For The Someday Book

Our Pacifier Story

Posted on: March 26, 2010

B used a pacifier from the time he was about three weeks old until about three weeks ago. From the first time we gave it to him (choosing to ignore the threatening warnings about the ill effects on breastfeeding) until we negotiated to remove it from his life (long past the age deemed appropriate by the experts), we were always aware that the pacifier was as much for us as it was for him, if not more so.

B’s pacifier enabled us to get some much needed sleep in those first few months of his life, when he would only sleep with a breast or a finger in his mouth. Before we conceded to the pacifier, we had both spent back-twisting hours leaning over the side of the crib with a pinkie finger awkwardly angled between his gums while he sucked at it sleepily. Removing the pinkie-paci shot B into dramatic alertness, causing us to insert the pinkie again. The pacifier was just what we needed.

As he grew from a newborn to a plumb and happy baby, the pacifier continued to provide much needed sleep. Leaving him at daycare every day, I felt like it might keep him from crying when he couldn’t be held all the time. He was a nightmare at naptime, all the way into toddlerhood. The pacifier helped.

We weaned him off it gradually. Shortly after his first birthday, we limited it to sleep times and car times. Then it whittled down to just sleep times. Then it was just nighttime. We have known for awhile (ok, six or seven months) that we could probably let it go. But we thought it just made life so much easier. For us and for him. The big danger that the experts talk about is that the pacifier can inhibit verbal development. Believe me, this is not a factor with B. He talks constantly. So we just let it go, and go, and go. It just didn’t seem like a big deal, and we didn’t want to lose a week’s sleep when he woke up fussing for it in the night.

Until about a month ago, when we got down to the last one. He kept losing that one in the night, and it fell down behind the bed. The only way to retrieve it was by turning on the light, getting B and all his stuffed friends (and there are many) up and out of the bed, peeling back the mattress, fishing it out and washing it off in the bathroom. Every once in awhile, this was feasible. But then it started happening several times a night. If we were losing sleep anyway fetching the darn thing from under the bed, we might as well lose sleep getting rid of it. It was no longer convenient for anyone.

We gave him a couple of days warning, and visited the toy department at Target to advise him that he could choose a new toy if he went a whole week without his pacifier. B was amenable to this agreement, and pre-chose a box of Hot Wheels as his prize. (We encouraged him to look for something else, since he already has dozens of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, but he was rigid in his opinion. We said he could have whatever he wanted—if a $5.00 box of race cars is what he wanted, so be it.)

We put him to bed that first night, bracing ourselves for a night filled with panicked sleep interruptions, extra songs, time in the rocking chair and the likely result of having him in our bed for a week. I was bracing myself to say goodbye to this last vestige of his babyhood.

And then nothing happened. Nothing. He slept soundly through until the next morning. B had been waking up once or twice in the night searching for his pacifier and crying out for help. We took it away completely, and he’s been sleeping peacefully all night long ever since. We returned to Target, bought the exact same box of $5.00 Hot Wheels he chose the week before, and he’s been happy as can be.

Apparently, the crutch we had been using to make life easier had actually been making life more complicated. The change we had long dreaded and postponed turned out to bring a greater rest and relief than the old way of doing things. The pacifier no longer pacified—it disrupted. We were just too fearful of change to let it go.

You can see where this is going, right?

How often do we hold on to a pacifier that has long outlived its usefulness, just because we fear change? How many people and churches and communities cling to crutches they think make life more convenient, when in reality the work of maintaining the crutch is far more difficult than living without it? Ever since B gave up his paci, I feel like I’ve been digging under the mattress of my life, trying to identify those pacifiers that are long overdue to head to the garbage. Yet still I keep washing them off one more time. Why can’t I trust that I’ll be happier with something new? Maybe because changes in adulthood are not as simple as a $5.00 box of Hot Wheels.

Earlier this week, we found another of B’s old pacifiers hiding in a dusty corner under the bed. He picked it up and said, “hey, look at this yucky old paci! What’s that doing here?” and without hesitation walked to the trash can and threw it away. I think if I let go, I’d quickly see the old pacifiers the same way. I just have to risk that first restless night.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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