On laughter (and pigeons)

At Edinburgh Station the other day, among the harrassed mothers and hustling commuters, a young couple caught my eye. Not so long ago, they might have been us. Their clothes were clean and lacking streaks of Weetabix or smears of regurgitated milk. Her hair was long and wavy through design, rather than through not having been to the hairdresser for over a year. They were dawdling for pleasure, not because they were impatiently waiting for a toddler to come in the same direction. But what struck me most was that they were teasing one another and laughing, chasing the pigeons and laughing, touching one another and laughing. How long is it since we laughed, really laughed, together? I’m not sure watching repeats of QI really counts…

Sometimes it seems we don’t have much to laugh about. I’ve spent the last few days filling in a 31-page form to tell the Disability Living Allowance people of a ‘change of circumstances.’ This is one of the more depressing things parents of disabled children have to go through: describing in detail everything Benjamin cannot do and all the extra care he requires relative to another child of his age, something most of the time we try not to think about. Our change of circumstances is two-fold. Firstly, Benjamin is feeding (even) more at night, frequently from eight o’clock until one o’clock or three o’clock in the morning. Secondly, he’s (unremarkably) got older. So his care needs, relative to other children of his age, have increased. Having looked after Benjy since he was born, we’ve grown used to the sleepless nights and endless feeding, supporting him in every position and doing everything for him, but when you take a step back it’s clear this isn’t normal for a 16-month old. As our social worker pointed out, we are in fact providing both day and night care and this should entitle us to the higher rate care component of the allowance.

When we’re not feeding Benjamin (and sometimes when we are) our conversations revolve around the practical (“How do we get Jackie to stay in her own bed?” “Will you be in for dinner tomorrow?” “Who shall we approach for quotes to fit a radiator in the kitchen?”) and the serious (“Are we going to have another baby?”). Even the topics that should be fun – “Where shall we go on holiday this year” – seem to degenerate into project management: when and where can we go that will not be fraught with difficulty carrying a lively three-year old and 10 kilos of high-calorie formula?

Increasingly we do things separately: one looking after the kids while the other gets on with some task, or one taking Jackie while the other cares for Benjamin. And when we are together, traditional times for banter such as mealtimes are now taken up with cajoling, comforting or just corralling uncooperative children.

So when can we laugh together? Can we still laugh together? The toll of tiredness is that emotions are raw, tempers frayed, self-consciousness heightened. Poking fun at one another becomes a risky business all too easily taken the wrong way. Should we pull some Christmas crackers, get out the old Fawlty Towers videos, or book ourselves tickets for a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Actually I’m quite tempted by the Fawlty Towers idea but I’m home alone (with the kids) tonight so that kind of negates the point. As usual I turned to Google for solutions, and found an article entitled “The 30 best jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe”. Perfect: I can text hubby one a day for a month. It may drive him insane but it might put a smile on our faces. Here’s my favourite, from Sara Pascoe:

“You can’t lose a homing pigeon. If your homing pigeon doesn’t come back, then what you’ve lost is a pigeon.”

Thanks, "free photos of pigeons for download" (http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/pigeon-photos.html)

Thanks, “free photos of pigeons for download” (http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/pigeon-photos.html)

PS. What actually made me laugh more was that, searching for a photo to accompany this piece, I found a website devoted to “free photos of pigeons for download.” Some people really do have too much time on their hands…


Ode to a special (needs) dad

Ten years now you’ve stood by me,
And such a lot has changed.
I know I’m not the girl you wed,
Our lives are rearranged.

I feel I always let you down
Ever since the day we met:
You thought you’d pulled a cheeky blonde,
Woke up with a brunette.

I wonder if I bore you now,
No longer a high-flyer.
And all I have to talk about
Is what the kids require.

I know you’re tired, we both are, whacked:
Two under three spells trouble.
And when one’s special needs as well
The effort’s more than double.

And I know you feel responsible –
You don’t just change the odd nappy –
For keeping me and both the kids
Fed and clothed and happy.

I guess it’s just a bloke thing,
(plus you’re an engineer)
To feel you have to “fix” things,
Like a rusty pushbike gear.

But please believe that when I’m sad
It’s really not your fault.
Sometimes things aren’t fixable
With duck-tape or a bolt.

And if I’m quiet it doesn’t mean
That I’m pissed off with you.
It likely means I’m working out
Which thing is next to do.

I’m sorry that you bear the brunt
Of all my daily trials.
The moment you walk through the door
I go straight off the rails.

I know you want to make things right
When you tell me to calm down.
But all I hear is “silly girl,
“you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

And if I’m glum it doesn’t mean
I love you any less;
It means I trust enough to share
When I’m not at my best.

I’m not looking for solutions
Not asking for repairs
All I want is you to say,
“S’okay, I know, I care.”

I wish we had more time to chat
And didn’t waste it fighting,
Or even – whisper it – make love
(I still find you exciting).

You are a smashing, super dad:
You give the bestest cuddles.
You do the fun stuff with the kids
Swinging, sliding, puddles
(when mum says no because they’ve got their smart shoes on).

So what I mean to say is “thanks”
(sorry for the rambling pome).
You are the thing that makes me smile
Each day when you come home.