Being the Queen of Spades and Parenting a Child with ADHD

One of our family’s favorite card games is Hearts. I learned this game from my dad when I was a little girl. After every holiday dinner, generations of family members would gather around the kitchen table to play several rounds of Hearts. My dad was always the scorekeeper, and he’d carefully tally up the points for all of the players. The object of the card game was to get as few points as possible. Hearts counted as 1 penalty point. The Queen of spades counted as 13 points, and you did not want to be stuck with this card or have someone give it to you during a play. The entire game hinged on your ability to avoid hearts and the Queen of spades. There was one exception to this rule though. If you could manage to get all 13 penalty heart points and the points from the Queen of spades, you would would win the game. It takes exceptional skill to win the game this way, and if you manage to achieve the win this way you Shot the Moon. You would get zero points, and all of the other players would get 26 penalty points.

I was thinking of the game of Hearts today as I watched my son and his friend playing with their Yu-Gi-Oh!  trading cards. Although it’s a different game than the one I played as a child, I kept thinking about the Queen of spades. Why was I so consumed by her image? What made me think of my old nemesis as I watched my son and his friend playing a very different card game?

Finally, it dawned on me. My 10-year-old son and his friend were playing cards, and they both have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My son, Connor, was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in 2nd grade at the age of 8. At the time, I felt like I had already been dealt a bad hand of cards full of penalty hearts — he developed type 1 diabetes when he was 5 years old, which is the autoimmune form of diabetes sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes. My younger son had been diagnosed at age 2 with developmental delays and sensory processing disorder. Connor faced discrimination at school, and we received assistance from a volunteer attorney to help get him the equal rights of his peers in the educational setting. In addition, my husband and I continued to care for our own chronic conditions. If there was a penalty heart to collect, I had managed to find them all. It seemed like our hands were full of the very worst cards. Or so I thought.

I forgot about the Queen of spades. She’s a tricky card, and she often appears just when you think all of the penalty points have been played. Some experienced players of Hearts memorize which cards have been played and anticipate her arrival. I knew I had a stack of penalty hearts, but I did not anticipate getting the Queen. I thought I was safe leading with a low heart, but instead I collected even more penalty hearts and also the dreaded Queen of Spades. It was crushing to find out that Connor had yet another diagnosis to add to our already huge pile of medical issues. It felt like the end of the game – too much. I wanted to quit and lay down all my cards. Give up.

But I didn’t. I continued to play the game, and it suddenly dawned on me that having all the penalty heart points and the Queen of Spades meant one very rare thing. Something that I had never been able to accomplish before in all of my years of practice playing Hearts. I Shot the Moon and won the game!

Getting that Queen of spades seemed like the worst possible card to be dealt. Yet, she was the one thing that saved me. The added diagnosis of ADHD seemed cruel and unfair. Why me? Why couldn’t someone else get the Queen? How could I recover?

The only way out was to recognize that all things that happen in life are not black and white. There are good and bad things about every life situation. Yin and Yang.  Right and left. Upside down and right side up. Like the Queen of Spades. Take a look at her image. She’s full of contradictions. Regal, yet a bit sad and tired looking. Holding a powerful scepter in her right hand and a wilted flower in the other. A pale, unadorned face with intricate clothing in vibrant colors. Split into two halves by a solid black line. Flipped and reversed. The spade is actually a heart shape when it’s flipped upside down. She’s a woman full of intrigue. You don’t know whether to hold her in contempt or reverence. She’s complex.

I was searching for images of the Queen of spades. The best picture I could find was on Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I found this description underneath her photo on Wikipedia. The interpretation of the Queen of Spades is listed as follows: “The Queen of spades is considered to be a sign of intelligence. It is representative of judgment that is practical, logical, and intellectual. It represents a woman who is creative and makes her plans ahead of time.” Sound familiar? She sounds a lot like me. A version of me that I didn’t know existed until I was faced with adversity. I found my inner Queen through the diagnoses of my children. Have you found yours?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Iowa State University, and I am a certified K-6 teacher in the state of North Carolina. I spend a lot of my free time volunteering for organizations that are close to my heart. My boys are ages 8 and 10. My older son has ADHD and type 1 diabetes. I enjoy talking photographs, hiking and gardening. Those interests led to the start of my Etsy shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/Hickowreaths.

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academic achievement, anxiety, attention/focus, black and white thinking, celebrating gifts, diagnosis, our story, parenting, parenting ADHD, parenting/FAMILY ·

About the author

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Iowa State University, and I am a certified K-6 teacher in the state of North Carolina. I spend a lot of my free time volunteering for organizations that are close to my heart. My boys are ages 8 and 10. My older son has ADHD and type 1 diabetes. I enjoy talking photographs, hiking and gardening. Those interests led to the start of my Etsy shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/Hickowreaths.

12 Comments

  1. Dee (dmd) says:

    Welcome, Amy!  I love the description of the Queen of Spades!

    Reply
    • Amy Coffey says:

      Thank you, Dee! I hadn’t really taken the time to look at that card in detail before. I’m glad I did.

      Reply
  2. Linda Morris says:

    What a beautiful, well-written post. I’m still in the process of finding my inner queen of spades every day. Somedays it’s like I’m almost there, other times, not so much. It’s a struggle and I have to keep perspective that even if every day isn’t better than the last, in the big picture, things are improving overall. Best of luck to both of your boys and your entire family. (My ADHDer is named Connor too!) 

    Reply
    • Amy Coffey says:

      Thank you, Linda! Good luck to you and your Connor as you navigate the bumpy road of ADHD. I hope you find your Queen every day, even if it’s only for a few moments at a time.

      Reply
  3. Thanks for the post! The last couple of years, I’ve felt that I’ve been dealt a multitude of Queens of Spades. What’s funny is that my daughter’s diagnosis of ADHD actually helped us to manage her other issues. When I look back on her past 5 years (born @ 26 weeks @ 1 pound 4 oz, multiple surgeries, legally blind, multiple developemental issues) and then see how far she’s come, and we happen to get another “Queen of Spades”, I often am happy, becasue at least we are still in the game!

    Reply
    • Amy Coffey says:

      I’m glad that you could relate to my story, even if our paths have not been identical. It is challenging to have multiple diagnoses (or even one!). I’m so happy to hear that your daughter is doing so well after all those “penalty points” and that you have embraced those unexpected Queens. Lots of hugs!

      Reply
  4. lisanoel03 says:

    We have not dealt with other serious medical Dx but my middle son has speech delays and all three boys have vision issue (#3s are pretty severe) but I totally know. What you mean. Honestly the Dx of ADHD after very extensive eval was a huge relief as it meant it wasn’t MY FAULT. Four years later we still struggle daily with what expectations should be and mornings are soooo hard but my boys are sooo smart and have the absolute best hearts, I wouldn’t wish it away if I could. It makes them who they are. And quiet, I will have plenty of it in another 14+years

    Reply
    • Amy Coffey says:

      Lisa – I know how you feel about feeling blame. It’s one of the hardest things for me to deal with as a mom of kids with special needs. I know that I felt huge relief when my younger son was diagnosed with his delays. It didn’t feel like relief after the diagnoses kept piling on. It felt like too much – a cruel joke. It’s taken time to accept that I can’t change things that have already happened. I can only make the best of the cards I’m dealt. I hope there are no more Queen of Spades in that deck. If there are, we’ll adjust somehow. Probably with a bit of humor and the support of our friends and family. Lots of love to you.

      Reply
      • Michelle says:

        Amy my AJ was diagnosed with ADHD at 6 year of age–he is now 8 and the last three months have been extremely challenging due to his medications needing to be adjusted so that he could function in school.  For the past two months, my son, daughter and I were temporarily living with my half-sister.  I left on yesterday, due to a disagreement, however, I have been so happy to be out of an environment where my child was considered “different and strange.”  I am a registered nurse and I am well aware of the implications of ADHD, however, I never thought a relative could be so judgemental.  Anyway, my life, although hectic and chaotic, has been more meaningful, because my little boy with ADHD has taught me to never judge others!!

        Reply
        • Amy Coffey says:

          Michelle – I’m sorry that the past few months have been so difficult. We lived with my parents for 8 months while our home was on the market, and it was a real struggle. They thought that my husband and I were not being tough enough on the boys, but it was a time when they really needed extra attention and love because of the difficult transition. You know your child best – always trust in yourself!

          Reply
  5. Caroline says:

    I can remember purposely trying to Shoot the Moon, and instead just goofing up royally.  🙂  This last year has certainly felt like that for me. ADHD for both my girls, then PDD-NOS and Sensory Processing Disorder, along with low general memory and other learning disabilities, for my youngest on top of it. I can’t even begin to account for all of the cards at the moment.

    Reply
    • Amy Coffey says:

      Wow! That is a a lot for one family to deal with in a short amount of time. I can relate. You’ll get through this. It’s just a tiny blip on the overall timeline of your life. Best of luck to you and big hugs. 

      Reply

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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