I was bored and hot on Sunday in church and letting my mind wander, when I spotted a family across the aisle and a few rows in front of us. The two older daughters looked to be in their early teens and very close in age, and were sitting on either side of their mother. Their sister was considerably younger, probably four or five, and she was sitting on her daddy’s lap, her head curled into his shoulder and looking as bored as I felt.
Ah, the magic third — a term that a dear friend of mine had used to describe that third child who so often comes as a complete surprise to the parents and some considerable years after their more carefully-planned older siblings. Except that my friend had made a Freudian slip as she spoke, and it had come out as “the magic turd”, which has had me quietly snorting with laughter ever since.
But as I looked at that father holding his daughter, and noted her long legs nearly reaching his ankles and the way her body slumped down to fit against his, I thought to myself that he won’t be doing that for much longer — holding her on his lap like that. She was nearly past that age, as her sisters had been for a long time now.
And then a thought occurred to me… I wondered when was the last time he’d held his other daughters on his lap, and did he remember the last time? One day he would have held them and it would have felt as natural as it did with his third now, but then it just wouldn’t have happened again… quite naturally. And, I wondered, did he ever notice?
Because parenthood is circular. Even though it is the firsts that get all the attention — the first step, the first smile, the first word — the lasts are just as significant, even if they go unnoticed.
I cried the last time I breastfed E1 — sobbed, in fact. It broke my heart to do it, but I was five months pregnant and it had got to be too much, the way she threw herself with abandon onto the bump when it was time to latch on, the energy she was draining from my exhausted body — and she’d recently begun to bite. The midwife had told me that older nurslings often self-wean anyway as the milk begins to change for the baby that is coming, so I decided it didn’t matter much if I took matters into my own hands and helped her wean a few months early. It’s a decision I regretted ever since — not only because I’ve since learned that it is possible to nurse two children in tandem, but also because, immediately I weaned her, my ever-healthy daughter came down with one of the nastiest colds I’ve ever known. She then passed it onto me and, with my body focused on protecting the unborn child inside me, everything above the bump was left to fend for itself. Unmedicated, one night the infection moved to my ears and, within a couple of hours, the pressure was so great that it tore holes in both of my eardrums — the loudest sound no one ever heard — and my hearing has never been the same since.
But I digress. At two-and-a-half, E2 is still breastfeeding and going strong. And, given her severely restricted diet, that is a very good thing. My plan is to let her feed until she is ready to stop, and I don’t really care when that is. Never having done child-led weaning, I’m not quite sure how it will go, but I assume her feedings will gradually begin to grow further and further apart until they just quietly cease. And like the last nappy change, the last night feed, the last kissed boo-boo, and the last time she sits on my lap, I won’t even realise it’s happened.
And then one day, I will. And then I will cry.