That Boy. We just asked him to mow the grass. A simple task. A task he performed (sort of) regularly. Where did it all go wrong?
My teenage Clark navigates life with a faulty GPS. ADHD blocks many of the signals you and I take for granted. One of the hallmarks of an ADHD child is their inability to process a time frame other than the present; they operate on either “now” or “HUH?” This present-focus renders normal choice-consequences logic meaningless for the young ADHD child, and it improves only slightly as he matures. Medication helps. Support helps. But Clark and other ADHD kids find it hard to process why lying now to avoid present unpleasant circumstances will matter later — later is later. That doesn’t mean they don’t know the difference between the truth and a lie, that lying is bad, and that getting in trouble is unpleasant. They just automatically go with “lie now and defer punishment.”
So how do you tell an ADHD lie from a deliberate, manipulative falsehood with the maturing ADHD kid? It’s pretty dang hard, let me tell you. Consider our lawnmower incident, for example.
It was a Saturday — chores day for the weekend. Clark’s assignment: mow the grass in the front and back yards. Clark had been mowing the grass for years. Well, we’d been trying to get Clark to mow the grass for years, anyway. He always had an excuse. The mower wouldn’t start, it was out of gas, the bag was full, he needed a snack/drink/to go to the bathroom, there were mosquitoes, yadda yadda. He could wear a Mommy down, even a tough lawyer Mommy, but we still made him go through the roughly 3.5-hour process each week of the mowing season.
Lately, mowing had been less painful. Not painless, mind you, but less painful. Mowing had been accomplished in closer to forty-five minutes on average for a task that should take 20 minutes. A 75%+ reduction in time. We could live with that.
So, it was Saturday, and we asked Clark to mow. Fifteen minutes passed with Clark outside and no roar of the lawnmower. Then we heard the door slam and the familiar slap of Clark’s flat-footed duck steps as he came to discuss the mowing.
Deep breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth. I felt the tension gripping my chest wall, and I let it go. This time could be different.
“Yes, Clark,” I said, careful to continue my breathing and not let the irritation show…yet.
“Um, I can’t get the mower to start.”
“AGAIN?” I wanted to say , loudly, sarcastically. I didn’t.
“OK, son. But are you sure you put gas in it?”
“Alright, let me try. But if I can start it, you won’t get paid your allowance, and we’ll add another chore.”
This was a method we had been using to great success in the last year. Since his little sister could start the mower, we knew he could, and we felt no guilt about adding a few consequences to his helplessness act.
“I know, Mom, but it really won’t.”
And it wouldn’t. So we called for reinforcements. My husband Eric couldn’t start it either. He checked the fuel. He flipped it over and wiggled and jiggled a few parts. He went in the shed and came out with some wire. He did unfathomable things to the lawnmower, from my perspective.
“Try it again, Clark. It should work now.”
Clark gave the mower a few manatee-like pulls. It was obvious his heart was not in this task. To his horror though, the mower started. Eric gave him a military salute, and Clark shuffled off to mow the yard with the speed and general demeanor of a pall bearer.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“It was missing a little spring; I just put a wire in its place temporarily. I’ll have to run to Home Depot and get a replacement spring for a permanent fix.”
Thank goodness God pairs women like me with mechanical men like Eric.
The next morning I decided to gather up laundry for Sunday washing. Normally, I holler up the stairs at Clark, Suz and Liz to bring their laundry down. This results in mini personal laundry fire drills all week long, because none of them take the Sunday instruction seriously enough and thus they end up with no clean clothes. I was feeling magnanimous, so I trudged up the stairs and braved the “frat house” environment of our second floor, affectionately dubbed “the dormitory” at our house. I honestly only go up there every couple of weeks. I just can’t take too much exposure to the chaos.
I waded over piles of clothes on the hallway, bathroom, and bedroom floors with mounting agitation. How did they ever find anything up there? How was I supposed to figure out was clean and what was dirty? Oh, so that’s where my nail polish had run off to. And this array of dirty glasses accounted for the empty cabinets downstairs.
Sigh. We had long ago decided to “pick our battles,” and found through trial and error that rebellion diminished if the kids were allowed to trash their own space. They participated in a tidy downstairs and cleaned their own spaces bi-weekly. It usually seemed a small price to pay, as long as I stayed on the first floor.
Well, I at least knew the clothes Clark mowed in were dirty. I picked his shorts up off his bathroom floor, and, as I did, something fell out of his pocket and made a tiny “plink” sound on the tile.
I picked it up.
A LAWNMOWER SPRING.
Oh my God! My son had sabotaged the lawnmower to get out of mowing!!!!!
As I stared at the spring in my hand, an unstoppable desire to laugh came over me. I’m a mother post-40, and I laughed until I was afraid I needed to change my drawers, if you know what I mean.
Eric heard my insane cackling and ran up the stairs. He found me sitting on the bathroom floor, head leaned back against the door, tears coursing down my cheeks.
“You scared me! Are you laughing or crying?” he asked.
“Both,” I said.
I held the spring up for him to see.
Eric’s laugh was appreciative. “He’s getting smarter. Very clever. But not smart enough to throw it away, and now we’re on to him. Sabotage. Oh my gosh.”
He sat down beside me and took my hand.
“Absolutely. Pure teenage boy lie. The medicine is working. He’s becoming more mature.”
“There has to be a serious consequence. We’re going to have to ground him,” Eric said.
“I know. No more screens until summer. But let’s put if off a few more minutes. I don’t feel like being a big meanie yet. I’m enjoying this, in a sick and distorted way.”
Five minutes later we called Clark in.
I held up the spring.
Clark was 5’9″ tall. He has beautiful, innocent, big brown eyes; he makes wonderful eye contact and looks so sincere, usually. This time he looked at the spring like Bambi staring at the fire in the woods.
Danger, run, Bambi, run.
“I love you, but I’m going to have to kill you now,” I said.
“Uh, Mom, uh…”
“Clark, if you were smart enough to sabotage the lawnmower, how in the world could you leave the spring in your pocket? Didn’t you know I’d find it when I did laundry?”
“I never thought you’d go up to my room and get my clothes.”
“So, I’m, uh, I’m sorry?”
“I hope so. You know the drill. Choice/consequence. Bring me your laptop. And choose better next time, son.”
I pondered our crazy household. One child grounded for skipping homeroom (32 times) and another grounded for lawnmower sabotage. We have a 3/5 rule. At any given time, only three of our five kids will be happy and issue-less, max. As soon as one of them gets straightened out, another will dip into crisis, leaving us with the conundrum of “how do you root for one to rally at the expense of another one cratering???” Thomas, Marie and Liz were all doing great — my husband Eric’s kids...uh oh, I saw a common denominator here.
I inhaled the scent of the freshly mowed grass.
“Honey, is it me?” I asked my husband, who was sitting across the table from Clark, catty-corner from me.
Eric smiled at me, his face earnest and supportive. “No more than it’s me when both of yours are doing great and all three of mine implode. He’ll have a wonderful assistant some day and everything will be just fine.”
“I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” Clark broke in.
Eric turned to me and shook his head. “I take it back. It appears it’s you after all.”
p.s. Clark, who approved the content of this and all blogs about him, wants to go on record as pointing out that his mother is a fiction writer, not a historian. In rebuttal, I offer this: “If you don’t like it, write your own blog, kid, and stop sabotaging lawnmowers!”
p.p.s. Clark mowed the grass all summer without being paid his normal allowance as a result of the sabotage.