Friday, April 4, 2008


Jacob is struggling again.  He was on spring break last week and the whole family was ill in turns.  Jake dealt with the disruption in his routine the way that he always deals with disruptions - by becoming more disruptive.  He rebels against change of any kind, even growth. 
I've seen children who grow as gracefully as flowers.  I'm sure those kids have their bad days, but most of the time their growth seems effortless and natural.  Jacob, on the other hand, grows in painful fits and starts.  He metamorphs from caterpillar to butterfly and back again.  I call him challenging or spirited most of the time, but the bottom line is that he's different.  Atypical.  Weird.  Abnormal.  Pick a label.  When he's in butterfly mode, people love him and rave about how smart-funny-bright-charming-engaging he is.  When he's in caterpillar mode, people smile indulgently and say that he'll grow up eventually.  And when he's in cocoon mode, people express concern and start to drop hints about parenting or medication or therapy or whatever it is that they think is going to fix this supposedly broken child.  That's when I get worangfrustvulnerblue. 
I'm a worrier by nature anyway, but these are the times when the energy I spend worrying could, if properly harnessed, power entire cities.  Will Jacob eventually grow up?  Will he stay on the right side of The Line?  Will he manage to develop his coping skills before some well-meaning but misguided school psychologist convinces everyone that he needs an ADHD diagnosis?  And then there's the big worry - are we doing the right thing by fighting against that label?  Most of the time, I think we are doing the right thing.  But when Jacob is in this phase and I get worangfrustvulnerblue, I worry.  Is something so broken in me that I can't see the truth about my child?  I cannot look at him and see anything other than a perfectly functional, smart, loving, creative little boy who is developing asynchronously.  He may not be typical, but does atypical necessarily translate into organic dysfunction?
Then my worry turns to anger.  Anger with Jacob for making everything difficult.  Anger with myself for not being able to help him.  Anger with the world for not accepting that sometimes, people are different.  Anger with our culture for equating anything or anyone outside the norm as dysfunctional.  And then I have a special, white-hot anger for anyone who suggests that Jake would be better off if only I would raise him the same way they raised their children because, after all, their children are normal and my child isn't. 
The worst part of all the worry and anger is the sheer vulnerability and helplessness of it all.  I can't do a damn thing to make Jacob grow up any faster than he is.  If kids have a hard time learning to read, then we give them tutors and understanding and extra time to catch up.  Oh, the understanding we pile on kids who have academic issues.  But a kid who has issues with impulsiveness?  Do they get extra helpings of understanding?  No, of course not.  They get "concern" and inappropriate labels and medication to stone them out of their supposedly dysfunctional minds.*  And if those children happen to be very smart, then the labels get pushed even harder.  After all, the kid is too smart to have a developmental lag.  Since the child is ahead of the curve in academics, many people expect the child to be ahead of the curve on every other front too.
I know that thirty years from now, I will look back on this time and laugh.  Jacob will be successful and happy and just different enough to be special.  I know this to be true.  But for right now, I'm worangfrustvulnerblue enough to talk about it honestly for once.  Tomorrow, I'll go back to calling him spirited.
* I want to be perfectly clear - I do think that some children have organic dysfunctions that can be treated effectively with medication.  I disagree with the label of ADHD for various reasons, but whatever the label, some kids do need pharmaceutical help.  Thank God we live in a time when that's an option.  My issue is only with a culture that too broadly defines mental illness.