Shoes in New Zealand are like everything else that is smaller than a car: pricy. I have been dreading winter shoe shopping and enjoying letting my boys be as barefoot as they are comfortable with. But I am going to have to change policy. I might also have to invest in some nose-protection gear, and never let the children into hardware store Mitre10 again without waterproofs (possibly also disguising them: I think the first-aiders might run for cover if they see us pull up outside).
It's a convoluted tale, and it starts the day before our visit to the hardware store. We are at home. Picture, for once, an idyllic scene. No one is tantrumming, and the boys and I are hanging out in the garden. The two littlies and I are at the front of the house, on the great expanse of tarmac where they like to ride their trikes and toy cars. The big boy is at the back of the house, practicing cricket. Apart from the cursed mosquitoes, who have migrated to our front yard with all the joy of the Israelites sighting Canaan, it all feels pretty perfect. Because we have a slight rise at the front of our house, I push my middle son in his toy car up the slope, so that he can have the fun of rolling down, squealing. It is the sort of timeless fun that I imagined myself doing when I made the decision to have kids.
So then the little one wanted a turn, so I took his toy car and briskly pushed it up the slope. I expect him to squeal with joy too, but he is strangely quiet: and, after a few seconds, he gives a little whimper. I look down, to where his little hands are pointing, expecting to see a mosquito bite. To my horror, his bare feet are covered in blood. I hate the cliched quality of a phrase like "to my horror" but there is no other way I can think of to describe the shock and fear that rippled through me. Because I knew instantly what it was, having seen the phenomenon before. It's a sensory issue, hyposensitivity (or undersensitivity, in layman's language, or delayed sensitivity, in my kids' case) to pain. You see, his bare feet had been dragging on the gravel as I pushed him. But because of a delay in sensation, he hadn't known what was happening, and hadn't known to move his feet. So by the time the sensation kicked in, his feet were scraped raw and bleeding. Nor does he cry for long: the pain is clearly not much, because after showing me he wanders off to play calmly, leaving little droplets of blood on the ground as he walks.
I feel sick, not because of the blood but because I know what it means: it's another sensory issue, and quite a worrying one. He is, as we suspected from the headbanging, hyposensitive to the point that he will need extra supervision and care, possibly for quite a few years, because he won't know when he is hurting himself. Someone else will have to tell him that he is bleeding, point to sharp things and explain that they can be sore. In England I had to show his brother nettles he had touched a few minutes earlier, and explain to him that was why his hands were now stinging. Thistles, too, he would wander all over them, leaving thorns in his feet without realising what had happened. You have to teach danger on a case-by-case basis, because safety awareness isn't acquired in the normal way, through the brutal but effective teacher of pain. It is one of those, excuse me Christian readers, "Oh fuck" moments.
The timing is eerie because it's at that moment that my husband calls to me from the balcony. The local trust is ringing, the ones who gave us respite for our elder sons and said that the youngest was too young to qualify. It is a man from the quality control department, to whom on the advice of NZ Carers I have turned. He wants to tell me that he has spoken to our assessment officer, who wants to reassure me that she recognises my youngest has very high needs. Well, I'm glad about that, I say forcefully into the phone, looking at the bloody feet in front of me. (So why the hell has he been refused support?) What do I want to do? he says. I am stuck. What does he mean? Er, well if it was England I would appeal, I say. "That's great," he says, sounding relieved. "I can arrange that, there is a reconsideration by our department and then the next step is a peer reconsideration." He gets off the phone. I wonder how long this reconsideration will take, and whether I should take a photo of my toddler's bloody feet. I must buy him some shoes, I think. Then I check the bank account and decide that it is probably worth letting his feet heal in the open air.
The next day - today - I take the boys to Mitre10. I am after a funny candle, the kind that Kiwis burn to keep away the mozzies. No, really, they do. It's a kind of folk thing, although apparently it actually works. I am desperate enough to try anything. Anyway, we arrive, and I let the boys bounce on the bouncy castle (that's one of the amazing things about New Zealand, free play equipment in hardware stores. DIY has never been so exciting). Soon, my youngest comes off, crying: his feet are bleeding again. OK, open air healing not working. Must buy shoes. Maybe when husband is next paid. I soothe him (this isn't hard: he isn't crying much, or for long) and notice some blood spots on the bouncy castle. It's going to be a hassle to clean, so I cravenly decide to pretend it's not there, and go in search of a plaster (Band-Aid, they say). A nice woman wearing a badge saying "Ek praat ook Afrikaans" cleans him up, offers two plasters, and exclaims at what a good boy he is, he's hardly upset at all. Yes, I know, he has an abnormal pain response, I say boredly. Sod speaking Afrikaans, I want you to speak SN.
I thank her and walk back to the other children, where my eldest shouts "There's blood! Blood!" "No there's not, be quiet," I start to say and then gasp as he runs towards me, blood pouring from his face. He leaves a trail behind him, like red splodgy paint on the floor. It's only a nosebleed. Another South African comes up and holds his nose. It seems that the South Africans are in charge of dealing with blood, injury and destruction, which is kinda fitting given the South African crime rate. By the time it stops, there is blood puddled all over the floor and stuck to the trolley. And of course, all over the bouncy castle. It is like a kiddy horror film. "Can I go on it again?" he asks, as soon as the blood stops. "No, in case you bang your nose." He looks at me as if I am insane. "Mummy, I will be careful!"
The Afrikaans-speaking lady brings a mop and starts cleaning it all up. I tell her in Afrikaans that I don't speak Afrikaans, but that my mother is South African. She looks at me a bit funny, and I wonder if she is offended by my dreadful accent. Then I realise her suspicion is probably more to do with the two bleeding children she has seen in five minutes. Yes, I scraped the skin off my toddler's foot and then bopped the other one on the nose. They ask me to fill in an accident form, I promise I will do so when we have finished. I will have to lie, I think, and say he just stubbed his toe, I can't face trying to tell the whole story of my little one's feet on one of their accident forms. But then I forget all about it and leave the store without doing the form.
God this must seem suspicious, I think, but the boys will start to create if I go back inside. I decide to hurry towards the car and hope they don't notice, so that I can leave before they get my numberplate to report this suspicious double-injury. I'm trying to be inconspicuous, and then my middle son decides that he doesn't want to walk. I am trying not to carry him at the moment so he insists on crawling on his knees, screaming, across the zebra crossing to where I have parked the car. In a disabled parking space, of course. Very visible, just opposite the door. There are many good things about disabled parking spaces, but they don't make it easy to make a sneaky discreet exit. Especially with a child that is screaming so loudly he is probably heard in Bunnings next door.
I daren't look in the store as we drive away. I can imagine the South Africans grouped in the doorway, staring in awe and horror at this accident-prone family and wondering if I just parked in the disabled space because we always spilt the blood of a couple of children when we left the house. And then I start laughing, laughing aloud to myself: it is all so farcical and ridiculous, trying to hide the evidence of a sore toe and then drowning in a nosebleed. Really, really, must get our youngest some new shoes. And let's hope the anti-mozzie candle works, because I can never go back now to buy any of their alternative mosquito solutions. I do hope that the next phone-call I get about the children's wellbeing is the Trust following up on our respite reconsideration, and not the New Zealand Social Services investigating a suspicious injuries report from Mitre10.