About 100 times a day, I tell Gracie to get her fingers out of her mouth. Each time I see her chomping on a finger, it makes my heart beat a little faster. She has done some serious damage to her fingers by biting, and nearly every hospital stay has been because of a bite wound gone bad. It’s not just one of those mom things to say when I tell her to get her fingers out of her mouth – it’s a seriously big deal.
Recently, we spent the day with a family with a 1 1/2 year old. All day long, that cute little boy had his hand in his mouth, and it was all I could do not to say anything about it. He can feel pain, so he’s in no danger of biting his fingertips off, but it was just as scary to me to see him with his hands in his mouth as it is to see Gracie the same way.
It also made me remember those early days of finger wounds, before we realized they were self-inflicted and before we had any idea Gracie couldn’t feel pain. She was behaving like a typical baby, putting her hands in her mouth and experimenting with her new teeth. But, unlike a typical baby, it didn’t hurt her when she bit her fingers. She never had that immediate cause-and-effect reaction of pain from the bites, and so her biting got worse and worse and the wounds got more and more serious, eventually resulting in infections, gangrene, auto-amputation, and antibiotic resistance.
Things are starting to change for our little Amazing Gracie. She is starting to realize the cause-and-effect that she never got as a baby. She is old enough now for us to reason with her, so when she bites her fingers and defiantly says she wants to go to the hospital, we can tell her that if she does, she will have to miss school, she will not get a sucker at school on Sucker Friday, she won’t be able to go to ballet or riding lessons, she will have to have her hand bandaged and won’t be able to write or color, and she won’t be able to play with her toys or sleep in her own bed or eat when she wants or watch “Sofia the First” or enjoy any of the other luxuries of home life. And – this is new and amazingly amazing – she is starting to get it. She is learning that even though she doesn’t feel the pain of her bites, there are consequences. They may not be immediate cause-and-effect consequences, but they are still there and they are dire.
I hope that someday I will not have to remind Gracie to get her hands out of her mouth. I hope that as she gets older she will be able to resist the impulse to bite entirely. I hope that she does not defiantly injure herself, and we can enjoy a few more months without a hospital stay and without antibiotics.