Thursday, October 23, 2014

My boy

My son is 10 years old. He's my first born, my boy, and he's a great kid. He's very much a little boy at times, but he's an old soul, with an emotional depth and maturity level that catches me off guard at times. Last week, he was officially diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. Life was no different after the diagnosis than before - the symptoms he's experienced for years now were the same, and we weren't advised to do anything differently. The diagnosis was not at all unexpected. Still, it really, really bummed me out. Something about attaching a name to it made it real in a way it wasn't before, and who wants their child to have a syndrome? It sounds ominous, right?

It's not. We first noticed his tics in the summer before he started third grade, a little over two years ago. At first it was his eyes darting back and forth. It took a while before we realized it was involuntary, and he didn't know he was doing it, so we stopped yelling at him to cut it out. That's called good parenting. Eventually that one subsided, but he started making noises - little humming sounds, almost like he was clearing his throat. When that went away, it was the eyes again, sometimes darting, sometimes rolling, or it was some other little noise he was making. The frequency comes and goes. Some days it's not noticeable at all; some days it's fairly constant.

Tourette Syndrome is a spectrum disorder, and it appears that he is on the mild end of the spectrum. It is thought to be genetic, and interestingly, when we really started to think about it, it is entirely possible that my husband and I both have a parent or grandparent who may have had it. According to the doctor, many people are never diagnosed. An involuntary tic may just be seen as a habit, and some people do age out of it. 

I guess the bottom line is that it's not a big fucking deal. It doesn't affect his ability to do anything and everything he wants to do. It's just a thing about him that he can't change, and if there's one thing I learned from Dirty Dancing, it's that if you love someone, you have to love all the things about them. Actually, that is a lie. I learned nothing from Dirty Dancing. I just wanted an excuse to reference that scene so I could also reference this reenactment of the scene performed by Jerry Orbach and Conan O'Brien, which I enjoy immensely for some reason. RIP, Jerry.

So why was I so bummed out by the diagnosis that changed nothing and wasn't a big deal? Because I'm afraid. I don't want my child to be different in a way that will make things difficult for him. I don't want kids to make fun of him and give him a hard time and hurt his feelings. I'm laying my fears all over that poor kid. I had to stop and think about that. Do I want my children to strive for sameness? To fear anything that makes them stand out? Of course not. We're all different, and I always want my kids to feel free to be uniquely themselves. So, why should I be afraid of any part of who they are? Especially when they're not.

We've talked to him about the tics and about how people react to them at times. Before we took him to the neurologist, he told us if there was medication to take the tics away, he didn't want it. Because they are a part of who he is. He thinks of them as a superpower that helps him know who his real friends are. When people give him a hard time, he rationally explains to them that he can't help it, and that's just the way it is. He doesn't give it any power. He doesn't allow it to limit him. He participates enthusiastically in school, he runs for student council, he tries out for school musicals, he sings in the chorus, and he'll play any sport with anyone any time. He puts himself out there, unabashedly. He put the diagnosis in perspective long before we ever got it. That amazing 10-year-old kid. I only hope to be more like him when I grow up.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Socializing 101

I've been invited to several social-type functions lately, and I'm happy to say that I've handled them quite well. Not trying to brag, but that's big progress for me. No question, I'm still an awkward, uncomfortable introvert who feels physically and emotionally drained by social interaction, but it doesn't make me long for invisibility or make me want to hide in the bathroom to avoid talking to people any more. And yes, I actually hid in the bathroom for 15 minutes once at my own party - because making people wonder why I was in the bathroom for so long seemed preferable to interacting with the people I invited into my home - whaaat? Let's just say socializing is not my strong suit.  

It's fascinating what you learn from watching your own children. Earlier this year, when we were in Boston for the marathon, we took the kids to the hotel pool for a swim. My 10-year-old hit the hot tub, and when he returned, he told me about the nice man he met who was also from Raleigh and was also running the marathon. They'd had a nice chat during their soak. Then recently, when we were at a party at someone's house, he wandered off and struck up a conversation with one of my colleague's wives. Turns out she is a speech therapist at his school. She's never worked with him and didn't know him, but I guess he recognized her and introduced himself.

These incidents tell me at least two things: 1) Someone didn't get the stranger danger memo, so parenting fail on my part, and 2) Dammit, my 10-year-old son has better small talk and socializing skills with other grown ups than I do. Meanwhile, my 8-year-old clings to me or her dad, and when someone addresses her, she smiles like a weirdo, says nothing, and turns to us, desperately pleading with her eyes for someone to bail her out of this painfully uncomfortable situation. Now that, I can relate to.

I'm not really what you'd call a people person. In fact, my motto used to be "God, I hate people so much". It's not clever or catchy, but whatever - I was probably drunk when I thought of it. Turns out, I don't hate people. I even like a lot of people. What I claimed was disdain for everything and everyone was really fear. I feared other people because I didn't like myself, and hating them first meant I didn't have to care what they thought. But I did care. Obsessively so. I had this debilitating fear of being judged, so I pretended to be what other people wanted, and then I had this debilitating fear of being found out. Drinking, for a long time, was the only thing that eased my discomfort. It was definitely the only way I could imagine interacting with others in a social situation. But it also drove me further into hiding. My alcoholism became a big part of my secret identity - Superwoman by day, Superdrunk by night - until days and nights started to blur and everything fell apart. One of the scariest things about getting sober was realizing that I was going to have to get real, and fuuuuuck, what were people going to think of the real me? Certainly, socializing would never be an option again. Or so I thought.

And that is what I love about my recovery community. They made it possible for me to baby step into being me and to be able to sit comfortably with that, even in a room full of people. They stunned me by accepting me, even after I let down my walls. They  showed me love when I felt most unlovable. I've heard it said and believe it to be true that the more fucked up you are, the more the recovery community will embrace you. After a lifetime of putting my best, fake foot forward, I led with the worst I had to offer, and that's how I met some of the best, real friends I've ever had.

I think that's the real magic in recovery for me. That ability to connect and relate was stunted for me for most of my life - buried under fear, then numbed by alcohol. Recovery helped me start to dig out - made me believe I could have an interaction with another person without fearing judgment. There is a refreshing openness and honesty surrounding my friendships with people who are also in recovery, but that dynamic has translated to other relationships in my life. Turns out I can be real and honest with regular people too. Over time, it led me to be more forgiving and loving toward myself as well. I mean, there's some good stuff under all that dysfunction.

Is everyone going to like the real me? No, but that's okay. I don't like everyone I meet, sometimes for actual reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. That's life. There was a time when it was offensive to me if someone didn't like the facade I put up, because that was the sole purpose of the facade - to win approval - and that's all I had. Now I can appreciate the real relationships I have and not waste time and energy on the ones I don't. And if you don't like me, I still won't hate you, because what's the point?

And all of that makes socializing a hell of a lot easier than it used to be. Will I ever have the skills of my 10-year-old son? Sadly, probably not. I'm still going to stand awkwardly in a corner when I don't know anyone. There are still going to be awkward silences when I attempt small talk. I'm still going to laugh awkwardly at inappropriate things. Basically, I'm awkward. But I'm owning it, and I no longer feel so uncomfortable being me. Sometimes, I even thoroughly enjoy it - all without a drink in my hand.