The phone rang. It was my daughter’s carer, telling me my girl was in Café Nero, she had dug herself in, heel-first, and wasn’t leaving. It was a full-on, 'horse-at-Becher’s-Brook-in-the-Grand-National' refusal.
We haven’t had one for a while.
Every other Saturday my daughter goes out on a little trip, with a handful of other young people/adults with disabilities. They have a coffee, and go to the cinema or the bowling alley. They are encouraged to use their money to order and pay, and it’s basically good practice in social interaction and independence.
My girl was acing the independence bit and flunking out of the social interaction module, by getting herself tied up in knots over the discussion of what film they were going to see, putting her blinkers on, and basically shutting down to any instructions. Tears and a little bit of temper were involved.
Putting me on the phone didn’t help: she ‘mysteriously’ couldn’t hear me.
In the end it needed a mercy dash in the car to get her home so the other girls could head off to the film my daughter hadn’t liked the sound of.
Later, when my girl left the Zone of Anxiety, I was able to chat to her and tell her how important it was that she does what her carer says.
She went very quiet.
She fetched her tablet and painstakingly tapped out an email to her carer:
I verry sorry I had a melt down and shouted at you in cafe neo and I am excremliy sorry that I refused to in your car and didn't come as i was told and i realised i was acting like a little girl and not acting like a 19teen year old. mummy explain to me that i have to come as i am told overwise it isnt safe to come out with you and i wont do this kind of behaler agan see hyou inweek on onsaturday and iam worried that you dont wont to take me out eney more but i still wont to come out with you
And yesterday I found this letter of apology to...erm...Café Nero.
Translation: I am very sorry I had a meltdown and shouting in your cafe. This is my favourite coffee shop. I have realised people want to have peace and quiet to drink their coffee and not listen to me crying and shouting. Yours, sincerely xx
As for my apology? Nope, still waiting. But, hey, I know my place, and it's way down the chain. Beneath the coffee franchise, obviously.
I am, by extension, better informed about recent snowfall across Britain than most TV weather presenters. Seriously, slap a bit of lippy on me, give me a green screen and a little button thingy to press, and I could give Carol Kirkwood a run for her money.
This is because there was a new entry in the charts of my daughter’s Prader-Willi Syndrome Next Level Obsessions this week, as SNOW rocketed up the bestseller list, passing BOOKS and - incredibly - FOOD, to take the coveted No 1 slot.
“Mum, how much snow is there where [insert different family member or friend’s name here] lives? Mum, we’ve got more snow than [insert random place name], haven’t we? Mum, my school is going to be closed isn’t it? Mum, is [insert random school name] going to be open? Mum, [insert random day] is going to be the most snowy, isn’t it?”
All of these questions (which continued for approximately four days) have needed to be answered. And have been responded to with daughter’s alarming new habit of essentially accusing me of #fakenews. So I’ve had to put the Google results, Met Office pages, online photos and videos from social media right under her nose, several times over, to convince her of the validity of my answers.
Today, things were back to normal. The temperature has gone up a few degrees, and the snow has pretty much melted. I was supposed to be doing my usual Sunday morning duties of helping corral eight and nine year olds at minis rugby, where for some reason I have ended up as an Assistant Coach, despite the fact that my boy tried rugby for four weeks, then decided he’d prefer to be home in the warm, so I go and he doesn’t.
But today’s session was cancelled, so I took my girl for a little walk down to the pub for a bit of mum and daughter time, a cup of coffee and a chat.
“We’re going out for lunch on the last day of term, Mum, so you need to see the menu, andI liked it when I had pasta arrabiata when we went on the Prader-Willi weekend, and McDonalds’ peri-peri wraps are quite healthy aren’t they, and can I have a melon for my fruit today.”
Yep. all back to normal.
Video is Laura Marling - Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)
Anxiety besets us all, but when you’re the parent of a child with PWS, you get beset by their besetting too.
We had a seemingly simple task to complete after school today: an eye test.
It took 80 minutes of cajoling, coaching, explaining, shushing and minor reprimanding. It resulted in an eventual victory with a side order of tactical retreat. But it’s the first time in Dry January that I’ve been sorely tempted to get wet.
My girl was a bit tired after a busy day. She was in a questioning mood, which can be either endearing when well-timed or exasperating when not.
But what sucked up the time today was her obsession with the details. From the moment we arrived at the opticians, I knew the path to glasses was going to be labyrinthine.
Firstly, she started talking about having to pay for her specs now she’s over 18. She’d overheard me saying something about it to her dad earlier (from a distance of one floor and three rooms away, thanks to her bat-like hearing). So she wanted to announce it loudly in the shop - I think essentially just to show off to staff and other customers about being an adult - and she did. Many, many times, before, during and after the eye test.
The optician was given both sides of my daughter’s all or nothing conversational skills. When asked to read out the letters, my girl stared into space, day-dreamed, looked like she might actually fall asleep at one point, but mainly uttered each letter in-cred-ib-ly slow-ly, with in-cred-ib-ly long pauses between each one. She seemed to be struggling, but there’s this detective game that needs to go on, in assessing whether she is really looking where she’s supposed to, whether she’s just taking her time because processing things does take her longer than most other people, or whether she’s just saying she can’t see very well because she fancies a new pair of glasses. It’s a challenge.
On the other hand, my daughter sped up, dramatically, at exactly the wrong times: whenever the optician wanted to explain anything or give her instructions, instead of deliberations and pauses, my girl unleashed a non-stop barrage of circular statements and questions at the optician, at me, and even at herself.
It took patience and time to get through the test. And the optician did remarkably well not to lose the will to live, because I very nearly did, and I’m the mum.
Then came the bit where you sort out the frames. It started well with my girl making a miraculously fast choice (only because she had very specific criteria for them being ‘roundish’, ‘with no sticky on nose bits’, and with ‘a pattern on the inside’, and there only happened to be one pair that ticked all three boxes, Hallelulah!)
But it then took forever as she began to get slighty panicky and very question-spewy at pretty much everything the assistant was saying about lens types, coatings, sizing, price, offers, expected delivery, and there might have been even more stuff but I couldn’t bloody hear because my daughter wouldn’t bloody shut up!
We left, past tea time (I blamed myself for a booking a dangerous appointment time). I’d declined to sort out the free second pair offer - that could wait until another day when I’d had chance to charge up my resolve, and she’d got some food in her belly.
I forked out a vision-blurring amount of money, and we headed home. And I had that thought, that selfish thought that I sometimes have, and hate myself for. I wished things were different. Simpler. That my 19-year-old girl could get herself kitted out with new specs like any other typical 19-year-old.
She’ll do something atypically delightful tomorrow, I know, that will make me laugh, and make me grateful and give me the joy that only she sparks. And my ugly wish will melt away. Because it is ugly. (It’s just struck me how weird it is how it sometimes surfaces over small things like an eye test - compared to the hospital scans and operations this is easy, beginners’ level stuff).
Wishing she didn’t have PWS is pointless and reductive and I can’t wish it really, it’s not fair, because she wouldn’t be her, she wouldn’t BE without it. But I’ll know I’ve wished it all the same.
I’ve always liked Sir Julian Of Cope’s World Shut Your Mouth. It’s a meat and potatoes stomper, but a hell of a catchy one. I remember watching JC perform it on Top Of The Pops in the 80s, all dark sunglasses and gangly, leather-clad limbs, writhing around on his special step-on-and-off microphone stand like some kind of demented (and possibly constipated) bat.
It’s got a new life for me now, since it featured in the BBC drama The A-Word. The programme features a family with a young autistic boy, who is obsessed with his dad’s record collection, listening and singing along to a plethora of indie, rock, punk and new wave tracks.
It’s my daughter’s new favourite song from her new favourite show. She loves the drama because she’s fascinated with other people’s syndromes and disabilities, and because her syndrome shares some traits with autism (or ‘oysterism’ as she often pronounces it). And she loves the song because she thinks it’s a bit rude, what with the lyrics telling the world to shut its mouth. “He should say shush, shouldn’t he?” she asked me. And that's not easy to say - trust me, I tried it after a couple of gins.
She also told me: “I’m a bit like Joe in the A-Word, mum, because I can calm down if I’m worried by listening to music."
“I’m the same,” I admitted. Although I didn’t mention quite how much more calming I find the rather impressively curated ‘A-Word Playlist’ compared to the previous ninth circle of hell - her ‘Favourite Tracks’ selection, which included One Direction and The Macarena. No-one deserved that, least of all me.
So it’s just gone midnight on Christmas Eve. Thinking about it, it’s actually Christmas Day.
And I’m feeling a touch melancholic. (Which is one up from alcoholic, which is what I've been feeling for most of December, having approached 'social drinking' occasions in a professional capacity that I wish to downgrade to amateur status in the New Year).
My man is working nights, and is apparently in a control centre on the motorway somewhere (he’s normally in a van, so I hope for any motorists’ sake they don’t let him anywhere near any computer equipment).
Me and the kids have watched Gremlins. You wouldn’t get away with half of that shit in a kids’ film nowadays: it’s great.
We’ve also been out for our annual Christmas Eve curry (enlivened this year by my mate’s birthday cake candles actually setting off the restaurant’s smoke alarm. I’m not saying she’s old, etc).
My girl is fast asleep. My boy is very much awake. This is very much par for the course.
But something is very different this year: my children have both informed me (with no small element of delight), that they no longer believe in Father Christmas.
Seeing as my boy is a cheeky know-it-all, I’m surprised I got away with it until he was nine. (“I know it’s your parents. Santa couldn’t got round the world, and I’ve seen the paper, and you write all the labels. You try to change your handwriting, but it’s rubbish.”)
Seeing as my daughter is nineteen, I should count myself lucky that I’ve had these extra years of her believing. Special needs has some special advantages sometimes. But she’s decided she’s all grown-up. (“I don’t believe in Santa, Mummy, or Jesus. And you can celebrate Christmas how you want to. But I do still want presents.”)
So I'm feeling a bit pensive and a little misty-eyed at the end of an era.
Although I still put a mince pie out for Santa, for tradition’s sake.
It is OK to leave Gizmo near the mince pie after midnight, isn’t it?
My daughter was one of 25 or so pupils who were being honoured at a school presentation evening.
She and I were sitting in the first row, because we’d got there half an hour early. (I’d got the start time wrong because I’d accidentally read last year’s letter on my email instead of this year’s. My girl will definitely harp on about this until, possibly right up to and beyond next year’s event. Sometimes I am an utter idiot).
All sixth form pupils from her special school (with some leavers from last term who had now gone on to college) were getting certificates.
All have special needs of some description. Of many descriptions.
All were getting recognition for passing various courses, from entry level English and Maths, to Land Management, and a plethora of subjects in between.
All of them took a few steps up to the front of the hall to get a handshake, a posh folder, their certificates, and a round of applause. (Well, all except one, who couldn’t cope with standing up in front of a crowd, so was handed it while he hid behind a door).
My girl got a couple of Retail unit awards and an Employability Skills award from her day release college course, plus Gold and Titanium Work Experience certificates, for her continuing placement at a local spa.
She heard her name called, and stood up, awkwardly, shyly. She shook hands with the teacher, smiled for her photo, and clutched her blue folder.
I looked at her face, and the faces of these kids, these kids I’ve seen grow up over the past few years, and I thought about how far they’ve come.