Friday, September 4, 2009


We’ve decided not to treat Silas any differently, despite his diagnosis of developmental delay. We’re still stacking blocks, reading stories, and playing his favorite opera arias on the laptop. Why, just yesterday, we spilled a little gasoline on him, and everyone had a good laugh. And in honor of the doctor’s psychic diagnosis, in which he looked into the future and announced our son would have an IQ of 50, we’ve given Silas a new nickname. We now call him “Fitty.” Unless he does something particularly clever, in which case we call him “Fitty-two.”

But despite our iron-willed determination to be of good cheer, life on a boat with a baby is still an adjustment. Sometimes, Silas howls in frustration, the screams resounding through our tiny living space, and I wish I could tear off my clothes, swim to shore, and go roam with the sheep in the meadows. Their lives seem so simple: Eat grass. Poo. Occasionally get a haircut, and look like an asshole for awhile so someone else can wear a sweater.

It’s at trying times such as these that the New Zealand anti-smacking law can seem so restrictive. You’re not allowed to smack your child in New Zealand, even when he’s behaving badly and you haven’t even had your first cup of coffee. On the other hand, they don’t say anything about gaffing him like a tuna. That’s a relief, because Silas hooked himself on a shock cord yesterday, screaming and thrashing until Peter released him like a large, pink game fish.

Naturally, I asked what happened. “Why was the baby chewing on a hook attached to an industrial-strength piece of elastic?” I wanted to know, blotting the gore from his cheeks. Silas’ screams had subsided by this time, and he was reduced to a series of pitiful sobs.

“It felt good on his gums,” Peter replied, as though this made sense. “I never would have thought he’d hook his cheek with it. I didn’t know it could be so dangerous.”

But it turns out that a hook is not a suitable toy for a baby. And neither is a bucket of gasoline. We know this because after his encounter with the shock cord, Silas crawled over to the open container of dirty gas that Peter had drained out of our outboard engine, and spilled the contents over his hands and legs.

I heard a commotion in the cockpit, and looked up from the bread I was kneading in the galley.

“One minute!” Peter protested, handing me a flammable baby. “I turned my back for ONE MINUTE, and he found the gasoline!”

I grabbed the baby’s hands in a wet washcloth, scrubbing the poison from his fingers before he stuffed them in his mouth. “You can’t have an open container of gas in the cockpit,” I explained, through gritted teeth. “It’s not safe.”

“That’s boat life!” Peter argued. “Everything can’t always be safe all the time!”

I tactfully suggested that while everything couldn’t always be safe, it might perhaps be more safe without easily accessible explosives on board. But Peter wasn’t ready to agree. Instead, he stormed up on deck, where he spent the afternoon scrubbing the cockpit eight hundred times so it wouldn’t reek of poisonous solvents.

It occurs to me, in retrospect, that Peter might have been frightened and upset that he nearly blew up our retarded baby. I suppose this is understandable. After all, we’re still getting used to life on the boat.

What is not understandable, on the other hand, is the fact that I now have to piss in a bucket. AGAIN.

The moment of reckoning came last night, at the end of a difficult and trying day of boat life. After gaffing our child and dousing him with gasoline, Peter felt drained, and decided to take a shower. (The word “shower,” it should be noted, is here used euphemistically. What we actually do is pour a kettle of hot water over our heads and hope most of the lice fall off.)

Silas had long ago gone to sleep, which was a wise move, under the circumstances. I was enjoying a cup of tea in the quarterberth, relishing a few quiet moments at the end of a hard day. I heard a pumping noise from the head, and thought nothing of it.

And then, the pumping stopped. I heard a low, mirthless laughter. And all of a sudden, I knew.

“The head broke, didn’t it?” I asked.

Peter couldn’t even talk. He was laughing too hard. It was the dry, hollow laughter of a political dissident on his way to the gulag. It was the laughter of a man who knows he is condemned.

“I don’t fucking believe it,” he chuckled. “The head broke. With a big, steaming shit in it.”

So, instead of taking a warm and restful shower, Peter snapped on a pair of latex gloves. He busied himself with pulling fresh turds out of the broken toilet, collecting them in a bucket to throw over the side.

“I have to pee,” I announced. “When can you fix it?”

Wordlessly, Peter handed me the bucket. And then he went to bed.

On my good days, I think of this as a character-building exercise. Unlike those coddled kids on land, with their decadent refrigerators and indoor plumbing, our Silas will grow up with true inner steel. When he’s old and grey, he can tell his grandkids how easy they have it. “When I was a youngster,” he’ll cackle, “my parents gave away my toys. All I had was a shock cord and a jug of gas to play with. Toilet? HA! We barely had a pot to piss in. Had to carry the turds on deck, and hope we didn’t splash the laptop on the way up.”

And then his grandkids will roll their eyes. “Oh, Fitty,” they’ll say. “You’re so crazy!”

Things do get better. Silas’ cheek is healing up real nice, and he hardly smells like gasoline at all now. And Peter doesn’t smoke any more, which significantly lowers the risk of exploding babies. We’re anchored in Parua Bay, which is one of the most beautiful and exclusive areas of Whangarei. Our boat is surrounded by jagged Polynesian cliffs, with luxurious homes overlooking the water.

And wealthy people are so understanding. I’m sure they won’t mind the boat bums, tossing buckets of hobgoblins into their bay. As long as we don’t smack the child, everyone should get along just fine.


  1. I've been reading your blogs from the beginning. That entry has to go into the Sereia Parthenon of Funny Shit as the best ever (sorry, Manuk). You're quite the word smithy.

    I have a 5 year old daughter with special needs. A battery of doctors have not been able to conclusively slap a label on her (which might be a good thing), but she definately has issues that we're doing our best to address. Aside from a brief moment of weakness when we transferred her pre-paid college tuition into a pre-paid nail technician/beautician academy, we do our best to have the same wants, desires and expectations of her as we do our other heathens. On some nights, when it's hard to get to sleep worrying about her future, I comfort myself with a fantasy of all of us sitting around the table on the night before her graduation from college and laughing hysterically when we confide to her that we thought she was retarded until she was eight years old. Hopefully the fantasy will be real, but if not, we'll love her just the same. I'll adjust my fantasy to include that she's also dating a rakish and ruggedly handsome med school student who was raised by itenerant hippies on a floating kaleidascope in the South Pacific. It can't hurt.

    Even before having children, I always liked the end of "Raising Arizona," where H.I. says:

    "But still I hadn't dreamt nothing about me and Ed until the end. And this was cloudier cause it was years, years away. But I saw an old couple being visited by their children, and all their grandchildren too. The old couple weren't screwed up. And neither were their kids or their grandkids. And I don't know. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality like I know I'm liable to do? But me and Ed, we can be good too. And it seemed real. It seemed like us and it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away. Where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all children are happy and beloved. I don't know. Maybe it was Utah."

    Here's to strong, wise and capable parents and happy and beloved children.

    Take care,

  2. When you need a good laugh, slap on your ear protectors and surf to:

    Don't worry, it's not a porn site.

    George and Kerri

  3. LOL! I have to agree with John. Good stuff here. Fitty-two needs to stop that cause and effect smiling. He's giving that doc (my husband was wondering if he was indeed a vet instead of a ped doc....hence his assessment of no self awareness etc.) a bad name.

    And no rum??? Never run out of rum.

  4. You're writing rock! Love reading this blog and can't wait for the book. Hang in least you can have a laugh when things get tough.

  5. Looking at the first photo in you post, I see you haven't lost your sense of style despite all issues.

    Fitty's outfit fits in with the boat colors.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. So... I was talking to a good friend who's son is autistic, and mentioned your last post. Her immediate response was "that doc was full of shit. He's using diagnostic techniques and information that's at least 30 years out of date." We talked about it in some more detail, and I asked her to talk to her doc about the relative differences.

    The short answer is, New Zealand might as well be Victorian England for diagnosis and treatment of Autism, and really for any developmental issues along that spectrum. It's a wonderful country, beautiful and modern in most aspects, but in this one area they lag behind. The state of the art, best in the world centers for treatment are here in the Pacific Northwest on both sides of the US/Canada border - primarily Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland. The doctors and specialists here form a continuous network with parents and educators, and other specialists from around the world come here to catch up on their work.

    So, one, don't panic. This isn't cancer. It isn't Downs. It *might* be autism, or it might be aspergers, or it might be a number of things. It might be "correctable", it might not be. Keep doing what you're doing, and seriously consider making a trip to the US for a real diagnosis and work out a treatment plan.

  7. I can tell you want a drink girl ...You ain't gotta worry no more...You keep my bottles cold, and you pop 'em ...As soon as I walk in the door ...These dudes don't know me from Adam a...That's why they can't mess up my flow ...You feel it from your h...If you know what I'm talki...Let me see you work it out ...You're talking to one o...Just letting you know ... is it really cocky if you know that it's true...If you know what I'm talki...Let me see you work it out ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Now let me see you walk, walk, yeah ...Let me see you walk ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Walk that body, talk that body ...Walk that body

  8. OK, the dude posting above me scares me just a wee bit.

    A in Mpls

  9. So instead of just looking at the pictures of the leecloth in this post, I actually read it. Tears are pouring down my cheeks. I read it out loud to my husband and cried again from the sheer joy of finally reading someone else who had experienced similar life adventures of ours. Thank you!

    Charlotte on s/v Rebelheart