For a long time I have been super attuned to my expanded vocabulary. In kitchen drawers and between the pages of (what’s supposed to be) my gratitude journal I find notes where I’ve scrawled technical terminology that describes McDiesel. Mostly, I write these words because I love words. Words are what I’ve been trained to analyze and discuss and manipulate. I’ve known since spelling tests that when I get the words right, I comprehend the material. I understand. When I understand, I succeed. I do well. Things turn out the way I want them to.

When I casually but rapidly start firing off ADHD catch phrases and key words, I see the changed expression on the faces of medical professionals. Clearly they are relieved, grateful to be on a (more) level playing field when they realize I’m talking the talk. I get it. I comprehend. I understand. My words say, You can talk to me for real; yes, it’s true: I’m a lot smarter than most parents you must have to put up with. (Plus, I’ve been reading loads of pop neurology. –They like that one. They laugh. Pop neurology. Right.) If I’m lucky, then they’ll throw me a bone or two. Up the ante. See if I can keep up. When they are busy with McD, I scratch down the words on the back of a Target receipt.

We started out with simple terms that, although familiar, instantly took on new significance and gravity. Impulsivity, atypical, neurology, oppositional, defiant, sensory-seeking, protein, tracking, coordinated, threshold. Astronaut, crash, motor, engine, support, consistent even assumed new and ominously nerve-racking meanings.

Now I’m talking executive function, vestibular, proprioception, sensory diets, metabolic panels, heavy work, and primitive reflexes.

Waiting for our OT the other day, I listened to another therapist report to another mother. Same lingo back and forth. I had this weird ton-of-bricks moment where I simultaneously felt sorry for this other mother that this was her lingua franca—that this was her problem with her six-year-old, that this was her reality, having to know these words and speak this language—and realized that she was me. We were speaking the same language. I understood the therapist. I may have even been nodding along with the advice about wall pushups. At the same time, I remembered how I used to feel in waiting rooms, thanking God—usually and subconsciously—we didn’t have to face the health problems other people did. I didn’t have to know what big medical terms meant. Our children didn’t need procedures or exercises or specialists or tubes. Our children were healthy, normal, developmentally appropriate. I took this for granted. I wore a vague, generalized, condescendingly benevolent smile.

And now I’m in waiting rooms where all the kids need procedures and exercises and sometimes tubes and always specialists. Where all the mothers speak the same language. And my kid is one of them. And I know what the words mean.

It was like realizing you’re dreaming in a foreign language during study abroad. I’ve been immersed these past few years; I can’t imagine other mothers don’t use these terms. To the point that I called out something about McD’s engine at the pool yesterday. Immediately, I felt exposed. How obvious. I reflexively looked around to see if any one noticed. Other mothers don’t say stuff like that, I reminded myself. Talk normal! I reverted to “Walk! Walk! WALK!

He didn’t, of course.

“He is such a pistol!” My neighbor acquaintance said.

That’s one word for it.

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