Confessions of a Childhood Thumbsucker

I have a confession to make: I used to be a thumbsucker. Not the kind that did it out in public everywhere that I was taken, but done at night in the safety of my bed to help me sleep when I was little.

I don’t remember the initial introduction to this habit, but my mom said I was a few months old and never used a pacifier. What I do remember is that I had a white blanket with fringe on the end, and I would wrap a clump of the fringe around my little finger before pulling it off and smelling it while I sucked my thumb.

We apparently called this “Nonny Nose,” although I’m sure I would have come up with something more clever had toddler me been given the option.

But here’s where it gets interesting, as after the blanket, there was Bun.

Instead of bringing the fringe up to my nose when I sucked my thumb, it was his left ear—almost always the left one. Why? Because I slept on my right side—always facing the door in my room—and so his left ear was closest to me.

bun1I can’t tell you exactly what it was about that first in a series of OCD rituals, but I remember thinking that his (snot and spit-covered) ear smelled different with my thumb in my mouth. Also, the left ear was superior to the right and if I didn’t suck my thumb and smell his ear, I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

When we traveled up north to our trailer in the summer, I would sleep on the top bunk of our triple bunk beds. After the second time I fell out—I guess we had to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke— we put in a bed rail. Because Bun often fell out, we tied a shoestring around his neck noose-like and secured him to said bed rail.

A bit dark, yes, but it did the trick.

Bun’s little withered body eventually began to show the wear and tear of being loved a little bit too much. It was a sad day when I finally let go of his scrawny little neck, but my dates were getting uncomfortable with the fact I let him keep his side of the bed.

I kid, I kid. We all know I don’t have dates.

But I have to confess that this ritual went on a lot longer than it probably did for most kids. I never brought Bun to sleepovers or anything, but when I got anxious it was a comfort to pop that thumb in to help me sleep.

I rationalized sucking my thumb was no worse than other kids who bit their nails, which I thought was gross. And it’s not like I was a 9-year-old turning to a beer or a jumbo box of Marlboro Lights every time life got to be a little too much or anything. Plus, it’s been said that the tip of the thumb has a sensory receptor that triggers the body to release endorphins and cortisol that help the body relax and feel happy.

Whatever. I just thought his stupid ear smelled good.

So what made me finally break the habit? Did I suddenly realize it must be stopped in order to blossom into a functioning member of society?

Sure, we can go with that. Or we can go with the real reason, which was that I was getting adult teeth and everyone told me that people who sucked their thumbs would be cursed with crooked teeth. The Tooth Fairy didn’t exactly leave that on a note, but that was the rumor I heard.

Perhaps it was too little too late at that point because I had to get braces a couple of years later anyway. Now whether or not the thumb sucking contributed to that or not is still unknown, but once I got them, that thumb stayed out of my mouth and those tiny rubber bands of pain went in.

But for those early, formative years, there was no greater comfort than a raggly white blanket and spit-covered plush.

Thumbs up to you, faithful friends.

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22 responses to “Confessions of a Childhood Thumbsucker

  1. Bun’s is so cute! x

  2. hollowtreeventures

    Bun is adorable! I had Blankie, and I always sniffed one two-inch section of the satin around the blanket edge because I was convinced it smelled better than any other part. (I swore it smelled like grapes. My mom swore I was smelling my own saliva.) I sucked my right pointer and middle fingers (both together, not interchangeably) and to give you an idea how long I kept it up, I distinctly remember quitting because I had my first crush on a boy, and I was embarrassed about the little calluses I had on my first two knuckles from my teeth rubbing on them. I WAS OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE A CRUSH ON A BOY. I have no idea what happened to that boy, but I still know exactly where Blankie is.

  3. I sucked my fingers, because my thumb would have been to normal. I think I finally gave it up in 4th grade – I was a late bloomer. My 9yo now has Bluey…a 4 foot long crib bumper that she wraps around her like a stole and sucks her thumb. No Bluey is not blue, that would be too normal. Poor kid, she had no chance.

  4. My older daughter had a blankie forever. Toward the end she just switched because the first one was in shreds. When she was little and we were traveling, the shredded blankie must have slipped off her hands and the airport cleaners promptly tossed it in the trash. I told the cleaners they could throw our passports in the trash, but not blankie. I remember rooting through actual trash to rescue blankie and cleaning it in the airport bathroom. That I let her put that hideous thing in her mouth for the entire flight, and that we all survived to tell the tale, is a story for another day 🙂 She’s in college now and still loves to snuggle with some kind of blankie. All these “blankies” are my nightclothes so I have to be extra careful to make sure she doesn’t swipe any more 🙂

  5. I sucked my thumb through elementary school-don’t remember when I stopped but I was probably about 9 or 10. I had a blanket with a satin edge that I would rub when I sucked my thumb and it accidentally (GASP) got thrown away. Back when the garbage men actually came up to your house to pick up the trash, I had left it outside on the porch when I was playing with my sisters and they assumed (wrongly) that it was trash and picked it up. That’s probably why I quit-without the blanket, sucking my thumb just wasn’t as satisfying!

  6. I sucked mine, privately, until I was about 18, when I had my daughter. I don’t remember consciously quitting, it just happened. I still love to “silk” on a tag or satin blanket binding. I never needed braces though.

  7. My 6 1/2 year old son is a thumb-sucker…has been since he was about 3 weeks old. I gave him the talk about his adult teeth – and he said bravely “ok, I will stop!”, he paused, lip quivering, and then burst into tears. I cried too and told him he could suck his thumb forever.

  8. I have a photo of my now 6YO sucker with her thumb in her mouth about an hour out of the womb. She too sucks and rubs the silky edge of her blanky. She knows she’ll have braces, and will exclaim some mornings “I didn’t suck my thumb all night!” I did it until I was 7 or maybe even 9. I’m not worried, I wish we could all have such a constant source of comfort.

  9. My oldest finally had to have a device put in his mouth to stop him from sucking his thumb. He has this thing that was a monkey head attached to what appeared to be a dinner napkin (yeah, don’t ask), and the head finally came off the napkin thing, was chewed by the dog and repaired by me TWICE (my son is a slow learner), and he would rub one of its ears while he sucked this thumb. He still likes the monkey head, but he doesn’t suck his thumb anymore. This whole thing is genetic, because I sucked my thumb for way longer than I’m willing to admit publicly, and I have read that it’s the pressure the thumb places on the roof of your mouth that creates the comforting sensation, whatever that is (endorphins or whatever). I liked to smell my index finger under my nose when I was sucking my thumb. No idea why. Probably because it was convenient, since I am both strange and lazy.

  10. Neither of my girls were thumb suckers but Miss D. is a nail biter and you’re right–it’s gross!

  11. I don’t remember my childhood habits. Actually I don’t remember most of my childhood… except that time a coconut fell out of a tree & hit me on the head (not making that up).

    You think there’s a connection?

  12. Aww…first OCD memories. So sweet.
    When I was little, my baby blanket, which I still sleep with (yup), had to be laid out over me in a diamond shape, entirely flat each night when I went to bed. I mean, not a wrinkle. Then I’d pull the top corner up, over my head and tuck it between my ear and the pillow. This way, the monsters I could hear stomping up the driveway couldn’t get me. (The stomping was the sound of my heart beating in my ear drum.)

  13. My son’s got Cow. While he doesn’t suck his thumb, he goes nowhere without Cow. And Cow’s ear is a dead ringer for Bun’s.

  14. I was a thumb sucker too!!! We’re twinsies!

  15. I was (and still occasionally am) a nail biter (I know it is disgusting). I had a bunny named Mitsy. Mitsy used to hide in front of my face while I bit my nails until they bled. Good old Mitsy is still at my Dad’s house. I thought she was expensive and awesome. Turns out she is a carnival toy filled with tiny little balls of death foam. With death foam and the bacteria that must have been under my nails it is a wonder I survived childhood!

  16. I also sucked my thumb and had this complicated stomach ritual that was connected with it too where I scratched my stomach, then used my wet thumb to cover it with saliva (ew!) and for the piece de resistance I’d lay my bare stomach down on our cold glass coffee table while I sucked my thumb. Have no idea why I did this. But it had to stop when I got a retainer with the fangs at about 7 or 8 yrs old.

  17. I always picked my lips (still do it). It’s been interesting to watch my daughter (4 months old) discover that she can suck her thumb/fingers and it makes me wonder if she’ll carry that habit as she gets older.

  18. I sucked my thumb until I was 18. The only reason I stopped was because I chose to get braces (not because I needed them per se, but because I’m a singer and it pays to have nice teeth).

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