So there I sat, discussing with the hottest kiddie shrink in the hinterland the differences between Clonidine, Seroquel, and Abilify, and which would work fastest to stop my nine-year-old from gnawing his mouth into chop meat.
The mouth chewing business is the latest in self-mutilating techniques my burgeoning farm boy employs to ease his ever-increasing anxiety and anger. He denies doing it of course, but when your kid walks around looking like a blowfish with his cheeks puffed out to relieve the pain there are only two conclusions you can draw: one, he’s been biting himself or two, he’s morphing into the aforementioned sea creature. Since I don’t see gills, I’m going with the mouth destruction diagnosis.
When he first began displaying the anxiety I’m positive he was born brewing (trust me, I know him forty weeks longer than anybody; even in utero my sweet boy bucked ‘round the clock like a bull calf, as if he was trying to burst through his own skin, not to mention mine), he simply scratched at his arms and legs. And face. And neck, chest, knees, and tiny tush.
We went through dozens of shirts, changed laundry detergents seven times, and discovered that “three pair for a dollar!” ankle length sweat socks do a darn good job of absorbing blood before it drips into ninety-five dollar Nikes. We also endured a lot of stares from folks with that “I think I better call Family Services” look on their faces. (What? My baby’s scab-freckled frame isn’t the norm? You’re just jealous ‘cause your kid doesn’t look like he took on a tractor!)
Prescription Eczema creams? We tried several and finally came to the conclusion that a cheapie tube of Aquaphor, applied head to toe atop a nice, thick coating of equally cheap Burt’s Bees Body Butter, worked as well if not better. Plus it didn’t cost us an extra mortgage payment every month. (It also enabled us to ski off my boy’s sweet butt, but we didn’t do that. Too often. It’s simply not our sport.)
For a few wonderful months, my son went to bed each night slick as a used car salesman and we all slept like babies. And then one day I awoke to find him in the bathroom crying and applying Neosporin and band-aids to two bloody thumbs. The anxiety had returned full throttle and his response was to rip apart his nail beds.
Dammit, I thought. There go all my nice plans for a men’s-manicure-with-mommy day.
Enter the kiddie shrink and Prozac and endless applications of Solar Oil, Solar Butter, Aloe, and Vitamin E. Enter gauze pads and adhesive tape, Vaseline and white gloves, and the kind of bribery never before seen this side of a political campaign.
“Leave the bandages alone and you can have Conflict Vietnam Four Thousand Two Hundred and Twelve for the PlayStation.” No response. He’s staring at his thumbs. They’re covered in cream, wrapped in gauze, and taped from wrist to tip in a desperate effort to help them heal. His need to get to them, tear at them with his teeth, scissors, the corner of his sea foam green iPod is palpable. I’ve got thirty seconds, a minute tops, before his anxiety and the itch of his recovering cuticles crests at the same time. I do the only thing I can think of: I sweeten the deal.
“And the PSP. You can have it for the PSP, too. Ok?” He snaps his head around horror film fast and hisses, “They don’t make it for the PSP. And besides,” he adds, sticking his tiny, mummified fingers in my face, “I certainly can’t play like this!”
Clearly the powers of Prozac never did manifest for my little man.
At this point my son’s thumbnails have such deep craters he can use them as soup spoons. But that’s okay. He no longer picks, chews, rubs, or stabs at them. Why? Because he no longer wants to. His cuticles have healed and even though they’re thick as my thighs he has no problem capturing Viet Cong in Combat Vietnam Four Thousand Two Hundred and Twelve or playing any other PlayStation game for that matter.
He’s stopped eviscerating his epidermis, too, and today bears very little resemblance to a leper. (Whew; those surprise visits from Family Services were killer!) In fact, the only time he scratches is when he has a mosquito bite.
Speaking of biting, we went with the Abilify. It takes a massive chunk out of my wallet each month (without prescription coverage thirty two-milligram tablets cost just under four hundred and fifty smackers; with coverage it’s a “measly” one hundred and thirty four), but it stopped his mouth chewing immediately.
In addition, his skin scratching, nail mutilation, teeth grinding, nightmares, and panic attacks are things of the past. My little guy wakes up in a good mood, happily feeds his baby bulls their bottles, and occasionally even smiles when I drop him off at school.
Of course the best is when he’s smiling at pick-up and tells me, without prompting, that he had a great day. Trust me; until recently this almost never happened. Now the only real rarity is discovering his cheeks puffed out like a blowfish. It doesn’t mean he’s gnawing at his mouth, but it probably means it’s full of bubble gum. Which really means my dental bills are about to be as high as my shrink bills. And that really bites.