AWAKE IS THE NEW SLEEP – Melinda Hildebrandt

Another brilliant piece from a GUNNAS WRITING MASTERCLASS writer.

IT’S DAWN, barely a trace of sunshine coming through the windows, and already I can hear her crashing around in her room. The Kraken, also known as my six-year-old daughter Amelia, has awoken.

I know this because I can hear her clumsy, elephant-like footfalls pounding into the floorboards. Amelia is awake and the whole world must know it.

It would be churlish to complain because she is deaf and so has no earthly idea how loud she is, as she noisily gathers her numerous comfort items from the bed for transportation into the lounge room.

This is the routine for her, everyday, this girl who hears little of note without hearing aids and is well and truly on the autism spectrum.

Amelia uses various collective nouns to describe these important items. They are ‘her things’, or sometimes, ‘her stuff’.

“Where is my stuff Mummy? I need my THINGS”.

I know where her stuff is because it is never far from her side. She burrows these objects into her bed covers at night and I have to creep in after lights out to extract pencils from her hair and uncurl sweaty fingers from straws, tape, glue-sticks. The lot.

For a young child with autism, these things have a meaning beyond our reach. But what we know for sure it that they are vital this little magpie’s sense of security, her sense of self.

And so, each morning, these curious ‘things’ are dragged from her room and deposited next to her on the couch. Amelia is ready at 5am, or 6 if we’re lucky, to start her day.

It’s then that I feel her presence in the doorway to our room. She hovers there uncertainly, watching for movement, for signs of waking life.

I resist for a minute but I can’t help but lift my weary arm to offer her a little wave – words cannot travel the distance to my beautiful deaf child but one gesture can show her the way is clear for to approach.

And with this green light Amelia runs to my bedside, full pelt, to grasp my hand and throw her body across mine.

It’s my favourite time of day, the part when our bodies are so close and her face turns to my cheek to plant big, passionate smooches there. If I’m lucky, she might reach up to stroke my face with her hand.

Her sometimes-rough hands become gentle in the morning light.

I am barely awake but the smell of her, the feel of her, is everything to me in that moment.

Amelia is up and now so am I, and no matter what the hour, no matter how sleepless the night, and no matter how many ‘things’ I’ll be carting around for the rest of the day, in this moment my heart is bursting with happiness.

Dr Melinda Hildebrandt is a former film researcher and writer with a PhD in English. She writes about being the proud mother of Amelia who is deaf and autistic on her blog Moderate Severe Profound Quirky. You can find her on Twitter as @DrMel76.

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