My son’s blue blankie has been tucked into the center console of my minivan for the past four days. I use the word “blankie” very loosely because “ratty, hole-filled rag” is a bit more accurate.
For nearly 10 years, my son slept with this blankie every night. Every single night. It has been an extension of him and, therefore, an extension of the family.
The lengths to which we have gone to for Blankie (it is a proper name, after all) border on insanity. We have driven 40 minutes out of our way to retrieve a forgotten Blankie. I’ve asked more times than I can count, “Do you have your blankie?” before leaving the house, only to double- and triple-check myself. I have spent hours searching for a lost blankie — in the freezer, fridge, under beds, in bathtubs, under sinks, and in the garbage. (Yes, the garbage.)
For nearly 10 years, Blankie has been my son’s faithful companion. Whenever he’s tired or sad or upset — or whenever he just needs to chill out, as we all do from time to time — he grabs a corner and rubs it against his nose while he sucks his thumb. Snugs, he calls it, this simultaneous thumb-sucking and blankie-caressing method of self-soothing he has adopted.
There have been times when I’ve wondered whether he would ever outgrow Blankie and whether he might ever stop sucking his thumb. Just like I wondered, when he was a newborn, whether he would ever sleep through the night. And when he was 3, whether he would ever be potty-trained. And when he was a kindergartener, whether he would ever learn to read. They say that a child won’t go to college in diapers, with his blankie and sucking his thumb, but I have to admit, there have been times when I’ve wondered about the blankie and thumb-sucking part.
Some might say my son is too old for a blankie, or that we should have put an end to the thumb-sucking years ago, to which we have all said in our own way, back off.
A couple years ago, I took my son to see an orthodontist. He had lost a few teeth sooner than necessary, and his dentist recommended a consult. One of the first things I told the orthodontist was that my then 8-year-old son was a thumb-sucker and this wouldn’t change. I didn’t tell the doctor I wanted it to change, or that I was worried about it; only that the thumb-sucking was not going to stop anytime soon.
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” he said.
As my son sat in the chair, the orthodontist asked him a bunch of questions about school, sports, and his thumb-sucking. “What would your friends say if they knew you sucked your thumb?” the man asked, in some thinly veiled attempt to shame my son.
“They wouldn’t say anything…because they’re my friends,” my son responded, emphatically and confidently.
Needless to say, we immediately found a new orthodontist, one who not only didn’t shame my son but reminded me that my son would stop sucking this thumb when he was ready; in the meantime, it was nothing to be concerned about.
And so, for 10 years, my son has taken “snugs” with his blankie while he sucks his thumb. Is he on the older side of his behavior? Perhaps. Could we have taken Blankie away, or used some kind of special send-off like many parents do with pacifiers? Of course. Could we have put gloves on his hands while he slept at night and gently removed his thumb from his mouth during the day? Definitely. Could we have “forced” him to stop sleeping with Blankie and sucking his thumb sooner? Probably.
But why? For what? And to what end? So that he stopped doing something that gave him comfort? So that he rushed into this adult world where we are shamed for our odd little habits and funny idiosyncrasies? So that we could rush to end his innocent — and perhaps to some people, “embarrassing” — habit because of some arbitrary timeline for appropriate childhood behaviors?
Kids are not robots. They are not lemmings. And they shouldn’t be rushed. They are unique and independent tiny people who have their own thoughts and feelings and progress through life on their own timeline.
As much as it might feel like our newborn will never sleep through the night, like our 3-year-old will never be potty-trained, and our kindergartener will never learn how to read, eventually they do all of those things. Children eventually figure out how to sleep through the night and poop on the toilet and read chapter books in their own sweet time, in their own sweet way.
Eventually, they grow up.
And one day your nearly 10-year-old son will stop sucking his thumb (most of the time anyway) and you realize that his blankie has been sitting in the car, forgotten, for the past four days without notice. And, I assure you, your heart weeps, just a little, for the childhood that once was.