We’ve had a tough few weeks in the Pennington-Cross household. It’s been so bad that I was reduced to the Naughty/Nice Threat this morning.
Nick, who’s 4, could give demonstrational seminars on how to effect ADHD on steroids. His decibel levels would put Metallica to shame. Most of his noises aren’t even human. He is exhausting me. Meanwhile, Jesse is stressed about everything, everything, everything. Her “I hate…” Tourette’s tic is in full force. It makes me want to head-butt her and send her to her room for a month with a chamber pot, hot pot, 10 gallons of water and some freeze-dried foods. She could drop her waste out the window to me every day via a bucket pulley.
Instead, I take deep breaths and wonder if I could learn to act like the animal trainer from the Shedd Aquarium who proudly declares that his trainees will never hear the word “No.” Well goody goody for you, Mr. Awesome Trainer, I’m so glad your animals live in La -La Land where no one says “no” and they’re trapped their entire lives in watery cages dreaming of a day when they’re free of their never-say-no captors. Just sayin’.
Living day-to-day with Jesse is like Chinese water torture. The struggle is in the details, and they’re too boring and repetitive for words, which is also what makes them so awful at times. In particular, I’ve got some sort of post-trauma reaction going on when it’s time to get ready for school and head out the door. Jesse has TRANSITION ISSUES. Around this time of year, after almost 4 months in school, I’ve lost the fight. I feel in turns morose, blank, and enraged as I search my mind for new and not-too-negative ways to persuade her to get a move on. Once in a while it backfires in the worst way, like last week when I left her inside by herself and waited in the car with Nick. It took her 15 minutes to come out. She was in tears. “Why didn’t you come when I called, Mommy? I called and I called, like this, MOMMMEEEEE MOMMMEEEE! I had a messy poop and needed your help to clean it!”
This morning I slumped on the sofa with a cup of coffee, watching Jesse and Nick cheerfully run around doing their thing – sneaking the iPad and kindle, moving dinosaur figurines here and there. I asked Jesse politely for the 5th time to go upstairs and get dressed, because we needed to leave for school in 10 minutes. She ignored me for the 5th time and went on about her sassy-pants business. The words came out my mouth glumly, before I could stop them. Jesse. It’s Christmas next week. Do you want more presents or less? Do you really think you’re inspiring me to go shopping for you by not listening?
Jesse deflated on cue and marched upstairs to get dressed. She was really great this morning. She went off to school promptly and with a smile. Unfortunately, I’m almost certain she’s faking it.
If history serves, she’s going to spend the next 7 days until Christmas in an emotional tailspin, struggling with self-loathing and exacting her revenge on me with increasingly erratic behavior — word tics, screaming, stalling, mewling and keening, being extra mean to Nick, physically attacking her parents and the dog, sleeping even worse than usual, and so on. Jesse doesn’t perform well under pressure. And I should have known better than to use the naughty/nice threat. Jesse has pitifully low self-esteem, especially around Christmas time. Like all decent, compassionate people waiting to happen, she’s extremely critical and judges herself unworthy of generosity.
When Jesse was 4 or 5, and when we were still just beginning to wrap our heads around what ails her, we went to Little Grandma’s house for Christmas. (Little Grandma is my mom, so dubbed poetically by Jesse years ago because she’s very petite as compared with Big Grandma, Anthony’s statuesque English mother.) Christmas morning came. Jesse wouldn’t leave the bedroom. Anthony and I encouraged her to go on out to the hearth to see what Santa brought. She refused and acted very anxious, but finally she left. Uncle Mark observed the rest. Jesse tiptoed into the living room and saw that Santa had indeed come and left toys. Instead of yelping for joy and running to them, she paused and sighed in relief. “This means I HAVE been good…”
I was wretched when Mark told me. I hid in the bathroom and wept to think of my wee child struggling under such duress. I decided to stop talking about Santa’s naughty/nice list except in the most optimistic terms. Now when Jesse worries aloud about it, we ask rhetorical questions like, “Is it really possible for any child to be sooo naughty that Santa won’t bring her anything?” “Has Santa ever really met a naughty child?” Jesse responds dutifully, “Noooo,” but you can see that her head is spinning out the alternative answer. I think she may also just be creeped out by Santa, like lots of kids. A couple years ago, the Target checkout lady asked Jesse if she likes movies about Santa. Jesse thought a moment and answered, very seriously, “I don’t like chubby men.” I get it. This particular red-clothed chubby man watches her from afar, exempted for some reason from stranger-danger rules, evaluating her actions according to a code of conduct that hasn’t been made clear to her, planning his supernatural entry into her home and sanctuary, his judgment weighing on her mind more and more as Christmas approaches, like the executioner approaching the gallows. He’s a menace.
Hence my disappointment in myself for making the Naughty/Nice Threat this morning. Jesse can’t handle it at all. In my defense, I didn’t refer explicitly to Santa or to any list, but Jesse’s a smart cat and will easily move from my words to Santa’s list. I blew it. Add me to the naughty list. I’ll take myself off it later today after I perk up, get my cheerful grumpy back on, and think of a way to help Jesse feel better about the threat of Christmas giving.
It must be very hard to be Jesse sometimes. It must also be very hard to be Jesse’s Mom sometimes. You are an amazing Mom because you don’t pretend about anything. Jesse is so lucky for having you with your insights, humor, and love.
Indeed. Why make pretend that there is a santa? Maybe instead, tell her outright that all the presents come from people, and that you know she’ll get lots because people love her so much.