I first gave you the plastic nub because I couldn't bear to hear you cry... and now I worry that I have put a whole lot of tears in *both* of our futures.
In other words: By letting you hold onto your pacifiers for so long, have I committed my first major parental screw up?
It's an understatement to say that I was never a fan of pacifiers. I hated seeing toddlers running around the mall with those plugs stuck in their faces. I contemplated a picket line in front of the maternity ward whose nursery attendants gave our firstborn a pacifier without our written permission. And I breathed a magnificent sigh of relief when I saw that same firstborn child soonafter stick her thumb contentedly in her mouth: a thumb-sucker, just as I was! No stupid plastic panacea for us! Even our baby nurse-- a luxury that we afforded ourselves just once, thank goodness, since I was ready to fire her about 3 hours into her 5-day tenure-- congratulated us on having borne an infant so intelligent as to be able to immediately "self-soothe" (HOT-BUTTON PARENTING TERMINOLOGY if ever there was some).
But then baby #2 came along 18 months later, and baby #3 just 18 months after that, and in the midst of it all we were caring for my own very sick mother, and suddenly the two new babies who apparently weren't as intelligent in the art of self-soothing (but exceptionally intelligent in all other areas, of course!) forced me to make a very unpleasant choice: succumb to the pacifier, or risk a long-time-coming nervous breakdown.
So I went out and bought a few of the stupid things. And I felt dirty, like I was finally giving in to a meth addiction that I had managed to stave off for quite some time. I couldn't even bring myself to call them "pacifiers," "pacis," or worse, "binkies" (I was sufficiently embarrassed even without the baby talk, thank you very much). No, in my house, we were to call them "suckers." Which in my mind gave them a pink, sugary sound, like delightful confections that the wee ones just couldn't resist.
Appropriately, my second child adored her suckers. The only time we *ever* put her to bed without one planted firmly in her mouth was the 3-day period that our house was cruelly overtaken by Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease (cue the shivers running down your spine, mother friend); the poor child's tongue was so swollen that she had to settle for pitifully rubbing the suckers against her cheek instead. And I didn't mind the suckers back then, because they brought her comfort, and what mom doesn't want her child feeling comfortable.
My third child also fell promptly and deeply in love with her suckers (after she, too, failed the initial thumb-sucking trial period). In fact, it was one of her very first words: "Suck-a, suck-a," she requested, in a voice so comically tiny it seemed to come out of a cartoon character. How cute!, we thought.
Well, it's not so cute anymore, as my middle daughter turned 3 in October, and the reign of the suckers doesn't seem to be coming to an end ANYTIME soon. In fact, her nighttime ritual revolves around a delicate process of lining up her 8 suckers (not 7, not 9; 6 regular suckers + 2 that are attached to little stuffed animals; 6 go on the left side of the bed and 2 go on her pillow; don't stray from this format or else there WILL be a problem), and sometimes when I peek in on her during the night, she is holding onto those horrible plastic placebos like they are her lifeboats in a storm.
Meanwhile, the third child has just passed her 20-month birthday... which *maybe* makes her the perfect candidate for sucker-confiscation?? (Mommy asks, shuddering at the thought.) Old enough that she doesn't technically *need* them anymore (so say the parenting books) (then again, what is more critical than the need to feel comforted??), but not so old that she could actually *do* anything to retaliate against me for abducting them? (other than to bring me literally to my knees with guilt, but I guess that's what Zoloft is for.)
Of late I have tried broaching the subject of sucker-abandonment with the older one... but it's a terrible position I here find myself in, because I am about to exercise overt discrimination against her toddler drug of choice. I personally sucked my thumb until I was eight (8) years old, never had to wear braces of any kind on my teeth, and don't consider myself particularly orally fixated as a result. In fact, legend has it that I contentedly sucked my thumb throughout my elementary school years until the morning my dad presented me with a cheery ultimatum: quit the habit or else be fitted with a draconian headpiece made of fishhook-like devices that would dangle menacingly from the roof of my mouth. (Wait, was that wrong?) And in a move of still-celebrated ingenuity, I immediately took it upon myself to fashion a makeshift "cast" out of tissues and Scotch tape that I would apply to my thumb each bedtime, hence freeing myself of the monkey on my back (and saving my thumb from being shred to ribbons, so I thought). Accordingly, I have always assumed that I would do the exact same thing with my eldest daughter: let her suck her thumb in peace until the time comes to traumatize her over it.
And yet while the thumb-sucking doesn't bother me, I simply can't stomach the egalitarian notion that the thumb's rubber counterparts-- a.k.a., the physical embodiments of my greatest parental failure to date-- could potentially be in our lives for another half a DECADE. Especially now that the 3-year-old was recently subjected to wholly uncalled-for (completely justified) ridicule when she absent-mindedly wandered out of the house and into our front yard, mid-afternoon, sucker in place and on full display. "You still use a pacifier??" the neighbors' kids taunted, and my heart sank to my kneecaps. Your first public shaming, and the shame is more rightfully mine!
So suddenly the pressure is on. I have a crisis of conscience whenever either child gets tired or injured or car-intolerant and pleads for a sucker. Is it too late?, I wonder. Instead of pot, will my girls have a brown-bag stash of suckers hidden in their college dorm rooms? Will they have white ones tucked in their garters on their wedding days? Will they move helplessly from one oral addition to another-- pacifier, bubble gum, cigarettes, gross chewed-up pen caps, etc.-- for all of their misguided lives?
Please, if you have experience with this topic, help me out. Tell me what to do with my innocent 3-year-old who has been unknowingly led down the primrose path. (But be gentle with your suggestion to have the Pacifier Fairy come pay us a visit... I have already floated the idea, and I accidentally rolled my eyes in the middle of the explanation. WHY do I have such a hard time lying to my kids, even when the benefit clearly outweighs the immorality of it?) And while you're at it, please also tell me what to do with my little cherub of a 20-month-old, who stands underneath the sucker drawer in the kitchen with her arms upraised as if she is waiting for Mother Theresa herself to lift her off the ground....
Thanks in advance. And I GUESS if you also want to share some wisdom about the perils of long-term thumb-sucking, MAYBE I'll listen to that, too. But I won't be happy about it.