Friday, January 7, 2011

A Real Nail Biter

Sometimes change creeps up on you so slowly you don't even notice it, but there's your kid, seemingly suddenly different.  And you know it's truly not sudden, that it has been evolving for some time, but you've missed it, even though it was going on right in front of your nose. 

That happened recently with Jacob.  I looked down at his hand the other day and noticed his nails were dirty.  Wait - what?  They were long enough to be dirty?  Jacob's nails?

Yep, long and dirty; and I had to double take.  Not because I knew I had cut them recently, but because I haven't seen them this long, haven't had to cut them for two or three years.  Ever.

Because Jacob, you see, is a nail biter.  He is a really bad, constant nail biter, down to the quick and sometimes beyond.

Make that "was."

Jacob loves to pet our cat.
And somehow whatever had propelled him towards nail biting in the past, presumably anxiety, has abated.  I am so happy about this, grateful even, and also somewhat sad that I hadn't noticed until now.

You think you are watching your kids so carefully, but some things just do slip through the cracks.  Especially with Jacob, who doesn't talk about the "why" of things.   We are often left guessing as to exactly what's going on.

Three years ago, we had never gotten an answer as to why he started biting his nails.  Never knew what was at the core of his unhappiness, that the biting of his nails helped with.  Also, at the time he hated having nails that stuck up at all, and biting certainly kept them super short all the time.  So it might have started as a sensory issue that then fulfilled an emotional need too.

Which is the cart, which is the horse?  Don't know, probably never will.

But now?  He's happy to have them growing, a little annoyed at me cutting them, but OK with it when distracted by TV.  Why?  What changed?  Good question.  We certainly don't know now, may never know.

Sometimes with Jacob detective work actually helps us to figure out what's going on.  Sometimes an answer appears weeks, months later, out of the blue.  Yet other times the mystery is just that, remaining mysterious, locked inside Jake's head; his inability to explain, a wall of silence.

Three years ago, shortly after Jacob transitioned from pre-school to elementary school, he had a backslide in his toileting habits.  Jake had toilet trained easily, when he was completely ready, at age four.  Really, one long Columbus Day weekend intensive and he was done.  Zero accidents, dry at night just weeks later, too.

But a few weeks into Kindergarten?  He was having poop accidents.

It appeared he was withholding and then when he couldn't hold it in any longer, it was coming out in skid marks.  And of course, once poop is withheld, it gets backed up, becomes hard, painful to release and a bad cycle has begun, difficult to break, especially with a child who cannot describe what is going on with him.

And we couldn't for the life of us figure out what was going wrong, what had set all this in motion.  That school was not his current wonderful school, communication was not a strong point with them. They were getting mad at me, thinking I had lied about him being thoroughly toilet trained.  I was starting to wonder if something really bad was happening to him in the bathroom at his school.  It was NOT good. 

About three months into this, I had taken Jake to the movies.  We were in the bathroom, he had pooped, and when I went to wipe him, he yelled "NO!"

And as I balled up the awful cheap movie theater t.p. in my hand I suddenly had an epiphany:

"Jake is this toilet paper scratchy and yucky, does it hurt your bottom?"

"YES! Hurts!"

"Is the toilet paper at school like this?"

"YES! Hurts!" 
Whew!  Mystery solved.  At home, we used soft, moist flushable wipes and our t.p. is the soft expensive kind, too.  I never would have figured this out except for that moment of serendipity.

Jacob, at eight is now able to communicate much more, often initiates conversations.  But still, mysteries abound.  Like the nail biting.  I am happy it is gone, but a small part of me would still love to know why?  Why?

But asking is going to get me nowhere.  Because about important things like this?  Conversations still often have a circular quality to them:

"Jacob, why are you crying? What's going on?"

"I'm crying because I'm sad Mommy."

"Yes, honey, I can see that. But why are you sad?"

"I'm sad because... I'm crying mommy."

"Oh, honey you are crying because you are sad.  But why are you sad, what is making you feel sad? Did something happen?"

"Yes, Mommy."

"What happened?"

"I'm sad, Mommy.  I'm crying, Mommy."

And on and on.  And I can't make suggestions, because anything I suggest he will agree to.  He would make a terrible criminal suspect, easily confessing to the most heinous of crimes, just to please his questioner, to be able to put forth an answer.

I discovered this the hard way a while ago when trying to get a sense of what had happened during a regular day at school.  I had asked:

"Did you do math, today?"

"Yes mommy I did math"

"Did you read?"

"Yes mommy I did reading."

"What did you read, Jakey?"

"I read a book, Mommy!"  OK, that's likely, and details are not his strong point.

But then to test if this was real information or just agreeableness, I threw in a ringer:

"Did you go to the moon, today, Jakey?"

"Yes Mommy, I went to the moon."

Damn!  Back to square one.

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