This morning it is homework time. Cue the same weekly argument in different words. Like Groundhog Day, with knobs on. My daughter is already yelling at me and rolling her eyes at my stupidity in Not Getting that she shouldn't have to do it. (Imperial Free Pass? Divine Right?) As her aggression and agitation grows, I feel like doing a Captain Oates - walking out into the snow and never coming back. Or at least not until I can find Punxsutawney Phil to release us from this unrelieved cycle of torment and signal a change in the season.
Parents of other autistic children have told me to give up on Grace's homework on the grounds that it's not worth the stress and distress. On Sunday mornings my daughter now wakes growling and fully-charged, prepared for the weekly torment. There are no preliminary skirmishes any more: she flies at me a shrieking, railing Fury.
I wonder whether her increasing, dismaying, mind-blowingly frustrating recalcitrance is because my clever girl is onto me, and the system. She knows that there is an 'out' under the arrangement that now provides a statement of educational needs for her. She knows that there is an acknowledgement of her areas of difficulty. I wonder whether she is seeking to redraw the terms of our deal - in which I bow out, and shut it all down when it gets too much - in her constant quest for control. I am so frightened that as she grows up, butting more and more against an educational system and social environment that accentuate her differences as the years pass, she is seeking to escape rather than engage.
More and more of my requests these days, whether they relate to homework or not, seem intolerable to her. Increasingly, she finds it hard just to say 'Yes.' Increasingly, she rejects expectations and demands. "I find it really hard to say 'yes' to things I don't want to do, Mummy," she tells me. "It makes me feel all fizzy and sick inside."
So today I ask myself again: why am I still doing this? Why don't I just stop? Grace doesn't understand homework because she doesn't understand working at something to get a better understanding. In her world, you either get something or you don't. She sees her step-brothers bend to their schoolwork and believes they have an innate ability to answer questions on maths and science that she lacks. She thinks I can speak French because I was born to be able to do it. She thinks her father is good at maths for the same reason.
I want her to learn. But more importantly, I want her to learn how to learn. I do not think, yet, that this is beyond her. I'm not ready to give up on my daughter yet. She is capable of doing most of the homework she is set. Even the bits she finds hard, even the bits she boggles over, we can usually address to some extent. I don't want to send her the message that she's incapable, or so different that it's not worth trying any more.
Outside, it's still snowing. It makes me think of the permanent winter of Narnia imposed on the inhabitants of that land by the evil White Witch. It makes me think of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of The Snow Queen - which terrified me when I was little - about the boy with the splinter in his eye who is stolen away into a never-changing land of frost and ice from which he can never return.
In the end, I have to give up on the homework for today. The shouting and the distress made it simply ridiculous to continue. Now Grace is in my arms crying. This noise too is immense. As I hold her and kiss her and shush her I wonder how long Grace and I are to spend in this endless pattern. I look outside at winter. I want to walk out into it until it muffles the shrieking. I want to walk out into it until it blocks my ears and eyes, and all I can hear is silence.
Most of all, though, I don't want it to be winter any more. I just want it to be spring.