Taking a baby and 3-year old into her world is a lot like being a goodwill ambassador. We enter the space like minor celebrities, all the residents, in coiffed hair (it's mostly women in this demographic) and wheel chairs murmuring excitedly in our wake.
- Oy, did you see the cute baby?
- WHAT? What did you say?
- The baby! Turn your aid up. And the little boy?
- There's a little goy? What's everyone talking about?
Anyway, when they get it all sorted out the room breaks out in spontaneous smiles, and people stop and actually thank us for bringing the children and drop bits of "the days are long, years are short" wisdom on us. I almost want to teach Caleb the "elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist" wave pageant winners throw out at parades. It's like that.
The residents are loving and sweet and emanate all kinds of joy in our direction. They relish the rambunctiousness of youth that we've grown weary of. We've brought our youthfulness to the very place it will be most cherished - partly because of it's novelty. We feel special and appreciated. They love us.
|Bring us that baby!|
Well, at least that's what I thought. But I've come to learn that there is at least one aspect of our visit that far from bringing joy, has actually caused offense.
Apparently there's been a bit of a flap about my nursing my baby in the dining hall. The offended residents complained to the manager about it and my grandmother was asked to tell me not to do it.
A few things.
First, hey guys, I'm hurt. Where did all that love go?
And second: Really?
It's not like I'm waiving my nipples around in front of grandpa when I nurse. I'm discreet. I wear shirts especially designed to hide the unmentionables of nursing moms. The whole affair occurs under cover of a blanket.
The baby's head covers the hole and you'd never know I was doing something so disgusting.
So, what's really happening here is that my grandma's dining hall companions can't stomach the idea of breast feeding during their dinner. I guess it ruins their dinner. (Though, I've eaten there. You know what's probably ruining their dinner? Their dinner.)
You know what ruins Emmet's dinner? Not eating.
And I get that I'm not going to change the minds of anyone who has been on the planet nearly a century, and I'm even willing to bend to their antiquated notions of propriety. I really am. So, I would bring a bottle for Emmet. But I know now for certain that this child will not drink from it.
You see, I was recently in the hospital and unable to breastfeed him and had no pumped milk. For 48 hours, my parents tried everything - regular formula, soy formula, gentle formula, my sister-in-law's breast milk, 3 different kinds of bottles, eye droppers, rice cereal, spoons. Nothing worked. Instead of drinking the 50 ounces he needed over 2 days, he drank a measly 8. The whole thing was devastatingly heartbreaking and then one of the great reliefs of my life to finally nurse him again.
You know that baby you think is so precious? It's probably good that he eats something.
And you know what ruins my dinner? Missing the bulk of it because, like a fugitive, I'm holed up somewhere discreet, like a bathroom stall, to prevent inadvertently offending someone. I'm nice so I'd do it, but I'm not going to like it.
I guess I've gotten used to breast feeding with abandon or simply not noticing if it turned anyone's stomach. In Kenya, it's a non-issue. In the US, there's such a strong pro-breastfeeding movement, that I feel too empowered to care if some uptight prude thumbs their nose at me. In fact, the most self-conscious moms I know are those who whip out not a breast but a bottle to feed their baby and immediately feel judged. And frankly, I've always assumed that just about anyone would prefer the possibility of seeing a quick inadvertent peek of my nipple to hearing my baby shriek.
But the pro-breastfeeding juggernaut has not reached the Gadwitz Assisted Living Community, and apparently the argument that a nipple in the mouth plugs a baby shriek is lost on those who would struggle to hear the shriek in the first place. So, the place is a no nursing zone.
But it's their world, their norms, their reality.
When I visit another country I fall all over myself to avoid causing inadvertent offense. So, I'm just thinking of my visits there as to another place (or really another time), in which feeding your baby as nature has long intended is bizarrely cause for scandal. And then leaving that world and feeling appreciative that my world is no longer that.