Tuesday, May 22, 2007

~:L I V E • I N • T H E • M O M E N T:~

My good friend Tina sent the below to me the other day. This is beautifully written and the message so true. I told my Mom the other day that I am minding dirty floors less and less these days. I laugh deeper, I live more in the moment. I have less time to worry about things because Anton keeps my attention on him, rather than the little things that used to bother me. Read on and tell me if any of the below applies to your own lives as well.

Subject: Wisdom...
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 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, 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. 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.


Jules said...

Hey Anne!

This made me think of some things my mom did with my siblings and I and how on our end, we could be little shits ourselves. One Christmas right after we'd gone to Disney World, we gave my mom a Cruella DeVil keychain - with her black and white hair flying every which way, eyes bulging, and a furious expression on her face. We told her it reminded us of her when she was mad, and we all thought it was really hilarious. Now we look back and laugh, but what a Christmas present to give your own mother.


maryk said...

Good advice to anyone, with or without children.

Nancy said...

Exquisitely written and positively true.

Anne Elser said...

HI Julie,

great memory. I remember my mom wet and hysterical at some of the things I did, and I remember the first moment I did the same to my own class of school-aged kids. It's all cyclical. Just wait.

Mary - you're right about that. Living in the moment.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow my no.3 graduates....there is an 8 year difference between 2 & 3, and a world of difference between my view of the world around them as kids. I concentrated more on "the process" with my first two and, as a result, I missed out on alot. With no.3, this is definitely a time to reflect on if I have enjoyed the moment enough. Not because it's nearing the end of her time with us, but because it's nearing the end the day. One should regard this inventory each day as most important. We all make mistakes, hopefully not the same ones (one more to go)....good post, Anne.

Anne Elser said...

I can see yoru point, Ads. I know I'll make mistakes with Anton. I used to ruin weekends by worrying about the dirty floors. Seriously. It made me mad that I cared so much. I still have to remind myself every moment to PAY ATTENTION, to really look and see him. To burn these memories in my head so I'll not forget them. I hope I do well. I hope I play enough with him. I hope he knows the world is a good place filled with resources to make anything happen. And most of all, I hope I am strong enough to let him go.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. Having a four year old, 3 year old, and 9 week old to care for this was exactly what I needed to read. It is so easy to get caught up in the doing and cleaning, especially if you are OCD. It is more important to get caught up in the BEING, especially with your children. They grow so quickly and those precious moments are gone. Thank you for the reminder to slow down, embrace, and enjoy this time with my children.

Anne Elser said...

Man oh man, Anon, are you blessed! Three and your youngest at 9 weeks. Congratulations. Glad you found the post inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Anne, thanks for posting that. I've never read it, but certainly lived it! I want to ask Kev & Chris for my score & have them read it early on! I think Kevin & Christine do pretty well, but it's helpful to be reminded. You are so wonderful with Anton & He is amazing! I loved seeing & chatting with him & a brief holding him at your parents' last week. What a delight he is!