Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Peanut has landed

Welcome to the Lionheart's newest cousin, Emily Jane Randall, who was born yesterday at 06h44 in Port Elizabeth, weighing 3.5kg and measuring 52cm.

Emily's guardian angels have bequeathed this little soul to Michelle and George Randall, who are my sister-in-law and her husband. For those who know this fabulous, quirky couple - Emily will no doubt grow up to be equal parts of Yoko Ono, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Austen, and she'll be one helluva fisherman... er, fisherwoman... fisherbabe.

Michelle and George live on a farm just outside Kleinemonde, and are kicking it old school. Emily will have cloth nappies and nutritious noms-noms straight from the organic veggie patch. Check out Michelle's blog The Green Frontier, about the move from the urban jungle to the wild unknown, and her family's efforts to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Emily (who will always be Peanut to us), we can't wait to meet you next weekend, cutie!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Splish, splash, I was taking a bath

You know that scene in Psycho, where Janet Leigh’s character is enjoying a hot shower, blissfully unaware that a shadow holding a giant butcher’s knife is lurking behind the curtain?

I also get caught by surprise when I’m enjoying my morning showers. The rushing water masks the sound of Ben 10 synthetic shorts being bum-slid across the bathroom tiles; I don’t see the small figure at knee-height outlined through the warped shower door glass. Then bang, bang, BANG!

It’s Travis the Lionheart, bashing a toy car against the shower door. If I’m not quick to slide it open a crack, all hell breaks loose. The acoustics in the tiled bathroom are impressive when your three-year-old is yelling at you in high-pitched dolphin.

Still, I’m really enjoying my daily showers with Travis. His chubby fingers pull the shower door open wider so that he can fit his head through and look around at what Mom’s doing. Occasionally I have to dodge as a bright red toy car hurtles into the shower, like a superhero jet that dashes through a waterfall into the secret lair behind it. Then I retrieve the wet toy car, drive it across to where the Trav is sitting, brrrrrm BRRRRRRRM and he giggles: fun and games.


The Lionheart has no fear of water; he’s covered in spray – the droplets sparkling in his hair and soaking his clothes before I’m done. It’s not only one of our mother-and-son “things” – Travis keeping me company while I shampoo my hair – we’re also doing our bit for the environment, because DAMN it’s chilly showering with the door open. So I’m out of that shower in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Ditto my weekly bubblebath soak in the tub with candles and a good book. When Travis hears me turn those bathroom taps on, he bum-slides in with this expectant look on his face: “Awesome, Mom. I really enjoyed the hour-long bath I had earlier this evening, but sure – I can squeeze in another one.”

I don’t mind sharing my “me” time with the Lionheart. In fact, when I start writing full-time in January next year, I’m really looking forward to being more involved with his daily routine.

(Of course, I may have to start dancing on tables for extra cash.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Little Einsteins can kiss my... you know

* Warning: This blog post is lightly drizzled with sarcasm


You’ll remember my ‘intellectual yardstick’ post where I wrote about the whole raising a mentally handicapped child shebang, and how it’s especially tough when you’ve always considered yourself a little smarter than the average bear.

It’s quite a hurdle to overcome, emotionally. Which is why, now that I have jumped this hurdle, I don’t feel guilty about the following rather prickly opinion I hold...

Nursery schools and daycares called Whizz Kids, Clever Kids, Smart Bratz and Little Einsteins – and that goes for that annoying singing rocket ship cartoon, too – really make me seethe. It’s because of this: their very names suggest that a “gifted child” is what all parents should hope to raise.

I should know; that’s exactly what I hoped to raise: remember Travis the Nobel Prize Winning Astrophysicist?

Skipping ahead to the next thought-stop...

An intelligent child is more valued by society. Just look at the crap on sale: flash cards for babies, Omega 3 supplements, Mozart in the womb. Seriously, I was doing some research on this topic and the amount of websites dedicated to increasing your child’s intelligence is staggering: RaiseSmartKid.com, Brainy-Child.com, IntelligentBaby.org...

Then I came across this ridiculous question on a parenting forum: “I heard that babies born in the spring are less intelligent. My baby is due in September; what should I do?”

Ummm... just suck it in for a couple of weeks?

Toy manufacturer Fisher Price roped in a psychology lecturer to create this IQ test for 6 to 12-month-old babies. I worry about this kind of thing, especially because the lower your child scores on this dodgy scale, the more educational Fisher Price toys you’ll feel compelled to buy.

If we listened to the legions of scientists that oil, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies have on the payroll then ‘the greenhouse effect’ is actually the name of a British rock band, smoking makes your skin as smooth as a baby’s bum and Prozac is great for weight loss – that kind of bull poop.

When did toys stop being just toys, I ask you?

I’m well aware that this post makes me look like I have sour grapes. I’ll admit it. What I won’t admit to is any knowledge of the vicious defacement of the sign boards of certain kindergartens in the western suburbs of Johannesburg :0)

Take a moment to vote in my poll at the top of the page, on the right. Let's get a debate going here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trav-somnia, please release me...

This special needs mom suffers from a rare sleeping disorder... Trav-somnia. It’s been five fracking nights since I slept for more than two hours at a stretch!

I’m starting to see Tyler Durden flicker in and out of my peripheral vision. That’s a Fight Club reference for the non-fan boys reading this.

The thing about ruggles (regular kids) is that you know a few months after exiting the womb, your swaddled infant will find it’s groove and start sleeping through the night, or for at least a couple of hours at a stretch. I’m talking as a General Rule here, I know the sacred sleeping cycle is not a science; Margot over at Jou ma se blerrie blog will tell you all about this.

That’s what maternity leave is for – you don’t want some sleep-deprived chick that has just given birth stapling her hand to her Blackberry, attempting to fax her company laptop to Abu Dhabi and popping her boob out in the boardroom when someone asks her to pass the sugar.

Oh, and bonding.

Our Lionheart is three years old now, 38 months to be exact... 152 weeks. Add the 40 weeks I spent lugging Travis around in utero and that’s 192 weeks of poor quality sleep. If I’m not peeing all the time at night – a habit which didn’t go away after the pregnancy – I’m prowling the house, waiting for Travis to cry. It’s become so instinctive that I wake up about 30 seconds before he starts whining.

Sometimes it’s because he’s got the sniffles. Sometimes it’s because he refused his dinner and needs a midnight snack or a Power Bottie. Sometimes it’s just ‘because’. Travis wakes up at least once a night, and always has. On a bad night, he only goes to sleep at 1am. On an even worse night, he wakes up at 1am and no one gets to sleep after that. Except Lindt the cat, who has just slinked back into 46 Cedarwood after a night carousing with the other cats in the complex.

I still have to ‘suit up’ in the mornings, drag my bleary face to my cubicle at Corporate for a couple of hours while people remark – “Did you go out partying last night?” or even worse: “Are you OKAY?” The thing about child-induced sleep deprivation in a corporate environment, I reflect while dabbing more concealer under my eyes in the ladies' loo, is that you might as well be a shark wrangler with a paper cut on the set of Jaws. Blood in the water! On the other hand, turning up soaked in Tequila would probably earn you a raise.

By night, I’m the incredible Freelance girl with a built-in thesaurus, fingers that unleash the pitter-patter of clever copy, and a bottomless cup of imagination. Or that’s what it says on my website.

So yeah, sleep is right up there on the stock market next to Apple shares purchased in the 90s for me. It’s only a matter of time before I wake up and put my knickers on my head and apply mascara to my fringe, and drive the wrong way up the N1 to the office.

What’s frightening is that there is no end in sight. Travis won’t grow out of this. It’s not a phase. This is my life. Our life.

And this is the part where I bitch-slap myself and say: “Pull yourself together, chick.” Self-pity is the enemy of the special needs parent – always watching, always hungry.

Thank God it’s Friday.

Note: Trav’s disrupted sleep cycles are part of his condition. Read more about new discoveries they’re making about Septo Optic Dysplasia here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I am the terror that bum-slides in the night!

Between the hours of 1am and 3pm last night, the passage way of 46 Cedarwood was terrorised by (dum-dum-DUM)... the Midnight Bum Slider. The citizens of this fair establishment cowered beneath their duvets, despairing that help would never arrive.

Oh where is the Midnight Bum Slider’s arch enemy, the Sandman, when you need a hero?

As I’m in the midst of my second semester exams, my husband barricaded the door to the main bedroom and took up his sentry post from the couch in the TV room while ‘mischief’ prowled the townhouse.

Travis would not abandon his quest, despite that Dad switched off all the lamps in the house, except the night light in the Lionheart’s room, to encourage our wide-awake toddler to embrace the night and get back into bed.

Under cover of darkness Travis scooted on his bum into the kitchen to bang-bang-bang on the washing machine door. “Nope, that’s not switching it on.” Then he bum-sailed back into the TV room to turn the knobs on Dad’s amplifier. (Knobs. I said it!)

Next up onto the couch where Dad was attempting to snooze, to hurl our lamp off the coffee table. Then bum-first back off the couch to Soapy the Labrador’s basket by the front door, for some friendly ear-yanking. Lindt the Cat merely watched these shenanigans from the very top step of the staircase with a malicious grin, as cats do.

This reign of terror continued for ages, until Dad had enough and whisked the Midnight Bum Slider back into his maximum security facility – that is, he closed Trav’s bedroom door with a firm: “That’s enough, now go to SLEEP!” Dad only had to repeat this exercise twice before the Lionheart stopped his attempt to punch a hole through his door, and fell asleep at 3am.

I’m sure a beautiful sunrise washed over 46 Cedarwood this morning, but no one in our household was awake to see it.

The marauding Midnight Bum Slider had struck again.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The intellectual yardstick

My husband is quite literally a genius. I’m talking a Mensa card carrying, advanced maths boffin, could-probably-build-his-own-rocket-ship type genius. His IQ is (ahem) well endowed, and this quality is something that I find deeply sexy.

On the other hand, I’m a B student, although I did belong to a smarmy gifted child programme that was held after-hours at Wits University when I was in primary school.

So here is my confession: before we discovered there was a Lionheart in our bath tub (that is, when Travis was diagnosed with a congenital brain malformation), I was... perhaps still am...

An intellectual snob.
I said it.

Friday is always Mail & Guardian day in my mind. I’m a voracious reader, and while I’ve never attempted to learn to speak Vulcan (that’s a fictional language from Star Trek), I have studied the linguistics of Quenya and Sindarin, which are forms of Elvish ‘art languages’ developed by author JRR Tolkien.

So we’ve established that I’m a gargantuan dork, too.

Rubbing my pregnant belly, I tried to imbue my unborn Travis with all the qualities he’d need to realise my hopes for him. Being promoted several grades early, like his grandmother. The academic school colours at age 12. The private education at a Grey College or Michaelhouse. A BSc in Astrophysics. Working for NASA. Winning a Nobel Prize. Thanking his mom in front of a TV audience of 3 billion people. That kind of clich├ęd thing.

The secret dreams all parents have for their kids, in an effort to make up for our own shortcomings and opportunities not taken, whether we admit this or not.

At the very least, I hoped that Travis would share my love of reading.

The Big Guy Upstairs has a funny sense of humour. He gifted me with a child who cannot speak. An autistic boy who is both physically and mentally challenged: Travis the Lionheart.

As much as it hurts to write this and read it back to myself – to write about raising a mentally handicapped child – it’s a bigger crime that no one talks about it at all. Once, in a fit of anger and despair, I yelled at my mother: “You have no idea what it is like to raise a retarded child!” Yup, I used that ugly word... Retarded.

It’s been a year since that happened, and it’s only now that I have the courage to actually investigate IQ levels and medical terms and what constitutes mental retardation. Basically it’s an IQ under 70, along with some limitations in behaviour.

I no longer grieve for Travis the Nobel Prize Winning Astrophysicist, because at the age of 3, Travis the Lionheart has touched more lives than my imaginary kid ever would have, including mine.

Now I use new yardsticks to measure a person’s worth: kindness, patience, compassion, generosity, courage and ‘heart’. I’ve made so many friends, met so many extraordinary families.

Guess the Big Guy Upstairs had a plan after all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beanstalks, bridges and chocolate milkshakes

My mom-in-law believes that development happens in spurts.

Her theory reminds me of those poles the scholar patrol kids have to defend their zebra crossing. You know, the one with the green GO sign on one side, which can be flipped at warp speed to STOP (oh, how I envied those smug Grade 7s for this intoxicating power over the traffic, and possibly even – gasp – life and death, when I was in primary school.)

Couple of months back with Trav’s endocrinologist, Dr Segal the medical action hero, telling us that our kiddo hadn’t grown even a centimetre in 18 months... that was all STOP. Red robot. Deploy emergency hand-brake. Travis must have been thinking: “These size 4 Pampers are so damn comfy, I’m going to stop growing just so that I can enjoy them for a little while longer.”

The last few weeks it’s been all systems go, go, GO!
  • Travis can pull himself up into a standing position by the window sill.
  • He can climb onto the couch. Okay, our couches are really low to the ground and are of that brown upholstered Seventies sunken lounge era – but the Lionheart is rocking it! He hasn’t figured out that he can lift his knees to climb onto his throne, so he does a backwards rolling thing, like a high-jumper (yes, this has to be seen). Each time he gets it right, Travis scoots in with his back against the cushion and enjoys a Moment of Triumph.
  • On my birthday last week, we went for a Wimpy breakfast and Travis sipped a chocolate milkshake from a cup. Look, one of the parental units still has to hold the cup, but usually I have to spoon the milkshake into his mouth... Travis the Roman Emperor. Feed me a grape!
  • “Make a bridge! Make a bridge!” This, plus frenzied clapping and plenty of “Yaaaaaaaays!”, is what our neighbours have had to listen to since we got back from Umhlanga. Basically Travis has found the strength to push himself up on his arms and straighten his legs and, well... make a bridge. As Travis has hypotonia, that is reduced muscle tone and strength which is very common in special needs children, this is the equivalent of finding out your son Clark Kent is in fact a super-human being from Krypton.
Special needs families never take first words and first steps for granted; we have to wait so very long for them to happen. You know the expression, “It’s like watching paint dry”? It should be: “It’s like waiting for Travis to learn to walk.”

More good news: this kid is growing! He is mowing through burgers, and frankfurters and chicken-‘n-broccoli bake and puddings. Travis the Lionheart is shooting up like a fairytale beanstalk! When he got back to school on Monday, Thengi was like “Wow! Big boy – you are so heavy!”

So it turns out my mom-in-law is wise as well as a whizz in the kitchen. Not that I had any doubts, Mom!

I hope this beanstalk ‘GO’ phase lasts for a little while longer. It’s like fast forwarding through all the boring telly adverts with your PVR, and enjoying Trav Uninterrupted.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fishies... wo-o-o-o-o-w

On the drive down to Uhmlanga on Sunday morning we screeched into the rest stop just outside Harrismith. It has trampolines, swings and a petting zoo... and most importantly... wait for it, waaaaaait for it, a loo!

Even though Travis is strapped into his car seat, and can't walk, it's still important to take him out for a 'stretch'. I marched him down to where the goats, donkeys, and chickens (and was that a fracking llama?) were enjoying their breakfast of grains - on the safe side of the fence that an audience of toddlers poked their chubby digits through.

The Lionheart was, to say the least, just Not Interested. No eye contact. He didn't even turn his head to look. Looking at the other moms pointing out 'sheeps' and 'horsies' is tough for me. His autism means he doesn't engage in this kind of activity.

You know, despite that his official condition is Septo Optic Dysplasia, it is Trav's autism that is by far the most debilitating of his troubles. What I would give for him to just point his finger at something, show some interest, ask me "What the hell is that (llama?)".

Just because Travis doesn't look at the animals, doesn't mean he doesn't know they are there. That's why I walked him all the way across a mile of lawn to show him the Harrismith rest stop petting zoo, regardless. I can't just cut this sort of activity out because I'm not seeing the response I'd like.

You need to 'rewire' your thoughts when dealing with an autistic child; I try to compute Trav's actions and reactions using different mental algorithms - whether he is functioning on a more primal, instinctive plane or whether it's a higher, less emotive functioning... this I couldn't tell you. When trying to understand autism, the title of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass comes to mind.

So imagine my surprise when we went to uShaka Marine World on Monday (as one of my 30th birthday indulgences - I'm really nerdy like that) and Travis actually turned his head to LOOK at the aquariums. He didn't just look, he scrambled out of his pram to press his nose up against the glass.

What a very Alice in Wonderland moment indeed.


Travis the Lionheart  visits uShaka Marine World in Durban

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rain or shine, I claim this balcony mine...

Travis loves white noise. The sound of a hairdryer, the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine. The drone of a TV in the background. And in years to come, probably the sound of Mom's voice asking him to pick his underpants off the floor and put them in the washing basket.

So when we dumped the suitcases and threw open the sliding doors to our magnificent sea view at Uhmlanga Sands, the Lionheart - much to his mother's distress - made a hasty bumslide over to the railing...

...and there he has spent many hours, pretty much for the last two days. The sound of crashing waves and roiling seas has Travis the Lionheart under a spell. Sunshine or drizzle, he doesn't mind.

In complete agreement with the sticker on the balcony door that says, rather sternly, "It is unsafe to allow children on the balcony", I've watched Travis like a hawk. I cannot lure him away from his ocean view, it's like crack for Lionhearts! Every time the hotel room's phone rings, I'm expecting it to be front desk saying "Someone has informed us that there is a small child on the balcony." Aaaargh and consternation!

Autism. Giving mothers mini heart attacks everywhere.

Guess I'll be spending a lot of time on the balcony for the next few days. I'm thinking that this is the universe's sneaky way of forcing me to relax this holiday, breathe in the sea air and enjoy the view.


COME RAIN OR SHINE... there is only one place a Lionheart wants to be this holiday: the balcony of the beach resort.
 PS: Before a flurry of comments roll in comparing this to Michael Jackson dangling his baby out his hotel room window, know that our Trav is being supervised EVERY MINUTE, not that he's stuck so much as a hand out past the railing, never mind his head (which didn't stop me from anxiously measuring his head to make sure it doesn't fit between the bars!). Neurotic and overprotective? Me? Never...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The breakfast of champions

I have something in common with ostriches. Apart from my beady eyes and an egg-shaped head with Very Little Hair. It's the 'stick your head in the sand at the first sign of trouble and hope it doesn't notice you' personality trait.

Except I've wedged my nose to my keyboard and blogged about ANYTHING, but not the fact that Travis the Lionheart's not eating again. As if I could squeeze a tome of blah-blah and yak-yak into each blog post, and there'd just be no space left to write about what's really on my mind. Like: I wish I could fill Trav's rum-tum-tum with this waffle.

Five mouthfuls. That's the sum total of what Travis ate yesterday. The day before, I think we got a few spoons of custard into him. Plus four or five Power Botties. He's had a bit of a sore throat, not that this has diminished the volume of his roar.

This morning at 5am, we jammed our lily white rear-ends into the Race Car Ya-Ya (the red Honda Jazz) to drive to the coast for our holiday, and pulled into McDonalds drive-thru for a cup of industrial coffee (and maybe a small burger... Hey, every time you roll your eyes a fairy dies!).

Imagine my surprise when the Lionheart proceeded to gnaw his way through half my Double Cheeseburger. You could have knocked me over with a size 0 catwalk model! My goodness, if Mickey D's be the manna from heaven the Trav has wandered the rumbling deserts of empty tummies for... Sign. Me. Up.

Now, where are the golden arches in Umhlanga? I need to tithe.