09 February 2008

The Slopes of Mt. Paperwork

The first week back at school has presented its manifold challenges. For a start, the blizzard of paper begins to blow in and accumulate. With two children in two schools each, it arrives each day by the bushel. And evidently I'm expected to not only read all of it, but interact with it, too. I don't mean to complain. I know the teachers, bless them one and all, work very hard writing all of these projections, reports, evaluations, and general information.

And obviously I need to know these things, so I shouldn't grumble. The trouble is I can only absorb so much helpful information. I quickly reach a saturation point. A distressing apathy sets in. It seems to prevent me from taking a more scholarly approach, becoming an amateur expert. It also hinders me from taking on the admirable (but for me wildly overambitious) notion of home schooling. The very idea gives me a sharp pain in the head. I feel bad about this, but what can I do?

One teacher sends home a daily report, and I have to sign it to let her know I've read it, or she gets annoyed. I cooperate, but I do feel a little resentful. I mean, I thought I was finished with bossyboots school teachers decades ago.

Some of the exchanges leave me feeling a trifle inadequate. The following is typical:

--Ben had no hat today. Can you please make certain he has one in his bag. So many students don't seem to have their hats.--

I answered:

--I always put a hat in his bag. Ben likes to take it out and lose it at the first opportunity, because he's figured out that if he doesn't have a hat, he has to stay inside and play computer games. I am putting it in again right now.--

And so on.

A better mother would, I feel sure, throw herself at every scrap of research, and explore every avenue. Be willing to try any treatment, however crackpot, that offered the slimmest hope. Naturally, if someone finds a cure we'll have some of it, thanks very much. But I'm skeptical and resistant to most of those.

I know there are adult autistics who take the view that they wouldn't have anything to do with a cure should one become available. They express pride in all that they are, including their autism because it makes them who they are. Regardless of whatever difficulties they have as a result. I applaud that attitude, and think that it's just as well. As far as a cure goes, they have nothing to worry about I far as I can foresee.

I have read some helpful things. I love everything I've heard or read by Temple Grandin. She's fascinating, and articulate enough to provide a window into her world of overwhelming sensation. Her insights never make me glaze over.

I have two books by Dr. Bryna Siegel. She is scholarly, and sensible, but those I have to dip into and read in small bites. This is no disrespect to Dr. Siegel. The fault is entirely with me. I can't go for more than few pages before I realize that I'm not actually reading, but day dreaming. My eyes have skimmed the words, but their meaning hasn't registered. The consequences of overload.

What I have done right, though, is to find the right teachers and therapists to help. They have read all the books, and can apply the insights to the boys, and then share them with me. I often learn difficult concepts more quickly and easily if someone explains it than if I read it for myself.

The early part of the boys' week is spent at Autism Queensland's Brighton Campus. The good people there are very well equipped for a seriously difficult job. Obviously each and every one of them have to be very special people to take it on. I only have to think about a roomful, or a busload, of children like mine to know that I'm not one of those special people.

I never aspired to be. I thought I might be a reasonably adequate mother, when I thought about it at all. I didn't want kids when I was in my twenties; I was too immature and wanted to stay that way. I actually got to my mid-thirties, married but still thinking there was plenty of time to decide. Then Taipan's biological clock gave us both a fright when it suddenly went off. He was inexplicably in the clutches of baby lust. At first I expected it would wear off, as so many intense enthusiasms do, but no, he would bring it up every day. Over breakfast, when I never, ever want to discuss anything. Then, just when I thought he'd gone for the day, he'd phone from his car.

"I think we should have a baby!" he'd shout, as if the idea had just occurred to him.

"Do you? Okay, noted...."

I was worried. I often am, but this seemed like a huge leap into the unknown. I was sure I could take scrupulous care of a tiny infant. All going well, and apart from the sleep deprivation, it's pretty straightforward. But what to do when they reached the stage where they were big enough to harm themselves but nowhere near old enough to reason with. Teaching them things, instilling a set of values, keeping them from the allure of danger while also making them happy-- it seemed like a massive task, and one I instinctively knew was going to be mostly up to me.

Eventually my own hopes and dreams of a family asserted themselves, and I did agree to the project. I was still concerned about my abilities, and as it took ages (I'd always assumed that in the absence of birth control I'd fruit within weeks) I had plenty of time to entertain my doubts.

Mothering is a skill set best learned from direct experience. Most of what I experienced was not something I could ever make use of. A helpful friend suggested that I would know what not to do. It was a start anyway. I comforted myself that all I had to be was better than my mother had been. Every day that I'd get out of bed, stay awake and actually take care of them, cook for them and clean up after them puts me ahead. More so if I can behave in a loving way towards them while I'm doing it.

I can certainly thank my mother for setting the bar so low. That may sound like sarcasm, but honestly, I am increasingly, genuinely, grateful for some of those early life lessons.

No comments: