Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze gauze wrap-style baby carrier. This pattern is called "Morgaine."

No Easy Way

Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze gauze wrap-style baby carrier. This pattern is called

Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze gauze wrap-style baby carrier. This pattern is called “Morgaine.”

My spouse and I had just signed our wills, a task that had been on our to-do list since I was pregnant with our daughter ten years before, and were so excited to know that our kids would be going where we wanted them to go should we both kick off before they reached adulthood, we decided to celebrate with a trip to Whole Foods.

It was a hot date.

As we stacked kale and cans of beans on the conveyor, the mom in the line beside ours was soothing her infant, who was clearly not content with being in the stroller. She jostled the stroller and said things to him in a sweet, Mommy voice and he gradually calmed down.

“I remember those days,” I said. “My daughter hated the stroller. I ended up wearing her every time we went anywhere because she would cry so hard.”

“That must have been so hard!” the mom said.

I didn’t know how to respond. I’d shared that little tidbit as a way to show her empathy, but had she thought I was trying to get empathy from her? And I was a little confused, too, because I’d worn my babies not because I liked the more difficult path, but because it was easier for me than using the stroller.

That’s not to say it was easy. I’d clearly unnerved my fellow shoppers at a variety of businesses by swinging my baby onto my back and strapping her on with the mei tai or Didymos wrap. And getting items from the bottom shelf was a challenge with an extra twenty-plus pounds on my back. I’d never figured out how people with stroller babies used a public restroom. I just wore my babies into the stall with me. My biggest challenge was making sure my pants were fastened under the carrier strap around my waist. (Sometimes I met that challenge, and sometimes…)

But whether we wear our babies everywhere or use a stroller or carry them in the car seat bucket, parenthood is just hard.

After two kids, I recognize that the easiest path is one of surrender, but actually surrendering is often the hardest thing to do. When my daughter was screaming herself red in the stroller in the middle of Staples or on our otherwise pleasant walks under the eucalyptus trees in the California spring or in the nursing bra section at Target or sitting in the lactation consultants’ waiting area, one thing was clear: I was doing it wrong. Everyone else seemed to be doing the exact same thing I was, and yet their babies were smiling or sleeping or at least not wailing.

It was an act of surrender to dig the sling out of the garbage for the fifth time and attend a La Leche League meeting for a tutorial. I was crying “uncle” and stepping outside of the mainstream, using products I couldn’t buy at Babies R Us, and leaving the bucket in the car.

It wasn’t the first surrender—I’d already surrendered to the science fiction way in which my body had expanded and shifted over ten months; I’d surrendered to the reality that my baby hadn’t read the baby manuals and seemed intent upon never, ever sleeping; I’d even surrendered to watching “The 700 Club” at 2am when I was up nursing my finally-quiet infant and the remote control slid out of my reach from inside the elaborate arrangement of pillows and rolled-up towels that made nursing possible in those first weeks—but it was the first conscious choice I’d made to surrender.

My baby wouldn’t stop crying when she was in the stroller or car seat bucket. My baby would (sometimes) stop crying when I was holding her, therefore, I needed to find a way to hold my baby constantly and still fulfill my need to use my arms.

Uncle.

Once I’d made that surrender, other surrenders became easier. When I had my second baby, I just assumed I wouldn’t get more than four consecutive hours of sleep for the next four years. I was pleasantly surprised when it took much less time than that, but it really helped to have low expectations. I didn’t even buy a car seat with a removable bucket, nor did I attempt to establish a sleep schedule. I just wore the baby to gymnastics class and preschool story time and Costco and play dates and the zoo and anywhere else my four-year-old’s schedule took her, and he napped whenever he could.

That first surrender, though, was the tough one. The only reason I was able to make it and sustain it was because I found a group of families to show me that there was another way to do things and to offer me the community I needed to make me feel like less of a freak.

In two of the three states in which I’ve been a parent, that community came from La Leche League. Where I am now, LLL is different, and I’ve not felt the connection with the local group that I have in other places. I miss that community of outside-the-mainstream mothers and that chance to offer a different way of doing things just by taking a trip to the library with a kid on my back. Now that my kids are older and I no longer nurse in public or wear my kiddos to show another way of doing things, I try to offer a verbal picture of that other way of doing things when I see a mom struggling. Not that she has to do things the way I did, but maybe just by seeing that there are options, she can feel more confident that she’s making a choice rather than feeling trapped in just a single way of doing things.

But with the reaction I got from that mom in Whole Foods that day, I suspect that people see those kinds of comments as just another criticism of the way they’re doing things. Maybe I’m doing more harm than good by making these comments. Maybe that’s not the kind of community people are seeking.

Or maybe the new crop of moms just want to—and perhaps have to—find their own way.

Satisfaction.

Learning to Ask Questions

“Mom, Laura Ingalls Wilder was wrong,” said my five-year-old one morning while I squeezed lemon wedges into hot water for the “lemon tea” he’d requested. “She said kids like drinking cambric tea because it makes them feel grown up, but I drank cambric tea and I didn’t feel grown up at all.”

I felt unaccountably sad hearing this insight. While I like that he’s learning that not everything he reads applies directly to real life—a lesson I hope he will extend to what he reads online as he gets older—I had no idea that he’d asked me to make him cambric tea because he wanted to feel grown up. Of course he wants to feel grown up. I remember striving for adulthood and all of the rights and privileges I imagined I would inherit upon attaining that magical state. It’s just that I’d not heard this from him before.

Now that it’s in my awareness, though, I’m noticing that both of my children talk about growing up with some frequency. I can hear them working out what it means to be an adult. They talk about their future careers, how many kids they’ll have, who they’ll marry.

Their discussions give me insights into how they see the world. The other night, my son said at dinner, “Women and men do things differently.” When asked for examples, he said, “Well, I know men and women both go to work—” he glanced up meaningfully, it seemed, at jobless me, “—but only women do things like give birth, adopt…”

He trailed off and after a pause I said, “Well, men don’t give birth, but they can adopt.”

“They can?” he asked, eyebrows raised, and I wondered what chain reaction of understanding this piece of information had set off.

It reminded me of a discussion about marriage we’d had a few weeks ago. My daughter said, “I want to get married when I grow up, but I’m not sure yet if I’m going to marry a man or a woman.”

I assured her that she didn’t need to make that choice at age nine, and she’d figure it out when she found someone she loved.

“Well, I have to marry a woman,” my son chimed in.

“Why’s that?” I asked. He looked at me with the “duh, Mom” look he’s already perfecting.

“Because men can’t marry men. They can only marry women.”

“Actually, men can marry men,” I said, and named for him two male couples we know who are married. Then he went on a tangent about how he wanted to invite them to his sixth birthday party, which at this point involves hiring a bus to take everyone we know into Boston to ride the swan boats and eat pizza. We’ll pick blueberries on the way home then have cake and play Legos at our house, outside because our house isn’t big enough for all of the people. (For the record, these are his plans, not mine.)

I’ve recognized all along that my children’s world view is being shaped by their everyday experiences, but these conversations highlight the limited control I have over this world view. My children see the gender roles played out by their parents, and they extrapolate those to apply to the whole species. Our church and social circle include many more women couples and hetero couples than men couples, and apparently my son has interpreted this to mean that he’s restricted in whom he loves. Of course my kids draw these conclusions from their observations, but still it surprises me.

My first reaction is to try and expand their view. “We’ve got to invite John and Elliot over to dinner!” I think. Or, “I need to go back to grad school—right away!” Or, “We need to move somewhere we can walk to things and take the bus! Quick! Buy some seeds! We need to grow our own food instead of having a monoculture lawn!”

I want to orchestrate the kind of world I want them to see as the norm. I want them to see people who love each other getting married and building families. I want them to see that our driving-all-the-time, hyper-consumptive culture isn’t the only way to live; that a big yard might be nice, but suburban living isn’t sustainable if everyone does it, and we should make our decisions with that in mind. I want them to understand from experience that billions of people speak and think and live their lives in languages other than English. I want them to see that people aren’t defined by the choices they make. I want to build my kids into the kind of grown-ups I myself wish I was.

But I can’t give them every experience, and I don’t want every social encounter and every career move and every relocation to be contrived as a “learning experience.” More than anything, I want my children to remain open and accepting, and that’s not going to get done if I limit their experiences to just those that fall in line with the specific lessons I have in mind. My children need to have a wide range of experiences, both direct and indirect, and then we need to talk about them.

And this means I need to learn to ask more questions and give fewer answers. My son didn’t need me to explain to him that a mug of water and hot milk might not make him feel grown up even though it made Laura and Mary feel that way. He thought about it, tried it out, and figured it out for himself.

Giving my children answers limits them to the answers I’ve drawn from my own personal experience. But encouraging them to ask questions and having faith that they can find the answers themselves will open up the world for them.

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“Mommy! Look!”

“Mommy! Look! Leaf buds!”

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“Mommy! Look! There’s mud on my sneakers!”

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“Mommy! Look! Crocuses!”

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My daughter’s oversized reactions to subtle signs of spring draw me out of my daily doubts and stresses and into her enthusiasm. Together we exclaim over the sounds of meltwater running beneath mounds of snow, daydream seeds toward the sunlight, and poise our ears to catch the first peeps of thawed-out frogs.

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Telling Our Own Stories: Our Children and Internet Privacy

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a private blog. Writing has long been my preferred means of communication, and blogging felt like a natural way to chronicle my daughter’s birth and my birth as a mother. We were 2,500-3,000 miles from our family and friends, and this blog helped make that distance seem shorter.

I posted weekly belly pictures and anticipatory poems about labor (“Here I sit in early labor/Hoping my moans won’t wake the neighbor”). I wrote a post entitled “My Cups Runneth Over” in which I gleefully reported on my trip to the bra store when I discovered that I now filled a C cup. I wrote about my ambivalent feelings about the ultrasound I got halfway through my pregnancy. The image on the screen was so different from my experience of my baby that the moment didn’t carry for me the emotional significance so many women report. “All attention was on that little screen,” I wrote, “but I had the entire universe inside me.”

I posted pictures on the blog for a while after my daughter was born, but telling her birth story was painful and new parenthood was kicking my ass in ways I had never imagined it would (and the blog host started charging money), so I eventually let that blog go.

Between my daughter’s birth and my second pregnancy, Facebook was born. I leaped into the Facebook ball pit and jumped around happily with everyone else, tending my pretend farm, “poking” people, sending magic eggs, updating my status seventeen times a day. While pregnant with my son, I posted weekly belly pictures, and after his birth, I posted photos of us in the birth tub and dozens and dozens of photos of his cuteness.

Then there was some alert about Facebook using member photos in advertisements, and how, based on the terms of agreement, all content on Facebook was the property of Facebook to do with as it liked. I wasn’t really sure how big a privacy risk this was, but it got me to thinking about what I was doing. My son had been on the internet since before his birth and had no say in whether he was there or not. This didn’t seem fair. So, I took down all of the photos of my children’s faces, all of the birth photos, all of the belly photos. Eventually I deleted all content and closed down my personal profile (although it still shows up, and I suspect it might not be possible to delete it entirely).

I started Imperfect Happiness, and carefully avoided posting photos of faces. (Eventually I posted a photo or two of my own face, but I still avoid photos of my kids’ faces.)

I posted stories about my kids, but I never used their names and when my friends would forget and use my kids’ names in the comments, I would edit them. I wanted to post about deep, important issues, but I didn’t want that traced back to my children.

For a long time, this seemed like enough privacy, but now I’m not so sure. Telling my own story is one thing, but do I have a right to tell my children’s stories to anyone who happens upon Imperfect Happiness? Am I betraying their trust in me by exposing our private conversations and concerns to the world?

I felt this way about my daughter first. She’s four years older and much more private than my son. Especially now that she’s on the cusp of adolescence, she seems even more in need of someone she can trust with her secrets. In the past six months or so, I’ve started to feel this way about my son, too. He’s not yet six, but he has a rich internal life that he lets me glimpse and which delights me. I want to resist the temptation to share the things they say as “cute.”

And my children are cute. They are endearing. Every day, they each reveal a heart that’s sensitive and strong and wise in its innocence. I listen with amazement as they reveal their hearts to me and to their dad and to other people they trust. I am one of a very few with whom they trust their hearts. It doesn’t feel right for me to turn around and tell all about it on the internet, especially in that distancing, patronizing “isn’t that adorable?” grown-up way. That doesn’t feel like a good way to cultivate trust.

This has been my struggle with blogging over the past few months. How do I tell about the moving and perception-altering experience of sharing my life with my children without betraying their trust?

Without an answer to this question, I tread carefully. I’ve withdrawn from the revelatory posts I’d previously found so comfortable, and this has left me feeling flat about what I’m writing. I know authors who write movingly without telling too much about their families; I know it’s possible, but I’ve not figured out how to do it yet and so I err on the side of silence.

Just as my children have since their births been engaging in the long transition from being one with me to being individuals, I need to learn how to transition from interweaving my story with theirs to the degree that their stories are merely an extension of mine. Even more difficult, I have to learn to see my own story as not merely an extension of theirs.

 

Smashing Assumptions

Flute PracticeMy children’s flute teacher retired from teaching last month, and the process of finding a new flute teacher has been fraught. Their relationship with their teacher was so close, the thought of replacing her feels wrong, like we’re reducing our relationship to the mere pragmatics of finding someone to teach the mechanics of playing the flute when it was so much more.

“It’s like trying to find a new brother, or another parent,” my daughter says.

My son is reluctantly willing to play for prospective teachers, but insists he doesn’t want anyone but the teacher he’s known since he was eighteen months old to teach him.

The depth of my children’s connection doesn’t particularly surprise me, but the lessons I’m learning from this process are not the ones I expected. My daughter is quite advanced in her flute playing, so we’ve been focusing primarily on the obvious hard-hitters of the eastern Massachusetts flute scene, which are numerous but often a significant distance from where we live.

During this process, I learned that a fellow homeschooling mom is a piano and flute teacher, and she teaches right here in town. After I spoke with her, I decided we’d consider her for flute for my son or piano for both kids, but I thought she wasn’t high enough caliber to be my daughter’s flute teacher. This might be true, but when I went over my reasons for this assumption, I was really surprised with myself.

Here was a teacher with similar credentials, experience, and mentors as the other teachers we’re interviewing, but I put her at the bottom of the stack because she’s a homeschooling mom.

Like me.

That was a shock. It’s quite possible that this teacher will not be a match for my daughter, but I shouldn’t dismiss her because she’s a mother and a homeschooler. Here I am spending conscious effort every day to change the negative perceptions people have of stay-at-home parents, and I’m applying the same stereotypes I’m trying to fight.

I’m trying to see how positive it is that I even recognized this latent assumption and how it colors how I perceive other women, but at the moment, I’m just ashamed and very, very sad.

What does this say about how I think of myself? Why am I engaging in such self-defeating thinking? I’ve internalized the messages of our culture, that by choosing to focus on motherhood and put career well down on my list of priorities, I’ve relinquished my claim on any expertise I might have. What would the nineteen-year-old me sitting and steaming in Women’s Studies classes think?

How many times have I dismissed fellow mothers and not even realized it? How many other assumptions and biases influence my perceptions every day?

I’m trying—trying—to feel hopeful that this awareness will help me get better at seeing people for who they are in the future, instead of blindly following my biases. I’m starting by scheduling trial flute lessons for my daughter with the homeschooling mom flute teacher. If she’s not a match, she’s not a match, but I won’t be writing her off simply because she’s chosen a path similar to mine.

Innocence and Experience

I piled the mail—opened and unopened—in a stack and set it on the shelf above the desk. Onto the cleared surface, I lugged my secondhand sewing machine, ecru and smelling of oil.

I plugged the machine into the wall, and set the pedal below the desk. I loaded the bobbin with the greatest amount of the most neutral thread on it into the bobbin case and closed the little door on the front. I hit the space bar on the computer starting an episode of Selected Shorts, then I turned to the Girl Scout vests.

Tonight I had two vests to work on: my daughter’s brown Brownie vest, which needed to be updated before the next week’s bridging ceremony, and her brand-new green Junior vest. After two years as a Brownie, it was time for her to level up.

I sat cross-legged and laid them both on the floor in front of my knees. I tore open the plastic packages of badges and patches and taped them to the fronts of the vests, consulting both the Brownie book and the Junior book to make sure I placed everything properly and trying to ignore the crookedness of the badges I’d already sewn on.

For the brown vest there were the Making Games and Inventor badges, the World Thinking Day and Global Action badges, and the pin and patch she got from our recent visit to Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace in Savannah, Georgia. On the green Junior vest I arranged her Bridge to Juniors, her Council ID patches, and her “wings,” signifying that she’s “flying up” to Juniors.

Into my sewing box I went, looking back and forth between the partially used spools of thread and the colors of the insignia I would be sewing. I picked out brown, green, yellow, white, and blue, the colors I thought would best camouflage my inexpert stitches. As I threaded the machine, I had some trouble seeing the end of the thread in relation to the eye of the needle. To focus better, I shifted my glasses to the bridge of my nose and peered over them, a first for me but something I’d seen my mother do so many times it seemed almost natural to me. “Presbyopia,” I thought. “I’ve been expecting you.”

My thoughts hummed along with the hum of the machine. I thought of the photo of me so proud in my green Junior vest, skirt, knee socks and green beret, my little brother peering around my hip. I remembered going through my badge books, checking off the requirements I’d already met and circling those I planned to do to finish earning the badges. I thought of standing on stage at my junior high school for my first public reading of my own writing, a poem I had written for the younger girls’ bridging ceremony. The words of the poem were still there, and this time I managed to think of them without cringing.

Young wings soar ever so high,

Reaching into the bright blue sky.

Now they are Juniors, tall and strong,

Spreading through the world their happy song.

As I traded the brown thread for the green, I thought of my daughter, of the poems and songs she writes in her own journals, of how excited she is to wear her new green vest. I thought of the night nine years ago when a trickle of amniotic fluid signaled that soon I would hold in my arms the child I’d known so intimately for nearly ten months. So focussed on that moment, I could barely even imagine what would come after. I didn’t know then that the intensity and self-doubt of birthing my daughter would be matched and at times exceeded by the intensity and self-doubt of birthing myself as a mother. I thought of labor and birth as a distinct process with a beginning, middle, and end, forgetting in the anticipation of meeting my girl that it was, in fact, a process of ending my life as a not-mom and beginning all of the years that would come after. That lack of foresight was a mercy; at that point I had all I could handle just birthing this human.

An hour after I’d started sewing—and with miraculously little swearing—I was finished. I snipped the loose threads and balled them into the trash, then I reached behind the sewing machine and turned off the light over the needle. I unplugged the machine and put it, now warm, back into its case.

On the once again empty desk, I set out the vests. Side by side, the Brownie vest looked so full and the Junior vest so bare, representing the fullness of my daughter’s past experiences and the promise of all of the experiences yet to come. They seemed to me also to represent a cycle of innocence and experience, always starting from a new baseline and working up to the next unknown.

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The Fine Print

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My spouse, our kids, and I recently returned from a fantastic 3,000-mile road trip from New England to southern Florida and back up through the Appalachian Mountains. We spent an incredible four days in Asheville, North Carolina, which has been my spouse’s and my “happy place” since we first visited the city together for our honeymoon in 1999, although I’d been in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains for many years before that.

This was our first trip back in more than a decade, and I spent the entire visit either beaming incredulously at the thought that we were actually there or welling up at the knowledge that we would be leaving; sometimes I did both at the same time.

Since our departure from Asheville to return to New England, I’ve been plagued by the realization that, when I chose to forgo gainful employment and devote nearly 100% of my time to raising and homeschooling my children, I also seem to have forfeited much of my agency.

I am the queen of the small decisions—what to have for dinner, when to trade out the children’s fleece trousers for shorts, which kind of waterproof pillow covers to buy—but because only my spouse brings in the income that sustains our family financially, the larger choices are tied to his career and are by and large outside of my control.

It’s as though I’ve gone to buy a car and have no say over the make or model, but I get to choose the color.

This isn’t really what I thought I was signing on for when I picked this gig. There is this illusion of partnership behind which I couldn’t see while I was engaged in the all-consuming work of parenting tiny humans. My spouse asks for my input when deciding where to move next, but really, we just go where the first reasonable job offer takes us. It’s his career that drives us, not my opinions.

Now that the kids are becoming a little more independent and I can almost see the days of greater autonomy on the horizon before me, I’ve begun engaging in an exercise I call, “What do I want to be when my kids grow up?” I think about grad school and writing fellowships. I dust off the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and skills assessments from back in my pre-kids corporate days and try to get some idea of what might bring my skills and interests together. I try to imagine different careers and locations and ways of living.

But this nascent dreaming stops short when I realize that we’re always going to go with the sure thing. I will always, unless I want to have a long-distance marriage, have to do the thing that I can do wherever my spouse’s career is.

While this makes very good sense—as my spouse reminds me, the kids have to eat—these geographical and financial restrictions aren’t conducive to dreaming.

This all hit home when I was in Asheville thinking how well small-city living suited me and how strongly the Blue Ridge Mountains draw my heart, and thinking, “Why can’t we move to Asheville?”

There are plenty of reasons why Asheville might not be a good move, but those are all moot because the biggest reason of all—the money reason—halts all other speculation. The dream dies before it ever draws breath. And that’s remarkably discouraging.

I do wonder, though, what level of agency do I assume I should have? I think I should be able to decide for myself what my career will be and where I will live, but is that a realistic expectation? How many people in the world have that kind of freedom? Aren’t most people stuck with whatever they get because of location or history or discrimination or poverty or old-fashioned bad luck? And if so, then I’m just a whiney middle-class white woman with a home and a family and a spouse and a car whose biggest complaint on a daily basis is that flute lesson is a 45-minute drive away. If I have less freedom than I’d like, it’s because I chose this way of living.

I also have to wonder how real these obstacles really are. Am I just making them up or making them bigger than they need to be because I’m too afraid to take responsibility for a big change? I’ve not worked full-time since 2003, and I’ve not worked for pay since 2008. If I make a decision that causes my spouse to give up his career or to have a reduced income, do I really want the responsibility of making up the difference in order to support our family?

And what if I make a bold choice and then change my mind? I did that with being a yoga instructor and being a doula; where’s the guarantee I’d stick with whatever it is I come up with to do this time around? Or is a guarantee too much to ask for?

I guess the best I can do is sit with all of this and wait. For what? A sense of certainty? A sign from the heavens? A job opening for a PhD-level biologist in Asheville, North Carolina?

Or maybe it’s not waiting that’s required, but just sitting, just being here and feeling this fear and discouragement and letting it run its course while I try to make the most of right now.

It’s much easier to say it than to do it.

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Who Needs a Dog?

“What’s this water doing on the floor?” I ask, pointing at a small puddle a few feet in front of the toilet.

“That’s not water,” my four-year-old tells me. “It’s pee.”

“Okay,” I say, looking at him with one eyebrow raised. I know exactly what’s happened. My young son does not like to pee standing up, so he sits, just like his big sister and I do. Lately he’s taken to leaning back a bit so his pee arcs up over the rim of the toilet and shoots towards the cupboard a few feet away. I’ve learned the hard way not to stand directly in front of the toilet when he pees. We’ve talked about how it’s important to keep the pee in the potty, and if I’m in there with him, he does a pretty good job. When I’m out of the room, however, anything goes.

Although I know all of this, I ask him anyway: “Why is there pee on the floor?”

“Because I like to urinate outside of the potty,” he says.

I take a deep breath.

“Okay,” I say, “I can see the appeal of that—” (although, in fact, I can’t) “—but when you urinate outside of the potty, it makes a mess.”

“But you can just wipe it up. And if you leave it there, you can walk on it, and you won’t even know it’s there.”

“Sure, if you let it dry out, it won’t wet your feet, but it’s still there, and it smells and it’s gross.” I know even as I’m speaking that this line of argument is completely futile. And sure enough, he’s off and running before I even stop talking.

My daughter would love to have a dog. While I like dogs, I still have a clear memory of cleaning up piddle puddles from the dogs I grew up with. I’m putting off getting a dog until that memory—or at least the olfactory part of that memory—fades a little more.

Who needs a dog? I think as I spray cleaner on the pee spot and grab a rag from the cupboard. Who needs a dog when you have a little boy?

By Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) (The Dog in Health and Disease) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Homeschool Quick Takes

Homeschooling gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my kids.

A lot.

Of time.

And since I know you were wondering, every moment is a blessing. No dreams of finishing a cup of tea before it’s cold or cooking food I don’t have to share or using the bathroom by myself here. No, sir. Every single moment. A gosh-darn blessing.

Homeschooling also gives me the chance to be present for even more of their learning process than I would be otherwise, which can be kind of fun. Or at least educational. Here are some of the recent fun things the kids and I have been learning together. Read More