May 22, 2008

On Being a Mom, by Anna Quindlen~

I read this this morning, it really spoke to me.  So I thought I would share it with my online friends...

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard timebelieving they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs andthe black-button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and thehigh piping voice.
The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curledinto an apostrophe above her chin.

ALL MY BABIES are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today:three almost adults, two taller than I am, oneclosing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and havelearned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me intheir opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgarjokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, whoneed razor blades and shower gel and privacy, whowant to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up theirjackets and move food from plate to mouth all bythemselves. Like the trick soap I bought for thebathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the babyis buried deep within each, barely discernibleexcept through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over isfinished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. BerryBrazelton, Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through thenight and early-childhood education, all grownobsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dustwould rise like memories.

What those books taught me, finally, and what thewomen on the playground taught me, and thewell-meaning relations -- what they taught me wasthat they couldn't really teach me very much at all.

Raising children is presented at first as atrue-false test, then becomes multiple choice, untilfinally, far along, you realize that it is anendless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement,another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told toput baby to bed on his belly so that he would notchoke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down ontheir backs because of research on sudden infantdeath syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty isterrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.

I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr.Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, inwhich he describes three different sorts of infants:average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind?Was he developmentally delayed, physicallychallenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes tocollege. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too.Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in theRemember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the badlanguage-mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times Iarrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of theclassroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted Iinclude that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald'sdrive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted Iinclude that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for thefirst two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that mostof us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment isgone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting inthe grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on tothe next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more andthe getting it done a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thoughtsomeday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their trueselves because they demanded in a thousand ways thatI back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense,matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in theworld, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me.

I was bound and determined to learn from the experts.
It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.

2 comments:

Tami May 22, 2008 at 7:32 AM  

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment....it's so nice to meet you! What a beautiful family you have....I look forward to visiting and learning more about you;-).

OK, Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite authors, and you made my cry first thing in the morning! Thanks for sharing.

mommy24treasures May 22, 2008 at 11:39 AM  

what a lovely lovely heartfelt post!

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