Michael and Zachary share a room in our new house and the customary bedtime ritual is to lie on Michael’s bottom bunk bed and read bedtime stories to both boys. When I am the parent on bedtime duty I am frequently required to read the Dr. Seuss book entitled, Oh the Places You’ll Go. The reason it is so frequently pulled off the book shelf is twofold; firstly, the boys know it is my all-time favourite and, secondly, they love the way the end of the book always chokes me up. They call it ‘the crying book’ and gleefully anticipate reaching the end of the book at which time I am so overcome with emotion that I am barely able to choke out the words. They like to tease me about my sentimentality and always get a good giggle while wiping away my tears and snuggling in to comfort me. It is a very cute ritual that has been going on for a few years and I never seem to disappoint.
Since Michael’s ADHD diagnosis the book has taken on new meaning for me. Now when I read Oh, the Places You’ll Go, I see Michael as the brave little boy who soldiers on regardless of the innumerable challenges that face him. When we reach the page upon which the little boy is valiantly pulling the giant mountain, all I can see is Michael bravely hauling his mountainous ADHD diagnosis along with him. So now when the boys choose ‘the crying book’ at bedtime they sometimes end up getting more than they bargained for; instead of mildly choked-up, I often end up with tears streaming down my cheeks. I hit an all-time high the other night when I hadn’t even reached the end of the book and I was weeping inconsolably. I was so undone Michael had to take over the reading and get us to the end of the book.
After reaching the end of the story Michael said to me; “mommy, I know why you are crying so hard. It’s because the little boy in the book is me and the giant mountain he is pulling is ADHD; right?” I hadn’t even told Simon about how the book was recently affecting me so I was astounded at Michael’s startling intuition. Once again, Michael had reached inside my mind and my heart with his usual magic and I was emotionally laid bare. A painful sob escaped my body and I went from quietly weeping to sobbing inconsolably. It had been a long time since I had last surrendered to the grief of Michael’s challenges and the well was surprisingly deep. It quickly became apparent that Michael also needed to purge some grief as he quietly tucked himself into my body and joined me in surrendering to the tears. I have no idea how long we lay and cried together but it was quite a few minutes. I was so grateful to Zachary on my other side who somehow had the wisdom to know that something important was happening and that his role was to silently hold space. As Michael and I wept bitterly, Zachary lay quietly beside me and tenderly rubbed my arm. He didn’t try to interrupt or turn attention away from the intense emotion between Michael and me which allowed it to gently unfold.
As I held Michael in my arms and let the tears flow I didn’t feel the need to quiet him or demand explanation for his breakdown. Instead, I simply waited to see what would happen next. It wasn’t long before Michael started to talk and his muffled voice came from under my arm with a declaration so shocking it knocked me completely off balance. I lay still and just let Michael’s words pour out; “I will miss you so much when you die mommy. I will always remember you and how you helped me with my ADHD. No one else would have done what you did. I will remember how you found out what I was allergic to, how you found the doctor I needed, how you gave me my needles, how you found all the food I could eat and always gave me my vitamins even when I didn’t want them and you knew I could get better. I will always remember you mommy. What if I am not better when you die? Who will help me?” I somehow found my voice and talked through my tears assuring Michael that I am very healthy and take good care of myself. I told him that I planned on being around for a very long time but that if something ever did happen to me that Daddy, Max and Zachary would be there for him. We also talked about all the extended family who love him so dearly; his much beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.
Michael seemed to be calming but took me by surprise yet again when he told me how guilty he feels. I gently asked him what he was feeling guilty about and he started to cry again. He told me he feels guilty for thinking I was “wacko”. I gently prompted him to explain; “when you asked me if I wanted to cut all those foods out of my diet and I said ‘yes’, I thought you were wacko. But mommy you were right and now I feel so much better and I feel so guilty that I thought you were crazy. You knew how to make me better and I am so sorry.” I found my first smile in long moments when I assured Michael that when we started this whole treatment journey I thought I was wacko as well. I told him that when we started with the naturopath and started cutting food from his diet I thought it was completely nuts! I went on to tell him that it wasn’t until he went back on dairy for that awfully challenging week that I realized we were not ‘wacko’. Michael asked me to explain why dairy makes him feel so awful and he listened carefully to my detailed explanation.
The last surprise came when Michael apologized for having ADHD and told me that it is his fault. My instinct was to deny his declaration but I knew he needed to unburden his load so, fortunately, I was able to catch myself and bite my tongue. He told me that all those years he didn’t sleep were why he has ADHD. He apologized for making me so tired and stressed with his sleepless nights and the ADHD that has resulted. Having just described what dairy does to his body gave me the platform to assure Michael that the sleepless nights were not his fault. I told him that in those days he was drinking milk morning, noon and night and that that was a large part of the reason he was not sleeping. I think Michael heard me but I also think that he truly believes that his ADHD is his fault. This is not the first time he has declared that our challenges are “all my fault”.
Simon and I have both been very concerned about Michael’s self-esteem for quite some time and not just since the physical assault by his teacher back in February which left such a devastating wake behind it. We are well aware that Michael is a startlingly complex and gifted young man and that the workings of his complex emotions are mostly out of our reach. However, the scene on Michael’s bed the other night, as surprising as it was, was very comforting. Michael is starting to find his voice and work through the difficult emotions of his current reality. He is turning to me and opening the dark parts of his psyche for help. Having said that, though, I know that we have just barely glimpsed into the multifarious workings of Michael’s consciousness and I hope there is much more to come.
I often wonder whether we need to find Michael a child psychologist to help us steer him through these complex waters. It would certainly need to be someone very special who would align with our emotional, spiritual and physical approach to treating Michael’s ADHD. I sometimes worry whether we are in over our heads and if we do not seek help for Michael we will have regrets later. However, I also believe that the deep spiritual and loving connection between Michael and me was what allowed him to safely pour his heart out to me. Would he find that with someone else? I do not know and I will keep wondering and watching for signs that we need professional help. In the meantime the fact that Michael is talking makes us feel very encouraged.
After drying the tears, calling in all the necessary angels, rubbing backs and singing ‘Sweet Baby James’ my cherubs were finally settling in for the night. Michael’s final comment as I was leaving the room was; “mommy, maybe I have ADHD so that I can teach other kids about it someday.” Needless to say, I was completely floored! My seven-year-old was tapping into his potential life purpose and spinning a very altruistic and optimistic reality all by himself. Just when I think I have begun to truly grasp the depths of my magic child he shows me an even deeper and more complex layer of his inner workings.
I felt emotionally exhausted as I made my way downstairs to my laptop. My fingers were itching to capture everything that had transpired that evening so that I could always keep it close to my heart. As I wrote furiously it occurred to me that Michael had given me a priceless gift. I often fantasize that in twenty years Michael will come to me and acknowledge how much my efforts meant to him. I picture reaching up to hug him and telling him that it was truly an honour to be a part of his incredible journey and how deeply I love him. Never did it occur to me that the seven-year-old version of Michael could truly grasp and be so thankful for my efforts on his behalf. It’s as if the future version and the present version of Michael came together for one brief and shining moment to encourage me and remind me that I have what it takes to walk this difficult path beside my glorious magic child.
As I went to bed that night I took Dr. Suess’ words with me and let them gently soothe my soul. It’s the simple wisdom I need right now and as I flipped through the much-loved pages of ’the crying book’ I quietly wept with equal parts of joy and sorrow.
“But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike and I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”
(Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go)