Personal care. It's one of those euphemisms that separates individuals into groups, like a picky four year old carefully separating the very squashed baked beans from the slightly less squashed ones. 'Does she have . . . erm . . . you know . . . does she have personal care needs?' hesitantly whispered, as if using even this politically correct phraseology out loud could somehow run the risk of a big pile of poo landing on one's head without warning, in the style of luminous green slime on Noel's House Party circa 1995.
So let's get this out of the way. Smiler is categorised as doubly incontinent, which means he has little or no control over his bladder or bowel. So he wears nappies, except once you're talking too big to fit in baby nappies, they are referred to as 'pads' ~ another careful contrivance of language to normalise his needs perhaps. After all, ordinary women use sanitary pads during their menstrual cycle, and after giving birth those extra large and super absorbent feels~as~if~you're~walking~with~a~mattress ~in~between~your~legs ones are called maternity pads. Does the word 'pad' somehow confer more dignity than 'nappy', or are differences in language just that ~ non~agenda, non~judgemental, non~prejudicial differences? Interestingly, I was involved with writing some school policies a couple of years ago, and was informed that for that purpose personal care referred to a child carrying out tasks such as washing their hands and dressing themselves, which in my mind are classified as self help skills. What I would consider to be (possibly overly) politically correctly described as personal care tasks, such as changing a pad / nappy, were covered by the phrase intimate care. In my mind the word intimate relates to adult relationships, which are very very separate to changing a child's nappy, or pad, or whatever equivalent word you choose!
So, to settle on language that causes the least amount of discomfort . . . not for me, I'm used to the practical shorthand of wee and poo, I'm thinking of you, reading this. Should I go for urine and excrement, or bodily fluids and faeces? To name the verbs involved ~ to urinate, to pass water, to tinkle, to spend a penny? To defecate, to poop, to have a crap? How about the technical medically and scientifically un~loaded to void the bladder and to open the bowels?
In relation to Smiler, continence was a long long way down on the list of barriers to overcome, we always prioritised communication over everything else, and as he grew and developed we genuinely didn't give much thought to toilet training. It always seemed like such a wildly far~fetched idea, a pipe~dream, as achievable for Smiler as learning to water ~ ski.
I have a very clear memory of Mr Manley and I exchanging one~eyebrow~up type glances when an extended family member made the (we assume well ~intentioned) suggestion that we just throw out all the nappies and put him in pants, "he'll soon learn then". This about a five year old child who could stand only if strapped by a thousand pieces of velcro into a standing frame, and even then only for for a couple of minutes while being distracted by two adults enthusiastically jumping up and down in front of him, making silly faces and singing nursery rhymes, before the discomfort morphed into unbearable pain. A five year old who would bite his forearms and hands and fingers creating bruises day by day, forming thick calluses week by week ~ later upon layer of extra skin put in place by his body, striving to protect the structures underneath. He would have quite contentedly sat in a puddle of his own making for hours ~ it wouldn't have bothered him in the slightest.
The truth, as mysterious and unpalatable as people may find it, was that Smiler was simply not ready. He isn't constrained by the social nicities ~ he opens his bowels when his body needs to, and if that is in the lift of a shopping centre, with people packed in like sardines ~ well, that makes no difference to him. Smiler would go bright red in the face with effort, all his features scrunched up, and finally, complete with loud and evocative sound effects, he would achieve his aim, let out a deep breathy sigh of relief, his focus once again on the book in his lap or smiling at the all the people in the lift. Having put together the facial contortions, the sound effects and (risking offending your sensibilities here) the smell, no one was prepared to meet his gaze ~ they were experiencing an unfamiliar level of discomfort, and the sensation that they had somehow grossly intruded on Smiler's privacy.
There are some indications now that Smiler (at the grand old age of eleven) is starting to become a little more aware of what his body is up to. He will, with enough support and encouragement, sit (for a short period) on the toilet, and has . . . ahem . . . (what was the phrasing we agreed on here?) . . . oh stuff it. He has wee'ed and poo'ed on the toilet, but will tell us he has been when he hasn't; and times we know he has, he says he hasn't (that was a lot of he's and has's, but I'm going to assume you're following!).
Of all the foibles (love that word. Foible. Go on, use it today. I dare you. Great word) Smiler has on his list, his continence, or lack thereof, is one that seems to be more so much more of an issue for others than it is for him, or for us for that matter. This is a concept that I plan to come back to soon, but for now, for anyone who made it this far, (congratulations!) have a think about the language you use . . . or don't use. Tell me where you stand (but be sure to check where you're planting your feet), or use the comments box to shout poo with pride! Go on, pretty please . . . break the poo taboo!