Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The last week of the marking period is always when we wish we had more traction to avoid an ADHD spinout.

This will sound like a familiar scene to those of you with teenagers. It's the last week in the marking period, and we check the online gradebook, and then our heads explode. Suddenly, the teachers who haven’t used the system for a month have gotten caught up, and lo and behold, there are some terrible surprises.
Tire marks on the street
It's the last week in the marking period, and we check the online gradebook, and then our heads explode.
This is the week when I start kicking myself for having a life, a career of my own, distractions that keep me from hovering over the homework and pawing through the backpack on a regular basis. I should really mark these weeks on the calendar, cancel all my appointments, and just plan to be stressed.
The “Big Struggle,” as Hallowell puts it, is the family crisis that ADD brings forth. Ours goes like this: Enzo’s school troubles show up. Tension rises. Voices rise. His dad feels the need to jump in and take control. I feel the need to jump in and smooth things over with the optimism that ADD affords, but it just sounds like happymouth. Now I’m on the hot seat, too; after all, these inattentive traits are from my genes. When Dad leaves for work and there are only the two of us, Enzo and I try to re-balance and start moving forwardthrough the anxiety, guilt, and frustration. Hugs help. And then I say, “But seriously, this is the week when the rubber meets the road.”
Enzo is silent for a moment, his head hanging...and then he says, “Are you saying I'm a car? Well, that's good at least.” The mood lightens for a second while we consider whether that’s the right phrase or not... After all, hasn't the rubber been on the road this whole year? This past marking period, with the semi-consistent Bs and the few perfect scores, when it seemed Enzo was finally getting some traction? I guess he slipped off onto the shoulder without us noticing in the last few weeks, spinning his wheels in the dirt on the side with all those extracurricular obsessions, somehow not getting those TEN English assignments into the right basket... And now, just before the finish line, he's climbing back on the pavement again.
"I guess I'm a Ford MT now," he says with a sigh. "It's an awesome car, and super-reliable.” I raise an eyebrow at him, wondering where that came from. “Except—” he continues, raising a finger, “when it doesn't start.” 
Hah! He got me. I can't stay mad at him. This metaphor may be a non-starter, but somehow he’ll get through this.


Mastering the One-Track Mind

My son's obsessions run deep and fast. I can't wait to see how he harnesses his pedal-to-the-metal enthusiasms.

Since Enzo was barely out of babyhood, he’s had long-term obsessions. First it was construction machines. He could tell the difference between a street sweeper, a paving machine, and a combine harvester. We had to read Byron Barton’s Machines At Work and say “Goodnight Guys” every single night. At three he built his first collection: all of the Bob the Builder toys. He would go to sleep sometimes snuggling a front-loader.
Kid playing with a truck
The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating.
After Useful Vehicles, he loved TRUCKS of all kinds — dump, fire, and monster — and he liked the song "Hello, I’m a Truck" so much that a friend made a tape of nothing but this song. Over and over and over…and the cassette was played over and over and over...
Then came the big love of his life: Trains. This was no surprise, since his first complete sentence had been, “I...hear...dat...train!” Between ages four and eight, he learned everything about trains and collected no less than seven sets. He could tell us the route of the Santa Fe and the B&O lines, and identified each type of engine that passed by with its model numbers. We were able to recycle an old family joke: “When God was giving out brains, you thought he said trains, and asked for one track.”
Does every child obsess on things? It seemed normal to me. I had my cats phase, my owl’s phase, and my horse phase in junior high, during which I only read books in which the main character was of the equine persuasion. With Enzo, trains gave way to Legos, Legos to Bionicles, and sooner or later, Road and Track magazine arrived, and the vehicle obsession turned to cars. Fast cars. Cool cars. Maybe you know someone like this. The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating. When I drive down the street with him, I can point to any car and he can tell you its make, model, year, and some interesting fact about the company that made it. It’s a specialized talent that could certainly translate to a paycheck if we could ever figure out how to harness it...
This kid is built for learning. He has an intense ability to focus and absorb, and can stay on track with an astonishing and admirable focus...but only if it is a track he chooses. With a kid like that, you have to find ways to help him keep choosing a track that goes somewhere, be it school or a personal interest. Parenting is all about watching when our kids fall off of their track, wander away from it, veer off course precipitously every time a distraction goes by. Our job as parents are to constantly put our kids back on the track. Day after day, week after week.