Monday, July 9, 2007

Living in the Moment

Here is an article by Ana Quindlen someone recently emailed me. For those of us that have grown children, so much of what she says rings true and for those who have young children, this is a great reminder to live in the moment with your children.

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, the n
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
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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