When Yes Means No

A Farce in Many Acts

Written By: Mum

Starring: Happy Chin


Act One

Scene One

A suburban kitchen at breakfast time. Mum stands at the fridge, holding a plastic container full of baked beans. Happy Chin enters.

MUM:                   Would you like some beans, mate?

HC:                         Yes!

MUM:                   OK, I’ll heat them up for you.


Scene Two

The living room. Happy Chin is sitting on the couch. Mum enters with a plate of beans.

MUM:                   (hands HC the plate) Here you go!

HC:                         No beans!

MUM:                   (snatches the plate from HC and marches upstairs) Fine, don’t eat the beans! See if I care!

A short pause.

HC:                         (calls up the stairs) Toast?

MUM:                   Now you want toast?

HC:                         Yes!

MUM:                   (sighs) OK, just a sec, I’ll make you some toast.


Scene Three

The kitchen. Mum hands a plate of toast to Happy Chin.

HC:                         No toast!!!


And so the play goes, with Happy Chin in the starring role and me trying for a Best Supporting Actress nomination at next year’s Softest Parent Awards. I don’t have high hopes for it as the next Broadway or West End smash hit. It does get a bit predictable around Act Four when I attempt to foil Happy Chin by offering crumpets and toast, knowing full well he wants Weetbix. The dramatic tension rises slightly while he considers his options, but it all ends badly again, as he decides he doesn’t want my lovingly prepared food and pours his tea on the floor.


Fans of the UK TV show Little Britain may find my work derivative, but I assure you that the source material for When Yes Means No pre-dates Andy and Lou by at least 8 years. And I have the grey hairs to prove it.


Some days Mr August and I just know we’re in for a “no” kinda day.

HC:                         (at 5AM, appearing by the parental bed having wet his own) Wet!

Mr A:                     OK, shower time.

HC:                         No!

Mum:                    Come on mate, time for a shower now.

HC:                         No!!

Mr A:                     (aside) Hang on, we shouldn’t be asking closed questions. We should be giving him choices.

(to HC) Shower or bath, mate?

HC:                         No!!!!


It’s such a bonus when we get a few “yeses in the day.” Such as:

Mr A:                     Are you gonna say “no” all day?

HC:                         Yes!!


Some days I get so over it that I amuse myself thusly:

Mum:                    Would you like a million dollars?

HC:                         No!

Mum:                    How about a lifetime’s supply of chocolate?

HC:                         No!!

Mum:                    OK then, a lifetimes’ supply of Sauvignon Blanc?

HCL                        No!!!


Honestly, there’s no pleasing some people.


Except we are lucky, there is a way. It’s called his Happy Chin. Music can make it appear, favourite stories, exercise, foods he loves, fizzy drink, kisses or a swing in the park.


Sometimes just the simple phrase, “where’s your Happy Chin?” will make him stop for a moment, tip his head to one side, adopt a rather thoughtful look and then declare, “Happy Chin on!” Then, in the immortal words of the Scissor Sisters (a favourite band of HC’s), we can let the goods times all roll out for at least the next 30 minutes or so.


A Happy Chin moment attained early in the day, if skilfully managed, can carry us through the whole day. The key is to engineer a smooth transition from one bright moment to the next, rather in the way you manage a toddler. Except this toddler is 20 years old and capable of knocking the car out of gear, grabbing the wheel and sending you into oncoming traffic.


Attempting to Change the Subject when Happy Chin is focussed on something he wants is pretty much always doomed to failure.


HC:                         Ask.

Background: we taught Happy Chin when he was about 8 that if he wanted something he had to ask for it, so now he just says “ask,” and assumed we know what he means. D’uh!

Mum:                    What are you asking for?

HC:                         Ask.

Mum:                    Yes, but what are you asking for?

HC:                         Coke.

Mum:                    You can have a cup of tea. It’s 8AM.

HC:                         Coke!

Mum:                    Settle down. Remember your birthday is coming?

HC:                         Coke!!

Mum:                    I wonder if you’ll get lots of presents?

HC:                         No presents!

Mum:                    Perhaps there’ll be balloons?

HC:                         No noons!!

Mum:                    And cake?

HC:                         No cake!!!

Mum:                    Right. I give up.

Exit Mum.

The curtain falls.


Secret Men’s Busyness



This year Mr August and I will have been together for 27 years. One of the best things about being with someone for so long is how they still, sometimes, have the ability to surprise you.


Last night I was in the kitchen preparing the evening meal, and in pain. You see, the week before I’d had an altercation with a fire pit which also involved high heels and a nylon dress. Let’s just say Firepit – one, me – nil. I was in pain because I’d just had the dressings on my legs changed at the burns clinic. I won’t go into detail about this in case you are eating. Anyway, the dinner hour had rolled around, no sign of Mr A and the Lamington and I were getting hungry.


So there I was, perched on a stool, attempting to keep my legs elevated by balancing them on the oven door whilst grating cheese and chopping onions. I was just wondering how I was going to manage to drain a pan of pasta into a colander from a seated position when Mr August burst through the back door, brandishing my keyring.


“I’ve just discovered there are 4 keys on your keyring that aren’t for anything,” he announced, “So I’m going to get rid of them!”


Dear Reader, I fear I may not have greeted this triumphant announcement with the enthusiasm required.


But really, he had reached a new high in the Doing Something Useless While the Other Half Deals With Crucial Stuff department. Granted, it was a nuisance going through 12 different keys to find the right one each time I wanted to let myself in the house. And granted, he had just done something nice for me. But if he’d wanted to do something nice, he could’ve just chopped some onions and poured me a glass of wine!


I don’t know why I was surprised. Mr A does have form in this area. We are talking about the guy who spent an entire weekend making a diorama of a rock band for his man cave using the kids’ Action Man and Lords of the Rings toys (Aragorn actually makes quite a funky bass player).


This is the man who still nurses a grudge against his brother-in-law for putting the Lamington’s new bike together in 20 minutes. Apparently it robbed Mr August of a good 12 hours of quality shed time.


To be fair, Mr A is not the World Champion of DSUWOHDWCS (see above definition). I have a friend whose spouse regularly soars high in the lofty peaks of Uselessness while she gets on with Crucial Shit. He famously once took 12 hours to assemble an Ikea desk….in the wrong room. It was so big it had to be taken apart and reassembled in the correct room. Even more famously, he missed the birth of his second child because after dropping his first child off at a friend’s house, he decided to nip home for a quick coffee and while he was there, download a bit of music. Luckily, he mixes a killer margarita so they’re still together.


Or another acquaintance of mine, who was dashing out the door one overcast morning for work and said to her man, “Please can you take the washing off the line? It’s going to rain.” He took the washing off the line. He also left it sitting in the basket under the line to be rained on.


Thankfully, Mr A has more sense than this. He does have other cute and endearing habits though. During the dinner preparation hour he is often absent. One of the children is sent to fetch him about 10 minutes before mealtime. I’ve learnt that fetching him when dinner is actually ready only causes annoyance, as it takes him a good 5 minutes to appear and then another 5 to realise he needs to wash his hands. And then another couple of minutes to actually wash the hands. The meal is by then cold.


On the occasions he does visit the kitchen during dinner prep, he likes to stand directly in front of the bin with a beer in hand, firing off random complicated questions at me. The rule of thumb is, the more complex or unfamiliar the recipe I’m trying to make, the more complex and random the questions will be. And the more squarely he will position himself RIGHT IN THE WAY!


He knows how much this annoys me, of course. And he knows I know he’s doing it to torment me. Just like I do when asking him lots of random and complex questions first thing in the morning before he’s had his coffee, simply because it’s entertaining to torment your spouse. It adds spice to the day.


If my Mum were alive today, she’d no doubt point out that I can hardly complain, since I spent most of my adolescence cornering her in the kitchen while she prepared dinner in order to recite the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to her, or some lines from whatever play I was currently in, or simply to ask her “why have I still not got a boyfriend? My sister’s got 12 of them!” She’d usually just nod and make sympathetic noises, her mind busy trying to work out how long to cook the sausages in this new-fangled microwave thingy (pro tip – NOT 20 minutes).


And she’d be right. I can’t complain. Although often not about when he’s needed, because of a sudden and urgent need to catalogue his entire record collection (Alphabetical? No, autobiographical!), Mr August has always been there when I’ve really, really needed him. When I’ve begun to unravel, when it’s all been too much, he has most resolutely been there. On that fateful night when Happy Chin pulled the IV line out of his jugular vein and I was out of my mind with exhaustion and tears, he sent me off to sleep while he took the night shift beside HC’s bed. When I was in the blackest pit of post-natal depression he took me on a holiday and let his Mum feed me cups of tea, biscuits and sympathy while he looked after the kids. He never uttered a single word of reproach when I resigned from a perfectly good job without having secured another one first, plunging us into financial uncertainty…again.


So what if I can do 2 loads of washing, feed the kids and all the animals and empty the dishwasher in the time it takes him to get out of bed, scratch his arse and scroll through Facebook? So what if the answer to the question, “Where’s Dad?” in our house always has the same two answers – “In the shed” or “in the toilet.”


When we met 27 years ago, I wanted him because he looked like Billy Duffy from the Cult, and because he made me laugh, and because I knew his tattoos would piss my mum off. I’d like to think this is far more romantic than wanting someone because they’re good at housework and can remember to pick the kids up from swimming. But hey, perhaps that’s just me.

Mr T

I Pity the Fool

Happy Chin likes a nice cup of tea. Especially when someone else is making it for him.

“Tea!” he will shout to whichever stray minion he’s managed to corral (parent, grandparent, sibling, complete stranger visiting our house for the first time, anyone will do).

Immediate family members have been taught they must wait, feigning indifference, til HC remembers his manners. This can take anything from 10 seconds to 10 minutes.

“Tea…..pleeeeese!” he will finally concede, and the tea-making can commence.

Tea is always organic decaf (because he drinks so much of it) with a dash of milk.

Tea in a thermal cup is ‘Granny Tea,’ because at Gran and Pop’s house they have nice things like proper carpet without tomato sauce stains and couches that don’t double as emergency meals for hungry pets. So Granny always makes Happy Chin’s tea in a covered mug. Sensible woman.

Tea can be demanded at all hours of the day, but is discouraged after 7PM due to the bedwetting risk. Strangely, after 7PM is the time of day when tea seems to be most in demand.

One night I woke from a deep sleep, convinced someone was in the room. Suddenly a voice boomed, “Tea!”

I shot upright, banging my head on something hard.

“Ow!” I shouted, at the same time registering a wet sensation on my face.

Happy Chin was standing over the bed holding a full kettle over me. Lucky he hadn’t boiled it first, I guess.

A reasonable person would point out that a grown young man should be able to make his own tea. This is very reasonable, and even do-able, with patient teaching. But I would argue that it’s unreasonable in the short term to put up with boiling water all over the kitchen bench and floor and all of the clean tea towels used to mop it up, let alone the risk of burns to HC or any hapless dog or cat unlucky enough to be sniffing around under the bench at the time.

This is yet another example of the kind of gutless parenting on my part that has really held my children back. I’d also include in this category – inventing excuses why the Lamington shouldn’t bake a cake on any given day, acting as Tech Support’s back-up alarm clock each day even though he has one already and just can’t be bothered to get up when it rings, and letting Happy Chin watch the Wizard of Oz 15 times on a Sunday because I’m just too tired to take him to the park.

And whilst I’m in a confessional mood, yes I do let my child drink fizzy drinks. If I had a bit more courage I would wean him off them. The dentist certainly thinks I should. Perhaps the dentist could come round and spend an entire weekend enduring HC’s standover tactics, featuring the words “coke, coke, coke, COKE!” bellowed at him four inches from the face for 9 hours, with only a little light relief dodging flying DVD cases and cleaning up torn copies of Vogue magazine. For all I know, the dentist might quite enjoy living for 24 hours a day on tenterhooks, having to have eyes in the back of his head in case HC climbs over the fence and bolts down the road to the shop in order to help himself to a fizzy drink from their fridge, knowing full well he can have half of it drunk before a responsible adult arrives to pay for it on his behalf.

The dentist might even own an attractive pink frilly apron of his own that he can wear in a desperate bolt down the road after a fleeing HC, having seen him absconding whilst deep in evening meal preparation. At least he’ll look nice when a stranger’s car pulls up and they say “Jump in the back! We’ve seen him! We’ll catch him up!” He’ll probably also attract a much more bemused look from the toddler strapped into the child seat in the back than I did.

And herein lies the problem – it’s so much easier to give in. I know a young man who will only eat hot chips, chicken nuggets and white bread. The explosion of behaviour that occurs when he is presented with healthier alternatives is pretty terrifying to witness. Imagine for a moment a single parent trying to get five kids fed in some semblance of peace. The last thing he or she wants is to have to negotiate a gigantic meltdown at dinnertime. Much easier to just give her son nuggets. At least the other kids can finish their dinner in peace.

So it’s not really surprising that many people with disabilities have terrible diets, and I find it really hard to point the finger at exhausted parents and caregivers. What is the answer? I saw a wonderful group of barbers in the UK on Facebook today. They give over Sundays in their salon exclusively to haircuts for autistic people, and they have developed some really flexible strategies. One hairdresser was pictured lying full length on the floor trimming a boy’s hair because he was stretched out on the ground too.

Perhaps an association of Kamikaze nutritionists with riot shields and protective headgear could closet themselves in a kind of food-rehab room with the client and an array of healthy foods? They do say it only takes 3 weeks for a new habit to form, although I have seen Happy Chin refuse food for an entire week when we were in the US because it was all unfamiliar to him, and I’ve heard of people refusing food for much longer. However, one professional told me not to worry, as it takes a human being around 56 days to starve to death. So that was a comfort.

So I guess the best advice is just to do what so many of us already do – grate zucchini into the spaghetti bolognese and hope for the best!