A Lightbulb Moment
Difficulty following directions, distractibility, roundabout thought processes – all in one trip to the bathroom. For this mother, recognizing that her son had attention deficit came as suddenly as the flip of a switch.
I occasionally speak at conferences or to support groups about parenting kids with ADHD and other special needs. When I do, I always read aloud a particular essay, “A Lightbulb Moment.” I love the way the essay’s author, Cyn Kitchen, captures a moment in time with a child with ADHD, a child who is “wired differently,” with love and humor. I recently had the thought that it would be fun to share the essay with this blog’s readers also, and Cyn graciously granted me permission to do so. This story is going to sound very familiar to many of you! Enjoy!
A Lightbulb Moment
by Cyn Kitchen
Will, age six, had been playing outside and had come in for a bathroom break. He was in the bathroom, doing what little boys do in bathrooms: taking a leak, washing his hands (theoretically), getting distracted by the way he could fill the sink to the overflow, soaking the front of his shirt, taking off his soaked shirt, wadding it up and using it to wipe, er, move around the water now cascading down the front of the vanity, pooling on the floor.
He walked out of the bathroom, shirtless, fly gaping open.
“Your barn door’s open, and I didn’t hear you flush. You left the light on too,” I said.
He looked at me in a way that fooled me into thinking he was processing the information I’d just handed him, when in reality, in his reality, he was probably thinking about an imaginary army of Zobots taking over the world and his need to save it from certain destruction, and the spaceship he was building in the backyard out of two by fours and leftover PVC pipes.
Instead of going back into the bathroom, as per my suggestion, he wandered into the living room, sniffed back his runny nose and hiked up the jeans that were too big for his skinny waist.
“Hey, Kingfish,” I said. “I’m talking to you.”
“Huh?” He turned around.
“Go turn off the light and flush the toilet.”
“Oh.” He walked back toward the bathroom.
I don’t know what he did while he was in there, maybe turn around twice, rub his head and pat his stomach, but there was no flushing sound, and when he walked out again the light was still on.
“Hey,” I said. “I just told you to go into the bathroom, flush the toilet and turn off the light. Did you do any of that?”
He was looking at me as I spoke. I swore he was listening.
He returned to the bathroom, shut off the light and walked out making shooting sounds, his finger cocked like a gun, one eye squinting down an imaginary barrel.
“Bud. Stop.” This time I put my hands on his boney, little-boy shoulders. I made eye contact. I wasn’t angry, but I wanted him to get it, you know? “You turned off the light, but you still forgot to flush.”
He acted like it was the first time he’d heard me speak, but I was encouraged by the way his eyes ignited with understanding.
He went into the bathroom, turned the light back on and walked out.
“Okay, stop,” I said. “Listen to me.” By then I was in awe. This was basically a normal kid I had here: healthy, average birth mass, smooth delivery, potty-trained at two and a half, non-spectacular childhood save a few stitches here and there. I was beginning to see, though, that he was wired differently. His thought processes took the path of that little kid in the “Family Circus” cartoon. There wasn’t a straight line to anywhere. “Go into the bathroom, turn off the light, flush the toilet.”
“Okay,” he said, and ran into the bathroom, flushed the toilet and walked out. As soon as he saw me he stopped, thought for a beat, then ran back through the door and hit the light switch. Finally!
“Can I go back outside?” he asked, as I helped him put on a dry shirt.
“Do you have a lot on your mind today?”
“Huh?” he said.
“Never mind, get out of here.” He took off out the back door. “Zip your pants!” I yelled.
“I love you too!” he yelled back.
(This essay first appeared in Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories; DRT Press, 2012. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.)
About Cyn: Cyn Kitchen teaches creative writing and literature at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Cyn’s first book, a collection of short fiction called Ten Tongues was published by MotesBooks of Louisville, Kentucky in October 2010, and will soon be re-released in paperback. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in several anthologies. Cyn is currently at work on her first book of non-fiction, The Angry Chick’s Guide to Survival. More information about Cyn is available at: cynkitchen.com.
About Will: When Cyn walked into her very first parent-teacher conference with Will’s third grade teacher, he greeted her saying, “What the hell’s wrong with that kid of yours?” He was only half-joking. Now that kid is a Marine Corps veteran with one tour of duty in Iraq. He is in college studying the fine art of gunsmithing. His plans after college include everything from climbing Everest to becoming a professional outfitter to owning his own business.