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Tuesday is my parent-helping day at school and I've had a good morning helping first my five-year-old's and then my nine-year-old's classes with writing. I've escaped to the foodcourt downstairs for an egg and avocado sandwich and a slightly-too-large chocolate slice. My partner txts to say he is in town but the person he needs to see is out and do I have time for coffee. I don't really but, since he's stopped working in the CBD, I miss being able to meet him for lunch so I tell him to hurry.

A jerk. I freeze.

Another jerk. I half fall, half leap under my table.

Screams and crashing glass. I can't believe it can be as bad as it sounds.

My first instinct, when the shaking stops, is to run upstairs to my kids but the main staircase is closed for repairs and I'm not really sure where to go. I decide to head out to the evacuation point outside. Security officers first shoo us back into the building then order us outside. I step off the unmoving escalator and Jamie is there. More parents arrive, white faced, running. We hug and share a bottle of rescue remedy even though I don't believe in it.

Aftershock. We drop to the concrete.

No one knows which exit the children will come out of. Jamie walks down toward Lichfield St to see what is happening. He is gone what feels like a very long time.

The police want us to move to The Square but we're going nowhere without our kids. They insist. We insist louder and a Policeman deputises a couple of parents to lead him into the building and up the back stairs. Soon there are children coming out. A few of them are tearful but most look remarkably calm. I hold the hands of my boys and we walk to The Square together.

We sit on the ground by the topiary animals and count heads over and over again. I glimpse the cathedral and start to cry but stop myself. Must be calm for the kids. We need to move on up Worcester St to the riverbank or maybe Hagley Park.

Crispin's classmate Lachlan looks lost so I offer him my hand and we set off, four in a string. Jamie stays behind to check for stragglers and finds Lulu, who started school just three weeks earlier, wearing a single, purple ugg boot. He scoops her up and carries her. I notice that Lachlan is also barefoot but I can't carry him and keep my grip on Ferdi's hand so I focus on helping him find a path through the broken glass. I keep up a steady high-volume prattle about how tough Cantabrians are and how everything is fine. I don't care if it's true or not: it's what we need to believe.

We get to the Botanic Gardens and sit on the grass which thrums constantly beneath us. More head counting. Some of the kids want to run and play but Lulu's sister Michelle sits on the ground looking shocked and pale. We drape Jamie's hoodie around her and I find some hazelnuts in my handbag. Mobile phones start to work and parents are contacted. A father arrives with fruit to share. Michelle and Lulu's parents are among the last to arrive having had to drive from Regents Park and having abandoned their car in Bealy Ave. We decide to walk out together over cracked pavements and sand volcanoes and around the shell of Knox Church where Jamie's father and step-mother married and where we farewelled his sister.

We fit eight people into a five seat stationwagon and join the crawling traffic out of town. Edgeware is a lake. "Can we come back tomorrow with our togs?" ask the kids who are obviously feeling brighter. Our street too is under water. In the distance we can see our neighbour wading. It is up to her thighs.

At our friend's house is coffee and spaghetti on toast and a television that tells us that the damage is even worse than we'd thought. the children run around the yard. I want to cage them close but sense that their need to move is primal and cannot be repressed.

Jamie's father comes to collect us. At his Rolleston home there is clean water and clean sheets. In the evening he and Jamie drive back to our house. They can't get inside but it looks like the water has stopped an inch below the floorboards. I am frantic about my cats of which there is no sign.

That was almost a week ago. We are now home with both cats accounted for, running water, electricity, and telephone and internet services. If it weren't for the camping toilet in the laundry, the stockpots of boiled water in the kitchen and various messes still to be picked up it could be a normal day. Oh and the mud and dust outside coating everything with a pale grey film. On the TV my city is unrecognisable. It could be any disaster area in the world. Because I'm only seeing it through the filters of the media and the internet I know that the full scale of what has happened to my beautiful city is yet to hit me. I protect myself by concentrating on the minutiae of clean undies and wondering how many hours it is responsible to allow disaster-affected children to play video games for.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
I'm so pleased both your fuzzies are home safe. We're going to start clearing the garage etc...tomorrow, and figure out what needs to be ditched and what can be salvaged.

(Had to rip up all of the carpet in the foyer today, and may need to pull up quite a bit more...)

If you're keeping the children occupied, and their minds off the enormity of what's happened, then I'd say you're doing a damn good job..(be it books, TV or video games)

Perhaps tomorrow would be a good time for that cup of tea ;)
Feb. 28th, 2011 07:39 am (UTC)
A cuppa would be lovely. We need to do some groceries (now I've washed the pickle juice out of the fridge) but should be here all day otherwise. Rock on over any time (and that invitation is not just for tomorrow)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )