There’s nothing like a bit of a winter break, timed perfectly to get out of the UK when the Beast from the East hit. Only we went to Lille, where it was snowing and absolutely freezing. Still, it was a few days break for the wife and I from the little terror at home; the joy of looking after him fell to his Grannie.
She came up to stay at our house so it didn’t interrupt DS1’s routine, plus he still had to go to school – except on the day it was closed because of the bad weather, of course.
After spending that day confined to barracks, with her grandchild refusing to get dressed let alone venture outside, Grannie ruminated: “I now understand what you mean about getting cabin fever when he won’t leave the house. I sympathised with you before, but hadn’t fully appreciated the reality of being confined to barracks sometimes for days on end unable to even pop out for a pint of milk – it’s not only impractical but soul destroying.”
She also volunteered another observant observation (aren’t all observations observant?). “His rituals are certainly people – not place – specific, aren’t they,” she observed (yep, definitely observant). “Every morning when I got up at 7 o’clock, I found him snuggled up in bed reading [not downstairs watching TV, having got up some two hours earlier, as he does when we are at home] and he happily ate his breakfast in the kitchen [which he doesn’t do when we are there]. And he got dressed in his bedroom [again, that doesn’t happen with us on a school day – it’s done in the lounge].
“At bedtime, he never asked me to stay with him [he gets very upset if I don’t stay with him for 10 minutes after reading]. And I completely forgot to do the bedtime snack bit on Friday [another cause of bedlam if I don’t remember] and he didn’t remind me or got moody [unheard of].”
He also did his homework unprompted [or without being constantly nagged for several days] – coming home from school and just getting on with it.
Interesting is one way to describe this behaviour; fecking unbelievable would be another.
I think Grannie has stumbled across something here. It’s obvious really, but it had never really occurred to me before. This different strokes for different folks idea is definitely a thing.
When he was younger, I thought it was a place reason – the fact he ate peas when he stayed at Grannie’s but not when he was at home; or that he brushed his teeth twice a day when he stayed at my mum and dad’s, and even had a wash before bed. But maybe it was the people rather than the place that were dictating the different behaviour.
Take homework, for example. Just this week, we had yet another battle about him doing his homework before he could watch the television. His reasoning: “It’s World Book Day and you’re not allowed to do homework on World Book Day.”
You have to admire his imagination when it comes to excuses. In the end we reached a compromise, but that’s not the point here – would he have had that argument with his Grannie? I think not.
Recently, I discovered that if he goes to his friend Andreas’s house for tea (it’s on the same route back to ours) A’s dad can veer off from the usual insisted-upon way home from school without any complaint.
Though, I have to say, the other day I crossed the road at a non-normal point, without intending to, and he followed without noticing. If I ever try this intentionally, I am chastised with an, “Er, Dad, what are you doing?”
Being with different people breeds different behaviour. I know this is a kid thing in general – parents always comment to their offspring that they wish they could behave as well as their friends do. It’s that familiarity breeds contempt concept, working alongside respect for the authority of someone that they don’t know so well.
But I think the autistic child can take this a step or two further – certainly mine does.
Bedtime stories, for instance: Grannie was able to do them sitting in a chair; I have to do them lying in his bed. It’s as if he accepts that things can be different because the person with him is different and that in turn leads to different behaviour patterns.
From my point of view, you have to be careful what you agree to, because that then becomes the accepted norm and there is no way of changing that routine until he decides otherwise.
At the moment, every morning before school, we are running laps around the playground for Sport Relief (the whole school is doing it, not just us I hasten to add). We each have a form for a teacher to tick off every time we complete a lap.
The first time we did it, for some reason, I held his tick form. Now he refuses to hold the form himself – throwing it on the floor in a tantrum if I dare to suggest that he should take responsibility for it.
But, when he does the laps with his Mum (or rather on his own because she has so far managed to avoid having to do it), he happily trots around clutching the tick form.
“You have to hold it,” he insists.
“But, you hold it when I’m not here,” I say.
“But you are here.”
Likewise, can I get out of doing the laps? No, not without causing a meltdown, because it is now the rule that I have to do it.
So having Grannie over to look after him is a good thing. If you’re reading this Grannie, come and do it more often. Please!
After all, as DS1 said to the wife: “The other good thing about you not being here, apart from Grannie…”
Good thing about us going away? Apart from Grannie? What?
“… is that I get to have your snuggle rug in bed.”
His Grannie is a fat tyrant
After Grannie had returned home, DS1, the wife and I were having a pleasant conversation while we ate our dinner – who’d have thought?
We, well I, was talking about how funny Dads were, which was greeted with some derision by my son, and an offer to chop off my head with an axe.
“Would you say that to Grandpa and Grandad?” I asked. “They’re dads too.”
“Well, Grandad isn’t Mum’s dad is he? He’s her stepdad. Grandpa Bill is her dad.”
This seemed like the perfect time to explain that things weren’t quite that straightforward. It’s a subject the wife has been keen to avoid, to swerve the complication and confusion it may cause DS1. But, striking while the iron was hot, she took the plunge.
“Well, Grandpa Bill isn’t my real dad either. Grannie was actually married to someone else before him and they had me. But I never knew my natural father, and then Grandpa Bill married Grannie when I was tiny and brought me up as his own, so I see him as my real dad.”
We waited for the fallout. But it didn’t come.
“Grannie’s had nearly as many husbands as Henry VIII’s had wives,” he exclaimed, laughing his head off (not in the way Anne Boleyn’s or Catherine Howard’s left their respective torsos).
“Grandad’s been married three times as well,” added the wife, getting everything out in the open. “So between them they’ve had as many marriages as Henry.”
This brought more howls of laughter. “Everyone in Grannie’s generation seems to be divorcing,” he observed (we’re a very observant family, you know).
“Well, I don’t think she’ll get married again,” I said, as I started to explain that we all make mistakes, before thinking better of it.
“No, I think she’s a bit too old to be fancied,” he observed again.
Now it was my turn to take the plunge. “Plus,” I continued. “It’s not just Grannie’s side of the family – I’ve been married before as well.”
I expected this to shock him. But it didn’t faze him one bit.
“Now, you know Mike and Bella, well Mike is my ex-wife’s brother – that’s how we know them.” There was a look of understanding – some dots had been joined for him.
“But I didn’t have any children with her.”
“Yes, I know that,” he replied.
Then a thought struck him. There was, it seemed, a spanner in the works after all.
“Ohhhh no,” he wailed. “I’ll have to change the family tree now!”