Three and a half years of behavior modification therapy with Jesse have taken their toll on me. I’m finding that I see the positive side of things more and more. It’s positively unnatural.
This morning Anthony and I attended the PE/gymnastics demo for Jesse’s second grade class. Nineteen cute little second graders marched proudly into the gym and took up their positions. One little cutie took a look at the seated parents, turned around, and marched straight out of the gym in a nascent panic attack. Nineteen little cuties started doing their stretches and calisthenics. One little cutie huddled on the floor against the wall in a little ball, pressing her face to her knees. Nineteen little cuties moved quickly to their assigned gymnastics stations and got started. One little cutie mewled and made scaredy-cat faces and hung her head as she slowly shuffled over to her first spot.
Well. At least Jesse’s not as short as she used to be. I walked out of there a half hour later, feeling good. The vector of her emotional development continues to be pointed in the right direction. Two years ago, I kept Jesse out of school on the day of the gym demo. I made this promise to her a few weeks before the event, so that her panic attacks would stop. Last year, we prepared emotionally for the event for several weeks, at home and in therapy, with the hope that she could make a run at participating. This year, we didn’t even talk about it until yesterday, let alone plan for it. Last year, she started out crying and making weird noises. This year, she didn’t make any weird noises, or at least I didn’t hear them, which is close enough. Last year, she gritted her teeth and powered her way through the show. This year, once she got over the initial performance anxiety, she seemed to be enjoying herself. Last year, when friends tried to help or encourage her, she brushed them off. This year, she accepted their aid. Last year, she seemed mostly relieved that she survived the nightmare. This year, she seemed really proud of herself and downright happy.
This is all very encouraging. Plus there were at least four moms there who know Jesse well, and who lifted my spirits with the kind of wee chatter that reminds a person there’s kindness everywhere.
And see, there it is: I see KINDNESS everywhere? When did that start happening?
Before I left the school, I gave Jesse a big hug and a lot of praise. I made sure I found the gym teacher and told him what a spectacular job he did handling Jesse. Anthony told me the principal was the person who got Jesse back into the gym. So I sent her a thank you email and said all sorts of nice things about the school and its staff. I went to lunch with Anthony. When we left the shop, I actually told the guy who made our sandwiches that they were delicious.
That’s crazy talk.
I decided that seeing Jesse have these sorts of (increasingly rare) anxiety attacks is actually important. We shelter her from many stressors and we work hard to help her manage her feelings, so sometimes now almost a whole day can go by with no tooth-gnashing. An event like today’s reminds us that she does in fact have a severe anxiety disorder, so that the adults in her world need to remain diligent in helping her cope.
In other words, I’ve convinced myself that watching my daughter behave publicly in a way that would humiliate most parents is a good thing.
And there’s more. After school today, Jesse went to a friend’s house. I’ll call the friend L–, because I don’t have her mama’s permission to name her here. One of Jesse’s more serious tics is a tendency to blurt “I hate” about people she likes and loves. She describes it as a need that grows and grows in her mind until she can’t control it anymore–a pretty classic compulsion or Tourette’s style tic. She also sounds and acts really strange when she’s doing it, which is understandable because something is coming out of her mouth that she doesn’t mean, and she knows she’s going to hurt someone and also get in trouble. It must suck to be Jesse in those blurty moments. I know it’s really hard for her to control this thing, but I don’t think it’s fair to subject her friends to such hurtful words. So these days I’m really straight with her about it. I’ve explained that I’ll only let her have play dates if I’m observing that she’s using all the self control tools we work on in therapy, and I’m seeing her actually making good choices. That’s been going on recently, so I jumped on this play date offer. Jesse was really worried about how she’d do, but everyone was happy when I picked her up. She reported to me that she never said anything mean to L–, except once during the school day she ran to the bathroom, which is “sort of my private place”, because she really really needed to say it! She got in a stall and blurted it once, “I hate L–!”, and then she was able to take a deep breath and get a grip on it.
Hurray, I told her. Great job facing this challenge and succeeding! I’m so proud of you! Never mind that she put on a nice little freak show in the potty at school. And now I also know that she has a go-to spot in the school can for venting her compulsions. Great.
There was a time when I would have put this in a proper perspective. I would have gone off the deep end about kindness and kind words, battering Jesse with my verbal diarrhea as feelings of helplessness and directionless rage filled my heart, wondering what the hell is wrong with my child and will she end up in prison someday? On wings of anger, I would have circled back to the gym episode and blathered at her about getting along and doing what you’re told to do, just like all the other nervous little kids, instead of being a selfish little wanker trying to ruin a fun thing for everyone. I would have punctuated my tirade with a rising chorus of WHY’s, going on until I had fully indulged my own infantile feelings. Then, in a screaming coda, I would have sent Jesse sobbing to her room and stormed off somewhere by myself, my work of shredding my little girl’s spirits done, wondering why she turned out like this and feeling like complete shit. We would have spent weeks trying to sort through the emotional wreckage I created.
But that was the good old days. I honestly just feel happy today. I do feel like it’s another banner day for Jesse, despite her anxiety and tics and whatever else is going on in her intense, dark soul. Behavior modification therapy is working, slowly and inexorably. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank her patient therapist, Dr. Abrams, without bursting into tears. I think I might even be making a difference myself, in a good way. I think I might not be a complete f@*#-up as a mom anymore.
Nothing good can come of this sort of cheerful, up-beat attitude. Next thing you know, I’ll be telling people what an amazing parent I am, and I’ll be trying to give people advice. When that starts happening, there will be no hope left.