My son has an “oral” issue. It started when I began feeding him soft foods. When was that? Three or four months? The years slip by…He would insist on following every bite of food by sticking the two center fingers of his left hand into his mouth. If I didn’t let him do this, he would scream at the top of his lungs and stretch out as far as his little body would take him. I could see every rib in his chest and his whole body would shake and turn red. Blood vessels would pop out of his forehead and neck. Needless to say, I thought he was having some type of demonic reaction. Rather than calling for an exorcist, I continued to allow him to do this fingy thing, thinking there must be something going on and the alternative was death.
Flash forward five years. He still sucks those fingers. The dentist tells me that while this is not the end of the world, he will most likely need to have a metal bar installed in his mouth in the next couple of years to correct his bite if he does not stop. Over the years, we have tried yucky sprays, gloves, band-aids, continual reminding, continual hand-washing, and prizes for going fingy-free. He has learned to control it for the most part during the school day. However, he has replaced the fingies with chewing. He chews everything that costs Momma something to put on his body. Jackets, sweaters, shirts. He chewed a hole in a new t-shirt the first day he wore it. In an attempt to keep clothes on his upper body, his teacher recently made me aware of something called “chewelry.” Chewelry appears to be slang for hard rubber objects that you can wear as a bracelet or necklace. You can order these online, and they are not the cheapest things (his new necklace cost me his chewed up t-shirt 3 times over). They are safe to chew and easily cleaned. I ordered one.
We eagerly awaited this blue lego-looking chewy item for five days. My son, nicknamed “Sucky McGee,” by Momma (a name that he loathes), was thrilled when the chewelry arrived. After he carefully washed it, it was the first thing on him the morning after it came, and we were set to meet a new day of hole-free clothes and jackets. When I dropped him off, there was one other child at school, who thought that the lego necklace my son was sporting was the coolest thing ever.
Unfortunately, the coolest necklace ever was not around his neck when I arrived at school that evening. After a line of questioning from Momma, where the necklace appeared to have been dropped on the playground, wrapped in his naptime blanket, or put in his cubby, it finally came to light that the lego was hidden deep in his pants pocket, sans necklace. My heart sank. I stopped my frantic searching and interrogating and asked my son flat out, “Did someone tease you about your necklace?”
Uncomfortable silence, then the dreaded answer.
Of course, the first things out of my mouth were “what did they say?” followed by “who was it?” And then the heat rising in my neck and face. I was searching for brilliant and reassuring words to make this situation all better for my son, but not before my instinctual reaction, which was, where is this little “Johnny” – Momma needs to have a “talk” with him.
Although my son was not receptive to discuss the teasing incident right away, we chatted briefly about it later that night. My best take on this was trying to explain in five-year old terms why people tease people, and also that different people have different ways of thinking through things and if his was chewing on something, preferably not his clothes, then that was damn fine. Then we tried out different responses he could have if he was teased about this in the future. “Screw off” was one that I suggested. Not so good.
I know that this was just the first of many incidents to come. As I watched my kids eating dinner last night, I got anxious, thinking that maybe this parenthood thing wasn’t the best idea for me. Particularly since my first response to his story was wanting to go punch a 5-year old in the nose. And what about my daughter? Girls are horrible. They are cruel. If this kind of stuff is hereditary, my daughter will be the one getting bullied by a girl who is either cute and popular or ugly with big teeth who wants to be the friend of the cute and popular girl. My son is probably lucky that he is a boy. And I am probably lucky that “Johnny” was long gone the other evening.