Thursday, April 4, 2013

On How NOT to Bond


"What’s done to children, they will do to society." ~ Karl Menninger

          Isaac: my gifted, hyperactive, smart, wise-for-his-years Indigo child. All the other kids went along with the program, all except Isaac. At 4 he was already listing on his hand all of his grievances with my method of discipline, which was mostly time out, and a sad face from me asking in a controlled voice, “Why would you want to punch your sister, anyway?”
     His tantrums were over the top. He would rip cupboard doors off the kitchen cabinets if I wouldn’t stop what I was doing and walk him down to the mailbox -- it was too early for the mail – which was a ¼ of a mile down the hill. It did not occur to me that he was jealous of his little sister Rachel, who was still snuggling and nursing every night before bed. It did not register in my mind that he was not OK with weaning (along with his twin sister Ruth) 6 months earlier when I was already pregnant with Hannah and still struggling with morning sickness. I had tandem nursed them when Rachel came along, but I was pregnant again, and three seemed to be too much. Once I decided I needed a break I weaned them rather quickly with plenty of protests, but I stood my ground. If only I had known then what I know now.
     The day started like any other. The four children wiggled out of their shared futon and various quilts, dropping any damp pajamas on the stairs on their way down. They wouldn’t bother to dress. Why should they? It was summer and we lived on the top of our own mountain. They would first head for the raspberry patch and gorge themselves there before settling down to pick up wherever they left off in their play the day before. I never put away the serious creations, like the Lincoln log castles or the troll villages. I knew they would eventually come down and I could clean that part of the house or yard while I waited for the other half to become unoccupied once more.
     I called them in for a common bath. I had a galvanized feed trough that I found at our local farm store set by the woodstove where I could tip hot water into the tub from a huge canning kettle and mix it with cold water from the hose connected to our gravity tank upstairs. The bath over, I sent them upstairs to dress, never quite sure what combinations they’d come down with: plaids and stripes, flip flops and woolen scarves, it didn’t matter. No one would see them anyway. Why sweat the small stuff? I worked on breakfast until they came tripping down the loft stairs.
     I cannot remember what issues Isaac had bristled at that morning. It just went from bad to worse. He was strutting up and down the length of the log cabin’s kitchen, yelling and crying about this and that and yesterday and the day before. I couldn’t even remember what happened then that he was taking issue with now. Pretty soon I was crying and trying to hug him and getting brushed off and yelled at some more. I finally babbled, “But, Isaac, what do you WANT?” He instantly stood still, brushed himself off, raised himself to his full height of 3-something feet tall, and said, “I just want to nurse!”
     I couldn’t believe I had been reasoning with him all this time and actually never asked him what was wrong before. Incredulous, I asked, “Is that all?” And he answered, “Yes.” So I sat down on the floor, my hands covered in flour, my apron covered too with a dusting of whatever it was I had been kneading and he happily lay across my lap, oblivious to the huge belly crowding him just slightly, and he nursed. After a few minutes I said, “Are you getting any milk?” because I didn’t think I had much, even though Rachel still pacified herself at the breast before bed. He unlatched and said, “Nope. You’re all dried up,” and reattached himself and resumed sucking. I thought about that a minute and then asked, “But you just want to nurse?” Without letting go this time, he nodded and kept nursing.
     So, that is how Isaac got to nurse whenever he wanted to for the next year. He weaned himself first from daytime nursing and later from the fall-asleep-with-the-boob-in-his-mouth bedtime sessions. The tantrums abated somewhat, with some changes in basic strategies coming from Mom and Dad. We stopped what we were doing sooner than we previously had and tuned in to what he was getting upset about before we had a full-blown battle going. We asked and listened better, I think, too. Looking back, I know I could have made fewer Shoo-fly pies, and fewer quilts, and just enjoyed my little kids more, spending more time with them doing nothing and playing with them. We spaced them all two years apart using breastfeeding alone as contraception*, but I think now I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be so very busy all the time doing things. I was constantly frustrated, wanting to do this or that, but bonding should have been number 1, and it wouldn’t have taken all the energy I was using up doing things either. The time went all too quickly, though back then I could not see the end of the tunnel. Now I believe all those who knew it would be over all too soon and tried to warn us. But do we ever believe them? I think not.
     So, those are some of my regrets. They did grow up, even Isaac. They are wonderful caring people, amazingly bonded to each other in ways I have not seen in many other siblings, and Isaac is still my Indigo child: intense and wise beyond his years and I love him just the way he is.

*See Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing: How Ecological Breastfeeding Spaces Babies by Sheila Kippley, 1999, Couple to Couple League

Stay tuned... Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century,© pending by Stephanie Sorensen  

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