Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sensory house hunting...

This week we sold our house.

We got a great price and we are very lucky to have done as well as we did. We're looking forward to a change. But, it's definitely worth a quick moment of reflection on autism, SPD and what home does and can mean.

First, there's the process of preparing your house for sale.

We don't use any cleaning chemicals in our house, as we know Billy's toxic load is quite high enough. We use essential oils, water, bicarb, vinegar and elbow grease. I've joked through this whole process that I see why 1950s housewives had those teeny tiny little waists. OK, so the easily available pharmaceutical speed may have helped, but a lot of it has to be sheer housework sweat. Our house had to be uncluttered, shiny and non-stinky twice a week for the last month and a half. That meant wiping, dusting, scrubbing and sweating through a really odd late summer heatwave which curiously hit temperature peaks on a Thursday evening and a Saturday lunchtime - our open for inspection times.

Then there's explaining to a seven year old autistic child why people are entering his house (and playing with his trains) when he's not there. Twice a week. And while we're at it, explaining what 'selling the house' is eventually going to mean, and that it doesn't mean today but soon this house will be someone else's, and no they are not going to knock it down, but no we won't be there anymore we will be in another house and yes you can have a green bedroom in our new house (so no we can't rent we will have to buy) and yes you can probably have a turtle but no it can't live in our tadpole pond because we won't be living here anymore....

Exhausted from the world's longest sentence...? Well, it's nothing compared to how we feel about explaining something so very concrete and yet so abstract as an impending house sale.

Then there's the endless search for a new house. Billy thinks any house is fair game, and is always yelling out from the backseat about some random house he's seen as we're driving somewhere. He's very patient and well behaved when we attend open houses, though if there are trains in the house - fuggedaboudit. Then he's a one man mission to kleptomania. He's all about the houses with trampolines, wide lawns and if there's a bean bag to crash in, he's sold.

Today, we went to an auction in the suburb we are keen on, just to get a sense of what the market is doing. It was depressingly expensive, but that wasn't the eye opener for us. That came in the form of what sounded like the hounds of hell barking next door. As the auctioneer was doing his gavel banging thing (using a dongly wooden gavel he oddly kept stored down the front of his very well tailored suit trousers), the barking sent Billy into a sweaty spin. He looked at me, with dilated pupils and said, 'Why do these things hurt me?'

We had brought my trusty iPhone. We had tickled and wrestled as we walked up the street. We had steered clear of as many whimpering babies as we could. But the snarling of what sounded like fifteen pitbulls was too much for us. We left, leaving the bidders to argue in increments of $5K, amazed at how sound aware we have all become since Billy came into our lives. Seriously, not one other person batted an eyelid at the barking. To be honest, never mind the SPD impact, why would anyone buy a house next to attack dog central??

When we got home, we had a bit of quiet time. We fed the dog, and watered the garden and had a little ferret around our favourite spots in what will soon be someone else's house.

And in that time, I came across a bunch of reasons why I secretly don't want to move at all.

There's the sandpit where an undiagnosed two year old Billy would spend hours staring into the cascading sand he would drop in front of his face. We soon learned to hide trains in the sand so he would at least challenge his sensory defensiveness, and at best advance his fine motor strength. We added water, and dirt and sticks and stones. We welcomed the dog in, to increase the chaos quotient (Scruffy magnanimously complied, especially in his puppy years). We built the Island of Sodor again and again. We blew bubbles and traced their patterns in the sand. We counted and sang and laughed, and soon enough, Billy stopped sifting and started building, creating and expanding his world.

Then, there's the frog pond we built with our own hands, and populated with tadpoles from the garden of Billy's first real friend. Reuben and his siblings showed Billy the meaning of teamwork and uncomplicated motor skills, as they all captured a cake tin full of wiggly tadpoles, snails and guppies. Back at home, we made playdoh frog statues and sat them on the pondside rocks to keep the taddies company. We fed them frozen lettuce until the pond plants kicked in. We watched them grow legs and lose tails. And every night, we listen as their great-great-grand-froglets ribbet through the sunset.

Finally, there's the inside of the cubby house where we would hide and paint. We hid because the kids next door always wanted to play in our backyard but Billy was terrified of their pure child exuberance. We painted because that's what kids do, and Billy showed zero interest in those peak pre-school painting years. So, when I say 'we' I use the term creatively. For the longest time, I painted and Billy labelled. Over and over. And over and over. The entire carnival of animals from David Attenborough's Life of Mammals is represented on the inside walls of our cubby house. Actually, when I say 'represented', I am also using that word creatively as well. Let's just say that while I was hit with the 'string words together' stick, the fairy holding the visual arts stick must have been off smoking somewhere. I cannot paint to save my life. Thankfully, Billy has a photographic memory, and once we called the brown blob a gazelle, it was a gazelle for life.

One miraculous day, when he was three or so, Billy stuck his chubby hand in the paint tray and made an arc shape in the air. He said, 'wain' in a tiny voice as he waved his arm in the air. I sat with my knees up near my ears (cross-legged in a tiny cubby house) thinking 'Do we know someone called Wayne?' and Billy showed me his multi-coloured hand and waved it in front of my face again. 'Waaaaiiiiin...' he said. I was still going, 'Is he calling me vain? Cramped up in this cubby house? Man, he's tough!' when Billy's hand hit the bottom of the 'creature' covered wall. 'Waaaaaiiiiinbooow' he said, as he painted an arc of colour over the animals. His other hand touched the animals. 'Day haaapee!' he yelled.

He painted a rainbow, and he named it. Not repeated it. He named it, and he talked about it. There is no rainbow in Life of Mammals, he just thought a rainbow would fit the picture. It was the first step in a journey that continues today. The Billy journey, out of himself and into a world where animals need rainbows to be happy.

In four weeks time, I have to leave that rainbow for another child to find. I hope they like it. I hope they feel how important it is. Unfortunately, they probably won't understand that the rainbow is protecting a menagerie of mammals, because the animals look like the marks on the sides of a Quarter Pounder box.

It's daunting and exciting in the same breath, to be moving on from this place. It's autism house. It's where we used the word for the first time. It's where therapy started. It's where we received the diagnosis. It's where we cried and sucked it up and started fighting.

It's time to move on.

We own the diagnosis now. We own the journey now. Unfortunately, we don't own a house anymore... but we're working on it (one trampoline at a time).


Simon said...

Congratulations. I'm sure you'll create as many wonderful memories in your new home as you did in your last

Amanda Simpson said...

Wonderful news that you sold, at least you are free of open houses and stress. Good luck finding a new home. Thank you for your blog, it is so incredible to read, you are so wonderful and expressive. We are coming back to Sydney for a visit and would love to see you and Billy. I'll let you know the dates.

Anonymous said...

You write so beautifully, V. Hope everything goes well with the house hunting. I'm sure you'll make it another 'home' very quickly.

Daryl said...

By the way it was me, Daryl who left that last comment. Ticked the wrong box.

Anonymous said...

Always love to read your words... They often make me a little speechless... They evoke soany thoughts.. Reflections .. Much love to you all.. Here's to trampolines and rainbows xxx Bec Riggs

Heather said...

Leaving the house where your children came home after they are born is one of the hardest things to do. My boys were 2 and 1 when we moved into our new house. It was detrimental to me to leave that old house and all the memories. But we have made some amazing new ones here. You will too :) Good luck with your hunt.