Friday, March 13, 2009


I've been waiting to write about last weekend--our second family camp/Shabbaton weekend with our synagogue--because I haven't yet downloaded the photograph of what it looked like after we removed the tick that had embedded itself into Em's arm.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was a fabulous weekend, tick notwithstanding.* As good as last year's trip. Maybe even better. But still just as impossible to describe.

What I can tell you about, though, is how my son once again reached new heights of contradiction. No, no. Really.

To wit:

Friday night, after dinner, there was a singalong in the dining tent. It got exceptionally loud in there. N is already sensitive to loud noise; it was getting to me, so it was not surprising that it was torture for him. But he was great about it. He simply came up to me at one point, told me it was too loud, and allowed me to lead him out of the tent and out into the (omigodsocold) night air. We walked far enough away that the sound was no longer piercing, but stayed close enough that we could hear the music. And we danced together, under the stars, my son and I, doing a little side-by-side hora. Lovely.

Saturday night, after dinner, there was Israeli dancing in the dining tent. N asked if I would take him outside again; I said that I sure would, but only if the sound was too much for him. It wasn't. I asked him if he wanted to dance with me again, this time with the group, but he said no. "I'm too shy," he said. I told him I understood, and then I joined the other 30 or so people in the dance circle.

At which point my son ducked under my arm and walked into the middle of said circle to stand next to the (somewhat puzzled, but willing to go with the flow) dance instructor. And stood there. And watched. As we all danced around him. As we all took steps toward him, en masse, and yelled, "Hey!"

He stood there, and watched, and grinned, and walked around the circle watching us appraisingly, and high-fived his counselors, and showed absolutely no ill effects from all those people, all watching him.

Too shy to hold hands and dance, but not too shy to be in the middle of the circle.

The next morning, same scenario. This time, we were doing the camp's closing circle, standing by family and holding hands, everyone who wanted to saying a little bit about what the weekend had meant to them. All he had to do was hold my hand, and Em's hand. He wouldn't have to talk; Em didn't. But he refused, told me he was "too scared to do it," pulled his head into his sweatshirt, wouldn't look at me, wouldn't stand by me.

And then walked into the center of the circle to stand next to the song leader (who, admittedly, he loves), and became, once again, the center of attention. Because he's too shy to stand on the outskirts.

[For the record, that was not nearly as cute as the Israeli dancing thing. Something about it was just so much Even though he was in the center of our circle, he was so obviously just watching us all, not engaging. It was one of those admittedly few times when he just 'looked' more disordered than quirky. I really need to learn how to deal with those times better. Even Em, who is almost preternaturally willing to accept his quirks for what they are, leaned in to me and said, "I don't mean to be mean, but this is a little bit embarrassing." And it was.]

It was also impossible to parse. What does it mean that he can't be part of the group, but doesn't mind being the center of it? Is he trying to hog attention, or is this his own way of trying to be alone? Is it really easier for him to have everyone's eyes on him than to join in with what we are doing? I don't have the answers. All I have are the inherent contradictions, which I can't quite bring together.

Even his Occupational Therapist, when I told her about this, had to shake her head. "I don't know either," she admitted. "I don't really understand that myself."

At least I'm not alone.

*Tick facts:

1. We only discovered it in the last 15 minutes of the trip, when I put my arm around her for a picture and she winced as it brushed against her. We figure she picked it up during the night-time "trust walk" her bunk took...but, really, the woods are crawling with ticks at this time of year, and it could have been any place at any time.

2. One of my friends/bunkmates, a doctor--we were 75+ Jews in one place...of COURSE we had a doctor in the house--found a pair of tweezers in the camp infirmary and removed the s.o.b. almost before the words, "Um, Em, that's not a bug bite..." were out of my mouth.

3. Em freaked. Of course Em freaked. There was a bug burrowing into her right tricep. So she cried a lot until the doctor eased it out. Later, however, she admitted, "It actually didn't hurt at all. It was like her hands had anesthesia on them."

4. I freaked. Of course I freaked. There as a bug burrowing into my daugther's right tricep. But I didn't cry at all...because I'm a big girl. And because I was too busy trying not to gag.

5. Although Lyme disease is still pretty rare in Southern California, my doctor-friend and I decided I should take Em to the Urgent Care near our house, just to be on the safe side, and because the bite almost immediately started looking icky. After three hours in the waiting room and a visit with a doctor who actually knows less about infectious disease than I do, I prescribed Em a topical antibiotic cream, and we left. (No, I did not mistype that. The not-especially-bright Urgent Care doc rambled on about how "we" don't give oral antibiotics as a Lyme preventative, but then wanted to prescribe oral antibiotics to prevent the bite from getting infected. I gently inquired as to whether or not that was overkill, especially because Em was leaving on Tuesday for a week at sixth-grade science camp--more on that another time--and wouldn't a topical cream do the trick? Why yes, said not-especially-bright Urgent Care doc, and pulled out her prescription pad. For this I lost three hours of my life?)

6. It was good cream. I'd already put bacitracin on the bite twice, and it hadn't done diddly. One dab of this stuff, and the puffiness, the red streak, everything just disappeared.

7. What didn't disappear? The image of a swollen bug sticking out of my daughter's right tricep. I may be scarred for life.

8. Both of us are, nonetheless, counting the days until next year's trip.


kristenspina said...

I have no advice about N. But I do think I might actually ask him why he felt more comfortable in the center of the group than on the outskirts. Yes, I agree, with the dancing it's all fun and carries a different tone, but for the other, I think I'd try my hand at getting him to articulate it. His answer may surprise you, and set your mind at ease. Maybe he just didn't pick up on the strangeness you felt because it was so much fun the night before.

As for the whole experience: amazing. What a great thing your family has.

(The tick bite would have freaked me out too. It's all about the Lyme here on the east coast.)

Mary said...

You remind me of the time my 16 year old went off to camp, and the first morning the phone rang at 7:30. "Mom? I am supposed to ask you if I'm allergic to antibiotics, and also when I had my last tetanus shot." Ack! The doctor CUT the thing out of him and put him on a course of antibiotics. And we're in Washington, where I really don't worry so much about the Lyme.

That phone call will live in my memory forever. I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever looked into beta blockers for performance anxiety? Sounds almost like he's afraid when he has to perform (dance) but not when watching others perform (standing in the center). I know beta blockers have been used for spectrum patients before and have shown efficacy. I'm looking into them for my kid, who seems to have a specific type of anxiety related to performance (school, sports, social situations). Just a thought.

po said...

I've been thinking about this, and my feeling is that it comes down to perception. N may not perceive himself to be the center of attention when he's not doing a cued activity, even when he's literally in the CENTER of the group. Even with people's eyes on him, he may not feel like they're looking at him, and therefore he does not feel unsafe.

People can relate to others in ways that don't seem "normal," ways that seem detached, but they may not be detached. N may exhibit his connection to other people in ways that seem "off" or disabled, and that may just be the way he is. Behaviors that looked quirky or even "cute" in little kids appear progressively more embarrassing and "weird" as time goes on, and that is a matter of perception as well.

Hugs, I'm so glad you all had such a great time at camp.

Anonymous said...

I would ask her regular Dr about the tick bite. One cannot be too careful as you know what my friend has gone through with her husband and now herself.