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Adventures in Babysitting, ADHD-Style

“Dear babysitter—I have a short list of do’s and don’ts for you.”

Welcome to our home, and thanks for agreeing to watch our three boys (Blaise, seven; August, five; Simon, three). Before we go any further in this relationship, you have to understand something: Most of us have ADHD. By “most of us,” I mean “everyone but the baby.” That’s only because we’re not sure about him yet, but the genetics odds are strong with this one.

You probably noticed our carport when you came in. It’s cluttered with kayaks, tiny bikes, buckets of fossil dirt, bags of sand toys, bug-capturing equipment, and some stuff that needs to go into the attic and has been waylaid there for longer than I’d care to admit. We do a lot of stuff. We need all this stuff, including the paper-mache volcano, in case the seven- year-old gets the wild hair up his butt to explode a volcano again. This kind of clutter is typical of ADHD. We sometimes go into a massive cleaning spree and muck everything out, but it’s back in a week. That’s life. You will live with it.

You will also live with my kitchen. See, my husband Bear cooks and does the dishes, because I once set coleslaw on fire (don’t ask). That means he does the dishes because they gross me out. He also works full time. So there are dishes everywhere. I won’t ask you to deal with it — I’ll put out clean stuff for you — but don’t judge. He gets distracted when he starts the dishes, so they don’t get done until we’re munching cereal with grapefruit spoons.

There’s also the matter of the laundry baskets. I can do the laundry. Regular beeping machines remind me to throw in another load. But once the load’s out, I drop it in the most convenient place — the kitchen. I hate laundry, so I put it off as much as possible, until there’s like, 10 loads taunting me from their white Target baskets. Then I sort it all in one long hyperfocused sprint, and dump the remains into other clothes’ baskets. I do not fold. Folding is so incredibly boring and backbreaking and miserable. So each child has four clothes’ baskets outside of his dresser. Spare clothes are in those. Don’t judge.

My kids also have “food allergies.” I call them that because it’s the easiest way to impress their seriousness on people. “Intolerance” sounds less dire. But you give any of my kids dairy, wheat, or artificial dyes and I will hunt you down at your dorm room, drop them off, and let you cope with the tantrums, the screaming, the hitting, and the defiance. There’s something about their ADHD that’s linked to food issues, and the combo makes them “crazy pants.” It always has. I will set out food they can eat. Do not deviate from it.

If Blaise is absorbed in something, which could be as intricate as his Revolutionary war figures or as mundane as the TV show Ninjago, he will not hear you when you speak to him. No, really. He’s not being defiant. He truly doesn’t hear anyone speaking to him, because he’s hyperfocusing. You need to walk over and touch him, get him to look you in the eyes, and then make a request. This is hard to get used to; we associate children not hearing us with noncompliance and bad behavior.

I do not have the money to pay you now. My husband just ran out to the ATM. It will take him a few minutes. We have plenty of money. We just don’t have cash. Because, you know, cash is annoying.

Please take them outside. Please let them run. Please let them hit things with sticks and throw balls at the dog and ride their bikes in endless circles and create chalk dinosaurs on my driveway. Keep them away from the hose, that horrible temptress. They will spray you. Maybe you should bring spare clothes when you come over here. Anyway, the more you let them run, the easier my life will be, because they’ll burn off some energy.

Then they’ll want to decompress. Try to steer them toward something mildly educational like The Magic School Bus and not that stupid freaking Ninjago show. Even The LEGO Batman Movie or Star Wars: The Clone Wars is preferable. Rocko’s Modern Life is a good happy medium, as is Animaniacs. I know, TV sucks, but this is how they relax. After a little while, you can offer to read to them. Be prepared for one of them to hand you a thick adult-level dinosaur tome and expect you to pronounce all the species and genus names correctly. Hopefully, it’s one of the ones with a pronunciation guide. They will let you do this for hours.

There are always LEGO. Talk about hyperfocus. You can just sit on your phone and make sure no one flings teensy bricks at one another.

Please try to clean up as you go or we will be totally overwhelmed when we get home, which may catapult me into tears.

Thanks for your service. We include hazard pay in addition to your salary.

All the best,

Elizabeth and Bear

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