Up. Down. Up. Down. Down. Down. Up. Down. CompleteloopwhichwayisupdownupdowndowndownUP.
Life with that boy. Last we checked in on Clark, he had transformed his manatee-self into a 5’10” lean machine through playing on his 5A high school’s football team. Three-a-day workout exhaustion focused his scattered ADHD mind. Things looked good. Really good.
What a difference a few days make. Almost as soon as I tempted fate and the furies with my positive progress post, Clark imploded. When school started and exercised waned, his behaviors reverted to “startlingly bad,” almost as if he were not on medication at all. He wandered in circles. He waggled his left hand. He blurted, he interrupted, and he aggressively drove everyone in the family insane. Progress reports came in. We discovered failing grades in all five of his substantive classes. He announced he wanted to quit football.
Regroup time. Fast. We suspected an inadequate dosage of his medication played a part.
Clark objected to the meds increase. But he agreed the doctor would have the final say.
We made a meds appointment with his doctor. Could his five inches of height and forty-pounds gained in the last year have rendered his meds ineffective?
The doc said no. She opined that dosage did not bear a relation to weight or density. However, she agreed he needed more and increased his dose. She cautioned us against foods with dyes, especially pop tarts (uh oh, he’d recently been on a pop tart binge – how had I missed that piece of information?) and colored drinks. She advised protein in the morning, carbs and vitamins at night, and sleep. Lots and lots of sleep.
Good luck with that. As far as I could tell, Clark had not slept since he was a one year old. I’m serious. When Clark was nearly two and his little sister Susanne was born, well-meaning friends and loved ones told me to nap when Clark napped or I would get crazy-tired. Clark, unfortunately, had napped his last nap by then. Ugh. He sleeps less than any of his family members.
Next, we attacked the schoolwork. Again, Clark raised objections.
“You said you’d let me do it by myself this year,” he said.
“You will do it by yourself. But with accountability to us.”
He began daily reporting (again, shades of yesteryear). Slowly, the grades began to come up. The reasons for the F’s? Organizational issues, of course. A notebook left at a rival high school during a debate tournament. A book lost under a stack of mixed clean and dirty clothes that he had been told to put up. Etcetera.
The straw that broke our humped backs, however, was football.
Clark had insisted on playing football, despite almost zero football experience. Having just turned 15, his physician expects Clark to reach 6’1”. Size shouldn’t be an issue for him. Desire is. Clark doesn’t like to hit. Or to be teased about being physically behind the other kids.
Meanwhile, he had fallen in love with debate. In his mind, he should no longer waste all that time on football that he could spend on debate. We disagreed.
“You committed to the football team. You have to stick with it through the end of the semester. After that, your choice. Before then, you will not quit.”
But merely forbidding Clark could not stop him from engineering the situation for himself. On a game day, he found an excuse not to pick up his laundered uniform in time to board the bus. He told other kids he was quitting. He hid in the debate room. Hmmm, earlier in the summer he hid in the cafeteria rather than attend practice; he had overcome his fears before and rejoined the group. Would he this time?
We forewarned the coach of the situation. You would think the head coach would have better things to do than deal with our uncommitted son. The coach rocks though and told us to have Clark come talk to him. We sent Clark off to school the next day.
“Don’t come home without talking to the coach. Don’t just let this float to a foregone conclusion.”
The day went by. Clark didn’t go talk to the coach. Ugh.
Somewhere over that long weekend of second-guessing himself, though, something amazing happened, something that had never happened with Clark before. He became introspective.
“Mom, I really messed up.”
“Tell me more, Clark.”
“I don’t like football. I messed up, though. I shouldn’t have done that [skipped a game, not go talk to the coach]. It’s just that I never succeed at anything.”
Readers, I have never, ever heard Clark stay in a moment long enough to vocalize anything but a positive self-perception. While it hurt my heart to hear him sad now, I could do something with this moment. Clark was here with me, a new Clark, a Clark with an ability to see the past and future, not just the NOW.
(I would like to take a moment to thank his doctor for the higher dose of Concerta. Hallelujah!)
“Clark, remember yesterday when you came in 2nd place in the Novice Cross Examination category in the Debate tournament? You succeeded.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t win.”
“No, you didn’t. But you still improved and succeeded. Even though you succeeded, you didn’t debate a perfect round. And if you had not entered the novice division, how do you think you would have done against kids who had a lot of experience?”
“Not as good.”
“Right. That’s what’s happening in football. You are on teams with kids who have a lot more experience than you do. You don’t have to be the best to be a success. You don’t even have to be good. You just have to stick with it and improve, and you have succeeded. You already have succeeded.”
“But I messed it up.”
“Yes, you did. You didn’t listen, you weren’t honest in your actions, you violated our trust by acting against our instructions to go talk to the coach. You skipped a game with no excuse. Those things are not a success. But you can fix them. You can go back in to the coach and ask him for a second chance.”
“He won’t give it to me.”
“Grown-ups are not monsters, Clark. He might, he might not, but he won’t eat you. And to us, you will succeed just by going back in there and making it right. Even if you end up as the film guy for the team or the water boy, you can succeed by not quitting some role on the team.”
“My grades suck. No one ever does stuff with me.”
“You’ll pull them out. You always have before, and you’re back on track. I know it’s harder for you than your sisters, but you don’t fail, Clark, you just walk a longer path to success. And I am sorry about the other boys. But things are getting better there, too. You have met tons of people through football and debate. You have lots of new friends on Facebook. You went to Chik-Fila with a friend last week. You are getting there, son. Be honest, stick to it, and you will succeed in all of this.”
The next school day, Clark did it. He went to the coach. He talked to him face to face. He explained why he did what he did. The coach sent him out to practice and told him to come back in 24 hours and tell him what he – Clark – will commit to do with pride and passion. He gave him a second chance, and he put the ball in Clark’s hands. Whether he runs or punts, Clark succeeded in showing a step change in maturity.
I can’t fix things for my son. I can’t even tell when the challenges he faces relate to ADHD or his own unique personality. I can only pray. And hang on for the loops, ups, and downs. For this is our rollercoaster. This is life with ADHD. This is Clark.