When I look back over the last 20 years of life with our eldest son (affectionately known here as Happy Chin), many days stand out in my memory. The day he was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis; his first day at a regular day care centre; the days in hospital; the day we got the diagnosis of autism; the first time he said he loved me.
Difficult days, challenging days, emotional days, dark days. All parents know them, perhaps none better than parents of children with complex needs. But the days I remember most fondly are the funny days. Sometimes the things that happened on those days were genuinely humorous. More often than not, some effort was required on my part to make them funny.
I grew up in a family that loved to tell jokes. Making everything into a funny story was second nature to us, and I think it’s a very Australian thing to do. Aussies are great at finding humour in every situation, having a bit of fun and a laugh at ourselves and others. It’s a national characteristic. It’s also become a lifeline for me in my challenging life. However bad things seems at the time, making fun of it later (sometimes much, much later) is a kind of therapy for our family.
When he was smaller, Happy Chin loved kites, and in the absence of a kite anything on a string would do. He loved to flap the impromptu kite and watch the movement through the air. For his 8th birthday he was given a puzzle made out of X-rays of the human body. The idea was to fit them all together to make a full skeleton. Of course, Happy Chin wasn’t interested in doing this, he just wanted a bit of string taped to an X-ray to wander around with.
One day we had visitors and decided we’d go for a walk to the park. Happy Chin wasn’t going anywhere without his X-ray on a string, and the kids all grabbed one too. The adults got in on the act and before we knew it 9 of us were walking down the street trailing X-rays behind us. It wasn’t until cars started slowing down to check us out that we realised how silly we all looked and burst out laughing.
Or the time we were playing with face paints and I let him paint blue spots all over my face. I then forgot all about them until a couple of hours later when the doorbell rang and I answered the door to a couple of very puzzled-looking young men carrying religious pamphlets. They dropped them on the step and left in quite a hurry.
Times that have only been funny afterwards include the day we went to the video store and Happy Chin’s favourite DVD wasn’t on the shelf. He ran up to the counter to demand it in a very loud voice. However, the chap standing at the counter not only couldn’t understand him, but also didn’t even work there, he was from the cake shop next door. I sprinted up the shop to defuse the situation, but not before Happy Chin managed to run behind the counter, grab a box and hurl it into the air. Unfortunately, the box was open and full of barbeque shapes, which rained down on me, Happy Chin, the video store guy and the cake shop guy. There’s another two stores we can’t go back to for a while.
Or the time I took all three boys to the supermarket during the school holidays. What was I thinking? After we got over the huge fight about who gets to wheel the trolley, and I’d read them all the riot act about having to get groceries or we wouldn’t be eating tonight, Happy Chin knocked down a tower of tuna cans. Whilst we picked up the cans he turned around and smashed his fist into a display of chocolate bars.
“Whoever buys those will be disappointed,” I muttered. Tech Support, our middle son, who is very pragmatic, remarked helpfully, “They might be happy if they bought them to crush up and put on their ice-cream.” But we left the supermarket all the same. Without groceries. And I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has bought chocolate bars recently and got them home to find them crushed. Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong. Some days even an inveterate Pollyanna like myself can’t think of anything positive. I get depressed and angry. I think I’m doing a really bad job. I wish every single person in the shop wouldn’t look at us. Or at the very least, that they wouldn’t give themselves whiplash turning around to look at us so fast. But then Happy Chin comes out of the bathroom, proud as punch at having dressed himself – in his younger brother’s clothes which are 4 sizes too small and with his shoes on the wrong feet, and we all share a laugh. It really is good medicine.