Saturday, March 15, 2008


Early last week, Grace approached me in our kitchen. She wore a red juice colored tatoo smile on her mouth. It was the kind that resulted because she tips the cup too quickly toward her mouth and the juice stains her upper lip in a joker-esque fashion. Upon looking closer into her eyes, I noticed she appeared concerned, and then she said, "My hands hurt Mama. They have scrapes on them."

"Let me see them."

Grace lifted both of her hands toward my mid-section and grimaced. As I inspected the skin on the back of both her hands, I had a hard time not making a "face" too. Her skin actually appeared sunburned throughout, but I knew better than that as we are in the vestiges of winter still. Across her knuckles were nearly 100 small cracks with startling similarity to paper cuts.

"Oh geez Gracie," I exhaled. "Have you been using lotion after you wash your hands?"

"Sometimes, Mama."

"You've got to use every time Gracie."

"I can't use it at school though."

"We can send some along with you in your backpack."

"Oh. Okay Mama."

"Let's go get some lotion now."

Gracie frowned, sighed knowingly, and asked a question to which she already knew the answer, "Will it hurt Mommy?"

"It may sting a bit, but we need to help your skin heal."

I didn't think much of that episode of cracked hands. I have very sensitive hands too.


A few days later, Grace began a familiar episode. These episodes come and go as most childhood phases do, but always give me a creeping sensation inside since they only seem to afflict Gracie. Meghan does not have an intense need to control most things around her.

Grace began kept telling us she had to use the bathroom. At first, I wondered if she had a bladder infection or something to that effect. There were little signs of something like an infection. Her proclaimations kept coming every 10 minutes or so, and she was able to hold it all night with no issues. Her hands weren't getting any better, though.

It was a mystery to me why she thought she had to go the bathroom so much. I even consulted a few friends to inquire if their children had gone through anything similiar.

Nope. None.

Here is an example of multitudes of interactions we've had in the last week:

"Mom, I have to pee sooooooo sooooooo bad!"

"Sorry honey. It hasn't even been an hour yet. You need to wait."

"But Mom!"

I cut her off, "No Grace. You certainly do not need to go to the bathroom yet."


On Friday, the girls and Charlie had a day off of school. While I was at work, I called Charlie. He and the girls were visiting our good friend, Tante, and her new baby, Hailey.

"Hi...How is Grace today? Is she asking to go to the bathroom a lot?"

Charlie responded, "All the time. I caught her going into the bathroom. She flushed the toilet without going, and just wants to wash her hands."

The realization flashed over me, but I asked the question anyway. "You mean like obsessively wanting to wash her hands?"


"Oh God. What should we do?"

"Jen, it is probably just a phase. We just need to help her correct her behavior."

"I know Charlie, but this reminds me of last year at Josh's wedding. It just worries me. I was a very stressed out kid when I was little, and I don't want her to feel like I did. I was so stressed that I scratched holes in my scalp in fourth grade." I flashed on a memory of my mom asking me what happened to my head as she was brushing my hair.

"This is probably just a phase Jen. Yes, this runs in your family, but this is probably just another phase."

"It still worries me though. I'd better get back to work now."

"All right. We'll talk to you later. Will you be home at regular time?"

"Yes. Bye."

When I got home later that day, I found a quiet time to ask Grace a few questions.

"Gracie, Daddy tells me that you want to wash your hands a lot. Why do you do that?"

"So I don't have germs on me."

That answer sounded like a standard repetition of the "right" answer in kindergarten, so I decided to take my questions in a sensory processing disorder direction. "Do you like how the water feels on your hands Gracie?"

"Yes. I like cold water on my hands."

"Is that because they sting right now?"

"Uh huh."

"Grace, would you rather have a ice pack for your hands? It would feel cold, but we would need to wrap it in a towel so it wouldn't freeze your skin."

"Okay Mommy."

"Are you worried about germs on your hands Gracie?"

"No." I flashed back to the lie I told my mom when she confronted me about the wounds on my scalp, but I reassured myself since I was older than Gracie when I lied to my mom.

"Are you sure Gracie?"

"Uh huh."

"Why do you wash you hands so much?"

"So I don't have germs, Mommy."
All of this is worrisome to me. Charlie feels behavior redirection should help her. It is hard for me not to reflect on my own childhood intense need to feel things. I didn't want to put holes into my scalp, but it felt like their were bumps on my head. I wanted the bumps gone. I scratched the bumps, which caused scabs, which led to me scratching the scabs off. It was a vicious cycle, and a hard habit to break then. Does Grace feel a strange sensation on her hands? Or is this simple compulsion?

Or am I just reading more into the situation? I have no idea, but I am glad to report that her hands are now on the road to healing. We've kept the bathroom visits to a minimum, which resulted in less hand washing and less chapped hands.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

If it were me, I think I'd talk it over with Grace's ped and then find the time to see an OT and possibly another specialist to see if they can help you tease apart the situation.

It definitely is a worrying behavior to see. :( I could practically feel the worry oozing from you on Friday night. I think Charlie's ideas on behavioral techniques will help, but if you can't figure out the "WHY" part, then it might continue no matter what.

I always defer to people who know more than I do when I'm stuck. It can't hurt, right? :)