Volume 16, Number 11 | Aug. 12–Aug. 18, 2003


Kids’ antics or absence — which one is worse?

By Jane Flanagan

I love New York moms.

Several years ago, when I took my then 1 1/2-year-old-son, Rusty, to Rockefeller Park, I was so glad to meet my mom friends. We talked about getting by on five hours of broken sleep a night, an exhaustion multiplied by not being able to take our eyes off our babies for a second. We discussed the fear of diverting our attention, lest they put their fingers in a wall socket or jump off the bed and crack their heads. But we weren’t alone and that made an incalculable difference.

But this kind of relating is not necessarily true everywhere, I’ve discovered. I was struck by this again on a recent trip to New England. It was a conference for my husband. Legal types from around the region gathered in Newport for sun, sailing, golf and business-card swapping.

I can’t take the sun and don’t golf. But it didn’t matter, because Rusty, now age 5, was along, and we had a whole other agenda: the swimming pool.

But in between the splashing, my husband and I had a job to do — schmoozing.

So I joined the spouse’s historical walking tour.

We were half-a-dozen women gathered in the lobby of the Newport Historical Society. I spotted our host, a gracious, generous New Englander in her 50s. She was talking to a younger woman who was pregnant. After the introductions, I inquired how the mom-to-be was feeling. Rather than describe morning sickness or fatigue, however, she had another comment.

“I’ve been very anxious about being a parent,” she said.

Deeming this an appropriate reaction to a monumentally life-altering event, I responded.

“Oh,” I said. “In the six months before I became a parent I was so anxious. It’s very scary. But it’s O.K. You’ll be fine. And you’ll never, ever regret it. There’s nothing like having a child.”

Our host weighed in.

“On no. No. Nothing to be anxious about. Parenting is wonderful, wonderful.”

Now, I’d have to go to some lengths to find a mother who didn’t think her child was wonderful. But I don’t think “wonderful” covers every aspect of the job.

Our discussion moved on to kindergartners.

I said that I was enjoying age 5, what with having lived through age 2.

“Oh no, 2 is wonderful,” said our host. “Age 2, that’s my favorite age.”

I attributed this comment to the joy-induced, delusional state I imagine must accompany grandmotherhood.

Later that weekend standing at the water’s edge, Rusty and I were waiting for a clambake to begin. The chefs were stoking a smoldering tarp that covered the lobster, clams and potatoes. While I was watching them, Rusty began to stand atop the two-foot cement wall, the only thing shielding him from a 25-foot drop to the rocky shore below.

As I frantically talked him down, I noticed another woman doing the same with her son. Just after we got them secure, the chef made an announcement. The eating would soon begin. But first, a little history of the clambake as he began to talk about pilgrims. I noticed that his accent was from a state a little south.

“He sounds like he’s from Brooklyn,” I said.

The boy’s mother, turned. “Yeah, he does,” she said, sounding as if she knew Brooklyn when she heard it.

She lived in Boston, but was a native New Yorker. We began to talk. Her son had just finished kindergarten. He was handsome and athletic, but she worried that he might have some type of attention deficit. I told her Rusty would begin kindergarten in the fall and I was worried about him making the transition to a full day. Entry to preschool had been so tough, because he cried and cried.

Later that evening she introduced me to a young woman who was attending the conference with her husband but without her children. She was missing her 16-month-old-twin boys. Watching three dozen kids race around the lawn in front of us, she wanted to pinch every one of their cheeks, she said, so much did she miss her twins.

In her place, I probably would have been slumped over the cement wall, staring at the water. But then I remembered a time my husband and I attended a conference without Rusty. On the first night, I was thrilled to be away, just the two of us. The second night was fun, but by the third night I really missed my son. I told her about it.

She looked blank.

“Well,” I said, “I can’t imagine what kind of stress that must be — 16-month-old twin boys!”

“Oh, no it’s fine,” she said.

Back in my toddler days at Rockefeller Park, thank goodness I never heard “fine.” I never could have coped.


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