25 April 2006

on being mom

This morning I had a great run. I got up early. It was crisp and cool out, still dark and quiet. Just me, my ipod and the Lord. I prayed - for my family, for my friends. Just awesome.

"Sustain me, Lord. Give me patience with my kids today. Help me to be present and realize the blessing of every moment today..."

45 minutes until the kids wake up... I had time to stretch. I read a little and even had time to check my email. I printed out a forward from Rachel, but didn't have time to read it. You see, Maya wasn't awake for more than 5 minutes today before the whining and the nagging began. "I don't want to go potty..." " I don't want to read that book..." " My jammies are bothering me..." It only took Cole a few minutes before he was also crying in frustration, "Stop ignoring me..." "I'm HUNGRY," he said without words.

Before we were even down stairs, I had blown up at Maya and sent her to her room because she refused to stand up! "WHEN WILL SHE GROW UP?!?!"

I didn't actually read that email until a few moments ago.


On Being Mom
by Anna Quindlen

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the black button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin. 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.

7 comments:

Leah said...

you are such a great mom! seriously... great!
xoxoxo

bfisk said...

hey abi. i see you are a new blogger in the leah blog chain. sweet...

Paula said...

Wow, what timing to read that poem at just the right moment after you're prayer and frustration!!

BTW, I started to comment last night on how great you looked--slim--now I know . . . you've been jogging. Good for you!

Niki said...

I love it! Welcome to blogging Abi! I have thougt you were beautiful since the moment I saw you...since then I've caught glimpses of your inner beauty as well. I can't wait to be friends and learn more about you.

I needed this poem - especially today. God used you to speak to me, so thank you to you both! Oh, and thanks for listening lastnight! I'm looking forward to YOUR turn to talk. ;)

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