On New Year’s Eve, I sat cross-legged on my bed, staring at a blinking cursor and a blank screen. This is a kind of torture particular to writers, and I know it well.
Grace ambled in with a book after lunch. It was a book we’d given her for Christmas, Infomaniac: Become an Expert in an Hour! With more than 4500 facts in brightly-bordered paragraphs, Grace loves to jump from page to page and fact to fact. Ask her to finish a chapter book without illustrations though, and you may as well ask a monkey to make an omelet.
She crawled under the covers fully clothed, and opened her book.
“Grace,” I sighed, “Mommy is stuck. I’m not sure what to write about today. Do you have any ideas?”
Grace always has ideas.
So she began in on her brothers. If you ask Grace, her brothers get all the attention, what with their autism, OCD, ADHD, and DMDD hogging the limelight. There’s never enough time for Grace to explain the many ways in which her brothers torture her.
“Sometimes, Noah gets frustrated, but sometimes he lets me love on him and play with him. Mostly, he’s stuck in his special corner playing with his electronics, but when he’s out, he’ll sometimes play with me. Jesse doesn’t like to do a lot with me, either. Sometimes when I bribe him, he will.” (Atta girl, Grace. Start the swindling young.) “But mostly, not.”
“Well honey, what DO you think they like to do?”
“They love to play football with each other, but don’t like spending a lot of time as a family. I think that’s because they are happier by themselves. And if they hang out with anybody, it’s usually each other, because they have the same interests. Also, Jesse has a tendency to start things and not finish them.”
It was all accurate. And it sounded very mature, though this is the way Grace has always talked. She is sharp witted, and comfortable with adults, and her sarcasm is as strong as her temper.
I saw an opening for something Grace and I hadn’t yet discussed.
Rigorous testing on Grace at Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Division of Neuropsychology had revealed a few things, but in the chaos of the holidays, I’d said nothing to Grace about her report. I looked over at the envelope on my desk that held her report, and then back at Grace.
“Do you know why that is? Why Jesse starts things, and doesn’t finish them, I mean?”
“He has other interests?”
“Well…Yes, and no. It’s also because he has ADHD. That stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. And what it looks like is being easily frustrated and having a hard time finishing things. It looks like having a short temper and not thinking before you act,” I explained.
Grace sat up. “Yes! Jesse gets easily annoyed, and likes to annoy others. He also likes to do things his own way. Like, if someone tells him to do something, he’ll mostly end up fighting with them.” I stifled a laugh. Jesse is not the only one who does this.
“You got it. But do you know who else has ADHD—besides Noah and Jesse?”
Grace shook her head and waited for me to answer. But I paused, hoping she would match ADHD’s symptoms with her own behavior. I wanted the conclusion to be hers.
“Me?” I nodded. “Really?” At which point she got kind of shrill and shrieky, but also grinned. I asked her how knowing she had ADHD made her feel.
“It makes me feel different—because I thought I only had problems with my eyes. I kind of liked just having amblyopia” (lazy eye).
“Before I knew about this, I thought I was a normal kid!”
I touched her cheek. “Honey, you ARE a normal kid. You are perfect the way God made you. Genetics—the way we are wired because of our chromosomes—well, they’re tricky. If someone in your family has a certain diagnosis like autism, or ADHD another person in the family is more likely to get it. Your brothers have ADHD, and it was pretty likely you would, too. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” she answered. “It certainly explains why I get mad at Noah and Jesse REAL fast. I’m not that hyper—like when Noah drinks a Shirley Temple. I mean, I wouldn’t do something ridiculous like get up to go to the bathroom in a restaurant and come back wearing a sombrero like Noah” (true story).
I petted her head.
“We’ll work together to make sure that front part of your brain that controls your impulses is working the best it can, ok?”
Tired from the previous night’s sleepover, Grace leaned back into the pillow and closed her eyes.
I looked at her wrist, where a Lokai bracelet clung. The bracelet carried within it water from Mt. Everest (the earth’s highest point), and mud from the Dead Sea (the earth’s lowest point). Crafted to represent balance, I realized how apropos the tiny rubber circle was for our family’s complicated life. In it, I saw the highs of success, the lows of each new diagnosis, and all the in-betweens where the level ground made it easier for us to see God beside us on our journey.
“Hey, how about your mama getting you that Lokai bracelet you wanted for Christmas?”
“How about your daughter getting you started on your blog?”
I contemplated telling her that the doctors had also seen “sub-clinical” manifestations of autism, but decided against it. The balance didn’t seem right.
“Thanks for the bracelets, Mom.”
“Thanks for getting me started on my blog, Grace.”
I set the computer on my lap and started to type.
“I know if I had another mother, she wouldn’t be as great as you.”
And that is how we started the New Year with the balance decidedly in our favor.