My Son No Longer Sucks


True story: My parents tried to wean me off my baby blanket by insisting I’d left it in our Caribbean hotel room during a school vacation. This totally backfired, as I demanded they call the resort and keep my blanket until we returned next year. The blanket remains on my pillow to this day. (Years later it emerged that my parents had actually hidden the blanket on a high shelf in their closet. In their defense, I was nine.)

My wife and I recently staged a similar heist, the target being our three year-old’s pacifiers.

As a sleep aid, pacifiers work much like Ambien, except they’re addictive. Fox is used to a six-pack in his crib, arrayed like pockets on a pool table. And the kid has developed crazy adaptive skills, like retaining his pacifier under the expellant force of a sneeze.

According to Fox’s pediatrician we should have nixed the sucking by twelve months — before Fox could articulate his objections. Of the two doctors at this practice, she was the bad cop. I adored her.

I was all ready to follow Dr. Badcop’s orders and make our son quit cold turkey. Maybe stage an intervention if necessary. Webcast that shit. But my wife was reluctant to confiscate such a reliable source of comfort.

Flash forward two years and we were dealing with a confirmed addict who refused to even acknowledge having a problem. Sure Fox would accept certain limitations, like no pacifier during preschool. But as soon as preschool let out for the day, Fox would pop that pacifier in his mouth with the reflexive speed of a smoker sparking a Camel after a transatlantic flight.

I frequently bemoan our son’s oral fixation, but my wife always finds a reason to put off his quitting. “Let’s wait until after we move,” she’ll say. Or “not while he has this ear infection.” Fair enough. But the excuses started getting flimsier, like “he’s teething.” Or “best not to risk it during a waxing gibbous moon.”

With his third birthday fast approaching, even Sarah conceded something needed to be done. Finally we were a united parental front. But we feared lasting resentment if we were the ones confiscating his pacifiers. We needed a scapegoat.

Apparently lots of people go with some variation of the Binky Fairy.* But it seems you introduce a whole new set of problems when you tell your child that, under cover of darkness, a benign goblin will fly into his room and abscond with his surrogate nipples. Sleep tight, kiddo.

A parent at my son’s preschool described in spectacular fashion how this can backfire. She snuck into her sleeping daughter’s room and removed the pacifiers. But instead of waking up the next morning to a sun-filled world of new beginnings, her daughter awoke in the middle of the night. Alone. She reached out for comfort but felt only the void. Chaos ensued.

None of this should imply that I’m opposed to making up stories for our son. We lie to Fox all the time. “You want to go to the toy store? Sorry. It’s closed for siesta.”

But which lie to tell? A (child specialist) friend came through with the goods: tell Fox that a newborn needs the pacifiers. Then pick a day later in the week for the drop. Finally, draw a picture about it and talk it over each day. This was way better than anything Sarah and I were coming up with.

So we concocted our story. We explained to our son that a new baby named Paul Jones urgently needed his pacifiers. And since Fox was such a big boy, he could help mail the package. (Classic misdirection.) At the post office. “Because,” we solemnly added, “baby Paul Jones lives in Wisconsin.”

To sweeten the deal, we promised Fox a celebratory cake + motorcycle action figure. Here’s the drawing I made:

let's not suck together

The Big Day came around and while Fox was at preschool, the wife and I scoured the house and collected eleven pacifiers and 72¢. After school we all drove to the post office and Fox helpfully dumped his collection into the Priority Mail softpak with an expression that was equal parts tentative and dutiful.

Shockingly, the kid took it like a champ. Never made a peep. Once home he sampled his thumb once or twice, but it didn’t take. A few times he asked if maybe he could have a pacifier. Each time we’d sorrowfully shake our heads no and he dropped it.

That was three weeks ago. The wife and I are sort of amazed that we pulled this off without any collateral damage, save one possible exception: if you happen to be named Paul Jones and you hail from the midwest, and years from now you get sucker-punched by an irate stranger?… that’s on me.

* I bristle at the word binky. Just as bad, the Brits give their infants dummies, which for me evokes a nation of baby ventriloquists.

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One Response to My Son No Longer Sucks

  1. Michele July 13, 2013 at 4:22 pm #


    We were lucky. Bobby and Maya were given pacifiers in the NICU to help with their suck reflex but they dropped them around 7mo and we never had to deal with a habit to break.

    My hope is that Michael will never have one to get a habit. Of course, right now, he prefers the “real thing” and it looks as though I may spend the rest of my life (at least for the next few months/years) without control of my tatas… We shall see…

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