We Can’t Hold Hands Forever
“Will my son be able to stay safe in the world when I’m not with him?” A mom reflects on how symptoms of attention deficit make her young son vulnerable.
With the arrival of our third son, people joked that my husband and I were now “officially outnumbered.” Friends with more knowledge of sports than I (which is everyone) said that we now had to move from something called “man-on-man” to “zone” defense.
Anyone who tells you three children is a breeze – especially when they’re home alone with them — is lying. When one of your children is three years old and one has ADHD, heading out with your three sons looks less Norman Rockwell-esque and more Jackson Pollock-ish.
But what struck me the other night — a beautiful night here in New England — is that on our short walk to the playground after dinner it was not my youngest son’s hand I instinctively grabbed. It was Edgar’s, my seven-year-old, the middle son.
By 6 p.m., the effects of the medication he takes are long gone. A five-minute walk, even in our familiar neighborhood, offers myriad opportunities for my son to get lost. Edgar may follow the crack in a sidewalk, stop suddenly to study the long shadow of a branch, take time to admire the color of house. I want him to do all this because this is who he is, what he needs.
Without the buffer of his twice-daily medication regimen, he is not able to focus on anything other than what captures his fancy — which means if there is a recycling container on the sidewalk, he’ll bump into it; when he approaches an intersection, he won’t look; and if I tell him to stop, he may or may not hear me.
Edgar’s older and younger brothers do not have ADHD. They see obstacles. They are aware of the big-picture of their surroundings. They hear my instructions. Edgar doesn’t, can’t. So I hold his hand, and I speak directly to him and ask him to attend. Sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn’t. When he doesn’t, it’s because he can’t.
This concerns me a lot. Right now I can hold his hand. Right now I can make sure he’s safe. But the time is coming — and soon — when Edgar will be out in the world, sometimes without the benefit of his medication, without the benefit of someone holding his hand, and he will have to be able to function, to stay safe.
Edgar tells me he needs to be an artist, and I believe him. But before he learns how to create flawless iambic pentameter or masters the nuances of abstract impressionism, he has to learn to navigate the world safely and with an awareness that extends beyond his whims.
He has to let go of his mother’s hand.