Monday, April 28, 2008


For David and Mandy, who are at the beginning of this adventure, for me, my sister and our cousins who are "in the middle" of trying to figure this out and for those of you who are "done" and are sitting back and watching all of us fumble through. Enjoy

By Anna Quindlen, Newsweek Columinst &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 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 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 wo rld 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.


Barb said...

This is all so true, Kristen. I could have written it myself!

Kiki said...

I always say that Samantha turned out to be the stellar person she is DESPITE me! As my fsther says, "If you don't like Sam, you don't like people," and that's all credited to Sam herself! But, though it may not be ripped from the pages of Dr. Brazelton's best seller, perhaps my idiosynchratic parenting style works a bit, too! Thanks for sharing, Kristin. It's a great message for the parents-to-be!