Thursday, March 12, 2009


Anna Quidlen wrote this article in Newsweek about having children. I recently found it in my email inbox after having read it almost a year ago, and I really like it. So I'm posting it here. Because nothing else exciting is happening here for me to write about.

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, and 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.

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.


The Utley Crew said...

Thanks, now I am crying! Way to go! hahaha! I have read that before, and I love it every time!

The Harris Family said...

I know, right?! I cry every time I read it, then immediately feel guilty for not spending every single moment of my day being overjoyed at the amazing kids I have, and letting the irritating, mundane crap get in the way.

Lori said...

Abby, I love this. First time I've read it....thanks so much for sharing! I went to Max's classroom yesterday to hear him read to the class....and I got all choked up because I couldn't believe that my "baby" was up there so confident and proud and reading so well....not a baby at all. Do enjoy those precious babies, because truly it does go so fast! For crying out loud....I remember holding your chubby little baby self like it was yesterday!!!

em said...

love it