Archives for the month of: October, 2014

There is always a final straw. And we had found it.

Sunday night. Bath time. The four of us were splashing, laughing, and talking. Honest Husband and I were chatting about Honest Girl, and the problems she had been having at her preschool. Three times, her teachers had approached me, and said that Girl wasn’t being social in class. She wouldn’t participate in the sing-a-longs. She never raised her hand. She spoke to none of the other children (though she reported to us that she had “friends” at school, and knew all of her classmates’ names). She would only address the teacher in one-on-one situations, not even telling her teacher when she needed to use the potty, leading to multiple accidents at school (she has been having almost none at home).

“We have a checklist. To judge student preparedness,” her teacher explained to me. “And we can check off everything, except that last one. That social one.”

I pushed me irritation at her use of a “checklist” aside (having worked in higher education, I knew that such lists were developed and designed merely as a guideline for a wide range of “normal” child expectations. They were meant to show providers early warning signs of any kinds of delays or potential future problems. I was irked that they were using one so stringently to find my two-year-old—who was obviously not delayed—lacking), and I started trying to investigate the reason for Girl’s shyness. At home, she’s talkative, loquacious, bossy, and surprisingly verbal for her age. The other day in the grocery store, after I found her little sister sucking on a package of cheese, Honest Girl helpfully announced, “She’s just chewing the hell out of it!” (By the way, thank you for laughing and not scowling, woman at the deli counter. It helps to know that we all have a sense of humor about these things.) On that same grocery trip, a woman approached her and asked Honest Girl her name. Without hesitation, she replied, “Princess Sophia.” She then proceeded to force this poor stranger to address her as “Princess” for the rest of their interaction.

Shyness is not usually her fatal flaw.

But for weeks now, her teacher has been complaining of it.

So, on Sunday night, at bath time, Honest Husband and I started to ask Honest Girl about it.

I had been asking her if she liked talking at school, and gotten nowhere. She would reply that she liked playing with her friends. She liked the tire swing. She eats all of her pretzels and cheese at snack time. She seemed perfectly content. Honest Husband decided to try a different approach.

“Do you like talking to your teachers?”

“No.”

The “no” reverberated around the room. It was so quick. So final. So clear.

“No? Why not?”

“They’re mean to my friends.”

We exchanged significant looks. The girls were enrolled in a daycare that has seen its share of troubles. It caters to lower income families (we put our girls in it because they were the cheapest hourly rate we could find), and, while most of the kids are sweet, there have been a few instances of children lashing out violently (Honest Girl had been the victim of one particularly violent boy. One day she came home with scratches on her face when he tried to claw at her eyes. He was eventually removed from the school because of his outbursts). Many of the kids there were getting their biggest meals at the school. They would arrive dirty. Most of the staff were underpaid and severely undertrained. They had just recently been forced into following the state regulations for daycares and preschools, and the administration didn’t seem to know how they were going to ever manage to comply with these new rules without pricing out some of the students in the greatest need. They worked very long hours, without much financial support, and sad, secondhand supplies.

“What do they do that’s mean?”

“They say, ‘Don’t cry. Stop crying. Don’t cry.’”

Honest Girl told us that, instead of giving hugs and support when a child cries, the exasperated staff would just scold, “Stop that crying right now.” She told us a story. One of her friends had fallen down and bumped her forehead. She was given ice, then told, “Stop crying.” Honest Girl said that her friend was told to stop crying because her boo-boo was fading away.

Honest Girl said that she had never been scolded because, “I don’t cry. Only my friends do.”

She was afraid to cry.

My two-year-old was afraid to cry at school.

So, she shut down. She hid behind toys. She avoided the staff. She was silent in class. She decided to mess in her pants to avoid trying to get the teacher to help her.

For a year and a half she had been enrolled in that school. Her teachers had always praised her to me. She was a good kid. She listened. She liked to be “big,” so she helped, and followed rules. She was always dressed in clean clothes. She knew how to give kisses and hugs. She was one of the kids they didn’t have to worry about.

It turns out, she was so good at following rules, she had learned how to be silent.

It was the last straw.

My daughter’s silence.

I cracked. I broke. Never again.

The very next day, I went to an excellent preschool in my area. I talked to the staff. I told them our situation. I got lucky. There was one slot open in Honest Girl’s age group. Within a week, it would have been gone. I signed both of them up right then. It’s more expensive on an hourly basis, and I will have fewer hours for my work (instead of two full days, I will have three mornings to myself a week), but it will be worth it. We’ll figure everything else out.

We have to.

I pulled the girls from their old daycare the very next day. We had paid through the week, but Honest Husband and I both decided that we’d rather eat the cost than have them go one more time to that place.

This morning, I dropped the girls off at their new school.

I cried.

Because Honest Girl was finally excited for school. Her new school.

Because it was what a real preschool should be like.

Because she jumped and bounded into her new classroom.

Because her teachers greeted her with, “Hello, friend!”

Because I trusted them with my children.

Because I knew that they would start loving their teachers finally.

I cried.

Because as I left, I heard Honest Girl’s voice. She turned to her new teacher and proudly declared, “I don’t need diapers. I use the potty.”

I cried.

Because I will never let her learn to be silent again.

Because I’m so sorry I ever let that happen in the first place.

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry.

Never again, little girl.

Never again.

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I suppose that my parenting style could be best described as “Rip it off like a Band-Aid.” I’m not one for long transitions. A week before Honest Baby’s first birthday, I decided to start weaning her straight from breastmilk to a sippy cup. For six weeks, this method seemed to be working pretty well. I had gotten her down to just nursing before naps and bedtime. Then, the poor thing came down with a double ear infection. She was miserable, and I couldn’t deny her when she wanted to nurse around the clock. The timing was terrible. We were in day 3 of potty training her older sister, and I suddenly had to be both physically attached to my infant while sitting with my toddler in the bathroom, celebrating every single drop that landed in the toilet. Honest Girl would end the days, exhausted from learning this new life skill, and flop into bed, while Honest Baby, nose dripping, head pounding, and ears hurting, would want to nurse to sleep, then would wake up several times at night to be comforted again. My breasts were becoming full again. I had to pull out my D-cup nursing bras.

One day, she nursed 15 times. Seven times right in a row. I was trapped on the couch for two hours. I had to ask Honest Husband to help feed me dinner because I couldn’t move.

The last time, right before bed, she didn’t even suckle. I watched as she chewed—literally, chewed—my nipple. I became angry, broke her latch, and said aloud, “That’s it! I’m done. You don’t need this, and I don’t need this. You’re finished, kid.”

And that’s how I stopped breastfeeding my last child.

I had to stop breastfeeding Honest Girl cold-turkey when she was nine months old. I had come down with a horrible UTI that had landed me in the ER at midnight. I had gone from fine to pissing blood within the span of an hour, and had to be placed on a strong antibiotic. When the lab work came back, it was discovered that I had caught a drug-resistant bacteria, and I was put on two more antibiotics simultaneously.

“Can I still breastfeed my daughter?” I asked the nurse over the phone as she told me the news.

There was a long pause. “Technically, yes. But essentially she’s going to be getting these antibiotics, too. The doctor knows that you’re breastfeeding, so he prescribed ones that can be used while you nurse. But, honestly? If it was me? I wouldn’t.”

So, I stopped. It was a surprisingly easy transition. The antibiotics made my supply disappear almost instantly, and Honest Girl was already taking bottles at daycare. We just switched her bottles over to formula, and Honest Husband took over bedtimes. After three days of being cranky, she had moved on. I was freed from being attached to my child, and I had a “good” reason, the “right” kind of excuse, to tell the hardcore breastfeeding advocates in my life why I just didn’t make it through the full first year. I was unconcerned.

Besides, I knew that I’d have another child.

And I didn’t want to wait any longer.

Almost instantly, I got my first period.

And six weeks later, I was pregnant with Honest Baby.

For 13 months, I breastfed full time. She’s never had formula. I bought two containers of it, for a “just in case” supply, and when she turned 11 months, I gave the formula to my neighbor (the same one who also received my donated milk), unopened.

In that time, I also donated thousands of ounces of breastmilk. Three babies ended up using my donated milk. My neighbor’s, and two small children at my kids’ daycare who had some terrible digestive issues. My milk was the only thing they could eat without throwing up.

I stopped pumping a week before I started to wean Honest Baby. When my neighbor stopped by to pick up the last of my frozen supply, I apologized for not having very much on hand. “Hold on, Rachel. Hold on.” She counted what was there. It was over 100 ounces.

When I look at these numbers, when I think about what my body has produced, about the life it has sustained (and maybe even made better), I am content. I worked hard. I gave my time, my body, my needs to these small, burgeoning human beings. I lost sleep. I lost inches. I lost the wonderful sensitivity of my nipples. I lost my sex drive. Hell, I even lost my periods. I gave it all to them.

And I want it all back.

I really do.

I was ready to be done.

Done, done.

So why does this hurt so much?

Why, during those first two days after cutting off Honest Baby, did I physically ache—not just in my full, heavy breasts, but all down my sternum and into the pit of my stomach—to nurse her just one more time?

Why did I have to clench my fists in order to keep my arms from reaching out, from cradling her, and giving her exactly what we both wanted more than anything else in the world?

Why did I weep when I sent my husband to her at three in the morning, sad and jealous that it wasn’t me?

Why does it sometimes feel as though someone has taken a giant ice cream scoop and hollowed me out from shoulders to hips, leaving behind a gaping cavity?

Last night, when my husband put Honest Baby to bed, I started to cry. Over the monitor, I heard him read her a story, then rock her, making up lyrics to Brahm’s Lullaby. Softly, he placed her in her crib, put her favorite lovie close by, whispered, “I love you,” and walked out the door. She rolled over, and promptly fell asleep.

For 13 months, I could never get her to quietly go to sleep. I would nurse her until she would sweetly snore in my arms. Then I’d break her latch, and put her down.

And she would cry the second I closed the door behind me.

When my husband came downstairs, I sobbed, “I’ve been making her miserable for a whole year. I make her miserable!”

He held me. “She’s just ready now. She wasn’t ready before. You’re both ready now.”

It’s true. I am ready.

But I’m not.

This morning, a week after I finally pulled away from my baby and cut her off from my breast, I squealed with delight upon seeing my now-empty breasts in the mirror in the morning. I came rushing out of the bathroom, flashing Honest Husband.

“Look at my boobies! They’re so little and cute! And so soft!”

He looked up and smiled. “You look like you again.”

I’m feeling more like me again.

But also not.

Because “me” is now also a mother who holds her child in her arms and offers the sweet, sticky milk that her body has produced, that her body wants to give, to pour into her baby.

“Me” is now a woman with an emptiness where there once was fullness.

“Me” now has nothing—idle parts—where there once was life.

“Me” is still working on being okay with that.

I do love my new, small breasts. I love the softness. The sag. The way that the skin falls down, relaxed. I even love the darkness of my nipples. Signs of the beautiful, strange, powerful elixir they once contained, and the sweet, toothless mouths that once sought them.

I love that Honest Baby is falling in love with her daddy in a whole new way.

I love that I now get to have bedtime with my smart, funny minx of a toddler while my husband rocks our baby in the next room.

I love that my baby is growing into an independent child.

I love that I’m able to try to become me again.

I love that I still have that opportunity.

But, yes, I’m still crying.

Being a parent is sometimes like being a recovering addict. I’d give anything to have just one more time. Just once more with breastfeeding. Just once more to see that second blue line appear on a pregnancy test. Just once more to feel that first kick from the baby growing inside of me. Just once more to watch a child that is loved and wanted emerge, like a gooey miracle, from the deepest part of me. Just once more. Just once.

But, sometimes, you have to stop. You have to decide that this will be the last time. It has to end.

An end.

It’s the only way to make a beginning.