Based on the comments I got last time, I thought I'd talk about some books I've read this year that I loved, my experience with weaning, and I'd finish up with a couple of thoughts about life in general, in particular my parents.
Books! My absolute favorite book that I've read this year is Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I wrote a long and involved review of it to my BFF, Kate, so I'm just going to cut and paste what I said about it: Ahhhh-mazing. I am so fucking tired this week because I have been staying up till 1am to read it. I'm actually somewhat resentful of my child for keeping me from it. I'm not going to send you any of the (glowing) reviews because there are too many spoilers in them. The short version of the plot (and this happens in the first, like, 5 pages so it doesn't ruin it to tell you). Agnieska lives in the Valley in a country called Polnya. Her village is not far from The Wood, a place of dark magic that periodically threatens the villagers. Anyone who enters the Wood is inevitably corrupted by its evil. The lord of the valley, The Dragon, is a wizard who holds The Wood at bay. Every ten years, as fealty, the citizens of the Valley must allow The Dragon to take one girl, who becomes his servant. No one knows what goes on in his tower, except that after the ten years are up, the girls never want to return to live in the valley - they go off and live somewhere else. The Dragon always chooses a girl who is super special - either the most beautiful, or the best musician, or whatever. Everyone knows that this year the Dragon is going take Kasia, Agnieska's very best friend. Kasia is beautiful, smart, fun, humble, a good cook. Agnieska is a disaster, always grubby and climbing trees and getting into trouble. Then the Dragon takes Agnieska instead of Kasia, though he seems pretty grouchy about it. Of course, we realize why he took her, but it takes her a few pages to figure it out. It's like if a combination of Neville Longbottom and Hermione Granger had to go live with Snape.
This book scratched my Harry Potter itch that has not remotely abated since book 7 came out. I loved its treatment of magic. Loved it. It heavily featured a strong, beautiful female friendship. A terrifying villain. A flawed, relatable, brave heroine. Folklore. A kickass magical duo. It's such a great feminist work - I wish there were more fantasy novels like this. As much as I love Name of the Wind and others of its ilk, they are usually focused on a man with a woman or women playing back up. And then sometimes if we're lucky we get stories like Graceling, but characters like Katsa are lone wolves, beyond tough, damaged by their childhoods. One of the things I loved about this book is that it highlights how Nieska is different, but still very powerful. It doesn't feel the need to make her stereotypically masculine, and it doesn't feel the need to give her a little sister to explain her motivations. Nieska can be steely, but she can also be vulnerable and those traits don't feel remotely incongruous. In other words, she gets to be a whole person.
Right after that, I read Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and it was completely delightful. Very funny. I also loved Station Eleven by Emily St. James Mandel, which came out last year. Interestingly, it's a post-apocalypse book that takes placed 20 years after a plague that kills off most of the population, and the primary characters are members of a traveling theater/symphony. It also jumps around in time to observe what happened to a variety of connected characters at the time of the plague. Riveting.
Weaning. I knew that I didn't especially feel like nursing for much after Max's first birthday. I was eager to sleep on my stomach again (something I couldn't do while nursing because I was plagued with plugged ducts from about 5 months onward) and I was really, really sick of pumping. And the plugged ducts - I was ready to be done with them. For several months, Max had only been nursing 4 times per day, and his nursing time had gotten quite short. So I felt like he would be okay with weaning.
I weaned very slowly - over the course of 6 weeks. I wanted to try and prevent any sort of engorgement and plugged ducts for me and I wanted Max to have plenty of time to adjust. I dropped the afternoon nurse first, which he never cried for and never seemed to care about - I was just picking him up at a certain time and sticking him on the boob. He handled it well. I didn't replace the afternoon nurse with milk or anything like that. He pretty quickly started eating more at dinner. About 10 days later I dropped the late morning nurse. Again, he handled it very well. When I weaned him from the evening nurse, which was part of our bedtime ritual, I replaced it with a bottle of either pumped breast milk (until I didn't have any left) or formula (he wasn't a year old yet). A bottle instead of a boob was no big deal to him. When he hit a year, I put whole cow's milk in the bottle instead and he took that just fine. I know some babies struggle with constipation when they switch over to cow's milk - we did not have that issue. Max also didn't seem to mind that the milk was cold. After a few days, I started putting the milk in a straw cup (and also offering him milk late morning and mid-afternoon). He's been drinking water out of a straw cup since he was about 10 months, but he did struggle a little with the transition at this point. Still, it went pretty well. The only difference I observed was that for about 3 days after I dropped the late morning nurse and the evening nurse, he was maybe a little more cuddly, trying to make up for the physical closeness we had during nursing.
The toughest was dropping the morning nurse. Our morning routine up to this point: Max would wake up and we'd hear him over the monitor, anywhere from 6:30-7:30 a.m. Jeeves would get him, change his diaper, and would bring him in to nurse. I used to do side-lying, but he eventually stopped willingly nursing on both sides, which I really needed (he'd get so distracted, for some reason), so I started sitting up for nursing, and he'd nurse both sides. Then we'd all hang out in bed for awhile. Sometimes Max would fall asleep while nursing - that was the best. Extra sleep! When we dropped the morning feed, I started giving him a bottle in bed. He wasn't a big fan. He wouldn't ask to nurse (don't think I would have refused him), but he just wasn't interested in milk. He wanted to play! We ultimately switched him over to a straw cup and he started crying, hard, in the morning. It turned out that with the change in our routine, Max decided he didn't want to hang in bed - he wanted to go straight to the living room for playing, and slowly sipping on his milk. No more snoozing in bed for Mom and Dad. One of us gets up, hangs out with him while he plays, and he drinks his milk in a leisurely fashion for about 45 minutes, at which time he crawls to the kitchen and demands his breakfast.
The last time I nursed was when he was very sick over 4th of July weekend. He now has a cup of milk in the morning before breakfast, sometimes a little milk late morning, a cup of milk mid-afternoon with his snack, and a little milk before bedtime. I still miss those sleepy mornings in bed with him, but I try to look at it as just another part of his development that he's happy to now putter around the living room, chatting at me and playing with his toys.
I should add that in order to prevent plugged ducts, I pumped when I dropped the evening and the morning feeds - 10 minutes, then 9, then 8, etc., until I got down to 4 minutes. This definitely helped alleviate engorgement and plugged ducts. I was getting very little milk from it. Perhaps three times during the process, I became very painfully engorged (usually only on one side at time) or I got a plugged duct. On those occasions, I would pop Max on and have him nurse (the pump has never, not once, cleared a plugged duct for me) - he usually only nursed for 5-8 minutes, and it was tremendously helpful each time.
June was the one year anniversary of my dad's death. I still miss him a lot, but it's manageable, and in many ways my experience of his loss has been more manageable than when I lost my mother. That's not a commentary on my relationship with either of them. I was very close to both of them. I'm not sure if it was because of my age at the time of their deaths, the fact that my dad's death was expected while my mother's was a shock, or that I had just become a mother when my dad died and a squalling newborn is pretty distracting. It was probably a combo of all three.
Anyway, a few years ago I found a quote from a letter that the French writer Marcel Proust had written to a friend on the occasion of his [the friend's] mother's death. Proust knew a little something about the topic, having lost his beloved mother years before:
Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power . . . that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.I love this quote because a) it's beautifully written; and b) YES. YES, THIS IS JUST HOW I FEEL. When I originally read the quote, it was the first time I had read something about the death of my mother that perfectly encompassed how I felt as time passed. It's been true for my father as well. In particular, I have been thinking about the "you will constantly remember more and more" part. I have at times, many times, lamented the things that I never asked my parents about - their childhoods, their years before I was born. Things I never asked them about what parenting me was like, how they handled certain situations. I regret that. But I also find small, lovely memories popping in my mind, from nowhere, and they are cherished.
Jeeves, Max, and I are on vacation in the Hudson Valley this week. While rushing around to pack, I had this silly memory of how much my father used to love watching sitcom repeats on Fox when he would come home from work - he watched the entirety of The Nanny, Home Improvement, and Third Rock from the Sun that way. And there was this commercial for the clothing store Mandy that used to always play and he would sing it at random times and do a little dance. I don't know what made me think of it, but I love it.
And then yesterday, at the rental house we have been grilling a lot after Max goes to bed. I had brought some eggplant from our CSA and I was obsessed with grilling it a certain way, with garlic powder and Italian seasoning, and olive oil. Jeeves wanted to bail on the Italian seasoning, but I was insistent. That night while feasting on eggplant, which tasted like my youth, Jeeves remarked on how great it had turned out and I remembered - "It was my mom. My mom taught me to make it this way every summer." And I remembered so many other kitchen tips that I had used in the last few days that she had taught me.
We're getting close to distributing the rest of my dad's estate, but I have work to do. My sister has been kind of crummy about it - asking repeatedly when she's getting her money. I have felt stressed and sad and alone about it. I was having a hard time letting go of it yesterday and even though I am a non-believer and thoughts of an afterlife are questionable, I sometimes talk to my parents in my head. I asked them to help me, please please help me, tell me if I'm doing the right thing and just... help me. This morning I took a nap when Jeeves woke up (we trade off with Max in the mornings on weekends and vacations) and when I came downstairs I found a ladybug on my laptop. I don't believe in signs. But I sure do love ladybugs. And she was a beaut. I promptly escorted her outside with Jeeves' help. And I thought of my parents. Even though I don't believe in signs.
This week would have been my dad's 80th birthday and my mom's 77th. They would have liked the place we're vacationing. Quiet, with a view. And some wine.