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Sweet 16 with ADHD

Just last week, Coco was a 6-year-old Brownie camping in our back yard. Now she’s 16 and I feel overwhelmed that we haven’t done enough to prepare her, to make her safe in the real world with her ADHD.

“Do you ever feel like something bad is going to happen, but you know if it does everything will still be okay because you know everything’s really basically good but you still feel really bad anyway?”

My daughter, Coco, who has attention deficit disorder like her dad, asks me on the way home from school. She rests her red and black Keds straight in front of her on the dashboard and leans back in her seat, all casual. Okay, this is new.

If I were a mature, safety conscious dad (For God’s sake, if we get hit by a truck the airbag will snap your sneakers smack through all that expensive orthodontic work) or a dad who cared about car upkeep (Hey, you’re scuffing up my freshly Armor All’d dash), I’d tell her to put her feet down. But I’m not. I think my daughter looks as cool as she does with her feet up, musing about life. Back in 1984, I thought it was extremely cool when Margaret, my wife and Coco’s future mom, crossed her bare feet up on our new Mustang’s dash during our first road trip together. Sometimes being cool trumps it all, so I just shut up and drive.

“I mean,” Coco continues, “I went through the whole day today at school mad at everybody and keeping it in, so that by lunch I was exhausted and just wanted to go to sleep. My eyes kept closing, I was so tired. You ever have that with your eyes? But wait – see, at the same time I know I’ve had a great Sweet 16 birthday weekend at home and all my friends at school liked the cupcakes I brought today and Arianne even brought brownies for me. And I love the Kindle Aunt Liz got me, you can even get manga on it, I’ll show you when we get home, and I got an 85 on my math test, and not much homework tonight, so I’ve got nothing to be mad about, and I even know that really, I’m happy, but I’m still feeling really sad. Do you?”

I park in the driveway, turn off the car, put the keys in my pocket, and pick up Coco’s backpack. She looks me in the eye as I hand her the empty cupcake container and her class binder.

“Know what I’m talking about?”

I can see this isn’t an idle question from Coco. And I know what exactly what she’s talking about. I’ve constantly felt simultaneous multiple contradictory emotions most of my life. Aside from the ADHD, she and I share other mental quirks like dyslexia (hers way worse), short-term memory issues (mine worse), name-retrieval problems (tie), and trouble controlling our tempers (depends on who you ask). So my daughter expects a little insight or at least some understanding from me.

But right now, in this split-second, I’m stuck back when she mentioned her birthday. Obliterating everything else, wailing through my head like an air-raid siren is, “Coco is 16 years old?!?”

So that’s why she’s been talking about getting a driver’s license. But wait — this is happening way too fast, I feel like I’m lost in some boozy lounge ballad about turning around and my little girl’s not in pigtails in the autumn of my years.

But why shouldn’t I blubber — in two and a half years she’ll graduate high school and then she’ll leave for college, which is sad and scary because I know she’s anxious to get out into the world, but my wife Margaret and I haven’t had enough time to prepare her, to make her safe.

We did private, public, and home-school for both of our kids with ADHD, always looking for the best for them, though a lot of time we all just goofed off. But we had years to get them ready to deal with the real world.

I swear to you it was just last week that Coco was a 6-year-old camping out in the back yard with her mom and their Brownie troop. A couple of days ago she was 12, and she and I spent two days non-stop watching the complete Horatio Hornblower series on DVD, repeating the mutiny episodes a couple of times.

She’s 16? We need to stop goofing around and give her more guidance and attention in the time we have left to get her prepared for the real world, but there’s no time. And it’s our fault, or my fault or whatever – we wasted time, we’re obviously terrible parents for special needs kids or any kids. We shouldn’t even be allowed to have plants.

“Dad,” Coco says, “Hello? You okay?”

I snap out of it to see my daughter cocking her head at me.

“Hmm? Yeah, Coco, I’m fine.” I say, as she and I walk to the front door lugging her school stuff. “I was just thinking about what you said. And yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I get that sad thing shooting through good feelings a lot these days myself.”

“You mean about Grandpa and Aunt Liz being sick and stuff?” Coco says. A bright cool wind snaps through the trees. Fall’s here.

“Yeah,” I say, “And other stuff.”

Coco gets to the porch and turns back with a smile, waiting for me to catch up. “Hurry up, mister,” she says, “I haven’t got all day.”

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