Posted by: Sharon | May 13, 2010

Warning: This will make you cry

Ok, maybe only if you’re a new mom. Like me.  It’s super long, but someone shared it with me, so I wanted to pass it along:

On Being 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 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…

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Responses

  1. Aww… you were right. Ahhh….now this will factor into my decision to go back to work or not… thank you, Sharon!!!


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