It’s eight o’clock on a school night and we’ve already been through three rounds of tearful attempts to convince Dora to learn the ten Spanish vocabulary words in front of her.
I am holding firm, because perhaps that is what’s needed. Perhaps that is what has been missing all this time. We’ve been too soft on her. Her intelligence has been statistically confirmed by The Woodcock Johnson. Perhaps we have simply never required her to stand in the batter’s box long enough to show us what she can do. Tonight I decide that the problem with Dora is not Dora, but me; I am a Helicopter Parent.
My parents are visiting, which should be fun and pleasant, but at this moment their visit is the opposite of those two thing. That is because I am currently the only adult in the house who believes that the right thing to do at this point is to continue coercing a tear-stained Dora to learn these words for tomorrow’s quiz.
It is a wildly unpopular position, but I feel sure it is Right, and it feels good to feel right for once instead of feeling Lost in the deep, gray sea of parenting question marks. My mother signals her disapproval in her silent, silverware-clinking dessert preparation.
Right is not always popular, I think. I stop short of saying this aloud because I am not a complete asshole, but I think this at her, and hard. I think this at anyone else who dares to enter this kitchen. Surely this is how Eisenhower must have felt when he ordered school desegregation. The punching feeling is feisty inside me now, daring any of these other adults to speak so it can ask them for their winning idea for preparing Dora for tomorrow’s quiz.
Dora and I sit at the kitchen table and I give it my last, best, part-carrot-part-stick shot at helping until Dora runs stomping and crying to her room. I follow her there, ignoring the continued disapproval from my parents and my husband, all of whom, I feel, should just go off and write their own Parenting book together.
I lay next to Dora, softening my voice again. I give her a choice whether to study for tomorrow’s quiz or not. I give her ten minutes to consider the pros and cons and make her decision, and I tell her I will not be upset either way. “The decision is yours. You’re getting older now.”
After our discussion she comes downstairs, her decision rendered on a piece of paper in the form of a Venn Diagram. One circle says “Doing what you don’t want to do,” the other says, “Not doing what you don’t want to do”. Each circle contains a few pros and cons. Boring. Get a good grade. Feel good when it’s done.
The circles converge over a single word: Fear
“Mommy, I’ve decided to do it even though I’m afraid I can’t.”
“You absolutely can do it. You’ve made a wonderful choice,” I say, “It’s very grown up.” We hug.
She tells me she will study upstairs alone for fifteen minutes, after which I can come quiz her. I try not to gloat in front of my husband and parents, which, I think, is rather big of me. When I return to Dora’s room after fifteen minutes, I am stunned to find her laying on her bed, engrossed in a book about fairies.
This, right here, is another “teapot” moment, an epiphany that spells itself out crystal-clear in my mind: Dora genuinely wants to study for this quiz but she simply can’t. Dora is physically unable to focus.
Dora turns, sees me watching her read the fairy book and begins crying, “I’m sorry! Mommy I’m sorry! I’m so stupid!” she says, then she smacks herself on the forehead once, twice —
“–No no no!” I race toward her to shield her from herself, “Oh my God, Dora, no! You are brilliant! Brilliant!”
She collapses into a sobbing mess in my arms.
I tilt her chin toward my face, “Listen to me. Listen to me! This is not your fault. I see that now. I see it. I know you are really trying! This is not your fault. I will get you help. Do you hear me?”
“I’m so stupid!”
“–No! No you’re not, stop saying that! You are brilliant! I am stupid. I am the stupid one. Me!” Tears slip out and onto my nose.
“What?” Dora is confused.
“Dora, I didn’t understand, baby. But I understand now. I know you want to study but I see that something is getting in the way and it’s not your fault. You don’t have to do this tonight. We’re done. It’s okay!”
“I hate my life. I don’t want to be alive! I want to go home! I want to go back to heaven!” She heaves with sobs and it is all I can do to restrain my own.
Jesus Christ, this pain. No one tells you at your baby shower. If women knew about this pain, it would mean the end of the human race.
“Look at me!” I am frantic, grasping at straws to fix, to erase this entire evening. “I will get you help. I promise with all my heart. Okay? I promise I will get you help!”
“–Okay, Mommy. Okay.”
We hug — we cling to each other, really — for a long time before she says, “Thank you, Mommy.”
The way she says this, “Thank you, Mommy,” in that frail little voice makes me know I would easily pluck my heart out of my chest and hand it over to the devil if my baby girl would just feel happy.
I hold her, stroking her hair until she falls asleep, my mind racing.
When she’s finally asleep, her breath still hitching, I pour myself a mug of chardonnay, put on my big girl panties and Google “ADHD in children”.
It turns out that ADHD is way different than I thought it was, and Dora seems to fit many of the symptoms.
I hardly sleep the rest of the night. I know what’s wrong I aim to fix it as swiftly as humanly possible.
In the morning I cannot wait two hours for Dr. Ivy’s office to open, so I leave her a detailed message, hyper-articulating my call back number. An hour later I leave a similar message for Dora’s pediatrician requesting references to the area’s top pediatric ADHD specialists, just in case Dr. Ivy can’t see us immediately.
No one returns my call until nine-thirty that same morning, which is practically a lifetime when you are counting your child’s suffering in one-hour increments.