jen groeber: mama art

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

20 Years of Marriage (and Paddle Boarding)

Technically this may be from last year, July 2021

I woke up this morning before my husband, a rare occurrence these days. I considered rolling back over and trying to capture one more hour of sleep, but for no reason I could discern (except just being 51) my right hip hurt enough to keep me awake. And the thoughts of what the day would bring, baking of enough blueberry bread to feed 30, making of salads, shucking of corn, setting out of charcuterie and veggie dip and so on for all the people coming to our Happy-4th-of-July and also It’s-20-Years-of-Marriage Party later in the day made sleep impossible. In the morning silence, I could see that the curtains were perfectly still after the last three incredibly windy days… paddle board. 

 It was dead calm on the water. It was calmer in fact than I remember it being for a long time. The boats in the cove were all perfectly reflected in the water and the cliffs that rise up out of the cove creating a sort of New England fjord, you could see their mirror reflection too. Even when the cove met open ocean, the water remained dead calm. 

As I paddled, I looked down through the surface, carefully searching for the rocky ridges that can hide just beneath on such a calm day, and I saw a ridge four or five feet below the surface where I could make out two white starfish on the rock, each the size of a large child’s hand, but smaller than the hands of my own children who are now teenagers except for the twelve year old, whose feet are larger than my very large feet and whose slim fingers with perfect adult nails twin with mine perfectly when we place our hands palm to palm. Starfish.

Starfish! In all our years I’ve never seen starfish in the cove, not on the beach or at the docks or washed up in the seagrass where we’ve found every manner of horseshoe crab, sea urchin, buoys and once, the porcelain arm of a doll. But there they were, two starfish clinging to the rocks, one reaching an arm up to the surface as if to wave my passage onward. 

Amidst all the reflections and reflecting, I noticed that looking down into the water, I couldn’t see my own reflection. How strange that is, to be able to see everything else so clearly but never ourselves.

Paddling like that, on the dead calm water of a perfectly temperate day, neither too sunny nor too overcast, it is so rare. It’s like sitting on a porch on the ocean with a perfect sunset and the perfect margarita in your hand beside your darling spouse while the kids run sweetly at the water’s edge hand-in-hand silhouetted in the raking rose light. It’s get-the-camera rare. 

me and the kids silhouetted on a floating dock at sunset
Taking a chance (Had to go back to the archives for this one…)
July 2015

Paddling along I got to thinking that if the Kardashians ever went paddle boarding it would be on a dead calm day such as this, an Instagram-ready opportunity. On a day like today you stand straight to enjoy the view and look good in your bikini. There’s no strain, hardly a need to consciously balance yourself at all. But most days of paddling aren’t anything like that at all. Most days are windy and choppy and trying to escape the wake of the lobster boats and why is the wind still dead square in my face despite the fact that I’ve turned to head North instead of South? 

Some days paddling is a hard thing to love. Last week we cleared a winter’s worth of dried, crawling seaweed off the beach, loading my paddle board and my daughter’s old board tethered behind, up past my knees with piles of the nastiest dried out seaweed. Each load I’d struggle to paddle out of the cove to dump it in the channel in the hopes of it not returning anytime soon to ruin the sandy beach. In the deep water I’d kneel in the stinking seaweed as the sandflies or beach shrimp or whatever you call them popped and jumped, sticking to my legs and in my hair. I’d heave the piles of seaweed off the board trying not to lose my balance, then pull my daughter’s board close and do a sort of plank across the two boards, shoving the seaweed from her board as well. By the time I’d returned to the beach where my husband was leading the rest of the family in raking the next load of seaweed into heaping piles, I felt as if I might throw up, not from the beach shrimp in my hair, but from the sheer effort of the whole thing.

My kids commented on how slowly I was going, my fifteen-year-old snidely offering to do the paddling for me, like I had taken the easy job. I bent and grabbed armloads of dead seaweed and started loading the board again. And again. And again. Until finally we’d cleared most of the seaweed from the beach (or at least until the next storm) and we stood, breathing deeply, wiggling our toes in the newly exposed sand, looking out across the water to the seaweed islands silently drifting away out in the channel.

Twenty years of marriage is like that. It’s like all of it. It’s seeing everyone else’s reflection but not your own. It’s picture perfect sunsets and surprising headwinds. It’s days so calm they’re nearly boring, bookended by weeks of chop and what-is-with-the-goddamn-wind-in-my-face? It’s piles of dried seaweed set free in the cove to drift away, as if we are the master of nature. As if we controlled any of it.

It’s the knowledge that the seaweed is coming back in a week or a month or next summer and we’ll do this hard work all over again all in the service of a sandy beach. Later today, by the time our guests and family arrive, the tide will have turned and the water will be choppy, the wind will blow, the place where the ocean meets the inlet meets the cove will be haphazard and unpredictable at best and at worst, I would likely need to take a knee to paddle through it all and reach shore. 

But I’ll do it. I’ll paddle through whatever the day brings. Because it’s all still glorious paddling no matter the weather, it’s part of the beauty, the mystery, the surprise. It is still the promise of the potential of the possibility of something new and beautiful (two starfish! waving!) And anyway, even if there’s no beautiful moment of surprise, it’s all still paddling which is an unbearably lucky thing to have the ability and option to even do. 

When I turned back into the cove today I floated over the place where I lost my fin seven years ago on our 13th anniversary, leaving me a rudderless ship. The water was so calm in that place that  I could see the rocks and sand below. I wondered where that fin was down there on the ocean floor, covered in seaweed. Once that broken paddle board fin was an interloper, refuse, a mistake on the sandy bottom. Now it is likely shelter for some hermit crab or perhaps a pair of hidden starfish, a part of the fabric of the ocean, the scar becoming the place of beauty.

Happy anniversary to me and mine*. Twenty years of wind and fog, sun and waves. Twenty years of sunset perfection and also, a lost fin. May we continue to show up for the next 20 and then some, paddle in hand, open to the surprise of two starfish, sitting on a rock, gently waving us onward.

(*Technically this counts as an anniversary card. xoxo Love you, baby.)

9 comments on “20 Years of Marriage (and Paddle Boarding)

  1. Margie
    July 5, 2022

    So beautiful and so happy to hear all is well! Congratulations on your 20 years!

    • jgroeber
      July 6, 2022

      Aw, thank you. So nice to come back to this old place and find you here!

  2. Sam Van Kirk Sintros
    July 5, 2022

    Beautiful! My husband and I just celebrated our 14th anniversary and I feel these words deeply. Thanks Miss Groeber.

    • jgroeber
      July 6, 2022

      14 years! Congratulations! And so lovely to see you here.

  3. lafriday
    July 5, 2022

    Happy anniversary to thee and thine, Jen! What a glorious surprise to see a post from you. I have so missed your reflections on love, life, and the poetic sinew of it all. ❤

    • jgroeber
      July 6, 2022

      Ah, these very grown up kids of mine with their own stories. Hard to find a minute to write and a story that’s mine. But lovely to know when I show back up I find old friends!

  4. ailsasteinert
    July 6, 2022
    • jgroeber
      July 6, 2022

      Absolutely wonderful to see you here, Ailsa. Sending you big hugs and much love! xo

  5. kgc334
    July 8, 2022

    Hi Jen,

    Not sure if this will reach you, but it’s worth a shot. The Universe is so strange; just two days ago, I was wondering if you were still posting periodically and I was missing out. I was planning to stalk you on the web in the hopes of finding some new writings, and then voila! — your 20th anniversary post popped up in my In Box. And of course, it made me cry. As always. Thankfully, I’ve learned to carve out deliberate space and time in which to savor your blogs, rather than trying to read them while paying bills or between therapy clients or loads of laundry. (Having one of your blogs waiting unread in my In Box is like eyeing a present under the Christmas tree in the days leading up to December 25th. It’s truly a delicious feeling.) Anyway, I’ve decided that crying while I read your blogs is a critical part of the savoring. 🙂

    Thanks, as always, for writing from the heart and finding words for experiences and feelings that are nearly impossible to capture. I’m so grateful. Thanks, as well, for giving me something wonderful to read (amidst tears) to my husband on our 23rd anniversary next month. 😉 And as for teenagers…my younger son is 15 and my older son turns 18 (!) next month. It’s all so gut-wrenching and beautiful and bittersweet. I honestly don’t know how we survive it.

    Hope all is well with you as we soldier on through our early 50s. 🙂

    Best, Wendy (Marsh) Buzy DC ’93

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This entry was posted on July 5, 2022 by in Memory, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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