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I’m sure everyone in my family has now seen more of my breasts, and more often, than they ever expected or cared to. My boy Zeke loves to nurse. And why wouldn’t he? Thankfully, he’s a good sleeper, usually going through the night without needing to eat these days. As a result, however, he packs it in during the day, breastfeeding six or eight or a dozen times a day. I lose count. Every day I intend to keep track, but my brain is so cloudy that I forget. He enjoys long, luxurious meals. He appreciates quick snacks. When I’m out in public, especially in a crowded place or if strangers are seated nearby, I feed Zeke under a nursing cover. I can’t imagine it’s very discreet, because anyone would see what I’m doing, but at least my boobs and my belly are not exposed to a room full of people. But at home, or on vacation, I don’t bother. So Family, I hope you haven’t been offended. I am nutritious.
After a long and thorough search for an acceptable day care provider to care for Zeke when I go back to work in earnest, I found someone who has run her home-based day care for 33 years. Her house is five minutes from ours and she seemed conscientious and the kids there seemed happy. Zeke won’t start there until September, and even then he will only be with her two days a week and with my parents for two. I’m sure he’ll be fine, and if I decide I don’t like her, we can always take him out and find someone else. And yet. Putting him in day care at all feels like a colossal betrayal. I am his source of sustenance. Sure, he’s taken bottles of breast milk from his dad and grandparents and great aunt. But it’s me he loves to eat from and with. Sure, there’s some ego involved here. Being the mother of a baby is nothing if not a rush to the ego–look what my body developed and birthed and now I’m feeding him and he’s growing and WOW — I am doing this. Even if it’s basically all happening automatically and you’re not really doing anything yourself, just letting yourself be used as a vessel and a milk factory. Still, it feels impressive and gratifying. Much as you feel pleased with yourself when you take him to the grocery store in the stroller and buy $100 worth of groceries that you shop for with a basket attached to each side of the stroller and then you stroll home the half mile with 9 bags hanging from the hooks on your stroller handlebars. You don’t always have that many opportunities to feel really physically competent–or at least I don’t–but taking care of this baby provides plenty.
I realize that soon after he starts day care, he will likely start eating some solid food, so he won’t be as dependent on nursing as he is now. At some point, that will be a relief to me and certainly to Zoe, who is visibly frustrated with the lack of intimacy she is able to share with me now in terms of snuggles and lap time because Zeke is so often occupying my arms and taking priority. Life will be easier for me, just simpler and less demanding, when I don’t have to nurse so much. But at the same time that intensity of being needed, and being able to provide such an essential service for this wonderful little person, will diminish. And as much as constant breastfeeding has driven me insane, when I just want to eat a sandwich or go to the bathroom, the thought of giving it up makes me equally sad. I know I’m not giving it up just because he’ll be in day care, but it will all be different. And we know change is hard. Although when you have kids, change happens about every five minutes whether you like it or not.
I can see Zoe changing by the minute since her brother was born. While she seems less likely to listen the first time and increasingly able to stand and stare at us when we ask her to do something, or why she did or didn’t do something, wearing this expression of complete intransigence, she is also more independent and both able and willing (if sometimes resigned to doing so with a loud sigh) to amuse herself for long stretches. I guess she realizes it’s either be her own entertainment or stand around being pathetic while we take care of her brother. Last summer I took her to the pool almost every day after camp and played with her in the water. This summer it has proven complicated and exhausting to get in the water with Zeke, although I’ve done it a handful of times, and Zoe has adapted quite nicely. She swims by herself, throwing in pool toys and diving to catch them, or she makes friends, or she plays with kids she’s met before. She’s adapted.
Before Zeke was born, Randy and I easily agreed that we would be sure to spend one-on-one time with Zoe to make sure she got enough attention. Of course that makes sense and is what any good parent would do. But then life happens and it’s harder to do the things that obviously of course you should be doing. I had this idea that I was spending all this time with Zoe because I spend a lot of time driving her places and watching her swim, or do tae kwan do, or what have you. But Zeke is always there. And as often as not, screaming in the car.
So finally, I took Zoe out today for a mommy-daughter outing, to get our nails done. Something definitely not appropriate for babies and something only big girls get to do. She chose neon orange for her toes, and what she called sparkly indigo for her fingernails. And she got flower designs on her thumbs and big toes. Then we went out to lunch, where Randy and Zeke met us. Thoughtfully, Zeke slept through lunch.
Then after lunch I had the opportunity to indulge myself in some mommy-alone-without-kids-and-not-attempting-to-do-work-or-errands time, while Randy hung out with Zoe and Zeke at home. I had a reflexology foot massage, supremely relaxing in its own right, but also just blissful in that I was just on my own, being taken care of, and not taking care of anyone else at all. Even for a minute. My breasts safely cocooned inside my shirt.
It’s good to be needed, even when it’s exhausting. And it’s good to have the chance to give something to other people who need you besides the little one who just likes to suckle and smile. And it’s good to take care of yourself once in a while. And now that it’s bedtime for the grown-ups, that means it’s time for me to pump, to make a bottle for Zeke to enjoy with someone else who loves him.