Mayim Balik is a frequent blogger on Kveller.com, and I can see why. She’s a dedicated mother, a committed Jew, and an all-around interesting person.
Mayim recently wrote about nursing her 2 ½ year old son, a post which (not surprisingly)generated a fair amount of feedback. (As I write this there are 171 comments.) Some folks loved it and some folks didn’t. I fall into the latter camp, though not necessarily for the same reasons as others.
Now, before I go on, I must tell you that I have a huge amount of respect for Mayim. First, she is clearly deeply committed to her children, and she is raising them according to her values and beliefs about what is right for them, even when it isn’t easy. (The woman keeps a vegan household, for goodness’ sake. SERIOUSLY? Second, Mayim is a working mother, and living proof that it is actually possible to finish a doctoral degree. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Mayim guest-starred on MacGyver in 1990.
Having said that, I’d like to share with you all my biggest concern about Mayim’s recent post. I don’t care if she’s still nursing her toddler. If she says it’s healthy for him, and it works for her, then I believe her. Full disclosure here: I am currently nursing my second child. My older daughter weaned herself at 8.5 months, and I suspect #2 will be off the boob by the time she’s 12 months old, one way or another. Although I am a big fan of breastfeeding, the truth is, I still get wigged out if I spend too much time thinking about milk coming out of my boobs. Eew!
I don’t care if Mayim’s son nurses through the night. Or that he’s not verbal at 2.5. He’ll get there. And although I would probably be one of those people shooting her an “icy stare or embarrassed glance” (hey, just being honest here!) if I saw her nursing on the floor of the lingerie department, fundamentally, I don’t really mind. Life is hard, parenting is damn hard, and we each need to do what works for us.
No, there’s just one thing that needled me about this blog post. It wasn’t authentic. It didn’t feel real. I’m not questioning Mayim’s commitment to her lifestyle, I’m just bothered by the way she portrayed it. There were glimpses of real life in there, when she referred to herself as living with “plain old, manageable exhaustion,” but then she glossed over it. The thing is, those are the details of life, and that’s what I want to hear about.
People react so negatively sometimes to benign posts like these because of this lack of authenticity, this idea that it’s easy to do it all. That’s why the “bad mother” writing has become so popular – we mothers are desperate to know that we’re not the only ones who get pissed at our kids, or feed them macaroni and cheese every night for a week, or let them watch TV every day just so we can take a damn shower.
I’ll bet if we all step back, peel that toddler off our legs, and take a deep breath, we can agree that Mayim is probably a great Mom. It’s not like she’s beating the kid or smoking crack during naptime. (Although, given that she’s working on 4 hours of sleep of night, I can’t say that I would blame her. I don’t know, though, is crack vegan?) But she doesn’t seem real to me, and that makes it hard for me to connect with her, which makes it hard for me to truly understand her decisions.
I want to hear about the struggles she had in coming to the decision to let her son self-wean. I want to read about the ways in which it actually sucks to have a squirming toddler hanging off your boob (as I have to assume it must, from time to time). Tell me about when you forgot to put in your breast pads, and end up going into the coffee shop with a big, wet, target on your shirt. Tell me about those moments when the fatigue becomes more than “manageable” and you end up sitting on the living room floor crying because you just don’t know what else to do, and then your toddler starts crying because you’re crying and then you cry even harder because you feel terrible for making your toddler cry, and then she cries harder, and then all you can do is gather her up in your arms and tell her that it’s all going to be ok, even though you’re not entirely sure you believe it yourself.
I don’t want to hear about this because I revel in other people’s suffering–although sometimes I do–I want to hear these stories because they make me laugh, and sometimes a good laugh is what gets me through the day. I want to hear them because they remind me that there are a lot of different ways to be a “good enough” mother, and most days I get it right, or pretty damn close. Mostly importantly, I want to hear them because they remind me that I’m not alone. They remind me that even though Mayim and I have vastly different parenting styles, the truth is that we’re both just Mamas who love our babies and want to do the best we can to keep them safe, healthy, and happy.
So, Mayim, lay it on me. I may think you’re crazy for nursing a toddler, but I respect you for it, and I want to hear the story behind the boob.