Wednesday, August 05, 2009

An Amazing Article by Anna Quindlen

A dear family friend shared this article by Anna Quindlen with me the other day and I just think it's perfect. My friend couldn't have sent it to me at a more appropriate time. The days before she sent it, my husband and I were debating the pros and cons of reading parenting books versus just improvising as you go along...He's the consummate scholar, always reading and learning, and I tend to think in some ways, we should just let our natural instincts and common sense guide us. In reality, it's probably best to have a combination of both...Anyhow, enjoy!

"All My Babies Are Gone Now"
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, 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 rubberducky 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,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. 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 here.) 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?(She was thinking the same thing I was, Simpsons here either!)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.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Love & Basketball?

The other night, baby-on-the-way and I went to a playoff basketball game. No, this was not a Lakers game, or even a high-school game—though it was in a high-school gym. It was a playoff game for my husband’s lawyer basketball league. Lawyer basketball, you ask? Yes. Lawyer basketball. It’s basically a league made up of different law firms from around the city where overly aggressive males release the tension from a day’s work on the basketball courts and strive to recapture their glory days.

The smell of stale, sticky sweat permeated the air. The sound of rubber-soled-sneakers squealed and screeched as the players came to a halt on the shiny wooden floor. I saw the championship banners hanging high on the wall above the bleachers, with the hand-painted “Go Wildcats” posters not far below, and I was instantly transported to another world.

Something within the sounds and smells of the high-school gym took me to a mental place I had never been before during my pregnancy. As I watched these grown men run up and down the court, yelling “I’m open!” and “Come on, man!” with their hands in the air, I started thinking that someday, before I know it, I might be back in a gym just like this. But instead of watching my husband and his over-worked compadres hustle and wheeze their way up and down the court, I’d be watching my own child run, and jump, and test himself against other kids.

Since the early days of my pregnancy, I have spent countless hours imagining what my baby is going to be like—what she will look like, how it will feel to hold him, what it will be like to try to teach her things—but rarely have I thought about what happens when my baby starts to grow up and becomes an actual kid. What happens then?

As I sat in that gym, holding my pregnant belly tightly, I felt a new spirit of adventure. For the first time, I thought that being a mother will go far beyond changing diapers and pushing a stroller. Someday soon, several years away at least, I might be sitting in a gym watching Junior play YMCA basketball, or along the sidelines of a soccer field watching her run, or even in an auditorium watching her dance. Having a baby means more than just having a baby, it means having an actual KID who is going to sweat and compete and test himself or herself against the world, and I’m going to get to watch. That is pretty cool. And if it took a bunch of chubby, sweaty lawyers with inflated perceptions of their own athletic abilities to actually make me realize the depth of experiences I might someday share with this little person inside of me, so be it.

My husband’s team lost the game that night, but I won much more than he’ll ever know. Let’s just hope our baby has more class and sportsmanship than the “adults” on the floor that night who got into a fight because one of them was using too much “D” under the basket. (And no, my husband wasn’t one of them. Thank Goodness.)