I’m sorry, and you’re welcome. That’s the sum of what I want to tell my son when he’s old enough to understand what’s made his mom so frustrating and unpredictable. As an ADHD mom, that “I’m sorry” is instinctive to me by now. But I hope to find a lot more to say “you’re welcome” for, too. He might not yet recognize the chaos I bring into our lives, but when he does, I hope he can read this:
I’m sorry for all the running we’ve had to do together, since the moment you were conceived. Running to doctor’s appointments, running to work, running to plays and concerts and meetings with friends and playdates and school. My attention deficit disorder means I’m blind to time. I have no idea how long it will take me to do something as simple as get dressed in the morning, let alone ride the subway into Manhattan. And no matter how many times I’ve been proven wrong, I’m eternally optimistic that these tasks take less time than they do. The first words I use to greet people everywhere I go are a sweaty, panting, “Sorry, I’m late.”
You bounced around in my belly as I ran. Then you bounced around in your stroller. And once you were old enough to walk, your little feet scampered alongside me as we ran together. It should take just 10 minutes to get to your pediatrician’s office, right? (Nope, 30.) All the while, inside I am beating myself up for doing this yet again. Why can’t I learn? Why am I making the simplest errands stressful?
You’re welcome, though, for the many adventures and activities I’ve squeezed into our time together. My ADHD makes me ambitious and often has me seeking outside stimuli, so I’d like to think you get some benefit from that. On Fridays when you were 1, I thought it was totally reasonable to go to a sing-along at a cafe, followed by swimming class at the YMCA in the dead of winter, and we made it sometimes. On Saturdays, I would sit by your bedroom, willing you to wake up from nap in time for us to run to the bus and make it to another music class across town. Sure, we were 15 minutes late half the time. You couldn’t tell. On our days off together, I always think we’ll be able to go to playgrounds, museums, and restaurants, right after completing elaborate crafts at home. We don’t ever do all of those things, but two of them makes the day exciting, right?
I’m sorry that I’m so easily overwhelmed and distracted. My ADHD often makes me feel like there are 10 TVs in front of me, all turned up loud and on different channels. I don’t always know which TV you’re playing on, and when I do, I still hear the others blaring. I can’t juggle all the things that super-mommies can. I know I couldn’t possibly manage to give you a brother or sister. And though you and your dad love large family gatherings full of cousins, aunts, and uncles, I’m drowning the second I step into a room with so many people. I worry they think I don’t like being with them, when I’m just on system overload. I want you to be surrounded by family whenever you want to be, so long as I can also escape to breathe.
But you’re welcome, because I understand when you’re overwhelmed too. I can see in your face when you’ve had enough of a crowd. On those Saturday mornings when your dad wants us to get out and do “all the stuff,” I get that you sometimes just want to stay at home and chill after a week of nonstop activities.
I’m sorry I had to stop breastfeeding you after six months. Returning to work as a new mother proved to be so much harder than I’d imagined. Doing so without the help of my Adderall prescription was becoming disastrous. I wanted to give you all the nourishment I could, but it couldn’t come at the price of my mental health.
But you’re welcome for being an advocate for my own mental health as a mom. I’m pretty proud of myself for realizing my limits in that first year, and for finally going freelance when I had to. Taking care of myself made it possible for me to be fully there for you. If your own mental wellbeing is ever at risk, I hope to be able to guide you through it too.
I’m sorry that I’m so disorganized. I don’t reply to your teachers or to PTA requests on time. I lose important paperwork, or hand it over wrinkled and smudged. I fail to add parties and appointments to the calendar. I don’t put your school library books in your backpack. I don’t arrange all the play dates I should. I’m weeks behind on my half of your homeschooling assignments. I never did manage to make that color-coded schedule the experts told me to make.
But you’re welcome for my hyper-focus times. This is the ironic gift of ADHD. When something grabs me the right way, the rest of the world goes quiet, and I can devote every cell in my brain to it. This is how I found you the perfect preschool, how I found our perfect apartment, how we adopted our beloved dog, how we go on week-long vacations to exciting new places, and how I do often manage to research the crap out of ways to enrich your life. It’s also, by the way, how I can have a job, against all odds.
I’m sorry for losing things all the time and freaking out about it. This is the thing I feel guiltiest about. It’s a bad habit I picked up as a child: I lose a toy, a jacket, a phone, my wallet, my glasses, because my attention is on everything else in the world other than the object in my hand. When I discover it’s missing, I also remember every other thing I have ever lost, and I mourn — not the objects themselves, but the fact that I will never, ever be able to change. No matter how many times I designate special places for my keys and headphones. No matter how many times people say, “Why don’t you just set an alarm for yourself?” My brain will fail me again.
And so, I pace my apartment, my voice rising, berating myself for not putting the thing in the right place, hot tears streaming down my face. And now, I have done this in front of you, setting an awful example. I don’t ever want you to berate yourself for anything, let alone be upset about forgetting your water bottle at school again. I don’t ever want you to think that things are more important than your own happiness. I am so sorry you’ve had to witness my breakdowns. I’m trying so hard to curb that impulse, and I’ll continue to try to do better for you.
The key to my doing better, I suspect, is in forgiving myself for the glitches in my system that don’t make me a bad mom. Just a different one. And if I can look to the gifts my random brain can give us, that will help too.
So, you’re welcome for the dreamy, wandering talks and walks we have. I love when we tell stories and go nowhere in particular together. We pause to look at clouds and bugs and blades of grass and talk of flying unicorns and how weather works and what dogs think about. When I get lost inside myself, you take my hand and remind me I’m with you, and I can share the winding road my thoughts had taken. I hope you enjoy those times with me. As you grow into whatever kind of scientist/artist/musician/poet/engineer/designer you might be, I hope you can let your mind wander into the random twists and turns that lead to creative ideas and solutions.
And thank you, because I never realized until now that in raising you, I could raise myself, too.
Though I can’t focus, maybe your kids can … with these fun toys to practice their aim.