Where My Breasts Have Been

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I have almost fifty of these type of pictures. Just me and E. She’s just finished nursing and asleep on my chest. And another one. Different day, same scenario. And so on.

All these photos. Mostly because I spend so much time like that, her milk drunk and passed out in my arms, her little mouth doing that sucking movement even if she isn’t sucking on anything, a light snore. She’s warm and I’m warm from holding her.

I’m a sucker for this sort of connection; there’s moments when I’m missing this time before it’s even gone. Breastfeeding is all kinds of things: nurturing, beautiful, practical (I can calm this baby in about five seconds flat), powerful. But you know what it isn’t, at least for me: sexy.

My breasts have been all over Minneapolis over the last four years and it’s all pretty utilitarian. The first round started when I was nursing A. for nine months and now, ongoing, with E. It’s now very ho-hum to nurse just about anywhere. Wearing one of those fancy pastel front covers to feign some modesty? Yeah right. That’s just one more thing to pack when I’m headed out of the house.

Right now, with these two young children who cling to me from the moment I wake up until the moment that they go down for bedtime, it all has me feeling like such a Mom. Not a MILF, or a hot mom, or just a person who happens to have children but also looks like if she had a choice between a nap and a shower she would take the shower. Because right now people, I would take the nap.

I think it really comes down to one thing. Being tired. When I staggered downstairs this morning, in my best pajamas and no glasses (sometimes when I’m this sleep deprived I forget to put on my glasses to actually see anything), A. looked at my messy hair and took it upon himself to mess it up even more. “You look like a lollypop”, he declared. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think it’s a compliment.

This has me thinking about when I used to be in my twenties and I rode my bike almost everywhere. I had lots of freckles from being in the sun, even in the springtime when the snow was just melting. I owned literally eight miniskirts that all fit the same way and on most days, that’s what I wore. If needed, for practical purposes (see biking, above), I’d add some tight stretchy pants underneath. And boots. One time my friend was trying on my clothes to find an outfit to borrow before we went out dancing. As she held them up to her body in the mirror, she asked, “How did you get all of your skirts to look just like this?”

I had all of those skirts because that’s the way I liked them and that’s what I thought was hot. Because I had time to find them, or they found me (this was in an era when sometimes I got my stuff from the free bin of some coop or another). I took all the time I wanted to get ready to go somewhere; I wasn’t on anyone else’s schedule, except for my 32 hour a week job as a youth worker. I was single, with housemates who were dear friends who were also single. And we would go out late and sleep in until eleven and if I wanted to, I could end up in someone else’s bed. I was free to have anyone up to my chest. I’m not saying I was all about that. But I could. There were no babies. Not only did I not have any babies, but none of my friends did either.

I’ve been thinking about that time a lot lately. I wasn’t beholden to anyone else and I think I probably was a little bit hotter then. I’m not saying I’ve let myself go. I haven’t, or at least I’ve certainly tried not to. I’ve got some decent self-respect and a tradition passed down from my mother and my grandmother—the tradition of trying look better than the activities of the day actually require (the days where it’s basically all homemaker, all the time).

But I think that hotness is more about how you feel than how you look. Being gritty and assured, rather than being there only for someone else.

When you see me, I most likely am not rocking a short little skirt. And it’s a rare day when I’m flying down the bike lane, alone, going wherever I feel like going. But the mini skirt is still there. It’s like an invisible cape, a superhero power that doesn’t register to the other mom’s at tot gymnastics. And it doesn’t need to. It’s for me.

Some days I feel like an entirely different person than I used to be, like a became a Mother and dropped all of my wildness along with it. Caring for others, day in and day out. Taking charge of the grocery shopping, the bottle making, getting lunches ready for the next day. And staying, at the very farthest, a phone call away from these kiddos.

But in this moment, I am remembering that it’s all there. Who I am is also who I used to be, and who I will be someday. Then and now. The late nights are in some weird cosmic way, connected. I’ve gotten up every hour to soothe my baby’s fever, and rushed a wheezing child to the ER after midnight. It’s the same body that used to have the stamina to shake it to Peaches all night long. The days of brunch and waking up whenever I felt like it and the days of tummy time and teether toys. The same me, and totally different. I am a mother. And I’ve been a mountain climber, a flirt, an overly conscientious college student, a rural Vermonter raising chickens and reading Emma Goldman. I’ve been all those things and a whole lot more than I could ever list here. I know you probably have been all kinds of things, too.

What I want most is to bridge these worlds more deeply. To bring who I’ve been to meet who I am now. With my family, who I need. And with you and with the people I am lucky enough to know as dear friends and comrades. Because, although it kind of seemed like it at the beginning of this whole parenthood thing, it turns out I’m not just playing a role here. This is my life. And it’s the life of a mother and when it comes right down to it, a person who would choose sharing this story over both the nap and the shower. Someone who never wanted to do any of this traditionally or with half a heart.

Hey mamas (or daddies or whoever you are), let’s find each other while we’re sitting there waiting for the endless tot gymnastics class to come to a close. You’re tired and I’m tired, that’s a given. But if you’re up for it, you can tell me a little bit of your story and I’ll tell you some of mine. I won’t start with my child’s name or what he ate for breakfast. I’ll start with this: I’m Emma and I’ve been all kinds of people, all kinds of places.

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