Saturday, 13 December 2014

Abigail's Nativity

For this post, I would like to hand you over to my daughter, who is going to dictate the story of the nativity in her own words.

"The angel said: 'You're going to have a baby!' and then Mary was surprised and then the angel just went away and then Mary shouted 'Joseph Joseph, the angel said I'm going to have a baby in my tummy!'

And then Joseph said, 'Let's go to Bethlehem' but she said, 'No, it's a very long way away', but then they just goed and then the keeper...the inner...said, 'There's no more room!'  Then they found a baby, Jesus.  They found baby Jesus.  And then the wise men comed...

(Here, there was a brief pause in which I reminded her about the shepherds)

And then the angel said 'Don't be afraid, I got news for you' and then the shepherds went to find the baby and they got there and Mary said 'Look, the angel said I was going to have a baby in my tummy' and then the shepherds saw baby Jesus.

THEN the wise men comed.  And they brought applenut squash."

(Editor's note: I have no idea what applenut squash is, but it sounds delicious and suitably exotic.)

Pictured: the set of nativity puppets that we made to help tell the story, and a crib scene that Abigail made out of Sticklebricks.

Monday, 17 November 2014

All that glitters

An Abigail moment I want to record before I forget it.

Abi often asks what inanimate objects are saying.  I'm not always sure what she's getting at.  Sometimes she wants to know their purpose, other times I think she is double checking that they really are inanimate objects and are not about to bite her or want a conversation.

At this time of year, she also likes looking through Christmas catalogues with me, which is why she found this glittery reindeer and asked me what it was saying.

As ever, I had to improvise, and guessed that it might be saying "Glitter, glitter, I'm so pretty!"

She fixed me with that Abigail-knows-the-answers-to-the-universe look.

"No, Mummy.  It saying "Glitter glitter, buy me if you got money!"

Good to know that she's got the hang of consumerism.  

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

I Love You...

It's our ninth wedding anniversary!  Last night, we had a rare night out to the Apex in Bury St Edmunds, to listen to a fantastic band playing "Django a la Creole".  They were epically talented whenever they picked up their instruments, but the lead clarinet kept trying to talk to us in between songs, which he did in a sort of incomprehensible croonmumble into the microphone.  As he announced their encore at the end of the night,  I was absolutely sure that he had said the next song, a Nat King Cole standard, would be called "I Love You For Several Mental Reasons".  Was quite disappointed when it turned out to be 'sentimental'.

Still, on our anniversary, here are several mental reasons why I love TheRev:

He includes me in his eclectic tastes in music, even though I am still not sure what 'Creole' means musically.

He finances my self-employed career that is at times merely a glorified hobby, encourages me in it as a ministry and proudly tells other people what I do for 'work'.

When he makes me a slice of toast, it always has a bite taken out of one corner.  He calls this 'tax'.

When I'm about to knock the children's heads together, he takes them away and tickles them.

He knows all the jokes and scripts from What's Up Doc, even though he doesn't particularly like the film.

He is willing to sing important conversations to the tune of Thomas the Tank Engine so that we can continue our discussions on car journeys.

No task is ever more urgent than answering a question I have about eschatology.

He agrees to boycott Nestle because I say so, but then forgets and buys me mint Aero because he knows it's always been my favourite chocolate bar.

When I make a deep philosophical comment about the worth of art once disconnected from its artist, he knows exactly what I mean and launches into his quite considerable thinking on the matter.

While at university, he was saving up cash in a biscuit tin under his bed to buy my engagement ring.

Over the course of our marriage he has, for the sake of our relationship, my sanity or the sheer fun of it, appeared on stage acting, singing and doing a dance with a chicken move.  He has allowed me to stage slap him with a beach bag.  He has learned to play the musical saw.  He has become a ventriloquist dummy to entertain dinner companions.  He has learned to ride a tandem.  He has learned to change a cloth nappy.  He has driven a VW camper van.  He has driven the length and breadth of France several times.  He has memorised all the words to You're the Top and Baby, it's Cold Outside.

He is, in short, wonderful, and I love him for far more than several reasons, some mental, some sentimental.  Happy anniversary, dearling.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

It's a wonder I'm not mad already

Here's a little snapshot of communication in our house at the moment.

I have failed to realise that TheRev is out for dinner tonight, and have planned a complicated salmon dish involving asparagus.  Fairly certain that neither child would eat it anyway, I decide to ask their opinions and seek an excuse to cook a simpler supper for the three of us.

I approach Abigail.  This has to be done with caution, as she is absorbed in Pocoyo.  My iPad has been thrown across the room for lesser intrusions.

"Abi, would you like cheesy tomato pasta for dinner later, or salmon?"

"I would like a sandwich."

I glance at the screen.  Pocoyo has a sandwich.

"Right, but for dinner - pasta or salmon?"

"Pasta AND salmon."

"Do you like pasta?"


"Do you like salmon?"


I give up and go to find Jeremy.  I find him about to lob all the loo rolls down the stairs.  I rescue them.

"Jem, do you want cheesy tomato pasta or salmon for dinner?"

"Cheesy'matosammun.  Yes."

I really am looking forward to the day when I might be able to have a basic conversation with my children.  It can't be that far off...can it?!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

20 Reasons Jeremy Couldn't Sleep

Tonight I missed housegroup, one of my only sources of adult conversation, because Jeremy wouldn't go to sleep.  Here are the reasons why, in his own words:

Reasons 1-10: Losta bankit, Mummy!  ('Lost' wasn't entirely accurate, though, as he was flinging it over the side of the cot).

Reason 11: Bag gone. (Yes, he had somehow managed to remove his sleeping bag and was standing up with it around his ankles.)

Reason 12: Wockin chair peeease.  (So we rocked for a bit)

Reason 13: Help!  (He had tried to remove the bag again, but got stuck with one foot through an arm hole having not succeeded in undoing the poppers)

Reason 14: Abi!  Want a Abi! (Abi has gone to sleep, why don't you go there too and find her?)

Reason 15: Losta bankit.

Reason 16: Wockin chair 'gain.

Reason 17: Brief tickle fight. (The only alternative to throwing him out of the window.)

Reason 18: Singa song Mummy.

Reason 19: Not at song.  Nother song.

Reason 20:  No 'leep.

Finally got downstairs to make myself my first cup of tea of the day.  Kettle boiled just as housegroup finished.

Cheesed off.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

That's what it's all about

Last week, we received Abigail's 'Learning Journey' home from nursery.  This brilliant book allows us to be flies on the wall of her classroom over her time there: it contains photos, worksheets, artwork and milestones, all surrounded by comments from her key worker and other teachers and helpers who observed her.

Some of the reports are lovely to read, like the key worker's comment: "It is a pleasure to work with Abigail.  She can always make me smile."

Some of them are spot-on descriptions of her character: "Abigail knows her own mind and can make her own choices about what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.  Abigail still needs some support with colour and shape recognition, however I believe Abigail knows more than she lets on".

I enjoyed all the references to Abigail's love of books, especially the one that said "Given the choice, she would rather read a book" (sounds just like me!) and the form that listed 'Interests' as simply 'Books'.

It was a treat to see all the photographs of Abi engaged with her peers in various activities.  Once again, my girl is definitely recognisable: spinning around in a corner (with the other children all sitting neatly in a circle at the edge of the shot); dressing up in a princess dress and a bright blue wig; completely absorbed in creating a line of toy vehicles; and two pictures in which she inexplicably has a large amount of play doh sticking to her face.  There are also pictures of her doing puzzles and sorting activities with lots of solemn concentration, and great shots of grins and giggles with other children.

My very favourite, however, the cream of all the comments and the truest-to-life description of my wonderful daughter, was on the back of a worksheet on which Abigail had traced over dots to write the number 4 multiple times.  The comment on the back tells me exactly which fingers she was using to hold her pencil, what she said all the colours were, how much support she needed, how well she understood the task and how long she kept at it before she lost interest in it, but none of that matters.  At the bottom of the comments is written the one I want to frame and keep for ever:

"The whole time Abigail was doing this sheet, she was singing the Hokey Cokey."

Love her.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Rev's Family Expressions of PosAutivity: #AutismPositivity2014

I'm taking part in the 2014 Flash Blog of Autism Positivity.

This is, as it says on the tin, a day at the end of a month of "autism awareness" (which, though well-meant, can very often spread depressing and downright damaging views of autism) when hundreds of bloggers come together to write positively about autism and autistic people.

This year's theme is communication: "This year we hope to highlight the importance of flexibility in communication within our diverse community and honour multiple forms of personal expression" (official guidelines)


Language is not Abigail's first language.  She is doing ever so well at it, but it doesn't come naturally.  She speaks, as TheRev puts it, like somebody using a phrase book: echoes from television, bedtime stories and overheard conversation are all stored in her extraordinary library of a mind, where they are broken down, mixed up and carefully chosen for use in every conversation.  She takes comfort in scripts and songs which are the same every time.

She started to learn language in echoes of full sentences and phrases.  If she's learned that a phrase is an acceptable answer to a question (because it was true the first time) then it becomes the answer to that question every time: for a while, the answer to the question "Why is s/he crying" was always "Because my hitted him" even if it was a character in a book!   Sometimes, a word selection accidentally triggers an echo, meaning that her reply to your question isn't at all what she meant to say.  Sometimes she accidentally does it to herself: "I'm going to turn the page" she announced to me, before turning off the light.

The way she listens and speaks may make communication difficult sometimes, but at other times it's like living with a tiny unintentional poet, a walking box of connections and combinations all sparking and hissing and flashing at once.

Rather than try to describe it any further, I'm going to make a list of quotations from my journal that will hopefully give you some idea, both of how incredibly quickly she's learning, and of the amazing things that can by done with words by a child for whom language is not her first language.

Tiffer says, in conversation, that he thinks something is less important.  Abi shouts: "It's not less important, it's FULL OF PORRIDGE!"

2/10/13 Abi's response to being asked what she did at nursery today: "I just played happily.  Then I done a song about the sleeping butterflies.  I think butterflies do sleep on something, it's just a pillow and a blanket and all the way back to bed, and then they go in a wirrelbarrel all the way home".

"I have an idea, how about we can play instead?  It's playtime, that why we can play, and the time is play."  (Actually, it was bedtime!)

Abi's response to my reaction upon discovering that she had drawn in orange highlighter on our hosts' pillowcase: "Don't worry Mummy.  It's not the matter.  It's GREAT!"

Me: Abi, we need to change your trousers, those are too small.
Her: No, those are too fine, they are just my same.

Abi is very interested that I am eating chocolate.  "Have you beened a GOOD Mummy?"

Me: What does an angel say, Abi?  (This is a script that we've been doing together since before Christmas, and the answer has always been "Don't be afraid, I've got good news for you", which comes from a favourite Christmas song on video).
Her: Don't be afraid. I got something in my pocket to good news you. 

Mummy, are you feeling better, or are you properly poorly?

Me: Abi, please put that magazine into my bag now.
Her: No, I won't do that.  Putting in bags is not good for magazines.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Epiphany notes to self

It has become something of an Epiphany tradition, as we pack up the decorations, to leave little notes among them for us to find next year.  The notes we found as we unpacked the boxes this year included a copy of the new song we'd learned for the Advent wreath, a card by Abigail with a description of how she had made it and a note from me to future me which simply said, "Roll up your sleeves - the madness is about to begin!"  Finding them was special and we will definitely be doing the same again this year; in a similar spirit, I've decided to write a blog post addressed to my future self, just rolling up her sleeves for Advent 2014.

Dear Amy,
You may remember 2013 as the year when presents were remarkably organised. This is because you went online in October and ordered most of Amazon. You also went to jumble sales from the summer onwards and had a hiding place for potential stocking presents. I applaud you - do that again.  One way you could improve on 2013's performance is to use the extra time that your stunning gift prowess gives you to send some cards before the final posting date.
You may also remember Christmas 2013 as a somewhat frustrating one.  The first Christmas after Abi's diagnosis of autism, you tried to do everything "normal" despite having long since abandoned "normal" in your everyday life, and then despaired when it didn't work.  There were some extra lovely moments too, though, and I hope you remember those: her word-perfect knowledge of all the Christmas songs she did at nursery (even though she didn't sing them on the stage), her serious face as she decorated the tree almost single-handed, the way that Baby Jesus was always 'poorly' for some unknown reason and that the stable was a 'farm' for the first few weeks of Advent, but did eventually become a stable when "Mary and Jophiss and the poorly poorly baby" moved in.
For this 6th January, I've written 6 tips to get you through next year more smoothly. I hope you don't mind.  Of course, knowing Abi and the way that she learns, you're probably not going to need a single one of these tips next year - she'll have the whole Christmas thing in her stride by then, I'm sure.  Here they are just in case.  You've found blogs by people on similar journeys very useful over the past year; if you don't need this list, perhaps somebody else will.

1) I know you're Mrs Advent and you've been waiting several decades to inflict 586 different traditions on your children.  It's unmanageable and overwhelming for any small child.  Get a grip.  Until they are older, pick one Advent tradition - Jesse tree, calendar or figures in the stable - and stick to it.  Put it somewhere out of reach and make time to do it at the same time every day.  This way you may actually end up with an enjoyable, meaningful routine which they remember.  Also, you will stay sane and avoid spending your evenings replacing 22 little figures behind fiddly doors.

2) At the time of writing, Abi has not yet grasped that between saying "Juice please" and drinking juice, there must be a time when Mummy goes to fetch the juice.  Waiting is hard.  24 days of waiting is not even comprehensible.  But 24 days of waiting when you have no idea what you're waiting for?!  Everything you tried to talk about this year resulted in her either wanting or not wanting it, vehemently and IMMEDIATELY.  Leave the Christmas talk until the last few days of Advent, because it risks building up into anxiety rather than anticipation.  She'll go through it all in school anyway.  Once the holidays have begun, why not prepare for Christmas 2014 by watching home videos of Christmas 2013?  They're probably more realistic and informative than Charlie and Lola.

3) Leave any family festive outings until after the 25th.  Poor Abi, in the week before Christmas, went through two birthday parties, her first nativity play, her nursery Christmas party, a school fair and managed to meet Santa through sheer accident three times. She really didn't need your trip to the garden centre to see the pretty lights.

4) For heaven's sake don't give the children chocolate, not even in their stockings.  They are going to get far more of the sweet stuff than they could ever healthily eat, even if you try to ration it out over the whole year as an enticement to every meal, and you will end up scoffing it furtively and feeling guilty because it was meant for them.

5) Sing.  It's the thing Abi picks up quickest.  I expect that next year, Jeremy will too.  John Hardwick's songs mean that Abi already knows what angels say.  How many carols tell the whole nativity story?

6) Don't panic.  When Abi wakes up at 6am screaming and sobbing that she doesn't want any presents, just go with it.  Snuggle up in bed and talk about something else, and be grateful for an extra year that won't be ruled by materialism.  Similarly, when Jeremy develops a fear of gifts and runs screaming whenever you try to give him one, just unwrap them all and hand over the toys.  It may not feel quite right, but then neither does chasing a sobbing toddler around the house with a parcel.  The day is never going to look the way it does in your head, whether you were anticipating schmaltz or catastrophe.  If you relax about it, they'll enjoy it, whatever it looks like - and so will you.