Seeing is believing

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”–Henry David Thoreau

We received a note from the school nurse last week, letting us know our boy was having trouble seeing in the classroom. Both my husband and I were waiting for this to happen. I was 6 years old when I got my first pair of glasses, whereas my husband was in high school. Nearly every adult family member has glasses or had eye surgery, yet apparently our boy was still hoping he was immune.

When I made the appointment to see his optometrist, I warned my son that he would probably have to start wearing glasses. I wanted him to prepare himself if that was indeed the outcome. The kid flat out refused to even think about it. He told me to “Stop saying that!” in a freaked out and “oh my god the world is ending” kind of tone. So I didn’t mention it again.

I picked him up today for his appointment and he was in a great mood. It’s always nice to be picked up early from school, even if it is for a doctor’s appointment. We got to the doctor’s office, waited for less than two minutes and then the various testing began. My boy was polite, funny, and just all around wonderful. I was with him when the doc had him read some of the eye chart, and since he could only read the 2nd line without help, I knew what was coming.

The doctor told my boy that yes, he needed glasses. His vision was not horrible by any means, but with glasses, everything would be that much clearer. He let my son know that he didn’t have to wear glasses when playing sports, but at some point he might find that it could improve his performance. We thanked the doctor, but as soon as he left the room, my boy’s face fell. He was absolutely devastated. He quickly became angry and I just hugged him to me and told him it was ok.

He disagreed. Vehemently.

We walked to a different part of the building to pick up some paperwork and I hugged my boy again. He was fuming but let me hug him. “Honey, this doesn’t change anything. You’re fine. You’re still you.” But between tight lips he spat, “This. Changes. Everything.”

I sighed, but didn’t argue. For just a second I put myself in his place and tried to remember what it was like to put on glasses for the first time. To know that this would be part of my life forever, and everyone would be able to see the change. It wasn’t something you could hide from. “You’re right, Bri. You’re right. This does change things, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing and it’s not a big deal. Honest.”

He didn’t talk to me again until we got into the car. He always sits just behind me and as I started the car, I looked in my review mirror. His head was down so I couldn’t see his face. As I started to turn around in my seat, I could hear my boy gasping for breath as he sobbed. I rubbed his leg and started to cry, too. I asked him if I could get out and give him a hug and he agreed. I got out, opened his car door, and crushed him to me as he cried and cried into my shoulder. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him that I loved him.

After we left the optometrist’s office, I stopped to get gas while my boy ran across the street to get a donut. (I don’t care what anyone says. Anytime we have a doctor’s appointment, we treat ourselves afterwards. Not always to food, but sometimes that’s the easiest and cheapest thing to do. It seemed appropriate today.) As I was pumping gas, I had an “A-ha” moment. Although getting glasses is a little scary and new, my son’s reaction still surprised me. He was really, really upset. And had been since the first mention of glasses last week. It’s not like he doesn’t know anyone who has glasses, but he knows very few kids that do. There are a few, though, including a girl in his class who he’s friends with. BUT, my “a-ha” moment was when I really put myself in my boy’s shoes. My kid–who has tics, who is over five feet tall at the age of eight, who wears shoes bigger than some adults–will now have one more thing to make him different, one more thing to make him stand out in a crowd, one more target on his back for the asshole on the bus to shoot at. THAT was why my kid was crying in the back seat of my car, and I don’t blame him.

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This was taken two years ago when he liked wearing fake glasses.

Being a kid is so damned hard. Do you remember? You want to grow up so fast so you can feel like you have control, feel like you have some power in your life. Of course, once you get there you realize that you really don’t have as much control or power as you thought you would, but we don’t want to hear about that part. I want my boy to feel good about being different, about being unique, and that it’s ok, damn it! I don’t want him to feel like the “special snowflake,” as in feeling entitled. That shit just pisses me off. But I want him to feel good about being who he is. Or what he is. Currently he’s a Star Wars-loving giant who blows on his hands when he’s anxious, is a video game-playing rock star, and will soon be wearing glasses.

I know in another year or two (hopefully sooner), my boy won’t think twice about putting on his glasses. It’ll be just another part of him. It really won’t be a big deal. Until then, I’m hoping he’ll find his way to acceptance without too much anxiety. I want to guide him on this journey by showing him how awesome I know he is and how being exceptional can be wonderful. But I don’t want to beat him over the head with it, you know? I need to be patient and just let him find his way. I know he’ll be ok. I just need to sit back and watch it happen.

And that’s the hardest thing to do.

 

 

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A gift

A few weeks ago as we sat at the dinner table, my son picked up his napkin and put it to his forehead. “Well,” he sighed, “I’ve got a new tic.” He removed the  napkin to show us his eyebrows raised on his forehead. Then he waggled his eyebrows like Groucho Marx…except my boy didn’t do it on purpose. This might have seemed amusing if it wasn’t a tic. If he just wiggled his eyebrows to be funny, then we’d probablygroucho2 find him a hat and fake glasses and show him YouTube videos of the Marx brothers to explain who he looked like and why it was funny. But as my son continued to sigh throughout dinner and kept his napkin covering his face, it was no laughing matter.

 

This past summer, Bri’s body (or rather his body’s reaction to anxiety) created a tic that physically hurt him. He started to nod his head in a very quick, jerky movement. Sometimes the nodding is up and down as in “yes,” and sometimes it’s a shaking of the head as in “no,” although typically it’s the former. There are times when the nodding is so frequent, that I’ve had to ask him to answer me verbally when I ask a question. On at least one occasion, I asked him something and didn’t hear him answer “no” but he was nodding his head as in “yes.” He got upset because of the confusion, but hopefully the verbal responses will help in the future. What’s even more upsetting is that sometimes after a particularly bad day, he’ll try to settle down at bedtime but will cry out to me, “Mom, my neck really hurts!” I always respond with a visit to his room and many whisperings of “I know, sweetie, I know” and light massages of his neck.

Although my son has had transient tic disorder for a few years, it seems to be getting more difficult for him to handle. Or rather he is more aware that the tics are happening. I am grateful for at least the rotation of the tics, the fact that one particular movement will go away for at least a little while. For instance, he doesn’t blow on his hands like he used to. He might start again tomorrow, but right now that’s not what his body feels is necessary. I just keep hoping the nodding of the neck will disappear soon. The fact that this tic is hurting his body scares me. I’ve read about folks with Tourette’s Syndrome and how the various jerky movements negatively affects their bodies. How could it not?

The most disturbing aspect of all this though, was watching my little boy’s body create a tic while we had what we thought was a relaxing dinner. It had not been a bad day and it had been a good evening. I keep asking myself, “Why does his body do this? Why does it react to stress and anxiety this way, even when it’s not a particularly stressful day or moment?” I don’t have specific answers and yet I know from observation that he tends to tic more at night, no matter what his day has been like. I do think he tries to resist the tics while at school. (I’ve seen him at a birthday party try to hold his face still and open his eyes wide so he won’t squint and scrunch his eyes.) Once he gets home, he knows he can be himself and I think his body just lets it all out and it tics like mad–eye scrunching, eyebrow raising, head nodding, blowing on the hands–the whole kit and caboodle.

But this morning? This morning I wasn’t thinking about anxiety or body tics or deep breathing exercises or any other kind of stress reliever.  I was only thinking about getting our four cats outside so they’d stop bugging me. And as I let them out, I heard my son waking up. I didn’t know it, but I was about to receive a very special gift.

Typically my husband, the early riser, is already awake but this morning he slept in. I whispered to my son that he could get up if he wanted to, but we had to be quiet. So we went into the kitchen and quietly talked about what we dreamt the night before while we made tea and coffee for ourselves. (Don’t worry, decaf tea for him!) Then we tiptoed into the living room, sipped our drinks in front of the lit Christmas tree (yes, you read that correctly) and talked about video games, my sister’s 50th birthday, our freaky cat we secretly think is Batman, and ghosts. And near the end of this lovely conversation? I realized that my sweet boy hadn’t tic’ed once.

Not once.

I love my son more than anything that has ever existed in this world. I’ll love him if he dyes his hair purple or turns into a yeti. I love him and all his eccentricities and goofiness and bad jokes. And I love him with his tics. But I also love him without his tics and can appreciate those few moments when his body and mind are calm and happy and in sync.

 

 

Tic, tic, tic…..

Have you ever seen anyone that has a tic? Not a tick, the little black insect that burrows under your skin, but body tics–brief, repeated movements or noises that a person makes.  Very often tics are associated with Tourette’s Syndrome.  Do you know what I’m talking about? Sometimes it can be mildly annoying to be beside someone that is always clearing their throat or squeezing their eyes shut, or it can be fascinating to watch someone continuously shrug their shoulders or rub their head or even blow on their hands. But if you don’t understand what’s happening, it can be very unnerving to watch someone go through a series of these movements or sounds.

Now imagine that person with the tics is your child.  You don’t know why he does it, nor does he.  You hear other kids talking about him, “What’s wrong with that kid’s eyes? Why is he doing that?”  Then adults ask him directly if his eyes are tired or if needs glasses.  You watch him shrug his shoulders or say, “I don’t know,” or in one case, you feel him lean against you as he hangs his head, just not knowing how to respond anymore.

And then, you walk him into his classroom for the first day of second grade.  He’s told you he’s very excited, but also a little nervous.  “That’s all completely normal, son. I always felt the same way, too.”  Yet as the teacher greets everyone and you watch your son place his backpack in the appropriate place, you see his face.  He’s blinking….constantly.  He can’t stop.  The blinking, the scrunching of his face, it’s continuous. It’s like a loop that he just can’t get out of.  You know he’s nervous and inside, you are freaking out.  You rub his shoulders as he finds his seat, telling him he’ll have a great day and to have a good time and you’ll see him at dinner that night.  He only nods his head in reply.  Then you walk very carefully as you leave the school, trying to keep it together. You climb into your car and try to take a deep breath, but you’re already crying.  You have a blurry ride to work.

For several years, my son has had these occasional tics.  I’ve always mentioned them at his doctor’s appointments, but I wasn’t overly concerned and neither was his doctor.  I often thought it was just some bad habit he picked up somewhere. I tried to get him to *not* do whatever it was he was doing, whether it was the constant blinking, the shoulder shrug, the waving of the hands, the humming or the blowing on his hands.  Last year his teacher commented on a few of the more disruptive ones (the humming/clearing of his throat in particular), but mostly no one seemed to notice.   But this past summer, his eye blinking/tilting of his head became so obvious, that everyone mentioned it.   And after that first day of school, I just couldn’t deny it anymore.  I spent part of that morning looking up body tics in children, and what everything told me was that it appeared more in boys and in nearly 25% of the population.

Yet I really needed someone else, preferably a medical professional, to tell me that my son was really ok.  And that he would grow out of it, hopefully, and he wouldn’t be ostracized by the other kids.  That, in all honesty, was my main fear.  Kids get a helluva lot meaner the older they get. They become less tolerant of any kind of difference.  My boy is already a giant among kids his age and although he has certainly embraced his height, body tics are harder to accept.

At the doctor’s office, I told our physician what was going on. He already knew about the tics but I explained my concerns from the summer and the beginning of school.  We talked about anxiety and stress and how it can aggravate tics more.  He himself had a humming tic when he was in medical school.  We talked about transient tic disorder, which is what it appears my boy has.  Stress makes it worse, and for Bri, being tired also makes the tics increase and rotate.  (During the first week at school, when we were reading just before bedtime, he would have 4 or 5 tics in a rotation for several minutes until he could finally settle down.)  If things get worse, if the tics become so distracting to himself or to others in the classroom, then we can try medication.  But until then, if the tics are not too bad, particularly on “normal” days (not during a stressful event) then we do nothing.  We just wait it out.  And in all likelihood, the doctor said, my son would grow out of this.  It may not happen until he’s a teenager, but he still should grow out of it.

briticI will tell you that I was greatly relieved when I left that office.  I know that it’s possible my boy will always have one or more of these tics for his entire life. (In fact, my husband has a little tic that most people don’t know about because it’s pretty minor, and he usually only does it when he’s stressed out.) And it’s also possible that he could develop more verbal tics and be the beginning of Tourette’s.  I’m hoping it’s not.  But you know what? Even if it is, I hope I can help him deal with it better than I have.  I know now that I did everything wrong. Telling my kid to try to suppress these movements, makes them 10 times worse. If he did suppress them, he would get to the point where he’d nearly scream with frustration and tic even harder.  I had him take deep breaths to try to slow them down at least, but that didn’t work either.  “I just can’t help it, Mom,” he has said on many occasions. I didn’t believe him.  I really did everything wrong.

Now I’m trying to do something right.  My friend, Denise, a former special education teacher, suggested I give my boy a “line” he can say if someone asks, “What’s wrong with you?”  I told him to just say, “It’s called a tic and it’s no big deal and *nothing* is wrong with me.”

And if that doesn’t work, I also signed him for Krav Maga lessons. So that might help, too.