It had been a really rough day. I was 15 years old and somehow I had lost a really important paper that I needed for school, in the house, in a matter of minutes. I was good at losing things when I was younger; eye glasses, watches, purses…. money. It seemed like the more important the item, the easier it was for me to put it down, take up several other tasks, and then promptly forget where I had placed the thing I so desperately needed. This particular day was no different.
My parents had asked me to bring them something that I had just had in my hand, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where I had put it. I was frustrated, crying, convinced that this was going to go on a list of “things I didn’t get right that day.” Such a list that only I, a teenager suffering from ADHD, kept running in my head.
I sat on the bed in defeat.
My mother, a short woman, popped into my bedroom with an odd, energetic intensity.
“I can say the alphabet backward!” she exclaimed.
I respected my mother…that old school kind of respect. At the time, she was a teacher of 20+ years and because of this I was eye-rollingly unimpressed with her declaration….but I didn’t roll my eyes… I wasn’t stupid. “Of course she can say the alphabet backward. It’s probably a question on the teacher test.” I stared at her for a moment, my eyes still brimming with tears of defeat.
“What?” I managed to say.
“I can say the alphabet backward,” she repeated.
She then proceeded to show me. Not only could my mom say it backward, she sped through it like she had her PhD in Alphabet Retrograde Oration.
“Can you do that?” she asked.
I’ll admit I got a little angry with her. Here I was, in my fifteen year-old angst, trying to mourn the loss of whatever paper was playing hide and seek from me, and my mother had come in with some random, Sesame Street sounding request.
“Do I have to do it now? I asked.
“Yes. “ she replied in her famous, matter of fact tone. “Go!”
At this part of the story, if you’re attempting to say the alphabet backward in your head and you’re failing, multiply that, times 1000.
I failed miserably. I looked at her defeated.
“I can’t do it, Ma. You win.”
“Beat me at it,” she said.
“By the time this week is over, “ she said looking me right in my eyes, “I want you to beat me at saying the alphabet backward. I want you to be able to say it faster than me.”
She didn’t give me a choice. My mom wasn’t necessarily a woman of “choices” when she was giving directions. I had my marching orders, and I had a deadline.
I spent the next several days and nights trying to say my alphabet in reverse. It was an arduous task. Most people can’t say their ABC’s forward without singing, and I was attempting to do the opposite without any accompaniment from a grade school, public domain song. I didn’t quit, though. Antoinette told me I had to beat her by the end of the week…so that’s what I had to do. Many times I stared at the ceiling wondering why I was trying to gain such a meaningless talent. Who in the world boasts the ability to do this, and then uses it to their advantage? Nobody! Yet, here I was.
Finally, the moment of truth came. I marched into my parents’ bedroom with pride, stood in front of her with my head held high, and sped through the alphabet in reverse. It was a flawless delivery. I waited for the accolades from her. Surely she was going to tell me how magnificent I was. Surely she was going to applaud me for meeting my deadline.
I stood there for a long time.
When I finally focused on Mama, she was just staring at me. Then, she smirked, and in the next moment, she changed my whole life.
“You have ADHD,” she said. “And sometimes, you can get so lost in your next set of thoughts, that you lose your way and forget how you got there. The reason why you lose things is because you do so much in between, your brain can’t recall how you got to the new place without that thing in your hand. But now, you’ve taught your brain to remember things backward, and in order. From now on, you use that.”
Today, I can walk back through random trains of thought to see how they started, I can recall how I got to certain points in a conversation, I can recollect grocery lists I’ve accidentally left at home, and of course, I can remember where I put my keys, or my glasses, or the mail.
My mother was a genius. And although she didn’t have her PhD in Alphabet Retrograde Oration…she sure enough had it in Danita LaShelle Management.
She was right.