Just Popping Out

Kerry Fender by Kerry Fender Additional Needs

Kerry Fender

Kerry Fender

Down’s Syndrome, my family and me – one mum’s account of family life with an extra chromosome.

In my head I know where this parent is coming from: I’d be feeling the same way too if I cared what other people think.

But I don’t care what others think of me, because I’ve had to learn not to.

Viewed through the prism of ‘special needs’ parenting, this person’s nightmare looks like my dream shopping trip – only one ‘terrible twos’ tizzy, with an easily identifiable cause.

Although I understood the point the writer was making, I didn’t identify with him at all.

In fact, I found his concerns somewhat laughable because I had just returned from a two-hour expedition to buy milk from a shop ten minutes’ walk away from my house.

The usual laws of time and space don’t apply to special needs families. It IS possible for a ten minute trip to take two hours.

It might start with a flat refusal to come downstairs to get ready to go out.

This refusal may come completely out of the blue, or it may follow a tantrum about the wrong kind of toast (or, as last week, a tantrum because it wasn’t August yet, and according to mummy, it takes more than just turning over the page on the calendar to make it stop being July).

To show him I mean business I can take the shoes and backpack (with attached wrist-link) upstairs and attempt to put them on, but this will result in ten minutes of furious kicking while I try to wrangle the boots on without the insoles slipping out of position, and at the same time avoid getting my front teeth removed by a flying Piedro.

Hopefully I’ll get them on the correct foot at the first attempt, even though they are so battered and out-of-shape that I can barely tell which is meant to be which (but, of course, I’m still waiting for the new ones to be delivered).

What happens next depends on which one of us first gets bored of waiting out his refusal to stand up.

If I’m very lucky, then, once out of the front door I might find that he resigns himself to going to the shop, and walks nicely beside me holding my hand, chatting about the things he sees and hears on the way.

His first attempt to run off will be met with application of the wrist link, which may result in him realising that trying to run off was a bad move.

If this is the case then, as we approach the busy road, I may feel a little hand slip into mine.

Sometimes, we might actually get round the shop without a tizzy of any kind, especially if he is fully occupied pulling the basket, which handily has little wheels on it so it doesn’t get too heavy.

He’ll even gleefully unload the stuff onto the belt at the checkout, and pack it all into the bag at the end, carefully dropping a four-pint bottle of milk onto the bread rolls to cushion its fall (luckily, hereabouts, we eat North Staffordshire Oatcakes, which are already flat and pretty much indestructible).

The homeward journey could potentially proceed via three or four ‘flop and drop’ attacks. 

These are caused, in the first instance, by me dragging him away from the most fantastic stick that he’s just spotted on the ground, because we’re in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, and the lights are about to change for the traffic to start moving again. This one could last as long as twenty minutes.

The next might well occur because I tell him off for viciously kicking the shopping bag as he gets up from the first (only ten minutes, this one).

The third will probably be precipitated by my refusal to let him pick up a dirty wipe from the grass outside the flats – some trollop has obviously wiped the baby’s bum on it and just thrown it out the window (I’m getting decidedly frustrated with the whole world, and everyone in it, EXCEPT for my child).

The person who offers a jocular, ‘helpful’, comment on my parenting style at the fourth, ‘flop and drop’.

(which occurs because my little one is now tired and fed up) will likely feel the sharp side of my tongue and will go away thinking I’m an asshole. That’s ok, because I already think he’s an asshole, so we’re quits.

The fifth (wait, there’s a fifth? No wonder it took two hours) will inevitably happen at the entrance to a car park, or in the middle of the road, or some other place so obviously inconvenient or dangerous that it is difficult not to imagine that it has been carefully chosen as part of some dastardly plan to be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back (and boy, have I got the hump by now).

I have no choice but to half-drag, half-carry my offspring out of harm’s way to a more suitable location for such an activity (or inactivity).

Sanctions and punishments have no effect whatsoever in this situation.

You can only try to manage the behaviour and ride it out. Much harder to ride out is other people’s reactions.

I was going to say that it helps if you have no shame, but no one should be ashamed in this situation, because they are dealing with something most people have no understanding of.

So, Mr Woe-is-me-my-kid-threw-a-wobbly-in-Waitrose, I’ll see your tiny toddler tantrum and raise you ten.

I’m not asking for your pity. You may be thinking, ‘I wouldn’t want to walk in her shoes’, but I’m laughing, because I know I could fly in yours.    


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