Unfolding the Map
Picking up a teen hitchhiker was probably not the smartest thing that William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) did, but as we're riding along with both of them it's a good time to examine factors that lead kids to run away. As we pass through Hayward and Park Falls, I'll reflect on my own experiences running away, and the diagnosing and medicating of kids with ADHD. Flee to the map to pinpoint our location.
"East of Hayward we drove into resort country where billboards and small, tacky motels lined the highway. The pavement rose and dropped, up and down, and the van rode like a cockboat. The girl fell asleep. At Park Falls, I stopped for gas."
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12
Hayward and Park Falls, Wisconsin
I'm going to quote a little bit more from this chapter of Blue Highways.
"Her name was something like Stacie McDougald, and she had run away two days earlier with another girl who returned home by bus after the first night. Stacie then hitched a ride with a boy who brought down the back road.
"'He never said anything, but when he stopped by the lake I got scared and ran. He looked for me in the woods and stuff, but the mosquitoes were like real terrible, so he gave up.'
"She had hidden in the trees all night, eaten a couple of Ho-Ho's, and finally put her head in the knapsack to escape the very mosquitoes that had saved her.
"....She took a vial from her jacket...Vacantly she stared at the vial, shook out a pill, and swallowed it with a swig of Pepsi.
"'What's the pill?'
"'Gotta take them. I'm hyperactive. They're Ludes.'
"The vial had no label. 'Prescribed?'
"'Oh, sort of. Like they used to be. I took Ritalin when I was little.'"
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12
I wanted to quote a little more because this girl touches a few spots in me, as you might have guessed from my last post.
One thing she brings to mind is my own futile attempts to run away. I don't want to give the impression that I did it often, because I think I might have made the attempt two or three times when I was in my early teens. Like Stacie McDougald, I had good reasons to run away, which will become apparent as we accompany LHM and Stacie a little farther down the road in Wisconsin. But here's the problem - I was too scared to actually go through with it. So, my attempts at running away took this form:
1) I make a big deal and run out of the house down to the end of the lane, and mill around waiting for someone to come after me. When nobody comes, I get scared and walk back down to my house and sheepishly do something outside until I go back inside and act like nothing has happened.
2) I yell at my mother/father that I'm going to run away, and one of them (usually my mother) says "fine, call us when you get to where you are going." Then I get scared and stay home and eventually go inside and act like nothing happened.
The truth is that I was too scared to do something like that. Despite the problems at home that I'll get into in a future post, I was too comfortable at home. I probably had as many reasons to run away as anyone, but I just couldn't do it...I couldn't take that next step. Now, many years older and supposedly wiser, I realize that for a child to run away, they have to have really compelling and overwhelming reasons. No child wants to run away, so there has to be something really bad going on at home for a child to choose to take to the road and forgo the comforts of home. Especially if forgoing the comforts of home means running from a boy whose sole intent in providing a ride is so that he can rape you, and then spending the night in wood full of mosquitoes. Usually, children run away because home is not comfortable, and has been made an unsafe place. And that's sad because of all the places a child should feel most comfortable, most safe, most at ease, it's in his or her own home.
The second thing that strikes me about these particular passages in the book are that, like many children, Stacie McDougal is medicated. Whether her quaaludes are prescribed or illegal is beside the point. Children today, if they aren't drugged up on illegal drugs, are often drugged up on prescription medication.
I remember when some children were just considered to be "very active." Activities were planned for them. Sometime, when I wasn't paying attention, the terms "hyperactive," and then "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," or "ADHD," came into vogue. Now it seems that every child who is active enough that parents or teachers find it difficult to keep up with him or her is given that diagnosis and put on pills like Ritalin, Dexedrine and Adderall. Should those diagnoses have been common when I was young, I too might have been put on drugs as I was known to be "forgetful in daily activities," be "easily distracted," and lose "toys, pencils...etc." I too blurted out "answers before questions have been completed" and had "difficulty awaiting [my] turn." I also "[fidgeted] with hands or feet or [squirmed] in seat." (All quotations from the definition of ADHD by the National Institutes of Health's US National Library of Medicine). I thought that was all part of being a kid, but have discovered that it is seen to be a disorder.
I realize that there are some children that are truly disordered, and that such kids can be very difficult. But when did the line blur between being an active child and being disordered? When did daydreaming become a symptom of a mental problem? In my case, my symptoms were the result of something far more insidious going on in my family. I often wonder, as we medicate our children, how many signs are being misread? How many children are in crisis either from neglect or abuse, but we drug those signs away?
I surmise that in the future, rather than seeing the increase in diagnoses of ADHD as an illness or disorder that had not been recognized, instead it will be seen as a symptom of our society as it is today. I think that in a time where traditional families, with one parent at home, are fast disappearing as both parents go to work, the need to keep kids focused on homework and activities becomes more and more necessary. No longer can children waste time in unorganized play, daydreaming, and just being kids. Instead they have to be attentive all the time, whether it's in their organized activities or their schoolwork. I grew up in one of those traditional families where, when I came home from school, I had time to unwind in play before dinner and before I did my homework. I don't see that happening much any more. So, if a kid doesn't show that initial capacity for that kind of focus, they are diagnosed and medicated.
I may be totally off-base. After all, one can take issue with the fact that I've never had children, despite my desire to do so. That's a fair criticism of my views, and I won't hold it against anyone who brings up such a criticism. I only have opinions and ideas based on my conceptions of being a parent. I've never been down in the trenches dealing with an unruly child, or trying to hold it together while the kids fight, or just tried to keep up with the ordinary demands of parenting.
But I read about this girl that LHM describes, this Stacie McDougal who ran away from home, and who as we'll see has very legitimate reasons for doing so. And I read about a girl who has been convinced that she needs drugs to deal with certain problems and therefore is taking quaaludes that she is convinced help her. However, there are legitimate concerns about the overdiagnosis of ADHD, such as parents who don't want to deal with unruly children. All this is happening right about the time that ADD and ADHD became the vogue diagnosis. Now not only children but adults are diagnosed with this disorder, fueling what some call an "ADHD-industrial complex" consisting of American psychiatrists, US pharmaceutical companies, and makers of herbal supplements. It has also led to ADHD prescription drug abuse among teenagers to get high and undiagnosed college students using "study drugs" to focus and get better grades.
I wonder if as a society we are missing the mark, somehow.
I was quite touched, unexpectedly, by Ludacris' song Runaway Love (with Mary J. Blige). I say unexpectedly because I didn't know that Ludacris rapped about specific social issues. But then I didn't know much about Ludacris. His foundation apparently supports efforts to find and help runaways. It's a very powerful song.
If you want to know more about Hayward or Park Falls
Hayward Chamber of Commerce
Hayward Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau
Park Falls Chamber of Commerce
Price County Daily (Park Falls newspaper)
Sawyer County Record (Hayward Newspaper)
Wikipedia: Park Falls
Next up: Fifield, Wisconsin