This is the first time I've written a public letter to you, even though I always love them when they turn up on other people's blogs and scrapbooks. Your father isn't a huge fan of them; he thinks it is a little odd to publish something that is ostensibly personal. Um, Pops? Blogging (and scrapbooking, for that matter) are often about publishing things that are ostensibly personal. It's just the era in which we live. I guess he'll just have to get used to it, right? Just like he's getting used to being outnumbered by the girls.
But I digress.
Today was Day #2 of our journey toward weaning you. We've always let you nurse pretty much whenever you feel like it, and I think you'd agree that this has been a lovely arrangement. Whenever you are hungry, bored, fussy, tired, or just in need of some Mama love, you toddle on over and make your nursing hands - a sign that has evolved from the milking-a-cow gesture that the baby signs book suggests to something that looks more like the sign for money.
We have never had a schedule. Maybe we've had a routine, if you stretch the definition of the word. We've just had an understanding: you want milk, you get milk. And you make it clear how much you love it. Sometimes you crinkle up your nose and clap and giggle while I get settled in the rocking chair, you are so excited to nurse. Sometimes you even inexplicably start laughing even while you're still latched on - you're that happy.
What's amazing is that we've been able to maintain our nursing relationship even as I've worked full time since you were five weeks old. I completely agree with whoever said that pastoring a small congregation is one of the best jobs a working mother could have. When you were little you came to church with us a lot, and you did have your share of bottles of breastmilk. In recent months you've simply been patient, knowing that as soon as I return, we'll be back in business. The flexibility of my schedule has afforded me a taste of what it's like to be a stay-at-home-mama.
I should be clear here: you're not the only one who loves breastfeeding. I love nursing you. Even when it hurt like hell the first few weeks, I loved it. (I may be lying here, but the fog of memory descends selectively.) It amazes me that you've grown so much, nourished primarily by my milk. It makes me acutely aware that we're mammals, but it's so much more than mere biology. It is peaceful and beautiful and intimate and sweet. You already know how much I love words (I think you do already, too), but nursing is beyond words; profoundly nonverbal, in fact. Body language at its most eloquent. Communion.
I joked last week that I'd be disappointed if I had to stop nursing my "baby" "early". You are, after all, a toddler, in a culture in which the vast majority of babies are weaned before they turn one. I decided awhile ago that I'd be happy to keep nursing you until you're two, and in all honesty, I think you could probably convince me to continue longer than that. For one thing, that's the norm in other cultures, and for another, who the heck cares what anyone else thinks, anyway? This is you and me, baby girl. And your father, who has been so wonderfully supportive of our habit, all along the way.
So why, you would ask if you could, am I beginning to deter, distract, deny you this pleasure? I don't think either of us are really very ready. You see, Chicken Noodle, Mama got into a writing workshop. In Minnesota. And even though the folks running the show assured us that they absolutely supported breastfeeding, etc., they didn't think it was such a good idea for you to tag along. I had to make a decision. Stay and nurse, or go and wean. My Mama suggested a middle way: wean you down to just once a day nursing, bring the trusty old Medela to Minnesota, and hope you'll resume nursing upon my return. (Mamas have so much wisdom. Remember that.)
I think I'm okay with this. It's hard to know just yet. Maybe I'll have regrets; Pops has wondered if I'm not choosing to be sad for several weeks so I can be happy for one week. I do know that you don't like my decision... probably the first of many decisions I'll make that you won't like. It just feels so monumental, to nick away at this physical attachment that has bound us since moments after the umbilical cord was cut. But that's what this parenting this is, right? Guiding you toward independence. Gently, for both our sakes.
I'm sorry, Juliette. But not sorry that you aren't a baby anymore, not sorry that you really can handle drinking your milk from a cup, not sorry that on top of being a pastor and your mama, I need to be a writer, too.