By Gregory Keer
If we didn't have a pacie, he would often freak out, having become addicted to it as if it were toddler Valium.
Weeks into the torment that middle-of-the-night crying causes parents of newborns, my wife and I prayed that our baby, Jacob, would find his thumb to soothe him. Night after night, we lay in bed, deciding if we should feed him, rock him, stick him out on the porch, or let him wail it out. Yet, if he could simply suck a finger or two, as his older brother Benjamin had as an infant, Jacob would cut down scores of painful wake-ups.
Alas, Jacob never did, though he tried. On several mornings in a row, we would fetch him from the crib and find scratch marks all around his mouth. The little bugger was making the effort - he just had bad aim.
So we gave in to stuffing a pacifier in his mouth and, after his suck grew strong enough to keep the thing in place, we were granted more consistent shut-eye.
Oh, what consequences we suffered for giving in to our shallow lust for slumber. For the next several years, Jacob relied on the brightly colored soothers to sleep. However, he frequently misplaced his pacifier during the night, losing it under his blanket or dropping it out of the crib altogether (with parental bionic hearing, we winced upon hearing the plastic smack the wood floor). Whenever this happened, he'd shout for us to find it or, when he switched to a big-boy bed, run into our room to get a replacement from the stash we kept in a night table.
Nighttime "pacie" sucking wasn't enough for Jacob. He needed one for car rides, TV watching and trips to the movies. If we didn't have a pacie, he would often freak out, having become addicted to it as if it were toddler Valium.
After Jacob turned 3, we campaigned to abolish the pacie. We tempted him with rewards, offered a ceremonial burial of the little suckers and appealed to his maturity. But the pacifier played on … Until one shining night, just before his fifth birthday, when Jacob announced, "I don't need my pacie anymore."
Wendy and I looked at each other in disbelief. We hadn't discussed ending the habit with him in weeks. After watching other signs of Jacob's evolution since he began a new pre-kindergarten class, we tingled with the possibility that the binkie era was over.
Sure enough, Jacob survived the night. And the next night. While he slept on the third evening, Wendy created a certificate of completion from the "Pacie Fairy" and put it under his pillow along with a few dollars. Jacob arose the following morning with a huge grin. He really had quit the pacie - on his own terms - and he was beside himself with pride.
As much as we felt proud of Jacob, we experienced pangs over our baby's growing up. In his force of will to surrender the pacie, Jacob shunned his beloved blanket, stopped petting our hair during evening cuddles, and even eschewed his mattress, choosing to fall asleep on the floor. We told him he didn't need to chuck all of his soothers, but his resolve was firm.
And, for the first time, Jacob was an example for his older brother, who had done everything "first" before him. Benjamin (8) hadn't given up sucking his fingers to fall asleep, which, as the dentist explained, was preventing his front teeth from fully extending. Needing some orthodontic work done as well, Benjamin was fitted with a "palate expander," which had to be tightened each night to enlarge his mouth to accommodate future teeth. The metal contraption made finger sucking impossible.
Sad at the loss of a longtime comfort and struggling to relax at bedtime, Benjamin found a cheerleader in Jacob, who told him, "If I can do it, you can, too." This certainly helped my oldest boy, who can now fall asleep without those fingers in his mouth.
In this month of resolutions, during which I have my own challenges of giving up procrastination and late-night comfort foods, I am humbled by the determination of my sons. Along with the happiness they usually bring me, my boys have become inspirations as well.