Friday, February 10, 2012

On Being a Mom

A co-worker forwarded this to me today.  Along with the fact that I whole heartedly appreciate this, I'm too lazy to think of anything else to write about today. 
Happy Friday.

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, 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

It just took me a while to figure out who the
experts were.


  1. I like it. It says I'm the expert. So accurate.

  2. I read this a couple of nights ago sitting at the bar after my shift. I was sobbing. I miss you guys.