Jesse has had a new word tic for the past 5 or 6 months. We call it Penis.
Not to be confused with *** Is Fat or I Hate *** (insert any name of someone she loves), Feet on the Table, Kick You, Punch Punch, Lick It, or Touch It Touch It, which are well-established tics that wax and wane.
It is the nature of Jesse’s tics to seek forbidden terrain. Penis is a new adventure in Jesse’s mental and spiritual journey, and Penis is with us in the car as we make a physical three-day journey from Wisconsin to the Atlantic Ocean.
Jesse says it at all manner of odd times, a curious expression of her stress. She wakes up and rolls over. “Good morning penis penis penis.” She goes to sleep saying it too, and in the dark she mixes it with loud, reverberating yawps that sound like jungle monkeys heading into territorial battle — or like a miserable child struggling to get a grip on something in her brain that none of us yet understand.
When times are tough (in her mind), Jesse wanders a room twitching like she’s getting electric shocks. “PP! PPPPHPPHH! PPE PE PE PEE!! PE PENIS!!” She takes a deep breath and tries to calm herself, fails and then croons quietly in her sweet, high-pitched little girl voice. “Penis penis. Penis.”
She mutters it sometimes at taekwondo during stretching. Even as it humiliates her, she seems powerless to control the blurts. Everyone ignores her masterfully there, but at home where we endure it on and on, trying and trying to ignore it and not reward it with attention, it drives us mad and shreds away any remaining armor of patience. All that’s left is a collective raw nerve.
I’ve suggested different words, like “peanuts.” But apparently not even that packs the right punch for her.
We’ve also tried reverse psychology. One morning we woke up to Penis. I said to Nick, let’s just only say penis to Jesse today. He looked at me in concern and then said hesitantly, “mommy… Nooo…”
We were silent a moment and then Nick spoke. “Jesse?”
For a while Penis manifested in phrases. One day as I took a shower, Jesse popped her head into the bathroom and spoke cheerfully. “Hello hairy penis lady!”
On her third visitation, I snarled, “say it to me one more time and I will take your iPad away for the entire summer!”
She didn’t come back. Shit shit shit, I thought, as I pondered the weight of idle threats. I found her in the bedroom. She looked at me and spoke mildly. “Hairy penis lady.”
I had to send Anthony to her to undo my idle threat and impose a more rational consequence.
Penis shows itself in physical behaviors too, which are very disturbing. Jesse puts her hands to her crotch and mimes as though she’s spraying pee everywhere with what appears to be an absolutely enormous penis. Or she tries to punch or kick Anthony’s privates.
We’re driving to a beach house that we’ll share for a week with a handful of families. Jesse has expressed a lot of concern that Penis tic will rear its ugly head. She knows peeps will think she’s strange. Maybe they’ll get pissed off. Odds are good that if she gets going, kids won’t want to play with her. Worrying about this ramps up her stress, increasing the probability of Penis taking over her mind.
This morning, the topic of imaginary friends came up. It occurred to me that Penis is much like an imaginary friend, a mysterious presence in Jesse’s mind that follows her everywhere and manifests in our real world. I suggested Jesse say good bye to her imaginary friend, much like Anthony once did long ago (more on that another day). Maybe Penis doesn’t have to come to the beach house with us.
Jesse didn’t answer but I knew she heard me. I could tell she was thinking.
We drove three hours and found a DQ for lunch, in the prosperous hills of West Virginia. We walked in and Penis started right up as we waited for our food. I asked Jesse to go say good bye to Penis, just go open that door and send Penis out. Penis can wait outside, and you can spend time with her later if you have to, when you’re not with us.
Jesse glared at me and slowly walked to the door. She opened it and, after a long look at me, stepped outside. I waited a few seconds and realized Jesse was staying outside.
I stuck my head out the door. “Jesse, you’re not Penis. Penis is imaginary. Leave her outside, and you come back in.”
“Oh!” Said the relieved look on Jesse’s face. She sat down at the table with me and we had a peaceful few minutes.
Penis did not re-enter the premises, and then I re-learned a lesson I always forget, perhaps as a survival mechanism. Jesse’s tics are tag-teamers. Before we left, Jesse had put her feet on the table repeatedly, started whining, and also she kicked me incessantly until I was livid. I didn’t have any space in me to praise her for letting go of Penis, and I was filled with the rage of impotence and failure, having watched my supposedly brilliant ploy defeated soundly by Jesse’s issues.
I snapped at her one last time, my shins and knees aching from her kicks, “stop kicking me!!”
“Why?” She sounded insolent to me.
“This is why,” I answered grimly as I shoved a foot up on her thigh under the table and dug my shoe in.
“Ooow,” she grunted quietly. She kicked me again under the table and I kicked her hard a second time. I was so pissed off I wasn’t even thinking about child protective services.
She stopped kicking me.
Still full of impotent rage, I yelled and shrieked at her in a full fit of Snarla when we got back in the car. When she threatened to hit Nick, I snarled, “do it! DO IT SO I CAN PUNCH YOU BACK! Let me show you what it feels like to live with you!!”
I said to my ten-year-old daughter.
I went on, though the words are a blur in my memory. I’ve never in my entire life let anyone treat me like you do! You hurt our bodies every day, and you put Nick down constantly! I don’t care why anymore! It has to stop! I don’t care why you abuse the people who love you most! Whatever you do to us, I’m going to do to you WORSE!!
My child, my love, my little offspring, for whom I would rip off my own arm if I had to, cringed away from me in fear. And I didn’t feel even a little bit bad about it.
At least, not until I calmed down about ten minutes later. But her behavior has definitely improved in the 5 hours since. Not perfect, but better. Not as many P-bombs.
And so I’ve learned a bad lesson. There has to be a better path to helping Jesse overcome her challenges — something better than just being more fucking crazy than her.