A Functioning Thumboholic


    In the beginning of my son's relapse, he was only sucking his thumb at night.  Now, he's doing it pretty much everywhere except school.

    It's Thanksgiving break, so yesterday my kids were downstairs enjoying some rainy day television. As I was making my lunch, I took a peek.

    Ezra, my 7-year-old, was on the sofa next to his brother, sucking his thumb.

    Several weeks ago, I wrote about how Ezra fell off the thumb-sucking wagon. He had been clean for about six months when it happened, and I was really surprised since he had done an amazing job quitting cold turkey with the help of Mavala Stop, a bitter-tasting product designed to keep hands out of mouths.

    In the beginning of Ezra's relapse, he was only sucking his thumb at night. I didn’t see much harm in that, so I made a rule: Only suck your thumb at night in your room. Then it evolved to: Only at night, or in your room, or when you are watching TV. Then, only in the house. Only in the house and in the car. Only in the house and in the car and in grandmom's house.

    Now the rule is: Just not at school. Which he has stuck to.

    So, since he isn't doing it at school, I would now classify him as a functioning thumboholic.

    I know he wants to stop. He goes for the gum container most of the times he gets the urge and he gives me reports at the end of the school day.

    "Mom, I didn’t suck my thumb today," he said proudly the other evening, opening the gum canister. "Not even one testicle of my thumb."

    "Excuse me?"

    "Not one testicle of my thumb."

    It's at these moments when I think, should I correct him? Or should I let him call "particles" "testicles" for a little bit longer? My 9-year-old took care of it for me.

    "Ezra! Your testicles aren't on your thumb!"

    "Sweetie, did you mean 'particle?' "

    Oh yeah. He did.

    But even though Ezra says he wants to stop sucking his thumb and its particles, he acts very much attached to it. I think most people would agree that 7 is a little old to be thumb-sucking. But every time I mention busting out the Mavala, he freaks out. As a lifelong cuticle biter, I understand why he doesn't want it. Yes, the bitter housepaint taste does keep you from engaging in the unwanted behavior. But you also get a nice sample at pretty much every meal. And, while I know many grownups who bite their nails and cuticles, I know none who still suck their thumbs.

    I've seen Ezra's fingers. I've seen evidence of picking. I think if he stops sucking his thumb before he is ready, he will transition right into my horrid habit that I have never been able to break. I would much rather have him suck his thumb than end up a cuticle biter.

    But I definitely don't want him to end up sucking his thumb for another year. So what's a confused mom to do? Google.

    I could leave it alone and let it resolve itself, if I agree that I could do more psychological damage breaking my child away from behavior that soothes him. Or, I could believe what I read online about how thumb-sucking behavior in kids older than 2  is just a child's addiction — then panic about thumb-sucking as a gateway to heroin and binge drinking. Thanks for nothing, Google. 

    I notice how much I am picking at my cuticles while trying to make this decision. I wish something had worked when I was younger to help me stop. And when Ezra is a pre-teen and suffering from the excessive dental work needed to fix his mouth, he will probably wish that I had done something to help him stop sooner. 

    You're not going to like it, Ezra. But the Mavala is coming back out. For your thumb, and its testicles.