It was a few weeks ago. Late evening, and my eldest shouted out from the toilet. "Mummy, come quickly." Obviously, being the dutiful parent that I am, I ignored him. His rising panicky bloodcurdling screams made me eventually pay attention: I regret to confess that I was not worried that he was hurt so much as panicked the noise would wake his little brothers. So I poked my husband to get off the sofa and see what was going on.
"Oh my God they're swarming," he yelled. I went down the corridor to see what he meant. Good heavens. Er. Yeurk. The loo wall was black with ants. It was like a scene from, um, I don't know, a movie where ants swarm all over your toilet wall. I pretended for the sake of my son that this was absolutely fine and normal, sauntered off, then when I was out of sight ran down the stairs at the speed of light and returned with the anti-ant spray, imported from Australia, that seems to work better than anything else we have found.
I hoovered up the ants, shuddered a bit and thought that was the end of it.
But I am still sweeping up dead ants from the floor. They wander in, and meet their death from the residue of toxic substance. We know where they are coming in. There is a hole in the wooden wall leading to the outside. Last night there was another mini-swarm, in the bathroom. I sweep and spray as much as possible, but there is only so much you can do when there are a couple of dozen antnests in the garden, and your house has a gaping hole that clearly says "Ants, welcome, this way," in ant-language, a local tongue that is I presume less grammatically complex than Maori. Ants are to New Zealand what drizzle is to the UK. They are everywhere, inescapable. Billions of them. People keep telling me they are harmless and not to worry, but I know better. When New Zealand eventually succumbs to animal takeover, it won't be the sheep who revolt. It will be the ants, the billions of them, who will one day swarm into our cities and take over our houses, driving us out into the bush whilst they settle in and eat all our sweet food. And they are practicing for the Day of Human Armadeggon by regularly swarming in our bathroom.
My husband thinks he will be able to plug the hole and will have a go when he is not too tired sometime. (I am wondering whether to take the quicker route and book a handyman to attend us in 2018). The alternative would, of course, be to have a go myself, but we have a family agreement that I do not attempt DIY: not because I am a woman, but because my hands and my brain don't co-operate very well, and there is a strong likelihood that I could start filling the hole by the front door, lose concentration for a few moments, and find that I have actually filled our front door lock with glue, or stuck the baby to the radiator instead.
I am better at dealing with human problems. My eldest got slapped and teased at school for being English yesterday, and unsurprisingly was up much of the night, so I pulled a sickie on his behalf this morning. School are on the case, although hampered by the fact that he can't remember his tormentor's name. So my youngest and eldest went to Mainly Music together. There I chatted to a mum, who was a bit puzzled by the fact that when we arrived, my eldest had started to freak out and needed to go into a corner quietly to calm down. I explained, and she said "Oh, my son is friends with a boy with Aspergers." So far, so good. Then she said, in a hushed voice, "But I don't know...I was really shocked, you know his mother told me sometimes she has had to lock him in his room to keep the rest of the family safe." I explain about extreme behaviours and reassure her that the mother in question is unlikely to be a child abuser. "But it doesn't mean anything, does it? Aspergers," she says, and I sigh, here we are again. "I mean, he's doing well academically." Yes, I explain patiently, he probably is. "But he's very bossy. He always wants the other children to play HIS games. The teacher has had to introduce a choosing time." Yes, well that would fit. "Is that because...?" Yes, it is. "But he adores handwriting, he wants to get it completely right, he practises it every day, I think he must be the best in the class." I gently suggest that just possibly that might be an obsessional anxiety, rather than a sign that there isn't really anything wrong. "But you know he's fine at school, he works really hard and wants to do his best, it's just at home, his mother says, he is a total nightmare." Her tone of voice makes it clear that she thinks it's all a load of nonsense. I do my best to stick up for this random mum who I have never met, and I dunno if it helps, but by the end of the conversation, I think she is listening, a little.
Prejudice and ignorance. Inescapable and ubiquitous, like swarming ants in the bathroom. I wish I had a spray handy, I could just pull it out of my handbag at opportune moments, douse the speaker in it. "Excuse me, could you just stand still...there, that's better, can you see now what idiotic nonsense you were talking?" I don't, of course, I only have words, patient explanations. I dunno if they work but you have to try.
But it isn't all doom and gloom. Sometimes you are surprised by someone's expertise and awareness. In general, New Zealand seems more culturally developed, more aware of autism and the like, than the UK. For example, I took my kids to swimming class for the first time this week. When I disclosed the diagnosis, the woman behind the desk said "OK, thank you, would you like advance warning if the class teacher is going to be different one week?" Blimey, I thought, you are one enlightened receptionist. Yes of course I'll send my son here, would you like me to pay twice? And that makes me think, well, the world is changing, becoming more aware. Little by little, you find strategies to explain, to educate, to enlighten. You may not get rid of the problem completely, but you keep it at bay. So that ignorance becomes an occasional nuisance, rather than the conversational equivalent of ants swarming all over your house.
As for the school bullying, well we'll have to see. I hope it turns out to be something dramatic but ultimately harmless, a few insects in the loo rather than the beginning of the Ultimate International Ant Attack. Certainly the staff have responded quickly, and are interrogating the whole senior school today to see if anyone will own up, and (more likely) if anyone saw anything and will snitch. We all know bullying has to be confronted. And actually, I'm kind of relieved that if he was singled out, it was for something neutral like being English, rather than, you know, acting weird or having a TA. I've tried to deal with it rather as I dealt with the ants - laidback, casual, "thank you for telling us," pretending I am not bothered, then going into warp mode to tackle the problem where he can't see. It's all a bit sad, particularly the fact that at first he didn't tell anyone, because he thought it would be wrong: he's been told he must be brave in the playground when he falls over, so he assumed that was the rule to follow in all circumstances, and he must be brave and keep quiet. Very Aspie. Sometimes, we have assured him, you need to yell. You can't get rid of ants in the toilet if you don't tell Mummy or Daddy that they are there.
My middle son has no such problem expressing his feelings. Today he went to kindy in a flying rage because we could not find his preferred hat. He roared all the way, then when we arrived lay on the floor and howled, then hung onto my leg when I tried to leave. "You don't have to wear the other hat," said his kindy teacher briskly, but if you want to play outside then you have to wear it." I left. Apparently, he lay on the floor muttering to himself about the unfairness of life for a bit, then got up, put on the new hat and went out to play. Such moments give me hope, that he is starting to become a little more reasonable, less rigid and angry with the world when it doesn't go the way he wants. For the time being, his high-pitched howls of fury are probably the best defence against the ant invasion that we've got...insects might survive nuclear war but I bet they wouldn't cope with a prolonged bout of that. I have found ant swarms in every other room in the house, except his. I seriously think there is a possibility that his loud screaming keeps them at bay. Maybe I could hire him out to the New Zealand government, to discourage unwanted immigrants. Perhaps that is what I should start doing too, scream in a high-pitched tone whenever anyone says something stupid or ill-informed. The verbal equivalent of powerful insecticide. It might not be the best educative strategy, but I bet they'd back off.