Reclaiming privacy

Last night was the first night I have not had a bath with Maya in over a year. I don’t even like baths, particularly. Mommy daughter baths started off innocently, as a way to get her to have a bath when she was really cold and refused to get in. “How about Mommy gets in the bath too? Wouldn’t that be fun Maya?” But, like many things in our family, what was supposed to be an occasional thing has developed into a rather rigid routine.

I had told Maya on Sunday night that we were starting a new routine. I would have a bath with her that night, but not the next. I made sure she had heard me. She told me that she understood. The next night I poured her bath.  She got in and started playing. There was no “Mommy you get in the bath with me!” I was so excited by this unexpected cooperation that I rushed into the living room to tell Dave the good news. Just as I was whispering “She’s in the bath right now and hasn’t even asked me to come in!” I heard a small voice in the background say “Mommy I want num nums!” Silence as my elation deflates. “Mommy I want num nums!!” More silence as I decide how I’m to approach this. “MOMMY I WANT NUM NUMS!!!” 

I go into the bathroom. “Maya I told you last night that mommy is not going to have a bath with you tonight.” “But I want num nums mommy!” she says tearfully. “I know sweetie. You can have num nums when I put you to bed.” “But I want num nums now!” said even more tearfully. “I know sweetie. I know it’s hard.” Now the tearful pleas turn into wailing. Oh boy.

I sit by the bathtub and REMAIN CALM. I use my compassionate-counsellor voice and remember that this won’t last forever. And I wait and say soothing things, knowing that everything I suggest or say will be responded to with a “NO MOMMY!!!! I don’t want to do that!!!” It is at this point that I am eternally grateful for my training as a therapist. I spent a great deal of time having to sit with people (and not run away) while they experienced very intense and unpleasant emotions. And all I could do was be with them in that time, often in silence, and say the odd soothing thing. “Everything you are feeling is completely okay.” There were times when the intensity was intolerable. But I survived and I knew I would survive this. I tried as best as I could to exude compassion. It sometimes works.

The lovely thing about Maya is that she can often be distracted out of her anger or sadness. So I waited for an opening. After a few minutes of wailing, she stopped and played with a little bath toy. “That’s it!”, I thought. But she quickly remembered her despair and the wailing picked up where it had left off. As she was flailing her legs in protest, her foot made a squeaky sound. We both looked surprised and I pounced on the moment. “What was that Maya?” said with exaggerated surprise and delight. “Can you do it again?” And for the next few minutes Maya tried to get her feet to make the squeaky noise and giggled every time she did it. Tragedy narrowly averted!

When thinking about our bath routine and all of the other little funny routines we have developed in our family, I have concluded that whatever privacy I may have craved prior to Maya, it is completely absent now. When I am home, Maya is with me. Everywhere. This includes the bathroom. If I have to go the bathroom, Maya has to go to the bathroom. She will sit on her little potty and I will sit on the big one. And while we are going potty together, she will hand me her Pinky Bear and demand “Do Pinky Mommy!” And I will talk for Pinky Bear and she and Pinky Bear will have a delightful conversation.”Hi Pinky Bear!” “Hi Maya! How are you?” “I’m going pee pee!” “I can see that!” “That’s funny Pinky! Mommy your name is Flushie!”

But while I have abandoned any notion of privacy long ago, Dave still covets his. Especially privacy in the bathroom. Last night while we were getting Maya ready for bed, Dave was in the bathroom with the door shut. Maya and I were playing with her pizza set in her room. She wanted to bring Daddy a piece of pizza. I knew this would drive him nuts as he does not like to be disturbed when he is using the potty. So of course I said “Yes Maya I bet Daddy would love a piece of pizza!” And off she trotted to the bathroom with her piece of toy pizza for Daddy. “Daddy!!! I have a piece of pizza for you!!!” And he was a good sport the first time. “Thank you sweetie! But could you please go back to your room and shut the door? Please?” Not so much the second. Or the third. I sat in her bedroom laughing hysterically. Hopefully he won’t read this because he will be furious that I am writing about him using the facilities.

So this is me, on the road to reclaim a little bit of privacy from my daughter, who I love to bits. Not only am I taking my boobs back (see post below), but the rest of my naked body as well. Hopefully my laissez faire attitude towards nudity has helped Maya to be comfortable with her body. She has such a cute little baby body! From her incessant streaking through the house every chance she gets I am pretty confident that thus far, she has no body image problems. She also knows that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, and labia and a clitoris, even though she’s not always clear about who actually is a boy or a girl. She judges people’s sex by the length of their hair.

Another benefit of a general lack of privacy is unexpected moments of intimacy. I deeply treasure the intimacy that Maya and I have developed as we have shared these private moments. After her bath, for instance, she will run naked into our room and get under our covers. I will follow her and get under the covers too and we will wait for “Daddy Crane” to come and get us. (Daddy Crane uses his big crane arms to come and pick her up. Whenever he comes near she squeals and jumps into my arms). Snuggled together under the covers, looking into her face and mirroring her expression of joy, excitement and anticipation as she hears “Daddy Crane” coming, is a moment of private joy. It is like a part of me is observing and experiencing such awe and bliss that a moment like this can exist. So although I am may be slowly putting limits on physical privacy, those moments of private intimacy will be unbounded.

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Bye Bye num nums

Maya and I spent the weekend at my mom’s while Dave was working. I hadn’t seen her since October as she and her partner like to go away during the rainy winter months. A very interesting thing happened while we were there. Maya, who normally nurses in the morning and at night, did not. I have to admit I was almost giddy with optimism. “Maybe this is the weekend she will finally stop breastfeeding!”, I thought excitedly. Even though a part of me knew it was likely just the new scenery, I remained stubbornly hopeful. We had been talking to her for several weeks about the fact that little girls cannot have num nums forever. Only babies and little girls have num nums. Not big girls. And she was a big girl. Then we waited for the anticipated cognitive dissonance to resolve. I want num nums…but only babies have num nums and I’m a big girl! How can this be? Of course, when we got back home our normal breastfeeding routine reared its ugly head. Sigh.

I had never wanted to wean Maya. I wanted her to wean herself when she was ready. The few mothers I know who had breastfed their kids all told stories about how one day their kids, at around 1 year of age, just suddenly stopped breastfeeding. I assumed this would be the case with Maya and didn’t give weaning much thought. Now, however, that Maya and I are nearing the 3 year breastfeeding mark, I do have dark moments where I think that this “weaning on her own time” idea is a bunch of crap.

It’s not something I talk about very openly with people. When I told people I was still breastfeeding Maya after she’d barely passed the magic one year mark, I got the hairy eyeball. “Oh you’re one of those mothers”. Those meaning the mother who hauls her 10 year old out of class for a feed. Several women confided that the thought of their children actually being able to use words to ask to be breastfed was downright creepy. I wonder what they would think of Maya, nearing three, demanding to be breastfed? “Mommy I want num nums!” As I try to put my boob back into bra “Mommy those are my boobies!”

I had always planned on breast feeding Maya. There was never a question. Being adopted I am convinced that any problem I have ever had is somehow connected to the fact that I was not breastfed. (Joking mom!) I was lucky that Maya not only took to it very quickly, but that I never experienced any of the horrible things that can happen to one’s boobs when they are primarily being used to sustain the life of a baby. The only breastfeeding regret that I have is that I never thought to get a “before” shot of my boobs. They were quite lovely, really, and now are looking more and more like, well, deflated versions of their former awesome selves. They have been unceremoniously flattened, like when one uses a rolling pin to make pizza dough or pie crust. 

What I do remember in the early weeks of breastfeeding was the constant awe I felt when I realized that this little baby was thriving purely on the nourishment that my body was giving her. It was an amazing and humbling experience. Of course it is totally natural and mammals do this on a regular basis, it is hardly a miracle, but the actual lived experience felt wondrous.

The other miraculous thing about breastfeeding was that it seemed to cure everything. If Maya was crying for any reason whatsoever, breastfeeding would calm her. I was like a superhero and my superpower was my boobs. Vaccination needles? No problem! Dave would get the horrible task of holding her down while the doctor forced the needle into her leg, and I would soothe her with my super boobs.

There was only one time when that strategy was not effective. My mother stayed with us for a month a few weeks after Maya was born. She and Dave took Maya to try and give me a rest. While I was trying to sleep all I could hear was her screaming at the top of her lungs. Finally they gave up and brought her back up to me. The only thing I knew how to do was nurse her, so, of course, I tried that. She had just nursed, but nursing was my only tool in the tool box. It quieted her, so I assumed she must simply be incredibly hungry. When she was done, I put her over my shoulder to burp her. It felt like someone was slowly pouring a gigantic bucket of lukewarm water on me. It took my brain a few seconds to catch on to what was going on. She had barfed, literally, all over me. I was drenched. I had no idea a body that size could hold that much liquid without exploding.

The other interesting thing I noticed about breastfeeding, was that my boobs almost immediately transitioned from “sexual object” to completely and utterly utilitarian. I breastfed in pubic. I didn’t make a show of it, but I didn’t shroud myself either. I had tried to shroud myself like I’d seen other mothers do. But the whole putting the cover on, and then putting my head down this cover to check on her felt even more “Hey look at me I’m BREASTFEEDING” then discretely lifting my shirt. And why exactly should I be hiding? Feeding my baby was not shameful. Out of a combination of laziness and indignation I refused to allow other people’s discomfort to shame me into hiding myself away. That doesn’t mean, however, that I wasn’t a tiny bit mortified when I was in the supermarket, with Maya facing me in the shopping cart, and she reached over, took my boob right out of my shirt and attempted to latch on – at the exact time an employee walked right by. He didn’t even try to muffle his laughter. The only person who ever commented when I breastfed in public was my brother-in-law’s memorable line, when he remarked with shock, “Oh my God your nipples are HUGE!”

I can’t remember when Maya started calling them num nums, but num nums is a term she has used both for my boobs and the milk they contain. My mom took Maya into a shop one time and thought it was a riot that Maya pointed at a rack of bras and said to her “Bye bye num nums.” That’s what she says to my boobs when I get dressed and put my bra on.

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that breastfeeding has been one of the best things I have done for Maya and for our relationship. It is the only time where we sit quietly and share such silent, intimate, skin to skin contact. I completely believe the research that suggests that these moments are vital to brain development and attachment. Coming onto 3 years, however, I am convinced that I am done with breastfeeding. I have done my time and I want my boobs back. I want them to be mine again.

This is my plan. Like I did for potty training, I started to bring up the topic. “You know Maya, mommy won’t have num nums forever.” “Why mommy?” “Because mommy’s only make num nums when they have a baby and num nums is only for babies and little girls.” “Not big girls?” “No. Not big girls.” “Just babies and little girls?” “Just babies and little girls.” “But mommy I need num nums to make me feel better!” “Well there are other things that will make you feel better right? Like hugs make you feel better.” After these conversations I watch to see what evolves before the next converstion. Here is what I’ve noticed.

In the morning, when she’s sleepy and cuddly, she is my baby and wants her num nums. But if she wakes up on her own and is wide awake, she is a big girl and won’t ask. I have noticed that when she plays with her stuffies and they have hurt themselves, she will tell them that they need a hug. When she plays with her baby dolls and they are upset, she will try to give them num nums. She recently asked me to help lift up her shirt so she could give her baby num nums. She looked up at me as she held the baby to her chest and asked “Is this right?” It was one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. She is such a loving and caring girl, and I saw this as another sign of her desire to nurture and comfort her dolls. On a child development level I knew it was the beginning of developing mastery over a skill she will need in adulthood. I told this story to someone and they asked if didn’t think that her giving her baby dolls num nums was weird. To me, this question simply shows how bizarre our society has become,  when a girl models something as natural and normal as breastfeeding, something she herself has been doing for her whole life, and it is considered “weird.”

Although what I’m doing with Maya may be technically weaning, I feel like it is a nice compromise between my desire to have my body back, and Maya’s desire to become a big girl. Like most things that Dave and I do as parents, our strategies are based on an ebb and flow of information – we communicate to her a new idea and we let her communicate her readiness back to us, and so on. So far it has worked pretty well. And despite my desire to stop breastfeeding, I know that there will be a time (actually now) when I will tear up remembering her standing in front of me waving as I get dressed, saying “Bye bye num nums.”