As our day with Mickey and Elsa drew closer, the family trip to Disneyland was losing its anticipatory joy and taking on an undeniable air of dread.
I have learned, since beginning our family’s journey with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), that unpredictable and erratic behavior almost always follows a departure from our normal routine and comfort zone. That said, the thought of standing in line for Dumbo for 75 minutes seemed impossible. The What-If scenarios flooded my mind.
I kept asking myself, “Am I setting her up for failure?” “Is the amount of planning and preparation for one day really worth it?” As any parent knows, once Disney is promised, Disney must be delivered, so we moved boldly forward with our plan.
Several weeks prior to our trip, we started preparing Gwen for the days outside of her typical schedule. We reiterated that her routine would change just for a few days.
We told her that she would be sleeping in a different bed, but assured her we would bring the noise machine, her ‘hugging blanked’ (weighted blanket), her favorite Belle jammies, and her ‘Gwenny’s Schedule’ chart for her bedtime routine so she could move her Velcro stars with each completed task.
We watched YouTube videos of all of the roller coasters and rides. We looked at pictures of the park’s various areas so she could tell us where she wanted to visit. And every morning we answered the question, “How many more sleeps before we fly to California?”
Her excitement and my anxiety grew in lockstep.
I decided success hinged on my ability to have zero expectations. Disney is extremely stimulating. It was possible entirely that we would go on one ride, Gwen would reach her limit, and that would be it. I needed to be ‘OK’ with that possibility — and the idea that my friends’ Disney experiences may never be our Disney experience.
When you create aggressive expectations for a child with impulse-control issues, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. The last thing I wanted to be was disappointed, so I tried turning everything into a positive during our big day. After a ride, we told her how brave she was. When given options, she received our applause: “What great choices you made. When you use your words, we know what you want to do!” We praised her for waiting in long lines, “Thank you for being so patient while everyone has a turn!”
I told myself that just coming to the park was a new experience for her and I reminded myself to be grateful for that time we were able to spend in this happy environment.
We purchased Fast Passes to reduce our time waiting in line, then we learned that Disneyland offers special services for kiddos with cognitive and behavioral issues. Upon our early-morning arrival, we walked right over to the Disability Access Service in Disneyland’s ‘City Hall.’ The team there could not have been any more helpful.
They simply asked us what type of issues we had experienced before. I shared with them that our daughter has ADHD, and she has a very difficult time waiting in lines and feeling crammed. In the past, she has thrown tantrums, suffered meltdowns, or just run out of line.
During this time, Gwen was running in circles in the office and up and down the stairs. The Disney team member could see pretty clearly I was not making this up.
The Disability Access Service at Disneyland was a lifesaver. They helped us use the four ‘iKiosks’ around the park. When we were ready to ride any ride, they simply scanned Gwen’s ticket and it virtually put us in line.
If there was a 45-minute wait for the teacups, for example, we would return to the teacups 45 minutes later, the team member would scan her ticket again and we would walk to the front of the line. And then on to the next ride and the next iKiosk. While we waited for our turn in our virtual line, we walked around, ate snacks, and looked for characters.
This changed the entire trajectory of our day. I am so grateful that Disneyland offers this service, and for the team members who answered Gwen’s questions about the rides and made her feel more comfortable.
After a very hard past year, we were able to have a much-needed day full of positivity, great decision making, and special family time.
“One winter, my roommates and I wanted to save money so we agreed to never turn on the heat.”
On the car ride home from lunch, I’m still reminiscing about the various idiotic decisions I made. I can scarcely believe that I went years without visiting a grocery store or making my own meals, surviving mainly on dollar-menu fast food. I also owned little more than a bed and TV. How does one live like this?! I thought.
Laurie loves to remind me how much she expanded my palette and wardrobe when we first got married. “You always wore white undershirts and cargo shorts,” she says with a laugh. “Aren’t you lucky to have me?”
It occurs to me that some of my boys’ behavior makes a little more sense in the context of my own misspent youth. When it comes to picking out clothes, every day is a battle. Their bedrooms are upstairs, so Laurie and I avoid tromping through landmines of shoes and LEGOs to help them pick out their clothes. Plus they’re older now. I mean, c’mon! A teen and pre-teen should be able to handle simple tasks like picking something half-decent to wear.
But they can’t. Their first draft of an outfit is typically a re-run of what they wore yesterday: athletic shorts or sweatpants, and a hoodie. “It’s 80 degrees outside!” I say.
“But it’s freezing in school,” they say.
“Then pick out a hoodie you didn’t wear two days ago.”
The same goes for food. They’re old enough to be left alone for short periods of time. But often when we come home, we find they forgot to eat because they were busy watching TV.
“I told you I bought Pop Tarts as a treat,” Laurie says. “All you had to do was walk to the kitchen and put them in the toaster.”
“Oh,” they say.
“And why are you still in pajamas? It’s noon.”
As I consider my own bachelor days, I can see I’ve come a long way. It’s currently three days after Easter, so I ask Laurie when we’re going to pack up the decorations and get out the summer stuff. “I mean, we’re not savages,” I say.
It’s clear I’ve been in Dad-mode for so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a dude.
With my sons’ various diagnoses, it’s easy to blame any absent-minded behavior on biology and neurology. Considering the decisions I made as a single guy, I know maturity is also a big part of it. (Thankfully, the thought of washing my bedsheets and towels once per semester now makes me queasy.) But reflecting on the recent lunch conversation with my friend, I’m beginning to suspect that the main biological factor at play is this stupid Y chromosome.
When my kids make a scene in public, which is often, Laurie and I battle embarrassment and then… loneliness. We’re the only parents going through this, we think. No one gets us. These other parents staring at us are judging us, along with their well-behaved kids.
I reconsidered this the other day when, at Isaac’s rugby game, I witnessed a funny interaction. At halftime, the players were coming off the field and I saw one of Isaac’s teammates cover one nostril with a finger and blow, and then do the other nostril. His mother, who had been mid-sentence talking to another mother, saw her son blow his nose into the air and lost her mind.
“What is he…” she shouted from the sideline to no one in particular. “He knows he’s not supposed to…Adam! Adam! Stop it!”
“I have to,” he shouted. “I can’t breathe!”
I hardly knew the kid, but I could tell he wasn’t back talking. Nevertheless, she continued to go off. I hadn’t noticed the mom prior to this incident, but now I couldn’t help but listen to every word she said. Once the second half started, she constantly shouted directions. “Get low!” and “Go down!” Then she paced the sidelines and announced to all the other parents, “He’s playing rugby like a football player. He knows better.”
To me, this was in good fun. Or at least in the spirit of competition. We were watching a vicious, full-contact sport. So I don’t think anyone was thinking, “Oh I hope my baby doesn’t get hurt.” Yet I wondered if the other parents were as amused by her behavior as I was.
Watching this mom get so visibly frustrated was incredibly refreshing. Laurie and I proudly consider ourselves helicopter parents. We rarely let rude or bad behavior go. Which makes it especially embarrassing and isolating when our kids, who we know are capable of good behavior, misbehave.
The game ended and we won, despite some pretty sloppy defense. Isaac came to the sideline and gave me a high five. “How do you think I did?” he asked. He was panting, and covered head to toe in mud.
“You put some points on the board, so you should be happy about that. But your tackling wasn’t great.” I was genuinely pleased with his offense, so my tone of voice was mild, especially for me. “I mean, the whole team’s tackling was lousy. You guys almost blew a substantial lead, but your offense kept you in the game.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said.
He took a thermos of water, sprayed a giant mouthful, and then spit it out.
I thought I’d said this soft enough so only Isaac heard, but then a voice from behind me said, “That’s a good boy you have there.” I looked over and saw it was the intense mom. “Stay on him, Dad. You gotta make sure these boys grow up with manners.”
“Ha ha!” I said. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“And I heard what you said about the defense,” she said. “They gotta get that squared away before next week’s game.”
“Agreed,” I said. “Good thing they have a couple of practices between now and then.”
We continued to chit chat for a few minutes. Then headed home.
During the drive and for the rest of the afternoon, I thought about this exchange. It felt good to connect with another parent, especially one so dedicated to her child’s behavior. But I also couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that she felt perfectly OK jumping in with her two cents. From one intense parent to another: Solidarity, Sister!
It was an uncharacteristic outburst from my husband, not a man given to sudden emotional proclamations. I had just completed some admin, which had taken several hours, and was feeling rather pleased with myself. I hadn’t become frustrated, confused, or so bored I had to leave the house. I’d simply finished the task without distraction or disaster.
To my husband, this was startling behavior. Searching for the right words with a pained expression, he told me he missed the “indescribable chaos.” Charming. It turns out he actually relished the challenge of a wife with undiagnosed, untreated ADHD. After a lifetime on the other side of understanding, I was not persuaded.
When we got together, everyone was surprised — including me. He was the smartest, most successful person I’d ever met. I was the most erratic, exasperating person he’d ever encountered. We’d vaguely known of each other for a while, through a mutual acquaintance, but otherwise our lives didn’t overlap.
He says he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me after a Wild West themed party. In a room full of sexy squaws in chamois leather mini dresses, and cute gingham Calamity Janes, I arrived as General Custer. I was secretly furious that I hadn’t won best costume, my large blonde mustache twitching in indignation. I’d taken things seriously, risen to the challenge, and no one seemed to understand apart from him. He later said he found the facial hair disconcerting but not unattractive, and liked my commitment to historical accuracy. He also thought I was like no one he’d ever met. I though he was a little patronizing. He’d turned up in a suit, straight from work, and could only stay for 5 minutes. This was typical.
After that meeting, he’d arrive to take me out, simmering impatience covered with a thin veneer of politeness. His time was precious, and he worked to a schedule. For me, multi-tasking meant eating dinner in the bath — it’s actually very practical, being both time saving and mess-free. That habit, he said, was non-negotiable and had to stop, although nearly everything else remained. He was constantly surprised by my eclectic mix of friends, yet he was the most unlikely; we shared absolutely no common ground. Opposites most definitely attracted. I was too fascinated to be intimidated. He was probably too puzzled.
I didn’t expect it to last, but life can be unexpected. He said he liked the challenge. If you believe there’s a strange beauty in our flaws, then you might understand the attraction he felt toward me. I now see that I aroused a need to protect, to shield from the everyday cruelties directed at those that are different.
He always said I made myself a target and would often become exasperated, comparing me to the bird with the different plumage, haplessly straying into the garden and about to be torn apart. Or like someone going headlong into battle without armor. I was always fighting lost causes and defending the underdog.
Living became so much easier once we were properly together. All the day-to-day dull stuff disappeared, allowing me to concentrate on the fun bits. The problem with the truly impulsive is the chaos left in their wake. If they’re lucky, someone is picking up after them, facilitating their responsibility-free existence, and leaving them safe in the knowledge that the bills will be paid and the dishes done.
My husband organized me, and fixed my many mistakes. I barely noticed. In turn, when his jet lag kicked in, I’d happily sit up, glad for the company at 3am. I hardly slept, and was waiting to burn out, expecting accelerated aging, a stroke, or at the very least a heart attack after reading the regular scary articles in newspapers. I sleep more now. I spent long periods of time alone while he traveled, happily amusing myself with work and projects, his undemanding, free-spirited, resourceful partner.
He rarely shouts, which is surprising given the continual provocation and I fell in love with his voice, deep and steady. Since I was a child, I’ve often been accused of daydreaming instead of listening, but this simply isn’t true. I was always listening, but my priorities were different. I was listening to the tone of voice, the way the vowels flattened or seemed to fade. The mix of accents, the hesitations. Before you know it, you’ve lost track of the content. So I did listen, just not in the usual way.
Today, my conversations with him no longer start with “You’re not going to believe this…”. Or, “Don’t be angry but…”. Cars remain uncrashed, bathrooms unflooded. Our lives are no longer wrapped in chaos. When did I last lean into a stranger and, entirely innocently, tell them they smelled gorgeous? It’s been a while. Not since I passed through airport security and startled the guard.
I’m more compatible, and life is so much easier, but it’s also less remarkable. Predictability means you lose the element of surprise. Time now stretches past me where once it flashed, crackling and sparking. Days ooze like treacle. Hours would slip away, but now I’m continually surprised by how early it is. It means I’m so much more productive. It also means I’ll have longer with him.
I’ve done lots and lots of things that I wish I hadn’t, and looking back at the picturesque, carnage-strewn landscape means you see horrors all too clearly for the first time. Things you could and should have prevented, people you shouldn’t have hurt, if only you’d realized. Regret is something everyone lives with to a certain extent, but knowing so many of your actions were driven by something that could have been treated? It’s hard.
There’s a lingering ache — mostly low-level but sometimes almost unbearable — for how things might have been. Burning with sadness and regret, then flooded with respect and affection, when I see how simple things can be, but how hard they were for me. And worst of all, the ever-present, ragged hole ripped in the past, where this new me might have existed, might even have thrived — academic, steady and respectable.
When you’ve seen life in a clearer, easier way, it’s hard to go back.
And then there is my husband, standing on the sidelines, watching as the person he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with gradually disappears. Finally, I see that I was loved, not just despite of my flaws — but also because of them. I was cared for in the way everyone should be, by someone who didn’t always understand but still accepted me as I was — his wildly impulsive, unfiltered, nocturnal friend.
So what do I say? That I’m never coming back? I’ve been tamed and re-released into society. My reign of terror is over. And I’ve become the person I always suspected I was, under the layers of difference and impulsiveness. I’m also now the woman I think he should have married in the first place. I just need to convince him.
Before I even thought about you, I watched my son struggle to find the shoes sitting right in front of him. I wondered why he gave me a blank stare when I told him to do this and then that. I spent hours trying to get him to complete his homework — and years feeling annoyed at the fight because the work usually took just 5 minutes to complete. I watched him at the playground, playing all alone. Then received the harsh stares and words of parent who heard profanities come out of his mouth. I watched the simplest tasks become the biggest fights. And listened as my son told me “It’s just too hard — everything is impossible.” I wondered what was wrong with him.
Before I met you, I wracked my brain thinking of ways to help him. I also answered untold calls from the school. While trying to layer in good things about my son, they always ended up emphasizing the many things he did wrong — despite their efforts. And I worried — a lot.
Before we met, my mother told me I needed to create more structure. My aunt told me I needed to be present. Others told me that I had it all figured out. When I tried to make changes, the very people offering advice then quickly undermined me.
I cried. I checked out. I yelled. I screamed. I hit. I blamed others. I questioned myself. I resented my son.
Then, at some point, summoned the strength to dig deep. I made a plan. And it led me to you.
I also need you to tell me that you’re in this storm with me. And that, ultimately, I will become the leader in the chaos, the expert in my child and what he needs. That I will become his fiercest advocate when times are tough.
Most importantly, I need you to remind me that my son is not defined by his chaotic way of thinking and his impulsive behaviors. Remind me of the things that he can do instead of what he can’t.
His gifts are sometimes overshadowed by the delivery or the emotion behind them. My son is smart. He is creative. He can dance. He can draw. He will make you laugh when you need it most. He can nurture his younger brother, delight his elderly great-grandparents, and demonstrate genuine concern for society as a whole. He can spin information and place words in context in ways you never considered. Most importantly, he protects me. And I will spend my days ensuring that I do my best to protect and fight for him — always.
I frequently change the home screen and lock screen background picture on my phone. The photo might be one of the boys in their football gear or one of the girls at a cheer or dance competition. Or maybe Laurie captured a good shot where the kids’ hair and clothes are looking good and the light catches their smile just right. Other times, I might choose a random photo of the child who is driving me the least insane that particular week.
Until recently, the background was an action shot of Jasmine during a dance performance. She’s performing midcourt at halftime for a basketball game. She might be 8 years old, but to me she looks like the dancer for an NBA team. This pic remained on my phone until yesterday, the afternoon of practice, when I told her to watch a video of her instructor demonstrating some new moves.
So I give her a talking-to, send her to time out, and tell her when time out is over she is going to watch the video and practice. Then I pick up my phone to text Laurie what has just gone down, see my screensaver, growl in frustration, and change the background.
My current screensaver is Bennett, the 2 year old for whom Laurie has been the full-time nanny since he was born. Bennett sees our kids every day after school, and sometimes spends the weekends at our house. Our kids treat him like a younger brother: playing toys and giving him dum-dum lollipops.
With our youngest, Jasmine, just turning 8 years old, I’ve forgotten how much fun toddlers can be, especially when they’re not my kid. Bennett might throw a tantrum because he doesn’t like his lunch or we forget to zip up his jacket, but these tantrums don’t bother me like when my kids were that age. Obviously because I know he’ll go home soon. I feel the same way when I get overwhelmed by his toys strewn throughout our house, or when won’t take a nap. Well, I think, he’s not my kid.
This is what I imagine being a grandparent is like: swoop in, give out candy and make funny faces and noises, and then, when things start to head south, look at the clock and say, “Well, I think he wants his Mom and Dad.”
Jasmine asks for my phone and takes about a hundred selfies. “There you go, Daddy. You can make one of these your screensaver.”
I scroll through countless pics of Jasmine’s eyes closed, Jasmine mid-sneeze, and Jasmine blurry. But I finally come across one shot where she must have told her siblings to lean in. She got a shot of all four kids smiling. The lighting is perfect, and each of them is giving a genuine smile.
“Look at this perfect shot!” I say to Laurie.
“Wow! That IS perfect,” she says.
“I wanna see,” one of the kids says.
“No give it to me,” another says.
Quickly, a fight breaks out over who wants to hold my phone and see the pic. Meanwhile, I rub my forehead and mentally promise myself I won’t let them ruin my new screensaver.
Back in January, my wife gifted me the Holstee Reflection Cards, 100+ thought-provoking questions centered around mindful themes meant to spark meaningful conversation and reflection. Today’s card did just that with this question:
“What was one magical memory from this past year?”
The answer was easy: The first dance with my wife at our wedding last year. My focus — which is, it seems, forever fleeting — was trained in that moment on nothing but her contagious smile as we spun around the dance floor for the first time as husband and wife. As we spun, I could actually feel my senses attempting to absorb every ounce. Dizzy from euphoria, I felt a high that I never expected, and now I know it was because I have never danced like that before.
The spring before our winter wedding, my wife and I enrolled in dance classes to help us get a feel for moving in unison, learn structure, and acquire some actual dance moves. Our first dance was to be a semi-structured waltz. When we practiced, we faltered then improvised, laughed then sneered, engaged and then interrupted each other. We feared we would look foolish, in our most intimate and serious moment. These lessons became a metaphor for something much larger: How I must learn to manage my attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) in new ways as an equal partner in life.
The dance floor was my classroom — the space where we set up silent expectations through invisible boundaries. Ignoring a boundary, in my case, resulted in crashing to the floor. So I resolved to quiet my mind and give my full attention, appreciation, and respect to the agreements we had made as a couple. When we first began to learn about dancing, I was still taking my life and business day by day. I didn’t understand that my significant collaborator was depending on me for my foresight, intention, and direction. I didn’t appreciate the power of nonverbal communications, self-confident steps, and nagging. This last one was particularly poignant for me.
Thanks to my ADHD, I am overly sensitive to critique and rejection. I physically squirm in pain and discomfort when I am the subject of critique, especially from a loved one. Though I tensed every muscle to brace for corrections on the dance floor, I leaned in to take the big hits in order to seek my reward. As a result, I became more open to learning a critical lesson about the importance of embracing opportunity, patience, and permission with an intimate partner.
1. Opportunity: First, Gracefully Shut the Hell Up
The resistance to this was strong with me. With every conflict or misstep, my impulsive reaction was to quickly process aloud and then attempt to solve the problem on my own. I would show frustration whenever it was time to listen. Over time, I came to understand why it really does take two to tango.
This work took intention, attention, and follow-through. In order to be really focused, I had to learn how to be quiet.
To quiet my mind enough to listen deeply, it took enormous focus. I had to learn to pause my own reactions, and to separate my own emotional sensitivity from my partner’s. When I learned to shut up, I realized that I created half of the overstimulation that I was experiencing in any conflict. Addressing one perspective at a time was a game changer.
To truly listen, I had to train myself to accept my partner’s words without any expectations. I found that when we critiqued each other and advocated for ourselves, we always meant something deeper. There was a bid for an underlying need within the spoken need. The interpretation was more important than the literal translation. As I struggle with interpreting bigger pictures, this was my greatest challenge.
1st: Realize you have patience.
Take a breath and become aware of partial ownership in the situation. No one can force someone to move in a direction, speed up, or change their belief. Establish and accept that you can only control yourself.
2nd: Learn how to establish patience.
Use these questions to help you spark mindful patience in impulse-inducing situations:
“Will I forget if I do not act/say this now?”
“What will happen if I do not say/do something now?”
“What is my partner’s intention? What is her fear?”
“How much control do I actually have over the situation?”
Sometimes things happen and we get to learn from our mistakes. Lean in and leverage the learning. When reflecting, ask: What is the worst-case scenario and what is the probability that it actually happens? Was it relatively low? Can you recognize the fear building up before you let actions happen? Lean in and learn; it’s a growing process.
3rd: Realize that patience is power.
Do not overact, find the right action.
Let silence be powerful.
Take action on purpose.
Take your time, or time will take you!
In my moments on the dance floor, I had to acknowledge these principles in order to keep a level head. It provided me space to give more attention to my partner and as a result, I grew more secure when I learned that if I do nothing, nothing will happen yet.
3. Ask for Permission to Lead
Asking for your partner’s hand in dance — or in marriage — means taking on certain responsibilities and making sure she is able to follow. Think about following an ADHD mind as it tells an unplanned, meandering, ever-expanding story. It’s like assembling a puzzle in the dark. And that is no way to start a marriage.
To succeed, you’ve got to have a plan. Whether you create it together or you ask her to follow yours, it is the lead’s job to have the plan. This ownership means that the lead studies, practices, and creates confidence and trust before and during the dance.
Then you’ve got to communicate the plan. Know and agree on signals beforehand. Use cue words, body language, and intentional movements. Practice mindfulness — being intentional, and giving attention to moving on purpose.
Finally, follow through as planned. Improvising has its perks, but you can’t improvise without first building trust with consistency — the framework that creates open spaces for unplanned brilliance. And to do this, of course you’ve got to start with respect. Respect that your partner needs boundaries, structure, and direction. Respect that trust and confidence don’t exist without communication and consistency. This is key.
On the dance floor, my wife and I learned to share space, respect one another’s needs, and develop collaborative roles. This is the space where I was finally able to focus on dancing with someone instead of for someone. When the big moment came, the maid of honor passed out sparklers and dimmed the lights. As we glided through that orange glow of warm faces to begin our first dance, I felt the power of what we had already accomplished and I felt confident about each step ahead. And then I led my love in a spin… and it was magic.
How many times was she sent to the office? Was she aggressive? Did she nap today? How many outbursts did she have? Are we going to have a tantrum leaving today?
On an almost daily basis, these are the thoughts that bombard my brain as I drive to my daughter’s school. The uncertainties are endless — and so, too, is the worry.
When I found out I was going to be a mother, this is not how I pictured preschool pickup. In my vision, she ran up to me — a smile spread across her face, so excited to see me — embraced me with a bear hug, and unpacked her entire day for me. Oh, how I was mistaken.
As I pull around the circle drive of my daughters’ school, the anxiety creeps in. As I turn off the car, I engage in a personal pep-talk while checking off the list in my head.
Incentive sucker waiting in the car? Check. Soothing music queued up? Check. Favorite blanket on hand? Wait, where is her blanket?!? Panic washes over me.
For as long as I can remember, I have asked myself “What is going on in her sweet little brain? I don’t understand why she doesn’t ‘get it’ like her peers. Why does dropping her off take 20 minutes, when the other Moms are in and out in 5? Can she please just LISTEN, one time? Someone, please help!”
Two years ago, she became a big sister and this was a very jarring life change for our whole family — shifting from 2:1 to 2:2. Sharing the spotlight was a pivotal shift in the at-home dynamic, and that was when we really started to see Gwen’s behaviors spin out of control.
Did I do this to her? Did making her a big sister cause this pain? I was wracked with guilt.
The answer is simple, but has taken an army of friends, family, and medical professionals to sink in: No. No, I am not the cause of this.
I am constantly reminding myself that it isn’t my fault. As I write this, tears well up in my eyes, wishing I could take it away. The impulsive behavior is so hard to watch. She reacts before she can even grasp the situation. The pain I see in her eyes as she realizes what she has done or said is debilitating.
“I’m so sorry, Mom,” she says.
“I didn’t mean to, Mom,” she says.
Biting my tongue in frustration, I try not to let the words hurt any more than the transgression already has.
I just have to embrace her and not let her see the tears or frustration. I put on a façade, I pretend everything is OK, and keep on praying she wake up one morning and the behaviors will be gone.
Why won’t anyone listen? Why is everyone afraid to recognize that there is a problem going on? I understand that she is young, but I am begging you to meet her and help us.
The conversation — with medical professionals, counselors, the school district and friends — began when my daughter was 3. The emotions flowed as I refused to back down. The convincing I had to do was tedious and endless as the behaviors at home and in school worsened.
Finally, we got in for an ADHD evaluation. I believe it was due to my persistence and the degree to which I annoyed the nurses. They finally caved, thinking I was a hypochondriac parent with toddler problems. I am so thankful they did because every medical professional we have seen since has made me feel like I am not crazy — finally, my concerns were validated when the doctors recognized that she does, in fact, have ADHD.
When my alarm sounds, I’ve learned to hit the floor quickly, brush my teeth, wash my face, and throw on the Mom uniform: yoga pants and a tee. Through trial and error, I’ve mastered completing this all-hands-on-deck routine before my 6 year old, who has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, wakes up.
Am I the only one who feels like she’s run a marathon before 8 a.m.?
Even though we picked out Kennedy’s pale pink sparkly unicorn tunic and leggings last night as the day’s selected outfit, I am fully prepared for the texture of the shirt or socks to bug her when she slides them on. There is a 50/50 chance she will refuse to wear them. And I’ve learned not to sweat it.
I know that no matter how gently I comb through her beautiful, chestnut-brown curly locks, she’s going to yell at me and argue that I can’t put a cute little grosgrain ribbon bow in her hair like her friends wear.
After getting her backpack and coat, and strapping herself into her car seat, Kennedy says, “Mommy, I love you! I’ll miss you and sissy today.”
And just like that my heart melts.
My sweet girl doesn’t mean to struggle in the mornings. She simply likes things a certain way, and morning routines are hard on everyone — including her.
I’ve learned what to expect and I try to keep our morning routine as simple as possible. Like most kids with ADHD, Kennedy is thrown off by any slight deviation. On this particular day, I drop off Kennedy at kindergarten, knowing she loves me and knowing we made it through another school morning with few battle wounds.
It’s almost spring break in Charlotte, which means the school year is nearing an end.
Summer in our home is a lot more lax as nobody feels the pressure to rush out the door quickly, and we can go at Kennedy’s pace even though we still try to keep a routine. I’m looking forward to a summer full of sunshine, parks, and playdates — and a break from the stressful school morning routine.
“I want to eat outside but Mom said no,” she tells me. Then she huffs and crosses her arms.
“This is how you’re going to say hello?” I say. “I haven’t seen you all day.”
Until recently, I’ve been a sort-of stay-at-home Dad. Two years ago, I got laid off from an office job with a brutal daily commute. I was unemployed for a few months. Then I got a job working remotely and I could practically set my own hours. So for almost two years, I took care of the daily school drop-offs and pick-ups. I attended most parent-teacher meetings, as well as the doctor and dentist appointments.
I loved being involved with the kids. However, I must have burned out over time because, according to Laurie, I was often short-tempered and snappy toward the end. Even if the kids were in a good mood, their high energy made me irritable. I would send them outside to blow off some steam, but they would come back in two minutes later bickering or tattling or having destroyed something. “I’m trying to work,” I would say while clenching my teeth in a feeble attempt to appear calm.
So when I got a job offer with more money and a tolerable commute, Laurie encouraged me to take it. “I think it’s time,” she told me.
The first few weeks were an adjustment. Though I enjoyed the paycheck, I wondered daily if I’d made a huge mistake — especially around 3pm, when the kids got out of school. I would send Laurie texts, “Remember Jayden has tutoring so you have to pick up Jasmine.” I would tell her where to park, then suggest snacks and a location for each kid to do his or her homework.
“I got this, honey,” she would text me with a smiling emoji. “Remember, I did this for eight years.”
Some days, she sends me pics of the kids playing outside or of homework and tests with good grades, and I miss being at home. Other days, she tells me she went off on one or two or all of the kids for bickering, tattling, or destroying stuff. I respond, “Ugh that’s annoying,” then I go back to work and get quickly distracted.
So when I see Jasmine at dinner and she throws shade about sitting inside, I don’t get worked up. I haven’t been dealing with her and her siblings for four hours straight. I miss them too much to be so easily bothered.
I kiss her forehead and tell her to get over it. Then I ask, “How was school?”
Her face lights up. “Daddy! Guess what happened today at school!”
She has my full attention. She might tell me something adorable or exasperating. Either way, I’m glad I can connect with her and her siblings in a new way.