Maki’s waving a domino in the air like it’s as valuable as a backstage pass to a Rick Astley concert and running ahead, semi-sliding across the muddied-up grassy expanse between the school buildings and the play equipment.
I’m shouting ‘slow down Maki’ with the rhythm of the hit disco classic Le Freak inside my braincase because I was playing it loudly in the Tarago on the way here to not only entertain Maki but to also distract myself from the apprehension I feel almost every time I approach the Prep/One building to collect Tyson.
He’s doing really well, he really is. After his diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, and with the concerns we had for him only eighteen months ago, Reservoir Mum and I have been clasping each other in relief at regular intervals and smiling stoically into the cool wind – Little House on the Prairie style – with each achievement and milestone.
We’ve taken him to hundreds of OT appointments and psychologist assessments and completely cut out preservatives and forced him to eat a bazillion homemade soups laced with probiotics and vitamins and rubbed his tummy clockwise while patting him on the head and bored holes into the roof above our bed with our piercing eyeballs of concern and all this may have nothing to do with the progress he’s making but there’s no way we’re going to stop any of it just in case it is.
He’s sleeping better, his reading has improved, he’s sitting still for longer periods in class, he’s made some good friends, and we know his social skills are flying by the simple fact that he hasn’t stuck a finger in someone’s earhole and ran away screaming for months.
The SPD is always there though – like a wild horse snorting for attention – and to go an entire day without squealing or yelling or withdrawing into a maelstrom of defiance is rare. This year so far there has been a period of a week, and the odd day here and there, where he’s mounted that snorting SPD steed and ridden it bareback as it’s charged – bucking and galloping and whinnying through the open learning multi-classroom landscape, totally out of control – with nothing but a mane to cling on to.
His teacher Mrs N has been fantastic and the Prep aid Miss J has been amazing and together they’ve managed to distract and console and corral him and we’re all working together to do what’s best for him; to coach him off that horse, but that doesn’t stop this sense of apprehension I feel almost every day at 3.20pm when Maki and I head to the school to collect Tyson and his brothers, Archie and Lewis.
I’m hopeful the Prep/One door will swing open to reveal a smiling back-pack wearing Tyson with Mrs N just behind wearing a "nothing to see here" expression and waving to signal a good day. But there’s always the chance of the stampede, Tyson over the thudding of heavy hooves, Mrs N and Miss J close behind dragging their frayed lassoes and starting a conversation with the sentence I’ve come to dread: ‘We’ve had an interesting day.’
Chic's Le Freak really is a good song and I’m starting to sweat despite the chilly winter air and when I catch up to Maki, relieved that he made it to the quadrangle without slipping over, he’s showing his domino to Lenny – one of the other regular school yard Dads – and I’m settling into another welcome distraction as we spend minutes talking about football but then the bell sounds in such a sudden way that I feel I’ve been drowned and revived in an instant and Archie’s by my side.
‘Dad,’ he says. ‘Today Tyson and Penelope were kissing each other and everyone was talking about it.’
‘What? Oh, how cute…’ I say, lowering my centre of gravity by bending at the knees as I hear Tyson scream out DAD behind me.
When I turn around I see Tyson in full sprint, eyes strained wide with a confused intensity more suited to someone who’d just realised they’d taken a sip of urine instead of soft drink. Just behind him, walking with urgency, is Mrs N, nodding towards me. Her eyebrows are raised so high she reminds me of an astronaut about to pass out under the pressure of g-force and all of a sudden my centre falls apart and I’m thinking back on the week wondering if we’d done something to inflame his SPD.
Was there a hidden preservative in Monday’s stir-fry? Has he been getting enough sleep? Does he have an underlying illness that’s running him down? Or is it something else altogether? Oh my God… do I have to stop listening to 70s Disco when he’s around? Could it be Le Freak that's riling the SPD steed?
‘I was GOOD,’ Tyson screams, looking suspiciously over his shoulder at Mrs N, ‘Can I play the iPad!’
‘I’m not sure about that yet, Tys,’ I say.
Lenny backs away and breaks into a sprint as Mrs N stops in front of Archie and I with a little skip to halt her momentum and says, ‘Well, we’ve had an interesting day.’
Instead of looking her in the eye and saying, “I would take a week’s worth of gastro in one solitary hour while trapped inside an elevator with an Instagram addict over hearing that sentence ever again” I lower my gaze and ask, ‘What’s happened?’
‘Well,’ Mrs N continues, as Tyson pulls up next to the metal Fire Hose box by the sandpit and starts banging his hands on it so loudly that everyone still lingering in the playground jumps, doves scatter and fly away, hippos submerge themselves in the lakes of the Werribee Zoo. ‘Tyson and Penelope were kissing each other during lunch time and so we took them aside to talk about it.’
‘Oh, the kissing?’ I say.
She nods and says. ‘Some of the older kids were gathering around and egging them on and the two of them were getting all, you know, excited by the attention and playing up to it and telling everyone that they were boyfriend and girlfriend…’
‘But what are we talking here?’ I say. ‘They’re six year olds. They were just… pecking each other on the lips weren’t they?’
‘Oh yeah,’ she says, waving her hand dismissively. ‘They’re really great friends. But we just wanted to nip this in the bud and talk about appropriate touching and behaviour at school because it could get out of hand with the older kids putting pressure on… and the way things like this can become a focus in the playground.’
‘Oh, okay,’ I say, as I watch Tyson wander over from the Fire Box, surprised to see him looking a little less Le Freak than a few minutes ago. ‘I’ll have a chat to him about it when we get home… and tomorrow before school.’
“We thought you might want to,’ she says, with a smile towards Tyson and a mock-serious waggle of her finger as she turns back towards the classroom. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, young man.’
‘Oh,’ I say, taking a deep breath. ‘So how was he in the classroom?’
‘Pretty good, really,’ she says. ‘He did some good work. Yelled out a few times but nothing too bad. He’s becoming much more manageable.’
‘Really,’ I say. ‘So it’s just the cute innocent kissing stuff… if we put that to the side he’s done okay?’
When Mrs N signals A-OK by making a circle with her forefinger and thumb, wonder and relief rise through me so quickly I almost dry-retch and minutes later, after buckling the boys into the Tarago I’m looking at his cherub little face in the rear vision mirror, love-struck, feeling that we might be on the right track here but, also, that I have to be careful.
Tyson has some extra things to deal with, yes, but the signs of progress are clear. It might be time for me to really take stock of the amount of worry I put into this every day. There’s the very real possibility that over two years of research and practice and effort is causing the SPD steed to snort it’s fury less often into Tyson’s ear, and more often into mine.
As I jump into the front seat, just after buckling the four boys into the Tarago, Tyson breathes in and out and says, nonchalantly ‘I’m Penelope’s girlfriend’ so that Archie, Lewis and even Maki roar out laughing.
‘Well, you’re not that for two reasons,’ I say, laughing as well. ‘But we can talk about that together when we get home.’
‘And Penelope kissed dirt today and then she told me to kiss dirt… and so I kissed dirt.’
‘Yeah,’ Lewis says from the back of the Tarago. ‘They did.’
‘Well, you know…’ I say, starting the car and turning up the volume for some more Le Freak. ‘That’s a great way to build your immune system.’