Despite living 3 miles away from the closest body of water, and going through the driest spring on record in Ireland, my house is flooded, not with water but with paper.
It is a constant reminder of my failure to educate my children on anything other than how to use the toaster to make their 12th piece of toast before lunch, when I had planned that by the end of lockdown we would all be communicating in Mandarin and be a whizz with a potters wheel (even though we don’t actually own a potters wheel).
This piece explores the outrageous amount of anxiety being caused by the paperwork mountain in my house and how as a parent to a child who has additional care needs, I should actually have the admin skills of a veteran PA.
From time capsules that have been hanging around since Paddy’s Day, to colouring pages of every animal in the jungle, Covid leaflets and downloads of what at the time, seemed like vitally important educational opportunities, from museums and galleries around the world. The reams of paper lying idly, half finished, if even started at all, in every orifice of my home now seem to be top of my lock-down anxiety list.
Did we really think it was realistic that our child could recreate the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel with a 12 pack of twistables! Or write a best selling literary series to rival the great Harry Potter, just by entering John Boyne’s short story competition?
All our good intentions at ‘creating an ancient A4 sized civilisation’ now lie crumpled on the kitchen table, causing slip hazards on bedroom floors or are flung on make-shift home office desks, intermingled with the actually important reports you need for my next Zoom meeting. Holding up a picture of Johnny’s hand-washing guide (see below) instead of a pie chart on County level youth work trends, does not get me a A+ on my mid-year review from my boss!
I should actually be well able to cope with this particular parenting pandemic problem, as parents to a child with additional care needs have been wrestling the paper monster valiantly for many many years – we have the cuts to prove it! Yet still my administrative skills leave a lot to be desired and continue to be one of the many banes of my life.
Whenever I’m applying for a new passport, I always get 2 forms in the post office, just in case I make a mistake on the first one. Of course, I always do make a mistake, usually almost always at the end of the form. It’s incredibly frustrating and may cause a few cheeky little profanities to slide effortlessly out of my mouth.
I hate filling in forms! It’s a task that requires military style planning, what colour pen should I use? It must be a non-smudgy pen that my hand won’t squish onto a spider scrawl, when I fill out the columns on the right-hand side of the page. Are block capitals needed? If so, does that lower-case r actually look like a capital R, after I tried to correct it when I forgot about block capitals, half way through filling in the form? Is it a noticeable enough infringement for the paperwork police to mercilessly reject my form, sending it back to me with a snotty letter referring me to the guidelines of how to fill in a fecking form.
You can almost sense the tut, the eye roll and the mutterings of the office administrator going “FFS it isn’t rocket science.” Even worse a bright yellow sticker on the returned envelope, informing me of my crime against form filling!! Oh, the shame!
When you are a parent to a child with additional care needs, the forms are endless. They are needed in duplicate, triplicate and whatever comes after that, is it quadlicate? Spellcheck is telling me no, but I’m going to stick with the naming approach of multiple babies for multiple forms.
You have to fill in a form for absolutely bloody everything, healthcare, education support, equipment, benefits, medication, your wine allowance – which I would like to point out should be increased with every sodding form you have to complete!
Some of the forms are incredibly serious, deciding if your child does one a of hundred different behaviours never/sometimes/regularly/constantly, could be the decision that swings the dial to whether your child receives a diagnosis or not.
Whilst those of you who don’t have experience in this field may think, well surely you don’t want a diagnosis? Honestly, the diagnosis process is as long and complicated as a Games of Thrones book. So, when you get to this point, you greet a diagnosis with relief, because it is the key that (supposedly) unlocks the door to all of the supports and accommodations your child so desperately need.
It’s not sufficient to fill in just one form, and one of the quadlicates get passed to the relevant services. No, that would be simple and when did anyone favour simplicity over bureaucracy, that just isn’t the done thing in polite society!
I sat in a meeting with Autism Services last year and flawlessly reeled off everything that had happened with Patrick for the previous 5 years. I was quite literally like the parent of a new-born and knew every fart, burp and smile that had occurred in graphic detail (times, dates, people attended, grammatical errors – the works).
The Autism Services Specialist commented how detailed my response was, I faked a smile and told her I had a good memory for detail, forcing down the urge to shout, “that’s because I’ve repeated it so many freaking times!” It continues, ad infinitum. The more challenges your child presents with, the more forms you have to fill in.
When you get to the Psychologist stage for your child (and also for yourself if your child’s behaviour is particularly challenging), you not only have to fill in forms about what happened, but also what should have happened, what could have happened if you handled it differently and how you felt about what happened. Am I being awkward or does it seem excessive to have thoughts about your thoughts? It’s like working for an American corporate where you fill your day by having meetings about meetings.
The forms aren’t even phrased in a way that anyone actually speaks and you have to open your thesaurus to fill in the form, in such a way that the Psychologist may think you are reasonably intelligent, thoughtful and bothered.
The only problem is, that half the time, after dealing with an epic meltdown (from either yourself or your child) the last thing you feel like doing is filling in a form about it, you can’t write and hold an extra-large glass of wine at the same time.
Half the time, you end up filling in the form from memory, an hour before your appointment, obviously using three different pens, and changing your handwriting slightly each time so the professionals don’t know!
At one of my appointments last year, I didn’t do my own forms that assess my behaviour and thoughts for the Psychologist I see (it’s a family affair), My son’s meltdowns had been so utterly draining for him and me, that in all honesty, I didn’t have the energy aka I really couldn’t be arsed, I just wanted to stare zombie-like at Netflix and eat chocolate covered anything (chocolate smudges on the form is a huge no no!)
I defiantly told my Psychologist at the appointment, that I just didn’t do my homework!
I felt liberated, I felt 16 again. It was akin to telling my smart-arse English teacher, the poem he gave us by T.S Eliot was crap and it was apt that T.S Eliot was an anagram of toilets, because the poem belonged in one! I was cool!
I was tough!
I was a REBEL!
I was in detention for a week.
Unlike my English teacher, the Psychologist was very understanding and worked through my feelings capably with me. Where’s the fun in that! I wanted to be a therapy rebel! A grown-up wobbler isn’t rebellious when it’s met with a kind an understanding response!!
The forms as well as physically taxing, are also emotionally draining as in order for it to be effective you have to be totally honest about your feelings. The paperwork police know everything, even if you only cleaned your teeth for less than a minute this morning or that you gave the kids a Pop Tart for breakfast on a school day! They are in league with Homeland Security!
I am by nature very honest in my communication, the phrase ‘oversharing’ could be applied to me at times, but the information you have to share would set the nose of the most stringent civil liberties advocate into overdrive. The United States’ Patriot act could learn a thing or two from the covert operations of the paperwork police.
I feel that paperwork of any description should now be up for consideration to be added to the United Nations list of cruel and unusual punishments. It is without doubt, A Form of Torture!
For those of you battling the beast of paper anxiety, that just adds to your feelings of inadequacy because you haven’t achieved that gold star in homeschooling for the past 12 weeks – honestly, give yourself a homework pass. Grab a big bin bag whilst the kids are in bed and give yourself permission to re-locate the stress-inducing paper mountain at the base camp of the recycling bin.
Make sure you also delete the ‘educational project’ cookies from your laptop and unsubscribe from the National Geographic weekly newsletter filled with fascinating facts about sharks, shoehorns and sundials (and no, you absolutely do not need to tackle their ‘print off project’ to make a weather clock from pipe cleaners and bottle tops – your child’s education will not suffer if you sit on a sun-lounger with a good book for the afternoon instead).
The only paper allowed in the house from now on is the Aldi magazine with it’s 20% off pullout vouchers for fantabulously flavoured Gin and cut-price fake Pimms. You are however allowed to make a fruit rainbow in a glass of either, satisfying your five a day – just make sure you give your little cherubs the non alcoholic version or your teaching methods might fairly be questioned by social services!
Stay Safe x
This piece is dedicated to my friend Sheila celebrating her birthday today. She is a mass perpetrator of crimes against paper, but she is always on hand with the suggested antedote of Pimms and/or (usually and) Gin – both of which I am sure she’ll avail of today. Happy Birthday Sheila.