Having spent much of last year deep in maternal purdah, the following piece, a paean to breast feeding, is part of an adhoc series entitled Bear Adventures, as told by the Milk Lady.
Bear loved milk especially the Milk Lady's. It was, for much of the first year his favourite thing in the world, all his needs met in the sweetest of suckles. In the beginning the process was difficult. It hurt the Milk Lady, especially the latch on, the snap of hard gums upon sensitive skin. Salves were administered to sooth the skin, and unusual uses made from pierced white cabbage leaves.
Together Bear and the Milk Lady persevered, practicing every few hours. At times the Milk Lady felt alien - not like an earth mother at all. Still, over time - over time the task in hand became second nature to Bear and the Milk Lady, a mutual hurdle jumped, a symbiotic process mastered. She gave, he took, each suckle a love swallow.
When Bear was only a teeny tiny bear, the Milk Lady had to stretch his mouth open and then pour as much breast as possible into it.
No dummies required for this Bear - he had his own soothers.
Travel was a whizz. The Bear went everywhere with ease. He was quite the jet setter.
Daytime feeds ended shortly after the seventh month. The Bear was too curious for his own good. There were too many diversions, too much to see and do. The Bear never missed a trick; on full alert to life he had not a second to lose. Distracted from his feed he would pull the nipple taut before finally releasing it, a manoeuvre, which made the Milk Lady wince. Oblivious to her pain he would innocent as ever peer about him with an inquisitive air to find the source of the distraction. The unlatched nipple left unceremoniously and publically hanging.
During this first year he became territorial over this specific part of her body. It was he determined his, his supply, his stash and should anyone wander by during a feed he would release the nipple to check on the status of the stranger and ward them off with a disarming look akin to that which regulars in Old Men's Pub's give to blow ins - as if to say 'be on your way mate'. Then the Bear would hold his breast or play with his nipple, look up at the Milk Lady and offer her a cheeky smile.
Night times were different. Before cries for comfort the Milk Lady would hear Bear shuffle under the sheets followed by dream suckling, his lips already puckering up and in his mind feeding.
Bear Senior wondered what his small son dreamt about.
'Milk,' replied the Milk Lady, 'lots and lots of milk, puddles, pools and rivers of milk; lakes, reservoirs and oceans.'
Sometimes, the Bear would chance his luck and go from one nipple to the other as he clambered over the Milk Lady in search of his hidden treasure. In the early days he'd relied on scent, his body making worm like movements to reach the source of his desire but once up and crawling there was no stopping him. When he was eight months old, waking in the night beside the Milk Lady he would rap on her back and pull her hair to let her know it was time to feed.
Command of his faculties grew alongside confidence and milk teeth. Then came the day when the Bear bit the Milk Lady. The Milk Lady shrieked which frightened the Bear provoking tears. He assured her such incidents were accidents despite on several further occasions giving her a testing upward glance before tempting fate once again. The Milk Lady grew shrewd to this tactic, her little pinkie ever ready to release his jaw.
Between them grew a sense of deep communication, trust and security. Their bodies warm together, as one inhaled the other exhaled. Love was felt, the Milk Lady's hand patting his back or hair as he suckled and sometimes he would flick her fingers away if annoyed or tickled. He would close his eyes and drift off into sleep, his arms cradling one breast.
Nothing lasts forever. Time passed and change duly came. By the end of the year the Bear could have any milk he wanted. He no longer needed the comfort or the nutrients. For Bear it was merely a phase and for the Milk Lady soon enough a memory.