I’ve been mulling over this blog post for a long time, but every time I sat down to write it I’d be overcome with a grand sense of meh and I’d bail out. Recently some of my ladies on Twitter reminded me that sometimes we write things for ourselves and then they help other people, so while I would not presume anything so grandiose as that about these words, I still thought I’d put it out there on the off chance that someone else needs to read this, today, someday, sometime.
Do you remember when I wrote this post about being a good person, and how I didn’t think I was one? A lot of you lovely people left comments to the effect of “Well, you’re raising young children, and that’s an important contribution to the world.” There were so many comments along those lines, in fact, that I almost edited the post to add “By the way, in case you weren’t aware, I’m an absolutely TERRIBLE parent, so we can’t be counting that as something that makes me a good person.” but I never got around to it.
The next time I went to therapy, though, I started to bring up that blog post, to tell my therapist about how I had realized that I’m not a good person and about all the things that I thought I would do to improve, about all the ways I had figured out how to be a good person. It never occurred to me that she wouldn’t nod vigorously, agree with me about how terrible I was, and then be proud of me for working on it.
Instead, she cocked her head, squinted at me, and said “Woah, woah, woah. You’re not a good person? What on earth are you talking about? You are raising young children! You’re a wonderful mother to a high needs child! Seriously, WHAT are you talking about?!”.
And that is when it all began to unfurl.
When I brought out my dark beliefs about what a bad mother I was, when I spoke them into the light, when a sane and rational and loving person who I trust and respect looked back at me in astonishment, something in me woke up, or broke open, or let go. I’m not sure. I only know that all this time, that idea, the idea that I was doing SUCH A BAD JOB at parenting my son, was somehow at the very core of me, and had become intrinsic to who I thought I was.
So this is where it started. When I first started therapy, I would declare over and over that I had no earthly idea what was making me so anxious. I honestly could not figure it out. But the more my therapist heard about my life, and the more I talked, the more she squinted at me and gave me the “huh” face I’ve come to know and love, and eventually the “huh” face morphed into specific questions and eventually we moved into “Ok, dude, seriously, Eli has ADHD. Like not a little ADHD, Big time ADHD. You need to get that kid evaluated because he’s making you nuts.”
So it turns out that yes, spoiler alert, Eli does have ADHD. Despite the fact that he would never nurse for more than five minutes at a go (MY FAULT BAD MOTHER), that he can’t focus on anything for any amount of time (MY FAULT BAD MOTHER), that we’ve been fighting with him to get dressed for SEVEN LONG YEARS and it never got any better no matter how much we yelled or begged or screamed (MY FAULT BAD MOTHER), despite all those things, we never suspected ADHD. Part of this is because I’m not a very self aware person and apparently that extends to my children as well. Part of that is because I’m an asshole and I always assume that common ailments like reflux and celiac disease and ADHD are things other people’s children get, but obviously not MY children, ha ha no of course not. Part of that is because we’ve never heard so much as a peep from a teacher, a camp counselor, any authority figure ever, which is pretty unusual for kids with ADHD. When I asked his first grade teacher to fill out the ADHD assessment questionnaire, she asked if he was being used as the normative because he did not, under any circumstances, have ADHD. (We are still figuring out why this is, but we think it’s a combination of Eli being a smart kiddo, his early diagnosis, and the fact that he’s very compliant with authority figures and a has a little edge of anxiety to his ADHD.)
We are lucky to live within spitting distance of a world renowned center for neurodevelopmental disorders. Eli was evaluated, and evaluated again, and when we went to talk to the psychologist who did the second test, she said “You know, some kids walk in that door and I’m not sure. We have to do multiple days of multiple tests and I’m still iffy. Eli walked in that door, and I knew. He has ADHD, and not a little bit of ADHD. Big, huge, MEGA BIG TIME ADHD. And he needs help.” (It should be noted that she also described him as handsome and incredibly charming, so she can stay.)
So what does this mean? Well, it means lots of things. It means, first and foremost, that, maybe, just maybe, I am not a bad mother. I am a mother who is perhaps, yes, easily stressed, but who is also dealing with a kid who has had a 20 minute meltdown over getting dressed every morning of the past eight years. MAYBE IT IS NOT ALL MY FAULT PRAISE JESUS.
It also means that’s it’s not Eli’s fault. He’s not doing this on purpose to be a little shit, despite how much it feels like that. His brain works differently than mine, he learns things so slowly, he is trying his best, the world is a A LOT, he is four years behind a 2nd grade girl when it comes to impulse control, he has no executive function, it’s a different world inside that little head.
It also means we are doing a lot of work, and by we, I mostly mean me. There are doctors appointments and stacks of books to read. There are endless behavior modifications and therapies and parents support groups and binders full of notes and education classes and workshops and jars of buttons. There are slow improvements and really bad days mixed into the good days we are finally getting. There are prescriptions to try and try over again and tweak and worry over. There’s the hard shell you grow when people tell you that ADHD is caused by food allergies or ADHD is so overdiagnosed these days and we just need to let be kids be kids. There’s the sinking feeling that if teachers don’t see it and camp counselors shake their heads no to questions that it must just be his awful parents who are unable to deal with normal children. His father is a rock and the best human I know but also very busy at work and not able to go to support groups at 10 am on Tuesdays because someone has to bring home the bacon and perhaps Erik is also not the most skilled at implementing a consistent, reliable behavior modifications plan. So it’s a lot of work for me. So much work. So very very much hard work.
Most of all, though, it’s a breath out. It’s realizing that after three weeks of Ritalin, my child doesn’t go the bathroom 40 times a day anymore, that maybe his father and I didn’t give him a one two punch of anxiety and ADHD. It’s realizing that finally, finally, finally, I LIKE my wonderful, beautiful, smart, funny, amazing, handsome charming boy. It’s cuddling up next to him while we both read books. It’s a kid who can finally sort of almost always get himself dressed, thanks to medication and a reward system and laminated checklists and a visual timer and clothes set out the night before and and and. Have I mentioned how much work this? It is a lot of work.
Please know, though, that I’d do it all over again for this boy. I’d do four times, ten times, a million times the amount of work. I’ll do whatever it takes. Eli and I, we’re in this together. I love both my children with my whole and unfettered heart but sometimes I look down at Katie and think “Woah. Who the heck are you and where did you come from?” When I look at Eli I think “Yep. I know you. I get it. I got it.” From that first moment I saw those two lines to those weeks we waited to find out if his father was also a cystic fibrosis carrier and I talked through those panicky days with the boy in my tummy, to when he wouldn’t grow and I would hold him down and shove yogurt in his mouth, to our days now, our days of visual timers and ritalin and pediatric neurologists, he’s always been my special little guy, together with me against the world, and nothing’s ever gonna change that. I do not always do the best job, but I am trying really really hard, and while I am absolutely sure I am very far from the best mom the world has ever known, I’m starting to really believe, for the first time, that for this kid, for my boy, I may actually be the best mom there is.