Friday, September 24, 2010

An interesting dynamic...

Today at school, there was a working bee - to complete the landscaping around our new building.

For the non-Australian among us, part of Australia's attempt to avoid the worst of the credit crunch was a national school building program. Every school in Australia (practically) has a new building of some kind taking shape in its grounds. And hippy school is no exception... though being hippy school, our building is a stunning, curvy, environmentally sensitive piece of genius.

Today, the school was swarming with parents and siblings and extended family, who lugged rocks around packs of frantically playing kids (we've missed our playground) to realise a long held, and well planned dream. As we left school this afternoon, the BBQ was warming up and the beers were cooling in preparation for a well earned 'school dinner'. Billy had tolerated a Friday full of many baby cries (heretofore known as a day of unmitigated torture) so we left.

Apart from a quick reflection on the immense dedication of volunteering parents, there was a very interesting dynamic today, that's worth deconstructing a bit, I think.

The presence of the parents brought out a whole new range of emotions in a lot of the kids. Some of it was happy, proud, 'look-at-me' kind of stuff. And some of it was not. Some kids, previously stoic and resilient, had meltdowns that required standing still and wailing for Mum or Dad. The ability of individual parents to recognise their own child's cry over the cacophony of an even crazier Free Friday than normal, was pretty impressive. And the unconditional support that only Mum or Dad can provide was also something to behold.

And it got me thinking (again? I hear you ask...)

Disability or no, the job of the parent is a fearsome beast. Apart from all the multi-skilling (pet trainer, food chemist, magician, dust hider, dodgy cake decorator, plotter of evil deeds on those who cross your child...) there's the unforgiving timetable, the unattractive tedium and repetition and the deeply deeply insubstantial pay packet. Seriously, if it wasn't for the hugs and the paintings for the fridge... you wouldn't apply for the job at all.

And yet, from the ranks of our downtrodden comrades come some of the most inspiring innovators I've ever come across.

I remember watching Oprah (just the once, when I had the flu) and seeing a program about women who made millions from ideas they'd had after they'd borne children. One of them was the inventor of Baby Einstein, Julie Clark who turned something that made her baby's face light up into a rest-of-your-life business. Another one was delightfully odd looking and had somehow made millions out of wheat bags and pajamas (despite the fact that these things were, as far as I know, invented by other folk). They impressed me, these women, with their passion and their ability to market something they just knew was important.

Though they didn't feature on Oprah (yet, but she's coming to Australia, there's still a chance), there are two parents here in Sydney who I have a huge amount of admiration for as well. Seana Smith and Benison O'Reilly are parents. Like many, they have kids on the autism spectrum (and NT kids as well). But not like many others, they wrote an incredible book - The Australian Autism Handbook.

This isn't a parent memoir, though there's nothing wrong with a good holy-crap-my-kid's-autistic book (like this one: The Other Country: a Father's Journey with Autism). This is an information book, a guidebook, the closest thing any Australian parent dealing with an ASD diagnosis could come to an instruction manual. It lists treatments and therapies and interventions. It suggests paths of thinking. It reflects on evidence (Benison is a pharmacist) and makes links between concepts (Seana is a journalist). Both women are astonishing writers.

And I feel no hesitation in suggesting that they are both also astonishing parents.

Their work continues in a blog, in separate titles from both women (one a novel, one a guide to entertaining kids) and in an upcoming book dealing with a completely different challenge for parents.

When I feel like sitting on the ground tracing swear words in the dirt, I think of these other parents. When I feel like asking, why did the karmic powers that be choose me for the 'special' parenting gig, I remember the crazy lady with the wheat packs. When I wonder how I am going to handle the next three weeks/months/decades, I recall the actions of the sweaty landscapers (and hope they are enjoying the sausages and beer).

It's not just dealing with adversity, that's almost a no brainer. It's the sheer terrifying newness, and unusualness of forgetting about yourself for long stretches of time. It's the all encompassing dependence. And I've only got one... I take my hat off to anyone out there with a bunch of kids... hooley dooley, that's a whole new kettle of sea creatures.

It's like anything, I guess. You live and learn. And if you can, you take the time to let others in on the stuff you've picked up that you think might be important. There's something about parenting that brings out the best in people. I know there are plenty of brilliant non-parents too, but today I'm seriously impressed with those with kids. It can tear strips off your heart, but if you survive, there's some great stuff on the other side.

If it wasn't for the parents I've met along the way, I know I'd be a quivering, alcoholic ball of bitterness. And on that note, I believe a Friday evening drink is in order.

Cheers to all the parents out there. Thank you for your generosity, your courage and your talent.

And for doing all that nasty landscaping... those rocks looked heavy.


seanalucy said...

Oh Valerie, thanks so much for writing such kind words. It's Friday night now and I'm sitting here at the computer with my wee glass of red feeling mighty relieved that the school holidays are staring. And even more relieved that my husband is coming home tomorrow night.

And well done you, for being such a prolific writer and such a warm one, your writing must help many, many people all around the world. You're one of ASD's silver linings!

Rebekah said...

I kind of got stuck on the part about beer at school.

But I'm sure the rest of the post was lovely, LOL.

Love you as always...

Benison said...

Dear Valerie, Thank you for saying such nice things about Seana, me and the Australian Autism Handbook. It was definitely a labour of love, and we are delighted that our little book has helped so many parents confronted with the scary and life-changing diagnosis of autism in a beloved child. I often don't feel like an astonishing mum (!), but I guess any 'special needs' parent who gets up every day and goes into bat for their child is astonishing in their own way. It's a hard but rewarding road. P.S. I love your writing too. Will look forward to your future posts.

Fi said...

"There's something about parenting that brings out the best in people"


Great post - (as always), I hope you had a drink for me too!