May the 4th

This time last year we were just settling in to Auckland, and visiting Hobbiton.

Not much has really changed. Squish is still (mostly) going to school happily enough, Mark seems to be enjoying arguing with data sets at work, and I am ticking along, mostly being a mum, and advocating for Squish at school, and also as the area delegate for Creative Fibre.

We all miss home. I miss watching my favourite little people growing up, miss watching Squish interact with his cousins and his grandparents. Mum and Dad have been here for a visit last month, and Bev & Ted are coming in a few weeks too, but it’s not the same as being able to see them every week. I guess homesickness has kicked in with the weather getting colder here.

Our little house in Westmere is a lot like the house in Denistone where Mark and I first lived together. It’s a draughty old council house that hasn’t had a kitchen renovation since it was built in (probably) the late 1930’s. But the location couldn’t be better, we see the sea every day as we drive down to our street, we are about 100m away from a gorgeous public reserve and a bit further to the community garden. The Countdown (Woolworths) is a 4 minute walk away, and the bus that goes from there goes right past Inigo’s school to Mark’s work.

I have met some wonderful new friends, and although uni doesn’t seem to be working out at the moment, life is good.

Gainful Emloyment

The New Zealand government has a philosophy that all kids should be catered to in the school environment.  

“The New Zealand School Trustees Association describes school policy as a framework that integrates culture and practice, values and actions. Inclusive schools ensure that the principles of inclusion are embedded in their policies, plans, and actions. They develop specific policies for the inclusion of students with special education needs…”

Which is great, right?

So Squish’s school has approached me to ask if I might consider helping out as a teachers aide for a few weeks while they get a more permanent person in to work with a new kid.  I’ve started back at uni, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to juggle work and uni and family in the longer term.  

The new kid has a global developmental delay, and he needs an aide with him the whole time while he is at school.  I did my first shift today.  

And it was fine.  He’s a lovely kid, responsive and keen to try new things, and he has loads of energy and enthusiasm.  It was hard work, but I can see that working with him has the potential to be quite rewarding in the long term.

But yesterday, a teacher in the same school told me that there simply wasn’t enough resources to be able to give my kid the differentiation and attention that he needs in order to be integrated into exactly the same school.  That he would need to be home schooled if I wanted his learning to be tailored to his needs.

So much as I hate the whole “my kid is a precious snowflake” syndrome, it is rather a double standard to claim that the school can be all things to all kids – except the ones at the wrong end of the bell curve.

At the Mind Plus information session we went to last week, I asked about emerging research and best practice in the field of teaching gifted kids.  Internationally, more countries are starting to have classes just for gifted kids, and that these classes give kids the best opportunity to develop their strengths and work on their weaknesses.  

NZ policy is to cater to everyone, and giving extra support where it is required within the school setting – just not to kids like Squish, who struggle at the other end of the spectrum.

Bikes in Schools

Squish’s school has just become part of this awesome program.

Over the holidays they have built a bike track around the school play area, and hopefully he’l learn to ride at school. Check out the video on the linked page, it looks like a really positive intervention for the kids.

And I have re-enrolled in uni. It’s going to cost me about $200 to sit each exam, but other than that I can continue to study from New Zealand, and still earn my degree in Australia.

Living in NZ has been mostly great.  We miss our family and friends, and great Middle Eastern food, but all three of us have found things we absolutely adore about living in NZ.  Mark is doing challenging and interesting work, and living a short walk from work has been great for us spending time together as a family.  Mark gets to see Inigo both in the morning, and in the evening – in Sydney he was usually asleep by the time Mark got home from work.

Mark has also found a new choir to sing with, an octet that has paid gigs, and they are flying him down to Wellington for a gig next month.  Exciting stuff.

Inigo has two rocking schools.  Freemans Bay School is a lovely city school with loads of green space, a kitchen garden, the freedom to go barefoot and climb trees, and the ability to just be him, without the pressure to conform to anybody elses idea of “normal”.  The school is very child centered, and Squishy is loving the freedom and personal power he gets from taking responsibility and ownership of his learning process.  It’s not perfect, but he is a much, much happier wee beastie when Monday morning rolls around each week than he ever was about going to school in Sydney.

And then there is One Day School.  A place where kids get to explore a new topic each week, with the freedom to apply their own initiative and resources however they see fit.  Where the kids are guided and encouraged to explore the topic through their own eyes and methods. I can’t speak highly enough about what this experience has meant for Squish.  He was already a great thinker, but he is gaining so much confidence and passion for learning, that he is wanting to do homework so that he can have more time at school for his projects.

I have withdrawn from university again this semester because the exam period fell exactly in the middle of when Mark’s contract here ended, and the uncertainty about where we would be living was very damaging to my ability to focus on study.  So I have thrown myself face first into the Auckland (and greater New Zealand) fibre scene.

I have joined Creative Fibre, and attended lots of different groups.  I have learned bobbin lace, and loom weaving, and supported spindling, and how to use a hackle, a drum carder, and now I have even bought a double treadle spinning wheel.  And last month I taught my first class – “Unravelling Ravelry”.  Some of you may laugh at the thought of me teaching Ravelry (yes, you Emily!), but i have come a long way, and the process of putting together the class notes taught me a lot.  The class went brilliantly, and I am happy to say that the owner of the yarn shop has asked me back to teach two new classes. Learn to Knit, and Continental Kntiing both coming up.

Our tenure in NZ ends in about six weeks, and we have not yet reached an agreement with Mark’s employers that will enable us to stay here long term.

The stress, of course, is huge.  On the upside, Mark and I have weathered some pretty rough storms in the past, and we are very lucky that we are able to communicate effectively and present a united front.  We’ll get through this, and will be thrilled at the outcome.  If we have to come back to Sydney, we get to have Summer and Christmas with our loved ones, Squish will be able to go back to choir and piano lessons, I’ll get back on track with uni, and Mark’s job will carry on, and I’m sure he will find another choir.

And if we end up staying here, you can look forward to lots of pictures of our travels around this lovely country, and more fibery adventures, and the joy of packing up a three bedroom cluttered house to move into a tiny two bedroom apartment.  Joy!

So, on RUOK day, how are YOU doing?  If your glass is only half full, can I help you top it up a little?

Adventures

Today I did my first session as a counsellor for a new project trialling using Google Glass for breastfeeding information and support. I didn’t get any calls, but I did have a lovely time fiddling with the technology (I don’t get the glasses, just the software!), and working out the kinks. And I got started on uni for this semester, Cognition I, another one of those units that puts fear into the hearts of second year students. I’m only doing one subject this semester, with the aim of getting great results and lifting my GPA – and eventually being offered a place in honours.

And… There is further talk of Mark going to New Zealand. Still nothing confirmed, but we have agreed to the idea of thinking about considering a short term move. No idea what we would do with the house, or the creatures, or any practicalities, and it all may fall over (if a single person without a family volunteers for the role!), but we’ll see.

On being amazing

Over the past few days I’ve been leading groups of new first year students around the campus to give them a gentle and friendly introduction to campus life.  Most of my “mentees” were mature age students, and I shared some of my history with them as a way of explaining that life has challenges, but there are mechanisms in place within the university to support people who have added challenges, and that different people have different challenges – your worries are every bit as valid as mine.  We all need a bit of help sometimes.

I made a point of stopping the tour outside campus wellbeing and explaining in detail about the services they offer.  Mostly because I don’t know if I would still be at uni without that support, and because I know that the attrition rate for first year students is really high, and I want “my” team to know that help is available when life gets sticky.

And the response I got was the usual “you’re amazing”.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, apart from a general uneasiness.  Later I reflected that going to uni is a very selfish act, and that the people that support me to do this are the amazing ones.  My husband is amazing.  His forbearance and tolerance border on saintly at times.  I’m not amazing.  I am a sorry and broken person who has no choice but to gather the pieces in a bucket and carry on.

Without Squish, without Mark, I wouldn’t have even been able to find a bucket.  Without my parents, my in-laws, my friends and family, I’d be living on the streets and eating out of bins.  Or I’d be dead.

So I loved this piece I read today. We are amazing because we are human.  Extending empathy and compassion is part of what makes us human, and without that we lose our humanity.