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Post  Fri, May 18 2007, 7:41 am
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
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 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. 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.
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Post  Fri, May 18 2007, 8:44 am
Thanks for the article.
I am definitely enjoying my new baby more, just because I learned to appreciate just how fast they grow. I always feel bittersweet when they reach some milestone because it means they just got a little bigger.
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