After our alarming parent-teacher conference with Frowny Mc Brownie, David and I part with a small fortune to consult with highly recommended, Ivy League-trained pediatric behavioral psychiatrist. “She’s the best of the best,” our pediatrician asserts.
The six weeks’ wait to see her feels like six years, during which time I am beside myself that we live in a world where a first-grader seems to need help but will not receive it for more than a month.
We answer questions about my pregnancy and Dora’s delivery, and questions about Dora’s first few months with reflux. We convey Dora’s alert, sweet, and curious nature, and her countless ear infections. We answer questions about our respective family histories, questions about he state of our marriage and our parenting philosophies. David and I answer the last two questions with surprising synchronicity despite having never having discussed either topic. We answer like long-time Improv partners, crafting shared answers which, while true, still feel precarious as one of us unwinds it, checking each other with our eyes before proceeding down any one corridor too far.
The doctor, reminiscent of Judge Judy in both appearance and affect, seems satisfied and moves on to ask about Dora’s sleep habits.
She finds an answer in the long pause before either of us respond.
“This is probably how PTSD sufferers respond, right?” I offer.
David laughs with me, but Dr. Ivy doesn’t laugh, she only waits. With a sigh, I attempt to summarize the unabridged saga of Dora’s Sleep Issues:
“Dora doesn’t need much sleep. She needs maybe seven or eight hours a night, but no more than eight. She’s napped maybe twice in her life, and both times she had a fever. It takes her forever to fall asleep and someone has to lay with her until then or else she cries and the night drags on and on. It’s —”, I can only shake my head. The punching feeling appears in by stomach again, just like it does every night during the bedtime saga.
David jumps in, “– It’s extremely difficult. She mostly just sleeps in our bed.”
I pick at my nail, annoyed with myself for forgetting to tell David that this is probably Bad Parenting. “She sleeps there because we’re tired,” I say. I add the next part with an edge that dares Dr. Ivy to judge us, “We both work.”
Dr. Ivy says nothing, she only continues writing. She is probably writing: Parents failing, work more important than daughter(?), daughter sleeps in their bed (classic punt)
I share other details about Dora that are probably unimportant, but who knows? Like how Dora sometimes has a habit of blinking her eyes too fast.
“Dr. Google says it’s a little ‘tic’?” I deliver the word “tic” wrapped in question mark so as to remove any clinical weight from the word. “The blinking, it comes and goes. It’s very mild. It’s actually kind of cute.”
The doctor nods emphatically, “Tics are totally normal at this age,” raising an open hand and pushing it forward in the air on the word “totally”. She continues, “Up to twenty percent of all kids have ‘em!”
She’s got zing, this Doctor. I cannot wait to imitate her mannerisms for David on the drive home. I decide to render her in the style of a fast-talkin’, lipstick-wearin’, hand-on-hip 1930’s-era girl newspaper reporter.
We tell her about Dora’s impressive vocabulary (what six year old asks to “abstain” from school?), Dora’s insatiable appetite for making and exploring, her love of anything new, her Halloween costumes, her wild stories, her three imaginary friends, “Bus”, “Captain” and “Gina” and of course, the teapot. I’m used to the polite nod in response to the teapot story, but I tell it anyway. I want the Doctor to have every single puzzle piece.
After twelve additional weeks of various observations and evaluations, including the teacher evaluation handed to me in a tightly sealed envelope by Brownie Mc Frowny herself, David and I hold hands in the waiting room before we are called in for the Final Assessment Summary.
Dr. Ivy begins by producing a thick folder from her drawer. Such a thick folder signifies data , careful note-taking, expert observations, and experienced analysis. Its presence comforts me greatly. I imagine my online review for this Doctor: “The wait time to see her is long but totally worth it. Our daughter is doing amazing now!”
Dr. Ivy opens the folder and reads from her summary: “Dora is a highly active, bright, creative child with advanced verbal skills. Her transient tics are rather common in her cohort and she will likely grow out of them. She has no clinically assessed learning deficits at this point. She is at high risk for developing ADHD, but since her brain is still developing it’s much too early to label Dora’s behavior as such.”
The silence that follows says, “The End.”
Now it is my turn to blink fast.
When I was fifteen I babysat a kid with ADHD. The second his mother pulled out of the driveway, he called me a surprisingly number of tasteless names, rode his Huffy bike inside the front door and all throughout the house before locking himself in the bathroom and clogging the shower drain with towels while running the water to create an “indoor pool”. When she returned, his mother paid me twice the going rate, which was still not enough for me to return.
This — ADHD — is not our daughter. Not even close.
David says, “So – help me understand. You’re saying it’s not ADHD?”
The doctor repeats the last sentence of her obtuse summary, adding, “We in our profession must be very cautious when making such life-changing diagnoses at such a young age.”
Dora does not have ADHD, of this I am sure, yet Dr. Ivy offers zero alternate theories for what is happening in the meantime. Move along, folks. This is all she’s got, show’s over. Come back later, maybe.
I feel lost at sea, waving as the coastguard helicopter flies by.
What is the problem if there is no actual problem? Is it me? Am I the real problem? Are other women parenting “right” while I’m missing the Parenting Boat, big time?
I try one last wave. “What do we do in the meantime?”
The doctor speaks of wiggle seats and sensory input therapy and behavioral modifications such as chore boards and reward systems and positive parenting approaches and with every word, the rescue helicopter flies further away. I lose my zeal for taking notes, resorting to drawing a flower around the last thing I wrote: ADHD – No.
When she hands us a list of books to read about sleep, the punching feeling returns.
David asks, “Let’s say Dora develops ADHD. Then what?”
The doctor repeats the suggestions she has just provided, adding, “These methods will help you regardless of whether she develops a diagnosable case of ADHD.” David interrupts the Doctor just as she carefully broaches the topic of potential medication options, should Dora be found to truly have ADHD at some point in the future.
“–Short of Dora developing a serious impediment in her abilities,” David articulates, emphasizing each word with an extended pointer finger, “We are absolutely not interested in medicating our daughter.”
I am taken aback by both his assertion and its tone.
David continues, “Dora’s brain is not yet developed. It’s dangerous to be adding mind-altering substances to her neuro-makeup especially without a clear understanding of their long-term effects.”
“– David, I could not agree with you more,” says Dr. Ivy, nodding vigorously.
I think: Get a room, you two.
Dr. Ivy hands us a bill the total of which is roughly equal to the cost of a week-long Maui resort vacation and I have never felt so tired in my life.