Whenever I meet a new person, and they begin the conversation with, “You’re the mum of… ” (as is the expression in German). I find myself, for a brief moment, holding my breath. Awaiting the name that will follow. On continuance with Joni, Lori or Akasha, I can breath easily and smile warmly. However, when Aden is the name that is uttered, I find myself tensing. What will come next? How do they know him? Has he annoyed them ringing their bell and asking to use their toilet? Has he seen them working in their garden and told them in his inexperienced yet confident way, how to do the job much better? Has he asked for food/a drink/a lift home? Or worse still, do they know him through school, and have heard about his shenanigans: disturbing the class, climbing out of windows, fire-starting, upping and leaving mid-lesson, or even his frustrated temper outbursts?
I study their face for clues in those first seconds, fearing the worst, but sometimes, I meet people, who see in my son, something good.
Aden recently had his annual sports day event at school. As usual, a follow-up medal giving presentation took place a few days later.
On his return home Aden looked sombre. A discussion entailed, where I discovered the gravity of the situation. He had not received a single medal. Presumably, because athletics, indeed sport in general, is not exactly his strong point. Sorry son. That would be the DNA from your mum. The sports section on my report card always stated, “Sarah tries hard.” The unstated part, “but achieves nothing.”
After the prize giving, he informed me, he had approached his good friend, the headmaster. Hans. I’m familiar with his first name, because the head had already taken the time to tell me of my sons informal chat with him, earlier in the year, ending with his name – Hans. It would be true to say, that relations have improved between the pair, in the last couple of months, since the arrival of Ritalin in our lives. On talking with his leader, Aden had explained his sad mood – not a single medal. Hans cheered him with the information, that, had there been medals to give for the most helpful boy in the school: Aden would have achieved the gold. Hands down. No contest.
Unfortunately for Aden though, there is no such medal.
Sitting at home with me, having a comforting cuddle, he had a realisation.
It started with me expressing my belief that a gold medal for helpfulness is worth much more than a gold medal in any sport.
Aden thought to himself, then said:
“I am really helpful. I help my teacher. I help the headmaster. All the time. I help much more than anyone else does.”
Me, “That’s nice.”
Him, “And I help our neighbours a lot.”
True. He’s out there, gardening, building, fixing. Endlessly.
“But I don’t help you!”
I breathe in.
He’s got it!
Will it make a difference?
Will he forget again within the next two minutes?
Has the Ritalin caused this? Aden has now been taking Ritalin regularly for about three months. The changes are significant. But I would still describe our circumstances as “challenging” on a daily basis. Especially because Ritalin only works for a few hours.
Flashbacks to ‘helpful’ situations play out in my mind.
Like, going to the recycling centre. Aden loves to attend. I fill the car while he’s bouncing around, offering assistance. I’m not sure if it’s the possibility of free junk to bring home, the throwing of cardboard into the abyss-like containers or the smashing of the glass that does it for him. It’s definitely not the flies. Of that I’m sure. But he’s always desperate to go. And he’s strong and capable, so I like to take him along, in the hope of support. But what actually happens is this:
We arrive, open the doors and boot of our car. I give Aden a box or bag and point him in the direction of the correct container. Then he’s gone. Puff! Off to help another family. Meanwhile, I climb the steps, battle the flies, feed the abyss. Normally a ‘helped one’ approaches me, raving about the helpfulness of my son. Their work is done. Although they arrived after me. And I’m still carrying away. Over their shoulder, I notice Aden helping a second grateful depositor. I smile as graciously as I can.
When everyone else’s rubbish is dealt with, I spot him chatting to the guy who works there. Quizzing him eagerly about everything he sees.
Another example is at the supermarket. I like to spend as little time as possible doing a main shop. So I attempt one huge shop, around once a month and buy all the heavy and long-lasting objects and then top up with short, fresh shops when needed throughout the month. For those big shops, we always need two trolleys. Yes, I am that annoying shopper. Aden is always the obvious choice to accompany me. Along with Akasha. He’s home from school every afternoon, unlike the older girls and they want to stay home mostly to study or do homework. Besides, I have no choice but to take him really, even when the older girls are at home, I’m too nervous to leave him anyway. He’s just too impulsive.
So, nowadays, it’s often me, a three-year old who refuses to sit in a trolley and wants everything in the store, and an ADHD Aden, whose Ritalin is wearing off. I can feel your trepidation.
It starts off well. I have a trolley. Aden has his trolley and we head to the cereal, where the two little ones search out our staple, every-time-buys and a free choice each. Off to the fruit and veg.
But, I’m already losing him.
A mouldy peach may require the attention of a shop assistant. Or perhaps it’s a split melon. But one minute he is there and the next he has gone.
Generally, I’m to be found shoving two trolleys simultaneously, while a little one holds onto my skirt and cries for a cake/yoghurt/chocolate bar/teddy bear shaped ham. Throwing at rapid speed anything and everything into a trolley, (my sporting abilities have improved), and yelling my son’s name somewhat impatiently. This impatience is further encouraged by a three-year old who believes we have the wrong trolley and attempts to palm our goods off on unsuspecting passers-by.
Aden, I find ritually helping an assistant. Stacking shelves. Tidying up. Handing over damaged goods.
It would be true to say, though, that at times they are rather unamused by his constant questioning, and by this time of day, somewhat erratic movements. I drag him away until he discovers his next distraction.
At home, I actively encourage all of the children to be helpful, to do their bit. I praise them when they do well, and thank them. But Aden, until this point has been generally uninterested.
- I ask him to fetch something from the downstairs freezer and he does not return
- I send him outside to hang the washing out and he lies on the grass and says he can’t
- I ask him to tidy up his mess and he reads a book
- I ask him for help in the garden, he sees the neighbour and helps them in their garden instead.
Has, finally, something clicked into place? Is this realisation going to last? Or is it for him a momentary lapse into my world? My optimistic self feels confident.
Sometimes, I’m approached with, “You’re the mum of Aden!” and my nerves start to settle as I’m given a description of how helpful my son has been. It could be for a friend or a relative stranger. He’s shovelled their snow. Carried their wares. Watered and cut back their plants. He’s offered to empty their rubbish, fix their car, chop their wood, tidy their garden, and teach them English. Probably, all at the same time.
My only son. It’s so nice to feel proud of him.
It would be a great bonus to be able to genuinely say, “Yes, and he’s very considerate at home too.”