jen groeber: mama art

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

He Turns Eleven

mom and boy and cake

May 2018

This morning I went in to wake up my son and he was laying crosswise on his bed. His head was over by the wall, an arm thrown over his brow, his long man child legs hanging over the opposite side of the full size mattress.

It is his birthday. He is 11.

I remember nearly 19 years ago driving through New York State, from Cooperstown to New Haven, off the highways and through cornfields. My husband and I were on one of our first dates. We were headed to see the Jasper Johns show at the Yale University art gallery. Apropos of nothing, or possibly everything, my husband, then new boyfriend, said to me, “We will name our first son Jasper. “

I remember looking out the window watching my hand as it cut through the waves of hot summer air, the wind blowing in my face. What is this man thinking? The audacity.

After we were married, and we tried to have children for years, we went away on  vacation to Nova Scotia. The house we had was up on a bluff surrounded on three sides by the ocean. Everywhere we went we were surrounded by fog so thick it filled our mouths, dripped off our hair. We could hear the pounding of the surf, but we could never see the water.

We had a conversation that week, about the fact that we were okay never having children, complete in our own sense of a family of two. We would get a house in Maine someday, and we would name it Jasper.

I could see the sign that we would hang up by the door, the letters burnt into an old piece of driftwood. Jasper. It would be a place of respite. An escape. A place of peace.

We tried one more time. Then one more. And we had a lot of bad luck before we hit good.

There is a video of me that my husband took almost two years later, where I am lying on the hospital bed with my hugely swollen stomach lolling to one side. I am high on the epidural, relaxed for the first time that day. And my husband was interviewing me about this child we were bringing into the world. He asked me if our son would be a football player. “Sure,” I slurred, smiling slyly, “he could be a kicker.”

And now here we are 19 years later, or 11 years later, or just twenty hours later. It is my son’s 11th birthday, my 10th Mother’s Day. And he is everything we’d hoped but nothing we could have imagined.

Born exactly on his due date, something we could identify down to the exact minute due to the miracles of modern science, he is absolutely the most punctual person in the family. He is a fiercely competitive boy, a number cruncher, a finger flying beast on the piano. He has taken the recycling out every week for four years without me having to remind him.

When he was little he would come home from preschool and ride in circles in the driveway, first on a tricycle, then the strider bike, then finally his big boy bike, and that was when I knew he was ready to come inside, having shaken the sludge of the day, having finished thinking his Big Thoughts and Important Feelings.

Now I send him out the door to cross country ski in the twilight or to head down to the fields with a bag of balls and his lacrosse sticks until the weight or worry or sheer awesome  complexity of the day has been stripped off.

Each day piling on the last, it has snuck by so slowly, flown so fast.

There are moments when I see that something has slipped away (like naps and his baby voice and the pleasure in carrying him.) And I hardly ever notice what has been added (like the way he sits so tall next to me on the couch with his arm over my shoulder.)

Every week for the last two months I have mistakenly put his jeans in my clean laundry basket. I hold them up as I fold them to place in my pile and I see that they are nearly long enough to be mine, almost wide enough, but not quite. I coached his sister’s lacrosse game this weekend wearing his fleece, which I found in a pile of his lacrosse gear in the trunk. He has gotten so big, so absolutely solidly actuated, distinct, independent.

If I think back I see there was the gentle slipping away as he headed to kindergarten, then a mean break as he turned seven then eight, choosing my husband more and more over me as the little ones clung to my hand. But at ten then eleven I’ve become almost immune to his pushing back, and so now there is a gentle leaning towards again.

I’m no longer everything to him like I was once but I’m not quite opposition either on most days.

When he sees me in school in front of his friends who mostly now wear shoes bigger than mine, and he runs over to me and says “Mommy, Mom!” my heart breaks then melts then soars. And then he quickly quickly hugs me hard, letting me for one moment bury my face in his hair without even bowing my head. And then he is off.

It is all there. The longing, the holding, pushing and pulling, every lesson, each letter and number,the lacrosse balls thrown, the notes played, every conversation,  mean or kind (mostly kind) of parenting this individual.

He is the best of us and the worst of us and so many things I no longer get to write about because while he is still mine, his stories for the most part are not. But it’s all right there now on his own little world stage, the field, classroom or couch, or stretched across his bed.

I’ll go now into his darkened room, there cocooned in blankets and sweat smell and the stink of boy feet I’ll listen to him breathing, the rhythm juxtaposed against his younger brother’s in the top bunk. I’ll lean in, wondering for a moment when this too will slip away.

“Happy birthday, baby boy,” I’ll whisper into his hair, breathing him in while I can.

Happy birthday.


23 comments on “He Turns Eleven

  1. kellyinrepeat
    May 21, 2018


    • jgroeber
      May 22, 2018

      You’re out there! And all I had to do was to finally write something…;) So good to see you here.

      • kellyinrepeat
        May 22, 2018

        I am a sucker for a great birthday letter. Xoxo happy 11 jasper, boy on the edge of man

      • Neighbor Nancy
        May 22, 2018

        Beautiful! Love love love!! I remember Jasper jumping in the puddles along our shared driveway/alley. Making as much of a splash as he could!
        Hoping to come to North this summer mid July – would love to visit if you guys are around, either there or wherever you are!!

        • jgroeber
          May 22, 2018

          Hello, Neighbor Nancy!! We would LOVE to see you, the woman who was there when it all began. (I’ll never forget feeding the twins into the wee hours of the night (and morning) and watching you through the windows working at your desk.) Message me on FB or e-mail and we can compare calendars!

  2. cassandy55
    May 22, 2018

    Beautiful. Happy birthday, Jasper and Jasper’s mom and dad! xS

    Sent from my iPhone


    • jgroeber
      May 22, 2018

      Aw, thank you! As they grow older their requirements for a happy birthday grow both more and less complicated. He rocked it though.

  3. Jennifer Berney
    May 22, 2018

    I’m so impressed about the recycling.

    • Jesska
      May 22, 2018

      So am I!

    • jgroeber
      May 22, 2018

      Bwah ha ha ha! This morning, Him: “Ohmigod! Who keeps putting the recycling on the floor?!” Me: “Um, that would be me. Cleaning up the house at midnight and then the recycling bin is filled but you didn’t leave any on the porch so… yeh. I just threw it on the floor.” Him: “Fine. Here’s a bin.” (When the child becomes the grown up.) It won’t happen with any of my other children so I have to celebrate it here with him. So responsible.

  4. Jesska
    May 22, 2018

    Whooo! I was wondering how you were the other day – glad you’re ok (at least enough to write ;))

    Life’s strange sometimes, stories like this one are full of waiting and living and wondering and feeling and seeing. By “this story” I think I mean the version you lived, rather than the written one.

    Happy Birthday Jasper 🙂

  5. Burns the Fire
    May 22, 2018

    Happy birthday, Jasper! I could read your Mom writing about you all day long.

    • jgroeber
      May 22, 2018

      You’re the best. You always show up. I love you for that.

  6. Matt
    May 22, 2018

    No one captures the internal, unspoken gravity of a moment like you, Jen.

    You continue to be the best. This was beautiful.

    My guy turns 10 in a few weeks. So much of what you described applies.

    Thank you for telling these stories. They matter.

    Happy birthday, Jasper. Happy belated Mother’s Day to you. And to many more of these happy/sad/joyful/wistful mile markers on our journey.

    • jgroeber
      May 22, 2018

      Ah, ten. So good. Not so annoying as seven (*shudders*.)
      (But really, they’re all pretty awe-inspiring, aren’t they?)
      So glad to see you, long gone friend. Cheers to mile markers on our journey.
      (And thank you for dropping by.)

  7. Neighbor Nancy
    May 22, 2018

    And happy birthday to your oldest~~

  8. Neighbor Nancy
    May 22, 2018

    I remember Jasper jumping in the puddles along our shared driveway/alley making as much of a splash as he could — and coming home sopping wet!! Now he is his own young man. Amazing how time flies! Am thinking of a trip northwards this summer, likely mid-July. Would love to see you either in Mass or in Maine!

  9. Kelly L McKenzie
    May 23, 2018

    Once again you’ve managed to get me teary after just one cup of coffee and before breakfast. Beautifully written. I was right there with you back in Nova Scotia, looking out at the fog and coming to terms with being a family of two.
    YourJasper sounds like an absolute delight. But how could he not be with you as his momma? I wish him the happiest of birthdays.

  10. drawandshoot
    May 23, 2018

    Ah, always such a pleasure to read your tender essays. ❤️

  11. Dawn Quyle Landau
    May 31, 2018

    Oh how you bring me to tears… every time. This: “everything we’d hoped but nothing we could have imagined.” Yes, that is exactly it. Happy birthday Jasper (from the mama who is always late!)

  12. Stacy di Anna Pollard
    June 7, 2018

    ❤ ❤ ❤ Congratuations on every single thing, Mama.

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