Last week, my daughter, who is now a nursing mother herself, told me that she didn’t have any memory of me breastfeeding her sister or brother. That may not seem strange except for two things, there was a large gap between her and her youngest sibling and each of my children nursed for nearly three years. So that would put Tricia around ten years old. Which speaks more about the subtle chaos of our nuclear family than it does to her gifted memory. But in truth, nurslings past the age of one or two, often just nurse at night or in the morning which adds a bit of clarity for why no one seems to “notice” a nursing toddler.
In looking back for a picture, I came across only a scant few of my eldest daughter in my arms. Fact is, we didn’t have fancy android phones. And if I was finally off of my feet and enjoying a quiet moment with my little one, no one was going to get out the tripod, attach a camera lense, check the focal point and light meter and shoot a roll of film that we would need to drive down to the photomart to pay to be developed and printed. Double prints! Because we always sent a set to my mother.
What I did find though was a very old “article” on what it meant to be a nursing mother of a baby in daycare. The file was called LLLWork. I have only a vague memory that I spoke once to a group of new moms who were getting ready to return to work at a special meeting of our local Le Leche League. As I said, it is only a fuzzy feeling … which may be where Tricia gets her lack of detail in recollecting.
When I brought the file up in Libre Office, thankfully it was able to translate it from whatever electric pencil program it was written in during the late 1980’s — it had no file extension and the hexa decimal code wasn’t giving up a clue other than it was Courier Courier 10cpi (TT) Arial (Italic) in its original form. What I did notice were all of the spelling errors or otherwise creative use of the english language. I also noticed the mullet I was proud of in the old pictures I did find. But it was the late 80’s and I was in to practical long hair.
I wasn’t proud to be a working mother. My one-on-one parenting skills were woefully inadequate. I was the poster mom for “It takes a village to raise a child”. On my own, I was fraught with pointless control battles, aimless rules and decidedly too harsh punishments or consequences. I was raised by the back of my mother’s hand, and though as a young person I swore I’d never hit my kids, I never quite managed to walk that walk. Those were very dark days. I apologize to my three children often still for not being what any of them needed when they were growing up. As a disabled and house bound person, I am still woefully inadequate in doing normal things a mother of adult kids would be able to do … but I apologize less for my current shortcomings because they have each grown to be such amazing compassionate people and they remind me how grateful they are for the little things and the laughter. The latter of which we have in abundance.
I don’t gloss over or sugar coat my dismal mothering skills back in the day, but the one thing that I was proud to be was a nursing mother. It was in a very real way, the one thing I could do right. I certainly didn’t set out to nurse until their toddler years, but as I learned about baby led weaning and eventually came to adopt the … never offer, never refuse … motto, I came to trust that each of them had innate wisdom to set the pace and determine when they wanted to end their nursing relationship. For my eldest, I can remember the day clearly in my mind. It was the day before her third birthday. We had bought her a “big girl bed” because we were co-sleeping since she was born. She loved picking out the disney sheets and blankets and we talked about her growing up. Then, the day before she turned three years old she looked up at me and said, “Do you remember when I was a baby and I use to nurse?” I smiled and looked back down at her and nodded my head yes. “I do remember that. You are such a big girl now.” I affirmed. Of course, she had nursed just the night before. But that would be the last time, as she had determined she was now “a big girl”.
There was no sadness, no lamenting, nothing missing when she turned three. We were simply in a new chapter, with new adventures and new opportunities. We nursed for as long as we both wanted. And then we moved on. At least, that’s my memory from a time before clouds and digital identities were even part of a baby’s dream. Our past is always only the bits and pieces we call back into our present experience. I could focus on the darkness inside the swiss cheese moments of my life to this day .. or I could smile as I bring myself back to this present moment and say in my mind’s eye … “Remember when I use to be a whackadoo?” And laugh and turn the page.