As I put his head to my breast, I feel a distinct thrill of the forbidden.
“Na-na, Jack Sparrow, Mama,” my two-year-old son said, and I put the action figure to my chest without much thought.
As I look down at that tangled mop of dark hair and braided beard, and touch the slightly sneering lips to my nipple, I suddenly feel a bit dirty. Illicit. Inappropriate. As if perhaps I shouldn’t tell my husband what I’ve been doing in my spare time. In nursing that plastic Johnny Depp, I’ve crossed a line that maybe a good girl wouldn’t cross. Or, at least, I’ve surely violated some social norm or standard of propriety.
Previously an equal opportunity nurser, from that point on I begin to place more limits on what I am willing to nurse. Yes, to the tree frog. No, to the pink rubber rat. Yes, to the hungry-looking little piglet. No, to the Shrek Pez dispenser. I’m teaching my son about limits, I think: Body boundaries, personal space, self-respect, common decency. These are good concepts to master. Or, as I reject nursing a large red monster with a mouthful of sharp-looking teeth, am I teaching him to discriminate on the basis of personal appearance? To withhold love and to be stingy with affection? Or, perhaps more simply, that grimy, but appealing men are more worthy of attention than large blue stag beetles?
Sitting on the living room floor, my little son rocks back and forth with two small toys singing, “Rock, baby. Rock, baby…” I look closer and see that Obi-Wan Kenobi is tenderly cradling Yoda in his arms.
At dinner, eating grapes, my boy picks out a large grape and a very small grape. He is delighted with the small grape, “baby grape! Baby grape!” He holds up the large one and announces, “Mama grape.” He sets them on the table and carefully pushes the small grape towards the large one until they are touching. “Dat baby grape have na-nas!” he reports with obvious satisfaction. Later, he eats them both.
Skin contact is a requirement of nursing the inanimate. I used to try to get away with putting the toys to my breast on the outside of my shirt, but that was unacceptably less-than-genuine.
“Dat frog crying, Mama!” he implores. Later, he asks, “Where my frog go?” and I realize it is still snuggly tucked inside my bra, its purple rubber face nestled comfortably against my nipple.
I’ve seen a number of snapshots of other people’s little girls and boys “nursing” their own dolls, stuffed animals, or dump trucks, but neither of my own sons have been interested in nursing their own toys.
I have suggested it and was met with utter contempt–“Mom, we’re BOYS! We don’t have na-nas.” I am well aware that I look somewhat less than adorable at the park with a plastic alligator latched on.
Playing on the floor with my dad, my son picks up one of my husband’s childhood He-Man action figures. Evilyn has bright yellow skin and a revealing metallic bikini.
“Hey!” Zander exclaims, “Dat lady got na-nas!”
He fingers them approvingly and my dad comments blandly, “Well, yes, she does.”
Several months prior, at my older son’s insistent request, I lovingly fashioned a cloth baby carrier for Evilyn to wear on her back. Her baby of choice is a tiny crocheted “button buddy” monster with googly eyes.
“Look, Mom! She can hold her baby!” The five year old announces. Evilyn’s yellow hand is tucked completely through the button hole in the middle of her baby’s chest.
I begin to consider that perhaps I am the chief toy nurser because my sons lack enough appropriately endowed female toys. Indeed, my little one is greatly distressed by trying to get one of our Playmobil women to hold her baby. Her stiff plastic arms hold the baby by the wrist at arm’s length and this simply will not do.
He holds the baby to her plastic bump of a chest (she has a “uni-breast”) crying and fretting, “Hold baby! Na-na baby!”
Eventually I solve the problem by taping the baby sideways across her chest like a bandolier, its head now appropriately positioned at breast level. (Lest it appear my son is only concerned about proper nursing access, earlier this same month I also carefully taped a tiny plastic knife into “Baby Froggie’s” beanie baby paw. “Look, Daddy! Baby. Froggie. Got. Sword!”)
So, yes, I am still nursing and not only do I nurse my toddler, I sometimes nurse a big orange robot, assorted earth-moving vehicles, Ewoks, squirrel puppets, the occasional pretzel or grape, and more. I turn down an offer of nursing Luke Skywalker (would I have turned down Han Solo, I wonder?) and also of some guy with a half-metal face.
“Sorry, honey,” I say, “I don’t nurse that kind of guy.”