Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why autism is not infectious, and Vegemite leaves a nasty taste in the mouth...

I know this because at our local music group there were vegemite sandwiches for the toddlers. "Ooh," I said in surprise, "I thought there was no Marmite left." "This is Vegemite," the mother standing next to me hissed, with the air of someone imparting a state secret. "Oh," I said, and took a sneaky bite. Quite nice, I thought, really rather palatable, until: "Oh Jee-no-don't-say-that-this-is-a-church-jeepers," I reeled, as the aftertaste hit me. A yeasty sour tang that made me feel more sympathetic than I have ever done to Hillary Clinton, who nearly caused a diplomatic incident on a visit to Australia when she asked why on earth one would want to ruin a perfectly good piece of toast with the stuff.

It was a lovely morning. I enjoy the group hugely, mainly the chatter, but am coming to enjoy the music part too. It's been quite some time since I've had an excuse to be a caterpillar and touch my hundred little toes. (Although I am still a mum, I can't sing about caterpillars going off to school without starting to wonder about how on earth you fund a hundred school shoes). Plus, my two kids - the toddler and the preschooler - behaved pretty well, on the whole. My toddler has realised, from watching my eldest last week, that you are meant to copy the actions and join in. He has fun, and so did I, even if my preschooler (who should've been at kindy, but I felt like bringing him instead) spent much of the session glued to my legs, shouting "carry, carry" and screaming until I wondered if the other mums would think he'd been traumatised by my negligently letting him watch the horror film of that name. But, you know, all good fun and that. We were doing pretty well at blending in, I thought. A NORMAL mum doing NORMAL things.

Then one of the elderly helpers made a beeline for me. She was the one, I noticed with some concern, who had wittered on at me about not getting this time again a couple of weeks ago (see previous rant). Now she had a concerned Responsible Citizen Challenging Errant Mother look on. "You brought your eldest son again," she said. "No," I said blithely, "this is my middle son." "Oh," she said. "I have been talking to some of the other ladies," she said, "and you know, you brought your oldest son to this group twice in the last term. And you know, we have decided, if he is off school, he can't come, because of the risk of infection, you know, he might infect the other children."

"Oh, don't worry about that," I said blithely, not recognising the subtext at all. "He wasn't ill either time. The first week I brought him, it was because he had been too stressed to sleep the night before. The second time, it was because he had spent half an hour screaming on top of the climbing frame at school, they couldn't get him down, and I thought a day off might settle him. I wouldn't bring an infectious child." I look at her face, expecting to see relief that I am not, after all, Evil Irresponsible Mother.

And then I see that she is crestfallen, slightly unhappy, searching for something else to say. As if she's still unhappy with my boy coming along, but hasn't found a reason to articulate, or at least one that she can share with me. And then I realise all of a sudden what this is REALLY about, and that she is casting around for what to say, because her first cunning approach has failed. Oh Lordy. The thing was, you see, that the first time I brought my eldest he was absolutely brilliantly behaved and I was really proud of him. The second time, he was so excited to come again that he was a bit hyper during the unstructured play time after the music had finished and couldn't/wouldn't/didn't stop throwing the soft balls around. Not ideal with smaller children. So I had already decided that I wouldn't bring him again, because he struggles to moderate himself when excited and I didn't want him to disrupt the group. Because to the best of my ability I try NOT to make my children a public problem. Because that's what irresponsible mothers do.

I could have explained all this, of course, put her mind at rest. But I was too hacked off. If only she'd had the courage to say what the problem REALLY was. She would have found I would have agreed completely, and had already decided to take steps to ensure it wouldn't happen again. But, instead, there was this slight duplicity. Like the Vegemite, it left a nasty taste in my mouth. A mixture of guilt, and irritation. I decide not to pursue the conversation, and leave with a smile on my face, terribly tempted though I am to wilfully misunderstand her and assure her that it's OK, autism and Aspergers aren't actually infectious.


  1. She sounds terribly English, actually, don't you think? Out here, they'd be far more direct and would just say it. Though also, out here, they'd be far more open about inviting older (or younger) siblings to participate - and probably more tolerant about the SN issues.

    Agree with you about non-British marmite. All vile, whatever the antipodeans say.


  2. Yes and I guess I was very English too - an upfront Kiwi might have said "oh, I guess you are worried he was a bit crazy, don't worry, I know what you mean, etc" Instead I sort of sat on it. Very repressed and stiff-upper-lip.

  3. I thought little Mr Middle was in Foundation over here. Also i thought Kindy was for Preschoolers. Does School start at 7 in New Zealand? Also i am beginning to really Dislike that Older Helpful Lady. I had been Led to believe that Vegemite was awful a little like the lady then nice and smily with a hidden insensitivity to differences,
    Big Hug from us also i will be posting a letter soon.xx

  4. I would have been equally repressed and stiff-upper-lip, C. Even after how many years here (16?) I am still largely a product of my English upbringing and inclined to that mode of response. Then every now & then I come out with something that everyone else is thinking but won't actually say (you know how we Brits do that) and people are stunned into silence and thinking "where did THAT come from???"

  5. School starts at 5, so he'll go in July.