.

  5. Dawn Quyle Landau
    April 24, 2016

    I love your world… an the fact that you choose which one to savor. I will always choose the ocean, over… almost anything. Trust me, in the next many years, you will have plenty of lacrosse, and parties, and party favors, and bffs and… but there is never enough ocean, and you should always grab it when you can. Just lovely, *sigh.

    Asides: OMG! Seriously viral!! And I loved that post. And Scary Mommy! And, man, I remember when you were hoping to one day have 100 followers, and well… hmm. Wow. You rock friend!

    • jgroeber
      May 17, 2016

      Ha! 100 followers. Right? Impossible to tell which of our little somethings will reach so many people! So glad mine reached you (plus a few well-timed comments of mine on your beautiful parenting posts 😉 ) These connections are invaluable, sustaining. And there truly never is enough ocean. Yesterday we had ten minutes to kill between leaving school and picking someone else up from a quick playdate and so we stopped at the ocean. It was magical. This morning Mica woke up and asked, “Can we go to the ocean again today?” Because apparently every day needs the ocean.

      • Dawn Quyle Landau
        May 17, 2016

        Every day does need ocean! I feel very fortunate that almost every room in my house looks on the ocean. When I am furhter than that from the water, I feel its absence.

        • jgroeber
          May 17, 2016

          All the more reason for me to sneak a visit one of these years! I can see who grows better oysters (although I’m afraid I may be biased.) xo

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  7. Aunt Claud
    May 2, 2016

    Jen, that weekend of “missing” things will forever be in your memory as a perfect choice. I’m so glad that you and Tim carve out those wonderful, important times with your little ones. The time for that will be gone way to soon.

    • jgroeber
      May 17, 2016

      So glad to see you here, Aunt Claud! I love that you get to visit my ocean-roving kiddies whenever you please virtually.
      And it’s impossible to imagine that these times will ever go away, you know? I can’t even wrap my brain around it. Sigh.

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  9. donofalltrades
    May 23, 2016

    The ocean should always win out! Great writing, as usual.

    • jgroeber
      May 23, 2016

      Everyone’s favorite crime-stopper! Where have you been? Hopefully on a cruise with free Bud Lime everywhere. (Did I make that up, or is Bud Lime a thing?!) Thanks for popping by, wandering the shoreline with my family and not making fun of me for using words like crystalline and thrumming (which I also might just be making up.)

      • donofalltrades
        May 23, 2016

        I made fun of you in my head, but didn’t have the energy to put it all into words on a page. Lol. It’s Bud Light Lime, yes. For god’s sake woman, get it right!

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