MonthJune 2012

ADHD Playdate

My dogs both have tracking transmitters. While our family doctor may raise all sorts of weird, fussy “ethical” objections, I’m hoping the vet may be an easier sell on my proposal to have one placed on my daughter. Diva is ten – ten – and I haven’t seen her for three days and perhaps only a dozen times since the start of summer. Oh, she’s not missing, or anything. She just sort of has a life of her own which, at present, has taken her to a marathon sleepover/playdate. What the hell… it’s summer, right?

We got her a cell phone and she’s very good about having it with her at all times but all that texting and Facebooking plays hell with the battery and she’s drawn the line at carrying around a power cord as well. So, the tracker. To be fair, I haven’t seen a whole lot more of Wild Child, but no tracking device will ever be necessary to locate him. While my daughter roams her kid-sized world with an ever widening circle of friends, my son keeps mostly to his room, ensconced up there in his underwear, surrounded by the discards of snacks and very…um, vocally…playing his Xbox. If I’m not at home though, he’s even harder to reach than my daughter is, as his phone is invariably somewhere useless and far away.
huhsm
I was out the other day and needed to reach him fairly urgently. No answer. Hmm. I pulled over and used my phone to access the computer in my office next to his room. I typed in 96pt. on the desktop: GO GET YOUR DAMN PHONE! then cranked up the system volume to full and turned on something from Avenue Q (which usually gives him fits). I figured he’d hear it, go check it out and see the note. Nope. “Now what?” I wondered, “Ah”. If he couldn’t hear it, it must be because he was wearing his headset. And that meant he was online with his friend. So I called his friend. “Jason, are you live with Wild Child? Yes? Will you tell him, please, to go get his damn phone?” That did the trick. When he called, the first thing he said was “Why does my mom have to be the biggest geek?”

While I worry about Diva’s independence and Wild Child’s lack of it, I was even more concerned about my son’s tendency toward isolation. I’m an introvert and can fully relate to being comfortable with a fairly high level of solitude but “comfortable” in his case, is not “happy”. So when the Xbox took over his life, we went into full panic mode. That our already odd, not-exactly-popular, loner might well disappear forever into a virtual world seemed entirely probable. We put in place rules, limits, timers; we forced him to go outside, we nagged him to call his friends, we badgered him relentlessly and threatened to take away the controllers – in short, pretty much what parents do. None of which had the slightest impact on his consuming desire to retreat to his room and play Xbox.

My little adventure with trying to reach him tipped me to something I’d been missing all along: He isplaying with his friends. That they prefer to meet in a bombed out urban wasteland or on a distant planet, that they communicate over headsets, that some of them are in a different time zone, doesn’t – and shouldn’t – make that much difference. They get together. They play and have fun. In between bellows and shouts and “COVER MY BACK!” and “DUDE, YOU TEA BAGGED HIM!”, they talk about stuff 12-year-old boys talk about. So I think the next time I want him to see his friends, I’ll send him to his room.

Mashed Potatoes and Twigs

There is a phrase that I find so hysterically funny that merely uttering it in my presence will cause me to go into convulsions of helpless laughter; the breath leaves my lungs, my face spasms, something seismic rolls through me and I can’t stop. It can go on and on — waves of laughter — for upward of fifteen minutes. Look at me funny at any point during an episode and it can start all over.

For years, this was my private talisman against depression, for which I have been treated on and off all my adult life. I have heard of classes where participants gather round and force themselves to laugh in order to harvest the benefits attributed to laughter. While the image itself is pretty funny, the concept doesn’t work for me. I need a prop. Mine is “mashed potatoes and twigs”. Yes, there’s a story behind it. No, it’s not important nor would knowing it make it work for you. It’s mine. You’ll have to get your own.

Ours is a competitive family. Any pretext will do, with any commodity as the spur – the computer, the TV, the couch, attention, praise, whatever – but the ultimate competition is to defeat mom at something. My kids have tried unsuccessfully for years to beat me at “Poor Pussy”* This is a game in which each participant in turn tries to make “It” laugh or at least crack a smile by…meowing. Creatively. You get three meows after each of which, “It” — in order to demonstrate her unbroken composure — must solemnly pat the “kitty” on the head and say with a straight face, “poor pussy”. So exceptionally stoic am I, that my mouth has never once so much as twitched and it drives the kids absolutely spare.

Also in vain, they have tried to find my ticklish spots. The truth is, I’m ticklish all over but I take a peculiar, petty pride in thwarting them so through sheer competitive will, I remain blasé.You could say I was asking for it. It was inevitable that my Achilles heel would one day be exposed. When it happened, the kids looked on in delighted awe as Ima went completely to pieces, and they filed away this precious piece of knowledge.

The relationship between parents and kids is an inherently unequal one. Parents are bigger, of course, but we also hold the ultimate authority over bedtime, allowance, chores, play dates, media habits, transportation… pretty much everything. Kids wield a kind of soft power, chiefly in the form of tantrums and selective hearing, but it does little to alleviate their general sense of powerlessness. Let a kid get his hands on a weapon of this magnitude though, and it’s a game-changer. Over the next few months, the kids deployed it without mercy, again and again. I had kids sneaking up behind me, popping out of doorways, looming over me in the mornings, creeping over my shoulder in the car, shouting that magic phrase. Such power!

Toward the end (you saw this coming, right?), the tremors grew milder, the laughs less loud until one day… nothing. Thud. The pool had been fished out. If I was despondent, my kids were horrified. They reacted as though they had been responsible for the death of a small helpless animal. I reassured them that these things have a shelf life, they don’t live forever (and refrained from pointing out that they may have hastened its death). For a time, they’d take the occasional little stab at resuscitating it, as though the problem may simply have been one of delivery. But no luck. We sort of buried it in the backyard and moved on.

This was all at least a couple of years ago and while I’ll never be characterized as an optimist, I’m at least hopeful about life; as I wrote this and got to remembering my little phrase and the day it came into my life, I got tears in my eyes. From laughing.

*props to Mary Voors for introducing me to this game nearly 30 years ago.

Wild Child and The Diva

My daughter is a rock star. That is to say, take away the wealth, the fame and the trips into and out of rehab, and whatever it is that makes someone a rock star, she has it.

The “new girl” in school doesn’t typically have an easy time making a friend and fitting in, but when Diva started a new school mid-year, the girls (and boys) began competing for her friendship. She’s not popular; rather – and we make much if this distinction at home – she is well-liked. She’s funny and fashionable, she likes everyone by default, and she’s kind. Ask her “which one is Sandy?” and she never says “the fat one” or “the one who’s already getting acne,” she says warmly, “she’s the one with the really pretty reddish hair who wears the cute sweaters”. I mean, she’d be fairly difficult for any kid not to like.

Except, that is, the shy, nerdy brother of such a girl, in which case, it’s pretty much preordained that he’s going to hate her guts.  Wild child and the Diva have rarely resorted to actual hitting, but shrieking and name-calling form the background music of our home with “JERK!” and “IDIOT!” followed with infuriating regularity by “IMA!”

The rivalry is intensified by the fact that he is the older brother. With motives both generous and vainglorious, my son had looked forward to being little sister’s guide through school and life. Like an advance scout, he would blaze the trail and point out where water could be found and she, in turn, would look up to him. Instead, he’s found it necessary to consult her on everything from body sprays, to texting etiquette, to how to dress and wear his hair. His humiliation is complete now that, in physical terms at least, it is necessary for him to look up to her.

Girls can be relied upon to shoot up and start breaking out in curves a good two years before the boys see any changes in themselves…and at least one year before they notice any in the girls. Many of Wild child’s friends are sporting hairier legs, but not all. Some of their voices have begun the descent into a more manly timbre and others still sound like Justin Bieber. His best buds tower over him – watch them coming at you down the block and they call to mind Kermit the frog with bodyguards. I’ve pointed out to him that at his very age, my brother began the school year at 5’2″ and ended it at 6’1″ – the same age, not coincidentally, when I had to stop punching him as a negotiating tool.

We reckoned that his entry into middle school might lessen their rivalry a bit as it would at least having them spending their days apart, but we were genuinely afraid it might just eat him alive. Middle school might as well have been hell for me and…well, everyone I know, but it has been surprisingly kind to him. Moving from classroom to classroom gives his fidgets a little workout. A larger student population has meant a larger pool of nerdy and/or ADHD boys that can relate to him so he’s made friends. The net result has been a somewhat calmer and more confident kid. On one particularly good day, he learned both that he’d gotten a part he really wanted and his grades came back – all As. He smiled broadly as he settled himself into the car seat and said, “Hey Ima, I think maybe my awesomeness is finally kicking in.”

 

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