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Blowouts and Triumphs: An ADHD Success Story

Sharing a diagnosis with my ADHD teen daughter means we have similar qualities, and gives me a special understanding when she feels uncertain.

My 19-year-old daughter, Coco, and I have similar ADHD symptoms. We’re hyperactive, quick to get overwhelmed, forget things, procrastinate like mad, get confused, lash out at others while blaming ourselves for everything. She and I have worked hard at developing coping skills, therapy, and all the rest. She’s had the added challenge of conquering her dyslexia.

There is one difference: My ADHD teen daughter is more together than I was at her age, or even than I am now. This afternoon I watched Coco head out the door to a tutoring place where she works, and I admired her confident, head-on-straight, compassionate, practical, and courageous nature.

I keep forgetting that we’re all a work in progress. It’s easy for me to see myself as a wreck. I accept it and try to learn from it day by day. But I often forget to appreciate, or see, the nittty-gritty struggle of others to grow and learn, even when an ADHD fellow-traveler like my daughter is desperately struggling with an avalanche of self-doubt and fear.

A year ago last January-the first day of the last semester of her high school senior year-18-year-old Coco jumps into the passenger seat of my beat-up 14-year-old Dodge Caravan in her stocking feet, boots in one hand, backpack in the other. She drops the pack between the seats, slams the door, and yells, “Go, hurry, I’m going to be late!”

Being the patient, perfect parent I am, I don’t mention that I’ve been ready to go for a half-hour while she ran up and down the stairs in a hyperventilating tornado of remembering and forgetting, losing and finding pens, clips, clothes, hand-sanitizer, and hair bands for her hair. She need hair bands for her wrist to help her remember to breathe and calm down, so she can remember stuff without all this insanity. I also don’t mention that I told her last night to get ready ahead of time. I will bring it up at dinner though. Count on it.

It won’t be the concerned parent talking tonight. Though our shared ADHD can be great for understanding and helping her (as well as her helping me), it makes panic very contagious. I hate panic. As I get older, I also hate conflict, loud noises, surprises, and any conversation that begins with “We have to talk.”

As Coco pulls on her boots and looks through the zippered pockets of her backpack, I zip my lip and wrestle with the van’s dying power steering to get us out of the driveway. I put it in drive, get 10 feet down the street, when she yells, “Oh, no, my calculator!” I pull over to the curb and remind Coco to tie her boot laces before she runs back to the house. “I’m sorry, Dad. I really I thought I had it.”

“It’s OK,” I say, and it is, as long as I keep my breathing calm and in control. I could use a couple of those hair bands Coco’s hair bands on my wrist, too. “Hurry, and double check, this is the last stop.” She jumps out, slams the car door, and runs back to the house. The passenger side window rattles and slides down a little. I worry that Coco is wound tighter than usual. She has been like this the whole week, since we got back from the family Christmas trip to Delaware. That trip nearly did the whole family in. Plus we’re waiting on college applications, FAFSA, and still haven’t gotten her ACT scores back. It’s a tense time.

I focus on the falling car window instead. The electric windows on the right side haven’t worked for a couple years. They’ll stay that way until she’s got a college diploma in her hand. I’ll press my hands on either side of the glass and push it back up when I get back from Walmart after dropping Coco off. It usually holds for a week. I push the CD player on and turn Lyle Lovett’s version of “Stand by Your Man” up loud. Coco gets back with her calculator, snaps on her seatbelt, and we head off. She doesn’t make any objection to the music. She just turns the volume down. It’s gratifying and a little weird to have a teenage daughter who shares your taste in music.

“You know,” I say as we come up to a stoplight, “you can change the words around on this song for any member of a family and it works, I mean if the family works.” She shrugs. “I know you say that, but no, it’s really old-fashioned sexist. Good song, though. Wait, Dad, stop!”

“No! I’m not stopping and not going back!” The patient, perfect parent just went out the broken window. “Whatever you forgot, you’ll just have to do without…”

“No, listen,” Coco says. “It’s the car. It’s making that noise.” There’s genuine terror in her eyes. “Pull over, Dad. It’s a blowout!” It isn’t. It’s the sound of one of the brake pads running thin. I explain I’m getting it fixed this week. Her fear is bone-chilling and based on reality-last month’s Christmas trip reality. What was I thinking? We could have all been killed.

Stay tuned for Part 2.