By July 2015, our bedroom is so bedoodled it looks like Banksy has had a stroke in there, except the artist in question is actually our seven-year-old daughter, Sophie.
She prefers to work with non-traditional materials, and she has a penchant for the permanent. Her 2014, ‘Handprints with Baby Oil on The Wall,’ is a fine example. Michelangelo has nothing on her extensive 2012 ceiling masterpiece, ‘The Resilience of Ribena,’ and there is great promise in her early red nail varnish floor work, ‘This Cream Carpet Was a Massive Mistake, You Eejits.’
Like a true artiste, she doesn’t say much; she lets her art speak for itself. ‘What do you think she’s trying to tell us, Martha?’ I asked my wife, one night. ‘I think what she’s saying is that she really likes to fuck shit up, Aidan,’ said Martha, quite astutely.
Both of our daughters are on the autistic spectrum, although Sophie’s nine-year-old sister, Ailbhe (pronounced Alva), is a breeze, whereas Sophie is more like a hurricane with opposable thumbs. She has obliterated any notions of interior design we once had. These days our home decor could be best described as ‘Ongoing Burglary.’
We had slightly different reactions after the girls were diagnosed in 2010. Martha doubled down on her post-natal depression and upgraded her pre-existing sleep condition to the ‘chronic’ package (which comes with a free pillow), although she can function perfectly well so long as she gets twenty-three hours of sleep a day, and a nap.
I started a part-time musical comedy career.
I also lost my job working as a structural draughtsperson (I draw the bits of buildings that make them stand up), and I got a new job, doing the same thing, for half the wages. The pressure of paying our massive mortgage gave me beard alopecia and a hiatal hernia. I would relieve stress by writing silly songs, whilst dealing with the state of our house the same way I dealt with our mortgage arrears: by closing my eyes tightly and hoping that everything would be okay when I opened them again.
‘Not the basis of a sound financial plan’ – The Bank, often.
In August 2015, I brought my debut musical comedy show to the month-long Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which Martha was obviously delighted about. ‘I’m obviously delighted about this,’ she said, which gave me a good opportunity to teach Ailbhe about sarcasm, and marital death threats. Granny and Grandad – Martha’s mam and dad, Sheila and Brendan – practically moved in while I was away, and when Martha and Ailbhe flew over to visit in the middle of the festival for a few days, they looked after Sophie at home. I couldn’t have gone to Edinburgh without their help.
When I arrived back at the end of the month, they told me to shut my eyes before I went into the bedroom. When I opened them, I saw that it had been beautifully re-decorated. They had done everything (with a little help from Martha’s uncle) when Martha and Ailbhe were over in Edinburgh with me. This was the first and last time my shutting-my-eyes-and-hoping-it-works-itself-out plan had ever worked.
I looked at Granny and Grandad, and I said, as appreciatively as I could, ‘Don’t think this doesn’t mean I’m not putting you in a home when the time comes.’
We maintain our bedroom now by locking the door during the day to keep Sophie out, although I think, somehow, she understands the consequences of restarting her artistic career: if you ever see an ad looking for a good home for a girl with autism from Ashbourne, you’ll know what has happened.
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