“Breakfast,” I said to Sophie. “Pasta and Meat,” she said. Normally I would say no, but it was Saturday morning, and my parenting principles are a little weaker on the weekends. I found myself saying one of those sentences I never thought I would say before I became Sophie’s dad: “First Rice Krispies, then Pasta and Meat.”

Martha and I have tried to get her to say, “Spaghetti Bolognese,” or “Spag Bol,” but Sophie is not one for synonyms – or else she has something against the Italians. I’m pretty sure she’s not racist: I suspect she just thinks about words-for-things the same way that most sensible human beings think of the Trump Presidency: she doesn’t see any need for a second term.

“…then supermarket,” she added. Unlike some other autistic ten-year-olds, Sophie loves supermarkets. Of course she does. That’s where they keep all the pasta and meat. “Okay, then, supermarket,” I said.


She sat at the table, steadily not eating her Rice Krispies, as I tidied the kitchen. When I finished, I rested my bum against the worktop, and looked at her, with her army of paper dolls lined up regimentally in front of her, watching something that was probably inappropriate on her iPad, babbling away to herself, and it struck me that she is over halfway to eighteen, and I wondered what she will do then. What will we do then?
Martha sent me a video during the week of Sophie doing her homework. What was remarkable about the video is that she suddenly has a basic grasp of algebra. She’s no savant, but to watch this girl, who will have a near nervous breakdown if a DVD skips, quietly working through simple equations is a marvel.
And yet – and perhaps I am being too pessimistic – I don’t see how she could possibly acquire enough education or acumen or gumption to be gainfully employed in any way. That’s not really the goal now. We’re just hoping for happiness. I think we’re going to need a lot of pasta and meat.
Soph and I went to the Supermarket, as I had promised, which avoided the Thermonuclear Tantrum that would happen if the promise hadn’t been kept (White House staff employed to look after Trump, please take note.) When we got out of the car, she did that inexplicable thing that she does where she shuts her eyes tightly until we get to the door of the supermarket. Again, I find myself saying a sentence I thought I’d never say: “We’ll go straight back to the car if you don’t open your eyes.” She knows it’s not an empty threat. I’ve brought her back to the car before. So she opens her eyes slightly, just enough to see, smudgily, and holds my hand until we get to the door. These are compromises I make.
I read an article about a new “Amazon Go” automated supermarket that has opened in America. You walk in, pick up the stuff you want, and walk out again, and your account is automatically charged through an app on your phone. I assume they still have people to stack the shelves, but I suspect it won’t be long until that is done automatically too: it’ll be robots as far as the eye can see, all the way from the field to the fork. Very soon. And all those jobs…
Seemingly, Sophie understands the concept of the Amazon Go supermarket already. Well, at least the picking-things-up-without-paying-for-them part. I caught her putting one of those chewing gum tubs in her pocket. “Sophie,” I said, sternly. “Nothing,” she said, in her sing-song voice. She is the world’s most adorable thief. “We don’t steal,” I say, holding in my smile. “Don’t steal,” she says, but I can tell she’s just repeating.
My eldest daughter, Ailbhe, twelve now, is beginning to understand, though. Before, I think she thought that Daddy’s card was magic. When I was out with her recently, I explained that it was called a Debit Card, and that it was linked to my bank account. “I have to put money in before I spend it….it’s the Credit Cards that are magic.”
When Soph and I got home from the supermarket, Martha had been up unpacking some boxes (a long story, read FOOL’S GOLD for that) and was tired and had to go back to bed, which is all the fault of idiopathic hypersomnia and depression (an even longer story, read my book for that.)
Ailbhe asked if I would play a game on the Playstation with her. I got Sophie set up with her iPad at the kitchen table, in my eyeline, and started a game of “Worms” with Ailbhe in the sitting room.
At one point, Sophie got up and went to the fridge and came back in holding one of those Cheese String packets. This was something new. It was yet another attempt by Martha to expand Sophie’s palate. We have to try. Sophie thinks that a varied diet is trying Milk Duds instead of Cola Bottles. I know that Cheese Strings are the McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets of the Cheese World – probably made from all the worst parts of the cheese – but Martha thought it might lull her into eating something with a modicum of calcium.
“Yuk,” she said, as she took a little nibble, and she went straight off to put it in the bin around the corner in the kitchen, I assumed. Very soon after, she came back into the sitting room with her iPad. I was a bit preoccupied with Ailbhe kicking my ass. There was a time when I could, and would, easily beat her at these games. Even though she is also on the spectrum – although not nearly as profoundly affected as Sophie – I never let her win. I would regularly turn her army of Worms to dust, and do a victory dance in her face, just like my Dad did with me – which is one of the reasons that I turned out *twitch* *twitch* as well as I did. She was really trouncing me this time. This would be her biggest win to date. Then, the screen went blank.
I had heard a loud click. The main socket trip-switch in the house had tripped. I went out to the hall and put the switch back up. That’s when I got the unmistakable smell of something burning. I ran into the kitchen and saw quarter-of-a-Cheese String sticking out of the toaster. Inside the toaster, it looked like a bee had hit a windscreen. It was a black-and-yellow smouldering massacre in there.
“Sophie!” I yelled. She came in. “No toaster!” I shouted, sternly. “No toaster,” she said. As I opened all the windows, unplugged the toaster, and tried in vain to clean it out, she went to the fridge and got out a slice of bread, and tried to put it into one of the other slots on the toaster while I was working at it. She had not heard the “no,” or “er,” part of what I had said. She was probably thinking, “Daddy is very angry and he wants some toast.”
So, we must say a fond farewell to our toaster. We will bury it with the microwave that Ailbhe destroyed one morning, when she came down very early, decided to heat her own milk for Weetabix, and thought it said thirty seconds, when it actually said thirty minutes. Even though that is a few years ago now, we still aren’t trusting her with our nuclear launch codes. (White House staff employed to look after Trump, please, please take note.)
I wonder if Sophie will ever be even a little bit capable of looking after herself. She’s ten, and she could have just electrocuted herself with a Cheese Stick.
We have recently been granted respite care for her…and for us. What this means, in practical terms, is that every five weeks or so a care centre will take her for the night, so that Martha and I can have a night out, or just so that I can attempt to kick Ailbhe’s ass in peace. We had our initial meeting with the centre, which includes listing all the things to be aware of when looking after Sophie. It was a two-hour meeting. We didn’t get to the end of the list.
We did get a quick tour of the facility. It’s fine – nice, even, in parts – but necessarily institutional. As we drove home from that meeting, I said what we were both thinking. “When we die, that’s her future,” but we didn’t dwell on it. As long as they plug out the toaster, and stock up on pasta and meat, we’ll worry about the rest when we have to.
(Image credit: Dion Archibald)

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