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Private First-Class Me

There are many things in life I don’t understand. Like, why people purchase those little dog-shaped signs for their yards — you know the ones — where the dog is squatting and the word “no!” is written across him, so neighbors passing by won’t allow their pug Maximus deface the St. Augustine. But which is worse, I ask you? The abomination itself, or the unsavory yard sign upstaging all your meticulous gardening — the one you can see from the intersection of Warner and Wilshire? BLECH. I don’t get it.

Thing I Don’t Understand #2: Why tabloids like “People” feel compelled to have nutritionists improve upon the diets of the stars by listing what the star normally eats for lunch in one column and then how they would make it even healthier in the second column. First off, as IF these celebrities are actually telling the truth to a nationwide audience about their eating habits. They know we would hate them if they ate so much as a filing of cheese a day and still looked the way they do. Secondly, the supposed celebrity “lunch” or “dinner” (or a complete day’s meal if you’re lucky!) usually involves salmon seared in olive oil with spinach; and the “improvement” usually involves adding whole-wheat couscous to this already astronomically healthy ensemble of propaganda food. BORING. I don’t get it. Give us some contrast, something more dramatic, like Janet Jackson eating a block of Velveeta. Even I could improve that lunch.

These are things I don’t understand, the doggie yard sign and the celebrity lunch column. But here’s something I DO understand: the breastfeeding mother’s need for privacy. (And I’m sorry if you think all I talk about in this blog is breasts. I think about my blog when I’m nursing, so sue me.)

Privacy — that late-great theoretical concept now foreign to me at home, but which I still try to regain out among my peers. I was at a home last night with a gathering of women, most of whom were recent mothers themselves, and I STILL felt a compulsion to find a “quiet corner” somewhere when Madeline started rooting around. Not that my friends were standoffish or finicky. The feeling originated with me. It seemed like a weird feeling to have in the midst of sisters; shouldn’t I feel more liberated? But there it was.

As a matter of fact, in case you’re interested and are inclined to read further, it turns out monkeys are no different.

 At least not the one Drew and I saw at the zoo this week. She was sitting on the ground, in the corner where the floor-to-ceiling window met the wall of her habitat, and her little baby was curled up into her like a fuzzy extension of her abdomen. I rolled The Things’ stroller right up to the window, inches away. When the monkey sat back, her baby looked up and suddenly they were both eyeballing Drew and me: mother and son beholding mother and son. I noticed, however, that Monkeymama was obviously a nursing mother and had not been equipped by the zookeepers with any sort of nursing shawl or discreet snap-on-snap-off nursing apparatus from Pea in the Pod. She gave me a “go-to-Hades” look, uncoiled her hairy limbs, and ambled over to the shade beneath the waterfall to complete her motherly duty. Bless her heart. “I can relate!” I wanted to yell. But something told me she wouldn’t be up for having coffee with me later and chatting about the latest celebrity lunch menu improved by the “People” magazine nutritionists. (Who KNEW pine nuts were so calorific!? I’m so glad I spend time reading this publication!)

Maybe the need for breastfeeding sanctity is a protective mechanism: “Don’t come near me when I’m performing the most important of all acts: feeding my child from my very lifeblood.” Or maybe it’s a deflective mechanism: “Junior, don’t get distracted by all these people and voices and prying eyes; stay focused!” Whatever it is, the modesty reflex, at least for me, is primal.

On another night this week, I was sitting around with three dear friends and happened to be nursing. I feel totally fine nursing around these girls, and I probably wouldn’t have used a nursing shawl except the one I have is so cute and by all means it is imperative to look cute whenever the opportunity presents itself. But in a particular moment of enthusiastic conversation, I noticed a gentle breeze in a place unaccustomed to gentle breezes, and suddenly my three friends were giggling like schoolgirls. Let’s just say I pulled a Janet Jackson, minus the pleather unitard and questionably authentic nose. I was amazed at how red-hot my face got, even sitting around with my dearies eating hummus.

But, you say, what about those women in National Geographic? The ones with the ornate necklaces and…nothing else? And babies running hither and yon, toddling up for a quick “spot” (as the British say) whenever they need it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s Thing I Don’t Understand #3.

Here’s Thing I Don’t Understand #4 that is related to #3: Why the child we sponsor through Compassion International (great organization BTW, check it out), Yeison, who lives in the Dominican Republic, sent me a beautifully drawn picture of a man giving a present to a blond woman. A woman without a shirt. What is the meaning of this? “Maybe it’s a cultural thing,” said Gordon. “Maybe women there don’t wear shirts.”

“This is the Dominican Republic, not Zimbabwe,” I scoffed, like I was Carmen San Diego, and like I knew in Zimbabwe they DON’T wear shirts. “Is this supposed to be me?”

“You’re not blond,” offered Gordon.

“Maybe he assumes I’m blond because I’m American?”

At any rate, he couldn’t know I’m breastfeeding because it was his very first letter to us; he had just been assigned to us.

“Who is the man giving you a gift?” asked Gordon.

“If the gift is diamonds, it’s you,” I said, and the conversation ended.

I’m still at a loss. That #4 may be neither here nor there, but since I’m in a nursing frame of mind, I’m trying to understand it in those terms. Maybe Yeison has bigger issues. Who knows. I’m not a sociologist. All I know is myself.

And that monkey from the zoo.