Friday, January 15, 2010

This Sucks.

O, my children, what have I done?

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.


  1. I don't have any kids, but I have three siblings with a few kids each; and I have lots and lots (and lots) of extended family, like cousins, each of whom has had a few kids each. So, with that as the background for what I'm about to say: the two things I've heard experienced parents suggest are "old school" fixes. (1) Poke lots of holes in a paci with a (clean) needle so that, when the child sucks on it, it just doesn't "feel" the same to them (but the holes are small enough so as not to be obvious); and if the child asks why the paci isn't "working," you shrug and say something like "well, maybe you've grown up so much that your mouth doesn't like it anymore," and eventually the child will bore of the paci because it doesn't soothe them the way it used to. This apparently also works with baby bottles when you're trying to transition to a cup. (2) Put something bitter (but non-toxic, obviously) on the paci; same concept - each time they put it in their mouth, it doesn't taste the way it used to. This apparently also works with a thumb...

    Basically, you have to make them believe it was their idea/decision to skip the paci, even though you lead them to the decision. Sounds sort of idealistic, I guess, but there what harm is there in trying?

  2. What color grannies pls? ;)

  3. Despite my daily offerings until he was 8 months old, my child would never take a pacifier (though he'll probably be breastfeeding until he's 10, but that's another topic) so all of the following suggestions come with the disclaimer that I have no idea what the f I'm talking about.

    Nevertheless, I'll throw these out there:
    1. A good friend successfully weaned 2 children (each at the age of 3) from their pacifiers by gradually (and secretly) cutting the tips off of them... taking a barely noticeable snip every few days until eventually all they had left was the handle, at which point they decided they weren't interested.

    2. (from a book on weaning from nursing) Make a book all about the 3 year old and her sucker using pictures of her growing up. The first pages show her as a baby ("We were so happy when Screamer arrived! She was so cute and cuddly and loved her sucker"), sleeping with it ("The sucker helped Screamer relax and fall asleep and have wonderful dreams"), etc. Follow her progression growing up and doing different things ("The sucker came along on car rides and even long plane rides") and include corresponding pictures. The final pages show the goal happening (no sucker) without ever saying "you don't need this anymore, you're too big, etc. So have pictures of her doing "big girl" activities sans sucker "Screamer isn't a baby anymore, she's 3! She loves to sing songs and jump rope" (clearly, I have no idea what 3 year olds actually do). Include a picture of her sleeping without the suckers (if you can capture one) if that's the time she's most attached to them "Screamer can fall asleep all on her own after hugging Mommy and Daddy goodnight. She sleeps well with her stuffed animals, blah blah blah" get the idea. So then you're supposed to read the book with her frequently (again, without ever telling her she can't have the sucker) and *in theory* the child decides to fulfill the prophecy of the book and become the big girl who does everything without a sucker. This may be complete crap, but someone thought it worthy of publishing, so I thought I'd throw it out there.

    You have the additional challenge of having two sucker users in the same house. While the 20 month old seems too teeny and innocent to even fathom taking away her suckers, it also seems extra cruel to deprive the 3 year old while her sister sucks happily away right in front of her (then again, she's bigger and things aren't always equal or fair - yay, more life lessons!). So a 2-for-1 sucker boot camp might be your best solution. My final non-expert idea is that, whenever you do decide to banish the suckers, to replace the contents of the sucker drawer with something cool (stickers, tiaras, etc) so that when they reach longingly for the drawer they'll discover a new (better!) surprise.

    Then again, maybe you don't need to do anything...after all, didn't you just teach us that "this too shall pass"?! Good luck with whatever you decide!

  4. This may not work for other children, but here goes....
    My sister read her 3 year old a story book which told a story of a boy giving his "suckers" to the birds (strange i know). After a few reads, they decided together it seemed like a good idea and he gave all of his to the birds as well. When I went over there and I asked him where they were - he just casually explained what he had done with them.
    My sister said he never asked for them after that even though he had used them to sleep and everything.........

  5. Ugh. Well, this isn't what you want to hear, but I wish someone had at least added this to the things I was considering when I was considering taking my son's paci away....

    We did the paci fairy thing, with months and months of build up and prep and anticipation (she comes on your third birthday, you know). The process went quite well, if by "the process" I mean the part where we designed a big envelope and put the pacis in it and addressed it and sent it off to the paci fairy. That part was fun and creative. Ok, he was not that into it, but understood that he didn't have much choice, so he pretended he was excited and proud.

    That was November 3rd. Everything after that was and has been a complete disaster. We haven't slept through the night since, and we haven't gone to sleep on time or without a fight since. Naps are done, kaput, over. I feel like an asshole every single day.

    Yes, he has finally stopped asking for it (or rather, he has stopped pitifully crying for hours on end: "Mommy! I don't know what to DOOOOO!!! I NEEEEEEED SOMETHING! Please HELP ME! I need something to put in my MOUTH!"). However, we're still not sleeping and if I had it all to do over, I would leave well enough alone and start the braces fund. I'm just sayin'.

  6. To Anonymous who feels like an *sshole every day:


    Thanks for the warning. I will *definitely* take this under advisement. :)

    p.s. I am so grateful for ALL these suggestions; thank you, moms!

  7. As a former non thumb sucking self soother I am now a child care provider who believes that, "binkies" "suckers" "dummies" and "pacis" are sent from G-d! I do however agree that seeing a 4 yr old walking around the supermarket with a "sucker" in his/her mouth is awful, even a 2/3 year old.
    My method would be that you start by limiting it to certain occasions, like the car and bed (which I think you already do!) Then take away the car one and replace with something (like the toy attached to the sucker but without the sucker, or a special “car” toy) Expect the fight but explain that suckers are only for bed now, big girls don’t need them in the car! Then, when that is successful, take them away at nap time, still letting her have them for bed time. As she nears 4, and becomes more reasonable, have her “give” one away each week till there are the two left with the toys attached. Have her “help” you cut the sucker free from one of them and “give” that one away but keep the toy and then when she is ready (or on her 4th birthday) cut the other one free because she is now a big girl!!!!
    I also like the poking holes idea, maybe merge the two!