Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ALL HAIL TO THE QUEEN

(a letter from the Distracted King and his court of jesters)

It is ADHD awareness week.  As some of you may already know, my lovely wife went along with my scheme to get her on a local TV show to talk about ADHD. Don't get me wrong, she is not afraid to talk, she is just embarrassed about how she looks and she feels frumpy, however she did it and did not complain.  Like so many things in our lives, she does them and DOES NOT COMPLAIN.  People ask her how she is doing and she usually says, "I'm fine" but little do they know, she is a master liar.  Well at least where HER health is concerned.  

She arrived a little early at the station on Monday because she had just finished attending a school intervention meeting with a friend that was in over her head trying to get accommodations and a diagnosis for her son.  For those of you that saw the video clip that we posted the other day, you probably saw a housewife and a mom, advocating for those that have a difficulty speaking for themselves.  She does it every day, all day for us and for anyone within her reach.


What you didn't see is the cane that is her constant companion and with her everywhere she goes... she happened to leave it in my office during the show (which I didn't realize until afterwards).  She did it because she doesn't like explaining to people why someone so young needs a cane and she doesn't want people to know that she is in pain all day every day.   

Lisa has an auto immune disease called "Ankylosing Spondylitis" (say that three times fast)... we just refer to it as A.S.  For many years the only thing that helped with the pain was a nasty little drug called Prednisone which does combat the chronic unbearable pain, but it has some very unpleasant side effects.  Major weight gain and Moon-Face are some of the more obvious side effects and sadly not as severe as some of the others that are associated with Prednisone.  Back when we were first married, the alternative was to lie still in a completely blackened room secretly wishing to die… sadly she started taking it years before she met me, I believe in her early teens. Thankfully, the Prednisone that has made the only difference in her pain for the last thirty years is now at a very low dose and is taken mostly when her NEW infusion medication is wearing off (usually at the end of the third week in her four week cycle). 



So in the interview, what you couldn’t see is how she struggles every day.  How the muscle relaxants and pain killers that they prescribe to help her manage the golf ball sized knots and muscle spasms do little to help. You can’t see how difficult it is for her to get in and out of our 15 passenger van because in addition to A.S. she (and several of our kids) have another lovely disorder called "ehlers-danlos syndrome (E.D.S)" so if the chronic pain, spasms and knots weren’t enough, she gets a whole new batch from the E.D.S.   E.D.S. is a connective tissue disorder that basically makes her elastic woman, but not in a good way.  Her joints are so loose that you can pull her kneecaps around the side of her leg. So stairs and steps, uneven ground... heck even flat surfaces are all accidents just waiting to happen.  So the disease is turning her immune system against her and literally attacking her muscles while the disorder produces far too much collagen in her skin and connective tissue so any support she might have with her joints is weak and minimal at best.  I guess she should be grateful that she is even upright at all.
  

She has determined that she will post something every day this week.  Today's post was going to be a picture with a funny blurb or something inspirational, but I am afraid that just won’t do!  The reason it was going to be a picture with just a blurb is due to the fact that today, she will spend several hours hooked up to an I.V. getting an infusion. To date, this medication has been the only thing that seems to really help slow down her disease... not cure it or stop it, but just slow it down.  After her infusion, she will be driven home by our daughter and hopefully, if the cards are aligned and no major school trauma comes home on the 4 o'clock bus, she will get several hours of restful mostly pain-free sleep.  If all goes well that blissful sleep might stay with her for a few nights, which will end up being the only decent sleep she has all month until her next treatment. 

Why am I sharing all of this? I am fairly certain that she will want to kill me when she discovers what I did. That's okay, I am ADHD, I don't really care about the consequences right now, sure I may later, but I am fairly certain I can outrun her. The truth is she doesn't want people to know, she doesn't want pity or anyone treating her differently because of it.  In some degree, I think her trials are partially why she understands US so well.  On some levels she has empathy in regards to not being able to function the way the average person does.  She may not get us entirely, but she understands enough to communicate with those of us that are lost in a world full of possibilities and distractions, absurdities and epiphanies all wrapped up snugly in a bundle of co-occurring conditions.

When we were engaged, many of her friends half-jokingly told me that I was marrying a medical bill.  Too true, our co-pays for her medications and all of the many medications that the rest of us take literally make-up at least 1/4 if not more of my monthly salary... and that's with health insurance. If I knew then, what I know now, I would still choose to marry my little 5' fireball.  She has saved me in every way that one person could save another (my Titanic quote for the day).  She has rescued me from myself and the down sides of my disorders, she has encouraged me to soar and given me the strength to do so, but has helped me stay tethered enough to not float off into the ether.  She is my light in dark places and she is the most incredible person in my life.  Without her and her influence in my life I would most assuredly be dead or at the very least a broken person.  Although our life has been far from easy, it has been a life of worth, one of value and one that I am not ashamed of.  There are not words to describe how I feel about my soul mate, my wife and my queen, but I will spend the rest of our time together trying to find those words and saying them often enough for her to never forget.  

This week is ADHD awareness week.  While we are doing our best to advocate for this disorder and to help those who need help, let us not forget to thank those heroes who sink into bed or the couch each night, exhausted from a day full of re-directing, encouraging, reminding and every other thing that our friends and loved ones do to keep us on task and on track.  Let's take a moment to thank them and let them know how much we appreciate them and what they do.  Let's not forget that while we are neck deep in our struggles and difficulties, that the hands that reach out to us, that lift us, dust us off when we trip or fall, dress our wounds and guide us through the rocky terrain of life with our disorders… let us not forget that they have burdens of their own and trials to carry in this life, unrelated to us. Some may be on the surface some may be buried deep, but while we struggle to communicate and function in a world that is not necessarily designed for us, let's be sure to remember, show appreciation and even praise those that give so much for us with so little in return. I believe that the greatest gift that we could give our heroes and  our caregivers, is to harness the UP-SIDE of our disorders and use our incredible minds and often untapped gifts to make this world a better place and in some small way (at least), to bless the lives of those that fight for us each and every day. 

I have asked each of my kids to take moment to share a thought about their mother and what she does for them.  So when the Queen is getting her medical care today, we will do our best to hold up the Castle until she returns.  Long live the Queen... (This is my greatest secret wish!)

Humbly,
The Distracted King





Rachel – Age 20 
(ADHD, Inattentive, Dyslexic -  allergic to painkillers and stimulants)
When asked to write a paragraph about what my Mom does for me, my first thought is "that's impossible....I'd have to write a book" and that's not an exaggeration. My mom is the coolest most bad-A mom on the planet. Not only does she take time to help me with my needs and wants in life, but she takes the necessary time to understand them. She has not just watched me fight my battles but been there alongside me, fighting them with me. I am so blessed to have a mother who cares about me and my disorders, so… so… so… blessed. A mother who, before I was diagnosed and even now would sit for hours with me trying to help me understand homework problems or just simple matters of life that I couldn't process or didn't quite get. I could go on and on and on, but thanks Mum, you really are the coolest mom on the planet, and anyone who disagrees is gonna have to deal with me... or Mia cause she's more threatening. I love you.


Mariah (Mia) – Age 18 
(ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, ODD)
My mum is a phenomenal person. She is selfless and empathetic and very, very stubborn. This is probably part of what makes her such an excellent mother and a strong competent voice for ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities. Her demand for respect is balanced by her kind eyes and gentle heart. She does not understand what it's like to be me, but she has made more effort than anyone else in the world to try and understand, more than that, to help me learn and grow as a person. She has taught me that I have absolutely no excuse to fail. I cannot blame it on my ADHD or my sensory processing issues. She's taught me that even though it’s hard and sometimes it really sucks, it's a part of who I am. I love my mum so much.

Mia’s follow up email #1
Daddy,
I am lying in my bed sobbing because I wrote my paragraph and my stupid iPod keeps malfunctioning and won't send the email. It keeps telling me I have the wrong password when I don't, and its making me sob I hate it! :( :(

I am so mad, my paragraph was perfect. I smashed my iPod against my bed and I'm still sobbing I'm so mad. I can't even think. F u Steve Jobs you f-ing bastard you suck and I hope you're miserable!!!!!! :'(

I guess I'm just gonna have to start over and idk why this is making me cry but I'm really upset. It’s been doing this since I installed the f-ing new iOS and iHate it. I need to write it later I'm so mad and sobbing I can't do it.

Mia’s follow up email #2
By the grace of heaven it looks like it sent! Let me know if it did. Sorry about flipping out, now my eyes hurt for no reason.

Love you,

Mia

P.S. I still hate you Steve Jobs

Fernando (Fernie) – Age 18
(he has lived with us for 3 years now, we have no insurance for him so he is currently un-medicated)
Lisa has done so much for me. I am the un-medicated ADHD child. She listens to me when I spout about comic book crap that she has no interest in, and she makes a great effort to understand what I am saying when I am talking about the shows and the stuff that I love. She asks how my day was at work and how my friends are doing. She bends over backwards like an Olympic gymnast and doesn't even think to ask for the bronze. Thank you and you deserve platinum.


Hannah – Age 17
(the only one without ADHD)
The things my Mum does for me are innumerable, but I think the main thing she does for me is keep me sane. When I'm bouncing off the walls going crazy because of something one of my siblings has done she understands me and talks to me. She gets me like no one else in the house does. I miss the days when we were able to drive to Denny's and sit and drink hot chocolate and eat fries for an hour just to help clear my head. I always enjoy the times when we can drive together in peace, without the buzz of a million thoughts surrounding us. Even though sometimes my needs are put in the back because my siblings need something I feel like she is always keeping me in mind. She is always supportive and there to talk to and sometimes ‘to talk’ is all you need. When my siblings don't understand me or what I am going through I know that she will, and that she will help me in any way she can. My Mum cares and loves me, she listens and understands and that is what she does for me.

Love you Mum,
Hannah aka The Voice of Reason


Mary (Maggie) – Age 15 
(ADHD, Dyslexic, Dyspraxic, Dysgraphic, etc.)
Ever since I was born, I have had lots of disorders and problems which made it hard for me to do pretty much anything… Talk, write, do math.  Most parents would find me an impossible challenge.  She took me every day at 3:00 to therapy, then the school finally gave up so she switched me to a personal therapist which was a 30 minute drive each way.  I would go on Monday and then every other Thursday my mom would take me to another place an hour away.  She took me and waited for me for all of this.  Out of the last four years she has spent 730 hours taking me to speech therapy and occupational therapy so I can learn to function in society today.  This what my mom did for me.  I love you mum.


Hunter – Age 14 
(ADHD, OCD)
Mum you do so much for me. You listen to my stories even when you are extremely tired. You support me in everything I want to do from writing and drawing to calligraphy. You make sure I can get where I need to go, and help me when I need help. Thank you so much mama.




Jaren – Age 11
(ADHD)
(The intro to his email is in Korean and Russian… I didn’t bother trying to translate it, but he sent an attachment in English for his mom… double spaced [which I removed] with no punctuation)

my mom is made of angel tears she is the most amazing person in the entire world she has always been nice to me even if she has been hurting extremely bad she also buys everything we like and she cooks the food we want and she makes the most amazing pies in the world she also bakes extremely good and lastly mum I love you so much I just want you to know that



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BRAVE - Embracing Your Inner Mother Bear

©2012, All pictures are the property of Disney/Pixar

We had anticipated it's release for months, watched and re-watched the Brave trailers and teasers, planned what our excursion to see it in theaters would be like.  Then we found out that, my husband was going to have to be out of town for a memorial service when the movie was released.  We ourselves would be brave, we would wait for him to get home to see it.  Then his wonderful aunt stepped in with a solution. 

She sent tickets for us to go see the movie here, she and Mark would see it there and then we would Skype about how absolutely wonderful it was.  It was perfect.  Perfect, accept that by the time we sat down in the theater I had been single parenting it for nearly a week.  Yeah, I have 3 adult children but I will remind you that all of them have ADHD so they really aren't always 20 and 18 years old - they're on occasion more like 17 and 15 years old.

That day we had endured the accomplishment of chores (used the movie as a motivator), scorching Central Valley heat with no air conditioner, a trip with 7 kids into the store to get movie treats (that's right I took 7 indecisive kids into the store for treats), not to mention trying to get from the entrance of the theater past all the distracting movie posters, video games, shiny lights, and survey takers to make it to our screening.  I had mediated arguments, consoled candy woes, redirected and redirected and redirected again, reminded pretty much everyone what socially acceptable behavior was repeatedly.


Finally the screen darkened, the movie played, and I watched as the beautiful faces sitting down the row from me lit up with excitement and wonder.  I took a breath, a deep one, I made it, and it all looked promising.  Then I watched the movie... wait a minute,  this was my house on screen if you multiply the fiery red head a couple times and add another brother or two.  Even the kids kept nudging me and whispering, "It's US!"  And the mom, the one constantly trying to keep order, teach social etiquette, and help her daughter grow into the wonderful powerful leader she knows she is going to be...me.

Suddenly, I wasn't so sure I wanted to be in the movie anymore, it wasn't the magical escape from reality I was expecting...it was my life!  And then the mother got turned into a bear, really!?  I smiled and nodded through the Skype.  Later, I would confide to my husband that the jury was still out on this movie for me.  I would somewhat tearfully tell my husband that I was ready for him to come home.

Since then I have thought a lot about it.  I am that mom, I am a mother bear when I need to be, and I am okay with that. 


As parents of kids with ADHD or ASD or SPD or LDs or some combination thereof (and more) we don't have the luxury of not engaging in mother bear parenting.  Our kids are brilliant but it takes a mother bear to uncover that brilliance so the world can see what we see easily.

We mother bears research disorders setting aside pleasure reading for books like The Out of Sync Child has Fun, Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults, and Overcoming Dyslexia. 

We mother bears tell social stories, teach our children how to recognize when their getting over stimulated by using number and smiley/angry face scales, we teach self advocacy, right the world when it's unfair and unbalanced.  We console children who know they're different from their peers who recognize that they will never get an award for staying on task, keeping a clean desk, turning in all their homework on time. 

We mother bears fight back very real demons like self doubt and inadequacy sometimes those demons creep in on the heals of well meaning but misinformed adults who don't understand what their looks, words, and actions can do.  We stand between those who don't understand, no matter who they are, sometimes even family, to advocate and educate.


We mother bears are up all night with kids who fight insomnia, depression, anxiety.  We are at the school helping mediate in the classroom, we are in the principles office, at 504/IEP meetings often feeling like we are guilty and accused when really we are just trying to protect and help what's ours.


We mother bears laugh at the comedic brilliance, at silliness, and uniqueness.  We see greatness in our child's perseverance, diligence, and endurance.  We glory in every bit of progress we see, and trust me we see the most minute bits of progress as huge steps.  We see potential when the world sees problems.


You know, I decided I would rather be a mother bear than anything else in the world.  In some respects, I am here to say bring it on!  This mother bear is here to stay.  Because at the end of the day, like in the end of the movie, I know my kids recognize how important it is for me to be their mother bear.  How do I know?  My daughter has set a date for us to go see Won't Back Down. She says we have to see it together, "Because it's about a mom that takes on the school for her daughter, just like you."




"I Did Something" Spreading the Word About ADHD Awareness

When I answered the phone my husband didn't even say hello.  The conversation started with, "I did something."  This is usually is the part of the conversation where I say, "How much did it cost?" But before I could respond he quickly informed me that no money was involved.

See, I had been talking about my plans for upcoming ADHD Awareness Week and he had an idea.  He works at a news station, you can see where this is headed, when he said he did something he meant he had sent out an email to the producers of their local talk show, Central Valley Today, informing them of ADHD Awareness Week and suggesting me as the perfect guest.


Yep, he definitely did something.  Then he back peddled a bit by saying that they might not decide to run a piece on ADHD Awareness, neither of us believed him.  It wasn't long before I got an email asking for information, talking points, and graphics regarding Queen of the Distracted and ADHD.


I want to thank Amanda Jaurigui, Alex Delgado and KSEE 24 for having me on their show Central Valley Today and for taking the time to air this piece on ADHD.  Our ADHD community is scattered around the globe.  Often families and individuals who don't know what kind of support is out there feel isolated and alone.  Every solid news piece, ever accurate article, sympathetic blogpost, and telling tweet allow more of that community to find the support, information, and help that they need.


video

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our ADHD MESSage

I was sitting, waiting to get my hair cut, flipping through magazines for the perfect haircut when I saw this fantastic saying jump out at me from the sea of text and pictures.  "Turn your mess into your message."  Just then my name was called, I closed the magazine, got up and walked off.   I have no idea what magazine I was reading, no way of figuring out what brilliant person made that statement.  Those words have lingered, I haven't been able to shake them from my mind.  So, I decided to use it anyways because turning our mess into our message is what Queen of the Distracted has always been about.

Here we are, a family of nine. Myself, my husband, and our 7 kids.  That right there freaks most people out.  Then I tell them, but wait, that really isn't the messy part.  The messy part is that fact that my husband and 6 of those 7 children have severe ADHD and we seem to be doing our best to cover almost every co-occurring condition possible.  Sometimes reaching opposite ends of the same scale.  We have, for example, members of our family with sensory processing disorders.  In some strange twist of fate we have both those who are super sensitive to sound and one who is under responsive and tends to be very loud.  We have dylexics and I am pretty sure we have some undiagnosed hyperlexics.  

Regardless, of the labels and disorders we are a family doing our best to raise good children into fully functioning great adults.  As we started to walk down the path, discovering all these unique characteristics about our family, we found some things we didn't like.  We found stereotypes, myths, a lot of misunderstandings, and misinformation.  We seemed to be walking the path all alone, even though we knew there were many families like us dealing with similar issues.  Somewhere in between appointments at the psychiatrist for one kid or another and dealing with distraction, impulsivitiy, meltdowns, creative genius, and the need for constant positive stimuli we landed at a crossroads.  Do we keep living our lives, managing and growing our family all to ourselves or do we share our journey with the world and hope that it helps others as they work their way through life and their own unique challenges?

The answer was undeniable, we would share our lives in hopes that other families could find refuge in our struggles and triumphs.  In hopes that others wouldn't feel so alone.  In hopes that many could understand ADHD from real life place instead of technical scientific terms.  In hopes that they could find empowerment.

I am always grateful for the compliments people give me regarding the blog.  It keeps me, a rather private person, continually inspired to keep posting.  I appreciate everyone of those acknowledgements.  Today, though, I have been thinking about some unexpected gifts that have come to our family by sharing the antics, good and bad, with the world. 

Removing the shame and embarrassment of ADHD

I remember visiting with a friend at a reunion and as she spoke of her son's mental health issues her voice lowered to a whisper.  What she didn't know was despite her whisper he heard his name and attuned his ear.  He realized he was the subject of a hushed conversation.  She never saw his face but I did.  To me his face read shame and embarrassment.  She meant to talk in hushed tones to respect his privacy but in the process she inadvertently sent a message that his situation was not one to speak openly about.

It is important that our kids, no matter what they may struggle with (and everyone struggles with something) never come to a place where they feel that they are broken.  I don't care who you are, what your trial is, we all need to feel empowered to be successful.  If we teach our children, directly or inadvertently, that they're broken then how are they supposed to fight to overcome their challenges.  In addition to controlling the message that we give our children we have to fight the messages they get from their peers, from other adults in their lives, from the world.  It's a constant battle.

One way that our message has influenced our mess is by letting our kids know that we are not ashamed of them, that their disorder is just a challenge and that as they work on it they will learn to manage it.  It has been a forum for us to show our children that challenges are just stepping stones to success and to show them that their are many aspects of their ADHD that make them fantastic people.

Growth through self-examination and communication

It was my husband, Mark, who pointed out that the blog has helped us to use our experiences for growth.  We discuss what I write about on the blog as a family all the time.  It gives us the opportunity to break down different situations and rework how we might handle them differently.  That communication is a hallmark in our home and has had the most influence on how our kids are turning out.  In fact, we communicate so much with our kids that it often freaks other people, especially their friends, out.  I can't tell you how many kids have come through our home and said, "You talk to your parents about that?" in bewilderment.

All kids, but especially ADHD kids need to talk things out.  They need to understand how things work and why they work certain ways, it helps them to control impulsivity that is central to the disorder. We sometimes joke about the different phrases our kids approach us with that mean we're in for a long night.  "I have a question," "do you have a minute," "I was wondering," all mean I need help setting the world straight and understanding things that totally escape me.  I think during a couple of one daughter's more difficult years there wasn't a night that we got to bed before 2:00am. However, I wouldn't trade it for the good nights sleep, she landed square in the middle of some deep potholes on her path, but avoided many and I'm sure she avoided some situations that could have led to legal trouble all because of those late night talks.

There is so much that we've been able to help our kids through because they're used to communicating with us and are able to come to us for help in coping with situations and conflicts.  There is so much that the rest of the world takes for granted as innate understanding that ADHD kids and adults have to work at understanding.  It's our job as parents to help them learn those skills; communication is key to learning as is being able to deconstruct situations. 

Our message has given us a great tool for using our mess as a teaching tool.

ADHD awareness turns into self awareness

ADHD is tricky, though it's underlying causes are the same, the way in which it really manifests itself often varies, it's completely individual.  For example all of my ADHD kids and my husband struggle with inattentiveness but there struggle looks different from the outside.  One child embraces that inattentiveness entirely and really doesn't stress about it at all.  Another obsesses about it and quadruple checks everything.  One should be more concerned, the other should relax more. 

Understanding how their brains are wired, the experiences they are having, gives them a platform from which to dive into managing it.  They each have to be aware that they are inattentive, or impulsive, or whatever quality they're struggling with at the time and how that manifests itself in their own life so that they can figure out ways that work for them to combat it. 

Our message shines a spotlight on our actions, encourages self awareness, self acceptance, and growth.  Our message helps us acknowledge and manage our mess.

I had a dream the other day that we were living in one crazy apartment complex where our kitchen window, which had no glass in it, opened up onto a thoroughfare of complex activity.  When that window was open people could see straight into our kitchen, they watched what was happening in our house, freely would stop by and visit all while gazing into my kitchen.  My kitchen is never clean, despite heroic, monumental efforts, it's never totally clean.  I felt a little awkward with my messy kitchen hanging out there for all the world to walk by and see.  No one mentioned the mess.  That's not why they stopped.  They stopped to be apart of our family, to share in our love and acceptance, to become a part of our mess and our message.

I am fairly sure I had this dream because I am going to be on a local television station tomorrow to talk about ADHD Awareness Week.  I'm nervous.  One thing that our message has taught me is that from our mess there is a valuable message shared.  One that can only be shared by making ourselves a little vulnerable and honestly opening our lives to other.  Truth is, the risk is worth it for us, for our children our message has changed how we handle our mess for the better.

In honor of ADHD Awareness Week I am going to be posting daily, make sure you check back for the latest.  At the end of the week our family has a big announcement to share with you!





Monday, October 8, 2012

Cutting the Apron Strings? Transitioning Adult Children with ADHD

Okay,  I am not sure cutting the apron strings applies to adult children with ADHD.  Maybe it is more like unraveling the apron strings one string at a time.  Or maybe the apron strings just fray apart from being tied so tight and tugged on so many times.  Regardless, there doesn't seem to be any distinct cutting in our house.

I really couldn't speak to what's "normal."  Nothing in our ADHD house, where 6 of our 7 children have severe ADHD and co-occurring conditions, could ever be construed as "normal" though it is certainly normal to us. I know in many houses 18 and graduation brings a landmark of change.  If we were to handle reaching adulthood in that manner I am sure it would be a messy disaster.  Adulthood, as we tell our children, is not a distinct and abrupt move it is a transition.

And let me tell you we are transitioning all over the place. We have three that are 18 or older and are making strides towards independence.   Each of their stories, like their personalities, like their struggles with ADHD symptoms is different.  Ironically, it seems like this last week our two adult daughters have taken a lot of big steps forward.

And She's Off...

Our kids have never been big on staying away from home, they like routine, structure, their own belongings and surrounding. Our oldest used to hide it well but then we found that when all the girls would go to camp or spend the night at someone's house she was the subversive one.  She would pull her youngest sister aside and whisper in her ear, "don't you miss your teddy bear...how are you going to sleep tonight with out him?"  Then pull aside another sister, "Doesn't their dog remind you of your dog?  You must really miss her, I bet it's hard to be away from her, maybe we should go home."  When one of them would finally crack, she was the martyr that would volunteer to come home with them.

She's still in no hurry to leave the nest.  So, when she came to us and asked what we thought of her going on "vacation" to visit her best friend since elementary school in Utah for two weeks we were a little surprised but encouraged it.  A little trip, a flutter off the side of the nest and then back.  An exercise in adulthood as she took responsibility for making travel arrangements and plans.

It has been a slow march with her as she has carefully taken over more and more responsibility for her own care, making her own doctor's appointments, refilling her own prescriptions, handling her own money.  Adding one responsibility at a time has allowed her to master juggling the new skill before taking on more.  As we walked her into the airport she was going over checklists with us.  Reading material...check, art supplies...check...meds...check.  She figured out that she would have refill her meds while away, then assured me, she could handle it, not to worry.

Everything was together, her biggest concern now was that if she started reading or drawing in the airport during a layover she would get so distracted that she would miss her flight.  Her father warned her to watch that, he himself had almost missed more than one flight that way.  We took pictures, waved, and I cried a little as we walked out of the airport without her...why?  Because she is growing up.  It's slow, sometimes painfully slow, but it's working and she is feeling the success and freedom that everyone her age should feel.

We got a call from her last night...her wings are a little tired from her journey outside the nest.  No little sisters there to push into coming home early.  Not that she really wants to, she is having a great time, great success, great growth.  And she just learned another valuable lesson, you can always call home, always be reminded to eat lots of protein, be told you're not getting enough sleep, always have someone listen to your troubles, always hear that you're loved.

Mommy, I have friends!

I know, not the kind of statement you would expect your 2nd year college student to make unless they happen to have ADHD and social skills have been a prominent problem in their life.  This would be the daughter that freaked out on the girl in 7th grade that asked what she did over the weekend because it was a personal question and none of her business.  The highly intelligent daughter that has stated throughout her life that she feels it a moral obligation to let people know when they are idiots, otherwise they might go their whole lives and not know.  You can see where she might run into problems in high school.

It was never that she didn't have any friends there was always one or two that she was close to and a whole raft of people following her around that she had jumped in to defend from one bully or another.  Very few, however, that she felt an equal bond with.  I always told her that she would really hit her stride in college.  As an intelligent. deep thinker, she would find more of her kind on a college campus than in elementary, junior high, and high school.  Between her growing and developing socially and her peer group shrinking to those who really want to be in school she seems to have found more of her people.

And with friends has come social opportunities and more growth.  She has been learning over the years how to manage her impulsive tongue and her quick wit (the combination of which can be deadly) she has also spent years learning to manage her auditory sensory sensitivity.  More friends, more social opportunities, more need to successfully navigate a noisy overwhelming world.

Most recently she was asked to go to a concert of a band she really loves.  She has braved outdoor venues before, like Warp Tour, but that's different than being in an enclosed space with that many people and that much noise.  Excited but nervous was certainly the way she woke up the morning of the concert.  I knew that she was fretful when she called early in the morning to go over plans for how things were going to work out late that night.

Finally, after trying hard to be awake and supportive I said, "call your father."  He's also ADHD, also has auditory sensory issues, also has no tolerance for crowds, and loves live music.  When she called him he lead the conversation with, "are you freaking out about tonight, let me give you some advice."  He knows her, as we say in our house, he speaks the native language and has years of tried and true coping mechanisms ready to share.

He told her that she has to expect certain things:

1. It is going to be loud... very loud.  One of two things will happen, it will either A.short-circuit (deaden) her overly sensitive audio senses and it would be almost calming, like white-noise or B it would freak her out.  If A. happens then she will be fine, it will probably be relaxing because it will mask all of the other crap that she picks up and allow her to focus on the music.  If B happens then she needs to have a back-up plan.  I told her that the back up plan should be to take her ear-buds and if it gets too overwhelming to put them in to help deaden the sound.  If that is not enough, when she is starting to panic, she needs to go out into the lobby and find a place to anchor herself where she can regroup. The lobby anchor point should be scoped out prior to the concert starting so she knows where she is going if things get chaotic.
2.  There will be IDIOTS in all shapes and sizes... don't react to them, just look at them, acknowledge them and check it off of your mental list that you knew you would see idiots.  Kind of like your own game of Where's Waldo.
3. Your sense will most likely overload, just role with it and follow the directions in 1. if they are to much for you to handle.  Sound and smell will most likely hit you the most, so just know that it will and don't be surprised when you experience it.
This daughter is not a tell it to her once kind of girl - she likes to go over them, make sure she heard right, reiterate, then write it all down and have you sign it to be sure - they went over the directions repeatedly until she was comfortable..
Then he texted her prior to the concert, this was their conversation copied out of text...

Mia: Thank you guys so much for letting me go to this concert tonight. This means so much to me I'm so excited. :) its like a landmark for me. <3 :=":" p="p" thank="thank" you.="you."> Daddy: You are welcome honey... Like I said to you earlier when you get in there, get the lay of the land and have a plan in place so you know what to do of out gets overwhelming. Take your ear-buds in case you need to use them.  Love you.... I think you will do fine.... Remember - there will be idiots, just plan to ignore them and have a good time.

(the next morning)
Mia: Ohmaigawsh. That was so amazing......
Mia: O.o morning!!!!!!!
Daddy: Morning.... So you had a good time then

Mia: It was the BEST......EVER......SO AMAZING.....SO COOL.....
Daddy: LOL... Cool!

I suppose in a "normal" house these experiences would seem so everyday that they wouldn't even draw attention but in our house these are some pivotal moments, landmarks, rights of passage successfully navigated and marked off the list so we can move onto the next set of opportunities to grow.  In our house each challenge met equals a few more threads plucked out of the apron strings on the way to adulthood.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Role of a Parent in the Pursuit of Passion and Talent

I am not a soccer mom, I appreciate them, especially those that have their kids in year round leagues.  I admire their dedication to braving the elements, cut up oranges, Gatorade, and driving.  It's not that I wouldn't ever be a soccer mom it's just that my kids have never leaned towards those kinds of activities. In fact, I did a little time as a volleyball mom and little league mom.  I was almost a track mom, then my daughter came home totally disillusioned, "Did you know that you have to RUN in track?" I did, but apparently she didn't, what a rude awakening that was.

I am an art mom, art, film, acting, music, and almost any creative endeavor mom. I step over painting supplies, pick clay out of carpet, yell at those who would bump the camera, table or lights set up for stop motion.  I sit on set intolerably long periods of time, watch clips as they're edited together, give opinions, and ooh and aah at visual effects.  I read newly written poetry, short stories, and listen to endless ideas for future poetry, short stories, novels, film, and animation ideas.

Last night I caught my 14 year old son as he got out of the shower and told him he needed to remove the mascara raccoon eyes before bed.  That's a conversation that I never expected to have.  He's in his first stage play.  He's done some local commercials and short films but he's never had to wear heavy stage makeup before. 

Our kids, these amazing souls, are in our care as they develop. We, as their parents, have the responsibility of helping them discover who and what they are.  It's an important job, a hard job.  In fact, as parents, we set aside many of our own needs to make sure that we can help our kids develop in a healthy way.  When you have children who are wired differently, alphabet soup kids ADHD, ASD, SPD, ODD, or any of the other many disorders that change the way the brain receives, processes, and reacts to information everything we do as parents becomes more vital.  Helping our kids find and pursue their passions becomes even more critical to their development now and in their future.

Interests, obsessions, passions are not always where their natural talent lies.  Our oldest daughter wanted desperately to sing, over the years we worked out ways to get her vocal lessons.  To almost anyone who heard her sing early on this might have seemed like huge mistake.  As even she will tell you, she was awful, painful even.  But in pursuing a talent she wanted but was not naturally gifted at she learned some very valuable life lessons like dedication, perseverance, work ethic, sacrifice.  Recently, she was talking to one of her siblings about success, she was quick to remind him of how horribly she sang at first, how vital constantly working at what you want to be successful at is, and how it all turned out for her.  She has an amazing voice now and the life skills that she has learned getting that voice are not lost on her.  She understands how to set and achieve a goal.

at home ALWAYS "on"
Encouraging the pursuit of a passion can be hard, especially when dealing with the uniquely wired, because interest almost always equals obsession.  Obsession almost always equals being followed around day and night by a child who is absolutely fixated on one particular subject spouting facts, quoting, rehearsing, singing.  It takes a lot of patience to take in all they may be putting out.  Our now amazing vocalist, for example, sang nothing but Phantom of the Opera for a whole summer, 24/7.  She sang it so much that we weren't sure she actually talked at all that summer.  She sang it so much that her then 4 year old brother went to preschool one day, picked up his teachers hand and broke out into song, "Think of me, think of me fondly when we've said goodbye remember me once in a while please promise me, you'll try..."

It is tempting, as parents, focused on our children's future, to think only of whether a skill is going to be useful to them as an adult.  I remember a friend who was horrified by her 7th grade daughters ninja obsession.  She wanted nothing more than to shut it down.  It was an obsession shared by my daughter, her best friend.  According to the other mom I was not nearly horrified enough.  They read on the subject incessantly, they drew ninjas, watched ninja movies, even learned some marshal arts.  I wasn't worried about it, I knew it would pass but when I talked to the other mom she was afraid that if she encouraged it, if she didn't squash it immediately, that it might be all her daughter did with her life.  While it is true that our children, in the pursuit of their passions may stumble on what they may do for the rest of their lives most likely they will just explore many ideas, activities, hobbies, that will be fond memories and life lessons but not career paths,  As I told this mom, I feel safe in saying that neither girl would end up a ninja.  I was right.

In some cases, however, they may find their future.  That's not a bad thing.  Especially for kids with ADHD and other similar disorders, finding a career they are passionate about increases their chance of success as an adult.  The ADHD brain does not do well when it is bored, it does exceptionally well when it is stimulated by something it loves.

I watched my son on stage the other night, his lack of inhibition (fueled by his ADHD) filled the room as did the laughter when his physical comedy stole the show.  I saw him buzz with the exhilaration at the audience reaction.  It was his first stage play, he had never had a live audience to feed his energy before.  I saw his confidence swell.  He found a niche, certainly a passion. 

For kids that fight everyday to remember and process what they are learning in class, to remember to put their name on their papers, to remember to turn in their work, who feel different from their peers, who know they struggle to keep up and to fit in; finding their passion, their talent, their niche provides a critical sense of success and accomplishment.  It gives them a balance to their struggles, an edge, a path to success in the future. 

Will he be the next Jim Carey as the family in front of us proposed?  I don't know and for right now I don't care.  This passion is giving him insight, teaching him skills he will use in everyday life, building confidence, teaching dedication, work ethic, sacrifice, team work, and most importantly opening his eyes to his own possibilities.  We will support him in the pursuit of anything that teaches those lessons, brings him to that sort of positive place.

And at the end of the night we will laugh when his 4 older sisters try and help him get the mascara off while lecturing him on his new found appreciation for all that girls do to look beautiful.

* special thanks to my kids for collecting all the art and writing stuff in the picture and to Mary for taking it for me