twenty-eight: sugar and sweat

Instead of our usual Sunday morning trip to church, today we’re Learning How To Swallow A Pill.

Swapping the liquid form of Dora’s ADHD medication for the pill version will, according to Dr. Ivy League, “ab-so-lutely” prevent another Behavioral Episode.

“It will be fun,” I inform Dora the night before, “You get to practice with candy!”  Dora seems dubious, but the candy part intrigues her.  She loves a good hook.

I get up early to set the stage, covering one end of the kitchen table with various containers of sugar decorations, those teeny-tiny balls and stars and hearts and so on that you sprinkle on top of a cupcake to amp its appeal.  The idea is to practice by first swallowing the smallest shape and size decoration, slowly graduating up to the actual size of the pill.  

A cup of water sits before Dora’s place setting, along with some some new, earn-able glass beads I plan to use as further motivation, should the idea of getting candy at seven o’clock in the morning somehow lose its appeal.  

“This is what the experts recommend,” I informed David the night before, as I unpacked roughly fifty-five dollars worth of sugar decorations from the Safeway bag.

“Which experts?” He asks, eyeing the sugar-fest before him, “Clearly not four out of five dentists.”

The project begins promisingly.  Dora is in a great mood. She’s loves examining the colorful decorations, touching them, smelling them, weighing which one is the smallest so she can go ahead and taste one.  She even uses ruler to verify her choice, which makes David very proud because Science, ya’ll.  I sit happily sipping my coffee until the Smallest Decoration is thusly announced.

Next, I show Dora a YouTube video wherein a girl her own age teaches other kids how to take a pill.  

“Not only do you get to eat one decorations for every decoration you swallow like a pill,” I explain, “.. but you’ll also earn a new glass bead every time you get closer to swallowing the pill!”

She plunges her fingers deeply into the bead jar I have prepared in the name of full sensory involvement, as the ADHD books suggest. She is one-hundred and fifty percent on board.

I save the best part for last.

“Then, when you learn to swallow the pill and you do it every day for a week, Daddy and I will take you to the toy store or to Michael’s crafts and you can pick out anything you want!”

Bam!  I am kicking ass at ADHD Parenting right now.

“Can I get a puppy?”

“No,” David and I say in unison. She pouts briefly.

“What about all the beads at Michaels? Can I get that?”

“‘All the beads’ is not really reasonable. But you can get a lot of beads.”

“How many is ‘a lot’? Like, a handful or like a bucketful?”

We decide on somewhere in between, depending on the type of bead. Among the things-I-have-learned-but-wish-I-didn’t-need-to-know is that ADHD kids require a high degree of specificity.  

With the rules set, the game explained, and the prizes dangling in front of her, she is ready to begin.  A tiny yellow sugar star sits poised on the tip of her finger.

She asks to see the video again, then one more time. She raises the star to her lips, then stops. She looks worried.

She takes a drink of water. Then another.

“How about if you just put the star on your lip and let it sit there for a minute, you’ll get a bead.”  

She does so. I am very proud of her, and she is very proud of her bead.  I briefly consider penning my own “How To Teach A Child To Take A Pill” guide, which will be modified for ADHD kids and will include the phrase, “Don’t be afraid to improvise!”

Another thing she learns is that this is a great way to eat more sugar decorations. She places  the ninth sugar-star on her lips before I realize I’m being played.  My “How To” guide goes out the window.

I up the challenge to placing the sugar star on the back of your tongue and letting it dissolve. She is less excited about this task but still manages to earn three more sugar decorations out of it. Then the task moves to swallowing the sugar-star instead of letting it dissolve.  

“No,” she says.

“Well, hold on a minute now…”, I say, as if I’m not finished. As if I’m not about to make up the next thing that spills out of my mouth, “Get this: every time you swallow the star, you get to eat TWO sugar decorations!”

“Wow, can you believe it?” David asks.  

Dora considers this calculus.

“Three,” she says, “I get three.”

“Oh, okay,” I say, “Fine; three.”


“Three,” David and I say together.

She places the star on the back of her tongue and waits uncomfortably.

“Now you just take a sip of water and swallow it back. Quickly, like this,” I place a sugar decoration on the back of my tongue, washing it down with a gulp of water.

Dora takes a small sip of water. It swishes around in her mouth. She gets up and runs to the kitchen, spitting the water and the soggy star into the sink.

“It’s okay. No big deal. You’re so brave. You’re doing great. We’ll just try again.”

She tries again, making another run to the sink.

For the next ninety minutes, our conversation goes around and around in variations of this loop:

  • I’m afraid I will choke on it. I’m afraid I won’t be able to breathe.
  • There’s nothing to be afraid of. You drink water all the time. You swallow food pieces larger than this all day long. You can do this.
  • Can I take a break?
  • There is no getting up from the table until you swallow the pill. You can do it.

It is now three hours into the project, and both Dora and I are significantly wilted. None of the experts mention the length of time this endeavor could take, which makes me suspect that this is taking too long.  I try my best to keep things light even as the minutes tick by, but inside the punching feeling grows: OhmyGod just take the fucking pill already!

At the three hour and forty-minute mark Dora swallows the “pill”, surprising all of us, herself included. David and I respond as if she’s won the Olympics, jumping and cheering and hugging her as she beams.  

David lifts her on his shoulders even though she is not a toddler and he is no longer thirty years-old, and the two of them prance around the living room. I’m beyond relieved.

 Dora throws both hands in the air in celebration and right then, just as I am bursting with pride, I notice the large, wet circles under her little armpits. The sight of it makes me feel very weird inside, like maybe this wasn’t the right approach after all.

Those are large sweat-rings. They are man-sized, post-football practice sweat rings. She is nine. I have never seen her sweat, not even a little.

All the way to the toy store she says things like, “It was actually really easy!” and, “I didn’t even feel it go down!”  

She selects three crafts at the toy store and spends the afternoon happily churning out craft after craft.  I still feel weird inside, unable to get the vision of the sweat rings from my mind.

Within two hours of this hard-won victory, she asks, “Do I have to do this again tomorrow?”

“Yes, honey. Every day. But you did it, didn’t you? Now you know you can do it!”

She draws her head down, her shoulders seem to fold into themselves.

We have dinner with my parents but the fun is over. She’s preoccupied with the thought of having to do this again tomorrow. At home she returns to her room reading a book and worrying about taking a pill again.  

I do not know what is happening here, but one thing I do know is that I don’t have four hours a day to facilitate pill-swallowing.  

Another thing I know is that none of the experts say anything about sweaty armpits, or what should happen on days two, three, and four.  All of these fucking experts must hang out with Ferber.

What’s the big deal, I ask myself as she lays next to me in bed, crying in anticipation of taking a pill the next day. Why does she have to take a pill, really? So she takes a liquid medicine, so what? If she crashes again, you know what to do.   

Okay, I finally tell her, You don’t need to take the pill again.  

She throws her arms around my neck, lurching me down to her ear, hugging me hard like a life raft.

“Oh thank-you-thank-you-thank-you Mommy!”  She showers my face with sweet little kisses, her face desperate with relief, “I love you so much. Thank you Mommy. Thank you! You’re the best mommy in the whole universe!”

That night I lay in bed, questioning all of my choices, the image of her little sweat-stained shirt firmly wedged into a crack in my heart.

Was that normal? 

In my dream, Glinda the witch smiles sweetly, asking: Are you a bad parent or a good parent?

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