I loved breastfeeding. I loved it in spite of getting off to a rough start with our first son. The kid wouldn't latch. He just laid there with his gigantic head and skin-and-bones chicken body. He had to be starving. I was starving just looking at him!
It took a very patient nurse -- after numerous attempts of putting my nipple in his unresponsive mouth to no avail --to squirt formula all over my breast to get the party started. "Don't be such a lazy baby," she gently chastised him in her lilting Jamaican accent, finally getting him to eat.
I loved breastfeeding because it bonded me to my sons. It also made me feel powerful - the stuff coming out of my booby was keeping my sons alive! It was trippy. Breastfeeding, as part of motherhood overall, also provided me with a distinct, defined role. While my husband worked, I got up every hour around the clock, turning a baby with a gigantic head and skin-and-bones chicken body into a baby with a gigantic head and matching gigantic body.
I didn't go into breastfeeding -- or motherhood -- with any set plan or set ideas. I was clueless. Truly. Like an animal in the wild, I just went on instinct. It felt right to let them sleep in my bed and carry them as much as they wanted and to constantly feed them. It just felt right. And, because it felt right, I would hold up Dr. Sears books as a defense against my husband screaming "Ferberize him!" while our baby screamed and my boobs squirted milk in response.
With both my sons at around 10 months of age I decided it was time to introduce a sippy cup. I was still breastfeeding, but at this point it was more a source of comfort than nourishment. I was still liking the process, but I wasn't quite loving it. First, they didn't need my milk to stay alive. Cheerios and Pirate's Booty and 12 jars of Earth's Best baby food a day had that covered. Secondly, I was annoyed at both their inability to fall asleep without their booby pacifier and with my husband's subsequent gloating.
By the time they reached 12 months I was done. Like that, on a dime. (Actually with my younger son I don't remember one day of just stopping. It was more we both just eased off of it.) With my older son, however, I'll never forget when I cut him loose from the boob. We were at our apartment and a bunch of the families from his play group were over. I was sitting on the floor talking to one of the moms when I hear "Ma." Waddling toward me with chubby arms outstretched is my plaid-shirted, big-headed toddler. Just as his clumsy, pudgy hands tugged at my shirt, something inside me made me announce "enough." It just felt right to break the breastfeeding bond.
Though I chose to end breastfeeding I was afraid that once I stopped our bond wouldn't be as close. With both my sons I found that we actually grew closer because their newfound independence made me more free, both physically and emotionally. For them, because they were no longer physically tied to me, they could literally run off in new directions, allowing them to grow and mature.
Now, 18 years later Nature -- in her infinite wisdom -- is helping both my son and I prepare for his release from the parental nest in much the same way. (Interestingly though it's my husband who is now having the harder time separating.)
Last year when our son announced Northeastern in Boston as his college choice I was so happy for him but was devastated for me. I wasn't ready to stop mothering him. I still wanted to make him french toast and do his laundry and drive him wherever he wanted to go. It didn't feel right to have him away from us.
But something happened this past summer. Whether he's doing it consciously or not, he's just not around. He's hiking. Or at a concert. Or home but is so involved in a programming project, he might as well not be home.
He's also been pulling away and becoming more independent. He has his license and no longer requires a chauffeur. He makes his own french toast. The kid won't even let me get him a plum, as in "I'm getting a plum, you want one?" to which he replies "no, I'll get it when I get up."
Finally, just like with the breastfeeding at 10 months, I'm ready to give him a little push toward the college equivalent of the "sippy cup." In the last few weeks I found I'm not as enthused about doing his (insert expletive here) laundry or his dishes or anything else that I feel an almost 19-year-old man should be doing. (In his defense, he would do anything and everything we asked him.) I can't believe I'm writing this, but it's time for him to be out of the house and on his own.
Just like it took my body and mind time to adjust to the end of breastfeeding, I know there will be a period of adjustment to seeing his empty bedroom (and subsequently his brother's after that). The difference between now and a few months ago is that I'm ready and looking forward to the next stage of motherhood with my sons. It just feels right.
Oh how I loved summer with my kids. I was utterly overjoyed to have them in the house, unencumbered by schedules or homework. Those warm, sunny days were silly popsicle-stick sculptures and twirling backyard garden sprinklers. They were impromptu picnics of sliced apples and cheese sticks with our sweet dog, Hershey, resting lazily by our side.
School meant they were away from me, and I didn't like it. I'd be the one saying to them "are you sure you don't have a fever?" in an attempt to get them to stay home and cuddle, our heads resting next to each other as we read.
On the weekends when our sons were little, they made our house friend central. We relished the chaos, a bunch of kids on our floors covered in quilts of various colors, snacks and legos and strewn throughout the house. It was joyous.
When you've experienced this kind of happiness, you don't want it to end, so my husband and I often talk about -- only half jokingly -- of moving somewhere where we can buy acres of land to build a family compound where one day our sons and future daughter-in-laws and, of course, myriad of grandchildren can run through sprinklers and skip school to be with us.
But this is our need, and we know that just like a fledgling bird must leave his nest, so too will our sons. Life, it turns out, is organically preparing us for this eventuality. It started with a natural emotional distancing during the pre-teen years. It continued with a healthy independence, where they didn't need our help with homework or to tuck them in at night. It, of course, has culminated with the college-application process when we realized that the closest school on our 12th-grader's list is 600-miles away.
Therefore, I have no choice but to steel myself emotionally to the reality that one day when I look into my sons' bedrooms, they won't be at their computer or reading a comic in their bed. I know that soon the arts-and-crafts boxes will need to be sealed and put away and the garden sprinklers will have to accept that their only job is to water the melancholy lawn.
I think about this as at 5:00 am this morning as I'm driving my son to his school. There, he will meet with some of his classmates to board a bus to the airport so that they can fly across country for a competition . As we quickly say goodbye in the car, I wave to him through the window, but he has already joined his friends, a shadow in the uncharted, charcoal sky.
Purgatory, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "a place or state of temporary suffering or misery." Like thousands of families of 12th-graders across the country, we are exactly there, in a college-acceptance limbo.
Will our son get accepted to his first choice? Will any college want him? How far away will he go?
The answers to the first two questions are easy: 1. Eff you Stanford, and 2. Yes, of course, so eff you, Stanford.
The response to the third remains to be seen and, as a result, brings the kind of purgatory which is more religious in nature: "a state of punishment" where you are made "more pure through suffering". This suffering has nothing to do with the endless applications or SAT scores. This suffering, which is never allowed to spill over to the surface but instead must simmer silently, is brought on by the most unnatural thing you will ever do: letting go of that which you want to hold on to most tightly, your son or daughter.
Our son was the ugliest newborn. Ever. His skin was a titian tint, from a liver that definitely needed a few more weeks in the uterine cooker. He was so skinny that my friend revealed to me, thankfully not at the time but years later, that she secretly went to her mom in a panic over his plucked-chicken appearance. Making his scrawniness even more glaring was his gigantic head, an infantile Mardi-Gras float if there ever was one.
But it didn't matter. Like the episode of the "Partridge Family" where Keith Partridge thinks the discordant girl he is smitten with is the best singer in the world, we fell in love. Instantly.
And as he grew, physically and emotionally, we were not only in love, but my husband and I realized we really like this kid. Then we were blessed to add his little brother to this mix who, we truly didn't think possible, we love and like just as much.
Now, like the Partridge Family, we have a group that really works together, and the truth is we are not ready to let our first born off our multi-color familial bus. But we know that we don't have a choice. Our son has expressed -- both outwardly and through a natural, emotional distancing -- that he's ready for a solo career.
So, we wait. And together my husband and I keep our fingers crossed that when all the college decisions are in that we only need to drive this bus far enough away that everyone is left singing "C'mon Get Happy".
I'm just trying to figure it out, like everyone else.