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February 2008
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April 2008

This, despite the fact that I'm turning 37 this month

The other day I went to the gym to try out a class that had caught my eye - Total Kick Boxing! Or was it Turbo? Whatever. I was intrigued. I used to kick box, back in the day. I remembered it being a high energy, tough workout with an excellent level of cool.

As it turns out, I was remembering correctly.

Sadly, what I failed to consider is the fact that I also used to be high energy, tough, and with an excellent level of cool. Now, my major characteristic is that at any given time, I would like a cookie.

When I edged into the class, I started to wonder if I'd made a mistake. The room was filled - FILLED with visitors from the planet Tall and Lovely. They milled their graceful way around the room, lining up in front of the mirror without the tiniest glimmer of self-doubt. WHO can stand in front of seventeen bazillion square feet of mirror without ANY self doubt, I ask you? Residents of the planet Tall and Lovely, that's who.

The instructor came in, a tiny bundle of manic joy at the thought of kick boxing. She cued up the music and started throwing punches with arms that looked like anatomical models to demonstrate arm musculature. The class fell into rhythm behind her, punch, punch, kick, jump, squat...

In the back, I flailed. I tripped and half-punched when I was supposed to be kicking. At one point, everyone turned around and started marching toward the back of the room. From my perspective, it sort of looked like they were advancing on me. And they were not happy. I may have panicked just a tiny little bit. I may have stood there and squeaked.

Probably the WORST part about the class was the discovery that I can no longer summon the Tough Look that makes kick boxing look cool. With the first hard beats that filled the room, the rest of the class took on the persona of...I dunno, Linda Hamilton in Terminator? Eyes narrowed, jaws taut. They were working it. They were scary, in a sort of "Wow, I like her hair" sort of way. I, on the other hand, looked apologetic and squeaky. I have absolutely no kick boxing cred.

It finally ended, and I went home to relive my humiliation for Clay.

"At the end of the class, all these TALL and LOVELY women were sort of clustered around me, assuring me that it gets easier, and I should come back. It was excruciating!" I told him.

"Ok," he said, "but were they reassuring you because you were apologizing?"

"No. Completely unsolicited."

"Oh." There was a moment of silence. "I...I'm sorry."

I'm so going back.

All day long I was weepy, randomly leaking at the eyes. In the van, on the way to the doctor, I saw a woman walking to her car, holding a toddler by the hand. I looked at her, hobbled by this tedious journey, and felt a sharp pang of longing for those slow, simple days. I turned the radio up louder, much to the raucous delight of the boys, and I cried.

At the office, the doctor sat down with Max's file and read for a minute. Then he looked at me. This is a topic, oh so well covered by us. The conversation always ends up in the same place. "So," I say breezily, "I'm not ready to try medication just yet." He nods and tells me to call when I'm ready.

For nine and a half years I've been trying to come up with a better answer. I'm ready.

"So," Doctor S said, "what makes you ask about medication for ADD?"

I told him, reciting the list in my head. Impulsive, distractable, not working up to his potential in school, often frustrated and shocked by how much he is irritating others. Max was no longer taking the amino acid we'd been trying (tyrosine - it helped. Not enough), and he was completely off the rails. While I talked, he turned flips on the floor. Raphael sat quietly on one side of the room, Tre on the other, and Max ping-ponged between them like he was auditioning for the part of ADD poster child. Doctor S finally shot him a look.

"Yes, I could see where this could be disruptive," he said dryly. He told me about the different medications, wrote a prescription for one that I keep wanting to pronounce like it's the female form of a concerto, and sent us on our way. I thanked him and headed out the door.

And then I cried.

I do not know why this is so hard for me. I knew the first time they put Max in my arms that he was different. Just different. That has both good and bad implications. He is breathtakingly insightful, and creative. There is such potential in him.

But there are such barriers to that potential. I see him, striving to overcome the chaos that surrounds him, seeps through him, and he is bewildered. It's as though the world were randomly obscured in places, and he cannot fit it all together. And he cannot just. stop. doing things that make his brothers insane. Make me insane. Make himself insane.

In the homeschool community there is much rhetoric about ADD being over diagnosed. People talk about how the schools just want to drug our children - especially our sons - into submission. I used to believe that. Tre, an extremely kinesthetic learner, would probably have been suspected of ADD his first grade year. I was smug about the fact that he was just a different learner, and needed a different environment to learn. Tre does his school work sitting on an exercise ball, and it works really well for him.

I have never, never been able to find the right environment for Max. Music, silence, activity, cubical-style seating, looking out on the back yard, looking at the wall. Nothing helped. Nothing pierced the chaos that dogs him.

I do not want to drug my son into submission. My hope is that the drug will, instead, be his escape.

One day last week I was alone, driving to the gym. On the way there I was listening to a talk show. Dr. Daniel Amen was on, talking about his new book about sex and the brain. Dr. Amen wrote a book about ADD (that was where I'd read about tyrosine). His big thing is brain scans, to determine where the activity - and lack thereof - is going on in the brain. Max's type of ADD is caused by low activity in the prefrontal cortex (if I remember correctly).

He was talking to the host about how his daughter's boyfriend had offered to have his brain scanned after they'd been dating awhile, knowing that Dr. Amen wanted that. And of course, this young man had a excellent, healthy brain. Not that he would have discouraged the relationship if it had been otherwise. "But if I had, for instance, seen decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, I would have warned her, this is someone who is always going to have issues with impulsive behavior. He's going to have trouble sustaining relationships, if he doesn't take measures to deal with that."

I thought of my Max, put my head down on the steering wheel, and cried and cried and cried.

The first day on the medication, Max did three pages of math. On the blank page opposite his work sheet, he had only written math problems, neatly numbered, where he had worked out the answers. I flipped back a page, to the day before. That day, all he had done - the whole school day - was one page of math. It was nearly illegible, with scribbles and erasures. On the blank page were scrawled drawings. A third of the problems were wrong.

I flipped back and forth, a stop action movie of chaos to order.

Maybe this isn't a dead end, at all.

Maybe it's a new beginning.