Lessons Learned / Mike Turpin
"He just can't sit still -- I think he gets it from my father, who everyone refers to as `George Blast-off.' He can't stop moving. If Dad's not working, he's golfing or planting his monster gardens with tomatoes the size of basketballs. Really. It's quite amazing." Nervous laughter.
"Ma'am, I know this difficult but have you ever considered Ritalin? I mean, it's a big step, but clinically it's proven to help many hyperactive kids." The voice sounded vacant and bored like the conductor guy who mindlessly asked for our ticket on the Amtrak train to San Diego.
More InformationFact box
"Ritalin? Oh no, no, no. Really, I don't think so. I'd rather have him twitching like a worm on hot pavement than jumping out a third-story window yelling, `Look at me, I can fly,' thank you very much. Anyway, boys are wiggly creatures. They're always making noises, and shifting around to liberate some body part. You know, Mister Crimms, I was actually born a Christian Scientist. Didn't see a doctor before I was 9 and only when they thought I might have polio. We converted to Lutheranism at 13. My father was German and convinced my mother that God approved of immunizations, although he used to make us sleep together in one room when one of us got sick. `Get it all done at once,' he would shout in German."
I was swaying like a palm tree on the top of a wide oak work top that doubled as the nurse's office storage cabinet. I was playing a game to see how far I could lean headlong without falling off the bench.
I rocked headfirst peeking around the corner to spy on my mother as she mimicked her father, my Grandpa George. The young male counselor with the flattop haircut stared unimpressed as Mother rose halfway in her seat and raised her hand in the air looking just like my father during one of his Sunday night dinner diatribes.
"Look, your son has a D in social responsibility. He's a very friendly boy, but he's disrupting other students. He talks in class, can't sit still and today, he provoked one of our special education kids into chasing him around the room during rest time. I believe he suffers from hyperactivity syndrome or possibly some type of undiagnosed personality disorder."
There was a pause as the thermometer dropped in the office. My mother's tone went serial killer cold. I knew that voice. It was a declaration of war -- the seven seconds before the bomb is dropped and life as we knew would be forever changed.
"Mr. Crimms, this is a happy child. He does not suffer. You know, I've done my research. The sources of any child's hyperactivity can stem from a number of organic sources like sugar, caffeine, food allergies and other environmental causes. Why would you want to dope him up without ruling out all other sources first? How do you explain his high marks in all the subject matter tests? He is intellectually in the top 10 percent on all tests."
"Ma'am, some savants have been documented to possess extremely gifted intellects but lack the social filters and controls. These syndromes stem from innate behaviors and physical disabilities that medication can help to mute."
"Savants? Documented? Are you a student psychologist or an anthropologist? Have you read the book `Cuckoo's Nest,' Mr. Crimms? It seems modern medicine cannot always cure what we have the capacity to remedy ourselves. It's as much about self-esteem as it is about brain chemistry."
She stood up and walked into the foyer clutching my wrist. As she turned to leave the office, she bull whipped one last barb at the unseasoned educator.
My mother would always get the last word. In a scene that would repeat itself with each of her sons over many years, she rushed me out of the nurse's office -- speaking to herself and her mother as if Gran was walking behind us.
"Tomorrow, we're weaning you off that damn Mountain Dew and Pop Tarts!"
My mother did not seem to worry about our personality peccadilloes but instead focused on grades and social assimilation. She was certain that diet, exercise and more frequent breaks would allow any mildly "hyperactive" male to improve in social responsibility.
She understood that boy's excelled at those things that interested them but often floundered when lacking interest. My brothers and I could spend hours drawing, making models or painting.
Boys were a breeding ground for germs and adolescent neurosis. She preferred to organically unravel each twitch, tic and repetition to understand the demons that occasionally set up shop in our vulnerable minds.
Nurture would win out over nature and the subconscious would always give up the bodies that rested at the bottom of a child's mind.
Like Freud and Jung, she believed in interpreting dreams and in psychoanalysis. The last few minutes before a tired child fell asleep was the twilight phase where semi-conscious kids were likely to give up secrets and offer glimpses into the shadows that sometimes caused strange fear-based behavior.
In the last 10 minutes of every night, she would appear like Florence Nightingale, the angel of the night-light, gently extracting the mental splinters of bullies, bad teachers, first crushes, bad choices and the irrational phantasms that arose out of sibling disinformation.
I always wondered if I was her favorite of her four sons. She seemed to spend more time with me than the others -- interpreting my behavior and my dreams, reassuring me that one day those twitching cement pipe legs and monkey mind attention span would one day morph into the genius of a grown man and athlete.
She ran slender fingers across my scalp. "Such wonderful hair."
"I gotta a big head. Somebody called me pumpkin head the other day."
"Honey, everyone in our family has big heads. They're full of brains. Third grade is a tough time, honey. You need to ignore kids and learn to sit still and focus on what your teacher says. When you're bored and you want to talk to your neighbor, just take out a piece of paper and write down what you want to say. That way the teacher won't get mad at you for disrupting the class. Got it? Here, I got you this."
She opened a white paper bag from the local stationary store handing me a leather bound book.
She turned on the bedside lamp. I opened it and saw that she had written my name on the first page: Property of Michael Turpin. "You write everything you think and feel in here. Draw pictures or doodle. It's a diary and it's better than any old pill to help you focus."
Months later my father would discover what was the first of many diaries. Inside were primitive hand drawn pictures of epic WWII battles, monsters, spaceships and race cars and in almost every picture, there was a kid with a big head wearing a cape who was the clear protagonist in the illustration. Pumpkin Head would often use X-Ray powers from his mind to vanquish the bad guys.
"Jesus H. Christ. A shrink would have a field day with this. Why in the hell is this kid drawing Captain Pumpkin Head?"
My mother just laughed as she ran her fingers through the spiked hair that grew like straight grass above my father's large cranium.
"I guess your son got his big head from my side of the family."
Check out Mike Turpin's blog at TRexDad.com.