2013-02-22 10.26.51
Two years ago this was my day. It seems a lifetime ago and the pre-earthquake world has faded to the point it seems as much dream as memory. There are many things we are used to - road works, displaced schools, shops in shipping containers - but very little which could be construed as normal. This time two years ago I could not have imagined how long everything would take. I would not have believed that parts of town would still be closed, that many people would still be living in broken homes with insurance claims unsettled or that school would still be in temporary premises on the wrong side of town. We are a city of tired, cross people who are rapidly running out of resiliency. In amongst all the grimness there is still beauty, wonder and goodness and, by some miracle, our little family is managing to be happy quite a lot of the time but sometimes it takes a herculean effort to see a bright side.


A year ago I blogged: My wish for 2012, then, is that we all survive the hard bits, savour the good, and learn, grow and love each other through it all.

I think, in light of that wish at least, I did OK. There were hard bits that we weathered, good bits that we celebrated and a great many chances to learn, grow and love.

Last year I learned, usually the hard way, about balance, about trusting myself and about the importance of looking after my own needs. I'm going to take those lessons with me into this new year with all its challenges

This year I am wishing for a little calm and some time to pause and reflect. Let this year's storms be gentle ones.

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A Book Review by Crispin (age nearly 11)

Book review for the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This book is, as simple as possible, about a human and his alien friend, and their travels across space after Earth was blown up, until they reach something beyond their wildest dreams. This is a comedic book, with a focus on discovery through the eyes of someone who hasn't seen it yet. One of the best books I have read, for 10 and up, maybe PG, maybe PG-M. I feel like eating at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.


I am exhausted by the constant bickering over what should happen to the cathedral. I've never been particularly keen on rebuilding the cathedral just as it was. For starters that feels a bit dishonest - this thing has happened and making things look the way they used to isn't going to make the earthquake unhappen. I'm also quite uncomfortable with the cathedral as a symbol for our city. All those criticisms that are often (and sometimes justly) aimed at Christchurch - that we are white and middle-class and stuffy - seem bound up in those grey stones. We may have started life as an Anglican city based on the English model but, I'd like to think, we've grown to be so much more. Lets make our built environment reflect who we are and who we want to be. The cathedral was a nice enough building (I was fond of the ship mosaic floor) but any claims to significance are rather overblown. While I'm sure some tourists visited it I can't believe it was a major reason for people to come here and I'm sure much of the appeal was the vantage point over the square that the spire offered. Talking to people who actually worshiped there I frequently hear that it was cold with poor lines of sight and iffy acoustics.

So what do I want?

I want new iconic architecture. I want buildings which reflect our Maori heritage as much as our European history. I want public places which are for everyone, where people of all faiths and none can feel like they belong. I would love it if the buildings we were famed for were libraries and theatres and schools, places for ideas to flourish. I want buildings that people will come to see because they are distinctly ours.

I want the Anglicans to have a good place to worship, in the city but not trying to be the city's heart. I'd like to see them with a building that fits their current needs. Somewhere warm where people can hear the sermon from comfortable seats. I think this should be run by and for the Church with no confusion about who pays for what or who has rights to decide what happens to it.

And in the Square where the cathedral used to stand? How about a memorial garden? Use some of the stones and arches from the cathedral to make a contemplative space, a peaceful haven. We could grow roses over the window arches and turn the font into a fountain.

In which I let my guard down

This week I've had a bit of an emotional collapse. I've been sad and irritable and not at all the person I want to be. There have been tears and angst and over reactions. Last time I felt this vile it was the 1990s and I wound up on Prozac. This has prompted a lot of introspection as I try to figure out if I can find my way out by myself (or with a little help from my friends) or if pharmaceutical assistance is going to come into the picture.

Ironically enough I think the catalyst for this slump is that we've finally gotten a break from the last few years of lurching from crisis to crisis so I've had a chance to take stock and look at some needs that come higher up the pyramid than just basic getting through.

I realise that I've spent all my energy faffing with everyone else's proverbial oxygen mask and forgotten my own. I've fallen into some pretty damaging behaviours and it's time for that to stop. Because there have been times when my needs and desires were genuinely less pressing than those of other family members, I got in the habit of assuming that I came last and have, of late, been slipping into resentful martyrdom without even asking to have my needs met first.

So, from now on, I'm actually going to tell people what I need, I'm going to stop treating my desires as less important than everyone else's and I'm not going to pretend I'm fine when I'm not. I feel like I'm taking charge of my life for the first time in a long while. It's a bit scary but it's good too.

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Education 101

I've been working as a teacher aide for a term now. It's an interesting line of work to take on at this time when there is so much controversy as to what, if anything, should be done to improve education in this country and with the spectres of performance pay and league tables hovering over our schools.

I don't work with precisely the "bottom 20%" of kids in the classes I'm attached to, I also have some able kids who need encouragement to extend themselves and I Don't Do Maths, but it's reasonably close. Our school also differs from the average in that poverty and lack of parental involvement are not major factors but we do have a high proportion of kids who have been unhappy in more mainstream schools. It may be a testament to our wonderful teachers, though I suspect that it's universally true, but not a one of the kids I work with would have all their problems solved by having a "better" or "more skilled" classroom teacher.

Some of the kids I see just need time and support to catch up - they may have missed something due to switching schools a few times, or their learning suffered due to bullying in a previous school, or they've come from another school system where things are taught differently, or their learning has previously been in a non English speaking environment. Some of the younger students just aren't ready for formal learning quite yet. These kids will be fine, given time, but you can't ask 26 other children not to learn anything new while their classmates catch up.

The rest of the students I see just think differently. Some have learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyspraxia, or sensory processing disorders. Others have uncommon learning styles or need more time and fewer distractions than their peers. There are kids who are visual thinkers and can't put an idea into words until they've drawn it. Kids whose brilliant ideas dissipate as soon as they pick up a pencil. Kids whose brain cannot process a whole word or sentence but must painstakingly sound out each letter. Kids who need to interact with each piece of information many times before they remember it.

When I work with these kids my job is to help them identify their strengths and challenges and to help them find strategies that work for them. I reteach the things their classmates seemed to learn with ease. I act as secretary, recording their thoughts so their struggles in one area don't slow them down elsewhere. I'm pretty sure I help but, as someone with half a teaching degree from the 1990s who only sees most of them for a couple of half hour blocks each week, there is a limit to what I am capable of doing. These kids are so bright, so full of ideas, so interesting in the way they see the world and they need so much support to unlock all that potential. They don't need standards to tell them what they can't do or a super teacher in front of them and 30 other kids. What they need is someone beside them who understands how they learn and cares how they feel and who will not give up on them ever.

A Milestone Moment

Crispin, at his teacher's suggestion, has started a blog. Often he uses it for sharing bits of school work (usually cross posted to the class blog) but he's also posting little reviews of everything he reads. This (which he has kindly allowed me to share provided I acknowledge copyright) gives me particular delight:

Book review for The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic is the first book in the Discworld series, an enormous series of books. This one is about a would-be wizard called Rincewind who is put in charge of a tourist called Twoflower and they go to literally the end of the world. This ends on a cliff-hanger, and I am eagerly waiting to read The Light Fantastic. I would recommend this book to people 10 and over, because it is very complex.

Lest We Forget

Today I am remembering the conscripts and the young folk duped into thinking war would be a great adventure. I'm remembering those who didn't come back and those who came back hurt and broken in mind and body. I am remembering civilian casualties and victims of 'friendly fire' and the children who stumble onto minefields. I'm thinking of everyone who lost a child or a parent, a friend or a lover. I'm thinking of those who have been, or still are, held as prisoners of war and those in concentration camps and internment camps. I'm thinking of the conscientious objectors who have been punished harshly for their pacifism. I'm thinking of those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, who have gone without food and clothing in times of war. So much sorrow and loss and so very little that is glorious.

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Whine blog

Today marks a year of the children's school being located in Halswell. There was supposed to be a celebration with our school, the associated high school and the school that we are all sharing space with. Organisational failure meant nothing much happened. That's ok - its not really something I wish to celebrate. I know it's a good thing that the kids have a space to learn in, that our school still exists at all but I miss our central city location so much. I hate being stuck out where there is nothing within walking distance. We used to walk to the library, the museum, the park and the pool. The kids used to think it was the funniest thing in the world to cut through the men's underwear in Ballantynes on the way back to school after a morning on the river bank. We still get out and about but it's so much harder. All sorts of things that happened organically due to our central location and open plan building now only happen due to conscious effort. It's exhausting. I miss how easy it was for me to be in and out of school too. I miss being able to go bra shopping on my own or meet a friend for coffee. It's been a year and there's still no plan for moving back to the city. No date, no site, no news. I don't want to be used to the suburbs.

I've been feeling particularly fragile lately. There are Reasons but I hate when I'm this wallowy and self-absorbed. This is the closest to Not OK I've been for a very long while. I know that if I plough on through I'll get my perspective back but I'm really not at my lovely best right now.

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The bit where we maybe get to breathe

As those who have been following on Facebook and Twitter have already heard at great length the last couple of weeks have been pretty shit.

Three Monday's ago (I think) we found our much loved cat Boadecia collapsed on the floor. She was elderly and diabetic so we had little hope as Jamie made the midnight dash to the after hours vet. Her blood glucose was very low but after some time on a drip she improved and for the best part of a week looked like she might recover. As time went on though she ate and drank less and less and the vet diagnosed renal failure. Anything we could have done to prolong her life would have been very short term and purely for our own benefit so we made the agonising decision to help her go peacefully. We got Boadecia and her sister Thalia, as tiny kittens, almost exactly 14 years ago, only eight months into Jamie's and my relationship. A house without her in it doesn't feel like any kind of home.

A few hours before Boadecia collapsed (although I didn't learn of it until the morning) my father also collapsed with a heart rate so low he was having seizures. After a stay in ICU it was determined that he needed a pacemaker. Because he was on Warfarin he had to wait several days in hospital before surgery so I left Jamie with the kids and the ailing cat and went up to Nelson to help. By the time I got there Dad wasn't looking too bad but Mum was still very stressed so my job was to cheer, distracted and talk her down. Fortunately dad's surgery went well and he was home with a glass of wine that evening. He's doing really well and is already able to walk further than he has in quite some time.

And while this was all going on we had to pack up our house for the builders to come in and repair our earthquake damage. We severely underestimated the effort required to pack up six and a half years of accumulated detritus and failed to ask for enough help (and what little we did have lined up fell through) then everything caught up with me and I had a very poor mental health day (not a racing off for meds level issue but a definite need for extra care of myself) so had to be quite picky about the tasks I took on. Poor Jamie landed up working through the night but everything got sorted and now we're living in a motel while half our walls and ceilings are replaced.

Finally we are able to stop for a moment. We're fitting a whole school holiday's worth of stuff that isn't packing into this last week: movies, swimming, friends, and the Buskers Festival. It's helping and I'm slowly starting to feel less brittle. I'm hoping that we've got the worst bits of the year over with early - eventually something has to be easy, right?

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