By Christy Heitger-Ewing
I vividly recall the first insult because it happened just one week after my mom’s tragic death. I was a grief-stricken basket case when my 2-year-old screamed that he hated me, wished I were dead, and wanted a new mommy. His piercing words were an arrow to my already shattered heart.
Things only deteriorated from there as he started regularly throwing terrible tantrums, staging monumental meltdowns, and delighting in nasty name-calling. What had happened to my sweet son? Stunned, horrified, and confused, I went straight to God.
“I’m already a mess from losing Mom,” I cried. “I can’t handle Trevyn’s outbursts too. Please help me, Lord!”
God offered me little bits of patience, but I needed a double dose. Maybe triple.
“I don’t know what to do,” I told my friends. “My child is draining the life out of me.”
“Terrible Twos,” they lamented, nodding their heads in unison. “Hang in there. It’ll get better.”
Only I couldn’t hang. And it didn’t get better. In fact, I saw zero improvement over the course of the next two years. On top of the tantrums and insults, my son’s energy amped up even more. He spent his days jumping from bunk beds, treetops, jungle gyms, and stepladders. He used our couches as trampolines and beanbag chairs as landing gear. He even climbed atop the cat’s scratching post and pretended it was a high-diving board. Cannonball!
He was in constant motion, which was exhausting enough. When coupled with his angry outbursts, however, I was at my wit’s end. The back of his bedroom door looked like the contents of a Froot Loops® box from all of the many colored toys he’d thrown at it during ticked-off time-outs.
My husband described our son as “passionate.” Easy for him to say. He was at work all day, leaving me home with the Tasmanian devil.
One day Trevyn’s preschool teacher suggested I test him for ADHD. I’d never considered it, but maybe she was onto something. Over the next few weeks, I met with three experts—my pediatrician, a psychiatrist, and a child psychologist. They all diagnosed my son with ADHD.
“You’ll notice a night-and-day difference in his behavior once he’s medicated,” the psychologist said.
Given how mentally, physically, and emotionally drained I was after enduring two years of constant chaos, this promise of a subdued version of my child sounded heavenly.
Still, somewhere in my heart I could feel the Lord cautioning me to slow down and take inventory.
Be patient. Give it time. Hug him, I heard.
Only I didn’t listen. I was antsy for a quick fix. So despite the possible side effects, which included stunted growth and insomnia, I started my son on ADHD medication.
For five months Trevyn opened wide for his liquid dose of what I termed “chill and focus.” I had to admit, however, that I was disheartened by the results. Not only did I not witness anything close to a night-and-day difference in his behavior, but our formerly voracious eater now barely touched food until 4 p.m. Plus, gone were the days of zonking out quickly; now he struggled nightly to fall asleep.
Throughout the months, I couldn’t shake this nagging suspicion that I had messed up as a mom. All I wanted to do was pick up the phone and call my mom for advice, but that was no longer an option.
I desperately wanted God to intervene and save me from my messy, exhausting life. “I’m lost, God,” I prayed. “I need guidance. Help me figure out my next step.” My heart raced as Trevyn screeched wildly from his room like a flock of angry birds. I took a deep breath and added, “And please grant me the patience to deal with my son.”
No sooner had I finished praying than an email landed in my inbox. It was the weekly devotional message from the director of Christian education at our church. He wrote, “God does not measure time from our perspective. God works methodically through history to bring about his plan and his purpose—in his time.”
Message received, Lord.
I needed to work on my own “chill and focus” plan.
I figured if my 4-year-old had excess energy, I’d do my part to help him release it. So that summer I signed him up for basketball and gymnastics camp—both high-octane activities. I also stopped administering the meds.
Returning to a med-free zone was fantastic. Each day I packed my boy big lunches and his box came back empty. I tucked him into bed at night and within minutes, he was snoozing.
Though Trevyn still had the occasional outburst, hurtful words didn’t roll from his lips the way they once did. He consistently sought out hugs and snuggles. He displayed heartfelt empathy and regret. Plus, with time and prayer came hope and healing, which, in turn, created peace and harmony.
As I reflected on the previous two years, I wondered if my intense grief over losing my mom had played a role in my son’s difficult behavior. After all, I also had exhibited erratic behavior, sometimes lashing out at people out of the blue. Aching from the inside out, one minute I was sobbing uncontrollably and the next I was flying off the handle.
One evening as I was tucking Trevyn into bed, he confided, “I miss Grandma.”
My mouth fell open. I wasn’t even sure he remembered her since he was only 2 when she died.
“I do too, sweetie,” I said.
“She gave good back rubs,” he said. “Sometimes at night I feel something tickling my back. Do you think that’s Grandma?”
My throat tightened with emotion as tears ran down my cheeks.
“I have no doubt,” I whispered, pulling him close. “That’s her.”
Patience & Passion
Late in the summer, I got a call from a family therapist I’d been trying to see for months. He had a cancellation so I went in to discuss Trevyn’s behavior. The first thing out of his mouth confirmed something I’d already suspected. He felt the other doctors may have jumped the gun on Trevyn’s diagnosis. The therapist explained that he waited longer to watch development before diagnosing ADHD. During our session, he shared some behavior modification techniques as well as a familiar perspective.
“Sounds like your son is pretty passionate,” the therapist said.
I looked at my husband and grinned.
“Yeah, you could say that,” I said.
“Exercise some patience with him,” the therapist said.
That night during dinner, Trevyn burst into song in the middle of devouring his mac-n-cheese. To the tune of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he sang, “Mommy is so pretty . . . She is my world.”
Turns out my Tasmanian devil has a heart of gold.
Christy Heitger-Ewing is a freelance writer and columnist living in Avon, Indiana, with her husband and two sons.