Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A lesson in attachment

Luca has held a muslin close ever since he was six months old – when Mum suggested he might like something against his face to settle. I started with six muslins and ended up with 12. As a baby, there was always one or two draped over him and I during feeding. Always one in the car with him and always one for sleep. The muslin morphed from my breastfeeding essential into Luca's comforter. We have hundreds of photos with him sucking his thumb and a white muslin dangling from his hand, the tip of one corner just touching his top lip.

I set aside concerns from others about his thumb and muslin. The suggestions were of course well-meaning, but as I see now with so many concerns to do with children, they're often based in fear. A fear, in this case, that they won't toughen up and learn to be resilient without the things they choose to comfort them, a fear of other people's perceptions, a fear that they'll forever be 'a baby'.

I try and consistently adopt the same approach with everything throughout the boys' childhood: why the hurry? From schooling right down to a comforting muslin. As I see it, there's no hurry.

A muslin went hand in hand with thumb-sucking, and though we tried to limit its use, whenever Luca was tired, upset, overwhelmed or emotional in any way he would search one out. There are only so many hiding places in one house. I was learning about his sensitive nature at the same time, and I was also learning about the way I deal with my own emotions. When you're navigating parenthood in this way, it's hard to know what's right or wrong (and really that's the point, there is no right or wrong in this case). Society labels so much as wrong beyond a certain age in a child, but I wasn't going to let culture rule on this one. I decided that until I felt sure one way or the other, I wasn't going to do anything drastic and risk hurting him.

Whether it's a young-brother-idolising-an-older-brother thing or whether I have two children who are sensitive in that way, Kian also sought solace in his thumb and a muslin. 

Those 12 muslins have dwindled to seven. They have soothed and calmed my children for years. Once white and crisp, they are now grey, frayed and stained. At our last dentist visit (like every visit), I was warned about the consequences of thumb-sucking (and I know deep down that so long as there are muslins around there will always be the sucking of thumbs). And while even Graeme and I can see that Luca's mouth and where his top teeth now sit have changed, no one was talking to me about the emotional impact. No one took the time to see a different perspective. So I left well alone, again until I knew what to do.

Over the past six months, though, those grey muslins have caused more issues than they have relieved. The more we tried to limit them to sleep time, the more meltdowns we had. Until I realised one day that they no longer soothe or calm, not with Luca anyway. They were suppressing. 

When he felt frustrated, angry to the point of tears, tired to the point of tears, a muslin quickly grabbed would just silence all the emotion. That's when I knew. It's like the dummy in a baby's mouth that just wants to let it out (no judgement here by the way; I had my own on/off relationship with dummies in the early days).

I know with absolute certainty that my children need to learn how to express themselves – expression is everything. I'm still working out what all this looks like – I'm still working it out for myself. I don't know how; I just know that keeping it in doesn't work. They won't know who they are until they let all the crap out first.

So about a month ago, I started talking about it being time for the muslin fairy to come and exchange all their muslins for something very special of their choice. Over days and weeks, we talked. Luca asked why and I said because it was better for him to feel what he's feeling without his muslins taking it all away. 

Luca wrote the letter: "Please fairy can I have a ship that actually floats in real water, and some pieces of metal." Kian asked for a puzzle and a rock.

The day arrived. Luca was emotional. I was emotional. At one stage I didn't know if I had the heart to go through with it. I took a picture of him having his last sleep with a muslin, and I kept thinking of how much these pieces of cloth have been a part of our lives for the past five and a half years. But I recognised my emotions for what they were: resistance. My resistance to change. 

We put them in a basket on the front doorstep. We spent the evening driving around the streets looking at Christmas lights, to give the fairy time to do the exchange.

When we got back, we all cheered at the magic. A wooden sailboat that actually floats in real water, a few bits of metal, a special magnetic puzzle and a rock all sat where the muslins were an hour before. They went to bed and all I felt was sadness at tucking them in without the scruffy bits of cloth that they always clung to as I sang them a song.

Amazingly, Luca hasn't once asked for his muslin. The emotional outbursts are still the same, but now he has the chance to let it out properly. And perhaps this might even help him regulate his emotions in the long term. Kian turns three this weekend; he's still a baby. It feels like he made a sacrifice for his older brother.. There was no reason for him to give up his muslins, but there was no other way. All I can do is trust I've done the right thing by them both. 

I'm happy with how they're dealing with it. I'm happy they felt the exchange was a fair one. The only person who's emotional is the one writing this post. Perhaps in the end I was more attached than they were. And isn't there a lesson in that.

8 comments:

  1. I loved this post. All 3 of my children have had some type of comforter, a dummy, a blanky or fingers to suck. My husbands grandmother used to always tell my baby girl she was 'naughty' for sucking her fingers. She must have sucked them in the womb because she did it from the day she was born. She's stopped now of her own accord, but still has her beloved blankie, which won't be going anytime soon. When my boys gave up their dummies it was painless and we still have all those lovely photos to look back on!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a beautiful post: it's soothing to the mind and reminds me that sometimes, the best solution, even if it's not the one we would have chosen and is a hard one, is to let go. It's never easy to do, like we say, "easier said than done", but when I think about my previous experience and the way I felt afterwards, that's when I knew that it was the right decision, just like you.
    Thank you for sharing and for those lovely words, I'll be sure to come again to this post when I become a mother.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Goodness, this has really made me think this post!! I've never really seen my son's blanky bear comforter as an issue like others in my life. Yet when you wrote "silence all the emotion" it struck me! It's never even crossed my mind but it's oh so true when it comes to our situation. Food for thought.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow, this post brought tears to my eyes. We don't have the muslins and thumbsucking, it's got me thinking about the things that my three and a half year old daughter uses to take the bad feelings away...
    Jo

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post, Vanessa, good insights. One of the bestest things about having children is what they teach and bring to US!

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a beautiful story, and I think you handled it well. I sucked my thumb until I wore a dental plate with sharp things to stop me from sucking when I was about 8. My daughter now has an attachment to her "jutie" bottle. It's just a bottle of milk, and I feel like it is very harmless. Like you, I feel like "Why hurry?" I am conscious that it is her way of soothing herself. I have ways to self-soothe, and I am happy for her that she has that two. She is nearly 4...not sure how old your boys are, or that it matters even, but I am interested in your perspective about the "suppression" of emotion. I guess my daughter is very verbal and expressive, so if anything, she needs help relaxing, which is what the bottle is for her. Hmmm. Food for thought. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes so true Zanni, where's the line between soothing and suppressing? I think for Luca it helped soothe him for years. He needed it and whilst it bothered other people, it didn't bother me - like you say it's their way of soothing themselves. They feel comforted and safe. But more recently (he's almost 6 btw) he was grabbing it throughout the day, several times in an hour. I'm not even sure I can put it in words, but it was a feeling I had that his muslin was no longer a good thing. Perhaps it's the difference between relaxing with a glass of wine and needing to drink all day. Getting rid of it was actually quite easy, what I have to help him with are his emotions. Or perhaps we'll be helping each other!

      Delete
  7. Lovely post!
    I swaddled my daughter in muslins when she was a baby. Now she is 10 years old, and I still have them. I joined 2 together to make a longer length, and when she is sick, out comes the muslin to drape over her. The rest of the time the muslin is in the linen cupboard. The muslins are so soft, as they get softer with age.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I read every one. x