“We’re going to give it 6 more months, and if she can’t stop, we’ll talk about putting in a rake,” my dentist/friend said, at our last family appointment.
He was referring to JoJo, my pathological finger sucker. This child … ahhhh, this child. God bless her sweet soul, I have a picture of her sucking her fingers in my womb. And then a thousand pictures after that of her doing the same. The habit is rooted in her DNA. It’s just always been part of her, like her laugh or insanely thick hair.
My girls each have their quirks. Spike does this strange thing where she rubs her head back and forth when she’s tired or falling asleep. She told me once it makes her “feel silly and dizzy,” and she’s into that sort of thing. I remember the first time I saw her do it with her chunky little baby head. It totally freaked me out. I have another friend whose twin girls used to bang their heads against the side of their pack n’ play when they went to sleep. I imagine it’s a similar sensation? Kids are so weird.
Sloppy Joan’s thing is rubbing the yarn on her special blanket between her fingers. It’s not as ingrained in her, and obviously conditional upon her having the actual blanket with her, but it’s her habit just the same. Well, that and pooping like 20 times a day.
So, now we come to my dilemma. How to intervene.
In the case of the spit-soaked fingers, it’s a matter of dental despair. I had braces for like 20 years, so the odds weren’t in her favor to begin with, but given her tendencies to put those things in her mouth, those teeth really don’t stand a chance.
The hygienist was kind enough to pull up an image of the rake for JoJo to see. It’s your typical orthodontia gem; a mouth apparatus that looks like a torture device crafted in a dungeon at the turn of the century. We got in the car and she immediately started sobbing.
“What’s wrong, doll?” I asked, over the sound of the sniffles.
“I don’t want a rake!” she wailed.
“Honey, you have six months. You can do it.”
“No, I can’t! It’s too hard!”
“And I like sucking my fingers!”
“Babe, you have to stop.”
“JoJo, we’ve talked about this … It’s moving your teeth. Plus, you’re putting yucky germs in your mouth every day.”
“But it’s too hard and it’s going to hurt if they put it in,”
“Nah!” I comforted.
And every day since then, we’ve engaged in tense exchanges in which she repeatedly puts her fingers – the pointer and middle to be specific – in her mouth and I, running out of patience, remind her to remove them. This might come as a gentle, “Hey, JoJo, fingers,” or, if it’s been a long day, “Honey! Get your fingers out of your mouth! For the love!”
It’s frustrating. Parenting. And you can only do so much. Take this morning, for example. The girls were screwing around wrestling at the bus stop, which is at a busy corner in our neighborhood. I yelled and yelled, “Girls! Don’t do that so close to the road! Girls! Back up!” Nothing. Like I wasn’t even there. Then, Bus #53 pulled up, honking their horn like an ambulance in a traffic jam. It slowed and the door flew open, revealing a red-faced older gentleman behind the wheel. “Hey! You girls shouldn’t do that so close to the road. You could fall into the street and get run over by a car!” Then he drove off. I smiled and yelled from the porch, “Told ya!” I can only do so much.
Hank is, as usual, much more patient about the whole finger thing. He’s always the more patient one. But what is my role here as a mother? If I don’t stay on her, she’s left to her own willpower which is comparable to my own stoned at a donut factory. If I hound her, she gets frustrated with herself, and me, and ends up melting down. I just can’t do it! This is so hard! I hate this!
I have another friend whose son is obsessed with sugar and baked goods. He finds comfort in treats, and it drives her nuts. But this boy, as I explained to her, is everyone’s spirit animal. He fears that the good treats won’t be available if he waits. Something inside him is screaming for that treat, that instant. Like the ocean called to Moana, sugar calls to him, and I get that. That speaks to me. But, as his mother, my friend questions when and how to intervene. I get that, too.
JoJo is hard on herself as it is. And my nudges to quit doing what she’s doing on a 10-minute rotation are not helping. She has a special glove that my mom found online, and when she wears that, she can keep the habit at bay. So, our discussions often turn to her neglect of the glove. Why aren’t you wearing it all the time? Do you want the rake? You have to make up your mind to really try.
But then I really back the train up, and ask myself if an 8 year old is even capable of making a conscious decision to commit to that kind of change. I mean if I can’t toss out a dozen cookies at 34, what would lead me to believe my little girl could halt such a compulsive tendency? And if she is capable of making that choice, how do I encourage her in a healthy way? When I decided to have kids, I was prepared for nose picking and hitting. Biting, sure. Tantrums, absolutely. But no one tells you they’re going to come out sucking fingers and rubbing their heads until a giant bird’s nest forms on the back of their scalp.
Sometimes I can discreetly reach over and touch her leg when I see her going for it, but other times, I find myself completely losing my shit … like when she does it right after walking out of a public bathroom or playing in the campground sandbox. It’s nasty.
I don’t want kids to make fun of her, either. I mean, let’s face it, there are totally normal kids out there getting hammered at the lunch table every day. A second grader who sucks her fingers is as easy a target as the kid who toots during ciphering.
So, there’s my stuff. That’s my battle. What kind of weird shit do your kids do? Do they lick rocks? Hide in chimneys? Pull the wings off of flies? Let’s hear it. And how do you help them? I’ve brought bribery, nasty nail polish and the glove to the table, but I’m at a loss beyond that. The whole thing just really … sucks.