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?



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



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.

Mr T

I Pity the Fool

Happy Chin likes a nice cup of tea. Especially when someone else is making it for him.

“Tea!” he will shout to whichever stray minion he’s managed to corral (parent, grandparent, sibling, complete stranger visiting our house for the first time, anyone will do).

Immediate family members have been taught they must wait, feigning indifference, til HC remembers his manners. This can take anything from 10 seconds to 10 minutes.

“Tea…..pleeeeese!” he will finally concede, and the tea-making can commence.

Tea is always organic decaf (because he drinks so much of it) with a dash of milk.

Tea in a thermal cup is ‘Granny Tea,’ because at Gran and Pop’s house they have nice things like proper carpet without tomato sauce stains and couches that don’t double as emergency meals for hungry pets. So Granny always makes Happy Chin’s tea in a covered mug. Sensible woman.

Tea can be demanded at all hours of the day, but is discouraged after 7PM due to the bedwetting risk. Strangely, after 7PM is the time of day when tea seems to be most in demand.

One night I woke from a deep sleep, convinced someone was in the room. Suddenly a voice boomed, “Tea!”

I shot upright, banging my head on something hard.

“Ow!” I shouted, at the same time registering a wet sensation on my face.

Happy Chin was standing over the bed holding a full kettle over me. Lucky he hadn’t boiled it first, I guess.

A reasonable person would point out that a grown young man should be able to make his own tea. This is very reasonable, and even do-able, with patient teaching. But I would argue that it’s unreasonable in the short term to put up with boiling water all over the kitchen bench and floor and all of the clean tea towels used to mop it up, let alone the risk of burns to HC or any hapless dog or cat unlucky enough to be sniffing around under the bench at the time.

This is yet another example of the kind of gutless parenting on my part that has really held my children back. I’d also include in this category – inventing excuses why the Lamington shouldn’t bake a cake on any given day, acting as Tech Support’s back-up alarm clock each day even though he has one already and just can’t be bothered to get up when it rings, and letting Happy Chin watch the Wizard of Oz 15 times on a Sunday because I’m just too tired to take him to the park.

And whilst I’m in a confessional mood, yes I do let my child drink fizzy drinks. If I had a bit more courage I would wean him off them. The dentist certainly thinks I should. Perhaps the dentist could come round and spend an entire weekend enduring HC’s standover tactics, featuring the words “coke, coke, coke, COKE!” bellowed at him four inches from the face for 9 hours, with only a little light relief dodging flying DVD cases and cleaning up torn copies of Vogue magazine. For all I know, the dentist might quite enjoy living for 24 hours a day on tenterhooks, having to have eyes in the back of his head in case HC climbs over the fence and bolts down the road to the shop in order to help himself to a fizzy drink from their fridge, knowing full well he can have half of it drunk before a responsible adult arrives to pay for it on his behalf.

The dentist might even own an attractive pink frilly apron of his own that he can wear in a desperate bolt down the road after a fleeing HC, having seen him absconding whilst deep in evening meal preparation. At least he’ll look nice when a stranger’s car pulls up and they say “Jump in the back! We’ve seen him! We’ll catch him up!” He’ll probably also attract a much more bemused look from the toddler strapped into the child seat in the back than I did.

And herein lies the problem – it’s so much easier to give in. I know a young man who will only eat hot chips, chicken nuggets and white bread. The explosion of behaviour that occurs when he is presented with healthier alternatives is pretty terrifying to witness. Imagine for a moment a single parent trying to get five kids fed in some semblance of peace. The last thing he or she wants is to have to negotiate a gigantic meltdown at dinnertime. Much easier to just give her son nuggets. At least the other kids can finish their dinner in peace.

So it’s not really surprising that many people with disabilities have terrible diets, and I find it really hard to point the finger at exhausted parents and caregivers. What is the answer? I saw a wonderful group of barbers in the UK on Facebook today. They give over Sundays in their salon exclusively to haircuts for autistic people, and they have developed some really flexible strategies. One hairdresser was pictured lying full length on the floor trimming a boy’s hair because he was stretched out on the ground too.

Perhaps an association of Kamikaze nutritionists with riot shields and protective headgear could closet themselves in a kind of food-rehab room with the client and an array of healthy foods? They do say it only takes 3 weeks for a new habit to form, although I have seen Happy Chin refuse food for an entire week when we were in the US because it was all unfamiliar to him, and I’ve heard of people refusing food for much longer. However, one professional told me not to worry, as it takes a human being around 56 days to starve to death. So that was a comfort.

So I guess the best advice is just to do what so many of us already do – grate zucchini into the spaghetti bolognese and hope for the best!


Bump head hospital ow!

Liam EEG

“I’ve got a great idea,” I said to Mr August in 2013. “Let’s gather all the things Happy Chin hates most in one place – loud noises and bright lights, needles, tubes and wires randomly inserted in or attached to him by people he doesn’t know, pain he doesn’t understand, little or no control over what’s going to happen next, bad food, uncomfortable beds and no access to a nearby fridge. Then let’s take him to spend three weeks there.”

No, I didn’t really say this, but I might as well have. Because we were going to hospital for a major operation on Happy Chin’s brain.

Any parent who’s ever been in hospital with a child knows exactly how stressful it is. We’d only ever been for MRIs, but these were conducted under general anaesthetic, usually involving one of us sitting on Happy Chin while the other pinned his legs down, the anaesthetist ducking and weaving like Muhammed Ali trying to get the cannula in. The bigger HC got, the harder it became to get him under, so the drug payload kept getting ramped up. One memorable MRI in Melbourne involved a Valium tablet taken upon waking, followed by a 10 minute walk across the park from apartment to the hospital, HC falling asleep on the concrete steps outside the waiting room, a quick trolley transfer, a Ketamine jab and some Midazolam in his IV line. By the time he was wheeled into MRI and actually given the GA he was completely comatose. After the procedure the doctors all stood round his bed going, “Geez, he’s a bit drowsy isn’t he? When will he wake up?”

But major neurosurgery was another thing altogether. This was an operation that would take 12 hours and would open his whole brain in an attempt to remove a large tuber on his right frontal lobe, which appeared to be the source of his seizures. EEG wires would be attached to the tuber and MRI tests conducted throughout the operation to make sure the surgeon got as much of the tuber as possible, along with any other smaller ones showing up on the scans. If successful, the operation could dramatically reduce HC’s seizures and give him a much better quality of life. However, it was carefully explained to us that even with the offending tubers gone, he might still experience seizures, as the brain had 18 years of deeply ingrained seizure patterns. We weren’t to hope for developmental changes, that ship had sailed for Happy Chin, we were told.

We decided to be optimistic. Even if we could eventually wean him off some of his anti-convulsants, surely that would be worth it for him? The side effects from these drugs were many and unpleasant.

How little we knew of what was to come in the weeks ahead, and how fortunate we didn’t know! I for one would never have had the courage to go ahead. If I had known, I also would have packed:

  • Valium (because you can’t really go taking your child’s Valium in the hospital, it’s not a good look)
  • Three weeks’ worth of home-cooked meals in takeaway containers
  • My mother (she had sadly died seven years earlier, but boy she would’ve been handy to have! My sister did fly down from Queensland for five days which was brilliant, but more on that later)
  • At least 25 dolphin and fish shaped helium party balloons
  • Two of those big puffy jackets for us to wear (Happy Chin scratched the hell out of our arms during the first week while he was fighting whatever procedure it was he didn’t want)
  • A really experienced psych nurse, preferable one with a good working knowledge of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch. We were actually assigned a psych nurse after the third day, as things had gotten pretty hairy by then, but Happy Chin promptly decided to settle down and the poor man just sat outside the room, waiting for something to happen and listening to music on his iPod
  • The Wiggles (only for the first two or three days, to distract HC from ripping off his bandages. I reckon we might not have had to splint his arms to the bed if the Wiggles had been there)
  • Bob the Builder (to repair all the bits of the hospital that HC broke)
  • Bob the Bartender (for me and Mr A)
  • A suitcase full of chocolates for the incredible nursing staff

In any event, to borrow a line from Marvin the Paranoid Android, the first three million years were the worst. Actually, it was more like three days, but time goes very slowly in hospital. Our brave boy had come through like a trouper, with a tuber the size of a plum removed that had been sparking off seizure activity every two minutes. Imagine living with that for 18 years! Every time you went to do or think something you’d be interrupted by brain noise, a kind of 24 hour insomnia. A Grand Central Station of the mind.

Once he was sufficiently awake, however, he reacted to the dressing on his head like I react to Tech Support’s rap music – take it off right now!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more confronting thing in my life than Happy Chin ripping a surgical dressing off his scalp 20 hours after major surgery to reveal a livid 10-inch scar running over his head from ear to ear. After a few attempts to replace it under combat conditions, and with sedation proving ineffective, we held an emergency in-room conference with nursing staff. They suggested the idea of forgoing the bandages and spraying the wound with OpSite, a kind of spray-on dressing. If we kept HC’s (and our) hands as clean as possible, then the wound would heal without infection. Which is exactly what happened.

Happy Chin’s next major objection was to the arterial IV line in his neck, which brings me to the second most confronting thing I’ve ever seen – HC yanking the line out of his jugular vein. Blood spurted everywhere. I slammed my fist on the emergency button and nurses came running. Mr A had nipped out for an hour’s sleep so I was on my own, and I remember just slumping to my knees on the hospital floor and sobbing, simultaneously trying to press on HC’s vein while he tried to bite my hand. (It was shortly after this that we were assigned the psych nurse)

The Paediatric Neurology nurses at Melbourne Children’s are some of the most flexible, unflappable, innovative and compassionate people I have ever met. At every stage they worked with us to create solutions, they were calm and they listened. They asked us our opinion, and were genuinely receptive to suggestions. We were forced to be extremely creative with Happy Chin’s care, some things (like an ECG) were just impossible, but even though he was without a doubt an extremely challenging patient, we never felt it was any bother to them. My hat was off to them three years ago and it remains off. I must remember to give them a pay rise when I’m in charge, as well as teachers.

On Day Three, poor Happy Chin’s face was so puffy from the surgery that his eyes swelled shut. This was not a high point for him. He couldn’t even watch his DVDs. My sister had arrived by Day Two, so we three played tag team by his bed, listening to music, singing, reading stories and gently rubbing his back.

But by Day Four and Five, his Happy Chin was back. No longer encumbered with bandages and drips, he was free to wander about the ward. Or off the ward, as my sister can attest. She had settled in for what she thought would be a quiet afternoon with HC, waving Mr A and I off to buy groceries and take a brief nap before the night shift.

Now, at Melbourne Children’s they have a thing called a Code Grey. This is for the highest level of emergency and basically summons a pack of burly security guards to deal with the danger. My sister had three Code Greys with Happy Chin that afternoon.

Turned out he’d discovered during his perambulations that there was a vending machine in the corridor outside the ward with coke in it. And anticipating a bed-bound HC, my sister had worn high-heeled boots that day. She had three fruitless sprints down the ward after him and three lots of explaining to security that he really wasn’t a danger, even though he was engaged in a full frontal assault on the vending machine trying to persuade it to give up its coke.

Nearly three years on, Happy Chin still has his zigzag scar as a reminder of that harrowing couple of weeks. When he looks back at photos of the trip he says “Bump head hospital ow!” I don’t think he understands what an ‘operation’ is. He thinks he bumped his head and woke up with an ‘Ow’ in hospital.

The first MRI scan (under GA) after neurosurgery was fairly fraught. By his level of agitation beforehand, I’m sure HC thought he was going to bump his head again while he was under and wake up splinted to the bed, with a 10 inch scar and tubes everywhere. He’s had three general anaesthetics since then, and the memory is slowly fading.

While we were in hospital I met a mother whose 16 year old son had a brain tumour. They’d been through four lots of neurosurgery in three years. The prognosis wasn’t good. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. We feel very lucky to have our Happy Chin well and bouncing round the place, being weaned off so many medications that are no longer necessary. Despite the neurologist’s prediction (or perhaps because of it, Happy Chin doesn’t like being told he can’t do stuff), he has made some major developmental leaps, has improved language and communication skills and his aggressive behaviours are massively reduced.

We had to fight hard to get him this life changing operation and it was without doubt the hardest three weeks of my life. On several occasions we just broke down and cried together over what we had done to our boy. Even now, the sight of that scar can reduce us both to tears.

At one particularly low point I remember thinking, “This is much too hard. I can’t do this anymore, I’ve changed my mind.” But we got through it, and as a result I’m not much scared of tough things anymore.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to run in this year’s Point to Pinnacle race. It’s the world’s toughest half marathon – 21.4kms uphill.

Care to join me? After all, how hard can it be?

The Quality of Bubbly

The Quality of Bubble

It’s often said that childbirth gets easier the more children you have.

I’ve noticed another curious phenomenon: the bubbly consumed immediately after the birth decreases in quality the more children you have.

When I was pregnant with Happy Chin I bought a bottle of 1984 Bollinger Grand Annee and tucked it away for the occasion of his birth. I worked in a restaurant at the time and was able to buy it at cost, so it wasn’t as expensive as it might have been. 1984 was apparently a good year, and as I couldn’t drink during the pregnancy and had no taste for it anyway, being ill most of the time, I was determined to have a nice drop on hand when the moment finally came. And it was absolutely delicious. Mind you, after 25 hours of labour it could have been Fruity Lexia for all I cared.

As incomes were somewhat depleted when Tech Support’s turn came to be born, I had to settle for a mere Veuve Cliquot NV, which again went down a treat.

By the time the Lamington decided to make his appearance (via emergency caesarean), we were reduced to a generic Aussie sparkling bought by Grandpop at the last minute. It probably cost about $15, and was money well spent. I was so zonked out by the epidural I don’t think I even got through my glass anyway (and as my close friends will tell you, circumstances have to be pretty trying for me to leave a glass unfinished!)

I can report a similarly marked decline in the quality of post-delivery food. Labour is bloody hard work, and 25 hours of it (plus 12 hours of pre-labour with hardly an arrowroot biscuit to sustain me) meant I was absolutely ravenous afterwards. The curious metallic taste in my mouth which had been there for 9 months vanished the moment HC finally consented to be born and, declining the nasty hospital egg sandwiches, I sent Mr August on a mission to Find Me Some Food! He returned 25 minutes later with a spicy prawn laksa, which is just exactly what you feel like eating after pushing out a baby with a head the size and shape of a Sherrin football. Anyway, at least Mr A’s dinner was taken care of.

Cut to two years later and Tech Support’s birth, a natural delivery in a birth centre which took precisely four hours. By now, I had it worked out. I realised that all I really craved was a ham sandwich with swiss cheese on sourdough. So I asked my beautiful mum-in-law to please make me one and bring it to the hospital post-delivery, which she very kindly did. It was only as I was wolfing it down that we discovered whoever had sliced the ham at the deli hadn’t removed the plastic wrap first. The sandwich was delicious, but I had to pick thin shreds of Glad Wrap out of my teeth. Still, a minor inconvenience really, and unlikely to phase a woman who has just given birth without drugs. I just washed the Glad Wrap down with Veuve!

Now we come to the Lamington’s birth, a surprise affair beginning a week earlier than expected at 1AM and ending in an mad rush to theatre after one of his hands was discovered to be where his head should’ve been (even then, you could trust the Lamington to do things differently). You may well be wondering, what could possibly be worse to eat for dinner than a plastic ham sandwich? I’ll tell you – two mini-packs of hospital biscuits and a cup of tea made with long-life milk.

There’s also been a noticeable downgrade in our furniture and other household possessions. When my Mum and Dad were first married, their only living room furnishing was a couch Dad made from old apple crates. It was a good ten years before they could afford to upgrade to the cream fluffy modular couch with chocolate brown velour trim and the quadrophonic stereo system (remember them?)

With us, it was the opposite. We started our married life with fairly decent furniture. We were both working full time and could afford to visit Freedom and Ikea on the weekends. Then came the children. By the time we finished dragging three boys through toddlerhood and early adolescence, our furniture resembled something you see on the side of the road on Community Clean-Up mornings. In fact, a lot of our furniture was sourced from Community Clean-Up mornings.

And honestly, there really didn’t seem much point in replacing furniture during the Flying Pasta Days. With Happy Chin hurling objects round at random, we just got used to scrubbing couches and rugs, cleaning up broken glass and as a last resort if all else failed, chucking a colourful Indian throw over the worst of the stains.

We do own a few nice things, but they’re mostly tucked away in cupboards and stumbled on every couple of years during random clean-ups. We then get them out, reminisce delightedly about where we got them and how long it’s been since we’ve seen them, then wrap them back up and stow them carefully away so we can repeat the process in five years’ time.

Holidays have become similarly less salubrious as the years have worn on. Once, I admit, I was a five star girl. My checklist when choosing a holiday went something like this: quaintly historic cottage, 1000 thread-count sheets, spa bath, open fireplace, wineries within short distance and so on. How times have changed. Now it’s more like: humble coastal shack, not on the same street as any shop that sells coke, well-worn furniture, fenced in backyard, working DVD player and melamine plateware.

But a happy phenomenon I’ve also noticed occurring is that I care less and less about all of these things. I’m perfectly happy to collapse on our stained but comfortable sofa at the end of a working week, eat bad takeaway pizza and drink $8 wine. In fact, if I were a marriage counsellor, this is the advice I’d give to young couples – lower your expectations. You’ll always be happy that way.

As the incomparable Stephen Hawking once said, “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”









Unplanned Leaving

Liam bike.jpg

I love to run. This is lucky, because so does Happy Chin.

I participate in several fun runs a year, some for charity, one because my dear mum died of cancer, and all so I can stay fit enough to keep up with Happy Chin.

He’s not running to keep fit. He’s usually bolting for the nearest shop in search of coke. We call it running away, or absconding. His Occupational Therapist calls it Unplanned Leaving.

So far he has left (unplanned):

  • Home
  • The beach
  • A school excursion to Bunnings when the McDonald’s over the road proved irresistible
  • Vacation care (across 4 lanes of traffic with Gran in hot pursuit)
  • His group home (across a very busy road with an extremely hungover me in lukewarm pursuit)
  • Day Support (across 2 lanes of traffic narrowly missing a reversing truck. Let’s just say that placement didn’t last long)

One memorable day we went to the beach. It was patiently explained to Happy Chin that we would walk up the beach, touch the rocks and then proceed back along the beach to the car. Then we would get ice-cream. Perfectly clear. Mr August had the dogs, the Lamington had his red inflatable crab ring (with large red pincers at the front) and off we set.

When we reached the end of the beach, HC obediently touched the rocks, then took off. He had no wish to delay the moment of ice cream gratification. Mr A and I looked at each other. Whose turn was it to chase? As I had a fun run coming up the following week I volunteered and set off in pursuit.

Happy Chin had a reasonable lead on me, but after a kilometre or so it became clear I was not going to catch him. It was unlikely he would go near the water, but in the back of my mind was the fact that only a few weeks earlier, an autistic boy had drowned at this same beach. His carer had died trying to rescue him.

So I upped the tempo, but to no avail. Luckily, after another 800 metres or so I could see Happy Chin slowing his pace and plonking himself down on the sand beside a total stranger. The total stranger turned out to be a completely mortified teenager who was trying his best to look cool at the beach. His efforts were seriously undermined by the sudden appearance of a panting 19 year old autistic boy going “Puffed! Puffed!”, and an equally red faced mother approaching. Factor in Mr August’s appearance, complete with a red rubber crab ring round his middle towing a small whining boy on a dog lead (the Lamington) and you can appreciate why it wasn’t the best day of the poor young man’s life.

Luckily Happy Chin didn’t stick around to destroy the teenager’s beach cred for too long. He was up and off at a sprint again, straight to the lifesaver’s tent where he sat down next to the two prettiest blonde female lifesavers there. Nothing wrong with his eyesight.

So we got ice cream, after a hurried parental discussion about whether this was Proper Parenting. After all, he had run away (sorry – Left, Unplanned). But on the other hand, we did say we were going to touch the rocks then go get ice cream, it was we who failed to specify the pace at which this was to occur.

Mr August had had his chance to recapture Happy Chin a week earlier, during the Great Bicycle Escape. Anglicare had very generously purchased an adult-sized 3 wheeler bike for Happy Chin’s use and he just loved to ride it along the bike tracks. We would accompany him with the Lamington on his small bike, and usually one of the dogs. Tech Support absolutely declined to be part of an expedition so patently uncool. On this occasion, I agreed to be the person to run alongside the bike whilst Mr A helped the Lamington, who was still on his bicycle L plates. What I didn’t know was that the big bike’s gears had been knocked to the low setting as we took it off the back of the ute. Mr August always made sure the gears were set to high when he ran alongside HC. This slowed the bike down to an adult’s jogging pace and the harder work on the pedals meant he slept better at night (and so did Happy Chin, incidentally).

But with the gears on low, Happy Chin just shot off as if he’d been fired out of a cannon. I bolted after him, but there was clearly no way I was going to catch him. After about a kilometre and a half, the writing was on the wall. The busy main road loomed at the end of the bike track. So did the shop, where we would always stop for a refreshing can of coke. Happy Chin was of course fully aware of this and was hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. To do so he would have to negotiate a sharp turn, ride through the service station and into the small shop’s carpark. It was increasingly clear he would be doing so sans me.

Before I had a chance to start properly panicking, Mr August shot past me on a bike. We hadn’t brought another bike. How had he got a bike? Never mind, he was catching up with HC.

Turns out Mr A had spotted two cyclists chatting by the side of the track, blurted “My autistic child’s headed for the road, can I borrow your bike, mate? Here, hold my dog,” grabbed the astonished man’s bike and ridden off. The hapless cyclist was left without a bike and having gained a small white dog.

But even the speedy Mr August was not in time to stop Happy Chin, who sailed around the bend, shot through the service station and into the carpark where he pulled up, abandoned his bike and waltzed into the shop without a care in the world. Mr A arrived just in time to pay for his soft drink. I arrived in time to participate in another discussion about Proper Parenting.

To the casual observer it may appear we were unconcerned to the point of negligence about this behaviour. This isn’t the case, but let me add that HC has always had excellent peripheral vision. It’s one of those quirky skills people on the autism spectrum often have. They may struggle to look at your face when they’re talking to you, but they can see you alright. Similarly, Happy Chin may often give the appearance that he can’t hear what you’re saying, but he can hear a packet of chips being opened in the kitchen from the bottom of the garden.

His wonderful peripheral vision was of some comfort to me as I pursued him across a busy road the morning after a big night out at a soccer function. My head was pounding and a swift chase into the shopping mall was not the medicine I had in mind. I was furious when I finally caught up with him in the shop helping himself to a large bottle of soft drink from the fridge.

“Morning mate,” said the shop girl, cheerily. “Getting a drink are you?”

I meanwhile lectured him all the way back to the car.

“That is NOT the way to get coke,” I fumed, ineffectively.

Of course it is the way to get coke! Happy Chin had just proven it. You simply run across to the shop and grab it out of the fridge! The lady behind the counter doesn’t mind.

Really, sometimes parents just don’t have a clue!