Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Years ago a friend shared this essay with me. I can't find the original post but the author is Anna Quindlen and I love her thoughts on motherhood. Wishing all the moms out there a Happy Mother's Day!
Anna Quindlen on Motherhood
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 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 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.
–Anna Quindlen is a Pulizer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author.


  1. I love this! It made me laugh out loud in so many places and I found myself nodding more or less constantly in agreement with her. I agree with the main point that most of us for most of the time are so tense about getting it "right" that we miss what's important. How often have I said that we spend the first 12 months or so of a child's life wishing they would get onto the next stage of walking and talking, only to spend the next 12 years wishing they would stay where you put them and stop answering back!

    Very good post. Thank you for sharing it with us Joyce! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this essay. There is so much truth in what she wrote ... I think it could have been written by any of us who have grown children. I must admit that as much as I love the relationship I now have with my adult daughter (and the grandkids she's provided), I do miss the days when she was little.

  3. I loved reading this essay, how true everything she says is and with my little granddaughter living with us at the moment, a good reminder too! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. I'm sure I must have read this before, but it seems so fresh to me now. Mine are in that in-between stage...not babies, but thankfully not quite teenagers, either. I'm trying very hard to live in the moment with them, because it seems like the time between their births and now has just disappeared.

    Thanks for sharing this. :)

  5. Joyce...that was so POWERFUL and right on the money! Glad you shared it with us!

  6. i think she said it all. thanks so much for sharing this, joyce. i'm doing my best to live in the moment, while thinking of the next thing. lunch... and math. that's next for us. ;)

  7. Spoken like a true mother. Great post. So many things here, that come from my heart as well.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. It's all so true. I think it's hard to live in the moment when we are in the middle of raising them. I think that is why God gives us grandchildren.

  9. What a treasure! Wow, how I can relate. I think I'm better at being in the moment with the last child, after so many errors with the first 3. The 10-year gap made me realize how quickly they do grow up. And that they turn out fine in spite of their mom, not because of her.

    I'm going to borrow this post for my blog. It's so good.

  10. Oh, I love Anna, she's a great writer and this is definitely one of her best. A very happy Mother's Day to you!

  11. WOW...this was something I needed to read. It's SO HARD to live in the moment...especially when you feel like you're barely stayin' alive. *sigh

  12. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy Mother's Day! I hope you get to spend it with your favorite girls. :)

  13. Wonderful. I love Anna Quindlen's writing. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Joyce, Thank you so much for sharing this! It was beautiful! She is quite the writer! Praying you are having a restful week after your weekend!
    until next time... nel

  15. She is right. She is spot on. She is making me want to cry.

    It went too fast and I rushed it too. I look at photos and remember. The kids tell me how much fun they had, but I still wish I had savored those moments more.