We Will Survive

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Communication Breakdown

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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?’

‘Ask.’

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

‘Ask.’

‘ASK!!!’

Sigh.

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

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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

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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.

Great.

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

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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?

 

 

When Yes Means No

A Farce in Many Acts

Written By: Mum

Starring: Happy Chin

 

Act One

Scene One

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

MUM:                   Would you like some beans, mate?

HC:                         Yes!

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

 

Scene Two

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

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

HC:                         No beans!

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

A short pause.

HC:                         (calls up the stairs) Toast?

MUM:                   Now you want toast?

HC:                         Yes!

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

 

Scene Three

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

HC:                         No toast!!!

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Mr A:                     OK, shower time.

HC:                         No!

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

HC:                         No!!

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

(to HC) Shower or bath, mate?

HC:                         No!!!!

 

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

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

HC:                         Yes!!

 

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

Mum:                    Would you like a million dollars?

HC:                         No!

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

HC:                         No!!

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

HCL                        No!!!

 

Honestly, there’s no pleasing some people.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

HC:                         Ask.

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

Mum:                    What are you asking for?

HC:                         Ask.

Mum:                    Yes, but what are you asking for?

HC:                         Coke.

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

HC:                         Coke!

Mum:                    Settle down. Remember your birthday is coming?

HC:                         Coke!!

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

HC:                         No presents!

Mum:                    Perhaps there’ll be balloons?

HC:                         No noons!!

Mum:                    And cake?

HC:                         No cake!!!

Mum:                    Right. I give up.

Exit Mum.

The curtain falls.

Secret Men’s Busyness

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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