Some families dream of giving their kids a house with a pool, tennis court, the big cedar swing set. I dream of living in a house on the infield of a track. When my son Henry was in preschool and bouncing off walls, I’d fantasize about sitting in the living room while he ran 400-meter repeats around the house. In my mind, it was a perfect setup. There’d be no cars to hit him, and running laps would keep him from the mischief parents imagine our children find when they’re out of sight.
Like a puppy, my son, like many young children, had two speeds: sprint and asleep. There were times when Henry might as well be chasing his tail, so it wasn’t a mental leap to just open the circle a bit and let him off the leash on a 1/4-mile track. What seemed clear to me was that I needed a solution for his constant activity, a way to direct it away from destroying the inside of our house.
I’m convinced that movement calms and centers Henry, that what looks like a typical case of ADHD is really a boy who’s fully alive.
Maybe I only have myself to blame. When I was pregnant with Henry, he’d writhe around inside me, refusing to let me sleep or sit comfortably, but when I went for a run, he’d settle into stillness, apparently rocked by the gait that made me look like sprinting hippo. Years later, I realized his motion is nothing to fix. It’s how he engages with the world, and it’s how he finds a comfort zone. I’m convinced that movement calms and centers him, that what looks like a typical case of ADHD is really a boy who’s fully alive.
As a mom, athlete, and coach, I know how I need my run. Without my running practice, my mind itches and my body sulks. As much as I’d love him to sit still for once, I have learned to look at Henry’s activity the way I see my own running. Motion is his m.o. Whether it’s sock skating down the hall or rolling down a grassy hill in his good pants, the boy needs to use his energy as much as I need to channel mine.
I stopped trying to get Henry to settle down a long time ago. My “ah-ha” moment came in his first gymnastics class, when he ran laps around the room while the other kids stretched in a circle. His Montessori teacher confirmed his active learning style to me when she explained that Henry walked around the room for 15 minutes at the start of every day, orienting himself in the class. My son needs track, whether it’s the one walked in his preschool class or the one I want around my house.
When I volunteered in his class recently, I was so impressed by how calm and chill the students were, and I’m certain it’s because his teacher gets them up and moving to different spots in the room every 10-15 minutes. It’s amazing how stillness often comes from motion. If I need my run as much as I do, it would be unfair and myopic to think my first grader wouldn’t need his activity, too. I might still insist he stop swinging his legs at the dinner table, but I can’t argue with the calm flow state that motion gives him. I know it all too well.
Anyone who takes Psych 101 learns that young children lack perspective-taking, that their sense of things is more or less egocentric and they bop along the streets of Me Town. But it seems to me that a significant number of my mothering frustrations come from forgetting to take Henry’s perspective, which in the case of his activity, is not unlike my own. Seeing motion as he does–needing to move in order to find stillness–just reminds me that we are on the same wavelength. And of course, a little perspective is by far the best way to go with the flow.