Cultivating Isolation


For a while after her diagnosis, I was an old time television with a giant antenae. I was tuned in like some kind of manic, hyper vigilant alert system. I watched her. I watched everyone around her. And inside, part of my heart curled around itself, dying.

I saw the way kids looked at her. She was using words like adequate and necessary and acquaintance in 2nd grade. She spoke in a blizzard of sentences that they struggled to comprehend. But it wasn’t just her intense vocabulary. It was they way she would interject herself into a conversation, non-sequiturs flying, and then repeat what she had just said. It was that while they were discussing webkinz, she wanted to talk dinosaurs.

I saw they way the parents looked at her. This was much easier when she was younger. It’s very cute for a second grader to know about the Jurassic period and it’s delightful to be asked questions about the failure to adapt that may have contributed to extinction. As she grew, and her female peers teetered into adolescent pursuits (boys and lipstick) she marched on in her special way. Of course, she entered adolscence, but she had little interest in giggling about whatever it was they were giggling about. She had more important things to do than toss her hair over her shoulder and think about the right kind of shoes.

Ninety percent of me admires this gorgeous, thoughtful, smart young woman who couldn’t care less about societal norms. I wish I had half her self-knowledge when I was her age.

And then there’s the other ten percent. I cringe, sometimes still, when she enters a conversation with information apropos of nothing. I bite my tongue when she lectures her friends on the correct pronunciation of a word. And I have stopped answering the blank and obvious looks of other parents, whose eyes ask me “What’s her deal?”

I used to say, apologetically, “She’s ADHD.” I don’t say that anyore.

I stopped saying it because it’s none of their business and because they can either take my kid for who she is or walk away. And because it’s not an excuse or an explanation and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t say this anymore because that ten percent belongs to me, and not her. That’s my junk. I don’t want my kid thinking her extraordinary individually is because of what doctors term a disorder. She is extraordinary and unique because God don’t make no junk*.

Getting to that place took me years. Years of talking with my husband and praying and tears and carving out the stuff that I put on her. Expectations, and dreams and hopes and misunderstandings. Years of miles run on the river with my friend, who listened. It took me and all my people.

ADHD is the issue at our house, but maybe you have a kid on the Asperger’s spectrum, or a tomboy, or a son who likes pink. Maybe it’s not a diagnosis so much as something you may feel sensitive about as a parent. Or maybe it’s much more serious or obvious like a physical disability or a chronic illness that excludes her from participating in retain activities.

When a child doesn’t fit the standard, it can be as challenging for the parent as the child. In the days after I published my first piece on ADHD for Deeper Story, my inbox belched up note after private note. What I learned from those private messages is that we cultivate a level of protection for our kids that other parents may not find necessary. But what this does is isolate us, at the precise time when we need community most.

I’m not saying everyone has to shout from the roof tops about their kids and what’s going on at each house. I’m saying I can’t parent this kid alone. I need ideas and strategies and I need, most of all, I need like I need water and air, I need to not feel alone.

*from Spike White, at Kanakuk Kamps