A single dad with ADHD is doing his loving best to make sure his children’s lives turn out better than his own.
It’s 10 o’clock at night: Do you know where your children are? I know where mine are, but, as a single parent with attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD), I’m not sure what they’re doing. Sabrina probably went to sleep after I tucked her in, but I’d better check on Nicolas. Sure enough, as I enter his bedroom, I hear a rattle of papers. I give him a hug, slide my hand underneath the pillow, and gently lift his upper body to find a stack of scrap papers between his chest and his bed. It’s two hours past his bedtime.
Nicolas is nine, and I would be willing to let him stay up later than 8 o’clock, if he would only stop trying to beat the sunrise every morning. I take away the papers and pen, and explain that he can have them back in the morning if he sleeps past 6:30.
I used to think I could trust him to fall asleep, especially since I began giving him a little melatonin before bed. Then, the other day, while changing his sheets, I pulled out the bed frame and saw a patch of carpet underneath littered with papers, books, dirty clothes, and toys. When I confronted him with what I had found, he shrugged and told me that he forgot the stuff was there. I knew better, which is why I was now checking on him. Maybe I would have checked on him earlier, or noticed the piles under his bed sooner, if I didn’t have ADHD.
My Son, Myself
Every time I look at my son, my “mini-me,” I feel pride, love, and fear. Pride because he has overcome distractions and hyperactivity well enough to earn almost straight As and improve his social skills. Love because I see in him what I once was; fear, for the same reason. I do not want him to end up like me in 15 years —trailing a string of disappointments, broken promises, and unfulfilled dreams. I want him to hunt down success, grab it by the horns, and wrestle it to the ground. I want him to unlock his potential and, most important, to be happy.
Nicolas has the challenges that I had at his age — he’s shorter than anyone else in his grade, lacks self-confidence, and he has a mind that races even faster than his emotions. I imagine what he might be like without ADHD when I watch Sabrina. Everything comes easily to her. But then he wouldn’t be Nicolas. When he recently handed me a poem he wrote, I remembered a poem I wrote at the same age. I went from poetry to writing song lyrics, and I think about how my dreams — and the music still within me – have gone to waste. But I can help Nicolas and Sabrina realize their dreams.
Faced with laundry, dirty dishes, meal plans, grocery shopping, homework, teacher conferences, doctor appointments, judo lessons, Girl Scouts, and baseball, I think that being a single parent must be easier for someone without ADHD.
Movin’ On Up
It’s 10:37 now, and I’m folding one of my daughter’s shirts — robin’s egg blue with a pink ladybug on the front. I think back to the first year or so without my wife, to all three of us hanging on by a thread. Life wasn’t easy: diapers for Sabrina, daycare for two, and an hour-plus commute each way to my job. Still, I managed to harness the energy of my not-yet-diagnosed ADHD, fixed up our house, and sold it for a profit. We moved into a nicer one, in a better school district and closer to work.
A year ago, on the day I was diagnosed with ADHD, I lost my job. Maybe it was the stress of SPwADHD — Single Parenting with ADHD — that crippled my ability to avoid distraction. Or maybe the company was just looking for a budget cut. With no job, no wife, a small unemployment check, and two kids, I felt more alone than ever. The symptoms of my ADHD worsened, as did my son’s.
Life Goes On
So where are we now? In the same small town. A bit of my hair is falling out, and my dreams are receding with each passing year. But now I have a job that I enjoy, and, most important, I have my kids. I have finished my first year of teaching reading to at-risk high school kids, some of whom have ADHD. One day, while watching me pace the floor and then tap my foot at full speed after finally sitting down, a student asked me, “What is it, Mr. Ullman? You got ADD or something?” I told them the truth, giving some of them a way to identify with me.
It’s nearly 11 now, and, as a incurably poor sleeper, I know I have a long night ahead of me. The children, though, need their sleep. As I slip quietly into their bedrooms, I am relieved to find that my precious Nicolas and Sabrina are in dreamland. Godspeed.
Updated on June 22, 2020