I support women who do it publicly (not in a creepy way) and give my wife the admiration she deserves for making that choice for our children–and even model it for our older girls in the hopes that, should they decide to be moms later in life (much much later), they will embrace the practice too.
So I shouldn’t have been as alarmed when my daughter and her friend began playing make-believe in the car on the way home from some church meetings.
I don’t know how it started, but my eldest daughter and her friend began taking turns being “the baby” and “the mommy.”
One would lean over to the other and pretend to nurse, cry, mess themselves, get changed and then switch roles. Soon my other daughter, Chloe, was trying to get in on the fun from her car seat.
In theory I understand that young girls mimic their mothers. In practice I was terrified of their lactation game.
Especially when one of the girls pretended to “squirt” milk into the “baby’s” mouth.
I began to panic. This isn’t the pretend I grew up with as a boy with two brothers. Our pretend involved re-imagining sticks into a variety of weapons to dispatch one another with extreme prejudice.
If the girls had made their seat belts into whips, their hair into needles, or simply started hitting each other, I would have smiled nostalgically as I looked in the rearview mirror–but lactation games were beyond by capacity to relate to or comment on.
I felt trapped.
If my wife had been there I could have told her to get involved, or had her reassure me that what was happening fell in the realm of “perfectly normal.” But she wasn’t there.
I was alone facing three giggling girls pseudo-nursing in my backseat. What was I supposed to say?
Any negative interaction could create “body shame” or shut me out of my daughter’s life forever. I want to be a cool dad, someone who is available for play, and talks about life–but I was so creeped out all I could do was remain silent.
Thoughts about how my daughter’s world was too different from mine to relate to, and that I was missing her childhood, and that the stupid cat is in the infernal cradle haunted me.
I couldn’t let that happen–so I came up with a brilliant idea to burst into their play.
“Look!” I said excitedly pointing out the window, “A moose!” Immedietely the nursing ceased and three little girls peeked out the window–squinting through the night to see a wild animal.
I don’t usually condone lying–but I was desperate.
Plus it isn’t a lie when you own it straightaway with a jovial “Just kidding!” Naturally they groaned at my lame humor–but it bought me 4.3 seconds to change the subject and ask what they had learned in their church program that evening.
After they gave me a few answers, I began to suggest silly things like, “You learned how to build space shuttles,” and “They taught you how to dance the tango!” and “I bet you know how to backseat drive!”–then I let go of the wheel for awhile and let the car swerve–much to their delighted screams.
See? Not a lie and you don’t have to call CPS.
My silly comments eventually turned into them asking me silly questions that make precious little sense. Questions like, “Why is there a tree in your ear?” followed by raucous laughter.
True, the queries became increasingly insane, due to it being past bedtime, as well as incessant attempts to keep themselves awake; but I was satisfied by my masterful ploy to redirect the play into something we could all enjoy.
I frequently find that, despite books I read, coupled with my graduate school education, much of my parenting involves making it up as I go along.
When I find myself in weird or scary moments, there is no manual to say, “Point out the window and yell, ‘MOOSE!’” if your daughters are making you feel awkward by pretending to nurse in the backseat of your car.
Yet, somehow, the ideas come–and even when they are terrible–my girls are still willing to give hugs and kisses, wrestle, and read stories with me.
I think we can surprise ourselves with how capable of being parents we are in those bizarre moments, and we certainly need to give ourselves grace when we aren’t certain what to do.
Parenting is a creative art, not just a science, that is dictated by the unique personalities of our kids–whether they are “shooting” or “nursing” each other.