Hunter had pretty much stopped talking by the time he was two, favoring the mouthfeel of a binky over words. Up to that point, he’d been very verbal, very focused on language. He especially loved newscasters, with Tom Brokaw being his favorite.
Of course, we were concerned and tried the tightening-down method. By 27 months we were restricting his binky time to naps, car trips and nights. Then one afternoon I found Hunter bellied up to the side of his crib, one foot crossed over the other, smoking his binky tethered to a 6-inch ribbon. I was clipping it too close to the side of his bed, and he was able to fish it through the slats, the binky drawing him close, filling his tiny being with longing. I wondered how often he swung by his crib and for that came to understand the cruelty of the slow withdrawal.
We decided a clean break was the only humane thing to do so we planned a rite-of-passage celebration, getting Hunter on board by appealing to his sense of growth and development with exciting descriptions of the world of opportunities available to big boys. Proving how good the prospect of growing up was, we explained that while this ritual involved sending the binky on its way, it was all for the purpose of making room for this next step. And he would get to choose his first big boy thing to launch this wonderful stage of his life! What would that be?
He knew instantly what being a big boy meant for him: cowboy boots. When we located the most minuscule pair of cowboy boots imaginable, Hunter’s eyes got big with the enormity of his cowboy reality beginning.
The plan was to send the binky off the following Sunday by throwing it into the Atlantic. First swinging by the Kwik Stop to pick up grape juice and Little Debbie cakes, Hunter’s choice for the goodbye binky celebration, we then headed for Moosehead State Park on a bracing, blustery, appropriately dramatic April day. The mood was high and festive.
On the beach, I made a great show of holding up the sacrificial binky while palming a rock as we all said some ceremonial words and counted to 3. Then, as the designated binky dispatcher, I threw the rock out in the bay as far as I could. We watched the symbolic binky arc through the air and disappear into the water. Afterwards, we sat on a log, clinked tiny liqueur glasses filled with grape juice and ate Little Debbie cakes. Wearing his new cowboy boots, I watched Hunter on the log, chortling into his tiny glass of juice, deeply pleased.
A happy quiet filled the car on the ride back home. At some point, though, a subtle atmospheric shift moved in. I eyed the glove compartment where the real binky was hidden, along with every other last binky we’d rounded up. As we pulled into the driveway, Hunter said, “Mommy.” I looked back at him in his carseat, grape juice and chocolate around his mouth, miniature cowboy boots pointing sideways.
“I’m not a cowboy,” he said quietly. “I’m a little boy and I want my binky.” It was the simple truth.
My heart hurt. I thought of all the binkies I had in my possession which I was pretty sure I couldn’t give him back, and marveled at his words, at this little boy just over 2 who knew who he was.
What a wonder, I think. I’ve been working on that for a lifetime.