Most children are excited about school. But for my eight-year-old daughter, school presents serious challenges. The odds are heavily stacked against her. I can see and feel her apprehension as she checks her supplies one last time. She climbs onto my lap in need of extra reassurance. As she presses herself against me, I stroke her freshly washed hair, and softly tell her over and over again how much I love her. That she will do it. That she will succeed. In her own unique way.
On her forehead there is an invisible label which reads: “ADHD.” This word entered my life and became part of my vocabulary nine months ago, in a doctor’s office. Looking back, I realize that by the age of two years it had become quite evident that she was more active and more difficult to manage than the average child. However it didn’t occur to me at that time that anything was actually wrong. I guess I chalked it up to personality.
It didn’t occur to me at that time that anything was actually wrongI do remember that I was busy with her from the moment she awoke until she closed her eyes. In order to deal with her hyperactivity and her ability to destroy the house (literally), I practically moved into the park, which was, thankfully, around the corner from my apartment. I guess I could have won the Guinness world record for “mother that sits most in the park”! I sat there for practically seven years! It was either playgroup/school, or park. Rain or shine, there we were.
In the winter, I would bundle us both up with layers of clothes. In the rain, we wore rubber boots and plastic raincoats. In the summer, we wore sunscreen! I was equipped. I would wrap up supper for two and bring it to the park. The park table didn’t have a tablecloth she could pull off! The park didn’t have walls to climb on, cabinets or dressers to unpack, or beds to jump on. It had slides, monkey bars and swings, and plenty of grass to run on. Exactly what she needed! And that is how I managed. I am a solution-oriented person, so for me this was the solution.
Unfortunately, it didn’t solve her academic problems and the social and emotional issues that came along with the territory. Our finances also suffered, as my plans to “return to work after the baby gets big enough” never materialized. She was a full-time job in herself. That left us to manage on my husband’s modest salary.
One day, in the middle of her first-grade school year, I received a phone call from her school informing me that a meeting had been scheduled and I was expected to be there. In the back of my mind, I knew that the time to face the obstacles had come. So there I sat on a metal folding chair (my husband was unable to take off from work to attend), looking across a scratched metal desk, at the school principal and the assistant principal and her teachers! Although they were very polite and genuinely concerned for my daughter’s wellbeing, I felt like a sheep against the wolves. They did not bite my head off as I expected, but they did say that my child was falling behind in her studies, both English and Hebrew, and that she is very disruptive in class. Further details included getting up when she feels like it, doesn’t follow instructions, blurts out answers without being called on . . . As if that wasn’t enough, they informed me that she was a “disaster” socially. They instructed me to take her to a psychiatrist, to have her evaluated and treated as needed.
I wasted no time in getting this matter under control. I made lots of phone calls and did extensive research trying to find the most competent psychiatrist. When my daughter was finally diagnosed, I had mixed emotions. I was relieved to know that a heretofore incomprehensible situation was at least making some sense. I also felt that a problem that has a name can also have a solution. However, at the same time, I felt overwhelmed and isolated. I was concerned that this diagnosis could become a label which would be used to judge and condemn my daughter. I wondered how she would manage to make it through school and in the world at large.
I had no support from my husband, who was in denial, and kept on insisting that ADHD is not a real disorder. “What she needs,” he insisted, “is an iron hand!” He, like many parents, had difficulty coming to terms with the fact that his child was not like everyone else.
I had no support from my husband, who was in denial, and kept on insisting that ADHD is not a real disorderHaving a longstanding aversion to any kind of medication, for me to accept the fact that my child might need stimulants in order to enable her to function in school was not easy. (By the way, I am sure that many of you are wondering why an overactive child needs stimulants. My daughter and her ADHD counterparts seem to be the proud owners of brains that have underdeveloped attention spans. Ritalin targets this part of the brain, and assists in improving concentration and focus.) After much research, I was ready to comply with her doctor’s recommendations, and she began taking a fairly low dosage. Although she had some side effects at first, such as trouble falling asleep and a decrease in appetite, with time these symptoms diminished entirely, and I must confess that it has made a huge difference in both our lives.
Things settled into what could be considered a routine. Surprisingly, the semi-respite gave me time to stop and think (a luxury which I had not had for a long time), and I realized that underneath my relief was a strong feeling of loss and disappointment. Unconsciously, I had envisioned a child who, like me, would be a star student and a social butterfly.
Wave after wave of anger and self-pity washed over me. Why was I elected to deal with this problem? Why did my daughter, my innocent child, have to struggle with this disability? Why couldn’t my husband be more supportive? Why couldn’t outsiders be more compassionate and understanding when she acted up?
These questions lingered in my mind as I went through the motions of living. One evening, after a typically exhausting day, I sank onto the couch, leaned back my head and closed my eyes. A few seconds later (that’s how it felt to me, but it might have been longer), I opened my eyes, ready to finish up the evening routine, and saw my daughter standing quietly next to me. I was more than a little bit surprised, since I couldn’t recall ever seeing her standing still. She looked at me with an adult-like seriousness, and asked, “Mommy, do you love me?” I felt my mouth drop open and my throat tighten. I reached out, pulled her on my lap and held her tightly. “Of course I do!” I whispered. “I love you very much!”
After she had fallen asleep and I was washing up in the kitchen, I thought about what had just happened. I had been taking care of business and doing what needed to be done, but I had not been taking care of myself. I had not been nourishing myself physically, emotionally and spiritually, and that had resulted in feelings of resentment, which my daughter had obviously sensed. I began paying attention to my eating habits, by cutting out the junk foods, and including vitamin-rich foods and extra supplements in my diet. I joined a dance/exercise group. I also added a whole range of “spiritual vitamins and exercises” which I would like to share with you.
The first one, of course, is Vitamin A—Acceptance. I learned to accept my life as is.
The second vitamin is Vitamin B—Belief. I believe that nothing happens by chance. Everything is part of a master plan orchestrated by a loving G‑d, and both our gifts and our struggles are tailor-made to guide us toward spiritual growth and development.
Vitamin C is Courage. I have the courage to move on despite uncertainties and fears.
Vitamin D stands for Determination. I am determined to overcome my weaknesses and become G‑d-centered instead of me-centered.
Vitamin F? You guessed it—Faith. I reaffirm daily that G‑d accompanies us and supports us every step of the way.
Vitamin G is Gratitude. When I actively look for things to be grateful for, I am pleasantly surprised. Wherever I look, I see blessings. I notice the times my daughter does well and is manageable. I have begun to say “thank you” to G‑d for the miracle of life. I have begun to smile.
Vitamin H—Humor. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding the funny bone in ourselves and our lives, and tickling it. I am beginning to respond with amusement rather than frustration. I am beginning to lighten up. There is so much to laugh about.
And last, but not least, is vitamin P—Prayer, which, as far as I’m concerned, is much more effective than Prozac. As I recite Psalm 121, “I lift my eyes to heaven, from where will my help come?” my questions dissolve. “My help will come from G‑d! The One who created heaven and earth.”
I am her social worker, and she is my one and only clientWe sit together on the front stoop and review the contents of her backpack, making sure that nothing is missing. The big yellow school bus pulls up, and the door unfolds. My daughter jumps up, her blond hair curling around her face in a halo of disarray. She glances back at me, and in that split second, the look in her eyes tells me what is in her heart and mind. She knows that from me she will always receive unconditional love. As she mounts the bus steps, I know that she will have the coping skills needed to march through the day. If there is something that she cannot handle, she will report back to me and receive validation and support. I cannot always rescue her. I cannot always solve her problems. But I can provide a sympathetic ear and, when she is ready, discuss ways in which she can handle the issue. In situations which escalate, I can intervene and advocate for her. I am her social worker, and she is my one and only client.
The school bus rumbles down the street, and my upstairs neighbor comes down to meet me with her two-month-old baby and a bag full of supplies. She is very glad to get out of the house for a few hours, and considers me the ideal babysitter. My neighbor hurries off to her uncle’s sweet shop, where she will decorate gift baskets and socialize. She is more than happy to split her paycheck with me, giving her a little pocket money and me the extra income needed to get through the month. I hold my tiny neighbor in my arms and he smiles up at me. After I feed and change him, he will keep me company while I do the housework. His placid demeanor never ceases to amaze me. By the time my daughter comes home from school, I will be ready to take her to the park, where we will eat supper and do some homework.
My life has not turned out as pictured or planned, and that is fine with me. Instead of a pampered princess, I am becoming a courageous heroine. My daughter looks up at me, and trust and admiration are reflected in her eyes. Our journey is far from over, but we both are learning to enjoy the ride.