Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Paying for Luxuries: Developmental Therapy, and Proper Cups of Tea

It's been quite a battle getting a decent cup of tea. First, there was the discovery that New Zealand brands do not - to an English palate - just taste right, no matter how expensive or well-packaged they are. Then, when we moved into this house, the problem arose that the local fluoridation has a strange effect: although it doesn't taste in cold water, boiling the water means that a strong chemical tang enters the flavour, hitting the palate at exactly the same moment as the aroma of tea and drowning it out almost completely. No matter what brand we tried, the same thing happened.

I realised that I am weak-willed, I thought I was up to the inconveniences and stresses of transition, but when it came down to it I simply could not face the future without the prospect of nice cups of tea. So my tealeaf and tannin habit is costing us dearly: we are buying huge vats of bottled water in order to fill the kettle. I suppose it is better than demanding annual flights to England as the price of emigration, but still it feels rather...well...excessive. Having taken pride in my household frugality, I am embarrassed by myself. Perhaps my tastes will change, but for the moment I need it, the weekly 10 litres of bottled water an unavoidable cost of settling in.

We could, I am sure, cope without behavioural therapy too. Our boys' issues are minor. We fully expect them to lead adult independent lives. I'd be astonished if any of them didn't end up at university. This will happen not because of the effort we put in, or the example we set, but the entirely random genetic lottery result that has produced three intelligent kids. So is it a luxury, therapy at this time? Since they will grow up to be highly functioning adults, should I be wasting our family resources on this expense, when we could spend it on cheese and potatoes?

I guess that the way I see it is simple, really. Like tea, therapy will make us happy. We need interventions not to change the children's future, but to change the quality of their childhood now. We need to be able to teach the youngest not to be so frustrated and rigid, to be able to enjoy a park without worrying about the messy leaves on the ground. We need to remind the oldest and the middle that there are boundaries, and that Mummy and Daddy love them, and that this is a big move and many things have changed but we have not, and we still need them to listen, and respect, and obey: and not do crazy things. And, for all these reasons, we need interventions, the state and the private kind. Both cost, the private kind in money and the state kind in time and energy. Help is not free, even if we don't sign a cheque at the end of every session. There is the opportunity cost, the time that is spent listening to experts and following their suggestions, when we could be doing other things. There is the headspace aspect, the parental loss of control and self-sufficiency, the trying to do things via another person's way of seeing things, which slows everything down and can bring great benefits, but also can lead one to doubt one's instincts. And there is the grinding recognition that therapy brings home - that the children are not quite 100 per cent where they should be developmentally, that life is not as straightforward as one might like. Therapy brings help, but it is a depressing path to have to walk, when you see your colleagues in the mothering world spending their time on softplay and coffee with friends.

I have worried at times that it is my inadequacy as a parent that makes all this necessary, that somehow my children wouldn't HAVE these issues if I wasn't raising them wrong. I have similarly worried, when feeling overburdened or exhausted, that actually the therapy and support has been doing the opposite of what it is meant to: draining me dry. I am reminded of a dream I once read of, a dream that came to a woman who was struggling with whether to leave the Mormon church. She was in hospital, and was surrounded by wires that she believed were keeping her alive: to her horror she realised that they were doing the opposite, they were draining her body of nourishment and strength. That was for her a metaphor that summed up her experience of Mormon religious authority - that which was meant to give her strength and nurture her, was in fact an oppressive system. In dark moments, I have sometimes wondered if the support systems in the UK that were meant to help my family were in fact in some ways a depressing and life-sapping force, albeit unintentionally so. Strangely, I too had a series of dreams about being in hospital, and wires feeding into my body: I struggled to leave, but in my case I realised that the wires were there to help me, they were bringing me blood, vitality I guess. I was weak, and they were bringing me strength.

It's a fine balance, whether to take help or not. But I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Anyway, I haven't much choice, already my diary is filling up. The head of the school down the road wants to meet first thing on Tuesday, to discuss the boys and how she can meet their needs: later that day the ABA therapist is arriving, to give Number Three his first morning of intervention: on Monday a representative from the local autism charity is coming to meet us and see what stuff she can do/teach/recommend. Perhaps it is just that I am weak-willed, that I think I need this help. Perhaps a better mother would know what to do instinctively, rather than needing to search for outside support. But, rather like the paying good money for bottled water to have a proper cup of tea, I DO need it, or I feel that I, we, will be unhappy without it. That's the best I can do for now. In time, perhaps I won't need bottled water. And I'll learn to manage this parenting lark on my own. In the meantime, thank goodness for the internet, which has enabled me to make local contacts quickly, and get the boys and I some support until we are managing better, and properly settled in. Because otherwise, I risk my parenting feeling like those insipid, depressing, tasteless sips of tea that so horrified me in the first few days: all the ingredients are there but somehow it is lacking, a certain je ne sais quoi. Parenting, ordinarily, is something that I love. I don't want to feel like the equivalent of a tasteless teabag. I want to have fun, relish the time I spend with my boys. The same way I really, really enjoy the strong, tangy taste of a good proper cup of tea.

John's Gospel's Jesus famously compared himself to a vine. "I am the vine, and you are the branches." That is an ideal text for me to meditate on right now, I think. Branches need water, nourishment. I, my family, are such a branch right now. I had better relax, and let the support take shape. Nourishment may flow to us that way. It's worth a try, at least. The last thing I must do is try to be self-sufficient, in this new country, away from all that I know. Branches quickly wither if they are separated from their roots. They don't survive for long on their own.


  1. Good thought. Mr C thinks it won't work, because he thinks that the chemicals won't be filtered out (I think he is probably right). It may be worth a try after next paycheque, though.

  2. The town where my family is from (although thankfully not where I grew up) the town supply water was just unbelievably hideous. Thankfully they've fixed that now! Maybe you can ask someone in NZ who has a water filter if you can try it (the water I mean!).