Last night the dummy fairy paid us a visit.
To be honest, she should have come a long time ago, but I've been putting the visit off until the time was right. I had thought the time might be when my daughter was 2, but then she turned 2 and still seemed so little. And then we were filming The Block, so couldn’t do it it then. And then I was travelling, or she was sick, or I was busy. And suddenly she was a few months past her 3rd birthday and more addicted to her dummy than ever. Which had now gone from 'only at bedtime' to 'only at bedtime, in the car, when she’s sick, when she's tired, when we’re working, or when she asks for it enough.'
I realised I had missed the chance to get rid of it without it being a major issue, and that however we did it now it was going to be tough, for both of us. But it had to go. I just had to find a time when we were ready. And by we, I mean me.
Poppy's letter from the dummy fairy.
Poppy's letter from the dummy fairy.
We had a false start a few months ago, when she decided all of a sudden she didn't need her dummy anymore. She threw it in the bin to high fives and cheering, and 30 minutes later was crying for it again. I lasted 10 minutes before reaching into the bin to retrieve it for her. Clearly, I am not of the tough love school of parenting.
But now I was ready. I gathered up all the dummies (checking for secret stashes), drove around the corner and dumped them in a public bin. Obviously I can't be trusted not to cave, so this step was imperative. I did have a moment of fear as I dropped them in, but stayed strong. We were ready. We could do this.
I bought a gift and typed up a letter from the dummy fairy, thanking Poppy for giving her dummies to the new babies who needed them more. I added that if she was a brave girl and went to sleep without her dummy, there would be another gift to come, just as a backup. I laid the letter and gifts on her bed, went to pick her up from childcare and nervously awaited her response.
The first stage went spectacularly well. She was thrilled to get an unexpected gift and the idea of a fairy visiting our house was equally thrilling. I was silently congratulating myself for a job well done, as she exclaimed to her brother “The dummy fairy has taken my dummies to the new babies in the hospital!” And then finished with, “And when it’s nighttime and I’m tired - SHE’LL BRING THEM BACK TO ME!!” Clearly the dummy fairy concept needed some work.
When I gently repeated that the dummies were all gone now, she smiled knowingly and replied, "But there's one left."
"No darling," I repeated. "They're all gone."
"I’ll find one," she said again, a steely determination flashing across her eyes. God I love that determination in her. She seemed satisfied with this knowledge, so we let it go until bedtime. I braced myself for the inevitable outcome and made sure there was wine in the fridge for when it hit.
Then, as I tucked her into sleep, the words I had been waiting for finally came. "I want my dummy." And it was on. It seemed like hours, but was probably less than one, of endless 'I want my dummy!' as she sobbed and wailed, alternated with screaming and the occasional teddy thrown across the room.
It was like seeing someone in the depths of grief, or withdrawal. And I suppose it was. She hasn't slept without a dummy since she was a few weeks old and letting go of her comforter was hard. So I lay with her, stroked her hair and let her feel all the things she was feeling. And thought, thank god I got rid of those dummies, because I would've caved for sure.
But just when I was questioning if we could both take anymore, something unexpected happened. She threw her teddy, and it hit me square in the face. And suddenly she stopped sobbing, and laughed. Then we both laughed, as I played it up and did anything I could to keep those laughs coming and the sobs silent. After a while the laughter died down and she was silent for a moment. "I've stopped crying now Mummy," she said, "I'm ok."
I had prepared myself for her to cry herself to sleep, but I hadn't expected that.
So we lay together and talked about the babies in the hospital who would get her dummies, about when she was a baby, what a big grown up girl she was now and how proud of her I was. And then, after an hour or so of talking, she closed her eyes and calmly went to sleep.
With my heart full, I watched her sleep and felt as though we had conquered something major together. Her realisation that life can be hard and hurt sometimes, but that she is strong enough to get through it. And my realisation that if she can show as much strength and determination through her life as she did just then, she is going to be just fine.
It was a lesson that if we let our children face challenges and feel and express emotions like anger, frustration, loss and sadness, they will learn it's ok to feel them and move past it. Which is a far more profound lesson than I ever expected to get from the dummy fairy.
As for the second night, it did take her longer to settle than usual, but there were no tears, just a lot of talking and endless requests for more stories. But she didn’t ask for her dummy, not once. Because she’s a big girl now.