I leaned over her where she lay, nestled in the Hello Kitty pillows and blankets of her new, big-girl bed.
Much as I had, four years ago to the day, I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her downy forehead, kissing her repeatedly, nuzzling her curled fist.
Her fingers smelled like birthday cake. Vanilla and cream.
Tears prickled in my eyes and nose as I forced myself to stand, collect my dignity and I left the room of my little-big-girl.
We had a great day– all the highs and lows you would expect of life with a four-year-old.
She’s actually been a little mean to me lately. I don’t take it personally, really. Except, it’s just, when she opened her new Frozen umbrella in the house and held it up between us saying, “I don’t want to look at your grubby old face, Mama,” well, it stung a bit.
I was also wounded by her rejection of the birthday bouquet I bought her. Last year her heart’s desire was a bouquet of flowers on her birthday. Thinking I would make it a tradition, I got her another big bouquet this year only to be screamed at because she didn’t want flowers.
Of course, in both instances, three minutes later she was telling me she loves me as big as the sky, a giraffe, the dinosaur at the science museum, and the whole world.
I also wonder if the fact she is now completely weaned from nursing has anything to do with her grumpiness towards me.
It probably doesn’t.
I’m probably just protecting the sense of rejection because my onset of tears at her bedside had a lot to do with the fact that she has not asked to nurse in over a week, and the fact that we have talked about her fourth birthday as being the weaning Rubicon. My words. Not hers.
It is a natural progression.
My gratitude runs plenty deep for how gradual and mutual our weaning has been. While I never, ever thought I would be “that mom” nursing a preschooler, I also very much wanted Emily to feel like she was totally ready to move on from nursing. I didn’t want it to be sad, scary, or traumatic for either of us.
There were some moments where is was sad. Moments when I thought she would ask to nurse and she didn’t. Moments where she really wanted to nurse and I just didn’t have it in me and she cried because I set a boundary with her and refused.
And the exceptionally rare moments when she was truly exhausted and fell asleep at my breast– this big doll of a child who grows lankier by the day– and my heart filled to bursting and then broke because it doesn’t last.
None of it.
I remember those early days of nursing my kids through the nights and how perpetual it seemed, how there was no perspective to know that it was all really just a fleeting gift, how the never-ending sense was illusory.
I’m really proud Emily and I made it through nipple trauma, being touched out, my return to work, lack of societal support, and the general social stigma of a full term nursing relationship.
I really will treasure it. And I hope somewhere in her exponentially exploding brain she will remember a little snippet of how much she loved nursing. I pray she will feel it is something normal and natural, and that she will pay it forward with a little nursling of her own someday.
I think of how patient she was, even as a newborn at my breast waiting for my milk to come in. I think of the adoration she lavished on me, her cheek nuzzled into my chest. I think of how she would stop nursing to smile up at me with a big, milky grin. I think of how she would refuse her bottles at daycare all day and then stay up all night nursing because she wanted mama and just mama.
I don’t know if I’ve ever known a love so gratifying, or a feeling as powerful as nourishing a child from my own body. Maybe that is selfish. Maybe it is.
But I will let this be.
I will let it go.
And after the tears run dry and my vision clears, I’ll be just fine with it. It is a very natural progression after all.
When my son turned four, I was expecting his sister. His birthday was a major milestone, and a major holiday for us. We had a huge party and we celebrated him with all the glory due a firstborn turning four.
But there must have been a part of me that was distracted, and didn’t really realize the significance of a three-year-old-toddler morphing before my eyes into a four-year-old-preschooler.
Emily is my last baby.
The significance is palpable.
In many ways, but most of all, in the damp salt of my tears as I walked out of her room after putting her to bed on her fourth birthday.
***author’s note: the very next morning, emily came to me as soon as she got up and asked to nurse. just goes to show how utterly unpredictable this parenting gig really is. of course i allowed it, because even though she is four now, i prefer to be guided by her needs and by my heart as a mom, rather than a date on a calendar. xo.