Featured image: close-up of pink lace-up canvas shoes. Credit: Mister GC
“My children are my priority” you tell me angrily, after I call you back to take your child.
Last year, I spotted that your child was like me, autistic. You hadn’t sought diagnosis, but he was only preschool age, I can let it slide.
“I want what’s best for my child.” you tell me.
Autumn last year, just as the cold snaps came, you sent him in a t-shirt. He wore the smallest hoodie I owned for the day. I let it slide, since he was living just round the corner. He said the beeping of the traffic lights and the noise of the shopping centre scared him. I bought a pair of ear defenders in his favourite colour. He loved them. I offered to let him take them home. You refused, saying he didn’t need them because he’s noisy at home.
Later, the rain started, you moved further away. He made the 4 mile round trip in welly boots and cotton socks. He said his feet hurt, you said he was just trying to get carried. He walked happily enough in a new pair of padded boots. I hated having to take them off him to hand him back, I knew his feet hurt, but I’ve dealt with parents like you since before your child was conceived. I’d never see the boots again, and he would arrive next week in the same wellies that made his feet hurt. Two weeks later he has a new pair, but only because he wouldn’t stop talking about the ones I bought.
I noticed he couldn’t see what I was talking about when I pointed out birds and trees and other items of interest on our walks. You would have known if you had spent any time talking to him, pointing things out. You said you were putting off sight tests until the were done by his school. Years without the glasses he needs. Think of how much he missed out on seeing. I noticed he was walking into things, his balance was bad, he fell a lot. He was still waiting for his sight tests.
In Winter he came without gloves or a coat. You thank me as I take his coat off and let you put him in your flimsy jacket that won’t keep out the cold. I stuff the gloves in my pocket. You think I bought them on the day. No. I bought them just after he spent a day in my hoodie. They’d just been sitting on the hook, waiting for a day like this.
Before Christmas I made a toy kitchen out of cardboard. I made salt dough and together we made and painted the toy food. Two weeks later, he gives us our Christmas present. It’s a salt dough sculpture.
All through winter, he chewed his gloves, his coat, his scarf. I bought a chew necklace. He knew before we even asked that you wouldn’t let him keep it. He just took it off and handed it to me without a word.
This Spring, it was suddenly your idea to give him chew jewelry. You sent some eBay listings, asked us what was best. Then you sent him with his baby brother’s teether, a rubber face attached to a comfort blanket.
Then came summer. On the hottest day of the year you sent him in a heavy jacket. I sent him home in my old vest. Your eldest teased and mocked as I explained that the shirt was too big because it was my vest, because he was overheating. You offered the shirt back with no thought for the poor kid’s comfort.
Then came a cold snap. I broke my rule and sent him back with a jumper, asking to have it back next week. I never saw it again.
I’m a bit hard of hearing. More precisely I have auditory processing disorder, a problem with interpreting what I hear. I have to ask your child to repeat himself sometimes. He won’t. When I ask him what he said, he looks afraid, like I’m angry with him. He doesn’t understand that my request isn’t an attack on what he said. He knows he’s not allowed to repeat things. I know you make passive-aggressive comments at him about his echolalia. I see how scared he is of saying the wrong thing, or too many times. Here’s a secret: you don’t need snide comments like “Do you really need to say that again?” – he stops repeating himself if you acknowledge what he’s saying. He repeats because you ignore him, but tell me again how he’s your priority.
The day you told me over and over again that he’s your priority, I called you back because I spotted a potentially very dangerous health issue. He was frightened. Hell, I was frightened, I saw my sister struggle with the same condition. You were angry because you were enjoying your break. You went on about how hard it is having all those children, how we should buck up and be better parents.
I beg your fuckin’ pardon?
I’ve seen him overdressed, underdressed, understimulated, his medical issues ignored. I’ve seen him hopeless, having realised the supports we offer aren’t available at home. I’ve given him the shirt off my back, and paid for items he should have had when we didn’t have the money to put a roof over our heads. I’ve done this through poverty, through work, through chronic illness.
I’ve seen him burst into tears at the mention of your partner, who’s “frustrated with work” and “not very good with kids”. I’ve heard your child casually declare that there’s something wrong with his head, that he knows he’s annoying, that he winds his family up. I’ve heard him struggling with the idea that the things he likes are abnormal, that he has some kind of age limit after which he won’t like them anymore.
I’ve seen your child crying at the prospect of trying a new activity. He doesn’t know the answer already. I can see his anxiety mount fast at the suggestion that he has a go at something. I wonder what you have to do to a kid to make them so scared of getting a wrong answer or not knowing how to do something. He’s terrified of trying. I wonder why.
One day I met your eldest in the park. I was selling my possessions, a yard sale without a yard, desperate to keep my home for another month. He came to me and told me that he hadn’t had a drink all day. I gave him mine. Walked him halfway home as he told me about how he was doing at school and the gears on his bike, showed me his turning signal and his moving dismount.
Go on, tell me how your kids are your priority, and that I need to be a better parent. I call bullshit.