Obstacles of a Mother’s Executive Dysfunction

I go home after dropping my ninth grader off at school, finish my morning coffee, check social media, and retire upstairs when the phone rings. Three thoughts come to mind: “Thank God I remembered to activate the bell”, “Where did I leave my cell?” and, “What did Giorgio do now?”

I run downstairs to get my phone. It’s not on the cluttered kitchen counter or on the table littered with leftovers from my son’s breakfast. The sound comes from my purse which is hidden under my coat draped over a chair. I rummage through my torn bag: wallet, house keys, car key chain, face mask, face mask, face mask, crumpled tissues, dusty LEGO, a half-eaten KIND bar and lots and lots of receipts. I finally locate the noise.

Too late. As expected, I miss my son’s school call. “Nothing good happens before 10 a.m. on a Tuesday,” I think as I stare at the phone and wait for voicemail.

Maternity with executive dysfunction

It’s not uncommon for me to have trouble finding my phone, or anything else, for that matter. Much to the chagrin of my patient husband, Larry, I frequently ask, “Have you seen my… (glasses, laptop, American Express)? Often the lost item will be among a large pile of trash on my bed or dining table. Sometimes the lost item is not lost at all, but right under my nose. My keys will be on the nail that Larry planted next to the door. I just don’t see them through the jungle in my head.

I have poor executive functioning, defined as a group of cognitive abilities that control the skills we need to do just about anything. Little things, like leaving the house with matching shoes, often escape me. I am also prone to making more serious mistakes. I’ve lost three wallets in the past five years, money was stolen from a purse I forgot to close, and a purse was stolen when I forgot it in the playground. A lucky thief once took a ride when I left my keys inside the car.

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It’s probably an aspect of ADHD that I inherited from my father. He often lost things too. It wasn’t uncommon for him to walk away with the wrong wallet or iPad, and his mind was just too cluttered with other thoughts to remember where he’d left his reading glasses. Even so, he managed to become a successful lawyer and screenwriter later in life. As for me, I used to practice law and I remember every conversation I had, every book I read, and every meal I ate.

Being a parent presents its own obstacles to executive functioning. How do I scold my son for dropping his coat on the floor when mine is gathering dust right next to it? At least I find it easier to organize his schedule than mine.

Fortunately, I married an organized and neat but not capricious man. He knows where things are and can make a bed out of hospital wedges. But he cannot, all his life, remember dates and appointments. We complement each other. I remind him when we plan to see his parents, and he helps me find a schedule to spend my day.

I appreciate these routines, like the one I have in the morning with my son. This Tuesday, I woke up at 7:30 am, I made Giorgio’s lunch (yogurt, string cheese, Triscuits, cut mango and a pickle); makes breakfast (Banana Cheerios); woke him up; and laid out his clothes (green jeans, blue Minecraft shirt). I constantly check things off the list I keep in my head. After pushing my son to finish getting ready, we went to school. It gives me a little chill that we usually arrive on time – the facade that we’re a normal family works.

[Read: The Motherhood Myth is Crushing Women with ADHD]

The dreaded phone call from school

I wait for voicemail to play and start freaking out. Is my boy okay? He didn’t seem to have a fever that morning, but pretended to be tired. (He claims to be tired every morning.) What if he was tired and fell? Maybe he needs stitches like the time I was called to pick him up from kindergarten. Maybe worse.

Finally, the message gets through. “Hello, Mrs. Koskoff, this is the school nurse,” begins a pleasant voice. “I wanted to let you know that we have Giorgio here. He forgot to put on his briefs this morning.

Parenting with ADHD: Next Steps


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About Marion Alexander

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