The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


There is an episode of Elmo's World which I have seen too many mind numbing times to contemplate in which Elmo plays catch with a baby. He "throws" the ball to the baby by putting the ball in his mouth and then spitting it out with a "puh" sound. Julia loves this episode and is particularly captivated by this scene. Soon after she first saw it, she started echoing Elmo's "puh" every time she spit her pacifier out of her mouth. Pretty soon, "puh" became a verb around here -- "Julia, puh your paci so we can go downstairs" or "I'm coming, Mom... just let me puh."

Julia loves her paci with a passion. Her devotion to that small piece of plastic and latex has never wavered over the past nearly 3 years, and the look on her face when she pops it into her mouth is kind of like the look on a smoker's face when he lights the first cigarette of the day. The use of her paci has been limited to her bed for naps and nighttime since she was about a year old, and she follows that rule dutifully and without complaint. It is nonetheless her greatest joy, and most likely the key to her terrific sleep habits -- she'll interrupt any activity to go take a nap or go to bed for the night with nary a whimper of protest if you remind her that her paci is waiting for her in bed. We've always known that eventually we'd have to take it away and kind of had her third birthday in the back of our minds as the time to do it, but we frankly haven't been in any rush and would probably have come up with reasons to delay the decision indefinitely.

Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Julia volunteered to give it up. To be fair, she didn't so much volunteer as stubbornly refuse to take the bait when her father threatened to take it away. We had been sitting at the kitchen table staring at her dinner for 5 hours at that point and she had still not eaten a single bite. I had made her one of her favorite meals, and when she said she didn't want any, I had said that she didn't have to eat, but she did have to take one bite to try it. I thought that was a pretty reasonable request that would be easily complied with or I truthfully would never have suggested it -- I know better than to get into power plays with my 2 1/2 year old daughter. But for some random reason, she dug her heels in and refused and I was left with no choice but to dig my own heels in. In a scene frighteningly similar to my own childhood memory of 4 hours spent in a stare down with my father over 3 peas on my plate, I simply kept repeating "you don't have to eat it if you don't want. But you do need to try it." I lost the pea battle with my father 25 years ago because I saw him as an authority figure and eventually did as he said. Apparently, I hold no such authority over my own children, because as this night went on, it soon became clear that I was going to lose the chicken soup battle with Julia as well.

Finally, desperate to end the deadlock so we could all go get some sleep, my husband asked her if not taking a bite was important enough to her to give her paci up over. He really thought he was playing the ultimate trump card when he made the suggestion or again, he probably wouldn't have suggested it. But Julia saw his hand. She quickly agreed to the plan -- I think because she saw it as a way out without backing down -- and went right up to bed without complaint and without her paci. We were left vowing never, ever to get into another power play with our stubborn, strong willed daughter and at the same time wondering whether it had just been that easy to get rid of the paci.

Her stoicism that first night was amazing. Her jaw was set in the fixed way that always makes me flash forward 15 years and shudder to contemplate parenting her as a teen as she slid quietly under the covers and closed her eyes. We held our breaths and waited. She woke early the next day and was unable to put herself back to sleep without her paci, but seemed in fine spirits. That next afternoon, she played quietly in bed at nap time but never actually slept -- unusual for our 3-hour-a-day napper, but not completely unheard of. And the next night, despite some additional whining and tears, she once again fell off to sleep paci free without saying anything about what was missing. The stress was clearly starting to get to her -- the lack of sleep and inability to soothe herself with her favorite comfort item were beginning to take their toll and of course we all knew why. But she refused to say a word about it.

By the third day, Julia was a wreck. She hadn't napped at all and was losing several hours of sleep a night whimpering as she tried to settle herself down or soothe herself back to sleep without her paci. It was heartbreaking to listen to, made even worse by the fact that she still refused to say a word about her loss. I was beginning to envision a lifetime of repression for my poor, unhappy daughter and decided I had to help her find a way to express her unhappiness, so I finally told her a story about a dinosaur named Fred who had given up his paci and was very sad. The minute the words were out of my mouth, she started to cry. "I miss my paci," she wailed. I was relieved that she was finally talking about it, and we had a long conversation about how much she had loved her paci and about new ways that she could find to soothe herself. I suggested she make lists of the things that make her happy and think of them when she was trying to fall asleep, and we made long lists of those things together -- everything from ice cream to tickling her little brother to pigeons (these being what make Bert happy, and thus worth adding to her own list as well).

That night at bedtime, we made our happy list together again, but when I went to leave, Julia became inconsolable. Now that the floodgate was open, she couldn't stop crying. I held her until she fell asleep that night, and when she woke a few hours later sobbing as if her heart would break, my husband said to me "we're simply going to have to give that thing back." I had to agree, but 6 a.m. didn't seem the time. So I held her and told her I loved her until morning while I desperately tried to devise a plan.

At naptime that day, as I tucked Julia into bed, she asked me to help her make her list of happy thoughts. The first item on her list was her paci. At the end of the list, I took a deep breath and said "I have the feeling you're sorry that you said you didn't need your paci anymore, am I right?" She nodded sadly. "Well, then I have a question for you," I said. "I'm wondering why you haven't once said that, and I'm wondering why you haven't once asked to have it back." Her eyes welled up with tears and she shook her head. "It's a hard question, isn't it?" I asked, and she nodded. I waited a minute, and then in a quiet voice, she said "Is it too late to say that now?"
"I don't see any reason why it should be," I answered. "I'm sorry that I gave my paci up," she immediately said. "And I really want it back. Could I have it, please?"

So my daughter has her paci back and will likely still be popping it in at bedtime well into her teens at the rate we're going. I'm sure that some day as we fork over huge sums of cash to her orthodontist, we'll regret caving on this issue. And as much as I'd like to pretend that I taught my daughter an important life lesson about asking for what you need and giving voice to your emotions, in truth I suspect that I really just reinforced the idea that if you cry enough, you can usually get what you want. This experience has reinforced some of the most salient points of parenting for me, though. I'm reminded yet again never to judge any stage I have not yet personally experienced (as I did every time I have looked at a preschooler with a pacifier in her mouth and wondered why that child's mother wasn't doing her job and taking it away). I'm reminded never, ever to lock horns with a stubborn 2 1/2 year old over an issue that is not truly life or death (and let's face it, chicken soup aint life or death). And most of all, I'm reminded that sometimes, backing down can be the best way to win. I hope that some day, I'll be able to teach Julia that one, too.


At 10:03 PM, Blogger Lisa(lildaus) said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Lisa(lildaus) said...

Dang, is there no way to edit a comment? I didn't sign my name because I thought it would do it for me, so then my signature was just left hanging.

ACK. Not a good way to start your comment section!!

ANYWAY, I just wanted to tell you that you are a REALLY good writer, and I'm hooked!!! Also, that I remember that episode of Elmo ("Melmo"), and it cracks me up how just as that baby is getting 'the game' that Elmo is playing by shooting the ball back to him, Elmo ditches him! :)

I'm also in awe of how well Julia can talk. I can't imagine Emma ever talking in full sentences!

A new avid reader,



Post a Comment

<< Home