All the old words

With Russ’s first birthday coming up and the realization that we’re already running out of room, we’ve been on a bit of a cleaning/cleansing binge at the Wilhoit house. Jonathan’s been installing shelves in the attic so that we can store more stuff, and we’ve been trying to part with things that we know we won’t use (Why hello, unused-and-still-in-the-box Joyce Chen Bamboo Steamer…meet Goodwill). We’re selling some stuff on Ebay, but most of it is just getting donated. Jonathan has a penchant for dismantling old and non-functioning tech items and selling them online – a market which is apparently booming, much to my surprise.

In the process of pulling things (crap) out of storage (the back of closets where it was shoved years ago), we’ve come across a few things that actually mean something to us. Things that really mean something.

One example is a set of glasses that someone left by a door step maybe two-ish years ago. Since that day, they’ve been in storage, along with the letter that the gift-giver left on top of the package. I don’t know her last name, but here’s the story:

Back in maybe late 2008 or early 2009 (again, I don’t have the exact dates, because I didn’t really think to mark it down), we were at the house working and cleaning up a little one Saturday. I walked out to throw some boxes in our dumpster, and I was hit with the sound of anguish. A woman crying – I mean, wailing in misery – in a small, older SUV just across the street from our mailbox. I stopped and peeked around the corner of the house to see what was going on. Domestic violence issue? Random breakdown? What was the story? I had to know.

Yes, I can sometimes be a little too curious. Get over it.

I saw a woman sitting there in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, laying on the steering wheel with a phone up to one ear, in complete hysterics. It hit me then…somebody has died. I’ve seen this kind of agony before. I’ve even felt it. I know it. Somebody was gone, somebody who was loved and needed and wanted. And though I didn’t know who, I could hear this woman gasping for air, gasping for hope. I had to go to her. I could not ignore it and act like this person wasn’t practically sitting in my driveway, experiencing some momentary piece of Hell.

I went inside and told Jonathan what was going on, but asked him to just let me handle it. Jonathan is a gentle giant for sure, but sometimes his 6’6″ stature can be a bit imposing for people who don’t yet know him (which is funny to me, because I am by far the meaner of the two of us). I grabbed a glass of water and a box of tissues and went outside. She was still on the phone, but when she saw me, she almost dropped it. She looked mortified.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said. “I’m sorry to interrupt you call, I just…I saw you out here, and I know I don’t know you, but I was worried for you. Can I do anything to help?” She looked at me like I was crazy for a moment, and then proceeded to fall apart.

“It’s…my dad…my dad is in the hospital…in Anderson,” she said, gasping for breath. It was like the grief was drowning her. “He shot himself…and he’s on life support…I don’t think I can make it…my legs are numb.”

She was in shock. I handed her the water and got closer to the open car door and bent down beside her.

“Okay, drink some water, sweetie. Now, look at me,” I said. “I need you to breathe. You’re in shock right now. If you want to get there to see him, you have to breathe. Calm. Let’s be calm.” I spent a good 20 minutes out there, breathing in and out with this woman whose name I didn’t know. In my head I kept thinking – I am so not qualified to help with this. After 20 minutes or so, she had a much better hold on herself and she told me a little about what had happened. Her father had tried to take his own life and had survived, just barely. He was on life support and it was clear that he wasn’t going to make it. So this woman was tortured twice over – knowing her father had tried to kill himself, knowing he had been that miserable that he felt that was the only way to deal with it, and knowing that she had barely any time to get to his bedside and say goodbye in her own way. It was heartbreaking. I sat there and cried with her, but tried to hold it together, because I knew that was the only way she had any hope of getting to him. Time was already out. The goodbyes were going to be symbolic and little else. He probably wouldn’t know she was there.

“Okay, I think I’m ready,” she said and handed me the glass.

“No, you stay here, I’ll get you some more water.” She had drained the thing. I guess you really can cry yourself into a state of dehydration. When I came back with more water, I told her to keep the glass, as it really wasn’t glass but just pretty plastic-type material from the sale shelf at Target. Nothing that mattered, that’s for sure.

“Just remember – keep breathing. Slow, calm breaths. You can get there. You can’t change anything else about this situation, but you can get there.”

I wished her luck and sent her and that tacky plastic glass of water down Dillard Road. I could see the car shaking under the control of her uneasy hands, but I felt like she would probably get there in one piece. She was on her way to getting it together.

Months later, having forgotten about the whole weird, random thing, I found a blue gift bag on the front porch. In it was a set of 4 clear (real, pretty) glasses. Shoved in the bottom of the bag was a two-page letter. It was from the woman in the car. She told me how she made it there in time to say goodbye to her dad, how she got to hug him one last time before he left this life. How, in those brief moments that she so nearly missed, she was able to find not peace, but the beginning of it. The edge of peace, I guess. I wept as I read the letter, because it was probably the first time in my life that I felt like I had made any difference in someone’s life (not for a lack of trying, just…this one felt real, profound). I felt like maybe I wasn’t such a crappy person after all.

The letter and gift arrived, to the best of my recollection, just as I was crawling out of the whole of an eating disorder and years of rock-bottom self-esteem and negative thinking. That woman did more for me than I ever did for her. She was a chance to see that I wasn’t just a shell. That all the mistakes in my past weren’t the entirety of me. That nobody is perfect, and that God forgives.

As we cleaned out the closets, I came across those glasses again and thought of that woman again. I hope she’s doing okay. I hope the years that have passed since that horrible day in her life have brought about blessings that equal or surpass all that I’ve been blessed with. I decided to start using the glasses after refusing to open them – for fear of one breaking or something else that would violate my extreme sentimentality – but kept the letter in a folder of documents in our firesafe, by some of my grandfather’s poetry and love letters he wrote to my grandmother by candlelight during World War II.

Which reminds me of something else I found. Old poetry I wrote during my last two years of college. My entire senior year poetry portfolio, as well as edited copies of work submitted for reading in our English 301 Creative Writing class with Dr. Dan Albergotti. I haven’t picked up this stuff in years, and it was very strange to read it now. I’m not the same person I was then, and a lot of the things that felt hopeless then are just a distance memory now.

And if I told you I look back, read it, and love the writing, you would KNOW I was lying. There’s a great distance between now and then. Then, I was a 20-, 21-, 22-year old, still in college, still under mommy and daddy’s financial watch, clubbing every weekend, eating absolutely nothing with more than 25 grams of carbohydrate, dying my hair every third week, skipping from guy to guy in search of self-love (hey, it made sense to me at the time), changing majors at least once a year, only getting servings of fruit when it came mixed with rum or vodka, working as a waitress, and obviously, I had it all under control. Right. I’m blessed now and I know it, but I had no clue how lucky I was to survive those years of stupidity and disgustingly reckless behavior. I’m still ashamed of it, but I’m also beyond it. So when it comes to the writing itself, of course I’m going to look back and feel a little silly about it.

So, on the one hand, I want to share the old words. All the old words. But I’m scared of what people will think, which I guess confirms that part of me is still a self-conscious kid worrying about everything but what I think and feel. I’m okay with the fact that the change from that kid to the woman that I am today might take awhile to completely process. At least I’m honest about what I am, who I am, etc. I can’t make it all happen overnight, but honesty? I can do that part.

Over the next few days or weeks, I’d really like to revisit each piece individually, maybe even post the “old versions” and the “new versions/revisions” in singular posts. I also want to find time to scan the pictures that were such an integral part of that senior year (of college) project and explain the significance and the thought process that went into it all. A lot of stuff went down that year, from 2005-2006. A lot. More than I can cover in 10 blog posts, let alone just one. So…that’s in the works. Along with a 1st birthday party, a few side projects, edits to my dad’s business website, and trying to transcribe old recipes for the family cookbook.

Should be an interesting fall.

Thank God it’s only two hours to the Tennessee border

I am not looking forward to football season these days as much as I usually do.

For starters, my teams are either in a new and temporary funk (Tennessee), or in the same funk they’re always in (Army). And before craptalkersstarttalkincrap, hear me out.

Tennessee has been through the ringer these past few years. Under similar circumstances, ANY team in the country would be having the same problems. It’s not an issue of recruiting – though that certainly is one aspect of Tennessee’s program that has suffered deeply in the wake of all that has happened. It began with Phillip Fulmer’s unceremonious firing after a few less-than-stellar (but not overly terrible or even statistically losing) seasons. Then, much to the chagrin of a few old-school types who knew he was not a good fit for Tennessee, Lane Kiffin came in and so began the “Year o’ Douche,” a fall full of mediocrity and bad press, punctuated by Kiffin’s unceremonious abandonment of the team after just one season of coaching (Seriously…Lane Kiffin…what a jerk). So after that whole mess, then we finally have Derek Dooley coming in and trying to pull everything together. For Tennessee, the past few seasons have definitely, admittedly been rough. We make no bones about that as fans, and we don’t feel any need to defend ourselves. At the end of the day, Tennessee is a football institution, a place with a lot more history, culture, and and good ol’ Southern charm and manners than…oh, let’s just say I can think of a few schools. Tennessee’s football program is gonna have a few seasons of catching up to do after the hell it’s been through. We don’t have to cheer for a winning team all the time, because that’s what fanhood is about – loving your team through thick and thin.

On the other hand, we have Army – my other beloved team, which is hardly ever exceptional or even winning…God bless ’em, they do the best they can. Because the physical qualities for a good officer are almost diametrically opposed to the physical qualities necessary for a good football player. I’m always kind of tickled when someone wants to insult the Army football team in my presence. My standard response for anybody who has a problem with Army’s difficulty on the football field is this: Geez, how dare they be anything but awesome at football while they prepare to serve your country and protect your sorry ass and all your rights to be a jerk. The nerve.

But this year, football season is really just bringing a more routine level of dread to me, because I live in South Carolina. As most of you know by now, I was born and raised in South Carolina, but I’ve cheered for Tennessee since I was a little girl. My older brother was a teenager when I was born, so he had moved to Tennessee and was living there with his father full-time pretty much as early as I can remember – and thus, I just sort of started cheering for Tennessee. I remember driving up to see my grandparents and my brother, and later my brother’s wife and two daughters – seeing that big, blue “Welcome to Tennessee” sign, the beautiful mountains, the hilly farmland, honey stands, and all the beauty that place holds. South Carolina is a gorgeous state, and I love living here – but Tennessee is something special, y’all. Jonathan and I even tried to get jobs up there after college, but things just worked out that the best offer we got was here in Greenville. So that’s how we ended up here, and we’re okay with it. But we love Tennessee in this family.

And thus, my being a Tennessee fan often baffles and usually offends “the natives” in these parts. I’m not sure what that’s all about, since my preference in football teams shouldn’t be nearly as important to a lot of people as it seems to be. But alas, not a fall arrives that I don’t get darn near hazed over my preference for Good ol’ Rocky Top. Nowhere is this more evident than in my exchanges with South Carolina’s “‘C-ck’ Nation.” Also known as “They Who Fancy Sandstorm a Fight Song.” You know the ones. They go through a lot of white towels, I’m told.

I’m not here to debate the finer points of football with anyone, because this is not a debate. This is my blog, so I tend to delete comments I don’t like. Call me a “censor,” I won’t mind…

Now, how do I put this carefully, so as not to offend anyone, since “C-ck” fans are soooooo very kind, even-tempered, and good-natured. Hmm.

I hate dealing with you people, South Carolina fans. Now, don’t go getting all huffy with me. If you’re a friend or even a family member, you know I love you! It’s just that I can’t stand to be around you when the topic turns to football (always at your urging, because I have more desire to have my toenails yanked off with a pair of pliers than to discuss football with you people) and you immediately begin launching witless word-grenades at me, simply because my preference for a different team offends you. Yeah. I get especially good kicks out of it when you tell me if I like Tennessee so much, maybe I should move there – GREAT idea! Ah, but see, in the real world, intelligent folks move where the jobs are, and we have a job that supports our family here in Greenville. So, Greenville is where we are. I don’t need to move anywhere else. By that same reasoning, maybe we should just split South Carolina in half, since I hear the vast majority of people in the Upstate cheer for a certain rowdy, orange-and-purple wearing, devil brigade.

Now, all phallic symbol joking aside (really), the “C-cks” and their fans love them some football. Yes, I refuse to spell it all the way out, and also to wear any garments or hats adorned with it, decorate my car with stickers that declare I am a “C-ck Fan,” “C-ck Dad,” “C-ck Mom,” “C-ck Sister,” or any other penile afficionado. Good season, bad season…these people are the real deal when it comes to fanhood. They make violent gangs of Colombian drug smugglers look both civilized and almost zen-like in comparison. Let’s just say, they’re very dedicated fans. I get that, and I respect that. I mean, honestly, South Carolina fans are among the most dedicated in the world. That’s fine. But I like my team, and it’s not South Carolina, and frankly, I have NEVER been yelled at or verbally abused over my Tennessee preference by a Clemson fan. Or an Alabama fan. Or a Georgia fan. And I have never verbally abused a fan of another team, because it’s just not cool to cuss out somebody simply because they’re cheering for the other team. And this post is meant for the “C-ck” fans who act like that – so if you think you’re not one of them, then don’t be upset.

Here’s my point, as we enter the next football season: For the South Carolina fans who seek out conflict, who always have an arsenal of discourtesy ready for everyone around them who doesn’t love “C-cks” as much as they do, may you have a great season full of opportunities to berate traitors of “the cause.” I hope you do! Wonderful for you! I mean that, seriously. No, really. But I’m a Tennessee fan – always have been, always will be. My husband is a die-hard Tennessee fan, and in all likelihood, our kids will also be. So, you should probably get used to it. Stop saying derogatory and crude remarks about women from Tennessee or women who are fans. Stop using any number of middle-school-level insults to back up your opinion (i.e. “You’re ugly anyway, makes sense that you’d cheer for Tennessee,” “You’re butt is too big to cheer for South Carolina,” what?). Stop yelling racist things at black fans of the opposing team (I have witnessed this, personally, and it’s disgusting behavior). Stop joking about how you’re going to “turn [my kid] into a ‘C-ck’ fan” (it won’t work, he already appears to like girls quite a bit). Stop telling me I’m stupid and my team sucks. Stop telling me South Carolina should’ve been the SEC champs last year, because…well, you weren’t. Stop yelling in my ear that you’re so much better than my team – because frankly, this year, you very well may be and I’m okay with it, so who are you really trying to convince?

Basically, “C-ck” fans, get over it: I don’t cheer for your team, I cheer for someone else. Everybody on Earth does not have to cheer for your team. You probably wouldn’t want a fan like me cheering for your guys anyway, as I absolutely cannot take the abbreviated version of your mascot seriously to save my life. It’s not a personal affront to you that I don’t cheer for your team (though this blog post kind of is). Get over it, have a great season, worry about your own stuff, and – of course – Go Vols.

Forms of youth

Lately, I’ve been kind of lacking motivation to blog. I’ve actually started, written, and even briefly posted one of several posts. But just ended up taking them all down because frankly, I don’t have much to say. I’m in the middle of reading “The Help,” and making plans for Russ’s first birthday party on September 10th. I’m sort of conflicted about his birthday, which makes me feel like SUCH a jerk, honestly. So many people I know personally or know of want kids and can’t have them, or got pregnant and then lost the baby, or – God forbid – have a sick child who might not see as many birthdays as any parent would like. It’s heartbreaking, and whenever I feel mopey because Russ is growing up so fast on me, I think of those parents. And suddenly I feel better. And like a jerk. Funny how those two things can coincide, but I know I’m normal – it’s pretty well documented for parents (usually moms) to be a bit emotional about the passing of another year in their child’s life. I suspect this will be the worst one for awhile. Maybe when Russ turns 16 or 18, I’ll have another one like this where I just sit in disbelief, trying to rewind the time with my mind, only to be struck by how helpless and powerless I am to go back and do it all over again. And that’s okay. Parenthood is an exercise in choosing your battles. You cannot go back and redo things, even though you will make mistakes; you can, however, plan for the things which you can control (which, turns out, those things are in the minority) and try to do those things right. You will still screw some of those things up.

So, to recap: I am mom. I am a jerk. I am still upset that time – gasp! – continues to pass whether I like it or not. I am somebody who screws up here and there as a parent. I am someone who plans too much. And who is learning to just shut up and let stuff happen. So that’s what’s happening with that.

I’m a people watcher. Now, I don’t think it’s in some sort of weirdo “people watching” way – I mean more that I just sort of notice things people do and say, expressions they make, the tone of their voices. I guess maybe it’s one of the reasons that I get striking instinctive “pings” about when a friend acquaintance, or even somebody on TV whom I don’t know from Adam, is pregnant. Jonathan jokes that I have a “built-in E.P.T.” I’m not saying I’m psychic, because I have no propensity for those kinds of things – I just know a preggo when I see one. Even if she’s only 3 weeks along and won’t find out until tomorrow. It’s not 100% accurate, but I’d say it’s at least a 75% accuracy rate. So yeah – I’m a people watcher. I notice stuff.

I forget where I was, but the other day, I had an unusual and almost creepy experience. I think I might’ve been in a grocery store, but considering we make multiple grocery runs each week, I’ve not a clue which store it was. Probably Publix or Walmart. What creeped me out was this look I got from this girl. She was standing there behind her mother, who was looking at some product on the shelf, when I turned onto the same aisle with Russ in the grocery cart. I’m not someone who totally ignores kids – it’s just not my style. I usually will smile and mouth the words “hi” if they seem receptive. I guess it’s just something that stems from the kind of child I was – I never met a stranger, and I was always interested in what people did, what they said. From as early as I remember, I’ve studied people. And this kid was studying me, but not in a good way.

She looked me up and down, almost like there was something wrong with me. It was a look eerily reminiscent of the sneers and snarls I used to get from those couple of girls in middle school and high school who honestly would not have peed on me if I’d been on fire. Of course, ya know, first thought in my head is “Oh…booger? Toilet paper on shoe. Zipper open? No…Bird crap on arm? What is it?” and then I’m frantically scanning my person to see what elicited some reaction. Out of the corner of my eye – and while trying to act like I wasn’t really looking, I glanced over to see if she was still eyeballing me. Yup. Cutting those little eyes at me as she sauntered off with her mother, who didn’t so much as look back to see if her daughter was following her as she turned to go to the next aisle (yes, sauntered – imagine a six year old, sauntering. Weird.). I was thoroughly disturbed – so much so that I remained on the same aisle for far longer than I needed to, wasting time to try and give the girl and her mother a headstart so I didn’t have to face her again. And wondering, why the hateful glare?

In that short few moments though, I found at least a few answers. The mother sure didn’t seem to care, but I noticed a few things. The far-too-mature way she carried herself. The seeming distrust of anyone in her presence. The excessively mature manner of dress. And that was what I could deduce when I tried to look past the gobs of makeup caked on her face, the Coach purse (though I hope to all that is holy that it was a fake), and the smug smirk so much more fitting of a snot-nosed teenager. But to me, she looked to be six, maybe seven. Frankly, she looked so young that she should’ve still been preoccupied with playing dress-up and going to the playground – not sizing up strangers in a store and contemplating how much better or more sophisticated she looked. She was just…disturbingly mature for her age. It deeply bothered me, even though it’s probably none of my business, since she’s not my kid.

I still don’t know what it was about me that made this kid glare me down like I’d just killed her puppy or something. And to be honest, ya know – and this is embarassing, because I’m a friggin’ adult and shouldn’t really care – it shook me a bit. What has to happen around a six year old, what has to be said or done in her presence, to get her to look at a stranger with such complete and utter disdain, to have her glaring at anyone in her midst? I’m just a woman, with a baby (an exceptionally cute one, if ya ask me), walking through the store. I’m plain. Sort of tall, not chubby, but not bone-skinny. Not dressed in designer duds, and usually schleping a enormous diaper bag along with me whether I need it or not (I like to be prepared). I don’t know what I did wrong or what was wrong with me.

Have you ever seen that Tide commercial where a little girl – she looks to be maybe ten years old – dances around in various patterned tights? Okay, let me start by saying I freaking love that commercial, and probably for a lot of really over-pondered reasons. For one thing, I think that little girl is a great example of what little girls should be in this world, but so rarely are. Seems like everybody you meet has a tan-o-rexia issue, but not this kid. She’s pale and freckled and somehow seems free because of it. Her hair isn’t dyed or covering half her face, but up in these two, cute, youthful little buns on each side of her head. She doesn’t slink about like some pre-adolescent Lolita. She does not seem to be filled with images of what her non-existent sexuality should be, or how she should carry herself, or whether boys think she’s fat (she’s as gangly and undeveloped as she is wholesome), or if her clothes cost enough.

That, my friends, is how little girls should be. But so often, they are not, and sometimes I think it’s hard for me to hide the sadness I feel when I see an 8 yr. old wearing heels or a padded bikini top, discussing how she really hates the job the last stylist did on her highlights, or fussing over a little spilled coke on her brand-new top. Allow me to vault my own youth onto a short-lived pedestal, but for all its shortcomings, I sure do thank the good Lord above that my childhood didn’t include these kinds of unnecessary, grown-up concerns until I was at least…maybe in high school? Late middle school? By that point, there wasn’t much paranoid self-analysis in me that hadn’t already been spurned by the ideas and assumptions ingrained in me by a far-too-early subscription to Seventeen. 

I want my daughter to be better than all that CRAP. It’s crap. And if keeping her away from that stuff, at least for as long as I can, means saying “no” to some things, then that’s what I’m going to do. I want her to be free to do things she loves to do, so long as they don’t compromise everything about her. I want her to be free to wear stuff she likes and hairstyles she likes, providing they don’t turn her into the human reinterpretation of a Bratz doll. I want her to be able to discern between a situation where she needs to put her foot down, but to know the difference when it’s a situation where she needs to let things go, to remove herself from it. Like…just some standards, you know? I just want better things for her than what this world would have her depending on, believing in, and standing for.

Youth takes a number of forms, and as a parent, I sometimes find myself frozen. I wonder how I will anticipate and dodge the bullets that will surely come my way, and how I’ll stop the bleeding from the ones that will even more surely be unavoidable. We’re really blessed to have some smart women around us, especially at our church, who have both sons and daughters. And since having a son is territory I am most definitely charting (at a far more rapid pace than I ever imagined possible), I’m not as worried about it. But every day, it seems I notice something else that little girls in this world will have to contend with. And each Sunday, I am impressed to see girls – from age 0 to 16 or older – at our church, expecting something a little more dignified for their lives. I’m not saying they’re all going to be perfect. They will make mistakes, just like I did, just like their moms did, just like their grandmothers before them. That’s life. But I think if Jonathan and I ever have a daughter, we have a lot of great folks to help point us in the right direction. There IS a right direction. And there are a still some people on it. I just wish the rest of the world could find the map.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week!

I had a post already written for today, and I actually posted, oh, for about 20 minutes. But then I decided it was just more rehashing of a lot of stuff that really isn’t important anyway. Redux: I’m not going to either of my high school reunions Considering I avoid the Walmart in my hometown for the exact reason that so many people would jump to go to their high school reunion, I just don’t think I’m much cut out for it. So there ya have it. Why waste time or energy on that when there’s something so much more exciting happening:

It’s World Breastfeeding Week!

Isn’t the excitement just barely containable? Okay, unless you’re a brand-new mommy who is quickly discovering that just reading the word “breastfeeding” can actually, literally cause you to spring a leak (I’m totally not joking), you’re probably not super-psycho-pumped about the whole thing. But let me tell you, it’s definitely exciting stuff.

It’s hard to believe it’s been both such a short time and such a long time, but approximately 10.5 months ago, this little guy came into our lives:

That’s one of the Our365 Web Nursery pictures that they took in our hospital room the day after he was born. Is he not just the most perfect little thing ever? I know every parent feels that way, but seriously – even if my little guy had been born looking like a monkey, I’d still think the sun shined out of his ass. He’s just that amazing.

Of course, this means that my first time nursing started 10.5 months ago, as well. Now, I’ll say this much up front: Other than my mother, everyone I know said nursing would SUCK. I’m talking horror stories on top of more horror stories, with a few nightmares thrown in. I know a lot of women who have personally experienced some of the most uncomfortable things that breastfeeding has to offer – stuff like clogged ducts, raw or cracked nipples, or the dreaded mastitis. But – and I thank the good Lord above – I have actually had a relatively easy time with nursing. Now, that’s not to say that nursing itself was categorically “easy,” cause it wasn’t. But compared to a lot of people I know and especially to the overall preconceived notion of what nursing would be like, I have been pleasantly surprised. I expect that it was get progressively more difficult with each baby hereafter, even if nothing about the experience actually changes – since, ya know, nursing with 1, 2, or even 3 other kids in your house can’t possibly do anything to make breastfeeding easier.

When I latched Russ on that very first time, probably not a full 20 minutes after he was born, I don’t remember very well exactly what went through my mind. I think it was probably something along the lines of “Am I doing this right?”  One thing I learned very quickly in those first few blurry days in the hospital was this: A nursing mother may be the sole owner of the boobs in question, but she most definitely cannot be the sole person invested in the process – otherwise, it’s beyond difficult. I mean, having a baby under any circumstances is almost never easy (I would venture to say “never. period.”). But breastfeeding is tough.

It’s tough to get comfortable enough to nurse a baby at a rest stop on a long car trip, trying not to flash complete strangers, trying not to leak milk all over your shirt and your bra. It’s tough to be out for a rare solo trip while the baby is at home with daddy, standing in the middle of the grocery store, when a baby way the heck over on aisle 5 starts crying and you start dripping – a biological response beyond your control, of course, but not any less annoying. It’s tough to always avoid foods you love (garlic, onions, margaritas… anybody?) in the case of a baby with a sensitive tummy. It’s tough to have your once equal-sized boobs suddenly go all uneven as your baby forms a preference for one side over another.

Yeah, all that stuff is tough. It’s aggravating. Annoying. But so completely, totally worth it.

When I started all this 10.5 months ago, I said I’d try to nurse Russ until he was about 3 months old. Then I got to 4 months and I said “Well, maybe until he’s 6 months.” Then I got to 6 months and the thought of quitting broke my heart, so I said “Maybe 9 months.” But honestly, by the time I got to the 7th month, my mind was made up – I was going to get this kid to his first birthday. Really, after they get settled on solid foods, they only nurse 3-5 times a day, anyway. Russ is down to where he nurses in the early morning, once during the day, and right before he goes to bed. I imagine the nighttime feeding will be the last one he drops, but I’d be lying if I told you I’m looking forward to quitting. I’m not. It makes me sad to think about it, and it makes me look forward a little more to the next time that we have a baby here in the Wilhoit house. I hope I can do the same for all the children that God blesses us with, because it has really been an incredible thing.

Now, I’m going to address the whole formula vs. breastfeeding controversy. Honestly, I think every woman’s mothering experience is like a fingerprint – no two are exactly alike. And for that reason, I don’t think it’s fair to lump judgment on one another. Heck, even if they were all alike, not all women are alike – so it’s still not cool to judge. That said, I really would love to see more women at least trying. Some women come into motherhood with odds and situations stacked against them, not the least of which include premature babies, inverted or flat nipples, infection or birth injury,  or even, in some cases, pre-existing conditions like cancer that need attention immediately. But if you are in great health and your baby is in great health, why not? Why not give it a shot? Hospitals can do a lot to help encourage this by offering more and better education, by having more and better International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) on their staffs, and by not giving healthy babies formula or sugar water unless it is medically necessary. If we want to see rising breastfeeding rates, especially in the U.S. (easily the worst in the world), it’s going to take a team effort.

Women cannot be left alone to do this any longer. To echo a sentiment of one of my friends who just welcomed her second child, it has to be a “we” thing, not just a “me” thing. Women cannot be abandoned the minute they leave the hospital – we’ve got to get behind one another when it comes to nurturing the very people who nurture the generations of tomorrow.

Women need to feel like they have a cheering section when it comes to breastfeeding – especially because it will mean undoing decades of propagandizing and stereotyping of women when it comes to how breastfeeding fits into their lives, their culture, economic status, and health benefits. We’ve got to get to the point where, as a culture, it doesn’t shock us more to see a kid’s doll touted as a “breastfeeding doll” than it does to see a doll baby that has bottles included in the package. I’m not saying I’m going to go out and buy my hypothetical 8 yr. old a breastfeeding doll – but I definitely don’t think it’s any more or less “appropriate” than a doll that has bottles included. What’s with the relentless over-sexualization of breasts? Get over it, people!!

So that’s my feeling on the whole thing, in a nutshell. But then again, I’m not sure I could really sum it all up in even that amount of yammering, because I’m still kind of “in it,” so to speak. I have to be honest – midway through writing this post, I had to step away because I was starting to feel sad. It hit me that my baby is almost a toddler, almost a year old, and that my days as a breastfeeding mom are now very much numbered. I’m not that girl in that hospital bed anymore, wondering what the heck I’m doing and if I’ll be able to keep it up. I can’t believe that this time last year, I was 34 weeks or so pregnant, looking towards an imminent delivery and all the terrifyingly wonderful things that were awaiting me. It was all so unsure at that point. If you’d have told me I’d still be nursing right now, I don’t know if I’d have believed you. But once we got over the hump at the beginning, it all just kind of settled into a way of life. I guess I’m a little apprehensive of another change, to another way of life, where Russ doesn’t need to snuggle up to me and nurse at 6:30 am. I know that’s not something that a lot of people love, but I live for those cozy moments with my baby boy nuzzled up to me. Those moments in life are so temporary. But I’ve really been blessed to have been able to give Russ this start. I know it’s the best I could do for him, and I honestly cannot wait to do it again.

Plan on there being a lot more blog posts about the weaning process – this will be my place to sort of “deal with” the smidge of depression that will almost surely follow when Russ doesn’t “need me” for that anymore. I know not everyone will relate, and that’s fine (seriously, it’s totally okay with me), but I hope it doesn’t weird folks out. I actually called my mom awhile back (like, when Russ was a month old), when I really started to enjoy nursing and was getting settled into the whole process, in a panic. It had sort of just hit me that he was going to grow up (fast), and that I would have to wean him at some point. She told me she was always a little sad when each of her kids stopped nursing, but that it gets better. So I’m trusting that she’s right! But bear with me if I’m a little mopey about it.

Until next time!