It may have been 9 years since I stood along the sidelines at my son’s first flag football game, but I remember it vividly.
Standing with other moms, coffees in hand, trying to stay warm, I was hoping for that big play or some defining moment that clearly proves your son will be the next Tom Brady. Okay, not really, but hoping for that moment you can capture on camera and send to Grandma. Yet, that moment didn’t come. Instead of applause and high-fives, I could hear excessive wailing from the familiar voice of a 5-year-old, who had just been stung by a bumble bee. A bee sting hurts, but you would have thought my son’s arm had been separated from his body.
The reaction was extreme and it wasn’t going to dissipate any time soon.
We rushed to the car with the game still in play, left wondering why our son was on an emotional meltdown with zero sense of reasoning.
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Later that year, during the end of season youth basketball pizza party, it happened again. Parents were seated at various tables throughout the party room at our local pizza joint, as we checked on our kids to make sure they didn’t overdose on Sprite and breadsticks while we waited for the pizzas to arrive. Everything changed when one of the boys spotted the giant gumball machine in the corner. With quarters in hand, the kids lined up and waited for their turn. Our son was half-way back, patiently anticipating his chance to crank the machine and receive his sugary prize. As he dropped the quarter in, he turned the lever and watched his gumball fly out the metal flap and onto the floor. Another boy had raced to grab it off the floor and pop it in his mouth. (His mother was mortified, despite the 5-second rule.) My husband and I instantly heard screaming and knew it was our child. Our son didn’t understand, and couldn’t grasp his emotions to gather that we could try for a second gumball.
In his mind, rules were broken and he had waited patiently for nothing.
Again, we exited the party faster than Jimmy Johns delivers a sandwich and drove home. Seeing his friends faces said it all, and we weren’t about to leave him in a fishbowl on display as he melted down for all to see.
Then there was the time when we invited 6 boys over for a birthday party/sleepover (momentary lapse in sanity on my part), only to find my son sitting on the porch later that evening with his friends inside because he needed some quiet time where he could be alone. He had become overwhelmed and overstimulated from the constant noise you can expect from 6 extra boys. He couldn’t enjoy himself over worries that his favorite toys would be broken.
He looked at me and said, ‘I will never do this again. It’s too much.’ He was 9.
These were just a few of the sometimes daily, always-weekly reactions that I now know were signs of ADHD. Reactions that didn’t match the situation. Overstimulation leads to emotional overload. At the time, we didn’t know WHAT it was, other than to say our son gets overwhelmed, easily upset and quick to anger.
As a result, we played a giant game of bumper cars, dodging whatever obstacle was in our way. We also chose to socialize with other families who wouldn’t judge, because we didn’t quite understand it ourselves.
Everything changed over dinner one night years ago where we were joined at our home by another couple, dear friends who lived nearby. They shared the same values and also had two boys, yet their kids were extremely quiet and didn’t struggle with focus or emotions. I knew they cared about my children, yet I secretly worried that at any given moment, their opinion could change if they witnessed what we often observed behind closed doors.
Our son was home when the couple visited, and I found myself apologizing repeatedly, for my son’s interruptions, for talking non-stop and extra energy, and my friend’s reaction to my stress level was the best thing a friend has ever done for me. After I apologized for what was probably the 6th time, he said:
‘Hey, it’s okay. I know you’re doing the best you can. Try to enjoy yourself and know that we think you’re great parents and a good family.’
It was then that I realized I spent more time worrying about my son keeping it together than I did trying to learn who he is inside. My son is a great kid with a sentimental heart who has a soft spot for animals, a people-pleaser who wants his teachers approval, a kid who can build anything without instructions, who remembers every friend’s birthday without a calendar, and who will offer to help me cook dinner or carry in groceries.
In other words, whether you are starting out on this journey or have been navigating this road for some time, the message is the same…
Enjoy your child.
You will naturally figure out who understands and who doesn’t. And it’s okay if friends don’t. They don’t tuck your child in every night. They don’t see what you see. They don’t wipe away the tears or listen to your child say they wish they were normal. For us, our friends knew what to say at a time when we needed to hear it years ago.
For all of you reading this who are going through the same thing, I want to offer the same words of encouragement. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Some days you just need to remember that you’re a good parent…and…
‘I know you’re doing the best you can.’
Read HERE for the ADHD signs we missed along the way.