Sunday, May 20, 2012

What a Boob! - Adventures in Parenting

Call it the boob seen around the world.  For those who have been under a rock for the last week, this Time magazine cover shows a young hot mom breast feeding her three year old son who happens to be standing on a chair.  The title of the article - "Are you Mom Enough?" - attempts to throw more gas on the Mommy wars - pitting working moms vs. stay at home moms vs. the moms who would rather bottle feed (both working moms and stay at home moms can fall into that category).  The look on the young mother's face seems to challenge women to "man-up" - to be willing to have the balls to whip out a boob and feed their kids - no matter what, where or when.  It's part of a movement called Attachment Parenting  which encourages moms to breast feed at will - anytime time of the day or night and to be completely available to their children including having the child sleep with mom and dad.  In short, the child is the center of that parental universe - there are few limits. 

Just to be clear, I have nothing against mothers want to nurse their children into toddler-hood.  I actually breast feed both my kids until they were at least two and a half years.   I did it as a working mother for both.  With Amber, I had an office job in Miami and nursed her in the morning while taking my "Pump-N-Style" to work to pump my utters two times a day.  I found that I could pump almost a quart of milk daily that would be quickly frozen when I got home so that Max would have it to feed Amber during the day.  At that point, Max was a stay-at-home dad.  In fact Max was so good at taking care of her that if he'd been able to nurse, I would have been completely unnecessary.  When I got off work, I was so full that I had to feed her and would ask Max to not give her much in the two hours before I got home.   The feeling of full breasts was very uncomfortable as I would ride home from the office on Metro-Rail.  My breasts would engorge to twice the size leaving at night then they were in the morning which would sometimes get me more attention then I wanted from lonely businessmen who were also riding public transit.   But the best time of the day was coming back to my baby, sitting in the rocking chair and having that quiet time with the two of us - it also gave Max a break. 

My work situation when I had Daniel was completely different - I was working as the marketing director of a theater in mid-town Atlanta which was filled with women, a few gay men and one straight guy.   I'd work from home half the time and then bring him with me into the office where he was welcomed with open arms.   He'd be part of the staff meetings - sometimes being used as the truth stick - for instance if you were holding the baby while giving your report, you couldn't tell a lie or embellish - the infant kept you honest.   When it was time to nurse him, I'd cover his head and be discreet while writing press releases or memos.   The young unmarried women thought it was sweet.  The gay men were surprised that boobs had another function rather then holding up strapless gowns and the straight man of the group was just totally weirded out.  But the job at the theater was probably the most kid friendly that I ever had.  When I left there to go work for an healthcare organization within  Rotary International - I was back to the working women's hours and breast feeding around my working day.   

Breast feeding certainly had it's hazards and public support for this natural act has not always been there.   I remember taking five year old Amber swimming when Daniel was just 12 months old at a water park.   Daniel was getting fussy and I decided to feed him as discreetly as I could with my hand over his face because I didn't want to leave her while she was in the water to get a towel to cover Daniel.   My feeding breast had more coverage than the other side which was in a simple halter top.   Not only that, the pool had tons of kids around who weren't noticing or bothered by this since they had probably seen their own moms do the same thing with their little siblings hundreds of times.  But it caught the attention of a teenage female lifeguard who told me that I would have to leave the pool area to nurse.   When I explained that the in the state of Georgia, I had the right to feed my son in public, I was informed that according to her "it was not appropriate for young children."   Huh?  I mean if not for infants or young children, who exactly is breast feeding appropriate for?   I wanted to scream - "Look, you Baywatch wanna-be - this what God designed them for - not just to be fun muffins for your boyfriend!"  

Another time when Amber was a baby and I was at a conference, there was no place designated to pump at Florida International University - so I had set up in a bathroom and sat in a make-shift lounge area to pump.    A young woman came into the bathroom saw me hooked up with tubes and baby bottles hanging out of my shirt and exclaimed "Is this a science project?  Oh my God, what have they done to you?"   Her face was horrified until I told her that I was a nursing mother and that I was expressing my milk so I my baby could have it the next day.   "And here I thought it came from cows - this is crazy!" she said as she quickly exited the bathroom never to drink another glass of milk again.    Yet another instance of the importance of explaining to our young women what breasts are really equipped to do. 

When they both got to be over two years, I would begin to plan my exit strategy.   I had put in the time and now I wanted my body back but it was always with a bit of remorse.  After all, I was the "Lactonator" - a superhero that could soothe my babies in a way that no one else could.    I also had a fabulous bust-line for the first time in my life (I would go from a 32 A+ to a 38 C+ cup).   I would be lying if I told you that breast feeding was all about the babies - it gave me Vegas showgirl hooters for the first time in my life and it was hard to let go of that.   But the middle of the night feedings were wearing me out (even if I brought the kids to bed with us - it was still hard to really sleep deeply if you were worried about rolling over on the baby).   I needed a break and I needed to be my own woman again without a child velcroed to my breast.   It's a choice that I hope I would not be criticized for anymore than a woman who decides to bottle feed should feel guilty about her decision.   We're all just trying to do the best we can with what we've got.  

Which is why the cover of Time Magazine bothers me.    What the hell does asking "Are you Mom Enough?" really accomplish other than making everyone defensive?  Why does parenthood and being a mother in general have to be such a freaking competition?   Are we really trying to turn out a better super baby?   Why are working mothers made feel so bad about not being home all day with their kids by other women?   Why can't working mothers understand that staying home all day with a baby or toddler is not a break - it's being on call 24/7?   Why can't we all admit that sometimes we just don't have all the answers - that despite our best intentions, our children are going to be just that - children who will blurt out an overheard  comment about that bozo at work or church at the worst possible moment?   That they will melt down in public and there's just nothing anyone not even the best parent can do about it.    There are times when I think I have it perfectly together and times when my kids will do exactly what I ask them and peace reigns supreme.   I'll step back and think "Damn, I have this mom thing down."  Then there are times when I'm shrieking at my kids like a fish wife and monologuing like a super villain and wondering who or what gave me the right to reproduce.   

Look, as a parent, you're going to have up days and down days.  Days when you love your kids beyond reason and days when you won't like them very much.   I'll tell you one thing that those perfect parenting books won't tell you - that despite your best intentions, you child is not an extension of you.  They are their own person and they will become the person that they are meant to be.  The best you can do is offer limits, support, love and be there for them.   I guess that's my issue with Attachment Parenting is that if you want time for yourself - it means you're selfish.  Well screw that - it makes you human to want to sleep in your bed with your husband without a little body flaying around all night.  You're human and as a parent you are going to make mistakes - own up to them and your kids will respect you for not being perfect.   Getting into Harvard might be your dream but not theirs - so ease up on the insistence on the 4.0 average.  Stop over scheduling them so they can get a scholarship that they might be too burnt out to enjoy by the time they actually get to college.  Childhood goes by in a blink - let them have their time in the sun without constantly taking them from one after-school activity to another.   In my opinion, there is no way you can be a completely perfect parent, but there are thousands of ways to be a good one.  Find your own path and enjoy - your kids will thank you for it. 

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