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My Son Hates How Different He Is

When it comes to a seven-year-old with ADHD, some things I can’t fix—no matter how hard I try.

Empty swings. A boy who is feeling different has no one to play with at recess

Reading is my favorite form of relaxation from the wild ride of parenting. However, I rarely see my life reflected in the novels I read. As a mom of a child with ADHD, everyday struggles include school advocacy, frustration with your child being misunderstood, worry about siblings’ feelings, worry about your ADHD child’s self-esteem, dealing with “mom judgers,” and obsessing over medication challenges.

As a writer, I wanted to portray this in my novel, Restless in L.A., in which mother-of-three Alexandra Hoffman struggles with a son with severe ADHD, a marriage under too much stress, and an online flirtation that spirals out of control.

In the scene here, three siblings—Ben, Ryan, and Natalie—fight at the dinner table and overturn a bowl of spaghetti. Alex’s middle son, seven-year-old Ryan, storms off to his room in a fit of anger. When Alex tries to reassure him, she feels powerless against his feelings of shame and judgment:

“What’s going on, buddy?” I ask as I open his door. Ryan lay facedown on his bed, his sneakers kicking the dark blue wall.
“I hate Natalie—and Ben, too!”

I sit down on his plaid comforter and I rest my hand gently on his leg.

“They never get in trouble at school.”

“That’s not true,” I sigh. “Sometimes they do. Did you get in trouble today?”

“Trevor hates me,” he says, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “He’s never gonna be my friend again.”

He buries his head in his navy fleece blanket. I strain my ears to hear him. “When we were at recess, he had the ball and it was my turn and he wouldn’t give it to me. So I grabbed it—it was my turn! —and I pushed him. But I didn’t mean it!”

“Did he fall down?” I ask gently.

Ry lifts his head and nods. His angry scowl and tear-stained cheeks mask the pain and frustration that has become the hallmarks of his life. “I got benched for a week. No one’s going to play with me now! The coach called me a bad sport in front of the whole class!”

I study my son in his T-shirt and basketball shorts, his sneakers still smacking the wall. He has red-rimmed eyes, a clenched jaw, hands balled into fists, and cuticles bitten to the quick. The shame he feels is a dagger in his heart—and in mine, too. I grab the hilt with both hands and try to pull it out.

“You made a mistake,” I say, rubbing his shin. “You are not a bad kid. You made a bad choice—that’s it. Remember what the doctor said, ‘Good kid, bad choice.’”

I lift the blanket and try to make eye contact, but it is hard, so hard to get him to look at me. I meet his gaze long enough to see tears in his eyes and the rage that lies beneath. Is that what boys do with pain and hurt, I wonder, turn it into anger?

My daughter Natalie would have been beside herself had she been singled out like that. But not Ryan. His angry eyes tell a different story, the story of how much he hates himself, hates being different. And he is smart enough to know how different he is.

“You’re a good boy,” I say, stroking his back. “You’ve always been good.”

“Nuh uh!” He cocks his leg and kicks the wall so hard that the framed poster of Luke Skywalker shakes. “Trevor doesn’t think I’m good! He hates me! He didn’t even invite me to his birthday party! And Cyndi doesn’t think I’m good!” He slams his fist into the bed, strangling a hoarse hiccupping sound as he fights back tears. “She could’ve invited me! She’s the mom!”

But I knew that didn’t make a difference. Mom or not, experience has taught me that, when it comes to hyperactive, impulsive kids, most parents prefer to point fingers rather than build bridges or walk in your moccasins—or whatever the expression is.

I lean over and kiss Ryan’s head, letting my lips rest in his silky little-boy hair.

“You’re doing the best you can, Ry. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes people forget that…even grown-ups.”

I wish I could suck out his pain like snake venom. I hear Ben calling my name, but I don’t answer. I rub Ryan’s back, feeling his body cuddle into mine, pouring in the antidote as best I can. I sit there and run my fingers from the bottom of his neck to the top of his waist, softly humming. And he lets me. Just before he drifts off, I nudge him and he changes into his pajamas and crawls under the covers.

“I love you, Ry,” I say. He nods and snuggles into his pillow. I turn off the light and stand in the darkness. Some things I can’t fix, no matter how hard I try.

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