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.