My baby, aged nine years old last May, got a somewhat barbaric wire put in his mouth last week to prevent him from sucking his thumb, which he did for many, many hours a day.
Mom, it just feels so good, he said to me, over and over when I'd remind him to stop. He began sucking his thumb when he was literally a day old, and he never stopped. Because he's the baby and on the high-strung side, as compared to his older brother who threw out his pacifier at age three and never looked back, I've overlooked the thumb-sucking, clinging to the belief that surely he'd stop. How many adults do you see sucking their thumbs? I asked The Husband when he protested, sometimes in too strong of a fashion. I've also got a daughter, now fifteen, who is severely disabled. Her problems so completely dwarf my son's thumb-sucking that I admit to utter thumb-sucking monitoring neglect.
Frankly, I didn't have time to care.
When his Chiclet front teeth fell out a few years ago and the two big chompers grew in, I did realize that there was going to be some orthodontic trouble. And I watched, over the last two years or so as those front teeth became more and more pushed out -- or BUCK, as we called it, back in the day. I was no stranger to buck teeth, although mine weren't from thumb-sucking but unfortunate all the same. I restrained myself from nagging about the thumb-sucking but every now and then I confess to laying on a bit of guilt in the form of (big sigh) we're going to have to pay a lot of money to get braces on those teeth if you don't stop sucking your thumb.
But like he told me, it just felt so good and who was I to prod my son out of his extended oral stage?
The dark day finally came, though, when enough was enough and we went to his first orthodontist appointment. Happily, Dr. M felt like Oliver's teeth looked pretty good, other than the front teeth protrusion, and he suggested a simple device that would make thumb-sucking, if not impossible, not comfortable. We returned for several appointments that ranged from the traumatic (fitting molds) to the glory of having a metal apparatus that looks distinctly medieval soldered into Oliver's mouth. On the way to the final fitting, Oliver very nervously wondered what his life would be like without the ability to suck his thumb.
How will I lie on the floor and pet Valentine? he asked, referring to his habit of lying on the floor, his head on our dog's stomach, his thumb lodged in his mouth.
It'll be all right, I replied. You'll figure out something else to do with your hands. (Yes, I said that and immediately choked -- fortunately, Oliver didn't think anything untoward and continued to look very nervous).
With The Wire, Oliver's speech has changed a bit and Dr. M informed us that the new lisp would go away as he got used to moving his tongue differently. He also warned me that the first week might be particularly difficult. The first week, though, was relatively fine. Oliver, I think, got a kick out of the newness of the contraption in his mouth and even asked me to take a picture of it.
About a week later, though, the hugeness of it all appeared to sink in, and I went into his bedroom one night to find him shaking with sobs over his inability to suck his thumb. Why, he asked me, why can't I do something that makes me feel so good? Why did I have to stop sucking my thumb? I don't even need my blanky now that I can't suck my thumb. His pillow was literally wet with tears, and I sat by him, teary myself, rubbing his back.
I didn't have any answers and just nodded my head, affirmatively, telling him that everything would be all right. It would be all right. In fact, I felt terrible and didn't really have an answer to what, for both of us, were almost existential questions.
Elizabeth posts regularly over at her personal blog, a moon, worn as if it had been a shell.