What’s it like having a child with ADHD?

I received an e-mail from my son’s teacher yesterday.

It appears Rhyer has misplaced his agenda again.

“Misplaced” is a word frequently used in our daily conversations. Socks, hats, boots, agendas, homework… It all gets lost. Somewhere between flickers of brief thoughts that come and go through Rhyer’s brain. One minute he has the agenda, he gets distracted by a thought, and very quickly the idea of the agenda goes out the window.

Rhyer has ADHD. Formally diagnosed, though we never really needed a professional’s confirmation. It’s obvious when you meet him that he’s a little… busy.

As a toddler he was what I liked to call a runner. In the driveway, full tilt, me yelling and frantically chasing him. It was a game. The more scared I got, the faster and further he went. I was petrified that he would eventually get hit by a car. 

As a pre-schooler I noticed that I could call his name over and over again, and he wouldn’t respond. You would have to get in his face for him to notice you, often times scaring him when you tapped him because he literally had no idea you were talking to him.

I took him to the doctor for a referral to get his hearing checked. I thought maybe he was going deaf. Turns out his hearing was perfect, if not better than most.

He was obsessed with certain things: hyper focusing on numbers, Pokémon, or LEGO. He would spend HOURS building creations, or speak without taking a breath about Pokémon battles.

In JK we noticed that he was falling behind. He was lacking social skills, and had a hard time staying focused. His teacher would say, “Oh he’s a late baby. Its common for kids born late in the year to seem behind. He’ll catch up.”

In June at the end of SK, I received a referral for an Occupational Therapist to help him out in grade one. Turns out he was behind. And he didn’t catch up…

With every passing year, Rhyer falls further behind in school. His reading is just at level, which a HUGE improvement since the beginning of the year. His writing is barely legible. But we are working on it. Staying on task – a fucking nightmare. Homework is a chore… Tears, hyperventilating, and lots of encouragement and pushing him. But we get it done. He is impulsive. Sometimes he just hits me for no reason and has zero explanation as to why he did it. Punishment doesn’t work, and rewards are futile. Yelling falls on deaf ears.

Praise is our only saving grace. We give lots of hugs, and cuddle on the couch. We point out all the good that he does. His confidence is lacking because being ADHD is like living in a world of negatives. Sit down. Don’t touch that. Stop moving. Don’t do that. Stop it. No you can’t. It’s like his hardwired to just FEEL like he’s a burden because the feedback is constantly “no’s” and “don’ts”

What does it feel like to be a mother of a child with ADHD? Like you’re failing. Like nothing you do is ever enough. It’s frustrating. I feel like a nag. Constantly repeating myself, or asking, “Look at me and tell me what I just said…” It’s a lot of chaos and emotional roller coasters and random noises and sounds. Some days, when I sit down in bed after the kids have gone to sleep, I find that I am exhausted. Because it is indeed exhausting. I feel defeated. With every email from the teacher I’m reminded of my shit parenting.

It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.

I’m hellbent to see him succeed. For him to be ok with being Rhyer. He can be weird, or nerdy, or loud. He can be cuddly and emotional, and he can feel sadness ten fold. But I’m hellbent on seeing him flourish. ADHD is a gift, not an excuse. It’s not a reason for being mean or agressive. I want him to be ok with bad days, but not let them become excuses for poor behaviour. We all have our faults, but the strongest ones make the best of it. I preach accountability. I preach trying before giving up,

So that’s what I’m doing. Holding it together and making the best of our faults. Mine and his. Some days are bad days, but dang – those good days are great.

Anxiety

I had never experienced anxiety attacks before, until I had kids.

I had experienced anxiety, but not the “attack” part.

First was the fear of balloons. Yep. You’re reading that right. I cannot handle inflating balloons, or already inflated ballons. The possibility of it popping just makes my skin crawl…

But the attacks…?

It started with a fear of the stomach flu. If you talk about throwing up, or mention that you had a stomach bug, or mention that you don’t feel good – I’m done. Game over. My brain can’t shut it out. If my kids go to bed saying they don’t feel good, I will sit in bed for the next five hours waiting for someone to throw up.

I don’t mind dealing with puking kids. But the thought that it could happen, somehow it gives me grief.

A little while back I was in a situation where my words got misinterpreted and then I was publicly hung out to dry by someone I trusted. It broke me. I sunk into a deep state of depression. I pulled back from the people and things I loved. I started binging on foods. I stopped exercising altogether.

And then the anxiety attacks started. But this time, there was no rhyme or reason.

It began with one or two, then it was daily. Then it was several times a day. Heart racing, this heaviness in my chest. I’d feel dizzy. My vision would tunnel. Nausea. It would even happen while I was driving. It was crippling…

After a few months of living with it I decided to see the doctor. And you know what she said? “The LAST thing I’d want to do would be to put you on medication …” She suggested Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, meditating, exercise, journaling – all completely natural things. Nothing that required meds. When I left the office, the attacks stopped. It’s like a needed the reassurance from a professional that I wasn’t broken. She told me, “We cannot erase stress from our lives. It’s always going to be there. But what we can control is how we react to it.” Those words changed my life. Nothing truer had ever been said to me.

Stress will exist. In our lives and our children’s lives. Was I ever taught how to manage it? Do we teach our kids how to manage it? No. Well, at least I haven’t been teaching my kids this. Something so simple, but so impactful.

I am cognitively trying to manage my own stress and help my kids do the same. I started exercising again, and eating better. Making sure I get enough sleep. Taking things off my plate. Learning how to say no. And as for my kids? I offer a little more compassion; when they get upset, why should I escalate it be getting even more upset? I speak calmer. When they start to get worked up about trying something new, I ask… “what’s the worst that could happen?”

The doctor was right. Stress is here to stay. But if we can manage it a little better, and in turn help the next generation to do the same… then maybe that’s my part to keep this world a little rosier for the next few decades to come.

Young mother

It was December 2006 and my period was late. I was 19. We were living in a 4 bedroom house in Barrie with a girl who routinely had various men over and was addicted to coke, and a guy who really liked to party. He would write cheques to my boyfriend, and then bounce them in my his account. We were broke. We couldn’t pay our bills. The rent was more than we could afford. I had no job. My mom was still in the psych ward. Life was just, messy.

I took a test and waited – the little blue plus sign popped up. Pregnant. I was pregnant. How would we do this? How would I afford a baby?

I stopped everything that day. All my habits. Gone. Cold turkey and out the window. I never even thought twice, nor did I look back.

We left the Barrie house and moved in with my at the time mother in law. We slept in the basement. It was an old farm house, so the ceilings were low and it was cold – it was January – I could see my breath sometimes in the morning. It smelled of mould. And the floor was concrete. I was sick. So nauseous during the first trimester. All I wanted to do was sleep or vomit. We hadn’t told anyone about the pregnancy yet, so I did my best to hide my symptoms.

I picked up a part time job as a dietary aid in a retirement home. I had no car so I would sleep on the couch at a friend’s house in town the night before my shifts so I could wake up early and walk to work for 6am. My back ached so much – some days I could barely move. I’d hobble around the dining room, serving residents. I remember one lady yelling up at me, “Are you lame!?” I later realized she was commenting on my hobble and relating me to a sick horse. The one girl I worked with completely had it out for me. She would complain if I was moving too slow, if I made a mistake (I was still learning the job), rolling her eyes and sighing loudly. She would literally trash talk me to coworkers while I was standing there. One Friday I got a letter at the end of my shift. My supervisor wished me a good weekend, handed me the envelope, and as I walked out the door I opened the letter. I got fired. It was the first and only job I was ever fired from.

Now I was pregnant, starting to show, and unemployed. Who would hire an uneducated pregnant girl at this point? I sunk to an all new low. I felt useless and saw no hope for mine and my baby’s future.

I did some part time work for my MIL around the house. Cleaning and office work. My boyfriend would fight with his mother so frequently that she kicked him out. I was now living at the age of 19, pregnant and in the home of my so-called “mother in law” without my boyfriend there. We would fight. I felt like I was a maid, but I understood that I needed to earn my keep. I did my best to maintain a relationship with her and keep on top of my daily chores. She did, after all, take me in when I was left with nothing. I also wanted to maintain a relationship with my boyfriend; a boyfriend who was couch surfing while I stayed with his mother.

We eventually decided that we needed to get out of there. After a few months there on my own, my mother’s alcoholic ex offered for us to stay with him. He was still in the apartment where my mother left her first suicide note, so I held on to a lot of emotions tied to this place. He moved to the spare room and offered us his bedroom. I wasn’t working so I spent a lot of time locked in there. I would do my best to stay on top of tidying, but he was a drinker and liked to party. He would get black out drunk and start fights with me. I would tel him how lousy he was while crying, and he would tell me that the only reason he let me stay there was so that he would “look good” – like the hero – and win my mom back. I was a pawn. One night he got so drunk that he passed out in the stairwell of the apartment building. I found him, soaked in his own urine at the door. I tried to drag him back in but he woke up mad, and called me a whore for locking him out. I went back to my room, put the TV on like usual, and tried to blur out the sound of him knocking things over as he stumbled into the living room.

We went to my dad who helped us out with first and last for an apartment rental across town. I couldn’t live with the drunk anymore. We started accumulating baby items, setting up a room, and getting established. I took a driver’s education course and got my license at 7 month pregnant. I spent two weeks at a summer school program, while staying with my nana, and finished high school, officially becoming a graduate at 8 months pregnant. I was hopeful that maybe I could finally make something of myself, for my daughter that was nearly here.

One morning, at nearly 9 months pregnant, I woke up to a trickle of black liquid, coming from the light fixture above my dining room table. My boyfriend poked at it and the ceiling came down. You could see clear blue sky through the hole (we were on the top floor of the apartment). We notified the landlord, they inspected, and discovered a ton of mould. They deemed the apartment dangerous and we went back to my MIL’s house. The repairs took forever and we ended up in a legal battle with the landlord. It never got repaired and we eventually just took our belongings and put them into storage while we continued to live with my boyfriend’s mother.

My due date was nearing. We accepted the cards we were dealt and decided to set up a nursery at my MIL’s. She pitied us and our situation, so she was ok with taking us in. My boyfriend was 4 years older than me – 24 years old – and wasn’t ready to give up the party life. It put a strain on our already tense and very difficult relationship. We would fight all the time. Anger and yelling and tears. So much stress.

On August 24th, 2007, I went into labour around 3am. I sat in bed, timing my contractions, writing down each time. At 6am I woke my boyfriend to tell him it was time. He asked if I was serious and just rolled back over to go to sleep. I tiptoed downstairs, but obviously not quiet enough, because the dogs started barking and down the stairs came my MIL screaming with excitement, “Is it time?? Is it time?!” We loaded up the car with our bags, and off to the hospital we went. They admitted me and checked my stats. My mother in law was my saving grace – she brought me juice, let me throw up on her, held my hand, made me laugh, and encouraged me. I don’t know that she realized the space she filled as my own mother wasn’t there for me. I laboured for about 11 hours before I gave in and took the epidural. It didn’t take and the back labour was intense. At 10pm I was ready to push, and at 10:30pm I gave birth to a 7lb10oz baby girl. My Avalon Mae. She was my light. My reason. My everything. She was spirited and cried all the time. One nurse came in to see if I was ok, and offered to take the baby for a walk down the hall, just to give me a break.

The second day in the hospital I had another nurse pop in. She was older, and seemed very judgemental of my age. “My daughter is about your age and she’s in University. God. I have no idea what I would do if she had a baby!” Slap. In. The. Face. This woman. She fuelled me. She pushed me to prove everyone wrong. To show the world that, yes, you CAN be a young mother and hit rock bottom, beat addiction and financial struggles and homelessness. And grow into a thriving, productive, and wonderful mother.

And I did.

I did all those things.

I am still fighting and thriving and pushing. There have been so many challenges and setbacks along the way. But I never gave up. I went back to work when she turned 6 months old and I haven’t stopped since. Banking my karma bucks and leveling up. But I don’t think I would be here, and as gracious for my current life, if it wasn’t for the things I had to go through to get here. My daughter was my beginning. A new chapter. And the start of an amazing, beautiful story.

How self-help articles are ruining parents

I love/hate how there are just so many blog posts out there that tell you how to raise your kids nowadays. Something along the lines of:

“Seven things your 12 year old should already know how to do”

Sure, I’ve fallen victim to clicking them and reading them. Then what? I feel like a shitty parent. The articles lead me to believe I’m not doing all that I should. Or that my kids are lacking in progress. And the more I read them, the worse I feel about my parenting style. If you read every single one, the advice becomes conflicting and then quite confusing.

I set clear boundaries for my kids and “no” means “no” – not “keep trying to change my mind”. I love and give warmth where it needs to fit. I also expect some form of order and respect in my house. Does it always go smoothly? Fuck no. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. There’s always room for improvement.

But that’s me.

Then I read these articles and I think, “Am I doing enough? Should I be doing more? Am I lacking in this area?”

We need to stop doing this. Stop reading these articles that tell me my 8 year old should be doing his own laundry and if he doesn’t have clean clothes, then that’s his fault. I mean, I understand the point of teaching you child that: but how many more RULES can I implement before I start raising them wrong?

Some articles will tell you to let them learn from natural consequences: forget their lunch? Go hungry. Forgot your mitts? Cold hands. Didn’t get your homework done? You get the shit grade. Then some articles will say “have empathy” therefore it’s ok to bring them their mitts, or maybe even pack their bags for them so they don’t get forgotten. But then which is right? Which is better? It’s all so confusing.

The best approach in my opinion is think about your childhood. What did you love and what did you hate. What lessons were valuable, and which ones do you wish you had been taught. Then, work around that. For me, I loved that my mother would tell me she loved me all the time. She tucked me in every night, cuddled me, and wasn’t afraid to show affection. I also loved camping with my step dad. Life was always about exploring and adventure, and spending time outside. I also had chores – every Thursday was my night to do dishes. Some times I would protest, but they never waivered. My dad also never yelled – he was quiet and patient, and set clear boundaries. No meant no. I had the freedom to make my own choices and express myself. There was time for friends, and time for family – which was equally, if not more, important.

Praise. Praise is huge. We clap for the baby when she puts her own shirt on for goodness sake. Why do we stop praising the big kids? They need it, too. Especially an ADHD child who’s feedback is predominantly negative.

Focus. Sit down. Stop doing that. Put your shoes on. Where’s your (insert random item lost)?!

They need more positive than negative to keep the balance, and the peace.

And the most important?

Kids need you. Just you. That’s it. A fun, empathetic, understanding, PRESENT you. Working, absent, self-indulged results in rebellious, attention-seeking, acting out. I know this. Heck, a lot of my side business work revolves around using my phone, and my two year old will yell at me: “Put phone DOWN!” It’s a wake up call. I know this is my reminder to just be present.

Ditch the overflow of advice and suggestions, go back to basics, and just be. Do you. Do what feels right in your heart. Do what works for YOUR dynamic. Stop reading articles and comparing your journey to another. And quit JUDGING someone else for doing their best. We are all just trying to make it out alive.

That’s basically it. It’s a lot less stressful on me, and the kids to just “do you” 😎

Snowflakes

The term “snowflake” gets thrown around a lot lately, especially towards this generation of children.

“When I was a kid if you had a problem with someone, you just punched them in the mouth…!”

“Busses are cancelled today because its TOO COLD? What a bunch of snowflakes…”

Anyone who has been negatively impacted or found themselves a victim of an incident related to busses being cancelled due to extreme cold weather, please raise your hand. Anyone…? No…?

I didn’t think so.

Now I’m pretty hard on my kids – my daughter will even tell me that she thinks I don’t care when someone gets hurt. It’s not that I don’t care, I just know to reserve my fucks when they really matter. For example, the baby rode her little car square into the highchair the other day. That tray, well it was just at the right height to tear into her gums as she came flying towards it with a big toothy grin. Instant tears. And instant blood – which sent my oldest daughter into a panic. Me: I’m calm, pick up the baby, grab a Kleenex to wipe up the drooly blood before it hits my shoulder, and stains my shirt. “MOM, there is BLOOD! Is she ok? Is it BAD?” I ask the baby if she’s good, give her some juice in her cup, and send her off.

If there was a clearly broken bone, I may have reacted differently. Maybe not. I’ve never experienced something on the level of “extreme fucks need to be given”.

And I am also, almost always, in favour of sending your kids to school – even if the busses aren’t running. What kind of example would I be setting for my kids if allowed them to make excuses to “not show up”…? School IS their job. What about being a reliable friend? A dedicated employee? What about commitment to your college classes? Unless you’re deathly ill, or you have a funeral: get up, and show up.

So the busses are cancelled? That’s nice. Again, a situation where my fucks need not be given. I’m sure lots of thought and planning goes into managing a school board and bus fleets, and I’m confident that no matter what decision they make is in the best interest of the masses. That’s life, and as a parent I just adapt to the change in plan. This is also a great life skill to teach your kids: things change, but your goal doesn’t. Still have to make things work!

But the term “snowflake” – I’m just not sure how I feel about this. Are we discrediting our children’s feelings? Are we teaching them to be less empathetic towards other people? Which makes me wonder, are we raising future husbands/wives/friends/partners to be less sensitive towards their other halves/children/friends? Perhaps there is too much emphasis on padding their surroundings, and making their lives a little easier. Sure, we had it harder when we were kids. But when grandpa told US the story about how he walked to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, IN JULY… we rolled our eyes and told him, “Times have changed, Grandpa!”

I think the focus needs to be shifted and we need kids to be aware of something bigger: people will judge you, and people will have their own set of beliefs and opinions and morals *cough* or just like to complain *cough* – but in the end all that matters is what YOU believe in. Stand up for it. Social Media makes opinions all too accessible with very little room for facts to back it up. Maybe you want to be hard around the edges when your kids fall down. But guess what, when my kids come to me saying they had a bad day, I sure as SHIT don’t brush it off and tell them to suck it up. Bad days happen. And those people that are calling you a “snowflake” have bad days too. And maybe, JUST MAYBE, when “those” people have a bad day, they’re going to want to post about it on Facebook to feel heard and validated – because they are human. And we are all a little soft and gooey on the inside. And sometimes even the hardest of people need a hug, and some reassurance that it’s all going to be ok.

I guess my point got a lost in all this, but the moral is: do you. Be hard, be soft, be everything in between. Raise your kids to be brave and respectful, but also empathetic towards others. Know when to give fucks, and when to just let something roll off your shoulder. We all just want to be heard and accepted.

Bust most importantly, don’t complain for the sake of complaining. And if you ARE going to complain, you better be prepared to have a plan on how to rectify your situation.

AKA Just be good fucking humans.

The boy

Today is just one of those days where you sit and reflect on purpose, direction, and a potential plan of action. Lately I’ve just been feeling as though I lack something in my life. I’m sitting here drinking a hot cup of coffee, wondering how many grams of sugar are in the creamer I just put in it…

“Maybe I should watch my sugar intake…?”

“No, that’s silly. You do you girl. Just make smarter food choices…” (mentally fist-bumps myself) 

“….but maybe, just maybe… my skin would clear up and the inflammation would subside…?”

This. I just cycle endlessly through seemingly pointless thoughts. Do I need to make changes? Am I over thinking this?

My husband thinks I overthink everything. He’s probably right…

I met with my son’s teacher on Thursday. He’s scoring on the low end of the scale when it comes to reading. His writing output is terrible. Socially, he struggles. And last year we had a time period when he was depressed and talked about suicide on the daily. There was one incident where he pulled a kitchen knife out of the drawer, held it to his throat, and screamed at us that he was going to kill himself. As a mother, it shook me to my core. What am I doing wrong? What could I be doing more of? I wanted to hug him and put his broken heart back together. I went to him, pulled him in tight, and he punched me repeatedly. He didn’t want to be held – he wanted space. He was so angry and sad. All I could do was cry with him.

We saught help from a paediatrician, who ran some tests and diagnosed him as ADHD-IA (inattention) and GAD, which Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Along with this, his bloodwork showed a severe Vitamin D deficiency – this can affect mood. Basically he lacks the attention, and focus, and he feels anxiety when the pressure to perform presents itself. Meaning his self esteem is shot, he fears failing – therefore won’t try. He can’t stand to lose, and he gets VERY overwhelmed when he doesn’t understand something or gets it wrong. The teacher noticed that he’s been “off” and his academics are suffering. We met with the Special Education teacher who has also been working with him for the last few years. We discussed things we needed to work on, and possible suggestions to help him work on organizational skills and writing.

The hardest thing to hear was how his social skills are lacking. As an 8 year old – your social life IS life. He gets picked last, the kids make fun of him, and he gets into fights with other kids. My heart. I know he’s awkward, and can be explosive. But he’s also just the sweetest boy.

He’s so sentimental and cuddly. He’s helpful and passionate. He loves to help his little sister, and he loves to just hang with mom. And he says just the sweetest things.

“Mom, I don’t need money to be rich. I’m already rich – rich with love and family…”

Ugh. My hearrrrrrrt.

I wish the world could see him through my eyes. But I know they can’t. And they won’t. That’s the reality of life. All I can do is teach him the basic fundamentals of life: how to do your laundry, pay bills, make a good meal, be respectful, and maybe how throw a right hook.

As I sit here sipping my now-cold coffee, I wonder: maybe there is more I could do, as a mother and wife and friend. Maybe I could do better by my son, and help him be more successful and happy. Am I doing all that I can? Should I be home with him more? Did my divorce mess him up that much? Does he need more counselling? Maybe a tutor?

Maybe, just maybe, he’s going to be fine. And being an 8 year old is hard, after all. But all we can do is love them, guide them, and be here when they need us.

And maybe, I am overthinking this.

(Don’t tell my husband that 😉)