"Child Youth And Family Services? Really? I thought they were only for cases of domestic violence or the children being at risk," said the visiting therapist.
"CYFS? Oh my goodness, I didn't realise things were that bad," said the second visiting therapist an hour later (this is why I never get to go to toddler groups: we have had so many health professionals visiting I am thinking of applying for funding for a revolving door. Except that getting the funding would involve having to have more meetings). "Oh dear, you see, we have a social worker attached to our development centre, she is usually the first port of call for families in need, we only refer on to CYFS if this is all beyond her, if they are involved she'd better be involved too." More forms and meetings. Fantastic. JUST what I need.
But I didn't think we were in need, or that serious an emergency. It was all a bit bewildering. I'd asked to be referred to Marinoto (Child Mental Health Services) after one of the kids did something alarming and dangerous. But you know, they're my kids, they do crazy things. I am used to that. The clinic had suggested CYFS, with a preamble about how it meant support for the family not a child protection concern. So I said "fine." This was because I have a "suck-it-and-see" approach to family support services ("Are you actually an organisation that promotes Child Neglect and/or Murder of the Innocents? No, OK then, come in." "You DO promote Murder of the Innocents? Well, some days I feel that way too, you might as well have a cuppa and we'll see what else you can offer us, if there's respite involved we might negotiate on the murder thing...can you do it without wasting my time with more meetings?")
But the universal shock from others made me feel that perhaps it was a huge and drastic step, perhaps everything was much worse than I thought. A big black cloud descended over me and I felt dreadful for a couple of days: for the first time ever, I think, I woke up in the morning thinking "I really can't handle my children today, I don't want to get out of bed."
Obviously this is NOT GOOD. I was alarmed by it, because basically, having children with SN is a bit like needing to be an emotional boomerang - you get thrown all over the place, all the time, plunge into the depths of despondency, then cross fingers and hope like hell that you bounce back right where you were, because your family NEED you to be chipper and happy. And this week, I just wasn't bouncing.
And as luck would have it, this was the sodding week that I had to take my son to his sodding 1-2-1 expensive swimming lesson. Because, swimming is taught differently in the UK to New Zealand, and here the group sessions were expecting him to put his face in the water to start freestyle, which he can't/won't/isn't ready to do. So he was floundering in the beginners' class, and when I squeaked "but he could SWIM in the UK," they looked at me as if I was a bit soft in the head. "I don't understand it," I moaned to our disability support woman from CSS. "In a 1-2-1 lesson in the UK, I saw him swim. Breaststroke. I saw him do it. Just once, but I definitely saw it. Then they put him back in the group sessions and he forgot how. And now he's here and it's even worse." "It's generalisation," she said, "he hasn't managed to transfer that skill yet." And she suggested that we look into another swimming school, 45 minutes' drive away, and give him 1-2-1 sessions again. At the cost of an arm or a leg, which I can't even sell because apparently he will need them in the water. If he ever takes his sodding feet off the bottom ever again.
I hesitated, because it was so expensive. Instead I asked the manager of Swim School 1 for some advice. He came and watched my boy splashing around in the shallows.
"He can't swim yet, that's the thing." As if I hadn't noticed.
"But he can. He did it. Once. In England."
"No, he can't get his head wet, so he'll never learn to swim until he does that."
"But he was swimming breaststroke in the UK. I saw that."
"No he has to learn freestyle."
"But he can't do that because he has a phobia of getting his head in the water."
"He has to learn to get his head wet."
"Gee, I've never met a real robot before. Do you run on battery or windup?"
"Yes, that's right, he's got to start by getting his head under the water."
This conversation convinced me that my boy was going to spend the next three years at the bottom of the beginners' class. So 1-2-1 Swim School 2 it was. There was the obligatory meltdown about a change, and the obligatory marital discussion about where exactly this money was going to come from (I think at the moment we've decided that the best option will be prostitution). I persuaded by other half by reassuring him that there was a charity we could apply for which would probably cover it anyway. Then I got there, and found that the charity did NOT cover a term's worth of lessons, but only four. And it wouldn't kick in until we'd paid for at least eight weeks first. Ow.
I left him at the poolside, took the smallies outside and spent twenty minutes in deep gloom, contemplating the years of wasted money. The screaming, the shouting, the hitting and refusing. The procession of swimming teachers who had failed to do the trick. My husband, quite reasonably, had put a deadline on this. "If he's not swimming in say six months we give up."
And then I went back inside and he was swimmming across the pool unaided. Breaststroke. In twenty minutes. After nine months of failing to get his feet off the ground.
Sometimes the peak parenting moments are not the ones where everything is easy and you are sitting in the garden watching your children in their delightful handwoven dungarees play beautifully with the wooden toys you created. They are when everything is rotten and you have reached the limit of your ability to cope, and then light breaks in. I have spent years sitting on the side of a pool cringing, whilst my son screams, bites, attacks his instructor. I have envied the other parents their easy ride to a floating child. That day I felt like the luckiest parent there. Boomerang mother. I can even handle the thought of a referral to CYFS.