Playing to Your Strengths

2 Apr

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Yesterday a friend was talking about having a meeting with her son’s school to discuss some issues he’s having at school. There is a good chance that her son is exhibiting signs of ADHD, which my friend and one of her other sons have already been diagnosed with. Like any mom in this situation, she is conflicted. She knows her son needs help, but it’s so difficult to hear that your babies “aren’t good enough” just as they are. I know this anguish because for the first five years of my son’s life, we were focused on keeping him healthy. He was born with a rare pituitary disorder that affects his entire adrenal system. He is lucky in some ways because his version of the disorder is mild. I moderate a Facebook page of parents who have children with his disorder and many of them are so much more fragile than he is. When he was diagnosed, there was very little information about his condition because only 1 child in 10 million was born with it and the vast majority of children were born with the more severe version of it, so even among the rare, he was rare. It was a terrifying time because we were told that the flu, a broken bone or even chicken pox were life threatening for him, but we were not parents to shield our child from every aspect of life. We kept him away from huge crowds like baseball games for the first couple of years but still attended and hosted family events with 40+ people. We knew we could only protect him so much, so we did what we could and exposed him to the outside world a little bit at a time. From the time he was three, his doctor started calling him “the rock star”. I didn’t understand why until I began moderating the Facebook page and realized how sickly some of the kids were. My son has been taken to the hospital in an emergency situation only a few times because of his condition; once when he was a year old because he developed a strider when we were staying at the Opryland hotel in Nashville. For those who don’t know about that hotel, it is beautiful and elegant and has an extraordinary indoor botanical garden. It is large enough that you can take a boat through it. It is one of the few times in my life I have stayed in a hotel that luxurious, but something in the botanical garden triggered breathing issues with my son, and we ended up in Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital overnight in a breathing tent. I say we because my son wouldn’t lie down unless I was next to him in the tent, so we both got to sleep in the moisture, or we tried to sleep anyway. Apparently, news of a rare condition spreads fast in a teaching hospital. We were visited by dozens of doctors, interns and residents who were all very polite and kind, but who were interested in seeing my son and how he was reacting to his treatment and medication. By morning, my son was fine and we headed home.

We’ve had two other trips to the emergency room with my youngest, once for an illness that lasted a few days when he had to have a large dose of his emergency medication and IV fluids and once because his brother hit him with a bat. Long story short, one was swinging where he shouldn’t have been and neither was paying attention to his surroundings. Fortunately, every time he has been ok. Because so much of his condition is out of our control, we focused on what we could. We created routines so that he took his medication on time every day. We began to eat healthier. We made sure that he got adequate sleep. I got my home cleaned up and learned how to mostly stay on top of things. This wasn’t something that came easily to me, but I knew my son was worth it. What I didn’t know was how much that helped the ADHD I didn’t even know existed yet. So what does this have to do with playing to your strengths? Well, I’ll tell you.

One of the biggest challenges in my life has been being unconventional. I was the girl who was bossy. I was the girl who got angry when smart girls acted dumb around guys. I always felt equal to men in brain power, despite my emotional nature, and I always believed in truth and justice. I rarely come down on one side or the other of any argument, not because I don’t have opinions, but because I refuse to subscribe to any one way of thinking unilaterally. It has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years, but I believe I give people perspective even when that perspective makes them uncomfortable. In that vein, we never allow our children to blame others for their situation in life. It is quite a challenge sometimes to teach that and to live it, but when I don’t live that way, I suffer, sometimes, quite a bit.

Last month was filled with suffering for me. I truly gave the power of my happiness over to others who really had no interest in making me happy, not because they are mean, which they were sometimes, but because I forgot who I was. I forgot that I have control over my life choices, and before you all send notes and letters, I realize we often have no control over our circumstances, but I truly believe we have much more control over our choices than we give ourselves credit for. For me, most of the winter months are challenging after the holidays. This year, we had the added challenge of crazy weather and lots of testing for my boys. In the entire quarter of school, we did not have a single normal week. It showed. I struggled to gain my footing. My youngest struggled in school. I had days I could barely make it through and yes, I know it was probably depression, and it was probably brought on by the season, but it wasn’t severe enough to seek treatment. I did what I could and hung on for dear life some days, but spring came as it always does, and although it was a struggle to get through the winter, we did. Now it’s my favorite time of year and something occurred to me. I have always been so productive in the spring and summer, and that’s probably why I love those seasons so much. I feel alive and connected to everyone and everything. In the autumn and winter, I feel cut off. I feel sequestered, and for someone who loves to be around people, that if very difficult. Summers are about the kids being home, spending time with friends and family and enjoying life. Winters are about hunkering down and riding out the storms. I understand why my friends who are less people oriented and more task oriented love those times of year. I also realize why I detest them so much, but this year, I have a plan.

My plan is to work to my strengths. I know I’ll have more energy to accomplish things for the next five to six months, and that’s what I plan to do. So many organizational systems tell you to take the summer off and come back to things in the fall, but when I do that, nothing happens. Well, something does happen but it’s not pretty. I get angry and belligerent when the temperature and leaves start dropping. I begin to feel trapped. I know what’s coming and even though I hate the way I feel, I have such a hard time shaking it. This year, I realize the blessing that spring and summer are for me. I can remember a few summers when my children were younger that I would get most of my housework done before my kids got up and then we would spend 15 minutes together tidying up, working in the yard or finishing up some household project. My kids learned how to cut grass quickly, to wash walls and baseboards, to clean out a drawer or a shelf in their closet in record time so we could move on with the day. We made progress nearly every day and when school came, although we were sad to see the summer end, we were ready. We dove into sports and academic schedules and didn’t worry about the extras. We focused differently, and we had the time of our lives. I didn’t do it intentionally, but it worked wonderfully. As the years passed and the boys started having activities in the summer that kept us from the things we used to do, we got away from that and everything suffered. I quit making them help on a daily basis. Unfortunately, because they weren’t helping, I stopped making progress in many areas too. That didn’t help any of us, especially when school came around, and we realized we had wasted yet another summer. We blamed it on finances. We blamed it on schedules. We should have looked deeper and known we were the ones to blame.

This past week, I have renewed my faith in the power of 15 minutes. I have renewed my faith in the ability of my family to make a significant amount of progress in a small amount of time. My sons and husband have been asked to spend 15 minutes per day for the past week or so to help with prepping for Easter around here. The results are extraordinary, and as much as my husband didn’t believe we could do it with such short increments of time, we did. I am more relaxed than I’ve ever been three days before we host 40+ people for Easter. We have made incredible strides and even if we have to put in a little extra time for the next few days, we truly are in a better place than we have ever been before and although we know the house and the day will not be perfect, it will be good enough. The floors will be clean, not with a toothbrush and hours of scrubbing, but with a vacuum and a mop. The food will be delicious, not because we spent hours preparing or tons of money, but because it will be made with love. We will spend some time but not all of our time getting ready for our guests over the next three days. Some of us work better alone and some work better with someone, so we will allow whatever works best for each person. We may or may not be ready when the first guests arrive but it won’t matter because our family loves to pitch in and help. It’s a strength I am proud to have and one I will no longer hesitate to ask for from those I love.

I intend to translate that to helping my son with ADHD get through the 4th quarter of school as well. Last quarter his counselor and I put several things into place to help him work more independently and it did not go very well, especially in his executive function areas. Unfortunately, several of his teachers are more focused on that than his ability to understand the material. He gets As and Bs on tests but neglects to turn in homework. He struggles with the ridiculous binders he is supposed to keep and has repeated failed while being on a 504 plan for organization. I struggle between being frustrated with him for not asking for help with his documented disability and being angry at the school for grading him on it. The way I’ve put it to the teachers is that they wouldn’t grade a student who was legally blind for their ability to read from the board. Why do they think that it’s ok to grade my son on something he has a legal document saying is a disability for him? I’m tired of the struggle, so I will be devising a plan for him. We will be spending 15 minutes per day when he comes home from school figuring out homework for the day and putting things into his binders. He has five of them by the way, all with different parameters. I will be asking that he get help in school with these blasted things and that all requirements for the binders be put onto the teachers’ websites so that the students can access them. I’m good at asking. It will require that I be more organized which I have come to love as a challenge. It will require that I do work at a time when I am not usually as productive, the afternoon, but it will also provide a way for my son to have assistance in the areas he is challenged so that he can work in his strengths of learning. I call that a win-win and I love win-win situations.

During this next week, enjoy whatever holiday you may celebrate. It is a holiday time for so many, including Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and even Pagans. Enjoy the lunar eclipse if it is clear enough for you to see it tomorrow night and I’ll see you next week. Thanks for being you and have a great day!


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