You* are not the only person in the world nursing a three-year-old. I am not the only person in the world nursing a four-year-old. If you think you are, or I am, that’s because we’re just not talking about it so much.
When Jamie Lynne Grumet and her latched-on standing-up son appeared on the cover of Time magazine last year, the idea that breastfeeding still happens with children who can walk and talk and maybe even write their names in wobbly backwards capital letters was a huge surprise to many, anathema to some, and just another normal day to a subsection of mothers who happen not to have weaned yet.
Time had no interest in breaking down barriers between mothers or normalizing extended breastfeeding: Time just wanted to sell copies of Time, so it made its cover as sensationalist and purposely divisive as it could. It worked – people were suddenly talking about Time magazine, and they weren’t even trapped in a dentist’s waiting room at the time.
But for most people nursing a preschooler, it’s just not something that comes up in conversation. It’s probably something that only happens at night, or first thing in the morning; it means you don’t have to get up and pour that bowl of cereal quite as early as you might otherwise. It means your son or daughter drops off to sleep in five minutes instead of twenty-five. It’s quite easy not to talk about it, and then you realise that you’d feel funny admitting it: if they mention to their teacher that they love you because you have the booboos with the milk in them, you might even be just a tiny bit embarassed. (No, this never happened to me. Not at all. Not three weeks ago, for instance.) If they try to kiss your booboos goodbye at nursery-school dropoff, you might even brush them off with a quick “Not here, stoppit.” You might hope people don’t know what your booboos are. You might be totally deluded.
This is the thing: Nursing an older toddler or a preschooler is not a conscious decision for most mothers. It’s rarely something we set out to do: it’s just something that hasn’t finished yet. While some babies wean themselves before they turn twelve months old, and perhaps most dwindle and leave off nursing during the second year, others just don’t want to stop, and their mothers may be in a position where they don’t mind that. It’s not a big deal until someone comes along with a magazine article to turn it into one. (If you have an older nursling and are feeling weird about it, read this wonderful piece about nursing in Mongolia, and feel better.)
So while I want to wean Mabel, and I’m looking forward to the day it happens, I’m willing to wait until she’s ready too. We have set a tentative date of her fifth birthday to be done, but we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to be nursing a six-year-old in two years’ time; I have no intention of nursing a six-year-old; but then again, I had no intention of nursing a three- or four-year-old either. When I started out on this crazy journey I said, “At least three months. Six would be good.”
Life makes you change your plans. That’s how it works. Work with it.
*Maybe not you. But maybe you.