Growing up is a series of weanings, and with each weaning, we must find new ways of loving each other.-Diane Reynolds, LMFT
I was 40 years old and a mother of two before I realized that the class of animals to which our species belongs–mammals–is named such because we nurse our young. We are animals with mammary glands, which females use for nourishing our offspring. Until one day, we don’t anymore.
As my mentor Diane Reynolds is fond of emphasizing, weaning is a loss that must be replaced with other forms of love and comfort, and there are many weanings–many goodbyes and losses–that we must navigate on our path to maturity.
Those of you who have ever weaned a child know that it is often tricky and melancholy; to this day, I still don’t think my now-5-year-old has forgiven me for taking away my maternal mammal comforts. But, as George Harrison so wisely sang, “All things must pass, all things must pass away.” We must let go of so much in order to embrace new possibilities for development, creativity, and love; some of these weanings are mandatory, whereas others we can choose to avoid.
To my mammalian mother’s eye, this whole coronavirus business seems like one giant non-negotiable weaning. One goodbye after another, some of them sudden and abrupt, others wandering their way in after a long taxi on the runway of loss. In the early days of lockdown, I cried as I drove through eerily emptied streets, each fraught outing a melancholy funeral procession for our broken world.
I resisted those early weanings, refusing to delete more than one week’s worth of my entire iCal life at a time, tears dripping down my face as I did. After a few months, I went through a week’s worth of repeated classes, school days, and work meetings, and hit “delete all future events.” It felt oddly numbing and liberating at the same time.
Yet some weanings pain us more greatly, much more greatly than the sting of clearing one’s calendar indefinitely. At times, the pandemic seems too much to bear, painted against the background of countless more egregious injustices levied against the most vulnerable among us. Those in Black and Brown bodies. Those in cages on our nation’s border. Those in hospitals weaning from life itself, with no replacement of love or comfort in sight for them or their loved ones.
And at other times, it does feel as though we have found new ways of loving each other, of finding meaning and comfort, at least in my little family. Gone are the jam-packed, thickly-scheduled days, children fighting against their carseats because of the back-and-forthness of it all. Gone are the rushed mornings, the stomach churning drives while running late. In their place, we have begun to appreciate the luxury of time spent dithering around, of doing puzzles and making salt-dough beads, of exploring the beauty of nature that Los Angeles has to offer. I’m something of an indoors person, and can just about count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone to the beach in my nearly two decades of life in LA. Now, we go every week. We hike up mountains, jog along creeks, and picnic in parks. We’re all getting tan lines and bug bites and learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable–sweaty, dirty, and, of course, perpetually dissatisfied and outraged at the systemic inequalities and injustices on which this nation was founded.
As I write this, I’m aware of the profound privileges that I have–access to the aforementioned outdoor respite, flexibility in my and my husband’s jobs to be with our children without fear of bankrupting ourselves, the freedom to do all of these things without fear of persecution because of the color of our skin. Indeed, our society has some massive weaning to do, and all weanings are inherently bound up with grief and conflict, even as they are about embracing something new and more powerful.
The losses and goodbyes of the pandemic are continuing to rush in, sometimes at a slow trickle, and other times with all the force of a hurricane. We must make space within us and our society to grieve and find new ways of loving one another.
Let us uphold the three hundred million years of mammalian wisdom that courses through our veins: the knowledge, baked into our DNA, that we must let go of the comforts of the past in order to welcome what is to come.
For additional reading:
- Getting out of the House: Family Outings in Los Angeles (Physical Distancing Edition)
- Lockdown Day 45: Keeping the Pieces Together
- Groundhog Day, Passover, and Breaking the Monotony of Lockdown
- Day 22: Finding our rhythm in self-isolation
- Help! My preschooler doesn’t want to attend virtual circle time!
- The kids are [not] alright: Thoughts on early childhood development, social distancing, and the Coronavirus Crisis
- Stories, comics, resources, and giant lists to help families navigate the COVID Crisis
- Resources for families living in “interesting times”
Rebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track.
Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!