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08/04/2011

Mother's little helper

This morning at breakfast I referred to our kids as epsilons. Charlie, who can effectively tune out everything we say short of Charlie, the house is on fire and if you die Ben gets all your stuff, is by contrast exquisitely sensitive to anything he thinks he's not supposed to hear. So the code word piqued his interest. "What's an epsilon?" he asked.

So I started to explain about noted 20th century mathematician Paul Erdös, whose substantial legacy includes more than a thousand published papers, the so-called Erdös problems, and the amusing notion that mathematicians might be assigned an Erdös number, denoting their collaborative proximity to the blah blah blah blah Charlie, the smoke is overcoming me! Saaave the iPod Touuuuch. He tuned out, of course, long before I got to the relevant part, where I explained that Erdös, in his own distinctive vocabulary, referred to children as episilons, ε being used in mathematics to represent small quantities.

...Little math humor there.

He did pick up on the fact that epsilon is a letter in Greek, and interrupted my learned discourse — I read a book, she said icily — by saying, "Oh! I know Greek! It's the language where the letters go —" and then did an angular hand jive to illustrate.

"I think...yes," I said weakly.

"I can read Greek," he insisted, and I thought, Well, Jesus, I mean, why not?

And then he proved it by pointing to the plastic container on the counter, triumphantly crowing, "PLAIN GRΣΣ|< Y⃟GVRT."

...

You know what's helping? Ritalin. We don't have the right dosage yet, but we see some abatement. It's better. Not great yet, but better.

Paul and I came to this from opposite sides. From the start, my inclination was to try medication. If ADHD is a biochemical problem, I reasoned, why not try a biochemical solution? He was more cautious, as he tends to be, and expressed the concern that along with any good it did, a drug might mute the parts of Charlie's personality that we find so engaging.

But this is a fact: With all the static — the hyperactivity, the noise, the lack of focus, the poor impulse control — the condition created, it was getting hard to see those good parts sometimes. It shames me to know that, and I feel it as a weakness, that I don't have some magical X-ray parenting specs that make it possible for me to see effortlessly through several layers of bullshit down to the essential kid every time. I wish I could do better: hang on to my patience, keep my sense of humor, tap into kindness and tolerance more, and less into exasperation.

But wishing wasn't working, and although normally I would embrace the chance to make yet one more thing all about me, this isn't. It's about Charlie and his experience of the world. Nothing makes this clearer than something my friend E. told me, about someone she knows who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Her friend, E. told me, remembers her childhood primarily as a series of angry faces.

I don't want that for my kid. Even if Paul and I somehow managed to develop the most exquisite patience, tolerance, and humor — I could read a book, she said icily — there is still the rest of the world.

The drugs aren't the whole of it, not by a long shot, and maybe not even the most effective part. There's still a great deal to do, a lot of teaching, learning, accommodating, adapting. It's just that until we find a way to turn down the static a little, I don't think Charlie can receive much of it. And if medication helps us make him more ready to take it in — well, then, bring on the pills.

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