Saturday, 16 July 2016

Letting kids be kids

We've been here for a little over two months, and the girls have now had several weeks going to the local school.

The school is much bigger than they were used to back in Stony Stratford - nearly 800 pupils from age 5 to 13. This could have made it daunting, but actually it really hasn't taken long for the girls to settle.

There are some things we are sad to miss from the old school (particularly for Pippa: the school residential trip and the year six end of year performance) but on the other hand what a relief to be away from the pressure of the year 6 tests.

The positives of the new school have far outweighed the negatives and it is refreshing to be in a school which is value-led but in a much more multi-cultural environment, without the expectation that everyone will be a Christian unless they expressly indicate they are something else.

A few things about the school that make it different from the middle school they were used to:
  • no uniform. Comfort is generally the key. Leggings, T-shirt, a warm layer and trainers is the usual look. The kids don't change for PE so when cross country is on the cards, a change of clothes in case of mud is suggested.
  • composite classes. This means each class spans two year groups - Susannah is in year 3 in a class that spans years 3 and 4 (the equivalent of English years 2 and 3 - she's gone from one of the youngest in the year group to one of the oldest); Pippa's in year 7 in a year 7/8 class. This means the age range per class is greater of course but it seems to work well, and it means you will get some new classmates every year.
  • less homework. So far Pippa's homework has seemed to consist of a weekly maths sheet, and Susannah's a reading log and a handful of spelling words that are comfortably within her grasp. We probably should be doing a bit more times tables practice at home, but there really isn't any pressure from school about this. It is a welcome change for all of us. Pippa's year 6 homework was onerous earlier this year and if it hadn't been started before the weekend you could kiss most of Sunday afternoon/evening good bye.
  • Maori. Actually they are learning far less Maori language than I had expected, but there are a few regular phases and common words in use. In their classes, the girls are learning Kapa haka - traditional performing arts (singing, but also some dancing). The national anthem is sung at assembly - first in Maori, then in English. Assembly happens twice per term.
  • choices and opportunity. This becomes more obvious in the senior classes, and Pippa has enjoyed being to make choices in her learning - which reading group to join based on the book being studied, and a choice of language for example. She chose Mandarin!
  • playgrounds. The school has fantastic outdoor space - not much greenery but adventure playground equipment and sports pitches. The headmaster believes kids need space to kick a ball around and this happens in separate areas to where people are climbing monkey bars or even trees. The outdoor space is also used during the school day when teachers decide it would be a good idea for the kids to be reading in fresh air for a change, or need a break in the middle of a lesson that's used a lot of concentration. The playgrounds can be visited out of school hours and we've been a couple of times during the school holidays in preference to the local park because there is more to climb on.
  • school dinners. This is a negative rather than a plus. Local takeaways provide the lunches on a given day, so unless you want a Subway one day, pizza the next, or sushi on Friday then it's packed lunches all the way.
  • stationery. Families provide school exercise books, pens, pencils according to lists provided by the school. This means there is quite a cost involved at the beginning of term. What you save in uniform costs, you spend on books.
  • the school year. This is probably obvious, but worth mentioning for completeness. The schools operate a four term system. The long holiday runs from Christmas through January to the beginning of Feb. The terms are about ten or eleven weeks long, with a two week break before the next begins. As I write we are mid-way through the two week holiday between terms 3 and 4.
Pippa is in an innovative teaching block - a novelty for the school as well as for her - and she really likes the atmosphere this creates. It is more like a common room with sofas and comfy chairs, and only a few desks. They use IT a lot, for example writing their own blogs, and doing project work together.

So, all in all it's a big thumbs up for the school in New Zealand. I like it because it is more relaxed and they are learning interesting things. I also see it as a big plus that Pippa is not having to go to secondary school this year. She can enjoy being in primary school for that bit longer, and doesn't have to suddenly grow up as they tend to when making the transition to secondary.

The girls like it because of the playgrounds and because they are having fun while they learn. They are allowed to be kids.

If you'd like to see more about the school, the website is: http://www.kns.school.nz/

Here are a few photos from Susannah's school trip to the nearby nature reserve Zealandia. I went as a parent helper.










Sunday, 26 June 2016

We are still people who care

There is an enormous amount of grief, disbelief and anger, and in some quarters jubilation, about recent historic events in the UK.

Having declared myself in the 'Remain' camp in advance of the referendum, it will not come as a surprise that I was greatly saddened by the result. However, I find I am more bewildered than angry.

First of all, I'm rubbish at being angry - I'm all tears in no time. I struggle to know where to direct the anger. Possibly this comes hand in hand with being empathetic: I don't like anger being directed at me, so don't want to direct that on someone else which means it inevitably becomes an internal mess. I do know people who voted leave and they are not suddenly my enemy. I care about them too. That's not to say I never get angry - a handful of people make my blood boil, Nigel Farage being one of them - but I still finding it hugely unsettling to get into that destructive frame of mind. I am more of a quiet moper in these situations than a shouty, sweary person.

Secondly, although the Brexit campaign 'won', in truth I don't really think it would ever be a winning situation for either side. More than 15 million people voted to stay in the EU. That is a huge number of people. The remain campaign wasn't entirely unsuccessful - it just wasn't successful enough. People on both sides of the debate became impassioned by what they believe in. That said, it was awful to see how negative the campaigning was, and although a lot of argument was about what people believe in - it was also about what people fear. Shame on those that exploited the fear element to persuade people to their view. The referendum has divided the population of the UK very nearly 50-50. There would have been work to do, to heal the division, whichever side came out in front.

We fear the future, but we still don't actually know what the reality will be. We mustn't become impotent and unable to be part of shaping a future that we believe is right, even if the foundations we would have chosen are no longer available. When there is change there is also opportunity.

The worst thing in my opinion is the hatred that has been unleashed. It is sickening to the core to hear of individuals being attacked for the way they look or dress - an assumption that they should be sent home when the UK is the only home they have ever known. And I am horrified that as a nation we don't seem to have more respect for people who have come to the UK with the best of intentions - to work hard, to contribute, to make a better world for their families and for us all. Horrified that we don't have more hospitality to offer those who arrive traumatised and in desperation, who have struggled to escape their homeland because it has been ripped apart by war and they are seeking refuge only to find there is none.

The vote was one monumental day in our history. It was one choice we had to make that had such enormous repercussions. But every day we have choices to make and we need to keep working towards a better world.

In New Zealand there is an emphasis on building resilience - in buildings and communities. Neighbourly-ness is encouraged, with an awareness that if the big one strikes [earthquake] a thriving community will cope better and recover more quickly.

In the UK, communities now need to rebuild, and as individuals we need to model the behaviour we want to see: treating friends and strangers with an open mind and an open heart. We all have a different story to tell. Our voting preferences are one part of us, our ethnic background another. But we are all people facing ups and downs in our lives - some on a harder path than others. We need to stand up to aggression, so that violence and hatred don't become normalised. We need to challenge inequalities in society, for this is another source of division. We need to be gentle with each other and gentle to ourselves. At the end of the day we are all people, and generally we are all still people who care.










Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Finding our feet and homesickness




We've been here for about four weeks now. We've been busy trying to set down some roots to make us feel more at home.

In the first week we joined the library, enrolled the girls at school and made enquiries about gymnastics. Since then they've managed a play date each and we've met up with the very small number of people we knew here before we came. I've been to the Quaker meeting and we're sussing out dance classes for both the girls and me.

With the girls out at school I have kept up with the work I've been doing for the UK-based College of Mental Health Pharmacy.

Weekends have been busy with plenty of exploring, highlights being finding great walks to do from home, visiting the marine education centre at Island Bay, seeing seals close by in the seal colony, a wonderful day at Makara beach only 20 minutes from home, and enjoying the Sunday market at the Harbourside.

A full happy time and there are lots of photos of us smiling.

But, of course, it is not as simple as that.

The girls are terribly homesick at the moment. They are missing friends and family: school friends, Holiday School friends, cousins, grandparents... walking down the street and seeing familiar, friendly faces. They are missing their usual home comforts (the house here is very sparse with the majority of our belongings still on their way in a shipping container). They are missing their usual activities and routines. It is hard to see them so sad.

So, it is each day as it comes. We are loving the beauty of the place, the outdoor opportunities, and the variety of the city. When we are absorbed in an outing or activity as a family we are genuinely enjoying ourselves, but there are plenty of times at home when we are having to administer tissues, cuddles and soothing words.

We've been calling this our New Zealand adventure - and I guess having an adventure means being ready to take the rough with the smooth. It will take time, but I am sure we will gradually find our feet and the homesickness will hit less frequently and with less intensity. In the meantime we'll continue to make connections and make the most of what life has to offer here.

Here are some photos of what we've been up to in the first month.

A view from Wright's Hill Reserve - a walk from home

Wright's Hill Reserve look out point

Wright's Hill Reserve look out point

Trying out the outdoor gym equipment at nearby Karori Park

Hands on tank at the Marine Education Centre

View from the Skyline Walkway - a walk from home
T-shirt weather in winter! - Makara Beach
Susannah's seal picture

Cafe at Makara Beach
View from cliffs by Makara Beach


Monday, 30 May 2016

First days exploring

I had spent so long saying to the girls how much I was looking forward to living by the sea, Susannah was rather disappointed to find that our house is not a sea front property with immediate access to a beach.

But, it is only a bus journey away. On our first morning in New Zealand we were keen to start exploring. We bought our 'Snapper' cards for the bus and headed into the centre. After the long flights followed by fitful jet-lagged sleep, it was wonderful to get to the harbour - looking sparkly in the Autumn sun.  It had been a stormy night, but we have had a rapid introduction to the changing weather of Wellington - blowing a gale one minute, and clear blue skies the next. 


Occasionally dolphins and rays can be seen in the waters, but I suspect not all that often and we made do with some little fish darting along the harbour edge. Bruce introduced me to the NZ cafe culture with my first flat white, and we wandered along to the museum Te Papa.

We concentrated on the natural history section, including some hands on activities and even the opportunity to crawl through a life size model of a blue whale heart! 

On the second day we were back down into the centre. We were starting to notice errors in our packing - my waterproof in a shipping container instead of plane luggage.  So we did a mixture of shopping and absorbing the sights and sounds of Wellington.

Looking back, these early days are a bit of a blur. We hit huge waves of tiredness in the late afternoon or early evening. But we also managed to buy groceries and get meals on the table. I obtained an NZ driving licence (a straight forward, friendly process). We unpacked, and the girls tried to work out how to personalise their rooms in the absence of their usual home comforts.

Also, early in our time here we had a lovely treat from our next door neighbours. Their elder daughter (who is a year younger than Pippa) made a fabulous chocolate cake to welcome us. She came in with her parents and sister to chat a bit. It was great to meet some friendly faces nearby and find out more about the local school and amenities from them.

On Sunday, I went to the Quaker meeting. I hadn't necessarily thought I would get there on the first weekend with the need to settle as a family, but in the end it seemed natural to fit it in and I was off again on our number 3 bus that seems to serve us well from suburb to town.


On Sunday afternoon we went for a drive: more views - this time from the top of Mount Victoria, and a 'proper' beach at Scorching Bay.

From Mount Victoria you can see across the harbour to hills beyond. Although Wellington surrounds a harbour it also has peninsulas so you can see sea and mountains in lots of directions. If you lose your bearings, there is a large sculpture pointing due south.

We chose Scorching Bay for our beach visit largely because we liked the name of its cafe Scorch o Rama! Also, on-line recommendations suggested it was one of the best beaches in the area.

We weren't disappointed. It is indeed a lovely spot and I'm sure we'll visit again. It is too cold for bathing this time of year, but bare foot is perfectly acceptable and quite the norm for Kiwis.

The Cafe will also no doubt receive multiple visits. Ice creams, brownies, coffees: all good!


Our first weekend drew to a close, and with Bruce going back to work it felt as though we would need to start moving on from being tourists on holiday to longer term residents of this gem of a city.

More on that anon...

x




Thursday, 26 May 2016

Welcome to Wellington

We've been here two weeks now and already the journey seems a long time ago.

We were lucky with the flights. Susannah hadn't been in a plane before, and Pippa was a baby last time she flew but they set themselves up with headphones and watched the hours away like seasoned travellers. There was hardly anyone on the first leg - to Singapore - so we could spread out and lie across seats for some sleep (we set off late evening).

We found the recommended roof top pool for a freshen up at Chingi airport, but sadly the butterfly garden was in darkness by the time we got round to that just before boarding to Brisbane, our last stop before New Zealand. If you are going long haul, in my limited experience, Singapore airlines with a stopover in Singapore (even just for a couple of hours or so) is a pretty fine way to do it.

Of course when flying from Brisbane to Wellington most of the journey is over the sea, but it was a beautiful morning and when we reached the dramatic coastline of the South Island we could tell why people love it so much.

Going through the airport in Wellington went smoothly - visas checked and boots declared suitably mud-free. The passport official was the first to welcome us to New Zealand.

The next to welcome us were Bruce's colleague with his teenage daughter who had both helped set up our rented house with some basics. With various items of furniture lent by other colleagues, some hospice shop kitchenware and groceries in the fridge and cupboard we could start to settle in straight away. We even had homemade cookies and cake, and tulips on the table. Thank you to the Wilsons and other university folks who helped make this happen.

So that was us, arriving in Wellington and made to feel welcome. More about our first few days exploring in the next post...

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Packing it in

Well, this is it. This evening we fly to New Zealand via Singapore and Brisbane - too far for a direct flight of course. We arrive on Thursday afternoon local time.

What a full few months it has been. I emptied my handbag as part of the packing last week. Pulling out tickets and receipts I found Fame tickets from when Pippa was in the Rare Productions performance in February, Bounce info for an early, early birthday trampolining outing for Susannah, and Act Out tickets from Susannah's drama performance in April. Bruce missed these, along with so many other events that happened before his return nearly two weeks ago. He was back just in time for the rather stunning ballet show, and then the packing up for the move.

Since February, when he has been busy getting his feet under his desk (or perhaps it should be lab bench?) in Wellington, I've been navigating a hectic family pretty much as a single parent with Facetime as my prop. I am so grateful for the fantastic support from friends and neighbours who helped with practical and emotional needs - from occasional school pick ups to washing tent pegs to be packed in a shipping container to thoughtful discussions with the girls about how they are feeling about the exciting but daunting move ahead.

We've had loads of jobs to get through to prepare the house for new tenants: including installing a new bathroom, boiler replacement, and work on the electrics. We also had to prepare for packing the house - the charity shops in Stony are well stocked, the younger cousins are benefiting from the latest set of hand downs, and the recycling bags have been filled with old university notes and as much paperwork as I have managed to sort out. Unfortunately, although huge progress was made there is lots to get on top of when it reaches us in Wellington, and it was disheartening to have to send so much junk to land fill - we acquire so much that ends up being of no use or pleasure to anyone.

But while all of this has kept us busy (not to mention my trying to continue with actual work work), it has been the hidden job that has taken the most emotional energy. That is giving enough time to tend to the needs of the girls: wiping away tears, recognising when cuddles are needed, creating special moments to treasure, and trying not to get too snippy when we are all tired and have had enough. They missed Bruce enormously (having him back has been so lovely), they are sad about leaving friends, they don't want to say good bye. It's not been easy, but this has given us an opportunity to develop our relationships, to be reminded of what's important (people not possessions), and to keep a sense of being grounded while being uprooted.

This is turning into a rather long blog post now, but for obvious reasons it has been a tad hectic of late!

There are a couple of major episodes from recent weeks that we hadn't anticipated and I am happy to get to today and know that these did not become the straw that broke the camel's back. These both involved hospital visits and so now is a good opportunity to update friends on the latest health news:

Firstly, Susannah's foot. The pain that resulted in a trip to A&E for an X-ray and a week or so on crutches has subsided somewhat and to everyone's relief and her own great enjoyment, she was able to take part in the ballet show. The follow up MRI scan showed a small patch of oedema (swelling) in one joint in the ankle area and so the likely diagnosis is bone bruising. It is still bothering her occasionally, but helped by ibuprofen. If it continues, we'll be testing the New Zealand healthcare system to try and get to the bottom of it.

Secondly, Dad's cracked bones and troublesome heart. He's recovering well in hospital. The fall from his bike was over a month ago and the ribs and shoulder are no longer giving him as much pain. I hesitate to give too much detail in this public space, but he has had an angiogram which thankfully showed no blockage, and he now awaits the fitting of an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator - a bit like a pacemaker but designed to shock the heart back into a regular rhythm when it detects abnormalities). He is no longer requiring the strong drugs that made him very confused, and he is now able to walk around the ward unaided. He has been allowed his laptop as he was starting to get bored! It is good to be boarding the flight knowing that he should be home soon.

The last week has passed in a bit of a blur. We had Pickfords in for three days packing all our belongings, and on the fourth day they loaded it all into a shipping container. It will be July before we see it again. And I don't need to hear your horror stories of containers being dropped in the ocean never to be seen again thank you very much. The house was cleaned professionally and looks great. Lucky tenant!

We partied the weekend away with dear friends.

Bruce has found us somewhere to live in Karori - a large suburb in Wellington - and it was lovely to get an email with a few more details about the house and neighbourhood, including learning there is a family next door with three kids who go to the same local school we hope Pippa and Susannah will go to. We've had so many goodbyes our hearts ache, but it is so exciting to look forward to the fantastic adventure ahead.

Each day is bringing something new. The girls haven't even been on a plane before - what a long journey for their first. Personally, I can't wait to sit down, have my meals brought to me, and to get stuck into a good book!

Here is are a few photos from recent events.

Kia Ora!











Sunday, 20 March 2016

It's getting emotional...

We are no longer on solid ground. With flights booked for 10 May, the big move is fast approaching. We are being uprooted and we're trying to cope with not knowing what our future looks like and feels like.

We've had tears. "I don't know how I'm going to say goodbye" is Pippa's latest lament, said through barely controlled sobs. She looks forward to seeing her nearest and dearest before we go but feels overwhelmed by the emotion of the situation. Susannah chooses pulling funny faces over conversation during Facetime with Bruce, but at bedtime she finds more words: "I miss Daddy!" she cries, adding, perceptively, "And you need him too." She was also dismayed when I said she couldn't really apply for after school clubs next term because of leaving ("Why do we even have to go to New Zealand? It's affecting everything!")

Since the turn of the year we have been facing farewells and last times of doing things before we head off to the other side of the world.

The pace of these seems to be accelerating now. Pippa's had her last cello lesson. Today I returned the allotment key - alone (the girls said it was too sad to come with me).

It's not all doom and gloom of course. We still have a giggle round the dinner table, and we are busy with our usual dancing, gymnastics, swimming, etc. We are looking forward to getting to New Zealand and exploring. Most of all we are looking forward to being with Bruce again.

But it does feel like a lonely slog at times. There is still a lot to do to get ready for renting the house out and shipping our belongings. There is daily progress but I'm not entirely sure if the progress is quick enough. It will be like Christmas though - it will happen whether we are fully prepared or not.

I am aware of trying, but not necessarily succeeding, in doing the best thing as a parent. Mostly I am going softer. I've pretty much given up on pushing Susannah with her times tables this week. She only has three weeks left in school - and with Good Friday and an Inset day - they are not even full weeks. Does it really matter if she doesn't know 7x8? I am doing my best to reassure about the changes - not dismissing them as trivial, but trying to listen and respond. It is not always easy though when the clingy-ness factor goes up, or I hear for the 100th time about a sore foot (it's the whine in the voice that irks the most). I keep administering cuddles.

Like most of the population in the vicinity, I think we will all be helped along by a dose of sunshine and the warmth of Spring. Cold grey days are not what we need for lifting the spirits. Although early this year, we are in need of the Easter break already - relaxation with family and friends, fresh air and fun. Being somewhere other than home, because already we are all too aware that soon we will need to make our home somewhere completely new to us.

Of course we are lucky. We have chosen to make this move. We have chosen to unsettle ourselves and to create a home somewhere else (in a beautiful place with a great reputation for family life no less). My heart goes out to everyone who has no choice but to move and little choice about where they go, sacrificing all because they are fleeing war or famine. We are migrants, they are refugees. The media sometimes muddles the too terms. But even for our chosen path it's emotional and will be for some time.

Final daffodils from the allotment.