The magic parking permit arrived today. It is plastic, and bright orange. Guantanamo jumpsuit chic. (Now I know why everyone looked blankly at me on arrival in New Zealand when I asked about acquiring a Blue Badge. Maybe they thought I wanted to join the Sea Scouts). It is, as you would expect, quite chunky and noticeable. Talk about labelling your kids. I stuck it on the dashboard (you are not allowed to fix it permanently to your car, for obvious reasons) and waited to see if the oldest one would notice. He didn't. He will, of course, and we will have to have THAT conversation. Maybe I will tell the truth, that it's not his fault but his brain does funny things sometimes, makes him act a bit crazy and dangerously, and that we are not expecting it to go on forever but until he grows out of it, this is to help us when we go out. If it looks like he is confused, I'll just tell him it's for his younger brother for now, and skip the difficult conversation until he's ready for it. Alternatively I may just pretend it's a car decoration I choose, and resign myself to years of Christmas presents made of bright orange plastic.
I've only made one trip with it so far. To the library. I was fairly nervous, after the last couple of days I imagined a mob of self-righteous passersby waving their walking sticks at me, clustering around the car and peering through the windows to see if my children REALLY had anything "wrong" with them. In the event, no one was around, I parked the car in the disabled space closest to the library (still a twenty-metre walk across the grass), and got my three out and into the library without any vigilante action or attempts to report me for fraud. I hadn't visited this branch before, and so I didn't take the trusty SN double buggy, as I wasn't sure if it would fit through the scanner and wanted to scope the building first. Yes, just like the SAS, except that I was trying to prevent daring leaps from balconies and thrilling climbs up the outside of buildings. Maybe the boys will be SAS heroes when they grow up. This absence of a sense of danger might be quite useful in that profession.
All went well, (when I say well I mean that the children were crazy and spent most of their time in the silent section building loud hideouts under the chairs and refusing to crawl out but we managed to choose some books without bloodshed) until it was time to check them out. My middle son had a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD. He thought I was going to take it out for him. My elder son had discovered nice bouncy chairs to stand on upstairs and had gone into hyper mode, he was running around in circles whilst I tried vainly to reason with his younger sibling.
"Look," I said to the nicely coiffured young woman at the checkout desk, whose hair looked as if it cost a second mortgage, which is about the same as the price of a child's book in New Zealand, there is a reason why we are going to the library. She had the sort of hair you try not to look at because it is so striking that it is hard to keep your eyes away from it, but you know that if you do allow your eyes to gaze at her luscious falling Rapunzel-style locks she is going to think that you are ogling her breasts. "We don't want this DVD," I explained, "but can he keep it until we have checked the books out, because he's going to melt down when I take it away from him and I want that to happen as late as possible." She nodded, disinterestedly, with an air of making a mental note, that will be Crazy-Mother-Thirty-Two-Of-The-Day. We checked out the books and then, obviously, all hell broke loose as I prised Thomas from my son's reluctant grip. "Look," I said to the curly-locked library assistant again, "I am not going to be able to get all three of these boys to the car plus the books." She looked politely interested, as if I had asked her the time of her next hairdressing appointment. "Can I leave the books here, put the boys in the car and come back? We're just parked outside, in that disabled space..."
I didn't mean to send a message that this was a major emergency, I was just trying to emphasise how close I actually was, and that leaving the boys in the car for twenty seconds didn't mean I was an irresponsible mother publicly announcing her intention to neglect her kids. But as I said the words "disabled space" her whole body language shifted, she actually started listening, and looking at me as if I was a real person, rather than another annoying member of the public who might mess up her beautiful hair.
"Yes of course," she said immediately, "But don't take all of them, I will watch one." She pointed at my eldest. Who likes adult attention, and immediately stopped spinning, stood beautifully still by the books and started discussing the precise function of mobile libraries with the golden-tressed lady, whilst I ran with the two screaming smallies to the car. The middle one kicked and screamed "No! Don't carry me! I walk! Carry baby! No! Pick me up! I not walk! Feet off the grass Mummy! No! Put me down now!" But I truly didn't care, so grateful was I for some help.
I realise now that I am so used to the negative kind of public attention that it was no coincidence that the orange disability badge reminded me immediately of a bright orange jumpsuit. You know, the kind that are used to shame criminals. The whole stigma of "you should not be managing your children so badly, you should be doing a better job" every time we step into a public place together has obviously marked me so much that I only perceive being singled out as different to be a negative experience. It had never occurred to me that the sort of public attention that you got for using a disabled parking space might just possibly be the positive and supportive kind.
Having said all that, there are advantages to this Guantanamo thing. As a mother of three young boys, I have often wanted to learn more about the controversial restraint techniques they used on unruly prisoners, both boys and young men. I mean they must have worked, right? Or they wouldn't have gone on using them. I'd love to know exactly what they were. Just for research purposes and academic interest, of course.