Here are some topics I am more comfortable talking about than the fact that it has taken us five and a half years to get our kids to give up their binkies (pacifiers, nummies, what-have-you):
- What it feels like to sit in a room with 2,000 women listening to your wife talk about the time you masturbated into a cup.
- Why Life is Beautiful is one of the most cynical, pernicious, awful films ever made.
- How I had such terrible social anxiety and adolescent depression in 8th Grade that I skipped our class trip to (Historic) Williamsburg.
- Why I think people always tell me I look like I’ve lost weight, when in fact I’ve gained a little.
- How I didn’t really start smoking cigarettes until I was out of college and then took far too long to quit.
That last one brings me back to the reality, that after five and a half years of parentally sanctioned oral-fixation, we’ve thrown the kids into the detox chamber. I’m not just saying our kids are attached to their binkies — I am saying that the Wolvog is attached to the very same kind of binky that he first sucked on at the hospital when he was a 2-pound 14-ounce runt. You know the blue/green plastic things they give away in maternity wards by the handful? More than half a decade later, he was still sucking on one of those and the orthodontal carnage just became too great to ignore.
So both he and his sister are now on night #3 without their binkies.
So far. So good.
And I’m kind of amazed. Because at this point they’ve been sucking on binkies for about as long as I was a heavily addicted smoker. When I tried to kick that habit I had to change a hundred large and small things in my life, from abandoning my morning cup of coffee (which always went with a cigarette), to going out to fewer bars (back when you could smoke in bars), to finding out what to do with myself during the work-day to replace the seven-minute decompression sessions I used to afford myself with tasty smokey treats. I had rubber bands around my wrists, worry beads in my hands, lollipops, toothpicks, nicorette, mentos, sunflower seeds, compulsive exercising, eating and self-abuse. With all those changes, props and coping mechanisms, it still took me several tries to quit.
To kick the binky habit, we basically said to our kids, “Yeah, go to sleep at the same time, in the same way, exactly how you’ve been doing it, only not with the binky that makes you feels safe and provides a physical cue to your body to relax and go to sleep.” Didn’t even give them a nightcap. By all rights, we should have been walking into a buzz-saw.
At our gentle prodding, they gathered up their binkies in the morning, put them away in a drawer, and later that evening, marched like good soldiers off to bed. “It couldn’t be that easy,” we told ourselves. And it was oddly reassuring that first night, when things were going predictably awfully. Both were crying that they wanted their binkies back. That they couldn’t do it, they both moaned. The tears were real and the sobs gut wrenching. I was ready to sound a strategic retreat and reconsider our strategy (too firm? not firm enough?) when I decided I’d take one last, lame stab at getting through this first binky-less night. Dear reader, I bribed them.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out two one-dollar bills, one for her and one for him and said, “If you will be quiet, and not cry and not talk for fifteen minutes I will give each of you a dollar. In fifteen minutes, I will come back and check on you. If you are still awake I will give you another dollar to be quiet for an additional fifteen minutes. If you are still awake after that, we can talk about your binkies.”
Fuck me if it didn’t work. They stopped crying, calmed down and when I came back twenty minutes later (until they get a clock in their room, the time is what I say it is) they were both asleep. (Yes, my boy/girl twins share a room. That’s next on the list of potentially life-warping behaviors with which we’re slowly attempting to grapple. But in our defense: our house is very small and it’s not as Flowers in the Attic-ish as it might at first blush appear.)
Two dollars. That’s all it took. And a good thing too, because I was totally bluffing about giving them each another dollar for an extra quarter-hour of silence. I was in-fact, out of singles and not prepared to hand over a twenty dollar bill to two five-year-olds, no matter how much it might save me in potential orthodontist’s bills.
I don’t know that there’s a lesson in this about how our kids are more resilient and adaptable than we give them credit for. Although that is certainly true, the fact is that this whole thing could still melt down after I am done posting this. If luck serves, it will be probably happen around 3 am and then I won’t be able to get back to sleep and I’ll start jonesing for a cigarette.