jen groeber: mama art

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

Learning to Lean Your Sequined Heart Against Another Human

girl on bike

On her bike
March 2020

I cried this afternoon at my computer. But not for the reasons I should be crying at my computer, like pandemics and people not being able to get their organ transplants and cities of quarantined high rises and my doctor sister desperately hoping they don’t run out of respirators or face masks or whatever.

I cried because one of my children’s teachers had changed her Zoom address. To be clear, three weeks ago I would have guessed that Zoom was a speedy food delivery service or a children’s program from the 70’s with lots of swirling stripes and puppets. (I just googled this and the 70’s program was actually a thing so I’m not totally bonkers, contrary to everyone’s opinion.)

And let me clarify, I wasn’t crying just because of the change of Zoom address. Or my daughter in the other room massacring Pachelbel’s Canon in front of a computer duct taped to an easel with her very patient elderly piano teacher’s face peering through her bifocals and through the screen and past the duct-tape to my daughter’s fingers. Or because I was washing a second  full load of dishes for the day. (Why are there so many dirty dishes?) Or because of how chapped my hands are from all the washing and Purell. Or how mean pre-pubescent kids get at 3:30 every day. Or how they outnumber me. Or because of the ridiculously stupid worry that we will run out of toilet paper. Or because it was just about time for my daily call to my mother to remind her NOT TO LEAVE HER APARTMENT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES even though she often does, for good reason, and with much care, but still, stay in your goddamn room, mom.

I was likely crying because of it all. All of it.

And my daughter came in and found me. Not the Pachelbel murderer, but my other one.

She saw by the crouch of my shoulders and the face in my hands and the crunch in my voice and even though I tried to pretend I was fine, she leaned her heart-sequined front against me, wrapped her fuzzy arms around my shoulders and patted me. 

It made the tears start all over again.

“This is not anything for you to worry about,” I told her. “It’s just a password on Mommy’s computer.”

“I know,” she said wisely. “I know.”

Every day at this time for the last two weeks I’ve gone for a run. I put on my sneakers and grab my headphones and yell, “I’m going out and I’ll be back soon and if you want to come with me you can but feel free to just stay where you are and read a book or something!” and I try to escape as quickly as I can with the intention of staying 6 feet or more away from every living human. And every day, even the day it rained bitter cold rain that blew against us, or the day it shockingly snowed, like a lot, this daughter of mine has followed me out the door and gotten on the jankiest most outgrown bike there is, clipped on her brother’s wonky skateboard helmet, and rode her bike next to me as I ran.

girl on bike in snow

In the snow
March 2020

Two weeks ago on the first day back after our hastily canceled spring break trip her father had taken her for an errand with everyone else. I’d been delaying my run all day, putting it off because it was cold or I was tired or whatever. And once they’d gone I delayed a bit more and then off I went.

It was bizarrely quiet. The first time I’d been alone in a week.

I reached the distant parking lot through the parkland and turned around and there I saw this young woman on a tiny bike with all this Daryl Hannah hair billowing out from under this huge helmet, like a gorgeous clown or a mermaid. 

For a moment I just thought the thoughts we think about strangers, how long her legs were for such a small bike, how her helmet was slumped slightly to the side and should be tightened, how pretty all that hair was but what a tangled mess it would be, and then she was upon me and it was my baby, not a young woman at all. 

And she was crying. So angry. So very mad.

I tried not to laugh, I did. But it was so sweet and strange and funny. This big girl on this tiny bike and so desperate to be near me but hating me once she caught me because she was furious.

“You left me!” she cried.

“You went on an errand with dad! That was on you,” I answered as we ran.

“You left! You took all day and I waited all day! And then you left without me!!”

I forget how she forgave me and I certainly didn’t deserve it, but she did. She just loved me too fiercely to hold her righteous grudge for more than twenty yards.

Eventually we saw her father and her siblings walking towards us on their own adventure. I thought maybe she’d peel off and join them but no, she stayed with me.

And what I realize now is she wasn’t crying because I left. Although she sort of was. She does cry over those types of things.

But really she was crying because we’d canceled our vacation and weren’t going to get to see my doctor sister or my sneaky mom or the museums or memorials or the White House or the Reading Terminal Market with the Amish Farmers, all of which they’d read about and studied and put in their journals in anticipation of this much awaited trip. And really she wasn’t even crying because of that, probably. Probably it was the news, the stories about Italy (where we’d visited exactly two years before on spring break), the changes, the fear and the sadness and the lack of control and the whole damn thing. 

It’s just an enormous, steaming, suffocating pile sometimes.

Later this afternon, after the Zoom incident was resolved, she helped me make a lacrosse video for her dear, sweet lacrosse team who I won’t be able to coach for a month or more. And then I finally went for my run and she rode her bike beside me and we played the word game where one of us thinks of an animal and the other one tries to guess it.

Because sometimes the thing is not the thing and the antidote is not the cure and up is down and down is up. But you can still run. You can still play the dumb word game. You can climb on your ridiculous bike and pump your gorgeous legs. You can call your elderly mom and say with all the love in your heart, stay in your goddamn room. You can make the lacrosse video and Facetime with the IT guy and Zoom with the implausibly patient piano teacher and sign emails with a virtual hug like my daughter’s teacher did today in response to my cuckoo response to her Zoom email and you can watch Mo Willems for a blessed minute. You can do what’s within your reach the best you can do and forgive yourself for those times you come up short.

Above all, what my little girl reminded me today was that you can lean your sequined heart against whatever human you have near, put your fuzzy arms around them, and you can say, “I know. I see you. I know.”

And for today, this is more than enough. This is everything.

girl on computer

Zooming just fine
March 2020

27 comments on “Learning to Lean Your Sequined Heart Against Another Human

  1. Burns the Fire
    March 27, 2020

    So good to read you, we are all in this together. xox

    • jgroeber
      March 27, 2020

      I love that astronaut Scott Kelly gives all this great isolation advice in That NYTimes piece but then ends with the reminder that from space the Earth has no borders. Because, of course.
      No borders.

  2. Ailsa
    March 27, 2020

    …and, so, that made me cry a little too:)
    Ailsa

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Aw, you are always the best. We were looking for some poetic inspiration for the BS Declamation and I sent the kids to your website for some beautiful poetry. You need to post more! Because your words always move my heart.
      Hoping you and yours are healthy and well. xoxo

  3. Deborah
    March 27, 2020

    Thank you for posting! It was good to read and be reminded. And i am glad that someone has the fortitude to call our mother on a daily basis!

    • jgroeber
      March 27, 2020

      Bwah hahaha! She knows how to use the internet now (sort of.) You’d better watch it!
      Also, this is my COVID 19 default response. Call mom every day. 😂
      ❤️

  4. Rob
    March 27, 2020

    I understand the strangeness of how we’ve separated ourselves – again and more strongly – with our closest neighbors, changed all of our habits and socializing. We can relate yet still love to read another person’s inner thoughts about it.

    But I find that I love reading your writing, most of all. Hang in there.

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Thank you so much for this beautiful comment from the great beyond. It’s lovely hearing your voice as well. Bizarrely we’re all quarantined in this infinite ocean together. Hoping all are healthy and well.

  5. lafriday
    March 27, 2020

    As an elderly mom (almost 67—ugh!), thank you for calling your mom every day. As the mom of a daughter prone to her fair share of tears and hugs, you brought me to tears—for all of it and none of it. Mine is across the country, safely sheltered in place. I miss her, and I have missed your voice. This was a welcome call. ❤

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Thank you so much. You always say the loveliest things, in your own writing (thankfully you share that with the world!) and comments. Thank you. Hoping all is well with you and yours. xo

  6. Kelly Mckenzie
    March 27, 2020

    Bless you and your sequined-imprinted face. It is ALL so much. So very much. I’ve got both adult children home with me now, and while it is lovely knowing that they are safe and that I can check up on them instantly, it is a new normal. They’ve been out on their own, living independently and making big decisions, for over 5 years. Being back home with their lovely mom can also be a big ask. I get that. They get that. And still, at times, it’s just too much. Toss in my 97 year-old mother who’s abiding by the new rules at her assisted living place while others are not … and well, yes, it is all quite difficult. However, I’m grateful we’re well and warm and fed. Stay well, warm and fed yourselves, J. This, too, shall pass. Eventually.

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Hoping all the best for you and yours. And what is it with the stubborn neighbors at the assisted care facilities not abiding by the rules?! What don’t people understand? My mother says, “They’re probably all Republicans.” which cracks me up because my mother has been a Republican since before she could vote!
      And then these children of ours that we love so much but really, can they ever put their shoes away?
      Healthy thoughts! xo

  7. Geri Zilian
    March 27, 2020

    Oh, what a perfect essay to read today. As always, I miss you, Jen, and would give Anything to be with you today. As you know, I am the mother and grandmother of two young women who have very compromised immune systems because of their genetic disease. So the roles are reversed here: I am the 70 year old elderly mom reminding my daughter to stay at home. I get her groceries because I don’t want any of the other 3 siblings or Dad to become infected and transmit “cooties” to Nicki or MJ. I do it happily – and carefully. Hyper-carefully!!! Time to take care of and be grateful for each other and small blessings like a little daughter that wants to be beside you as much as possible. You are the BEST!! Love you. ❤️

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      You are the best. Always sending you love and thinking of you and those lovely kids and grandkids of yours on the regular. Stay safe. Be good. Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. I wish I were there to do that grocery shopping for the lot of you. xoxo

  8. Dawn Quyle Landau
    March 27, 2020

    Our words are on the same pile, and I’m touched by that. Thanks for your beautiful post; it’s a comfort. ♥ Holding you and your sweet ones in my thoughts. ♥ Stay well.

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Been thinking of you much over the past month. Hoping you’re safe and well and nearly in that new house. Virtual hugs from the other side of the country. xo

      • Dawn Quyle Landau
        June 10, 2020

        The house won’t be done until October… but as the world burns, it’s a small thing. Lots of time to dig deep and think. Always happy to know you’re thinking about me. The love circles right back to you. xo

  9. Kristin
    March 27, 2020

    As beautiful as ever.

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Aw, thank you. The virtual world has never been more important.

  10. Margie
    March 28, 2020

    Such a lovely little gem I found in my email. I thank you!

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      So good to see you here. And thank you.

  11. Stacy di Anna Pollard
    March 29, 2020

    ❤ ❤ ❤ Love to you all. What a crazy time we are living through.

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Sending you best wishes for a healthy and peaceful spring. It’s literally the best we can hope for.

  12. Kathy
    April 20, 2020

    Ooph. Okay, let me wipe the tears away before they spill and expose my heart, because I can’t bare to do that right now. That was beautiful and your account was so different from and yet so perfectly mirrors the emotions of what I and my family have been dealing with. Bless you for this post. It let me take a much needed, if tearful, deep breath. Be well, and stay safe, and continue on as best you can. We’re all with you and with one another, despite the distance and differences in details.

    • jgroeber
      May 1, 2020

      Thank you so much for this raw and perfect comment. Yes, we are all with one another (even if I’m just in the background peeking in on your Zoom). You are not alone.

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