A Progression of Farewells

It was still dark when my son woke me up, crying.

“Shhh, shhh, honey,” I soothed, stroking his hair. “Do you want to nurse?”

“No, Mommy,” he said, “you don’t have any more milk.”

And like that, we were done nursing.

I knew his claim that I had no milk wasn’t literally true—not only did I still have milk, on nights when he slept through without nursing, I often still had to get up and express milk into the bathroom sink because my breasts were full and sore—but I also knew that he meant something beyond the literal meaning of his words. Nursing is never just about the milk.

My daughter nursed for the last time when she was three years and three months old, and I just assumed that my son would nurse even longer. I’d read about breastfeeding duration in other cultures and I’d concluded that, if I didn’t push him to stop nursing (as I had my daughter), he’d keep nursing until he was five. While it seems a little silly to think that a child who stopped nursing at three years and eight months had weaned “early,” that’s how it felt because it happened so much earlier than I expected.

Beyond this, my son’s weaning was also more emotional for me than my daughter’s because I knew that, most likely, I was done nursing babies.

He’s still a snuggly guy, which helps. When he climbs into bed with me in the middle of the night, he tucks his little arms around my neck and falls asleep with his face against mine, his breath warm against my cheek. He still wants me to hold him and snuggle with him while we read books. But I know that’s on its way out, too.

He no longer wants me to kiss his boo-boos, and has begun ignoring me when I offer to hold his hand. He follows his sister out to play with the “big kids” in the neighborhood. He’s sounding out and writing words all over the house (mostly on paper, but not always). He spends hours making up stories in his play room. He dresses himself and at bedtime folds his clothes for the next day and sets them neatly on the little blue chair next to his bed.

And it’s a good thing, really. It shows that my son is maturing and that he’s growing in his confidence and independence. But it’s sad, too, because I’m saying goodbye to him as a baby. I don’t cling to his babyhood—nor do I want to; there’s a distinct advantage to having a child who can entertain himself and wipe his own bottom—but I do feel a deep sadness that it’s over.

Each “first” is accompanied by a “last.” The glass is both half full and half empty, and just letting both of those exist simultaneously is a constant challenge.

This is what it means to be a parent, I guess. Giving birth sets the stage for separation, and in that sense, childrearing is one long series of goodbyes: goodbye to the baby, goodbye to the snuggles, goodbye to that sweet scalp smell. But it’s also a long series of hellos: hello to the little boy, hello to the amazing discoveries, and, eventually, hello to the man.

I do look forward to meeting him.

Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop.

8 comments

  1. Robbie (@momma23monkeys) · November 24, 2013

    The last rounds of firsts are particularly difficult for me.

    Like

  2. From Casinos to Castles · November 24, 2013

    There are so many endings but without those we wouldn’t have the beginnings. I loved how you ended this. It’s how I deal with some of the goodbyes with my little guy. I just get more excited for all of the new beginnings.

    Like

  3. A Bushel and a Peck · November 24, 2013

    I read this while nursing my sweet Hattie. Thanks for reminding me to soak these moments up.
    Have you ever read the children’s book If I Could Keep You Little…? It’s wonderful. I think about it every time I wish they’d stay small forever.
    This was beautiful! Loved it all!

    Like

  4. talesfromthemotherland · November 23, 2013

    From the time they cut that umbilicus (a post I’m working on now) to the time we die… we are constantly ending something, and moving on to another phase. Weaning my last baby was the hardest, just knowing it was the last time I’d feed a baby from my breast… or smell that sweet head and neck, as they nestled in my arms. This is a lovely post, with sharp, beautiful writing– about such a meaningful last day. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  5. AreYouFinishedYet · November 23, 2013

    There are so many “last things” we go through as parents. And I suck at dealing with all of them. This was a beautiful post. Just beautiful.

    Like

  6. The Waiting · November 23, 2013

    Aaaaaaand now I’m a little teary. Loved this. I wasn’t able to breastfeed as long as you because I always struggled with supply, but weaning my daughter was quite a mixed bag for me too. You have to be strong to parent; these kids break our hearts fairly regularly.

    Like

    • CJ · November 23, 2013

      I think weaning is emotional and complicated whenever it happens, which is something I’m not sure people always recognize. We’re supposed to want our bodies back and our “selves” back, but I don’t think we ever really get those back, at least not in the way they were ours before we became mothers.

      I just thought of that Elizabeth Stone quote (which I had to look up because I was paraphrasing it badly in my memory): “Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

      Like

  7. maiclon · November 23, 2013

    Reblogged this on Maichlonizer's.

    Like

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