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.

We Will Survive


I apologise for the inactivity on the blog front of late. Full time work has been keeping me busy, as has turning 50 on the weekend.

Reaching a half century naturally gives rise to thoughts about what has been achieved so far and what remains to be done. There’s nothing focuses the mind as much as realising that you have already lived the greater part of your life. It leads you to think about the impact you can have in your remaining years, what you most want to do with them, and what good you can accomplish.

I always said when my kids were grown up I would try to help others who were bringing up children with disabilities. I’ve tried to do this by writing about my experiences. But I have never yet written about the Worst Years. It’s time I did.

I haven’t written about them yet partly because this blog is meant to be humorous. But mainly because I lacked the courage. I was ashamed to write about what happened to me.

Last month I went to a breakfast fundraiser supporting women affected by domestic violence. I met a woman who had grown children, a thriving career, who sat on several boards and who seemed to me the epitome of the successful professional woman. She confided that she had been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband of thirty years. He had on one occasion broken her arm.

She shared that she had never told anyone about this as she was ashamed. Ashamed that she, a competent, educated, capable woman would ever allow anyone to humiliate her in this way. What sort of message would it send if she told the wider world? How could she hold her head up?

In most cases, domestic violence is inflicted upon women by their partners. Very occasionally, men suffer at the hands of women. And then there is the violence children inflict upon their parents (usually the mother). This is a real phenomenon. The Australian newspaper last year reported that 2013 cases of abuse by children aged 10 – 17 years had been reported to police in the 5 years from 2009- 2014. Substance abuse, mental illness, alcohol all played a part. So did disability.

Family violence is a complex issue. Children learn from what they see at home. We know for a fact that children who witness domestic violence at home are far more likely to become perpetrators themselves. Happy Chin had a flatmate who used to lash out at him regularly and who came from a troubled family background where physical violence was a regular occurrence. Who could blame him? He was severely autistic, confused and also a really sweet young man to boot.

We had to remove Happy Chin from the situation of course, and we did.

But what of the parent whose child is the abuser? Women whose partners are abusive can leave. It is often very difficult to leave, especially where there are children to support and bills to pay. There may still be love in the relationship, almost certainly there is fear, and control. I do not for a moment suggest that escaping domestic violence is easy. But in my case, I could not leave my child. In fact, society dictated that I should love him, even as he was blacking my eyes and pulling out handfuls of my hair.

Right now, all across Australia, mothers are cowering in their kitchens as their disabled children throw punches, bite, kick and scratch. Fathers, too, are regularly subjected to biting and clawing as they try to engage in the simplest of daily routines like getting their child dressed for the day. Carers know this. Any disability worker knows this and will happily trade war stories and scars with me. Who knew that an 18 year old girl with cerebral palsy could crawl out of her wheelchair onto the floor and lie in wait to bite her mother as she walked through the living room door? This happened regularly to a woman I know.

Another family I know have a 6 year old who one weekend cost them $6,000. She threw all of the television sets in the house to the floor because the sequence of the various DVD’s she was watching on each set failed to synchronise exactly as she required. She is 6! Imagine what could happen when she is fully grown.

For around 3 years we lived in a complete state of siege. Life had always been challenging with our eldest boy, but when he hit 15 matters escalated sharply. He would put his fist through windows. He’d scratch and bite our arms regularly (I have multiple scars that will never heal). For 3 years, no one could sit at the dining table with their back to the door as he would refuse to come and eat and throw objects into the centre of the dinner table, smashing plates and glasses everywhere. If he did consent to eat he would, without any warning at all, suddenly fling his bowl or plate to the ground or across the room. We dined off plastic plates for 3 years.

One day, he went on an absolute rampage, again with no warning, hurling mugs and glasses around the kitchen. I grabbed the 2 younger boys and fled to the shed where we locked ourselves in. 20 minutes later I nervously returned to the house to find complete carnage, shattered glass everywhere and Happy Chin bleeding from his hand where he had punched yet another window. He would not allow me to treat it, so I spent the rest of the afternoon sweeping up broken glass and wiping spots of blood off the floor where he had dripped it. I think I cried for about 3 hours. The younger children were told to return to their rooms and lock their doors.

Our younger boys lived in a state of lock down for 3 years. We received 3 nights a fortnight of respite.  The boys became very withdrawn and the Lamington, with his mild autism, struggled a great deal socially and mentally. One day I found Tech Support lying in the foetal position under his desk sobbing his heart out. He would not tell me what was wrong (afterwards he told me that growing up, he hadn’t wanted to add to our anxiety, so kept his own struggles to himself).

Happy Chin was always sorry afterwards, but I grew to hate my own son. More than once I struck him. “I hate you!” I would shout, with my hands wrapped round his throat. I fantasised about placing a pillow over his head and pushing. Luckily I was always able to restrain myself, or at least to walk away. Even walking away was sometimes impossible, as I couldn’t leave the younger children unprotected. I knew how dangerous it was for me to remain in a room with a child I was ready to harm, but what could I do? What must it be like for someone without any support, a single parent living in an isolated place? Or someone struggling with mental illness themselves?

The violence in our family just grew. A violent response to violence is a hopeless way to proceed. We knew it. You can’t hope to teach a child not to hit if you are hitting the child. But we were pushed way beyond our limits so often. Happy Chin slept only a few hours a night. We took it in turns to sleep on the couch to ensure he didn’t wander into his brothers’ rooms and wake them as he wandered around the house. He frequently would not sleep at all. We were both holding down daytime jobs (just), struggling to bring income into the house, all the while paying for constant breakages.  Desperate, we sought a group home for Happy Chin. We were at the top of a priority waiting list for 18 months. One worker told me privately that if we were truly at the end of our tether, our best bet was to ‘dump him’ in respite, simply drop him off and never come back.

We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. We were so worried about our other boys, but we couldn’t abandon our child, however ambivalent our feelings towards him had become. We just soldiered on, I would wear long sleeves right through summer so no one could see the bleeding, use makeup to cover the bruises, smile and try to be brave. After all, what could I tell people? “My son blacked my eye. But you mustn’t condemn him, he has a disability and can’t help it.” I did eventually steel myself to confide in workmates, braving the appalled looks on their faces. I didn’t really want sympathy, I wanted to forget all about home and use work as my respite. However, when you’ve been crying all the way to work and walk in 10 minutes late with puffy eyes and bleeding hands, even the most unobservant person will eventually twig that something is going on. And I had to fess up in case they thought it was Mr August doing the damage! Mr August, being a gardener, could explain the scratched and bruised arms by lying that he’d been pruning rose bushes.

Post neurosurgery we discovered that much of Happy Chin’s unpredictable behaviour was due to the large tuber on his right frontal lobe. The difficult teen years between 15 and 18 only added to the turmoil in his brain. His teacher did tell me that ‘by the time he gets to 18 you won’t recognise him.’ And she was right, he became our gentle giant. Now at 21 he is sweet and funny, occasionally disruptive but mostly very loving. His brothers adore him. They have had a tough time, I wish their childhood had been easier, but I could only strive to protect them as best I could. I could not even protect myself, only take the brunt and attempt to spare them. I don’t think they blame us, but perhaps they do. They’re entitled, that’s all I can say.

As for me, I got through and our family mended. If there is even one woman out there who is suffering the way I did, reads this and takes some hope, then it is worth having written it down. I am not a hero. I wished my own child was dead. What kind of mother wishes that? I hated myself every day, cried a lot and somehow just kept going. Who could I talk to, after all? Who else could possibly understand?

It took another woman to make me realise that unless we have the courage to speak out, a sister somewhere will believe that she is utterly alone or worse, has brought this on herself. And I can’t, through my silence, be complicit in that any longer.






Communication Breakdown


In exciting news this week, we learned that Happy Chin can learn to speak in complete sentences with the help of his trusty iPad and some highly useful Apps.

Ah, technology! We love it, Happy Chin loves it. His iPad has been a very successful addition to his life. Small enough to cart around with him, but large enough to make it very difficult to lose, it now goes everywhere with him.

What a wonderful connected world we inhabit! So many possibilities are opened up. Previously these kinds of technological outcomes would only have been available to the wealthy, but I am pleased to say we are currently applying to the NDIS to have this technology included in Liam’s plan and we’re reasonably confident of success. I’ll keep you posted.

This is an absolutely mind-blowing outcome for the many people whose lives will shortly be impacted in a positive way by the national NDIS rollout. I for one feel so excited about the future as we contemplate all of the people previously inhibited by communication challenges who will now be able to lead meaningful and active lives.

To be understood by another person is one of the most basic of our human needs. How frustrating must it be to have to continually repeat yourself, or attempt to act out your meaning, and how unsurprising that so many behaviour patterns have emerged in the past for Happy Chin as he’s struggled to get the most basic point across?

I remember the Tutenhat years with great clarity. For about 3 years Tutenhat was one of Liam’s key utterances. We tried and tried to understand. So did his grandparents, aunties, cousins, carers and volunteers. We could not get him to give us any more information other than ‘Tutenhat’ repeated over and over. It was absolutely mystifying.

Then one day Baby Lamington, Happy Chin, Toddler Tech Support and I were watching an episode of Bananas in Pyjamas. Morgan (one of the Teddy Bears) was preparing pumpkin soup and wearing…wait for it…a cooking hat! ‘Tutenhat’ turned out to be a white chef’s hat! Luckily we had one in the dress up box and spent the rest of the afternoon sailing round the house clutching wooden spoons and shouting ‘Tutenhat!’

The relief at having finally discovered the meaning of the word was so great that when Mr
August arrived home from work, I raced to the front door wearing the hat in question and shouted ‘Tutenhat! Tutenhat!” at the top of my voice while dancing on the spot.

He looked at me like I’d completely lost my mind (a highly possible outcome when one spends all day at home with two small children and a baby), then happily joined in the general celebration.

Another frustrating communication roadblock was ‘Ask.’

‘If you want something, you have to ask,’ we told Happy Chin.

So he wanted something. And would come into the kitchen.

‘Ask,’ he would say.

‘What are you asking for?’


“Yes, but you have to tell me what it is you’re asking for.’




Happy Chin is blessed in that he is able to satisfy many of his own needs. He can get his own drink or snack, go to the toilet, move about the house, communicate fairly well.

For those with more complex needs, technology could prove an absolute godsend. Imagine not being able to scratch your own nose, tell someone you were thirsty, even express the need for a hug or kiss from someone you loved?

I heard a story recently about a young man who had been involved in an accident and sustained injuries which led to quadriplegia. He had a new iPad and his younger brother was asked for his thoughts on what should be included to help facilitate ease of communication for his older brother, who was unable to speak.

The boy thought for a minute.

‘My nappy’s giving me a wedgie,’ he offered decisively.

Now that’s the sort of thing you really want to be able to tell someone!

Bloke Food 101

beer can chicken.jpg

After a delicious meal of Korean-style stir fry prepared by Tech Support (with the obligatory bit of theatre at the table mixing it all together and carefully positioning a fried egg on top – Tech Support loves a bit of performance art at dinnertime), the discussion turned to defining what exactly is Bloke Food?

The male panellists present agreed there are 4 questions to ask when defining what constitutes Bloke Food:

  1. Can you cook it on a barbie?
  2. Does it go with lager?
  3. Is it easy, greasy and cheesy?
  4. Does it go well with a food I already love (see point 2*)?

*The panel assured me that beer is a food, in fact, it can be an entire meal.

Further guidelines:

  • A recipe is like an instruction manual for flat pack furniture. You look at the picture and essentially know how to make it. No further reference to the text is required.
  • Anything goes with anything, regardless of taste, provenance or culinary region (eg. tomato sauce is fine if you don’t have any soy sauce)
  • If you’re not sure what to do next, drink a beer and then decide.
  • Double carbs are OK. Triple carbs are even better.
  • If it doesn’t have meat, you’re doing it wrong (except dessert)
  • Bacon can only make things better in every situation including dessert (which directly contradicts the above point I know, but again I refer back to the panel who say that bacon isn’t meat, it’s on an entirely different plane of eating).
  • A dim sim is a perfectly acceptable snack, nutritionally. After all, dim sims contain vegetables.
  • Salad is something that comes with a burger.

I consider myself an expert witness in the realm of bloke food.

As a person who grew up in a largely girl-shaped universe (Mum, sister, me and Dad, who was at work a lot), I had little chance to observe the male in his (un)natural habitat. As I was approaching middle age before I got my first boyfriend, their eating habits came as somewhat of a surprise. Those of the sisterhood who grew up with brothers won’t be at all surprised to hear that blokes have some peculiar eating habits.

The light began to dawn the first time I went to the movies with Mr August. He purchased a large coke and a Choc Top, then proceeded to eat the chocolate off the top, dump the ice cream into his coke and throw away the cone. Instant spider! I was appalled. Did he really just do that? I wondered. Did anyone else see? (you can see what a stitched-up little private school girl I was, can’t you?)

It was he who taught me the Tim Tam trick. You know the one where you inhale your Tim Tam through your cup of coffee and end up with chocky bicky all over your face?

The midnight drunken fry-up was another manly Mr A special. You take a couple of beaten eggs and pour them into the pan with whatever else you happen to have handy (bacon is good, but really anything will do that you can retrieve from the fridge and chop up without slicing your hand off, it’s a drunken fry-up remember?). You then grate loads of cheese over the top and wait for it to melt, while drinking a lager. You pour chilli sauce over it, eat it, then leave the pan, the chopping board, the knife and a few splodges of chilli sauce on the bench for someone else to find in the morning.

I’ve written previously about how Mr A still has the ability to surprise me. On Sunday night he did it again. We’d had roast lamb for dinner, and the dishes were done and the house settling in for the evening.

“Who’s hungry?” asked Mr A.

A chorus of “Me”s sprang up from various male bedrooms.

So Mr August set to work making toasties. We had ham. We had cheese. But no! Why use those boring staples when there was a container of leftover pasta in the fridge? (I had made sausage pasta the night before).

And so a new culinary Bloke Classic was invented – the Pasta Toastie!

I’m serious, toasted sandwiches with pasta in them. And cheese, of course.

And guess what? They yummed them up! Especially Happy Chin. It’s always a struggle to get him to eat during the day and here was dinner wrapped up in lunch! Brilliant! Add a fried egg and he could have had breakfast, lunch and dinner in one meal! (No doubt, this will now become a new blokey dish in our house once Mr A reads this – with optional chilli sauce. Stay tuned for the Instagram pics)

And as for alcohol in the cooking? I’m pleased to say the sexes don’t differ on this point. It’s ‘one for the pot, one for the cook,’ whatever your gender!











All the Kids are on Facebook


This week we celebrated another developmental milestone. Happy Chin discovered Facebook.

On returning home (with strict instructions from Mr August to pick up wine on the way home as HC was ‘being annoying’), I discovered a harried Tech Support trying to prepare the evening meal, Mr A deep in laundry duties, the Lamington nowhere to be found and HC getting under everyone’s feet.

I decamped to the couch with the laptop, inviting HC to join me with a suggestion of YouTube. We love YouTube in our house. It doesn’t matter how ancient or obscure the episode of Bob the Builder – you can find it on YouTube…and get a little peace for fifteen minutes or so.

“What would you like to watch?” I enquired.

“Facebook,” replied Happy Chin.

Facebook??? In the parlance of the day, WTF? He knows about Facebook?

So I dragged my chin up off the floor and fired up the good old FB. Obviously, one of his carers must have been on Facebook at some point and shown him something that piqued his interest. How hard could this be to narrow down?

“OK, then, what do you want to see on Facebook?” I asked.

“Facebook,” he replied.


I pressed on.

“Was it something you saw on Facebook? A talking dog? A dancing parrot? The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra performing Seven Nation Army?”

“Facebook!” he insisted, jabbing the screen with his index finger.

Happy Chin’s technology has hitherto all been Apple-based, so he doesn’t exactly get that our laptop isn’t a touch screen. We’ve tried to explain this without success. I’m getting quite worried about the screen. Yet another thing to see if our home and contents insurance covers….we’ve already found that Apple don’t cover iPods getting wee’d on in bed or hurled against walls. I made a mental note to have another interesting conversation with the insurance company soon.

“Mate, Facebook is a very big place. You have got to use your words to tell me what you want to see.”

“Face-Book!” he replied, with emphasis.

Yeah, I admit, I fell into that one.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of healthier eating, I had a bowl of nuts which I was bribing him to eat instead of pre-dinner chips or crackers. Eat a nut, then I’ll find what you want online. Quid pro quo. So he ate a nut. Great! No, damn! Now I had to miraculously find this needle in the Facebook haystack.

Turns out he really likes nuts, so that side of the transaction was going well.

Really, I don’t know what I expected from him. He was hardly going to say “I want to see the video of the cute little cat who’s terrified of the vacuum cleaner.” But one day it might happen, so I keep asking.

Lately I’ve started asking more and more complex things of Happy Chin, just for the hell of it. He often surprises me. I recently asked him to shoo the chickens out of the laundry (they sneak in and eat the dogs’ food) and he not only shoo’d them out with a very robust “Pitt op,” he also closed the back door so they couldn’t get back in. I hadn’t asked him to shut the door, so I thought this showed encouraging initiative on his part.

I’ve also developed the habit of nattering away to him in the car about whatever pops into my head. He doesn’t seem to mind and who knows what language he’ll pick up while I blather on at him? Hopefully not “you stupid idiot, you give way to the right at a roundabout! Where did you get your license? The corn flakes packet?”

For several years we home educated HC. We ran a home program where we (and our team of amazing volunteers) worked with him in his playroom one-on-one. Sometimes, when he didn’t feel like participating or just if I was getting bored, I’d play by myself or sing songs to his toys. One of the wonderful teachers at the Autism Treatment Centre in the US (who had also run a home program for her child) told me she used to make up little songs and sing them to her daughter’s dolls.

“Barbie loves Ken. But he’s in love with another girl. That Bratz doll with the low-cut pants….lalala”

If you have a problem, Happy Chin is a great listener. He never interrupts. He never actually gives any valuable advice either, but you can’t have everything. Sometimes it’s enough for someone to just sit and listen. Granted, it is a bit disconcerting when you’ve just poured out all your problems to someone and they turn to you at the end and say, “Milkshake.” But it could be worse. They could say, “you are a complete loser and you’ve made a huge mess of your entire life. Now get me a milkshake.”

I never did find out what he wanted on Facebook. But we had a nice time sitting together on the couch. For years, we assumed when HC said a word it was because he wanted that thing. Only recently have we realised he may just want to talk about it. And have someone stop for five minutes to listen and be interested. Or even just pretend to be interested.

I’m going to continue to view our interaction as a developmental milestone, an interaction common to many parents of young people. Young person approaches parent to share the cool thing they’ve seen online, parent feigns interest, everyone is happy.

I have a fridge magnet that says “Pseudo Authentic Enthusiasm next 2-3 hours.” It’s false advertising. I’m not capable of 2-3 hours’ worth. But I can manage it for long enough to get the laundry folded and dinner on the table.





Pitt Op



Happy Chin just loved bathing as a small child. He had a collection of bath toys so numerous that it took ten minutes to pick them up off the floor and put them back in the bath so he could throw them all out again whilst you were out of the room stirring the dinner, or spooning mashed pumpkin into Toddler Tech Support.


Funny how things change when they hit the Terrible Teens.


Around age 15, the daily struggle over personal hygiene began, involving myself or Mr August (on a rolling roster, but sometimes just good ol’ Rock Paper Scissors) and a recalcitrant Happy Chin in a kind of shadow boxing match, the parent wielding soap and flannel, trying to dodge the flailing teenaged limbs with a flapping shower curtain in between. We frequently ended up wetter than HC. We always ended up with more bite marks than him.


On one occasion, having drawn the long straw, I was making tea in the kitchen and listening to the raised voices in the adjacent bathroom.


“No!!” Happy Chin was shouting.

“For…God’s…sake….just….stand….still,” Mr August spat through clenched teeth.

“Nooooo!!” retorted HC.

“Oh, piss off then!” yelled MrA.

“Pitt Op!” HC shot back.


And so “Pitt Op” entered the family lexicon. It’s become a common insult in our house, and does open up the question as to whether you ought to correct your children’s’ mispronunciations.


I have a leather journal I used to write down all of the Lamington’s humorous mispronunciations when he was smaller. It’s sitting on the table as I write this.


All kids come out with adorable words like Hostible and Piscetti. The fact the Lamington got them so consistently jumbled should probably have been more of a concern, but they were just so damn funny. And we did get his ears checked, his hearing was normal (although he did memorably take off the headphones after the first 10 minutes and politely ask the audiologist to please turn up the volume a bit!)


Anyway, here are some highlights from the archives:

Gobbles –  Headwear worn over the eyes when swimming underwater

Tights – The ebb and flow of the ocean, as in “Oh look, the tights are coming in!”

Nuttsies – Nuts (ie. testicles)

Sea Gones – Sea Gulls

Glurb – The writing on the back cover of a book that tells you what it’s about

Toy-Nado – Tornado

Salad Bowl Toilet Seat – Solid Gold Toilet Seat (as in, ‘I’d like a solid gold toilet seat but it’s not going to happen is it?’)


As for correcting Happy Chin’s words, do you really turn to your 15 year old son and say, “No, it’s Pisssss Offfff – see, look where Mummy’s putting her tongue. Now you try!”


Since I have the leather journal out, let me entertain you with a few more classic Lamington moments. I’ve categorised them below for ease of reference and I swear they all happened.


The interminable questions

‘Do mothers have lips?’

‘Do turtles drive trains?’

‘Do rabbits eat helicopters? ‘

‘Do Mums have beards?’ (well….sometimes)

‘Who wants to go to a primordial swamp on holiday?’ (turned out no one did)

‘Do you like eating dinner for lunch?’

‘Have you been to a slug hospital?’

‘Mum, do you know all about poo?’

‘Grandpop, do people laugh at you when you’re naked?’

And my personal favourite…

‘Mum, do you have any children?’


The random quirky exchanges

‘Mum, I wish I wasn’t a girl.’

‘You aren’t a girl.’

‘Aren’t I???’


‘Why is Dad groaning?’

‘Dad’s really old, mate.’

‘Is he 10?’

‘Yes, he’s 10.’

‘Is his life nearly done?’


On hearing a friend’s dog had died:

‘Oh, not again!’


The bizarre statements

When he was ill with chicken pox:

‘Mum, I wish I wanted to go out and play.’


When asked to shake a can of coconut milk:

‘I’m going to shake it til my arm doesn’t fall off.’


When asked to put the chocolate custard back and show me he could be responsible:

‘I don’t do responsible things.’


Upon marching into the kitchen with clothes pegs attached to every inch of his apparel:

‘Look, I’m a vegetarian!’


Yes, it’s true we all say funny things, often unintentionally. What a boring world it would be if we didn’t! So in the spirit of fairness, let me close with a quote from my little leather book. This time, it was Tech Support’s turn.


‘Mum, how long will it be until it’s fifteen minutes from now?’


Kids. They really are better than TV aren’t they?