14 years ago that date became the most meaningful holiday to me. Fourteen years ago I was blessed with the most amazing, emotional, meaningful role I have ever known. Fourteen years ago, the Boy was born.
I didn’t know it at the time–because it was all so completely new and unfamiliar to me–but I was learning about my baby boy before he was even born. I joked and called him my “jumping bean” because it seemed once he started moving, he just never stopped. The women I worked with when I was pregnant with him were always amused at the sight of my shirt hem swinging because he kicked and bounced with such a determination that my entire midsection was in motion.
I thought that was a “normal pregnancy”–a constantly kicking baby. He, as it turns out, was a bit “kickier” than most.
I clearly remember a visit with my in-laws in the first few weeks. The Boy was in his bouncy seat. My father-in-law marveled and repeatedly commented that he was always in motion. If his arms weren’t going, then his legs were. If he was awake, he was moving.
This continued through his infancy, toddlerhood and preschool years. The “activity” ramped up as he turned four. He wasn’t just busy, he had impulses and outbursts he seemed unable to control … he would act before thinking. Many days I picked him up from preschool with a note and / or conference about the day’s events. In Kindergarten the teacher used a stoplight to give kids visual feedback regarding their behavior. Everyone started on green for the day. “Bad choices” resulted in having to move your name up to yellow or red. I could count on one hand the number of times he stayed on green throughout the entire year.
The Boy was very smart but had a rough time with school because of his behavior. He struggled to focus and school work was a challenge to get through because sitting to complete it was nearly impossible. Homework was a battle every single time we sat down.
I was in constant communication with his wonderful first grade teacher, Mrs. Watson. We shared ideas and strategies trying to keep things consistent between school and home. She was patient and gently guided him every day. Still, he was missing a lot because he couldn’t stay on task … and he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I knew in my heart that he had ADHD but wasn’t ready to really hear it and talk about medication. My husband and I wanted to be sure we tried everything–everything–before that. I still thought if I were a better parent I could fix him.
The tipping point was realizing the Boy’s social life was being affected. He had no friends. None. Nobody wanted to play with him because he was always in trouble. They didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his out-of-control behavior. Who could blame them? I remember being a kid not wanting to play with the “bad kids.” I didn’t want to get into trouble, and I didn’t want anyone being mean to me. That’s the way his classmates saw him.
It was breaking my heart. Realizing that my son–my sweet, smart, loving little boy that I was able to see–was seen as that kid. By his peers. By other parents. And, the following year, by his second grade teacher.
She nearly broke him that year. Constantly telling him he was a bad boy. Shaming and excluding him. Only addressing the negative. He begged me every day to not make him go to school. He had stomach aches each night thinking about the next day because he knew he would do something to get into trouble. So often you could see it in his eyes–the frustration and sadness when he realized his impulses got the better of him.
My husband and I realized we needed more help. We had done and tried all we could and realized the impact could be long-term. He was at an age where developing friendships was an important part of his well-being. I made an appointment.
The pediatric psychiatrist was kind and comforting. He thought the Boy was a great kid, and he made me feel like I wasn’t a terrible parent. Like I wasn’t failing.
After more discussion with the doctor, the Boy started medication. My husband and I struggled with the decision. We doubted ourselves, but kept reassuring each other we hadn’t made the decision lightly. And, it didn’t have to be permanent if it didn’t help.
But it did.
Third grade was great–his grades were good, he wasn’t getting into trouble. He liked school. His teacher, Mrs. Johnson, was fabulous. She saw his sense of humor and kind nature. One day she called and left a message on our answering machine detailing how thoughtful he was. He had written a letter in cursive to the student of the week, but that student couldn’t read cursive. When he realized that, he re-wrote the letter printing it. No prompting from the teacher or anyone. The Boy “didn’t want him to feel bad,” so he fixed it. We still have that message on our machine six years later. I listen to it every once in a while … it continues to makes me smile. It signaled an important change–someone else could see the Boy … really see the good kid he was.
Interestingly, my loud, busy, bustling jumping bean became quiet and shy, especially in school. That was quite a change from the previous four years. This “new” Boy was reserved but content–an introvert. He still didn’t have any friends … but he played with kids at recess and he was happy. Then in 5th grade, a friendship developed with a smily, silly girl. They called each other Bubsey. It made this Mama’s heart so full to hear them laughing and carrying on. My little boy had a friend. That doesn’t sound like much, but it was a big deal after everything he’d been through.
At the end of his 7th grade year, we moved–to a new state where he literally didn’t know a single person. He was devastated to leave his Bubsey. I was heartbroken for him. His adjustment was a huge concern; I was nervous for him and how he would fare meeting new people, but the adjustment went well. He made a few friends–more than he ever had before.
He had mentioned during the school year he was one of the “popular” students. I was concerned he was misreading some kids who were making fun of him because he’s not the typically popular kid–he’s sheepish, socially awkward, somewhat immature. He doesn’t talk much–unless it’s about video games. (As a high school teacher, I’m familiar with the scene … that doesn’t fit the mold of “popular” kids.)
I went to the end of the year academic awards ceremony and watched as kids walked across the stage receiving their awards. Out of approximately 300 students being recognized for different achievements, there might have been 10 kids who received rowdy, excited cheers from their peers when the principal said their names. The popular kids. And then, near the end of the assembly, the Boy’s name was called. And, dammit, if some kids didn’t cheer and excitedly yell his name. He was right. The embarassed, sweet smile that crossed his lips just melted my heart. And the tears welled up and I couldn’t stop myself. My little boy, who had struggled so much … who hasn’t had the easiest road … who was told by his second grade teacher he was a bad kid … the boy who had one actual friend through his entire childhood had a little moment of glory–even if it embarrassed him at the time. As he came down the steps off the stage, he smiled at me and gave a little wave. I could see his pride, and the tears streamed down my cheeks. I didn’t care if anyone saw me crying at a junior high awards ceremony. They were tears of joy. Complete, unbridled happiness for my kid and how far he’s come.
Fourteen years–struggles, challenges, successes, battles, frustrations, achievements, wins. I’m so happy to be his Mom. My sweet boy. My funny, wiggly, busy kid.
My little firecracker…