Self Esteem

Fishing for Martin

Meet Martin, a 10-year-old with ADD who surprises his mom with a fishing trip – and a strong streak of leadership, organization, and attentiveness that she never imagined.

Fishing Pole & Line on Dock during mother and son outing
Fishing Pole & Line on Dock during mother and son outing

“Mom, do you want to go fishing?” my 10-year-old son with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), Martin, asks over breakfast. He has caught several fish during our weekend in the Poconos, but he wants to catch more, with me. For some moms, this might not be a big deal, but for me it is, because Martin does everything with his dad.

My husband, Glenn, agrees to watch our other three children for a few hours, and I put on my old blue sweatshirt and lucky hat and walk to the dock. This will be nice, I think to myself: Martin and I out on the quiet lake together, doing something he loves. As I cross the dirt road and pass by overturned canoes and kayaks, I spot him bending over his tackle box. I notice his baggy gray shorts and thin, muscular legs. As soon as I step onto the dock, he springs up into a standing position.

“We won’t leave for a while, because there is a lot to get done,” he says. He is clearly in charge today. I savor it, because Martin, who spends most of his days back home wrestling with ADHD, seems like a different child when he’s fishing.

Most mornings, before school, he forgets to brush his teeth. He leaves his lunch box on the kitchen counter and his backpack in his room. He can’t tell time yet, and he almost never says, ‘Excuse me,’ when he bumps into someone in a store.

But nature brings out another side of him, one I would like to see more of. Martin neatly stacks the fishing rods to one side of the boat and sets out cushions for us to sit on. He bails out the water in the boat, left over from the last fishing trip, and attaches lures to the rods. Then he holds out his hand to help me into the boat. When we walk into his school or a store together, he allows the door to slam in my face, but here on the water, he is a gentleman.

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My Son Takes the Lead

Martin starts the motor and we move away from the shore, a wall of evergreens casting a shadow on the water.

“Gosh, it’s a beautiful day,” I say.

“It is a nice day to be out here with nature,” he says. “Why don’t you troll, Mom? That’s how I caught my bass last year.” I toss out my line and let it drag behind the boat.

“I know just the place to take you,” he says. “Do you want to fish on the left or right side of the boat?”

I pick the left side. We finally arrive at Martin’s special place. He drops anchor, and we cast our lines into the cool, green water. Most of the time I fish from the dock, using worms threaded on a hook. Today, though, Martin teaches me how to fish with a lure.

I try to go slow and be patient, but it is hard for me. In everyday life I tell my son to slow down and put on his brakes. I monitor and correct, praise and admonish. But here, I am the one needing to slow down.

[[Self-Test] Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

A blue-gray bird flies by. “Mom, look! There’s a kingfisher,” Martin whispers. He has always been good at identifying birds. As I cast my line into the water and slowly reel it in, Martin shares some of his own fishing tales, conversing calmly. He stops to point out snapping turtles sunning on the rocks.

The Challenges of School-and Life

School is just three days away. Martin’s smile will soon give way to anger and frustration.

We will have nightly power struggles over homework. He will throw his books across the room, and in the mornings he will refuse to get ready for school.

After times like those, my expectations of him are automatically lowered. Yet here, amid nature, with no distractions and no homework, I see Martin at his best. I say to myself, “Ahh, here is my boy.”

There have been other moments when Martin stepped up to become a leader, to act self-assured: running around the soccer field and ushering at my sister’s wedding last summer. Although Martin has trouble holding a conversation with most people, and rarely makes eye contact, he took ushering seriously. I watched him chat with strangers as he walked them to their seats.

Family members noticed and said, “Martin is doing great. He is so polite.” After the reception, Martin’s charm seemed to fade as he took off his formal clothes and left them in a pile in the corner.

As I cast and reel, I realize that Martin’s development could be compared to the fishing he loves so much. Sometimes my husband and I get a nibble from the other Martin, only to watch him get away. One day, I am going to catch the whole boy and keep him for the world to see.

After a few hours, I get a big bite. I reel the fish in, and, as Martin tries to net the creature, it falls off the hook. “Mom, keep casting,” he says, unselfishly. “I’m going to stop fishing because I want you to catch that fish again.”

Sharing Smiles

I get no bites, so we decide to head home. Martin trolls as we putter along. Within five minutes, he hooks a huge bass, and, as he reels it in, it — like mine — gets away.

“Wow!” I say.

“What, Mom?” he asks.

“You are a professional fisherman, Martin. I’ve been fishing all this time and got one bite. You get a bite every time you cast.”

He smiles at me, a gift I am rarely given, and says, “Thanks, Mom.”

As we pull into the dock, I feel sad that our time together is ending. He helps me out of the boat, leaves the mess of poles and net behind, and runs up to the house screaming, “Daaad!” This is the Martin I am accustomed to.

Glenn appears on the porch and yells down, “Did you catch anything?”

“Martin hooked a bass, but it got away,” I explain.

“Too bad,” Glenn says. “I hate that.”

“Me, too,” I whisper to myself.

See you later, my dear son, I say under my breath. Until next time.

[Your Free 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD]