I was a thumbsucker when I was 4 years old. To be precise, I loved to suck on my index and middle fingers at the same time. This brought me much comfort, especially before going to bed. Tucking me in one night my mother told me I was now a big girl and could not suck my fingers anymore. She had an air of certainty to her words. I protested vigorously. But she had an alternate plan for me. Placing a small pink ceramic doll in my hand she said, “Here. Every time you want to suck your fingers, hold this little dolly close to your cheek, instead.” I was dubious, but thought I must do it somehow if I was ever to be a ‘big girl’.

That night as I struggled to obey her, nestling my hand tightly into my cheek, it wasn’t fun, but it did bring a certain relief, as I settled into the idea that I was now being a ‘big girl’. Soon I was just as addicted to that dolly as I had been to my fingers before, and could not go to sleep without it. One day as my mother changed the sheets it fell to the floor, and broke into pieces. I was horrified! What will I do now? I cried bitterly. In a calm voice she assured me, “Won’t worry – we’ll get you another one.” Days went by, and when I’d ask her about it, she’d say, “Don’t worry – we’ll find one someday”, and then promptly distract me with some interesting activity or other. Week after week she never did ‘find one’ and I learned to live without it. How clever she was, to replace one attachment with another, not leaving me abandoned to my grief.

Last year at a garage sale, I saw the exact kind of ceramic dolly staring up at me. Somehow it had lost its allure. How much that little block of ceramic had meant to me! The very symbol of comfort. And security. Bigger things have since replaced it, and one by one been lost or broken themselves, disappointing me in the love of ‘things’. Only love itself, not its trappings, lives forever. I’m not letting go of THAT. EVER!

Ruth Elliott
Helping parents and caregivers guide character development…
more about Ruth


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