The Little Monster jogs every day to help with his ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is closely linked to PPD, Parental Patience Decimator). ADHD is often over-diagnosed and over-medicated, and handing LM a pill every morning from day one as our son (at age six) ran counter-intuitive to everything I thought I’d be as a parent (along with most every other preconception that was swiftly shot to hell). But as the alarmingly-young but able psychologist who recently did a thorough evaluation summed up our Little Monster, “Well, I see absolutely no evidence that he is not ADHD.” Quite frankly, without the label and the meds, I would have to be medicated well beyond the occasional six-olive martini. Sometimes modern science does hand us a magic pill, but while it temporarily subdues about 42.67% of the ants in LM’s pants, he’s still a jumping bean even when prone (“Look, mom, yoga!” he yells as he crazy-straws himself into a series of Nadia Comaneci poses, with the aptly-named theme music The Young and the Restless playing in my head). This leads to the question we are most-often asked by his teacher and counselor: “Has he had his pill today?” followed by, “Perhaps we should consider upping his meds?”
Oddly enough, the medication that enables him to settle down and sustain focus is the pharmaceutical equivalent of cocaine, so you’d know pretty damn quick if your kid was misdiagnosed. I practically need cocaine to manage the monthly running around required to fill the prescription for a controlled substance. The only other over-the-counter drug that allows LM to maintain focus is Nintendo, which causes him to sit still yet sporadically shout out with Tourettes-like, spasmic barking.
But exercise and other strategies can also help a family cope with the Tasmanian Devil who whooshes through the house the minute he cracks an eye in the morning.
Along with meds, ADHD kids can be helped by lots of intense exercise. When I went to a day-long training recently for caregivers (all foster parents and all women, with not a single testicle nestled on our hard plastic chairs) of ADHD kids, one woman said that exercise for her daughter only made things worse; it seemed like it just pumped her up and got her going rather than calming her down. Another mother raised her hand and said, “That’s what I thought for a long time. What I didn’t get was the huge amount of extreme exercise that my son needed. It seemed like abuse at first, but that high level of sustained exercise works. It’s helped a lot.” The reassuringly-cynical instructor (who blew a big raspberry to the notion that children are innocent angels and likened them instead to hens pecking a wounded pen-mate to death) nodded in agreement.
What the Little Monster calls “running” is hardly extreme or sustained. Mostly it involves shuffling his feet, singing, dodging sidewalk cracks, jumping in puddles, and pausing to chat with neighbors, pausing to take off his jacket, pausing to check his watch, pausing to put his jacket back on, quickly racing the neighbor’s school bus at top speed (the driver keeps her foot on the brake so LM can beat her), and pausing to tie his shoe. Still, we figure it’s movement and fresh air (plus he’s out of the house) and something of a cocktail hour, minus the gin and pearled onions, since he catches us up on everything that’s happening on the block: “Melanie and her whole family had food poisoning.” “Carol has a new car.” “The new neighbors are moving in this weekend, and they have two girls.” When a neighbor crossed the street last night to ask me the status of another neighbor while I was walking the dogs, I said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask the Little Monster and get back to you.”
While LM runs, The Man I Married and I watch him closely from the window. Why don’t we run with him, you ask? Well, er, ah, because we want to, um, encourage independence and, oh yeah, self-sufficiency. We are practicing bicep curls with our mugs of tea.
This morning after LM was in the bath, MIM called me into the bedroom for a Hushed Parental Conference. “I have something to tell you,” he said. We all know this teaser is not usually followed by, “I won the lottery,” but by something like, “Turns out the vasectomy didn’t work,” or “I found a lice egg on your comb.”
He said, eyes wide, “I was watching LM this morning, and I noticed a jogger about three paces behind him, following right along behind him, totally keeping stride. Shadowing him.”
In a very real and accurate physical manifestation of an over-used cliché, my heart seized at this news. Much as we and the neighbors all keep our eye out for LM, we do worry. Although the goodness of people helping us out consistently floors us, there are of course yucky people in the world, like the ones who got LM into the mess of his complicated life in the first place. The “stranger snatch” is a rare event ballooned out of proportion by the media, inflating parental paranoia even in neighborhoods like ours where front page news recently was about how some pedestrians are being rude to the man who uses a leaf-blower on our little downtown’s sidewalks. A hotly-debated topic on our neighborhood blog was about whether a man should have saved a baby squirrel which had gotten stuck in his stove’s hood. Some were vehemently opposed to the rescue because the squirrel was not a native species. Others felt that if the same consideration is not given to rats, then it ought not be given to squirrels. Yet even in this quiet burb with wide sidewalks, we fear the crazed, bearded kidnapper.
“I think the jogger was a woman,” MIM said. “She was just suddenly there. And as I was watching, she just…disappeared! Into thin air!” MIM took a deep breath and announced boldly, “The Little Monster has a guardian angel!” Not a good Samaritan of the human flesh sort, but a dyed-in-the-ethereal-wooly-cloud, true-blue capital A Angel.
MIM so spooked me that I started to cry. A real ghost jogging with our son every day? “Damn,” I said, quickly stopping my tears. “Is she in the house, too?” We were going to have to clean up our act if he had an angel following him. Did this mean we couldn’t use profanity even when LM wasn’t around? Could she tell we hadn’t mopped for two months? This was all too much to stomach. We already had in-laws criticizing our every move. As if I needed a celestial being joining in on the bad mother bandwagon. So of course I immediately discounted MIM’s story and started firing logistical questions at him, insisting on alternative explanations, but MIM remained convinced.
“I tell you it was an angel. She was suddenly there, and then she was suddenly gone. Vanished.”
Truthfully, we have long-known that LM is blessed in ways that can’t be explained by rational forces. For such a bum start in life, he’s been given chances and opportunities that many in his position can only dream of. I’m not speaking of us, because no child in their right mind would wish themselves into a house without a television and with parents who insist that he eat all of the mushrooms on his plate if he wants dessert. But he has such a huge network of support, despite a very broken state system for kids who need help, that it defies all odds. We hear the horror stories of kids who fall through the cracks, but LM stands on a thick cement girder that holds firm despite the tsunamis he keeps sending crashing against it.
So there’s a fairy with a wand and an organdy gown responsible for all of this? Furthermore: she jogs??
“Like, poof?” I asked, flapping pretend wings. “No way.”
“Yes, way,” MIM said.
“You march your fanny downstairs this instant and ask him,” I commanded, forgetting that this was MIM and not LM. But down MIM marched, as he always does when he is about to prove that he is right and I am wrong.
The fact that he didn’t come right back up but went on to other tasks clued me in that he had not gotten an answer which would give him victory. When he finally came back upstairs, he didn’t bring it up.
“Well?” I asked.
“It was Carol from across the street,” he mumbled to the refrigerator. “LM says she starting jogging, and she always slows down to jog half a block with him. She ducked into her side yard when she was done.”
And, so, MIM was right after all. LM does have a guardian angel. In fact, he has a whole block full of them. Carol and Becky and Melanie (who tucks biscotti treats in to her stone wall for him to find) and Eric and Jen and Sean and Barb and Jim and Tim and Terry and Kirsten and Gregg and the milkman who toots and Amber and John and Kevin and Barb and Stephanie and Tom and Jean and Robert and the school bus driver who also toots if LM’s running in the wrong direction to race her. I doubt any of them wear chiffon (at least the women don’t), but they all work their daily magic. I’ll take their jeans and tennies over glitter and Glinda any day.