Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kevin the Climber, Part I: An ADHD Memoir

I’ve been blogging from Wyoming since 2005, but only a portion of my posts focused on our family’s experiences with ADD, ADHD, OCD and mental health challenges. This is fitting in a way because my blog is named hummingbirdminds after a description by Internet hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson. He said in Wired Magazine that people with ADHD have “hummingbird minds.” I always liked that. My blog, like my mind, flits from subject to subject.

Kevin the Climber, Part I

Our son Kevin was diagnosed with ADHD at 5. I guess you could say it was a pretty severe case because it was evident from the time he started walking at 9 months – maybe even earlier. Walking was too tame for Kevin. He was a runner and a climber.

He climbed out of his crib. He climbed out of his playpen. He climbed 100-foot trees. And that was all before he turned 2. Later he climbed cliffs and mountains and buildings. He was more interested in climbing on the top of playground swing sets than he was swinging on them. He liked to shinny up the metal bars that formed the arch that held the swings. Like an inchworm, he would creep along the poles until he was right over the heads of those kids below on the swings.  "Hi down there," he would say with a laugh.  Some kids greeted him; others just stared.  The parents had various reactions. Most seemed concerned for their own children, afraid that Kevin could slip and fall right on them. A falling body builds a tremendous velocity in a very short span of time. Broken bones could result. Concussions and worse.

One day I was at the playground with Kevin while my wife Chris worked. Kevin’s favorite park was three blocks from the university’s married student housing complex where we lived while I worked on my writing and my graduate degree at Colorado State University. When we arrived at the park, Kevin made a beeline for the swing set and climbed up the curve of the rusty red iron pole. Within seconds he was perched 20 feet up, poised over the head of a blonde five-year-old girl wearing a Minnie Mouse T-shirt.  Her mother looked worried.  I didn’t have to be a member of the Psychic Hotline to understand the look of concern that creased that woman’s face. She imagined Kevin losing his grip and falling through space for a collision with her daughter. I imagined a similar scene.  She was thinking: “Why doesn't his father say something to this menace of a boy.”  She pushed her daughter with both hands as she peered up at Kevin. What follows is the conversation as best as I can remember it:

-- Your boy sure likes to climb.
-- Yes he does.
-- He seems pretty good at it.
-- He is.
-- It's a long way up.
-- He likes heights. He climbs mountains.
-- Has he ever fallen?
-- From Mount Everest. But just that once.

Ha ha. I sort of regretted saying it. I just wanted to wound this mother slightly, to get back at her for thinking I might be a lousy father. I felt like it sometimes, that I was a terrible parent for letting my son climb on something that obviously was meant to swing on not climb on.

I felt guilty around these good parents. They all seemed so much more comfortable with their roles than I did with mine. They acted as if parenting is some snug undergarment that never slipped or became wedged in vulnerable bodily cavities. I used to think that parenting would be innate, that I wouldn’t have to learn a series of new dance steps to dance the parent waltz. I wonder if they had all received some sort of parenting gene from kind and loving parents that I did not.

But there was something else: their kids were classified as normal and mine was not. And I was constantly trying to deal with that fact.

Look for Kevin Climber, Part II, in upcoming posts. Also, find this post on the Easy to Love but Hard to Raise blog after Feb.22. 


mpage225 said...

Glad to see you posting this again.


Michael Shay said...

Bob: This will be in a new anthology, "Easy to Love but Hard to Raise." It will be out in the fall.