On Vacation with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is more about self regulation than the name implies. It also normally coexists with other disorders, which makes it difficult to both diagnose and treat. This cocktail also makes parenting tricky and difficult for others to understand. Here’s how it looks in action.

It had been one year since his last vacation and the Boy couldn’t wait to go again to the beach. He loved seeing his family and riding the boardwalk rides. Soft serve ice cream. Pizza. Caramel popcorn. Late bedtimes. The …

“WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING??? WE NEED TO GO NOW!”

Meet ADHD. He goes everywhere with the Boy.

“Can you hold it down a little? It’s only 8 in the morning,” I said.

“Hold what down, my pants?? Okay!” ADHD said, while he started pulling down his pants.

“You know that isn’t what I mean! Knock it off!” I said.

“Knock knock…” ADHD said.  “Come on, you’re supposed to ask who’s there,” he said.

Sigh.  “Who’s there?”

“Itsa.”

Sigh.

“Itsa who?”

“IT’S A TIME TO GO TO THE BEACH!!!!!!” ADHD said. “Get it???! It’s time to go to the beach! Bomboleo, BOMBOLEA!!!”

A little breakfast and a few minutes later the Boy calmed down. He dressed and put on sunscreen. He even offered to help carry some beach stuff down. Walking happily and quickly, he talked about how great it is to finally be there. We found the perfect spot right near the waves in front of the crowd, hoisted the umbrellas, positioned the chairs and sat. The kids excitedly ran to the water. The Boy ran with them. Into the water they went, knee deep.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

“Oh my GOD what is that?!” the Boy yelled. “Something just touched my leg.”

“What did it feel like?” one of the kids asked.

“Smooth. It felt smooth,” the Boy said.

“I think it’s a shark,” Anxiety said, “Definitely a shark. A friend of mine’s brother’s cousin said he heard about a shark that came onto a beach once and attacked a bunch of kids.”

Meet Anxiety. Anxiety goes where ADHD goes.

“I heard about that too! You’re right!” the Boy said. “I’m getting out.”

The Boy ran back to the chairs and sat down. “I can’t go back in there,” he said. “I can’t see the bottom and there’s all kinds of stuff in there.”

I told him there’s nothing dangerous in knee-deep water. There’s nothing to worry about. Plus, look at all the people.

“Chances are if there were a shark interested in dining on a kid it would get someone else first, like that guy over there. He looks delicious,” I said.

Oops.

“But I’M DELICIOUS. What if I’m the person it gets?” Anxiety said. Sigh.

“You won’t be,” I said.

“But what if I am?” Anxiety asked.

“It’s not going to happen. Just try to relax and don’t think about these things. Focus on having fun,” I said.

“Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not my boss!” he raged.

Meet Oppositional Defiance Disorder. His friends call him ODD for short. ODD, Anxiety and ADHD go pretty much everywhere together – whether they want to or not. Generally things go like this:

ADHD pokes another kid with the eraser on his pencil. Kid says stop. ADHD does it again. Kid says stop. Again and again until kid tells teacher and teacher gets angry at ADHD. That’s when ODD steps in and says he didn’t do anything wrong. He was just joking. Teacher says the other kid didn’t think it was funny. ODD gets angry and pouts the rest of the day, refusing to do any work. Then Anxiety shows up later and says he doesn’t want to go to school anymore because no one likes him.

“Maybe you could try a game,” said Relative 1.

ODD gritted his teeth and looked at me, even more irritated.

“I think he just wants to do something else,” I said.

“We’re at the beach! What else would he want to do?” Relative 1 said. “He probably just wants to go watch TV. I don’t get it. This is a great place for kids!”

I suggested we just sit and watch the waves roll in together. So there we sat. Watching. Thinking. Thinking. Sitting. Watching.

“I’m bored,” ADHD said.

“I can’t take it anymore. It’s making me angry,” ODD said.

“You can go back to the house then,” I said. “You know the way. It’s right there.”

“But I can’t go alone,” Anxiety said. “Someone has to go with me.”

“Okay well no one else is ready to go back yet,” I said. “Tell you what. How about we just read?”

“But I could get sand in my book,” the Boy said.

Sigh.

“If you get a little sand in your book who cares? It won’t hurt it,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

Reading. Reading. Reading.

“It’s too loud,” ADHD said.

“What’s too loud?” I asked.

“The ocean,” he said.

Sigh.

To learn about ADHD, check out CHADD, which is a national organization that provides educational resources and advocacy for children and adults with ADHD. Here’s a blog I wrote for parenting.com that also has additional information. 

Are we there yet?

“Grampa, when you were in the Army were there women in the Army too?” my nine-year-old daughter asked my Dad.

We were at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Fourth of July event seated with two other women when she asked. We all smiled and looked at each other. One of the women said she liked where my daughter’s head was and that it was an important question to ask. Dad said yes there were women in the Army when he served.

That was the end of the conversation.

Embarrassed, my daughter stuffed the end of a hot dog in her mouth and left the whole thing hanging out while she stared at me and I stared back wondering what to say besides, “how about taking a bite of that and putting the rest down?”

I wish we’d spent more time talking but it was awkward at the time with two strangers. Who among us could recite the history of women in the military – more than superficially — anyway? (Had I known the subject would come up, I would have taken a crack at some PowerPoint slides with a timeline and pictures. Maybe I’ll still do that.)

The question was insightful coming from a nine-year-old girl. But why? I assumed she would have thought women always served in the military. At nine, she doesn’t know a whole bunch about the role of women in history. I’m really only learning now myself.

But from an early age I remember hearing I could do whatever I wanted. That’s what we told girls then and certainly do now. We’ve come a long way from the workplace of 20-or-30-years ago, I’m told by older work colleagues. I have no doubt we have.

So why would my daughter ask that question?  Is it because she’s exposed to messages that have been baked into our culture from books, TV, movies, her family or things she hears on the rough streets of suburbia?

I think I’m on to something here.

A few months ago, I thought we would elect our first president who would happen to be a woman. That’s where I thought we were. She was certainly more qualified than her competitor. Fast forward to now. Female senators were excluded from drafting major healthcare legislation that, as it happens, also excludes the word “women” anywhere in it. These examples go on and point to something I thought we’d left in the past.

We tell girls they can do anything but can they really? Maybe we aren’t there yet.

Oh never mind! What am I thinking? She was just asking a silly question because she’s inquisitive. I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ve arrived. I’ll shut up now and go back to what I was doing before these silly thoughts entered my head. You’re silly too for reading this far.