Rollercoasts, swings and roundabouts. That kind of thing.

I think I have mentioned before my underwhelmed emotions about Jasper’s kindergarten. That not one staff member used to come and greet him or say goodbye when we arrived and left. That not one staff member ever offered me any information about the kind of day he had or what activity he enjoyed. Still don’t unless I ask them. That he has not formed one real friendship and when asked who he played with will quite matter-of-factly tell me he ‘played all by myself’.

Here’s the thing. I just don’t think the staff like the children that much. Don’t get me wrong, they care for them, they run a lovely structured program and they tick all the boxes they’re meant to when it comes to meeting the government criteria, rules and regulations for a kindergarten.

But it seems to me they are more concerned with writing down what each child is doing and having everything in its place than simply playing with the kids and teaching them through play and fun activities.

I find their barely controlled panic when a child hurts themselves really quite funny – like something has happened that they didn’t have in the program!

There was the time I went to open a toy from its wrapper on a table with lots of books on insects and toy bugs and asked the girls if that was OK. Three of them simultaneously cried out ‘NO’ with the director then offering that its because the pieces might get lost.

Even dust doesn’t got lost at this place.

Or the time we weren’t there for two weeks and when we returned not one staff member said hello or offered up a cuddle or asked Jasper where he’d been or if he’d had a good holiday.

My shiny happy Jasper is just some flotsam in this place. Other kids are more needy, more in need of assistance, more outspoken in the setting. Jasper just goes about his merry business and they – from all appearances – do nothing to tap into his world.

So why have we left him there all year? Well they do do things with them, it’s not like he is neglected. He seems to enjoy it (when he’s there) and I needed some down-time. Let’s not underestimate this last point. If he had been really unhappy and fought going there I would have pulled him months ago, but that just hasn’t been the case.

We are SO relieved we got a place in a wonderful pre-school for him next year. A centre which just screams it is for the children, with not an inch of wall space or even ceiling space free of the kids’ artworks and creations. Where I’ve seen staff scoop children up and kids run to staff to tell them things or for a cuddle. Where there is an energy and a joy about being a part of these children’s lives.

So while we’ve just been celebrating the world according to Jasper, what with him turning four and all, today Chef came home from dropping him off with a parent information note about the PALS (Playing And Leaning to Socialise) program and a form to sign for Jasper to be a part of it.

This is a really good program. I remember it from when Oscar was little and I think the kindy ran it there for him and some of his classmates. It is a series of half hour sessions using story telling, songs, games and role-play which work on skills such as greeting others, taking turns talking and listening and at play, sharing, asking for help, identifying feelings, empathy, overcoming fear and anxiety, managing frustration and calming down and speaking up.

But you know what. Just handing the info sheet to a parent with a ‘I’d like Jasper to do this’ is not good enough. Why? Have there been any situations or events that have made you concerned about him for this to be necessary? If so, why has there been NO discussion with us, his parents, about it – when there are now only EIGHT weeks left in the year?

Don’t get me wrong, if any of my children are offered a place in a free educative program I’m taking it – hell, Jasper might come home and be able to model some behaviours for his older brothers to learn. BUT there is a way to go about informing parents of the program and why they think their child would benefit from being involved.

And apart from that, I want to yell at this place that what they see as Jasper’s shyness is actually his reflection of how they interact and treat him.

I remember when Felix started at a pre-school his teacher said to me really early on that he was quite happy to play on his own rather than ask to join in and that if another child asked him to join an activity he would but would then just move away after a little while. This was apparently a red flag moment. I pointed out that maybe he didn’t want to play whatever it was the other kids were playing and was happier doing the activity he chose to do on his own and that wasn’t it better to move away once bored or over it than just lash out at the others or destroy what they were playing or WORSE, stay in the activity even though he didn’t want to? Can I point out that at this time he was EIGHTEEN MONTHS OLD.

She also noted that Felix would sometimes go and do something to another child (like take their toy or some such) but that she was perplexed by it. She could see he was not doing it out of spite or naughtiness or malice and that it was obvious he did not want the toy or book or whatever it was to play with. She said to me, ‘You know, he’s doing it for a laugh. He’s got this really developed sense of humour that his peers just don’t understand yet.’ Well, DERR. Thank goodness she finally ‘got’ him.

Holy crap people, let’s get a grip. Jasper – like Felix and like his father and let’s face it, like me – will not engage just for the sake of engagement. He will instigate conversations and games with adults and children alike, but if there isn’t someone there he likes/wants to initiate with then he will happily go on his merry way and make his own game or do his own thing.

I’m sorry but I actually see that as a good personal trait.

So look, my shiny happy all singing and dancing and crazy walking and funny faced Jasper is going to do a social skills course. Not because he needs it but because there’s not really anyone – adult or child – at this pre-school he particularly likes or wants to play with. I’m not saying this to make myself feel better, I’m saying it because I.know.my.son.

Hell, when he’s here he’s got three brothers to negotiate – two days at kindy are probably his idea of quiet time when he finally gets to play with something he wants to play with without having some great interloper of a big brother or some pesky gnat of a little brother coming in and sabotaging it.

I just want to tell them that the main reason they see him as shy at kindy is because of how they are with him, not because of who he is.

Idiots.

History turns the page

In February 1998 we had Oscar, which was a bit of a surprise because he wasn’t due until April. Six weeks later we got to go home and one of the first things I did, apart from standing at his cot watching him sleep for a ludicrous periods of time, was go to my first mother’s group meeting. Everyone gasped at how little he was, which also caught me by surprise because not only were we used to it, he had cracked 2kgs and we thought he was SO BIG!

Anyway, Saturday night saw five women from that original group get together for dinner and well, it was just so lovely, restorative, informative, bolstering.

All of us had horror stories to share. Everyone had the ability to laugh at themselves and particular parenting moments when they’d either lost their shit or misplaced it momentarily.

It was one of those female evenings when you can just vent, offload, advise, reaffirm, discuss, laugh and just listen.

And you know what, we’re all on the cusp of the next stage.

Our ten year olds are throwing us curve balls on an almost daily basis. One is having absolute grief at school with bullying (my goodness girls can be BITCHES), one wanted to know how to spell condom, some are crying in that ‘I don’t know why I’m crying’ genre, someone’s child had skipped out of scripture and when the school rang to inform her mum, her first response was, ‘wow, I didn’t know she had it in her,’ which the school didn’t seem to think was the correct answer and one has recently written a note to her mother saying she is too meddling and ruining her life. Already!

It’s like becoming a parent all over again.

And I’m just so pleased I have these women around me for the coming years.

Conversations with the young

I’m very conscious of Felix’s world – a weird place at times where he is not the eldest, not the youngest but sometimes acts as such.
I am conscious we will soon be looking at some Sibshop type experience for him where he can be with other brothers and sisters of kids with special needs to learn some more coping skills and to realise that he is not isolated in his mixed and sometimes deeply conflicted emotions about having a brother like Oscar.
I am conscious of creating a very safe environment for Felix to express how he is feeling about Oscar and that whatever those emotions are it is OK and that we can get through it together.

After feeling rotten all day and not just for the glowing breast but for the yelling at my kids this morning and also the grim feelings around all the barking at Felix over the last few weeks about his behaviour/tone/attitude towards Oscar, he and I were having a quiet chat on the lounge tonight.

I’m not even sure how it started. I think it started with me saying something along the lines of thank you for finishing cleaning their room, even though there were lots of fights and carry-on between him and Oscar.

Anyway, as it unfolded, he very quietly said, ‘sometimes he makes me so angry I feel like I could strangle him’. And you could see just as clearly how scared he was to say it out loud as how conflicted it made him feel to think something like that about his own brother.

So we talked about it, about how it was perfectly understandable to feel that way sometimes but that nothing.good.ever.comes.from.anger.

We went over the exit strategies again – when you start to feel frustrated to tell him, to ask him to stop, to move away, to find me or Dad.

And I reiterated, ‘nothing good ever comes from anger,’ and told him how I should have waited until I was calm to talk to them about the state of their room and that I had felt pretty low all day after yelling at them that morning.

And he just said, ‘Oh mum, that’s OK,’ and gave me a big kiss and cuddle.

Until the glowing breast said that was enough.

40+5

A quiet day.
Acupuncture this morning, pure bliss.
Then a quick trip to Felix’s school to see his class perform a dance at 11.30. We got there at right on 11.30 (as we were instructed) and they were just finishing. Sigh.
Anyway, am at home now and taking it very easy.
Jasper is (finally) asleep, mum is picking the boys up from school and is in the process of making her chop casserole for dinner.
Those vanilla biscuits may be a little project for me and Oscar this afternoon while Felix is at art class.
I’m watching Cinderella Man and I hate boxing movies but I’ve decided that Craig Bierko is quite the spunk and as much as it pains me to admit it, Russell Crowe really can act. Renee Zellweger still shits me.

and just so you guys can be assured I am not exagerating about the trotters…
and

. . . oink oink oink.

*****
On Wednesday we had Auskick training and I got to talking with one of the other mums. She knew us, correction, she remembered Oscar as her eldest son had gone to preschool with him. I can’t tell you how many people ‘know’ us from this time that come back into our lives at various events or activities.

Once we got talking I had vague recollections of her as one of those parents who do the overley friendly thing when you have a kid with special needs. You know the ones, they talk a bit louder, are particularly effusive, gush with how lovely your child is and so on and so forth. The type who, because of the particular time it is in your journey with your child with special needs – the time of most doubt, most anxiety, most intervention/testing/decision making – you just want to poke them in the eye with a stick and tell them to fuck off. You’ll be relieved to know that some years later you recognise that yes, they are a particular personality type and that is OK.

Anyway, we eventually got on to talking about her son, who is experiencing the tightening of tendons in his toes. This, it turns out, can be the first sign of juevenile rheumatoid arthritis.

We talked a lot about Oscar and his feet issues, botox and using it in the treatment of cerebral palsy (and possible applications with other syndromes), the shock of hearing your child needs surgery or could have something very life impacting, the use of alternative therapies etc etc etc.

And I haven’t really been able to get the whole conversation and situation out of my head. You see, many years ago, a friend in my mother’s group said to me that we were lucky with Oscar. That we knew about his condition from birth whereas there were those in the group whose child may have an illness or disability that wouldn’t present until the child was at school or even later in life. Granted, it was a weird thing to say to someone but she did have a point.

Here was a mother who was suddenly trying to get her head around the fact her child could have a condition that could be incredibly debilitating and life-altering for her child. And, as those of us with kids who have special needs know with a keeness you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, she can not make it go away.

I guess it just rang home for me that feeling I had when Oscar was 10 days old and the neonatal intensivist told us about Oscar’s dodgy chromosome four. I was holding Oscar a the time, all 4 pounds of him. He was in his first outfit, a pale blue polkadot pinnie that had been made by one of the hospital volunteers. There was a big splint on his right arm holding his drip in place, a big bit of tape going across his cheek keeping his gastro tube in check and the oxygen/CO2 monitor thingy illuminating his foot so it resembles ET’s finger. That feeling of looking down at him, knowing that in every cell, in every part of his body was this dodgy chromosome and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing I could do to make it go away, nothing I could do to make it better. Feeling so fucking angry at God, at the world, at science, that it/they picked Oscar for this little experiment. But more than any of that, feeling that this child was perfect. Through tears, I said to the doctor, “But he’s perfect”, he replied to me “of course he is, he is your son”. And so, as a parent, there is no greater truth.

Can’t sleep, won’t sleep

I’ve been up since about 1am with Jasper. He’s just awake. He’s not sick. I’ve tried him in our bed, I’ve tried him in his. I’ve given him a bottle, I’ve sat with him, I’ve given him Panadol.
It’s now almost four.
I’m sitting here typing this to distract myself from his plaintiff cries of “mama, mama”. A first. That is breaking my heart.
But now there is silence so I might try and find sleep.