One Mom’s Executive Dysfunction Hurdles
I return home from dropping off my third grader at school, finish my morning coffee, check social media, and retreat upstairs when the phone rings. Three thoughts pop into my head: “Thank God I remembered to unmute the ringer,” “Where did I leave my cell?” and, “What did Giorgio do now?”
I run downstairs to look for my phone. It’s not on the cluttered kitchen counter, or the table littered with remnants of my son’s breakfast. The sound is coming from my purse, which is hidden under my coat draped over a chair. I search through my torn bag: wallet, house keys, car fob, face mask, face mask, face mask, crumpled up tissues, dusty LEGOs, a half-eaten KIND bar and lots and lots of receipts. I finally locate the noise.
Too late. As expected, I miss the call from my son’s school. “Nothing good happens before 10 a.m. on a Tuesday,” I think as I stare at the phone and wait for the voicemail.
Motherhood with Executive Dysfunction
It’s not unusual for me to have trouble finding my phone, or anything else, for that matter. Much to the chagrin of my patient husband, Larry, I frequently ask, “Have you seen my … (glasses, laptop, American Express)?” Often the lost item will be located among a large pile of detritus on my bed or dining table. Sometimes the lost object is not lost at all, but right under my nose. My keys will be on the nail Larry had hammered next to the door. I just don’t see them through the jungle in my head.
I have poor executive functioning, defined as a group of cognitive abilities that control the skills we need to get just about anything done. Little things, such as leaving the house in matching shoes, often elude me. I am prone to committing more serious mistakes as well. I’ve lost three wallets in the past five years, had money stolen from a purse I forgot to close, and a purse stolen when I forgot it at the playground. A lucky thief once went on a joy ride when I left my keys inside the car.
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This is likely an aspect of the ADHD I inherited from my father. He often lost things, too. It was not unusual for him to walk away with the wrong wallet or iPad, and his mind was just too crowded with other thoughts to remember where he left his reading glasses. Even so, he managed to become a successful attorney and a screenwriter later in life. As for myself, I used to practice law, and I remember every conversation I have, book I read, and meal I eat.
Being a parent presents its own executive functioning hurdles. How do I scold my son for dropping his coat on the floor when mine is gathering dust right next to it? At least I find it easier to organize his schedule than my own.
Fortunately, I married a man who is organized and neat but not finicky about it. He knows where things are and can make a bed with hospital corners. But he can’t for the life of him remember dates and appointments. We complement each other. I remind him when we have plans to see his parents, and he helps me figure out a schedule to get me through my day.
I appreciate those routines, like the one I have in the morning with my son. That Tuesday I woke up at 7:30 a.m., made Giorgio’s lunch (yogurt, string cheese, Triscuits, cut mango and a pickle); made his breakfast (Cheerios with banana); woke him up; and laid out his clothes (green jeans, blue Minecraft shirt). I am consistently checking things off the list I keep in my head. After nudging my son along to finish getting ready, we drove to school. It gives me a little thrill that we usually make it there on time — the façade that we are a normal family is working.
[Read: The Motherhood Myth is Crushing Women with ADHD]
The Dreaded Phone Call from School
I wait for the voicemail to play and begin to panic. Is my boy OK? He didn’t seem to have a fever that morning but did claim to be tired. (He claims to be tired every morning.) What if he was tired and fell? Maybe he needs stitches like that time I was called in to pick him up from preschool. Maybe worse.
Finally, the message comes through. “Hello, Mrs. Koskoff, this is the school nurse,” begins a pleasant voice. “I wanted to let you know that we have Giorgio here. He forgot to put on underpants this morning.”
Parenting with ADHD: Next Steps
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