We just made it through another Valentine's Day, where a young boy's heart naturally turns to, what? Love, right? Well, sort of. Theoretically. For some young boys, love looks and feels differnetly, though. Take my ADHD Wonder-son who we call "Clark Kent," for example. He's in his junior year of high school. He thinks about love. He even has love, or something like it. He has dated the same sweet neurotypical girl for over a year.
But the form love takes when practiced by an ADHD teen doesn't look like the love I, as a non-ADHD person, remember feeling, or that I do feel for my gorgeous husband Eric even now. To me, young love is urgent. It is all-consuming. It makes you do crazy things. Operative word? DO. As in "take action."
That's where my son differs so much from my experience. Clark is completely happy in his 4-second window of life; the past is gone, the future doesn't exist. Anything that enters that window and stays with him is awesome. But if it's not there, then he really doesn't miss it all that much. Maybe a little. If his girlfriend texts him and asks him to miss it, for instance. As in, if she texts and says, "Look, here I am, and I'm not with you." Then he misses it. He continues playing FIFA Soccer on the Xbox with a smile on his face, but he kinda sorta misses her. Things might be even better if she were here. She's not though. And he's still happy. He doesn't need to DO anything. It's all good.
Sometimes they ride to school together. Her sister drops her at our house before 7:00 a.m. Eric and I aren't always dressed and out of the bathroom yet at this time. She rings the door bell in the dark. Surely Clark is up and will answer, I think. Surely he knows when she was due to arrive. The doorbell keeps ringing. She weighs 90 pounds sopping wet, and I can't take it any longer. I sprint to the door in my half-tied robe and let her in.
"I'm sorry. He's not awake. I'll get him," I apologize. She and I have had this exchange before. We have it most days.
She settles in happily, making strawberry icing doodle-art on the toaster streudels. I stomp up the stairs where two alarm clocks blare over Clark's snore.
It takes three tries, but he does, finally.
"Shower, take your pill, get downstairs. You promised to wake up in time to let her in. You left her standing in the dark again."
Grunts tell me he hears me, and I stomp back down the stairs.
Later that night, Eric and I ask each other, "What kind of love is it when a boy -- a young man -- leaves his girlfriend outside in the cold, in the dark, day after day?"
I know what kind. It's the feeling of love, the emotion of love, but without the urgency of the future consequences to the lovers. It's the kind of love that doesn't anticipate the stranger with the knife in the bushes watching the girl. It's the kind of love that doesn't see the new boy next year who would never leave her standing alone in the dark. It can't imagine how much a broken heart will hurt. For awhile.
I've had this love before. Clark's father. It didn't last. I needed the action of love. I needed a love that remembered I hurt when I wasn't screaming. That everything wasn't okay just because the crisis fell outside the 4-second window.
I sat across the table recently from a man in between Clark's age and the age of Clark's father. He had just told me had ADD. He had questions.
"It's so hard," he explained. "Relationships, I mean. I don't do them very well."
I thought of Clark's father, and the love that withered, the problems left unresolved, the attentions not paid, the actions not taken, the things said that fell outside his focus. The challenges he had that were too much for me. I thought of Clark, and the years ahead. The beautiful young girl in the dark on the front porch.
My heart aches. I've worried about this for a long time. Like I've worried about homework, grades, his previous lack of friends, wrecked cars, and drugs. In the same way as I worry someday that his Asperger's will assert itself at work in the form of an unfiltered and outside the lines comment that seems totally appropriate to him, and costs him a job he loves, or at least needs.
I've worried about how to teach him that the feeling of love feeds on the acts of love, which are spurred by the future of love. Future. The future he doesn't quite anticipate.
I love this boy. I love him enough to let him find his own path, my voice as I try to explain in a way he'll understand hopefully echoing in his head. "Love, showing love, means you make her the emergency. Love is urgent." He doesn't understand now. He doesn't need to yet. Maybe if he's lucky, he'll find someone who understands him and doesn't need anything more than he gives.
Surely a heart as kind and loving as his doesn't need to be broken.