Parenting Memories by Anna Quindlen

Esther - posted on 05/04/2010 ( 4 moms have responded )

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In light of Mother's Day - I thought I'd share this essay with all of you:



Parenting Memories

by 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,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.

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Joanna - posted on 05/04/2010

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I love Anna Quindlen as a writer (I LOVED her novel One True Thing). And this made me teary eyed, for sure!!

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