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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Zero Sum and the division of labour

During the summer holidays our lives take on a more leisurely pace. Crumble.

Whilst there is no school to attend, I select a minimum number of goals for the day.

The primary goal would be for all members of the family to be dressed in day time clothes by 9 a.m. at the absolute latest.

Spouse appears, bleary eyed after 5 hours sleep, returning home from work at 1 in the morning as slave to a start up business. The night time hours were filled with visitations by small people at irregular intervals. I herd my children in the direction of the breakfast table to a chorus of shrieks of protest whilst spouse fiddles with the equally unco-operative printer. No-one is hungry and the bribe of ‘electronics’ time at 5:30 p.m. is still ten and a half hours away and therefore too remote. The weeping and wailing continues throughout the ten minutes attempt at something that might loosely be described as breakfast.

We attempt table clearing but they turn themselves into a moving obstacle course, bump into one another, drop bowls, clatter spoons, tumble over cereal boxes, spill milk and generally make my head spin. Which mess or child to clear up first?

Spouse nips off to take a shower with the plunger in his left hand. He reappears moment later, semi clad to remove one boy, “you’re coming with me matey, you honk!” A less than savoury aroma. Junior’s lower torso fails to function, so he scoops him up to deliver him to the shower. As soon as his tippy toes lose contact with the floor, his legs whir into bicycling motion at high speed. Watch out Tour de France. I remind myself to encourage him to use the trampolene at regular intervals, if we have any hope of surviving the day.

We attempt teeth cleaning with the remaining two. This should be easy with the reduced numbers. A toothbrush crisis produces mass hysteria, “he’s got my brush! I don’t want his stinky mouth germs!”
“But……..but…….but…” he fizzles out and hurls the toothbrush in her general direction. It is sometimes difficult for him to locate items or distinguish one person’s belongings from another’s, it wasn’t deliberate. He dissolves into a full blown meltdown of frustration, hurt feelings and possibly a dash of inadequacy.

Junior skitters back downstairs to join the mayhem and accidentally comes within striking distance of his flailing brother. More agony ensues and my daughter flees the room and the noise.

I marshal my reserves and try to clear my head. I hear the garage door open as spouse wheels out the rubbish and recycling to the curbside. I park myself on the floor between my two wailing boys to rub backs and pray for peace. mM own personal peace corps wouldn’t go amiss. Calm, if not order, returns after only a few minutes. One sits up and runs his snotty nose along the sofa whilst the other duplicates the action on the carpet. I debate whether it is possible for me to do this today, again?

I take them both to the loo, as strong emotions often supercede more basic functions. Better safe than sorry. Spouse puts all the electronic bribes on to recharge, ready for later, as he was too tired to remember the night before. I attempt to scrub the snail trails of snot, prior to solidification and then make headway on the other spills. My daughter returns from bedroom fully clothed and with a cheery smile, little ray of something or other. She clasps me around the waist, since I am on all fours in a sea of cheerios and milk. Spouse refills the coffee hob so that my emergency caffeine supply is ready. I dither about my stamina quotient for the day, which appears to be severely depleted but has to last until 9 o’clock tonight.

I debate whether it would be a worthwhile exercise to put drop clothes throughout the house as a preventative measure? [translation = dust sheets] Spouse puts the toaster away on the high shelf that’s out of my reach. This avoids the step retrieval step, for shorter people like me. I ask my son to go and choose his clothes, always a time consuming exercise. I move the little one back to the bathroom for teeth cleaning. I trip over spouse fiddling about on the computer again. Who has time for computers when the morning routine is in tatters.

I pick up three sets of pyjamas and I trip over a cat that entwines my legs due to neglect. This is the first step in the sequence of steps to achieve ‘dressed.’ Spouse scatters cat food in the general direction of his bowl so that the fur ball is enticed away from the danger area. My daughter plagues me with questions: what are we doing today? Where are we going today? I am sorely tempted to spend the day building an air raid shelter to hide in.

At 9:01 a.m. he glances at his wristwatch, “Oh heck! I’m so late!” and steps towards the door. I begin to flap. When that doesn’t work I use words, “don’t leave me!” I bleat like a star crossed lover. He turns towards his flapping wife with a blank expression, “what?”
“Look!” I flap some more and open my arms wider so that he is better able to take in the three yards of brown fabric that go to make up my dressing gown. I am not day time attire and no shower.
“But..” he checks his wrist watch again but his body is reversing towards the door simultaneously. I feel a rising sense of panic in both of us, but for entirely different reasons.
“Look at me! You can’t go yet! You’ve done nothing this morning except get ready for work, whilst I’ve been running around like a blue….oh, never mind! Go to work why don’t you!” I pout and fold my arms in defeat. I peer up at him, hoping for the pity vote but his face wears an expression of bafflement. I prompt, “what?” in an unpleasant tone.

His shoulders slump, soft open palms, “I’ve done what I can….unblocked the shower, fixed the printer, sterilized the stinky one, the trash, all the rechargables, coffee, toaster, booked the flights on line,……” he peters out, after only managing to recall a mere fraction of his tasks. The ‘what more do you want?’ remains unsaid. He wears the hangdog expression of the truly unappreciated.

My shoulders sink too as I remember to breathe. I take a few steps towards him and lower my head so that he can kiss my forehead, as substitute during mouth realignment. I resolve to refrain from referring to him as my ‘lesser half.’ I feel his stubble against my skin, “didn’t even have time to shave did you?” I wheedle.

Moral – some people notice nothing until they make contact, head on.

As I write and post, I always wonder, 'is this the one that will make you de-lurk?' So come along now, be a good egg, let's here it for the Dad's.

For an update on parents' ability to communicate effectively, go "here."

Play Therapy? You cannot be serious!

I believe that 'play therapy' is a term of art, but you can pick your own label.

At three in the afternoon I sneak away to pause and make a pot of tea. 9 hours down, six to go. The noise is deafening but they’re happy playing Pokemon. Not only are they playing pretend but they’re playing together. I do not lie. This is the culmination of many years of play therapy.

In theory, since I am more than half way through the day, with the added lure of ‘electronics’ time in two and a half hours, or 150 minutes as displayed on the visual count downer, this should be plain sailing. But all parents are familiar with the late afternoon threat of thunder. Maybe it’s because they’ve been working hard all day, or awaken so early, but whatever the reason, we parents know that we need to keep a little bit back, tucked up our sleeves, for the inevitable crisis moment.

I double check the weekly menu planner on the fridge to anticipate what level of protest is most likely? Only Wednesday, pizza, and Friday, pasta, are easy. The other five nights a week, we endure dinner, which is merely the opportunity for nutritional input. I pull a face; Asian pork on a bed of steamed rice with wilted Bok Choy. What was I thinking of? A real hard sell. I console myself with the thought that the children’s loss is the compost bin’s gain.

I have played doubles all day. This is where I play something with them that they hate, then they’re released to 'not play' for another thirty minutes, whilst I tackle domestic chores. This has worked surprisingly well, such that I have nearly caught up from the aftermath of the weekend. Thirty minutes is a very long time for an autistic child of any age, when not involved in a preferred activity. I can hardly believe that we have traveled such a long way from those tortured 2 minutes sessions, several years ago.

Even today, I still smart at the recollection.

The initial evaluation took many weeks to complete. Of the many stark facts presented in the report, one or two pin pricks were quite startling. They were startling to me because it allowed me to see myself and my children, through other people’s impartial eyes for the first time. An inaccurate approximation of their report would be, ‘the mother sat on the floor and prompted him to choose a puzzle. Minutes later she choose a preferred dinosaur puzzle and completed it for him while he stared off into the distance.’ At that time I had no clue what to do nor how to do it. I was left with the knowledge that I knew nothing and that when the second evaluation was completed on my younger son, that I would know even less.

I sip my tea and look at the mess. Toys are everywhere. This is evidence that people are playing. I do see toys lined up, but they lack the exactitude of earlier days of OCD. More importantly, I see a mixture, blocks and string, Pokemon and trampolines, Spongebob and Lego, saucepan lids and cars. Your child may be good at using a saucepan lid as a spaceship, or a Frisbee, or a hat, but for my children it has always been just a saucepan lid. Not in the category of toys nor imaginative play. As with anything you teach, sometimes it can take a very long time before you see any results.

‘But why would anyone teach a child to play Madeline? They’re kids, that’s what kids do, they play, right?’ And of course until a few years ago, I would have been on your side. Indeed, since I am a lot meaner than you, I would add, ‘what other useful purpose do they serve other than to play,’ or "isn’t that where the definition 'child’s play' comes from dimwit!" But my experience tells me that this isn’t always the case.

But I can tell that you doubt me, so an example may help.

Only a few years ago I took them all to Toys R Us, at my daughter’s request. I submitted to the pleads and begs because there were so demeaning. Although we have always had enough toys to restock Toys R Us without making a hole in our own reserves, very, very few of them were played with. Repetitive movements and lining up, do not count.

After the usual torture of getting everyone ready, into the car and driving to the accompaniment of two screaming boys, we arrived safe and sound. We negotiated the parking lot to arrive at the entrance. I then spent the next twenty minutes standing by the electric doors as my youngest son jumped in and out of the doorway and my other son lay on the floor playing with the wheel on one of the carts. Behind them was every conceivable toy under the sun, but I couldn’t dislodge either of them. I had forgotten the Goldfish cracker bribes for my Hansel and Gretel impersonation. My brave daughter made little exploratory forays, returning at regular intervals to still my beating heart. Eventually I picked the boys up under protest and navigated our way through the check out.

Her glee at her trophy, was more than compensation enough for my old leaky eyes. Indeed I have been malfunctioning ever since.

I know this is hard for many people to understand, that children must be taught to play, but sometimes, it can be done. I have the evidence before me, namely, several hours of tidying up, just in case you were worried that I might be bored or mislaid my grumpiness.

But I hope this is useful, or perhaps just hopeful, to someone?

Addendum – sprinkles on the cake [translation = over egg the pudding] I should like to mention that no-one noticed when 5:30 electronics time arrived, for the first time ever, at least not until 5:45!

Maybe some of us parents need some "play therapy" too!

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