I married into a very large family. My wife is one of five sisters. There are also two brothers. Everyone is married, everyone has children and many of those children are fully grown. When the entire family gets together the “children” bring their boyfriends or girlfriends. As a result, depending on who is “in town” at any particular time, there could be 35 to 40 people at a family gathering. It’s quite an overwhelming crowd. [note 1]
I adapted to the noise and varying personalities within the family by spending much of my time at the periphery. If everyone was gathered in the living room, I would be in the dining room. If the men were watching a football game, I’d find a book and a quiet corner where I could disappear for awhile. No one questioned my behavior. The few times when someone did make a remark, the response would be, “Well…he comes from a small family and he still hasn’t gotten over the shock of how large our family is.”
On July 4th the family gets together for a long day of fun and conversation. They go in the swimming pool, they play wiffle ball, they play basketball. They drink wine and beer and talk and talk and talk. They enjoy hot dogs and chicken and ribs and sausage and salads and music. Much of this is made possible by me because I spend the entire day at the grill, cooking hot dogs and chicken and ribs and sausage. This is a socially acceptable way for me to remain at the periphery. No one asks why Jeff doesn’t play wiffle ball or why Jeff doesn’t come into the pool because it is understood that Jeff is at the grill and that’s okay. [note 2] Don’t get the wrong impression here. I truly enjoy cooking and I am not all alone at the grill. I get help from some others. I take a break. I have a beer or two. I even go into the pool, but not necessarily to play but mainly to cool off. I get to sample the cooked food before everyone else does. I engage in some conversation, but the conversation takes place at my safe spot – the grill – where I am in control. I can pace the conversation by interrupting it in a socially acceptable manner — I open the grill and check on the food.
In the movie Mystery Men there was a character named “Invisible Boy” who had the power to make himself invisible. (You weren’t surprised, were you?) However, he could only use this power when no one was looking. That is, his power depended on people’s willingness to carry out a specific task, namely, the task of not looking at him. If they did not do it, he could not utilize his power of invisibility. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet in the scenario described above I cannot hide in plain sight without the participation of the other people. They must play their role so that I can invoke my power of invisibility.
Part of the motivation for hiding, even if it is in plain sight, is an ADHDers need to control the external chaos of the world. Though this need to control the external can take on negative overtones, nonetheless, it can also be seen as something positive when viewed from a strictly personal perspective. [note 3] For example, cooking at the grill, which may have the effect of allowing me to hide, has a positive dimension. It is a skill that I can discuss with others, even with those whose main interest may be sports. [note 4] Cooking also provides a creative outlet. I can try different recipes and cooking methods (direct heat; indirect heat; low temperature cooking – for those baby-back ribs! – and see the Cooking category of this blog). Further, cooking has led to an interest in fresh foods (as opposed to frankenfoods) which led to creating a vegetable garden. These are all outgrowths of my need to hide in plain sight. The interesting twist is that, unlike Invisible Boy, when I invoke my power of invisibility I have, in this case, increased my visibility. But you weren’t surprised by this, were you? After all, everyone wants to know, “Who is that bald headed man cooking all those ribs and sausages?”
- When my mother-in-law was ill and the entire family went to see her at the hospital, we took over an entire waiting room. I wonder what people thought when they saw this crowd of people ranging in age from three years old to eighty years old (my father-in-law) all doing their kumbaya thing. Hopefully my younger daughter – who is an extraordinarily talented writer – will be able to use moments like these in some future novel.↩
- I don’t want this to sound like I am resentful of being stuck at the grill. I’m there of my own choosing and I am thankful that everyone in the family accepts this behavior, accepts it as just one more variant of “normal.”↩
- Anyone familiar with my blog will know that I do not see ANY positive characteristics to ADHD. The scientific literature backs me up on this one. Objectively, when one views all of the data, it shows that in terms of life accomplishments there are NO POSITIVE BENEFITS to having ADHD.↩
- Since childhood I have had zero interest in sports. See my comments in He Said / She Said – The Education of an ADHDer (Part I). ↩