Bye bye binky: The art of the deal

We recently had a visitor – the kind who sneaks in during the night and leaves toys. You guessed it, the Pacifier Fairy graced our presence just a few short weeks ago. What did she leave? An American Girl doll. Yes, a $105 doll. At the American Girl Store register, I checked my surroundings to make sure nobody I knew saw me buy this ridiculously expensive doll. That was before they gave me the gigantic American Girl shopping bag to carry her out to the mall. As I walked out to the parking lot, a perfect stranger said to me, “That’s a mighty expensive doll.” So much for deflecting comments.

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Lying, Cheating and Stealing

Rose wants an American Girl doll. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re high-end dolls that can be customized to your tastes and there are tons of expensive accessories to go with them. They’re really not that different from regular dolls, except that they have that je ne sais quoi (French for marketing) that makes every girl want them.

I had no intention of buying one. I really didn’t. But then came the pacifier challenge. Rose had to quit using her pacifier, and I happened to discuss the issue with one of the country’s leading childcare experts (one of the perks of writing magazine articles), and he suggested we use an incentive program. What did Rose want more than anything? That’s right. An American Girl doll. Normally, I wouldn’t buy my four-year-old a 105-dollar doll, but given a choice between her and orthodontia, the doll, although not covered by dental insurance, seemed much more economical.

So we began the process of quitting the pacifier. We did not make her cut down on use. We’d already gone down that road and we’d already backslid, so we really needed to cut out the pacifier altogether. The only real problem area was sleeping. Rose really needed the pacifier to fall asleep, but we dug in our heels and she went to bed without a paci. The first couple of nights were hell. She cried and whined, “I want a paaaaaciiii,” but we didn’t crack.

I kept going into her bedroom and saying, “Do you want the American Girl doll?”

She’d creak, “Yeeeess.”

“Well, if you go two weeks without a paci, then you can have the doll,” I’d say.

“Ohhh kaaaay,” she’d say, frowning.

Once she got over the initial shock of it, she was doing really well. The last time we’d tried to give up the paci, she’d steal her brother’s pacifiers, out of his mouth, waking him up in the middle of the night. This time, we put a child lock on the outside of his door so she couldn’t get in. We also told her that Christian would be giving up his pacifier too.

“Christian doesn’t get a paci either?” she asked, worried about her source, but pleased that her brother had to suffer.

“No, he won’t,” we said, and we fully intended to wean him off of his pacifier.

But we didn’t. Christian isn’t the good sleeper that Rose was. He’s fifteen months old and his sleeping pattern goes through cycles. He’ll sleep through the night for a week at a time, and then he’ll get a new tooth and he’s back to waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. We are desperately trying to train him to sleep through the night and to take away his pacifier during this process would be devastating to all concerned.

For a while, we told Rose that Christian would indeed give up his paci, and we meant it, but then he got three teeth at once and we needed that sucker so badly that weaning him was out of the question. Rose was on top of this and she began to steal pacis, just like last time we tried to quit.

She’s a really smart kid, but she’s not very good at deception. Every time she had a paci, she’d tell me, “I don’t want songs or a hug,” before bed. Or “I don’t need a book” before her nap. And up until just recently, she’d hide the purloined pacifier under her pillow, every time, making it pretty easy to find when I went in to take it away. Did I take it away every time? No. I did at night, but naps were so tenuous that sometimes I just let her fall asleep with a paci and pulled it out of her mouth when she was sleeping. Sometimes I didn’t even do that. But when I found her with a paci, I’d tell her, “Well, now your two weeks for your American Girl doll start over.”

“Nooooo,” she’d cry.

“I didn’t make that choice. You did,” I’d say, as she burst into tears.

Well, after a month, Rose is still stealing pacifiers every chance she gets, but we’ve gotten sneakier about hiding them. So I’d say she sleeps with a paci about 20 percent of the time now. We know that until Christian quits using his paci, Rose won’t quit either, but we just cannot afford to interrupt his sleep right now, or ever, unless he somehow develops a consistent sleep pattern. At first, Rose was angry that he still had his paci and she couldn’t have hers, but she quickly saw the advantage. So she won’t complain about the inequity anymore. What bothers me is that we lied to her. We didn’t mean to. We really thought we’d wean Christian off of his paci too, but given a choice between sleep and no sleep, we just couldn’t.

When Rose was younger, I always kept my word to her. It was a point of pride to me. I said I won’t lie to my little girl. Now it’s “I wanna hear the SpongeBob songs!” and “I’m sorry, Sweetie, that CD’s not in the player right now and I’m driving.” It is in the player. I just don’t want to hear it. But that’s a lie she believes. When we failed to wean Christian off the paci when we swore we would, we went back on our word, and she knows that. I want her to trust us, and how can she if she knows we lie?

Maybe it’s not such a big deal to her. Maybe this is that earth-shattering moment when she realizes that we’re not perfect, although we’ve given her countless opportunities to learn that already. It had to happen sooner or later, right? I just hope that since our lie works to her advantage, she won’t focus on the fact that we lied. Instead, she’ll focus on the fact that she can still have a pacifier once in a while. That’s not such a bad compromise, is it?

The Passion for the Pacifier

I spoke too soon. I knew saying it would bite me in the butt. Remember when I gloated over two parental wins – Rose quitting her pacifier and Christian crying himself to sleep? Well, it turns out we weren’t quite as successful as we thought.

It seems we can still maintain one victory – Christian crying himself to sleep – but Rose quitting the pacifier? I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

Since the first week, when we thought we’d licked the pacifier habit (and I wrote a whole post about it), Rose decided that she did not want to give it up. First she decided she couldn’t sleep without it.

“Iiiiiii waaant a paaaaciiii,” she’d moan as we tucked her in.

“If you sleep without it you’ll get a surprise in the morning,” I’d say.

“What is it?”

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Ohhh kaaay,” she frowned, lowering her head to the pillow.

“That’s my big girl!” I’d say, walking away smiling.

Eight minutes later, “Mooommyyy!!”

“What is it, Baby?”

“Iiiiii waaaant a paaacciii,” she’d moan.

“But what about your surprise? You can’t have it if you have your paci.”

“I want my paaacciiii!”

“Just try to go to sleep. Try for five minutes and see, okay?”

“Okay,” she sniffed.

“Just lie down and close your eyes and you won’t even notice,” I’d say, walking away.

Two minutes later, “Moooommmmyyyy!”

“I waaant myyy paaaaciii. Please Mommy!”

Sigh, “Okay. I’ll get it.” We’ll quit tomorrow. It’s the only way we’re gonna get any sleep tonight.

But we didn’t quit tomorrow. We tried, but she just would not stop crying or fall asleep and we couldn’t take anymore.

For a while, she was ok with the pacifiers I’d cut off at the tips, but then her brother’s pacis started disappearing. When we put Rose to bed — nap or nighttime — she’d lie down with one arm under her pillow. The first time I reached under, I found one of Christian’s pacis, with her hair wrapped around the base. She likes to do that with her hair. Yes, it’s gross, but we can’t stop her. It started once we cut her hair too short for her to chew on. She reaches up, plucks out a few hairs, puts them in her mouth and wraps them around her pacifier. Since her hair was already on it and she was just getting to bed, she must have used it already – at nap time or last night. Great. I confiscated the offending Binky.

“Nooooo! I waaant it. I waaant it,” she sobbed.

“Baby, this is your brother’s. You have your own paci.”

“I want one with no hole in it,” she sobbed.

“Rose, you’ve got to give up your paci. You can use these for now but you can’t use your brother’s.”

“But he can use it,” she said.

“That’s because he’s a baby. Pacis are for babies.”

“I waaaanna be a baaaaby!”

“Oh, Honey, you’re a grown-up girl. You can do so many things babies can’t do. If you were a baby, you couldn’t go to preschool, or swing so high, or watch Dora.”

“I just waaaant a paaaci,” she sobbed.

“You have one. Use the one you have.”

“I want one of Christian’s!”

“I’m sorry, Baby, this is what you get,” I said.

And that happened every nap and every night, until she was able to steal another paci. I noticed she was unusually happy at nap time, with her arm under her pillow, so I reached under and grabbed another paci, making her cry.

“I WAAANT IT!” she screamed.

“Baby, no. You have your own paci,” I walked away.

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

She’s still using her pacis to go to sleep. Both have the tips cut off, and she’d rather have them intact, but she settles for them because they’re all she’s got. Today I cut them down a little more. She didn’t seem to notice. I’m hoping that the smaller they get, the less she’ll need them but realistically, the smaller they get, the harder she’ll work to steal her brother’s pacifiers. She can’t use them forever, but I’m not sure how hard I should push, either. Right now, he brother wakes up early. Matt gets up with him and then goes back to sleep when I get up, but neither of us are getting enough sleep. It’s not easy for us to motivate to stay up late with Rose, too.

The other thing is that Rose is doing really well on her potty training. She averages one accident a day, which is ok for now, but she has to get better by August, when she goes to a new camp. The camp requires children to have “independent toileting skills” as I read in the camp manifesto when I signed her up. I’m afraid that if she has an accident or two, they’ll kick her out, and I need the childcare. So we need to focus on potty training. That said, last year we put off potty training until after her brother was born because I wanted her to deal with one thing at a time, plus she’s the type of kid to regress. She would totally have gone back to diapers when Christian was born.

We never intended to put off paci quitting. There was just never a time when we thought, Hey, this is the perfect time to lose sleep for a few weeks. Let’s do it! Her dentist told me last year that three is the magic number when it comes to pacifiers. They’ve got to give them up by their third birthday. Rose is three-and-a-half and instead of forcing her to give up her paci, I put off getting her dental checkup. She has an overbite that either comes from my genes or my inability to clamp down and take away the paci. The dentist warned me that her overbite would only get worse, and every day it gnaws at me that it’s my fault the kids will call her “Rabbit Face” or “Chipmunk,” and that she’ll hate her braces because our insurance won’t pay for the clear kind.

This is not my proudest parenting moment, but when I think of all that pacifier did for me – all the sleep it facilitated, all the crying it curtailed, all the boo-boos it bandaged – I can see why I’m having such a hard time letting it go. That paci was the Robin to my Batman, my trusty sidearm, my ace-in-the-hole. Considering how difficult it’s been for Rose to quit, we did consider opting out of the paci habit entirely with Christian, but we decided against it. We decided that we need our pacifier. Once it’s gone, as we’ve seen, nothing can take its place. I just hope we survive the withdrawal.

Banishing Bad Baby Behaviors

Well, we did it. We quit the pacifier with one kid and “cried it out” with the other. When I wrote “Who Needs Sleep?” I said we’d combine these ordeals into one short period of pure hell. I got a lot of “Yeah, good luck with that,” from other parents. And I really can’t believe it myself, but it worked.

When I discussed the pacifier issue on the blog last year, a friend told me to try this method: Give the pacifier anytime she wants, just cut it smaller every day. Well, we had already restricted the pacifier to bed time, but I cut off the top, making a big hole in it, and Rose said she didn’t like it anymore. The first day!! She kept telling me to throw it out and I kept giving it back, because this was too good to be true. As I left her room, I thought for certain she’d be calling me back, whining “I waaant a paaaaci…please?” But no such request was forthcoming.

The next day, I figured she’d look for the paci as soon as she awoke, but she just sat on the couch and asked for breakfast. At nap time, I brought the rejected paci to her bed. Again she told me to throw it out. Then she refused to take a nap. It made sense that there would be consequences to quitting the paci cold turkey. She stayed in her room during nap time and I sucked it up.

That was Monday. She’s missed one more nap since, but I think it was more about not having burned her energy than not having the pacifier.

On Tuesday, I was holding Christian as he fought sleep. Whining, wriggling, watching and wheedling, he was beginning to get on my nerves. I’d made the commitment to let him cry it out, so I tried it. I heard him cry for less than five minutes and then silence. It was so quick I had to check to make sure he was still breathing. When I did, there was my baby boy, peacefully sleeping in his crib.

This is too easy, I thought. Rose cried for at least an hour when we did this with her, how could Christian be so quick? I couldn’t wait for his next nap to try it again. Next nap, same thing. Less than five minutes. Still breathing. How was this possible?

Ok, so now that I’ve met two major parenting goals, I figure I can blow off any parental ambition for at least a few months. But this whole process has taught me something. I could have done this months ago and reduced my stress, not to mention Rose’s need for braces. I treated the whole thing like vacuuming. I will put off vacuuming for weeks. My carpet will fill with popcorn, raisins, Play-doh, and still, I cannot motivate to vacuum. If by some miracle, I do get the motivation, vacuuming’s done in five minutes. So I’ve spent so much time putting off something I could have done in five minutes. I do the same thing with sewing. Rose’s Hawaiian dress lost a strap months ago and it’s still sitting in my sewing pile. I even bought that glue that’s supposed to replace stitches. How long could it possibly take to glue fabric together? Still, it languishes in the pile.

So I guess I’ve learned that I expend more energy avoiding things than I would if I actually did them. I’m going to check out my sewing as soon as I’m done writing. But I doubt I’ll vacuum anytime soon.