JULY 24, 2010 2:06PM

The Family Pacifier

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A few weeks ago I babysat for a friend of mine. She has two little boys – ages five and two. It was a powerful return trip for me to the challenges of having small children.

While I was trying to simultaneously sweep cheerios off the floor and tune the TV into The Wiggles, I noticed a developing crisis. The two-year-old had become disengaged from his pacifier.

I quickly dropped all other tasks to forage through sofa cushions and toys to retrieve it.  When peace was restored, I reflected on how automatically I had reverted to the 'pacifier alert.'

You see, my son -- now 19 -- was a pacifier baby. From an early age — two days — he demonstrated a strong preference for habit over novelty, accepting only the rubber pacifier distributed at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California. Nothing else was acceptable in this critical matter of taste. I know, because when the hospital-issue equipment wore out, I tried every model on the market without success. In the end I purchased a case of pacifiers directly from the manufacturer.

As a baby boomer parent, actively in pursuit of all things excellent, I consulted the experts for pacifier guidance. And for us boomers, no discussion of child behavior is complete without a reference to Dr. Spock, the man held responsible for all our excesses from dope smoking to SUVs.

In the 1985 edition of Baby and Child Care, Spock devotes four pages to pacifiers. I conned the sacred text for clues about my son's pacifier attachment. Should I try to remove it? If so, when? "Most …[children] give it up by one or two years of age" according to Spock.

At a year, Will remained firmly plugged in.  At two he showed no inclination to part with the pacifier. When he celebrated his third birthday along with the pacifier habit, I had to close the book on the celebrated baby doctor and wing it on my own.

At the other end of the spectrum the breast-feeding Gestapo takes a dim view of the pacifier, as they do of anything standing between perpetual constant connection between child and breast.

In “Reasons to Skip the Pacifier,” Kathleen G. Auerbach, Ph.D., an "international board certified lactation consultant, co-author of several books on breastfeeding and editor-in-chief of Current Issues in Clinical Lactation says that "mothers need to think twice about using pacifiers, because they can interfere with breastfeeding."

Linda J. Smith of the Breastfeeding LRC goes further with a list of "Top Ten Reasons for NOT Using a Pacifier" including, “encourages posterior-to-anterior tongue peristalsis.” Now that’s something to keep you awake at night.

My personal favorite of Smith’s list was exactly the condition I wished to induce in my son: “Causes altered brain wave patterns, trance-like state.”

I can assure Smith that the pacifier, nor anything else for that matter, put Will into the trance-like state generally called 'sleep' — the respite from his colicky crying that I would have devoutly welcomed.

Fortunately for Will, his parents chose Spock over Smith. Pacifier availability became a key organizing factor in our lives.  During this time, we acquired an item I never knew existed but which became an essential part of our retinue: the pacifier-keeper.

To quote the MAM company, purveyor of better pacifiers everywhere:

"The keeper saves searching and keeps the pacifier clean. The specially designed clip secures the keeper to the child's garment while the pacifier ring snaps onto MAM pacifiers perfectly. It's an all-round mom-saver!"

 

While I wouldn't go as far as MAM's marketing hacks, the pacifier-keeper precludes tortured decisions about whether you put a pacifier retrieved from the floor of a San Francisco MUNI bus back into your child's mouth or listen to him scream until you get back to San Jose. (Answer: Plug it in while remembering that AIDS is only transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids.)

The pacifier stayed with us through pre-school. It stayed through kindergarten.  I comforted myself that, unlike a thumb, the pacifier didn't have go to school with him. More than one child in his class, in moments of intense concentration or anxiety, referred to that comforting digit. By the first grade, I was beginning to wonder if Will would be the only boy in his class to graduate from high school with a pacifier making a circular imprint on his wallet.

When Will was in the second grade, the preferred pacifier model went — out of production!

No warnings about electricity blackouts or the drying up of a fresh water supply could have alarmed us more. We hoarded the remaining inventory against the evil day. One night the doom came upon us. No pacifier could be found. I held my breath against the anticipated explosion. Nothing. Silence. We kissed goodnight, Will rolled over and was soon asleep.

We were finally, so to speak, pacified.

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