Sunday, 20 January 2013

The longest-lasting winter

Call me slow, but it has occurred to me that this blog is an exercise in saying the same thing in a lot of different ways. (If there are readers among you who have already rumbled this, I can only apologise.) But then it has to be, because this is my life with Grace now.

This morning it is homework time. Cue the same weekly argument in different words. Like Groundhog Day, with knobs on. My daughter is already yelling at me and rolling her eyes at my stupidity in Not Getting that she shouldn't have to do it. (Imperial Free Pass? Divine Right?) As her aggression and agitation grows, I feel like doing a Captain Oates - walking out into the snow and never coming back. Or at least not until I can find Punxsutawney Phil to release us from this unrelieved cycle of torment and signal a change in the season.

Parents of other autistic children have told me to give up on Grace's homework on the grounds that it's not worth the stress and distress. On Sunday mornings my daughter now wakes growling and fully-charged, prepared for the weekly torment. There are no preliminary skirmishes any more: she flies at me a shrieking, railing Fury.

I wonder whether her increasing, dismaying, mind-blowingly frustrating recalcitrance is because my clever girl is onto me, and the system. She knows that there is an 'out' under the arrangement that now provides a statement of educational needs for her. She knows that there is an acknowledgement of her areas of difficulty. I wonder whether she is seeking to redraw the terms of our deal - in which I bow out, and shut it all down when it gets too much - in her constant quest for control. I am so frightened that as she grows up, butting more and more against an educational system and social environment that accentuate her differences as the years pass, she is seeking to escape rather than engage.

More and more of my requests these days, whether they relate to homework or not, seem intolerable to her. Increasingly, she finds it hard just to say 'Yes.' Increasingly, she rejects expectations and demands. "I find it really hard to say 'yes' to things I don't want to do, Mummy," she tells me. "It makes me feel all fizzy and sick inside."

So today I ask myself again: why am I still doing this? Why don't I just stop? Grace doesn't understand homework because she doesn't understand working at something to get a better understanding. In her world, you either get something or you don't. She sees her step-brothers bend to their schoolwork and believes they have an innate ability to answer questions on maths and science that she lacks. She thinks I can speak French because I was born to be able to do it. She thinks her father is good at maths for the same reason.

I want her to learn. But more importantly, I want her to learn how to learn. I do not think, yet, that this is beyond her. I'm not ready to give up on my daughter yet. She is capable of doing most of the homework she is set. Even the bits she finds hard, even the bits she boggles over, we can usually address to some extent. I don't want to send her the message that she's incapable, or so different that it's not worth trying any more.

Outside, it's still snowing. It makes me think of the permanent winter of Narnia imposed on the inhabitants of that land by the evil White Witch. It makes me think of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of The Snow Queen - which terrified me when I was little - about the boy with the splinter in his eye who is stolen away into a never-changing land of frost and ice from which he can never return.

In the end, I have to give up on the homework for today. The shouting and the distress made it simply ridiculous to continue. Now Grace is in my arms crying. This noise too is immense. As I hold her and kiss her and shush her I wonder how long Grace and I are to spend in this endless pattern. I look outside at winter. I want to walk out into it until it muffles the shrieking. I want to walk out into it until it blocks my ears and eyes, and all I can hear is silence.

Most of all, though, I don't want it to be winter any more. I just want it to be spring.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Starting term, without a paddle

Grace is talking at me, louder and louder and faster and faster.

She forces me to shut my mouth and hold in my head the conversation I want to have with her. She forces me to listen while she changes the topic of talk. She makes me bite my lip and tap my toe and squash down my own need to get her to listen to me, to me, for just a minute.

She is taking control.

She does this now because tomorrow is the start of a new term. She does this now because she needs to assert her own interests at a time when she feels an alternative agenda is looming large: one which she does not like and in which she does not want to participate. All day today and all day yesterday the stream of consciousness of Grace's thoughts - the manner of communicating which she so prefers to the tedium and confusion of conversation or small talk - has flowed faster and faster and more turbulently, like river water swollen by storm rain.

All I can do is bob helplessly along in the current. Each time I attempt to stick my oar in and control the direction, I am tossed aside.

Right now, at this precise moment, Grace is talking because she knows I have come to switch off her reading light and tuck her into bed and kiss her goodnight and tell her that I will see her in the morning when I come to try to get her to wake and get dressed and ready for school. She is dreading this prospect as much as I am.

So she talks.

She talks about the chapter of the book she has just read, and the thoughts she has had about it. She talks about her own book, the story of a misfit girl with magical powers, that she is writing inside her head and drawing in page after page of her art books. She turns away from my gaze, hunching her shoulders under her duvet, so that she cannot see me trying to butt in, so that she doesn't have to try to read what she suspects is my expression of impatience. She has turned so far away from me that she now has her back to me entirely. I am left on the outside, foiled and frustrated.

Still she talks.

Irritation is rising in me fast. I too have to get back on the treadmill of work and routine tomorrow. I have cooked dinner and bathed children, laid out clothes and checked for shoes and schoolbags and hats and scarves cast aside with glee nearly three weeks ago. I have combed nooks and crannies all over the house to assemble kit and outfits. Then I have combed hair and read stories and promised just another half an hour, another ten minutes, ok then five more, before the lights go out.

And still it's not enough.

The bubble of temper inside me is building. My heart is beating faster as I stand like a chump, ignored by my daughter at her bedside. (She is very good at ignoring me while simultaneously talking to me.) I can feel my patience fray as her ceaseless words saw away at it.

I tell her that her story is interesting but that she has to stop now. I tell her that it's better to keep stories short because then they're more interesting. I tell her that she can tell me more tomorrow. I tell her that I'm going to count to three and then she has to put her book down. As I talk she continues to talk over me, turning the pages of her book faster to look for more things to tell me about, rifling faster and faster until -


I have shouted. And she has subsided, and turned such a look of disappointment and dislike on me that I feel it pierce like real pain.

She pulls her eye mask down and arranges herself flat and stiff beneath the covers. Into the silence I tell her goodnight and switch off her light. I kiss her unresponsive mouth and leave the room.

As I walk downstairs I remember how, in the car, when we turned the corner into our street yesterday on the return from a long stay with beloved grandparents in the north of the country, she said from the back seat in a small voice: "I am feeling very nervous about going back to school Mummy."

So I pause and go back upstairs. I kiss her again and say sorry for shouting. She mumbles that it's ok. I tell her tomorrow will be fine. She mumbles: yeah.

I go back downstairs and try not think about how tired I feel already, even before school has started.