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Archive for August, 2009

My daughter went to occupational therapy today for the first time.

Why, you ask?

‘I laugh at the antics described here,’ you mutter, ‘what on earth made you do that,?’ you think,’ tut tut tut, another jam-jar label unnecessarily stuck on her head,’ you might be mumbling, although perhaps that last one is the faint echo of ‘past’ in my head. The one which said ‘all these bloody categories, a load of cobblers, designed to box kids into cookie cutter shapes and sizes!’

Yes. I said that when occupational therapy was first mentioned. I bristled at the word ‘therapy’ and my daughter. It rubbed the wrong way, even though I believe the word to be a vital part of our language and culture. But slowly, very slowly, I came to realize that perhaps she needed a few extra tools in her toolbox, I came to realize that this beautiful young wild horse needed to learn to canter and not always gallop, to nuzzle and not necessarily needle…her strength, her sheer physical strength, her love of ‘g’ force-type pressure, her desire to be hugged and squeezed yet equally her desire to burst free, her astonishment at sudden loud noises followed by hands over her ears (a loud toilet flush is enough), her in ability to slip into ‘cruise’ mode…they were signs of a light feather dusting her with some special glitter, yet still I struggled with my own role.

I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I yelled too much. I didn’t yell enough. I didn’t run her enough or spend enough time with her (in the meantime, my work matters screamed a similar mantra, their deadlines groaning as I shoved stuff over the line just in time), I didn’t  DO enough with her, I didn’t give her the concession of being 4 and I just didn’t let her away with the odd, small burst and blip of rudeness thus I was too harsh, I should lighten up a little, I should be more cheerful, I should be better. Yeah. That’s it. I-should-be-BETTER, because this was all about what I wasn’t doing, right?

I had explained to her that we would be going to a special gym-like place where she could climb and bounce around and where they would help give her ‘tools’ for when she got frustrated, fidgety or over-tactile. She was excited. I had been very very clear that I did not want the place to resemble a hospital or doctor’s office, and whilst it didn’t really, there was enough generic signage and strip-lighting to suggest a medical facility.

“Is this a doctor’s appointment Daddy?” she asked me, and I sighed and just said no, not really, but it’s a place where you will, via the gym stuff, be given tools to help you when you feel constricted. A half-truth. Not a total lie. Thank God. I don’t lie to my children. Ever. Good thing really as I couldn’t lie to this one even if I wanted to. She’s too smart. She’d figure it out. And I saw her wheels turn at what I was saying before they reached a satisfactory stop. She was fine with the answer. Inside I wanted to cry. I looked at her, fearless and lively, happy and energetic yet aware that there was, well, ‘something’ different here, just something, not a big something but a something nonetheless. And I realized that yes, there IS something a little different about her. Not a big something but a little something…but that little something becomes an enormous something when you try to think it’s nothing. When you try to think it’s age or phases or your own plodding inadequacy. And inside you’re still not entirely convinced it isn’t any of those, because this is only the first appointment and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, so maybe, just maybe, you’ve given in, acquiesced to the labeling, to the categorizing, to the boxes they love to put gifted people into. I have spent my life living outside those boxes; am I, through my own incompetence, my own laziness, placing one of my children directly into one?

As I sat in the large room, adorned with gym stuff, a climbing wall, swings and toys, I filled out a questionnaire that reminded me of one I once filled as a youth in Amsterdam. That time I was high on quality weed and buzzed on Grolsch lager, and the focus of my answers was a Scientology pamphlet (weed will do that, push you to answer 501 stupid questions and then abruptly leave for a toastie) but for this moment the nature of the questions was nearly as bizarre. Smells, tactile feelings, emotional reactions…I mean, she’s 4. How much of her covering her ears for loud noises and anxiety at the thought of being locked in a bathroom is down to her simply being 4?

As I watched her working one on one with the occupational therapist, I could see how engaged she was. There were massages (I give her foot rubs so I knew she’d like the tactile sensation). There was the rock climbing (I’d seen her do this at a party before, I new she’d like it). There was stretching and pulling and hanging from a trapeze and rolling and swinging a big, giant boat swing (she loved them all) there were some motor skills things (she even liked those). It was just us three in this big big space, and whilst it felt odd to me, she was lost in the moment of it. And it was frankly very important that I, too, became lost in the moment of it. Because right there, right then, she was having a good time. And it was easy to see that after a few more sessions of this, her toolbox would hopefully gain some extra equipment.

“What are you looking to get from this?” the occupational therapist asked as we walked out to make next week’s appointment.

“I just want her to have those tools for those frustrating times, and I just want her to develop that extra gear in her gearbox which will allow her to slow down and cruise for a moment as opposed to always go at full speed…”I mused the last point, scrabbling for a bit more accuracy. “I just want her to have the tools and tutelage to use them early so as this doesn’t become a bigger issue when she’s older. Does that sound about right.”

“Oh yes,” she said, “We can certainly, certainly do that.”

My daughter went to occupational therapy today for the first time. She’ll go again next week, the week after too. And whilst I will make absolutely sure this remains confidential when it comes to school time (it’s nobody’s fucking business, not the labelers, not the conformists, not the cookie-cutters, not the neat package peoples) I feel a little less guilty, a little more open, a little more honest and a little more accepting of what occupational therapy really is. I will also learn from this process myself; learn that life is always bigger than any individual, and that I really am doing the very best I can…I think…

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Despite what I consider to be a herculean effort in the diet and exercise stakes, the pre-schooler can still leave my head in knots and my body twisted like a pretzel. I have absolutely no idea what on earth runs through her veins, but I am increasingly dubious of the fact that it’s pure blood, as her energy levels are consistently at 587% of normal capacity; if she’d sit still long enough I’d rope her up to a treadmill which would power a generator which would give our block electricity. Think of the money we’d make as power barons. It’s a serious consideration, that and the invention of a TV show called WHY WHY WHY where she can challenge the world’s greatest minds with a rapid-fire barrage of  ‘whys’ that would require answers so minutely perfect that any attempt at sarcasm and insubordination would merely unleash a whole new verbal torrent of questions which would then render-said expert to being a sweaty, gibbering wreck who weeble-wobbles on the precipice of internal combustion as the whys and wherefores fly around his increasingly dizzy head.

She hates sleeping.

I don’t. I bloody well like it. So does my wife. And so (of course) does the teenager. But she hates it. She goes to bed happy enough, and I think to myself ‘ooo wah wah wee wah, she’s going to get a full night’s kip here!’ before I slowly realize that under her pillow is a giant aluminium bat plus supersonic NASA-grade steel metal shield which she will gleefully deploy to beat away the stodgy old ‘sleep-lord’ with all the ease Of Muhummad Ali whupping Sonny Liston as Cassius Clay. She likely adopts the stance Ali had at the end of that fight too. How, I wonder, does she sleep so little? How can a child who has a late night of 10pm (rare) be bouncing around like Tigger on uppers at 6.30 am, already in a Princess dress and with more neck jewelry than Mr T? Even if the poor girl tries to creep around quietly to avoid waking us up, between the cacophonous clacking of her cheap, plastic princess shoes and the rattle of her chains, it’s like hearing a real, live chain gang going up and down the living room.

The upshot of all this tomfoolery is that I seem to have increasingly little time as I negotiate the final few weeks before her pre-school begins. Indeed, I got very close to delivering this column via Twitter, tweeting it to you as the terminology dictates, but I never quite got the time and regardless, the tweet stream on my application is jumbling up so as I read useless bits of information from 3 weeks like they never arrived before, thus I decided against. Anyway, I realized it would start reading like this

@bunkup yeah girl is restless boy and i off to watch footy hope we mash the bastards must go, lotion all over glass, WTF?

@z******22 dude it is time to make sure wallet and keys r wiv u at all times as this cabbie don’t do doors

pre-schooler just ate ice-cream, swam and screamed ‘poopy toilet head’ damn I nearly nodded off then and fell off stool

See? It’s hard to know what’s real, what’s bullshit (none of it) and what’s really going on? Which is why rather than ‘tweet’or ‘twoot’ or ‘blog’ this column, it’s important to carve out the time to actually sit down and write the damn thing. Just like it’s important to carve out time to use my new backyard outdoor leaf blower/vaccum cleaner. Which is how I ended up with a backdoor being washed with Cetaphil moisturizing lotion. Because as I toiled in the backyard, the sleep slayer was charged with the task of amusing herself indoors without an electronic device being switched on. And given her state of ‘wire/tired’ I should’ve guessed that this was not really going to be enough of a parameter to harness the border collie, the worker bee, the industrious and mighty mental warrior and sleep layer of our times, the Lara Croft of 4 year olds. But I didn’t. Because at that moment my brain farted. I don’t know, I just casually assumed that, being over over tired, she’d collapse on her giant bean bag with her blankets and a couple of books. Instead, after deafening hald the neighborhood and looking a freak with this machine strapped to my side, I went upstairs to see her on all fours pushing some puddles of water around our dining – sun room. After quickly making sure the Titanic wasn’t at the bottom of one of them, I then noticed that the glass door panes were covered in white.

“What,” I asked reasonably and without yelling (because I knew already this was not an act of total and utter insubordination),”is this?”

“Oh, I’m cleaning Daddy,” she said as she wore her Princess sunglasses and continued slosshing the water around the floor with an array of paper towels, “and I’m cleaning the door too.”

“Ah-ha,” I said, being careful not to actually say ARRRGGGGGHHH AHHHHHHHHHH, “you know, thank you very much but lotion is for bodies and hands and feet and not to clean glass with.” I had, you’ll understand, already made an executive decision not to suggest a raft or water wings as we gathered the swimming pools from the linoleum.

“Oh, OK, sorry.”

“That’s OK.”

And then she promptly grabbed a splodge off the door, retreated 4 steps, fell backwards and started rubbing it on her feet.

“If I can’t clean the door I’m just going to give myself a foot rub instead.”

And THAT, dear dear DEAR reader, is how to make a proper silk purse out of a sow’s ear!

Goodnight!

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HOLIDAY…HOLIDAY…

6.25 pm and I suddenly panicked amidst flocks of other child-afflicted shapes, all of us milling around the various squeeees and dings and doinks and crashes of the rides which surrounded us.

“!@#$%$#@@” I SCREAMED LOUDLY, and that is not a swear word, it is my pre-schooler’s name but hey, you guessed that right? And I did follow it with a quick ‘FUCK’ when I still couldn’t see her. My head flew from side to side, although not with quite the range of motion I would’ve expected given my abject lurch into panic. As I screamed her name again, a reply.

“WHAAAAAATT?!”

I frantically looked around trying to figure out why the voice was so near for a split second, until I suddenly caught sight of a leg and foot hanging over my right shoulder, my hand clasped against it. And on my left. And then I burst out laughing, much like a lunatic on day-release who escaped his wardens, as I realied the child I had ‘lost’ was actually sitting on my shoulders. For some people it’s sunglasses, right?

Now, laugh all you want , and by God I’m sure you will, but the truth is I was two days into a 4 day marathon with the pre-schooler in San Diego (specifically Legoland) and I never knew how tired I could get from a holiday with just the two of us. But there I was, standing bewildered-yet-roaring with laughter, sweaty and smelly from 90 degrees of heat-baked traipsing around, lost child on my person, strangers staring at me.

“Ha ha, bizarre eh, I thought I’d lost her and there she was all the time, ho ho ho,” I remarked to one particularly clueless gawper. His lack of clear response prompted to me wonder if he was in some sort of eyes-wide-open coma, but then I realized he thought I was the one who had clearly entered the land of never-ending nod. ‘Humourless bastard!’ I thought as I strode manfully (read: really embarrassed) away, although later as I reflected on the whole scenario, I realized that perhaps he was just so stupifyed by fatigue himself that he had actually been amazed at how I could retain so much strength AND lack of awareness at the same time; to be fair, he did not look like a health club’s poster child…

…child. Ah yes. Back to my youngest it is. The slayer of sleep, the assassin of dreams, the demolisher of daytime naps and the buzz-bucket of energy and verbal explosiveness that makes her at once a wonderful, unique child and also at times, an enormous pain in the arse. Her brain is ‘on’ 24-7, which means she never gives herself any shut-down time, which means she’s always thinking about something, which means I am always thinking about something (especially when it’s just she and I for 4 days) because as she thinks about something she asks me about something and I am forced to think about something when I want to think about nothing. Add to this a propensity for roller coasters and anything generating ‘G’force of some physical magnitude, and you have yourself a complex little cluster-buster of energy on your hands.

Soon after re-discovering where she’d been hiding from me, we stood in line for a ride and the questions, complaints and gibberish started. ‘Why of why oh why can you not be quiet for just 5 minutes?’ I asked in a raised and painful voice, like an amplified Woody Allen. At which point I caught sight, a few people ahead in the queue, of a mother and her pre-teenage son engaged in what appeared to be a fight. An exasperated fight. one which from my worldly experience looked to be the result of a straw breaking a camel’s back somewhere in the Sahara and resulting in this-here battle. Except it was a silent battler, waged instead with furiously waving arms and fingers, sometimes 18 of them flying all over the place as if uncontrolled (although if I was to take a guess, ‘fuck’ and ‘off’ and ‘asshole’ and ‘fuck you’ were hidden amidst the digital flurry…or is that projection? Oh Lordy Lordy Christ!). And then I wondered how such taxing situations as mine were for deaf parent/child combinations? I mean, I might get a headache and the youngest might get an earache, but do the deaf get carpel-tunnel syndrome from arguing all the time? And in cases of almost constant disarray, do they end up having to wear wrist-splints?

Fun was most certainly had, but due to a lack of sleep, I needed a brain splint by the time we flew home. It has a hard enough time functioning properly in it’s early 40s as-is, but add 96 hours of incessence and you’re looking at a blobby pile of mush somehow prevented from oozing out of my ears and nose by my skull.

I love her to pieces but she

is

a

marathon.

And despite a new fitness routine which is seeing me gradually get a little smaller and a little tighter, I am not a marathon runner. I mean, somehow I make it to the end because, well, you just do. But it’s not a stroll.

Of course, on returning home, I found another area of  my liquified brain being challenged by the teenager, who has entered the hormonal land of independence, except this independence also requires some a la carte taxi service and general all-round ‘I’m too tired can you do it’-ness. All topped off with a nice sprinkling of ‘clipped retort’ answers to any question or comment.

i.e. “Crikey, that chicken and avocado sandwich tastes good.”

“Why are you surprised, I mean, chicken and avocado sandwiches are always good.”

Call me old-fashioned, or just old, but a simple ‘yes’ would’ve been sufficient. But it ain’t about sufficiency right now, it’s about pushing the bar a little harder against the chest, the boundaries a little further out, and my patience a lot further than it’s increasingly brittle elastic can go.

I need a holiday. Help?

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