I try to go through the stuff in the garage and basement just a bit at a time. It’s always hard. I always cry. Every single time. Because Michael packed everything and his packing was sometimes just so funny.

But other times I’m just very surprised what I come upon.

As I said he was a pack rat. And as I said to the kids, if I had gone instead of him, he would have just put all my stuff in a box and carried it around with him the rest of his life, probably never looking at it. They all nodded. That is exactly what he would have done.

This past weekend I opened a box that had Michael’s original birth certificate, his baptism, communion and confirmation certificates. ALL of his report cards and his first social security card. When I say he kept everything, he kept everything.

I sat at the table reading through his report cards. They scream ADHD which was not diagnosed at the time. Inattentive, conduct, would rather play than work. From 1st to 11th grade he had “inattentive” on every single marking period of every single report card.

He stayed back in the 4th grade due to “inattentiveness.”

He was so smart but he obviously struggled with the undiagnosed attention deficit. When Michael was finally diagnosed at age 47 (at my behest) they also diagnosed a learning disability with reading, a form of dyslexia. He never knew that.

He was always good at math and science and a whiz with logical things and mechanical things but somehow thought himself a bit on the “not so smart” side. After reading the report cards, I could see why.

I was sitting there reading and I wanted to just hug him. I had never seen these report cards. It told a story. A story of teachers always writing in the back of the report cards. Always saying they wanted to talk to his mother. Always saying he wasn’t working up to his capacity and always saying he was inattentive and had no interest in being attentive.

Michael and I never had many serious arguments in all the time we knew each other. He used to say that was because after the 3rd sentence he couldn’t remember what we were arguing about. Or he would repeat what I had just said and I would say, “I just said that.” and he would say, “Really? Well then I guess you’re right!” It was as if it was kind of jumbled for him the first time.

But he really could not keep a train of thought going. I thought it was charming. Honestly and truly charming. And funny.

When we were first married I was in the bedroom studying and the kids were making some kind of racket out in the living room. I think all 5 were there (ranging from 19 to 3) and perhaps some friends of one or the other.

He had been telling them to calm down or be quiet or go outside or whatever he was telling them. They weren’t listening.

He came rushing into the bedroom with a head full of steam and said “Hon!” in a rather angry voice.

He then turned and looked at something on the dresser and said in a normal, curious voice, “Oh this is cool, when did you get this?”

And I was sitting there like, “Did you come in here to tell me something?” and he looked and kinda shrugged. And that was the end of that. Whenever I see tee shirts that say “I don’t have ADHD…oh look a butterfly!” I think of him.

He said he loved fishing because it was the only time his brain was quiet. That too, told me he had ADHD.

I was doing Emergency Services work psychiatric evaluations at the time and I thought that was classic attention deficit. Actually more than classic…on the severe scale. As I watched him more and more I convinced him to get an evaluation and the doctor practically wanted to put him on posters for ADHD he was so off the charts with it.

I know people claim it’s over-diagnosed and it’s an excuse for when children misbehave, but if I put an ADHD kid next to a non-ADHD kid, I can tell the difference in 5 minutes. And when my other two non-ADHD kids misbehaved I never said they had ADHD because they didn’t. And it was clear they didn’t. On a day-to-day basis, it is clear, in a household, who has it and who doesn’t. And if more than one has it, it’s pretty clear who they are.

After Michael, my husband, was diagnosed he took medication for a year and there was very much a calming and focusing effect. But there was something about it he didn’t like and couldn’t explain what really…he had been that way for so long, he almost couldn’t handle the focus and calm.

He liked getting calm by fishing but he couldn’t fish 24 hours a day. I think that the EFFECT of fishing was less when he went there calm and that is what he didn’t like. But he couldn’t articulate it, really.

So he was a big boy and went off the meds. I occasionally asked him to go back on when the ADHD was completely out of control. Which it was a lot. But I never forced him. But I understood the condition and I understood how “they” are (my son Michael and grandson CJ are also ADHD). From having an ADHD son who at times seemed tortured by the noise in his head and working so hard with him (his dr would not prescribe meds) I understood a lot about it and the care and treatment of those who have it.

Michael seemed almost content just to have a diagnosis. Just to know why he did what he did and sometimes he would say, “I have to put this here so my ADHD brain can remember it.” He also appreciated the fact that we recognized it and talked about it, joked about it all the time. He never knew, before me, that he had it.

And for a long time he seemed relieved to know what it was…that he wasn’t lazy or stupid. And I think he loved that I was the one who figured it out and made him go for an evaluation.

I never got how much that meant to him but I sensed it in that the Michaels and their ADHD was a family joke and that the issues surrounding it was recognized and dealt with by the whole family.

When we would plan we would say “And right before the event, we’ll tell the Michaels about it…” because neither one would remember if we told them any sooner. And you certainly couldn’t include them in on the planning. Planning overwhelmed the both of them.

As I thumbed through the report cards it suddenly made sense to me why it meant so much to him…why he seemed to embrace it the way he did (not to the point where he would do anything about it) and to appreciate a family that worked around it.

The report cards were tough to read. The comments were tough to read.
These are just a few:

Grade One: Unsatisfactory in self-control, attention and finishing work
Grade Two: Unsatisfactory in dependability, self-control, finishing work, conduct.
Grade Three: Unsatisfactory in self-control, attention and finishing work
Comments: At times Michael is quite inattentive.
Grade Four (the first time): Unsatisfactory in self-control, attention, finishing work, effort, conduct.
Comments: Michael’s promotion to grade five is doubtful due to his inattentiveness.
Grade Four (the second time): Unsatisfactory in self-control, attention and finishing work
Grade Five: Unsatisfactory in self-control, attention, finishing work, effort conduct
Comments: Michael is not attentive when new work is being presented. (1)
Comments: Michael is handicapped by poor work habits, inattentiveness, careless homework and a desire to play instead of work

And so it goes on. The story from the report cards is one of a little boy who could not get it together and knowing him as I did, I can see why. When we went to Broadway plays I had to get aisle seats so he could get up if he needed. There were so many accommodations I made and acceptance of who he was.

It must have been so painful for him. He never talked about this, never showed me these report cards (though he would have laughed them off I think). He always said he hated school. That was it.

Half way through the report cards I actually looked up and went to say something, to him.

As if he was right there. I wanted to say “Oh honey, why didn’t you tell me?” But he did in so many ways.

And I think he was as happy as he was with me, with us, with life when we were together because I brought it out of the closet and we named it and we all worked around it.

I just wanted to hug him reading those report cards. I wanted to give him a big hug and tell him I loved him. And I was sorry he went through that.

But Michael fished as much as he could. And I supported him in that whole fishing thing even though I never understood it. He said it was the only thing that calmed him and I believed him….

I’m glad I was able to help while he was here.

And I wish I could give that little boy a hug.

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