Introduction to Our First Born

Our 8-year-old daughter is what polite people call spirited, which is a nice way of saying she acts out in public. Neighbors who don’t want their kids playing with her have been known to dissolve our friendship in a fantastic display of excuses and avoidance. She has ADHD along with an anxiety disorder. Last year we introduced medication into her diet to help focus so she could learn to read.

So there’s that – yes, we medicate when needed.

Let me get this out of the way now because I have either just lost you as a reader, you’re curious, or you identify with me – medicating children for psychological reasons is very polarizing. Like most parents in our situation, it was an excruciating decision. It took a few false starts, many tears and marathon Q&As with various professionals. There was a time last year we were losing her. She was hopelessly depressed, saying and doing frighteningly self-destructive things. We decided to medicate her, to protect her from herself.

At this point, you may ask yourself, “what kind of people are her parents? Are they self-involved and unaware?” We are the family next door and school volunteers. We are your best friends you want to catch up with, but we bail on get-togethers with little notice and you don’t know why. No one is harder on us… than us.

We are aware, but maybe a little in denial. We might act aloof as a coping mechanism because we can’t talk about it without losing our composure. That twinkle in my eye is because I cried in the bathroom getting the kids ready for school that morning. Thank you for complimenting the twinkle in my eye. I love you for saying that, but truthfully my eyes are tired and focused on something miles away.

We are completely average in almost every way except we have excellent health insurance and a flexible job. I say this because it is important. Families who don’t have this are at a huge disadvantage. I strongly believe every family (particularly families with challenges more severe or involved than ours), should have access to healthcare. Psychiatric care is important to the public good, as is comprehensive healthcare.

Today, she’s getting by very well without medication. She doesn’t like how it makes her feel or how it tastes (she’s remarkably sensitive). I respect that. I’m not so naive as to think she may not need it again in the future, but I’ll take it as it comes.

When her brain fires constantly and erratically, it takes a lot out of her. When she does well, I savor the victories. When she struggles, my heart aches. I honestly don’t have all the answers but I’m not confident psychiatrists have all the answers either. I take her input into consideration in conjunction with her doctors (who support this tactic). When there are so many conflicting opinions within the same profession, it makes me question the research they are using to make their recommendations. We are all doing the best we can with the information we have.

She lives through her emotions. She is not very rational yet, but she is exceptionally caring (when she doesn’t feel threatened). She is an artist. She dances with every cell in her body. She sings with so much sincerity you’d think she wrote the lyrics.

She usually doesn’t have trouble making friends initially; she’s very outgoing and gregarious. But she might soon insult them unwittingly or pout and whine. She’s very dramatic for reasons obvious to her, but no one else. She doesn’t pick up on social cues. To help her understand people better and socialize, we got her into Girl Scouts. Her troop has amazing parent volunteers – they are exceptionally patient and good with her. I don’t volunteer on a regular basis because I think it’s good for her to learn how to cope and grow without me there – problem-solve on her own. I try not to snap at her when she’s behaving inappropriately, but it’s my job to correct her. After a while, she just gets overwhelmed and I need to step aside.

I wrote a letter to her about my experience chaperoning her Encamporee last fall. It’s inappropriate until she’s older, but I hope someday we’ll laugh about it together. You can read it here.

So when I talk about our oldest daughter, this is helpful context. She is our passionate, loving, larger than life force that thinks and behaves on her own terms. If she gets through her teens without her spirit being crushed, she’ll be a phoenix. I should also mention, her smile is magic.

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