How You Measure Half a Life

Jennifer Groeber Relationships

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I've just begun reading Marina Keegan's book The Opposite of Loneliness. She's the brilliant young woman who wrote the essay for the Yale Daily News in 2012 on graduating, and living richly, authentically. The gorgeous essay went viral shortly after Keegan was killed in a tragic car accident just five days after her graduation from Yale. (She was driving out to celebrate her father's birthday. Reading that part of the introduction made my throat clutch.)

The book is a New York Times best seller, and so far, it's breathtaking. Her writing is vibrant and twenty-one, authentic and honest. It made me dream of being back at Yale, taking creative writing again for the first time.

It made me want to sit down to write. It made me want to never write again.

The question hangs in the air over the book, who would she have become?

I'm left wondering who I've become since turning twenty-two.

A forty-four-year-old mother of four children, ages eight, six, six and five. A wife. Still a sister, friend and a daughter, although I've lost many along the way including my father and brother. In the relative weighing of a life, twenty-two to forty-four, I have lived two lifetimes.

Who I am now is this: I am in turns energized, loving, kind, grouchy, frustrated and annoyed. Feeling disrespected daily (will someone say please and thank you for the love of all that is holy?!) and aging (when did the collagen so violently leave every skin cell on my body?!) I cuddle and read to them. I feed. I clean. I drive. I wipe. I tend.

They fill my heart. They break my heart. I am someone entirely different in nearly every way than I was before I had children, and I feel sometimes the polar opposite of who I was when I was twenty-two, clutching my degree along with the keys to a car that wouldn't start without a bent wire clothes hanger. (But it could drive me anywhere.)

Sometimes it's hard not to be disappointed in me, in where I've traveled since then. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been someone.

And now. Right now, this very minute, I watch my kids try to beat my mother at Monopoly while the summer rain steals our beach day, and I tap away hastily on my iPad in stolen minutes, like writing something important to only me is a crime.

It's hard not to sigh heavily.

The glass is half empty.

I've also been reading Sally Mann's new memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs.

I was sitting in the parking lot on the last week of the kids' school, waiting to pick them up, wondering if I had time to clandestinely leave my car in the pick-up line and sneak a run. I popped in ear phones, started Terry Gross's NPR show Fresh Air on my iPhone and headed away at a speedy trot.

She was interviewing Sally Mann. It took my breath away. I ran fast and free along the New England coastline re-living Mann's intentions, re-living her life.

Sally Mann was an inspiration for me in my early 20's, what with her heart-wrenchingly honest photos and the risks she took, the controversy. I remember when her book Immediate Family was released by Aperture, the sense of surprise and pleasant shock I experienced as a Yale freshman dabbling in the arts. How could a mother take photos of her naked children running wild through their country yard, for public consumption, no less?

How could she not?

I went on to paint a senior thesis of nude portraits of friends, of myself, canvas after canvas of eyes staring directly at you, of arms and hands and breasts and parts. Half a lifetime ago.

In this lifetime Mann talked to Terry Gross about making art describing the things around her. How the art of her family is both them and not them. I bought the book Hold Still the next day and devoured it in the carpool pick-up line over the following week.

Mann made unflinching art about her children until they were children no longer, and later her ailing husband. She made an art of birth and decay. Of innocence and aging. Of knowing. Of love.

At sixty-four, one more lifetime away, she continues to make art still.

There is time then now, to be this and that. The ingenue yelling out in a newfound voice, the mother burrowed in her home like a quiescent chrysalis, the wizened artist looking backward.

(Perhaps I should go see what Ida Applebroog is up to, this artist and mother of four who had her first major art exhibition at age forty-four. Now at eighty-five years old she continues to make work that inspires. She is yet another lifetime ahead. I sigh, happily this time.)

There is time for us all then. Time to be amazing young women, time to discover, time to take chances, to write, to make art, fall in love, fall out of love, time to mother, care for someone else, find a new career, make a difference, make a mark. It is not over. It is never over.

There is always a lifetime, no matter our age. And if we let it, the glass can always be half full, too.


About the Author

Jennifer Groeber

Jennifer Groeber is a mother, artist, writer, blogger. “Four kids in three years” is her tagline (because it’s irresistible) but perhaps, “She was once simultaneously in marching band and on the homecoming court” has more of a saucy John Hughes ring to it. You can read about her escapades parenting, reliving her childhood and obsessing over Bruce Springsteen at .

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