Saturday, February 21

Spring Is (Almost) Here

More things we like

In past years, dreary January and February have seemed interminable. This year, even weeks ago it seemed that spring was not too far away—not just around the corner, but close enough. Has time sped up because I am older now and watching the Critter grow so quickly? Have I simply become more patient with the long nights and the cold? Is it because of the extension of Daylight Savings Time, now just two weeks away?

However close it may seem, spring is certainly not yet here—barely 30°F during my run this morning. Nevertheless, we've added Spring Is Here by Taro Gomi (of Everyone Poops fame) to our repertoire of bedtime books for the Critter. Its simple, lyric text and illustrations render the changing seasons, beginning with the birth of a calf. It is a perfect picture book, and I tend to order it in bulk so that I have copies to give to friends when they have children.

I have been known to tear up at the conclusion of the book, when, with the return of spring, "The calf has grown." But these days—perhaps because it is winter?—my favorite is the picture of four children dancing and sledding in the snow. "The snow falls," reads the text, "The children play."

Simple as it is, this part of the book stirs my sense of the incomprehensible vastness of things. There is a time when you are one of the children playing in the snow. Then perhaps the time comes when one of the children playing in the snow is yours, or, later, your child's child. Other times, the children are your neighbors', or your friends'.... There is your life: your childhood, your child, your grandchildren. And there is simply life: year after year, children playing in the snow.

Saturday, February 7

Mother's Milk

In November or December I noticed my sadness at images of bottle-fed babies. A photo that used to appear on the home page for Skype (and which has since disappeared, thank goodness) particularly disturbed me. It showed a family gathered in a living room: two young parents, their baby girl, and (presumably) her grandparents. The smiling mother leaned against the sofa as the grandfather bottle fed her daughter. The image was doubtless intended to be heartwarming; I found it creepy to see the gray-haired old man sitting in the mother's place.

And then came Christmas, when among my gifts was a photograph of me as a baby, lying on my mother's lap and wearing my christening bonnet and gown. At once, I realized the source of my sadness: I was a bottle-fed baby. Since then, many questions have welled up in me. Why was I bottle-fed? Did some dumb doctor (whom I imagine looking like the creepy Skype grandfather) tell my mother that formula was at least just as good, or better, than breast milk? Did my mother even consider breast-feeding? How did my mother feel when her milk came in and she did not give it to me?

My questions will never be answered, because my mother died about thirteen years ago. I know only one thing: my mother told me, "When you have children, breast-feed them." She died of breast cancer, and even then it was known that breast-feeding decreases the risk of breast cancer, including the aggressive, hormone-negative kind that my mother had.

For a few weeks, I was angry that my mother gave me formula and a plastic nipple instead of her own milk. My father thinks that my grandmother (not some dumb doctor) might have advised her daughter to bottle-feed, and not for the first time I wished that my mother had done her own thing instead of listening to her parents. Then my local La Leche League leader loaned me her copy of Milk, Money, and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding, a fascinating book from which I have learned, among other things, that in the 1980s the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons sent a memo to the FDA claiming that those "deformities," small breasts, "are really a disease," and that in China and Japan women sometimes nursed their aged parents or parents-in-law. The book, of course, does not answer any of my unanswerable questions. And so I see the sadness beneath the sadness that I was bottle-fed, my sadness simply that my mother is gone. Now a mother myself, I am mourning again.