The Decisions We Make…. Or Parenting and Being Human

I hear you out there, Em.  I can hear you singing the same refrain, “you’ll never go home, you’ll never go home, you’ll never, never, never….. you’ll never go home.”  It’s a catchy tune, a little sad, but I try not to read anything into it.  It’s just a song you like, with a repetitive tune.   Eventually I go out and ask what you’re singing.  You hesitate and say nothing at first.  Then you tell me, “Central Park, it was a long time ago, you see Peter Pan.”  And I know that you saw a production of Peter Pan many years ago in Central Park’s Marionette Theatre.  I smile and tell you how much I love hearing you sing.  You indulge me with a few refrains before snuggling back into the rocking chair and falling silent.

Today we are going to the orthodontist.  He’s going to put braces on your back molars to expand your mouth.  All those years of thumb-sucking have taken a toll on the curvature of your mouth.  It sounds painful to me, but I’ve been assured it’s not.  You cannot bite down with your front teeth any longer.  There’s a permanent gap there, a thumb-sized gap, a space created from years of self soothing.  People warned us over the years.  People said you should make her stop doing that.  People said, she’ll have serious problems, her teeth will be ruined, her mouth will become distorted and change shape.  They were right.  It did.  But would it have been better to stop you from doing the one thing that made you feel calmer, the one thing that soothed you more than anything else, the one thing you could completely rely on?  Would that have been better?

In another few hours we will go to the orthodontist and you will have bands put on your molars to begin the expansion.  We’ve been preparing you for this for months.  “Go to dentist.  You’re going to get braces!”  You’ve said for the past few weeks.  We were given the option of having a metal “thumb guard” put into your mouth as well, but opted not to do that.  The orthodontist made no comment upon hearing our decision, simply nodded his head and said, “I understand.”  Maybe he does.  We just couldn’t do that to you without knowing what harm it would do.  You have only a few self soothing tricks up your sleeve and sucking your thumb is first in line.  How could we take that from you?  What would you substitute that with?  Something better?  Something worse?

We’re your parents.  We’re suppose to know these things, right?  Wrong.  Being parents is a lot trickier than anyone ever mentioned.  There was all the talk about pregnancy and labor, we went to the required classes teaching us how to regulate our breathing, but there were no parenting classes required, we didn’t need a license or a certificate, we didn’t even need a permit.  Pretty quickly we learned that what’s best for one child, isn’t necessarily what’s best for another.  That was a tough concept to fully take in.  Thumb sucking?  She’ll grow out of it.  One day she won’t need to do that, some people said.  We weighed the pros and cons.  We took a chance.  We didn’t stop you from soothing yourself, were we wrong?  Who knows.  And now today, off we go to the orthodontist.  As bumps in the road go, this is a small one.   I told the orthodontist, “we’re not going for perfection here.”  He nodded as he peered into your mouth.  “Right,” he said.  “We’ll go with the expander and then braces.  We’ll discuss as we go.

That sounded reasonable.

I can hear you in the other room.  You’re not singing any longer.  You’re doing a familiar monologue, “Not safe to hang on the pipe and not safe to go in the ledge.  What happens when we go in the ledge?  We might fall down.  It’s not safe!  We bump your head if you go in the ledge.  We’re not going to take go in.” (You always say that last line in a sing songy way.  As though it were part of a song.)  “No not going to take go swimming.  No.  Go to the dentist.  Get braces.  Yeah, going to go get braces then Emma gotta have to go.  Yeah, Emma gotta have to go on the airplane.”

Those are your words, Em.  That’s what you said this morning just now.  Is this the verbal equivalent of sucking your thumb?  Is this how you’re trying to work through fear, uncertainty?  Are you scared?  I realize I don’t know the answer to this.  I’ve learned that when I don’t know how you feel or what you think about something to ask you.  So I ask you, “Hey Em are you scared to go to the dentist?”  “Neeyah,” you say, shaking your head no and laughing.  “You get to put on braces!” you say.  “Are you happy you get to have braces?” I ask.  You nod your head up and down.  “Yeah!  Put on braces, then come home work with Pascal!”  “Yeah, Em.  That’s right.  We have a Skype call with Pascal this afternoon.  Are you looking forward to that?”

“Yeah!”  You say nodding your head emphatically.

So who’s fearful?  Not you.  You’re singing now.  To MJ.  You love dancing and singing with abandon and that’s what you’re doing now as I type this.  As I try to work through the decisions we made that led up to this moment.  This moment…  a moment when you are laughing, singing and dancing in the other room with the music blaring.   Here, let me hit “publish” so I can join you.


34 responses to “The Decisions We Make…. Or Parenting and Being Human

  1. Good luck with the dentist. I hope it goes well.

  2. Beautifully put. “Is this how you’re trying to work through …”.

  3. Well, while you are dancing, as you should be, I say “Pooh” to all the people that made you doubt your decision about Emma’s thumb sucking. You let her have comfort, the rest will fall into place as it needs to. You can fix teeth, but you can’t fix a soul, at least not as easily. Hey I had braces for 5 years. I had 11 baby and 4 adult molars pulled, I had a bridge in my mouth, twice, to expand my jaw. (It was either that or have my jaw broken) I had rubber bands criss cross my mouth, and finally I had my braces, at 15 taken off and then the next visit put back on. And you know what Ariane, I never sucked my thumb. Some things just are. So don’t lament the decisions already made which might not even be fully the reason why she’s getting the braces. I am not an orthodontist so I don’t know that, but I do know, what is done is done and she will be okay. And tell her, after orthodontist visits she gets to have ice cream. I had 5 years of ice cream after orthodontist visits, not such a bad thing after all! 🙂

  4. Whoever told you it isn’t painful is lying–it will probably hurt. Probably a lot. Which is not to say you shouldn’t have it done…but sufficient pain control is vital.

    (But Life&Ink is right–don’t blame yourself for letting her suck her thumb…cause and effect might not be that simple. My brother sucked his thumb till he was 14 and never needed braces. I never did, and got 6 years worth of orthodontic work.) (With no pain management.)

  5. I think this one falls quite distinctly into the Picking Your Battles category. Our kids have so many anxiety and sensory issues that taking away something, anything, that brings them comfort seems to border on almost cruel. I’ve had people say the same thing to me about Risa and her stimming. Do I hate that she does it? Yes. Am I going to stop her if it seems to soothe her? Hell no. Mind your own *^(()(T% business, people!

    Jesse is seven and still has his beloved blankie, and shows no signs of giving it up. (He sucks his thumb, as well, but usually just when he’s tired or upset.) He can take the dang thing on his honeymoon, for all I care. We have much bigger issues to deal with. It’s obvious already that he’s going to need braces, but even his baby teeth grew in kind’ve wonky. She might’ve needed braces anyway, for all you know.

    I hope everything goes smoothly and it isn’t too hard on her! Don’t let *them* tell you whether or not she’s in pain, let *her* tell you!!

    • Well she was terrific and seems okay with the metal expander that’s glued to her two back molars. She’s actually pretty good about things to do with her mouth and teeth. But I love having the reminder to let her tell me whether she’s in pain! 😀

  6. Loved this. For what it’s worth – we are heading to the ortho in January for the exact same thing (palate expander and top braces are Phase 1, then on to Phase 2 full set of braces in a couple of years) with my 8 year old son who has autism…and he never sucked his thumb a day in his life. So go figure. Our kids experience much more DIScomfort in a day than a typical child, so I’m ok with letting them have a little extra soothing where they can get it.

  7. I sucked my thumb till I was 8 and had to get a palate expander. My thumb didn’t fit in its home anymore, and it was awful. Luckily my parents never tried to get me to stop sucking it and comforted me through that process. I’m glad now that I don’t suck it anymore. I do still sleep with my blanky and a bunch of stuffed animals, as an adult, and I am SO glad no one ever tried to make me get rid of them. The way I see it, everyone has things they go to for comfort, and cuddling stuffed friend is way better than drinking, shopping, gambling, drugs, smoking, overeating, etc.

    • I’m so glad your parents didn’t stop you too and that they were able to help comfort you when you couldn’t suck your thumb any longer.
      Such a great point about how people soothe themselves with any number of things. And yes, thumb sucking is looking pretty fabulous when compared to drugs, alcohol, gambling, smoking, etc.

  8. Wonderful post! Good luck at the dentist!

  9. My dad was a dentist and couldn’t get my sister and me to stop sucking thumbs.. I did it ’till 7 yrs. old and no braces. My sister is 50 years old and still sucks her thumb! She has a stubborn streak and nobody was going to stop her! No braces. My younger son never ever sucked his thumb.and wound up needing a Palate expander and braces. So don’t feel guilty at all please! It’s not as clear cut as some would suggest!

    • Wow! Thank you so much for this.

    • Posts like this are making me feel a bit better about my own thumb sucking (lasted until the day I started second grade–I chose to stop then and only did it once after). Although I didn’t have any dental work done–my parents let me choose–I probably need it, and always kind of assumed that sucking my thumb for so long was why. So the more likely explanation at this point is just genetics–my dad’s teeth were really cramped too, but on the upside, he only had one wisdom tooth come in and I haven’t had any issues with mine so I think I lucked out there.

  10. From bottles to sippy cups to allowing Brett to suck on his blankie etc…we all have our coping mechanisms and I have never forced Brett to stop any of his. Sometimes it is the only thing that can calm him and help him to refocus etc………I hope she feels OK afterward! Big hugs!

  11. I sucked my thumb for 13yrs, with no real damage. I have straight teeth and needed no braces. My sis, never sucked her thumb and required YEARS of orthodontist care. You cannot blame the thumb on what may have been there already.

    I am an NT mom/wife to ASDers. After giving up thumb-sucking I gained a super strength dose of insomnia. It took almost 20yrs to finally combat it.

    Now, I have a 7yr old ASD son. He uses a blankie and a thumb to self soothe. My decision: Let him have what he needs to calm himself from it all.

  12. I had metal of some sort or another in my mouth from 1st grade through 10th grade, and invisalign after that. Quite often, I had these crazy contraptions my orthodontist would invent especially for me. My youth was filled with impressions (can you say sensory MISERY??!! for an oral-motor-fixating kid, no less), plastic and metal contraptions, and bi-weekly (every 2 weeks) visits to the orthodontist. My teeth still aren’t straight, and I don’t think they ever will be. I did suck my thumb when I was very little, but around age 3 or 4, my mom decided that it was time to stop that particular bit of self-soothing. She told me I wasn’t allowed to suck my thumb anymore, and that every day I didn’t suck it, I would get a penny. Every time she caught me with my thumb in my mouth, I would have to give her a penny. The other consequences of being caught were even scarier. I stopped within a week… But anyway, this is mostly to say, don’t beat yourself up about Emma’s teeth – sometimes it’s just genetics. My mouth is too small for my teeth, so they did a lot of work expanding it, but we just couldn’t stretch it far enough. Emma will quickly get used to the braces… taking them off was actually worse than putting them on for me (for all of the different contraptions – I only had official “braces” for about 6 months, but easily 8 different other contraptions/torture devices) – the new metal in my mouth was sensory heaven to explore, but when it disappeared, I felt lost and empty, and my teeth were gritty and lumpy in weird subtle ways that drove me insane. But I do hear Emma did great at the dentist today – great job, Emma!!!

    • Oh E. The whole thing sounds dreadful, from the ban on thumb sucking to the metal medieval torture devices…
      I’m feeling positively ecstatic that we’ve never intervened with her thumb sucking!
      But I’m sorry to hear what you had to go through. 😦

  13. elizabeth hamilton

    dear ariane and richard and emma, it’s moving to hear your ongoing adventures and inspiration. love to you all!


  14. I still find my 13 year old’s thumb in his mouth at night when he is sleeping, and he did not give up his silky “magic blanky” until way after kindergarten when I decided to cut it into a smaller piece he could carry with him in his pocket. Now, he pulls the satin sheets off my bed and drags them to his to sleep with them, so I let him have them. With everything else going on in their lives, the thumb and blankies are the least of them! I’m glad it went well for Emma. She is such a beautiful little girl!

  15. Thank you so much! It’s good to hear about your son’s experience. Em actually did the same thing with her blanket, she tore it into smaller pieces. Em is being such a trooper with the expander! Really appreciate your comment!!

  16. People will say all sorts of things but at the end of the day Emma is YOUR daughter you must do what you feel is right for her. I have faith in your parenting abilities just follow your instincts and everything will be fine 🙂

  17. Emma looks so full of joy, joy itself actually. And your post is beautiful, too.

  18. My son has ASD, never sucked his thumb and will need braces. I don’t know how he is going to sit in the orthodontists’s chair and let him or her do all this. Is your orthodontist good with special needs kids?.

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