Month: April 2015
In the morning, after “I quit” being responsible for Dylan’s entire life, I woke up feeling strangely empty.
I didn’t have anything to do.
It was a Sunday, so I had to get ready for church. Shane was singing with his youth group.
I have to make sure he’s wearing the right shirt, I thought, knowing he’d already be awake, dressed, and wearing the right shirt. (He was.)
At least I have Shane, I thought – followed immediately by, NO. I don’t need to obsess over Shane the way I’d obsessed over Dylan for so many years, even though Shane is younger and there’s still time for me to “take care” of him.
I didn’t know how to handle Dylan. I woke him up and yelled at him, as always. Then I thought, I really will leave without him today, if he’s not ready on time.
But he was ready on time. He came downstairs and made himself a high-protein breakfast.
I didn’t feel like I’d quite done enough, after only 14 years of constant vigil. So I went to the computer and made a list.
- take responsibility for your own health
- know what you need to succeed
- exercise and take care of your body
- brush and floss (use water pik)
- wipe dinner table every night
- do Saturday jobs on Saturday
- set alarm and get out of bed on time
- be ready to go and downstairs on time
- be prepared by taking all the things you need
- demonstrate proper, respectable behavior
- know when work is due and turn it in
- bring home all the things you need
- do homework without being asked
- do jobs without being asked
- get to sleep at a reasonable hour
I gave him the list. I said, “This is everything I’ve told you in the past 14 years, the stuff you need to do to be responsible. If you want to go on the school trip, act like an adult, or be treated like an adult, then these are the things you need to do.”
“Okay,” he said.
It didn’t feel sufficient, but I backed off anyway.
I’ve done all I can do.
So now what do I do? I have no life outside of these kids. I have nothing to do, no life of my own, nothing to think about, nothing to research. I’ve created my own empty nest syndrome, and my kids are still here!
I knew about this, of course. I mean, I knew it was coming someday. So I padded myself with softball teams, a gym membership, and a part-time teaching job.
But none of that takes place on Sunday.
So I went to church. I saw Shane sing, which was awesome. And then the minister started to talk. He talked about the Golden Rule, about “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
He talked about creating a healthy environment within yourself, so that you have room for God to take over your life. He talked about clearing out everything else so that there’s plenty of room for God.
And then I remembered: This is how it begins.
Something breaks inside of me when I see Dylan playing video games at night.
I think, What is he doing? Why isn’t he studying? Does he think he has nothing better to do? Look at his bedroom! It’s a disaster! He hasn’t cleaned up anything since 2008. And what about his hermit crabs? Has he fed them? Does he even know if they have water?
Lately, I’ve been pushing Dylan to take control over his own ADHD. The Healing ADD book on CD has been transferred, in part, to his room. So lately, I’ve had the additional voice screaming in the back of my head: WHY ISN’T HE TAKING CARE OF HIMSELF?
And of course, this happens every night. Some nights, I mention the crabs. Some nights, I mention studying. Lately, I’ve frequently mentioned listening to the ADD book.
But on this night, something NEW broke inside of me.
He was playing video games at 9:30, as he often does. Sitting on his bed in his messy bedroom, having been forced to re-do his algebra work earlier in the day – but otherwise, not having done a single thing to take care of himself.
I started in: “Why aren’t you listening to the CD I gave you? I have to get it back to the library. Have you listened to any of it yet?”
“No, but I was going to.”
I don’t know when I snapped, exactly, but I snapped. I had Chris’ words ringing in my ears, about negativity. I had my ex-friend’s words ringing in my ears, about my negativity. I didn’t know how to be positive or encouraging. I couldn’t remember a single positive, encouraging thing to say to anyone about anything – least of all, Dylan.
So instead, I quit.
I quit being responsible for Dylan. I quit being responsible for his ADHD. I quit being responsible for his moods, his work, his room, his study habits, his school, his teachers, his hermit crabs … his life.
“I’m done!” I screeched, tossing things around the room.
I threw the hard copy of Healing ADD down the hall, because I wasn’t ever going to finish reading it.
“Can I have the CD book?” Dylan asked. I told him he could get it out of the car if he wanted it. I was done reading about ADHD.
I don’t even have ADHD.
So in spite of my great enthusiasm for learning everything there is to learn about it – and in spite of my hours and hours and hours and hours and days and weeks and years spent researching Dylan’s behavior and trying every solution known to mankind – I quit.
In haste and anger, I scribbled four words on a post-it, and handed it to Dylan.
It said (in all caps): DIET, EXERCISE, MEDICATION, SLEEP.
“THIS is all you need to know,” I said. “Good luck.”
I’ve done everything I can do for Dylan.
It is now time that he steps up and does it for himself.
With nothing to read, nothing to do, nothing to think about, nothing to worry about, and nothing left to say, I went to bed.
As I drifted off, a strange thought entered my brain: This is how it begins.
My stepson, Chris, is 23 years old. His brain works a lot like Bill’s, and like Dylan’s. In spite of this, he managed to not only succeed in school, but to graduate with exceptional grades from a college honors program.
So he’s been a great advocate for Dylan – especially when defending Dylan against me.
I mentioned something to him about my blog, and asked if he was still reading it.
“Yeah,” he said, “and not to be offensive, but I’m getting tired of all the negativity.”
“What negativity?” I asked, actually not understanding.
Chris then went into a ten-minute lecture on the virtues of encouraging Dylan, rather than constantly criticizing him. He explained that I needed to make sure that the positive things I say to Dylan far outweigh the negative things. He told me that what Dylan was hearing was an inevitability of failure, rather than a way to succeed.
Everything Chris said, I knew. I know. There is nothing that he said that I hadn’t either read somewhere, heard somewhere, or learned on my own and tried to practice.
Yet, the words that came out of my mouth in response to Chris’ advice were defensive. I’d done the things Chris said, but I wasn’t still doing them. And I tried to explain why I wasn’t still doing them. In fact, I’d run through so many things in trying to help Dylan that my inconsistency in being positive was the only thing that was still overwhelming my behaviors.
Chris also said that I should let him fail. He said I swooped in and saved Dylan every time something happened. That I was still dealing with the teachers, reminding Dylan what to do, giving Dylan everything he needed instead of letting him get it on his own.
I heard myself saying, “Yeah, but…” and “Well the reason I did that was…” and “I only do that because…”
My mouth was moving, and the excuses were pouring out, but my head was screaming, YEAH, BUT…?!? These are all excuses! You ARE doing it all wrong!
And later, after asking Chris’ permission to mention him – and his advice – in my blog, I was thinking: Why don’t I stay positive? What have I been doing instead?
And I realized the sad inevitability: I did what I thought was right. But I made it worse. All of my interventions and attempts to force my child to succeed were actually keeping him from succeeding.
At one point, I read an entire book that told me – quite specifically – not to do any of these things. And somehow I forgot all of that wisdom, and started back on this path.
And all I can think now is: I was only trying to help.