Monday, May 11, 2009


I often worry that my often inept, mildly crass, and endlessly grumpy but generally well intended mothering skills should just be thrown in the trash instead of at my children. This read makes me feel a bit better: (Happy belated Mother's Day!)

From 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 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 have 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 th at 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=2 0to 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 mi stake 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.


And to the woman, my mother, who sacrificed her entire life to raise me and my three siblings, I thank you. From the bottom of my heart. You are what makes me, me. You were always there for me, for all of us. I don't know that I can ever thank you enough. I know that you must question your skills at times too, but doubt not - you are the constant force under our successes, you are the shoulder we all (still) cry on, you are the person who has given me the strength to move forward, follow what I want to follow, and live the way I want to live. More than anything your endless support and gentle ear make us better humans. Mom, I love you and thank you from the depths of my heart. I only hope I can live up to half of what you have been to me. xoxoxo

And Mom, just so you know, I entered you into a contest to win some chocolate the other day. Pretty sure you won't win because what are the chances of that! But I wanted to let you know what I wrote anyway...

"One word: sacrifice. It really sums up the life of my mother. Most mothers, really. But for this one mother, who means the world to me , I recognize and respect the sacrifices that she has made to make us (her 4 children) happy, to make us healthy, and to make us whole. She was never happy first, we were. She was never full first, we were. She was never warm first, we were. We never ate the black toast, she did. We always got what we needed, she most likely didn't. I am not even sure, that to this day, in her 59th year of life, she understands the greatness of what she has given to her four children. She gave up anything she ever wanted to ensure our happiness. She plowed through sicknesses to make us better people, take us to a friend's house, or cuddle us as we fell asleep. As a mother now myself, I CONSTANTLY struggle at the amount of sacrifice I have to make. And a lot of times I don't make those sacrifices. I am not even half of what my mother is (but I do have aspirations!). She is something else, a truly remarkable human who found her life's calling within the eyes of her children and grandchildren. Not behind a camera, or deep within corporate America. But through us, her kids. And for that, and her seemingly countless sacrifices, she deserves the chocolate. As chocolate is her great love, and probably the only thing she would ever, ever be selfish about. And it would be a super gift to give her after all she has done for me. "


carla ten eyck said...

wow Katie what a post. I am sitting here crying my eyes out at what a wonderful mother you have in your life. I am so happy for you, and so jealous of you at the same time... I have to admit that.

But that you know what you have, makes me so very very happy.

And that you would try to win her some chocolate, well, that really makes me proud.

what a great human being you are, and what a daughter!


E. Broderick Photography said...

Yikes! I was not ready for that cry! But so glad I read this. I loved the article you posted and then was so moved by your own message to you mom. I feel the same way about my own mother. We are so lucky!!

I must say, I'd be surprised if she DIDN'T win the chocolate after that entry--hard to imagine anyone else wrote one as moving and heartfelt as yours.

Hope you had a great Mother's Day!!