As we step away from a life driven by the frenzy of therapeutic interventions, spaces are forming for normal human behavior.
* * * * *
Last week Jesse and I had a normal parent-child conversation in the kitchen. We didn’t talk about diagnoses, therapeutic tools, exposures, competing responses, or what doctors tell us we should do. We were exploring the question of whether she allows some of her tic-behaviors to come out because she wants attention. I pointed out that a person can get attention in positive ways as well. This is a very challenging idea for Jesse, because she doesn’t see herself in positive terms. At the end of our chatter, I turned to the didactic side and gave her an example. “Like this,” I said. “Instead of yawping at your teacher, you could ask her if she needs help with anything. Then you will have her attention, but in a good way.”
By the time I got there, I wasn’t sure Jesse was paying attention anymore. She seemed distracted by something on the table. But I know Jesse tends to take in everything that happens around her. Like me, she seems to receive audio information best when she doesn’t look at the source and when her hands fidget, so I don’t judge. Visuals can be so distracting.
A few days later, Jesse walked over to me after I brought her home from school. I was sitting at the desk in the kitchen doing something. She stood close to me, so her face was right next to mine. Her voice was very quiet and calm, not quite a whisper.
“Mom, remember that thing you told me about? Doing something positive to get attention?”
“Yeah,” I replied, as I continued with my work. (Such an attentive mom)
“I did that today.”
That got my attention. I looked up. “Tell me about it.”
Instead of yawping, Jesse went up to her teacher during study hall and asked if there was anything she could help with. And her wonderful teacher said yes, there was a big job to do. Together they moved all the desks around the classroom for one of the regular reorganizations. It was apparently an easy and cheerful experience, and Jesse was well-pleased that she was allowed to choose whose desk would go next to hers.
It worked. Without any therapists, therapeutic modalities, timers, aides, or competing responses. In that moment, with the help of a kind, compassionate, good-hearted teacher, Jesse learned a sweet little lesson that no technical therapy or behavior chart will ever teach.
* * * * *
I woke up this morning to find both kids and the dog surrounding me like a cresting wave. Not a Maui 20-foot tube style wave for a change; more of a 3-foot wave on a flat beach. Pleasant.
The dog lay peacefully snuggling up next to me with my arm around her, flat on her back with four legs in the air, her head resting on my shoulder. Since she only weighs six pounds, it was just like having a newborn tucked up next to me, only furry.
Nick started right in as my eyes opened, telling me about his cool dream. “Me and all my friends was in Minecraft.”
He found himself on a Minecraft beach, where he kept standing right where the waves crash, so he almost drowned. One of his friends was really badly hurt, but it turned out he was faking. They went into a house, a house that Nick had built in Minecraft in the real world, but here it was in his dream, even though in the real world he lost it. So. Much. Fun.
Jesse joined the chatter. She and Nick started talking about “enchanted sticks,” and how they can make them on the Xbox1, if only we had that device.
“What’s an enchanted stick?” I asked. “Is it a wand?”
“No. It’s an enchanted stick.”
“Does it do magic?”
“No. It’s a stick.”
I was puzzled. “Does it have special powers?”
The kids started giggling. “Mom, it’s an enchanted stick,” tittered Jesse, saying the two words with a dramatic flick of her hands and a high-pitched, odd inflection that brought to mind the Knights Who Say Ni.
Nick added, “Yeah! It’s an ENCHANTED STICK.”
Two knights in the house.
I was so confused. “What does it DO?” I demanded.
“It’s a stick.”
Helpful. “What’s the benefit of being enchanted?”
“When you hit someone with it, it hurts them!” The kids devolved into giggles and endless reiterations of “enchanted stick.” They grabbed their iPads and crawled under the covers together to play Minecraft.
They haven’t done that in months. Or maybe I just haven’t noticed it, because my head has been full of behavior charts and competing responses and breathing exercises and the next evolution. Being over-therapied taught me a whole new way to natter at my kids and avoid actual normal parenting.
But this morning, all of that didn’t own me. I woke up and didn’t do anything except lie there and accept the gift of my children.
As they huddled under the covers together, I rolled over and sighed in contentment.