Ever since she was a babe, our second daughter has been a thumb thucker.
But not just any thumb, mind. It had to be her left thumb—the right one didn't taste right (or something).
And she couldn’t just pop her thumb in her mouth and suck away, oh no. She had to hold a corner of her spit rag (so named because she was a huge spitter-upper—the rags were always on hand when she was little, and then when she got bigger she refused to relinquish them) in order to suck her thumb.
If she couldn't find the allocated spit rag, she'd make do with a corner of the diaper she was currently wearing.
Seeing as this particular child is rather high-strung, the fact that she could self sooth was a huge gift. She’d be walloping about in her carseat, screaming about Something Or Other, and all I’d have to do was chuck her spit rag at her and bark SUCK YOUR THUMB and she’d shut right up. Or if she already had her spit rag, then simply threatening to take it from her was enough to make her snap out of it (sometimes). The value of an old diaper must never be underestimated.
The saving grace of this whole thumb-sucking addiction was that she couldn’t suck her thumb without her rag. Take away the rag (which she called her Spic Rag—we hoped no one would overhear her and think we were racist) and the thumb stayed out of the mouth. This made for easy public thumb-sucking weaning. For a year or two now the rag has been stored on the shelf, getting pulled into service only during rest times, nighttimes, and bad days (and anytime she can sneak it without me knowing).
But now that she’s seven and her first baby tooth is on its wobbly way out, John and I have decided it’s time to break the thumb-sucking habit once and for all. This means we had to get her to give up her precious spit rag.
So we had a burning ceremony. We doused the stinky thing with gasoline and torched it while sitting around the fire pit and singing Rock-a-bye Baby and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Just kidding. (Please tell me you didn’t fall for that?)
What we did do was, over the course of several weeks, talk to her about why we wanted her to give up the thumb. We explained. We reasoned. We stayed slightly removed, informative, matter-of-fact. After laying the groundwork, I presented the plan. “Here’s what we’ll do,” I said. “If you go three rest times and three nights without your spit rag, then we’ll take you out for an ice cream cone.” I even made a little chart to illustrate.
At first she was kind of excited. “Can I have two kinds of ice cream?” "Can I go to Mr. J’s Bagels and Dairy Queen and get a toy?”
Then she got slightly anxious.“Can I check off the box before I go to bed?” Can I skip rest time? Because then I won’t miss my spit rag.”
And then she got frantic. “Three nights is too long! You should make it less!”
But we stayed firm.
The first night was the hardest. We could hear her crying quietly, so I went upstairs and climbed into her be-curtained bed (a birthday present from her Papa) and wrapped my arms around her.
“I can’t sleep,” she sobbed. “Can’t we just do rest times and let me have it at night?”
A little piece of my heart chipped off, but I said no.
“You are being incredibly brave,” I gushed. “This is so hard for you, I know. Do you think you could hold one of your dolls instead? Which one is your favorite?”
She rummaged through the menagerie of stuffed and plastic bodies littering her bed and dug out the red sweatshirted brown teddy her sister had given her as a birthday present.
“Aw, isn’t he sweet,” I chirped. “Hug him tight. And look! His feet feel funny. Squeeze them while you go to sleep and think of ice cream cones. Think of all the different flavors. What kind do you think you’ll chose?”
I rubbed her back for a little, and then I went downstairs. We had just a few minutes reprieve before the whimpering started up again—John went upstairs that time. And when she woke up during the night, he was the one to go over and sleep in her bed.
But in the morning there were sleepy proud smiles, hugs and high-fives, and one little box got x-ed off.
Last night John laid beside her till she fell asleep, and when she came downstairs this morning (she was still holding her teddy bear), she announced that the second night was much better.
Thank goodness, because I don’t know how much more heartbreak I can stand.
This same time, years previous: smoky fried chickpeas, brandied-bacony roast chicken