Monday, April 4, 2016

Tuesday poem - 'First ... then ... ' by Melinda Smith

First ... then ...

First change nappy
Then Thomas the Tank Engine

First clothes on
Then sandpit

First wash hair
Then chocolate frog

First the only baby crying all night in the hospital
       Then the only baby wailing for the whole of mothers’ group
First the only mother convinced her child was permanently angry
       Then the only one holding him in her arms and doing deep knee bends to
       calm him down
First thinking it was normal to scream until throwing up whenever we changed
       Then shocked when I realised other families didn’t have to live like that
First astonished he could read at eighteen months
       Then astonished at his shrieks every time his baby brother cried
First proud of every fact he could recite about the planet Jupiter
       Then wondering why he needed twelve weeks of physio to learn how to jump

First hair cut
Then play with spray bottle

First stop biting Mummy
Then play with sliding door

First poo *in toilet*
Then flush 

First letting his father talk me out of it
       Then talking myself out of it
First knowing those therapists just didn’t get my child
       Then googling autism with a chill in my heart
First joking about ‘our little Rain Man’
       Then realising the joke was on me

First paralysis
       Then fear
First incomprehension
       Then overload

First Music Therapy
       Then Homeopathy
First Triple-P Parenting for Parents of Children with Disabilities
       Then Encouraging the Reluctant Eater
First Occupational Therapy
       Then the social worker
First trusting the system
       Then realising the system didn’t care enough or have enough money 

First sit at table to eat
Then spinning with Mummy

First swallow medicine
Then build washing machine from cardboard boxes

First reading lots of parent testimonials
       Then feeling like scum for not doing six hours of therapy with him every day
First wonderfully affirmed by Welcome to Holland
       Then convinced Welcome to Holland left a lot of shit out
First talking to happy well-adjusted mums of older kids on the spectrum
       Then terrified our family would disintegrate before our kids ever got to that
First poring over Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome for those who love and care
       for three-to-seven- year-olds
       Then realising the only book I needed to read was The Curious Incident of
       the Dog in the Night Time

First joining support groups
       Then walking out of meetings because the horror stories people told at them
       could not possibly be true
First counselling
       Then drugs
First sobbing to my friends
       Then avoiding my friends and hating their normal uncomplicated children
First hearing that carers of autistic children are as stressed as soldiers in combat
       Then bawling my eyes out 

First thread beads on string
Then letterbox-counting walk

First stay at special needs soccer for ten minutes
Then computer time

First nearly destroying my marriage
       Then clinging to my marriage
First regretting the second child
       Then realising the second child would probably save us all
First wanting my husband to see things my way
       Then grateful he didn’t
First mourning my old life
       Then understanding you never really get it back anyway
First obsessed with getting the whole family to accept the diagnosis
       Then learning to take what help I could get and live with the elephant in the

First shame
       Then resentment
First desperate for pity
       Then desperate for respite care
First whining
       Then laughing

First crawling through it
       Then writing about it
First today
       Then tomorrow 

Melinda Smith

While I was up in Canberra for the Noted festival, I invested in a copy of First … Then ... (Ginninderra Press) by Melinda Smith. I had heard her read some of them at her La Mama gig here in Melbourne so I was pretty sure I would like the book. Well I did like the book, but I was also incredibly moved - moved to pity, moved to tears - and then, cathartically, moved on to another place. I kind of got it, I glimpsed it. I don't feel as if I want to write too much about the experience of reading these twenty-four poems from Planet Autism. Melinda wrote them. I read them. Enough.

All the poems are available to read on the website below, with some intriguing explication, and there is guidance as to how to source the book, if like me, you prefer to hold a book in your hand.

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