When I was a kid, nobody could figure out what my dad did with the majority of his time. He seemed to move around the house looking somewhat laboriously engaged, but at the end of the day he often had nothing to show for all that pacing about — and yet somehow appearing as though he desperately needed a nap. My mom, in a tone that left none of her agitation to the imagination, would call this “piddling.”
“Oh, he’s piddling, as usual.”
None of us had any idea, during all those years of sharing a house with the man, that my dad had off-the-charts ADHD. He finally got diagnosed in his 50s, and with loads of education and a healthy dose of stimulant medication, a lot of my dad’s barriers to success removed themselves.
But the piddling never ended.
This many years later, in my own middle-aged life, I am beginning to view it through a more generous lens than perhaps my mom did. I choose to see piddling’s power instead of its imperfection.
You see, while I soared through my adolescence and college years with unstoppable (albeit procrastination-saturate) academic and personal successes, I had no idea that I was paddling twice as hard as were my contemporaries. It wasn’t until I came up against out-of-nowhere impairing anxiety at the onset of parenting that I began to frame myself as my father’s child. My Inattentive Type ADHD hadn’t been dormant underneath all that childhood and young adult success; it had been unknowingly managed with by a decent IQ, sizeable protective factors like the safety nets of my loved ones, and low-enough stressors not to overcome me.
Until it did… and therapy and a neuro-psych evaluation tapped me into my root struggle: ADHD.
Want to hear the bummer of my mid-life diagnoses? My dad passed away before I learned this big thing about myself.
So here I am, close to his age when all those growing up in our house were so bamboozled by Dad’s perpetual lateness, alarming inefficiencies, and lovable incompetence – and I’m a female replica. And the one thing I want to do since my diagnoses, I can’t do: heal the annoyances I’d had with my sometimes-unreliable and always-offbeat ADHD dad in person.
Instead, I’ve healed them in his absence by treating myself with the kind of compassion and patience that I know would have benefited him. And one of the ways I do this is to allow myself the freedom of unashamedly piddling.
In a season when productivity is a requirement to survive busy family and parenting life, it definitely can be seen as (and feel) irresponsible. After all, who has the time to walk around aimlessly in a bunch of different directions starting and stopping a bunch of different stuff and getting nothing truly worthwhile done?
And here I am over here jumping up and down saying, “Me. Me!”
What I mean to say, to clarify, is that I make the time to piddle. It is a priority.
This carved-out time I call the “piddle block.” If I’ve planned well enough, I reward my efforts of staying on track 92.5% of the time with a free-form 7%. (The unaccounted for 0.5% is, obviously, when I take showers with cocktails J). This seven-ish percent is deliberately, inefficiently spent and knowingly without purpose. And, best of all, I give myself permission to abandon whatever I start (if I start anything) guilt-free. Leaving a small devastating mess in my path of unfinished tasks is a small price to pay for the liberation and joy earned from allowing myself to engage in said tasks without so much pressure.
I’ve noticed that sustained discipline, structure, an organizational system, a routine, a locked-down regiment (all super recommendations for ADHDers)… well, that type of persistent responsibility, when there are no breaks, can make my ADHD side sort of rascal-like. She (my ADHD) doesn’t love being suppressed and stomped out for lots of days in a row. And when she is, this makes the other parts of me both a little less amazing and a lot more cranky.
If I’m trying too hard to squelch Her, She becomes like a dieter who won’t allow herself any sugar: sad and mean and eventually apt to hide in the pantry inhaling an entire package of Oreos. I find that if I toss a cookie Her way from time to time, she’ll more successfully stay on track for the long haul.
That cookie is piddling. Piddling means that I design an allotment of time to let my brain go on an irresponsible little vacation, to let the sister off the strict diet, to let the puppy off the leash, and to just be. To be Really. Really. Irresponsible. With time, with resources, with space, with efficiency, with it all.
My microwave is usually in the background doing its little reminder beep about the coffee I warmed up 15 minutes ago as I’m pouring myself a new cup, and I don’t care. I start a decorating project and abandon it with nails and frames and hammers littering the floor like confetti beneath the half-done wall collage, and I don’t care. I get out five books I want to read and impulsively go back and forth between them reading just the sensational tidbits that interest me like a 1st grader would do, and I don’t care. I waste time and run up and down the steps forgetting things on every floor a million times, and I don’t care. I doodle excessively while talking on the phone in my robe, and I don’t care. I pull off when I see a yard sale sign even though I don’t have cash and end up having to apologize and put everything back, and I don’t care. I walk past the dishwasher a zillion times knowing the right thing to do is unload it but I don’t, and I don’t care.
All the other minutes of all the other days, I follow my rules… I care. But when I set out to piddle, I set out to break all the rules… and I don’t care. And my ADHD – the wild and raw and undisciplined and No Holds Barred part of me – says “Thank you.” The piddling serves as a pressure release valve that blows off all my pent-up steam and makes me more fit to return to my disciplines when I must.
My dad’s piddling may have driven us all a little crazy and I’m sure mine has the potential to drive my current housemates crazy, too, but I now accept this charming quirk the way he did. For me now and for my dad, even after he’s gone, grace abounds. It is now that I realize without a doubt: there’s power in the piddle.