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Monday, March 05, 2007

Skin so Soft – memories calling

I cuddle up to my younger daughter of the sofa and suggest that soon it will be time for a bath. The boys roll over on the carpet and start to groan at the prospect of forthcoming agonies.
I start preaching;
“You know, I just love baths.”
“Ya do? Why do ya like em so much?” she asks, nuzzling in closer.
“Well years and years ago when I was a little girl, about your age come to think of it, my mum used to take long baths in our tiny chilly bathroom. It was so cold that when she filled the bath with hot water the whole room filled with steam, it was like warm fog. She would wallow in the bath and I’d sit on the floor. We’d chitter chat about this and that. It was lovely.”
“But you weren’t even in that bath. Whatz so fun about that?” I have no adequate answer for her pertinent query, just a misty memory with a haunting fragrance.
“I’m not sure now you mention it.”
“You don’t take baths, you always have showers.” Would that it were ‘always.’
“Good point.”
“Why? Why don’t you have a bath if they’re so great? When DID you last have a bath?” I decide to lie because it is marginally more interesting.
“Well actually, I remember it distinctly. The last time I had a bath was when I was waiting to go to the hospital, when I was pregnant, what er..... [?] six years ago now. I lay in the bath and waited for Daddy to come home, so that we could go together.”
“Hospital!” someone squalks. Oh dear, I mentioned a trigger word. Choking noises splutter from the carpet, “we are dying in dah hospital if we are bath?”
“Not at all dear, that was all a long time ago…” the questions come thick and fast from every direction.
“Why didn’t you get dressed and wait? How could you go to the hospital if you were all wet?” Sometimes you wish you’d never started. I decide that distraction is the only course of action.
“You know Granny used to buy this very extravagant bath oil from Avon, it had a wonderful perfume.” They’ve probably changed the recipe after 40 years.
“Oil! Not bubbles?”
“Er, right. Oil.” Be careful, this isn't going the right way.
“But why?”
“To make you smell nice.”
“Smelly oil?”
“Y….e….s,” I answer cautiously, knowing that I am going down the wrong path. Junior’s talks to the carpet, “oil floats on dah water.”
“That’s right dear, so all the lovely oil slips over your skin and makes it all nice and soft.”
“Dat is dah stoopid fing! Your skin is dirty and den you are wiv oil too, yukky.”

Another little nugget quashed, but it wouldn't do to deny his indefatigable logic.

Early days 3

After the boys had been diagnosed with autism, together with their respective speech delays, I looked forward to the commencement of ‘therapy’ in it’s many and various forms. I went along armed with a notebook and pen, to sit in on the sessions so that I could learn what they were doing and how, so that I could reinforce everything at home. I was also secretly hoping that I would find all their magic tricks. I would learn what I was doing wrong. I would learn whatever it was that I should be doing and I would learn to do it better. I would do it better than anyone else, for longer than anyone else and I would make it work.

Although I had read everything I could lay my hands on but I had the distinct feeling that I was missing something, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

From the time of their being diagnosed to the start of therapy I had coped well, or what I considered to be ‘well’ under the circumstances. I knew that the boys were autistic because I had done something wrong, although I wasn’t quite sure what that was either. I had determined, if not to ‘make amends,’ at least to adopt a positive stance to our change of circumstances. I had told the people who needed to be told. We ‘regrouped’ at home and intensified our learning. I put what I learned into practice in an amateur manner, confident that soon, experts would intervene to put us on the right track.

Therapy commenced, an intensive programme for both the boys, individually. I watched and waited. There are few things as frustrating for a parent as having to watch [and pay] for 50 minutes of speech therapy where your child refuses to utter a syllable. I waited to see what would happen, what was the magic key to force him to speak? Sometimes I could do it at home, sometimes I couldn’t but the difference between the two, were beyond me, a mystery. The experts would know. They would teach me, I would learn.

After a few of these sessions where the therapist debriefs the parent on conclusion, I asked what we should be doing at home. I was advised that homework would be very helpful. For that week we should perhaps go to the park. As he climbed up the ladder I should chant ‘up, up, up’ and ‘down, down, down’ on the other side. Additionally, a Nursery Rhyme [I forget which one now] would be of great benefit.

It was one of the few times that I burst into tears in front of a professional. The shock was profound, I was bereft. That was it? Did she think I had kept my son in a cardboard box under the stairs for the previous three and a half years? There were no magic tricks.

I turned away from my son so that he would not see me weep and attempted to compose myself, straighten my limp upper lip. If I’m honest, I don’t really know what I was expecting from the experts? I was so sure that I was missing something, that there was something else I should be doing or should stop doing, as if everybody else in the world ‘knew’ but that it was a secret that I was not party too.

I’d like to tell you that he ran to my arms for a hug, to wipe away my tears and said “I love you mum,” something uplifting, funny or tender but I can’t tell a blatant lie.

I only had to wait another four years for him to say those words.

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