Living with The Boy is a bit like living with an overgrown puppy. Not because he’s bouncy and exuberant, and certainly not because he’s loving and faithful. No, The Boy has a decidedly canine habit of putting everything in his mouth and chewing it half to death.
It started when he was a baby. Of course, all babies gum things, so at that point, it was never much of a concern. Even when he was two, then three, we assumed it was something developmental, something he’d grow out of. But here we are, two weeks away from his sixth birthday, and we’re still no closer to getting him to stop chewing everything in sight.
Why does he do it? We have no idea. Habit definitely comes into it. So, too, perhaps, does boredom and/or concentration. Maybe it’s a stress response to something or other. But 99 per cent of the time, he doesn’t even realise he’s doing it, and that makes it more or less impossible to identify the cause.
Over the past few years, we’ve tried everything to cure The Boy’s pica (because yes, it does have a medical name). We’ve told him that we’ll have to take his Lego away: after all, it’s marketed as unsuitable for under threes due to the risk of choking. We’ve told him he’ll break his teeth, or make himself ill by ingesting all manner of noxious germs. We’ve told him he’ll have to have an operation where his tummy is cut open to get rid of all the inedible stuff he’s eaten. But nothing has worked. In Reception, he even had his shoes confiscated for licking them.
Every now and then, we go through a period where he’s not quite so bad. We dare to hope that maybe he’s growing out of this frankly revolting habit. But it never lasts. And in the past few weeks, he’s been worse than ever. I’ve caught him chewing stones, bits of paper, sequins… The last straw was when we got to school the other morning and I noticed his glasses were missing their nose pads. He insisted he had no idea where they’d gone, but then his teacher told me that she’d had to take them away from him because he’d pulled them off and put them in his mouth.
At our parent-teacher consultation today, it became clear that The Boy’s oral fixation is his biggest problem at school. He’s been on The Black Cloud – usually reserved for hitting, fighting or similar naughtiness – for picking pieces of foam off the Star Worker cushion and eating them. His teacher told us that when The Boy was sick at school the other week, she told him that it was probably because he’d put something horrible in his mouth. But he’s a tough nut to crack. We’ve been threatening him with certain disease, if not death, for six years, and all he’s learnt is that we’re blatantly lying. Apparently every worksheet he hands in has one corner missing, chewed to a pulp.
I did hope that as he got older, peer pressure might coax The Boy out of his chewing habit. He’s already known among his classmates as the resident vacuum cleaner, and I know that several of his friends have told their parents that he is funny (read: weird) because he picks bits off the carpet and eats them. It turns my stomach to think exactly what those bits might be; mud and other children’s bogeys, most likely. But he seems not to care what his friends think of him. I blame my husband: still an incurable nail-biter who also confesses to having got his tongue stuck to a frosty car headlight at more or less The Boy’s age.
I would love to think that one day, The Boy will outgrow his habit. But in reality, I’m pretty certain that long after we’ve stopped telling The Baby not to put things in her mouth, we’ll still be nagging The Boy about that very same matter. I can foresee years of chewed jumper sleeves and book spines ahead, and have a feeling that he’ll grow into one of those adults who always has a gnawed pencil in his mouth.
Still, at least he’s building a good immune system…