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All My Babies Are Gone Now

MidwestParentMidwestParent Registered User Posts: 852 Member
edited September 2007 in Parent Cafe
A friend sent this to me today. I thought it was wonderful and so incredibly appropriate for many of us to read right now that I wanted to share. I love Anna Quindlen - she always seems to have just the right words.

All My Babies Are Gone Now
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. 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 here.) 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.
Post edited by MidwestParent on

Replies to: All My Babies Are Gone Now

  • HindooHindoo Registered User Posts: 5,849 Senior Member
    Thank you, Midwest Parent. This one brought tears to my eyes.
  • GolfingMomGolfingMom Registered User Posts: 252 Junior Member
    A great read. So true. I can relate. I will send to my SIL whose youngest just started kindergarden.

    Thanks for posting.
  • A.S.A.P.A.S.A.P. Registered User Posts: 2,663 Senior Member
    This article is a gem. I rarely email articles to friends, but this time I will make an exception.
  • AlumotherAlumother Registered User Posts: 6,233 Senior Member
    Aargh. Crying.

    People would always say to me in the supermarket, in overly sweet voices, "It goes so fast." To me, an overwhelmed, overanalytical, sleep-deprived mother, the time went so slowly just bumping along the floor every day until bedtime when I could pretend again to be going to sleep.

    What they meant to tell me was not that it goes fast. But that it goes irretrievably. When it has passed, the time of babies, and soft cheeks, and someone crying every single day, and coughing so hard they throw up at night, and one banging the other's head on the floor, and worries over shyness, aggressiveness, fatness, thiness, talking and not talking, then it's gone.

    Just gone. And my favorite line in what she writes is that the babies are in there like the bathtub ducks in glycerine soap...
  • mootmommootmom Registered User Posts: 4,162 Senior Member
    A copy of this essay will go alongside Quindlen's "The second child got me used but comfortable..." essay that I saved from when her second was about 2. That one also is a gem. Brilliant.
  • doubleplaydoubleplay Registered User Posts: 3,550 Senior Member
    Great post. This was exactly why I was so torn up after my second (last) went to college, but not the first. It's all so.....over.

    And, she's right. Our kids grow up. In spite of us. Thank God they don't remember (or don't mention) all the stupid stuff we said and did (but mostly said). For that I am eternally grateful, and love them to distraction.
  • MidwestParentMidwestParent Registered User Posts: 852 Member
    Alumother - I am now becoming one of those mothers - I say to complete strangers, "My last baby just left for college - treasure every day." I am sure they think I am a lunatic, or at the very least, quite odd! I loved your use of the word 'irretrievably' - perfect word! A minister and his wife down the street have been very kind in asking how our daughters are doing at school and how WE are doing. During one conversation I just blurted out, "I hope I did okay!" Sometimes it seems like the childrearing days dragged on and then before you know it, they are over. Irretrievably.

    Mootmom - I would love to read Anna Quindlen's essay about her second child. Wonder where a copy could be found?
  • mootmommootmom Registered User Posts: 4,162 Senior Member
    MWP, I saved a copy in my email 11 years ago. I was unable to locate a copy online, so here it is. Warning: this, too, will likely require a tissue.

    Life in the 30's - Anna Quindlen (NY Times, Wed. June 25, 1986)

    The second child was a year old yesterday. He is everything I wanted to be as a child: fearless, physical, blond. he takes no prisoners. He also changed my life. Before him, we were two adults and a child they both adored. With him, we are a family. There is no going back.

    I had a crisis of confidence when the second child was, quite literally, on the way. We were timing contractions and watching "Bachelor Party" on cable TV when I was felled by the enormity of what we had done. As a textbook-case eldest child - a leader, a doer, a convincing veneer of personality and confidence atop a bottomless pit of insecurity and need - I suspected we were about to shatter the life of the human being we both loved best in the world. We were about to snatch away his solitary splendor.

    Worse still, to my mind, we were about to make some unsuspecting individual a second child, a person whose baby clothes would be mottled with banana stains the first time he ever wore them, who would have a handful of photographs scattered amidst the painstaking documentation of his brother's life. An also-ran. A runner-up. "This is the heir, and that is the spare," the Duchess of Marlborough once said of her two sons.

    The second child came prepared. He had a true knot in his cord, and it was wrapped around him three times, so that he emerged looking like a kidnap victim. It turned out he was feisty and winning, intrusive and alert. His character (not to mention his yellow hair) demanded clothes of his own. He clamored for the camera. He knew what he was doing.

    More important, so did I. The first child got me shiny new, like a new pair of shoes, but he got the blisters, too. The second child got me worn, yes, but comfortable. I told the first child I would never go away, and I lied. I told the second I would always come back, and spoke the truth. The second child had a mother who knew that the proper response to a crying baby was not to look up "Crying, causes of" in the index of Dr. Spock. As a matter of fact, he had a mother who was too busy to read childcare books at all, and so was in no position to recognize whether his "developmental milestones" were early /late /all /none of the above.

    What had I expected of the first child? Everything. Rocket scientist. Neurosurgeon. Designated hitter. We talked wisely at cocktail parties about the sad mistake our mothers had made in pinning all their hopes and dreams on us. We were full of it.

    I have always been a great believer in birth order. I will chat with someone for 15 minutes and suddenly lunge at them, "You're an oldest child, aren't you?" That means something specific to me, about facing the world and facing yourself. My husband is also an oldest child, and the slogan one of his brother coined for him is instructive: either pope or president. Not in words but in sentiment, my siblings felt the same about me. A substantial part of my character arises from those kinds of expectations.

    I worried about that with the second child, worried that the child called No. 1 would always be so. During my second pregnancy, when I drank a bit of wine and forgot to count my grams of protein, I wondered if I was being more relaxed - or simply careless.

    When I went into labor with the first, I sat down and wrote my thoughts in the beginning of his baby book. With the second, I went to a barbeque next door and then put the first to bed. The elder son was born with considerable pain, manhandled into the world with those great silver salad spoons called forceps, and when he was laid in my arms by the nurse, he looked like a stranger to me. The second somersaulted onto the birthing room bed, and as I reached down to lift him to my breast, I said his name: "Hello, Christopher." And as I saw his face, like and yet not like his brother's, I suddenly realized that wine or no wine, he had arrived with a distinct advantage. He came without baggage, after I had gotten over all the nonsense about in-utero exposure to music and baby massage and cloth vs. disposable diapers. What a wonderful way to be born.

    And so it has occurred to me often in the last year that I must strive to give to our elder son some of those things that in the usual course of events come to the younger ones. I worry less now about the second being an also-ran than I do about the first being the kind of rat-race marathon runner that birth order, in part, made me. The saddest thing I always imagined about the second child was that we would have no hopes and dreams for him. I was wrong. What he has taught us is that we will have hopes and dreams, and he will decide whether he is willing to have anything to do with them. I accept him. Perhaps in other times, or with other people, that might mean settling for less. I like to think that in his case it means taking advantage of more.

    Perhaps it means that I will not push him when he needs to be pushed. I hope not. And perhaps it means I will push my first child - whose each succeeding year and stage will be inaugurals for me - when I should not do so. One teaches me as we go along, and the other inevitably reaps the benefits of that education. Each child has a different mother - not better, not worse, just different. My greatest hope and dream now is that, taken together, these two ends will make me find a middle ground in myself from which I will be happy to see them, neither pope nor president nor obsessively striving to be either, but simply two people, their own selves, making allowances for me.
  • maritemarite Registered User Posts: 21,586 Senior Member
    Thanks to both Midwestparent and Mootmom for these two wonderful essays by the wonderful Anna Quindlen.
  • Sarahsmom42Sarahsmom42 Registered User Posts: 955 Member
    These are both wonderful. I've felt kind of sad for the last two days because my second baby is gone. I did relish every moment I could, but it still seems to have gone by too quickly. I always wished that they could be in this stage or that for another year or at least six months! My third child is still home and he says that he does not want ALL of my attention, so I'm going to start taking piano lessons tomorrow, I'm going to learn to speak spanish, and my husband and I will start ballroom dance lessons next week. I'm sure this next faze in my life will bring adventures and travel, but I'm looking forward to the day when Grandbabies arrive. I guess it's just a mother thing.
  • NYMomof2NYMomof2 Registered User Posts: 5,952 Senior Member
    I am also going to break my rule and email these essays. They are both so true. This sums up my feelings perfectly: "... 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." My sons are 14 and 8, not ready yet to leave, but I still feel the loss of their earlier selves, and wish I were better about preserving memories. There are scattered entries in my older son's baby book (my younger son doesn't have one!) that bring back forgotten moments when I read them; I only wish there were more.

    My younger son and I usually snuggle in my bed in the mornings. We haven't done it for the past week, because of the new school schedule and some traveling for me, but today there is no school and we had a wonderful half hour together, snuggling, laughing, catching up. But he is almost 9, and I don't know how much longer he will want to do this. His 14-year-old brother certainly doesn't!
  • MidwestParentMidwestParent Registered User Posts: 852 Member
    Mootmom - You are a wonder for saving that gem! With both essays, it feels full circle somehow. They both made me cry, made me look back and now cause me to look forward, whether I want to or not.

    NYMomof2 - I know what you mean by trying to remember the little things. Many, many years ago I had our photo taken as a surprise for my husband. We were all 3 in matching Laura Ashley dresses (a trend at the time!). As the photographer posed us for a photo, my younger daughter's impossibly soft, chubby little cheek rested against my upper arm. It was such a little thing, but the wonder of it took my breath away. I vowed to never forget it, as miniscule as it was, and I haven't. But, my the same token, I have completely forgetten or totally missed taking in so many other things along the way.

    Talked to my sister through our tears this morning. She and her H drive #1 son to school on Monday. #2 son is a freshman in high school. She is full of questions of what life will be like without #1 around and what it will be like having #2 home by himself. Although her son #2 is a exceptionally bright fellow, she worries he will be overshadowed and lost in the h.s. accomplishments of his brother (NMF, Presidential scholar semifinalist, NHS president, 2390 SAT, etc. etc.). She just hopes the teachers don't mistakenly call him by #1 son's name!!
    I will send her a copy of this immediately!
  • NYMomof2NYMomof2 Registered User Posts: 5,952 Senior Member
    Even though so much of those precious times are lost, even to memory, I feel very grateful to have had them (and I am still having them). I faced the prospect of not having children. It took us 9 years to have my 14-year-old, and the 8-year-old was a surprise. It was not going to be easy to adopt because of our ages.

    I can really relate to the 1986 essay. Our first son was a miracle, but I had no idea how much better it would be to have two. The little guy who snuggles with me in the morning was a statistical fluke. I was 48 years old had not used birth control since 1984, and had never had a natural pregnancy (only 5 IVF pregnancies, the first 4 of them miscarried) when I learned in 1998 that I did not have thyroid deficiency, ovarian cancer, or some other dread disease, but was 4.5 month pregnant.

    Actually, grateful is too weak a word.
  • emeraldkity4emeraldkity4 Registered User Posts: 35,861 Senior Member
    I had eventful pregnancies and deliveries as well- but they are a vague memory- until I smell betadine or hibiclens( to wash hands- first born 10 weeks early after 16 weeks of bedrest- NICU stay 8 weeks-respirators- surgery the whole thing-
    2nd D term VBAC after bedrest & 3 days of strong labor- stay in NICU three days for meconium aspiration- incidentally born 8 years apart- I was three months pregnant before I found out)

    BUt it isnt the birth and delivery or even pregnancy that sticks in my mind- its the raising-
    Parents who have children through marriage/adoption are just as tied to their kids as ones who have experienced pregnancy.
    To me what is so miraculous isn't that this person came out of my body- but that I am ( was) THE source of authority in their life :eek:

    I have so many regrets- and thoughts that we need practice children- because they don't wait till we figure it out.

    You might think I am obsessed with college admissions- it was nothing to the experts I consulted re: Family bed- weaning or not- discipline & ear infections- I had books by Leach, Driekers, Brazelton,Chilton Pearce, Montague, Kitzinger et.al. overflowing my bookshelf.( its interesting that they were so important to me at the time- but now I never even think about them- )

    I think in a lot of ways it was easier to be so young when I had my first ( I was 24), especially since she had to stay in the NICU for two months.
    If I had that circumstance now- I would be breathing down the nurses necks even more than I did! :o

    I love Anna Quindlen - great essays-

    Id also recommend Joyce Maynard for essays on family life

    I don't want to divert the thread- but while I am thinking of it- if you like essays on life-I also love Nancy Mairs
    Start with PlainText
  • Sarahsmom42Sarahsmom42 Registered User Posts: 955 Member
    Wow! NYMomofTwo,

    That is really amazing. My neice is 43 and her husband had a vascecomy 12 years ago. She found out a few weeks ago that she's four months along with their fifth. They were blown away, but after the dust settled they are very excited. Congratulation to you and your family! You sound very happy.
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