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!