My brother-in-law and I call them "habits," because "habits" sounds so much better than "obsessions."
Nonetheless, that's what they are. Obsessions. Compulsions, really. In fact, both he and I have--at one point or another in our lives--had the words obsessive and compulsive and disorder put together into one phrase, and applied to us in writing, on a medical record.
This means that my kids? Have it coming and going, from both ends of the gene pool.
All of which is to say that the morning 'routine' N has developed should be no surprise to me. There's the fact that he almost physically needs me to park in the same spot on the side street near the school. The fact that I must stop by the same "No Parking" sign to kiss the two of them goodbye. The fact that I absolutely, positively must then walk about twenty yards away while he and Em climb The Stairs, after which I must turn and wait for him to get to the top. The fact that he and I then have a precisely scripted and yelled dialog from (his) top of stairs to (my) assigned waiting area. (N: Bye, Mom! Love you! Me: Bye, sweetie! Love you too! N: See you after school, see you in the night time! Me: See you later! Have a great day!) The fact that as I walk away, he HAS TO continue to yell and wave to me ("Bye Mom! Bye! Love you! Bye!") until he can no longer see me.
And, quite honestly, I don't mind any of it. Or, at least, I don't mind any of the part I just described to you. Because, sure, it's a little obsessive, a little "habitty," as my BIL and I would say. But it's a harmless habit, a reassuring habit, a habit that--to anyone on the outside looking in--doesn't really look like a habit, unless they realized how choreographed it is.
I guess what it comes down to is, if it doesn't bother me, I don't think of it as a problem.
But there's a part I left out, a part that does bother me...for reasons I can't quite explain. It's the part right after the kiss at the No Parking sign, and before I retreat to my designated 'wave and shout goodbyes' spot. It's the part where he says to me, "You'll go and wait and turn around to watch me at the top of the stairs, right?" It's the part where, if I don't answer him and reassure him that yes, I will, I always do, don't I?, he will ask me again and again, won't leave my side until he gets what he's looking for, what he needs.
That's the part that feels like true obsession, because there's just so much anxiety surrounding it. I've been trying, of late, to 'wean' him of it a little. At first I went too far, refusing to answer him at all, pretending I didn't hear him. When this actually resulted in him bursting into tears, I took it down a notch. Instead, I've started dropping off the "yes, I will," part, and just reminding him that I always do. The first time I said that, he kept pushing, still pushing, "But you will today too, right? Will you?" By now, he's accepted that IS my version of yes. I've even said to him, "I'm not going to answer you, because I need you to trust me. I always stand there. If I EVER forget to stand there, then you can ask me. But since I never forget, you don't need to ask me."
The problem is, he DOES need to ask me. And he needs to get a specific answer. All he's done is translate that little diatribe above into his version of "yes." He's still getting what he wants, and what he needs, and that feels...wrong. To me.
My problem is, I know exactly how right that feels to him.
Rather, I know it's wrong, and I know he needs to stop, and I know how it will mess with him as this compulsion--this requirement--morphs into other compulsions, other requirements. But I also know how it can actually hurt--deep down in places so primal you can't even name them--if you try to deny a compulsion. It's the feeling I used to have when I'd be on the subway during my lunch hour, traveling from Manhattan to Brooklyn by myself rather than eating lunch with my friends, because I absolutely had to check to be sure my iron was turned off. It's the feeling I still sometimes get, today, when we're halfway down the street, late for a soccer game or a doctor's appointment (because it's always when we're late that the compulsions get triggered, never when I'm calm and have time; stress is what they feed on), and I become convinced that I've left a burner on on the stove, and I must go back and check the knobs...even if I haven't cooked a thing all day.
If you tried to stop me then, I...I can't tell you what would happen. Most immediately, I would descend into a panic attack. But it feels even scarier than that, on the inside. It feels like you're simply going to fall apart, literally, physically. It's not in your control, this feeling. The compulsions really do take you hostage.
And so I'm trying very hard to find a place where I can challenge N's compulsions, without scaring him like that. Make him uncomfortable, without causing him to fall apart. But it's hard, because there's such a big part of me that is right there with him. It's hard, because all the while I'm pushing at him for his own good, I'm aware that I really ought to be doing the same to myself. It's hard, because it's so unfair. He doesn't deserve this, not him, especially not him, not on top of everything else.