Two of my three four-year-olds went to bed Wednesday night crying. Why? Because they had wet socks over both of their hands, rendering their thumbs unsuckable. The torture of trying to go to sleep without their thumbs in their mouths was extreme. And I was responsible for their anguish.
In my defense, I was only following doctor’s orders. You see, on November 10th, sixteen full days before, the boys swam in an overly chlorinated hot tub. Grandma S. and I got soaked in chemicals, too, but luckily it just dried out our skin and irritated unmentionable areas a little. For the boys, it was like an acid bath. Their unmentionables turned bright red and burned for days. One boy screamed at the pain of the water hitting his eyes, which is what initially clued me in that something was seriously wrong with the water. If you think I exaggerate, this photo shows how my blue swimsuit and matching board shorts were bleached by the chlorine:
Stunning, isn’t it? When I realized what was happening (aka, when my boys all suddenly grabbed at their, uh, private regions and started jumping up and down), I rushed them home and into a sudsy shower. We soaped every part thoroughly, several times. I called Poison Control after we dried off and the experts told me that I’d done the right thing in scrubbing them clean. They also warned me to watch their breathing and swallowing. Well, that scared me. But the boys seemed fine in that way. Still, when they were stumbling around the house hours later complaining of severe discomfort from their reddened areas and rashes developed on their wrists, a trip to urgent care became necessary. I found it revealing that the doctor walked into the room and said, “Woo! It reeks of chlorine in here.” This, after all that scrubbing.
The upshot is, the boys’ tender little privates were okay in a couple of days. But the rashes on their wrists have not only remained, they’ve gotten worse. Now the red, raw, itchy patches extend from their wrists to the middle knuckles of their fingers.
Doctor trip #2 was the night before Thanksgiving. That was when stronger cream was prescribed, and to keep the cream moist and prevent it from wiping off, we were ordered to cover their hands with damp socks. That’s when the real trauma of the event set in. My sons are devoted thumb suckers, and the mere thought of not having access to that valuable digit reduced them to hysterics.
For some bizarre, un-thought-through reason, I suggested that maybe they shouldn’t suck their thumbs anymore anyway. They were aghast at the mere suggestion. “Sucking our thumbs makes our spit taste good,” they informed me as if I were some kind of doofus to not know this. There’s where they’re wrong: I’m not a doofus at all, I’m a recovering thumb sucker. Indeed, I sucked my thumb until the ripe old age of eleven, when I suddenly, for no explainable reason, stopped cold turkey. It startled my parents, who had spent years rubbing Tabasco sauce under my thumbnail, making me wear gloves, and doing just about anything they could think of to discourage me from sucking my thumb. I can remember one day when my older sister even ripped my thumb from my mouth, threw me to the ground, and rubbed my wet thumb into the dirt. None of it phased me in any way. Here’s the thing: I never ever wore braces. Despite more than a decade of thumb sucking, I have extraordinarily straight and perfect teeth. Dentists actually wax poetic about them. I was less blessed in the eye department, though, having worn glasses since the age of three, but then, life is full of trade-offs, isn’t it?
So you see, I do understand my sons’ anguish. I’m being completely honest when I say that I have no problem with them going back to thumb sucking once their hands are healed. I understand the comfort of that thumb sucking, and I’ve always felt that triplets are allowed a bit of controversial comfort, after all, parents only have so many arms, so baby triplets are often left crying whereas singletons would be scooped up at the first whimper. And those long weekdays when mom is the only one on duty… well, there’s a lot of self-comforting going on in triplets’ cribs, let me tell you.
So to my boys I say, Mommy gets it, she really does. But sometimes mommies have to do things they don’t want to do because that’s the best thing for their babies. It’s called Tough Love, boys . . . and believe me, it really does hurt me as much as it hurts you.