It’s a small world after all

When I had a baby, one of the things I expected was that my world would contract while our little girl, Amelia, worked out how to live outside of the tightly confined space of my body after nine long months.

Nothing can really prepare you for the intensity of that newly contracted space as the changed dynamic of a family of two adults adjusts to life as three, including one small person who is completely defenceless and totally needy.

But the thing that got me through the life-changing chaos of those early days was the promise of growth, of progress – of the eventual expansion of that changed world we now occupied. Its limits would open out to include old experiences temporarily shelved or new ones we had yet to discover.

Expansion could mean anything, like us being ready to go outside and take a walk with our baby in the pram. Or feeling able to sit down at a café and order a coffee while (fingers crossed) she slept. Just 10 minutes, not long, to feel like moments of the old life could be incorporated into the new.

During the first year, progress included things like visiting people or taking short trips together. Our first holiday was a driving expedition across the state for two fabulous weeks. Amelia was seven months old and apart from the logistical challenges and the cold weather, we created some of our best family memories on the road.

The world of our family grew at about the pace you would expect – just fast enough to adapt to the challenges of each main stage. We imagined that this expansion would just go on and on. And hopefully, it would bring more SLEEP (it didn’t).

Our ambitions for growth extended to things like going to the zoo, the circus, the movies, or that brilliant outdoor production of The Wind in the Willows performed in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens every summer. Amelia would join other children and follow Toad, Rat and Mole down the River Thames.

Silly things, I guess, but they’re the stuff that parental dreams are made of, at least for us. You picture sharing magical new events with your child and it’s only a matter of time before you get there.

But it’s not. Not for us, anyway. Before Amelia turned three, I thought for sure we were on track to growth and progress but since then (and with the escalation of her autistic behaviours) our world has been steadily contracting again, even where seemingly trivial things are concerned.

It’s not exactly like the first few months of Amelia’s life, that almost suffocating isolation of early parenthood, but some days it’s not far off.

Even ‘easy’ activities like going for walks to the park, or actually being at the park have become fraught with danger and the promise of failure.

Last weekend the sun greeted us upon waking so we thought, ‘why not try for a walk outside and see how we go?’ We jumped into the car and headed to a lake area with a lovely walking track and playgrounds at either end.

But we didn’t get too far. About 100 metres actually, in about 40 minutes of movement in large, frantic semi-circles punctuated with frequent tantrums while fellow families streamed serenely past on bikes, scooters or just on foot, ever moving forward while we stayed in one place.

The ease of their walking and forward progress, this evidence of how different their lives are to ours, made me feel desperately alone.

If I do manage to get Amelia to a playground (usually by car for sanity’s sake), she will invariably become anxious or angry about some indefinable thing and so we have to leave. It’s like she’s suddenly forgotten how to just be at a park, how to play on the swings and slides and enjoy herself.

The zoo (like any busy, public place) is a nightmare venue to take Amelia and I have tried it several times. She doesn’t really understand how she’s meant to behave or what she’s supposed to be looking at. Such a shame for a girl who loves animals so much.

The sights and sounds seem to overwhelm her auditory and visual senses so we cover little ground before another meltdown kicks in and our departure becomes long overdue.

I used to visit my Mum frequently to break up the stress of the days spent at home, and Amelia always enjoyed this time with her beloved Nan. Now she becomes highly fearful and angry at the mere suggestion of going there so I’ve had to cross that safe house off our list for the time being.

If I manage to convince her to go there, Amelia will begin insisting that we leave as soon as we have arrived and repeat this request incessantly into my face or by urgently curling my hand into the Auslan sign for home until I acquiesce. You can see it’s hardly worth the stress.

So, for the most part, the world has contracted once again to the boundaries, nay the limits, of our family home. The walls have closed in and sometimes it’s hard to breathe. Sure, we can enjoy the garden together, the lovely outdoor spaces when the weather allows, but some days that doesn’t feel like enough.

It’s school holidays right now and those weeks are by far the worst. Not for reasons you might expect – I love to have Amelia with me and to slow our routine down to a lazy jog rather than the frenetic sprint it usually feels like to get to kinder and the like. We make our own fun with paint, play dough, cooking and silly games.

No, what makes me feel so bereft at these times of the year is the painful exposure of just how small our world is, how limited the opportunities are for being out and about together.

Lots of other families get to plan things like long trips or day excursions or even just walks to the park. They say they’re going to do it and they just go and do it. Idea becomes reality; the run-of-the-mill activity or the special childhood dream event happens and the photos are added to the scrapbook.

The novelty of this is like a curio I’m peering at through a glass cabinet – I can see it but I can never reach out and touch it for myself. I’m told that things will get better and our world will expand once again but I can’t afford to create more fantasies that are beyond the capabilities of my daughter to fulfil.

It’s not fair on her and it just breaks my heart.

[For TR, who’s in the trench with me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.]

Waiting for God knows

Waiting rooms. For any parent, they’re the lowest rung on the ladder straight to hell, aren’t they? If you want to replicate purgatory on earth, go ahead and turn up the volume on an episode of Ellen on the medical clinic television, especially the bit where she dances. Kill. Me. Now.

I’m a bit of a veteran of medical waiting rooms, cubicles, and hallways as I have dragged my daughter Amelia across town to see the specialists and therapists we consult about her deafness and autism spectrum disorder.

If she has nightmares, then I suspect they are set in a dark, cold ante-room embedded in a doctor’s surgery where there are no doors or windows and everybody has dead, staring eyes filled with condemnation.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Because I loathe them so passionately, so completely, that I begin to dread them hours before we’ve been formally introduced.

The awful ones we must return to regularly loom in my mind like a familiar foe, and not in a cool way like Moriarty (as interpreted by Andrew Scott in the recent TV series Sherlock).

A quick recce of the set-up in one of these places and you just know how far into the mouth of hell you are going to fall.

Common to the worst examples are big, echoing rooms, with no warmth, colour or anything resembling child-friendly comforts except a monolithic, flat screen TV perched aggressively on the wall. With the sound cranked up to 11 and it always seems to be Dr. Phil o’clock.

I tend to think if a big chunk of your clientele is small children, there’s no excuse for only having a few weather-beaten Little Golden Books and two mangy looking toys slung in a corner to divert the attention of sick, anxious and/or bored kids.

The better waiting rooms on our roster have managed to create a discrete waiting area within the main one that is targeted at its paediatric patients. The best ones will have dedicated a whole room to this purpose.

It doesn’t take a lot of money or architectural redesign to cordon off a little space, make it bright and engaging and fill it with second-hand books and games to distract children from the typically long wait to see a busy doctor.

Without the promise of something, anything, to help divert Amelia’s attention from the loud noise, hostile atmosphere and the stressful examination waiting for her, I know I’m on a hiding-to-nothing.

There will be one or more of screams, meltdowns, tears, frantic escape attempts, disapproving looks (from Amelia and the adults around me), and often the whole shebang.

In short, there will be blood and most of it mine sweated through pores or springing from cuts sustained trying to put my darling child-genie back in the bottle.

As parents, we’re not asking for the world, just some safe territory – an island if you will – that signals the welcoming support of the people and places we invest so much time, hope and money in.

But in the mix with the dreadful, the so-so, and the pretty good I have discovered the gold standard, the Ferrari of all waiting rooms, and it’s inside our new Occupational Therapy (OT) clinic.

Of course it makes sense that a place like this one, which specialises in helping children like Amelia who are dealing with serious challenges, would take extra care in the design of its interior spaces.

But this waiting room benchmark honestly took my breath away. Set apart from the front reception area, it is situated around the corner, occupying its own quiet, judgement-free space.

In fact it is made up of two areas, the first being a corridor with book-shelves and chairs for the parents. And then, nestled into the t-section of the hall, there lives the WAITING ROOM TO BEAT ALL WAITING ROOMS.

It’s dark and quiet and it has a pirate tent in it. That already puts it in Amelia’s top 5 spaces to love list. Need more? How about huge, billowing cushions and pillows of vivid colours not seen since Gene Wilder so dazzled film audiences as Willy Wonka (please don’t mention Johnny Depp’s Wonka to me. Ever).

Two large, wicker boxes hold further curios and delights, like torches to light the way into the pirate den or soft fabrics and toys for the more tactile child customer. There’s also an egg-shaped chair that swivels and has a cloth lid that pulls down to obscure the seated party.

Things to touch and places to disappear – Amelia took one look and fell head over heels. Then in true hoarding style, she dragged most of the contents of the room into the tent and I didn’t see or hear her again until it was time to see our OT.

The space made her feel instantly secure and it kept her busy exploring and hiding for as long as was needed. I’d call that mission accomplished.

The therapists at this clinic don’t seem to keep people waiting more than 10 minutes but somehow they’ve already made waiting the best part of the appointment, not the worst.

It’s fanciful and unrealistic to expect other places to have such purpose-built waiting rooms for kids, but if I walk in and see that your centre hasn’t thought about children at all then I’ll just assume you don’t care. About me, or my child.

Think about how that makes people feel and then maybe try for an upgrade. It doesn’t have to be as stylish and flashy as a Ferrari, but there are plenty of good, second-hand cars on the market that will take its passengers to the same welcome destination.

Then we’ll really know we’re in safe hands.

It’s a blackboard jungle out there

Nobody ever thinks that you’re going to send your child to a special school. You know, you don’t wake up and think to yourself, I really hope my child gets into a special school. That’s just not how we are is it? I think I’ve changed.
— Sara James (‘A Place for Us’, Australian Story, 12 August, 2013)

The road to school is paved with good intentions (and a lot of hope)

The road to school is paved with good intentions (and a lot of hope)

I recently watched this episode of Australian Story and the above quote from Sara James, mother of a young daughter with a disability, stopped me dead in my viewing tracks.

Because a variation on her words could so easily have been spoken by me about my own little girl, Amelia, who will begin her primary school years at a school for deaf children.

We certainly didn’t think we would end up sending her to anything other than a mainstream school. Going to any other kind of school wasn’t on the list of hopes we had for her before she was born, but like Sara James, I have changed my mind about how I feel about this too.

You see, Amelia’s deafness and autism (and their impact on her development) make it impossible for us to plan her school years more than 6-12 months ahead. Right now, we know where she’ll be next year but after that, it’s hard to be more definite.

The pre-birth notion of mapping out an arrow-straight educational course for her, from attendance at the small local kindergarten in the church hall a few streets away, to the nearby primary school we liked because of its bright, new buildings and wide open spaces is now just a fanciful set of ideas turned to dust.

Thankfully, we didn’t have enough time to really take those places to heart before we understood that for us, and for Amelia, the path of life would never be so clear-cut or sure. We have also worked out that institutional structures won’t always be central to our truest, deepest wishes for her.

What do we care about brand new buildings now, or the ‘best’ scholastic reputations or keeping up with the expectations of others? Not a goddamn thing, because when the goal posts move to the margins you have to start playing a different game – the long game.

It’s funny how far my attitude to this situation of uncertainty has evolved in a period of just two years, as we have adapted to two life-altering diagnoses before Amelia is five years old.

I will never forget the first question that popped into my head when the audiologist at the Royal Children’s Hospital opened the floor to me after we found out that Amelia was deaf: “Will she be able to go to a normal school?”

Normal. I would cringe at that word now, but back then, I seized on it without thinking twice. But in that room, ‘normal’ was just a code for the life I had imagined for Amelia while it slipped through my hands in a matter of minutes.

What I really wanted to know was, “Will she be able to live the life I expected her to have, just like everyone else? Do I dare to hope that despite her deafness (her difference) that her life will be easy enough to navigate? Please, will she be okay?”

I admit it was a desperate grab for a slice of optimism about the future. I’m sure my questions, both articulated and unsaid, are not uncommon to those parents who have found themselves in a similarly dramatic position.

My panicked mind flew years ahead to school because it was an obvious point on our family timeline where I imagined the normality of our lives would truly be tested. Before then, the outcomes for pre-school aged children are much more private and far less scrutinised.

If school age represented a big fork in the road, I didn’t want us to take a hard left while everyone else got to turn right. We’re most of us pack animals at heart, and never more so when trying to slot our children into the ‘safety’ of the herd.

The audiologist reassured me, “Yes, with lots of work on her speech and language, Amelia will catch up by the time she is six or seven. She will be able to go to a mainstream school.” At the time, there was no reason to think otherwise.

So, I clung to that small promise for the next two years. I had to believe that if we just did the tough yards of early intervention and speech therapy and everything else, we would emerge from this temporary blackout and resume normal programming.

But something happens to you over the years of taking your child to appointments and tests and scary places you never thought you’d be. You grow into it, you stop resisting and you begin to accept this life as the real one, the one you were meant to have.

It started in no small way with Amelia’s time at her three-year-old bilingual (Auslan and English) kindergarten run by the Aurora School’s early intervention service. It gave me a chance to see first-hand the benefits of a bilingual learning environment tailored for deaf kids.

Far from emphasising difference, this program offered its charges the security of shared experience. It gave them multiple ways to communicate (sign, speech, gesture), exposure to a wonderful Deaf role model and the freedom to develop at their own pace.

I watched Amelia embrace the visual communication that helped connect her to people, places and things. That kinder year laid some important foundations for her when she needed it most.

By the time she was four, it was clear that Amelia still needed a lot of support to develop her speech, language and social skills. There seemed little point throwing her into the deep end of a mainstream kindergarten three days a week just so I could walk her there and console myself about ‘normality’.

We chose the bilingual deaf kindergarten on our side of the city because it is a 20 minute drive away, and is part of a primary school for the deaf so there’s lots of expertise and support available.

Three of Amelia’s classmates from Aurora joined her there this year, so she’s been able to follow a group of friends through the early stages of school life. In this, we count ourselves very lucky indeed.

Hand up who's ready for school next year?

Hand up who’s ready for school next year?

Seeing my daughter’s growth in stature and self in this class has filled me with a happiness I did not dare wish for at the start of the year. It is so clear to me that she has found a soft, enriching place to land while being challenged to learn and play in novel and stimulating ways.

At this school, deafness is the baseline, the common denominator. It defines what is the same about her peers, not what is different. It requires no explanation; it is simply understood and catered for in every possible way.

Amelia is talking and signing so much more every day and is fast outstripping her mother’s knowledge of Auslan. She’s even started correcting me when I try to copy a new sign she brings home with her at night. Cheeky little blighter.

My girl will turn five in January next year and I did not think that she would be ready for school, any school, by this age. The recent diagnosis of autism didn’t knock us off a straight line because we’ve never known one. It merely confirmed to us that there is still much work to be done.

I thought perhaps Amelia would repeat another year of kinder, play it safe for a bit and see what the following year might bring. Being a January baby I could have reassured myself that she was entitled to an extra twelve months of development under her belt.

But her marvellous kinder teachers were having none of this overly cautious, pessimistic stuff. It is their strong belief, and I do have faith in their opinion, that Amelia is ready to make the leap to the big kids’ part of school.

It helps that our paediatrician and child psychologist support this assessment and agree that a bilingual school for deaf children is the best place to ‘super-charge’ her progress.

Although this decision made me a little nervous, I couldn’t feel more supported by all of the people who count. I soon realised how low risk our choice was while paving the way for so many benefits and rewards.

I took a tour of the primary school and current Prep class last week and discovered it has four children with the teaching shared by two people (one deaf, one hearing). Not fourteen kids or ten. FOUR.

I had heard that the numbers were small but I had no idea just how optimally low they would be. The numbers are capped at eight, but five is usually the highest number. Now that’s a teacher-pupil ratio we can all live with.

The school already has a number of children who are both deaf and autistic so there is plenty of built-in specialist support on the spot and ready to go.

The primary school children have weekly speech therapy sessions and start to learn more formally about deafness and Deaf Culture among the other programs like art and sport and music that make up the curriculum.

What this unique context means for Amelia is that despite her less-than-perfect start to life, at five she will be able to go to school with a handful of friends, one of whom she has known since she was three. They are a tightly bonded group and it’s thrilling to see them advance together.

Money can’t buy the kind of confidence and self-esteem that comes from progressing with your peers from one milestone to the next, no matter what your individual challenges might be.

In a specialised setting like this, every child gets a chance to grow and move on and up.

If the next 12 months are principally about taking stress off Amelia’s shoulders and helping her to realise her potential, then I couldn’t really think of a more suitable place for her to be.

No mainstream school with all the best intentions, good will and deaf-friendly technology can give her the same guarantees of security and personalised support, particularly at this most crucial time.

I do not see this choice of a school for the deaf as a compromise or as something below par, as I might have two years ago. We are choosing the right school at the right time for our daughter and her needs. Our family feels incredibly fortunate to be able send Amelia there.

If you’d asked me back in 2011 if Amelia would be starting school in 2014 and where she would be going, I would have answered, “I just don’t know.” But here we are, with our collective bags packed with books and excitement, ready for school next year. Prep is a happening thing.

So, I’ve opened my mind and my heart a little bit more, just a touch, to let in the dreams that Amelia’s ascension will bring. She will stand on our porch in her red and blue school uniform and have her photo taken and maybe I’ll surprise myself and be one of those mums who cries on her first day.

Or maybe not. But who even cares? Because my beautiful girl’s going to school, and baby that is a wonderful thing.

Further reading:
The brilliant Aussie Deaf Kids website has an informative overview of the types of schools available to families of deaf children. The general section on primary school is also a valuable one for parents with children entering into this stage of learning.

Acting out a mellow-drama

No-one does pathos better than Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921)

No-one does pathos better than Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921)

I was talking to the mother of one of my daughter Amelia’s kinder mates the other day. Her little girl, like mine, was born with a hearing loss and has additional needs.

She was telling me about how her daughter had started ballet this year and how transformative the classes had been, how happy they had made her.

The impetus for enrolling her in ballet came partly from her child’s interest but also from the family’s need to do something ‘normal’ outside of all the therapy and medical appointments that populate their days.

Just one day, a single hour, a few stolen moments, where her daughter is merely a girl who likes to wear a tutu, stand in first position and have a go at a plié.

As Hooper says to Quint when they famously compare battle scars in Jaws, I got that beat.

Meaning, I know what it feels like to long for normality in the midst of intense times punctuated by diagnoses and treatments that stretch out before us like a highway with no end.

Our weekly escape isn’t ballet though, it’s Drama Play which is held every Friday in a small church hall on the other side of the city.

The program is run by a youth theatre company and a finer group of creative adults working with children you could not hope to meet.

It’s not that I think Amelia is a budding thespian or the next Jackie Coogan (pre-Uncle Fester), even if she does seem to have a flair for mock-pathos.

The point of going is partly about tapping into a stress-free activity which might help to build her confidence and her understanding of social situations.

But the main reason is far less didactic – I’m just looking for a safe place outside of home and kinder where Amelia can simply be herself. No needles, no tests, no judgements, just fun if and when she chooses to participate.

Each session is loosely structured around a wonderful children’s story which is told in various modes: verbally, visually and through play. A hand-drawn map of the morning’s activities (courtesy of the gifted HL) shows us where we are and also where we’re headed.

Over a child-friendly 45 minutes, the little troupe aged between three and five are led by three awesome pied pipers whose intuitive approach to the creative needs of their charges has been inspiring to watch.

To commence, we sit on colourful cushions for the welcome song (accompanied by animated gestures) then we do some mad cavorting as we ‘sign’ our names with our bodies.

Time is set aside for some free-form dance where every child has a turn to express their individuality and lead the group with their own special moves. No-one directs or pushes. The adults are there to guide and encourage, or step back if that is the appropriate response.

Amelia still talks to me excitedly about a session from a number of weeks ago when the theme tune from the Harry Potter movies was the soundtrack to her turn at the helm of the dance parade.

Back then it didn’t seem as though she was super aware that the spotlight was on her for her two minutes of fame, but these happy recollections tell a different story.

There is a clue in this for me that involves not worrying too much about what Amelia appears to be feeling or experiencing in the moment because looks can be deceiving about just how deep her engagement with the world really is.

Story time is conducted by the dynamic AW who reads to us enchantingly from a carefully chosen book, like Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Then this narrative world is opened out to include the children and the scope of their imaginations.

The little actors are helped to set up key parts of the story with props, often tactile objects like furry carpets or textured grass-like mats. Then they become ‘Max’, playing the role of the little boy from Sendak’s tale – untamed things on the hunt for an adventure of their own making.

There are no passengers on this journey of self-discovery; parents can’t opt out for fear of embarrassment. We are drawn into the performance fray as much as the little ones and for me it’s actually incredibly freeing to run and jump and sing and harness my ‘child within’.

A final map-check tells us it’s time to go home, so we belt out the closing number and say our goobyes. The time really flies when you are laughing and soaking up the kid’s joyful antics.

I like the sessions because they are so visual and full of non-verbal communication. I’m also a huge fan of the way they follow a familiar pattern every time but allow for loads of flexibility and inventiveness. You won’t find a more go-with-the-flow space to be with small children.

For a bilingual (Auslan and speech) deaf girl with autism who is often inflexible, sometimes anxious and always into routine, Drama Play is a match made in heaven. And there is so much ROOM to play or not play, whatever her mood is on a given day.

Sometimes, she takes 20 minutes to warm up but no-one fusses over her. If she prefers to lie on a cushion or draw, then there is freedom for her to do that.  When she wants to keep holding onto a torch prop long after they are in use, honestly, no-one gives a damn.

But they never stop encouraging. The fabulous artistic director, SA, is always at ground level asking Amelia to engage and then backing right off if the response in speech or emphatic head shake translates to a resounding NO.

And when Amelia is ready, the team embrace her involvement with warmth and positive energy to burn. I don’t really have to do anything, except model what ‘joining in’ looks like, provide some Auslan interpretation and assist with the gentle coaxing.

I don't know, do you think she likes it?

I don’t know, do you think she likes it?

Last week provided something new: a whole session where Amelia was on board from the start of the map, not somewhere down the track after she’d walked her own road for a while.

It may have been because her Dad came with us that morning and Amelia was excited to show him this special place where we go most Fridays.

Or it could also have been because there was only one other little girl there that day who was keen to share in all the drama with her. The girl took her cushion for story time and positioned another one next to her for Amelia to occupy.

Usually, Amelia does not connect with the book reading part of the session or with the other children but on this occasion she sat next to her fellow thesp and really listened.

After a few moments she went back to sit with her Dad, her parental anchor in the circle. But her new friend looked around for her and tapped the cushion as though to say “Come back, this is your place, next to me”.

It was a sweet gesture of inclusion and after a brief hesitation Amelia did go back and take her place next to that girl who I wanted to hug for simply looking back and asking my daughter to join her. To belong.

Kindergarten klepto

He's Artful and a total DUDE (Anthony Newley in Oliver Twist)

He’s Artful and a total DUDE (Anthony Newley in Oliver Twist)

One of my favourite movies of all time is David Lean’s masterful version of the literary classic, Oliver Twist, one of two brilliant Dickens adaptations made by the director in the 1940s (the other being Great Expectations).

Lean manages to bring Dickens’ colourful world to life in shades of black and white; from the pitch-perfect performances (Alec Guinness’s unparalleled Fagin) to the way he renders the horror of Nancy’s murder by showing only the distress of Bull’s-Eye the dog, frantic to escape the room and all of that screaming.

But it’s the pickpockets I love the most, led so ably, so charismatically, by Anthony Newley’s splendid Artful Dodger. If you’re going to be poor and homeless in 19th century London, you might as well do it in style.

Little did I know as I watched this film in my childhood, transfixed by the characters on screen, that I would one day grow up to raise an artful little Dodger of my own.

Because my daughter Amelia is a bit of a kindergarten kleptomaniac, prone to cunning sleights of hand that end with her pocketing classroom objects in the ‘secret’ spaces of her kinder bag.

It started with a tiny fish of the plastic variety. It appeared one day in the side pocket of her backpack and I thought, “Oh, maybe it just fell in there by mistake.” You know, the way inanimate fish can sometimes jump into zip-locked pouches.

I quickly learned that there were no mistakes, only carefully-squirrelled triumphs prized by this wily klepto-in-the-making.

And Amelia is quite the crafty customer. She has learned how to purloin a special item during the day and, undetected by adult eyes, find a quiet moment to hide it in her bag for later.

Patience is not a virtue common to Amelia’s waking hours, but when it comes to executing petty acts of larceny, she has more of it than any Saint could claim.

It took me a little while to work out precisely what she was doing – what her racket was – but one day on the way home from a kinder pick-up, I looked over my shoulder at her in the backseat to find her searching her bag for something. It was the loot of the day as it turns out and she held it aloft to me with barely contained glee.

Amelia takes small things like play-dough, toy cars, pencils, marbles – I don’t think she’s that discerning or even interested in the things themselves. Maybe it’s the success of a carefully planned five-finger discount that really excites her.

My (boring) role is to play the anti-Fagin as I collect up all of the stolen artefacts for return to their rightful place.

I had to rat her out to her kinder teachers too. They now know to conduct a little frisk of Amelia’s bag at the end of the day, running a quick hand scan for pilfered products pocketed by my cheeky child.

The teacher holds them up to me one by one through the glass of the kinder door (carefully out of Amelia’s sight) and I nod or shake my head, confirming or denying if she is the legal owner.

In these moments, I wonder at the twists and turns of Amelia’s behaviour and I also recognise the humour she brings home with her too, alongside the pocketed stuff.

The other morning, one of the teachers said to me, “Do these bangles belong to Amelia? They were left behind the last night.” I replied, “Well no, but check her bag at the end of the day and ask me that question again!” We couldn’t stop laughing.

We chuckled because we adore Amelia, our kindergarten klepto, even if we’re not really sure why she does it. It has to be connected in some way to her need for hoarding and the obsessive-compulsive collecting of arbitrary things that are important to her in some way.

Apparently, she’s just got to pick a pocket or two. Or three.

Amelia does the same thing with DVDs, which she loves to watch but equally gets a kick out of gathering into groups and hiding under her bed covers. I never know what I’m going to find when I make the bed each morning.

It’s just another example of the slightly strange acts that pop up in our family soup from time to time and then fade when Amelia doesn’t need to do them anymore. She’s not hurting anyone and the things she ‘steals’ do not belong to other children (thank god).

So while I’m not about to reward or reinforce the dodgy side of her artfulness, I think I can gently guide her to some kind of understanding or awareness without stifling her, well, individuality.

We talk to her about what she’s doing, and then we give the little bits and bobs back each week (when we can find them or separate them out from her own junk).

Once Amelia has developed an obsession with an object or an activity it is very hard to convince her to change course in any way.

Like the orange and black Matchbox car which keeps reappearing in her bag, no matter how many times I restore it to its kindergarten home.

It has struck Amelia’s magpie-fancy for some reason, so I guess I’ll just continue taking it back in this endless loop of secure-steal-stow-reveal-return until she is ready to find a different way of expressing the innermost parts of her self.

Benevolence worked for Oliver Twist, so why shouldn’t it do the trick for Amelia? His time as a nascent thief was short-lived so I’m hoping my resident pickpocket will soon turn over a new leaf instead of stashing it in her bag.

[For you, RJH, with love]