My ADHD daughter wants to get away from all the social pressure and craziness of middle school and study at home until she starts high school.
by Frank South
My 14 year-old daughter brought her report card home last night, and it’s fine – one A, the rest Bs, and two Cs. If I’d had a report card like that at her age I would have strutted home with banners flying in front of a brass band. But Coco’s not proud at all. She’s miserable. She buries her head in a pillow crying hard, then hugs it to her chest, doing her best to hold her tears and sobs under control.
Coco is embarrassed by the raging sorrow breaking out all over in front of people, especially her parents. Especially me, because she says I get too "emotional". Tonight she’s invited me into this intense mother-daughter talk. Coco’s cross-legged on our bed next to her mom with me planted at the foot under strict instructions not to interrupt, or get all gooey, hug her and tell her how brilliant and talented she is.
All she wants me to do is to listen to her. My wife, the only non-ADHD in the family, already knows how to listen so she gets a pass on the instructions.
As Coco starts telling us what’s going on, I’m not even tempted to interrupt or get gooey, because I discover, as I have repeatedly in the last year or so, that my daughter’s not a kid anymore. I’m listening to a smart, perceptive young woman with a clear idea of what’s making her so deeply unhappy. And what she wants - more than us trying to jump in and make it all better - is for her mom and dad to sit here, be patient, and hear her out completely.
No matter what we say, she knows her grades should be better. “I’m trying hard, and then just as I start to get it, somebody says something, or something happens in the classroom, and everything gets nuts and then I forget what the teacher was saying and I have to start all over but then it’s too late. A lot of the other kids in Special Ed… mostly the boys… just don’t care about learning anything – they swear all the time, talk sex junk, call their moms bitches. The teacher can’t really control them. I can’t take it anymore.”
It turns out that today one of the boys in study hall kept taunting and goading her and she hauled off and punched him in the arm. She accepts that she was wrong. She understands that you can’t hit people no matter how aggravating they are – a lesson I finally got through my own thick skull sometime in my twenties. But the fact remains that she’s desperately unhappy and frustrated in school, and she’s come up with a solution.
“I want to be home-schooled for the rest of the semester,” she says.
Now, her middle school has a bunch of dedicated teachers in Special Ed, and our meetings with her teachers about starting to slowly mainstream Coco have been great. But, she wants to be able to get away from all the social pressure and craziness at school and study at home until she starts high school when we move to Georgia.
I remember Middle School being a nightmare when I was in eighth grade, but I don’t remember thinking as clearly about solutions. I just brooded in my room working out revenge scenarios where I was the wise-cracking TV gambler Maverick and the other kids were dimwit losers.
Coco looks at us from behind her hugged pillow, waiting to hear our response. She doesn’t look too hopeful. I can imagine what she’d think we’d say to her idea – something along the line of, “Are you out of your mind, sweetheart?”
But Margaret and I look at each other for a second, and then turn back to Coco and say, “Okay.”
“Yep, we’ll call the school tomorrow.”
Coco smiles. “Thanks,” she says. Then she looks down at the pillow in her arms, “I guess I better wash this. It’s soaked.”
Margaret and I scoot together and hold hands, watching Coco as she walks out of our bedroom. Crosby, Stills, and Nash had it wrong, I think. It’s not “Teach your children well.” It’s “Shut up and listen.”