He showed up at our house within a few months after our son was born.
The Tickle Monster.
This unknown persona would suddenly overtake my husband and I’d become third wheel as the two of them, father and son, enjoyed (?) this activity (?) together.
That usually unresponsive to daddy lump of flesh would become expressive with daddy’s first little wiggly poke.
Who wouldn’t believe that was a delighted giggle?
Who wouldn’t swear those eyes gleamed?
Who wouldn’t see that infant smile when it was all done as surely asking for more?
I didn’t understand it. But then, I’ve never liked being tickled.
Still, I admit that on a few occasions when it was just me and the baby and I wanted to be liked, I might have resorted to a little tickle squeezing.
As the months turned to years, I couldn’t deny their fun. Our child loved the tickle monster. He eagerly awaited monster’s arrival, usually right before bedtime prayers. He called out for him. He even declared, “again,” just as I thought the torture was coming to an end.
And then one night our son became the tickle monster.
But the problem was that my husband is not really ticklish.
So the tickle monster came for me.
And I agreed to endure.
As this boy got bigger, the tickles got stronger and my resistance was only met as a challenge. More than once I fought back the tickling enough to do a bit of damage. Nothing too serious. I never caused bruising or bleeding. But I did hear, “Ouch, that hurt.”
“Surprise, I don’t like that,” was my typical response.
My husband and I had talked to our son about touches, appropriate and inappropriate. I watched as our boy grew into modesty when it came to toileting and bathing. We are up front and factual about sex, answering questions as they come up naturally. My husband has advised this little one on upcoming puberty.
We had the vocabulary.
So after a bit of a hiatus on the mommy tickling, I felt something more must be said when the tickle monster returned this summer to the pool.
Yes, I said to the swimming pool. It took a few times for me to catch on, but when I did, I knew this had to be dealt with head on. Why? Because tickling was being used as punishment.
Mom won’t do what I want her to do while we’re in the pool together? I’ll tickle her. That’ll make her do what I want.
Not ever okay.
So one afternoon in a neighborhood swimming pool, I knew I needed to have a discussion with my son.
I knew he needed to know what to do when someone says, “Stop.”
I was calm, but determined.
He’s ten years old. And he is one good kid. Maybe I waited too long. Maybe you think I talked too soon. But I am so glad to have it out there. It wasn’t one of our most fun talks, but it’s one that I treasure.
Do you know why mom gets so upset when you don’t stop tickling when she asks?
You are in a position of power over me. All of a sudden, I’m not in control.
You are touching my body, my private space, and I should always have a choice about what someone else can do to my body.
I need you to respect that even if you do not understand it.
One day you’ll be in a relationship where you touch another person and they touch you in all kinds of ways and when that day comes, mom wants you to know how to instantly STOP when that other person tells you to do so.
Mom also wants your words to be taken seriously, too. If you say STOP, then mom or dad or any other person should absolutely stop the tickling or touching.
Can you agree with me that this is our new rule?
There’s been less tickling at our house. There’s even been less wrestling – because both dad and Ian have to agree to it. But there’s been a lot more respect. And while it’s sometimes bittersweet to see that our babies are growing up, it can also make a mom mighty proud.