Monday, March 27, 2006

5-year-olds and 5-inch holes

Oh, why did a show I like so much, "Desperate Housewives" have to make fun of extended breastfeeding tonight? Of course, they picked an age that 99.9% of our culture finds ridiculous for a suckling: a 5-year-old kid. Still, it always strikes me as odd that people are so freaked out and disgusted by a child breastfeeding beyond the age that they consider appropriate, yet most people are not bothered at all when babies don't get breastfed for as long as pediatricians say would be best. And no, I don't want to see a bunch of righteous indignation launched at bottlefeeding mothers. 6-week maternity leaves, on the other hand, could use a few righteous indignation barrages.

I tried to look up that handy figure of the average worldwide age of breastfeeding, and I didn't find it tonight, but I found this interesting link. I certainly didn't know that other primates nurse for 5-6 years.

The topic is on my mind as Nutmeg approaches age 2. I'm getting that question more often: "When are you going to wean her?" I don't know the answer, and I don't care for the question either.

Then again, I saw something recently that helped me understand that you can easily feel disgusted by something even if it is quite common in OTHER times and places. I was at Whole Foods Thursday and the bagger had those plugs in his earlobes, you know where you keep putting in a bigger and bigger piece of plastic until you have holes in your ears the size of dinner plates? You see plenty of these around, but this guy's earlobes were approaching National Geographic diameter, and they were hollow, so you could see large patches of the wall behind him through each ear. I kept looking away, then looking back again, feeling slightly nauseated all the while. And I'm sure, if he had glared at me and told me "The median diameter of earlobes worldwide is 5 inches," it wouldn't have made me any less grossed out.


Kori said...

I was thinking of you as I watched that episode tonight, especially after our recent conversation about "the question" you are getting more and more.

Again, I say it's no one's darn business, but that won't stop people from asking, sadly.

And as I have previously told you, I have to admit that I was freaked out when I watched my cousin nurse her son, who was, I'm guessing, around four at the time. It was very much like your earlobe analogy---I completely understood why nursing was a fine choice for my cousin and her son, but it was, well, weird to see him walk up to her after downing a plate of lasagna, ask for milk, then have her throw a beach towel over her shoulder and nurse him as he stood on the grass near his mother's picnic food.

I know a few mothers who are nursing children who are 2+ and 3+ years old, and I can only imagine it's even more socially awkward than being the bottlefeeding mother of a <1 year old, and I know how crummy that can be sometimes. You are very right about pediatrician response---they aren't too worried if you can't get breastfeeding to work for your infant, but I can imagine the looks they might give a mother who is breastfeeding a nursery school student.

Of course, I have to chuckle when you mention the nursing practices of other primates. Based on the stories I hear from my husband about the monkeys he studies, I wouldn't necessarily use them as your guide for anything!

And BTW, nice article today! I'm glad your out-of-town guests (us) didn't make you miss your deadline!

Carrie said...

Giggle. In Thailand we saw a monkey suck his own penis.

Naw, I don't think it'll be all that socially awkward to nurse Nutmeg past 2 years. For one thing, unlike bottlefeeding if nursing isn't working out, it really is a choice. I'm only gonna do it if I feel like it. Besides that, there is rarely any need for us to do it in public anymore. And thirdly, if other people don't like what they see, up their nose with a rubber hose.

Moxie Mom said...

awesome use of elementary school swearing!!!!

Moxie Mom said...

But seriously, my sister-in-law has always been one to push the social standards bullshit envelope. Not that I have always agreed with her choices, but they are her choices.

She breastfed her son until he was about 4. That was when she got pregnant again and decided it was time. If she hadn't gotten pregnant, she would have happily continued.

The big point: She decided it was time. To hell with what others think. Why is it that people think they can push their parenting styles off on others? It is well understood in so many other areas of life that variation in lifestyle is good. Why not here?

Why can't they just support your decision in whatever way possible? If it's any consolation, I support you.

Carrie said...

You know, it's not that people are sometimes rude and improperly lecture others on parenting that bothers me. A lot of people have no manners, no matter what the topic is. And to tell the truth, I haven't gotten much flack at all on the extended nursing thing, so it hasn't been an issue for me.

What bothers me is the societal norm itself, not that people are out there trying to enforce it. It bothers me that our culture is so freaked out about something so unharmful and probably beneficial for children, while other things that actually are harmful get a pass. It's just an extension of modern Americans' bizarre squeamishness about breastfeeding in general. People are like, OK, I guess we have to let you whip that thing out in public, but only for 12 months, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!

Kori said...

I guess I'd be less shocked at our squeamishness if we had a less puritanical view of the naked body and sex, universal healthcare to ensure proper well care for children, appropriate work hours to allow for family time for both mom and dad, adequate vacation, fewer technological communication devices that actually drive us further into isolation, etc.

I think that "extended" breastfeeding, while completely natural and beneficial, fits into that category of things that is not easily placed into the modern American lifestyle. It's good, it's healthy, it's normal, but it's just not something that works with our busy, workaholic, overscheduled (and this is kids, too), kind of mentality. It's a fast food society we live in, to be completely cliche, and even though breastmilk is about the fastest food a kid can get, it's far too nurturing and wholesome to fit into our "here's your sippy cup, we're off to toddler ballet class" groove.

This is all why I will someday move back to the south of France. More time, more relaxation, less headaches, less frantic pace.

Anonymous said...

People are like, OK, I guess we have to let you whip that thing out in public, but only for 12 months, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!

Hee hee, that's hysterical.