"Mama, can you tell me a story, please?"
You scoot as close to me as possible without actually crawling on top of me, because if you did you would crush your baby sister who is nursing to sleep on my chest. We are in our family bed, where you've slept since the night you were born.
"Yes, sweets. What kind of story?" I try to detangle your wild hair with my fingers and take deep breaths. I love telling you stories and snuggling with both of my girls, but I am anticipating your next request and trying not to feel overstimulated by all of the touching.
"Ummm, how about a blueberry picking story with Edie and Mama?"
I love the way you word your ideas. You always name both of us so I know to make sure we are together.
But then, "I need some milk, Mama."
I take a deep yoga breath and let it out before responding. The way you say it breaks my heart and tempts me to destroy our progress, but I know I would ultimately be going back on my word to you, and that would be even more confusing to your tiny soul. "I can't nurse you while I talk, baby. It's too uncomfortable for me. Would you like for me to tell you a story?"
You pause for a moment to think. "Yeah." You move your face off of my hand, which I've used to cover my breast until this little discussion is over.
"Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Edie. She had brown hair and brown eyes and a biiiiiiig heart. One day..." All of our stories begin this way, and most nights you say it with me. My eyes are usually quick to fill with tears when you do. You are so big and it happened so fast.
Which is why I'm struggling to let this last thing go. You seem to need me for so little these days--you are happy to explore and build and read and create on your own. You wipe yourself when you pee, and pick out and put on your own clothes. You comfort your sister without me ever asking you to do so. You understand your feelings and tell me when you are sad and what you need to fix it, and most days you notice if I am feeling off, too and you make suggestions on how to "help Mama feel all better."
Once upon a time, you were what they called a "high needs baby." You cried more minutes a day than you didn't, and I never put you down. You were hungry and I didn't know it right away, and I am still digging out of that guilt and into a place of confident mothering. So when you do express a need for something tangible, something only I can give to you, I feel the need to meet it.
But, I don't think you need me to be an irritable mama. And more often than not, I feel like jumping out of our second story window when I tandem nurse you and your seven month old sister. If I manage to keep my cool, I usually have to ask you to move off of me for a few minutes so I don't get mad. Worst case scenario, I yank myself away from you suddenly, you cry in shock and abandonment and wake up the baby, and I feel terrible about my ability to take care of either of you well and then we start the entire process over. This happens often.
But if I take this away for good, what else do I have to offer you? This question has kept us hanging in the in between for a long while--only nursing once a day for a few minutes before bed. This question has partnered with my guilt to lie to me and play on a deep insecurity of mine. What if I'm not a good mom without nursing? What if you actually just love the boob and not me, and if I take it away, we have nothing? What if I am just not a good mom?
Writing that out makes me see how silly and untrue it is, but somewhere in our ugly fight to make breastfeeding work and our eventual success, it became my motherhood identity. It became my pride, and then it became my crutch.
You fall asleep with a big grin on your face as I finish my story about blueberries or new shoes or meeting Clifford the Big Red Dog, and I know you will be okay without this. The season of shushing you with my breast is over and I have to mom up and communicate with you in the ways you are obviously already so capable. And now, in this new chapter, a pretty beautiful way to do that seems to be through stories. You love them, and that is good. You are okay, so I will be, too.
But I do wonder if your earliest bedtime memories will be sprinkled with silly stories or the taste of "chocolate ice cream milk," as you affectionately called it recently. Because anyone can tell you a story.
Deep down I know, either way, no one can love you the way I do.