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“It’s so foggy!” he says. He’s speaking of the weather but after the morning we just had, I keep thinking how apropos the words are for my little boy’s brain.
I don’t talk much about my son’s “diagnosis.” One reason being that his providers talk in terms like “symptoms of ADHD” or “symptoms consistent with an ADHD diagnosis” rather than pegging him with the diagnosis itself. For this, I’ve been appreciative. In children this young, providers can really only go by a set of symptoms, many of which can be indicative of other things, including but not limited to simple boyhood.
But there are moments when I see it ever so clearly. As though part of his brain just isn’t functioning.
“Ezra, take off your pajamas.” I say the words over and over. And it is not defiance that is his response but almost as though the words make no sense to him. He’s off somewhere else, even when looking right at me. He wiggles and lies on the floor. I ask him what’s bothering him and he says, “I’m just tired of this mean talking.” I soften my tone and say, “Ezra, please take off your pajamas.” He jumps up onto the bed.
“My heart is gone. The policeman took it. I have to go find it.”
And he runs off to the basement.
I sit in the rocking chair in his room with no clue what to do. Is this avoidance? Or is he just in a world of his own making that I can’t seem to breach?
“I found it, Mommy! I found it!” I hear him exclaim excitedly from the basement. He returns and he pretends to put his heart back into his body. I pull him toward me and ask him again if now we can take off his pajamas. He tells me that his heart needs batteries now and wriggles out of my grasp, is pajamaed body on the bed in a flash. The pretending continues.
Again and I again I ask him to take off his pajamas and he simply can’t dial in to my instructions. Finally I get up and tell him that I have to get dressed. He runs after me, crying, begging me to stay with him. I remind him that I’ve asked nicely, and I just need him to take his pajamas off. He lies in the hallway, noncompliant.
I give him prompts and cues like I’ve been taught. I remind him of his “brain eater” and tell him the brain eater has taken over his room. I remind him to focus. It doesn’t seem to even register.
Finally, he’s close enough for me to pull him in again. I tell him I’m going to undress him now. As I unzip the pajamas he pulls away and lies down on the floor, stretched out – this time compliant to my actions. I ask him if he just wanted my help and he said yes.
He yawns, and I ask him if he’s tired.
“Yeah, I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” he says.
Maybe that’s the thing. He did wake up before 6 again – for the third morning in a row. Then again, he slept for 3 hours and 40 minutes yesterday afternoon.
Maybe it was something he ate. Maybe it is the dreary weather or the fact that he doesn’t get as much physical activity on the weekends. Maybe it was a tad too much TV.
Or maybe, it was just a “bad brain day.”
Once he is undressed, he crawls like a people-eating lion to go potty. He comes back and runs around the room making motions and sounds with his Batman underware in hand. I put his shirt on for him and his overalls, which he asked to button on his own. I gladly say yes, saying a silent thank you for this tiny sliver of initiate and independence. I ask him to get his shoes and socks on while I finish dressing. From my bedroom I hear banging on his door and come out to find him with his shoes on his hands as he “had to climb” his bedroom door.
The whole getting-dressed ordeal lasted nearly thirty minutes. Other days, he can get undressed and redressed on his own, completely without help (including shoes and socks), in less than five minutes.
He brings me my keys so I can start the car. We walk outside and he goes straight to the car. He climbs right in – but instead of sitting in his carseat, he gets distracted again with everything in the car. His necklace. His Spiderman ring. He sits on the center console and I try different strategies to get him into the seat. Finally he tells me that he needs to calm down. He takes some calming deep breaths, and in spite of my exasperation, my heart is proud.
Once he’s finally in his seat I hand him his Star Wars book and start driving. The whole drive to school he is focused on the book, only speaking to me once or twice to bring something about the book to my attention.
I breathe a silent prayer that the motion of the car and the book calm him and help his brain focus so he can do well in therapy today.
His providers told me last week that they are seeing so much progress, even a decrease in his ADHD symptoms as our parenting methods have changed and he’s gone through therapy. They’ve noticed an increase in his ability to self-regulate and be in control.
They are seeing that he can do it.
And I see it too.
Except on the days when I don’t. When I sit in the rocker looking down on this child who is so incapable of even taking an instruction like “take off your pajamas” and following through with it. And when I can see so clearly that it’s not a heart issue, it’s a brain function issue. It’s hard to watch. I’m sure it’s even harder to live.
My son is so much more than the four letters ADHD on his treatment plan. He can and will overcome and succeed. I know it and believe it. But some days will be clear and calm, and other days will be really foggy. That’s just how it’s going to be for a while.