It was very interesting to me that you wrote about tickling last week ["Ticklish allsorts," 09/30/09]. I actually had that experience as a kid, being tickled by an uncle (actually he was my father's cousin, but same thing) and not being able to get him to stop. Nobody thought it was a problem except me, so he did it for years, until I was about 10. Nobody should do that to a kid! It made feel helpless because I was helpless. Yuck. Also, nobody else thought it was a big deal so I felt embarrassed for crying about it. I still feel horrible thinking about it, and I'm 40.
Don't Tickle Me!
I'm so sorry! Both that that happened to you, and that I brought up bad memories for you through the column. How very useful of you though, to write in about it and bolster my argument that tickling kids can be, and often is, abusive in a particularly insidious semi-sexual manner, which not only causes pain but shame and makes it hard to talk about.
I'm pretty sure I've written about this before, and I've certainly talked about it, but it came up for me again recently through some very raw online discussions with women who were abused as kids by stepfathers or family members. Some actually were tickled, specifically, but all spoke about trying to distance themselves from unwanted attention and being told that Uncle So-and-So was just being friendly and why won't you sit on his lap or let him wrestle with you or whatever. Don't be such a spoilsport!
It isn't only the abuse that causes damage, but not being believed and/or protected by the people whose job it is to keep you safe can cause just as much scarring.
One thing that came out of these discussions, for me, was a keener awareness of our duty to let kids develop their own boundaries. And no, it isn't altogether a matter of "bad touches" and "don't talk to strangers." Children naturally have a pretty good sense of what is and isn't OK to do to them. They come with a certain amount of radar-for-weirdness already installed. We can, however, damage our kids' creep-dar by laughing off their objections. If your kid really doesn't want that person kissing her, even if it's your harmless old Great-Aunt Enid, don't force it. You don't want to get her in the habit of thinking other people know better than she does about who gets access to her body.
OK, all this seems a bit heavy and dire and over-reactionish when we were just talking about something as inconsequential as tickling. Except, obviously, it isn't. Just because something makes you laugh doesn't mean it's funny.
I was leery of Gavin de Becker's much-touted books The Gift Of Fear and Protecting The Gift," which I'd heard about for years and distrusted because the author shows up too often on daytime talk shows and seems a bit self-impressed. I finally read the first one a few years ago, though, after enough friends recommended it, and here I go, passing on the recommendation. Of course I can sum up his stuff in 50 words or less (trust your instincts; don't be afraid to be rude, watch out for people who try to manipulate or embarrass you into "being nice" to them, teach children that no adult needs their help finding a lost puppy), but that's always the case with "here's a problem and here's my patented solution system" books, even the one I hope to write one of these days. No excuse not to buy them and read them carefully!
I like to tickle women too! Don't you think you came down on that guy a little harshly in your column? Not everyone who does a little tickling is a sadistic bastard!
Don't Slander Me!
True, but enough are that I thought I'd take the opportunity to wave my robot arms around and go "Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!" It's not like ticklers write in so often that we've done this one to death here, like the guys who want to try a threesome or something.
I must have pointed out already that what makes tickling special is that, unlike other pain-delivery techniques, it also causes laughter, and laughter is easily laughed off. I don't care what you do as long as you stop when your victim or "victim" begs for mercy. That's it. I do realize, of course, that willing and unwilling recipients are going to sound pretty much the same ("Stop! No, no! Please stop!"), but what are safe-words for, if not to allow one the leisure to beg for mercy and not be granted any unless one wants it? Promise me you use one and I'll grant you absolution.
I just wish little kids got to have safe-words too. Wouldn't that be nice?
See Andrea's other column at carnalnation.com.