This is the thirty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 800 words.
Anyway, Richard. I should really move my story on. I can’t expect you to sit through endless hours covering each year, all sounding much the same.
Some things got better, others worse. I got help from my parents to go out occasionally, even if it was only to a couple of socials with the women from Unicorns. I stopped going to them after that, as the only thing anyone ever talked about was their kids, and the varying levels of disability. But mum and dad came over to look after Leah while I went out, and they didn’t complain about having to watch her like a hawk now she was moving around.
The older, fully mobile Leah reminded me of robots in old films. She moved wih determination, at a slow pace, and if turned around, she carried on moving in the other direction. Luckily, she didn’t develop the deductive powers to manage to step over any of the gates barring her way, and when her legs encountered them, she just stopped where she was. I had to reduce her food intake too. She wasn’t running around and playing like other kids of her age, so started to get decidedly chubby.
As soon as she was old enough, I enquired about one of the local Council daycare centres. Someone came to assess her, and he told me she was going to be listed as ‘None to low ability’ and would need one of the centres where constant attention was possible. That meant a waiting list, and I went on it. Or to be accurate, Leah went on it. One thing in my favour was that I could take her, and didn’t need what he called ‘special transport’. And she didn’t need a wheelchair, so that apparently helped speed things up.
Although I couldn’t contemplate going back to work full-time, I started to imagine a part-time job I could do while Leah was at a day centre. I realised I didn’t care what it was, I would happily stack shelves in a supermarket, if it got me out of the house, and talking to other adults. When the letter came from the Council, I had to sit down. It was going to be at least a year before a place became available. That took the wind right out of my sails.
Zoe came to the rescue to some degree, by organising day trips for us to go on with our kids. That could be anything from a visit to a child-friendly farm, to a trip to the local swimming pool, with a reserved time slot. They had to be paid for, to cover the costs of the minibus and driver, but I signed up for every one of them, anything to get out of the house, and to be somewhere different. Leah took no notice of the farm animals, or the rabbits and guinea pigs provided for the kids to stroke. She stood in the shallow end of the swimming pool refusing to move, and on a day trip to the coast, she kept walking into the sea. I couldn’t relax for a second.
But I did it all. I took photos. I made memories.
My next purchase was a set of child reins, specially made for her size. Zoe got me the name of the company, advising me that I would need bigger and stronger versions as Leah grew. But I had to have them, or else be constantly standing in front of her and turning her around. I spoke to Olly about getting the bathroom converted to a wet room. He didn’t mention his child with Lauren, and neither did I. But he agreed to organise things, and sent a company in to do the work by the end of the following month. At least I no longer had to try and get her in and out of a bath.
Then I got approval for the day centre. One morning a week, from nine until one-thirty in the afternoon as a ‘trial’. I told them not to bother, though I later regretted that. Four and a half hours on my own would have been better than nothing.
One good thing about her having to wear nappies still was that when her periods started, I didn’t have to worry about those. I cried that night though, thinking she should have been in her second year of secondary school by now. Admiring pop stars, looking at boys, listening to music, and talking to other girls about periods, and embarrassing parents.
Instead she was munching Jaffa Cakes like an automaton as I fed them to her. Her only interaction with me was to let out a “Gah” because she wanted more.
And when I looked in the mirror, I saw an old woman looking back.