The Long Goodbye
My daughter Chloe is 2 ½, sitting solemnly in a cavernous, elevated dentist's chair. "Open, pal," the dentist says. She opens. "Close," he says. Her mouth clamps shut.
At the end of the visit, we are given gifts -- a page of rainbow stickers and a glittery toothbrush with the dentist's name printed on it -- and a piece of unsettling news: She needs to give up her pacifier. Chloe, says the dentist, has a significant cross bite. The pacifier is making it worse.
Back at home, I search online and find, in addition to a dizzying array of conflicting opinions about pacifier use, a little story. "My name is Mampi," the tale begins. "I am a pacifier. I am your Pacifier, and I am very happy to be yours. You have a Mummy. I also have a Mummy. My Mummy is the Pacifier Fairy, and I love her very much..."
In the story, Mampi's child-host waits for a full moon and then leaves Mampi on the windowsill so that the Pacifier Fairy can come in the night and take Mampi home to Pacifierland. The text is located, ironically, on the official website for Mam, the Austrian company that makes the brand of pacifier we happen to use, and as I read it, I feel a bit like I'm reading a cigarette ad with a boxed announcement saying that smoking is harmful to your health. Still, the story is charming, and at bedtime, I read it to Chloe, expecting this to be a mere introduction. We must ease in, after all. We must wait for a full moon. But as soon as I finish, Chloe says she is ready. "Really?" I ask. "Tonight?"
She leaves the fifi (as it has been dubbed in our house) on the windowsill; she does not say goodbye. As she sleeps, mouth open, hands clutching her stuffed lion, I sneak in and leave a note from the Fifi Fairy, and a gift. In the morning, Chloe wakes to the note, and to a shimmery pink dress-up skirt rimmed with fake white fur.
And that, for her, is the end of the fifi, despite the fact that our house is still full of pacifiers. Her little sister, Sylvie, only a few months old, has a fine collection of her own in a bouquet of different colors. She's a colicky infant; the pacifiers comfort her. Just for a few more months, I tell myself.
Except somehow, we forget. Somehow, it doesn't seem relevant; she has, after all, at 9 months old, exactly zero teeth. And then -- whoops -- she's nearly 2 ½, still fifying, though only at night and on long car trips. Chloe, now 4 ½, has a lisp and is under strict instructions from a speech therapist to give up sippy cups and do jaw exercises. While no one will ever say for sure that these problems were caused by her former pacifier habit, no one will ever say for sure that they were not. "What about our younger daughter?" I ask the speech therapist.
"Have her give it up now."
"But she just moved out of her crib into a regular bed. Isn't that a lot of transi--"
"Have her give it up."
Elizabeth Graver is the author of three novels, Unravelling, The Honey Thief, and Awake.