My ADHD daughter, Coco, was thirteen years-old and dealing with her first year of middle school, and my ADHD son Harry was twenty and still living at home and the whole family including my non-ADHD wife Margaret and our way-too-intuitive dog were all still living in Honolulu, scraping by in paradise, when I wrote this post for my ADHD Dad blog at ADDitudemag.com.
A lot has changed in three years, we live in Georgia now, Harry has moved out, and my mother-in-law has moved in. But the ADHD Tango between my daughter and I, goes on – the steps are more complex now that she’s in high school, but the challenge of the dance remains.
It’s last week, Friday afternoon – I’m on a deadline, trying desperately to finish an article that I’ve procrastinated even starting for days, and now it’s down to the wire. My wife and twenty-year-old son are at work and I’m home alone hunched over the computer calling myself stupidlazystupidstupidstupid when my thirteen-year-old daughter, Coco, comes slamming home from school. She grabs a banana from the kitchen, walks into my office, and with a big sigh plops down in the chair across the desk from me.
“I need you to look at my knee, Dad. It’s really killing me.” Coco’s knee is always really killing her. Or her shoulder, or her ankle, or her nails that she won’t stop biting, last week she thought she might be going blind. I nod and give her a quick smile.
“Honey, I’m swamped right now so…” She puts her leg on my desk examining her knee. “I swear – the nurse said I should stay off it.” She takes a bite of banana. “My shoulder hurts too. But that’s ‘cause Jay hit me. He got kicked out of class today. But not for that. And coach says I need a new sports bra.” I tell her I’ll look at her knee later but I have to get this work done first. She says okay, starts to limp away then turns back and says oh she forgot but could I sign this envelope for her – its nothing – just field trip stuff. I need to get this article done that I rigorously put off all week so I quick sign so she’ll let me work.
Thing is, I want to believe that being an ADHD adult should make me a more understanding parent to my two adolescent ADHD children. It just makes sense that since I bang around in the same kind of brain that my kids do that I’d naturally be more empathetic and patient with them than their non-ADHD mom. I know what they’re going through. I know what it feels like to try and fail, and all that rigmarole. Fat lot I know.
It took my wife Margaret, their non-ADHD mother to find the note from the teacher about homework not turned in and projects not completed that was in that envelope I signed. I forget that my kids know I’m ADHD too, they know what I’m going through, and Coco in particular empathizes with me, and because we share similar symptoms she understands my stresses and limits. And I was kind of stunned that she used that edge to her advantage.
“I can’t believe my little girl would manipulate me like that,” I say to Margaret later.
She nods in sympathy. “It boggles the mind,” she says, “Unless you’ve been exposed to any story about dads and daughters written anywhere, anytime in the last few hundred years.”
These days, Coco’s doing much better in school. She likes her high school here in Georgia, and she’s more mature. But we still get into inevitable father/daughter conflicts. But I’m not as naive as I once was. So since, like spies, we both know the odd way each other’s ADHD minds work and don’t work, when we fight, we know the steps. Margaret watches from the sidelines, smiling and shaking her head, because she knows that Coco knows steps I’ll never learn, but we’ll keep on dancing.
- Frank South
Originally published 2009 in ADDitudemag.com