"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.

"Happiness" by Raymond Carver

On the way in to work this morning, I happened to catch Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” where he highlighted the following poem. As an old (former) paper boy, I could instantly relate to the thoughts of Raymond Carver in “Happiness”:

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

"Our Beautiful Little Boy Got His Angel Wings…"

The phone rang this morning and Char answered it to find one of the mothers from the Mothers of Twins Club. She was calling to tell us that another member had just lost one of their 2-year-old boys. Here’s the story, as told by their mother, Michelle:

Who could ever imagine how much your life could change in just 48 hours. Our beautiful little boy got his angel wings and gave life to another. We want to thank each and every one of you for your continued support in our time of need.

A little background on the last few days. The boys celebrated their 2nd Birthday on Tuesday, December 28, by passing their well baby checkup with flying colors, and having a fun lunch out and cupcakes for dessert. Around midnight, Zach woke up throwing up. He was sick about every fifteen minutes. By the morning he was pretty tired and starting to get dehydrated as he couldn’t keep fluids down. Although he was not running a fever or having any diarrhea, the doc advised that we take him to the Ped’s ER to rule out shunt malfunction. Will took Zach to the ER about 2pm. and my mom and I arrived soon after. They did a CAT scan and an X-Ray, both of which came back normal (no shunt problems). At about 5pm. they started Zach on IV fluids to rehydrate him. At approx. 7:15 pm. Zach started having difficulty breathing and they had to bag him and eventually intubated him and put him on a respirator. From there he was admitted to the Children’s’ Hospital at St. V’s.

The Peds ICU doc talked to us, they had no clue what was going on, it could be meningitis, encephalitis, a stroke, blood clot….who knew? At midnight they had to replace his breathing tube, at 3:45am they came and got me (I stayed the night), Zach was overproducing fluids and could not maintain his body temperature. At 6:30am (Thursday) another CAT scan was done. Zach’s pupils were non-reactive, he could not breathe on his own and he had no brain function. After multiple tests Zach was declared “brain dead” early Thursday afternoon. I was able to give him a bath and dress him and we were all able to hold him to say our goodbyes. He was kept on a vent until this morning as we decided to do organ donation and his organs needed to be kept alive.

The whole staff and transplant team were WONDERFUL to us. Will, Jake and I came in very early this morning before surgery to say good-bye. The transplant team was able to recover his liver for a VERY sick 23 month old little girl in Cincinnati and his kidneys were waiting to be placed. Although his heart looked wonderful, they were only able to use the heart valves because he was on too much blood pressure medicine while he was there. They also were able to use his corneas. The transplant team bathed Zach and dressed him yellow pajamas and swaddled him in a beautiful donated hand knit blanket and we were able to hold him without all of the tubes and give him lots of hugs and kisses. We hope to truly know what happened to him in the next few weeks.

To those who knew him, Zach was such a special little boy who will forever hold a place in all of our hearts. Once again, thanks to all of you who have helped to get us through this incredibly difficult time in our life. We love you all!

Michelle, Will, Jake AND Zach

Zach’s funeral will be this Wednesday here in Indianapolis. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that anyone interested make a contribution an Zach’s name to IOPO – Indiana Organ Procurement Organization. Says Michelle: “This is the organ donation foundation that we worked with and they are FABULOUS people.”

Even if you don’t want to make a monetary contribution, please take a moment to say a prayer for Zach and his family. And then take a moment to count your blessings. On a personal note, I find that I cry every time I think about this and I can’t stop hugging the kids.

Happy New Year!

It’s been an amazing year… challenging, to be sure, but also rewarding and joyful. We were doubly blessed in June with the arrival of Abigail and Grace, and then overwhelmed by the gracious kindness of family and friends. To all of you whom gave so generously of yourselves, your thoughts and prayers, your assistance, Char and I thank you. You’ve been a Godsend during these hectic, lovely months; a welcome respite in this difficult, beautiful life.

Thank you, and may God bless you and yours during this holiday season and throughout the coming years.