Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on his ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." ~ Albert Einstein
As an artist, I believe being different is not only good, it's essential. It's the way you stand out from the crowd, the way you find your voice, the way you find true friends and love. Being different is how you come into your own. I truly believe this. In part, I believe it because I've lived it. I did the corporate marketing thing for many years, but even though I didn't recognize it at the time, I was an artist stuck in a business suit. It wasn't until drinks after a meeting one day with a colleague when I mentioned I had the opportunity to pursue my MBA and that I was considering it that something seemed off. I absolutely thought it was the right thing to do, but he took one look at me and said "What are you doing? This is not who you are. Why can't you see that?" To be honest, I was a little offended, but it was because I thought I should be, not because his words were anything but the truth. I knew it wasn't me, but I thought it was what I was supposed to do and be to fit in. You know, follow the crowd, do what was expected, be safe.
Shortly thereafter, I admitted first to myself and then to those around me that while I was a marketing executive by day, in my heart I was (gasp) an artist. A what? An artist. It's still hard to say, and sometimes hard to believe, but it took me nearly 40 years to get there. I'd like to say that it was this conversation that lit the spark in me, but it wasn't that easy or quick. It took becoming a parent to a gorgeous little boy after years and years of trying, of watching my heart walk around outside my chest as he grew and began to explore the world around him, and realize that like me, he was different.
But wait... different is good, isn't it? Isn't that what I believe?
Well, it is until first a preschool teacher, then a kindergarten teacher, followed by doctors, each tell you that your beautiful, perfect child is different. For us, that came with a diagnosis of ADHD. Believe me, I realize there are far worse things to be diagnosed with than this neurological disorder, but when it's your child, his life, his future, his heart on the line, suddenly it becomes a much bigger thing. At times, it becomes even traumatic. Even more so because he and I are exactly the same, and I'm here to tell you that it's one thing to learn that your child has a disorder that will affect him his entire life and realize he will struggle and be different, but to realize that you are two peas in a pod and the things you watch him struggle and fight with so hard are the exact same things that have left their footprint on your own life for so long is more than a little overwhelming. There was a part of me that actually felt relief, thinking "Now I know! Now I get why I am different.", but there was another part of me that felt pure guilt that the list of my eternal shortcomings would be genetically passed on to my child. Grow up and live a normal life? How could that be possible when he'd never remember where his keys are, what he was in the middle of doing, that one thing that he HAD to get done today? How horrible that he'd grow up not knowing what impulse caused him to do something stupid, hurtful, or to sabotage something that meant something to him? Oh, God, and he'd never ever ever be able to follow directions or prioritize effectively. Never! How could life be so cruel?
As I have so often done in my life (mostly out of necessity for one reason or another), I pulled us all up by my bootstraps and declared, "We can do this." I thought we could do it because I've been doing it since forever anyway, and I know where the land mines are. I thought I could help him avoid them, could help him navigate around them. I thought I could help him learn to avoid them. It didn't take long to realize that wouldn't be the case, and to realize that one of the biggest challenges a person with ADHD has is hearing someone else when they are driven by their own agenda, whatever it may be. And so while I can tell him how to avoid getting in trouble in school for not following directions, for not paying attention, for not completing his work, or by not thinking about things that are completely irrelevant to the task at hand, he can't hear me enough to avoid the land mines. It's not that he won't, it is that he CAN'T.
But what is a parent of a child like this to do? I'll tell you what they do - they realize their genius is a fish and he lives in a world where they want him to climb trees. A parent realizes that the lack of ability to conform to the norm takes a toll on the child, their peers, their educators and their families. They first come to terms with that, and then they look for a pond. One big enough for their fish to swim in.