Thursday, April 30, 2009

Raising Children by Anna Quindlen

A friend forwarded this email to me today and I enjoyed it too much not to share. It came at just the right time, too---this has been a tough week with Emma Claire's 2-year molars breaking through (can we say lots of whining, screaming, crying, and not sleeping??) and Grayson just being a general pain in my rear (all those people who warned me that the Terrible 3's are worse than the Terrible 2's were right!)....

Yesterday we walked into the house after I picked them up from school and they both started screaming at me about peanut butter and jelly/applesauce/bananas/pick me up/she took my cup/I want more milk/that's MINE/etc, and as I was scrambling around to get them what they needed yet at the same time trying to teach them that screaming at Mommy isn't acceptable, I began to worry about how we're going to manage with a third child added to this chaos. Ben happened to call shortly after everybody was fed and settled (a.k.a. quiet) and I gave him a recap on what my last hour had been like. A few hours later he called to say hi and tell me that he'd been thinking about what I'd said, and he couldn't help but feel so happy and blessed to have such an amazing family. It might be crazy and chaotic at times, but in reality we are truly blessed to have two (almost three) healthy, beautiful, happy children. He's absolutely right, and I think that Anna Quindlen's article is a must-read for anybody with children. These days when they're young and so needy are going to fly by, and one day I know I'll look back and miss them. :) Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

Raising Children
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, and finally what the women on the playground, and the well-meaning relations -- well 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 pouring 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 awhile to figure out who the experts were.

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Andrea said...

That is good! It actually got me choked up with tears in my eyes! Maybe the pregnancy hormones are kicking in over time!

Mandy said...

Boy, I needed that today. Your day yesterday=my day today. Thanks for posting.

Alyson said...

Thanks for sharing that...we all need that reminder!!

Courtney said...

Love that!! I have days like that and I only have 1 screaming at me....I can only imagine. Hope your having a better day!!
Dreading the 2 year molars. We just went through weeks of crying and that was only for the 2 upper canine teeth. Horrible Screaming all through the night!!

Lillian Thomas said...

Perfectly said.
I can't wait to hear all about the concert.
See you Sunday!
P.S.~ and don't let that belly get sunburned at the beach!

JoAnna said...

Thank you! I needed this too. I have no idea how we are going to do this either on some days...

mharper said...

Thanks! I needed to read that. I should read it every week!! They will won't be little for long. I will take babies all day over driving, dating, sending them off to college!!

Kitti Carriker said...

Even though my kids are big now, I love reading your posts! I was also quoting from this same Quindlen essay on my literary blog this month, and when I googled in search of the original source, your beautiful blog came up!


Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

Polly said...

HI, a friend referred me to this post today. Such a beautiful reminder to cherish our time with these little blessings, thank you!