At first, I thought you were a really exotic piercing. Then I realized you were a boy. A big boy. You’re only three years old, but your clothes—camouflage cargo pants, sneakers, grey shirt with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows—make you appear much older. You look like you should be holding up a lighter at a Creed concert, not suckling at your mom’s breast.
Word around the Parenting offices is you and your mom were discovered through an online casting call that 3,000 moms responded to. Now here you are, breastfeeding all over America: In mailboxes and bathrooms, near the cash registers at Barnes & Noble, on my nightstand.
Your mom is truly a rarity: Only 13 percent of moms are still breastfeeding at 6 months. (By three years, I think the number is 11. Not percent—I mean people.) Sure, we can argue about how long is too long, but rest assured all that breastfeeding will pay off. Breastfed children are more resistant to disease and infection, and are less likely to contract a number of diseases later in life, including juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis and heart disease. And according to pediatrician Bill Sears, the focal point of the Time article your boob-sucking is promoting, breastfed children have I.Q. scores averaging seven to ten points higher than formula-fed infants. That will come in handy when you have to come up with a quick retort after someone tapes the Time cover on your locker 12 years from now.
Which brings me to my point: I’m worried about this kind of fame for you. Obviously I don’t know your mother’s intentions, but it’s no surprise to me that 3,000 moms offered to reveal themselves on a national magazine cover. Why? Because people love using their children to get attention. We use our kids to make ourselves seem more interesting and compelling. We post pictures of them in the bathtub on Facebook. We use their annoying behaviors and amazing triumphs as status updates. We Instagram them. We Tumblr them. We blog about them.
And because you’re oblivious to it, three-year-old breastfeeding boy on the cover of Time, you simply have no say in the matter. If you could speak on your own behalf, maybe you'd tell Mom that you'd like to keep this breastfeeding thing a little private. (Local mall: Okay. 3.4 million readers: Not so much.) Consider this: If I lived with an adult roommate, and posted compromising pictures of him or shared his annoying personal habits on Facebook, you think he’d have a problem with it? Of course he would.
In one of my early “Pop Culture” columns, I asked my kids, then 6 and 4, what good advice I’ve given them thus far:
One evening, I asked my oldest son, Jackson, “What’s the most helpful thing I’ve ever told you?” Pause. “Go poop at school.”
I thought it was funny. Everyone else thought it was funny. But after the story was published, a colleague said to me, “Your son is going to kill you in 15 years.” That really hit me. She was absolutely right. I had exposed my son for the sake of entertaining our readers. I made him look silly and crass. He trusted me, and I used it against him. I never did it again.
You see, three-year-old breastfeeding boy on the cover of Time, our kids come through us, not for us. Sometimes we parents forget that—I know I do. I hope one day you discover that magazine buried in an old shoebox and feel a sense of pride, not embarrassment. And in 15 years, when my son picks up that old magazine, I can only hope he feels the same way.