I have a confession to make: I used to be a thumbsucker. Not the kind that did it out in public everywhere that I was taken, but done at night in the safety of my bed to help me sleep when I was little.
I don’t remember the initial introduction to this habit, but my mom said I was a few months old and never used a pacifier. What I do remember is that I had a white blanket with fringe on the end, and I would wrap a clump of the fringe around my little finger before pulling it off and smelling it while I sucked my thumb.
We apparently called this “Nonny Nose,” although I’m sure I would have come up with something more clever had toddler me been given the option.
But here’s where it gets interesting, as after the blanket, there was Bun.
Instead of bringing the fringe up to my nose when I sucked my thumb, it was his left ear—almost always the left one. Why? Because I slept on my right side—always facing the door in my room—and so his left ear was closest to me.
I can’t tell you exactly what it was about that first in a series of OCD rituals, but I remember thinking that his (snot and spit-covered) ear smelled different with my thumb in my mouth. Also, the left ear was superior to the right and if I didn’t suck my thumb and smell his ear, I wouldn’t be able to sleep.
When we traveled up north to our trailer in the summer, I would sleep on the top bunk of our triple bunk beds. After the second time I fell out—I guess we had to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke— we put in a bed rail. Because Bun often fell out, we tied a shoestring around his neck noose-like and secured him to said bed rail.
A bit dark, yes, but it did the trick.
Bun’s little withered body eventually began to show the wear and tear of being loved a little bit too much. It was a sad day when I finally let go of his scrawny little neck, but my dates were getting uncomfortable with the fact I let him keep his side of the bed.
I kid, I kid. We all know I don’t have dates.
But I have to confess that this ritual went on a lot longer than it probably did for most kids. I never brought Bun to sleepovers or anything, but when I got anxious it was a comfort to pop that thumb in to help me sleep.
I rationalized sucking my thumb was no worse than other kids who bit their nails, which I thought was gross. And it’s not like I was a 9-year-old turning to a beer or a jumbo box of Marlboro Lights every time life got to be a little too much or anything. Plus, it’s been said that the tip of the thumb has a sensory receptor that triggers the body to release endorphins and cortisol that help the body relax and feel happy.
Whatever. I just thought his stupid ear smelled good.
So what made me finally break the habit? Did I suddenly realize it must be stopped in order to blossom into a functioning member of society?
Sure, we can go with that. Or we can go with the real reason, which was that I was getting adult teeth and everyone told me that people who sucked their thumbs would be cursed with crooked teeth. The Tooth Fairy didn’t exactly leave that on a note, but that was the rumor I heard.
Perhaps it was too little too late at that point because I had to get braces a couple of years later anyway. Now whether or not the thumb sucking contributed to that or not is still unknown, but once I got them, that thumb stayed out of my mouth and those tiny rubber bands of pain went in.
But for those early, formative years, there was no greater comfort than a raggly white blanket and spit-covered plush.
Thumbs up to you, faithful friends.
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