My mother nursed all six of her children. She spent twelve years breastfeeding, sometimes two babies at once.
In my early memories, Mama always has one of my siblings latched on for “baa baa” (like the sound of a bleating sheep). This was a name my oldest sister came up with and it stuck.
Mama was efficient and managed many things simultaneously, which was necessary with so many children and no shortcuts. She homeschooled, baked bread, sewed clothes, entertained friends. There was baa baa and spelling lessons. Baa baa and bedtime stories. Baa baa and adult conversations while her friends griped about work trouble and took comfort in beer and cigerettes. Mama listened. She never smoked and hardly ever drank.
Mama’s friends regarded her as an incarnation of the Madonna. And she could certainly be painted as the Holy Mother in broad strokes. But having been her child, I know that depiction to be too simple. While it shows Mama’s nurturing, it disregards her wrath.
Her anger came on swiftly and was over as soon as she made her point. Mama nursed us all through our teething phases and beyond. Inevitably, each of us tried out our newly cut teeth by biting Mama.
Her reaction was always the same. She pulled away and unleashed the roar of a waking dragon. I witness the startled expressions on my younger siblings faces that gave way to scared cries. In a matter of seconds the dragon disappeared and the babies were comforted with the offer to nurse once again. They went back gently.
We were smart babies; we learned quickly and early how not to use our teeth.
Mama was a natural mother but not a saint. When I went to college, I studied Spanish in northern Chile. I learned about Incan culture and their mother goddess who reminded me of my own Mama. For the Incas, the aptly named Pachamama often appears in the form of a dragon. She invokes fertility, oversees planting and harvesting — and causes earthquakes when she feels disrespected