I’ve got another confession to make
I’m your fool
Everyone’s got their chains to break
— Foo Fighters
I’ve got a confession to make. I have a real hard time with accepting things that are out of my control. Especially when it comes to my family. Especially, when it comes to my son.
My son can be challenging. He has a strong will and is very smart. He knows when something is bullshit and he usually calls it out. He’s also easily distracted. Homework, especially project work, is difficult for us. And it drives me batshit crazy to watch him take hours to do something that I think shouldn’t be a big deal.
My wife has told me for years that perhaps, just maybe, there’s some ADD/ADHD going on. And I’ve fought it. Fought it tooth and nail.
Not MY son
It’s just a phase
He’s not fucked up
He’s not weak
He doesn’t need help
I’ve had a hard time accepting that my son, my amazingly gifted and talented son, might have something wrong with him. See, I don’t understand this ADD/ADHD stuff. I have it in my head that it’s over diagnosed. I have it in my head that boys being boys is often misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD.
I also have it in my head that we like to label things in this country. Because if we can label it then we can do something about it.I’m not the first to think of this. Charles Schulz articulated it well in 1965 in the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas when Lucy Van Pelt counsels Charlie Brown, “I think we’d better pinpoint your fears. If we can find out what you’re afraid of, we can label it.”
These are the feelings I have about this. They eat me up inside. It’s especially frustrating when I actually verbalize them and recognize that these feelings are the same feelings I had about my addiction to alcohol. These are the familiar feelings of denial.
For a long time, I buried these feelings. I put them in the bottom of a glass, covered them with bourbon and ice, and drank them down, hoping that they’d flush out of my system when nature took its course. But they never did. They were always there at 3:00 AM — nagging, clawing, circling: the same irritating thoughts looping like an animated gif in my brain.
Yesterday, I wanted to go for a hike. I wanted to get the family out and go to take a walk on the NCR Trail. The idea of getting outside and walking on the trail near the Gunpowder river was all consuming. Within a half hour of waking, I’d planned my fantastical day around this idea.
I imagined us getting bundled up, in coats, hats and gloves. I imagined driving to Monkton where I planned to start our walk, listening to good music on the stereo. I imagined the sound of the gravel beneath our feet and the gurgle of the river next to the path. I saw us seeing other families out for a similar walk. I saw people on mountain bikes riding in their winter tights. I imagined us coming home, after a good walk in the cold, to a nice warm house as the sun set and the winter sky turned orange for a bowl of chili that had magically made itself all afternoon in the slow cooker.
But first, first, my son needed to complete a project for school, which of course hadn’t been started yet. “No matter,” I thought, “its only 9:30 we’ll get it done and be on the trail shortly after lunch. We can eat lunch in the car.” And we started the chore of writing a pamphlet about different community types in our state.
It was to be a six panel pamphlet, so a single sheet of paper folded in thirds. In my mind this was a simple project and shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to an hour. No problem.
Except that this was my perception of reality. And my perception, well it’s a little skewed.
So we got to the task and time seemed to at once accelerate and crawl to the pace of a giant sloth. It felt like we were loosing time so quickly that we wouldn’t get to go to Monkton, and that was true. It also felt like it was taking exponentially longer than it should to get such a simple project done.
Now, my wife tells me that this is hard for our son. She tells me that he needs help with these things. That he can’t break down the task on his own. She tells me that he’s not, as I so eloquently put it, fucked up. She tells me that even though we haven’t gotten a diagnosis, this is a disorder that affects roughly 20 percent of the population and that it doesn’t mean that he’s not smart or capable — just that his brain works differently.
The hours slipped by and it was time for lunch. He wasn’t even half way done with the project. But we had lunch and I conceded that perhaps we might have to look for a different place to go for a hike. We wouldn’t fit it all in.
My fantasy day was unraveling before my eyes.
And I started to stew in my own self pity. Things weren’t going my way. I became quiet, except for the frequent long winded sighs. I went from pillar to post as I tried to find a way to keep myself sane, all the while my blood slowly boiling inside me. I tried to read. No good. I surfed the web. No good. I surfed Instagram — bad idea, I follow to many hiking and outdoor accounts.
Around 1:30, I’d given up completely on the idea of going to Monkton. At 2:15, my wife told our son to take a break and that we needed to talk. She reminded me that she’d told me several times that I could (and should) go do what I wanted to do. I should go for that walk. But I wasn’t hearing it now. Now I was angry and I was going to let her know. I voiced all my feelings about this ADD/ADHD thing. I told her that he wouldn’t get accommodations in real life. That he’d get his ass fired if he missed his deadlines when he was working. I’d gone from 3rd grade to my son loosing his job in less than five minutes.
I got in the car and took a drive, but I didn’t go for the walk. Oh, now, that would be too simple an answer. Instead, 14 days before Christmas, I went to REI for some retail therapy. I looked at all kinds of things, but the line for the registers was too long — my higher power intervening now doubt — and I put everything back and left the store, still irritable. And then it struck me, call your sponsor dumbass.
I talked with my sponsor and he helped me see a lot of things. There were no perfect answers, but it was clear that I was not making it better. It was clear that I was caught in a trap of my own making — denial, judgment, expectation, lack of acceptance — all these played into my situation. And I let them control me, rather than controlling myself.
As we discussed the situation it dawned on me that the biggest challenge I was having with this was a complete lack of empathy for my son. I suddenly made the connection that if he does indeed have ADD/ADHD that it’s a real disorder that may intact require understanding and treatment. Just like addiction it is a brain disease.
And suddenly, it made more sense. My son has no control over this. He’s not trying to make things difficult. It just is. We can learn how to cope with it. We can help him to learn how to cope with it. We can find ways to deal with it, just as I have found ways to deal with life without drinking.
I came home and we went to the store as a family to buy a new basketball. I was immediately tested. My son couldn’t make up his mind about which ball to buy. He got distracted by a youth sized ball that was way too small for him. He bounced it around the store. It nearly crashed into a display. It was exactly the kind of situation that I’d normally lose my shit.
Except I didn’t, I somehow kept my cool.