Chin Up!


Chin up everyone! 2016 wasn’t so bad.

Of course, there were some very sad losses. Mr August is still getting over the death of David Bowie. In fact, if you come across any conspiracy theories suggesting The Thin White Duke is in fact still alive and working deep undercover for MI6 in their Fashion Crimes Department, please send them on. That would cheer Mr A up enormously.

Celebrity deaths do spark worldwide mourning on a large scale (witness the explosion of purple on Prince’s untimely death), but many ordinary folk lost family and they lost them young. Old friends lost their healthy 42 year old son, out for a run, as was his wont. He suffered a massive heart attack and died, leaving behind a wife and young children. A family in the local school community lost their 19 year old to suicide. On Christmas Eve, I received a phone call from the Front Desk at my work. A father had phoned to cancel the Christmas Lunch booking. His daughter had died the day before. My colleague asked would I authorise a refund on the non-refundable Christmas lunch tickets? Yes, of course I would. The father hadn’t asked for this, he was simply being courteous and cancelling their seats so some other family could go along. My heart went out to him and his family, their Christmases will never be the same again.

So I was determined not to let the usual Christmas stresses get me down. With Happy Chin home for a couple of weeks over the holidays, excitement was high. Surprisingly, the tree remained intact for the duration, Happy Chin having grown out of his habit of pulling bits off it and trailing around the house with them, blinking lights still attached.

Also a pleasant surprise was his behaviour around presents. He sat on his chair and waited beautifully for his turn. His brothers kindly allowed him to ‘help’ them unwrap a few of their presents, and the first gift he unwrapped – you guessed it, blue headphones – went down very well.

With Santa watching, behaviour had been pretty good on the whole. I even thought the ripping pages out of books phase had passed but sadly, on Boxing Day, with Santa having hung up his binoculars for the year, it resurfaced, resulting in the destruction of Mr August’s signed copy of Tasmania’s Treasures. High drama followed, and a ban of treats was imposed for the rest of the day. However, exercise still needed to be had, so Happy Chin and I went down to the beach for a walk. What could possibly go wrong? I’ll tell you – a man sitting on a bench with a can of Coke by his side, that’s what. Happy Chin lunged for the can, I intervened, and now have some lovely multi-coloured bruises on my arms. They go with nicely with the new top I got for Christmas actually. Poor chap! I don’t think he’d ever seen an adult man trying to gnaw off his mother’s arm in public before. He reached for his mobile phone (no doubt to call the police) whilst I advised him strongly to walk in the opposite direction – fast. With my best headmistress voice on, I then managed to convince Happy Chin to retrieve his kite and towel and marched him down the path to the beach, murmuring ‘sorry’ at the man over my shoulder. Really, what was I sorry for? It wasn’t my fault. People shouldn’t be allowed to sit in public places with Coca Cola. When I’m in charge there’ll be some pretty swift legislation to address this problem!

You’ll be pleased to hear that Happy Chin then settled down, put his chin back on and has been enjoying his holidays, as we have been enjoying his company. The latest endearing habit he’s acquired is the multiple costume change, Diana Ross style, in which the contents of his chest of drawers are emptied onto the floor in the search for the desired piece of attire. He also raids Mr A’s clothing, emerging last night with a jumper and beanie on (it was 29 degrees). Then he proceeded to the coat cupboard and tried on all the coats, including my black work jackets (size 10, a touch snug on a six foot fellow, but he was determined!)

I don’t really mind this new habit. There’s a lot of tidying involved, which would be inconvenient at any other time of year, but we are on holidays and there is time. We can also engage in a little learning as we go, discussing which colour T shirt he wants, and doing some sorting practise putting away clothes into the relevant drawers. When you’ve spent so many years trying to find some activity you and your child can share, even folding clothes becomes enjoyable.

Another great cognitive result is that he seems to have discovered how to play with toys. He found his old Mr Potato Head in the shed and spent a happy half hour putting it together in various Daliesque configurations. He also expressed an interest in the Lamington’s fishing rod and was very happy when he received one of his own for Christmas.

This year some new carers were introduced to Happy Chin, a few of them young men around his own age. He really enjoys their company, and has quite the Bromance going on with one of them, a young man who loves his job and finds the work much more fulfilling than working in a bar! One of the new carers has horses and Happy Chin is learning to groom, feed and care for them, another great interest. These young people have an energy that’s inspiring, and they are not afraid of Happy Chin. They fearlessly take him out to places where older hands (like myself) wouldn’t dare to venture. Sure, there have been hiccups, such as the recent decision by Happy Chin to shed all of his clothes on a bushwalk and refuse to put them back on. Another lowlight was the hurling of the house coffee machine against a wall. We swiftly went out and bought another. I mean, you can’t have a child who sleeps as little as HC sabotaging the only means of sanity at the carers’ disposal, can you?

Meanwhile, Tech Support has moved out of the parental home, exchanging one sort of chaos for another – he’s moved in with three other bartenders. It was time for him to go. He needed to get out into the world on his own and learn that other people can be just as annoying to live with as his family. In spite of numerous predictions that he would be back regularly for food and laundry services, he is rather cagey about his availability and can only rarely be tempted with lasagne, although curry does seem to make him appear magically, usually with a friend in tow. If I want to have a conversation with him these days, I have to go into the rather stylish bar where he works and buy a drink. It’s awful. Honestly, the things you do for your kids!

The Lamington is carving out a niche for himself by quietly getting on with his art. This year’s Christmas presents from him were carved, sculpted or hand stitched from leather and were a real treat to receive. He is off to Steiner School next year which is a very exciting development for him, especially as they offer Parkour on the curriculum (sorry, it’s Free Running, as the Lamington is apt to remind me, rolling his eyes).

And for myself, I am just happy to have made it safely through another Christmas. As I barrelled down a corridor at work last week, I failed to notice a colleague greeting me. I turned to apologise, telling him that I was ‘in my own world.’ He remarked that it sounded like a nice place to be. How wrong he was, I explained, it’s a place full of panicked last minute Christmas lists and clients who absolutely must have their quote/proposal/contract by the 23rd December, you wouldn’t like it one bit. I had gotten to the stage where all I wanted was a quiet room and a stack of dinner plates to hurl against the wall.

In fact, I’m thinking of setting up a travel agency specialising in sensory deprivation travel for working women. Frantic, Broke & Associates – we’ll find the cupboard you’ve always dreamed of crawling into! Forget the day spa – give me a mini break in a padded room with a custom made jacket with long arms. The red pill or the blue pill? Hell, just give me both! With any luck I’ll wake up on Boxing Day in time for the cricket to start.


How to tell if you’re ready

Liam newborn.jpg

A few years ago there was a fun piece doing the online rounds about how to tell if you’re ready to be a parent. It was full of amusing advice such as, ‘Go to the chemist. Hand the pharmacist your wallet and tell her to help herself,’ and ‘Buy a live octopus and a string bag. Attempt to get the octopus into the bag without any bits hanging out. You are now ready to dress a toddler.’

It got me wondering about how to tell you’re ready to parent a child with disability.

Granted, most of us don’t start out with this in mind. But then, I think we’d all agree that no one starts out on the parenting journey with a particularly realistic picture of what it will really be like. You can blame the Huggies ads for this if you like, but I think as a race we tend towards optimism, which has probably been important to our success as a species (although I’m afraid I can’t back this up with science as I paid insufficient attention during biology class at school).

But in the spirit of optimism, with a healthy dose of realism and (hopefully) humour, here are a few of my tips to get you ready to be the parent of a child with disability:

  • Forms: Pop down to Centrelink, or the Tax Office and get as many forms as you can (at least 45 pages worth is ideal). Take them home. Switch the TV on to the kids channel and turn the volume up to high. Sit down to complete the forms. You have 20 minutes – go!
  • Hospitals: Go to your local hospital. Find a doctor. Sit in her office and tell her your child’s entire medical history, including every medication they have ever taken, and the doses. Leave the office. Find another doctor and repeat the process. Continue until you have seen at least 12 doctors.
  • Out in public: Visit your local shopping mall. Wear only your underwear and a fluorescent orange clown wig. Ignore the stares of other shoppers. Complete at least one purchase without breaking anything you will then have to pay for. You are now ready to take your child to the shops.
  • Groceries: Go to the supermarket and ask to see the manager. Ask him to remove all of the products on the bottom 2 shelves, turn off the in store music and have all of the other customers leave. Now you’re ready to take you child supermarket shopping.
  • Laundry: Put every item of clothing and linen you own on the floor of the laundry. Put three loads of washing on before you leave the house. Go to work. Return home and put 5 more loads of washing on before bedtime. Repeat daily for 18 years.
  • Dinner: You will need a friend to help with this step. Prepare a nutritious meal. Serve the meal and sit at the table. Eat your own meal whilst pleading, at 3 minute intervals, for the friend to sit down and eat their dinner. After 15 minutes, have the friend sit down, take a forkful of food and sniff it. Then have the friend throw their plate on the floor and walk away. Retrieve plate and call the dog over to eat the dinner. After 20 more minutes, have the friend return and say ‘Ice cream’ repeatedly for an hour and a half. Give the friend ice cream. Pour yourself a large glass of wine.
  • Décor: Find someone whose house is messier than yours. Make them your best friend. Visit often.
  • Sleep: Get a second job in a nightclub. Drink coffee all day to keep awake long enough to go to work at night. Spend the night serving people and wiping up their mess. Finish work at 3AM. Go home and lie in bed waiting for the coffee to wear off. Get up and go to your day job. Drink more coffee. Repeat process until you forget you ever needed sleep anyway.
  • Stuff: Visit the homewares store and buy a dozen expensive glasses. Take them home and break one every two days. Return to the homewares store and purchase a dozen slightly less expensive glasses. Repeat the breakage process. Go back to the store and buy a dozen cheap glasses, take them home and break one a week until there is one glass left. Push it to the back of the cupboard with the other surviving bits of random glassware. Drink out of jam jars for the next 10 years.
  • Car travel: You’ll need a friend’s help with this step too. Learn the words to one Wiggles song. Get in the car at peak hour. Ask your friend to sit behind you. Give them a basket full of toys, preferably made of hard plastic. Drive for an hour, while singing the Wiggles song. Have the friend pull your hair and throw a toy into the front seat every 5 minutes. Retrieve the toy and throw it back each time while still negotiating traffic. When you pass a McDonald’s, have the friend attempt to exit the car. Grab the friend’s arm and hold onto it for the remainder of the journey. When you arrive at your destination, reverse park the car while still hanging onto your friend’s arm. Don’t forget to keep singing the song.
  • Frustration tolerance: Remove one piece from all of your jigsaw puzzles and rip the final page out of every book you own. Buy a cheap electric keyboard and glue down the G key. Leave the keyboard switched on from 5.30AM to 10.30PM each day. Take the battery cover off the back of every remote control in the house and throw away. Remove the batteries and push them under the couch. Scratch or chip every coffee mug you own (except the ugly brown one you got in the work Secret Santa in 2003).
  • Holidays: Find a house less than 2 hours’ drive away that isn’t near any shops, cliffs, deep water or neighbours with barking dogs or motorbikes. Make sure it is completely fenced in and has a working DVD player and melamine crockery. Book a holiday there every summer for the next 18 years.
  • Personal grooming: Make an appointment at the hairdresser for a full colour, style cut and blowdry. Ring all of your relatives to find someone able to babysit for three hours. Find someone who can babysit for 30 minutes. Drive at unsafe speeds to the salon. Ask the hairdresser to just give the ends a quick trim. Look through the Home Beautiful magazines and laugh like a maniac. Thank the hairdresser and tell them you’ll see them again in 12 months.

So hopefully that is all helpful as you embark on your journey. Obviously, there’s not the space here to cover everything you’ll need. I haven’t mentioned resilience, patience, hope and love. Your child will teach you these.