A father's compassion and understanding
This past June, my daughter came into the world. She arrived earlier than expected, which is not a surprise, given her propensity to move around constantly. If her legs are not kicking, her back is arching, and her hands are swinging. It makes it difficult to figure out what she needs, because she is discontented being in one place for too long. She is a happy child, but she is anxious to get somewhere, even though her 6-month-body is not ready.
For good or bad, this condition runs in the family. I was born just before the ADHD craze, when kids like me were considered ‘wild.’ My elementary school teachers would discipline me because I was always fidgeting. My leg would shake up and down incessantly, the fabric in my jeans making a constant swishing noise, interrupting nap time. I would race to be first everywhere we went, and I ran up and down the halls of that school like it was a racetrack.
My mother was the first to notice my restlessness, when she saw me thrashing in my bed at night. Every evening, before I could go to sleep, I would get in the fetal position, grip the sheets in my fists, and rock aggressively up and down. I called it “rocking,” and my mother understood – she too rocked as a child. She knew that it soothed me. Movement soothed me, and it soothes my daughter too. She will be a third-generation rocker.
But even as my mother identified with my actions, she had to balance her compassion with the necessary discipline, and that is a difficult line to walk. My grandmother was not as compassionate to my mother’s restlessness, and it affected their relationship. That left my mom with no example to follow. How do you calm a child with a restless nature without making the child feel that something is wrong with him or her?
My grandmother went easier on me, but that is probably because she only had to deal with me for so long before I returned home. My grandmother would say, “Lord, that child does not stay still.” I could not believe it when I heard those words come out of my mouth recently. I now know my grandmother's frustration when trying to change a diaper, with those legs kicking in fits. I have to gently, but firmly, restrict my daughter’s legs to have any chance of dressing her in tights.
As I became an adolescent, my physical manifestations of restlessness waned a bit, but my mind was increasingly absent. I would gaze out of classroom windows, not at the trees or sky, but deep into space. Teachers would interrupt me with, “Mr. Gane, are you with us?” I would snap back, and do my best to catch up, behind in the lesson. I left books at school that I needed for homework, and my parents would drive me back to retrieve them.
And then there is the famous ‘shoe story.’ In ninth grade, I carpooled to school with my best friend and his father. Every morning, I was late. They would blow the car horn in the front driveway and I would scramble to get all of my belongings together. Each day, I put on my shoes in the car, as that was the last thing on my list.
One morning, I was frantically finishing homework when the carpool arrived. I rushed out of the house with my text book in hand, doing math problems on the way. It was not until we pulled up to school that I reached down to the floor for my shoes, only to discover that they were not there. I begged my friend’s father to take me back home, but he refused. He went directly to work each day after he dropped us off, and he could not be late. So, I pulled down my jeans as far as I could over my feet, and walked straight to the office to call my mother.
I went to the reception desk and asked to use the phone. The receptionist said, “Why do you need to call your mother.” I smiled and said, “I forgot my shoes," to which she said, “You can get your soccer cleats after school.” I replied, “No, I mean I am not wearing any.” You can imagine the kidding and pestering I got over the next month for this mishap. But to me, it did not seem that unreasonable! I just assumed that I had my shoes with me, when they were at home all along.
That is one of the funny stories, but my condition was also frustrating, especially when it came to academics. I especially had trouble with standardized testing. The time limits and the sheer volume of the work would frustrate me. I would daydream in the middle of a section only to wake up and find myself staring at a math problem.
Later in life, my restlessness had more devastating effects. I am convinced that my condition greatly contributed to my substance abuse problems. Alcohol calmed me from the very beginning. It made me feel 'normal,' and I realized that I did not like living in a constant state of unease, otherwise known as reality. So, I self-medicated for the next twenty years. Some of it was fun, but a lot of it was tragic. It is impossible for me to watch my daughter struggle and not worry, even if her actions are normal, and I am projecting my problems onto her.
Like my daughter, I always wanted to get somewhere, and I missed out on a lot of what was going on right in front of me. I blinked and found myself grown. In a miraculous turn of events, late in life, I matured and discovered peace and contentment. Now, I am intent on cherishing every moment I have with my daughter, even if she is squirming to get out of my arms.
I watch as she tries to jump out of her own body, to get to some unspecified place, and I know all too well how she feels. I know how unsettling it is to be uncomfortable, and I want her to know that she can count on me not to judge her. After all, we are kindred spirits, and there is nothing wrong with being hyperactive. It poses problems, but what personality type doesn't? I will teach her the lessons that I have learned - how to maximize the assets of hyperactivity and minimize the liabilities. It gives me hope knowing that I can use my own mistakes to help the next generation cope better. For these reasons, I kiss her little cheek like a rapid firing machine gun each and every day of her life.
Sometimes it makes her laugh, and sometimes it irritates her, but I keep right on at it.