My Son Has Never Read A Book

To have to admit that at the age of nineteen my son has never read a book fills me with the sort of bad-parent angst and shame that I imagine I would experience if I stood in front of an AA meeting and admitted to being an alcoholic. children-studying-670663_1280


He reminded me of this fact yesterday when we shared a rare hour together when he didn’t hate me and we went to return a shirt that I bought for him for Christmas, in the hope that he would look smart on the day. Like a lot of teenagers, he is so particular about clothes that he would prefer not to have any, rather than wear something he doesn’t like, and he has a penchant for particular brands – expensive ones in the main, most of which do not suit our pocket – so when I saw the designer shirt at half-price, and it had the sort of insipidly hippy pattern that he loves, I jumped on it.


Inevitably, he hated it, although in fairness to him, he did some excellent role-play on Christmas morning that convinced me that those thousands of dollars spent on drama lessons were worth every penny, and that he did like it, but wanted to save it for a special occasion. Sorry Jesus!


Anyway, as bonding hours are few and far between, yesterday I managed to resist the temptation to trigger a fight in the way that only mums of teenagers can, which would have involved me asking any of the following questions:






Instead, I asked him if he would do me the honour of reading my manuscript, now that it’s close to the end, and maybe because one of the character’s bears an uncanny resemblance to him and I don’t want him to find another excuse to do fuck all by suing me when my book is turned into a movie.


‘How long is it?’ he grunted back at me.


’80,000 words,’ I said, proudly.


‘Are you f…cking kidding me? That’s like all the books in the world, isn’t it?’


It saddens me that my son is not a “reader” like the rest of the family.


Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t for want of trying. We ruined most nights of his school life with those twenty-minute reading sessions and I remember visibly shaking as soon as I saw his book bag clutched in his sticky hands at the school gates. That was on the rare occasions when he remembered to bring it home.


Most of my exhausted comments in his school reading book were along the lines of ‘refused to read’ or ‘no reading tonight, Kurt was tired….’ Somehow, I refrained from writing the truth, such as ‘Kurt had an major meltdown and I cried all night.’ I tried reading to him to encourage him, bought him books that I hoped would engage him, but even when we snuggled up in bed in what should have been those special moments of togetherness at bedtime reading, he would struggle and squirm next to me until I lost my rag and stormed out.


Not entirely his fault, I now understand. The ADHD brain is only capable of digesting information of interest, and in hindsight, perhaps a book about the life and times of Pablo Escobar might have been a better fit.


So the only way he can have learnt to read is via the Internet, in search of articles in connection to his passion for music. It must have happened organically, and all those nights and parents’ evenings when I felt such a failure as a parent, reached for the wine (which I suspect ultimately caused me to become the functioning alcoholic I am today), were completely unnecessary.


We learn at different speeds and in different ways. I’m still learning now. So don’t be too hard on your kids if they aren’t reading Harry Potter at age 2. Kurt didn’t speak until he was three, and when comprehensible words eventually tumbled forth, there was an abundance of them, an array of intelligent vocabulary that even his sister couldn’t spell, and he’s never stopped talking since.


Reading, not so much.



When Your Child Has Mental Health Issues and You Want To Use The Get Out Of Jail Card

I’m tired of this particular journey.


Self-absorbed I know, but there I said it. No “parent of the year” award for me; I’m the parent who loves her child but is tired of this arduous journey at his side.


I’m tired of not sleeping, the stomach pains, the disagreements about the best way to raise him, giving everything I have to someone who doesn’t want to receive it. I’m tired of trying to work and remain professional when on the inside I’m hurting. If I was married to my son I could leave him if I felt this way, but parenting is unconditional.


And it must be, because I still love him.


Or is it? Should we really be expected to put our children before everything? Before our partner, before the needs of our other children and before our dreams, when they refuse to play the family game?


Everyone has their problems and he’s had a rougher ride than some, nevertheless he is luckier than many. Just as are we.


He has a family who loves him.


Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea how destructive a child with mental health issues who has no realistic grasp of responsibility, dependency issues and a trajectory hell-bent on self-destruction can be.


If only it was as simple as helping them. It would be easy if they were receptive to help, like the crazy kids depicted in films; if they accepted your support with a few tears of remorse and a big feel-good hug. But kids like this don’t behave like that in the real world. Trauma changes people. They kick out at support and pity. They know best. They live for the moment and have no fear of consequences until they happen.


Then, out of nowhere they let you walk forward a few steps for a few precious days and you breathe more freely again. You dare to believe. They allow you to think for that short gift of time that you’ve made it, walked out of the woods; that they’ve grown up, moved beyond that phase, matured.


And suddenly you see a normal future together, like the families on Facebook and in the movies – one big, happy Walton family. You can’t stop yourself picturing Mediterranean-style family lunches in the sun, laughter and hugs and brightly-coloured lanterns and for that short moment of denial, you forget about how often they’ve refused to commit to the last few rules of respect that you’ve asked of them, time and time again, and deserve.


They can’t. Not even for you, even though they insist that they love you. And in your heart, you know that they do.


Then, like in a board game, you throw the wrong number again, pick up the wrong card and are forced back several spaces or sent straight to jail.

Parenting, Anxiety and Leaving Your Kids Home Alone For The First Time

Digest for a while this great little article about Helicopter versus Hands Off Parenting and deduce where you think I sit in this conversation. Watch the video below at the end of the post.



This question has become a bit more sensitive recently because I’m trying to keep the fact that we’re leaving our kids home alone while we swan off on holiday under wraps from the local delinquent grapevine at the moment. So not because I’m concerned about a visit from social services, because our two are legally adults, (physically, if not mentally), but just in case any of Kurt’s friends catch wind of our imminent absence and try to coerce him into the sort of feral antics he is attracted to.


If I over-think what could happen, (and I do, daily,  the physical result being a visceral pain in my stomach), while we leave the boy at home as we gallivant across to the other side of the world, I’d never sleep. But that might be just symptomatic of an over zealous, over-anxious, sleep-deprived brain.


Even though I know in my heart that it’s time to do this.


I hope that some of you may sympathize with my concern at not being able to whirr full-time over the top of our apartment, or track the little bugger on my iPhone for a whole twelve days.


It’s not like we haven’t instilled some good, responsible stuff in our kids, leading us to fear they won’t survive without us for two weeks. They can both cook a pizza and know where the Spray N’Wipe is – although they may need a refresher course in recycling and a reminder of how many times in real time the dog needs a wee.


And there were three very good modes of thought when we eventually came to this brave and interesting decision, which as many of you will know comes on the back of three years of hell with a teenage, ADHD son, hell-bent on self-destruction and taking his family down with him.

  1. To offer him the chance to prove himself to us – to set him the challenge of independence, for him to meet and prove to us that we can trust him.
  2. To give the two of our offspring the chance to bond and strengthen their sibling relationship.
  3. To validate the idea in our own minds that at some point we have to trust him.


There has been a lot of criticism leveled at the over-protectionism of our parenting generation and in my case it is not unfounded. Had I birthed two NCs (eldest, almost model of perfection), I’m certain that things would have been different, because I’m fundamentally a selfish person that loves her own company and the idea of swanning off on child-free holidays without a care in the world would have been very appealing.


However, a child like Kurt both strengthens and weakens the core of every assumption you made before you had kids.


Not that wild, defiant kids like Kurt haven’t been around since time immemorial, and previous generations of parents managed to cope with them; although admittedly most would have left home by now, been kicked out or fathered three children by three different mothers by the age of eighteen.


And look at how we were raised, in comparison to my helicoptering approach. Only the other night we shared quasi-funny, therapy-inducing stories with friends about our own parents’ skills, with me recounting how my mum used to only get out of bed once one of us had lit her first cigarette of the morning; how one night my teenage parents were forced to snip the end of the teet on my bottle so the coagulated milk (left in the airing cupboard to keep warm) would flow more easily; and how all our parents always left us babies in the car in the street while they partied.


Meanwhile, here am I, fretting about the safety of the dog and writing up a mental risk assessment of what my son can possibly do (that he hasn’t already done) while we’re away, even though I’ve got a posse of father-heavies lined up to come and read the riot act, friends booked in to stay during the middle weekend and NC on the promise of a visit to Uluru to study the rock formation if she does her job of chief-minder, sibling-intimidator well.


It’s that old ad for Yellow Pages that I’ve added above that haunts me. Anyone remember it? The aftermath of the teenage party that happened when the parents were away, where the damage is being hastily repaired by the son the next day, just before their flight lands and the French polisher has just saved the day by touching up the scratch on the coffee table, when suddenly the son notices the black texta face drawn on a painting…


Now tell me I’m being over-anxious.




Trauma and Bullying And Their Link To Mental Illness

The Sharpest Pencil, one of my favourite blogs, by Lana Hirschowitz, drew my attention to this illuminating, but deeply sad post by Mike Cullen recently on the subject of bullying, after the investigation of the Safe Schools program here in Australia was announced.bully-655659_1280


An Open Letter To The Prime Minister of Australia


In their own words, ‘the Safe Schools Coalition Australia offers a suite of free resources and support to equip staff and students with skills, practical ideas and greater confidence to lead positive change and be safe and inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families’.


Unfortunately however, concerns have been raised recently at the explicit sexual content used in schools and what some see as its ‘indoctrinating’ influence, hence the investigation.


This investigation into something that many see as a highly positive arm of education, was designed to help school children understand the problems faced by the young LGBT community, and its investigation comes at a time when the suicide rate in Australia has increased by more than 13% over the past year, and the worst affected group are 15-22 year olds.


In is post, Mike describes his time at school, where from his kindergarten year he was bullied for being an LGBT kid, a sad indictment of not only our society but of the children we are currently educating, because this behaviour still happens today. As a parent, it is distressing to read about the terrible experiences and injustices kids like him are subjected to, just for being different to their peers.


Around the same time, I read a letter that was published by clinical psychologist, Richard Bentall, (a school contemporary of the actor/commentator, Stephen Fry, who is very publicly vocal in the mental illness forum about Bipolar Disorder, being a sufferer himself), to correct Stephen on his mistaken belief that all mental illness is linked to genes, but rather to social and environmental factors that may lead to trauma (which includes sexual abuse, Stephen).


What I Wish Stephen Fry Understood About Mental Health


But obviously it’s not only LGBT kids who are at risk of bullying, trauma and mental illness.


When I first read Bentall’s letter, my old friend ‘mother-guilt’ inevitably set in and I found myself wracking my brains to think how or when we might have traumatised our son Kurt, who as many of you know we have been through the proverbial teenage mill with over the past few years  as a result of mental health issues. Until I realised that although his ADHD has always been the root cause of many of his problems, the real shift from ADHD to depression and self-harm began in Year 9 when the bullies cranked it up a notch at his school, mentally but physically.


Looking back to that time now, knowing what we know now, I despise myself for the naivety that led me to accept the advice of a school that had shown very little in the way of interest in my son’s troubles, despite the many red flags, and which believed that making him sit out of the classroom was the most effective way to punish him. The school also intimated that bullying was a phase my son just had to go through, a kind of rite of passage for boys to teach them to toughen up; in fact the only real support the school offered would have singled him out for even more bullying.


The situation ultimately came to a head when Kurt made a stand and refused to return to the school; his innate terror of physical harm at the hands of his peers was such that it far outweighed any potential repercussions from the Department of Education for what we knew they would see as truanting. He lay in bed for days, depressed and disconsolate, until we decided something had to change, upped sticks, moved location and school.


I wish I’d listened to my son earlier, rather than a school that was ill-equipped and under-funded to cope with mental illness, but I thank God that eventually we followed our gut instincts as parents and acted upon them.


These days, sadly, too many parents don’t get to see the warning signs, and aren’t given that second chance before it’s too late.


Ironically, within a few weeks the school did threaten to report us to the Department of Education for Kurt’s unofficial absence.


I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the current suicide rate in young adults proves that mental illness is a big problem for our kids, that many of them are struggling and we still don’t understand what the triggers are. Suicides are not mentioned in the media for fear of copycat behaviour, but because of that cover up (which has valid reasons), many parents remain in the dark about the increase in the statistics or may not realise that their child may be vulnerable and at risk.


So remain vigilant, keep the communication lines open with your teenagers and don’t trust departments or schools to have the same instincts as you have when it comes to your child.

Do You Ever Stop Worrying About Your Children?

In the week that NC has achieved another milestone by passing her driving test, Kurt’s dangerous enthusiasm for life has escalated to a new hair-greying level.



A text with ‘I’m all G’ doesn’t quite cut it at ten o’clock the morning after a sleepless work night spent waiting for the reassuring sound of your teenager’s key in the lock of the front door sometime before midnight.


Especially when you have to work the next day, refreshed and invigorated, professional to a degree – still, with no idea where your child is – and the only thing you can think about is which bush they’re lying dead beneath or which drug squat they’re holed up in.


Anxious or not, rational thought doesn’t enter the parent’s mind from 1am in the morning when you’re sleep-deprived and hallucinate about all the terrible things that have obviously befallen your irresponsible, yet much-loved child, each time you close your eyes. The knowledge that Sydney is on the whole a pretty safe city to live in, that your child is most likely couch-surfing at a mate’s, or that statistically is highly unlikely to have been murdered, abducted or kidnapped doesn’t come into play.


Every parent goes though this phase with their teenagers at some point in the morphing-into-adulthood process, not just the highly fortunate ones among us with kids with ADHD; the difference being that most non-ADHD kids don’t have the over-impulsive, thrill-seeking tendencies of our son Kurt, nor his talent for losing vital home-tracking/homing-pigeon aids such as wallets, keys and phones due to his poor executive functioning skills – especially under the influence.


Can it only be last weekend that we were telephoned at three in the morning to be asked to collect him from the city centre, because he had found a bike in council clear up, come off it at speed and taken off the side of his face in the process?


Sadly, the seizure he had on a bus recently (that the doctor put down to ‘burning the candle at both ends’) doesn’t appear to have dulled his enthusiasm for embracing life to the full, nor had any marked effect on his approach to responsibility.


Meanwhile the grey hairs become thicker, the lines around my eyes more ingrained, the need to reach for wine more habitual.


My boy is eighteen now – an adult in the eyes of the law. I remember how we breathed a huge sigh of relief when we celebrated his milestone birthday last year, although still ever mindful that his  ADHD age is closer to sixteen, thus his emotional intelligence and decision-making skills are not up there with his desire and legal ability to exert his independence and experiment to the full.


And while is not uncommon for eighteen-year olds to behave in such an altruistic way, those without the ADHD curse tend to learn from their mistakes more quickly, understand consequences and put the life pieces together as they become increasingly aware of their mortality.


It was all true. You never stop worrying about your children.

The Courage To Be Different

Wine Club was as messy on Saturday as a girlfriend predicted. What’s a girl to do when faced with the challenge of an esky overflowing with the best Chardonnays?


Such shockingly poor self-discipline determined that Sunday would be a write-off, a day for recovery, when I could lament my poor choices, suffering liver and middle-aged intolerance to just about anything fun. mountain-climbing-802099_1280


Fortunately, around midday I felt vaguely human and managed to drag my sorry ass to the couch, and the old man and I managed somehow to compromise on a movie called ‘Meru’. To be honest, I’d planned to doze my way through the movie because in general, films about climbing, mountains and being cold all the time are not exactly my idea of fun, but it was better than the alternative of some fantasy nonsense with dragons.


But the documentary turned out to be a real eye-opener and a wonderful lesson in parenting.


It’s about three climbers who attempt to reach the summit of Meru – a very big mountain… located somewhere near India. ‘Meru’ is a story of courage, commitment, friendship and trust, with the inevitable dose of madness that goes hand in hand with any film about mountaineering. The photography and filming of the team of three as they dangle from dodgy looking ropes, sleep in tents suspended from the side of a mountain some 20,000ft in the sky and fight their inner demons is breath-taking, even from my position of safety, prostrate on the sofa with a bag of Pods for company and an achievement level of zero.


And it made me think about how obsessed our culture has become with celebrating the success of brain-poor celebrities for their looks and sex tapes, rather than the true achievers and heroes that should rightfully be the role models to our children. 


It was the personal stories of triumph that made this film. One of the team, Jimmy Chin, a Chinese film maker/mountaineer/extreme skier/superman talked about his lifelong passion for climbing and the strength he required to go against his parents dream, and effectively drop out of society to become a climbing bum, before he had any success with which to appease them. This big man was tearful as he told the camera how he had refused to push himself to his absolute craziest limit of risking death for glory until his mother passed away, because he had promised her he wouldn’t die on a mountain.


Jimmy now gets published on the front pages of the best climbing and photography glossies such as the National Geographic.


And it made me think about Kurt who (holds breath) is finally turning a corner. And I know that we may be in another ‘one step forward phase’ and soon we’ll be three steps back again, but I have to remain hopeful. Who knows what has finally incited this positive change, but I’ll take it for whatever it is. Perhaps it’s because some maturity has kicked in, or perhaps we have a better understanding of his complicated persona and needs and have allowed him the time he needs to breathe and evolve at his own pace, rather than the expectation set by society.


Jimmy’s achievements prove that no-one deserves to be written off at eighteen, like society has a tendency to do when kids stumble at the first major hurdle of mainstream education or don’t follow a conventional path. My proudest personal achievements in life have come about since my thirties and as I write this post, a print-out of Part 1 of my manuscript is taunting me from the coffee table, questioning if I have the courage to take it the whole way.


Jimmy had that courage and Kurt will find his too, in his own time.


Living Each Day And Surviving Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

The most annoying thing about being the mother of a rebellious eighteen-year old is that you can’t always ensure they go out in their best underwear. ambulance-148747_1280


That was one of the things that went through my mind on Thursday as we wove our way through city traffic to every parent’s worst nightmare…


After the call…to say that our child had been involved in an accident.


First of all, Kurt is okay – shaken, not stirred; nor deterred unfortunately from future trouble. By my estimation he has about four lives left. Three days down the line, I can now think about that day without wanting to vomit.


As long as there’s no blood, I’m actually very good in a crisis; surprising when you consider what an emotional wreck I am the rest of the time. If fact I’m eerily calm, so when we received the call to tell us that Kurt had experienced some sort of fit on a bus and that they had called an ambulance, I remember steadily relaying the information to the old man like I was discussing the weather. Somehow, magically, we got our legs to walk to the car.


So many ‘what ifs’ go through your head in these situations. What if I hadn’t shouted at Kurt that morning? What if I hadn’t been short with him on the phone only a few minutes before that call because I was working? What if I’d bought him some new boxers for Christmas? What if he was…?


The ER was as crazy a space full of madness as I had hoped it would be, having been an avid fan of 24 hours in Emergency for the past year. No Dr Ross, though, and you get a different, much more unnerving perspective when you’re on the other side of the fence.


And there were far too many middle-aged people in there, not much older than the old man and myself, experiencing chest pain, for our liking.


The surprising fact about those interminable waits in the ER is how you cope with whatever bad news is thrown at you because you have to. ‘Oh, he needs a brain scan,’ I remember responding calmly to the doctor, when inside my body my heart was doing a triple somersault and quivering in my rib cage. At least by that stage Kurt was conscious and moaning about the wait with us, nevertheless we still had to go through the process of getting him thoroughly checked out.


As our very tired-looking doctor informed us, ‘emergency medicine is about excluding any risk that might kill you immediately,’ which for some reason was vaguely reassuring at the time.


A kid with ADHD and anxiety disorder, no emotional control and prone to angry outbursts, is not the kid you want to be when you have to wait six hours for results. Of course Kurt had assumed the worst about his diagnosis. His body shuts down to emotion when he’s scared and can’t go out for a smoke to calm down – ‘No you can’t go out because you’re waiting for a brain scan’ – I reminded him at least ten times. But nothing I said was going to be right. When he asked me if I thought he had brain cancer and I answered with an emphatic ‘no’, he rationalized that I was only saying that to make him feel better; when they took us onto a ward and I started to look worried, he told me I should do a better job of hiding my fears.


The old man’s dad jokes about the neurologist discovering what we’d known all along – that Kurt doesn’t actually have a brain – went down really well, as you can imagine, but pretty soon he found his invisibility cloak on the ward and turfed some patients out of the best seats in front of the television, which meant I didn’t have to worry about him as well.


Long story short, it was a mild seizure, cause unknown but hopefully nothing serious, and my prodigal son remains in an interim period of forgiveness, milking it for all its worth.


I have a renewed respect for the kind people of this world, particularly the bus driver who allayed Kurt’s fears as he regained consciousness and called us with an update every few minutes until the ambulance arrived.


I shall be buying Kurt some new underwear this week, along with some new trousers. When the doctor said that it must have been a seizure rather than a faint because his trousers were all torn, Kurt informed him that they were ripped because I refuse to buy him any new ones.




Live each day, peeps.

Mental Illness: Crazy, Bad or Misunderstood

How did you spend your Sunday afternoon? I spent mine mine devouring a riveting series that I missed on the ABC last year about a mental health hospital in Sydney.



That’s just the kind fun person I am.


But what’s interesting, is where once the subject of mental illness was a taboo one, locked firmly away in the closet – rather like Cancer and homosexuality – at last, the public are now embracing it with all its complexities.


Although in spite of the support (soon to be substantiated by Turnbull’s government in some much-needed dosh), there is still far too much misinformed speculation and stigma about it.


And what makes a topic such as this even more pertinent is when we hear about the daily and shocking examples of domestic violence and tragedy, so often at the hands of ‘disturbed’ perpetrators.


At the end of the day, no-one really knows why people do the crazy stuff they do. We don’t know what makes a man kill himself along with his two children, or beat up and murder his wife. But the question in everyone’s mind these days, whenever we hear of another such tragedy, is whether the assailant was mentally ill? And the words ‘depression’ and ‘bi-polar’ are much more common words now, bandied almost freely about in these situations as we witness the indirect association most people create between mental illness and violence.


Which is bad… although the awareness is good.


The biggest pain and frustration when someone close to you suffers from a mental illness is not being able to understand, control and change them into what society expects of them.


To not be able to help them and take their pain away.


Because sadly, when the mentally ill aren’t supported and understood, and are left to fend for themselves against the demons that torment them, sometimes shit does happen when their own frustration is unleashed before they receive the help they need. And the cycle of violence begins all over again.


That’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.


It should be seen as progress that we are finally in a place where we embrace the complexities of ‘difference’, although only quite recently have we truly come to celebrate the successes of ‘nerds’ such as Mark Zuckerberg, Aspergians such as Charles Darwin, the physically-disabled such as Stephen Hawking, and well-known ADHD entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson. In bygone days the physically disabled would be ridiculed in freak shows and the mentally ill hidden away in hospitals.


We are far more accepting of different minds and bodies now.


And while we should celebrate ‘difference’, we need to be careful that we don’t celebrate mental illness. ‘Increased creativity’ may be a positive symptom of mania, but there are many symptoms of the illness that are not so palatable. We mustn’t romanticise these disorders or associate them with ‘cool’ rock stars or artists, many of whom have lost their lives to their mood disorders and alcohol and drug abuse when used as self-medication.


Sensationalising the lives of the many famous musicians and artists who have died as a result of depression or Bi-Polar Disorder does nothing to help the common man and his family who are trying to cope with the pain and stigma associated with mental illness. A small percentage of sufferers may experience more highly stimulated creative periods during the highs and lows of their mood disorders, but they also cannot control and balance their emotions, are usually highly unpredictable, impulsive, anxious to the point of anti-social, and have problems functioning normally in the world.


Because these are people who live life close to, (if not over the edge of) life’s boundaries, they may be attractive, superficially energised, stimulating people to be in the company of for the short term, but they can be impossible to live with.


We struggle with this see-saw of mood swings on a weekly basis with our son, and although he spouts the wisdom of anarchy at me in his moments of oppositional defiance and I can see that he believes in it, I know that his words won’t mean anything in front of a court.


Last night (and out of frustration) I asked him if he thought he was a bad person – not my finest parenting moment – so desperate was I to see if he understood the consequences of some of the behaviours he engages in. He doesn’t, and laughed at my question. So all I can hold onto is that he has never hurt anyone intentionally, and for the most part he is grateful and kind. Nevertheless, it’s hard to forget that many of his actions have humiliated, saddened and disappointed us, and are not what we expected when we signed up for parenting.


Perhaps we’re just over-sensitive, over-caring, old-fashioned farts, or simply not Bohemian enough to understand his particular choices and his values.


But the truth is, that no matter how many talks we have with him or how much advice we give him, he has chosen a non-conformist path, and nothing we say will make him adhere to the rules of our house or society.


He is a rebel in the eyes of the romantic; a nightmare in the eyes of most parents.


He doesn’t have a dysfunctional upbringing to blame, neither is he the product of an abusive home; what he has is a confusion of chemicals, a cross-wiring in his brain to  explain his anti-social behaviors.


And that won’t help him on judgment day.


Many of our closest friends who have watched our journey with a distant sympathy still don’t really believe that he is mentally ill, because he looks as normal as their own kids.


Just like that dad did, who shot and then drove his children to their death in the water.


I imagine that in their minds our friends have categorised our son as either a ‘wild child’, a ‘bad seed’, or they secretly believe that he will ‘grow out of it’. But he won’t. This is not a phase. The best we can hope for is that he learns to manage his symptoms and keep taking his medication.


I secretly hold onto the hope that he is just a ‘wild child’, and that he will eventually find some self-acceptance through something he is good at, and will mature while he is still a young man. I hope that one day we will be able to look back on these years and celebrate that we got through them, because once these kids get older, if they still can’t function in society, they can end up homeless, suicidal or living on the state – lows that are hard to recover from.


In the meantime we face a waiting game. We wait for our ‘wild child’ to reach crisis point, because there is no real support until he hits rock bottom. All society can afford is to wait for these kids to seriously fail, and when they do it attempts to pick up the pieces.


Even though, sadly, by that point it is often too late.


So although the discourse about mental illness is more lively these days  – and there is, (finally), empathy replacing the historical disdain – we need an increase in support at the root of the problem; before the seeds turn bad. As parents, we still find it difficult to discuss some of the behaviours of our son with our peers, such is our middle-class shame. It hurts too much; the shame is too great; the disappointment too painful.


That needs to change.



Sometimes It Feels Good To Coast

medical_11000812-011314intFor those of you who read my posts for my input on ADHD, I discovered the most fantastic read on ADDitude magazine last weekend by Frank South, aka ADHD Dad. It just so happens his post was about his twenty-three year old son, who sounds suspiciously like  he is carving a similarly dodgy career to that of my own son at the moment, but the piece was written in such a humorous vein it made me laugh out loud about all the stuff that in reality hurts like fuck, and made me feel not quite so alone with my problems.


Here’s the link: Letting My ADHD Son Make His Own Mistakes


One of the comments from a reader was, ‘sometimes, it feels good to coast’, and at this particular time, that struck a chord.


I haven’t written in depth about Kurt for a while; not since he dropped out of school almost six months ago. I’m over the disappointment of that now *sniff*; to be honest it was a huge relief once the decision was forced on us made. How we got through those hellish years of being the scourge of the education department, the accusing calls from schools, the sniffy letters home and the awkward interviews with head teachers who couldn’t disguise the fact that all they really wanted to do was get rid of the problem, (our problem), I’ll never know.


We had known forever that Kurt was never going to thrive at school, nevertheless, we had to encourage him to stay on for as long as possible to give him time to mature and grow.


Kids with ADHD need routine, and school provides a framework until the point where what goes on in the classroom becomes more stressful than the calm that routine provides.


Since then we’ve been coasting in relation to Kurt’s immediate future; exhausted, dejected and not really sure where we’re going next. While his peers from school have since revised for and sat their HSC exams, we’ve gone under the radar and attempted to ignore the disappointment the build up to their results highlighted and the bright, predictable futures that lie ahead of them.


And while it has been liberating for Kurt to have the major pressure of school taken off his shoulders, it has also proved a more calming time for the rest of the family, not to have to carry the burden of that external pressure of what our son should be doing all the time, and the natural feelings of failure associated with that, that are so hard to shake off.


Our boy is much happier in himself these days.He smiles a lot more, sleeps better, is much less angry and oppositional and has integrated more with the family.


But there is little in the way of motivation in terms of his next steps, which is frustrating when I revert back to judging him by the same yardstick as ‘normal’ kids, and I have to remind myself constantly not to overlook the major leaps and bounds in other areas we have made, which are so easy to forget once they have been achieved. The fact is, that he is still a boy really, with an ADHD age of around fifteen.


He has a group of fellow, crazy, mixed-up kids for friends, who dabble in the same impulsive behaviors he does, but who are loyal to him.


Not the set of pseudo lawyers and doctors I foresaw as his peer group in the delivery room all those years ago, but they are ‘real’ kids from normal, unprivileged backgrounds, all striving to make their way in the world, just slightly less conventionally than we did. They don’t play sport at the weekends, but I’ve disciplined myself to stop fretting about how they do spend their time.


Sometimes it’s important to take the brave step and distance yourself from the pressure of success, of those inbuilt aspirations that your child will turn out to be what everyone expects him to be. Being a mother to Kurt has taught me many things; primarily, that being a successful parent isn’t about what qualifications your kids leave school with, which team they play for or how much money they’ll earn.


It’s about how big their heart is.


There have been moments in the last few years where I’ve doubted the size and functionality of my boy’s heart and I’ve felt scared for him and for us. We still have many days when we take one step forward and three steps back, but I’m proud to say that giving Kurt time to develop away from the pressure of expectation and the ignorant judgments of people who don’t want to understand him, has shown me that his heart is big, it is healthy, and it beats strongly.



ADHD Parenting: When You Lead A Horse To Water But Still Can’t Get It To Drink

One of the biggest dilemmas for the parents of children with ADHD, is just how much to scaffold and offer their kids extra support. 

English: Example of Bamboo Scaffolding
English: Example of Bamboo Scaffolding (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For too long, I not only ‘helicoptered’ to our son, due to the extra parental guilt derived over what I saw as his inheritance of the dodgy genes, I was the fucking all singing, all dancing AugustaWestland model (Look it up!).

The sad truth is, that although it has been widely acknowledged that many ADHD children have above- average intelligence – and from the children I have met, I can believe that – their poor motor, organisational, sensory, memory and behavior skills hold them back in life and can exacerbate poor self-esteem, which leads to other issues, particularly in the classroom and when they go out into the big, wide world.

It’s an issue the old man and I fight over continually in respect to our son. How much support to give our son? How much to compensate for his special needs? Where the old man believes that because Kurt won’t ultimately be treated any differently in the real world, it is wrong for us to provide him with too much extra support, my argument is that it is due to those very needs, that Kurt will have no chance of making it into the real world without a helpful push from us.

As you know from my recent post, I am a fan of the Love and Logic parenting ethos, but obviously their approach is not aimed directly at the parents of kids with mental health issues. So although their style encourages the idea of cultivating independence from the outset, it doesn’t take into account that sometimes independence needs a ladder, or a helping hand across the bridge.

With ADHD kids, the most frustrating aspect of supporting them is when you have led your horse to water, and they still refuse to drink.

That characteristic is something that can stirs the embers of anger to such a degree, only the mother of a child with ADHD can fully appreciate. Where normal children will in general appreciate help, the ADHD child resents it; probably because it makes them feel even more inferior. As a parent, you can put yourself out there, encourage, support, praise, do every fucking thing the parenting manuals tell you, leaving your child no excuse not to succeed, and they will still refuse.

And the hard part is, you don’t really know if their attitude is derived from anxiety, fear, self-loathing, oppositional behavior or downright teenage wilfulness.

It isn’t helped by the fact that ADHD kids struggle to understand the concept of consequences and choose to live in the moment – so they can’t see the consequences to their decisions. It also doesn’t help that they struggle with empathy, so where normal children might consider the impact of hurting their parents or peers through their actions, that is not something that will affect our kids in the heat of the moment.

I lost the plot this morning for this very reason.

Did I mention that Kurt may have a job *praying*? Anyone who understands ADHD will appreciate my honesty when I say it’s very early days, but we are tentatively keeping everything crossed.

But to get the boy to sort out his tax file number – you would think I’d asked him to walk around Sydney in a Frozen costume.

So we had to put our hard hats back on to do some scaffolding. The old man booked the appointment at the Post Office and I offered to accompany Kurt. I know that sounds like a severe case of ‘helicoptering’, but we’ve learned from experience that Kurt simply would not have gone to the appointment by himself, even if that did mean not getting paid/losing the job. This is a boy who has missed important interviews, exams, performance try-outs, sign up sessions for courses and expensive medical sessions, without for one moment considering the consequences.

Once the initial excitement of him maybe landing his new job was over, we then watched his behaviour regress for a rough few days because he must have decided that having achieved something pretty major in his life deserved time to unwind and celebrate, and remind us of the sort of behaviours we had hoped this new level of responsibility would help him leave behind.

So when he refused to get out of bed yesterday morning to come with me to the post office, I felt worn down and disappointed and simply lost my shit, stormed out of the house with the old man’s accusing voice bombarding my ear drums and found solace in pounding the pavements for an hour, until the swelling in my brain subsided.

Note to self: parenting is not an exact science, our children are not our clones, nor necessarily anything like us, nor do they think like us. No-one’s the perfect parent and sometimes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t fucking make it drink.

Helicopter Parents Anonymous and Grated Carrot

My regular readers might remember that the old man and I have been attending what we call ‘Bad Parenting’ classes for some time now, in an attempt to get our son ‘out of the woods’. Kurt might have his own inherent issues due to his ADHD, but as we are consistently reminded, ADHD is no excuse for bad behavior.

So we’ve had to look at different approaches to how we parent him, because some kids simply don’t respond to the normal methods.

Recently, our psychologist recommended the Love And Logic style of parenting, which for me has been more enlightening than screw-top wine bottles. 

Love and Logic parenting divides parents into three sub-types: the helicopter parent, the drill sergeant parent and the consultant parent.

(My regular readers might also be aware that I am a fully paid-up member of Helicopter Parents Anonymous, too).

My own mother was a Drill Sergeant parent, as most parents of her generation were; added to which she was a single, working mother with three children and so really didn’t have time for no shit.

But when we parents from Generation X had our babies, we were the guinea pigs for a new style of parenting where you didn’t smack your children or shout at them, rather you praised everything they did (even if they were crap at it) to raise our children’s confidence and self-esteem out of love, rather than fear.

And the whirring overhead became deafening very quickly.

‘Helicoptering’, as a parenting method is more commonplace now than you think. I see the danger signs of it every morning when I watch mothers of primary school kids carry their kids school bags and I was horribly guilty of it myself when I used to take Kurt’s forgotten lunch into school for him, write the school letters to excuse him from sport and when I won (hands down!) all those Head Teachers Awards for THE BEST FUCKING PROJECTS.

But we ‘helicopters’ are naïve to think that we are supporting our kids by enabling them in this way, when in fact what we in danger of doing is hindering their growth and independence, which ultimately makes them less confident.

‘Consultative parenting’ is the ideal approach in the eyes of Love and Logic. This style of parenting is about showing love and support at all times, not shouting or over-reacting and using consequences instead of punishments. Acting as a consultant to your kids allows them to think for themselves, make their own decisions and mistakes and learn independence.

Which is great in theory…although the journey to success can be fraught at times.

I was very lazy when it came to getting our kids to contribute to household chores. When they were younger, I worked part-time so I had time not to have to deal with the moans and groans, the half-baked attempts and the inevitability of having to do those chores all over again myself.

But with our psychologist’s recommendations haunting our every waking hour, these days the old man and I are encouraging our kids to be independent and to do as much for themselves as possible.

In this particular area, Kurt is a model child, thanks to his OCD – in fact we have to book time slots with him as to when we can use the washing machine. And at twenty-one, NC is obviously not a child anymore, but as a student she still lives at home. Because NC has a part-time ‘proper’ job, is studying a full time science degree, is away every other weekend discussing the Earth’s orbit with NB (who I think I will rename from now as The Astronaut), (and I don’t want anyone to tread on the House Bitch’s toes), I have been slack about insisting on how much she does around the house.

She has changed her own bed linen for a while, although she is happy to leave it until it walks itself to the laundry. She does her own laundry – until the old man caves in when he can no longer relocate the carpet in her room under the thick layer of dirty undies that have begun to take root. And recently, she has started cooking for herself because she wants to eat more healthily than the old man’s nightly offerings of meat and rice in a different sauce.

But sometimes I question if the devastation in the kitchen afterwards is really worth it!. This morning I entered the kitchen to what looked like the after-effects of a grated carrot hurricane. There is no bigger EWWWWW! in my book than treading on food mulch in bare feet, first thing in the morning. Not only that, in spite of being a scientist, NC has unfortunately inherited her father’s oblivion to bench top microbes.

While I don’t want to nag her, mainly because I don’t want her to strop off, never cook for herself again or stab us in our sleep lose confidence, a Love and Logic approach might be to go into her room and have a grated carrot dance together so she can see how much it compromises my OCD to find grated carrot in my cup of tea.

And one of the other recommendations Love and Logic offers us desperate parents is how to communicate with your child. Rather than an accusing ‘WHICH FUCKER SPRAYED GRATED CARROT AROUND MY CLEAN KITCHEN?’, what I should say is something along the lines of, ‘Darling, you know how silly my OCD makes me and how although grated carrot in my tea shouldn’t bother me, IT DOES, so can we find a solution to your grating technique so that all the carrot lands in your salad?’

Still working on it.

The Stigma Of Mental Illness and Medication

With World Mental Health Day on the horizon on the 10th October, and R U OK day recently passed, it seems an appropriate time to admit to you that I see a therapist.

Mental Health And The Stigma Of Medication
Shape of heart made of pills

Was that a gasp of surprise echoing through the small principality of Midlife Mayhem within the kingdom of WordPress?

I doubt it. I imagine it was fairly obvious that the ‘Kurt apple’ had to have fallen from some equally loony tree.

Not so long ago, admitting that you suffered from mental health problems would have put you in the crazy box, like when you mentioned the C word – akin to telling the world you had something icky and a finite amount of time left.

Luckily for us, attitudes about illness, medication and awareness are changing for the better. One benefit of social media is that people now have a forum on which to talk about their problems, share their stories, and create a community at the touch of their keyboard.

Anyway… occasionally I go a bit crazy and need help. And my ‘crazy’ is not the funny, Robin Williams type of ‘crazy’ that fools everyone, it’s the ‘Fuck off, I can’t face the world’ type.

My personal need to spread awareness about mental health problems has also come from Kurt’s journey with ADHD, depression and anxiety. I have advocated for my son and watched his progress through the education and health system – note that I use the word ‘progress’ with tongue firmly placed in cheek. I have learned that in spite of a generally better level of acceptance, we still have to advocate for people with mental illnesses because the majority of the population appear to need highly visible symptoms as evidence before they believe that someone is ill. And people with mental health issues are a) very adept at concealing how they really feel (Robin Williams) or b) often in no position to advocate for themselves.

With the arrival of the nirvana that is Netflix, to my computer, I’ve been watching this old series called Friday Night Lights over the past few weeks. I can strongly recommend it if you too are immature and drawn to high school puppy-love, good winning over evil and a feel-good factor without having to think too much. One of the main characters is a successful high school football player who is paralysed in a game, early in the series. I know it’s fiction, but the amount of support he garners for his disability is how such an earth shattering, life-changing condition should be handled.

The mentally ill are not treated in the same way.

NOTHING gets on my nerves more than having to continually justify ADHD all the fucking time and the use of medication to treat it. The skeleton might be out of the cupboard but many people still discuss mental health issues in the hushed tones they use for STDs or lung cancer. There is shaming and blaming and the use of medication, that helps people with what can be treatable illnesses, is often stigmatised and over-sensationalised.

The use of medication for ADHD must surely be one of the most contentious topics there is, about which, it seems, everyone has an opinion.

I hold my hand up and admit that I have been guilty of surrendering to that stigma in the past, too. When applying to schools for Kurt, I often questioned whether to mention his ADHD. Even now, as I try to access clinical institutions to help him, I have been advised not to mention his depression or dependencies. You get a record with mental illness, like some common criminal, that can be used against you later in life in terms of employment.

On a personal level, I bloody love the power of therapy. Not for the self-obsessed reasons you might imagine, although as you can probably guess, I am quite partial to the sound of my own voice.

Despite what you read in the papers – how everyone and anyone can access antidepressants these days – ‘therapy’ is actually the preferred treatment and precursor to medication for the treatment of depression and anxiety. During therapy, patients work through their issues with an expert, and learn management and coping strategies which may resolve their problems without the need for medication.

Therapy wasn’t enough for me, but I feel no shame in taking medication to control my anxiety. It has turned my life around over the past few years, from a dark, threatening world, which I no longer wanted to engage with, to a place where the sun still rises. I now experience what I imagine is a normal cycle of emotions, as opposed to waking up to blackness and fear. To my mind, there‘s no difference in using a medication to treat the brain or to alleviate symptoms in the rest of the body.

And yes, I am aware that medications carry risks. As do most illnesses, when left untreated.

No-one feels the same need to criticize my use of Statins as management for a genetic cholesterol risk, but everyone has an opinion about whether I really need anxiety medication. I am often told that anxiety and ADHD didn’t exist twenty years ago; interesting, when I have a brochure dated from the seventies that outlines strategies for teachers to use in the classroom for children with ADHD.

I understand why people are afraid of mental illness, when the only time it makes headlines is when some crazy is responsible for a shooting or locks up young girls. But it’s a wide spectrum. We’re not all sociopaths and psychopaths, but there are more and more ‘damaged’ people out there – whether that’s due to nature, nurture or the modern pressures of society – who need more help than others to make the most of their lives.

As we’ve seen with the refugee situation in Europe, we’re quick to judge people in a weaker position than us, to blame them in some way for their own shortcomings, when often social, political, physiological and economic factors are at the root.

Then again, it could just be down to luck.

Breathing Freely Again When The Anxiety Lifts

I didn’t need my troubled son Kurt to go away to see just how much his needs have defined my personality over the last few years. But even I have to admit that I’m surprised how quickly I’ve regained control of my emotions away from the glare of his aura.

Breathing Freely Again When The Anxiety Lifts
Found on

As you readers probably realize, Kurt is a huge personality in our house and I honestly thought that I would miss that vibrancy, but the quiet has rejuvenated my own personality.

Does that show the depth of inter-dependence some personalities have on others? Or the the intensity of love a mother can feel for her son? Perhaps all it really demonstrates is an ill-thought-out over-indulgence on my part to compensate for my son’s vulnerability and special needs.

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that the perpetual ache in my gut has dissipated for a short while, now that I DON’T know what he’s doing. And it’s nice.

Because deep down, I took responsibility for many of his problems, and that wasn’t good for him, or for me. And to be able to recognise that now is peculiar, because I couldn’t admit to behaving like that at the time. Not until recently, after hours of therapy, where my therapists have drilled into me that no matter what happened in our past relationship, or whatever reasons lay behind his indifference to life and society’s expectations, I am not to blame.

I hate the description of ‘victim’ but I acknowledge that I’ve always been one and that that weakness has escalated into full-blown anxiety over the past few years. I’m equally certain, though, that it would have reared its ugliness at some point in my adulthood without Kurt’s complicated personality to facilitate it.

I sound like to worst parent ever to admit that it has been such a relief to be able to live each day recently – only a parent who has been through what we’ve been through would understand that. The days have been typical, busy work days, full of shitty work pressures, but to live them without that residual, nagging pressure and fear at the back of my mind, that innate heaviness in my heart, the faint nausea that could be triggered just by my phone ringing has been uplifting, a freedom, even.

Of course, I still have to speak to him every day, to check that he’s still breathing, just as I’ve always done since he was a baby. But I try not to delve too deeply during our conversations into what he’s up to. I’m desperate to know, of course, but I don’t need to know because otherwise the fear gremlins will rise up and thwart my chance of recovery. My son is an adult now and it’s better for both of us if I remain in the dark about much of what he does.

It hasn’t been as hard to let him go as I thought it would be. Not because I don’t love him but because I have what the old man describes as an unhealthy love for him. The intensity of my fears for his future had begun to eat away at me, to suffocate me and the thought of losing him had begun to gnaw away at my own health. That might be due to good, old-fashioned parental guilt, too, because when he tested me I didn’t always perform well in the tests. But none of us are perfect parents, nor can we read the thought patterns or motivations of those we created, even when they share the same gene pool.

I hear myself on the phone to him and I sound like a normal mum. I ask him normal questions, not probing questions; I make polite conversation and feign interest. But it takes all my strength not to judge him, not to feel disappointed in him. Because if I judge Kurt’s choices by my own values the pain comes back to my temples, beads of sweat rise to the surface of my skin and I can hear the loud beat of irrational fear drumming in the chambers of my heart.

I’m breathing freely now.

Fear of Disappointment As A Parent

Kurt turns eighteen tomorrow and I have no idea how we made it this far or any concept of how I should have parented him. That’s not ‘parent guilt’ talking, just a reflection on how challenging parenting is, because every child is custom-made with different needs and the chances are we may never get it right.

English: Fork in the road at Brill
English: Fork in the road at Brill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned so much from the ‘bad parenting’ group I’ve been attending recently. I’ve learned that however complicated your journey with your child, maintaining a good relationship with them must remain the priority. It’s made me think hard about the roller coaster of emotions I’ve experienced during Kurt’s teenage years, since the rot first set in. The disappointment, the blame and the shame. I realize that fear of disappointment has driven me to parent my son is a way that was unsuited to his personality.

With the pressures of life, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of expectation, of nagging, trying to force our own desires onto our children, but I now understand that no amount of nagging will repair Kurt’s selective hearing. He has always chosen to be the master of his own destiny and if that destiny is not quite what we envisaged when we cooed at him in the crib – so be it.

What I want most of all now is to be able to communicate with him again, to make him understand that in spite of all those cross words, rash accusations and his very different attitude to life to mine, that I’m not disappointed in him.

I’d like to reassure him that not all parents have a narrow, tunneled vision about their kids’ futures or need a golden child as the end product; whatever that is. Not all of us see a university education, white-collar office job and the girl-next-door as the perfect daughter-in-law, as the ultimate goal or mark of success.

But being a typical teenager, Kurt bolts the minute he sniffs the first sign of a ‘serious conversation’ evolving. Sometimes it feels as though the only time we exchange dialogue now is when he asks me what’s for dinner – usually around lunchtime.

I sense that many of Kurt’s recent, controversial life decisions have come about because he considers himself a disappointment to us. He believes that he constantly lets us down and then poor self-esteem exacerbates that notion leading to an unbreakable cycle.

He seems to forget that we were teenagers once; that once upon a time we too had to learn to control our emotions, learn to manage our anger and frustration at what we considered to be our parents’ ridiculous demands, and ultimately had to learn from the mistakes we made, too. One of the main benefits of being a teenager living at home is having the freedom to make those mistakes with the safety-net of parents.

The irony is, that Kurt, like so many teenagers who bury themselves away in a self-imposed exile of isolation, isn’t a failure or a disappointment to us. We know exactly how much our boy has to offer, if he’d only believe it himself. That’s the most frustrating part. He can’t see the warm, vibrant personality that people gravitate towards; the huge warmth in his smile and self-effacing wit; his natural musical talent, or even that his impulsiveness can be strangely infectious.

Yet, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have grieved at times, as his parent. Some of his choices have bought us scarily close to every parent’s worst nightmare of potentially serious consequences. How many times have the old man and I dared to utter to one another that things can’t possibly get any worse, for our son to then ram his behavior up another notch?

Sadly, Kurt seems incapable of discerning anything positive about himself, and because we aren’t saints, just human parents, with the standard moral codes that most people adhere to, we probably haven’t encouraged him to. We’ve been too busy putting out his fires, praying secretly that one day we will change him to be more like us.

Society heaps so many impossible expectations on our teenagers these days and it would be hard for them not to absorb some of the intensity of that pressure. The ones who scale the teenage phase unharmed are the ones who develop good coping skills along the way; but there are other kids who require more scaffolding. Accusing teenagers of being ‘entitled’ reeks of disappointment, but if that term does hold any truth, perhaps we need to ask why, and take some responsibility for it. This generation of young adults are the guinea pigs of social media and have spent their short lives constantly comparing themselves to their peers and celebrities and seek unattainable perfection in everything they do.

Such mounting expectation inevitably detonates an implosion in the weaker ones.

I’d like to tell Kurt that we changed our expectations for him a long time ago – because we grew up, too. We didn’t lower our expectations for him; rather, we customized them to him when we realized that traditional expectations weren’t the right fit; we adapted them to his skill base.

I wish that during all the recent dysfunctionality in our relationship, when we were wading through that torrent of swirling water that is now thankfully under the bridge, I wish I hadn’t lost sight of who Kurt was, hadn’t allowed myself to forget the beautiful qualities about our son. We’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about being disappointed, been blindfolded by what he should be, at times, rather than embracing who he is. We were fearful of how people would judge us for raising this wild child who refused to conform to society’s ‘normal’ codes of behavior. We should have given him the benefit of the doubt, allowed him the time to mature properly and work out for himself which direction to take next.

Tomorrow Kurt turns eighteen and commences the next stage of his life, and then on Monday he takes a new direction. I hope it takes him where he wants to go. Kurt has never taken the obvious side of the fork in the road, but from this point on I am going to change my outlook and consider his choices as ‘surprising’; never ‘disappointing.’