What is the obsession with pacifiers? Now judging by that first sentence you might think I am referring to my son. But no, it’s the adult obsession with pacifiers that I am most curious about.

This time, it was the old man at a gas station on I-74.

We, the Little Prince and I, are waiting in line to pay for our respective apple juice and diet soda, two of our other vices. And there is a bit of a wait because a different customer has had seizure and the ambulance has to be called (before the ambulance has a chance to get there the seized man jumps up and runs out the door like he has a warrant on him. Strange things happen when you travel, folks.) Anyway, we are in line, and the older man in front of us looks down at my son and says–

“You’re a bit old for that aren’t you?”

I look down at my son too and notice that he has taken a clip on flashlight from a display, the little shoplifter.

“The flashlight?” I ask.

“No, that thing in his mouth,” he says with a little disgust. “He’s a bit old for that, isn’t he?”

And I realize he’s talking about the pacifier. This is not the first time this has happened. Sometimes I explain how he has a sensory need for chewing and that a pacifier is one of the few appropriate things he can put in his mouth. Sometimes I explain that he has autism but that turns into a whole other thing, where they start to stammer, or stupidly say, “He doesn’t look autistic.”  As if that were a compliment of some kind.  So, this time I keep it simple.

“Nope,” I say, “He’s not too old.”  And then because I always feel like I need to explain myself to strangers, a habit I also need to quit, I say, “He’s just very tall. He’s much younger than he looks.”  Which is actually true. He is often mistaken for a four year old when he’s not even three.

The old man looks at me, leaning on his cane. Then it’s his turn at the register. And at this I almost laugh out loud, he’s buying lottery tickets.  This man has two crutches, his lottery tickets and his literal cane, and he is sneering at my son.

Of course, it bugs me. Obviously, it’s bugging me, I am writing a whole blog post about it. It bugged me all the way home down I-74.

It seems to me that everyone needs some sort of external soothing. For me it’s stories, whether that’s books, podcasts, film or television– when I need to calm down, only a story will do, and I will cram as many as I can down my mental gullet to feel better. John uses video games. After a long day at work his favorite thing is to battle, hour after hour, in virtual conquest (I can’t decide if that sound really cool or really nerdy. Maybe both.)

And the Little Prince. He lives in a world where he does not understand the language yet people consistenly expect him to not only listen but obey. He lives in a beautiful world where textures, sights, and sounds are unmeasurably interesting, but apparently not supposed to be touched, not supposed to be watched, not supposed to be listened to.  Not supposed. No wonder he’s stressed sometimes.

Why is it that we as adults can temper our anxities with as many external soothers as we want but still demand that the smallest, most vulnerable of us, do it cold turkey?

I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t like random old men and women sneering at my toddler. Maybe that stresses me out.

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