Prickly pairs

After a long career in the Navy, my parents decided to buy a house and remain in one place.

It was a three story terraced Victorian house and I loved it before the ink was dry on the contract. At the back of the house, leading to the tiny strip garden, was what my mother called 'the conservatory.'

The conservatory was a four foot square arrangement of glass and wooden shelves, an entrance way or exit, a distance of three paces. The previous owners has neglected to remove some of their plants from this area, predominantly “cacti.” They were a dull grey, with lots of prickles but otherwise quite unremarkable, apart from the single startling iridescent “bloom” stuck on the side like an afterthought. I stroked it to make sure that it wasn't plastic, as the 1970's were the heyday of fake flowers. Although my mother was keen to clear the place out, the cacti were reprieved.

Her delegation of duties had me hooked on responsibility.

I was immediately derelict in my duties as I trudged off to boarding school. I certainly would never have survived without water for three months, but cacti are so much more forgiving. They thrive on neglect. My arrival home was their rainy season when I would drown them with attention for a couple of weeks.

“Wear my gardening gloves,” my mother would advise, but I was of the filthy species of child. They were too big for pudgy little hands, far easier to dive in with naked digits. The huge prickles were easy to avoid. They broadcast their dangers. It was the little fuzzy ones that were my downfall. Their deceptive fur would burrow little barbs into the flesh to leave hairy fingertips. Easy to see but impossible to remove with stubby nails.

All these years later, it seems that both my girls have the same filthy gene, the 'climb a tree,' 'dig a hole,' 'am I really plastered in chocolate?' gene. My eldest son is graduating to the same genetic heights but climbing is still a struggle, as co-ordination of body parts is a challenge. We should all have been born with a coating of Teflon.

My youngest son on the other hand, lives life with as little use of his hands as is humanly possible. Tactile defensiveness, or how things feel, means that he will go to great lengths to avoid touching anything. He tucks his hands in pockets or armpits, clasps them behind his back out of danger or protects his fingertips in his mouth. They are all default positions for hypervigilant people.

We have been in this particular groove since the beginning. I might call it desensitization but it still looks like torture from his perspective. Time and maturation have helped but it's a predictable path. In earlier times we worked to persuade him to write in shaving foam with his finger, buried plastic dinosaurs in sand, sunk Thomas in a washing up bowl full of suds, hid Pokemon in playdough and used any number of other devious means to tempt those fingertips into our tactile world. We should not discount the psychological cost of such treatment. How does the average three year old feel when you pour cement over their precious security blanket? For me, to witness his terror was offset by his determination and instinct to rescue despite the personal pain.  It’s a question of balance and I think I was off kilter.

These days he's more malleable and sometimes he surprises us with his bravery. He's also learned to adopt his own safety strategies to help him cope with the onslaught. We own more woolen, cotton and disposable gloves than any other family in a five mile radius of our home. He's more willing to use tools, even though they're difficult to manipulate because it means that he is saved from the agony of touching something worse.

They're nothing if not inventive, children that is to say.

“I am need!” he squeals at no-one in particular.
“What do you need dear?”
“More what?”
“More armour.”
“Yes I have be one but I be need more nine.”
“Nine what?”
“Nine armours.”

It’s always best to expect the “unexpected.”

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Snuggle down

I work on the theory that to knit in a frenzy should occupy hands and instill a quiet mind.

Thus far the theory proves less than satisfactory.

The boys lie on their tummies on the carpet creating Pokemon figures. My youngest daughter lounges on the sofa next to me with her feet in my lap and frequent warnings, “jus don't poke me with those needles.” I'm almost sure I hear a whisper from those on the carpet, “don wanna spend dah afternoon in dah emergency room!” but maybe I'm mistaken?

My eldest daughter wanders in, “glad to see you with your feet up!” she beams as I adjust my “ice-pack.” “What are you knitting? It looks like a…………bone!”
“Looks lika bone, looks lika bone, looks lika bone,” whispers the carpet.
“Does it? I hadn't noticed the shape.”
“I'm not surprised. What is that vile colour?”
“Er………I think they call it 'simply sage.'”
“Simply sage, simply sage, simply sage.”
“More like putrid neon vomit!”
“Putrid neon vomit! Putrid neon vomit! Putrid neon vomit!”
“Oh do be careful what you say dear!”

Three small pairs of eyes look up at their big sister.
“What will it be when it's finished?”
“A cardigan.”
“Really? Who for?”
“For whom? For me actually. I think they call it a 'snug' out here.”
“A snug? Are you sure? I don't think I've ever heard of a snug before. Are you sure it's not just a shawl? How will you wear something that's shaped like a bone?”
“Well I'm not sure yet but the pattern is very intriguing.”

I nod in it's direction. She picks it up to study.
“That is probably the most ugly garment I have ever seen.”
“Oh don't say that. I just love this soft wool and this was the only pattern that wasn't too ghastly.”
“I dread to think what the other choices were in that case.”
“What's so special about this wool anyway?”
“Feel it! It's so soft, like down and snuggly and…”
“Enough with the mush mother.”
She grabs a handful anyway, “ooo it is lovely and soft.”
“It will be perfect for Spring.”
“I think you've sort of already missed Spring, we're already right into fry time.”

The girls swan off to do something more interesting as I sew up the side seams and tie off the ends. I slip it on just to try it out.

“What do you think boys?”
No-one looks in my direction. I plonk myself down on the carpet, keeping my “neck” as long as possible and my “head” even further away.
“What do you think of my new green cardigan?”

They shuffle over a bit, slow moving lizards with tummy friction. Little fingers explore the wool, closely followed by the thump of two medicine ball heads, one on each hip.

“I am like yur smug.”

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Tactile defensiveness every day

It's a battle. He will eat the banana but I can rarely persuade him to peel back the skin himself. Even if we leap that hurdle, then I need to cut the banana into slices so that he can eat it with a fork. This is not a boy who will permit his fingers to be contaminated by direct digital contact. He needs a tool to protect his fingers from the texture of the banana.

It has been just like this for a very long time. Failure to co-operate on my part means that either he won’t eat bananas at all, one of his thirteen precious foods, or he’ll attempt to eat it whole with catastrophic results.

I dither and debate, but ultimately decide to go on strike and withdraw my services at least temporarily, until I've finished the washing up. Either he can wait a few minutes or do it himself. I know that patience is not one of his strengths but I doubt if he is sufficiently hungry to be motivated to tackle the task solo.

I watch him out of the corner of my eye. He yelps, just like a puppy when you step on their tail. His sister takes pity on him and snaps off the stalk for the first strip of peel. She looks me. My eyes widen, “come on! You can do it now. I've started it fur yah!” He tries, with the precision of a surgeon, thumb nail tip to index finger nail. There is no possibility that the skin on his finger tips will touch it. Each movement is accompanied by another yip. Some minutes later, two thirds of the skin has been removed. The banana is revealed,lying on it's last layer of skin.

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Oral Defensiveness

Some days after the truffle debacle, [see previous posting] I learn something scientific. When the weather is cold, ganache, when mixed with toasted hazelnuts and spittle, reformulates it's molecules into cement. Conversely, when the central heating is on, wafts of chocolate permeate the air, goblets liquefy and form steady rivulets down the furniture and walls.

I am also reminded of a rule that I have known about for approximately 5 years. Although a flavour may be preferred, when it competes with texture, texture always wins. It is hard to describe the emotions that run through a mother's heart and brain as one observes the conflict. Good mothers exhibit horror and concern at the agony inflicted on the child. Lesser beings endeavour to suppress giggles. I must admit to taking no ameliorative action, merely let the experience run it's course. It's is hard to reason, contain or communicate with someone who emits sparks whilst dancing on red hot coals.

Mastication is not one of Junior's strong suits. His jaw muscles are on the feeble side, and his lip closure is non existent, except on high days and holidays. Aversive textures when introduced into the oral cavity, have the effect of provoking him into a spectacular 'rain dance.' If there is any doubt in my mind that this aversion is likely to be resolved in the near future, I only have to watch this battle with my own eyes.

His nose and mouth register the delightful flavour of chocolate. So finely honed are these senses that he is able to detect whether or not the chocolate is Swiss or Belgium. Both varieties are acceptable. Anything else is not, although we are making strenuous strides in the Ghiradelli department. So the taste buds are cooperating, but the receptors that register texture are rebelling. Hazelnuts, toasted or otherwise, have texture, a 'bitty,' granular texture, that is difficult to ignore. He is able to differentiate between the two but not separate them. If the ratio of ganache to hazelnuts is approximately 60:40, the average mouth would be hard pressed to separate one from the other. A substandard mouth, is overwhelmed with competing messages; 'Texture! Spit it out! Yummy chocolate! Swallow now!' Not an easy one to resolve for the best of us.

How does this conflict manifest itself? Well obviously we have to have a great deal of screams, as word formation is lower on the hierarchy. He needs to ensure that the volume of screaming, approximates the agony that he is suffering, namely loud.

When something is attacking you, the best ploy is to run away. Whilst this may be the lowest common denominator, it is also a sound theory. Not a very effective one in this particular instance, but that aside, running all over the house screaming trying to escape from your mouth, smacks of a basic internal logic.

Admittedly his fingertips are very sensitive, but they can on occasions, if pressured, also be very brave. Hence it is a good idea for him to use his fingers to help empty his mouth. Although he practices spitting regularly, he's still not very good at it. If your spitting powers are inadequate, you end up with whatever you have expelled from your mouth, all over your chin and front. Making raspberry noises to assist with elimination, is a great variation on a theme, but ultimately ineffective.

Fortunately we are in a modern house with faucets, so cleansing his mouth under the running water is a great proactive gesture. The drowning, screaming, gurgling noises take a little getting used to, but it's all moving in the right direction. Once the wet chocolate covered clothes have been removed he is in a more vulnerable situation. At this stage he resorts to electric chicken noises, an indication that he is about to reach the peak of his endurance. I hand him a wash cloth soaked in tepid water. He stuffs it in his mouth and collapses on the kitchen floor. His rib cage rises and falls, but the rest of him is a rag doll. When his breathing returns to something that approximates normal, he unplugs his mouth to say,

“you know, I am too tired to do dah deal.”
“What deal?”
“Dah dealing of dah cleaning dah spit truffle.”
would like to follow through. I should follow through. I should make him clean it up, or at least try to clean it up. He rolls over on the hardwood floor into a foetal position. He is asleep in seconds.

It's an exhausting life, this food business.

Post script – should anyone find that they are sniggering, please leave your details, as I may need to call upon your indulgence, as a character witness for my next interview with the Child Protection League.

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