A few weeks ago my eldest starred in her first ballet show. It was an incredibly serious affair: no nail varnish, no dark coloured pants, hair must be secured in a proper bun, held in place with pins (not bobby pins) and a net to match the colour of the hair, all hair to be held back off the face with gel, no hairbands, clips, … Phew.
Thank goodness there was a rehearsal. Thank goodness for a YouTube video showing how to make a figure of eight out of a hairnet. Thank goodness I didn’t let my little girl down! I might not have passed with distinction, but I was happy with a grudging ‘that’ll do’ from the ballet teacher. Another skill to add to my repertoire, another skill that before I became a mummy I never imagined I’d have to master.
In fact, after I passed my PhD and took my driving test I thought that would be it. I thought I’d never to take a test again. I had everything I needed on my CV.
And now, here I am again, hands shaking, while a community nurse ten years younger than me ticks off my competence in changing a gastrostomy button. If only she knew I had to use a car key last time… I am now trained and signed off to deliver gastrostomy feeds and medicines, to change and care for a mic-key button, to deliver oral and naso-pharyngeal suctioning.
I am trained to give physio and specialist chest physio, to use a PEP mask and an inhaler and administer a hypertonic saline nebuliser, to make up antibiotics, to give appropriate sensory and visual stimulation to aid Benjamin’s learning. I can work a sats monitor, a bath seat, a profiling bed, set up a sleep system and adjust a special needs buggy. I am learning on the job how to manually handle a 15 kg (and growing) weight, how to negotiate deals, how to manage agency carers, and how to make crucial medical decisions, sometimes every day.
Every new parent has to develop a whole new set of skills that would never make it on to anyone’s CV. Cutting tiny fingernails. Changing a dirty nappy with half a hand. Developing recipes that everyone will like and prevent scurvy. Finding the missing teacup from the Sylvanian family’s picnic before all hell breaks loose. Intercepting pieces of bread and empty yogurt pots as they are hurled across the kitchen. Often, simply getting everyone to where they have to be in the right clothes and with the right equipment and then getting back on time to pick them up again feels like some sort of game-show challenge.
Yet parenting a child with complex needs takes the job description up a whole new level. Special needs parents are, as the charity WellChild puts it, ‘#notanurse_but’. I don’t yet have to administer home IV’s or maintain a tracheostomy, but if I have to in the future, I’m ready. The more skilled I can become, the more we might be able to keep Benjamin at home and the less time he might have to spend in hospital. Every new skill I can learn, even if it goes nowhere near my CV, could make Benjamin’s life more comfortable and keep our family together that little bit longer. And frankly, nothing I’ve yet had to learn has been harder than putting a ballet bun on a four-year-old.