The cover of my life displays three beautiful boys and a wonderful husband. But if you lift the thick, protective jacket, you will see intertwined in our storyline complexity, uncertainty and burdens.
We love to share with others our best moments, fun adventures, amazing trips and huge accomplishments, but behind the cover of life’s book – attractively decorated with bookmarks of success and ribbons of bliss – is the narrative called reality. Everyone has a unique one. The cover does not adequately display our life; it’s only our showcase. The cover is only what we want others to see.
Certainly, reality has countless moments of sweetness, joy and satisfaction, but it’s not full of fun adventures and stress-releasing vacations, as we like to portray. Often, it’s habitual, challenging, sorrowful or even ugly.
Because this is real life, folks.
I always wanted a family. Always. I could’ve gone to college or an art school, but I chose to work instead. I wanted nothing holding me back when the time came to start a family. And I wanted to devote myself fulltime to raising my children.
I was around children all my life so I was not naïve when I became a mother, however nothing could prepare me for my own.
My oldest and middle sons are only fifteen months apart and my middle and youngest sons are only twenty-two months apart. Top to bottom there is only a three-year difference. You can easily conclude my days are quite busy.
But what isn’t visible on the beautiful cover of my life is the struggles of my middle child, which is affecting our whole family. The struggles of my husband and I as we try to figure him out and prepare him for the world, the helplessness as we watch him struggle through his difficulties – not fully understanding the way his body and mind works, and the confusion of my other two sons as they are continually mistreated by him, and as they watch as he gets more attention than they do.
Even from his first breath my four-year-old was fussy. Always restless. Never content. Never a good sleeper, sometimes awake for hours in the middle of the night. What the doctors and I thought was gastrointestinal issues, I’m wondering now if it was early symptoms of fidgeting and hyperactivity. Unless he had those fingers. We started him with a pacifier, but as soon as he could get his hands to his mouth and keep them there he was much calmer. His world was much less threatening when he had his two fingers. (Still is.)
Looking back, I see all the signs. I see his insecurities and struggles, even at mere weeks into this world. But back then, I had no clue.
Imagine waking up with a Ferrari engine inside you, but only bicycle brakes. Your mind doesn’t shut off, so when someone is speaking you have trouble hearing them. In fact, you have trouble even maintaining eye contact. Your body won’t stop moving, so when you’re required to sit still, it’s like a constant pee dance in your seat. Tripping and bumping into things, spilling drinks and making messes is normal. You are labeled clumsy, careless or sloppy. Your emotions are right under the surface, eager to face the world at a moment’s notice – and they do, often. You see no consequences so the risks you take are far bigger and dangerous than they should be. Life is insecure, so you cling to anything or anyone who brings you that security: a routine, a person, an item. And when that changes, your world falls apart.
There’s just something inside you that you cannot control.
I know what some of you are thinking, ADHD is a made-up word for kids who aren’t disciplined or perhaps a normal four-year-old boy. I know where you’re coming from. There are plenty of kids who are misdiagnosed. Either the medical staff needs to dig deeper into the child’s struggles or maybe the child looks out of control, but simply lacks parental discipline. While their explanations for the meds seem valid, the side effects should be strongly considered. Plenty of children are prescribed medications who don’t need it. Still the challenge remains for those who are correctly diagnosed with ADHD, medicated or not.
Until recently, we thought our son was just an extremely strong-willed child – nothing like our other two – but we’re beginning to see we have misunderstood him. My heart just breaks for him. Every day – every minute – is unpredictable.
If you step into my house, you will find a child who struggles to control himself. Bouncing off the furniture like a frog across lily pads, most often alluring his brothers to do the same. Soon my house becomes one huge trampoline. To have a conversation is difficult because his head follows his eyes as they dart from side to side. His body is in constant motion. Reading time consists of scolding him for having his feet in one of his brothers’ faces or watching as his wandering hands constantly seek something to touch or grab. He’s sitting, he’s laying, he’s standing, he’s sitting again. If you tickle or chase him – which he loves, expect it to rev up his system so high he struggles to come back down from it. To play a game you must memorize where each piece is on the board because if not, one minute into the game, the board will be kicked or bumped. If you scold or correct, expect a hysterical temper tantrum, one that could take fifteen to twenty minutes to calm down from. If you take a toy as the consequence of disobedience or misuse of it, he struggles to even earn it back. If you allow him to play from a music playlist, each song will be played exactly three seconds until it’s skipped. If you try to do an educational activity – something that requires a focused mind – he is unable to recall what you’ve asked of him.
But alongside these struggles are his amazing positives.
He is smart. If he can stay focused long enough, he excels at the game Memory. He catches on very quickly to things he enjoys doing. He loves hugs. He loves to be outdoors; I think he’d live outside if he could. He loves to swing. When in a calmer state, he is very sympathetic. He is so much fun, easily smiles and loves to laugh. He cares little of what other people think (something I wish I possessed more of).
I grew up with strict discipline – something I appreciate so much. It was black and white. If you disobey there are consequences. But with a child like this everything you ever knew and learned changes. Nothing you knew works. Disciplining in black and white is pointless. It becomes gray and I don’t know how to discipline in gray. Their reasoning and processing is completely different. It makes parenting even harder.
Because of the struggles my four-year-old faces, I have decided to send my oldest to kindergarten instead of homeschooling. Before I became a mother, I was determined to teach my children at home. In my mind, the benefits far outweighed the risks. But I have battled this for the past two years at least and after much prayer, tears and heartache I feel this is what God has for our family. I cannot provide the time and dedication my oldest needs to homeschool while constantly supervising and caring for my four-year-old (and two-year-old).
So, when you see the beautiful cover of my life – and there is amazing beauty in it, of which I am extremely grateful – there is challenge beyond comprehension.
Some days I feel as though I’ve been thrown into a stormy sea. It seems I’m drowning alone. I constantly cry out to and plead with God. It’s easy to compare my family with others. They homeschool their kids; why can’t I? What’s wrong with me? They have five boys, why am I struggling with only three?
In my mind I know we all have our struggles. But my heart cries of isolation. But it’s harder to see others’ struggles when we’re only provided the beautiful cover of their life. Not many share their reality.
So, this is me, sharing my reality.
For now, we will continue on with God’s wisdom and guidance. Trusting His will for our lives.
(No official diagnosis has been given. At this point these are still suspicions.)