Running Bear

runningbearI didn’t think mom and dad were fair! They had taken me to the theater plenty of times before and I had no concept of ratings, so all I could think of was their meanness. I loved the movie theater, the movies and all that came with them, even though by today’s standards the Naval Base Movie House would have rated $1 Theater at best. It was damp, had sticky floors and a tinny sound system, and bats – live bats – at the ceiling that would sweep down after mosquitoes in the butter flavored air. But ratings didn’t matter to me and now I was mad and wanted to get even, so I called my friend Tina a few doors down.

Before I dialed, I ran into the room I shared with my big brother and threw some things in a battered blue overnight case, a cast off from my sisters. I threw in some underwear and socks, a few t-shirts, and jeans. I was already wearing my favorite red boots and I could carry the bear. I gingerly carried the case with me down the hall, treading lightly on the linoleum lest my siblings overhear, and set it with care next to the telephone table that I always felt too much like a school desk for my comfort.

I sat down gently and dialed the phone.

One ring.
I craned to see who was around.

Two rings.
I could feel a hot redness creeping up my neck.

Three rings.
I wasn’t sure that I could do this.

I clutched the bear.

Thank God Tina answered.

I cupped my hand around the receiver and whispered my plan into the phone. I was going to live at her house. I was running away.

I told her it was Okay because my parents were only a few doors down and I could go to school with her. Nobody would miss me, I could help cook or clean to earn my keep, and I would even share the bear. Surely this sacrifice would seal the deal. My plea was well thought out and earnest.

Tina, who normally jumped at the chance for a sleepover, suddenly sounded hesitant. She needed to ask her parents. She let go of the phone.

The few moments of confidence I felt as I wooed my “would be” roommate dissipated as quickly as steam. I knew Tina’s father. I was a little afraid of Tina’s father. He had a bald head, a mustache and was, to me at least, a tall and imposing figure. I could hear him talking faintly through the phone line and it didn’t sound friendly. I held the bear a little tighter as I scanned the parts of the house I could see to make sure that I was still clandestine. By the time Tina came back on the line, I had become aware of my breathing, amplified by the mouthpiece and damp around my nose. The hair on my neck where my braids met was becoming ringlets as my nerves outran the air conditioner. She took so long! Then she broke the news.

Apologetically she explained that I couldn’t come over. Her parents would tell and she would get in trouble. She was really sorry, but I had to stay home. I felt the last of my foolish hot air expire like last week’s helium. Her father said no and I deflated. I hadn’t even had a chance. I told Tina goodbye and hung up, dejected and defeated, awash in humiliation and shame.

What was I to do? I was beaten. The power I once had to get what I wanted had disappeared with my diapers, even though the desire for it had not, and six-year-old tantrums aren’t tolerated. I was the overthrown despot, done in by age. I realized that being six years old wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and I was going to miss a lot of movies. No longer concerned with staying undercover, I tucked the bear under one arm, dragged the case back to the bedroom and shut the door. One by one I put the clothes back in my dresser and then put the case in the closet on top of the toy box. The bear, he stayed with me. He stayed with me as I cried and dried my childish tears.

Sometimes it takes a revelation, no, a revolution, to learn who we are. I never, ever tried to run away again. The next week, my mom and dad took me to the movies.

runningbearutImage info

Manipulated with Photoshop.  Distributed under license here

Island Girl

islandbearThe first real memory I can recall was of walking into our house on the navy base in Puerto Rico. I was four years old. It was as if there was nothing before and my life began in that instant, the instant that I walked through the door into the living room and saw the white walls bathed in striped sunlight and the exotic, temporary wicker furniture that filled it. You would think that I would remember the plane ride to the island, but I don’t. However, I certainly was awestruck by that house. It was like a sort of dream or fairy tale, real but unreal. I remember it seemed strange, exotic and oh, so exciting! For a first memory that’s not too bad, but a door opened in my mind as well as that house that day. I lived there for about four years. For a little girl, there couldn’t have been a more magical place to be.

From front to back, our yard was a jungle and a playground. On the concrete half wall that separated the porch from the yard, it was common to see iguanas sunning themselves among the rhododendron. You might have also seen me, a little girl with cats eye glasses and dark pigtails, a striped t-shirt and red cowboy boots jumping off the wall, pretending to be a superhero, gifted with the capability of flight. Or maybe I was learning to skate on Christmas day holding onto that wall, my security blanket against skinned knees, stoically scuffling under the winter sun.

In the backyard was an almond tree with the unfortunate addition of a swing hanging from it. Nobody thought to warn me that lawn mowers can pick up and throw almonds. They can throw them very, very hard. I’m sure I blamed my brother at the time, but I hope he realizes that is a grudge I’ve outgrown. It was also the backyard where I left my favorite bear, BooBoo, out in the rain and jumped the reedy ditch at the border. Just beyond the yard was the base’s Family Pool where I learned to swim. Doing torpedoes underwater was my favorite and I was proud of my ability to open my eyes underwater. I still kind of am.

Under the carport, where more rhododendrons closed in like a fragrant fortress, my daddy stored the rocking horse I rode for hours on end, and when it rained, the gap between the gutter and the roof would create a horizontal curtain of water like a waterfall. In the little river that gathered and ran under the curtain I played with my little animals until my knobby knees were stiff and my hands, raisins. That tiny stream was an ocean of ideas to fill my animals’ imaginary lives, but my mother saw it as a possible source of Schistosomiasis. I still see it as a rain forest oasis filled with mist, rain and the sweetness of honeysuckle.

To venture out of the carport and onto the grass was to risk sands spurs and ant bites, but the reward could be a coconut to take inside. I knew very well the taste of fresh milk and the sweetness of fresh coconut on one of my mother’s cakes. There were coconut palms everywhere on Cowpens Drive.

Our house was at the bottom of a hill that rose steeply enough to cause inexperienced bike riders to end up with serious road rash at the end, and at the top w as the way to “The Rocks”, an area of cliffs and rocky coast on which my friends and I would risk our necks regularly. If you turned right from the driveway instead of left, it wasn’t a long walk to a white sand beach complete with shelters, grills and playground equipment, the perfect place to make frog houses and catch hermit crabs. It was also where, when drifting lazily in shallow water on a driftwood log, thinking of lunch, that I saw a barracuda swim by my leg. I got out of that water so fast I must’ve looked like I have suddenly been gifted with the ability to walk on water. It occurred to me, I guess, that the barracuda might have also been thinking about lunch.

But the real story of my childhood is inside the house, where I sprawled on the living room floor watching Bugs Bunny in Spanish and developed my first crush on Captain Kirk. In that house a little girl shared a room with big brother, had a dog named Bo, and celebrated the day she was able to reach the Popsicles in the freezer. This same little girl galloped on all fours around the dining room table until mom got a migraine. She sat sullenly in the hall to protest unwanted bed times. She tried to hatch lizard eggs in dresser drawers and listened to Lambchop on her sisters’ record player, refused to wear dresses, and tortured naked Barbie dolls with homemade haircuts.

We moved away when I was 9, when my father retired from the Navy. That plane ride I do remember. It took me from something that can never be replaced. Everything has changed, years have passed and even if I decided to visit, the house is no longer there. But something tells me, after a few more years have gone by and the grass has grown over and the buildings crumbled and the land is taken over once again by palms and sand spurs, you will be to glimpse the ghost of a little girl in red boots and braids galloping among the iguanas.



blindsImage Info

Manipulated in Photoshop.  Distributed under license here.

(Actually, I’m not sure it was lifelong. It seems I remember it hitting around fourth grade.)

Somewhere around the age of 10 or 11, I started to change.

I can remember being a very happy and active small child, very imaginative and playful. I had a good humor and I’m pretty sure I was easy to get along with. I don’t remember being a slug, in fact, I NEVER took naps, and I didn’t need them. There was a time I got in trouble in kindergarten because I told the teacher at nap time that I ‘don’t take naps’ and she called my mother. My mother simply looked at her like she was a nut and “But she doesn’t,” and I was never required to do it again. I still had to lie down and be quiet mind you, but I didn’t have any trouble with that either.

But right around the 4th grade (that would make me 9 or 10 really), I can remember the struggles starting. My schoolwork hadn’t started to suffer yet, but the fog was starting to form.
By fifth grade, it had me firm in its grip. My teacher, who was hateful in the extreme, TRULY hated ME. She was convinced that I was the laziest child who had every clouded her classroom and had no trouble telling me so. All those times I didn’t turn in my penmanship papers, the oral presentation that was so ‘off-the-cuff’ because I hadn’t done the work, rather only ripped through the cliff notes five minutes before, she made those into some sort of personal vendetta that she could cure only through humiliation and punishment far too severe for the nature of the crime. If I had been a less intelligent child, I would have been put back for sure, but my innate abilities saved my ass. It helped that I read encyclopedias for fun.

It stayed that way. All through grade school, it stayed. Through high school it stayed. Algebra class was the most frustrating failure I could imagine. All my life I had been told I was smart, but here I was a complete idiot, enduring it only by ignoring it. The confusion was too much. But how do you explain that to someone who has access to your intelligence tests? And how do you explain to anyone about the molasses in your brain, the one that makes you so hard to wake, and so inclined to sleep, so slow to move even when you knew the importance of speed and weren’t intentionally being that way? How do you tell them that you can’t keep your mind from wandering no matter how you try? There is no leash for the mind.

I talked to my mother about it at length yesterday, and she remembers all this. She would ask me, no IMPLORE me to explain. All I could say through my tears was that “I forgot”, or “I don’t KNOW why”. She was just as confused and frustrated as I was and had no clue what to do. She confessed to me about her worries for me and for my future, whether or not I would ever be able to make it in the adult world where responsibilities don’t accept excuses, the same ones I found myself having for my daughter.

Research now confirms that this is a condition that manifests around pre-puberty and persists at its strongest during the teen years. It usually diminishes with adulthood, but never really ‘goes away’. Some are luckier than others.

In fact, I consider myself very lucky indeed. I have recourses and resources my mother never did. Medical knowledge has caught up with the condition. Back then even the classic hyperactive type of ADD wasn’t recognized easily, now they know that it can manifest in two ways. Boys generally exhibit the ADHD that is easy to spot, but girls, with their different brain chemistry, exhibit it in opposite fashion. The girls with ADD may not be ADHD at all, no hyperactivity. It is inertia, dreaminess and a paralysis stemming from a perfectionism that is obsessive and aggressive.

All that said, it is important that we learn to recognize the ADD girl. She is bright, very bright. She is creative and imaginative. She is not at all disruptive, in fact she is usually so quiet that her behaviors aren’t really noticed until the half-finished homework is found crumpled up in the bottom of her book bag covered in doodles and bleeding red ink. She is the one with ‘so much potential’ that the teacher doesn’t get why she is failing. She is everywhere, but we don’t see her sometimes until it is too late.

I always thought I was just an introvert, an introvert in the extreme. Now I see.

Jack ‘out of the box’

I watched a piece of the most incredible show at my brother’s house the other day, “Crossroads”, a music festival that features some of the most revered and renowned guitarists alive.  I couldn’t help but be awestruck not only by the talent, but the absolute dedication to the craft that each one obviously possesses.

I am what you could call a ‘jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.’   In many ways, that speaks volumes about me.  My mother would tell you that I have a huge musical talent.  I would say that a mother’s love looks through a magnifying glass.  She would also likely say that I could have gone so much further, if only.

As a child, I took piano, organ, violin, clarinet, and voice lessons.  I played violin and viola in the school orchestra and clarinet in the band.  I played hand bells for the River City Ringers (May they rest in peace) and recorder for a quartet.  But I am not the master of a single one.  Oh, I can read music, but not well enough to play an instrument and impress you with it.  That takes years of practice, something I have never had the fortitude for.

Voice doesn’t count.  Voice comes easy.  I’ve never had to work at that particular instrument; it just does what I want it to do.  Piano was boring.  It was hard; it was no fun, and as soon as I found it confusing I just shut down.  Violin and clarinet were OK as long as I didn’t have to practice, but I had no passion for them and eventually put them down too.  Even after I finally felt the thrill of performing with the River City Ringers and finding a real love for the hand bells, it’s somehow still not enough to compel me to church.

So, what’s the deal?  If it is so easy for me to play that I can hold first or second place in the orchestra AND the band without ever practicing, if I can play in public with a selected group of talented people, if I can do all these things, why didn’t I go that extra step?

It would be so easy to blame this on the ADD…oh so easy.  To be able to place a label on this would be a convenient salve for my self-pitying soul.  I can’t.  I won’t.  Let’s be real here.  There is a gift that those performers were born with that I was not and in some ways, maybe I AM just lazy.

If you want to know what an ADD person is passionate about, look at what they are doing when they are supposed to be doing everything else.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that many of those great musicians, artists, writers and actors are full of the stuff.

I think about the children my mother has home schooled over the years, several of which were diagnosed eventually with ADHD and what they are like.  In particular, there is one who is now about 12.  He is so bright, gregarious and loving; you can’t help but love this kid.  He is also obsessed with birds.  He can identify the eggs, the feathers and the nests of so many that you would think he was Audubon incarnate.  My daughter can name a trillion anime characters, complete with the colors or their outfits, the special powers, their theme songs complete with Japanese lyrics, and on and on, that she could practically be an emissary overseas.  I used to draw and write.  I had stories and characters in my head, every facet of their culture imagined, each one rich and as detailed as my daydreams would allow.

I wasn’t encouraged to indulge in my passions.  Even if they had been considered a practical and viable option for adult employment, I think they earned a stigma that made it too tempting for a teacher or mother to discourage instead.  Why would you encourage a kid to keep drawing when they keep doing it during an Social Studies lesson?  That’s not what they are in school for, but I think it may be wise to pay attention to what they are doing, even if it needs to be directed to a more appropriate time.

I think – and this is my opinion only – that the best thing we can do for an ADD kid is to give them some slack, a little wiggle room, but better yet, a real big push right toward what they are telling you they love and are good at.  They are just like any other kid, but here is the thing, the ADD kid has a little gift too, in a way.  They have a great big signpost over their heads that says “I WANT THIS”!

They make it so much more obvious. We just need to look.  They are screaming it at us.  We just need to hear.

I am an adult with ADD.

The missing quarter round in the living room, the unwashed dishes, unironed laundry, the tires that need replacing…these things are yet unchanged.  But after years of always being unfinished, always being late, or worse, forgetting about things entirely, and absolutely loathing the same characteristics when I found them in others, I decided that I was no longer willing to be my own worst enemy.

A few weeks ago, my 13 yr. old daughter was diagnosed with ADD/Inattentive type.  Of course as part of the process, I  had to fill out a million questionnaires describing her behavior.  What I saw was my own face in the mirror.

At first, I battled with my ex-husband about having her evaluated at all!  I insisted it was just because she was like her mother.  “There’s nothing wrong with her, she’s just like me,” I argued, insulted that he would insinuate by proxy that I was defective as well.  But after caving to his demands, I discovered he was right.  WE are not normal.  WE have challenges that normal does not face.  And those challenges are with our own selves.

All my life I have had to start ‘from behind’.  Not because of anybody else’s interference, because of my own.  The interference that comes from my head.

It takes more than one form.  Sometimes it’s the voice that says I can do it later, sometimes it’s the fact that too much stimuli like voices or music creates a cacaphony in my head that makes it impossible for me to distinguish one from another.  It makes me slow to understand directions, reluctant to start or finish projects, and flit from one thing to another.   I am nearly impossible to live with, except for those who truly love me and accept my often offered explanations of  “my RAM is full!”

This week, both me and my daughter started on meds.  It’s been interesting to watch our changes.  Hers have been much more dramatic, but I can see little changes in myself as well.

It’s easier to get up in the morning, I seem to be more mindful when I’m driving, I’m actually tackling a few really annoying projects even though I REALLY don’t want to, and I have finished more than a few this week.  I’m not flying from one task to another, dropping memories like lost buttons, unable to  find and reattach them to my life.  I seem more ‘mindful’ in general, more able to keep things contained in my brainpan.

It’s a journey.  If I can just keep floating a little while longer, maybe I’ll get back to you.