The Easter holidays have begun. Which means a fortnight off from school runs and extra-curricular chaperoning. I can both simultaneously have more time to get ready for work and arrive on time. My house will be an even greater disaster zone for the next fortnight though.
But for the next fortnight I also don’t have to worry about Noodles. Which is not to stay the I won’t worry about him, just that I won’t have to. It’ll be worry generated by myself, which is still exhausting, but comes with smaller side orders of guilt and annoyance.
I haven’t always worried about Noodles. The terrible twos were pretty ghastly in terms of his tantrums and quests for independence that confined us to the house. But he has always been cheeky and perky and pure poppet when he’s doing his own thing his own way.
He’s not overly fond of Teddy (I half expect a David Attenborough film crew to rock up when the two of them are in the room together, so primal is the display of dominance)…but after a term at nursery school it seems it’s not just Teddy he’s not fond of, but other children in general.
He used to run into nursery with a bright and perky ‘Hello, other children!’ and we thought his settling in was a done deal. His key worker even said that he’d settled in far more quickly than she’d expected. Everything was happy and sunny. (Well, apart from being called through the door at home time to discuss nits or ear wax or other cringe-worthy features of having a toddler boy. But Noodles, as far as I was aware, was happy.)
But then he wasn’t. After half term I was asked to meet with his key worker.
‘He’s outstandingly bright – his numbers are phenomenal…But he plays in parallel with the other children and can’t cope when they get in his space. And there are times when he just disconnects from what’s going on as a way to cope. We’re not quite sure why he’s like that. We really wouldn’t like to say. We don’t quite know how to reach him when he’s like that. So we’re getting a specialist in to play with him.’
I signed the permission form. And cried.
Then a letter came in the post from the health visitor. She wanted have a home visit development check.
It turned out the nursery sent her. I felt betrayed. The nursery could have at least had the decency to say they’d requested the visit. Maybe they didn’t want me to cry on them again.
But it got the visit off to a bad start. And that was before the barrage of ridiculous questions. Noodles underscored because I didn’t know the answer to:
– If you did up the zip on his coat and then kept zipping it up and down and then left it half way would he be able to zip it right up if you asked him to? Or right down if you ask him to? Who has ever put a coat on a toddler just to play with the zip?!
No, we put our coats on to go places!
– Would he know what this is?
What is it anyway? A person? More specifically, an amputee? A rubbish unfinished picture? (In fairness, it’s my own version, but it’s not far off.) A phenomenal waste of everyone’s time? What answer are you looking for?
– Does he know that he’s a boy? Physically? Like comparing bits in the bath? Not really. He’s shown no curiosity there at all. And definitely not when it comes to gender stereotyping, even if it would relieve me of the Frozen obsession as Boo is over it, but it remains one of Noodles go-to DVDs of choice. But if he wants to play cooking rather than cars I’m not going to stop him and tell him it’s girlie.
Then, there were the questions that even the right answers didn’t satisfy:
– Does he use complex sentences? When I answered that although he’s nowhere near as verbose as Boo at his age, he does use complex sentences when he wants to, I was then asked for examples. Anything he’s ever said slipped from my memory at that point! Obviously. When I came up with something I was then asked if he uses verbs. I guess so? As soon as she left we went to the kitchen. ‘Time to wash our hands, Mummy!’ he chirped. A complex sentence with a verb right there!
– If something he wanted was out of reach would he use another object to get to it? At that point Noodles climbed onto a box to reach a DVD. But it didn’t count because the box was there already. To demonstrate ‘problem solving’ he would’ve had to have moved the box and dragged a chair from the kitchen (ie up two steps and along a hallway) even though there was no need. He’s not stupid enough to expend such energy in a futile and unnecessary practice. I’d say the bigger problem was rigidity of the stupid questionnaire.
– Can he draw a circle? Yes, as it happens he was happy to prove that he could, but she took no notice when he declared that a skwinky, three-sided ‘circle’ was a triangle. Instead he got a cross in the ‘failed’ box when he didn’t then want to draw a horizontal line. ‘No thank you,’ he said. ‘Well, at least he’s polite,’ she said. Then he had a tantrum. But then he’s a boy – he’s not meant to like girlie things like drawing. (You can’t both have your cake and eat it, health visitor lady.)
She also had no interest in anything not contained within her range of questions. So no interest in the things he can do. Just the things he’s expected to do, as if he’s a pre-programmed robot with no autonomy. No interest in him as a little person in his own right, with favourite stuff and foibles like any person big or small.
‘Do you have any concerns about Noodles’ development?’ she asked just before she left.
‘Well, I didn’t before this, but I do now!’
And, yes, I cried.
Because it seems he is a square peg. Even if he’s engaged in something he tends to keep things in. Watching him at Nursey this week, he listened intently to the story, but he didn’t shout out the answers like the other kids. He searched for plastic squares during the Easter egg hunt, but he did it on his terms, away from the groups of boisterous other children. He sat and looked at books rather than colouring in or crowding round the table with the wooden railway on it. It wasn’t that his way was wrong it was just different.
And by-and-large there’s nothing wrong with different. The most interesting people are the ones who’ve bucked the trend and done things their own way. Who wants to be a sheep?
BUT we live in a world of round holes. He’s only at the beginning of his education and with school it’s all about fitting in. Those square pegs are the ones who get in trouble for acting up or not doing things the ‘right’ way. They’re the ones labelled unfavourably. They’re the ones bullied and not invited to the parties.
Noodles is three. Surely that’s too young to be told that behaviourly he’s the wrong shape. Surely at three your headspace can be pretty much any shape you want it to be?
But what if the nursery staff and the health visitor are right? What if there is something wrong? I find myself questioning everything he does. From the way he builds his bricks to the way he bites his t-shirt (pica is a sign of autism), from the things he laughs at to the things that freak him out.
Isn’t life easier for the round pegs?
Should those corners be shaved off to fit the holes? Should I be looking for labels and support? Or is it the re-shaping that does greater harm? Making children aware that they’re not right if they’re not the same? I don’t know.
Mercifully my sister shed some relief on the situation:
‘Well, I hated other kids when I was little – I still don’t much like other people to be honest. Plus I was also thick and I had an eye patch. I was a right old mess. Sounds to me as though Noodles is going to be fine.’
I think my sister’s right. When we were growing up I thought she was perfect. She wasn’t thick – she was in fact so damn bright she was off the scale, but that can translate as thick because people become exasperated regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re off. But she also had to have a lot of eye tests and wore thick plastic glasses with one lens painted out to strengthen her lazy eye. So again she was different. And it’s hard to mix when you’re off kilter with the other kids.
It hasn’t stopped her from turning into an amazing adult though with a great job and a loving boyfriend and great friends. For a square peg she turned out just fine.
And quite possibly Noodles will too. There are plenty of places that accept the square for those strong enough to hang on to their corners. At worst he can live in Cambridge, surrounded by other academics who struggle socially. Nothing wrong with that.
And it could be that once he sheds his early years his peg might not be so square after all.
So I shall try to stop worrying so much about him and instead enjoy those gorgeous belly laughs that he’s so willing to give when he’s happy. Although I can’t say I’ll give it up completely. Worrying’s one of those things us mums do so well. We’ll just wait and see if it’s something worth worrying about.