"That looks so comfy."
"Now that's the life."
"I wish I could be carried like that!"
"I'll trade places with him!"
"I want the baby's food!"
It happens when I wear Sweet Baby James in the sling. Which is every day.
I get the middle one the most: "I wish I could be carried like that." There's nothing wrong with the sentiment in and of itself -- don't we all wish for free, reliable transportation? -- but the fact that it comes from men (only men!) has got me wondering.
I told my husband about this during our five minutes of quality time last night. He was unzipping his fly.
"Three guys said they wanted to be in Sweet Baby James' sling tonight," I said.
He laughed as he lifted up the toilet seat (gotcha there, didn't I?).
"Well," I said, "Do you have anything to say about it?"
"Hmm... I'll rip their eyeballs out." He answered, referring to the street-fighting skills he acquired with other ass-kicking Buddhists at Leriken in Montreal.
"Ha ha," I said, "But really, what do you think is going on there?"
"What's going on there is that they're confusing my wife with their mother."
"Yes," I said, "The old I-want-my-wife-to-be-my-mother thing..."
"No... I said my wife. Not their wives."
"Oh, I get it. So, like, 'excuse me sir, but it would behoove you to make the distinction between my wife and your mother, sir.'"
"Yeah," he said, reaching for the dental floss.
But I can't quite believe that there is salacious intent behind this comment. In my experience, when men are saying something they know to be naughty, they're a little sly about it. Or they stutter, or blush. They're quieter. These guys, on the other hand, want the world to know that they wish they could be carried around like an 8 month-old baby. And when I told Mr. Artist that he was the THIRD man at that opening to make the comment, he didn't act all proud to be Mr. Dirty Scandalous Artist; he walked away to get another glass of wine.
Like it was I who had made the faux-pas. *sigh*
What is it about that kind of carrying that is so appealing to men? Is it the boobs? SARK, in her (fecking fantastic) book Succulent Wild Woman describes how men (and some women) love "big boobs" because they see them as big soft pillows they could curl up against. And in this short article from ivillage, written by men about breasts, it mentions a desire to return to the "...halcyon days when our mothers protected us from all the world's evils."
I don't think I'll ever quite understand the (predominantly male) fascination with breasts, especially now that mine have become utterly mundane and not particularly private food delivery banks (how's that for sexxxay?). But the fantasy of returning to the womb, or the warmth of the mother's arms does makes sense to me.
I myself sometimes wish I could be once again ensconced in the cradleboard my father made for me when I was a baby. There's a part in all of us that never really grows up, right? This basic craving for closeness, however, doesn't explain the gender divide. Why do women say, "He looks so comfortable there!" or "What a great way to carry your baby!", while men immediately insert themselves into the carrier's warm folds?
Sometimes when I have just gotten out of the bath with Sweet Baby James and we're nursing in bed, drifting off to sleep, I am struck with the intimacy of our bond. I know his body so well. And he knows mine. He trusts me to look after him, to protect him not only from the outside world but also the inside one -- to respect his boundaries, which he is too young to know he has. He gives his complete surrender, because he has to. And I, lying with my nipple between his über sharp newly erupted teeth, trust him to respect my body in the same way.
Except that sometimes he hits me in the face for no reason, because he is a baby.
So anyway, I realize that this intimacy is unusual in our lives, especially in the West, where we have the largest 'personal space' zones in the world. I'll never forget the first time I saw some Moroccan dudes all thugged-out and caressing each others' shoulders as they stood chatting at the port of Tangier. It's just the way people relate to others of the same gender there. You touch someone when you're talking with them, maybe go get naked at a Hammam together, nothing unusual about it. But here we don't and it will not likely be until Sweet Baby James gets into a sexual relationship that he will feel this kind of physical closeness with someone again.
And then it will be different. He will be expected to return the intimacy, to give back -- not only sexually, but also in the form of hugs, caresses, tenderness. To me, this give and take is the ultimate joy of sexual intimacy, but clearly it's not everybody's idea of a good time.
Maybe that's what these guys are really saying when they express a wish to be carried like Sweet Baby James. Maybe they're saying they wish they could be on the receiving end of unconditional love, without having to expend any effort. Jerks.
((and as I was writing this post, at this very juncture, my husband came home with a smile on his face, $200 worth of groceries and a bouquet of flowers. Win!))
And finally, perhaps it's an inversion of that genius idea that mothers are sexless creatures, the classic madonna/whore complex. But if so, it's the inverse: sexualizing the mother, the young woman with a diaper kit in her backpack, the bags under her eyes... and the lucky little baby nodding off to sleep at perfect nipple eye level.
In this post:
Check out our Too Hot For Stroller blog (www.toohotforstroller.wordpress.com).
Check out our Mamactivism blog (www.mamactivism.wordpress.com).
I first met Colette Coughlin at Studio Béluga in spring of 2009. She was working on her Intimography project, which redirects the lens of pornography into more intimate, personal spaces. I loved Colette's warm groundedness from the start; though we don't often find time to get together, she is a beacon of sanity to me as my world changes from that of a distracted artist-cum-curator to full-time wife and Mama.
This summer, over a meal of delicious Zu-made buckwheat crepes, she described some of the recent events in her son's life. "It's a really great relationship he's building," she said, "Although he has so many questions -- you know, he called me to talk about it from his girlfriend's house."
I had to stop for a minute to pick my jaw up off the floor.
What? I thought, Not only does he talk to her about his relationship, this otherwise completely 'normal' teenage boy is calling his MOM for advice? I asked her how she managed to hold onto such a deeply connected and respectful relationship with her son. To Colette it was nothing out of the ordinary. "Oh," she said, "I moved out when he was ten. Maybe that's it."
I knew I had to interview her. I had to know her real secret. Because although I don't want a trouble-free teenager -- long live adolescent rebellion! -- if my relationship with the older Sweet Baby James is a fifth as open and communicative as hers, I'll know I've done well by him.
In Part I of this heartfelt Sunday Brunch interview/writing, Colette describes the choices she made early on, and how they allowed her to develop the positive relationships she maintains with her kids today. Enjoy!
-- Svea Boyda-Vikander
* * *
I was 22 when I first started having kids and 28 when I finished. I started young because it just felt right. When I met their father, he was older and ready to start a family, and although I’m not sure I was ready, with him I was more than willing. We were blessed with uncomplicated fertility, and had four children in six years. Now they are now 22, 21, 18 and 17, a girl and three boys.
At 45 years old, I am just starting a full-time career in publishing. I maintained a part-time presence in the work world and participated in many volunteer projects when the children were little, but they were always our first priority. Later I had to learn to make myself a priority too, as I tended to give until it felt like there was nothing left.
Their father was very present and involved right from the time each baby was born, and even got up at night when he was working full-time. We both considered that the work I did at home was (more than) full-time too, so he shared the load and once took a 6-month leave of absence to stay home with the three oldest so I could accept a creative work contract while pregnant for our last son.
The children were teens and pre-teens when their father and I separated. I moved out temporarily, and he ended up maintaining the household, as he wished to create a blended family with his new partner and was financially better off to do so than I was. And as much as I loved my children, I needed space to discover myself, so we set off on an adventure of redefining our relationships while they were still fairly young. There have been bumps along the way but we have all grown immensely by working through them, and I am very proud to say we are as close as ever even if we no longer share a homestead.
My best memories from raising children are their questions and discoveries, the relationships between each of them and with each of us parents, the pancake brunches on weekends and the warm sense of being a team sharing the adventure of every new day.
If I could summarize my parenting philosophy into one word, or phrase, it would be LOVE, or unconditional love. Perhaps an ideal that many parents wish to attain, but to be honest, we learn it from our babies. Sometimes I wish I had known myself better before I had my first child, and yet at the same time I can see that because I was young and not really established in a career path, I was malleable, I hadn’t known much of life as an adult yet, so in some ways, I didn’t know what I was missing or giving up to be a parent, so I just did what had to be done.
My relationships with my kids now are an oscillating mixture of being very close and needing to allow each other space to grow, to experiment and to each discover life on our own. But knowing that we have each other to come back to for comfort and support is a joy I cannot describe. As they become adults, I sometimes feel even more helpless than when they were babies when trying to guide them along their paths, and yet in other ways I have clearly seen that my own life serves an example of what to do and what not to do. Watching them experiment, bloom, fall down, pick themselves back up and carry on is a spectacle I never get tired of!
I feel very fortunate that their father and I have been able to maintain a close relationship. We’ve been through growing pains too, but we’ve managed to continue nurturing what was always a very loving connection. The form of this relationship has had to change immensely since we separated, but over time we’ve been able to restore decent communication in spite of this enormous reorganisation our family underwent, and the benefits for our children has been obvious.
We have experimented repeatedly with each other and with every one of our children periods of letting go, backing off, respectfully observing and then moving back in to support each other, sound a wake-up call or consult on how to deal with different situations, socially, emotionally and practically. We do not call each other our “Ex-es” because we recognize that we can never completely cross each other out of our lives, nor do we want to. I am who I am, and he is who he is, and the fact that we share these four beautiful children has created a bond that we never want to lose sight of or stop feeding, no matter how busy our lives get or how uncomfortable dealing with each others’ new direction and new partners can be.
About New Motherhood in particular:
All four of my babies were born at home, in the bed they were conceived in. Before, during and after these incredibly special events we were accompanied by midwives, whose care was not only technically professional and efficient, but also extremely warm, caring, supportive and empowering for me as a woman. Although this choice involved a lot of research, soul-searching, financial commitment and a certain amount of social manoeuvring within our families, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Staying sane as a new mother is not an easy task. The arrival of the first baby into a couple’s lives, and even more so a single mother’s life, has to be one of the most upside-down, inside-out-turning situations a human being can encounter. My advice to new mothers would be confusing; like listen to your elders’ advice (sleep when the baby sleeps, get outside every day, drink lots of water, etc....) and yet in the same breath, I would say don’t listen to your elders’ advice, listen to your own little voice, do what feels right for you and your baby. Experiment. Be curious and willing to start over again every day. What worked to calm a colicky bout one day may need to be completely reinvented the next. Read. Cry when you need to. And talk to and hang out with other mothers.
We’re not born parents... it’s a “make it up as you go along” pursuit that is nonetheless as worthy as any post-graduate endeavour. It’s life at its best and at its worst, but if you let yourself dive in and be fully touched by it, day after day, you will feel the wings growing gently underneath your shoulder-blades, and you will have your children to thank for teaching you how to fly.
-- Colette Coughlin
There's something bizarre about a little baby wearing a skeleton costume. It's overly intimate, like he's more than naked; he's showing his bones. Maybe that's why this costume isn't actually meant for an 8 month-old baby (it's for a 4 year-old. srsly). I love the costume (he's cute! it's cute!) but I also find it mildly disturbing. Especially at night.
Especially when it glows up at me from above the bed covers.
When I think about babies (particularly this one), I think of fat, roly-poly, chubby little monsters. It's difficult to think of a baby's skeleton, that frailty underneath. It reminds me of the horror of starvation, disease. Famine, both real and fictional (Cormac McCarthy's The Road, anyone?). Prospects scarier than any child's hallowe'en costume.
But though I don't like to think about it, I'm also more aware of Sweet Baby Jame's skeleton than anybody else's. I felt it form within my body, after all. I used to lie awake at night as he kicked me from within and now I listen at night to make sure his own ribcage is rising and falling. I massage his little body after the bath, running my hands from forehead to toes, casually feeling for irregularities just as new mothers examine their babies' fingers and toes in the first few minutes after birth.
I would never want to see his skeleton, but I know his bones.
And babies' bones are amazing. Here are five reasons why:
1. They are many: Babies have almost a hundred more bones than adults do (Babies: 300. Adults: 207).
2. They aren't real: Babies' bones are mostly cartilaginous. And since cartilage doesn't break like real bones do, babies are more likely to survive falls and other impacts that would be serious for adults. Doesn't that make you sleep better? They literally bounce back. Do you remember the terrifying/miraculous story of the baby who got dropped from the Capilano suspension bridge in Vancouver? The baby survived. The baby was fine! Holy sh*t!
4. It's impossible to bang a baby's knees: There are a bunch of hysterical postings on the internet from concerned parents wondering why their babies don't have knees. Fortunately, babies don't have knee-caps. Girls get knee-caps around age 3, and boys around age 5. All the better to tummy-time with.
5. They never grow up: We all have baby bones. Human bones regenerate, in their entirety, at least every 20 years.
Happy Hallowe'en, everyone. Have you hugged your skeleton today?