Winter in Auckland, and the skies are constantly spattered with rainbows. It's a logical consequence of there being loads of rain and sun. Fresh from grey-skied England, the boys and are are stunned by them - "Look, Mum, there! And another! There! Turn round Mum, quickly! You're missing it!" as we drive to school. Sometimes I even manage to keep the car on the road.
I love rainbows because in England they are rare and magical, and because in South Africa they were the symbol of the new nation Mandela tried to build, many-coloured people all coming together. I kind of like the symbolism - all my boys, with different diagnoses, like a rainbow family - and I like the fact that when we are all squeaking about rainbows they are all productively occupied. Specifically, no one is hitting his younger brother, undoing his younger brother's seatbelt, lying down on the back of the car and refusing to sit up or undoing his seat belt and wriggling out of his toddler car seat.
When I described such high-jinks to our occupational therapists, I did so wearily, with no sense that anything could be done about this dangerous state of affairs. They surprised me by saying that they would like to get my boys assessed for specialist car seats. I agreed, but worried about what message it would send the boys. I also wondered if this was really necessary, and whether a better mother would have a magic recipe for good car behaviour (that did not involve beating them around the head, I understand that along with smacking this is illegal here). But a date was arranged, after school one day. Then of course my eldest had his hip episode, and sitting in the car caused him pain, which meant suddenly that this was all extremely important and urgent. So on the appointed day I cheerfully told my eldest when I picked him up that we were off to see some therapists to get him a car seat that wouldn't cause him pain.
Quite understandably, he was furious. He's had a bellyfull of doctors over the past few weeks. His bad mood affected the others in the car, and we howled our way to the appointment. It was like driving three banshees engaging in a banshee-wailing competition. As I drove into the car park, one of them did something he had never done before: he undid his seatbelt, came to the front of the car and started kicking me. Thus proving in one neat moment that the occupational therapists were right, and we did need the escape-proof specialist seats.
This should have reassured me that we were doing the right thing. Instead, it plunged me into a deep pit of despair. I want to be having normal after-school days, I thought. The park, and telly, and activities. Not rushing them off to see yet another medical person for yet more weird and unusual medical equipment. Still, I thought, we'll be out of here quickly. Then the occupational therapist came downstairs and explained that unfortunately the car seat specialist was running late, so we were going to have to wait upstairs. AARGH. Entertain three kids by myself in a strange place with no toys for an unspecified period of time. When they were all already in a bad mood. I felt rather like doing a little banshee-wailing myself.
Only then things suddenly got better. We went upstairs to their offices. There they had an open-plan gym, filled with skittles and beanbags and balls. My eldest's eyes widened. My middle son made straight for the table in the corner, covered with lovely pens and paper. My littlest just wanted to run around and shout. And of course, what I hadn't taken into account was that the two occupational therapists were also waiting with nothing to do, so what they did was start to play with my boys, set up lots of lovely activities for them. We had to wait forty-five minutes during which time they organised a complicated skittles match which my eldest consistently won, found cutting and sticking and glitter activities for my middle one and even persuaded my tiny one to sit down for five minutes with a dinosaur puzzle. The kids lost their grumpiness and had a lot of fun. And I, too, lost my depressed feeling of life all being a bit hard and impossible, the sense that all these meetings and appointments were cutting them and me off from the mainstream of parenting, the just hanging out and having fun. Because here we were, right in the middle of arranging specialist car seats with anti-escape devices and special swivelling seats and footrests to ease joint pain. About as depressing as a routine appointment gets, even before you add in the desperate unhappiness caused by having been attacked in a still-moving car. The stuff of a really dreadful day, in fact. But here they were, laughing and stimulated, getting some quality playtime whilst I - to my delight - could just relax, sit back and enjoy watching them. They giggled, chatted, messed around. In short, they had the kind of afternoon you feel kids OUGHT to be given after school. Oh, and they sat in some car seats when requested, but I don't think they really noticed that much. They were too busy having fun with their new OT friends.
Rainbow living is something I am learning to understand as an intrinsic part of the Special Needs parenting walk. Some of the most beautiful moments are not when you are surrounded by emotional sunshine, without a cloud in the sky. They are in the moment when there is rain, and the patches of sun seem puny and insignificant, until you look up and unexpectedly see the glorious tinges of the spectrum. Nature's stained-glass window, God's promise of new beginnings and better things in the sky. I came home with a quiet sense of thankfulness, for a happy afternoon and children who didn't really care about their new car seats or what journey they were going on, as long as they were having fun along the way. And as we drove home, and the crying started again "because you PROMISED a treat afterwards, Mummy, you PROMISED," I managed to keep hold of my emotions and refrain from either setting up my own banshee-howl or beating anyone around the head.