Finally, after fifty years living in the state of Florida, I visited Kennedy Space Center. I had a very good reason. He’s eight, brilliant and amazing, mercurial and funny as hell. He also has the attention span of a fruit fly.
I wandered the halls, and slowly digested the glorious accomplishment that is space flight. He parkoured every surface possible, staying occasionally at one or another simulator long enough to get frustrated and move onto the next. Slowly, as my heart swelled in pride at what man can accomplish collaboratively, it broke simultaneously as I realized if I don’t intervene, my little man will grow up feeling as though he is capable of nothing.
Before we left for KSC, we had the teacher’s conference I dreaded, the one I hoped would never happen. As I listened to descriptions of his behavior in class, the pain in my chest grew as I relived all those moments I experienced as a child. So now, I look at him with entirely different eyes. Now, I see him as having the same debilitating symptoms that clotheslined me and I worry that I am not equipped to help him. I also see what his future will be like if I stand frozen and helpless, as I am at this moment.
You see, normal brain function allows one to get from point a to be point b with relatively little intervention. But in his case, as in mine, it’s constant, exhausting course correction. Eventually, the course corrections sound like nagging, and then “failure syndrome” develops. “Yes,” you think, “I see that mountain over there. Yes, intellectually, I know I COULD climb it. Yes, I KNOW I will fail.” Why? Simply, because it’s too big.
I will never be the kind of person who sits behind a desk all day, every day. Neither will my boy. Repetitive activities actually make us anxious. In fact, recently, while on a brief IT contract, I watched the workers on a production line for a few minutes as I waited for a computer to reboot. I felt myself becoming very depressed. I realize, though, that if I can’t figure out a way to effectively help my child, then he will be relegated to a job he hates because he won’t be able to get through the education he wants.
I remind him that some of the most amazing minds in history had ADD: Edison, Einstein, Tesla, Ford and many more. I remind myself. I get frustrated and I yell and then I hear him regurgitate to me the distilled version of whatever I found annoying. “Mommy, I can’t do it. It takes too long.” “Mommy, this is the way IIIIII write.” And to an extent, he’s right. I want him to be himself and at this point, his grades are stellar. But part of becoming a productive adult is finding a way to maneuver in a world that was designed for people who can get from point a to point b without constant course correction.
So, I watched the video depicting how an idea for a reusable spacecraft became the Space Shuttle and I began to cry. I watched how humans come together and creatively solve problems. I watched how great minds achieve great things, and I secretly mourned my failures and feared for his. As a parent, I have a choice to dig in my heels and fight for him or to let him sort it out the way I did. At this point, it is a simple choice for me. It was too hard to learn what few coping skills I have and I lost many, many years doing it. I don’t want that for him. I want all of the things that he’s interested in to remain the smorgasbord of possibilities that they are, today. I want him to believe that he can climb that terrifyingly large mountain in front of him and I want to watch him scamper off into the distance to try. Someday, maybe, he’ll cure cancer or he’ll figure out how to grow food safely in space, but I know that if I don’t help him now, in 40 years, he’ll be me, mourning all of the opportunities that were lost to fear. I don’t want that for him, so nose to the grind stone, I’m going to figure this out.
If you are a parent that doesn’t have to guide your child through every activity, thank your stars. Yes, he is healthy, and happy most of the time, but I see the shine wearing off as he begins to struggle more and more with focus. I’ll find my answers, which are going to be different from the next person’s. In the meantime, my new eyes will just have to adjust.