Friday, January 29, 2010


The summer before my junior year of college, my parents went to Europe for two and a half weeks. Or was it 10 days? It might have been 7 weeks. That's what it feels like when, at the age of 20, you're responsible for your five younger siblings. Upon realizing that I was about to embark upon a semester abroad in London (also known as: best experience ever), my dad had decided he needed to take my mom abroad. My mom hadn't been outside the country before (a cruise doesn't count. nor does Tijuana, no matter how many clackers you bring home), and naturally she couldn't be expected to send her oldest to do something she hadn't. So off they went to Austria and England and I played mom. And they left a few days before my birthday. On that anniversary of my birth, my sister Laura handed me a present. Inside was a simple keychain of the letter S and Mickey Mouse. I burst into tears. (and this is where Laura rolls her eyes) The thing is - she had walked to a little gift shop and bought it. By herself. On my birthday. I'm actually tearing up about it AGAIN. The thought that my 11 year old sister would undertake that kind of errand, to go out and get something for me...well, I can't quite explain it.

BUT, for the past 13 years, I have kept that keychain on my ring as a reminder of what seemingly small things can mean to other people. It was significant to me both for it being my birthday, and as an encouragement that I could DO THIS (the responsible-for-5-children part). Over the years the keyring has gotten beaten up and people have asked me about it and Joel (who hates anything except KEYS on a key ring) has made fun of me for it. But it stands for so much more than the letter S.

I've been thinking about small gifts a lot, lately. In particular, the gift of friendship. Or, rather, the gifts you get from meaningful friendships. I have great friends. Wonderful friends. If I made a list of my friends and why they are an outstanding group of women and you made a list of your friends and why you like them, my list could totally beat your list up (except that you are probably one of my friends, so instead we'd all go to the White Chocolate Grill and eat their bread pudding and talk and laugh past closing and I'd say inappropriate things and you'd pretend to be offended and then we'd eat some more). I have become acutely aware, in the past year, of why certain people are my friends. Not just because I liked your skirt and you liked my shoes and our kids are the same age. Maybe not immediately, but after a few months we've suddenly discovered a hardship or trial or issue that we have bonded over and suddenly that friendship takes on depths of understanding and camaraderie that I don't get with the checkout lady at Target, no matter how many times she asks me how I'm doing.

Some friendships I've had for months, and some for years. I have had one group of friends for over seven years. Ok, I'll say it, we met online. That doesn't carry near the shock value it did seven years ago. Back then it was all, "How do you know it's not some creepy old dude?" Because I'm pretty sure that some creepy old dude isn't going to spend hours on topics like "is my baby pooping enough?" and "why does my baby throw up yellow?" and "what do you think about cloth diapering?" And, since then, we've all met each other, so it's totally legit. Even better, this group of about 30 women comes from just about the most diverse background you'll ever see. We've got doctors and lawyers and therapists and computer smarties and brilliant writers and artistic elites and me. With them, we've weathered just about every joy, tragedy, disease, condition, event, etc. They provide insight and support in volumes. They are a gift. Earlier this week, I took a particularly troubling discovery to them and received feedback that brought me to tears. Humbling tears. Grateful tears. Let me back up.

This week was teacher conferences. I adore Ainsleigh's teacher. I think she is incredibly aware of her students. Ainsleigh loves her. I totally trust her. Back in the fall, she had expressed some concern about Ainsleigh's lack of focus, her propensity for daydreaming. We had outlined some strategies going forward and I was hoping that things were better. They aren't. As she very lovingly outlined some of her concerns, I felt myself getting sad. As she said, "Have you noticed Ainsleigh having difficulty finishing routine tasks at home?" I broke down as I told her how every morning is a struggle. Every morning Donovan makes his bed and gets dressed and every morning I have to plead with Ainsleigh to do it. Several times. To the point that I have to stand in her room and say, "Make your bed. Don't give me an excuse, just do it. Okay now get dressed. Close your drawers. Okay now let's go brush your hair."

After a while, Ainsleigh's teacher (who had reassured me that Ainsleigh was a WONDERFUL girl, and if she had a hundred of her, her life would be much easier) told me that there is a subset of ADHD known as Inattentive. Formerly called ADD-Inattentive (now everything is under the ADHD umbrella), it is often overlooked or underdiagnosed because these children are not climbing the walls or demanding attention. She said she obviously couldn't diagnose her, but with her 20 years of teaching experience, she recognized that something was a little off. I have since called the pediatrician and the teacher and I have filled out evaluation forms as a first step in discovering how to best help Ainsleigh.

To say I was devastated is a bit of an understatement. The feelings you get, as a parent, that you have somehow failed your child (no matter how irrational that thought might be), is debilitating. I know, deep down, that it is not my fault. I am also telling myself that now we can move forward, so this is a good thing. But still, mother guilt is an invisible punch in the stomach that your child might have struggles or hardships or be sad or think they are less than the great person you know they are.

As I have read about this, I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter whether or not she is officially diagnosed with ADHD (though that would enable the district to provide us extra help). The fact is Ainsleigh is right brained. Significantly. And I need to be better at providing an environment that enables her to succeed in a left-brained world, but also nourishing her at the same time. One of the things I read is that it is almost unfair to diagnose them as "Inattentive" because, in reality, they are very attentive to things that interest them. ADHD kids often see things others don't. This was evident yesterday as I drove the kids to school on an overcast frigid morning. You could barely see past the neighborhood, let alone the Rocky Mountains or the valley that is usually visible. Ainsleigh started laughing in the back seat, "It's like someone forgot the background." I asked what she meant. She pointed outside, "It looks like someone was painting but ran out of time and there isn't a background. That's hilarious!" My mind raced to all the times she has picked up on details that seemed unremarkable to me. She makes me see things in a different light, to put emphasis on things I wouldn't have given a second thought.

As I recounted my sadness and perceived failure to this group of women (many of whom have been through similar, if not exact, circumstances), one woman shared something with me that I can't stop thinking about. She had been to lectures on ADHD:
... one of the doctors who spoke described talking to a doctor from rural tribal Africa. The doctor (not the one from Africa) has Tourette's and is very interested in Tourette's around the world. He said, "In the tribes, do you have Tourette's?" The answer was yes, and he was told the tribal name for it. He asked on, about OCD. Yes, they had that too, and it had a name. The African doctor also recognized the description of ADHD, and said, "Hadn't you noticed that these things always come with great gifts, of intelligence, or spirituality, or art? Among us, these diseases are called the Diseases of the Gods, because they are a sign of a great gift. We don't think of them as a terrible thing."

I told [her daughter] that story, when she asked why she has ADHD, and why she has to have it. If you do decide, after much evaluation and thought, that Ainsleigh has it as well, the Diseases of the Gods are a useful and important lens to view it through, at times. Great challenges. Great gifts.

I feel humbled to view Ainsleigh like this. She is a gift to me. I love her so much, that it physically hurts, especially when I just want her to be happy. I feel humbled, knowing that I have a group of friends (both in real life and online) who strengthen me and support me. I feel humbled to consider how small gifts of friendship, of a teacher's experience, of having countless resources available, can give me the strength and motivation to make it through. I know this is just the beginning. My library hold list is growing (and, if you know of any excellent books on helping a child focus, please share). In the meantime, I look at that Mickey Mouse keychain and know that what I do now will seem small (and, at times, probably frustrating) to Ainsleigh, but in time she will come to know that I am willing to walk a million miles to give her what she needs.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about Ainsleigh. I'm pretty sure I have that fact my typing here proves it as I should be working but I can't focus all day on it. Further proof is that I didn't even read every word in this post b/c I can't focus for that long (i need pictures!). But I turned out okay...hmm... maybe start worrying. ;)


Nataluscious said...

First off, Ainsleigh is one of the most fabulous kids I've ever met. And I've met a lot. I LOVE LOVE LOVE what your friend said - what that African doctor said. I think it was you one time that gave me this analogy for something (no remembrance of what it was about, but I've used it a TON throughout my life): there are always paths/choices/directions we can take in life. And each one of those paths/choices/directions comes with its own special gift (I always envision this beautifully wrapped present at the front of the path) and inside are trials, tribulations, challenges, opportunities and happinesses. Each unique box has a mix of all of those things, and we can't regret one path over another because we can't foresee what is inside each box. But there are good things and hard things in everything, and the best thing we can do is take what is given in that box and make the most of it.

So that's a big paraphrase of it, but since it was your wise words years ago I thought I'd throw them back at you. ha. I think I can say I know you well enough to say that I would feel EXACTLY the way I am pretty sure you have felt, because I think we are similar about stuff like this. And I personally am a left-brained, by-the-book, perfectionist kind of a person and it scares me to no end to think that my kids won't be exactly the same way. But it is true that there are so many different paths to get to the same end result - and Ainsleigh will experience so many gifts that us left-brained tightA type-As will miss out on. And I have a feeling, as has been the case for so many years, that I will learn much from your progression through this about how to relate to my own children (K1 in particular who is so different from me in this aspect).

And while I assume you aren't asking to be the poster-parent for guiding your child through this kind of thing, I just wanted you to know that I do learn a lot from you and always respect your approach to anything that comes up - research, study, learning, growth, acceptance and triumph. :)

And I just have to say again - I really do love Ainsleigh, and that's not just cliche. She is such a fun child - so sweet and so interesting and SO SO smart. She is a beautiful, perfect mix of you and Joel.

Katie Ross said...

I love what the African dr said and will have to remember that.

I love that book- Make it Fast, Cook It Slow from the 365 days website. I have that book and use it about 2x/week.

You have done what may seem like small things to you but ones I will remember for a lifetime. Every time I cook any of the recieps (minestrone soup, lasagna, etc) on the paper you brought to LV I remember the sacrifice you made to come here and offer so much comfort to me after we lost Rachel. I probably would've fallen completely apart w/o those 3 days you were here to life my spirits. Okay, now I'm totally crying. You cooked, cleaned, grocery shopped, listened, laughed, cried. I look up to you and admire you and always ahve. I love you and am so grateful we are cousins!

Anne said...

wow, sarah. i think ainsleigh is blessed to have a mom such as you. you guys will navigate this together, each learning from the other. love you.

laura said...

I thought I commented on this already, but apparently not.

First, let me say that I totally teared up reading the first part, so... touche. As for Ainsleigh, we've had countless examples of how deeply perceptive, intelligent, and creative she is, so it's clear that she does have many wonderful gifts. With that in mind and with such wonderful parents, I think she's up for this particular challenge.

Margo said...

Sarah, you amaze me. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt fears and thoughts. It amazes me how the Lord knows what we need and who we can best help in our lives. I still look back on the wonderful lessons I have learned from our friendship in the past years. You and Ansleigh are an incredible team and you are both so blessed to have each other. I adore you and appreciate what you can teach us all. love ya...