Thursday, October 13, 2011

GBE2 Challenge: Clarity

Boy, have I missed the ball. I was sitting watching our older son this past weekend, and this fact hit me like a ton of bricks. He was in the middle of a tic which he developed the second day of school this year.

Squat. Bum out. Right arm back. Right index finger in bum.

Ahhhh, tics can be sooooo lovely!

"Honey," I have said with an embarrassed tone, "get your finger OUT OF YOUR BUM!" (and, yes, we really DO say "bum" in this house. It must be a relic from my exchange student days in Australia).

I'll admit, I'm a victim of my upbringing. Certain things just are NOT POLITE! And, darn it, if it kills me, I do not want this family to go to hell in a handbasket. Fine. I'll live in a cave. I just don't want to let ourselves go completely.

Yet, when I try to correct our son's behavior, he is oblivious to my words, the stares and laughs of others. He just keeps doing it. And, actually, I don't mind this one as much as I minded the one he had this summer: Touch tip of penis. Touch eyeball with same hand REALLY FAST. Penis. Eyeball. Penis. Eyeball.

The more intense the situation, the more fervent the tic. It reached a point this summer where the penis tic turned into a compulsion. This meant that, when he felt anxious, not only would his body involuntarily strike these postures, but he would also consiously do them. Except, with the compulsion, he was driven by need. He HAD to get to that penis to quickly tap before he tapped his eyeball. Often, this meant dropping his drawers. It didn't matter where we were. The only goal was to get to the penis. My, my. This past summer, he was one big ball one OCD and tics.

When his tics first came out when he was little, I would cringe. It seemed to be just one more way that he didn't look like the rest of us. Back then, my mission was to cure him and make him like the rest of us. How the heck was I going to do that when he was blinking his eyes all the time? Or, how about the week when he kept looking over his left shoulder every 20 seconds?

Blend. I just wanted to blend. It didn't matter what war I was fighting behind the doors to our home. Was it too much to ask that we at least blend when we walked outside?

As he grew and the level of his anxiety increased, so, too, did his posturing. They became big, coming out in jerky movements that often stopped us all dead in our tracks. By this point, life had exploded in front of me like a bomb, and I would just meet those tics with a blank stare in the opposite direction, waiting patiently while his system worked itself out.

But then, this past weekend, the two of us were walking in my childhood neighborhood, sharing a stroll like we had never before done. He was happy, almost giddy, laughing as we made our way up the street. We rounded the corner at the top of the hill and came across two large dogs. Just like that, our carefree walk had vanished.

Why is he scared of dogs all of a sudden?

"Just keep walking and don't look at them," I instructed him. "They are friendly. They won't hurt you." But he kept looking back nervously. And, they kept following. They wanted to play. It scared him. He became so nervous that pretty soon...

...Squat. Bum out. Right arm back. Right index finger in bum. Stand. Then repeat.

Well, this wasn't going to encourage the dogs to leave. They stayed. And, they wanted to come closer! Our pleasant walk had turned us both into a bundle of nerves.

Squat. Bum out. Right arm back. Right index finger in bum.

It was heartbreaking to watch.

This time I looked at him with clarity. There was no embarrassment. I felt no need to shape the behavior. Every time he did it, I felt his pain. He was scared. He was so scared that it was coming out in physical behaviors.

He is not a compilation of physical behaviors, strange actions to watch like a curiosity. I'm not going to sweep them under the rug and pretend that they didn't happen.

I saw his tic as a cry for help, a physical barometer of his emotional well-being.
Don't be proud of me. This child is ten. That moment of clarity takes on more of a "duh!" moment in light of his age.

I think of that moment and just shake my head. How much of an ill-approach to the treatment of our kids is caused by a lack of understanding? As intuitive as I know that I am, I also know that I lack clarity on so many issues.

Perhaps it is an evolutionary process. If that's the case, all I can say is may I never remain stagnant.


  1. Lordy. Lordy. Why in the world do tics have to be so ummm...personal? Bless his little heart. I just wonder what is actually happening inside his head. Does that soothe him or actually add to his discomfort? How absolutely complicated and difficult to process for him and for you.
    As always, you have my admiration and prayers for a more peaceful future.

  2. As a parent, I cannot imagine how challenging it is to find the "right" way to deal with such behaviors. One thing in public, another in private? Same reaction regardless of environment? And what is there to do, because obviously, you would prefer that his tics not involve sanitation issues, and yet, if they make him feel better...

    I admire you for sharing, you can't be the only parent dealing with such a challenge.

  3. Thank you both for reading and taking the time to comment. I think that your words help parents who stop by here and may be experiencing this in their own homes.Tics are completely involuntary while compulsions are need-driven. They can be hard to distinguish. If you extinguish a tic, most certainly, it will come out in a different form...Heaven help you if it comes out in an even less desireable manner.and, compulsions are extremely hard to shape. Certainly the first step is understandong the fear or discomfort that sets them off, but, our kids can't live in a bubble. As parents, we have to teach them the coping skills they need to survive in society. With special kids, that is an added challenge.

  4. I had to laugh at this a little bit, because I have seen some of the same tics going around my house. LOL Not sure I would know what to do except say "Please stop" and try not to laugh. Oh my, grand post!


  5. An eye opening post, and quite funny (although probably not at the time). Penis-eyeball is of course a game we males play for most of our lives (just not in public).

    Moody Writing

  6. and you will NOT run the dog over..

    my eyes are full of tears....didn't know he was 10..and yet..because of his loving family..he is SO HEALTHY!!!!!!!! truly..not a parana child..he is a saint...trapped...and mom and dad are his angels <3 ok i am leaking all over now..tears are no longer full ((hugs)) love you..again..your post is number 1 for me

  7. Kathy and Mood, I'm sure that his recent hormone shift has something to do with the rather delicate nature of the placement of these Tics. Ugh. Boys are so foreign!

    Brenda, I'be missed you!!! BTW, we are animal lovers in the Mom Cave.

  8. Don't be proud of you? Too bad, I am. Your view of your children and their needs is constantly evolving, which says something truly wonderful about you as a person and as a parent: You are fully engaged.

    You didn't come up with a handful of theories and responses at one point in this journey and then think, "Okay. Problem solved or as solved as it's going to be. Checkity-check-check."

    Nope. Instead, you've kept your tired eyes open and you've grown from trying to solve a problem to learning to adapt and accept and support and encourage. Every freaking day.

    You honor your boys by recognizing that their behaviors are expressions of their inner-selves, and you give them something that they need--that we all need--when your heart breaks a little, yet you refuse to scurry through it just to make it easier for yourself or any possible onlookers.

    These boys matter and deserve acceptance as much as any other people in the world. And because of you, they know that.