When I was pregnant with my second child, another girl, I enrolled in an aerobics instructor course. I did this because everyone told me that if I ever exercised, I would love it. I knew I would not love it, ever, so I took the course to prove that love would forever be absent.
When I was pregnant with my third child, I bought one of those new fangled runner's strollers, so that I could run with my two smaller children, and prove to everyone that running was totally hateful, pointless and shrinks your stature as your legs wear out faster than nature intended.
When I was pregnant with my fourth child, my husband gave me a pottery wheel for our wedding anniversary, for some laudable reason best known to himself. I had never had anything to do with clay or pottery. He claimed that it would provide a static creative outlet, and anyway, he had enrolled in a pottery classes in England every year, for several years. The logic, as usual, escaped me, but I knuckled under and hunched myself over my ever increasing bump to make bowls, mass production style.
He was right. It was creative and I remained static but when that last baby finally arrived, I quickly discovered that it was impossible to spend 20 minutes in the garage alone with clay and leave three small children unsupervised. I also learned that after a day with three small children, I lacked the energy to go out into the garage at night when they were all asleep.
I decided that I needed another, non-child related activity, a cheap one that would provide a creative outlet. It had to be something that was indoors, small and something that could occupy one minute or three minutes, here and there, there and here. I opted for cake decorations, sugarpaste because it was a bit like mini sculpture. I would start small. I would practice. By the time the children reached school age maybe I could start a little business enterprise? Something that would not impact too greatly upon my maternal duties.
I had worried that I wouldn't be able to 'do' boys. Boys were always a case of 'boys will be boys.' I had lots of experience in de-sensitizing boys. My first victim was my little brother. Given my parents traditionally conservative gene pool, it was my job to tackle the nurture ratio. My sister and I worked on him tirelessly, for over a decade, fashioning him into the perfect male for the modern woman. It was a startling success, until puberty, then all was sadly lost as he reverted to type, because 'girls don't like nice guys.'
As it turned out, I had worried needlessly. My boys were affectionate, demonstrative and cuddly. They were the most sensitive boys I had ever come across. They were sensitive to a pin drop, domestic appliances in general and had a horror un-domestic wild bears which some foolish people refer to as teddies. Who were these people that maligned boys so callously and stereotyped them with falsehood?
I distinctly remember a chum calling around to visit one day. On the kitchen counter, in my very small crampt kitchen, were a line of several icing projects in various stages of completion, cribs, flowers, a cornucopia. Because she was a chum, British, she was familiar with this kind of cake decoration, which is far less common in the States. She made an obvious observation:- “I just don't get it? How can you possibly make things out of sugar with three small children in the house?”
“Oh you know, here and there, there and here.”
“No, I mean……it's sugar…….the children?” I blinked as I thought. My daughter stole occasionally, but we had reached an understanding. I'd make an extra 'thing' for her to eat, as long as she didn't mangle everything else. It worked. I thought of the boys, both of them. They had never shown any interest in any of the nauseatingly cute animal creations, nor the mini computer for their Dad's birthday, nor the snake pit for their big sister. I had no explanation and even fewer clues.
I remembered idling at the table, when I was small and freckled and round, whilst my mother drank coffee with her pal once a week, on a Thursday, in the posh shop, whilst I stole sugar cubes with the stealth of the truly motivated. I would help choose the table, radar scanning, so that I could scour the sugar pots to ensure that I had the greatest feast available.
It was very curious.
I thought of all the many cakes I had fashioned, the preponderance of cribs because I belonged to a mum's club, where mums were always having additional babies. There was a rota to provide meals to new mums. I made my standard chicken pot pie and a chocolate ganache cake with a crib on top, to celebrate the new arrival. All those cribs, white, pink, blue or pale lemon yellow for the indeterminate. How can you tell if 'Taylor' is a boy or a girl? But of course boys would not be interested in cribs or babies would they?
I thought of my older boy, his adoration of new borns and toddlers who toddled at a slightly shorter height than him. My adorably sweet and tender son, with six dimples who could read before he was three.
There were so many little moments, insignificant alone but that together, pushed us to one inevitable conclusion. Like at the party. Was it the house warming or a birthday, I forget now. A houseful of friends to cater for, fifty or more. The sort of gathering where we hope to socialize but know that busyness will over shadow the ability to chat. I knew that my time would be divided between food production and carrying one, or more, of the boys. To save time, repeated questions and clogged foot traffic, I hung a sheet paper above the door jam. My friend grinned, “Oh Maddy! Don't you know the correct terminology? Can't you bring yourself to write 'restroom'?” she giggled as I hoiked up one sniveling boy and shifted his weight. He lifted his head, eyes drawn to new and delightful letters, “loo!” he pronounced. My friend's expression changed, registered surprise with a tinge of shock and a tincture of horror, “did he…..can he……..he didn't just read that did he?” I readjusted the wadded nappy bottom on my hip, uncomfortable in too many ways to list.
The cakes and decorations dwindled as our lives were impacted with a whole slew of new. Our time was spent traveling to therapists with unfamiliar agendas. But that was quite a while ago now, a while during which we all adjusted to a new reality.
Now, so many years later, I dust off icing bags and grab bags of sugar dust, I re-start an old project, cornucopias for Thanksgiving cakes. I make many, partly because I know that if I make 3 only one will survive, they're so fragile. I end up making more than a dozen, because thankfully my house has been invaded by a bunch of thieves, determined to scupper my chances.
p.s. Just for the record, ironically, the first person to ever mention the word 'autism' out loud, was my brother!