By Indie Dad

The story so far:
After their mum moved out, my two sons, Alex and Danny, decided we needed some house rules. They were aged nine and seven at the time, and felt a powerful need to impose some order on the world. I had expected them to come up with five or six rules but they returned with a lengthy list, consisting of 32 rules…

Rule 25 – ‘We don’t break Zonkey and Boxer Puppy’
There are rules on the list which were important to Alex and Danny, but would appear incomprehensible to anyone else. One of these is rule 25 – ‘We don’t break Zonkey and Boxer Puppy’.

Zonkey was Alex’s cuddly toy: a blue and white striped half zebra, half donkey. Hence – Zonkey. Alex has now grown up into an impressively articulate and sociable young man, but as a boy on the autistic spectrum he found it hard to make friends. One of the hardest aspects of being his dad was seeing him walking round and round the edge of the school playground talking to himself, because he had no-one to play with. And because he was the weird kid who talked to himself, it became even harder for him to find anyone else to play with. He would come home and talk to Zonkey and I, in a strange, high-pitched voice I considered appropriate for a half-zebra, half-donkey, would talk back. One time I remember Alex telling me that, while he liked me doing Zonkey’s voice, he preferred it when his mum did it. Again her absence loomed large, probably until we restored our peculiar version of normality by watching Madness, Batman or The Simpsons.

For a long time Danny didn’t have his own equivalent of Zonkey, and on occasions he would try and grab Zonkey for himself. This ran the risk of Zonkey literally being torn apart in what a tabloid headline writer might describe as a ‘tug of love’ battle between Alex and Danny. For Alex, this would have been a disaster, the thing he loved most in the world literally being broken in two. It was a situation that even a laissez-faire parent such as myself recognised needed addressing.

It was addressed in two ways. One was the arrival of Boxer Puppy, who came through the post with an adoption certificate, setting out Danny’s responsibilities to look after him. To be brutally honest, Boxer Puppy had bulging bug eyes and looked a bit freaky. But that didn’t matter to Danny, because he now had something to love in the way that Alex loved Zonkey.

The second was rule 25, which reinforced the importance of Zonkey and Boxer Puppy, and the agreement between the boys that they wouldn’t fight over them. And it worked – after the bedtime Madness videos Alex curled up with Zonkey and Danny curled up with Boxer Puppy and, most of the time, they both slept soundly.

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