When my baby is four months old he discovers sucking his thumb.
This thumbsucking has been weeks in the making. First he holds his hand in front of his face and stares and stares and stares at it.
A few weeks later he starts to bring his hand towards his mouth. His aim is not good at first. He pokes himself in the eye or misses his head and bops his ear.
One day he sticks his hand in front of his eyes, looks square at it, then BULLSEYE pops his thumb into his mouth. His eye roll back with pleasure. His fingers splay out like a trumpet player in music ecstasy. The pop slurp suck sound is very satisfying. He sucks and sucks and rolls his eyes and finger trumpets and sucks.
He quickly takes thumbsucking to a New Level. He sucks the thumb of one hand while using the other hand to push his thumb deeper into his mouth. He sucks fingers and thumbs, both thumbs, toes, a whole fist, both fists. He is in suck heaven.
I worry. I worry he is going to ruin his teeth. I worry he is never going to break the habit and will suck his thumb when he was 12. Most of all I worry that I am missing some crucial basic need and he is filling the void by sucking his thumb.
I have no knowledge on thumbsucking so I began to ask around.
I ask a dentist friend. She has never given a thought to thumbsucking and says they didn’t learn about it in school.
I asked the boomers in my circle. Doctors, engineers, teachers. They tell me I had created this problem by failing to give my kid a soother. They share stories of sucking their thumbs until they were nine, eleven, FOURTEEN.
I get the sense that their thumbsucking is a reflection of a bigger lack, of growing up in a culture of maternal replacements – cribs, formula, suburbs, alcoholism, soothers, the like. I do not tell them this. I do not give my kid a soother.
I read the medical literature. It tells me thumbsucking is normal. That’s what babies do. If you do it when you are twelve then part of you still thinks you are a baby and then you need help but before then you are a kid being a kid.
I do not believe this at all. It smells like that self-soothe horeseshit clueless people foist on parents. I roll my eyes into the back of my head alongside my thumbsucking baby. Who is raising these thumbsucking expert doctor’s thumbsucking kids, I wonder, having been raised by a child expert doctor’s nanny myself.
I watch my kid suck his thumb and roll his eyes into the back of his head with pleasure. The voice in my head tells my I could do better by him.
I bring him into my arms and offer my breast. He takes his thumb out of his mouth, holds my breast in both hands, glides my nipple into his mouth like a hungry whale and his rolls his eyes into the back of his head with pleasure. Huh, I think.
I offer my breast the next time he sucks his thumb. Same effect. Stops sucking, starts nursing. Eventually I am wearing him in a sling on my chest all day and nursing nursing nursing. A dozen times an hour. Morning noon and night. I scrub the tub wearing him and nursing.
Sometimes he slips his thumb into his mouth while breastfeeding. Double pleasure. I allow this because I no longer feel like I’m not doing enough.
After forty days and forty nights he drops his thumb. He seems to forget it was ever there.
Three months pass. Four. Five. He does not suck his thumb or even try. He grows big fat and happy.
I like to think I have met his need for food and closeness and this is why he stopped sucking his thumb. However… I can’t deny that around the same time he stopped sucking his thumb he discovered pulling on his penis. Who knows!