by Bromleigh McCleneghan
My youngest, Hattie, turns two today.
She was up early, ready to play with the gifts she received last night. Putting the Duplo Thomas together, cutting up the Melissa and Doug hot dog and basting everything with pretend barbecue sauce, pushing the bubble mower around the living room (though I was pretty sure that was supposed to be an outdoor toy. Oh well. YOLO, and maybe the bubbles will make the floors cleaner? They’re made of soap…).
We got the big girls off to school, and hung out in the backyard for awhile. She successfully hit a t-ball with a wiffle bat. We went for a walk around the block, on which she tried to befriend a neighborhood rabbit and picked some dandelions. I pulled a few flowering lilacs off an overgrown bush in our alley and held them up to her nose to smell. We returned home and she offered the flowers to her two baby dolls: Here, babies! Smell!
She demanded that I sit on the backyard path next to her as she chatted with her dolls, and then climbed in my lap and pulled up my shirt to nurse.
I stopped nursing my other two earlier than this – at around the fifteen month mark for both. Nursing for me was wonderful, and easy enough; my work schedule was flexible, and I was happy to supplement first with formula, and then other foods. When the time came to stop, we just did. Josh, my husband, took responsibility for weaning the second one when I left town for a week-long writer’s workshop. After a few sleepless nights for him and a number of painful days for me, we were done.
When Hattie reached fifteen months, we thought about stopping, but, somehow, never got around to it. She still nurses a few times a day: usually just before bed, and for weekend naps, and in the early morning. Sometimes, though, she’ll just reach for me if she wants some comfort or closeness. When I left town for a few days — once, twice, three times – she was fine to be away from me, slept easily for her dad or other caregiver, and then happily resumed nursing when I returned. My milk production, which fails miserably in responding to the pump, responds to her.
She asks to nurse now, can request it with words, or just by helping herself. I always said I’d be done by the time any child of mine could do that. But here we are. I also never expected to face the existential dread inspired by the current presidency, or some of the fears, anxieties, and conflicts that have come to the lives of those dear to us in recent months. She does not need to nurse anymore – but I do. Holding her close, feeling the weight of her, even listening to her sing or talk or giggle as she cuddles with me, I am buoyed; whether it is oxytocin or hope, letting down allows me a moment to let go of the tension in my heart and head. I relish this time.
The people of ancient Israel, in one moment of anxiety over the state of things, cried out, The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me! God responds in the voice of the prophet Isaiah:
Can a woman forget her nursing-child
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)
I am in no danger of forgetting my dear child when the day of weaning arrives, but this relationship of deep mutual comfort strengthens me in surprising and delightful ways. In showing her this compassion, my capacity for compassion for others is somehow, in that miraculous way of all self-giving love, amplified and deepened.
The Gospel lesson this past Sunday (John 20:19-31) told the story of Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, first on the evening of the resurrection and then again a week later. The disciples are afraid, hiding and locked away, until he comes and offers them the breath of peace, empowers them to heal and teach, to serve in his name. Thomas isn’t there that night, and though he is perhaps surprised by the change which comes over his friends (we cannot know, the text does not tell us), he seriously doubts that the resurrected Christ made an appearance. Unless I see him myself, touch him myself, put my fingers in the holes in his hands and sides (we can hear his voice rising, growing louder and higher pitched with increasing incredulity)…
What I love about this story is that Jesus shows up, and offers Thomas exactly what he’s asked for. Perhaps our Lord is put out. A little grossed out by the request. It’s awfully intimate. But if that is what Thomas needs to comfort his fears, to buoy his hope, Jesus offers it up.
In the end, Thomas doesn’t even touch him. The offer is enough. My Lord and my God, he shouts with joyful recognition. Eventually, and likely one day in the not-too-distant future, my daughter and I will not need this particular physical reminder of our love. But for today, the offer stands; the offer is good.
Bromleigh McCleneghan is a pastor and author of Good Christian Sex.