Glimmers of grace

This summer has been stuffed with fun activities that you simply can't do during the school year. Mornings spent harvesting vegetables in the garden, sleepaway camp, educational and fun day camps, trips out for lunch, afternoons playing in the town fountain, and lazy days hanging around the house.

But when your child has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, those activities can be bookended with frustration and meltdowns like twin mountains that seem insurmountable. You want your child to have a fantastic summer that he'll remember forever. Instead, you feel like the biggest failure for pushing him out of his comfort zone and not being able to find your zen space when he pushes back at you.

You want him to look forward to meeting new kids and experiencing the types of things you never had the chance to. You make plans and sign paperwork and make 18 copies of his medical record. You fill carts with flash lights, ponchos, sunscreen, water shoes, heavy drawing paper, watercolors, craft kits, sun hats, disposable cameras, and portable snacks. You lay ground work. You talk about the day's plans as though they include a rocket trip to the moon because they are just that fabulous.

But inevitably, your child's brain is working against you. His chemical makeup is running the show and you can only shuck and jive for so long before those chemicals catch on to your ruse and slam shut any possibility that your child will walk into new situations willingly and with a good attitude.

What you want: Bright eyes and a hopeful smile.

What you get: Slammed doors, sucked teeth, tooth brushing that takes 10 minutes, hair brushing that takes longer, constant back talk, pillow fights with invisible enemies in place of getting dressed, streams of negative commentary from the back seat of the car, screwed and scrunched up faces, tears, jerking shoulders, stomping feet, arms and hands that wrench away from you.

My son's attention disorder is somewhat controlled with 30 mg of Vyvanse every morning. Before that it was 30 mg of Concerta. But the behaviors above will never completely fade away. They are the good end of the spectrum. They are often the result of my poor planning as much as they are misfiring synapses.

Because I know. I KNOW. Some of that could be avoided with careful orchestration. Rather than say we're going to the fountain and then find out the fountain is closed for some type of repair and face the resulting meltdown, I could say we're going for a drive and quietly shove a towel and swim trunks in my bag with my son never the wiser. Rather than say that today is the last day of camp and brave the inevitable tears and stomping when another day of camp rolls around on Monday (albeit for a whole new camp), I could say that today is the last day of THIS camp and Monday starts another.

It's just ... hard. It's so incredibly hard to be "on" at all times and constantly weighing my words and actions and anticipating how a statement uttered on Wednesday can rip my morning apart by Monday. It's hard to take those deep breaths and stay calm in the face of an 8 year old storm of watery, angry brown eyes and too-thin lanky limbs.

And it shreds us both when I wind up bellowing to the rafters: That's enough! Brush your teeth! Brush your hair! Put your clothes on! Eat your breakfast! WHY ARE YOU CRYING?

Or when we're sitting in the rental car office and realize there's no way I can swing us by McDonald's for pancakes and get to camp by 9 am when it's 8:36 am and the rental staff is walking in circles. And I run through my arsenal of negotiations trying to convince him to eat something from his lunch bag and I promise (I promise!) to make it up to him tomorrow morning.

But there is "You said!" and "I want pancakes!" and "I'm not eating if it's not pancakes!" and you know the child keeps losing weight and you'd strangle the rental staff if it wouldn't set a bad example and he has to eat something and maybe you can be late to camp but then he'll whimper and fret and worry himself to death over what time it is and why are we always late, Mama and this wouldn't be happening if you didn't make me go to camp, why can't I just stay home with you?! And everyone's watching and you're trying to whisper but it's not working and finally you have to be the bad mother who says: FINE! If you don't eat at least your granola, you won't get pancakes at all this week and you'll NEVER see a McDonald's pancake when I'm around.

You know it's out of proportion. You know the people around you are giving each other The Look and shaking their heads because this woman clearly is allowing the tail to wag the dog.

But you also know there are really good days. And that when it's over, when all is said and done, he'll emerge from the summer shining and happy. He'll boast to his friends about the time he went all week wearing the same pair of boxers at sleepaway camp, that he can identify compound and simple leaves, that he debuted in his first stage production, that he prefers watercolors to oils, and that king snakes aren't venomous but coral snakes are. He'll be condescending and authoritarian. He'll be decided and proud. He'll be grateful.

So most days I just hold on, white knuckled, to that last day of summer when we look back and catch our breath. When we evaluate the past 90 days and wonder where the time went. When we reminisce about what we had and what we wanted and what we got. Most days I just hang in and pray for serenity, pray for tomorrow to be another chance to get it right.

And then I have glimmers of grace. I have the precious rare comment, given lightly and likely then forgotten. I have the glimpse of what other parents hear more often. From his art teacher, with rain pouring down outside and my body steaming from trying to be in multiple places at once: He is a joy. He has tremendous talent. I am so impressed by him. You are so lucky.

And so I blink back the tears and smile tightly and murmur thanks as I close my eyes and appreciate it. When I open them again, I try to fight back the doubt, the crushing, overwhelming doubt that I am not good enough for him. That I took him from a family who could handle him better and I was wrong. That things would be better for him without me as his mom.

But I love him fiercely. And that has to be enough. I did take him. Willingly and with full understanding that our road would be rocky. I don't regret that decision for a minute. I pray for more grace. I pray that I will finally and for good get my shit together so that we have fewer meltdowns. I pray that we will soon learn to move frustration out of the way and allow the fear or nervous energy or excitement to present itself clearly so that we can welcome and work through it.

Yes, I packed our summer. And most days our frolicking good time was clouded and marred by poor impulse control, inability to focus, inability to process and deal with a gamut of emotions, and the natural inclination of an extremely smart child to question and push and know. But those glimmers of hope and moments when someone sees past all of that straight into the heart of my child? They are what I'll remember.


  • Courtney (Luke's mommy)

    I always know when I read a letter to Bella that I'm going to cry. But, dag on if you didn't make me cry tonight w/ a Javi story! You are a wonderful mother to him! From what I've ready & from the brief meeting I've had with him, I would say (& let's just admit it, I'm OBVIOUSLY an expert! hahaha) you are doing a terrific job. He is smart, funny & very sociable - something many kids his age just are not! You're a supurb mom & he (& Bella) are so lucky to have you!

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