Last night we decided to have breakfast for dinner: eggs, turkey sausage, sauteed kale, grits, biscuits and homemade jam. Who would think this setting would illustrate so clearly the neurological and processing differences between 10-year-old Javier (ADHD, inattentive type) and his 4-year-old sister, Bella (age 4, neuro-typical).
Javi’s plate started out simple enough. He asked for and received a cheese omelet. He then loaded his plate with 4 sausage links, a heaping mound of kale and another mound of grits. He grabbed two biscuits and slathered them both in butter and jam. His adult-sized plate was filled to maximum capacity.
It took less than 5 minutes for his plate to look like a breakfast-filled bomb had exploded all over it. Grits were oozing over one side, there was egg on his arm and on the floor next to his chair, he had jam all over his face and kale all over his shirt. He chased his sausage links all over his plate, causing even more food to slop off of it and land in clumps on the table, floor, and his lap.
We asked, then urged, then yelled for him to use his fork and knife to push food back into the center of his plate and away from the edges. He tried every way by the right one. He scraped at the mess with all four tines of his fork. He used the tip of his knife. He scooped up a pile of food with his bare hands. The mess got bigger and bigger.
This is our experience with child rearing. This inability to problem solve and adequately implement whatever solution makes the most sense at the time has been part and parcel of our experience with raising Javi, specifically. Until last night, we thought this issue was part and parcel of raising children in general.
How do we know? Enter Bella. Her plate was smaller but it was pretty full. She had a scoop of scrambled eggs, a scoop of grits, a sausage link, and a biscuit with jam. Because she doesn’t like eggs, but wanted to impress us by eating something she doesn’t like, she mixed her eggs and her grits together all by herself.
Guess what never happened? Not a single grit touched the table. She mixed and when the mixture got close to the edge of her plate, she turned her fork on its side and deftly swooped the mixture back to the center.
That happened again and again throughout the meal. At my dinner table. By the 4 year old.
My mind was officially blown. For the first time in 10 long years, I was accutely aware that raising my neuro-atypical son is an atypical experience. I have a skill set that includes micromanaging, badgering, and planning to the tiniest detail … because Javier needs that from his parents. He requires intense focus and planning. He requires some type of barrier to help him absorb the shocks and bumps of daily life.
But Bella doesn’t.
On the one hand, the relief I feel is palpable. I won’t have to do this at double the intensity. I will be able to give my daughter some room and allow her to steer her course. She won’t require as much hand holding and intervention. It’s an awesome and amazing realization.
Of course, there’s other work. Mainly, I have to remember not to forget her. Not to shuffle her to the back burner because she is so self-sustaining. Not to assume she’s okay because she’s not the greasy wheel. Not to exalt her while condemning her brother. Not to focus on her “goodness” as a tactic to incentivize her brother. I can remember cowering from my own sister’s burning anger when my mom would yell at her, “Why can’t you be more like your sister!?” I refuse to do that to either of my kids.
I’ll force myself to give Javi’s and Bella’s needs and desires equal attention, and equal criticism. But for now? For now, I’m basking in the weightlessness of my relationship with my typical child. For her, I’ll get to be a mom like other moms. The feeling resembles euphoria.
How has your relationship with your other children been shaped by your experience parenting a child with ADHD and its co-morbidities? Do you find yourself feeling differently about your other children? Are you worried about how you’ll play up or ignore your typical child(ren)?