I lay out their clothes on the floor, two sets. I have been doing this since time immemorial. [translation = 8 years] I may be an automaton in the mornings but this is one of the morning routine’s steps that I have no problem with. I make sure that each item of clothing reflects the manner in which an ordinary person might put on their clothes. Each set looks like a little mannequin, a flat one, lying out on the carpet in anticipation. We have spent many a long year helping both the boys try and put them on in the right order, the right way round.
It’s just one of the tiny little props that we have engineered in their lives. These little markers make up the scaffolding to support our visual learners. The props have been built up over the years to help them move forward, tiny little fragments that make their lives and therefore ours, run more smoothly. Since it’s summer their short trousers lie inert, an inverted V, zipper on top, snap unfastened with underpants overlapping the top, Y opening as a pointer. The T-shirt is also ready, together with a pair of socks. A pair of shoes for each child by the side is a pointer, aimed to indicate which set is whose.
A couple of children ago, spouse would examine the bible. [translation = developmental milestones of typically developing children] When the boys came along we ignored the bible more and more. As a result, I am now uncertain at what age a child should be able to dress him or herself? My [unreliable] sources tell me that this should occur at around the age of three or four, but in the meantime we keep trundling. It's not that we have no expectations of them, it's just that are expectations are on elastic. We are confident that in the future that there will be more and more things that they will be able to do. The difference for our boys, is that they'll do whatever they're going to do when they're 'good and ready,' rather than when they're 'supposed' to do it.
As parents we have learned that there is no point in fretting about such matters. You put their scaffolding in place, the best design you can come up with and practice a lot but their milestones are like unseasonal hailstorms. [translation = Cherry blossom petals in December]
When the average child hits a milestone the average parent is delighted. When the autistic child collides with a milestone, even if it's the wrong milestone and years too early or too late, the parent of that autistic child rarely behaves rationally. When the typical child does whatever they're supposed to be doing, when they're supposed to be doing it, we are pleased. However, when the autistic child does what they're supposed to be doing, even a very tiny little thing, the parent may experience something very close to a heart attack. You may be celebrating milestones long after other parents have reveled in those same markers, but that only makes them better. [translation = exponentially]
Sometimes it can take up to half an hour to persuade them to even attempt to put them on. Even when they are more willing they often muddle the sets up, as there’s so much scrabbling around on the floor. The clothes become tangled and rucked. The boys become entangled with each other. They benefit from being in close enough iin proximity to copy each other. [translation = the inertia of one can often motivate the other.] They must not be too close because the margin of error is narrow. Sometimes a race ensues, often as not, instigated by their sister. Racing and clothing are not a happy combination. [translation = guaranteed to cause at least one meltdown] There are too many pitfalls like zippers, snap fastenings, socks that hide their openings, shoes that change form by being kicked into an upside down position.
Am I weary of these details? Funnily enough I’m not. They are so ingrained, familiar and automatic that they don’t even reach the status of chore. It is hard to describe the magnitude of the issue of dressing, to say nothing of toileting. So ordinary and yet so impossible.
As I get older and greyer, I wonder what kind of girlfriend [boyfriend?] or life partner, will take over the responsibility of laying out their clothes for the morning? We need to return to the 1920’s where a gentleman would have a manservant to attend to such matters. They need a Jeeves, each of them. Someone to tie a cravat, chain up the pocket watch and attach a button hole rosebud to the lapel. I wonder how many gentlemen, elderly gentlemen, exist today,who are still incapable of attaching their socks to their suspenders, living in some assisted living programme?
I pat the cloths instinctively, a check, a note to myself that I’m ready for the marathon of dressing. Spouse appears bleary eyed behind me to arch his back and rake his hair, a cat waking reluctantly.
“I thought you were bringing them down with you?” I ask, as he is alone.
“I was going to,” he pauses to yawn and smack his lips together, “but they’re getting dressed.” He puts balled fists to his eye balls and grinds the sockets.
“What do you mean, their clothes are already here?”
“Oh right yes. Well, they’re getting dressed upstairs.”
“Upstairs! What do you mean upstairs?”
Although I can hear my own words coming out of my mouth, I am unable to stop myself from sounding like a complete idiot. I can hear screams from on high followed by a stampede of fast drumming feet. Junior appears before me and skuds to a halt. His brother is close on his heels, too close on his heels. They collide and swear at each other, “Barnacles!” “You fishpaste you are!” Palms of small hands check small craniums for damage. All is well.
They remember and spark to tell me the news simultaneously. They shout, loudly. They huddle, a skirmish, a scrum, to get as close to me as possible, to be the first to tell me the news. [translation = completely normal sibling rivalry]
“Me! me! me! Look at me!”
“No, no, no. Look at me!” they are all elbows and knees vying for position, thrusting themselves into my attention. [translation = as if I could do otherwise]
“I am clothes!”
“Me too, me too, me too!”
Combined, they make a writhing mass, a Medusa head. I shimmy between them, insert myself as a barrier, one to each hip, an arm to hold each one in position for a bear hug crush to stifle their words and give a clearer message. We cling to each other in the kitchen in silence. Their grins are so huge they risk splitting their faces. My own mouth widens uncontrollably. I feel a couple of elastic bands on my braces twang with the strain.
As with so many 'firsts,' it may well be a 'one off,' [translation = unlikely to be repeated in the near future] but that means that it's all the more important to savour the trembling moment.
4 hours ago