Guest Blogs

Digging Deep for Peace of Mind

Intense family stress and the everyday anxiety of being a dad with attention deficit are just too much to take – so I dig deep within myself and search for peace of mind.

I swing the pick down harder than I need to and the head buries itself into the hard-packed dirt with a dark, gratifying thunk. I get a deep satisfaction from this. It’s like I’m stabbing some beast in its thick, vital gut.

Swing it down, thunk. Pull it up, and the rip of the roots being torn from their home makes it sweeter. Down and up again, and again, the pick handle sliding easily in my leather work gloves. I hear myself grunting and chuckling with each blow. Must be why my mother-in-law has gathered up her Better Homes and Gardens magazine from the picnic table and bustled back inside. Even my dog is keeping his distance, sitting back up on the deck and watching me with his head cocked in concern.

I couldn’t care less what either of them thinks. I came out here in our back yard to plant a dogwood sapling for my wife, Margaret. But now, sweat pouring off my face, I’m digging desperately for a fossil from a past life: peace of mind.

Thunk – rip, thunk – rip. Yes I’m a middle-aged ADHD parent of ADHD kids, and I know I have a responsibility to model problem-solving behavior, but right now I don’t care. I’ve had all I can take so now all I want is a minute like the ones I remember: iced tea by the pool with nothing but calm on my mind, nothing constantly gnawing at my sanity and self-worth.

To be honest, those minutes could just be from TV commercials. They may not be my minutes at all. But that doesn’t make me yearn for them any less. For the short time we had a pool, I stayed up nights fretting about fencing, filters, the heating bill, and what having a pool said about us: nothing good. And I never drank iced tea. When I wasn’t tossing back martinis, I drank diet sodas by the gallon and had terrible acid reflux.

Thunk – rip, thunk – rip. Stop; look at what’s good now. I love my wife. She’s jumped into teaching middle-school full time, racing through night school courses to take over for her ailing sister. My son lives in Hawaii with his pals and has a steady job moving up the McDonald’s ladder. My daughter, Coco, is doing great in high school and we’re getting along better than ever.

Thunk – rip, thunk – rip. Sure, but the stress is keeping us all up nights and now, for the second time in as many years, I’ve got to go to my parents’ house to help my mom move my dad back home from the nursing home, just when Margaret and Coco are getting off for spring break. So I won’t see them again until we’re back in the school-day roles of busy teacher, student, and stay-at-home cook/launderer/mother-in-law caretaker.

Oh, boo-hoo, right? Everybody’s got problems. Next I’ll be complaining about taxes.

Thunk – rip, thunk – rip. I also want to take the worry off the shoulders of my wife and daughter, but I know that most of it is theirs to carry and deal with themselves. And damn it, with the state of his dementia and physical limitations, my dad shouldn’t be going home at all. Even with part-time nursing help, it’s dangerous for him and my mom. But it’s all in the world he wants, and Mom is determined to let him have his way.

“All he wants is a little peace of mind,” Mom says, “and looking after him gives me a little, too.”

Thunk – rip, thunk – rip. Better stop. There’s dirt all over the yard and this hole is way deeper than necessary for a dogwood sapling. I pour soil into the hole, place the tree on top, fill in around it, pat it down, and give it some water. I stand back a few feet. It looks good. Though it does seem to be sinking a little.

My dog barks and drops his ball at my feet. I throw the ball down the hill, away from the new tree and he lopes after it, not a care in the world.