Sam is not very happy about being 14. Well, when I mean unhappy, I don’t mean his is dischuffed with everything about it (not in the way I was, it must be said; I was one of the lead princesses of teenaged anxt, mostly the self-obsessed kind, after I got over worrying about The Bomb going off while I was at school, unable to bridge the nine-mile gap between there and home), no. He’s positively in love with some of it. He takes great delight in his deepening voice (it took me a while to realise it had happened and that he was experimenting in some kind of ‘how low can I go’ fashion, and then I instantly regretted not recording his little boy piping tones), the arrival of hair in new places has him vociferously declaring his oncoming manhood with great joy and equal amazement. No, what Sam doesn’t like is spots.
It reminds me a bit of when he had chicken pox when he was seven. Oh no, the doctor reassured me, as we were about to set sail for a camping holiday on the Isle of Wight, he’s over the worst. He won’t get any spottier. Go on your holiday and enjoy yourselves. How wrong could she have been? Not only did he get poorlier and more and more irritable, but he got spots upon his spots. There was hardly a patch of skin upon which there wasn’t some sort of pustule. When he caught sight of himself in a mirror or a shop window, he cried.
He is rather in love with his image, it has to be said. Not his photograph, no, he does far too much gurning or sticking his tongue out in cheeky fashion and just the right/wrong moment, depending on your perspective, for that. What Sam really loves is his reflection. He’s always loved it, even from when he was tiny. One of the first toys I ever bought him was a plastic mirror. It sat within a Velcro frame, attached to a squashy triangular wedge and I used to place him on his tummy and watch while he pushed himself up on his little arms and cooed a self-absorbed conversation.
When he was older, and before I had two babies to juggle, I used to take him shopping, and park the buggy in front of the biggest mirror I could find while I rummaged around and looked for clothes that a) might fit, and b) didn’t look too hideous on. These days, one of the reasons he chose to colonise the spare room, abandoning his little brother to a lonely occupation of the bunk bed, is the large sliding mirrored wardrobe doors, into which he performs, ‘singing’ along to his various CDs.
But the spots. Unlike the appearance of facial hair (his first shave, a couple of weeks ago, accompanied by R’s, and later my impressions of How to Shave a Top Lip – ignored), the arrival of spots has not been a cause for celebration. Instead, each fresh crop (they seem to come in waves, do they always come in waves?) brings a call for reassurance that he is not, in fact, coming down with another bad case of chicken pox, and a sucking of the teeth to indicate the ouchiness. He is not impressed.
Of course, he is not helped by the fact that he objects to washing of the soap and hot water variety. He doesn’t like to wash his hands, along with his hatred of the cutting of the fingernails, and he certainly objects most strenuously to the washing of the hair with shampoo. He makes an almighty fuss and moan about the whole shebang before eventually giving in and dodging the drops for as short a time as possible. I bought him a pack of medicated facial wipe things from the chemist, in an attempt to minimise the offending pimples, but, to be frank with you, the shower option is much better, in all sorts of ways, so with it, we do persist.
I do not claim that it is an easy thing to do, to insist upon a certain level of personal hygiene. Sam is not one of those compliant, biddable children who do as they’re told, no questions asked, and neither is he small enough to pick him up and dunk him in the bath, regardless of his wishes. His will, these days, is not to be overridden lightly. His cooperation must be engaged, for all sorts of reasons, not least cleanliness.
I know it’s the long way round. I know that’s it’s a faff to keep having to go over the same old same old, to keep reading that leaflet about smelly bits and washing bits. But if we don’t, if we cave in, give in, allow him to take the lead upon a matter about which he knows so little, for the sake of a quiet life, in the long run, we’re not doing him any favours.
The kid has Down’s syndrome. He doesn’t need to be spotty and smelly as well.