I may have just breastfed my youngest daughter for the last time.
& and I are headed to Dulles Airport later today to catch the overseas red-eye. We will be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary (!) and our mutual fortieth birthdays (!!) with a magnificent trip to Rome and Florence, where we will get to see family, explore ruins, wander through museums, ingest carbs in outrageous quantity, and hopefully return home with at least one new leather bag. What we will not be doing on this trip is bringing the kids along.
We’ll be gone for ten days. That’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my children.
Natalie’s nearly four; Evie’s nearly two. They’ll be fine. They’re in the capable hands of their Nana and Bubba, who for part of our trip will actually be staying here in our house with the girls (the better to avoid the rush-hour traffic around daycare). On weekends they’ll repair to their house in the suburbs, where the girls will walk the twin dachshunds and play in the playhouse and have all the fun to which they’re accustomed. Their lives will go on more or less as usual; they may miss us, but probably not much.
Me, I’m not so sure. I suspect that once we get to Italy, the giddiness of disappearing obstacles will set in. The ability to eat, sleep, and transport myself at will, in whatever manner I choose, will be lovely. But at the moment, I am trying to fit my head around the fact that — after twenty-one and a half months — Genevieve and I, myself and my miniature, are going to wean cold turkey. Today is the day that we flip the switch and transform, just like that, from mother and baby to parent and child.
If you had told me that I would be breastfeeding my child within three months of her second birthday, that she would unlatch and announce “All gone!” and then, after switching sides, unlatch again and say “All gone this side!” with a grin, I would probably have shuddered at the thought. Breastfeeding beyond infancy was one of those eerily politicized features of the Motherhood Cult, a belief system I found alien, if not outright antithetical, to my worldview.
Plus, I barely made any milk. Ever. At my best I could pump maybe a bottle a day for Genevieve. And once she started eating regular people food, I watched my already-meager supply dwindle to almost nothing.
And yet she still nursed.
“Mommy milky?” she’d ask brightly when I came into her room in the morning. (Or, less heartwarmingly, at the top of her lungs at 2:30 am: MOMMY MILKY AGAIN! MOMMY MILKY AGAIN!) I don’t know what, if anything, she was getting when she nursed. But somehow I managed to sate her, and she kept asking for it again, day after day, despite all indications that the well was running dry. (It wouldn’t be my first time before a judge who decided to ignore clear and convincing evidence.)
This morning, Evie unlatched from the left side, smiled, and requested, “Watch Mary Poppins?” When I countered that we had already returned that movie to the library, she latched on to the right side, allowed me to install her second pigtail, and, after a few minutes, popped off with an even bigger smile. “Mommy milky all gone.”
Now it is. Now it really is. I’m going to get on a plane in eight hours and won’t see my baby girl again until October 19, by which point even the longest-surviving outliers among my exhausted mammaries will have given up the ghost. And even if I could manage to muster a drop or two, by then she will probably have given up asking.
She’ll have forgotten already.
And that’s how it’s supposed to work, right? Kids aren’t supposed to remember nursing. (I sure don’t. Natalie doesn’t either.)
All of this is natural and normal and the proper order of things. And this should be a nice soft landing for both of us. Right?
But then I will no longer have a baby.
In truth, I haven’t had one for awhile. If you looked at Genevieve you’d never guess that this hardy toddler, this mighty, speedy, spirited little girl with her apple cheeks and pigtails and mouthful of teeth, was still pulling mommy-milk from the source on a daily basis. Once I can admit to myself what is obvious to everyone else (talk about ignoring clear and convincing evidence!), we will both move smoothly into the next phase. She’s no longer a baby, she’s a big kid. And I’ve equally outgrown my madonna-phase. Onward! To Italy! And childhood!
And bedtime stories. And lullabies. Even if they still refer to her as baby.