12/29/2014 01:36 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2015

Attention Deficit Disorder: A Poem for My Son


When he was born, he was so blue
I thought his mother cheated on me with a Smurf,
but he was just holding his breath for way too long.
He almost never exhaled, staring instead at the ceiling
as if there were something up there that only he could see.
A light? An angel? God's silent hand retracting and waving goodbye?

When he finally cried, we held hope in our hands,
and watched him grow, day by day. He was slow to walk,
more interested in stacking blocks. He was an engineer.
When he invented words like "pichika" and "chakabooty,"
we knew he'd be a poet someday. When he started school
and all the other kids lined up, pushing towards recess,
he sat frozen on the alphabet carpet, tracing the letter S,
hissing like a snake, while we marveled at his independent spirit.

Soon he lost himself in books, spent every day peeling back pages
to reveal pictures of sharks, squids, angler fish -- his favorite --
attracted to their ugliness, their loneliness as they swam blindly
in the darkest depths of the sea except for that little light atop their heads
like a child lost in the woods with only a lantern to navigate the way home.

He is a dozen years old now, awkward and forgetful.
When we tell him to put on a sweater, he emerges from his room
with a San Francisco Giants' cap on his head. His lunch box
is as full after school as it was when we packed it this morning.

He forgets to eat. He forgets his homework. He forgets
his manners at school when he sings "Happy Birthday, Poo Poo" in class.
The boys laugh. The teacher calls home. Mommy calls the doctors.

They explain it: Attention Deficit Disorder -- A.D.D. -- but it doesn't add up.
We've seen him build Hogwarts Castle, brick by Lego brick,
with a heart surgeon's focus, watched him create stop-motion videos
of zombies rising from matchbox graves, dragging their pitiful limbs,
one camera click at a time, towards the living.

It doesn't add up... until we begin to subtract the things he can't do --
like bring home permission slips so he doesn't miss another field trip
like swing the bat when the ball crosses home plate
like "load the dishwasher" doesn't mean "empty the dryer"
like "Why did you eat all the cookies, dude? Your sister wanted some too."

And when we think he just isn't thinking, he opens drawers
full of flip books featuring hand-drawn Godzillas
swallowing airplanes like Skittles that took him hours to draw
and seconds to flip through. Even we have forgotten the labor involved--
the way yelling at him makes us forget how good he can be,
the way taking away his things makes us forget the gifts he has given us,
the way feeling unlucky makes us forget how blessed we are.

Our son was born blue. He's had A.D.D. so badly since birth
even the doctors had to remind him to breathe.
He simply cannot pay attention to things that do not interest him,
so we have to find him interesting things.

Remember the angler fish -- his favorite -- how ugly a thing
that creature seems with its teeth like glass stalagmites,
eyes like black marbles, hiding at the bottom of the ocean
where no light shines, where no one dares swim.

That's where we will find our son, drowning under a sea of research,
bottles of Ritalin, his body sunk into a therapist's couch.
Down there where no hope seems to live, where his mother's tears
wet the waiting room floors, he will find his light.

And like that strange fish he loves so much,
his light will lure others closer and he will
shine brightly against the darkness of this world
and he, we promise you, will add up
to something great.