Thumbs up for thumbs out

His preschool classmates know him as a mild-mannered boy. They would describe our Big Man as a happy, friendly kid. They would be shocked to discover he has a demon.

Big Man’s demon descends upon him when he is tired or worried, when the stresses of a four-year-old assail him. His demon presents itself through the opposable digit on his left hand. Big Man has an addiction. It resides in his thumb, which he can’t keep out of his mouth in time of stress.

As an infant, Big Man used the combination of thumb-sucking and hair-twirling to earn renown as our best self-soother. To this day, he recovers quickest from upset and is far less likely than his older brothers to become a career criminal out of pure stubbornness or chronic opposition to authority.

We haven’t made concerted attempts to end the thumb-sucking before because we wanted to let him work it out by himself. Besides, he looks so relaxed and contented with his thumb in his mouth, I’m tempted to take up the habit myself. I always carry a couple thumbs with me; if I could turn just one of them into an instant Chill Pill, the work day would pass much more pleasantly.

But thumb-sucking is not a good look for Kindergarten, which is only a handful of months away. Kids can be cruel about perceived babyish habits. Even though his brothers have burned the midnight oil attempting to harden him to the mockery cast at the thumb-sucker, it’s getting time for an intervention.

Yes, it’s a tasty treat, but it’s also very useful for making gestures.

Mommy offered him a reward if he didn’t suck his thumb for a whole day. He was more than equal to the task through the daylight hours. Even his hawking brothers couldn’t catch him with his thumb in his mouth.

Everything difficult to endure is more difficult to endure at night. You know this if you’ve ever listened to the Blues or endured something difficult past sundown. At bedtime, Big Man asked me, “Did Mommy say I couldn’t have my thumb at going-to-sleep time?”

Mommy was out, and I didn’t know the details of their contract, but I’m always wary of backsliding. “I think she doesn’t want you to use your thumb at all,” I told him.

His eyes fell. Tears came. Going to sleep without that calming thumb was the ultimate challenge. “I don’t know how to do it!” he cried.

I hugged him and gave him encouragement. “Put your hands under your pillow,” I advised. He got angry. “I told you I don’t know how to do it!”

He went through all the stages of grief and a good many symptoms of withdrawal before I got him quiet in the bed.

He woke up his old, happy self in the morning. I don’t know if he had to take a quick dose of thumb to fall asleep. It didn’t matter. His bedtime tears told us he was giving it his best shot, and that’s all we needed to know.


20 comments on “Thumbs up for thumbs out

  1. floatinggold says:

    Put some chili powder on his thumb.

  2. Gibber says:

    Awe a tough comfort to lose. You know it’s hard typing without my thumb..
    I hope he discovers how strong he is and is able to cope without it sooner than later.

  3. thegsandwich says:

    My daughter sucked her fist until she was about 6. We used to say stop fisting. Yea, good times. I finally asked our orthodontist to speak to her about it. She accomplished more in three seconds than I could in 6 years.

  4. Just Joan says:

    Good job, Big Man! It is hard to get to sleep without our rituals… I have to wad up my pillow just right. Girl dog has to turn around three times. Boy dog has to lick his privates for 20 minutes. Lucky cat can sleep anytime, anywhere, no self-soothing necessary. He’s got time; kindergarten is still 5 months away. 🙂

  5. Susan says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter here. I stopped using my thumb when I started kindergarten in the good ol’ days (the late 60’s, when we only had to go half-days and we had activities, music, recess, field trips and daily nap times — a stress-free experience). That was so long ago I don’t remember if anyone made fun of me or I just noticed that no one else was doing it; either way, it was enough to help me stop. He’ll stop at the appropriate time for him, I’m certain.

    • Don’t get me started on how we’ve turned kindergarten into a rat race, although as a working parent, I do appreciate the full day of school. I think Big Man has done so well on this effort because in his own mind he knows it’s time.

  6. Saniyyah Eman says:

    Had to get weaned off (is that the correct phrase) of sucking my finger. Managed to do it over the course of a month and a half. My best wishes and sympathies to Big Man.

  7. AmyRose🌹 says:

    awwwwwww …… That’s a tough one to overcome, Big Man! My little sister used to suck her thumb while holding the tail of a French poodle dog toy. That toy got so beat up and OH how she made a fuss when our Mom washed it. Today I can tell you she is a full grown woman and to my knowledge does not suck her thumb. So, if she can do it, you can too!! I’m cheering for you!!! Goooooooooo, Big Man! 🤗🤗🤗🌟🌟🌟🌈🌈🌈

  8. Jan Whitaker says:

    Poor little guy. I would hate to see him get teased in school.

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