The easy one

By Mir
May 4, 2006

Memo to my son:

As I tell you nearly every day, there’s no out-loving your mother. I love you completely, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Nothing you could do will ever change that. At this particular point in your career, you should be very grateful for this unconditionality. Just sayin’.

P.S. Diet cherry coke cannot enable you to fly.

Once upon a time, I had Monkey all figured out. Oh, sure; Chickadee is complicated (an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, covered in… something… probably something sticky, knowing her), but Monkey was my simple child. Always happy. Easy to entertain. Friendly to all. Fearless. Adorable.

And he’s still those things, only not; and I am left trying to be the mother he needs while mourning the child he used to be.

My son is no longer happy and carefree. He is frustrated, he is often in trouble, he is more and more incensed at perceived injustice against him. He rarely eats; partially because he cannot seem to sit still long enough to do so, and partially because he doesn’t seem to know when he’s hungry. He is by all accounts quite bright, but meeting the bare minimum at school.

I have spent the year telling myself story after story: He’s adjusting to kindergarten, he’s bothered by his allergies, his blood sugar is low because he forgets to eat, he’s young, he’s a boy, things will change.

Things are not changing, unless I want to acknowledge that they’re getting worse.

Once upon a time, Monkey was this family’s port in a storm. Chaos swirled around him, and he sat in the middle, unperturbed, shining (and often, laughing and singing) for the rest of us as we all grappled with our own demons. Maybe he didn’t get all he should’ve. Maybe I was so busy trying to hold myself and his sister together that I didn’t notice that he needed more. Who knows.

Now I watch as Chickadee tends to him after repeated meltdowns. The wounded has become the healer, and croons to him and pats him and furrows her brow, feeling his pain. Don’t worry, Buddy, she tells him. You’ll be able to read that book soon. You’ll get to pick next time. You can start a new paper. You’ll get it with practice. She hovers as I hold him, trying to stop his flailing and crying.

Now I meet with his teachers, again, to discuss what I think I already know. We all keep saying the same things: This isn’t like him. This isn’t how he used to be.

Now I go to Chickadee’s therapist, not to talk about Chickadee, but to talk about Monkey and ask for insight. I hear what I know is coming but frustrates me anyway–too soon to tell, need more time, several possibilities. Have patience. His behavior can be modified. It’s just a matter of figuring it out.

I do what any wits-end parent would do after hearing “possible ADHD” multiple times, and decide to conduct my own experiment, because although it’s stupid, it at least makes me feel like I’m DOING something. I give Monkey a small glass of iced tea with breakfast. Just to see. We get to school, and his regular teacher is out. Whoops. What reports I’m able to get that day indicate no change.

Then I do what the wits-end parent does the day after said failed experiment, and give him an entire can of soda with breakfast the next morning. (Spare me the hate mail. He asked for heroin but I told him not to be silly.) I weigh the possible confounding factor of all that sugar against the possible toxins of aspartame, and opt for the latter. Today, his regular teacher is in, and I tell her what I did, and to please watch him for any change.

Shortly after lunch I call in for a report, and am told in no uncertain terms that I should not try THAT again. “He… well, he stood on top of a boulder and flapped his arms and insisted he could fly. For the better part of an hour. No more soda, please.”

So it’s a bust. Not ADHD. Probably. Maybe. Well, let’s see what Dr. Google has to say.

Dr. Google says that no improvement with caffeine means it’s not ADHD. Unless it’s ADHD and it wasn’t ENOUGH caffeine. Or unless it’s a certain KIND of ADHD. Or unless he has a sensitivity to aspartame or any of the other chemicals in the soda. Or unless he’s hypoglycemic. Or unless it’s an alternate Wednesday when the moon is full and Mercury is in retrograde.

Monkey comes home and announces, “I think that soda calmed me down. Can I have it again tomorrow?” He seems nonplussed when I report that we’ll be going back to organic milk.

Once upon a time, this was my easy child, with nary a care in the world. Now I’m lucky to catch glimpses of the old Monkey, the one who was always laughing. The child who I once felt confident I “knew” how to care for is now as much of a challenge to me as his (much more difficult) sister. But even after a day spent redirecting, correcting, and repeating myself (with less and less patience), this moody little boy will lock his arms around my neck, all elbows and knees and puppy-scent, smile up at me, and insist that I’m the best mother in the entire world.

I think he just wants more soda.


  1. crazyjane

    boy, this sounds so familiar to me. this sounds exactly like my second son. he is six, in first grade now, but his troubles started in kindergarten, too. he did great in pre-school so this turn around in K was quite a surprise to me. i blamed it on a host of things as well. mostly i decided it was his K teacher. clearly she didn’t like/understand/have enough patience for my sweet boy. the beginning of first grade, though brought even more problems. his teacher has been there for 30-some years, my husband & his brother had her. she is very highly regarded. (though i secretly hold a grudge against her for not realizing how fabulous boy#2 is.) after the 2nd awful conference where she basically said “nice boy, medicate, medicate, medicate, very smart, medicate, medicate, having some issues, MEDICATE, MEDICATE, but really a nice boy. maybe talking to his doctor would help.” i finally did. he now takes a low dose of ritalin, only on school days. it doesn’t feel quite ‘right’ to me, but it has made a remarkable difference at school. i agonized over it, but it seems to be what he needed. i did tons of research first, though. i think that is the key to making the best choice for any family. know all you can first.
    can i just say, too that the over-developed sense of injustice, for me, anyway is the killer. NOTHING is fair. how can i defend the fact that boy#1 is older? how can that possibly be not fair? it is not fair that he is 9 and boy#2 is not? WTF?
    anyway, if there is anything i could possibly help you with ( please let me know.

    p.s. thanks for the haiku mention. for some reason my computer wouldn’t allow me to use the contact you button. but i did brag to the hubs that now i am an award winning poetess:)

  2. Cele

    Is he perchance Hyperkenetic? Maybe just removing refined sugars, spices, and artificial colors from his diet might help him?

    Good luck to both you and Monkey. Think of how much better place the world would be if cola did make you fly.

  3. chris

    You made me laugh right out loud, in a nervous I totally understand what you are saying and wish I didn’t sort of way.

    I think my son would need an iv of soda for it to make a difference. On really bad mornings I do offer my son a cup of coffee, I’m not sure it does anything, but it does give him something to do with his mouth. And makes me feel proactive so I don’t strangle him.

    My husband has ADHD also and he can drink a huge cup of coffee as a way to relax at bedtime…

    Here’s hoping you find some sort of answer

  4. MoMMY

    This may sound strange and not help at all but my second son had lots of, we’ll say issues, as a small child (he’s 9 now). We read parenting books, saw child psychologists, everything to try to figure out what to do. Then, around Monkey’s age we enrolled him in gymnastics. It seriously made a world of difference. As he gets older and more involved in it he gets more focused. But it did help quite quickly. He also needed a motivator for good behavior. And still to this day, this morning in fact, we use his classes as leverage to get him do (or not do depending) what needs to be done.

    Maybe you could try some sort of highly physical activity. Or maybe you already have and I should just shut up. I just know what you are feeling and really would like to help.

  5. mc

    Mir, you write beautifully about your kids, especially in this post about Monkey. Your love for him just comes shining through all the tough times — for this expecting mama, it’s an inspiration. Hang in there!

  6. Heather

    I so feel your pain. My son is 5 and in Kindergarten this year. He did wonderful in pre-k and now he is now doing well. Reading your post was like reading my life right now. I enrolled him in basketball earlier this year thinking it would help, but it was only one day a week and the boys on his team were more hyper then him, so that did not help. He starts Sea Lions (swimming team) on Monday. Wish me luck – I wish you luck in getting through. I am surprised I still have long hair – because I seriously have almost pulled it out several times!!

  7. Tracy

    I have a friend who has a daughter and when they were wondering about if she had ADHD (as it turns out, she does), my friend tried the caffeine thing, and it did help, but not if she included sugar high with it, so she couldn’t use soda. She used bottled water that has caffeine in it instead. I think that it was Water Joe brand, but there might be other options. I was so surprised to hear about water with caffeine in it already! With my daughter – we have a 4 p.m. rule. No caffeine after 4 p.m., because she too will try to fly. :-)

  8. Bob

    Okay, what did he break? Mine broke the hatch-back window in our car playing keep-away with the wheel brush once. If he hadn’t been of my genetic material……

    Also, I thought everyone knew that regular cherry coke restores your superman flying powers, not that mamby-pamby diet stuff.

  9. Beverlee

    I’ve been away for a few days. I feel like I missed a lot of posts! Unfortunately can’t read them all. I hope you don’t mind me putting my two cents worth in. We started noticing stuff with our son when he was around 3. We took him to variou specialists, etc. None of their diagnosis or ideas felt right. When he was 7, he was diagnosed with Celiac disease. I thought of this because you mentioned gastro issues which can be a symptom. In our case, there was a distended belly but no other issues there. His behaviour however was off the map! Now he is a very healthy 16 year old … Hang in there! It will all come together and you will have your sweet Monkey back!

  10. Lesley

    I had never heard about the caffeine test, and my 10-year-old is on Straterra for ADHD. No advice because it sounds like you have experience dealing with a spirited child. I would just add what I’m sure you already know, I wouldn’t change a thing about my ADHD kid. He’s magnificent!

  11. carson

    Reading your blog is like looking into the future. . .if I can manage my kids with the same levels of success, I’ll feel pretty good. I know you aren’t a perfect mom, since there isn’t such a thing, but your kids are so much like mine. . .

    MUST. NOT. EXPECT. MY. MONKEY. TO. BE. PERFECT. (And, yes, we do call him Monkey Boy. Since before I found your blog.)

  12. Rebecca

    Hey, I have ADHD! I’ll give you more fun anecdotal evidence!

    Anyway, I’m 23 and was undiagnosed until a couple months ago, so I’ve had lots of time to desperately self-medicate. Caffeine has virtually no effect on me. I mean, if I drink a lot of it, I get shaky, but it doesn’t help with concentration. What does have an effect is nicotine…I never smoked regularly, but I’d have a cigarette while studying for exams, and it really helped. Found out later it’s been clinically proven to have an effect on ADHD.

    But that’s neither here nor there, really, as far as Monkey goes…although you could try the patch! Ok, no.

    But anyways, the caffeine test doesn’t always work…my brother also has it, and caffeine doesn’t do much for him, either. So yeah, best of luck with it…I know you guys will get it figured out.

  13. Ei

    Ooooh…I SO did that last fall. My son went to school complaining LOUDLY that Mommy FORCED him to drink coffee (and I doctored it up in chocolate even).

    I know Chickadee is in a gifted program, and I’m sure you know that it runs in families. Have you read up on Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities? Changed my life, understanding that one. I don’t know if that fits you or not, but I’m just sayin’.

  14. Patricia

    Just an odd random thought here. I was talking to this awesome teacher type last night and she mentioned that she’s working with a “food therapist” for one of her kids. When we asked, what the heck??? She said that kids that had food issues, like reflux or allergies, get to a point where they no longer feel the hungry trigger. They eat because they are told to, not because they feel any actual hunger.
    Then I came home and read this. Hmmm. Just wondering if that may be some of the hunger thing.
    As a mother of a boy myself, I’m very wary of the ADHD thing — I know it is real, but I know far too many kids on drugs because our school systems are designed for girls not boys. Anyway, I’ll stay off my soap box to tell you my old neighbor used to work with ADD/ADHD kids (before she left to adopt her own) — she told me that one of the single best things you can do without drugs is take away all video games and TV. She said that universally kids who can’t concenstrate on school work, will play a video game for days without stopping. her theory is not that they can’t but concenstraing on the boring stuff is work and a video game isn’t — so take the easy one away until they can build up the “muscles” for the harder one.
    May help — may make you nuts. I’ll go hide now.

  15. alala

    No hate mail here, but uh. I’ve been there, and you really can’t get an accurate diagnosis of ADHD by giving a child caffeine. You would need to see a professional psychologist or doc with experience of ADHD.

    That said, one of the key factors for an ADHD diagnosis is persistence of behavior, and if Monkey WAS easy but is now not, that strongly suggests that ADHD is not his problem.

    Someone up there suggested gymnastics? I like that. Some form of organized exercise-y activity might really help, probably can’t hurt, and is therefore worth a try. I think.

  16. Sheryl

    I have absolutely no suggestions, but I’m a mom, so I know what it feels like to be at a loss. Hope you get your old monkey back soon.

  17. bob

    maybe next time I’ll notice the “Read More” before commenting.

  18. Vee

    I went through the same thing, minus meeting minimum requirements. The school and teachers insisted it was ADHD, his doctor said he was not ADHD but Gifted / Talented and bored. Thank all that is holy the doctor was right. The doctor also said he’d outgrow much of it and he was right again. My son is 11 now and we haven’t had many problems in the last 2 years. It’s the hardest thing to deal with though. I feel your pain on this one.

  19. Summer

    Let me state, right off the bat, that I know very little about this. My son’s only three, I have no professional expertise in child development… but I just read this book! One whole book! For my book club! The book was called “Raising Cain” and was about the emotional development of boys. After reading that, and reading what you’ve written about Monkey, I wonder — how much of his new behavior stems from his frustration that he can’t read? A lot of the case studies in the book traced the problems of the case-study-boy back to about this age, when he hits first grade and has trouble reading. (Apparently the skills needed to read develop much later in boys than in girls, and it’s not unusual for boys not to read well until age 8.) It sounds like Monkey’s school program puts a lot of emphasis on reading, and since he’s having trouble with it, it could make him feel like a failure, and thus put him in an emotional tailspin.

    Just a thought. The book is an interesting (albeit scary) read. I am SO NOT READY for the teen years…. Hell, I’m not even sure I’m ready to have a preschooler. You’ll back me up when I run into these problems in a few years, right?

  20. Chrissie

    My SS, now 10, was much like this. His grade 1 teacher basically told his “he needs to be medicated”. We heard this as, “he’s a pain in my ass – calm him down”.

    I’m a pharmacist and I see all kinds of kids medicated. Whole families medicated in fact. I didn’t want to do this to my SS. So we did everything else we could think of – punishments and rewards. Nothing worked.

    Finally we went to a pediatrician in town who is 70yo and sees 3 or 4 patients a day, ONLY about ADD and ADHD. We had a 90minute appointment and came out with an ADHD diagnosis and Ritalin.

    It’s worked wonders.

  21. Flybunny

    Monkey sounds like my daughter who is in 1st grade. She was dx ADHD at 4 yrs but we have been working with a psychologist for the last 3 years on behavior modification and just recently started her on ritalin but took her off after only 2 weeks because of extreme anger but it did help her focus. Because we did see improvement, we go back to the dr today to start her on adderall.

    We too tried the caffeine test and it did not work. I wish you the best of luck in getting to the bottom of the issue.

  22. Vaguely Urban

    Your little Monkey has a mama who loves him and is paying attention to him and his needs. That’s half the battle right there. Good luck with the second half of the battle!

  23. Deborah

    A very moving and provocative post. My son (24) and daughter (20) continue to flex my parenting muscles in very different ways. The trials and tribulations of parenting these two w i d e l y variant humans has been an education beyond belief. It sounds like Chickadee is very helpful and this will prove to be instrumental, overall. At least it was for our family. My thoughts are with you today–and beyond.

  24. ben

    Oh, Mir, (and Monkey), I feel for you. This is what we’ve been going through for years (and my kid is only eight!) and will likely get to go through twice more as the others hit his age.

    There is no easy answer. And if you find an answer? They’ll change the question.

    You will have no shortage of advice from folks, like the teachers involved and doctors and other parents and bloggers and friends. I don’t wanna confuse things too much, but I think over the last year or so I’ve shared with you a lot of what we’ve been going through. Right now (as in at 11:30 CDT on Friday May 5) we’re in a pretty good place, but last week I was ready to call in an air strike and just be done with it.

    It’s a roller coaster – a lovely ride, but more than a bit heart-pounding at times. Hang in there. And I hear Red Bull is much better for flying.

  25. ben

    Oh, crap, I can’t leave without sharing one thing we’ve been through.

    My son is apparently extremely sensitive to medications. And we’ve tried them all (all the common ones at least). The bad thing is they’ll work for a little while (days, a week or two) and then they will backfire.

    And when they backfire? It comes out as anger. This child could easily be the villain in a Godzilla movie, throwing people and cars and such around, when he gets mad.

    Not to scare you or worry you, just to inform (and by “you” I mean all your pretty readers, too) So if you find yourself say, summoned to school to scrape food off the ceiling because, for example, your son decided he didn’t like the lunch served to him while on in-school-suspension, don’t think that it’s automatically his fault, it could just be a medical condition exacerbated by a stupid doctor that wrote the wrong prescription. Hypothetically.

  26. Tiny Coconut

    1. Monkey and N are twins, despite being born to two different mothers.

    2. When I was a kid, caffeine used to amp me up so much that…wait for it…I once decided I was Superwoman, and tried to fly off of the top step of my bunk at sleepaway camp. Instead of flying, however, I fell down the flight of concrete stairs, and took most of the skin off the back of my right thigh. Ouch.

    Why am I telling you this story? Because whether or not the reaction Monkey had has anything to do with his overall behavior and attitude these days (I doubt it seriously; knowing you, he’s not drinking caffeine on an often-enough basis for it to be the explanation), this should be a warning bell for you with regards to caffeinated drinks for him. To this day, at the age of 42, any amount of caffeine beyond that which can be found in a small amount of chocolate gives me a ridiculous number of psychological and physiological symptoms–none of them good. Teach Monkey to love decaf drinks; he’ll thank you for it some day.

  27. Jenn2

    Hoo boy. I was going to offer advice, but you have a buttload here, so let me just say, if you have questions or need to talk, let me know. My experience as a sp ed teacher might come in handy, if just to tell you listen to your heart and head, as you listen to the teachers. You are the parent and despite what we may lead you to believe, you always know best.
    Hang in there.

  28. Shash

    Mir, I know what you are going through. Talk to your pediatrician and see if he can be evaluated (behavioral) at a children’s hospital. (I know there are some great ones in Boston) I know that school and its restrictions frustrate my son, but with your doctors help, and an evaluation, you and the school can work on strategies ant home and at school that will help Monkey better navigate his day.

    If I can help you in any way with this, let me know. My thoughts are with you and Monkey.


  29. Amy-GO


  30. Zuska

    Awwwww….I wish I had something incredibly profound to say and I’ve been thinking about you and Monkey all day. I know how it feels when suddenly the “easy one” isn’t. You’ll figure it out, I know you will, I just wish all it took was a snap of the fingers!!

  31. Heidi

    I have been reading your site and laughing for weeks but feel the need to comment just like so many others. I work for a doctor that handles several kinds of disorders with diet. The first thing he recommends for most people is to remove dairy from their diet just for a week and see if there is any improvment. He could have a simple dairy allergy, no cheese, no milk, no yogurt. He also says lots of protien and veggies. Everyone else was giving advise so I thought I’d chime in too. Are you overwhelmed yet???

  32. Irene

    thanks for sharing this. thank you thank you thank you. thank you for writing what my heart has never been able to express so clearly. I must admit that I feel better after reading this. I feel like I am not alone.

  33. Julie

    Mir, the doctors tried to tell me Lil Daughter had ADD when she started having problems one summer at age 13. Long story short…3 years and MANY drugs later we learned she has hyperthyroid. Easily treatable and easily misdiagnosed by doctors who too quickly toss out Rx for brain drugs. You don’t catch ADD over the summer. My guess is, it’s something else. Stick with your gut feelings and hang in there. You’ll figure it out. You’re in my prayers.

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