We try to prepare them as best we can, but short of covering ourselves in tomato sauce and lying under a cooker – it’s impossible to test the very thing we hope will never happen.
With regular meltdowns because of itchy socks or hysteria induced by an incorrectly positioned tea cup, coping in an emergency isn’t something we envisage for our ASD kids – but what if we’re wrong?
The Rose has always been a popular baby sitter in the village. She likes grown-ups (they don’t let her down) and grown-ups like her (she doesn’t let them down). She doesn’t hang out with the other teenagers at the park. She doesn’t come home drunk from parties (she doesn’t go to parties) and she’s always around, which instantly puts her into the ‘trusted teen’ category, a precious and rare commodity among the busy parents of our village. The Rose’s natural gravitation towards people younger than she is and her interests in things which other teens have grown out of, makes her a fantastic playmate. She’s inexhaustible in her ability to watch the same kid’s movies again and again and her off-beat humour and ability to laugh loudly and freely at the silliest thing makes her hugely in demand among the kids too.
She’s an ultra cool babysitter.
She’s conscientious with routine, so bedtime and teeth cleaning will be rigidly observed and she genuinely adores little kids. Not only do they adore her back (which feels nice) but they are people she can be in charge of and can control – no secret coded conversation here. It’s simple and straightforward. With rules and fun.
Hungry? – here’s food? Tired? – here’s bed? – Bored? – I have an inexhaustible supply of football, music and Holly Oaks factoids which will impress and enthral you.
Of course we all fervently hope that she’ll never have to cope with a serious situation when she’s looking after her charges, but if she did – she’d be brilliant.
Our house is old and dishevelled. Things constantly go wrong and The Dad is always patching things up, repairing this and unblocking that. He’s at home much of the time and I’m not, so I have no idea about how the house works – only that we must tread carefully when the drill is out!
One morning, The Dad went off early and I was taking The Rose to a dental appointment before school. I was stressed, running late and full of work worries. I was searching for my lost car keys and inwardly cursing, when The Rose tapped me on the shoulder said “Mum, there’s water coming out of the light”.
Water was pouring through the light sockets and down the walls from the bathroom upstairs. I mean really spewing out like a full on gushing fountain, dissolving the plaster ceiling and forming massive pools in the carpet. The coats hanging on pegs below the waterfall were sodden and the speed the hall was filling up was breath-taking.
I’m usually quite level headed but just then and in a single, simple second my world view changed perspective (like that bit in Jaws when Roy Schneider is on the beach). I saw the lights fusing and an electrical fire starting up, I saw the ceiling collapse and the carpet disintegrate. I saw the coats destroyed and a tidal wave of filthy water sweep away everything we had ever owned. In my mind we were homeless and begging and I had no idea what to do.
Then I snapped to, ran upstairs and saw the water pouring out of a pipe in the bathroom on top of the emersion tank. There was no switch or stop cock, nothing to turn the water off. No way of blocking it. I didn’t even know what this pipe was for. Why it was above the tank. Or why this was happening? How could it just start for no reason? Something must have caused it but WHAT? I just needed to know so I had all the facts; could make a plan to fix it.
I ran downstairs. WATER. Everywhere. Great gloopy lakes of the stuff. Burbling. Turn it off. They do in films, I’ve seen them, we must have a tap too but where? Under the sink? No. In any one of a million useless cupboards? No. Outside? Do me a favour it looks like scrap yard anyway, I don’t stand a chance.
Then I had it.
IT’S THE DAD’s FAULT. He should have prepared me for this; he should have told me about the house instead of keeping me in the dark like a brain dead Floozy. It’s his fault HOW DARE HE be so condescending and secretive and controlling. He’s never out, WHY IS HE OUT? What’s he bloody DOING?
The sound of gushing water and falling plaster brought me out of my reverie and pushed my adrenaline levels skywards.
I’ll call The Dad. Where’s my phone? WHERE’S MY PHONE? We live in a bloody village with no bloody mobile signal. Use the landline, use the LANDLINE. What’s his bloody number? Damn it’s not programmed in. Where’s my mobile again? Christ! No battery charge. Plug it in. PLUG IT IN. Right, what name have I filed his number under? The Dad? No. His name? No. His nickname? No. ICE… ICE..? ICE… FORCHRISTSAKES ! – hell yes.
I dial. He’s out – somewhere in our village WHICH HAS NO BLOODY mobile signal.
Panic. Not only is my house disappearing under a Tsunami – but I’ve married a selfish, irresponsible, thoughtless prig who has made me feel inadequate and stupid ON PURPOSE.
Right. What? BLOODY what? Plumbers. Emergency Plumbers. Where’s the phone book? It’s online – Christ NO not inside a COMPUTER. My ancient lap top takes a full day with a weeks’ notice to boot up – we’ll have drowned by then. BASTARDS. 118118 – dial. HELP!
What do you mean who do I want? BLOODY plumbers – help! Water, damage, expensive, help! No I don’t know my bloody insurance policy number. WHAT? If I knew where the water main tap was I’d have BLOODY turned it OFF. NOoooo. Sod it! NO I mean yes – COME, come here NOW. At once. Right now. Two hours? HOW MUCH? SOD OFF! Slam.
Crap. Now what?
999 yes they’ll help. SHIT No that’s wrong. That’s for life and death. Oh MY ACTUAL GOD – arghhh what? WHAT? My STUPID, BLOODY, pathetically short-sighted husband MUST DIE.
“Mum – I have Dad here for you”
What! The Rose? Bloody Christ where has my mind been? What have I said? What has she HEARD?
The Rose hands me the phone which she has patiently put on repeat speed dial until The Dad had driven into a patch in the area which received mobile signals. She has told The Dad I have been swearing at a nice lady who wants £450 to make the water stop.
I grab the phone – Where the BLOODY HELL ARE YOU?
A few moments later The Dad tells me he is on his way back and not to worry. I slam down the receiver suddenly feeling shamed and feverish. I look with new eyes on the devastation I had envisaged.
The water is still gushing but someone has found saucepans and buckets I’ve never seen before and put them in place to catch the water. Towels have been spread everywhere and are soaking up the worst. Cushions have been wedged under door cracks to contain the spread and the coats have been removed to a safe, dry place. My daughter is looking at me calmly, soothingly, smiling – telling me not to use bad language and to be nice to Dad because he’s taking her to Pizza Express this evening.
And there it is. Hysterical Mother notwithstanding – The Rose in an emergency; calm, clear sighted, practical. She didn’t envisage the damage or cost implications, didn’t hold a sense of injustice, inadequacy or blame, she just saw it for what it was. Saw what practically needed to be done and just did it.
I asked her how she found the buckets and saucepans I didn’t know existed. How she knew what to do. How come she was so utterly brilliant and I was so devastatingly bad.
“I just see everything. I can’t help it. I see stuff everywhere. It fills up my head. You imagine stuff and it makes you cross, which is stupid because it doesn’t exist. And you are really bad – you told me never to use THAT word. You did. I heard you. You are bad and I will have to tell Dad. It’s not fair if you can use it and I can’t”
We both laugh, loud and long. I’m so relieved and she is so happy because I used THAT swear word – several times. And so that’s is our secret bond. Not my hysteria and failure to cope, which she takes in her stride as part of the world she isn’t really ‘in’ anyway, so it’s not important. I ask her what I can do for her to thank her for saving the carpet, the day and my sanity. She replies:
“You can buy me a chocolate milk shake with marshmallows (and don’t take ANY) and let me say THAT word two times without telling me off”
It’s a deal The Rose. Your emergency service is certainly worth a punt or two.