Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Move Over, Birth Trauma. It's Time for Joy

This post is for a friend who is in the final days of pregnancy with her third child. She is tired, 'over it', and ready to meet the kid already, both emotionally and literally, as she is nesting up a storm. She's trying to be patient (compared to how I was at this stage--ready to stand on my head if it would get that baby out). She's worrying about names, about childcare, about having space and time for all of her kids. All of that is to be expected. 

What concerns me is that she's scared about the birth.

Unlike first-time moms, she's not frightened of the unknown. She not worried about her friend's horrible labors, or a birth she saw on TV, or a co-worker's fright-filled tales. She's scared because of her own first two births. She's scared because she doesn't want another broken tailbone and dozens of stitches like she had with her first baby. She's scared because she doesn't want an emergency Caesarian birth with prolonged pain and difficulty breastfeeding, like she had with her second baby.

Birth is many things: emotionally wrenching, painful, joyful, ecstatic. But it shouldn't have to be traumatic. I could sing this from the rooftops. There's too much birth trauma out there, and too much denying of women's emotional and physical pain from their births, as women are told they should be happy they have a baby. Period. Women are constantly told that the experience of birth doesn't or shouldn't matter. 

But the experience does matter. Growing and delivering a baby is an overwhelming, life-altering experience, second only, perhaps, to raising one. 

Here's my message to my friend:
You are a beautiful, wonderful, capable mother to two terrific kids. You will soon be all that and more to your third. You have the power to birth your baby. I believe in you. You are strong, and you are brave. Surround yourself, in these final days of growing your wonder baby, with people who will remind you of all of these things. When you are in labor, remember that you only need to get through one contraction. When that one is over, you'll have a break. Just focus on one at a time. When it's time to deliver, stand or squat or lean. Protect yourself and your tailbone by getting into a good position for that baby to emerge, no matter the size. I pray that you will both be healthy, and safe and happy. I pray that this will be the birth you've been waiting for. 
And as I said to you, on learning that you were expecting this child: the first is a biological necessity, the second is fulfillment of a plan, and the third is pure joy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2 Planes, 2 Buses, 3 Airports, 3 Kids

Thoughts on bringing a gaggle of children (okay, two relatively mature elementary school kids and one energetic 23-month-old a month shy of needing to have her own airplane seat) on a vacation that involved two airplanes, two buses, three airports, and the better part of two travel days:

First, no matter what happens on said journey, you did this to yourself. You decided that taking this gaggle of children on vacation was worth your while, your money, your time, and your headaches. So harness your patience, and breathe.

Second, in any given public place, such as the transfer bus from the airport parking to the terminal, fifty percent of the strangers sitting beside you will find your toddler cute, and fifty percent will wish she doesn't exist, at least not in the same bus at the same time (especially if she's nap-deprived and crying: check). Smile, if you feel like it, at the pro-child contingent. Pretend the other half doesn't exist.

Third, a know-it-all flight attendant, on seeing your toddler cough-choking on apple slices that she is so ravenous for, she forgets to chew, will feel obliged to swoop in, push a handful a tissues in your face, and offer a stern recrimination: "Cover her mouth or you will get the entire plane sick." When you tell the attendant that the child is not sick, just a normal ravenous choking toddler, she will roll her eyes at the horrible offending passenger: you. 

Fourth, toddlers who are used to sleeping in cribs don't like to sleep on laps in planes. Not one wink. All day long. "No nap, Mommy." Mommy may feel pangs of jealousy that Daddy is reading a book, while she is wrestling with overtired Toddler. But whenever Toddler is passed to Daddy, she says, "I want Mommy." See point number one, and breathe.

Fifth, children over the age of six are remarkably able to entertain themselves on planes. Anyone who has children approaching that age should think long and hard about having another one, which would revert said parents back into the darkness of having to use airplane lavatory changing tables. And having to keep active toddlers from touching anything in said lavatory while washing hands post diaper-change. Just sayin'.

Sixth, people who paid for an expensive shared airport transfer don't appreciate having a toddler on their bus. Or having to wait while the toddler's parents wrangle with a carseat that is not designed to be attached to a bus seat that has no seatbelts. Or having to wait even longer while those same parents complain to the bus company for promising a carseat and then providing one that is borderline unsafe. 

Seventh, and this may be the most important point: being away from home with your gaggle of kids is a hoot. Frustrating and exhausting at times, for sure. But out in the world, showing your kids what you like to do for fun, and without the ringing phone or demanding schedule or homework, you might just remember the joy of being human. And of being a parent. Feeling gratitude for our good fortune to know such joy. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Blogging Break

This blog began one month ago, yesterday. A month of blogging! And guess what? I'm exhausted. Oh, I love the writing. And I love, after years of writing for an audience of myself and my writing partners (fiction, but still...), hearing from readers in comments and emails. As I said to a former writing teacher, "funny, everything I write, now, gets published!"

But, I've come to realize that that blogging requires, or attaches the blogger to, a level of internet connectivity that is hard to control or turn off. For years, I would log on to Facebook only when someone contacted me, or tagged me, or friended me. Lately, I'm checking the FB app like it's my email (i.e.: too much). I've also had an education in Feedburner, Twitter, Hoot Suite, LinkedIn, and Google+. Yes, my head is spinning, too.

Lucky for me, my family is going on vacation next week. Thanks to good ol' George Washington's birthday, we're in for some good ol' R&R. For me, among other things, that will mean a break from blogging, and from newfangled social networks. The old-fashioned kind--that is, conversation with friends and family whom I can see and touch--will do me just fine.

I may even read a book. On paper. (No, let's be honest: that won't happen...but I'll read on the Kindle--the kind that doesn't have internet--rather than my phone.)  Baby steps.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love, Chocolate, and Cultural Alienation

Valentine's Day is one of those days on the American calendar that makes me think about that ubiquitous adolescent debate from the USY kinnusim of my youth: Are you a Jewish American or an American Jew? Obviously, I'm both: American in many ways (ask my British friends), Jewish in many ways (ask my gentile friends).

I grew up in the American suburbs and I know all about riding my bike around quiet streets with no sidewalks, backyard barbecues, baseball games and the Super Bowl. At my Jewish summer camp there was always a 4th of July celebration, complete with square dancing, and in my Jewish school we celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday. But, at that same school there was nary a mention of Saint Valentine's Day. Same at home: no flowers, and no chocolates. My parents wouldn't even mention it. It was like Christmas! Just a regular day.

Not until my children went to a secular American school (in London, as it happens), did I first discover that it is customary on Valentines Day for children to distribute cards to everyone they know with chocolates attached to them. In kindergarden, Bella was assigned to make Valentines cards for all of her classmates (educational value? Writing the kids' names, I told myself...). I thought it was odd--what does a holiday about romantic love have to do with kids?

Well, my kids could answer that question in two seconds: anything having to do with chocolate is clearly meant for kids. The love stuff? Secondary and incidental. (We like good chocolate, and Bella and Ruby have developed a taste for what we call in our house "grown-up chocolate"-- that is, the 70% dark stuff. We used to be able to buy it and keep it to ourselves, but no longer.)

Some may say that Valentine's day is a "Hallmark" holiday, like Mother's Day, designed for consumer consumption. Certainly, when I walk through CVS this time of year, I see a lot of red and pink products for sale. It's the same aisle that's covered in orange and black in October, another month when I'm reminded of the ways in which I was raised within, and yet apart, from some American cultural obsessions. Halloween, when I was a child, meant sitting inside the front door of my house and waiting to give out candy to the neighborhood children. Does that sound cruel to you? It never seemed like anything but good fun to me, which is part of the strangeness of this particular type of cultural alienation. If you haven't done it, you don't really miss it. I don't seem to have the muscle memory for Valentine's Day or Halloween.

Perhaps our twenty-something babysitter was surprised when she asked if we were going out tonight, and I said no. After 18+ years together, Josh and I are good. (I love you, honey.) We can toast our relationship any day: ideally one when the restaurants don't all have over-priced pre-fixe menus.

I think I'll go buy us all some chocolate, though. Tomorrow, when it's on sale.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Standing with the Women of the Wall

When I was growing up in a Conservative synagogue and day school on Long Island, it was still controversial for a woman to wear a tallit and tefilin. In USY back in my day, there was a subtle prejudice against egalitarianism--the serious Jews went to the "traditional" minyan. The synagogue that I grew up was torn apart when a faction demanded expanded rights for women. Adolescence was a confusing time for me, as I was an well-educated Conservative Jew, but my education was not equal. My brothers were taught to read Torah and lead services, and I was not. It didn't make sense that I was taught and encouraged to achieve in most every way, but my voice counted less in the context of formal prayers. My personal experience of Jewish practice gave me a real taste of what it means to be a feminist.

As the mother of three daughters, I believe very strongly in religious freedom and pluralism. All people should be able to practice the religion that they believe, without persecution. This is true here in the US, and it should also be true in Israel.

Yesterday in Israel, ten women, including two Conservative woman rabbis, were arrested for the crime of wearing a tallit. (Described here in the New York Times). I am well aware that women's religious freedom at the Kotel is an issue that resonates more strongly in the diaspora than it does in Israel. But then again, perhaps the the Kotel itself is more important to diaspora Jews than to Israelis. There is not a single journey to Israel that would omit that important destination. I have been there many times, and every single time I have felt alienated, because the Kotel is an Ultra-Orthodox synagogue. It doesn't feel like home, to me.

Next Rosh Hodesh, Tuesday March 12th, there will be a public egalitarian shacharit minyan here in NYC to show solidarity and support for the Women of the Wall. Time and location TBD (please get in touch with me for details). I pray for a day when Jews worldwide will respect one another for their commonalities, rather than shun one another for their differences.

See below for a message from organizer Rabbi Iris Richman:
It is customary, each day and especially as we welcome each new month - that people gather to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  The beginning of this month of Adar, in which Purim falls and joy is traditionally the greatest - be happy, it's Adar! - is celebrated yesterday and today.  Notable among groups who specifically come to celebrate at the Kotel is Nashot haKotel - Women of the Wall.  It is a group of women who have the idea that they should be free to engage in Jewish worship at the Kotel, including wearing tallit and tefillin. There is a "separate but equal" area of the Kotel where women are "supposed" to gather - not at the main western area with the wide plaza, but around the corner and down some stairs, at the Southern side, called Robinson's Arch.  That is the same "separate but equal" area where Conservative groups of both genders are also supposed to worship, so as not to disturb the sensibilities of the Orthodox Jews at the main area of the Kotel, since the government of Israel, in concert with Israel's rabbinic establishment, have designated the Kotel, liberated by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, as an "Orthodox prayer site".   
And of course, I use the words "separate but equal" advisedly. In 1898 the US Supreme Court decided in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation, characterized by the court as "separate but equal", should be the law of the land in the US.  It was not until that court reversed itself and decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, that our government even began to acknowledge that segregation should not be the policy of our country. 
Unfortunately, this has not yet happened in israel. With increasing regularity, women who gather to pray at the Kotel to welcome Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the month, have begun to wear a tallit, as many of us do - and take for granted - in defiance of the Israeli law that prohibits them from doing so, because they are women.  Over the last few months a few women have been arrested for doing so.  Some Israeli women, a Reform rabbi.  Yesterday, it hit much closer to home when two Conservative woman rabbis, including one whose congregation is in Queens, R. Robin Fryer Bodzin, together with R. Debra Cantor, were arrested for the crime of wearing a tallit. 
So what do we do as we stand, possibly, at the cusp of possible change? There is a possibility that the new government, for the first time in many years, may not include Haredim (the religious parties), which might allow for some changes in the way the government involves itself in excluding Conservative, Reform and even some Modern Orthodox rabbis, from Israeli religious life. 
I propose that we organize an egalitarian Rosh Hodesh outdoor prayer service here in NY, in celebration of our religious freedom in this country and as a statement of encouragement to those who do not yet enjoy that freedom, hopefully attended by many Jews.  As the new Israeli government forms, and we celebrate the next Rosh Hodesh on Tuesday March 12, welcoming the month of Nissan, biblically, our first month, and the month of our liberation from slavery, we shall not continue to remain silent. 
--R. Iris Richman

Monday, February 11, 2013

Farewell, Furry Family Member

Yesterday morning Ruby sensed something was wrong with her pet hamster, Puddles. Puddles is sleeping outside her hideaway, she said. She never does that. We looked together and saw that the hamster was breathing. Her eyes opened and closed. I hoped that Puddles was okay, but the truth is, I had no idea. I have a good sense of when a child is ill or in need--I haven't a clue about a hamster.

Just before bedtime last night, Josh and Ruby went to check on Puddles. Luckily, they were together when they discovered that the hamster had died. We don't know why she died, although once the cage was cleaned and there was no potty corner as is typical, it seems she may have had an intestinal obstruction of some kind. 

 Aside from a despondent girl, we had a situation on our hands: what do we with Puddles? We live in Manhattan, where, even if the ground wasn't covered in snow, you're not allowed to bury a pet on public ground. We have to take care of this, I whispered. Now. Josh whispered back that he could bring her down to the basement. To the trash cans?! We can't just throw her out. Ruby, crying, said maybe we should bring her back to Petco "so they can check her to see if she's just sick." Josh provided reassurance(?), that she was, in fact, dead (he had put her in a Ziploc bag, and left her on the table--I insisted that he at least put the Ziploc in a bag we couldn't see through). Ruby then had another suggestion: we should Google what to do. So I did. I found and called Pet Haven, a pet cemetery and crematory (no answer), imagining the subway ride with the deceased hamster in my purse. Then I called Petco. The bewildered operator (what, they don't get calls about beloved dead hamsters in NYC apartments every day?!), put someone on the phone who said we could bring Puddles in...something about freezing and a collection service...I didn't focus on the details. I thanked him, twice, for giving us a way to act, and now. They'd be open until 10pm.

I asked Ruby and Bella to write goodbye notes to Puddles. They were both sniffling, but they took well to having a plan of action. We read the notes aloud and put them in the bag with Puddles's body. We said goodbye, and Josh left to deliver the bag to Petco. On his way out, he said he'd tell them to bury Puddles in the Jewish section of the pet cemetery, and we (the adults) chuckled. 

I told Ruby it was okay to mourn and be sad, but it was also okay to be happy. It's a process, I told her. It will take time.


It took months for Ruby to convince us to get her a hamster. After sharing our food pantry and fruit bowl with a persistent (and apparently, brilliant) city mouse, I was not eager to welcome a rodent into our home. I've always held firmly to my plea that I take care of kids--not pets. But Ruby wanted this hamster like nothing she's ever wanted before. She spent hours on the internet researching and taking notes about hamster types and behavior and needs. She promised that she would do everything to care for her pet: give it food and water, and clean the cage (the unpleasant part, from what I'd heard). She was so focused on the hamster that it started to seem cruel to deny her a little harmless creature for her to care for and love. 

A week before her eighth birthday, I went to Petco and bought a cage and hamster food (also for mice, I read on the package, appalled) and wood shavings for the hamster's bedding. I grilled the salesman for information on what I was getting into--he reassured me that hamster care was simple. Then, together as a family, we returned to pick up the newest member of the household: Puddles. Ruby was elated. She put the cage together and set it up and watched with delight as Puddles checked out her new surroundings. She decorated the outside of Puddles's cage with colored duct tape and wrote in Sharpie: I love !PUDDLES! so EXTREMELY much!

True to her word, Ruby took attentive care of Puddles. She cleaned the cage (with reminders), filled her food bowl, and changed her water. Like much of what Ruby does, she did all of these things with determination and independence. When Ruby sets her mind to something, she's on it.

Puddles had her bristly moments. She bit both of Ruby's sisters: Bella, when she tried to pick her up, and Louisa, when she tried to touch her through the bars of the cage. She drew blood both times. But Puddles never bit Ruby. They had a thing, those two.

I found myself watching Puddles in her cage, sometimes even when Ruby wasn't there. She's so cute, I told Ruby all the time. I'd come around to liking my daughter's rodent. Who knew it would be possible? 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Stormy Friday, Post-Sandy

I feel differently about this storm. It's snowing already, outside my fifth floor window. Cereal-size flakes are falling like confetti, white against the red brick building across the street. My big kids are off to school, in their snow boots, and I'm thinking already about what the subways will be like when it's time to retrieve them...will the trains be overly crowded? Do I need to leave earlier? Ruby is supposed to sleep at a friend's house this evening...will we be able to get her back tomorrow?

Usually, storms don't affect us Manhattanites as much as our suburban brethren. It doesn't matter when or how much it snows when you can rely on your feet for transportation. Plus, our power system is underground--it is, historically, uncannily reliable. That is, until Sandy.

I remember the days before Sandy, and just like with every storm that's ever come before, I listened to the warnings and thought they were surely talking to someone else. Make sure you have flashlights, batteries, a battery-operated radio, water: I must have listened to that advice a hundred times on the radio. And I did (almost) nothing. I filled some water bottles and jugs with tap water. That was it.

We lost our power for five days. We were lucky, compared to friends and fellow citizens--we had running (cold) water, so we were able to stay at home and cook up the defrosting food from our freezer by gas flame. Our home was not flooded.

The day after the storm, while we still had gasoline in our car, we brought Bella and Ruby to stay with friends on the Upper West Side. I packed them clothes to stay one night. But when the power didn't come back, and the subways still weren't running, and the city was a giant parking lot of gridlock, we called our friends (this required me to walk several blocks and hold my phone at an angle to get reception--downtown was truly a dark zone) and asked if the girls could stay again. This was a hard decision to make. I wanted my kids close to me--it must be a parental instinct at a time of stress and worry. In retrospect, the worst thing about that storm, for me, was being separated from my girls. I knew it was better for them to be with their friends, where they were warm and well cared-for, but it was hard to not even be able to talk to them, and to explain why the plans kept changing. I missed them.

So now, as the wind picks up and they're saying on the radio that New Yorkers should avoid non-essential travel this afternoon, I wonder, are they talking about commuters, or are they talking about us?  Should I send Ruby to sleep at her friend's house, where she'll have a great time, or keep her home out of an instinct to be the mother bear and protect the cubs? If it weren't for Sandy, I probably wouldn't be worrying about this. I'd say, eh, it's just some snow. Trying to fight back the worry and post-traumatic stress memories of Sandy, and remember that good 'ol New York attitude.

Wishing everyone in the path of Nemo safety and warmth. May some good sledding and skiing come out of all of this.

Shabbat Shalom!

Snowy view from our window, February 2011

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On the Shores of Lake Wobegon

Sitting in a circle on a grassy field beside a lake, fifteen or twenty parents joined together in a discussion at a school shabbaton, almost two years ago. The discussion leader, Rabbi Laurie Katz Braun, who is also a parent in our school, asked us to go around the circle and say three positive and three negative traits of our children.

Within minutes, parents in the circle were crying. It was very intimate, and very cathartic.

Why did the prompt evoke so much emotion? 

The positive traits, while important to appreciate in one's children, were predictable: She's creative. He's funny. She's loving. He's kind. She's intelligent. He's full of life.

The negative traits brought out something different. Everyone loves their children, and we all do our best to love all parts of them. But how often are we asked, outside of a therapist's office, to speak openly about their imperfections? How often do we offer to do so? The discussion of children's negative traits brought out elements of pain and fear. Mothers and fathers spoke about the challenges of raising children who are not what they might have expected; who have needs that sometimes seem beyond their powers to meet.

It's easy to feel (especially while flipping through Facebook), that everyone's lives are just perfect. Smiling kids, successful parents, trophies and performances and A's are blasted out into the world: the product of parents' pride. But what happens when perfection is expected? We only say the good things, so that any kind of difficulty becomes a secret. Welcome to Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

That parents' circle taught me something I will not soon forget. As I listened to the other parents talk about their challenging children, I realized that Josh and I are not alone. Our kids are not perfect. They each have their own challenges, but I won't pretend that they are equally challenging. We have one child who has required us to sharpen our parenting skills more than the others. It helps immeasurably to know that we're not alone.

Just as you can work for years with someone and not know their salary, so too do parents avoid discussing their kids' challenges. No one wants to out their kids as having problems, and fair enough: children deserve to be the bearers of their own issues. But on the other hand, there's nothing like feeling supported, especially when you're doing something hard, like parenting kids with all their varied needs. I hope other parents in that circle gained strength, as I did, from the simple acknowledgment of how hard it can be.

Thank you to the parents and friends--you know who you are--who have made me feel that I'm not alone. Parenting is a journey, and at times the road is steep. No one ever said it was going to be easy.

[p.s. I want to emphasize that the parenting circle at the shabbaton was not about parenting children with disabilities--it was just about parenting. But perhaps because of where the discussion went, Rabbi Laurie read an essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, which offers a poignant analogy to explain what it's like parenting a child with special needs. You've prepared for a trip to Italy, but surprise! You're going to Holland. Click here to read it: Welcome to Holland.]

Monday, February 4, 2013

On Weaning My Ten-Year-Old

Good. I got your attention. I knew I'd get this title-writing-thang down.

No, I'm not talking about Game-of-Thrones-style breastfeeding until the kid is in middle school. My two oldest were weaned from the breast at a relatively normal age (depending on whom you ask, of course), while still toddlers. And as I mentioned yesterday, my 22-month-old is on the verge of being done.

I'm thinking about a different kind of weaning, but one that is arguably more important: weaning a child from needing his/her parents to do everything for and with him/her. Weaning her from needing to be watched while she's walking down the street, or riding the subway, or using a public bathroom. I'm talking about giving kids freedom and trust, and teaching them independence and self-reliance.

Starting from when Bella and Ruby were about 7 and 5, I would sometimes leave them in front of the television while I popped across the road for some ingredients for dinner. We were living in London at the time, and directly across the street from our terraced house (that's Brit-speak for townhouse, see photo), there was a small grocery shop and a vegetable shop. I told them that their tushies were glued to the couch. Don't move, I said. I'll be right back. I was never gone for more than 5-8 minutes.

Did I assess the risks involved in leaving such young kids alone for a few minutes? I certainly didn't spreadsheet it. I used my gut, as I do every day as a parent. I just felt it would be infinitely easier to go pick up the needed broccoli myself, than to coat, shoe, and shlep the kids across the street to the shops with me (where they would undoubtedly beg for biscuits or lollies).

When we moved back to New York, a friend told me that it is illegal to leave a child at home alone until they are 10. I was not able to find evidence that it is illegal, but the New York State Office of Children and Family Services has this to say on the topic: Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. 

What?! Starting in middle school, the NYC Board of Education expects my kids to take the subway or public bus to school--they age out of eligibility for yellow bus service. Kids are expected to be able to move around the city on their own at the exact same age when they can be first left in their own homes? This doesn't make sense to me.

It's true that all kids and situations are different, but I would posit that weaning any child from their parents' constant supervision is akin to weaning a child from breastfeeding. It should be done slowly, and with sensitivity to the child's needs. Louisa started weaning from breastfeeding the day she started eating food, when she was six months old. A year and a half later, she is almost ready to give up the breast altogether. Similarly, kids need to gain independence gradually. At first my girls only stayed alone for a few minutes, and by now this has progressed to an hour or two, in the daytime only. It is always the girls' choice to stay or come with me. They know not to cook or bathe while I'm out. And they're pretty smart.

Bella also has been going out on her own, very locally, for the past few months. We send her on errands to the coffee shop across the street (how nice to have a young eager soul who's willing to go buy her parents coffee when we're out of beans!), and to the deli around the corner. On the latter errand, I followed her a half block behind the first time she went, mainly because I wanted to make sure she knew where to go, not because I was worried for her safety. She's also gone a block away (across Third Avenue!), to meet a friend.

Bella has plenty of intelligence and awareness, and I'm hoping that by taking small steps now, her increasing independence, when it comes, will be natural and pain-free.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Night night. Waffle.

Louisa is weaning. I knew the time would come, and in fact it's been coming for some time. It's been months since she's nursed for hunger, and even longer since I've noticed a let-down. The fact that she was still nursing was a blessing in December when she had a double ear infection; it's always nice to have a way to calm a miserable child. But now she's healthy, and she's become a miniature foodie with Wu-wu (her favorite stuffed puppy) perpetually in her chubby hands (she likes to give him tastes of her food).

A few months ago after some disruptive night waking, we were working on getting her to stay in bed. Part of the plan was telling her that she had to sleep until morning. But how would she know when it's morning? We get up most days before 6:30 in our house, and it is still dark out. So we said, "You need to sleep until it's time for waffles."

So she began to go to bed at night saying, "Night night. Waffle." And lately she wakes up saying, "I hungry. Waffle."

Bella weaned with our help when she was 16ish months, because I was pregnant with Ruby and I simply wasn't up for nursing two. Josh would retrieve her and feed her breakfast every morning (not a bad deal for a tired and pregnant mom). For years to come, Bella would wake up wanting to eat immediately, which I think was from the memory of her morning nursing, followed by her early breakfasts with Daddy.

Ruby weaned at about 20 months. The truth is that I don't remember exactly when it was or how it happened, because it happened on its own and I didn't really keep track. She weaned so slowly that it wasn't traumatic or difficult.

I'm often surprised by how fearful some mothers are about weaning. They worry that if they don't actively wean their baby by their first birthday, the child will nurse forever. They worry that their nursing toddler won't gain independence, or won't eat real food, or won't...what is it? Why do so many husbands and grandparents and doctors and friends hassle moms about weaning?

None of these worries came to pass for us. My babies nursed when they wanted, and weaned when they wanted (except Bella, who had some help). They all eat vegetables, and they all separated when it was time to go to school (Louisa will, too). Gradually, my toddlers were able to get the comfort and calories they need from other sources. That doesn't make it any less sad for me that Louisa is weaning. The connection between a mom and her nursing babe is unique and lasts such a short time. And she's my third and last child. Sniffle.

I know that Louisa appreciates what I've given her, because she told me. When she was 20 months old, she was nursing when she stopped and said, "Tank you mommy nursie sides." (In her parlance "ah side" meant "other side"). It was, at the time, the longest sentence she'd ever spoken.

Last night at bedtime, I sat in the glider in Louisa's room and pulled her onto my lap to read her a book. When we finished reading, she leaned toward me and said, "nursie," so I offered her my breast, as I always do when she asks. She put my nipple in her mouth for about five seconds and then let out a big giggle and said, "Night night. Waffle."

Nursing break on a family bike trip, August 2012

Waffle time (with serious bedhead)