Monday, February 11, 2008

My other mini-me

A number of you have been very kind and complimentary about how Pete and I parent Graceful and Elegant -- two children who have totally different issues and needs. Specifically, how we have supported Elegant's ADHD -- the mini trampoline, for example -- has generated a number of comments from y'all, including from Little Miss Sunshine State , one of my newest bloggy friends, who sent me a couple of absolutely wonderful, terrific, and affirming emails on Saturday that really made my day.

Here's the thing: While Graceful is clearly my mini-me in terms of personality, Elegant is too, just in very different and much less obvious ways. I mean, where do y'all think Elegant gets her ADHD from? Me, that's who.

Pete -- who has known me for two full decades and lived with me nearly all that time -- has been saying for years that he thinks I have undiagnosed ADHD. The joke around here is that I took an online test but never finished it. But it's true.

While my fellow mothers on the school playground may comment on how together I am and how I've organized my house, my schedule, and my life to almost scary levels, the fact is that this level of Martha Stewart-ness is the result of years and years of trial and error. I've had to force myself to become organized and to learn how to channel my inner Martha. Believe me, it didn't come naturally and I have to stay on top of things every single day or else it all falls apart.

In college, I nearly flunked out my first year because I couldn't get my shit together. I had more free time than ever yet my grades were abysmal. Finally, facing academic probation, I got organized. I bought a calendar and carefully scheduled my classes, jobs, and study times. I tracked my homework and papers. One I started organizing myself, I made Dean's List every semester until I graduated. And, I worked three jobs my last year of school while maintaining those grades, thank you very much.

It has taken Pete and me years to hone and refine our particular types organizational methods, including how our desk is organized, how we file papers, and even where we keep supplies. You should see our family calendar, which is fully loaded, with dates already penned in well into the summer. Woe unto Pete if he doesn't write things on the calendar the way I like it done. He WILL hear about it from me. And beyond the family calendar, I have two others -- one for work and one that I keep in my purse. That's three calendars, people.

This need for organization continues even now. You should see my house. The pantry is sorted and I expect everyone in Jenworld to put things where they belong. The fridge is also organized and I'll be damned if I'll allow the yogurt to be on the wrong shelf. I like to have my pots and pans stacked in a certain way and it drives me bat shit crazy if my family doesn't keep the Tupperware cabinet sorted the way I like it.

If my work desk isn't organized, I cannot focus on my job. I just can't. If I have too many projects going on at work or in my life, I get overwhelmed and would shut down completely if I didn't force myself to deal with the situation one step at a time until I have a handle on things. If my house isn't tidy and clean, I get really upset -- ask any of the other three residents of Jenworld -- and storm through the house with the fury of a hurricane until things are to my satisfaction. Because if there's chaos in my house, then there's chaos in my brain and I feel completely out of sorts. It took me years to figure that out and slightly longer for Pete to understand where I was coming from.

And how about my attention span? I think you can guess. Yes, I can hyper-focus on a good book that's 1,200 pages long, but I can also have trouble getting through a 500 word newspaper article. That's pretty normal for folks with ADHD. Conversations that do not interest me are a real struggle. To get through lengthy phone conferences for work, I usually play computer games to help me focus. I bring knitting to PTO meetings. By focusing on an unrelated mindless task, I focus better. I don't know why it works, only that it does.

The hyperactivity part of ADHD? I was so hyper as a kid that my kindergarten teacher hated me -- and I'm not imagining that. She gave off a very distinct not-patient-with-Jennifer's-behavior vibe. I seriously can't believe one of my teachers didn't suggest that I be put on Ritalin, except that it was the 1970s and usually boys were the ones on meds back then. Even now, I occasionally have bursts of energy that I almost can't control.

So when I talk about how we work with Elegant to make sure her needs are met, it's because I understand. I know how her brain works and what she needs. I know that she needs to be organized, even if she doesn't like it when I remind her to hang up her coat, put away her shoes, and empty her backpack. I know that she needs lots of exercise to burn through her energy. I know that she needs a largely organic diet with lots of protein early in the day (for dopamine production -- helps her focus) and that processed foods with lots of additives are no good for her. (Then again, who are they good for?)

So my child, my wonderful terrific amazing fey child, is a creature I understand. I get her. Well, most of the time. She is Elegant, after all.


Traci Anne said...

I. Heart.

That's all. I heart you, I heart your sweet family, I heart your blog, etc. etc. etc. etc!

Lisa @ Take90West said...

I see myself in my kids too a lot of time.
It is awesome that you 'get' Elegant.
And I envy your levels of organization. I am still in the "can't get my shit together" stage.

Little Miss Sunshine State said...

Hey, Thanks for the Shout-Out.
I didn't know what the heck was wrong with me until my son was diagnosed. I cried on the way home from his evaluation at Children's Hospital in Boston, to finally realize that I wasn't a freak OR a rotten mother.
To have 5 doctors tell me that I was doing everything right was such a relief.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure how I found your blog. I have forwarded on to so many, I lost track. What got me is that I have an 8 year old son diagnosed with ADHD. His main problem is impulse control. As I read your posts I see many similarities between your daughter and my son. A couple of years ago my wife and I made the decision to medicate him because his impulse control was non-existant. Even with the medication, he is still beyond a handfull and still very creative. What interests me are some of the techniques you are using with your daughter. Mini-trampoline etc. I would love to know how you came up with them and what others you are using.

Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

Anonymous: Email me offline and we'll talk. jenontheedge (at) embarqmail (dot) com.