jen groeber: mama art

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

We’re Gonna Let It Burn

Yesterday they had a conversation at the counter. My kids were lined up, each on their own stool facing me at the sink as I put out their breakfasts, a fried egg sandwich with chicken sausage on an English muffin with fruit.

kids at counter

Hot breakfast earlier this fall
September 2017

“The way to survive would be to pretend you were dead,” said one of my children.

“Or just lay under someone who’s already shot.”

“Or if you were shot, then you can really pretend you’re dead but you can’t cry.”

Because there are mass shootings, and there is NPR every morning on the radio, and my children, ages seven, nine, nine, and ten are looking for ways to survive a mass shooting. Why wouldn’t they?

I told them about Sandy Hook the week it happened. How could I not? My oldest was running around the house pretending to shoot his sister with a gun. They needed to understand what a gun could do. Even though my youngest was only two. I reminded them about it the next year. We have talked about mass shootings and how to survive as new shootings occur, at schools and nightclubs and concerts. Of course my kids have begun to think about how they would survive if someone had a gun and wanted to kill them.

Strangely, for all their play with war trucks built from Legos and water pistols spraying water at each other, their answer is never to own a gun. It is never to shoot back, to shoot first, to kill. I wonder if that will change. I wonder when it will.

This morning they had a cappella choir at school which begins 45 minutes before their usual arrival time. Which for me really means it’s a morning of chaos where I only have 20 minutes to get everyone up, and dressed, and eating a breakfast, which is not the hot breakfast that we usually have, but rather cold cereal in a plastic container with a lid, fruit in another container. String cheese and fruit shake optional.


No shoes and her hair is down, cereal cup in her hand 
November 2017

We made it to school only three minutes late for a cappella, which is an all-time record for me and my four children, although my youngest ran in the door with no shoes on and her waist length hair flying all the way down her back. I followed her into the library and her older siblings ran to the music room. Then I stood and carefully put two perfect French braids in her hair as she talked with kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders who lisped their way through arguments about who has the oldest siblings and who can walk backwards faster.

Then I kissed the crook of her neck before I left, and then her lips, and then I noticed that the fruit shake had left a ring of red all around her mouth. I licked my thumb, crouched down and ran it around the mustache and the corners of her mouth cleaning away the red while her classmates watched in awe.

On the way home I turned on NPR again to see what I was missing on the news. They were reporting on the Rancho Tehama Elementary School shooting yesterday. They described how an unnamed janitor ran outside, calling all the children in for lockdown. How he peered around the edge of the brick building and locked eyes with the shooter drawing fire as the last children escaped into the school. The newscaster talked about how the shooter only got into one unlocked bathroom. In frustration he shot through windows and walls injuring one student.

Only one student seriously injured?  What a victory.

I cried as I drove along, as the principal described how routine lockdown drills are, how well prepared the kids were. I’m not sure why I cried. It just seemed like so much. So much luck? So much good timing? Or so many guns.

I headed to a meeting about healthcare benefits where I sat and did all the mom things I’m supposed to do, making sure I downloaded the app, checked to see which of their doctors was in group, and figured out how to submit prescription requests.

When I got out of the meeting I looked at my phone and there was an email from the a cappella teacher. She had made a recording of the children singing and shared it with the families.

We, we don’t have to worry about nothing

Because we got the fire, and we’re gonna start something

They, they going to see us from outer space, outer space

Lighted up, like we’re the stars of the human race of the human race

When the lights turn down, I don’t know what they heard

Strike the match, play it loud, giving love to the world

We’ll be raising our hands, shining up to the sky

Because we got the fire, fire, fire, yeah we got the fire fire fire

And we gonna let it burn

We can light it up up up

So they can put it out out out

We can light it up up up

So they can put it out out out

And we’re gonna let it burn

And we’re gonna let it burn

Because we got the fire

I sat in my car crying all over again as I listened. And maybe this is just some sort of PMS that I haven’t seen for years. Or maybe it is what I like to call reverse puberty (aka menopause.) Or maybe it is just a build up of all the sadness on the news today. Maybe it is wondering where we are safe from gunfire. At a concert? At a parade? At a school?

Or maybe it is the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School trying to sue the gun manufacturers five years later who have been making money off their children’s bodies and off the bodies of mothers’ children everywhere year after year, fist over fist, since before the battle of Gettysburg.

Or maybe it is just the beauty of their voices, soaring slightly out of tune but with such abandon. Or it could be the magic of that soft place at the crook of my daughter’s neck after I have braided her hair, the smell of their bodies when they first wake up, their sleepy faces lined up at the counter as they distractedly eat breakfast, or the wonder of all they will grow into being, if only, if only we can let them get that far.

We’ll be raising our hands, shining up to the sky

Because we got the fire, fire, fire, yeah we got the fire fire fire

And we gonna let it burn

4 comments on “We’re Gonna Let It Burn

  1. Kelly L McKenzie
    November 16, 2017

    I’m with you. I commend you for discussing this with your four as it’s so important that they be aware of what can happen. I wish it wasn’t so but it is. You’ve reminded me of my conversation I had with my 22 year-old when I was visiting him last month. I asked him if he ever thought about a terrorist attack in his city (I think it’s the most vulnerable Canadian city) and he said he hadn’t thought about it until his university sent out a campus-wide email on what to do if there’s gunfire. That got me crying.

  2. lafriday
    November 16, 2017

    This reminds me of the morning of November 23, 1963, my 4th grade year: We were singing “Oh, Shenandoah” when the teacher from next door entered my classroom and whispered to my teacher. As tears fell down her face, she told us that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. To this day, when I hear that song, it triggers a deep sadness in as my own tears fall.The world has seemed a little darker to me ever since.

    And… the morning of 9/11 when I was working as an art specialist at my daughter’s school: I told her it was okay to go to school because I would be there and the planes had all been grounded (and we were in California). Throughout the morning, my students ran up to me looking for comfort and reassurance that nothing would fall out of the sky to end their young lives, their doe eyes full of fear and worry.

    Sadly, Jen, the world has never really been safe–we just sometimes have the illusion that it is. Even more sadly, madmen will use any means necessary to fulfill their malevolent destinies. The only real resolution is to live with a degree of alertness and caution and savor the mundane–like the crook of your daughter’s neck and the angelic sound of those voices burning with life and hope.

  3. Dawn Quyle Landau
    November 17, 2017

    And now, I’m crying with you. It’s all just too much to hold inside… but that breakfast with your children, listening to their sweet minds navigate terror. What a good mommy you are. Beautiful post. xox

  4. Kathy
    November 17, 2017

    It takes a lot to bring me to tears, but yes, as a mother of two boys (one on the cusp of the long and awkward–and for me terrifying–transformation from childhood to adulthood) our current social condition in this country and in the world at large draws me up short from time to time. It slams me like a rogue wave at unexpected moments and threatens to drown me in heart-rending anguish. What is happening to us, I sob. Always privately. I would never show this particular pain in front of anyone, not even my spouse. This fear, this dread. And what am I sobbing about, exactly? I can’t articulate it. Am I crying for those who have already been killed by gun violence, for their friends and families, for future victims? Or, am I crying for something greater? Am I crying for the collective whole of humanity, for our loss of innocence, our seeming failure to rise, to transcend, to love? I don’t know. All I know is that sometimes it it too much for me to hold inside. Bless you for the love to give your children. It’s all we can do. It’s the only way to break the downward spiral. To love one another. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your story.

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2017 by in Surviving Motherhood, The Children, Uncategorized and tagged , , .

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