Do you know what you’re saying?

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We’ll all find a way.

I’m laughing because he’s laughing; he has a makeshift cat collar around his neck (yeah, really). He meows and rolls his shoulders, pushing them up and over whilst flexing his fingers. ‘Cats have paws, they use their paws for walking on’ he instructs the playground after school. He’s making his eyes big and sniffing the air.

‘Oh this is the boy with autism?’ What’s he doing?’ asks Lady at School,

‘He’s Autistic and he’s being a cat. He really gets into it.’ I’m smiling.

‘I’m so sorry, I’m sure it’s difficult.’ I stop smiling.

‘Nah man, cats are great.’

I walk away to defiantly scratch Cat Child behind the ear. He purrs.

I’m hurting and so angry I’m shaking, because Lady at School doesn’t get it. Please don’t tell me you’re sorry, especially not in front of this vibrant boy. You’re diminishing him, you’re dehumanizing him and you’re stating that this life and child I cherish is to be pitied.

What I want to do is challenge Lady at School: Would you change your child?

Would you take away a smidgen of the intensity they have? Their humour? Their love and astonishment at the minutiae of life? Would you excise the bits of them that make them yours, the bits that call you to be stronger and prouder than you expected to be? What would you extract from your child to make your life less difficult?

Even if this isn’t what you mean when you apologise to me for my sons existence, think carefully about the words.

Do you know what you’re saying?

It’s night-time and it’s quiet. Which is unusual, in our house. My husbands phone beeps and I watch his face harden in the darkness as he reads the message. He throws me the phone. ‘Have you heard of this cure?’ it reads, the letters are burning in the dark. ‘Are you going to reply?’ I ask, he sighs and runs his hands over his face a few times, a gesture of defeat. ‘No, it’s not worth it.’ I drift off to sleep with him still awake beside me.

How sad that we’ve learned this lesson already. That it’s not always worth it. When you send us links to cures, you’re not helping us – you’re hurting. You’re reminding us that you and other people see our child and our family as suffering. Maybe you see requiring help and suffering as the same thing?

The help we need is practical. We need people to understand that we stagger social events, we need days at home to rest in-between. We need people to understand that sometimes our son requires us, a substitute is not always acceptable. The list of people we trust to be that substitute is short (but those people are magnificent). We’re not interested in pouring time and energy into changing our son, we’d rather change your perceptions. Perhaps you think you’re helping? Trying to make our lives easier? Helping us is fantastic, we’re not interested in ‘cures for autism’ but I guarantee you can make a lasange that doesn’t suck as badly as mine.

Do you know what you’re saying?

A quick after school meeting. I’m talking to his teacher about how he’s going, are the things we discussed working? His need for regular sensory breaks (running like a maniac, usually), a safe squashy place he can hide in when things are noisy and respecting his need for thinking time instead of endless prompts.

‘Yes, he’s doing very well, so we’ll start dropping his breaks and see how he goes. It’s important he’s like the others.’

What I hear is: ‘Meeting his needs is working! He’s happy and enjoying himself. So lets fuck it up because basically, he’s still not normal.’

Is neurotypical really the only acceptable thing to be? What if he’s just not like the others, and never will be? He’s learning the ebbs and flows of his brain. He takes himself away when he needs to re-charge, and hurls himself into the middle of activities he’s excited by. He’s learning about himself, isn’t that the goal for all children? Just let him be autistic. Let him be successful and entranced and nervous and silly and autistic, let him be himself. Grant him the basic right to be acceptable just as he is, a right I don’t see any other prep parents defending for their kid.

Do you know what you’re saying?

He’s perfect, this kid of mine. But I’m getting tired of having to explain that to people. Please, think about what you’re saying.

 

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

 

 

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A motivating guide to toilet training. Except not really.

  • Use cloth nappies, not because they’re good for the environment or cheaper or because fluffy bums are adorable; but because they’re irritating and therefore you will want to be rid of them earlier. If you require more motivation to toilet train, don’t use liners for bowel movements. Scrubbing poo is highly authentic. Have I mentioned the hose you can attach to your toilet? Sometimes, when you’re washing the poo off, bits of it splatter. Yes, they do.
  • Take nappy-free child to garden. Wait. Point out the stream of urine running down oblivious child’s leg, try to avoid getting stream of urine in face as child whips himself around wildly trying to see. Flail around ineffectually when child jumps up and down in wee-wee. Because they will.
  • Be oh-so-slightly disturbed when child discovers he can purposefully wee on things in the garden. Watch him perfect this skill and text husband ‘Is this normal?!’ Yes, apparently it is. Close eyes for a second. Open eyes abruptly when you realise child is standing directly above your head, naked, hand in action position. “Shhh, go back to sleep” says child. DO NOT CLOSE EYES. Be unequivocally disturbed when child announces before bedtime ‘I promise not to poo on you while you sleep Mummy.’ Vow to never sleep again.
  • Attempt to redirect garden urination to potty. Be mildly freaked out by potties and the fact they are essentially a toilet in the middle of your living room.

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    It’s still a toilet.
  • Read colourful books about potty training over and over to child who pisses on floor and jumps in it. Drink wine.
  • High five child when they announce ‘I’ve done a poo!’ Check potty. No poo. Check toilet. No poo. Thus begins the most terrifying game of hide-and-seek you’ve ever played.
  • Realise that your floor has never been cleaner due to constant mopping. Smell hands and decide it’s not worth it. Remember how you wanted to do elimination communication when child was born and berate self for lack of staying power. Remember meconium. Mentally salute anyone who has staying power for elimination communication.
  • With intense bravery and trepidation – put knickers on child to leave the house. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Do not picture urine soaked car seats. Be prepared to dump poo knickers if required. Do not use favourite knickers, if dumped, everyone will cry.
  • Develop interesting back pain from holding child on adult sized toilets as child requires at least four minutes to feel comfortable enough to go.
  • Take child in knickers to laid-back outdoor restaurant. Forget that child requires regular toilet breaks. Give child plenty of water. Drink just enough cider to be only mildly appalled when child wees standing up on seat next to you. Think that no-one will notice if you just empty a bottle of water over urine puddled on floor and discreetly whip off child’s knickers. Offer to buy round of drinks. Later, when buzz has worn off, realise that of course everyone noticed child pissing on chair and the fact that there was URINE under the TABLE. Die inside, just a little. Swear to never drink again.
  • Take child shopping (I could just leave it there really) with grandparents. Tell grandparents that the time between child grabbing crotch and child urinating is approximately 3 seconds. Offer to buy coffee and wander away to do so. Scream at Grandpa ‘His CROTCH! He’s GRABBING it!’ Immensely enjoy the look of horror on your father’s face as he runs into the toilet, carrying child in his outstretched arms. Give him a high five when they emerge, victorious, ten minutes later. Child’s pants are backwards. Ignore. Prepare to do this five more times.
  • Take child to market. Watch child pause in front of prominent tree and pull down pants. Get there too late. Have lowering moment of awareness that there is nothing you can do but watch your child finish their highly public urination and try not to make eye contact with people. Particularly the people child is waving enthusiastically at.
  • Have intense emotional breakdown regarding the use of night nappies. Mainly because child ends up co-sleeping most nights. Ponder how one would feel waking up in wet bed not of one’s own making at 2am. Decide that it would suck. Realise that it DOES suck when you wake up at 2am in puddle not of your own making. Child sleeps through the entire fraught experience.
  • Realise that child has not weed or pooped on anything in a long time. Congratulate self and book appointment for physiotherapist. Back still hurts.

Keeping you safe.

How do I keep you safe? You walk around the world in a bubble of faith, a bubble I helped create. You believe in kindness and goodness, and I’m a bit worried you think ducks do actually talk. You lay your head in my lap at night and I run my fingers over the same features I traced countless times the first night you spent in my arms. After hard days, you silently stroke my hair, taking strength from me now just as you took life when your heart-beat galloped under mine. How the fuck do I keep you safe?

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You think you’re a King. You walk around the living room with a makeshift crown on your head, glued on gemstones already wobbling precariously as you throw your arms out with the pronouncement ‘I demand BISCUITS!’ and dissolve into giggles at your own misuse of power.

You think you’re a giant. You puff out your childish chest and tilt your head up high to stomp through the living room ‘Excuse me,’ you intonate, standing directly in front of my mildly startled friend, ‘you’re in my spot.’ My friend moves, and you had no doubt that they would.

You think you’re powerful. From your elevated position in the car seat you can clearly see the traffic lights. You count to ten, whispering the numbers to yourself, on ten – the lights flicker from red to green. ‘Ha! GOT IT!’ you shout. You say the same thing when they change on four, or twenty-six.

You’re a thief. You cuddle up to me on the couch, hands still dimpled from baby-hood patting my arm. Then you drag the blanket off me, snorting as you say in that sing-song voice kids get when they’re learning the difference between being cheeky and being a shit ‘Got your blaaaaaaanket!’ You trust me implicitly as you navigate boundaries. This is the same trust that you had opening your mouth to new foods, the same as when you held my hand as we walked through crowded events, deserted beaches and busy airports.

You think the world is fair. We do a long overdue toy cull, pulling out plastic baby toys from the shed, wiping off dust and sorting them into donation piles. ‘Why are we throwing them out?’ you ask, idly examining what could possibly be a giraffe. ‘Some kids don’t have any toys, or much money, so we pass things on.’ You drop the giraffe ‘WHAT!’ You will come back to this concept every few hours for the next three days, ‘But children LIKE toys.’ As if stating a need clearly and concisely always results in that need being met.

You love your body. You climb, jump, spin and admire your strength in the mirror at ballet. You exclaim ‘I am strong!’ as you drag chairs to benches and lift boxes of Lego. You discard clothes as quickly as you can and laugh at your ‘food belly’ in the bath, patting it contentedly. Please keep this, oh for the love of cheese toasties, please keep this.

You think I can fix things. You come to me with broken lego, tyres off toys, ripped books and twisted socks. I fix them, quickly and competently. These things are easy. You think I can fix anything. What will happen when you come to me with a broken heart? With shattered illusions and the knowledge that the world is not always a safe place to land. The power you have at the moment, with your family around you and your belief that everyone is happy, just like you; this power will not translate as you grow older. You will lose it. You will lose the skip in your step and you will stop believing that people at checkouts care passionately about your favourite colour and the latest disaster our kittens have wrought. Maybe you will stop believing in people at all.

I feel the pressure of loving you, of wanting to shield you from hard truths. The world is not safe for everyone, it will not always respect your boundaries and inevitably, you will hurt. You will see terrible things, things far beyond the duck with a broken foot that showed up in our yard. A duck you named Quacky and whom you still cry for, holding a pillow and keening ‘I hope they fix him!’ (They totally did).

Maybe that’s why people say these years of early childhood are the best. Because we live in a bubble with you. We see the world through your eyes, bright and happy. A world composed of kisses and sleep deprivation is less harsh than the heartache that will come when you see the suffering more clearly. The time will come when you come to me with a broken heart, and the best I have to offer you will be what I offer you now. My heart, my support and my enduring faith that you will be ok.

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

Linking up with This Parenting Life here

Things I want you to know: A parenting mantra for no f***s given.

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It’s the bubble! By all that is cruelty-free and fair-trade do not leave the bubble!

I’ve been outside the bubble this week. It was awkward and I didn’t like it. However, it forced me to rediscover my inner gentle-parent-freak, and she fucking rocks. So in case you didn’t realise, this is me waving my weirdo flag high and proud. It has sparkles on it bitches.

These are the things I want you to know about why I parent the way I do. Newsflash: Not one of them is because I’m over-protective and anxious. Shocking, I know.

I’m clever, and so is everyone else doing this. You don’t decide to go against the grain of mainstream parenting on a whim; we have all carefully researched and considered the various aspects of our parenting. There is a lot of science backing up what we do. From non sleep training, to breastfeeding, to a star-chart free house and explaining to incredulous relatives could they please not call my daughter a ‘good girl’ when they were praising her compliance. We always have a reason. If you check out an attachment parent forum there are a whole load of book recommendations and research studies flying around. We read things. We read ALL the things.

Having said that, I parent based on feelings too. When my son was 9 months old he did that thing where he was absolutely certain that the cure for being tired was staying awake for as long as he could. We tried to teach him that the cure for tired was sleep, but he remained unconvinced. One night my partner and I were sitting on the couch and talking about trying ‘crying it out’ – should we just give it a go? This not sleeping business was difficult. My eyeballs were burning and everything was fuzzy except the outline of the coffee cup. Then the Boy woke up wailing and we both muscled each other out of the way to get to him first. Clearly, we were not crying it out material. There are no comprehensive research studies conducted on the safety of crying it out (AAIMHI, 2013) and there never will be because no-one would touch that with a 10ft pole. If evidence of harm was unconfutable the baby sleep industry would be open to all kinds of litigation. The closest thing we have to evidence is a study by Middlemiss et al., which found elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the absence of crying (2012). Quiet babies were still sad babies. Instincts exist for a reason, follow them, follow them, follow them.

Confession: I’m lazy. I like things to be easy. There is a lot of research on the benefits of breast-feeding and co-sleeping (McKenna & McDade, 2005; Leon-Cava, 2002). Honestly, all I needed was its easier. I was asked once how I differentiated my babies cries. I don’t because the answer is always the same. Tired = boob. Sad = boob. Hungry = boob. Bit confused about the talking puppy in the book = boob. Co-sleeping is magic. Getting up and walking down the hallway takes extreme effort, and even if the light of your life does fall back asleep, do you think you can drift off once your back in bed? No, you can’t. You are awake now. The only time you will fall back asleep is three minutes before your kid wakes up again. It’s practically a rule.

I like children. Even my own. Parenting this way means I can connect to them more easily. I value connection to others, fostering empathy and all those other things that hippies like. I think kids are hilarious and adorable and I’m in awe of their fizziness and their insight into the world around them. With attachment parenting I get to talk to my children like they are people with feelings as important as mine, a powerful form of connection (Miller & Commons, 2010). I practise seeing things from their point of view and it shows me what’s significant to them. I know their hearts and minds, and how just being heard is often what they want from me. I had to use 123 Magic in a professional capacity recently. That shit freaked me out. You shout a number at a child and they’re required to stop doing the thing they were doing. There is no talking. There is no acceptable motive. There is no empathy. If you get to 3 then the roof collapses. The worst part about this system is that without a conversation – without looking in a child’s eyes and seeing their pain or anger close up – without that experience and understanding it was easy to dissociate from them. It became about me. A child would do something inappropriate (because, they’re like learning and shit) and I would shout the number and think ‘I can’t believe they’re doing that to me! The connection wasn’t there. Connection is essential; it stops you being a dick. When everything else is stripped away it’s the only thing that matters.

I don’t think my children are made of porcelain. I’m not interested in protecting them from everything, including your child who just pushed my kid out the way. That stuff happens. I don’t mind if someone grabs my daughter’s toy out of her hand at playgroup, we can work it out. Being upset is not the worst thing that can happen to a child. I won’t label other children as naughty just the same as I won’t label mine. I differentiate between the choices my children make and who they are and I teach them to do that for others too, crucially – it works (Miller & Commons, 2010). Resilience is the goal, I want my children to look for the motives in other’s behaviour and have empathy for the people around them. Plus, everyone is kind of a jerk when they’re hungry. If I run around going ‘omg your kid hit my kid’ then I’m not teaching my children resilience. Children aren’t violent, that’s a label adults put on behaviour when they’re looking at the world through a lens of fear. The world is not scary, and kids will surprise you with how they work things out when you let them. Let them strut, and give them a high five when they’re done showing you that they can navigate the hard stuff too. They’ve earned it.

I don’t think people who don’t parent the way I do are crap parents. I see how much you love your children, I see you ruffle their hair as you walk past, I see compassion in your eyes when they get hurt. Of course I have questioned my choices. There are hard days, days when I’m fairly convinced a pack of wolves could do a better job than I am. However I do what I do because I can’t imagine doing it any other way. This is visceral for me, and I firmly believe it’s good for my children. On good days, even the pack of wolves would agree with me.

(I know these make you as happy as they make me.) References.

Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc. (2013). Position Paper 1: Controlled Crying. Double Bay, NSW: AAIMHI.

Leon-Cava, N. (2002). Quantifying the benefits of breastfeeding: a summary of the evidence. Washington, D.C.: PAHO.

McKenna, J. & McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breastfeeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 6, 134-152.

Middlemiss, W., Granger, D., Goldberg, W. & Nathans, L. (2012). Asynchrony of mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep. Early Human Development, 88(4), 227-232.

Miller, P. & Commons, M. (2010). The benefits of attachment parenting for infants and children: A behavioural developmental view. Behavioural development bulletin, 10, 1-10.

Linking up with The Ultimate Rabbit Hole here