the material life

We call it a sucette. Our babysitter calls it a binky, and a couple of days ago the clerk at the grocery store, teasing Adam by asking for it, called it a nuk-nuk – I think. Nuk nuk sounded vaguely disturbing to me, and the surprisingly popular game of leaning over Adam and asking for something – can you give me your shoe? Your fruitpack? Or whatever, which many people seem to think is just the way to tease a baby, was played by that clerk just a tiny bit too roughly. This went with nuk nuk, I thought.
Such are the various titles of what is more neutrally called a pacifier. It is an article that, for the last year and a half, has been essential in our house. When Adam was very young – around three months, I believe – we bought our first one and he rejected it, and I thought that we wouldn’t need a pacifier. However, it turned out that this rejection was more in the nature of a misunderstanding. Or rather, it was more in the nature of how a sucette is used – for the calm that comes with putting it in his mouth and shifting it around and laying back and playing with its little handle (that handle that has a certain unpleasant visual association for me – I am always reminded of the ring they put on a bull’s nose, and I sometimes think it gives Adam too painfully the air of an animal we have domesticated, even if that is, really, the truth), it also seems to be comforting to throw it away. There’s some ceremony in it – in the same way that a baseball player tears his cap from his head and throws it down and stomps on it to theatricalize some fault in the umpire’s judgment, Adam likes to definitively toss the pacifier to signify that he’s about to run around yelling or play chase or hide. He also likes to lay it aside, with a graceful, judgmental gesture when he has decided to eat. This is always interesting to watch, because it means that he is going to be serious, now, about his turkey, or his yoghurt, or his bread. And just as taking the sucette out of his mouth prefaces his decision to grab the little strips of turkey and stuff as many of them as possible in his mouth, or take the plastic spoon and see how much Nature’s Own Turkey and Rice glop he can get on it and then, in a perilous trajectory towards his face, in his mouth (the glop often leaving a trail of drops on his pants and shirt on the way to its slide down the digestive tract.), so, too, the resumption of the pacifier is a final punctuation, a full stop that means this meal is over. Surely, this is manners on the infant scale.

The sucette is slowly losing its necessity as Adam pressses onward to that magic 2 year old mark. It used to be part of the standard kit for going out. I’d make sure I had water, crackers, maybe a fruit or a fruit pack, and the sucette before I lifted our boy up and strapped him into his stroller. The stroller did pose the problem that, often, Adam would decide that it was time to toss the sucette, and if I wasn’t paying attention, we’d lose it. Even if I was paying attention, I hesitated about taking a pacifier that had been tossed onto a sidewalk traversed by man and beast and tucking it back into Adam’s mouth. In truth, one loses a lot of squeamishness when raising a baby, but I had some left. Besides of course the mortification of somebody seeing me giving a pacifier to my baby after I’d picked it off the sidewalk or grass or floor. We found our solution one day in Atlanta in a Walmart, where they sold these handy ribbon clips, which allowed us to clip the band to Adam’s shirt and attach the sucette to the band. This didn’t entirely solve the problem, however, as Adam developed a way of unclipping the pacifier and tossing it, with the ribbon attached. Also, in the pandaemonium that takes the place of housekeeping when you have a baby, those ribbons would crawl under beds or dressers or insinuate themselve among the socks or somehow get in the bathtub – which meant that, added to the hunt for the pacifier was the hunt for the ribbon so that the pacifier wouldn’t get lost. Such is the treadmill of consumerism, ladies and gents.