Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Virtues of Thumbsucking

When she’s feeling sleepy, she pops her thumb in her mouth and closes her eyes. Sometimes I find her alseep, her thumb still extended but having slipped out of her mouth, looking very much like she’s hitch hiked her way into a dream.

After we’ve had a fight, she wants to cuddle up—not with me—but with Snakey-pie, one hand stroking his flaming velour, the other up to her mouth.

When she’s scared…say, a cow appears on the horizon…her thumb retreats to the safety of her mouth.

Sucking her thumb brings Sophie comfort. It helps her transition into sleep. It calms her down in the absence of the self control that she has yet to develop.

I made a conscious thumb-over-binky choice during Sophie’s early days of existence. Though binky-use has been correlated lower rates of SIDS, I favored the thumb because it was 1) always available (i.e., I wouldn’t have to wake in the middle of the night to retrieve a thumb from the corner of the crib), 2) free, 3) doesn’t impact speech clarity, 4) is an early strategy for self soothing that the child can regulate him/herself…a parent pops in a binky, but a baby determines when he/she wants to suck his/her thumb, 5) though a thumb can get dirty, it won’t fall on the floor in a public bathroom and pick up god-knows-what.

Three years later, I realize that thumb sucking may soon begin to affect the shape of her mouth, the price of continuing resulting in thousands of dollars worth of orthodontia. At Sophie’s first appointment with the dentist, I asked how much time I had. She said Sophia should really stop by three or four (I heard four)…and even now, it should be restricted to bedtime. My heart sank…how do I take it away? Or, even greater a challenge, how do I replace it?

I, personally, was not a thumb sucker. Nor did I have a binky. But I did share Sophie’s predilection for soft things. I would hold a silky smooth fabric to my mouth and rub it gently, back and forth, across my lips. My parents called me, “Blankey Sucker Movie Star,” but it was a bit of a misnomer as I was not a movie start and did not actually suck the blankey. Nevertheless, my underbite required years and years of pricey orthodontia—chin cups, head gear, braces, retainers, positioners. You name it, I wore it. All this is to say, there are no guarantees in life.

I maintained my habit until I turned 12, when Hankey Blankey mysteriously disappeared. I had a strong feeling that my parents had a ritual blanket-burning ceremony one night after I went to sleep. And though--to this day--they vehemently deny having done any such thing, I don’t think they believed throwing it out would have sufficed. I was too far gone. Had they simply thrown it out, I would have found it. They had to reduce it to ashes; eliminate it from existence. Make sure that there was no chance I would relapse.

There are still times when I wish I had my security blanket. Well into adulthood, I have privately lifted poor substitutes to my lips, hoping to feel that same sense of well-being and comfort. But it isn’t the same. Sometimes, I can fill the hole with other things…focusing my attention on those I love and by whom I am loved…but other times I just feel empty and raw.

I believe we need to treasure the things that bring us comfort. I watch so many people…children and adults…struggle to self sooth. Without a method, we worry, obsess, become enraged, get depressed, can’t sleep, drink, take drugs. Sophie has a practice guaranteed to mellow even the foulest of moods, send her into the sweetest of slumbers. I can’t help but wonder: if we all had some thumb sucking equivalent…would we be happier, better rested, calmer human beings?

Following this line of thinking, what right do I have, really, to make her stop?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First of all I would like to say I did not throw out, burn or eliminate Hankey Blankey. YOU lost it! In fact, the original blanket was Munamana. One day I was at Barbara Schwarz's house and I noticed she was putting Corey to bed with Munamana's twin. I said, "I need that blanket!" and quickly pulled it off of his sleeping body (replacing it with a coarser blanket). I knew at some point in time something would happen to Muhnamana and I would need a stand in. This was Hankey Blankey. When you saw how clean and neat and well put-together Hankey Blankey was, you quickly changed loyalties. Muhnamana feel by the wayside and I wrapped him and gave him to you as "something old" at your wedding. As you can see, I went to great lengths to get you this blanket. Why would I burn it. After all, I sucked my thumb until I was 16. Let Sophie suck her thumb as long as she likes. Signed, Your Mother