The kids are I are walking home from school in total silence — everyone, that is, except Jasmine, my daughter with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Ten minutes ago, I asked her about her day and she’s going on and on. I look over from time to time to make sure she’s breathing between hyperactive sentences.
“We had science today. And we learned about water. Because water is wet when it’s warm and I can see through it. But then when it’s cold it turns into ice and I can’t see through it. And then the teacher — you know my teacher’s name is Ms. Lewis; she’s one of my favorite teachers (her and Ms. Brown). So Ms. Lewis put the water is a bowl, and then she had fire, and the fire made the water turn into smoke.”
“Steam!” one of her siblings interrupts. They’ve been patiently (and at times impatiently) waiting for her to finish talking so they can have a turn recounting their day.
“Steam?” Jasmine says. “Oh yeah! Steam!”
I’m trying to listen and stay with her story, but to be honest, I’m barely picking up the headlines. I catch my mind wandering, and then I snap back to her chatter. Pay attention! I tell myself. So I try to force myself to pay attention, but then my mind starts to wander about paying attention.
This is typically how it goes during our afternoon walk home from school. I ask the kids about their day, and Jasmine spends the entire walk home talking. Her siblings are used to this and seem to have made their peace about it. However, I freely admit I’m crummy at paying attention, and even crummier at faking it.
“Honey! You’re not listening to Jasmine. She’s talking to you.” Is a frequent line Laurie says to me. I shake my head, as if coming out of a daze, and see Jasmine giving me an intense smile. She may have just asked me for a popsicle or she may have asked if I’ll buy her a pony. “Sorry, Baby Doll,” I say. “What was that again?”
Laurie says, “You do the same with me.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say.
She continues, but I’ve already started tuning out. “Honey?” she says.
“What are you going to do when she gets older? I don’t want her to get her feelings hurt because you’re tuning her out.”
I admit it’s a valid concern. And I think about this the next time we’re walking home and she’s explaining every detail of her day. In fact, I’m literally thinking about it INSTEAD of listening to her. “Daddy?” she says. “Did you hear me?”
“No, Baby, sorry.”
“I know,” she says. “You do that a lot.”
I slump my shoulders. “I’m sorry, Baby,” I say.
“That’s OK,” she says. “I’ll start again.”
And I hear her siblings groan behind her, knowing the clock just restarted on their waning patience.