Before I became a mother, I was spectacular at mothering – at least in my fantasy world. In that other dimension, my child would be well behaved. No tantrums in the middle of a store for my child. My child would obey and would know how to sit still when told to; after all, my dog could, and my child would definitely be smarter than my dog. That certain smugness as I watched some frazzled woman who obviously did not know how to handle her child – that would never be me. I would have patience, and share such loving, tender moments with my well dressed, well behaved super child. Children were so small. Why did others think they were hard to handle? You just have to be in charge. Certainly no reason to cold turkey my career.
My oldest baby turned sixteen the other day. He’s a tall, skinny kid with a whip smart mind, a keen sense of humor, and zero interest in promoting his self. He’s the kid you’ll find at the back of a room, observing the goings on. He’s the kid who gets dismissed by others because of his quietness. They underestimate him, and he’s good with that. Because he doesn’t believe your opinion of him should have any value over what he knows his truth to be. The person he is is not defined by the person you think him to be.
But, honestly, I’m not so interested in telling his story as I am in telling mine. Because in many ways, becoming a mother saved my life, I know who I was before becoming a mother, and who I became by being a mother, and motherhood was integral to the travel.
As if God and the universe heard my every smug word, I received a beautiful baby boy, and the adventure of unexpected reality started in the Recovery Room. As I lay there recuperating from an unplanned and unexpected C-section, I heard the grandmother in the next curtain. “She’s gonna have her hands full with that one.” My very first (and not to be my last) experience with the tone of condescension being directed at me and my progeny. Her daughter or daughter-in-law simply murmured her agreement while she cooed adoringly at her undoubtedly superior creature. Meanwhile in curtain number two, I was already striking deals with my son. “Please be quiet. It’s ok. I’ll buy you a Porsche.” I was ready to agree to the world for some peace, and rest, and I had no IDEA what was to come. (Incidentally – in case he reads this – the Porsche idea is a joke. Keep looking at used cars, and saving your money, son.) Yes, the lessons of motherhood began early, and they stunk with the repugnance of a soiled diaper.
He is our first born. We were so new despite being older parents. Our years had been spent matriculating and calculating, not burping. The only nurturing we had done was with a recalcitrant computer system while closing the monthly financials.
Our son had colic. At least that was the diagnosis. Later they suspected cystic fibrosis. Then he was tested for diabetes. His tonsils and adenoids were removed. Perhaps you get the sense that I spent a lot of time with him at the doctor’s office, and you would be correct in that assumption. And time after time, as I stood in a doctor’s office saying the following: “If it’s just a stomach virus, then why does no one else in the family catch it including his younger brother? Why is he the only one who throws up? Why doesn’t he run a fever?” I received that look. The look only a professional at condescension can give you - the look of condescension masked as the air of concern as they tell you:
“Some kids don’t run fevers. It’s going around. It will run its course. Have him drink plenty of fluids, and come back if he doesn’t get better.”
I thought I knew perseverance from working in a male dominated field, in a male dominated industry. I was wrong. The definition of perseverance is a mother being told she’s wrong where it involves her child, and she knows she ain’t. For the record, he’s lactose intolerant and has to take an over the counter medication to properly digest any food with milk or milk by products. This diagnosis is a pretty long way from cystic fibrosis or a stomach virus, and yet it took years of perseverance and determination.
By now, I had walked away from that wonderful dream job. I had traded the business casual attire, the tasteful jewelry, the status of a career. I never knew when this child would be sick – physically. I also never knew when I would get this call:
“Your child tore a book up.”
“Your child hit another child.”
“Your child wouldn’t sit down.”
“Your child needs to learn to stop interrupting.”
“Your child never uses ma’am.” (We live in the South – but honestly, I wanted to tell this teacher to get over herself, I had bigger issues I was working on.)
Our son has ADHD. Now if you think it doesn’t exist – do feel free to move on to another article or activity. I hear Tom Cruise is single again.
In my pre-motherhood daydreams, when I believed that my child would never have tantrums and would sit still – well, let me repeat that sentence above again. Our son has ADHD. He found it incredibly difficult to sit still, to focus, and to just be. He climbed and explored. He talked, and talked, and talked. I ran to hold his hand; I ran to pull him out of trees; I ran to constantly catch up. We strolled past no one with smugness, because we had already run past them trying to get him out of the street.
When our son was about three, we were packing for a trip. My husband had left to run an errand when I realized there was an unearthly quiet in the house – a house which was never quiet between our son, his baby brother, two dogs, and a home office. Immediately I thought of the door, and whether Rick (my husband) had left the garage door open as he did sometimes. I still don’t know why those thoughts came so quickly. I dashed to where our son had been playing. No son. I ran to the garage. Sure enough two open doors. Flying out them, I immediately started yelling for our son, and there he was. He had crossed the street and was headed down the sidewalk just as fast as those little toddler legs could carry him. Our beautiful toddler boy was headed off on an adventure on a beautiful spring day - just him and our dog, Dixie. That wonderful mutt was walking between our son and the road, forever justifying my rescue of her when she was a puppy. When I got there, I swear I think her look at me said, “Be more careful next time. I won’t always be around.” Is it any wonder that his second word after DaDa wasn’t MaMa, it was “Dickie”, and Dixie would come running to his side?
I learned never to assume how life would happen. I learned humility. I learned patience. I learned perseverance. I also learned never to zone out on my child.
But for all the adventures early, nothing prepared me for school. I was not prepared for the hurt and humiliation – my own, not his, and I was not prepared for how much my own history of being bullied would affect my reactions to cruel comments whether intentional or just thoughtless. I think I expected grown-ups to be umm, grown up, and for educators to be educated. Sadly that isn’t always the case.
Did I mention that my child would be smart? I did get the intelligence I expected, and then some. The problem was that others didn’t think so. While he chattered and couldn’t focus, I heard that he was “slow,” and “not capable” of doing work on a certain level. I knew differently. I knew the chattering was because he was interested on so many levels, and he needed direction. I knew he was very capable. But I learned to play well with others. I had to get cooperation, and walking in demanding was not the path. So I cooperated and discussed, and pled his case. I had also learned that I was willing to grovel if necessary for my child. It’s that unconditional love where you place someone above yourself. Before I had a child, I never would have allowed someone to talk down to me the way I allowed some educators, and other parents. But I needed to allow them their moment – lose the skirmish win the battle.
In elementary school, I sat quietly while a teacher said this:
“He’s ALWAYS the last to leave the room. It doesn’t matter where we are going. And he ALWAYS forgets something. And then he has to go back and get it. And he holds the rest of us up.”
My response – “Well, yes, he is like that. He’s like that at home, also.” It’s the ADHD. They are absent-minded.”
Teacher: “Well, that would drive me crazy. I would NEVER put up with that. I’m so glad mine aren’t like that. He needs to get better.”
The conversation was somewhat irritating. The fact that she did it in front of other mothers when I was there volunteering my time – well, that was infuriating. Here’s the reply I wish I could have given:
“So did you bother to read the email I sent you at the beginning of the school year discussing his ADHD? As a professional educator do you even realize how well you just laid out a kid with ADHD? How about some compassion and kindness? Barring that how about you go get another job – good luck finding one with no one with irritating habits, by the way.”
Of course, I didn’t say any of that. And for every just plain wrong educator, there were two who were fantastic, helpful and champions of my child. Meanwhile I continued to do my best to make my son understand that unique is not bad or wrong, that quirky is fun, and that no one’s opinion should count. And I know it worked when he taught me to do that.
For years I was bullied when I was young. Like most deep hurts, it left scars. I can be prickly and I don’t shrug off comments as well as I should. Aware of all of that, and knowing what a target a kid with ADHD can be, I talked, lectured, discussed with him how it is until I was blue in the face. But being prickly and quick with a retort had not endeared me to some of the other mothers, and they were quick to share their opinions of me with others. One day, my son and I encountered one of the mothers and she very quickly moved seats rather than be exposed to my cooties by sitting near me. I was devastated at the hurt and humiliation as others noticed. It immediately took me back to being 13, invited to a party and purposely tripped while everyone laughed. My son took note of my reaction and in the car he very quietly looked at me and said, “I don’t know why you should care. People like that aren’t worth it. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that anyway so who cares what they think of you.”
Yes, of all the lessons I treasure from motherhood, it’s the ability to dismiss other’s opinions. That’s the one I needed the most. And that’s the one I finally got. No longer do I listen with rapt attention to someone else’s opinion of me and believe it’s the truth. I’ve spent enough years being a mother to someone who doesn’t care what you think of him, and applauding his attitude, that I realized along the way to show myself the same respect.
Yes, being a mother has taught me to be me – no apologies, no fear. I am a better me. Thanks to a baby born sixteen years ago.