I’ve been feeling a bit less than stellar in my mommy role these days and came across this in an old e-mail from a friend … puts it all in perspective.
Anna Quindlen, Newsweek Columnist and Author:
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, one closing in fast. Three people who read the
same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with
me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make
me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel
and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like.
Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move
food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I
bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is
buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the
unreliable haze of the past.
Everything in all the books I once poured over is finished for me now.
Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling
rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education,
have all grown obsolete. 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 dust would rise like memories. What those
books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught
me, and the well-meaning relations –what they taught me, was that
they couldn’t really teach me very much at all.
Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then
becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it
is an endless 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 child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.
When my first child was born, parents were told! to put baby to bed on
his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time
my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of
research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this
ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, 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, in which he describes three different
sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a
sub-quiet codicil for an 18-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, physically
challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China . Next year he
goes to college. 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 the, “Remember-When-
Mom-Did Hall of Fame.” The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad
language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The
times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover.
The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out
of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded,
“What did you get wrong?”. (She insisted I include that.) The time I
ordered food at the McDonald’s drive-through speaker and then drove
away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I
include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the
first two seasons. What was I thinking?
But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while
doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly
clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There
is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the 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 to the next thing:
dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little
more and the 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 thought
someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now
I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they
demanded in a thousand ways that I 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 the world, 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.