We recently discovered that my seven year old Tom has additional needs. Anyone who reads my column regularly will know about the antics of my adorable, troublesome late baby. We nicknamed him ‘The Tominator’ when he began powering around our house as a toddler, growing into the handle over the next few years with his insistent, unstoppable demeanour and later, at school, hilarious and outrageous pronouncements that nearly drove his first teacher insane. It turns out he was on the spectrum all along. So, Tom isn’t ‘The Tominator’ any more. He has been re-identified and while none of us like being labelled, the diagnosis has enabled us to make the adjustments we need to make Tom’s life more comfortable and all of us happier. Tom is thriving. It’s no big deal.
Last weekend, I took Tom away, by myself, to Dublin, for the weekend. I cannot remember the last time I spent an uninterrupted trench of time alone with him. Certainly not since he stopped breastfeeding at three months old. Small children are hard work. There are mothers who enjoy spending long stretches of quality time with their small children, but I am not one of them. However, I am hanging out more with Tom these days. Minecraft and Cartoon Network are restricted to weekends and TV has been replaced by crafts and drawing. I take him out every day - swimming or to the swings. I let me thrash me at Connect Four most evenings. I am, despite myself, turning into a good mother. That has been the biggest adjustment in our lives. ‘I have to do some actual parenting,’ I moaned to my writer friend, Helen. ‘Oh BAD luck!” she said, genuinely horrified for me. ‘Healthy neglect,’ is the committed writers preferred parenting technique. It doesn’t work with kids on the spectrum. I checked. So, booking 48hours in a small AirBnB Dublin apartment for dedicated Tom-time seemed like an act of madness but, for some reason I could not quite identify, I was determined to do it. ‘Are you meeting anyone for lunch?’ Mam asked. 'No,' I said. 'Just me and Tom.' 'Oh,' she said, nonplussed at this sudden show of extreme parenting. 'What will you do?' 'Tom stuff,' I said. 'I've booked us in for a session at the Make-it shop to make a robot,’ I said, ‘He’ll love it,’ I added, hopefully. ‘Great,’ she said although I tell she was thinking, ‘it’ll take more than a workshop to keep that fella busy all weekend.’ The train journey was great. It always is. Tom is sociable and attracts old-lady fans before I allow him to go into an emergency sanity’s-sake technology trance on my iPhone. We started our first day with breakfast in a fancy cafe. Sitting outside, Tom had bacon bagels, just the way he gets them at home, toasted with ketchup. Tom talked loudly about the homeless man sitting in a doorway nearby. ‘We have to give him ALL our money Mum because he is POOR and otherwise he might DIE.’ I drank my tea and encouraged him to be more discreet, with zero success. A woman at the next table lit up a fag and I breathed in deeply on her first exhale and wondered if life would be any easier if I hadn’t given them up. From there we went and made our robot, which was fun - but short. In forty five minutes we were done, so headed for Stephen’s Green. I was standing, mournfully looking at the ducks, thinking about other places I could be like lunching with my agent or surreptitiously spraying myself with perfume in Brown Thomas, when I noticed Tom standing stock still gazing at a lone bird standing under a tree on the grass. ‘Shhhh,’ he said as I approached him, ‘I think it’s THE ugly duckling.’ I leaned down to his level and put my arms around his shoulders, feeling his tight little muscles relax under my firm grip. ‘You could be right,’ I said, ‘he IS awfully ordinary-looking alright.’ ‘Get away!’ Tom shouted, pulling away to chase off an approaching seagull. ‘I HATE seagulls,’ he said. ‘They are so BIG and MEAN!’ ‘You’re right!’ I said, and his face lit up at my approval. Then, there it was. That feeling. The love that swallows me up. I was here because I wanted to be. Because nobody makes me feel quite the way my Tom does. He is my dream date. We walked back to the apartment and he took his half hour allowance on Minecraft. ‘Can I have a Cornetto for dinner?’ he asked as I was answering emails. I looked over at my exuberant, charismatic, glittering, extravagant son and said, ‘No you may not.’ The Tominator is back. Long live the Tominator.