“Mama, no. Mama! NO!
She cried and then cried some more, as I pried the tube of lipstick out of her small but unusually strong grip. She threw a bit of a fit on the floor, as I quickly swiped the confiscated red lipstick across my lips. Boundaries had not been clear. Sometimes I let her have some of my chap stick while I get ready. Why would she assume that this time was any different? My sassy, witty 2 year old with her intelligent, analytic reasoning, wanted what I had given her before and was not going to back down without a fight.
But I didn’t give in. Not today, I was already late.
I would be leaving for the day, 8 hours between her and me.
By the time I would be arriving home, I would be also getting her ready for bed. I wanted connection. I know she did, too. It was my second day away from her for an extended period of time. Time that is usually spent, liberally and lazily, in each others arms, playing, laughing, and enjoying whatever else the day brought. I wanted to leave her calmly, patiently, and ideally in my arms nursing from my breast, like we always say goodbye.
“Mama, can we have ‘milky’ on the bed!” she cried out.
By then, there was no time left to nurse. I had to hurry out the door.
I leaned down next to her and whispered in her ear,
“I know you really wanted my lipstick, it’s really fun to wear lipstick, huh?
Maybe we can wear some later and we can have some milk when I get home. I love you so much.
Mama will see you very soon.”
I cried in the car. 7 hours and 45 minutes, between her and me.
And then, later that evening, on my mat during savasana, after my yoga practice I began to cry again. Under the dim lights, vivid in my mind was the image of her little red, lipstick stained fingers draped around my neck, her chubby wet cheeks pressed to mine, and her coconut scented curls against my lips. The weight of intense guilt lingered from the rush of the morning. I wondered if I would come home to my sweet baby greeting me, excited to have her milk. Or— what I really feared most— was that, in my haste to get to work, she felt rejected.
Would today be the day she decides that nursing is over?
Since her second birthday passed, I have wondered this often, when it will be and how it will be, that very last time she nurses from my breast. Will it be abrupt and all at once as many mothers have said or a slow, steady departure from the place she has happily found refuge and comfort in for the past 2 years.
What I will feel? Relief or grief?
I think a little of both, but the latter much more so.
The assertive, independent temperament of a toddler sometimes demands more of me than I can handle and any other mother I imagine nursing their own 1 or 2 year old, who— like myself, most likely is also splitting themselves between their children, work, and well, themselves. Nursing a toddler is hard work. Every second worth it, but knowing that doesn’t always relieve the challenges that, as mothers, we face in the midst of it all. And it also doesn’t mean every moment spent nursing is a happy one.
The first few months of breastfeeding nirvana eventually turn in to a cumulative of countless hours of sleep gone, meals missed, tight shoulders, achy backs, weight gained or some loss, feeling at your best and at your worst— all at the same time. And let’s not forget the magnificent gift and curse of being the only one who has the most effective equipment to ease boo boos, settle tantrums, and put their baby down for a nap or bedtime.
There are nights I revel in the smell of her skin and the peaceful look on her face as she drifts off on my breast before bed but then there are nights where I slip away, almost immediately, after she falls asleep, anxious to finally have a few moments all to myself. Knowing it will end means so many things, the ending of a part of our relationship that will never come again. The ending of a way we have, so easily, reconnected at night after a long day or awakened, sleepily, in the morning before the rush of endless responsibility hits.
The ending of impromptu nursing sessions in cars, grocery stores, at the mall, or on park benches drenched in the sun with her small, clammy, dirt specked hands twirling my long black strands of hair around each of her fingers and those big brown eyes of hers looking up at me, in love and contentment.
What will replace that?
Secretly and maybe a bit unrealistically,
I fear that nothing ever will.
So much of my identity, in being a mother, is centered on this very special and incredibly, purposeful relationship of nursing my baby. Our connection inextricably rooted in this remarkable, yet convenient exchange of a whole lot of chaos for little bits of stillness, of doing everything, all at once, for just a few rare moments of doing nothing—at all.
“Almost home… I’m almost home…”
I, impatiently, whispered aloud to myself in my car, as I pulled in to the driveway. I turned the key in the lock of our front door and then stopped. I listened behind the door before going in. I could hear her call out, “Mama!” There was excitement in her and still a bit of anxiety in me. I opened the door. She ran to me giggling with joy. I scooped her up into my arms and with great hope and a bit of lasting fear, I told her how very much I had missed her and asked if she wanted to lay down and have some milk now. She eagerly agreed, wiggling out of my arms and dashing over to the bedroom where we typically nurse when I get home.
It was as if the moments before I left, in that hasted filled rush, had never happened.
It is how all children live, isn’t it? In that sacred space, that exists unencumbered by what came before, free of guilt and regret. A space that is filled with second chances and unconditional love. A space I try my best to enter daily and hold her in whenever I can. I don’t know if I will ever be ready for the moment I walk in to the house, after a long and difficult day spent away from her, and she answers no to the question of whether or not she wants to nurse.
Endings are never easy.
But at least for today, we began again, cuddled in each other’s arms in the familiar embrace that reminds me how lucky I am to still have her to love, to hold, to nurse.