jen groeber: mama art

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

I Want More, Impossible to Ignore: On Dolores O’Riordan and Growing Up


Freshman dorm
Fall 1989

It followed me around today as I drove my minivan to school, to the grocery store and CVS, back to school and so on, humming out of every radio and even the speakers at Market Basket. Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. She died last night. She was 46. I’m 46, too. Hers was the music I vividly remember listening to at the frozen yogurt store we used to go to when I was in college.

Frozen yogurt seemed like a fairly new thing then, very of the time, it being 1990. We would congregate at Ashley’s Yogurt in the morning with a hangover, at night studying for finals, or in place of lunch in the dining hall. Ashley‘s was the first outing I went on with a woman who is still one of my very closest friends. We will drive hours to go to each other‘s child’s birthday party, can go six months without talking then pick up right where we left off. We still call each other in our darkest moments always knowing that the other will be there.

That first day we went to Ashley‘s we were nearly strangers. Our ex-boyfriend’s though, they were friends. And we had all ended up having brunch together in the dining hall. Me and my ex-boyfriend, the boy who broke my heart first, and she and hers. The exes seemed to be getting on magnificently together. At a certain point when it all had become a bit too magnificent for the two of us to bear she looked at me and said, “Do you want to get out of here and go to Ashley‘s?”

Oh, I thought the world of you

I thought nothing could go wrong

But I was wrong, I was wrong


Linger ~ The Cranberries

I can guarantee that Linger wasn’t playing at Ashley‘s in that moment, because it was released a couple years later, but Dolores O’Riordan’s words and her raw, brave voice described where we were in our lives. It was part of the soundtrack for us coming together, young women from  all over the east coast, different experiences, different expectations.

My friends and I, we’d sit in the window of Ashley’s on Friday or Saturday night watching people walk down the street from the bar on one side to the concert venue on the other. We’d sit separate from the throng watching our reflections in the window superimposed over the strangers outside, deep in conversation eating our yogurt.

I remember sitting right there and telling a friend that I could feel my toenails growing. It was my way of saying that the things we were trying to figure out about ourselves was all too visceral. Down to the cellular level, growing into a woman was so utterly painful that it froze us in place, where the smallest change, the growth of a single toenail hidden in a shoe, felt like too much.

Dolores O’Riordan sounded like she knew that.

She wasn’t the only coming-of-age, we’re-becoming-women, musicians that we listened to then. Sinead O’Connor, Annie Lennox, and the Indigo Girls. Michelle Shocked, Joan Osborne, Tori Amos, Tony Childs, Edie Brickell, Paula Cole, Natalie Merchant and on. They were all a part of that time. And today they’ve been cropping up on the radio, Dolores O’Riordan of course, but Tori Amos and Tracy Chapman as I drove. And in the baking aisle today I heard Suzanne Vega, such an odd juxtaposition. 

I am amazed constantly, at how things have changed since then, and how they have not. The conversations in my head that I have with myself have shifted, but sometimes not by much. There are things as a young woman that I believed about myself, that I still now believe about myself, for better or worse. But there are things I’m slowly learning, too.

I think it is fair to say, in the age of #MeToo, there are things we all need to learn.

If someone had told me back then that I would someday be a stay at home mom I would have gagged and shuddered, turned away to look out the window of Ashley’s in disappointment, spooned more frozen yogurt in my mouth as The Cranberries played in the background. I thought I needed to be someone important to matter, if you follow, and I couldn’t imagine that such a small life could be important.

But if someone had told me that I would be part of a women’s collective of artists, the wise part of me would’ve felt such joy and relief and pride in my future self. And if someone told me I’d have my artwork in a gallery owned by a badass woman, a woman who believes in big things for all of us who is an activist working to make these things happen, that I’d be showing my art in March to honor Women’s History Month, what a relief that would’ve been, to know that I was going to come out on the other side of all that growing up being who I needed to be.

There is so much we need to resolve about ourselves and our world. What we allow for ourselves, what we believe, what we forgive, what we fight. It’s a fine line, fuzzy and frayed like an old piece of rope, or a young girl’s French braid after she’s been doing cartwheels.

I allowed things to happen that weren’t okay. People said and did things that I accepted and I shouldn’t have. We all did. Sometimes we’d rant and rave over the audacity as we sat together at Ashley’s, and sometimes we wouldn’t speak of those things at all. We’d just spoon the yogurt in, comforted by the proximity of a loving friend, by the voice playing overhead that we recognized as singing our distress.

Now I try to speak up about everything in front of my children, my two boys and two girls. Sometimes I suspect it is too much. Sometimes my husband reminds me in a gentle voice, we have to let them decide some things for themselves.

Another mother’s breaking

Heart is taking over

When the violence causes silence

We must be mistaken

Zombie ~ The Cranberries

I’m not sure how we got from there to here, from Dolores O’Riordan to yogurt to #MeToo. From The Cranberries playing in the background while we dished on boyfriends, professors, and the things that happened at a party last weekend, to here, Suzanne Vega singing to me in the dairy aisle in the grocery store with $250 worth of groceries in my basket, a list of things to do today including making chicken noodle soup for a fundraiser at school and working on a woodcut of my daughter in a pussy hat.

I have to believe there will be new women as we move forward to sing for my girls (and my boys) and for all the girls who need to hear the words, reminding us that we deserve only the best, to hold the line, to speak out, to help one another. There will still be The Cranberries of course, Suzanne Vega in the baking aisle, 10,000 Maniacs on my running mix, the soundtrack to our youth that serves to remind us from where we’ve come.

Most of all, there will be us forging on, a parade of women in pink holding one another close, friends and strangers, still trying to find our voices and put them out there for everyone to hear, still learning how to fight for or against the things we find deep inside ourselves when we sit still enough to feel our toenails growing. Oh my life is changing every day, in every possible way.

Oh my life is changing every day

In every possible way

Dreams ~ The Cranberries

9 comments on “I Want More, Impossible to Ignore: On Dolores O’Riordan and Growing Up

  1. Martha Lerner
    January 17, 2018

    Beautiful. I, too, am 46 and certainly this resonated with me. Thank you for bringing up all those memories….and helping me see that I too am making my mark in women’s history, though definitely not in the way I imagined “back then” either.

    • jgroeber
      January 17, 2018

      You just put into words what I couldn’t figure out in 1300 words, so thank you. It’s the fact that I thought I’d be doing it differently (that we all would) and that maybe it wouldn’t need to be done. Headed back this year for my 25th college reunion and I’m still that girl in the yogurt shop (although I look at my college-age nieces and they seem so young in comparison! 😉 )

      • Martha Lerner
        January 17, 2018

        LOL! Thank you. It took me a long time to get there too, but I’m glad I did. 💜

  2. Burns the Fire
    January 17, 2018

    I want to join your parade.

    • jgroeber
      January 17, 2018

      You are the parade, my dear. And oh, what a parade!

  3. lafriday
    January 18, 2018

    I have nearly 20 years on you, m’dear. The soundtrack of my youth had different voices–Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Rickie Lee Jones, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, but the feeling you describe is universal and the ache perpetual as we grow from our idealized selves into real women whose lives mirror that funhouse reflection in a shop window. I was recently pondering this very thing. Have I even come close to what I dreamed of being? Have I made a whit of difference? And, of course, I have–and I haven’t. Here is what I know as I approach my 65th birthday this spring: as long as I am breathing, I can keep moving closer to the ideal of the girl/woman I envisioned a lifetime ago (she still lives inside and has big dreams, if at a less desperate pace). In the meantime, like you, I make art and love/raise(d) children who soar and dream and decide things for themselves (wise husband).

    So happy you are writing more. I love your voice.

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2018

      Rickie Lee Jones was on my shortlist, too. Sigh.
      And thank you for that reminder that we can always be striving, aspiring, growing, and still loving the skin we’re in now.
      From what I’ve read, you’ve made a world of difference, my friend.
      (It’s good to be back. Let’s see if I can keep it up.)

  4. Anna Spanos
    January 23, 2018

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been trying to work out why her passing has made me feel so emotional about life, adulthood, womanhood. I’m a few years younger than you, but This was the soundtrack that gave shape to my young adult aesthetic, to my never once questioning that women could be just as badass as the men. But the nostalgia is so painful isn’t it? What a beautiful and true line:
    I thought I needed to be someone important to matter, if you follow, and I couldn’t imagine that such a small life could be important.
    For me, growing into a woman has been entirely about accepting my importance just as I am – even if I haven’t won a national book award or an Oscar or any of the other things that my peers have achieved creatively. My life, my voice, my contributions are so much and so meaningful and they could only be made my me. Women like Dolores were – and continue to be – that voice for all of us.
    Sorry for the looong comment, but you’ve really stirred something up for me here!

    • jgroeber
      January 26, 2018

      Thank you for the looooong comment. 😉 It’s a beautiful post unto itself. Here’s to accepting our importance just as we are. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to do. Is it just our American selves always wanting to be gilded and trophied and awarded and so on? Because there is so much awesome beauty in the nitty gritty stuff we stumble and tumble through each day, and yes, “my contributions are so much and so meaningful and they could only be made by me.” xo

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This entry was posted on January 16, 2018 by in Memory, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .

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