Monday, April 11, 2011

Martyrdom? Mental abuse? Both?

Last week the Grape and I went to a program called Kids' Jam at the Berklee College of Music. Students led the group of kids (who ranged widely in age, from about one to six or seven years old) in songs and games. They showed them saxophones and clarinets and gave a little spiel about wind instruments. The event lasted forty-five minutes and did not feature a snack.

For anyone but a first grader who lifted her mother's shirt three times during the class to help herself to mom's boobs.

At first I thought I was seeing things. I've heard urban legends about people nursing older children, but I thought they meant early nursery schoolers. This tableau was just disturbing. And weird. She made no attempt at discretion. It was as if the woman wanted to make some kind of statement.

I'm still struggling to understand what that statement might have been. I am my own organic dairy? I never leave my children for even an hour? I don't want my children to grow up? I am a martyr in the church of la leche?

First of all, the simple fact that a group of college boys led the music class should have given pause to any grown woman seeking to expose herself. One mom who nurses her newborn said she'd never nurse without covering up in coed company. I tend to agree that basic politeness dictates such decorum when in public. Yes, feeding your baby is natural, but unaffiliated bystanders don't necessarily desire a closeup of the proceedings. You don't need to buy a designer nursing cover; the pink and blue blankets everyone steals from the maternity ward do just fine.

Second, if the Grape (at the tender age of twenty months) can make it through the music group without pausing for refreshments, I am confident a significantly older child could duplicate his remarkable feat of self denial. But no. The little girl yanked her mom's shirt up and helped herself every fifteen minutes like clockwork.

Third, many people will wail that breast is best. But once a child eats table food, drinks from a cup and rides her bicycle (one without training wheels) to class, doesn't it seem odd to justify nursing as a health conscious choice?

Here in the first world, we are fortunate to have a balanced diet available year round. Nursing a child who's old enough to dine in restaurants without a booster seat seems like a surefire way to stymie that child's blossoming independence as well as infantilize her palate.

Nutritional arguments notwithstanding, the girl at the music class wasn't nursing for nourishment; mom's boobs were her special comfort thing. Some kids clutch teddy bears; this girl latched onto tits. The mother had evidently failed to teach her offspring more age appropriate ways to self soothe. Plus her attempt to keep the apron strings as secure as possible opens her child to peer ridicule. For no good reason.

I went home wondering if I was over reacting. R. assured me I wasn't, and added that calling social services might be a reasonable course of action.

Though I agree that nursing an elementary schooler constitutes psychological abuse, I doubt the state would do anything. The kid in question was clearly clean, clothed and well fed enough; this wasn't a case of some unstable mom depriving her school age child of all nourishment besides breast milk as happens in certain religious cults, occasionally with fatal results. I opted to mind my own business.

But I certainly don't look forward to the day when the Grape registers such a sight and asks me why a big person is eating like a baby.

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