Carrie is six years old. She is sitting at the dinner table with her family. She looks down at her Brussels sprout with absolute loathing. She isn’t going to eat it unless it’s forced down her throat.
She gazes around at her family members who are all in conversation. Mum is in an animated discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, fork in mouth, while he watches Sally do her job as principal on Home and Away. Her two brothers, Aden and Finlay, are discussing something loudly and obviously not agreeing. She looks at her brothers and uses the universal sign for “What’s up?” Palms facing upwards, elbows bent and a shrug of the shoulders. Finlay, with over-exaggerated lip movements, replies, “Tell you later,” while clumsily signing, “Tell you over”.
Carrie sighs and toys with the idea of trying to find out what the others are talking about. In the end she decides not to. She knows that the response from other family members will be the same as Finlay’s “tell you later.” She looks back down at her Brussels sprout. It suddenly becomes more appealing.
Carrie’s mother, Katie, watches her out of the corner of her eye. Like most mothers she can sense when something is not quite right with her children. She knows that Carrie is often isolated within the family at times like this when they are all chatting avidly. She is at loss as to what to do.
The family lives in a rural area. Services are few and far between. Just that day Katie had been in a meeting with her daughter’s school. She was trying to find some money to pay someone to teach her family Auslan. Katie felt that this, at least in part, would help make the family more inclusive for Carrie. She was handballed from one organisation to another and no-one seemed to want to take any responsibility. The family had learnt some rudimentary signs from a book and CD-Rom and Carrie had taken to signing like a fish to water.
She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.
Dinner over, the family retreats into the lounge room. Usually Carrie will sit on her father’s lap. She just likes his man smell and rough beard. The two of them cannot really communicate well. Bob, the dad, is impossible to lip-read and cannot find time in the day from work to learn to sign. This night Carrie does not sit on Bob’s lap. She finds a doll and sits on her own near the heater. She thinks of her day at school. She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.
Carrie is mainstreamed into the local school. She communicates as best she can with her FM system. She has no support apart from her visiting teacher who comes every fortnight to offer advice to her teachers and 45 minutes of learning support to her. This morning she had been in class. The teacher had been reading a book. Carrie did not understand a lot of it but she loved the pictures. The story, this morning, involved an animal, or rather a hybrid of animals. The teacher showed a picture that was part wombat, part crocodile and part kangaroo. A Womcrocroo, the teacher had said it was.
Carrie understood none of this but she loved the picture. As soon as the teacher showed it to the class Carrie was on her feet pointing animatedly. She wanted to know what it was. The teacher told Carrie to sit down and that she would explain it to her later. Carrie was disappointed. She felt humiliated, frustrated and angry all at the same time. She let out a little scream of frustration. The teacher made her sit outside.
This memory is vivid in Carrie’s mind as she plays with her doll by the heater. She adds Ted and a few of her brothers’ Power Ranger toys to her play. The doll is the teacher and in Carrie’s perfect world everyone in the class can communicate. She asks and answers questions and she is an active member of her fantasy class. She smiles for the first time that day. In the background she catches a glimpse of her mother in deep discussion with her father. Her mother is crying again.
She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money.
Bob does not know what to do. He rarely has time to attend appointments about Carrie’s needs. The appointments are always in the day and the responsibility for them falls almost solely to his wife. She works part-time and he works long hours. His wife is crying. She is telling him about her latest appointment. She wants support to get the family communicating with Carrie.
She is frustrated at having to constantly justify herself to the people that have the money for support. She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money. She speaks of Auslan, isolation and language acquisition.
Half of this Bob does not really understand. Instead he listens and lets her vent. He wishes that there was more that he could do. He bemoans the fact that family support is so bloody family unfriendly. Why can’t they offer support at a time when all the family can take part? The appointments to meet support people are usually at 10 in the morning. At this time he is at work and the kids are at school. Pointless, really!
Carrie watches her mum cry. Although she does not know what her parents are talking about she knows they are talking about her. She has no words for how this makes her feel, but she feels anxious and worried. She does not quite understand why she has upset her mother so.
Her two brothers and her sister listen to their mother and father discussing Carrie AGAIN! They are resentful in some ways. Carrie always appears to be the centre of attention. They sometimes wonder if they exist at all. Carrie goes to bed. It has not been a good day at all.
It’s morning. The family are sitting at the breakfast table. Carrie’s mother is in deep discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, spoon in mouth and admiring the attractiveness of Mel on Sunrise . Aden and Finlay are discussing something loudly and still not agreeing. For Carrie the whole scene is strangely familiar. She looks at her doll sitting on the table and wonders what the day has in store for her …..