The day has come

31 July 2016. My first gray hair.

The day has come.

Random thoughts on a Sunday

If you had ever come across a spiral-shaped fossil like that...

Image from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palaeocastor

...what would you have thought of it?

Turns out, for a long time even palaeontologists were puzzled by this weird "corckscrew" of a fossil, but by now we have fortunately learned that this spiral used to be a burrow dug by a prehistoric beaver (!) which had filled with silt and sand, hardenening over time,  and when the lake that used to be there drained and the surrounding soil eroded, that's what was left behind. There's an article about it on BBC.

And it's pretty cool, eh?

***

Being ill whilst there's a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old in the house means laying down on the floor and almost immediately having one child stroking my head gently and the other one climbing on me vigorously and piling plastic toy animals on my chest. No such thing as quiet time unless they're asleep or out.


***

Today we will take off The Kid's leg cast (hopefully!) for the last time this year, and I am looking forward to that. (No more cast shoes! No more special pants! As much swimming and showers as we want! No more late night Paracetamol doses!)


After seven weeks of casting his ankle is at a much better position than it used to be and now we will slowly build up muscle strength which has diminished due to casting, which basically means... doing the things we've been doing anyway: going to parks, swimming, attending Tumbletimes sessions, and preschool.

And I am looking forward to that!

And it would be appropriate to acknowledge my friends who have helped (a lot!) to make hospital visits manageable - by taking care of my daughter whilst me and The Kid have been on weekly hospital visits. Treena and Molly, you have made it so, so, so much easier, guys! Thank you!

***

Recently some researchers discovered that Samoans have a high incidence of a certain gene that makes the body more efficient at storing fat. I cannot remember the exact percentages, but it was something like 45% of Samoans carrying the gene versus only 14% in other parts of the world? Something like that.

(And if you lived in a country where there is a sizable population of Samoans (in New Zealand, for example), you'd probably nod along and go, "A ha....")

It is arguable why exactly that is, but one idea is that back when Polynesians crossed long stretches of ocean, having that gene made them more likely to survive the journey without starving to death, and therefore populating the islands with people who, right from the beginning, were very likely to be carriers of that gene.

But now, in an age of plentiful food, it's a little different.

***

I have several workmates that are Samoan and I have been surprised by the apparent lack of fiber they have in their lunches - I'd like to say "diets", but I don't actually know what they have for breakfast and dinner, so I'll say "lunches" instead. And I do understand that it's a complex issue.

A former colleague of mine put it very well when she said that she hasn't got a problem with various health agencies promoting healthy eating and she's all for healthy food, especially when it comes to her children... but! Those health agencies need to acknowledge that feeding kids fruit and veggies is more expensive than feeding them a bucket of chicken nuggets from KFC.

And I laughed at the way she put it - but it's true.

That same colleague then said that she gets very pissed off when someone says to her that she could "save money" by eating healthy, because - if you compare the price of fruit and veggies to low-price, high-carb, low nutritional value food that someone who is truly strapped for cash may buy simply because they have not got the money to buy better, then - no, they could not "save money" buy doing so, and she takes offense to people who think that low socio-economic groups eat junk food because they're dumb.

Which is why I feel kind of sad when I see what my Samoan workmates eat for lunch. I tell myself to not feel sad - or worse, pity - but... it's hard not to. Because if someone is consistent at eating 2-minute noodles for lunch and white bread + Vegemite for morning tea - whilst I have a fairly good idea of how much, sorry, little! they earn - then no, it's hard not to feel sad, or pity.

And it was just the other day when The Man looked at the amount of fruit my kids demolished after lunch that he said, "Man, I'm glad we have enough money to keep buying them all this nice food."

And I could not agree more.

PS. To those of you that are yet to have children - you may (or may not) remember your own parents making similar comments when you were little, but... man!, children can eat a lot of food. And so be prepared to be buying it when you have children one day.

A lot of it.

***

As the sun moves around our house, so does The Dog. She seeks out the patches of sunlight that are the biggest and, once content that she has found "the one", she sprawls out across the floor to sleep the patch away.


Once she awakes and finds that the patch of sunlight has moved, so does she.

On genetics and disabilities

This morning I met with several parents whose children have a variety of special needs, some visible, others less so. We had an informal "coffee morning" and I was surprised at how touched I was by their stories.

First off, there was a young boy called Parker* (not his real name, of course) who from the moment he entered the building, barreled through rooms like a powerhouse of no limits and had quickly identified all movable pieces of furniture, had found where whiteboard markers were kept and had tried out all the toys, though it was only the model planes that kept him interested for any longer than a dozen seconds at a time. His mom, Linda*, looked to me like a bit of a sheep-herder, using her body to block off various doorways from which Parker could escape, picking him down from tabletops and chairs stacked in a corner, and all the while managing to hold down a conversation.

Parker, I recognised very quickly (and turns out, correctly), had autism.

There was also a little girl called Peggy* (also, not her real name) whose fingers were fused very similar to how my dad's fingers had been, and she'd recently undergone surgery to alter them, so she had bandages around her hands (though it didn't look to be stopping her from doing anything).

There were also others.

As I sat down with them, holding in my hands a cup of hot drink, within minutes I found myself teary-eyed.

Parker's mom told us how she had attended a preschoolers' gymnastics class with Parker (incidentally, the very same Tumbletimes that me and my kids go to) and for some reason their fire exit doors - which by legal definition, should be kept closed at all times and say so in writing on both sides, too - had been left open. To Parker, those wide-open doors had been like an invitation for an escape (which he did, too, time and time again) and after getting tired of having to keep retrieving him from the hallway, Linda had gone up to the session trainer asking the doors to be closed. But instead of closing the doors, the  trainer had got upset and started crying, some other adults started calling Linda "a b*tch" and her son "a spoilt brat", and the centre management upon hearing the story had attempted to trespass them both so they wouldn't be able to attend Tumbletimes any longer.

And I listened to that and thought... Trespassing them for asking the fire doors to be closed? And I do understand that the trespassing was probably not for asking about the fire doors, but about the way she had asked about the fire doors (prompting the trainer to get upset and start crying) - but still. 1) The mother had been in a challenging situation partially because of the centre's leaving the doors wide open, and 2) trespassing them would've been a tad harsh of a decision to make anyway.

(Or another situation a few weeks earlier, at the same sports centre, where the maintenance team had left a scissorlift and containers full of cleaning solutions in the hall where Tumbletimes - a toddler-oriented gymnastics class - was held and the mother then struggled to keep Parker off the scissorlift and away from cleaning liquids.) (Incidentally, I had been at the very same session with my kids, too, and I remember the scissorlift and the cleaning solutions well. I had thought to myself how silly it was to have that stuff there whilst there were 50-odd toddlers nearby, but fortunately both of my kids were well-behaved that day and I didn't end up getting in trouble - but Parker's mom did.)

Then there was Peggy's mother. She recently had a case where some of her relatives had accused her of Peggy's arms and legs being deformed, and though I am not aware of why exactly Peggy's fingers are fused and her legs misshapen, in her story I recognised what might've been a part of my father's upbringing in the 50's and 60's Soviet Estonia.

***

As an adult, my father often carried his right, disfigured hand in his pocket or hid it away behind his back, and it wasn't until I was 8 that I remember the first time actively recognising that, huh, my dad's hand is different. Until then it had just been "my dad's hand" which I took as a given and without much thought to how other people's hands are, but at 8 I had become old enough to have started to categorise and label.


I have now sometimes wondered about the kind of a childhood my father had had. Had he been teased? And because I'm fairly certain he'd had... how? How often? By whom?

How had he felt about it? How had he learned to cope with it? Had he ever "blamed" his mother for it? Had anyone else blamed his mother - my grandmother - for it?

***

The thing that now makes me so emotional when coming across stories like Parker's and Peggy's is that it interlinks into my own life experience and into stories of people I know and care about, and so by definition, makes me more emphatic towards them.

With Parker, though he is by far more of a powerhouse than I think I ever was - seeing him barrel across a room made me remember the stories of what I'd been like as a child, and it touched on some very sensitive memories. Looking at how challenging it must be for adults to care for him - how personally challenging it must be for anyone to be around anyone that driven, and that determined - it made me remember the many times I, as a child, was told by various adults that I was a naughty, bad-meaning child, and how it's only recently that I have started to revisit this topic in my head.

The thing is, recently I was reading an article by a mother whose children have all been diagnosed with an ADHD and as I was pouring over her words, the thing I was thinking the most was, actually, that it sounds like what I used to be as a kid.

And I know that I am inherently doomed to fail in trying to give myself an assessment like that, given that at 31 I have no way to actually see myself at 4 and try to make a judgement; all I have instead are stories that have been told over and over again at dinner tables and family gathering of "the things Maria used to do", the sort of stuff where now all anyone does is laugh and pat my mother on her shoulder for having survived bringing up a child like that.

But it doesn't change the fact that as I was reading that article, I was thinking, man, that's me.

Even the little things. There was a list of "coping strategies" for people with ADHD and as I read over it, I nodded along to about 70% of them, recognising that - however unknowingly - I do a lot of the stuff people with ADHD do when they are looking for ways of making their life more manageable.

And it has made me think. Did (or do) I have ADHD?

Because in the end, it doesn't really matter. ADHD, just like autism, is just a label people now give to kids who are often more challenging in their behaviour than what's known as a "neurotypical" kids, and instead of going into a long description of "child x does y" every time someone is describing someone else, people have come up with kind of umbrella-terms to say the same thing shorter.

And even if I did (or do) have ADHD, it would just describe what I'm like - and what I'm like is something I have already been for over 31 years, and won't be budged by a description.

But it doesn't take away from the fact that as someone describes Parker as "a spoilt brat" and his mother "a b*tch" - and there will probably be hundreds of comments like that as Parker gets older - it fails to recognise that although Parker's behaviour can be very challenging, there isn't a malicious intent to it.

Just like Parker doesn't try to be bad - although some people will probably say so, if not now then in the future - I wasn't trying to be bad when I was a kid either.

When my grandpa saw me climbing on a roof of a woodshed, I wasn't trying to be bad - I was just looking for things to do that were interesting to me. When my grandmother said I had to find stuff to do in their garden and I smashed one of the glass panes of her greenhouse whilst kicking a ball over a flowerbed - I was just trying to find ways of doing something stimulating in an environment that, to me, otherwise wasn't very. How many times did I hear adults in my life say to stop doing this, and stop doing that, without giving me an alternative? Even back then I remember thinking, man, you should give me something ELSE to do because I cannot actually just stop and do nothing. 

And so like Parker, who at 3 years old can memorise a keycode that he sees someone using on a secured door (hah, good luck keeping him from opening that door once he gets tall enough to actually touch the buttons!), labelling him "bad" doesn't actually help the situation and neither does trespassing him from a preschool-aged gymnastics class. What is needed instead is understanding of what drives him, and then working with that and finding ways of giving him something to do whilst making it manageable for people around him.

The guidance councillor at the meeting said that with his daughter, who is in a wheelchair and therefore very visibly disabled, it is much easier because people understand and provide for that, whereas with someone like Parker who, physically, looks like an impressively strong 3-year-old, asking for understanding is so much harder when the drivers behind what makes him, in some ways, also "disabled" or how they say now, "with special needs", are still very similar to what makes a girl in a wheelchair require a different approach.

And it's our genetics. All of us, when we were conceived, had a "dice rolled on us", and the same processes that have now been behind evolution for millions of years - genetic diversity and the natural selection of organisms who are better suited to the environment reproducing at a higher rate than others - the same mechanisms are behind some of us having multiple sclerosis, Graves' disease and the thousands of other things that we recognise as diseases and disabilities.

Luck.

The natural diversity of genetic mutations, some of them pleasant, others less so.

Both a girl in a wheelchair and a boy who barrels through a building, had "dice rolled on them" when they were conceived, and these are just different variations of the genetics they got left with. Or people with no discernible disabilities whatsoever - same thing. It's been luck.

And there's more brewing in my head, but I cannot write any more because I am tired. Tired, tired, tired.

Tired

I just wrote a long post explaining why I'm tired, but then I felt too tired to actually finish it, so I deleted the whole thing and will just say that, yeah, I'm tired.

#please-please-please-can-you-please-sleep-past-5-am-tomorrow-please
#one-more-week-of-casting-and-we-will-be-done-done!
#is-it-naptime-yet?

Elegant moments of parenting

It's funny. The Man can happily watch movies where vampires roam, and secret poison infected men turn into flying superheroes... but when he watches Lotte Reis Lõunamaale with our kids, he makes a comment about it being unrealistic for it to be snowing inside a greenhouse.

***

I know! The reason kids like to jump on the bed straight after eating is because they think it's fun to watch their parents clean vomit off bedsheets, and then put new bedding on. New bedding! Nice!

There is a lot of joy to having kids, but cleaning various kinds of bodily fluids off various surfaces is not one of them.

And who knew that it's possible to go for a wee in the toilet, but miss the toilet bowl entirely?


One minute

So, just out of curiosity: for how many more years will I have to go to the toilet and repeat loudly to the person demanding, "Moooooooooooom!" on the other side of the door that, listen, I just need one minute and would they please leave me alone, I will be out soon.

Not in medical school

A friend said recently that I probably know more about catamenial epilepsy than my neurologist. I, personally, wouldn't put it that far, but... I do know a fair bit. And probably a little more than I would like, actually.

And then today when a nurse from the medical centre called and I explained to The Man what having high cholesterol means and what I need to research about it, he said, "Why are you becoming a surveyor? You need to be in medical school!"

Yeah, if you looked at my internet history, maybe I should be.

But I'm not. I just know a fair bit about various medical things because I effin' have them, or my kids have them.

It's been a long week.

The tide is turning

Christchurch earthquake rebuild has reached its peak. From now onwards, it's downhill.

Rebuild workers have started to leave the city. Painters and decorators have struggled for work for over a year now, but now it's residential rebuilders turn. Most houses have either been repaired or rebuilt, or the ones that haven't yet, they are the very difficult ones - houses on steep hillsides, with various structural or consenting issues, the ones that still haven't settled with their insurers etc.

Most of the rebuild is now in the commercial space: the big, multi-storey buildings in the centre of town where shops and offices and public spaces are. The new hospital. Over the next few years those buildings will be completed and then once those are done, that's it.

The city will have to get used to the new reality of post-rebuild. On one hand Christchurch will have many new exciting buildings, ventures and organisations, but on the other hand it will have thousands (and thousands. And thousands!) of rebuild workers (and their families) that will leave the city. Already the rent prices have started to drop across town - people just aren't there to fight for all the rentals. Now it's the tenants that get to have their best pick, rather than landlords being able to rent out their houses in an almost auction setting where vying tenants are bidding the highest price.

The Man has had to change jobs five (!) times in the last two months. Just this morning as he was ready to get out of the house and go to work, he received a text message that he wasn't needed any more. (To which both of us thought, "Come on, guys, you couldn't send that text message last night so he could've slept in, instead of waking up at 5:30, as usual!?")

None of the jobs he's had to change, he's been at fault. It has always been either problems with the structure, or the consenting, or the developers. For example: one building he was working on, was a series of shops built in the east of the city. They were about halfway through their fitout, but when the developer realised that the shops were not leasing out at a rate that he's happy with, the rest of the development got postponed and The Man suddenly went from having two months' worth of work to two days.

Another was a new residential build on a steep slope: when foundations were being dug, the company realised that the ground was different from what they had thought, and suddenly the company had no work for over a month whilst new consents and geotechnical surveys were arranged for.

The whole city is full of examples like that. I've known about painters and decorators who have run out of work for a while now, and I've been happy that our family wasn't relying on that kind of work - but now it's our turn. The breaks in the work will gradually become longer and more frequent, until at one point it will simply not be economical to stay in this city any more. We are already teetering on the edge of that - even with me working Saturdays, we are only about $50 per week above breaking even.

I was hoping that we could drag it out for just a little longer. I was hoping, if all went well, that we could stay in Christchurch happily until end of 2016 at which point we would move to Invercargill and The Kid would go straight to school there. I did not want any "intermediate" preschools for him, to fill the gap. He has such a wonderful team in Christchurch - stable, consistent, educated carers. I am so happy with the kind of care he gets here, and how he's thriving in this environment!

But today I am sitting here and thinking... what are we gonna do?

Today, I don't know yet. Friends from Wanaka are visiting, so for the next few hours we are going to go to Antarctic Centre and have fun and relax, but when we get back and the kids go to bed for an afternoon nap, me and The Man are probably going to sit down and talk, and work out what's important, and what's less important, and what's going to make us the happiest.

Sausage jokes

The Man was baking sausages for dinner. He then - as is customary to The Man ;) - started making sausage-related jokes to which I said that, come on, it's getting a bit lame.

The Man promised to put it into more eloquent words next time.

And what do you know? A few minutes later he sat behind a computer and e-mailed me this:

"To My Love

sir Lacealot wishes the attentive actions off his proud and nobel queen upon his phalus of glory"

A letter to a preschool teacher



Hi [teacher],

It's a pity that I am writing you this letter on what is your last day of work, when the things I want to say to you have been there all along.

(In some ways, I think it's a sign of our times. Preschool teachers do very important work which is hard to duplicate anywhere else, and when they do it well it's even moreso. However, they do not seem to be appreciated to the extent that their work is skillful, important and sometimes hard.)

And I apologise for that. It's been easy for me to have kept postponing the effort of appreciating you somehow, in a form of a letter, or a gift, or a gesture of sorts. And yet when Karen resigned last year, that's exactly what I told myself back then! That I need to make an effort before people leave, not on their last day.

And yet here I am again, on your last day of work.

In years from now, [my son] will be much taller, his shoulders broader and his voice lower. He'll excel at some things and struggle with others; sometimes we'll argue and at other times we'll hug. But even years from now I'll know how important it will have been that he loved coming to preschool and loved coming to your transition to school classes. You have been laying a foundation I cannot duplicate at home. I know I do important work, too, and so does [my husband] - but so do you.

[My son] loves learning, and not just learning for its own sake, but he loves doing it in a classroom setting. He has learned that it is fun, and that he gets to do special things, and that he gets to feel praised for it.

And it's a testament to you, and the way [preschool] has nurtured him, that he loves preschool so much.

Thank you, [teacher]. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I know that [my son] will ask for you in the coming weeks, just as he has asked for Anne when she finished working with him, and Karen. He'll get used to you not being there gradually, and we'll keep explaining to him why you can't be there and he'll attempt to understand.

I am sad for you leaving, but at the same time I am very understanding of it. I know it takes effort to take the choices about your own life into your own hands, and I appreciate that this decision must not have been easy to make. But I am excited about where your life takes you next and I wish you well for this journey ahead. I hope for warm evenings with family and friends, that you sometimes get to gaze at a starry night with your heart full and that occasionally - yes, occasionally! - you get to sleep in.

Thank you for being [my son's] teacher and his friend! Thank you for instilling in him that to learn about something is fun, and that he looks forward to going to school one day which for us will be an entirely new journey instead.

Thank you, [teacher]. Take care!

Maria

Sunset at Cathedral square, Christchurch

Backdrop of Christ Church Cathedral which, five years on from the earthquakes, is still basically a pile of rubble and pigeon poop


"NO! I push! Myself! I push!"

Daddy has finished work! Daddy!


Daddy is showing the kids a building he is currently working on

On guidance, and neuroplasticity

Just this morning The Kid's speech therapist was visiting us at home.


She played games with them, and read stories - the interactive kind, where kids are prompted to pitch in with their thoughts - and as she was preparing to leave, I asked her if she could please organise for us to have a meeting with The Kid's paediatrician again.

It's been almost a year now that we met with The Kid's paediatrician last. Back then, in October 2015, it had been a rather stressful meeting where she had explained to us what could be seen on The Kid's MRI scan, and what it meant in terms of his development. The information had been very new, and the ramifications also, and we must've sat in that room for close to two hours, talking.

But more so than medical information (which there was still a lot of), The Kid's paediatrician had provided us with guidance, and I have thought back to the way she handled it... hundreds of times now. At least a hundred times!

Two weeks ago I finished reading Atul Gawande's book "Being Mortal" (which a blog reader recommended to me, thanks Er!) and in it, he put across ideas very similar to what I am talking about here. Sure, Gawande was talking about end-of-life decisions where guidance gets a whole new level of importance, but... the main idea behind it is the same.

Rather than simply getting us into a room, showing us many copies of brain scans, explaining to us what various medical terminology meant and then asking us what we wanted to do - and she could've SO easily done that, and left it at that! - The Kid's paediatrician had approached our meeting with an air of... parental care, and understanding.

She had understood that although we needed to know about the medical importance of The Kid's diagnosis, and what those various medical terms were, what we had needed even more was to understand where we were and what was important.

She never said to us, "Do this," or "Don't do this." We asked her a lot of questions, and she answered most of them - apart from some that she simply didn't know answers to - but she never wanted the authority of decision-making, although she so clearly had the authority of information-knowing.

She had acknowledged that for us, it had been a very difficult and a very confusing time, and she had reiterated the importance of sleep, of rest and of happiness - and not just on our children's sides, but on mine and my husband's. She had suggested that for the next few days, we didn't try to do any decision-making at all, and even kept discussions on this topic to a minimum, to give our brains a few days to settle emotionally and for the information to absorb, before trying to tackle what must've been on all of our minds back then, which was: what was future going to be like?

Because in the end, nothing really changed.

The diagnosis we had become aware of when The Kid was 4 had actually been there all the way from birth, and so in many ways, nothing had actually changed - the only thing that had changed was our awareness, and stemming from that, our attitude and our expectations.

It's very hard to explain to someone what it's like to go into a paediatrician's meeting like that, and what it's like to then walk out of it again. But I do want to (try to) explain what it's like to think back to that meeting and feel that the information that was the most important was handed out to me, and to feel like I had been supported by a doctor, although the weight of my own life had still been left in my own hands.

The Kid's paediatrician - doctor Catherine Swan - had said to us, several times in fact, that the most important thing in terms of The Kid's development (and in any kid's development, actually!) was happiness - both his personal and that of his family unit - and so the best thing we could do to aid The Kid was to nurture ourselves and to protect that.

And it's something I have now thought back to hundreds of times.

Over the last few months as we have settled our plans to move to Invercargill next year, we have had to have many discussions and make many decisions. In some of them, there hasn't really been THE right answer - rather, we have had to figure out what was important to us, and then choose that.

One of those decisions has been The Kid's schooling.

I was... surprised to encounter such a strong opposition to our wish to hold The Kid back from school until he was almost 6. After all, it is perfectly legal: in New Zealand, kids go to school somewhere between their 5th and their 6th birthday, and it is down to their parents to decide when. (Rather than what's done in many countries in Europe where all kids start school on the same day, in New Zealand kids slowly "trickle" into their classrooms throughout the year - into year 0 as they call it - and once enough kids have enrolled to start a "proper" class, they get sent off to year 1, and everyone else that starts school after that will again slowly be "collected" into year 0 until, again, a class-worth of pupils have been gathered and start year 1.)

Most kids start school either on their 5th birthday, or soon after that. For example, if a child's birthday is in the end of a school term, parents may "hold them back" until next term so the child doesn't end up going to school for a week, then having two weeks off, and then starting again. Others take cues from children themselves: when they see their kids as "school ready", they start them at school.

We decided (with The Kid's birthday being in April) that rather than sending him to school when he's 5, we will wait until he's almost 6 so that he basically ends up in the next "cut-off" point for different school years and will probably be the oldest child in his class.

It made a lot of sense to us. We figured, giving him an "extra" year at preschool will allow him to develop more speech so he's easier to understand, he'll learn to get better at toileting - he'll be more independent, basically - and it will also mean that if he develops problems with any kind of learning later in school, he won't have to be in a position where he is the least developed child to begin with, and having to always look up to other kids who are always better at everything than he is.

I'm not sure why I'm even wanting to qualify it here like that. It was something that made a lot of sense to both me and The Man!

But for some reason, we encountered a lot of opposition from people who had to do with his care and various therapies.

At first I was flabbergasted. I just could not understand where exactly their hangups where - what were we going to lose by sending him to school a year later? What, exactly, was the downside?

Various people kept telling us that we were somehow "keeping him back" from developing and I had to find myself explaining over and over again that sending a child to school a year later doesn't actually take a year of schooling away from them. They are still going to have 13 years of school, just like everyone else, but they will graduate at 18, rather than 17 years of age. (I, myself, was a "late" schooler, graduating from high school when I was 19, and I had never seen any downside to it. In fact, I actually think it gave me the benefit of making school easier, as I had already learned to read confidently by the time I started school, and never had much trouble with any subjects... Well, apart from chemistry, which I just didn't like, but that's another story.)

Luckily, during one of our conversations The Kid's speech therapist admitted to me that her opposition was mostly due to her being so unfamiliar with the idea of sending anyone to school "late" like that. (Even though technically, or legally, we're not actually sending him to school "late". We're just not sending him on his 5th birthday which most of New Zealand parents are doing.) She said that the more time she had had to think about it, the more she had got her head around it, and the more it had started to make sense to her.

All through that decision-making process where we had encountered such opposition, I had kept asking myself the questions paediatrician talked to us about, "What would make us happy? What would make The Kid happy?" and I had found strength. It meant that although the paediatrician herself wasn't personally involved in that decision-making, the guidance she had provided me with helped me make a decision which I felt confident about.

And there were others. Basically, every time I am finding myself having to make a decision about The Kid, and not knowing what to do, I ask myself about our happiness, and it provides me with perspective.

But now that we are moving to Invercargill, I want to meet with our paediatrician once again. I know that next year The Kid will start school, and the year after that I will probably start school, too, but I want to meet with someone with whom I can once again talk about what the next few years will entail, and what will be important. I have never been personally involved in New Zealand schools, and though I have done a fair amount of reading, (and although I know that in the end, it will work out, and it'll be alright) I don't actually have an intuitive feeling as to what it'll mean to us.

And because of that, I asked our speech therapist if she could, please, once again organise a meeting with Catherine Swan, so we can sit down for an hour and a half and just talk. There's... strength in talking to someone who I know has a very intimate knowledge of New Zealand schools, but is also non-judgemental towards our family's decisions and priorities, and who has not have an agenda.

And one more thing: I don't know if you can reach this podcast from outside of New Zealand, but Radio New Zealand had a wonderful interview today with Nathan Wallis and they talked about neuroplasticity. Interestingly, they talked not about the very common approach to neuroplasticity, which is that 3 first years matter the most and the foundation to a person' life is laid in his/her first 3 years, but about dealing with older children. Ie, how do you approach a teenager who has spent his early life in orphanages and doesn't have close bonding relationships to adults, how do you approach a young person who's in prison and what does putting them in a solitary cell actually do to their brain - that, basically, how does neuroplasticity work in older children, and how it can be affected.

A very interesting interview, and well worth a listen!

Taking care of me

Instead of dropping the kids off at preschool and coming back home to write, we ended up at the doctors, and it was... it's been a long morning.

The Kid had a big fall, and knocked his head well. He got checked on, and was cleared to go to preschool, but by the time we were there - and it's a Bike Wednesday today, meaning, the kids get to bring their own bikes to preschool - I realised that I had left the helmets home and so ended up driving home, then to preschool again, then home.

A bank appointment had to be seen to. Veggies needed to be picked up. It was almost noon by the time I was finished.

And somewhere inbetween all that, I thought, fuck it.

And I donned my runners and went running instead. To take care of me.

I think every person has their own running music, the kind of rhythm that fits with their steps, their own speed. And to me, the favorite songs are these:






Pruning

Even as I was pruning the nectarine tree, I was thinking, "Why am I doing it?"

One, it's a rental. Two, I am moving away, so I am not even going to be here when it starts fruiting next year!

But then I told myself: I am doing it because it's the right thing to do.


It has been neglected for several years - I had to cut back a lot. But whoever will live in this house after us, will appreciate her.

And the strawberries.
And the boysenberries.

Because it's the right thing to do.

My kids in ten minutes

At one point during the morning they will inevitably end up on my and The Man's bed.

Usually The Kid goes first. He will have had enough of whatever we are doing in the living room and he will want some quiet time to just potter around and do his things.

Unfortunately, "quiet time" doesn't last very long. The Girlie will catch on to The Kid having disappeared - after all, she wants to do everything The Kid is doing! - and she will join him on the bed (and eventually, probably, start wreaking havoc).


She will bring some of her own toys: Barbies, matchbox cars, blocks. At first she will look on quietly at what The Kid is doing. (He is exploring how the magnetized crane of his train set "sticks" onto an empty metal box, and the ways in which he can move it around.)


The Girlie will move closer. After all, she wants to be closer!

And The Kid will look at me all, like, mooooooom.



He will then climb down from the bed to go bring some more toys from the living room. The Girlie will grab the empty metal box excitedly. MINE! she will exclaim.


Energized with the excitement of the metal box, The Girlie will stand up and start jumping.


I will tell her off. We don't jump on the bed, I will say to her. The springs are already starting to stick out and hurt. No jumping on the bed.

Meanwhile, The Kid will arrive back on the bed and start pretending to sleep. He will grab one of the pillows and nestle into it.


At first The Girlie will lay down next to him and play quietly.


But then she'll decide, no, if he's pretending to sleep - I'll pretend to wake him up!

And with that, the quiet time will end again.


Oh, the joy! The Kid will sit up and think of ways to play alongside this excited little monkey of a sister.


He will start "banging" a tune to twinkle, twinkle little star out on the pillow, kind of like on a drum, and he will sing.


His sister will think, oh my god, this is so cool! And she will start doing it, too.

Except, she's, like, twice as loud as The Kid is, and so both The Kid and I will shut up and just let her sing to her heart's content.


She will act like it's Christmas. So much attention, and all of it given to her!

Ah-may-zing :)

They will then both lay down again and pretend to sleep, at which point I will think to myself, "Yeah, I think it's naptime."


I will get them to their beds for afternoon naps.

And that's my kids in ten minutes :)

Especially this morning she's SO good at it...

"How old is she?"

"Two. She's very good at it."

People with no kids don't know

Tinker posted a comment on yesterday's blog post and I just laughed for 6 minutes straight.

Because she linked this video:



I think it's official: I am a parent of two preschoolers because I recognised almost every thing this man was talking about.

Which is kind of maddening and hilarious at the same time :D

Windows in the car? I have mine on permanent lock-down for the very same reason. Except, because in our car I only have the option of either locking all of them (except the driver's) or locking none, then if we're driving somewhere and The Man wants to open his window, he has to ask for my permission first :D

"Honey, can I open my window, please?"

*insert giggle*

Back doors are on permanent lock-down for the same reason, also. Except, The Kid has now figured out how to reset the child safety locks on the back doors before entering, which means that almost every time we get in the car, I have to recheck that the doors are still locked because The Kid has taken to it as a kind of a sport, "Oh, I wonder if I can reset the back doors without mom noticing it this time!"

And then imagine driving along and suddenly hearing from the back a low hum of wind driving past the back door and The Kid announcing, "Mom, I open door!"

*insert wanting to pull my hair out*

Heading out the door in the morning: I am not exaggerating, but I start getting us dressed 10 minutes before we are actually due to leave because once we've gone through all the compulsory, "Sit down, please, so I can put your shoes on. Hey! Stop hitting your brother! Hey, no!, and the same goes for you! You can't sit on her lap and expect her to be happy with it. Okay, where's the shoe... Come on, guys!" etc then we still have to go through the procedures of enticing The Girlie out the door. Like that comedian in the video, I also used to bluff for a while ("Okay, you can stay home then, bye! We're going and you stay home alone!") until one day she didn't take the bait any more. I was done getting The Kid in the car and she was still standing at the window, waving to us happily, and I had to admit defeat and come up with a new plan which, at the moment, means that if she's not willing to step out the house, she just gets picked up and carried to the car, all the whilst screaming murder.

An old lady living next door probably thinks I'm butchering my kids twice a day given by the screaming The Girlie does whenever she senses injustice done.

Luckily for me, on the other side a family with two preschoolers are living, and with that mother I sometimes commiserate - ie laugh - over the noises we hear coming from each other's yards sometimes. "Oh, thank god your kids do the same thing sometimes! I feel more like a normal person when I hear that someone else's children are capable of producing the same decibels sometimes."

*insert shrug*

Or the night-time waking.

It's luckily been several months now since it last happened, but I, too, have experienced the occasions where I wake up in the middle of the night, wondering why I am awake, and suddenly hear my son saying RIGHT FROM NEXT TO MY BED, "Mom, I'm up."

"Go back to bed."

And then two hours later again, "Mom, I'm up."

"Go back to bed."

Gotta love mornings. Just gotta really "love" mornings, seriously.

*insert sleepy-eyes*

Or the amount of planning now involved to go watch a movie together with The Man. What days can a babysitter do? On those days, what time does a movie start? Have we got enough time to get to the cinema? No? Is there another movie we're willing to watch instead?

I was thinking just this morning: if I include the time I spend away in the evenings (craft night) or the time The Man spends away (doing yoga) we probably see each other for about 9 hours between Monday and Friday.

And I'm not kidding, either.

But it's funny to see someone else talk about it in such light tones. A job well done, Michael Mcintyre.

PS. Oh, I remembered one more thing!

If - and I really mean if here - if my husband manages to get up in the morning without waking up the kids, he goes in the kitchen and tries to be quiet, which also means that if he wants to use the toilet, we have now all agreed that if we do that whilst the kids are asleep, the toilet remains unflushed lest the noise of flushing wakes one of the critters up.

But now imagine this: The Kid waking up in the morning, walking into the living room, taking his pyjamas off, saying, "I want to wee!" to which we reply, "Yeah, sure, go do your wee." He disappears into the toilet room and then... wild sobbing starts suddenly.

The Kid staggers out of the toilet, wailing and screaming, and in-between sobs where he manages to catch his breath, he says to us, still screaming, "There poo! There poo in totty!" (translation: there's poop. There's poop in the toilet.)

"Yeah, that's alright, you can flush the toilet and it'll go down. You know how to flush the toilet - flush the toilet and it'll go away."

"NOOOOOOOO!!!! Mommy do it! There poo! There poo in totty! MOMMY DO IT!!!"

Oh to be a parent.

PPS. Also, if you step in my bedroom and wonder why half the curtain is off the curtainrail and just hanging there not attached to anything, then the answer is: my daughter.

The other day she grabbed the curtain and tried to hang onto it, kind of like on monkeybars in the children's playground, result of which is that a whole array of little plastic hooks which attached the curtain to the curtainrail snapped and I have not had the energy to take the whole thing off and replace the plastic hooks that are broken, which is why the curtain remains hanging there, like... yeah.

Kids are awesome.

An evening rant on prisons and people that go in them

Okay, so this is probably going to sound like a bit of a rant, but, you know what? It's my blog. I can rant if I want to.

And the rant is this:

A few days ago I wrote about a young man I saw in Christchurch hospital, and the thoughts that "meeting" - if it can even be called that - spurred. (We didn't actually meet, as in, talk or introduce ourselves, there. All we did was sit on our respective chairs, close to each other, me watching my 5-year-old son, and him shackled and handcuffed between two prison guards whom he was sitting there with.)

Not surprisingly a few hours later an anonymous commentator - they're always the best kind, aren't they? - wrote to me in Estonian something along the lines of, "Maybe was a murderer.rapist..nice eyes..jesus you really need to walk amongst people a bit more..." and though I replied to that comment with a pretty standard response which anonymous commentators get from me - if they warrant a response at all - something in that comment really stuck with me, just as seeing that young man in a hospital really stuck with me.

And I want to write about it more, though I'm fairly certain I will get more anonymous comments from people who could just go play with themselves instead.

I take a deep offense to people who view prisons and justice systems in general as tools for revenge, and quite justifiably, too. There has now been a lot - and I mean a lot! - of research done to show that locking people up and treating them badly as a sort of a tool to "teach" them to behave better next time is... very good at creating serial offenders and more crime, but not very good at reducing it.

And yes, that young man I saw at Christchurch hospital could've been a murderer, or a rapist. I knew it back then already.

But that's not the point.

Even if we had had a chance to talk, I would not have given him my address, or invited him to share in private details of my family. Instead, it would've probably been about how he had sustained such an injury (being his right fist I have a fairly good guess at how it might've happened), how it was so unusual for me to see someone handcuffed in a hospital like that and what it felt like to him, to be there like that, or what he thought of such an "outing".

It would've been a conversation like any other I would've had with fellow waiting room attendees, with caution I would've exercised with any other person there: gaging our pace of talk, retreating from it if feeling uncomfortable, stepping up if feeling it okay. The same sort of caution I exercise at parks, at children's playgrounds, at public swimming pools - everywhere people I do not know personally are, and whom I talk with.

And I think it's important.

For one, though every interaction with strangers carries with it a risk for something sinister, I've come to understand that caution against strangers must be balanced against benefits that come from people talking to each other, and interacting.

But secondly, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of staying away from someone simply because they were there, so obviously, from the prison, and without much more understanding about them than that.

Last week I was surprised to find the face of a man who we considered a friend in Wanaka, on the front page of a newspaper, with a headline that read that he had stolen over $700,000 from his employer over the preceding 4 years, including the time that we had known him.

A shock, I think, was the initial response. An absolutely genuine, genuine surprise.

Being a father of three small children he will be heading to prison for a while now, and I know that it will be several years until he gets to live with his family again - but that alone is not a reason to alienate him, or his family. If anything, actually, it is the other way around.

The thing with sending people to prison is the fact that eventually, most of them, depending on their offending, will be set free again and in the interest of everyone, actually, their successful re-integration rests, in part, on them learning to be the kind of people who don't need to end up in prison again. And in some small way I felt that it was my job to treat that young man who was sitting in Christchurch hospital across the waiting room from me the way I would treat anyone else there, because even as I sat there I thought to myself, "Can you imagine being a prisoner like that and having a waiting room full of people treating you as if you were invisible?"

Because that's what was, essentially, happening. No-one approaching, other than nurses who were there to take details. No-one chatting. Hardly anyone looking, actually.

A sentiment similar to those I have now so frequently heard from people in wheelchairs, or otherwise disabled - the sadness at being "invisible" like that.

And if a cloak of invisibility was draped over a person over a long time like that, imagine released from prison one day and getting to go places alone and having to re-learn all over again what it actually feels like, to interact with people.

And, yes, even if he were a murderer, or a rapist. For how long should he be alienated then? And if he were, alienated, how would anyone expect a person to have a crack at changing then and making something better of his life, when he was one day released then? Because that is what a justice system is essentially for, to try and make reparations for what has been done, to serve a just and fair punishment for it, and eventually, to return and re-integrate. To have a crack at living a life better next time, and making something good of it.

Because in many cases, the harm has already been done, and there is no way to change it back. Even making more harm - revenge - won't change it back. The only way of making something good of it, is to have another go at something good later and try to live a life better.

I don't think revenge is the way of making anything better, and neither is ignoring a young man in a hospital lobby just because he may be this or that.

Anyone sitting next to me in that lobby may be, actually.

End of rant.

Opinionated

"Have you got kids? No? How lovely of you to be giving me parenting advice, then."

Tired

Three weeks in, three more weeks to go. I think I have had enough of The Kid's serial casting.

A weekend in Arthur's Pass

All three of us have kids, two each. Husbands, one each. One's a Kiwi, one's an American, one's an Estonian.

All three of us had a weekend away in Arthur's Pass. Together, with our families.

The hallway was full of our footwear.


Around the table meals were shared, and games were played.


In the evening bedtime stories were read, and each other's children held.



Outside, there were walks. Lots of us on walks!





On the riverside, many rocks were thrown in the water. Some of us got wet. Others not as much.









It was fun.

His eyes stuck with me

It was another day at the hospital today. Sitting in the waiting room, watching cartoons from the children's corner TV screen, eating nuts and raisins.


Except, in some ways it wasn't.

Nearby us, a young prison inmate was sitting between two prison guards. He was there for a medical procedure, too, something that had to do with an injury he'd received a week ago (I was nearby when they were talking to the receptionist and I overheard).

He had the most piercing, bright light blue eyes. As soon as I noticed him standing at the receptionist' desk as we entered, it struck me. The kind of a... wow feeling.

I inhaled deeply.
Exhaled.

I would've loved to talk to him, ask him what had happened, hear what his story was. He was so spectacularly... interesting to me. Young, dark-haired, and with a kind of a... gentle disposition. His hands were cuffed, a chain attached him to a prison guard, around his waist was a wide "prison belt", and yet for all the obvious "prison paraphernalia" he was rigged with, he looked so... sad. Like he didn't belong there.

I kept sneaking peeks at him as me and The Kid were sitting nearby, fascinated by him, and thinking to myself, "He doesn't look evil." He looked like a young man that had got into trouble, but he hadn't meant trouble.

And I would've loved to talk - but I didn't even approach him. Sandwiched between two prison guards, I kept wondering, would I even be allowed to address him? Like, what's the protocol around addressing prison inmates out in public? Are they allowed to talk?

Or would I have been told off for approaching him?

I don't know what that man's name is, I don't know what's his story, and there is no real way for me to get in touch with him to say that he made me think about him for so long today.

But if I could, I would so love to wish him well somehow. Say that he's thought of. Say that someone in a hospital waiting room looked at him today and thought, "Wow, you've got a story."