I keep looking him in the face while I make that phone call. Answering machine again. 20 minutes later I call again and yet again it is just the same. How many messages should I leave? How desperate should I sound? Is there a point at which you push too much for respite and give the impression you don’t love your child anymore?
School finished for the long summer holidays two and a half weeks ago. 18 days ago to be precise. I make out on social media we are having a wonderful time. For 7 of those days we were on holiday in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. I post photographs of my children playing with gran’s dog, going on trips by train, playing with toy trains and toy food and going on walks. We come back and I post about days out, more train trips and fun in the garden. I make out that everything is ok. Because I feel I need to. No parent wants to admit they are struggling. I want to enjoy having my children at home full time. I want to make memories and do lovely things together. This is my daughters last summer before starting full-time education and I want her to remember this summer. We have had lovely weather and there is so much we could do as a family.
But 18 days in and I can hardly keep my eyes open during the day. Two nights in a row of being up through the night with my daughter having continuous nose bleeds. The trying to do everything in silence to avoid waking her brother, but not succeeding. And every day Isaac being awake before 5am ( and awake during the night too) even when we have had a full on day of activities the day before. Everyday Isaac screaming for mashed potato and gravy at 6am and hitting me with the gravy jug because I said no. Then being hit on the face with the iPad because he has pressed on google but you have no idea what he wants to look at (google images is his current ‘thing’), only to have it thrown back at you because that wasn’t what he wanted. Everyday Isaac wanting pushed on a swing in the park for hours, the constant trying to escape every time the door is opened or unlocked, the constant spilling of any liquid he happens to see because he likes the sensory feeling of water, the continuous turning on of taps and flushing the toilet non stop, the endless screaming, the knocking things down to hear the noise all the time, the opening of the fridge and freezer and helping himself, the biting, self stimulating and banging on the table to demand more food yet again. The effect all of this is having on his sister, on my husband, and on me is showing. 18 days in and the cracks are starting to appear.
He needs the routine and stimulation of school. We need the break.
My mum is doing what she can to help but at almost 70 she isn’t able to lift Isaac or restrain him. And Isaac is the same in her house as he is at home. Nothing is secure. The dog’s water and food is tipped up onto the floor within seconds of his arrival. He is up at the table wanting food even when he has just been fed. He has the dogs toys tipped out and thrown around before we have even closed the front door. He is like a tornado that never ends. He has mastered how to open her back garden gate. And he finds all this hilarious.
We have to keep him occupied constantly. He can not play with toys, or sit for more than a minute or even watch TV. He walks over and breaks anything his sister is playing with. He wants to sit in a ball pool of toy food by seconds later he has the entire box of toy food strewn all over the living room floor. When he has a bath the bathroom floor gets as wet as he does. And he pours into his bath any cosmetics he can get his hands on. The taller he gets the more things he can reach. If his hands can’t open it he just chews it until it opens. He turns the taps on constantly. He won’t even stay still for a nappy change.
Before the holidays we were getting 3 hours respite a fortnight. It was like gold dust. It enabled me to get to church and hear a service, something I hadn’t done in 5 and a half years. I had time for a cup of tea and a brief chat with friends afterwards before having to pick the children up. I haven’t been in a church service since the last time they had respite. I miss that so much. So I keep calling.
We get so fed up getting messed around that finally one morning we put the children in the car and drive to the summer respite centre we were promised a place in. I feel a failure as I press that buzzer with tears in my eyes yet ears still hurting from the screaming my son is doing even at that exact time. I am having to phyically restrain him. He can see swings across the road. I ought to be taking him there not to some strange building he hasn’t been in before. And Naomi’s hands are out in front of her showing how scared and worried she is. Before she cries I pick her up and hold her. What sort of mother stands outside a centre on a warm summers day hoping to persuade strangers to look after my son? I feel sick but I know we have to do this.
They let us in. The children already inside are settled, happy and silent? I’m sure we have come to the wrong place. Apparently not. We register Isaac but hear how despite the fact we have a set of twins born just one minute apart, despite the fact they both have a diagnosis of autism, they are only able to take one of them; Isaac. I hope they didn’t see the relief on my face when they said he could come for two days every week for the next three weeks. 6 days, 5 hours each day of breathing space.
I hope that is enough to save my marriage. I hope it is enough to give my daughter some valuable time alone with us before she starts school. I hope they look after him.
My heart is broken that I have had to admit I am struggling. I keep telling myself he has to have one to one at all times at school even in a special needs school. I try to remind myself this is not a parenting fail but rather a child with severe and complex needs who still can not speak and isn’t toilet trained. My mind knows my whole family needs this breathing space even though my heart is broken at having to hand my son in to respite.
I love him so much. I just need some breathing space.