It took me 6 weeks to give you a dummy.
They told me it would affect breastfeeding. They told me it would be hard to get rid of. The nurses at the Early Childhood Centre told all the new mothers that if we wished to use one, they wouldn’t advocate it. They’d been instructed not to bring up the topic.
The message was clear: dummies are bad. Lazy parenting, I remember reading on one on those online forums. But you cried and cried and wouldn’t be soothed.
My parents and in-laws took turns gently suggesting I try one. When I eventually pulled out the fresh, untouched dummy, sterilising it so carefully (laughable now), you took to it like a duck to water. You stopped crying instantly, knew exactly how to keep it in your little mouth, and fell asleep contented and relaxed. We all crowded around the bassinet admiring you, in awe of how well you sucked, how sweetly enormous the dummy looked on your tiny face.
Introducing the Lulla doll: the comforting toy that some children can’t sleep without. (Post continues after video.)
Three years later and tonight is the first night you have fallen asleep without your old friend. You did indeed become what those righteous nurses feared- a total dummy addict. You needed at least three: one in your mouth and one in each hand.
We had up to fifty in the house, scattered across rooms and throughout the car. They were an absolute necessity. Every holiday, every overnight trip, required several dummies to be packed in easy-to-reach pockets for quick retrieval. The very few times we absent-mindedly left the house without one turned into nightmarish walks home, running/pushing you in the pram while you screamed hysterically.
The dummy never, ever ceased to comfort you. Just seeing it was enough sometimes. When you were tired, it put you to sleep. When you were sad, it calmed you down.
We built up to this day. Maybe five months ago, I started to hint that when you turned three, it might be a good idea to let the dummy go. We talked about it, and you would say with that incredible clarity you have, ‘Yes, one day but I’m not ready yet’. I never pushed.
As your birthday approached, we would talk about it more often, what we might do with the dummies, whether we would bury them, or throw them away or swap them in the shop for a toy. You liked that last idea, and when I asked you what you would choose, you said, again without hesitation, as though you’d been thinking about it for a while, “A rainbow bear.” Okay, I thought, that’s doable.
The week before your birthday, I picked you up from daycare and your teacher told me what you said at lunch, that when you turned three, you’d be giving away your dummy. I decided at that moment not to mention it again. I didn’t want you to have any stress or foreboding about your birthday, any negative associations. It would happen in its own time, and there was no final deadline.
You turned three exactly two weeks ago. Yesterday you said out of the blue that you were ready to give away your dummy. I asked you a few times if you were sure and despite you saying yes, I brushed it off and said we’d talk about it later.
Apparently you said something similar to both Aba and to Nonna in the last few days. Then this morning, as we were walking out the front door to go to playgroup, you said you were tired and asked for your dummy. I told you no, that you knew we only use it for sleep-time. now And you looked at me and said, “Ok, I’m ready.”
“Ready for what?” I asked.
“To give the dummy away.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“You mean now? Like right now?
You nodded again, very solemnly.
“Do you understand what that means?” I asked you but really myself. “It means no dummy at sleep-time.” I pulled your one remaining dummy out of the nappy bag and held it up dramatically. “This is your last dummy. If we throw this away, there won’t be any more dummies anymore. Ever. Do you understand that?”
‘Yes,” you said.
Aba was standing by the door. It suddenly seemed right, as we all stood there together, for this to be done as a family. I hadn’t planned for it to happen this morning…but it was coming from you - how could I hold you back? And I was holding you back. You were ready, it was me who wasn’t.
Together we walked to the rubbish bin. I held you in my arms and Aba opened the lid. We said to the dummy: “Thank you and goodbye”. And you threw it in. Then you looked at me and sobbed in my arms. “I’m tired,” you kept saying. And I cried too, I just held you and our tears flowed.
To know when to let go even though it’s painful is a lesson most of us grown-ups are still learning - your tiny wisdom shook me to the core. I loved you so much in that moment.
I sobbed because that dummy saved us a million times in the last three years. It was a little cork to stop the pain, and when you were comforted, I was comforted. When you stopped crying, I could breathe again.
To let go of that was…is - scary. I sobbed because for the first time I truly understood when mothers say: they grow up so quickly. It was the first time I felt with all my being what it meant to see your baby grow up and to pang for what is no longer. I had a flash of the impermanence of your childhood and it filled me with nostalgia and longing.
And now you’re asleep. It took you a long time. You asked for your dummy - I knew it was coming - and I had to explain to you again that it was gone.
After an hour and a half and intermittent quiet sobs, you finally fell asleep. I’m bracing myself for the night ahead. I’m bracing myself for it all. The car trips, the tantrums, the tired afternoons on the couch…without the dummy. But if you can do it, then I certainly can.
I’ll hold strong for you baby, and before you know it, this will be a memory and nothing more. But forever I will remember today as the day you began to grow up, the day you made the first big decision of your life, the first of many more to come, and my pride in you is immense.
Sheli Gold is a writer, storyteller, drama teacher and mother of two. She is, like her daughter, a recovering dummy addict. They say it's genetic.
Feature Image supplied.