The Golden Unicorns of Weaning

Yesterday evening seemed like any other Tuesday to me — I came home from a bangin’ dance class, changed into a nursing bra and nightgown and slippers, and prepared to nurse a very sleepy Olive, who had already been prepared for bed by her Dad.  But when I sat in the glider and put the Boppy pillow on my lap, Olive said, “All done, all done!” and arched away from my open arms, crying a little when we didn’t seem to get what she meant.  She pointed to her binky, and said, “More, more!” and then when her dad tried to hand her to me, she said, “No.  Joel!”, making it painstakingly clear that she not only did not want to nurse, she didn’t want her Mama to put her to bed at all.  She wanted her dad, (whom she calls Joel, among other things, which is very endearing) and that’s what she got.  I put my boobs away and slunk out of the room to ruminate on this new change.

We have been down to breastfeeding only once per day for the past several weeks, and the goal of course has always been to wean completely, but it came as a shock to me that I would not be choosing the time to stop, she would!  When I told a fellow Mama about it this morning at a playdate, she said, “Oh, child-led weaning is like the golden unicorn you hear exists but never actually encounter.”  This was a good reminder to me that the fact that Olive choose when to wean is a really good sign, that I gave her what she needed for as long as she needed it, and I do love that my daughter is great about asking for what she needs and knowing when she’s done.  I hope she never loses that ability to know what she wants and ask for it in an effective way.  It is just such a grown-up thing, and I am sad to be losing the last vestige of her babyhood.

Parenting a baby is so weird, because you are living through a time that they won’t even remember, but is totally life-changing for you.  My mom recently sent me a note outlining how sweet I was as a baby, and how wonderful it was to be with me when I was so small and affectionate.  It seems to me that a child really becomes a separate entity when they can hold their own memory.  You are always connected to your early parent as the person who held your story for you before you could make any sense of it yourself.  Just yesterday I was thinking about how much work it is to provide a secure attachment for your child, and then it is equally challenging to be a springboard and allow your kid to grow.  We love, and let go.  Love, and let go.

Thank God she's still cuddly and gives me these sweet kisses...

Today I tried a new morning yoga class, and though the teacher still asked us to speak in a foreign language that none of us knew, she also played great music (Radiohead, Animal Collective, Bjork — all of 2009’s favorites!  I love it when the soundtrack is just slightly retro, it’s comforting.)  and was very down-to-earth.  She didn’t insist that I have a fanfuckingtastic day.  She let me be me, and I enjoyed myself, feeling no rage at all in the class.  Instead, I was able to be present with the myriad of other emotions that were coming up for me as I honored the passing of the particular connection moms and babies have from breastfeeding.  At one point in the class, we let out a few big collective exhales, and the teacher encouraged us to let go of whatever we didn’t need that was within us, giving the examples of spiders or garbage.  I imagined a gush of milk, flowing out of me, sweet and nourishing but no longer needed to be stored in my body.  I felt lighter as I came up from the pose, spent of the last vestiges of mother’s milk, but also really in touch with how bittersweet this change is for me.

Up until last night, “na na”, as Olive calls it, has been her absolute favorite time of day.  She is 16 months now, and she doesn’t “need” it anymore, but I was waiting for her cue about when to stop officially.  When it happened, though, I couldn’t help but feel sad and rejected.  I guess this is a strange truth of parenting — when things happen that you know are right and are glad they are occuring — when they are literally what you’ve wished for your child, you still feel sad because it means the end of that stage.  Sometimes when I get all sad about losing Olive’s babyhood, I imagine her as a young adult, lanky and brown, running on the beach or playing a musical instrument onstage or dancing in a troupe or skating at the park and I think, “she needs to grow up, so that she can do all those things.”  She has to detach from me so that she can attach to other people, make friends and one day fall in love, explore the world and take chances with her one wild and precious life, to quote Mary Oliver.

Joel came out to see how I was doing, before rushing off to meet a friend and leave me to reach out to my family member Mamas who always know just what to say (Thanks, Molly & Fab!).  He said, “You can always go pick her up in her crib and hold her, if you need to.”  But I knew I needed to let her sleep.  She needed her rest — she had so much more exploring of the world to do in the morning.

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2 thoughts on “The Golden Unicorns of Weaning

  1. So beautifully true Rhea! I can’t wait to see the wonders ahead for our kids (but want to savor this sweet, childhood time now).

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