Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Green Pool: or, when your son gets corrupted by Paddington Bear

I have never been so grateful to see cloudy skies. You see, this week has been one of domestic disasters. Not only did I manage to break our bed (no, I was just sitting on it) my husband forgot to test and put chlorine in the pool. Possibly he forgot the weekend before as well. (Notice how I am framing this as an example of HIS failure, rather than castigating myself for not having learnt how to manage the pool myself. What have I been doing with my time?) Anyway, on Tuesday we woke up to a greenish tinge. I threw chlorine into it with desperate fervour, but this lunchtime it seems even greener and cloudier than before. Thank goodness that this is the first really cool week since we moved in, so that the children are not begging to use the pool. A trip to the Great Hole In Our Bank Account, I mean the pool maintenance shop, beckons. I think we probably need algicide, and probably several of the other chemicals they mentioned that we scoffingly discarded as unnecessary a few weeks ago. You live and learn. They're a bit smug in that shop, and I'm rather dreading the penitential trip to explain that we didn't listen and now have a bright green pool. I can imagine the look they will give me, rather like the one you get from mechanics when your car seizes up and you explain reluctantly that actually, you haven't changed the oil for years. Must make sure to blame my husband.

Chemicals have been on my mind a lot this week. One of the most frustrating things about moving here has been that the time difference destroyed my oldest son's body clock. He stopped going to sleep. Now, working in the Church of England taught me a lot about dealing with unreasonable behaviour. So I like to think of myself as a tolerant woman, but there are a few things that really want to make me pull my hair out and feed it to the ducks: developing world debt, JFK conspiracy theories, Parish Church Councils debating Sunday morning parking, and late-night gymnastics from my children. Since he needs eleven hours sleep a day to function properly, this had the most disastrous knock-on effect on his behaviour: tears, tantrums, bolshiness. We tried everything - yelling, taking away privileges, yelling again. All the tricks that we had used to such good effect in the UK - listening to classical music on a CD or MP3 player, a reading time followed by lights out - turned against us. When we put a CD on in his room, he hopped out of bed and started replaying tracks obsessively, for hours. We switched to MP3. He found how to make the MP3 player play Paddington Bear stories, and listened to them for hours instead. Again and again and again. Anything rather than go to sleep. Blinking Paddington Bear. I would never have expected he would become such a baleful influence in our house. Desperate, I began to fantasise about putting a new story on the MP3 player, one in which Paddington never made it to the UK from Darkest Peru, and died somewhere on the South Seas, clutching his jar of marmelade. "He's dead, do you understand? Dead. His body was washed up in a remote island and ritually crucified by the locals in a symbolic revenge on colonial intrusion. They pulled out all his stuffing and fed it to the birds. Now go to sleep or I'll tell you what happened to his little sister."

This week we decided that ACTION HAD TO BE TAKEN. We woke him up at six am, and sent him, shivering, into the lounge to watch TV. "No reading time tonight," we said firmly. "Just early bed." Then, when he was at school, I consulted the therapist who comes to work with his younger brother once a week. I explained about the classical music failing to work.
"Yes, it's become a stim. Listening to it again and again and again, it's hyping him up." OK. What - apart from shouting at him - do we do? She looked at me over her cup of Yorkshire tea.
"What have you been doing?"
"Well, yelling at him mostly."
I always think that the test of a good therapist is when they tell that you parents are doing it wrong. This is a good one. "You know that is completely counterproductive, that is going to make him more scared and rigid and stubborn."
Damn. She's right. How very irritating. Parent FAIL, again. Sometimes I really wish that one day a therapist would turn up and say "All this is happening because you are too understanding and reasonable. What your child needs is for you to lose your temper with him lots and be much more inconsistent." I'd pay good money for that kind of advice.
But that wasn't what was on offer here. Well, then, what are we going to do? "Hmm. Are you prepared to use melatonin? You need to reset his body clock. And that is going to be very hard for a kid like that. You can train him to stay in bed later, but you need to get him used to falling asleep first." We talk about rewards, and time-frame: but the bottom line is, drug him. Just what I always imagined myself doing as a parent, you know when I was breastfeeding and not taking antibiotics in case he got infinitisemal quantities, and insisting he had organic veg. Time to leave the NCT. If I'd ever joined it, of course.

She was right, though, I knew it as soon as she said it, it was the kindest way. So we gave him a half-dose last night. (We still have some from Singapore airport, bless them, suppliers to junior doctors and desperate parents in transit from across the world). But even melatonin won't work when he is in hyper silly mode. So when we put him to bed at seven pm, my husband lay with him for an hour, until he drifted off to sleep. (I can't imagine why he hasn't had time to clean the pool yet). Hopefully we'll only need to use it for a few days, until he has reacclimatised. If not, well, I can always get a prescription from our local doctor. They will cost a fortune because they're not a subsidised drug. And I don't like the idea of using chemicals, even natural ones like a sleep hormone. But sometimes, you just have to listen to expert advice. As with the blasted algicide for the pool...

But the pool has its compensations. When I step into the water, I can almost feel my troubles physically falling off my back. It took weeks, literally, after we moved in to be able to afford the chemicals to get it going. I started dreading friends coming over. "Hi, yes, this is our glorious new house with a private swimming pool. Er, no, you can't swim today. Or possibly not until my youngest starts preschool and I get a job." Anyway, we did it eventually, and until this week it has been one of the happiest moments of my day. The first evening I swam by myself, without the children, I was so excited that I stood in the middle of the pool and flapped my hands. You know, the way autistic and dyspraxia kids do.

It was only a few minutes later that I thought that was probably an unusual thing to want to do, and that other people might have expressed their excitement by, you know, swimming. It reminded me of the time when I was running to the car, and noticed that I was flapping my hands: a voice from my childhood said inside me "Not like that, run properly." And I remembered how hard it was to learn to pump my arms forward and back, because what I really wanted to do was flap.

Flapping when excited or running. Hmm. The apples don't fall far from the tree.

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