grumpy about mom’s stroke (a little elegy to her missing parts)

I’ve been feeling kind of guilty about the way I write (and thus feel) about my mom sometimes. I’ve been thinking it would do me some good to write extensively about my relationship with her, all the emotional twists and curves, because that would be really original for a daughter to do that.

The thing is, blogging about it is so much cheaper than therapy. Jesse’s been using all the time with her shrink on her own issues, so there’s nothing left for me. Grumpy.

Since mom’s stroke a little over 2 years ago, I’ve been grumpy about her. My brothers say she actually seems pretty happy so I shouldn’t worry too much. They live closer and see Mom much more than I do, so I should trust that. But I suffer from the common conceit of daughters, which is that I know (or knew) my mother better than my brothers. Because girl power, right?

Mom had an acute stroke in the thalamic region of her brain, which is right in the middle between the big lobes. It’s like the brain’s switchboard, apparently. She would not wake up one morning. She was taken to the hospital, where she still did not wake up. Her BP was crazy high so they gave her meds for that, and she continued to sleep. She was decidedly not in a coma, but no one could wake her up. I remember speaking with my brothers. Mark told me, “she just looks like she’s sleeping.” Ted told me, “she looks really peaceful.” Everyone was mystified. I was in Wisconsin, taking care of my children and unable to do anything, when I should have been at my mom’s side in California and unable to do anything.

Mom slept for several days and then she woke up. She was goofy from the stroke, of course, but in the weeks that followed she quickly regained her physical skills. Her body suffered no paralysis or lost functioning. She didn’t lose many memories, and she’s not especially confused about basics. She struggles with language and word retrieval a bit but she does okay. By all superficial measures, Mom had a spectacular recovery. But to my eye, the stroke was an energy-sucker that cratered out Mom’s personality.

I can hardly think of anyone who made me as angry as her through the years. Mom was full of rage, bile, and cruel (honest?) insights. She could enter a word fight like a cornered alley cat, mean and clean on the attack, but also crazy. When the siren song of my screaming-banshee-mama routine calls, the voice I hear singing is Mom’s. Mom also had an incredibly silly and witty sense of humor. When I needed to share a gut laugh with someone over something stupid, I knew who to call. Mom had one of the best, raucous gut laughs ever. She could laugh so freely and fully that her eyes cried and her stomach hurt. This is the lady who taught me to bark the command “EAT IT!” after issuing a mighty fart. In Korean it sounds something like, “Moh-goh-rha!” Even better, she would trap her farts under a blanket when she was lazing on the sofa and, giggling like a sneaky little kid, flap them free onto us as we walked by.

So I see what I’m saying now. Boiled down to the essence of things, my mom taught me to scream at my kids and make fart jokes.

I have to admit, I don’t miss her screaming rages and irritable moods. That’s all gone, thanks to the stroke. Mom is easy-going now. A lot of wrinkles in her brow are gone, and she doesn’t make the upside-down-smile grimace of stress and misery anymore. She seems peaceful. I also can’t remember having a good laugh with her since the stroke. I try sometimes to tell her some silly story about the kids. She just doesn’t seem to think anything is especially funny anymore, or else she has trouble following the flow of my words. I can’t figure it out. So I miss that part of her, very much.

Instead of crying about it, like I am now, maybe next time I see her I’ll try farting on her just the way she taught me, and see how that goes.

Grumpy about swimming pool noodles

Those long foam noodles are so much fun in a pool. You can relax on one stuck between your legs or under your pits, tie them around a waist and keep a kid afloat, whack someone over the head without imparting too much pain, drag a kid around on one, and — if you’re not grossed out about germs — put your mouth to the end of a hollow-core noodle and blow a fountain all over someone who’s staying dry poolside.

All that is great unless you’ve got a noodle that’s been at the JCC pool for several months, in which case it’s gross with moldy stuff and heaven knows how much fecal matter has embedded itself in those foamy pores. My OCD meter hits emergency red when I have to deal with public-use pool noodles.

But right now I’m grumpy about noodles because I took a photo. Jesse is in SUCH a good mood today! I’m just thrilled when a peachy day like this comes along. She was having so much fun playing before her swim lesson, so I snapped a shot of her relaxing on a noodle. But instead of collecting a sweet little memory, this is what I got:


I know, I know, it just looks like a little girl floating on a noodle and I need to wash my dirty mind out with soap. And this cup, which I saw at Target a few years ago, is just a princess cup with a built in straw:


I wonder what these princesses think about.

today’s pet peeves

I’m still shedding my end-of-winter blues. I woke up this morning and stretched, and I felt the tired old blues skin crack a little more, and then I felt myself starting to wriggle out. Either that, or I was actually wriggling because Nick was poking my ass energetically and painfully with his toes to try to get me out of bed. Either way, I felt cheerful and grumpy.  Graaaaahwwaaah. I was humming away in the shower —

Yes! I got to take a shower! Nick didn’t even come into the bathroom and give me the creepy four-year-old love-my-naked-mommy ogle. Instead he watched a Dora-la-explorer DVD that he grabbed at the library last week. I hate watching Dora. I feel like I’m trapped in a null void when I’m forced to see that cheap, bad animation.

So I was humming away happily, soaping up my armpits, and without any provocation my mind slowly filled with a bunch of little things that irritate me. This is a good sign! Tomorrow I’m sure I’ll be annoyed by other stuff, but here are the random pet peeves I chewed on this morning in the shower:

1. Jessica Smith saying to me during that blasted exercise video that’s kicking my ass, “smiling burns more calories!” Bullshit. But thank you for an excellent workout, which sometimes leaves me unable to lower myself onto the toilet without hanging onto something.

2. The fact that I’m using exercise videos off All Fitness TV (Roku!) at all to get fit. What can I say. I’m 47. It’s been a long winter. This may actually go well past pet peeve into the zone of “total humiliation.”

3. Writers who write about writing, including songwriters who write songs about writing songs.

4. Rock stars singing about the hell of touring, it’s just so awful. Pull-lease.

5.  Artists who make art about making art, including self-portraits that depict the artist arting in the medium of his or her choice.

6. Movies about making or acting in movies.

7. Food Network chefs who smile at the camera while they’re chopping onions, and who say “mmmm” like their food always tastes good. I want to see the out-takes.

8. The music video for that song, something about a jar of hearts, by the lady whose name I can’t remember. The song was an okay pop song, but the video ruined it forever because the video is too embarrassing for words (except these). Just, why?

9. The fact that this is looking like a list, and lists are a serious pet peeve of mine. Shit shit shit.

10. Hypocrisy. It’s really hard to be consistent. I’m moving on.

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful, sunny, grumpy day, full of much head-shaking and embarrassing self-reflection. Cheers!

Grumpy about running

I went for a morning jog by myself yesterday and it was really nice. I moved at a surprising pace, for me. When it comes to running, decades of experience indicate that my spirit guide is the tortoise, not the hare.

Anthony and I used to run quite a lot in our 20’s. He’s a foot taller and a whole lot more athletic than me, so it was always an easier row for him to hoe. There was a time when we probably averaged about 25 to 30 miles a week, plus extra stuff when we were training up for something. We ran 10K’s with friends, the Army 10-miler, the cherry blossom half-marathon. We lived near DuPont Circle in DC, so our normal routes were quite nice, encompassing paved and dirt trails in Rock Creek park and a variety of pretty neighborhoods, depending on distance and mood.

When we were first starting to run together, a common route rambled along the creek, through the national zoo, and then up a street called Adams Mill Road, about 4 miles into the run. Adams Mill was San Francisco-steep for a span of a couple blocks. It was a tough patch that I really struggled with, always failing and having to stop and walk up.

One day I made up my mind I would just power it up and keep running. With Anthony by my side, I started the arduous trip up Adams Mill Road, mightily shoving one foot ahead of the other up that blasted hillock. I stared firmly at the ground in front of my feet, sweat pouring into my eyes, sucking air in anaerobic exhaustion. I was focused. I was determined. About halfway up, I heard Anthony’s calm voice beside me. “Carla, stop.”

I stayed in my zone. Eyes focused on ground. Running. I panted through the pain, “no no, I’m good, I’m gonna make it.”

“Carla, just stop.”

“Shut up, I’m fine, I can make it.”

He became insistent. “Carla. Stop.”

I finally looked over at him as I kept moving, ready to do some cussing, because c’mon, he was messing with my hardcore runner mojo. I observed Anthony walking patiently beside me.

No, that’s not right. He was ambling.

It was humiliating. I stopped. Anthony is awesome because he respected my effort and didn’t exactly make fun of me, even though he made fun of me. He mostly felt bad for me. So that’s when he finally taught me how to run hills, and I eventually conquered the very short stretch of Adams Mill hill.

But I also know I’ll always suck at hills.

Yesterday, on my very first jog of the spring, I remembered those days. I carefully selected a short route with no hills to surmount, however diminutive they might be. It felt good.

Grumpy about my kids’ art

One of the great joys of parenthood is hanging really awful art on the living room walls. When your four-year-old brings you a family portrait she’s worked hard on, you frame it and put it somewhere special, even if it looks like this:

family art

There are some elements that don’t make sense. Jesse’s and Anthony’s mouths are above their noses, and Nick doesn’t even have a nose. On the other hand, Jesse did draw Nick smaller than the rest of us; I have the biggest round head; and Anthony’s head is long and skinny. So I do think Jesse captured some essential aspect of our physical properties. Not bad.

At around the same age, this is what Nick was drawing:

angrybird art

It was with great pride, which you can see all over his face, that he presented to me this “spiky angry bird,” which he slaved over. He’s got a thing for angry birds. I’ve got a thing for googly eyes, so it was a win win.

It’s really my own fault that the kids aren’t better with a stylus-like instrument. I’ve been told using scissors helps improve pencil grip strength, and early ed peeps have always urged me to let Jesse and Nick practice with scissors at home. But have you ever met my children? I don’t encourage them to use scissors in the house. Ever. They can catch up later on this fine motor skill, at school or some other place where they can’t use tiny cutting devices to trash things like my curtains, my clothing, and my life.

And anyway, if Nick had better pencil skills, he could never have drawn a cute animal like this at his nature preschool:

turkey art

The teacher added a caption, “still life turkey.” Do you see it? I totally do. It’s a long-legged turkey, native to Wisconsin of course.

Jesse and Nick painted a couple canvases last weekend with the babysitter, while Anthony and I were having a playdate at a local bar.

abstract art

pony art

I have no idea what Nick’s abstract piece is showing us, but I was told he was making footprints or something like that. I like the colors and brush strokes. To my mommy eye, the painting perfectly captures Nick’s current personality — chaotic, fun, wild — and therefore it’s a terrific emotional piece of work. Jesse painted a wild horse, and over the top of it is a “painted mountain,” as she put it. It only took a second for me to realize she was depicting the painted canyons of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where we saw many wild horses last summer. I love the way the pony is prancing. I can almost feel it moving, and it evokes a lot of magic memories from our camping trip — in particular our encounters with the wild horses. As such, it too is a terrific emotional piece of work.

These pieces aren’t especially impressive in any objective sense, and they’ll never hang in a museum, but they’re priceless treasures to me. I hope when I’m a tired old lady, sliding through the end of my days, I’ll look up at a wall near my chair and still find them hanging there.

grumpy about parenting books

It’s spring break and I’ve started in on at least six entire, whole, non-stop, all-day-long days with both my children. I’m hoping Anthony will give me a break on Saturday, and then I’ll have two more full days before the kids go back to school. I’m taking prophylactic deep breaths every few minutes to keep myself from panicking.

Parenting books and websites will tell me to have fun activities lined up. Collect sticks and broken pavement, and make animal shapes with a hot glue gun! English cucumber caterpillars! Make flower cookies out of healthy quinoa and avocado gruel! yuuum. Make counting and adding games out of the rabbit pellets uncovered by the melting snow! Build a backyard fort made entirely out of the cleaning sticks that come in each case of yellow swiffers you buy at Costco, of which I’ve collected 200!

I don’t think so.

Parenting books will also tell me not to do the following things during spring break (or ever, for that matter), all of which I will definitely do:
1. Yell at the kids.
2. Let them watch too much TV (does it count if I put closed captions on so Jesse can read along?).
3. Let them play with electronic devices too much.
4. Ignore them while playing with my own electronic devices.
5. Let them eat unhealthy. (but the chocolate bar was fair trade sourced and had a sea otter on the wrapper, so does that count?)
6. Let them stay up late.

In fact, I’m going to do all of these things today. It’s Monday, after all. I told my spawn this morning that they’re the bosses and can do whatever they want. TV all day! Nick said. IPad! Jesse said. Done. If they change their minds, they’re the bosses and they can do something else. My guess is that, in a couple hours, they’ll spend some quality time in the massive pond that formed in the woods out back after last night’s heavy rains. For dinner, Nick wants oatmeal. Jesse wants hamburgers with homemade buns. Done.

Kids live under constant duress, in my opinion, bound to the whims of their parents and other grownups. It’s too much, and I’m not running a military academy. Once in a frequent while, I like to give mine a taste of total freedom. I no longer remember or care if any parenting book says this is good or bad, right or wrong.

When I was pregnant with Jesse, I bought a lot of parenting books. I read, I studied, I planned. Shortly after she was born, I bought a lot more parenting literature, because the books I had so far were of no use. Jesse broke all the rules. It was clear from day one that she wasn’t part of the 25th-to-75th percentile, or maybe even the 10th-to-90th percentile. But even the latter option left her in a category with 20 percent of infant humanity — that’s one in five babies, people! — so I felt sure that there had to be something out there for me.

I started with mainstream books, which were recommended to me by friends and relations, and then I moved on in a desperate hunt for the Holy Grail: a parenting manual that fixed everything that was wrong in my life. Some books I considered intensely but didn’t buy after investigating their authors and tactics (like Baby Wise). By the time I was done, my library of bought and borrowed books included at least the following, not including potty training books (I recommend that you read the names aloud really fast like a run-on sentence, or better yet just skip to the end of the list while thinking “blah blah blah”):

What to Expect When You’re Expecting
What to Expect the First Year
What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
The Happiest Baby on the Block
The Happiest Toddler on the Block
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
The No-Cry Sleep Solution
The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, by the (in?)famous Richard Ferber
The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight
The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5
Baby Sign Language Basics
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems (really? You can do that?)
Super Baby Food
Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers
Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding
Raising Your Spirited Child
Last Child in the Woods
The Baby Book

It’s insane. I know I missed a lot, and more is published every year, but I was building my library almost a decade ago. The last book on my list above is by Sears, and I ended up buying every other parenting book he published as well. It turned out I wasn’t looking for a book to solve my parenting problems. I was actually just looking for a book that agreed with what Anthony and I already intuitively felt was right for us as a family. By reading a book like that, I could feel that I didn’t suck as bad. The books that made me feel like I didn’t suck the most were attachment parenting books, though I don’t like to be labeled that way. We didn’t do the attachment-parenting-thing because an attachment parenting book said we should. We did it because it was right for us. We naturally fell to co-sleeping with Jesse because that was the only way we got any sleep, and so we continued with Nick. Breastfeeding until the kids weaned themselves naturally felt right to us. It felt right to listen to our kids’ cues instead of driving them into narrow tunnels devised by some distant author without reference to their actual personalities and needs.

And that’s the rub with parenting books. The authors have never met you or your children. But their material sells best, like all advice material, when they can convince readers they’re universally right. As a result, I think parenting books tend to bring out the worst in humanity — a judgmental, my-way-is-the-only-right-way attitude that makes peeps pull each other down instead of lifting each other up. We’re not just talking about normal humanity either. These parenting books prey on one of the most vulnerable sub-sets of humanity — sleep-deprived, hormonally disrupted women. If our government wanted to implement some serious torture tactics, methods that will really mess with someone’s head and emotions, it would find a way to replicate the hormonal challenges of pregnancy and childbirth, coupled with the sleep and infant-interaction cycles of a new parent.

I’ve hung out with “attachment parents” who wear that label like a merit badge, but who act like the lifestyle is a ball-and-chain and busy themselves with criticizing anyone who doesn’t do it. I have no respect for that. I’ve hung out with parents who are sleep-training hard-asses, guilt-free and intense. They love their kids as much as I love mine. They’re doing what they think is right for them. I tend to look across the fence at them with a mix of longing and curiosity, and I hope I don’t judge them.

The only way to avoid this mess, in my opinion, is to read none of it or read it ALL. Or at least as much as you can stand. Then, with eyes wide open, you can either choose a path that’s right for you or accept the path you’re already on. I knew I had found that lead when I opened up Sears’s book and started reading. Instead of my brow furrowing and my jaw dropping, I found my head nodding in agreement. It was a good sign.



Grumpy about dirty words and stigma

A few days ago a parent told me I’m the definition of TMI. This passing comment (I suppose I hope it was jocular and not judgmental) connected itself immediately in my mind to a recent comment from another friend about a behavior disorder her child struggles with, which she mentioned had a lot of “stigma” associated with it. Ever since, I’ve been having racing thoughts about these things: TMI, Tourette’s, stigma.

Jesse is back on behavior charts at school, after folks there finally told me she’s been pulling some classic Tourette’s moves in her math switcheroo group. Among other physical tics, she’s been blurting dirty words – or at least what passes for them in second grade. “Penis! Girly parts! Poopoo! Peepee! Fart! Butthole! Fat!” Instead of a Little Einstein, I spawned a Little George Carlin.

I’ve had a bad case of potty mouth my whole adult life, especially when I’m pissed off. Oops. Sorry. Approximately three and a half of Mr. Carlin’s seven dirty words have come out of my mouth more than once in the presence of my kids’ ears, along with a selection of other choice words. I don’t know why this trash talk isn’t part of Jesse’s blurting. Maybe the words I use just don’t mean anything to her, or she associates them with my anger instead of a taboo. In her mind, the word “stupid” is so naughty that it ought to be written coyly with asterisks. This is among the many reasons I don’t understand children.

But Jesse’s sweet as apple pie, despite the curious curvatures of her brain. A few days ago I pulled a tooth out of Jesse’s mouth. Within seconds, Nick was in jealous whiny tears because the tooth fairy was coming for Jesse but not him. In a flash Jesse was upstairs writing a note to T.F., requesting something extra “for my little brother.” It was classic Jesse – she couldn’t stand to see her baby brother left out.

So should she be more ashamed of the word blurts than she is proud of her generosity? One’s weird for sure, but the other is awesome.

I don’t feel embarrassed about the challenges Jesse faces – the anxiety, the tics, the OCD, the social miscues. She has the power to own these things, but only if she faces them squarely, stares them down, and rams her willpower through them. How can she do that successfully if she’s ashamed of how her brain is wired up? So I’m naked about it, with her and myself, with the world. I know I’m off the norm on this, so go ahead and stigmatize me. I don’t care.

A few months ago a friend asked me for a referral to a therapist for her child. She told me (paraphrasing here) that I was the only person she could think of who goes to a psychologist; other people must, but no one talks about it. I find that so sad. I know I’m going to have to become more conscious of the social stigma problem as Jesse grows older, and maybe learn to be more private, bite my tongue. But I’ll always be more worried about what Jesse and Nick think of themselves than what others think of them. The only reason I would ever care what anyone else thinks is if that anyone else tries to hurt my kids.

I remember a very strange boy in high school. I think he was a few years ahead of me. He wore dorky polyester pants and buttoned shirts cut like 1950’s or 1960’s clothing; his hair was oiled down in an old-fashioned look; he never looked especially clean. Maybe his family was really odd, maybe he had some sort of developmental disorder, who knows. Anyway, as I recall, the cool kids who hung out on picnic tables in the front of the school, strutting around like billy goats, would throw pennies on the ground when he came around so they could watch him pick the pennies up (which he always did) and laugh at him, mock him.

It was textbook social stigmatization. I think folks now would call it bullying, but that seems to imply an individual acting badly, and I prefer to use the broader term because it tells more of the truth — everyone was in on it, even if only a few confidently mean kids were voicing it. As I recall, there was a lot of communal snickering, and I never observed anyone stepping up to advocate for the poor kid.  And it never occurred to me to do that myself with the older kids, which in hindsight is pretty pathetic. I just remember thinking it was really sad. He was strange for sure, but he didn’t bother me. Why would he? But the penny-throwers — I had a serious problem with them. Total, 100% assholes. Dirtbags. Vicious, hollow souls. Jerks. They gave social stigma a bad name.

What would kids like that do to a kid like Jesse? I’m not sure. I hope that by the time we get to high school, she’ll be confident in her skin, comfortable with her unique issues, and reasonably indifferent to social cruelty — or at least empowered enough to fight back hard. And yet I want her to be a little more “normal” too. Sometimes there’s a very fine line between self-loathing and compliance with social rules. Once in a while Jesse says things like, “I don’t want to be weird! I want to be like everyone else!” Part of me is glad that she’s experiencing these feelings; it’s an important motivational step toward controlling her outlier behaviors and meeting some basic social expectations, especially when it comes to other peeps’ personal space. But I hate to see her feeling ashamed of herself. I can’t stop scratching my head about it, and I guess we just have to wind our way through these twisted social paths as we reach them. Too bad Jesse doesn’t have a more socially adept (mainstream?) mama to help her along the way.

But hey, even if I can’t fit into social norms more completely, at least I can use Too Much Information as my social sword. And heaven help the mean kids if I ever find out they’re coming at my sweet Jesse, because I think I’ll probably come down on their heads like a mountain of shit. My ferocity will be backed not only by my feral maternal love, but also by my profound guilt over never having done anything to help that strange young man in high school.

Grumpy about the tic list

Jesse is hitting the ropes. As I type, she’s screeching at her beloved swim teacher Sarah and refusing to swim, and also whining and ululating — noises I haven’t heard in a long while. Every face in the swimming pool area is watching her, mostly in shock. It’s a busy time at the JCC pool, so at least 60 or 70 peeps are being forced to listen to my horrible child. There’s a lot of parent judging going on, probably based on two false assumptions: 1. I haven’t worked really hard for years to help Jesse control this stuff, and 2. I have the power to fix the situation here and now. It’s why I’m thumb-typing a blog on this iPhone from a distant spot in the arena, instead of paying much attention. I’m cooool as a sea cucumber.

This used to be a constant phenomenon a few years ago when we still embraced the probability that Jesse was autistic. That was upsetting in a different way. We talked about trust funds, schooling alternatives, acceptance, and social cues training. Now we’ve wrapped our heads around the notion that we’re more likely talking about mental illness than developmental disability, and more specifically, behavioral problems that Jesse ought someday to be able to control. So now I just get pissed off at her instead of doing what I should, which is talk about trust funds, schooling alternatives, acceptance, and social cues training.

Oh screw this. It’s been 15 minutes of screaming. I’m calling it. I’m going to grab Jesse out of the pool and move on. I’ll be back later to finish this.

It’s later. It’s tomorrow actually. I have a cut on my thumb and had to put a bandaid on, so then the thumb-typing doesn’t work and this is the first chance I’ve had to turn on the computer. Does anyone produce touch-screen compatible bandaids? Also I went out with some moms last night. The timing was terrible. I was so fried by Jesse’s behavior that I was destined to drink too much, but the girlie pink martini drinks were sooo delicious.

Um… So back to the pool: I marched over and told Jesse, get out of the pool, we’re leaving. She acted shocked. What, she thinks it’s okay to act like this? Much begging and bawling ensued as she quickly showered, dressed, and followed Nick and me to the car. I was grim. More bawling emanated from her room after I sent her there and told her to write down what she thinks Sarah feels like when Jesse goes apeshit on her. When I went to check on Jesse 20 minutes later, all she had written down was “I don’t know.” I could have sworn she’s shown more empathy than this succinct sentence suggests. (Just say those three words over and over again for a while. Fun times.)

Sarah and I chatted briefly while Jesse showered. Sarah had used a pat adult tactic on Jesse, along the lines of “I can’t hear you when you’re screaming and whining at me.” In response, Jesse leaned in close and yelled in Sarah’s ear, “What, YOUR EARS ARE DEAD???” Classic. It’s why we love Jesse anyway.

All of this is part of a cycle, I know. Just like me during the past month, Jesse’s in a valley, and eventually we’ll help her climb out of it. The tics are coming back too — still not as bad as they used to be, but they are so damn annoying! So I think it would be a useful exercise – in the quest for sanity – to catalog Jesse’s major tics and OCD compulsions through the years, for a little perspective. I do mean tics — not just bad habits or annoying choices, but repetitive compulsive behaviors that feel impossible to control, that sometimes happen before you even notice you’re doing them, over and over again. She’s overcome or grown out of many of these, but once in a while they return for encore performances. It’s always frustrating and disappointing when a long-gone tic returns, but we have to soldier on.

One of the most wonderfully strange things about Jesse’s tics is that she announces them. As a result, they have names. For instance, “feet on the table” (see below, meal category) is what she says as she puts her feet on the table at meals. She’s very prosaic. I used to think the announcing was attentional and combative, but that’s not right. She didn’t get the kind of feedback that would make a normal child continue the behaviors for gain. Now we understand that the announcements are cries for help, a sort of “oh no here we go again I can’t stop this crazy shit help me!” I suppose I’m glad that she’s communicating, but there’s something surreal about it at times.

Anyway here’s the tic/OCD list, for my personal gratification, categorized for my convenience. I’m not including the common OCD stuff Jesse deals with, like the constant hand-washing, the various sensory issues relating to clothing, and her deep commitment to perfection. If you’re bored with this post, now is a good time to bug out and move on to more interesting stuff; but if you’re sticking with me…


“Feet on the table.” Jesse sits down and puts her feet up on the table alongside all the food. Ew.

“Cough on it.” Jesse comes to dinner and carefully coughs once on each of the communal plates of food. Ew. Also WTF.

“Punch the window. ” Just what it sounds like. The window next to her chair at the kitchen table.

“Spill my drink.” Yup. Just what it sounds like. Every meal. This one was very messy, but we solved it by only giving her water to drink, so then bonus! A clean table after wipe-down.

The finger-lickers

Touch public toilet seat, “lick my finger.” (usually followed by a curious lilting whine, “eh-eeeeh, eh-eeeeh”)

Touch dirty surfaces in gym locker room, “lick my finger.”

Touch bottom of dirty shoe, “lick my finger.”

Touch bakery products at grocery store, “lick my finger.” This could also go in the injury category, because she knows baked goods usually contain eggs and she’s severely allergic to eggs.

Something is Sticky/Smelly/Wet

Touch crotch or butthole, stick fingers in mommy’s face, “smell my fingers.” Gag-worthy. Ever grateful this one is gone. For now.

“Eh-eeeh, eh-eeeh, my sleeve is sticky,” while fidgeting madly with her sleeve end. It’s not sticky. Why I used to wash 3 or 4 shirts a day for her.

“My hair is sticky, my hair is sticky,” while rummaging in her hair for whatever she thinks is there.

Play with the fat seam at the crotch of her pants, while curling her back into a fantastically flexible c-shape so her head is down in her crotch area. “My fingers are stinky.” Really?

“Eh-eeeh, eh-eeeh, my shirt is wet,” while hunting madly for a wet spot on her shirt.

“My shoes are dirty,” while checking the bottoms of her shoes incessantly.

Mean words

“I hate [insert name of friend or family member].” We’ve never been sure why on this one. These days she tends to run away with her hands over her mouth to try to stop it.

“[insert name of anyone] is fat.” Hands over mouth, or muttering it under her breath like a weirdo.


“Take my hands off.” Of the bicyle handlebar while pedaling at full speed. Very painful results every single time. We had to put her bike away for half a year because she was getting so badly hurt. We all cried the next spring when she finally was able to ride it without taking her hands off the handlebar. It was a profound victory over a sucky compulsion.

“Choke you.” Plainly stated, painfully applied.

“Punch daddy.” More specifically, his balls.

“Diddle your boobies.” Mine.

Snuggle… “Head butt you.” This would have been a rear head blow to my chin while spooning sweetly.

Anti-authority (aka, I’m not supposed to, so I really feel the need to)

Yawping when she’s supposed to be quiet. This was probably one of the main symptoms that made Jesse’s early ed teachers think she was autistic. “AAAAWP!” She would hurl it into silence, a bold burst of sound rising in pitch from beginning to end, causing all the other little kiddies to jump in terror. My favorite reaction was from Jesse’s K5 teacher, Mrs. DLP, who one day realized nothing was going to stop Jesse’s yawp. So instead she invited all the other students to join Jesse in a group yawp, and they had a little yawping party. I could have cried for loving Mrs. DLP when I learned of this.

“Pull down my pants.” And underwear. In public. Normal for a 2 year old, not for a 6 year old.

“Pull up my shirt.” Full frontal exposure. Same story as pants.

* * * *

That’s all that comes to mind off the top of my head, and wow. I do feel better. No wonder I’m bat-shit crazy after almost 9 years with Jesse.