So, if you’re a regular reader (like I’m some Erma Bombeck or something) you know by now that I have a son, Drew, and we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs in his young life. If, on the other hand, you are blissfully unaware and want to educate yourself, here’s the story in black and white: “My Drew”. But be warned – there are a lot of words. After a period of relative quiet over the past couple of years, Drew’s difficulty processing the outside world decided to rear its ugly head again this past fall. After mulling over whether or not I should write about it, I remembered that the advice you hear most about writing is to “write what you know”. I also rationalized in this way: Drew isn’t aware that this blog exists yet and hopefully he won’t know that I’ve been writing about him until I’m long gone. Then he can’t be mad because being angry at dead people is against the Ten Commandments. Or something like that. If you are mad, adult Drew, I’m very, very sorry. But, you shouldn’t feel too bad because look at you! All handsome and winning at life. Damn, you must have had great parents!
And as your parent, I’m taking it upon myself to share our struggles so that others may be helped. Or at least get a chuckle because even though childhood mental illness sucks huge donkey balls, it can lead to funny situations. Take for example the manifestation of Drew’s “disorder” last October. For about a month prior he had started exhibiting obsessive compulsive behavior. Not the hand washing or checking door locks 100 times type. More like the feeling compelled to say things (in this case, “bad words”) and not being able to stop yourself or getting stuck on one train of thought kind of OCD. The day it came to a head and I realized he needed help was scary for all of us and decidedly not funny. I won’t go into that, but what grew out of that day was a move away from obsessing over “bad words”and towards obsessive thoughts about fat people. I wish OCD and anxiety disorder made sense because it would make things a lot easier to handle and explain, but it just doesn’t. So, we blamed it on his penis. More specifically, the beginning stirrings of puberty, the fact that his crush at school was slightly “round” in a totally cherubic way and the misunderstanding that somehow these feelings he was having about her were wrong and bad.
He began to notice (and comment on aloud) the fact that an overweight person looks like they’re about to have a baby but they’re not pregnant. And he began to wonder (again, aloud) what enormous amounts of food they must have consumed to get that big- possibly even, he thought (aloud), the Hindenburg. Let me interject here that the people he was talking about while not thin by any means were not “Guinness Book of World Records” fat. (Yes, he used that description too.) And when I say “people” I not only mean the people he saw in public, I mean me. I can’t tell you how fucking fantastic it is to have the fruit of your loins- loins which haven’t looked or behaved the same since he sprang from them I might add- point out your every outward flaw and exaggerate them 100 times over. Add to that the mental anguish he was so obviously feeling (as evidenced by the compulsive act of scratching his scalp that had also emerged and which he couldn’t control) because he knew the things he was saying were wrong and hurtful and he didn’t want to say them, but he was literally compelled to and absolutely couldn’t stop and… well, you’ve got yourself a one way ticket to hell.
And then the State Fair came to town. (I told you you’d chuckle.) Promises of rides and bright lights and cotton candy proved too tempting for Drew and he begged and pleaded with me to be able to go. I did not think the fair was the ideal place to be for a child obsessing about people’s weight. Not judging or making a statement about fair goers in my state or any other state for that matter, but I was being over protective and thought the possibility of a high concentration of slightly larger than average people might put Drew over the edge. I explained this to him but he insisted he could handle it. I had a world of doubts, but my sister was in town and my daughter also joined the chorus of those in favor of the fair. So, being outvoted, away we went.
You know how in movies they can convey the feeling of something being amplified in someone’s mind by editing frantic shots of the person looking here and there while sweat pours from their head next to close-ups of the thing they’re obsessing about which is seemingly EVERYWHERE all at once? Yeah, that’s how the first 30 minutes of the fair went. One of the first booths we came across was the “Giant Turkey Leg” vendor. Every single person stepping away from the food cart was grasping this club-like hunk of meat and gnawing on it cave-man style while grease dripped from their chin and down their arm as they made their way to the roasted corn on the cob vendor to fill their empty food shovel on the end of their other arm. I know, I know, smoked turkey legs are delicious (Mary had one) and so is the corn on the cob (my sister had one of those). But when your child is staring wide-eyed and begins to scratch his scalp, you see things in a new light.
We decided to take a break from the midway and go look at some of the animals. My sister and daughter decided to make a potty stop. The minute Drew and I walked into the barn we heard some people saying things like, “Man, I ain’t never seen a pig THAT big!” and “Shoooey! I wonder how much that fat pig eats?!” and “Mmmmmm, all that flab makes for some goooooood bacon!”. Drew looked up at me, pleading with his eyes and I took him by the shoulders guiding him through the crowd saying, “I know, I know. We’ll be out soon. It’s okay.”. We both breathed easier once we got outside, but only for a brief second. We were leaning against a fence waiting for the girls, when a new mother trying to fit into her pre-baby clothes pulled her stroller up next to us. Drew glanced her way just in time to see her bend down to get something from the bottom of her stroller and get an eye-full of everything her pre-baby tank top couldn’t contain. Which was a lot. I heard him suck in all the air around us and his hand immediately flew up to his scalp and started scratching. I directed him to look the other way. But soon that view was filled to the brim with someone who had come over to rest their substantial bones. More deep breathing from Drew and furious scratching. I feared he would leave the fair bald, so I directed his attention to the ferris wheel across the midway and suggested that he count how many times it goes around until his aunt and sister get back.
That seemed to do the trick. All was well and we were back on track until we continued up the path and came to the “Guess Your Age” game. We had stopped because my daughter LOVES flamingos and one of the prizes was a huge, cute, stuffed one. In that brief second we stood there admiring it and debating if she could try to win it or not, my brain suddenly kicked in and remembered that the second choice in this game is “Guess Your Weight”. That, of course was the strategy the next person in line (a very cute 10-year-old boy) opted for and before I could distract Drew again or at the very least cover his ears, the carnie began his very loud schtick into the microphone. “You want me to guess your weight? Well, let me look at you. Geez, you’re a really FAT KID. What’s your mama feedin’ you? You must be 200 pounds, you’re so fat!” I turned to my sister who had just realized what was happening and I said “I’ve gotta get him the hell outta here.” We quickly ushered the kids somewhere else. (As an aside I just have to give my sister props for being the most understanding and supportive sister and aunt. She later took Mary to another “Guess Your Age/Weight” booth by herself and paid for her niece to win a flamingo. That was the very least of what she did that weekend and she was just generally awesome in every way.)
We eventually made our way to the kids section to ride some tame rides and play some outrageously expensive games. As long as Drew was occupied and having fun, he was fine. I hadn’t seen him scratch his head for an hour or two. I kept the tickets (and ATM receipts) flowing because we all were in desperate need of this good time. And I steered clear of the exhibit containing the “world’s largest woman”. With my guard down, I watched the kids get in line for another ride. But then something caught my eye. It was a girl 4 or 5 kids in front of my children. I recognized that sweet, round face. It was the girl Drew had a crush on. You have GOT to be fucking kidding me, right???! I thought. Almost 128,000 people attended the fair that day and THIS is the girl we run into? The girl who my son was obsessing over and who might have contributed to this latest incarnation of his OCD (obviously through no fault of her own)?? Really? Thanks, God. I didn’t say a damn word but watched Drew to see if he would notice. Of course he did. And instead of the sight of her launching him into a shame spiral, it was totally adorable. At first he did a double take and I could see the wheels turning. Then his hand went to his head and began scratching. (Uh-oh.) Then he asked his sister if that was who he thought it was. She was very supportive and said, “What?? I don’t know.” He stepped slightly out of line and called her name. She turned around and smiled and waved and he did the same. His hand came down from his head and into his pocket. (Phew!) He talked to her for a minute until it was her turn and he told her to have fun. She waited for his turn to be over and when he got back on the ground she waved bye to him and told him to enjoy the rest of his fall break. He looked at me and sounding just like Opie Taylor said, “Gee, it was good to see her.” Some of the tension I had been holding in my body started to relax.
We played two more games before we left. At the first one the prize he chose was a light-up ninja sword. At the second his choice was a GIGANTIC inflatable banana. If that wasn’t a sign that this boy was having issues with his penis, then Sigmund Freud was a woman. I laughed… until he gave it to me to carry through the crowd. As we left, we stopped at a booth near the exit which had every fried food they had to offer at the fair all in one place. Fried candy bars, fried pieces of cheesecake, and even fried kool-aid. I handed Drew his prizes so I could help carry our fat-filled goodies. I looked down at my son, who didn’t have a free hand available to scratch his scalp even if he wanted to. Standing there holding his enormous phallic symbol, I knew he was going to be okay. Anxiety disorder and OCD is no fun, but it’s nothing lots of love, a therapist, a giant banana and a fried Reece’s cup can’t make better.