I’m hustling around the kitchen doing weekday morning things. Coffee, tea, toast, meds, cereal, sausages, tortillas, yogurt, chopped peaches and oranges, leftover taco fixings, balogna, cookies, snacks, and so on.
In the midst of my personal hubbub, Jesse says something.
“I pulled down my pants in the hallway yesterday.”
No need to stop doing what I’m doing; we know this is a tic, maybe based in obsessions and maybe not, but it doesn’t really matter. “Did you feel good about yourself afterwards?”
“Were you embarrassed?”
“Not really. There was no one around.”
“How did you feel?”
“Would you have done it if anyone was around?”
“What would you have done instead?”
Awesome kid, I think. I mention something about all of this showing really good judgment and really good choices.
That’s right: I tell my daughter she made a good choice by pulling down her pants in an empty hallway at school.
Then we chat about how this is pretty much the same issue as picking your nose in public.
* * * * *
There was a whole lot of shit going down in that little conversation.
One, it was a rare example of me actually getting it right as a parent (I think). My heart didn’t flinch or cringe when Jesse brought it up, and I think I didn’t over-react. I didn’t feel sad or angry or unhappy. It felt like simple information-sharing. I remembered that Jesse was telling me about it because she needed to share, not because she was rubbing it in my face. I asked questions instead of nattering.
Two, Jesse was articulating very clearly what it feels like to vent a tic or compulsion (I think): RELIEF. I use a lot of analogies to explain it, depending on my audience. Like holding in a fart or a burp that’s just busting to come out, or even worse, like holding in the loosie-goosies when you’re standing in a long line at the store. Like needing to stretch that crippling cramp in your thigh. Like trying not to cough when you really have to. Like not crying out in pain when someone closes a door on your finger. Like not blinking. Like holding vomit in. You can do it for a while, but in the end the only relief is through release. You gotta let that fart out eventually, whether it’s a silent-deadly or a Wagnerian ripper.
Three, Jesse was describing in miniature a healthy balance between control and relief (I think). A little person with tics and obsessions can’t always control them. It’s just too much. So she has to let them out sometimes, or else she’ll be swallowed alive by the effort at control, and the obsession will fill every fiber of her body right down to the sub-cellular level, and then there’s just no hope. The only question is whether the release happens in a safe place and in a safe way. Jesse made that happen yesterday, all on her own.
* * * * *
Shortly after our little chat, Jesse left for school. I didn’t send her off with a hortatory, finger-wagging lecture about self-control and competing responses. I am so sick of that shit right now. Instead, I sent her to school with a kiss on her forehead and a Christmas cookie in her hand. She was grinning, and I can’t wait to see her when I pick her up this afternoon.
Maybe she’ll pull down her pants today again; maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll make it to a safe place; maybe she won’t. But I know she’s trying, because she told me so and I actually listened. That’s pretty outstanding for an eleven-year-old kid and her fifty-year-old mama (I think).