Playground Uprising


Because Anna Quindlen Said It Best…
February 2, 2007, 7:26 pm
Filed under: Children, Family

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While perusing my hard drive the other day I rediscovered Anna Quindlen’s commentary On Being Mom, a long with about five dozen recipes I have been meaning to make if it wasn’t for the fact that microwaving veggie burgers is taking up all of my creative cooking time

“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.

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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