Thursday, August 20, 2009

"On being Mom" by Anna Quindlen

"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 ringletsand 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 onhis bellyso 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.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This poem is a great reminder of the philosophy I have always subscribed to but often forget as I'm trying to be the "perfect mom" - our child was born through us, not to us. She is hardwired to be who she is and I need to remember to stop, observe, and watch her blossom into the beautiful person we already see she is.

I will remember today that when she woke up, her little eyes slightly swollen from sleep, she looked so much like her daddy. I will remember that today after lunch, her breath smelled like olives. I will remember her dancing in Grandma and Grandpa's kitchen this morning, waving one hand and holding onto the bar stool with her other, while doing her booty-drop dance with an ear to ear grin. I will remember that today we "watered" Grandma's sea shells with an old 1/2 gallon milk jug with holes punched in the top.


Saturday, August 8, 2009


"App-ble! App-ble!" (Cute, chubby little finger pointing down the long corridor of our local pool club to the bowl of apples on the counter; same cute, chubby little finger pointing over four isles in the grocery store to the display of apples; same cute chubby little finger pointing to the door to exit her bedroom when we collect her from her nap saying "App-ble!" - hoping to go downstairs for her favorite treat).

It would be remiss to not mention "App-bles!!" when cataloging Isabelle's milestones, interests and favorites. Going on a month now, she will enthusiastically shout "App-ble!" when she sees a picture of apple, a toy apple, a real apple, and even tomatoes get promoted to being called "apples" every now and again.

Oma and Opa, who were visiting us the week of Isabelle's birthday, soon realized that all it takes to make their granddaughter the happiest kid on the earth is to give her an apple. And by all means, don't give it until you are ready to relinquish it forever. I have made the mistake of letting her hold an apple before properly having it washed for her to eat and when I took it away to clean for her - you would have thought the world was coming to an end. I wonder if her love for apples has anything to do with the extensive apple phase I had when I was pregnant?

New words to work their way into Isabelle's vocabulary recently include; "app-bleju" (apple juice). "bish" (fish), "booosh" (shoes), "light" (always with a finger pointing upward, sometimes to an actual light, sometimes not). When she's in the right mood, she can tell you what sound a monkey makes (ooo ooo ooo! - while putting her hands to her armpits - well, her chest), what sound a dog makes (arf arf arf!) and what sound a duck makes (gack, gack, gack! - her version of quack, quack, quack). Never a dull day.

The other big development this week is that she's gone from walking to cruising. We have officially crossed into the danger zone. I realize now that the better the babes walk, the more you need extra eyes, hands and energy! And...maybe one of those baby leashes. xx