I just don’t understand the adage, ‘his bark is worse than his bite.’
Now I know the aphorism is meant to convey the idea that the proverbial dog in any given situation is bluffing, but you have to risk getting bitten to figure that out.
No matter how many times I turn the phrase over in my head I always come to the same conclusion: The bite is bad, and no amount of barking will ever be worse.
I know this because at this moment my whole body is tense from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. My shoulders are level with my ears. And my son is standing in front of me, feet stomping and fists pumping. He wants to nurse.
He knows I know what he wants. What’s confounding him, it would seem, is why I’m just sitting there with the twisted expression of dread on my face. He starts to stomp his foot louder and smack his lips. Soon he will squint one eye, open his mouth and shriek.
“Ok. … but if you bite me, we’re through,” I say, picking him up and unhooking the strap of my nursing bra, wary of the ungrateful behavior he’s recently adopted: biting the teat that feeds him.
My guess is he thinks I’m the one bluffing.
Neither of us is ready to wean: Even at 15 months of age he still consumes much of his calories from breast milk. He picks at foods and eats a spoonful here or there but mostly lives on air and ‘boob juice,’ as my husband so eloquently puts it. By the same token, I’m not ready to close down the diner because he’s my baby — my LAST baby.
Now, I’ve been down this road before. At the same age, Ittybit herself was taking little bites. The difference is when I said ‘No,’ in that stern voice the experts recommend, she got the message.
The Champ just laughs at me, and, once I’ve disengaged his teeth and set him down -- all while glowering at him with my mad eyes and protruding lower lip — he simply goes about his other important toddler activities, such as terrorizing the dog and throwing small toys into the toilet, mocking me.
I know the drill. I know teething can make little sharks out of children. I know I’m supposed to make it very unpleasant to bite. I’m supposed to practically suffocate him with my mammary glands so he’ll open his mouth, or pry my little finger in between his clenched jaws and force them open if I feel even the slightest pinch. I’m supposed to react in pain and disappointment. I’m supposed to startle him; to make him cry; to make him realize that he’s hurting mommy, and that hurting mommy is supposed to be unpleasant.
The books tell me when he gets that message he will stop.
Thus far, though, these reactions have only made him giggle or full out laugh.
Even when he is hungry, he nurses uneventfully until the very end when he bites down without warning – not even the tiniest little glint of a mischief-y eye.
“Somebody’s getting ready to wean,” says a childless friend in a sing-song voice when I tell her of my peril. She would know, she’s seen many-a-sheep mama kick their little lambs to the curb for just such offenses.
I ignore her and take comfort in talking to my human-breeding friends who tell me I’m on the right track: “Just keep making it unpleasant for him to bite you and he will learn. He will, you’ll see. The Champ will figure out the bark is worse than the bite.”
"That's what I'm afraid of ... he'll realize my bark has no teeth and keep on biting."