So, usually, when I tell a story here, there is some conclusion to be drawn, some lesson I learned. This is not one of those stories. This is a more typical parent experience, I think…when your kid says or does something that leaves you shaking your head and you feel like you should be able to draw some lofty conclusion but all you can think is “Shit, he’s only three and already working me this way. What are the teen years going to be like? I need a drink.”
I never intended to nurse my kid until he was four. Like most American moms these days, I had gotten the information about how nursing at least the first year has some pretty amazing health benefits. I had listened to/read about moms who are still breastfeeding their seven year olds. I thought a year or year and a half seemed good, seven a bit much. From the start, nursing came super easy for AJ and I. The day after he was born a lactation consultant came in to help me, took one look and said, “Well, he knows what he’s doing, you’re going to be fine.”
He did nurse for the first year. Exclusively. It was not the first time I felt the gaze of those who feel entitled to assess another person’s (particularly a single mom’s) parenting. Other people would suggest different foods and try to get him to eat, even after I explained my own efforts to entice him. I could tell they thought this exclusive breastfeeding thing was about my need to be the most attached granola mom EVER. Eventually, he did start eating and is a ‘good eater.’
And he still wants to nurse.. He calls it ‘having babas.’ He asks for babas at night and in the morning, mostly, and when he’s upset. Honestly, this has more to do with my general laziness than any parenting philosophy. I knew it would be work to cut him off and then I’d lose the one thing that can always calm him down.
I hoped, as with the food, he’d just get to the point of being ‘ready’ and lose interest but that wasn’t happening.. In the months leading up to his birthday yesterday, I told him that we wouldn’t be having babas after he turned four. This wasn’t an easy concept for him. One day, he was having a total meltdown. “I need babas,” he cried, “because I can’t calm down.” As he nursed, I wondered aloud about what I might do, after he turned four, to help him calm down, since he wouldn’t be having babas any more.
“Well,” he said, “when I am four, I will still have babas. When I am a big boy, like (paused to think), maybe ten or twelve, then I’ll just stop.” He made a definitive gesture when he said the word ‘stop,’ like a smoker swearing they’ll go cold turkey right after the New Year’s party.
“Oh, honey,” I replied, “the thing is, when you turn four, you are not going to have babas any more.”
“No, mommy,” he said, “because, especially for boys, if they don’t connect, they are going to have bigger problems.”
So, tonight was a rough night. Actually, the past week has been rough. For several reasons, I am re-working my entire childcare setup. Addison’s birthday brought an ever-more acute awareness of his dad not being present (a topic for another day).. He has also been testing limits and getting very upset when I, say, turn off the movie. And then, there’s the babas.
When it came time for bed, he was sobbing about a movie-related conflict, then about not having babas to calm down,”I just want to go back and not have my birthday and stay little. I don’t want my body to grow. I want to be a baby.” I held him and talked with him and let him cry. I talked about how hard it can be when things change but how they usually end up all right.. I told him I am happy that he is growing and learning because that means that he is healthy and no matter how much he grows how he will still be my baby. I stroked his hair, rubbed his feet and talked about how things like that might help him calm down the way babas have. Finally, he began to relax. I extricated myself from his fierce little embrace, kissed his forehead, and whispered, “I love you so, so much, sweetheart.”
“Thanks, mom,” he whispered back and fell asleep.