Being a Mom – Anna Quindlen

On Being a Mom
by Anna Quindlen

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they  ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the  black button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the  yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the  lower lip that curled into 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, 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 pored 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, 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 boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother 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 included 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 included 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.


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