DIY Love – An Unexpected Journey

Do Not Open


Life’s full of surprises, isn’t it? I mean, who can predict what will happen to you? It seems like only the other day we were toilet training, and now we’re teaching a grown man to masturbate. Who’d have thunk it?

Actually, we really should have thunk it. It stands to reason that since we had to painstakingly teach every other skill, this one should be no exception. It just isn’t something I ever saw myself doing.

But sorry, I do apologise, you’re probably still scraping your jaw off the floor. I didn’t mean to startle you. Let me give you a bit of background. If you’re not up for that, you can always close your browser now and come back next instalment where I’ll address a slightly less controversial topic (maybe).

Right, are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin.

We probably all agree that the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure is a wonderful gift and one that shouldn’t be denied to anyone. It’s a basic human need. People with disabilities have as much right to explore their own sexuality as everyone else.

As our Happy Chin grew into a man, Mr August and I discussed what sex would look like for him. Although we’d have loved to be able to imagine a future with someone special in his life, we didn’t really think in the short term that he would develop cognitively to a level where he could manage the complexities of an intimate relationship with another, or that this was even something he would want.

We knew that this might change in the future, but we had more pressing concerns in the here and now. Sexual release was more important for our young man than pipe dreams. And therein lay the problem – Happy Chin is only able to achieve limited sexual pleasure by rocking on the floor on his stomach. This feels nice to him but doesn’t get the job done. Very frustrating for him, and probably an additional source of behaviour problems (like we really need anymore of those!)

Why not turn to a professional? We discussed the possibility of using sex workers fairly early on. But it seemed a huge step to take given that we had no idea whether our boy wanted to be touched. How could we assume that what would feel nice to us wouldn’t feel invasive or unwanted to him? I had the opportunity to explain this to a professional at a recent disability conference. She assured me that a trained sex worker could instruct rather than participate, but we felt that this might be a bit too much as a first step.

Maybe it was better to start with the basics, we reasoned. It made sense developmentally. I mean, you gotta crawl before you can walk, right? A teenaged boy needs to know how to masturbate.

Right, so. We’ll teach him.


A quick scan of the library shelves ruled out the possibility of a book on the subject. So we’ll make a book! At the time, HC was doing the So Safe program and we were teaching public and private behaviour, so a social story was produced about when and where it was OK to touch yourself, featuring Boardmaker illustrations (who knew they had an erect penis one?) and it proved highly effective. That is, it proved highly effective at teaching Happy Chin to shut the bedroom door. Unfortunately it didn’t provide any actual instructions on what to do once the bedroom door was shut.

Next step, DVDs. Now, before you think we were downloading porn for our teenage son, let me tell you about a film called Hand Made Love. Yes, really. It’s a helpful US production that features a male actor demonstrating how to masturbate to ejaculation (it also features some homo erotic pencil drawings of naked men with a tasteful acoustic guitar soundtrack at the beginning, which really added to the awkwardness of my viewing experience, but hey-ho). Family Planning had a copy they were willing to loan us. Hopefully if Mr A or a male carer watched it with HC he would get the idea.

So the DVD duly arrived in a plain brown envelope, which sat on our kitchen bench for a week. No one had had the time, opportunity or, let’s face it, inclination to watch it. It’s Friday night, what shall we watch to go with our takeaway pizza? I know! Yeah….no.

Then one day HC and I happened to be tidying his room. Since we were both there and the house was quiet I thought, why not? It might as well be me. So I opened the envelope. An extremely good looking shirtless man was on the front cover. Awkward! This was going to be even creepier than I thought. I was quite willing to woman up and watch a man masturbate, but a hot young man? With my son sitting right next to me? This was getting into a level of wrongness I was struggling to cope with.

This is not about you, this is not about you, I repeated to myself as I slid the DVD into the player.

Well, luckily it turned out to be a different guy. A perfectly normal looking, ordinary guy who helpfully explained (and demonstrated) the entire process. It was very well made, taking care to point out the importance of being private, of feeling safe, of pleasure as a positive and natural thing. The tone was soothing and educational without being voyeurish.

And what did Happy Chin think of it? He couldn’t have been less interested. All he wanted to do was put his shoes on and go in the car.

Of course, I may have put him off a bit by making comments like:

‘Oh look, he’s using a magazine, you could do that’ while handing him a copy of Vogue.

And, ‘See how he’s cleaning himself up after, you could use your tissue box right here for that.’

And so on.

Dad duly had his turn and one of the male carers also volunteered, but no luck.

Unsurprising really, HC just doesn’t learn by watching others. We know that. He needs step by step instruction, preferably with visual aids. Expecting him to learn to masturbate by watching an actor doing it would be like expecting me to be able to fly a plane after watching a Tom Hanks movie.

So, back to the social story. All we needed to do, we reasoned, was make a social story with actual pictures demonstrating in great detail exactly what to do (Boardmaker images not being anatomical enough for the purpose). So our Coordinator of Supports, who is an absolute godsend when it comes to social stories, went on an internet search for said images, much to the amusement of her co-workers (work tip – don’t get onto Google images and type in ‘erect penis.’ Apparently her strangled cries caused her colleagues to think she was having a heart attack.)

Across town in my office, I received emails from her asking me what I thought of the attached images. Well, thank god for firewalls is all I can say. Really hope my work IT department don’t decide to have a close look at my browser history anytime soon.

The social story idea was beginning to feel like a bad one. You can’t really ask people to go trawling through porn on your child’s behalf. Plus, what if the pictures we chose didn’t look anything like HC? I mean, they come in all shapes and sizes, don’t they? Would it even really matter? So many questions you can’t ask your mother!

So technology to the rescue again! Apparently there is a shower device you can buy which fits around the object in question and….well, I don’t actually know what it does. I assume it’s a kind of male vibrator. I couldn’t open the link because I was at work. I have no idea how expensive it is, which should lead to a very interesting conversation with the NDIS. Followed by another interesting conversation in which I ask if there’s any funding for a larger hot water system to be installed at HC’s home, seeing as how we know where he’ll be spending all of his time.

Seriously wonder if they make a hot water heater with that kind of capacity. Should lead to another interesting conversation with Rheem.


What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Liam Mum boat

The day had started so promisingly.

Happy Chin was content to be going back to his house, looking forward to seeing his favourite carers again after a 3 week Christmas break, and pleased that we were stopping on the way to pick up his iPad (screen cracked…again!)

I was happy to be going to work and have a break from the caring role for a bit, after nearly 3 weeks of relentless Christmas craziness. We got in the car and rocked into town listening to Triple J, found a car park not far from the iPad shop and sallied forth.

Five minutes to nine – shop shut. Never mind, said I, let’s pop along to Target, you need new socks don’t you?

‘Socks!’ replied a delighted Happy Chin, who just loves socks.

Naturally we couldn’t get through the Target checkout without acquiring a small bottle of coke at 9 o’clock in the morning, but hey-ho, at least he’d had breakfast and brushed his teeth. I never said I was a good parent.

So far, so good. Now it was off to the iPad repair store where we fronted optimistically up to the counter to collect the device.

What could possibly go wrong at this point?

‘Um, just give us a minute to find it,’ said the man.

So we gave him a minute. In fact, we gave him fifteen. By minute 12, all 3 shop assistants were searching fruitlessly for the iPad. HC was entertaining himself by pacing about the shop, the coke in his bottle rapidly diminishing. My heart was sinking at roughly the same rate as the coke level.

‘Can you come back?’ enquired Shop Guy 1.

‘No, you stupid man,’ I replied, ‘we had a very short window to accomplish this errand, a window which is rapidly closing. Any minute this young man will want another coke, I don’t have one, he’ll probably run out of the shop onto Collins Street and I’ll have to chase him. Added to that, I’ve been telling him all morning he’s getting his iPad back, and I’ll have to take him to Kingston without it and he and his carers will endure a week of hell. And I am now late for work thanks to you – get your act together!’

I didn’t actually say all of this, I only thought it.

What I did do was politely explain why we needed the iPad urgently, suggest they loan us one until ours could be found and when that suggestion was rejected, agree to pay for the iPad repair and they could courier it to HC’s house.

At this point my card declined. No worries, I said, I’ll just quickly transfer money from the joint account. Using my mobile phone. Which I’d left in the car. No worries, I said, I’ll just nip along to the bank.

I grabbed Happy Chin by the hand and exited the shop. He was confused by this sudden change in schedule – no iPad, Mum visibly tense – and I sensed his agitation, poor young man. So I abandoned the entire mission, opting to get him to his home and sort the whole mess out by phone later.

We arrived at the car to find a parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wiper. A $130 repair job was now going to cost us $170. Talk about the hidden costs of disability!

Throwing the ticket in the centre console with the broken CDs, random coke lids and crusts of HC’s morning toast, I gunned it to Kingston, cursing all the way.

So it was no surprise after arriving 40 minutes late to work and proceeding with shaking hand directly to the office coffee machine, that I would drop the milk frothing jug, drenching myself, the office fridge and two square metres of carpet in milk.

I literally stood there for about a minute. My co-workers jumped up to help, no doubt thinking ‘Why is she just standing there? Why doesn’t she clean it up?’

I was pondering the injustice of life, that’s why!

Lately I’ve found myself pondering the injustices that affect the lives of people with disability and those caring for them every day. At a recent dinner I was chatting with a group of parents about bits of paper. You know, permission slips from school, parking tickets, rates notices, that kind of thing. The sort of paper that our children all seem to love picking up and carting about with them, gnawing on them, taking them to bed and weeing on them or simply dropping them in some random place where everyone forgets about them. Until that letter from Department of Transport comes 3 weeks later announcing that you now owe twice the amount of the original fine for not paying on time. It’s really not very fair, but you try explaining to the Department of Transport that your autistic child ate your parking fine. It’s not going to work, is it?

We always miss footy colours day at school because Happy Chin has carted off the notice from school, the Lamington and Tech Support returning home to complain about missing out on the sausage sizzle because they didn’t have $2.

And what’s with the forms? You can see from the above anecdotes that giving us bits of paper is a Very Bad Idea, so how come we get twice as many bits of paper to fill out as every other person on the planet (by ‘we’ I mean the parents and carers of people with disability in general, not just our family)? We’re also some of the most time-poor people on the planet, why are you giving us a 29 page form the week after we just filled out (or lost) the last 29 page form you sent? How is this fair?

Don’t even get me started on home repairs. Regular readers will know we are very friendly with our local glazier, electrician and computer store and will soon embark on an intense and probably life-long relationship with a NEW iPad repair store. However, we are financially much less well equipped to cope with funding these lovely people’s overseas holidays, due to a lifetime of part time and casual work, turning down promotions and having to take unpaid leave because we’ve used up all our sick leave on the times respite called us to come and collect our child (again).

And why is it that the people who are most afraid of hospitals (i.e. our children) get to spend the most time in them?

I do realise that these are not all problems with solutions, they are just The Way Things Are and probably complaining about them is not doing any good and I would be better off using my energy doing something more useful, like making dinner, but I’m on a roll so you’ll just have to bear with me. Or, you know, log off and go make dinner yourself. I mean whatever.

But The Way Things Are is so unfair and really sucks and mostly no one knows just how sucky it is for us. Even the little things are incredibly hard to do. It’s so tiring to have to plan every shopping trip like the Dunkirk evacuation, and for 22 years! To have to walk around shopping malls casing every risk, scanning every shopper for a trolley with coke in it, like a secret service agent on the alert for the moment you’ll have ‘remove the principal.’

So, now that I’ve had a rant, here are my suggestions:

  • iPad repairs should be government subsidised and technicians available to make house calls.
  • A central register for discarded or donated iPads and other technology should be set up so people could purchase used iPads and other devices cheaply or for free.
  • Parking fines should be discounted for people with disability, and instead of parking tickets we should receive SMS reminders to our mobile phones when we receive a ticket and again a few days before payment is due. People with disability and their carers should have overdue fees waived.
  • Forms should all be online, no paper. And maximum of 2 pages.
  • For home repairs, I have a vision of a charity organisation that recruits retired plumbers, electricians and general handy people on a volunteer basis to pop round and effect basic repairs. I’d be happy to provide a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit.
  • Hospitals – we need multi-disciplinary units in existing hospitals specifically for people with disability, with trained workers and specialists, and these should include crisis response teams for when things go badly wrong and endanger carers, family members and the person themselves.
  • And lastly, while we’re at it, let’s give every carer a weekend away once a year with a bottle of wine and a massage thrown in!

Thanks for listening.

Oh, and the iPad was found 15 minutes after we left, picked up by Mr August and driven down to Kingston by him. They kindly gave us a $30 discount, so the parking fine only cost $10 – or $70 by the time we get the late notice.

Famous Last Words



Whilst scrubbing the toilet last week I had an epiphany. A question popped into my mind.

“What if I just don’t do this?”

I hate housework, there’s almost anything I’d rather be doing than cleaning. Who on earth would be harmed by my choice to simply not clean the toilet that weekend?

Then suddenly, unbidden, came this random thought.

“But what if I had a sudden accident, was taken to hospital and my mother-in-law had to come round to look after the kids? I’d be lying in intensive care worrying that the downstairs loo was dirty!”

Being an introspective person, I naturally paused, toilet brush in hand, to unpack this thought. First I searched my memory to find out whether this was actually the stupidest thought I’d ever had. The search turned up the expected result – this was definitely in the Top 3 Dumbest Thoughts of my life so far.

I mean, my mother-in-law really couldn’t care less in the circumstances. And I’d be busy fighting for my life, so probably wouldn’t have time to think it anyway. I guess I just wanted her to have a nice place to do her business, seeing as she’d taken the trouble of rushing round to mind my kids whilst I suffered a fictional calamity.

The next mental task was to admonish myself for being such a pathetic, bourgeois slave to mere housework. What kind of feminist was I to be worrying about what my mother-in-law thought of my toilet? I deserved to be taken out into the public square and beaten by Germaine Greer with a Hoover Dual Steam Plus Mop, which I secretly covet but am waiting to receive as a gift, preferably from my husband, so I can hit him with it before having a sublime appliance experience.

For yes, I am a sucker for an expensive appliance! What will you think of me? I may have read The Female Eunuch and The Women’s Room at university, but spent my adolescence in thrall to Little Women and the glories of Meg’s linen cupboard. I did think she was a bit of a ninny though, for crying over the jelly that wouldn’t set. Jo would never have cried. She’d have chucked the jelly in the bin and served tinned fruit.

But I digress. Back to the toilet.

By this stage, I’d put down the toilet brush and proceeded to other important issues. What if the last thoughts I ever had in this life were about the state of our downstairs lav?

Picture the scene: the family gathered about my deathbed, tears flowing, heads bowed, when suddenly I mumble something.

“Nurse, quick! Take out the tube, she’s trying to say something!”

“Someone…” I whisper, “someone…please…scrub…the downstairs loo…before the wake.”

It’s not really what you want to be remembered for, is it? Humphrey Bogart’s last words were so much better.

“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis,” he apparently said.

Another favourite of mine is Margaret Sanger, an American pioneer of birth control in the early twentieth century, whose last words were, “A party! Let’s have a party!” I’d love to have met her, she sounds like a hoot.

I suppose much depends on how long you actually have to die. If it’s in a car crash, or of a sudden heart attack, or a suicide bomber, you’d probably only have time to think “Oh shit!”

With people these days planning their own funerals, perhaps writing your own last words in advance might be a good idea. That way if you feel yourself starting to die, you can simply say, please hand me that piece of paper. No, not that one, that’s the shopping list (definitely don’t want my last words to be ‘milk, bread, coffee, dog food, domestos…’)

Assuming I don’t succumb to dementia in my old age, in which case I probably won’t care what my last words are, I guess they’ll probably be something along the lines of “Take care of your brother, make sure he has everything he needs. There’s a list of the banking details in the top drawer of my desk along with my will. Divide my jewellery up between your wives and give my steam mop to charity. Pop round and see your father at least once a week and make sure he’s taking his multi vitamins, is eating at least one meal a day and isn’t letting the dog up on the couch. I’m proud of you all and I know you will be OK. I love you.”

It’s a bit long though. If I don’t have time to get it all out, guess I’ll just say the last three words. Hopefully my family will actually be in the room at the time. Could be a bit awkward if I die just as the cleaner pops in to give the toilet the once over!

The Willy Monster

Regular readers may remember my piece on absconding (‘Unplanned Leaving,’ January 2016) and might have noticed a lack of recent anecdotes about Happy Chin’s tendency to disappear at speed. Perhaps the behaviour simply disappeared, like Barack Obama?

I’m afraid that instead, the behaviour temporarily disappeared, only to emerge later just when we thought it had gone for good, like Tony Abbott.

So it was with some surprise that we fielded a phone call on a Friday evening around wine o’clock informing us that our eldest son had been arrested. To be honest, if any of our sons was likely to get into trouble with the police, it’d be Tech Support I’d have my money on, especially after his recent move into a share house with three other bartenders. Drunk and disorderly maybe, or causing a public nuisance with his rap music.

Happy Chin, however, had managed not one, not two, but four misdemeanours. Let me elaborate on his crime spree for you.

He’d been at his home with his carer, happily listening to music and rocking away on his swing seat on the front porch. The carer ducked inside to gather some folding and when she returned moments later, HC was nowhere to be found. She quickly checked the perimeter of the property and when he wasn’t located, raced inside and phoned in a missing person alert with the local police.

Meanwhile, down the road, an elderly man (aged 90) received a knock at his door. He opened the door to Happy Chin (Trespassing) who promptly pushed past into the house (Unlawful Entry), wandered into the living room, sat down on the floor and started going through the man’s DVD collection.

The poor gentleman, unable to persuade HC to leave simply by asking him, phoned the police. A description of a tall autistic boy with headphones gone missing in the local area, followed by a call reporting a home invasion by a tall autistic boy with headphones  didn’t exactly stretch the mental resources of the local police, who arrived 5 minutes later.

Entering the living room, they greeted HC by his name and told him it was time to go home.

“Noooooo!” he shouted, unsurprisingly.

After several unsuccessful attempts to use reason, the police took hold of an arm each and hauled HC out to the waiting police car (Resisting Arrest). HC took the opportunity to add a final misdemeanour to his charge sheet by biting and kicking the coppers in the process (Assaulting a Police Officer).

As with all of Happy Chin’s previous episodes of absconding, it all could have ended so much worse. The elderly gentleman declined to press charges, HC was returned safely home and so far has not returned to the scene of the crime (although the carer had to return next day, embarrassingly, to retrieve HC’s headphones which had been dislodged in the struggle).

We now have a closer relationship with Kingston police than previously, and a very healthy respect for their patience and compassion. The Senior Constable assured us it was all in a day’s work for them. Obviously the use of force to remove HC was not ideal, but the police are not trained disability workers and can’t be expected to stand there negotiating because they’re not allowed to use restrictive practices and hoping that an offer of Soda Stream or Bob the Builder will do the trick.

I often wish I was big and strong enough to just pick HC up and remove him from a situation. It was easy enough to do when he was little. Tantrum in the supermarket? No problem, simply grab child, abandon groceries and bolt to the car.

Now he’s a grown man, those who are involved in caring for him have had to develop some pretty specialised skills in the case of emergency. Take the problem of ‘nuding up’ on a recent bushwalk. Happy Chin was accompanied by a young male carer who was new to the team. He was faced with the not insignificant problem of an adult male charge determined to take the term ‘nature walk’ to its logical conclusion. Knowing the walking track was popular and he was very likely to encounter fellow walkers whose definition of experiencing nature somewhat differed from Happy Chin’s, the carer devised the only strategy he could think of at short notice. He invented the Willy Monster.

I’d never heard of the Willy Monster. Apparently he lives in the wild and eats willies. So you obviously have to be very careful if you’re out in the bush and you possess a willy. Wandering fully naked along a track in broad daylight is just tempting fate.

When I heard about the Willy Monster, I was appalled, amused and impressed (all at the same time). Appalled because it’s obviously wrong and totally inappropriate, amused because let’s face it, it’s really funny, and impressed because it showed amazing initiative from a young carer faced with a potentially disastrous situation for his client. Talk about thinking on your feet! I mean, he got the desired result. HC put his clothes back on, no one reported him for indecent exposure (his charge sheet was already long enough for god’s sake!) and they had a successful outing.

Although the Willy Monster may represent a serious setback in our attempts to get HC to do a ‘nature wee’ when out and about (I mean, who wants to dangle their equipment in the vicinity of a potential knob nibbler?), the strategy has never had to be used again and our young man is not waking up with nightmares, clutching his genitals.

So all in all it was a win and certainly no more improbable or frightening than a fairy who comes at night and absconds with your molars, a random dude who drops a bag of sand on your head just as you’re nodding off or a fat guy in a red suit breaking into your house at Christmas time.

Holy Sheet

I wonder what I’d have thought if told in 1997 that my baby son would be obsessed with Manchester when he was 22?

Probably, ‘Excellent, I’ll hang on to my New Order records!’

Turns out it’s manchester, not Manchester.

The current obsessive items Happy Chin drags around wherever he goes are a motley collection of sheets, doonas and pillowslips. I would have preferred New Order records, really. So much more portable.

Primary colours are favoured, and his beloved teddy bear linen of course. As we lost the matching bear pillowslip a long time ago, he simply brought me a permanent marker and a plain white pillowslip and demanded ‘Draw!’ He now has a bear pillow, albeit one with a slightly deranged looking bear on it. It’s fair to say that I’m not the artist in the family.

He’s also enjoying the activity of laying sheets over his bed and neatly smoothing out the corners. He has so many layers on it’s getting a bit Princess and the Pea in his room, and since he still enjoys his midnight snacks of leftovers, we’re using real peas!

Still, it’s a harmless enough activity, and hardly to be discouraged. Making his bed is good, right?

Take books – always a must have accessory, but bang on trend right now according to Happy Chin. Turns out the subject of the book doesn’t matter in the slightest, it’s the jacket colour scheme that’s the key. If it’s black and red, it’s worth a read, or at least a trip in the car to his house. I really don’t mind him taking our books to and from his place. I mean, he likes books! Who cares why he likes books? He just likes them, OK? Books are good.

So this morning when I dropped him off, he had a good collection going which included Roget’s Thesaurus, a German dictionary, Anna Karenina, Women in Love and Emma. I expect on Sunday morning I’ll be picking up a fluent German speaker with a wide English vocabulary who is well versed in 19th and 20th century romantic literature! Or not. I mean, whatever.

His vocabulary is steadily increasing, though. It seems every week when I go to pick him up he’s acquired a new word. Mr August taught him a new one recently, sitting on the toilet as HC pounded on the door.

‘Occupied!’ Mr A shouted, desperately trying to manage number 2’s while propping one leg against the door to prevent intrusion (who said special needs parenting doesn’t teach you cool new skills?)

Strangely, it worked. Happy Chin retreated, and shouted ‘Occupied’ at the top of his lungs for the next 2 weeks every time someone closed a door.

I made the mistake of telling him not to be a dickhead last week (yeah, I know, my bad, but it just slipped out) and he danced round the house for the next 3 days shouting ‘Dit Head.’ I’m only hoping his carers failed to understand what he was saying (I bet they didn’t).

He’s also learned about polite greeting when encountering strangers, and randomly bellows ‘Hello!’ at people when we’re out and about. It’s slightly alarming I imagine, out for your daily walk and being loudly greeted by a large bouncing individual with headphones and a doona cover, but the strangers mostly smile, so I guess it’s OK.

For years I’ve had a dream that he walks into the kitchen and says ‘Mummy, can I please have a Vegemite sandwich?’ I don’t know why I keep having this dream. Perhaps other parents dream their child is saying ‘I’d like to thank the Nobel Committee.’ When you have a child like Happy Chin, your ideas on what constitutes a Great Achievement are different, I guess.

Name That Stain



So Happy Chin has discovered red wine. Usually he drinks juice or water with his meal (our children favour apple and blackcurrant, quite a similar colour as red wine) but he suddenly decided what we were drinking looked interesting. Sure, we said, you can have a glass (he’s 22, after all), so he went ahead and poured a large glass for himself.

Now, we knew he was unlikely to drink it. HC favours sweeter flavours and this was a dry red. So we weren’t surprised when he chose instead to wander round the house with the full glass, finally abandoning it on the kitchen bench just before bedtime.

Cut to Wednesday evening. Mr August and I are standing in the kitchen. I gaze at the floor and sigh.

“I wish I could be bothered to clean that red wine stain off the floor.”

“Mmm” agrees Mr A. “And I wish I could be bothered to scrub that coffee stain off the ceiling.”

How the coffee stain got on the ceiling is another story, but Name That Stain is a game that’s been played in our house for…well, about 22 years actually.

I used to be the manager of a small hotel. I’d frequently be called to a room by housekeeping to stand around a bed or sofa and play Name That Stain. According to the domestic goddess book of cleaning tips borrowed from my mother-in-law, you need to know the nature of the stain before you can properly address yourself to its removal. Protein stains require application of enzyme cleaners, oil stains need dry cleaning fluid, blood requires cold water and red wine is best removed with dishwashing liquid and vinegar.

But of course, we hadn’t been involved at stain creation stage, so it was anyone’s guess. I mean we could hardly go asking guests, “what exactly were you doing??”

Is it lipstick? Could it be blood?

It looks like chocolate….but what if it’s not?

Smell it!

I’m not smelling it, you smell it!


And so on.

People who stay in hotels really don’t have a clue how often other people are in and out of their rooms. It’s a regular Grand Central bloody Station in there. Truly, from rom the moment you go out doing touristy things to the moment you return, it’s a cast of thousands in your room!

Firstly, housekeeping have to get in there to clean. That’s a given. Then there’s any number of random tradespeople called in to fix various things that may have gone wrong between check in and breakfast. They’re literally standing by to fix that dripping tap or wobbly shower head.

“Right, they’ve just gone out – in you go!”

2 minutes later…

“Shit, they’ve come back – out you get!”

If it’s magazine delivery day, I or one of my team might be in and out delivering brand new copies of Vogue or Harper’s to your room.

If housekeeping report a light globe out I might be perched up a ladder replacing it, replenishing your fresh flowers, or simply in there because you mentioned at breakfast you’d enjoyed the muesli and wouldn’t mind getting the recipe.

Let me reassure you at this point. We Are Not Interested In Your Things.

Staff at a reputable hotel do not go through the guests’ belongings. We like our jobs. We want to keep them. We have bills to pay. We are not looking under the bed for handcuffs. We do not have time. We have, at maximum, 3 or 4 hours to turn all the rooms over. Sometimes we only have the 45 minutes it takes for you to sit in the morning room and drink a cup of coffee.

We are simply interested in returning your room to the state in which you first entered it. Pristine, spotless, and giving the strong impression that no one has ever slept in it before, even though 867 people have. This is the great hotel illusion we all buy into when we check in. It’s a mutual agreement to suspend disbelief, like going to see a Marvel movie. I won’t tell you it’s all CGI and you won’t ask in case you find out.

In the meantime I wish I could magically CGI away the stains at our house, although they do have a kind of sentimental value. Look at that hot chocolate mark on the wall, I might point out to Mr A, I scrubbed and scrubbed but it never did come off. Remember that day? Wasn’t that the day you had to come home from work at 3PM because I was having a meltdown? And I threatened you with divorce if you didn’t bring wine with you?

In general, parents have a pretty good understanding of the basic range of stains they can expect on any given day. Poo, blood, vegemite, crayon, chocolate, jam, dirt, grass, to name but a few. I would argue though, that it’s only the parents of special needs children who are pleased to discover their child’s face covered in chocolate. It’s so much better than the alternative when it comes to brown stains!

As a parent of a child with Tuberous Sclerosis, blood is my specialty subject. Happy Chin’s angiofibromas (small blood vessels on the surface of his face) bleed easily and copiously when scratched or knocked, so pillowcases and T shirts are often cover with red stains. There’s sometimes a bit of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre moment when peeling back his covers of a morning, then I just sigh and reach for the laundry soaker. I wonder if Napisan would consider a sponsorship?

During the Flying Pasta Days (as previously described in this blog) I often found myself deciding whether to make creamy pasta (white pasta) or tomato pasta (red pasta) based on the potential level of difficulty involved in getting the stains out afterwards.

On the whole, I do wish I wanted a clean house. If I wanted one more, maybe I would do something about it. Instead I’m sat here writing this. It’s a legacy of a childhood spent hiding up a tree reading a book. If I disappear into a book, the world also magically disappears. It’s just a shame the stains don’t magically disappear while I am in the book.

I suppose I could outsource, but really we can’t afford a cleaner. Perhaps if this blog post goes viral….

So please feel free to like and share!

Trust Children to Succeed


It’s been a few months since I’ve had time to blog. We’ve been busier than Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.
So I have lots of news about our Happy Chin to share with you. Firstly, and most exciting of all, HC has a job!
We seriously doubted this day would ever come for him, and of course Mr August and I are super proud (as are the whole family). Happy Chin’s primary carer, a woman of action, approached a local garden supplies centre and was able to arrange for him to work one morning a week stacking wood for them.
Have I told you before how much HC loves stacking wood? Living in Tasmania, where it’s cold for much of the year, we have a wood heater and so chopping and stacking wood is an activity the whole family can enjoy (whether they like it or not!). Luckily, the Lamington likes to chop, having acquired an axe at a recent visit to the tip shop. He was so pleased with his $5 purchase that he kept it by his bed for a week, until I discovered it and ordered its removal to the garden shed on the grounds that people bearing cups of tea at 6AM don’t deserve to be dismembered as they pick their way through the rubble to deliver said tea safely to the bedside table.
Happy Chin loves to stack wood. Our theory is that heavy lifting is calming for him, as he won’t settle for just one log at a time but insists on carrying three or four. He also favours a particular time of day for this exercise (mid afternoon). He stands by the front door and says “Wood, wood!” until someone is available to supervise the carting of logs from the woodpile to the wood storage cupboard by the fireplace. This activity is not restricted to winter, in fact it has been taking place throughout summer. Even when the wood cupboard is full to bursting, HC still insists on carrying wood. So we use the simple expedient of having him empty the wood cupboard and take it all back outside and to stack on the wood pile. The following day the exercise is repeated in reverse, and so on. When a load of firewood arrives in the driveway, he is in log heaven.
So naturally, when the garden centre asked what type of work he could do, it was a no-brainer for his carer. For a long while, we had been thinking about Happy Chin’s talents. He likes to arrange things, so we thought perhaps stacking food parcels could be a good opportunity, but then we reflected on his love for food and a certain fizzy substance, and rejected that idea. Sorting surgical instruments was another thought, but his fine motor skills aren’t quite up to that yet. The advantage of the garden centre is that the wood pile is located well away from shops, main roads and people. He goes along with his carer and works for as long as he is able and interested. He isn’t actually paid by the garden centre, but we set some money aside from his personal spending which he receives after he’s finished, so we can help him understand the concept of working for money.
He is very proud and happy. He wakes each morning and says “Work, money.”
“No,” we say, “work is on Thursday. Three more sleeps!”
He has his own work gloves and work boots, and high visibility shirt. We are so pleased for him. And if I might just throw in a small plug – next time you need garden supplies, please consider the Leslievale Garden Centre. They are a wonderful bunch of humans, and their prices are pretty good too!
Happy Chin is displaying more maturity with every passing day. I have been interstate at a conference for the last few days, which has been great but worrying as the event fell on the days that Happy Chin comes to our house. It’s hard not to worry when you’re away from your kids. Not that Mr August can’t cope with any situation, just that when HC decides he’s in a ‘no’ frame of mind, two days can seem like a very long time. He is often unsettled if I am away (which doesn’t happen often) and will call for Mummy with the kind of persistence and energy that I wish Tech Support had applied towards his school work during Year 12 at high school.
Exciting news, though – he had a very happy weekend with his dad and didn’t ask for me once!
They went to the park to watch the soccer, walked the dog, cleaned the house….actually I’m making that last bit up. I don’t know if they cleaned the house or not as I’m writing this from the plane home. Thanks for indulging me in a bit of wishful thinking.
It was doubly sweet to see progress in him, because things seemed to be going backwards over the last couple of months. We were seeing a return to some old behaviours of concern, and unfortunately we’ve been through another 2 day support providers. Our young man was bored and under stimulated and let us know in no uncertain terms with unsafe and challenging behaviour. So we are in limbo yet again.
Back to the old drawing board! Really, we should be regular Da Vinci’s by now!!
Mr A couldn’t help but wryly comment, ‘for God’s sake, we’ve kept him safe for 22 years and they can’t even last 6 weeks!’
He’s right of course. We have kept him safe.
Except for the Great Bicycle Escape. And the vacation care escape. Yeah, I guess we should throw in the time he was arrested. Probably also that time he disappeared for an hour and was found on a neighbour’s lawn. And the time he put his fist through the window.
But apart from that….
And anyway, how safe is the average 22 year old man? He’s never had alcohol poisoning, never taken drugs (apart from anti convulsants, anti psychotics, the odd Panadol – oh and Valium of course). He’s not having unsafe sex. He’s not out in cars with god knows who driving at unsafe speeds. He’s been intensely supervised his entire life, never been robbed or mugged (thank goodness!) I don’t know many 22 year olds who’ve had as safe a life as Happy Chin has.
I’m reminded of the line in Finding Nemo where Marlin says, ‘I just don’t want anything to happen to him!’
Dory replies, ‘But then nothing would ever happen to him!’
When the boys were younger and we were at the park, it used to irritate me when other parents would call to their kids, ‘get down from there, you’ll fall!’ Why undermine their confidence like this? If they fall, they fall. They might have a scratched knee and a few bruises, but you can’t wrap kids in cotton wool all their lives.
Why is there this assumption that Happy Chin, when taken out, will always abscond or misbehave? There was a poster on the wall of his day care centre when he was small that said Trust Children to Succeed. Why aren’t we trusting him to succeed?