According to the Experts

Although I felt emotionally superior to my contemporaries after my field research, I still needed some help making sense of it all — so I asked my shrink. Turns out, she'd saved her children's blankets and returned them when they were grown ups. "It's a perfectly healthy kind of nostalgia!" Yeah, sure. We all know how perfectly normal psychotherapists' children are.

Wanting an second opinion, I headed over to the parenting and childcare section at the closest bookstore. Although books like The Early Childhood Years by Theresa and Frank Caplan offered some help ("Older children frown upon thumb-sucking. They think fingers can be put to better use playing games, climbing on playground equipment, playing ball etc."), it was the venerable Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care that had the most complete discussion of the subject: a whole chapter on comforters and thumb sucking! I ran to the cash registers, hoping I didn't run into anyone I was dating.

Dr. Spock explains that at around 6 months, babies develop a sense of 'separateness' from their parents. However, when they're tired or unhappy or frustrated they, like all of us, seek the security of early infancy. Not willing to give up the thrill of independence, they turn to teddy or wanky or binky instead of mommy or daddy. (Some kids even do the head banging thing, although no adults I talked to would admit to that.) Why, you ask, when mommy is so convenient? Apparently, with an inanimate parental substitute, "it's not a parent who can envelop her or control her; It's a parent she can control. (It's interesting to see how a young child will sometimes abuse the object which is so precious to her.)" Take that life givers! It's called regression, get used to it.

Babies may be unsophisticated but they're not completely senseless: sucking on pacifiers or thumbs is a pretty obvious way to simulate mama's breast. Kids latch onto the soft stuff, Dr. Spock claims, because "Stroking a cuddly toy animal or a cherished blanket or diaper recalls the good sensation when they gently stroked their mother's clothing or the blanket they were wrapped in during feeding." Kids usually outgrow their object between the ages of 2 and 5 and, although Dr. Spock understands the parents distress at the objects' dinginess, doesn't see any reason to go taking it away before the child decides for herself.

Fine. But what about us existential tots Dr. Spock? "Some children do not adopt any stroking comforter such as a cuddly toy or piece of cloth, nor a sucking comforter such as a precious bottle, pacifier or thumb," he writes. "I don't know why." You don't know why!? That's your explanation?!!?! And further, "I haven't been able to see any psychological differences between those who do and those who don't."

No psychological differences. Hmph. I felt cheated of my precociousness. I called my mother; She would know about my early foray into the depths of the human condition.

"You had a soother," she said. "You called it your 'ous'." But I thought it was deemed unsafe and taken off the market after a week of happy sucking? "Oh no. You had it at least until you were one." I was talking when I was one? I asked, eager to hear what a wondrously talented child I was. "Well not very well if you were calling your soother an 'ous'."


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