Sucker

The soose saga began shortly after Rowan’s birth, when it became clear that he was what the textbooks referred to as “a sucky baby.” In layperson’s terms, this meant that he liked to suck. A. Lot. And that he was kind of cranky when he couldn’t.

“Just give him a soother,” my father — who had arrived to help out for two weeks — kept saying. I’m sure he thought we were insane. Because we were. (This is the same man who recently put an end to end to our dithering about whether to let Rowan watch cartoons in the middle of the family visit by saying, rightly, “Just turn on the television! He’s sucking all your energy!”)

But we didn’t give Rowan a soother. We were anti-soother at the time, for reasons involving the “unnaturalness” of an infant sucking on a piece of plastic rather than a human nipple (or, in a pinch, a finger) and some cockamamie idea that a pacifier might interfere with his ability to express himself or explore the world orally. What amazes me now is not the relative merits of these arguments but rather that we actually had the time and energy — not to mention the desire — to form them in the first place.

So, instead, when he wasn’t nursing, Rowan spent countless hours in those first few weeks sucking on our fingers. At night, he would lie between us, bright-eyed and wide awake, and we’d take turns letting him suck voraciously on our various digits. This isn’t as easy as it might sound. It involved holding hands and arms aloft at strange angles for extended periods of time, which hurt after a few minutes. “Your turn,” I would say to Rachel, easing my index finger out of Rowan’s mouth and rubbing my shoulder or shaking my arm in order to ease the pins and needles.

Given that we already weren’t getting any sleep, this didn’t seem sustainable. And yet, we couldn’t quite admit it. Plus, we had taken a stance against my father’s parenting advice, and so we were committed. But I was quietly plotting. Pretty much the moment my father left for the airport, I offered Rowan a pacifier. He took it immediately and loved it. And we were all happy.

That is, until, it became clear that Rowan had become absolutely addicted to the soother. He couldn’t sleep without it, and yet lacked the skill to replace it when it fell out of his mouth during the night. Which meant that Rachel or I needed to replace it for him during the night — sometimes as often as every 45 minutes. Somewhere around five months, the situation deteriorated to the point where we slept in shifts, one of us in our bed, and one of us in Rowan’s room, where — when he wasn’t nursing — we lay next to him in the guest bed, holding the pacifier in his mouth while he settled and slept.

In short, the “passy” had become what for Rowan sleep experts referred to as a “negative sleep association”: he assumed he needed it to fall asleep. And, they all said, if we ever wanted our son to sleep through the night, we’d have to break that association. We opted for a “no-cry” method of weaning him off his addiction: getting rid of the ubiquitous soother during the day and then, at night, faithfully easing the pacifier from his mouth as he fell asleep so that he would learn to conk out without it. Although the book promised improvement within a few days to a week, Rowan did not improve. Finally, after much negotiation and heartbreak too tedious to detail here, we opted for the “cry” method of weaning him off his addiction. Which meant putting him down for the night without his pacifier and letting him cry himself to sleep until he learned how to sleep without it. This was much more effective, if gutwrenching.

And so we muddled along, moving from the insanity-inducing realm of no sleep at all to the merely exhausting and cranky-making realm of getting up once or twice a night to the bliss of sleeping through until morning. Somewhere along the way, though, we (okay, Rachel) gave the soother back. In spades. Rowan, who by now had the manual dexterity to pop the pacifier into his own mouth, ended up sleeping with five or six of the things scattered in the crib, one always at hand in case of emergency. In the mornings, we’d go in and pick up stray pacifiers from the floor and between the crib and the wall.

Oh, and he developed an equally passionate attachment to his security blanket.

Things continued pretty much along these lines for a couple of years. “Soose and blankie” — always together, like chocolate and peanut butter, Scotch and soda — became fixtures of Rowan’s sleep. They also provided us with leverage (“Come upstairs for soose and blankie!” “You can have soose and blankie after you eat lunch!”) and a good source of comfort for boo-boos and scary situations. Every few months, we’d shell out $8.95 for a new package of two to replace the lost and the worn-out pacifiers, all the while telling ourselves that one day (but not today) they would have to go.

Eventually, the inevitable happened: much to the grief of toddlers and preschoolers across North America, Playtex stopped making Rowan’s brand of choice. I picked up a package of the closest reasonable facsimile thereof, and offered one to my son. He spat it out like some kind of wine connoisseur: “That’s not a real soose,” he said disdainfully. “That’s a baby soose. Give me my soose.” And I did.

Eventually, we were down to just one “real” soose. And it was getting kind of grotty. That, coupled with the fact that his dentist reported that Rowan’s jaw was slowly moulding to the shape of the plastic nipple convinced us. And so, one night, a couple of weeks ago, I cut the tip off the nipple with scissors. There would be no going back. The idea was to cut back the soose a bit more each night until it was gone.

Rowan took one suck and spat it out.

“My soose is broken,” he keened, over and over, covering his eyes and rocking back and forth like a professional Greek mourner. “My soose is broken. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy is my soose broken?”

I explained that that was what happened: that as little boys got bigger and bigger, sooses got smaller and smaller, that they broke and went away.

He didn’t seem to find my explanation particularly comforting, but he didn’t flip out, either. Bedtime proceeded fairly normally, punctuated by the occasional moan of “My soose is broken.” And then he fell asleep.

He slept with the soose under his pillow for a few nights after that. And then Rachel threw it in the garbage. And that was that. It’s the end of an era.

Isaac — God bless him — has never been interested in pacifiers. Instead, he cuddles up with a blanket and sticks his thumb in his mouth and goes to sleep. And, twelve years from now, when we have to shell out for the orthodontic work to repair the damage that thumbsucking has wrought, I will do so happily. Remind me of that.