“That Mom” Loves “That Kid”

My latest blog for Skirt.com.

Is your child “that kid”? The unsuspecting class clown in constant motion? The incessant talker/noise-maker with a built-in soundtrack? The weird kid? I remember them well. They never seemed to fit in socially yet were some of the most intelligent and creative people in class. They were awkward, strange, sometimes even talked funny and we all made fun of them for being different. Yet we were somewhat oddly attracted to their quirky behavior. Their differentness made us feel uncomfortably curious. But in the end, a bizarre fear seemed to overcome us and “that kid” was met with verbal lashings, kick-me signs and public mockings. We didn’t know the fear of the unusual was leading us down the path to unkindness. We only knew “that kid” was not like me. As a now mom of a “that kid”, I struggle to find acceptance for my son while not allowing him to feel different, weird or strange. He only knows that he’s special because he has ADHD.

I like to think of my son’s ADHD not as a special need but as a special gift. He thinks up the most incredible Lego creations and spends hours meticulously cultivating his projects. He is the boy who writes heart-warming, well thought out stories about a character born from love, Mr. Snail; a snail much like my son. He’s the interesting kid that everyone surrounds on the playground while he digs for rocks and buried treasure. The boy who thankfully has many friends because he is kind-hearted, funny and full of interesting facts. My son is the boy who helps out, who’s never made an enemy, who believes in good, who loves animals, loves his family and only wants to please. A sensitive, intuitive, creative little boy with a heart as big as anyone I know. And I’ve told him as much as his hyperactivity and lack of focus can be an issue, some of the most brilliant minds are wonderfully successful people. Do you ever wonder if “that kid” is the founder of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft or Apple…just think. Maybe it’s not so bad being “that kid”.

Don’t get me wrong, being a parent of an ADHD child is hard work. The constant reminding, re-reminding and well, re-reminding. Schedules. Frustrating conversations. Notes from the teacher. Struggling to keep them on task. And then there is the worrying you do at night about how you are going to help them achieve success living with ADHD. There are days you feel like a complete failure and throw your hands up in exhaustion and self-pity. The days you ask yourself, why my child? It’s not an easy life. And this morning slapped me right back into the reality of that life with “that kid”.

I look forward to Friday mornings. My husband and I have a weekly breakfast date at our favorite spot in West Midtown. We joke that our Friday morning breakfasts are even better than our Saturday night dates because, well, we’re actually awake! We both do our best work in the morning. However this morning was not like every other Friday. My husband had been sick all week and hadn’t run. So he was up at 5am to run 4 miles in the dark. Asking him to please wear his reflective vest, he snapped at me for nagging him. Naturally my feelings were hurt as my only intention was to keep him safe. He apologized but the tone was set. Not 10 minutes after he had left to run, my son was up (30 minutes early). I heard him in the kitchen rustling around in the pantry. I got up, asked him to go back to bed. Yet 5 minutes later, he was back in the kitchen. Again, I asked him to go back to bed. By the third time, I caught him standing on the counter, grabbing for his Valentine’s candy that we had strategically placed on top of the refrigerator. I knew this wasn’t going to be a good morning. Impulsivity at it’s unwanted finest. “Mom! I wasn’t getting candy, I was looking for the pencils!” Lies. I screamed for him to get down and told him that his favorite stuffed animal was gone for the day. This stuffed animal is the Linus’ blanket of stuffed animals. I know how to get his attention. “I hate you, Mom! I hate you! I’m going to kill you!” He hasn’t said those words to me in a long time. It’s progress. He continued his relentless verbal assault on my weary mind. It was too early for this. I had already been snapped at and now here it is only 6am and I’m arguing with my son. Ugh. Why Friday of all days?

The belligerence, disrespectfulness and downright stubbornness continued through breakfast and my shower until we left for school. I kept telling myself, Beth, he’s not done this in such a long time. Remember when it was almost daily? Remember how hard it was before you knew? Remember? I’ve worked hard to get him to a good place. I’ve found my son the most wonderful psychiatrist who has prescribed a balanced drug combination which retains his happy disposition and creativity. He has been through therapy, he attends a fantastic school, his teachers and I are in constant communication and the extended family follow the rules and routines we have set for him at home. My son is lucky. But even with a loving family, good school, therapy and medication, ADHD is still unpredictable. Outbursts like today happen for no apparent reason. The triggers vary and aren’t always apparent. You have to roll with it. These kids thrive on routine, structure and consistency. Discipline is key. Children with ADHD are usually highly intelligent, creative and manipulative. You give them an inch, they will take 10 miles or more and keep going long after you’ve lost the race. You have to have as much mental and physical energy as they do. Sometimes I have to give myself permission to fall with him. I am “that mom” today, struggling with “that kid”.

My son has overcome many obstacles in his short life with the suicide of his biological father, the death of my father 6 months later and moving three times in two years. Not to mention my remarriage. That’s enough to put most adults on Prozac! But being diagnosed with ADHD was the best gift he, and frankly I, could have received. We both now understand what he is dealing with, why he acts the way he does and best of all, how to combat the negativity that comes with the diagnosis. I remind him daily of his “special powers”. His creatively, beautiful, out-of-the-box mind and intelligence are all part of his package. My now husband and I both believe that if you choose to see the positives in life you are healthier, stronger and less likely to be cynical and negative. Positive parenting, positive living, breeds positive, happy children. Or at least that’s our theory. We, along with his therapist, teachers and extended family are all teaching him how to cope with his ADHD in a positive way. My son is learning to take his gifts and use them to his advantage while still allowing himself those now occasional irrational moments. I am still learning to allow myself those same irrational moments right along with him. A process we are learning together.

Even though this morning started out rough, I know my son. I know that’s not him. He was struggling. Struggling between his impulses and his rational mind. Like the angel and the devil on each shoulder, whispering in his ear. Who do you listen to? It’s hard. It’s hard even for those of us living with the brain of Toyota rather than a Ferrari. I know this. I try not to feed into it, but I’m only human. We learn from each moment and move forward. My son may have ADHD, and to the outside world beyond our home and family, he may seem strange or a bit off, but not to me. He is beautiful, even when he hates me. I’m “that mom” to “that kid” today, tomorrow, always. No one can take that away from us.

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