"On Being Mom" by Anna Quindlen

Yes, I know the point of having a blog is to express your own feelings about things. Yes, I realize that it’s not all about sharing other people’s views. But below you’ll find some well-written thoughts about raising children written by Anna Quindlen and I feel good enough about them that I felt I had to share them with you. Ok? By the way, the emphasis below is mine because… well, that paragraph says it all. /Jim

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 blackbutton 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.


  1. That’s a great essay. Thanks for sharing.Heatherhttp://www.spiritblog.net

  2. It’s funny, I suppose, when I think of all the occasions, events, holidays, and festivities that we as a family have insisted on capturing over the course of our children’s’ lives. “Get the camera, Claire’s trying to walk!” …or,“Look at Joey trying on mommy’s shoes; this will make a great movie.”The movies especially turn out wonderful – I’m certainly not complaining. As life moves forward, they will provide the clearest glimpse back, a buttress to memories that grow blurry with the passing of time.Here’s the thing – I want more. I want to remember…The smell of ‘just washed’ hair, as they snuggle up to me while I’m reading a ‘night-night’ book. The feeling of walking in the house to a rousing cheer of ‘Daddy’s home!’ followed by an avalanche of little bodies clambering up into my arms. The warmth of their bodies as I carry them up to bed, having fallen asleep in my arms from a hard days’ play. The simple pleasures of watching them learn something new.There have been times when I lay in bed at night, and I tell myself “This is a day I want to remember, I want to recall all the nuances, all the emotions, all the colors and smells and sounds.” I try to burn images into memory – to actually will myself to capture each vivid detail.It never works though. Oh you can recall the feeling, in a distantly fond kind of way. It’s a good feeling, in that it captures the essence of the memory. You can never go back and relive it though. Not with images, not with movies, certainly not with memories. I cherish each of those things for providing a glimpse back, but I won’t rely on them.I’ll enjoy my memories while they’re happening, and that will be fine.Thanks Jim for the wonderful post.Mike

  3. This actually brought tears to my eyes. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to include it in my own blog. This is something that we all need to remember…to slow down and enjoy our kids while we still can.

  4. dammit… i hate it when blogs make my eyes well up while at work…wonderful story. plan on passing it on to several family members who i’m sure will have the same reaction…

  5. Drunken Samurai April 22, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for this Jim, great stuff. Having recently gone through some tought times with my oldest it really hit home. I have a second chance to live in the moment a little more!

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shannon Seery Gude, Tara Repucci. Tara Repucci said: OMG. I love this. I'm bawling but I love this. RT @seerysm this essay http://j.mp/dsiEMQ to remind me to stay present & enjoy our moments […]

  7. […] like Anna Quindlen’s take on parenting, and about baby Zach and his Angel wings, and Jack’s many unusual questions, and Lily’s […]

  8. WoW, what a warm heart wrenching story that was to read !!
    I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to spend my daughters first 10 years of her life watching her every 1st word,step,mommy & daughters day outings ect.
    I’ve also a three year old son that I’ve been at home with too !! Nobody said being a mother was easy, its challenging , its lonely, its plain right tough but to see your children as these tiny little bundles ,then all of a sudden, I can do it mom !!
    I take a step back and say well I must have done something right :D. But with also with a sadness cause my babies are no longer babies anymore !
    They don’t come with a manual which is scary when its time for mommy & daddy to take there little joy home but we never forget all those times, no matter how many photos you take, you ll never get that moment back, so enjoy all the ups and downs, god knows there’s enough of them 😉
    Sure were well able for it us mammys !
    Keep doing the best thing in the world’being a mommy and enjoying the whole experience <3

  9. I cried, because this is so me. My son will be starting his senior year and my youngest HS next year, and I can’t believe it. Thanks. Glad to know I wasn’t alone in doing these things.

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