“Coco! Hey! You locked me out!” I’m knocking on the back door, harder than necessary; I can see my 22- year-old daughter three feet away, storming around the kitchen through the double pane above the deadbolt. But it’s midnight in our ADHD household, a prime hour for tempers to flare and common sense to fly away and hide. So I pound on the door like a sheriff serving a warrant.
I had been out in the backyard with a flashlight watching Casey, our black Labrador mix, do his nightly check of the perimeter fence. Down a small hill, the fence divides the trees in our yard from a forested area that, during the day, becomes one thick green swath filled with bright chirping birds and busy squirrels. It’s a lovely place to relax eating lunch or dig around in the dirt planting things.
Late at night though, the swath of trees and our backyard is deep, dark, and quiet. I stand on the edge of the hill facing the trees and I hear the soft wind rustle the maple leaves, an owl hoot, and Casey, as he stops to paw through some pine straw, snorts, and continues to trot the fence. The only light comes from a sliver of moon hidden behind the crown of the four-trunked pin oak that rules the center of the hill.
Besides the clear beauty of nature at night in our pint-sized piece of Georgia, the amount of peace I get from this moment every night, and how much I treasure it, is a mystery to me. Growing up, my parents took us on some serious wilderness camping trips, and I spent most of the time wishing we were at Disneyland. No fan of nature back then.
Maybe now it has something to do with my wife and daughter being safe and tucked in at this time of night and the long-time repetition of a quiet late-night ritual with Casey, I don’t know. But I do know my over-wired brain does finally wind down and stops chattering incessantly about all my faults and everything I’ve forgotten and all the people I’ve let down and all my plans to get better, be better, and do more – when I’m standing on the hill in my sweatpants and t-shirt in the dark with my dog.
This night, with my head settled, when I whistle for Casey to come on back, I see out of the corner of my eye both kitchen lights go on. Coco is up and marching back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, opening and slamming closed the refrigerator and cabinets, looking in the sink and throwing up her arms in distress or disgust. I can’t hear her, but it looks like she’s yelling and plainly something’s wrong. Peace shattered, Casey and I head for the house.
Coco yells, “I’m sorry!” as she slams open the back door and stomps away still yelling. “I didn’t know you were out there, OK?” Casey bounds over to her and she yells at him, “Go away!” A bit stunned, Casey looks back to me and, in a low-pitch howl, says, “Oowooo…,” which in this case means, “You better do something about this and give me a treat. I’ll sit over there, out of the way,” which I do and he does.
I’m concerned for my daughter, who’s in obvious distress, but I’m also worried about waking up my wife Margaret, asleep upstairs. So keeping my voice calm and low, and arms open, I ask, “What happened, Coco? What’s bothering you?” I step toward her, but she avoids me and heads back to her room.
“Nothing! Nothing! I’m being immature! Leave me alone, OK?” she yells and opens the door to her room and her toy Yorkie, Lily, darts into the kitchen with her high-pitched yapping going like crazy. This prompts Casey to stand up and let out another “Oowooo…” Coco turns away to go after the yapping Lily and, for no good reason, my calm demeanor shatters.
“No it’s not OK!” I yell, “Can you stop the stupid dramatics and talk to me for God’s sake? I can’t help or, or do anything, if I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”
Coco turns back and looks at me wide-eyed. Holding Lily in her arms, who is no longer yapping but trembling in terror, Coco yells, “That was my last hot chocolate powder!”
From behind us, I hear Margaret, “Frank? Coco? Are you guys all right?” Coco and I both turn to face her. She’s bleary-eyed, concerned, and obviously wondering what could be so important to cause such an explosion in the middle of the night.
“Oh, um, I’m sorry hon, we didn’t mean to wake you…” I stammer. Coco says she’s sorry, too, and explains she way over-reacted when Dad had washed out the cup she had prepped for her after-bath hot chocolate and was embarrassed and like she said really, really sorry. Margaret says we should both get to bed and goes back upstairs. Coco and I quietly hash out bits of our drama. I insist I didn’t do anything with her cup, but there it is in the sink. She swears she didn’t drink it and forget, I swear I didn’t rinse out the cup and forget. We make peace, and call it a mystery.
It’s not just the nights with my dog, or the disappearing chocolate — almost everything is a mystery to me. And what’s upsetting is that year after year, the more I learn and attempt to understand myself or others or anything else, the more the mystery deepens. Some things I’ve figured out. I know how to tie my shoes. Though I didn’t figure out how to keep them from coming undone until 1991 when the mayor of the country town in Doc Hollywood told Michael J. Fox that he could see he was a careful man of good character because he double-knotted his shoelaces. Trying to mimic being careful, I’ve double-knotted ever since, also hoping that somehow the good character part would seep upstream from my laces to my head. Like that thing I heard about the act of smiling makes you happier. But apparently good character takes a little more work than that.
I mean really, what kind of out-of-control narcissistic ADHD potato-head flies off the handle at his daughter with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) for flying off the handle over missing hot chocolate powder that, now that he thinks about it, he might have accidentally thrown out when he grabbed the cup off the counter and put it in the sink on his way out with the dog.
Here’s one mystery solved: If you want to know how to help your daughter, tap at the door, don’t bang. And instead of yelling, try listening. It builds character.
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