Yesterday, I spent the afternoon sitting in the cancer ward waiting to hear my name called. I have been experiencing some pain in my right breast and felt some places that didn’t seem right to me. So I went to the hospital to see my OBGYN. I waited and waited and was finally seen. The midwife first examined me and I told her of my family history. Since my mother died of breast cancer at the age of 44, she felt that the Dr. should also come in. I explained that I was still breastfeeding and wasn’t sure if it was related to that or not.
The Dr. was very thorough and checked both of my breasts. But then said that he would like to send me over to the oncologist for a better examination. They asked if I had ever had a mammogram and I said that I hadn’t, so they called over to the oncology ward and gave an introduction for me.
I felt pretty confident that it wasn’t cancer but still, having your doctor tell you to go to the cancer ward is a bit disconcerting. I walked down the hall and registered with the oncology department with the help of a very kind nurse. She had no idea whether I had cancer or not but she saw me as a mother with a young child and treated me with the utmost kindness.
I felt my heart beating a little faster than usual and I worried as Violet heard the doctors talking about where I was going. She understands more Japanese than I do. And she heard them telling me that i was going to be checked by a different doctor, she wanted to know exactly where we were going. She knows about cancer because of all the family members we have lost to this disease. I didn’t want to lie to her but also didn’t want to cause her undo worry. So I just told her we were going to get my milky looked at by another doctor who would look at a picture of the inside of it. She was satisfied with that.
We sat there waiting and I couldn’t help but notice how the lights were darker in this ward than in the OBGYN ward. It was quiet and most of the patients that we saw waiting there were hunched over and seemed to be in a certain amount of pain. Some were young and some were obviously in there late 70’s or 80’s. The ones who made eye contact with me gave me sympathetic smiles and I could tell they were wondering how I was and what I was there for. Violet’s smiles and energy definitely seemed to lift their spirits too.
I figured that I was going to get a mammogram but was hoping they would let me have an ultrasound instead as I was concerned about radiating my breast milk. Just in case though. I told Violet that she might not be able to drink milkies after my exam for a bit. She looked worried and said she would like to drink some before we went in. A woman in her mid 70’s walked up and said “おいしそう“, which means, looks delicious. She went on to say how rare it was to see a girl her age drinking breastmilk and how wonderful it was. I felt encouraged and continued to smile down and my sweet girl.
Sitting there, waiting with her in the cancer wing filled me with so many memories. My mother was everything to me. She was my first friend, she was my confidant she was my hero. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wasn’t there. I was away at college and had to hear about it over the phone. How I wish I could’ve been sitting there holding her hand instead.
I was able to sit with her through some of her treatments and drove her to some of her appointments during spring and summer vacations. We would sit there holding hands and trying to make each other smile or laugh. I was scared and she was scared. She was brave, she was selfless and showed me how to endure the impossible. Losing her was the hardest thing I have ever experienced and I pray that Violet is spared from watching me die from a disease that ravishes the body.
We sat and waited, Violet holding me and smiling at everyone around her. Finally my name was called and I had my first exam by an oncologist. I told him I was breastfeeding and he immediately offered to do an ultrasound instead of a mammogram. I didn’t even have to ask. He checked both of my breasts and and looked as thoroughly as possible. I felt very well taken care of and was thrilled to hear him say that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Violet understood the results at the same time as I did and immediately came over and rubbed my chest and said, “Milkies! You are ok!!!” And then she patted my hand and said, “I knew you would be ok, mama! I love you!”
Today, I am thankful for the excellent health care I have experienced here in Japan. Today, I am thankful for my healthy breasts. Today, I am thankful for today!
This PSA is so powerful and never fails to make me cry. I ask you all to remember to “touch yourself”. For your self, for your husband, for your children, for your friends. Set a date and check yourself every month. It’s easy, it’s free and it’s painless.
Being married is hard. It is a lot harder than the fairy tales I read as child led me to believe. Having parents and grandparents who loved each other madly was beautiful. I also feel like I only saw the good and used that as a base for my expectations of my own marriage. I am sure that my parents struggled. I am sure that my grandparents struggled. But I chose not to focus on those aspects when building my expectations for my future.
Having expectations is one sure way to build up resentment. When you have no expectations, it’s harder to feel let down. If I could go back and enter in with no expectations, I would. But I can’t live in the past. I am here in the present. I can strive to let go of those expectations and live in and find joy in my reality.
“Each of us is caught up in an idea of happiness. If we can release our idea of true happiness, true happiness is born in us right away” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Why is it that we can speak to our daughter with kindness and love and patience but we can’t do the same with each other?
With my husband,
There are days when I really feel like I could’ve been a better version of myself.
There are days when I fail at being kind, loving, patient, and less easily offended.
There are days when I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew.
There are days when I feel like I can’t do anything right.
There are days when I just want to sit in the corner and cry. Cry until I am as dry as the desert.
There are days when I really don’t know where to go.
There I days when I wish I could go back to sleep and wake up and start over again.
There are days when I am jealous and in turn act out in anger.
There are days when I lash out with sarcasm and name calling.
There are days when words come out of my mouth that I can never take back.
There are days when I wish I could be more like the role models I grew up believing I would eventually become.
There are days.
There are days.
I am imperfect. I am human. I make mistakes. I hurt feelings. I feel hurt.
Thich Nhat Hanh has some amazing words of comfort and inspiration. I share them here to remind myself.
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
“When you say something really unkind, when you do something in retaliation your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates.”
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
“Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.”
Three years have passed since the day the earth would not stand still. Three hundred-sixty-five suns have set, since the day the water left the ocean, destroying everything that stood in its path. Thirty-six full moons have brightened the night sky, since that dark night when we huddled on the floor of the hospital gymnasium, wondering if the ground would ever stop shaking.
How did this happen? How did the days creep by at such speed? Time has a funny way of doing that. It keeps going, even if you don’t want it to.
When I think back on that day, March 11, 2011, I am still filled with such raw emotion. I don’t often let myself sit in the memories of that day because if I do, my mind goes to a dark place from which it is hard to escape. The “what ifs” play over and over in my mind and if I’m not careful, I find myself mentally paralyzed by fear. Fear, that has taken me so long to manage in order to allow our daughter to go to school and my husband and I too work in different locations. For so long, I couldn’t stand the idea of physical separation from them. I needed to be near them. It was the only way I felt safe. Fear, that still visits me in my dreams but not nearly as often as it did. Fear, that returns with each earthquake. Fear, that I have yet to overcome but have learned to breathe through and release. It is that fear that keeps me from sitting with these memories for too long.
That day, I lived through an actual nightmare. You see, I suffered from reoccurring nightmares about the Thailand tsunami of 2004. I wasn’t there but it haunted me. They were very vivid dreams about my family being washed away in a wave. I would wake screaming and shaking and often crying out loud. Those dreams haunted me randomly but always at least a few times a month. They were exhausting.
I knew that living in Japan posed a risk for experiencing such a natural disaster but it wasn’t something I thought about on a daily basis. After Violet was born, I became more cautious and more nervous about what I would do in such a situation. When we had strong earthquakes, I usually wanted to evacuate to higher ground. I remember after one such earthquake, packing up the car and driving up to Rias Hall (which is on high ground) to wait it out. We were the only ones up there but my husband and I felt it was the right thing to do.
On March 11, 2011, I was home with Violet, who was one and a half years old. Thankfully, I had extended my maternity leave and had not returned to work. Gabe was at work across the bay. When the shaking started I ran over to Violet. I picked her up immediately. I stood frozen for a moment, wondering what to do. It became clear, very quickly, that being inside was far too dangerous. I threw open my front door and ran outside. The ground was shaking so violently that it was very hard to balance. I just focused on holding Violet close to me and covering her head. All that I could do was put one foot in front of the other. It might sound crazy, but the thought that it was the end of the world actually crossed my mind. I wondered if the whole earth was shaking or if it was just in Ofunato. I kept glancing down, thinking that at any moment the ground beneath my feet might split open and suck me in. It was terrifying.
I tried to remain as calm as possible but I felt that my heart was beating out of my chest. Violet of course felt my fear and began to cry. We huddled together with some elderly women from our neighborhood and they all tried to help me calm Violet and protect her. The electric wires in the near distance sparked loudly and a fire erupted in the sky. We all let out a communal shout as we looked up at the sound. Then we quickly huddled together again.
After several terrifying minutes the ground stopped shaking but my body did not. You know that feeling you get after you step off a boat or stop skating? Your legs feel like jelly and everything seems to be moving. That is what those first steps felt like after the earthquake subsided. I wanted to collapse. I wanted my husband. I wanted him to hold me and tell me it was just a dream. But it wasn’t and he wasn’t there. I’ll never understand why I started walking back to my house. I was obviously not in my right mind. I didn’t even think about a tsunami. The shock of the shaking left me feeling confused and clouded my judgment.
Thank God, my friend happened to be in the area during the earthquake and her clear thinking led her to drive by my house to check on us. She informed me of the impending tsunami and we quickly fled to higher ground.
My heart raced as I fumbled with my phone to try and call Gabe and then tried to call her husband as well. I was able to reach Gabe and tell him we were going to the hospital and he said that he would meet us there. We waited and waited as the walls shook around us and the lights above us swayed like a ship on rough waters. Soon people started to arrive with wet hair and wet clothes. It was then that I knew the wave had come. I felt my heart sink wondering if my husband had made it to safety. The hours moved by so slowly that it was as if time had frozen. Everything around me seemed to be moving in slow motion but inside, my heart raced.
Gabe did arrive that day. He came back to us. He ran for his life to live another day with us. So many husbands and fathers did not arrive that day. So many mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and friends were not able to embrace the ones they loved that day. Some families waited and worried for days or weeks even, to embrace again, others waited and still wait to this day to be reunited with their loved ones, but theirs will be a reunion in the next life.
Our lives will never be the same again. Our hearts will always grieve for the ones we lost that day. For the lives we lived in the days and years before the waves destroyed our worlds. We grieve for the memories, both past and those that could have been, that it robbed so many of us of.
Three years later, life has found a new normal for many of us. We get up and we go to work. We play with our children and we visit with friends. But for so many, life is like living a daily nightmare. The mother whose arms will remain empty, the husband whose heart tortures him by continuing to beat rather than let him go and join his beloved. The daughter who wakes without a family and knows she is on her own now. The sister who lives without her truest friend and the bride-to-be whose wedding will never come…. For these people, life has continued to move on while their hearts remain in that day. We grieve with them and our hearts long to take away their pain.
For so many, guilt continues to plague their hearts, mine included. When I think about how quickly we were rescued from the shelter, I feel both incredibly thankful and unbelievable guilty. The fact that I had food and water and place to sleep while so many families, for months, did not, still breaks my heart. When I look at a picture that was recovered from our home after the tsunami I feel so grateful to have that memory back on my wall but then I immediately feel guilty for feeling that joy when so many of my friends have lost all their pictures and memorabilia that they carefully kept for generations. It is easy to give in to the guilt. The guilt of experiencing joy, the guilt of feeling depressed when so many have lost so much more.
For those of us in temporary housing, life has settled and we are feeling a new sense of community again. I will say that for the elderly in particular this is especially important. In Japan, your community is your family. People take care of one another. People still come out on the streets daily to talk with one another. After the tsunami, all of that was lost and for so many even if they still meet some of their former neighbors, it is difficult for them to communicate more than just a hello anymore. There is so much between them and yet a river of grief, envy, guilt or sorrow divides them. So, the new communities that we were all placed in are that much more important.
Three years later, there is talk of moving on and rebuilding. But for so many, the thought of starting over again is almost unbearable to think about. Even if the housing is small and cramped and cold in the winter and hot in the summer, it is home. It is a circle to belong to.
There is an elderly woman in my community who lost her family and her neighborhood. She is about 80 years old and she lives alone. She was able to make a connection with her new neighbor in temporary housing. They talked daily and walked outside daily. When her neighbor moved, it was so devastating for her. She came out every day looking for her friend. My neighbor had to remind her that she had moved. The pain and sorrow on her face as she remembered broke my heart. She couldn’t understand why she had left or where she had gone. My neighbor tried to comfort her and tell her that the rest of us were still here with her, that she was not alone. But she just sat there on the bench looking out at the parking lot, waiting for her friend to come back. For her and so many like her, the thought of leaving this new community is just too hard to think about.
Our family of three continues to live in temporary housing along with hundreds of other families. We still struggle with the painful memories and terrors of that day but together and with the amazing support of our family and friends both here and abroad, we are healing. We remind ourselves that it is ok to feel sad sometimes. It is important to feel our feelings and breathe through them. We watch our town and neighboring towns slowly coming back to life and it fills us with hope. We watch grieving friends begin to smile again and it fills us with love. We watch friends who lost their homes, rebuilding and starting a new life together again and it fills us with joy. We gather and we remember and it fills us with peace.
Today, I still have nightmares. I still wake up crying in my sleep. But thankfully, they don’t come as often as they first did. I still dream of my family being lost in the wave but I also dream about all the true stories I have heard of losses on March 11th. I wake and remember and try to forget. I snuggle in a little closer to my husband and daughter. I breathe them in and remind myself that it was only a dream. The real nightmare is over.
Life will never be the same again, but it will be life. And the life we are given this day and the next will be a blessing, a gift that I pray we can cherish. My prayer for us all is that we can find at least one thing to be thankful for each day. And that with each breath we are granted, we might breathe peace, love and light. Today is your day, live it as is it were your last. Breathe as if it was your first.
For further reading about our experiences on 3.11 read my post “Breastfeeding through a Disaster”
Our thoughts from 2012 on the first anniversary of the disaster are posted here.
It recently came to my attention that I might be propagating an image that is not entirely true to life. I am not trying to be dishonest about my family life or the way I raise my child. If I don’t mention any of the unpleasant stuff, it is not in an effort to look more perfect but to spread around the good stuff rather than the bad. But to clear the air I just want to open up a little bit about what does go on in my home.
My daughter is not happy all the time. I don’t know anyone who is and I don’t think that would be healthy. We do disagree and she does yell at me and hit me sometimes in anger. She has temper tantrums and demands my attention. I don’t believe her actions to be out of the ordinary for a 4 year old child. I try to handle these unpleasant moments with as much patience as I can. I have never yelled at my daughter. I have never hit my daughter. I have lost my patience and sighed in exasperation.
When she was 2 we did try time outs a couple of times and I abhorred those moments. I had read a book that suggested you gently tell them they can come out when they are ready to be kind and to not let them come out. We did that one time. It was torture and I regretted it the moment it started. I have no idea how that time out might have scarred her and I don’t know what terror she felt by being isolated. It haunts me to this day.
When she is misbehaving we do time ins. We sit together and talk about it or don’t talk about it. The point is, I believe that when she is misbehaving it is because some legitimate need is not being met. I try to figure out what that is and we try to fix it together.
Another thing that is missing from this blog is the presence of Violet’s father. She does have a father and he does live in our house. I don’t often write about him because this blog is mainly a blog about mothering. I do write about her father and our family life on our family blog.
My husband and I argue, a lot. We disagree about almost everything these days. Our daughter has taken to jumping in and trying the things she has learned about conflict resolution. Yesterday in fact she made a wonderful suggestion to us. She said, “Daddy, would you treat mommy like a partner today? Mommy, would you treat daddy like a partner today? Now hold on to each other really tight like you are running away from a big bear. Hold on to each other and love each other.”
What an analogy! She takes my breath away sometimes. It reminded me of the day of the tsunami, when I thought my husband might be dead. And when he walked in the doors and we embraced it was as if time stood still. All of the arguing and disagreements we had been having melted away. We were so thankful to be together and to have each other again. We felt so weak and yet so strong. When you feel you have escaped death you look at life differently. I wish that I could say that feeling lasted forever for us. It didn’t. Three years later and here we are taking each other for granted again. A life lesson gone to waste. But I don’t think it is too late, I think we can get back that zeal for life, that appreciation for each moment, each breath.
I wish that I could tell you that after she said that to us that my actions changed. I continued to feel anger toward him but I did try to get along with him for the rest of the day.
Our parenting style has challenged our marriage in ways that I didn’t expect. I don’t think it is fair to say that all of the difficulty we are having stems from our parenting style, because I think we have other underlying issues as well. I also don’t want to give attachment parenting a bad name. I think it is wonderful and I wouldn’t do it any other way. And there are plenty of families that practice attachment/gentle parenting that have happy marriages. I do hope that my husband and I can continue working on our relationship and that we can figure out a way to not argue so much. I don’t like that my daughter has had to witness our arguing and I hope that we can model healthy behaviors for her. I want her to know that marriage is hard but also that making the effort to work on it is worth it. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with each other, but we should find a way to disagree in a healthy way. I also think that if she is going to see us argue, then she should definitely see us make up.
So, although it is embarrassing to admit that my life isn’t the perfect model of a happy family, I felt it important to clear the air and remove any veil that might be creating a cloudy image of the reality of my life. Please don’t judge me too harshly nor my child’s life. I only wanted to try sharing a glimpse into my life without the rose colored glasses.
With social media being so pervasive to our lives, I / we often have these false ideas about what other people’s lives are like. I don’t believe that your child is always perfectly dressed or that your husband always brings you flowers or that you all get along happily all the time. But when I / we only share these happy moments it does propagate an image of perfection that no one can attain. It can, unintentionally, create jealousy and envy of a life that doesn’t really exist.
In real life, we don’t have this constant stream of information about each other. When we meet or talk on the phone, we exchange stories and experiences of recent and there is almost always a mix of pleasant and unpleasant moments. We share because we long to connect with someone who will listen and understand us. I wouldn’t normally tell just anyone about my marital troubles or my failings and mistakes as a parent, out of pride mostly. But I would and do share them with my closest friends. But since for some of you, reading this blog or my Facebook statuses is the only way you “know” me ,I thought it unfair to only share the positives about my life. So in an effort to be more open, I am sharing these details of my life. If I / we are going to continue living with social media (which I believe we are) I think it is important that I/we try to be more honest.
Thanks for reading today. I wish you and yours a peace filled day.
It’s amazing to me how just holding my daughter’s hand brings me such peace. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, her small hand in mine reminds me to breath.
When she is crying out of anger, even when it is me that she is angry with, and I reach out to hold her hand, she holds it. When we are driving to school and she is crying from frustration and I am feeling frustrated too, I reach over and hold her hand in silence and I feel my body, and hers, calming down.
When I am sad or sick or tired, she reaches out to hold my hand, as if she knows our hearts unite in that single physical act of connection.
When we cross the street or walk through a busy public place, I reach down and her hand is there waiting to grasp mine. It is safety, it is reassuring, it is calming, it is peaceful, it is an I’m sorry, it is an I forgive you, it is Love.
I held my mother’s hand when we walked side by side, even when I was in high school and college. She was my safety, my calm, my friend. I felt her love and her heart when our hands were clasped.
Violet, often looks up at me as we are walking hand in hand and says, “Mama, I love holding your hand. I can feel you sending all your love through it.”
The power of touch is so healing and so important in our lives. If your child is feeling stressed, anxious or even angry, I encourage you to try holding their hand. Even if you don’t know what to say to them, just holding their hand expresses solidarity and compassion. As Dr. James A. Coan says, “The effect of this simple gesture of social support is that the brain and body don’t have to work as hard, they’re less stressed in response to a threat.”
One way our children can learn to regulate their own response to external situations is through the act of hand holding. Hand holding is an extension of our heart. It is a physical, tangible exchange of love.
Violet, I hope you know that you can always, hold my hand.
When Violet was born, I had no idea how long I would breastfeed her. I only knew that I would breastfeed her. By the time she was 1 year old, I knew she wasn’t near being ready to stop and so I decided to just keep going.
I know that I am not the only one practicing full term breastfeeding, but at times, I do feel like the odd ball in the group of nursing mamas. When I attended the Big Latch last year, I was, by far the one with the oldest nursling. Part of me felt slightly concerned with what the other mamas might be thinking, but most of me felt proud and accomplished.
If those of us that do continue to nurse our older babies and preschoolers can’t talk about it with others or always feel we have to do it behind closed doors, we might start to feel strange or even embarrassed. I write this post to share with you all in hopes that it will encourage other full term breastfeeders to do the same. You are not alone and there are others out there like you. I hope that by reading this it will encourage you to not give in to the pressures of friends, family or those around you to wean before it feels right for you and your nursling. I am trusting my heart and my own judgment to know when it is best for my child to wean and I hope that you can trust yourself as well.
According to Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.,an award winning anthropologist, professor, and mother, the natural age of weaning for modern humans based on our size, development and life span is between 2.5 years and 7 years. Therefore, a child still nursing at 4 years old is normal, natural, and o.k.
I am planning to continue breastfeeding Violet for as long as she would like to continue. I have been practicing baby/child led weaning since Violet was about 2 months old. From the moment she was born, I practiced on demand feeding. If she cried I usually checked her diaper and if it was clean, I put her to my breast. She has always been an active nurser. She went from every hour in the first 2 months to every 2 hours and gradually to where we are today.
Violet wakes up slowly by nursing herself awake. Her body wakes up first and before she has even opened her eyes she reaches for my breast. Since she sleeps right next to me all she has to do is reach up and nuzzle in. She nurses there for anywhere between 5-20 minutes. I usually wake up as she first begins to wiggle and so I am awake while she is nursing. I stroke her hair and kiss the top of her head. If it is still very early I whisper into her ear that she can go back to sleep. If it is close to the time I need to get up, I start whispering good morning and gently massaging her back and legs to wake her up. I sing to her, softly, “Good morning to you” (to the tune of happy birthday” She smiles sweetly as she gradually opens her eyes. Some days she sits right up and says “good morning, mama!” and other days she puts her hand up on my chest as if to say let’s stay in bed a little longer. Eventually she wakes up and stops nursing. And then we get up for our day.
Violet goes to school Monday through Friday from 8-3. On those days she doesn’t usually nurse again until 5 or 6 pm. Sometimes, though, she wants to nurse as soon as we get in the car after picking her up. Since she turned 4, I’ll admit that I have become a little more apprehensive about nursing her in public. I don’t feel like I am doing anything wrong but some days I just don’t feel like enduring the looks or questions. I try to practice “don’t offer/don’t refuse” as much as possible, but sometimes I do tell her we need to wait until we get home. She is capable of understanding the need to wait for something and this is a way we practice having patience and consideration for mama’s feelings. She doesn’t always wait patiently and she sometimes cries and gets angry because I have said no but we try our best to work through it. Thankfully, our drive from her school to our house only takes 5 minutes. I know that she is yearning for that connection for “skinship” as is it called here in Japan, skin to skin contact, and so I understand where her anger is coming from.
When we get home, as soon as we walk in the door, she takes off her shoes and takes me by the hand and says “Mama it’s time for milkies”. We head to the couch and she hops up on my lap. As I get my clothes situated, she smiles up at me and giggles. Then, at last, she dives into my chest and wraps her arms around my chest and pulls me as close as she can. She drinks there and looks up at me with eyes of contentment and relief. I can feel her body relax and I feel mine relax as well.
There is a word in Japanese that describes this feeling that I think we both have during this time, it is あんしん,安心(anshin). Anshin translates to relief or peace of mind, obtaining peace of mind through faith or ascetic practice. It is so much more than that though. To really grasp the meaning one needs to look at the etymology of the word. The characters that make up anshin are these 安,which means relax, quiet, rested, contented, peaceful and 心, which means heart, mind, sprit. I actually feel that my entire being relaxes and her whole being relaxes too. My heart feels peace after a day of adult worries and stresses and her heart releases any worries that have built up in her mind during our day apart. It is a time we can unite and really be present to one another.
After that we play a bit and then I am off to make dinner. She doesn’t usually nurse during dinner anymore (unless she isn’t feeling well) and so we finish our meal and transition into our bedtime routine. She has a bath with daddy, usually, and then we either watch a short program on our computer or we just play and read together as a family. We head up to the bed with our books for the night and situate ourselves in our family bed. She is usually playful and shouts out “I’m gonna get those milkies!” as I try to arrange the blankets. When we finally lay down she settles in once again for her last nursing session of the day. I read to her as she nurses off and on and she sometimes falls right asleep during the 2nd or 3rd book. Other times, we finish the 3rd book and then I turn off the light and sing her lullabies as she nurses herself to sleep.
There have been a handful of nights when she has fallen asleep while snuggled up instead of nursing herself to sleep, but for the most part, she still falls asleep at my breast. She rarely awakens during the night anymore, but if she does, she whispers up to me “mama, may I have some milkies, please?” Then she nurses herself right back to sleep. And then we start our day over again.
Nursing a four year old is not something that I set out to do in the beginning but it is where we are today. I am fully confident that one day she will wean herself. I know that one day she will just not want to or need to do it anymore. And when that day comes, I hope that she will know that I am still here for her when she needs me. My arms will always be wide enough to hold her, my lips will always be ready to talk or offer a comforting kiss, my ears will always be ready to listen, my lap will always have a spot for her to rest on and my heart will never run out of love for her.
She often tells me that when she is all grown up and I am an old lady that has grown small again, she will hold me and rock me and give me her milkies. To her, I believe, this is the ultimate expression of love, to nourish and comfort someone at the breast. I am honored and overwhelmed by love that she imagines doing this for me one day.
So, here we are 4 years and 4 months old and still nursing, still co-sleeping, still living this life the way we feel we should be. Still feeling anshin.
Some great links for full term breastfeeding mama’s and those that love them:
A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives (also by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
Handling Criticism about breastfeeding on KellyMom.com
Dr. Sears on handling criticism on extended breastfeeding
Are you still breastfeeding an older baby or child?
Have you felt pressured to stop or overly criticized?
I hope that you felt encouraged by today’s post.
If you feel like sharing your story, do so in the comments below.
And if you’d like to make a guest post here about your story please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to begin by thanking you all, dear readers, for your support and well wishes for the release of my book. The response to it has been humbling, to say the least.
I promise that this blog is not going to turn into constant advertising for the book but I did want to mention these special upcoming dates.
The first 6 paintings will be shown on Thursday January 30: 4-5pm PST
and the last 6 will be shown on Friday, January 31, 730-830am PST
The original paintings are on 10×10 inch canvases and can be purchased for $240/each. Each painting also comes with a free copy of the book.
They are also available as prints for $19/each.
I am very much looking forward to seeing the opening.
Thank you, Katie, for sharing your amazing talents with us all.
In other news, there is a sitewide Valentine’s Day sale going on right now on Lulu.com (the printing company) and you can purchase Mama’s Milkies at a 14% discount
Use the coupon code AMOR14 at checkout time to receive the discount. The coupon expires at 11:59 PM on 2.14.14
I have been anxiously waiting to share with you all some very exciting news!
I have written and published my first children’s book!
Mama’s Milkies is a children’s book about a full term breastfeeding child. The reader will follow the little toddler through the day as they wake and play, read, sing and finally drift off to sleep. All the while knowing that mommy still has “Milkies” when they feel like nursing.
I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work with the very talented Katie m. Berggren on this project. She has illustrated the book with such careful thought and close attention to detail. She brought so much warmth and light to the text and I treasure each piece as a work on its own and as a part of the full project.
I wrote the text to this book when Violet was about 15 months old. We were lying in our bed nursing one morning and the words just started flowing out. Thankfully, I had saved the poem on my Ipod, as our computer was lost in the tsunami. I always dreamed of turning it into a book but wasn’t sure how to go about it. With the helpful advice of Katherine Havener, author of Nursies When the Sun Shines, and the support of my husband, I decided to go the self publishing route.
As a breastfeeding, co-sleeping family, we often look for books that portray our life style to read to Violet. There just aren’t enough books on the market about breastfeeding babies and only one that I could find about a breastfeeding toddler. So I thought, why not make one myself.
I hope that the lyrical text and Katie’s gorgeous illustrations find their way into your hearts and that you will enjoy reading it with your child. Whether they are still breastfeeding or not I hope that you find it brings a smile to your face and snuggles to your arms.
I now present to you Mama’s Milkies.
The website for the book is www.mamasmilkiesbook.com
Click the above button to buy your own copy and receive it in time for Valentine’s Day! It would make the perfect gift for your favorite nursing couple. ♥
Other exciting news is that each individual piece of art will be available for purchase through Katie M. Berggren! Stay posted for information on her Virtual Art Opening.
I’ve been very behind in writing on my blogs lately. We had an extended summer vacation in the States due to the death of my beloved grandfather, “Papo”. Then only three weeks after returning to Japan, we had to make another emergency trip home due to the death of my dear, sweet grandmother, “Mamo”. They died exactly 2 months apart on the same date. July 14th and September 14th. They were married for 62 years and raised 8 children together. After my grandfather’s passing it was not really a surprise that she soon left us to be with him. In life they never liked being apart from each other, so we knew she was eager to join him.
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I had a very strong relationship with my grandparents. I grew up visiting them every Sunday after church and spent every Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving and Easter with them (until I moved to Japan). They were an incredible influence on my life and I cherish the lessons that I learned from them. Losing them both in such a short time has been hard. And explaining death and the afterlife to our daughter has been both challenging and comforting.
In July, we were able to fly to Texas early to spend some time with my grandfather before he passed away. We were able to talk to him and he was able to respond in grunts and simple motions. Violet told him that she loved him and blew him a kiss and even though he was very weak he managed to raise his hand to his mouth to blow one back to her. It is a precious memory that will forever warm my heart. We spent hours singing and praying with him and telling him he was free to go. He had been suffering from illness for a very long time and it was time for him to rest.
When he finally did pass away we were at his house. Violet was in another room and I went to get her. She ran to my arms and said “Mommy where is Papo?” I told her he had passed away. She immediately held my face directly in front of her own and she smiled so big and said, “Mommy, he’s not in pain anymore now. He’s in heaven now right? He is with Grandma Pam. Can I be happy? We can be happy right?” After that I found it difficult to cry. She reminded me to be joyful.
I told her of course she could be happy and after that I had a hard time not feeling a form of happiness too. She smiled and laughed and rejoiced in his home-going. It was amazing. She wanted to go over and see his body. She was confused why his body was still there. She thought it would disappear. But she touched him and felt him and I told her his earthly body is here but his spirit, what we knew him like was gone.
The days following she often stated that she missed him, in fact she still talks about him and how she misses him. She told me that Papo wants her to come to be with him in heaven. That she saw his body turn into a pony when he died and he is a pony now. She asks about if he will come back as someone or something else. She is really interested in this lately and she often talks to me about what she was before and what she will be. We tell her that none of us really knows what happens after we die but what we believe is that we don’t have to have any pain anymore and we can be everywhere with all the people we love even if they can’t see us.
When we had the Rosary, Papo’s casket was open. Violet wanted to go up and see him and touch him over and over. She wanted to give him stickers and put them on his hands. I let her do it as often as I could because she was really expressing a desire to see him. I had to really try hard to keep her in her seat during the service because she kept wanting to get up.
Throughout the service she kept asking me questions about death and heaven and life after death. Questions that I couldn’t answer because I don’t know the answers. I could only answer with my feeble human mind.
Then when she saw me crying she said, “Mama when will my tears come?” I said, “Your tears will come when you are ready. We cry when we are sad or happy or scared or for any other feeling.” Then she pressed her self against my body and looked up at me and said “Mommy, maybe if we press our cheeks together and you touch your eyes to my eyes I can share your tears. Your tears will become my tears.” I was so taken aback by this expression of true empathy out of my child’s mouth and heart. I immediately said, “yes, you can share my tears baby. I will share my tears with you and you can always share your tears with me.” I pressed my cheek to hers and our closed eyes touched. My mascara stained tears rolled down her cheeks and she smiled up at me and said, “See mama, now I have your tears.” All I could do was hug her because I had no words to express the gratitude I felt in my heart for that moment.
My brothers and I sang Amazing Grace at the Rosary and Violet really wanted to sing with us. She really wanted to sing for Papo. She saw me expressing my love for my grandparents through singing to them for the last week and I think she really wanted to do the same. So I let her come up to the microphone with me. She didn’t know the words but she sang her heart out. I struggled to keep it together while listening to her sweet voice in my ear.
At the funeral, Papo’s casket was open in the beginning before the service started so that people who couldn’t make it to the Rosary could see him. Again, Violet wanted to go up to see him again and again. I let her take a couple of turns to say goodbye again. She gave him a few more stickers too. Then when they came to close the casket she became upset. She wanted to see him still. I tried to comfort her and tell her that it was just his body, he wasn’t there anymore. She continued to ask me questions about what happens to a person after they die and where he was. I tried to explain in as best a way I could that he was no longer in pain. He was with Grandma Pam and he would always be with us and around us watching over us.
We continued on to the burial and we stayed until he was lowered into the ground. It was a small group of us at that point. We all threw in some dirt and then Violet wanted to throw some flowers in for him. So we let her.
Since Papo’s passing Violet has continued to talk about him and voice what she thinks he is doing. She is always certain that he is with Grandma Pam and that they are having fun together. One day she told me “Mommy I think Papo is playing with Grandma Pam now.” I asked her “What are they playing?” She looked up and said “I think they are playing golf.” I don’t know how she knew that he loved playing golf. Maybe she overheard someone talking about it. I answered, “yes, I am sure they are.” Another time she told me that Papo was dancing in heaven. He was dancing for joy with Grandma Pam. I love when she shares these thoughts with me because I really do believe that children have a more open mind to the spiritual world. And I love to picture my beloved mother and grandfather doing the things she says they are doing.
Before we left, we had several opportunities to go and visit with my Mamo. Violet seemed to know she was sad and she knew why, without me telling her. Two days before we left we were over visiting with her and Violet asked me if Mamo lived in Japan. And then said she didn’t want to be away from Mamo. She began to cry and said she wanted to be with Mamo. Then she decided she would make a picture for Mamo to remember her by.
She went and drew Mamo a picture and when she brought it to her she told her it was magical.Then she gave Mamo her plastic wand (a toy she had recently become very attached to) and said the picture was “remoted”. She said, “When you touch the wand to the picture a voice comes out.” “Who’s voice?” Mamo said. “Gods voice.” replied Violet. “What does he say?” asked Mamo. “That you are never alone and Papo is always with you.When you feel sad and miss Papo you can use it.” Violet said.
Just before all of this Violet had asked Mamo “who do you sleep with?” Mamo said I sleep alone now. I sleep with angels.” So, Violet made this picture and came up with that whole idea on her own.
She then told her “You have to use it right when you wake up because I know you always miss Papo when you wake up.” Then Mamo said, “Can I use it at bedtime too?” Violet said, “Yes! You can use it anytime when you feel sad and are missing Papo or anyone who is not here anymore. Anyone who is not with you. God will always help you when you feel sad!”
Mamo was so touched. We all were. I could hardly hold back my tears through the whole conversation. It was so precious and so heartfelt.
I am so thankful that we had that time with my dear Mamo before she left this world. My aunt told me that my grandmother had slept with the wand by her bedside and often asked for it when she was in another room.
When she passed away, we were not physically there. It was terribly painful to not be able to say goodbye to her. I felt so much more emotional at her services because of that. Seeing her in the casket, although she looked beautiful, was very difficult for me to bear. Violet really wanted to go up and kiss her and touch her though. So we did.
Violet sat more patiently through these services because it wasn’t new to her anymore. I feel sad that she has had to attend so many funerals in her short life already. But thankful that she seems to really have an understanding of empathy and love.
She often talks about Mamo and cries that she misses her. She asks if we can send her letters or if she could go and see her again. She says things about death that sometimes might disturb others who don’t know why she is so in tune to it right now.
She told me and and my father on her birthday that she wanted to go to heaven and be with Mamo. She told me she wanted to wear her favorite purple party dress when she was in her “box” and that she wanted to be buried with Mamo. She has asked me many times when she is going to die and then will she come back to life as someone else. I always tell her the same thing, that she doesn’t have to worry or be afraid of dying. That no one knows when their time will come. I tell her that Mamo and Papo and Grandma Pam want her to live a long and happy life and then when the time comes they will be there waiting to hold her. This usually seems to satisfy her.
Her heart, her big and beautiful heart is full of so much love and compassion. I am so thankful that she is in my world. She truly gave me so much comfort during this time of loss. Young children can be so resilient and usually can find the positive in things faster than we adults and for that I am thankful.
Have you had to explain death to your children?