the words of Anna Quindlen for Saturday

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, have 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 some thing
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. T hey 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.


Carol said…
Why don't you live on my street??? I could use your mothering wisdom - dished out exactly the way you so eloquently wrote it here - daily.

Thank you for reflecting and allowing me to be reminded of all of this while my babies still are pretty much babies. (I'm not sure I'll change my over-worrying/anxious ways, but I promise to try!)
Anonymous said…
"But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of
us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment

thanks. I needed this RIGHT NOW.
Anonymous said…
Has she been living my life?
Anonymous said…
Beautiful. ((Thank you.)) I'm crying. They grow up too fast. I think I will play today rather than clean.
Anonymous said…
I'm a mother of a 16 month old girl and I really needed to read that today. THANK YOU!
Badger said…
Anonymous said…
That is what it is like to be a mother. And I haver never read it anywhere else. So it made me cry.
country mouse said…
"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."

This was beautiful. I could quote 3 or 4 more passages that reached directly into me, but you already know what you've said : )

My friends and I (all with grown and semi-grown kids) talk endlessly about everything you just said. Humbling. That is a word I use often to describe being a mother. Just plain humbling.

Happy Mother's Day. Thanks for the great read. I'm passing it on to my friends : )
robiewankenobie said…
that woman is a damn genius. the end.
MsCellania said…
Love this.

My favorite picture in all the world is a cut-out of a Sunday ZITS comic strip. The Mom looks at her teen-age son, unzips him from the back and grabs out the 6 year old him. The next 4 frames are the mom and the Little Guy reading, playing games, having a snack and hugging. The last 2 frames are the mom waving goodbye as she zips the 6 year old back into his 16 year old skin, and then her face sad, looking at his back. The 16 year old is whispering to his father "Dad, what's wrong with Mom? She's been looking at me like that all day!"

I keep reminding myself:
The Days are Long, but the Years are Short!

and also, when all else fails:
Remember, you idiot; You Prayed For These Children!
Unknown said…
Well, this certainly made me sob. It's so where we are right now, my kids and I. The "Remember when Mom did this?" stories, the recriminations I feel for spending more time working than playing with them, the things I can't remember anymore. It all goes so fast and then it's gone and there is nothing left but tattered memories and a small bucket of regrets.

Thank you for posting this.
Anonymous said…

Happy Mother's Day to you, too.
kt said…
You did beautifully.

I've only got one, so it rings all the truer.

We spent today together and will spen tomorrow together with one of the world's Greatest Moms (my MIL0, and I am so THANKFUL.

Happy Mum's Day, bb. You're doing just fine. Keep up the blog, we love it.
Anonymous said…
Thank you.
Thanks for the reminder to really really SEE and BE with my boys.
How I love my growing-up-too-fast children!
Angela said…
This? Is perfect.

Happy Mother's Day to the coolest mom.
Anonymous said…
Thank you.
As always.
Paula said…
My boys have influenced the person I have become as much as I have influenced them.

You always find such lovely words.

Happy Mother's Day dear bb! And to your mom too.
Velma said…
Lola Loman said…
I know this article was written a while ago, but I just read it today and believe me it moved me enough to send it to so many friends, all of whom felt Quindlen was speaking directly to us. Watching my son walk across the stage, graduating high school, I needed this column.
Angie McCullagh said…
I have a six and four year old and I really needed to read this. thank you.
Katrina said…
NEEDED this. My boys (2,5) will never thank you. Like so many things that are done for them every day (clean clothes to wear, food prepared, activities invented) they won't know to be thankful until they have their own little people to provide for. But, I recognize this gift and I THANK you. Thank you. Thank you.