you can go halfway home again

Phantom Scribbler is having trouble getting her child to forgo milk in the wee hours of the night.  My sympathies. Really.  We have all been there and it sucks.

I have two ideas about this sort of situation.  One, you should pick a plan you are deeply comfortable with, and stick to it.  Or two, admit you made a mistake and try your best to fix it. 

I do believe that sooner is better than later in the admitting your mistakes department, though I have been known to wait a year before fessing up.  It took me that long to realize I should never have made Youngest give up his beloved bottle.

I weaned Youngest when it became clear to me that he was really only nursing for my benefit. Something about the way he, while sucking my breast, was eying the bottle on the bedside table made it obvious that his interest lay elsewhere.  It was as if he knew I treasured the closeness, which he enjoyed and all, but really, wasn’t there some other way we could contrive to find the intimacy while he drank from the plastic nipple with the extra-large hole?

So I gave in.  I let him have his beloved bottle though I was not pleased about it.  It wasn’t just the rejection, mind you.  I had a prejudice against the bottle.  I felt there was something vaguely tacky, maybe even vulgar, about it.  I don’t know what it is, but chances are I inherited it from my mother.  For me, the bottles were initially an annoyance.  Nipples were always getting lost and, when found, were unnacceptably ragged.  The bottles never seemed to get clean.  Formula had to be mixed until he was old enough for soy milk.  At first I disliked it.  I grew to hate it.

As far as I was concerned, Oldest had made the perfect transition.  At thirteen months, he went straight from the breast to the sippy cup.  Elegant.  Genius. Sure, he may have stopped growing at his usual robust rate for the first few weeks of the transition, but he caught up.  And I didn’t have to deal with the bottle brushes, the endless nipples, the jumble of tawdry plastic.

Youngest, on the other hand, was deeply enamored of his bottle. And though I tolerated it for a while, when he hit three, I was over it. Utterly over it.  So I took it away. I made him quit.  Not cold turkey or anything, but definitely before he was ready. 

I don’t remember the look on his face when I told him that he was plenty old enough, now that he was three, to drink only from a cup.  I don’t remember how he reacted.  But another thing I inherited from my mother is the belief that I sometimes know exactly the right thing to do. And in this case, that meant heaving every last nipple, bottle and plastic cap into the trash.

I am sure he complained, and fussed, and whined for his bottle for a while. But I persevered and eventually, the complaints faded away.  He went on with his little life, and buried the longing somewhere. He was a good soldier.  But every now and then the remnants of his discontent would surface – in a wistful request, or in the way he drank, with two careful hands, from his cup.  And every now and then he would spy the one bottle left in the house – the one I missed in the purge  – and look at it for a beat too long.

I didn’t really think about it. Not for a year maybe.

And then one day it hit me.  I had made a huge mistake. He had not been ready.  I had forced him to give up his beloved bottle because I, after nine years of bottles, was ready. The decision had nothing to do with what was best for him.  It had not, after all, been exactly the right thing to do. I decided to turn back the clock.

I walked into the house and found him parked in front of the TV. I announced, "Youngest, I made a mistake.  I made you give up your bottle before you were ready and I’m sorry.  From now on, you can have a bottle whenever you want and you can keep on having them for as long as you want."  A look of unholy joy suffused his face.  "Would you like one right now?" I asked. He nodded gleefully.  I went into the kitchen and dug around to find the one remaining bottle.  He grabbed it and sucked hard, greedily.  Then he stopped, took the nipple from his lips and looked quizzically at it, as if a friend he thought he knew had turned out to be a stranger.

Something was not quite right.  Though he was happy to have the bottle in hand, its return, the fulfillment of his long-held wish, was not a completely satisfying experience. There was something missing. In the year between my decision and my change of heart, he had lost the capacity to suck like a baby. The bottle worked. He sucked and the milk came out. But it was not the same.
Youngest drank a bottle six, maybe seven, more times. Then he gave it up, on his own, for good.

I think my effort to turn back the clock was better than nothing, but it was not a complete success.  When I realized my mistake, I could find and give him back the bottle.  And I could find and give him back the his rightful power of renunciation. But when he went back to find the connection to babyhood, that perfect rhythmic coordination between lips and jaw, breath and sustenance, it was gone.Y_20_2

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