This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
We have a nickname for my daughter: Goldilocks. Nothing is ever just right for her, and she oscillates from it being too hot/too cold, too hard/too soft, too long/too short, too loud/too quiet, etc almost constantly. Shopping is a nightmare. Bedtime worse. Everything has to be just right, and if it isn’t, then nothing is right.
Bedtime was always a nightmare for me. The sheets had to be flat, smooth, no lumps. I stopped wearing pajamas because the seams kept me awake; if it wasn’t perfectly straight, I couldn’t sleep. And even then. I thought of myself as the main character in The Princess and The Pea, secretly a princess, sensitive to any small item placed under the mattresses.
I also have what I call claustrophobic toes. I’ve always hated socks (those damn seams again) and I wear my shoes usually a half-size too big. I need to be able to freely wiggle my toes in my shoes or else I get anxious. Underwear is another nightmare for me, as I find myself constantly having to adjust them as they shift and then are completely distracting to me. I hate it and have spent entirely too much money on trying to find a bra or a pair of underwear that don’t distract me the entire day, nor make me look like a complete weirdo in front of my co-workers. My daughter hates anything with a button anywhere near her waist (thank goodness elastic waistbands are all the rage now). My son lives in sweat pants (or as he used to call them, soft pants).
As I read more and more of the literature on ADHD, in an effort to try and understand my kids (and myself), I came across reading after reading about hypersensitivity in people with ADHD, not only emotional, but also tactile (see Slide 2). Huh, I thought, that explains the whole sleeping thing, topped off with the racing mind, etc, etc, etc, as well as the socks and shoes and undergarments and the buttons and soft pants and having to have everything perfect to sleep.
I try to remember this when I feel myself getting increasingly frustrated with them (and myself) and their demands. I try to remember my own struggles as a kid not being able to articulate why, exactly, I didn’t like socks or tight shoes or pajamas. I didn’t have the language to say, this makes me anxious, more than just uncomfortable, but antsy and…off. You can’t just deal with it, as it continually nags at you. Even just writing about it is making me a little queasy. It’s hard to remember, but I keep trying to be patient with my children, forgiving with myself.
And then one day, on my commute home, a thought popped into my head:
WHAT IF THE PRINCESS IN THAT FAIRY TALE HAD ADHD AND THAT IS WHY SHE COULD FEEL THE PEA?!?!?!?!?!
It made sense, my brain continued, as we know ADHD is hereditary, so it would make sense that it would be carried down through royal bloodlines. And who are more impulsive than the royalty we read about in these stories? OMG what if ADHD was once a trait of nobility?
That’s how ADHD brains work, folks. It gets an idea, literally out of the blue, and RUNS WITH IT.
I am a literature scholar, but fairy tales are far from my area of expertise. Same with disability studies. I don’t know the original fairy tales beyond the ones I was read as a child and reread or retold during my life. Plus, I already have…(counts)…four book projects on the go at the moment, with a job that doesn’t have anything to do with literature anymore, so all of this has remained idle speculation and dreaming on my part.
(A cursory search through google scholar shows that there are studies about physical disability, as well as mental instability, but nothing I could find about more invisible so-called maladies such as ADHD.)
But what if, and bear with me, what if all of these unruly girls in fairy tales all have ADHD and rather than having to overcome it, it is a source of their strength, their resourcefulness, their curiosity? What if rather than mocking Goldilocks’ pickiness and punishing her curiosity, we celebrated it much like the Princess who feels the Pea? Rather than feminist reinterpretations, we could combine it with a neurodivergent take on these characters, male and female (I just remember the girls more, but I’m sure there are male characters who display similar traits).
What if I thought of my daughter as the Princess instead of Goldilocks? Or remember the empathy one can have for the character, empathy that the story doesn’t necessarily demand of us? I re-imagine our ADHD as something that in some places was celebrated?
We’re lucky we have that privilege, that most people see our ADHD as an inconvenience at worst rather than a fatal character flaw, but I want us, in our family, to see it as our birthright, our source of strength, our heritage, as much as any of the other traits we inherited. I want that for us. I want us to read fairy tales and other stories where it is not to be overcome, but to be embraced and if not celebrated, accepted and shrugged off.
It’s who we are. It means we’re nobility.