A Tale of Two Thumbs

I have known since I saw the ultrasound where her thumb was already firmly in her mouth, that this day would come eventually. I just didn’t know how long after it would be. Seven years, eleven months and one day after the birth of my sweet girl, I am wondering how to help a kid kick a vice that is permanently attached to her hands.

M. decided that she was ready to stop sucking her thumbs last summer. The problem is doubled because she is an ambidextrous user. That’s right; if I pop one out while she’s asleep and hold it, the other is just as comfortable popping back in. As a card carrying member of the thumb sucking recovery union, I happily doubly invested in several internet products to help us in our journey.

Thumb guards made of a satiny material seemed promising and the children in the advertisement seemed thrilled with them. However, I suspiciously noticed that the”thumb-suckers” lacked the tell tale overbite and buck teeth so I feel as if they may have been wearing the guards just for show. It didn’t matter; she just sucked her thumb over the satin fabric and now we have created an new addiction to satin sheets, which are hard to find in a twin size.

Next, I ordered adorable Anna and Elsa thumb puppets from Etsy, knowing that she wouldn’t want to knowingly decapitate the Frozen girls. Alas, they fell off in the night and I’m pretty sure that my dog ate Elsa because she’s never been seen again and the dog comes running anytime anyone uses the ice maker.

Mr. Thumbkin was the invention that my dentist created for my one thumb habit. Made of white medical tape and popsicle sticks, Mr. Thumbkin was a splint that slipped over my thumb with a face drawn on it in marker. “Put Mr. Thumbkin in your mouth and he will die,” is how I remember it being communicated, but I might have exaggerated the situation in my memory. It did work for me, and I received the coveted Rainbow Brite doll as my reward after two long weeks. I tried to remake Mr. Thumbkin, texting my mom and dad photos to see if I was close to the real deal (they ironically gave me a “thumbs up”). We tried it out, but with little success. I failed to mention earlier that M. is the kid that can only wear pants with no buttons and shirts that are loose enough that she can fully flap both arms up and down in full pterodactyl imitation. Her socks and underwear come from a British clothing company that caters to little dukes and duchesses and costs more than mine, but at least they’re not “itchy”. Needless to say, Little Miss Sensory did not enjoy the sweaty environment that white medical tape and popsicle sticks creates on the skin.

Resourceful genius that I am, I finally created a winner made of thumb splits from Rite Aide and one size fits all gloves from the dollar store with the fingers cut off. The splints, made of metal but with padding on the inside for people with actual broken or sprained digits, have a velcro strap that wraps around to keep them on. This, we found on night one, can be easily undone in one’s sleep, so on night two I unceremoniously chopped the fingers off of two gloves and slipped the thumb over the thumb guard on each hand. She looked like a mini Madonna with the thumbs from a cartoon character blown up like balloons, but it seemed to work and we were over the moon.

Night three though, things got dicey. The thumb guard idea lost it’s aesthetic appeal. No longer a magical solution, it was a forced torture device made up to stifle and anger her purposefully. I told her that her grandmother suggested straight-arming her in splints and I was the good guy in this debate, but it didn’t make me any more the hero. She continued on in forced perseverance, crying and rolling around in her tiny satin sheets with her British underwear moaning about the unfairness of life and why did we not force her brother to suck his thumb so that he would be the one who was having to quit now. It was like talking to a chain smoking monkey; there is no logic strong enough.

Three hours later, we read aloud the most boring books I could find, played the “zen chimes” music on the ipad, sang all of the lullabies that I could remember and even a few limericks with changed lyrics. I held her in a soothing way, rubbed her back and played with her hair. I told her stories and we talked about the new Lego set she wants when the thumbs become simply the reason she is able to open doors and grip silverware and not her comfort source. Finally, around 11:00pm, I told her to just shove her blanky in her mouth and suck on it until she passed out. She rolled her eyes, shoved her hands under her pillow and finally fell asleep out of annoyance.

Thumbsucking provided a comfort for her that I remember having myself, and can’t replace for her. It was my calm when the world was chaos. It was what I did while I wondered whether the witches would come out from under the bed to eat me. It was what I did while I watched Dallas with my parents and didn’t understand who shot J. R. It was what I did while I tried to solve the Babysitter’s Club mysteries before the last chapter. There is no replacement acceptable for a seven year old except to face the big scary world without the safety of a thumb. The daytime hours seem to be easily filled with chewing gum and DIY art projects that are taking over the house, but at night she becomes the inconsolable thumbless child, destined to wander the halls alone with no one who understands her pain. I’m considering a step down plan, like with smoking. You stop cigarettes and use the nicotine gum. You cut down on the gum and use the nicotine patch. You eventually start simultaneously chewing the gum and the patch, but in smaller amounts. You get the idea. Maybe what she needs is realistic options for a replacement behavior. Step down to a pacifier, then to the chewable jewels that all of the hip moms wear for their little vampires to teethe on, then to those rubber bracelets that we wore in the 80’s. By then she should be in her mid 20’s, and she can just start smoking. At least she won’t be sucking her thumb anymore.