Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Snobbery of School Yard Parents

I'm always telling my kids, when they come home with tales of mean children in their class, "don't worry - school is not the real world."

School years are a fun, but short time in their lives. That one day they'll be out in the real world, and will be able to choose their friends, and choose their teachers, and choose where they want to live and go to a much larger pool than the classroom. That the school environment is really a false environment that is not reflective of what their lives will be once they finish.

But..... I am wrong. I'm not going to say that anymore.

Like the reality tv programme Survivor, school is actually a little mini-world of the real world.

In homeschooling groups, it is popular to say that school is such a false environment. It's not the real world. I've done home-schooling and I've done public school, and I think that's a wrong assumption. School life is very much reflective of life outside.

After watching 28 episodes of Survivor, and seeing the many parallels between the game and real life, I am convinced that the social game is the one that will get you the furtherest in life. Learn how to mix with the people around you and life will be easier.

As an introvert, one of my favourite things to do is people watch. I've been to a few schools, and quite a few school functions in the last few years, and I've noticed one factor that is always the same, no matter which school it is, or which event I'm at.

The behaviour of children at school is reflective of the behaviour of their parents.

I was just at the Athletics Day for my son today, and I observed it yet again. See if you can make the same parallels between parent social groups and children's social groups.

The 'Popular' Parent Group. 

These are the ones who know each other well.
At my school (a private christian school), they probably go to church together, or know each other outside of school somehow. Maybe they grew up together. Some people never leave the place they were born in, so they usually are well-known. They seldom make an effort to welcome newcomers, or if they do, it's very superficial and only if your child becomes friends with theirs. As a christian myself, and knowing who the christians are at this school, I find that totally unacceptable (read, unChrist-like), and snobbish.
In a private school, you also get the highly-paid parents whose careers define who they are. The Mrs. Heart-Surgeons, and the Mrs.LocalMemberofParliament or just the "my-husband-got-rich-on-the-stock-market" wives who speak with a South Auckland accent. They turn up with their $500 handbags and their immaculately manicured fingernails in their large black Remuera tractors.

The Over Achievers Group.

The ones who are busy, busy, busy. And if they're not busy, they find something to make them look busy. Cell phones to their ears, striding purposefully across the paddock/carpark/playground.  They're involved in so many school activities it makes your head swim. If a teacher asks for help, they're always the first ones to put their hands up.

The Loners.

This morning I saw two parents standing by themselves, while the other little groups stood in semi-circles, chatting and laughing. I always make a point of talking to them, if I know them, or introducing myself if I don't, because I've been there before. I've been the parent standing by myself and I know what it feels like, especially if you're new to the school. And my mother always taught us to be friendly to the ones who didn't have friends. I don't think that's taught much these days, to be honest.

I saw a boy at the starting line of the 60metre dash today push the cone out of the way, so his foot could get a few inches start on the other boys, and I heard his father laugh and say, "that's my boy - that's what I taught him," which really shows that getting ahead seems to be the priority of many, rather than just enjoying the journey.

The Normal Ones

These are the parents that are worth gold. These are the ones you want to make friends with. They're the ones who can't always make school events, but if they can, they will. If they know you, they'll make a point of coming and saying hi and being friendly and passing the time of day. They'll be the first to offer help if you need it. I know a couple of these parents at my school.
But they are rare.
If you find them, hold onto them.

So do you think school life is reflective of real life? Can you identify any of these groups in your world? Are you someone who welcomes newcomers, or are you more happy to hang with your familiar group?

It is a challenge to myself as well, and I've been on both sides of this fence. I've been the loner and I've been part of the popular. I want to be the normal, friendly, kind one. As a shy, quiet person that takes an effort on my part, but some of my loveliest friends are those that I've met from just swallowing my insecurity (which is really just pride in disguise), and striking up random conversations with strangers.

That is my goal and my purpose and it is what I hope to pass on to my children too. There are too many selfish people in the world already. We all know it, and I suspect we've all experienced the isolation that comes from being around selfish people.

So, if we can't change the whole world, maybe we can change this one thing in our local world.

Be friendly to strangers. Make an effort. Be the change.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Private Moment of Triumph

When I travelled to New Caledonia recently, something happened to me that hasn't happened in a very long time.

I left the shores of my homeland.

I conquered my fear of foreign borders.

Most of you know my story and experiences with the American immigration.
It put me off travel for a long time. Nearly 25 years.
Stay in New Zealand. Stay safe. They can't kick you out of here.

We had a rather harrowing flight into New Caledonia. It was very turbulant., or as the captain would say in his lovely French accent..... "turbulonce." (spelled how it sounded).
They even stopped serving drinks, and the seatbelt sign was on pretty much for the entire flight. For the few minutes they turned it off, the queue for the toilets was almost the length of the plane.

I hate flying, so I was saying over and over to myself, 'turbulance isn't (usually) dangerous.'

So when the jewelled reef of Nouvelle Caledonie appeared in our windows, there was an almost audible sigh of relief, and everyone got very chatty again, after quite a quiet flight.

But I was euphoric for other reasons.

A quiet moment of private triumph.

I was in foreign parts.

Maybe I've been bitten by the travel bug again. I certainly had it once, many years ago.

But after that flight into Noumea I thought I would probably take a lot of convincing to get back on a plane, but the excitement of seeing new things and experiencing a new culture, and hearing a different language, all with a bunch of wonderful teenagers, made that experience fade into the past.

The journey home was quite different. Smooth, sunny and quick. We were halfway home before we'd barely settled into our seats.

There's something rather wonderful about flying back into New Zealand. As I said once to an American girl who has come to live here, the rugged cliffs of our Pacific Coast and the rolling green hills of our farmland viewed from the air, make it feel like the country stretches out it's arms in a warm embrace, welcoming you back into the fold. Going away makes you appreciate coming back.

I'm sure every wandering kiwi has experienced that moment of a full heart of love when our coast comes into sight as you fly back home from other worlds.

It's almost the best part of the entire trip.

The funny thing is, almost like a test, when I went through border control at Auckland airport after we landed, the electronic machine spat my passport back out and refused to let me enter, saying I had to go and speak to a customs official.

For a split second, I had flashbacks to 1993. My nightmare coming true. Again.
But, it was a fleeting moment.

And I didn't even get a heart palpitation.

It happened, as I heard later, that they were having trouble with the machines.

So, as I think back on my visit to New Caledonia, I think I will always view it fondly.

It was responsible for giving me back a part of myself that I had lost.

Merci, belles iles.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Life Is Never Still

There have been so many changes in our lives over the past few weeks, that I decided a new, fresh blog look was also necessary to go along with the upheaval. Changes in the seasons, the change in our home, the change in our job, and all the other little changes that carry on around us. Our children growing, our dog getting older, the death of a family member.

Life is never still. Life never waits. It is always moving, travelling, changing.

It seems to be happening to us quite a bit.

 "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building on the new." Socrates.

When I first heard that we had to move from our rental house, my shoulders slumped, and my mind kind of went into a panic. There is a rental house shortage on in our town at the moment, enough of a shortage that the local newspaper featured two articles on the dire condition in our area.

But through a series of nothing short of little miracles, we have found ourselves a little abode for the next 12-18 months while we build our house. Sure, it's not just across the road from my brother and sister in law anymore, and it's slightly further away from the school than where we are now, but it's newer and less rent to pay, and now that we've secured it, I'm looking forward to moving in and trying to live simpler, but getting rid of a lot of junk in the transition.

I am going to miss this vista out of my upstairs window though!

Spring is here, bringing with it the fresh, new growth on the trees. I love this time of year.

Rob starts a new job this week. He has been commuting to Rotorua for the past 3 years. Tauranga is notoriously difficult for finding work. It will be so nice to have him local again!

So while some of the changes have been good, some have been difficult, I remind myself again that it's part of the journey of life. I might as well stretch out my arms and welcome it. There's nothing I can do about it, so why not enjoy the ride.

Spring is a reminder of that, don't you think?

Change must come. Change will come.

But there will be some nice things to enjoy, if we look for them.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What I Learned From Reading Gone Girl

It was the cover on the paperback that first attracted me.

I was shopping in our local mall, and the bookstore has a stand with new releases just outside the entrance to the store. The book stood out to me. It was black and velvety with white words. I picked it up, touched it, read the back, then made myself remember the title, went home and ordered it on audio books. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Simply put, Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunn, the perfect couple, with perfect lives and a perfect marriage. Until one day, Nick comes home and finds that Amy is missing. And there's a lot of blood. The hunt for Amy commences, and Nick finds himself as the prime suspect.

Without giving any spoilers, I want to tell you what I learned from this book. I have recommended it to many friends, and two of those I recommended it to, who read it, hated it.
Gone Girl is the kind of book that provokes strong emotion. I was fascinated by it.


I have to be in the mood for a thriller. And the day I picked up Gone Girl at the bookshop I was in the mood. But this book has given me much more than just a thrill.

I view this book in two parts. The first half and the second half. If you've read it, you'll understand that. If you haven't, persevere with the first half. I nearly didn't. I nearly got bored and moved on to the next book.

I'm so glad I didn't.

At about halfway, the story takes a dramatic turn, and then you won't be able to put it down. Like, seriously. You won't be able to put it down. So it might be a good idea to get it on audio, because then you can drive while listening to it, and you can cook dinner while listening to it, and you can pretty much do anything you want, short of having conversations with real people in real life, and still be absorbed in the story.

Gone Girl came into my life at a crucial time.

I was struggling to understand the actions of a former employer of mine. I was shocked, confused, dismayed and had many huge choices to make ahead of me as I worked through the ramifications of realising I had been a victim of sexual harassment and predatory grooming.

So what did this book teach me?

It taught me about a word I was not formerly familiar with.

narcissism photo Narc2.jpg

Gone Girl is narcissism on steroids.

It's evil. It's dark. It's deadly. It's frightening. But, if you have an interest in human behaviour or the psychology of the human mind, it's fascinating.

Gone Girl woke me up to the narcissists in my life, and the impact that narcissism has had on my life.  It was the catalyst that started me on my journey of discovery and mourning and healing.

I'm not just talking about my former employer and groomer, but others who have had an impact on my life throughout the years and whom I believe have this personality disorder.

You cannot have a close relationship or encounter with a narcissist and come away unscathed.

I researched it. I read about it. I joined Facebook groups and I read books and talked to others on how to deal with a narcissist.  I consulted with experts and those with a deep understanding of the disorder. Here is one of those writers who has been a great help to me personally, and given me good advice in how to deal with it.

I have not seen the movie Gone Girl, yet.  I am a firm believer in reading the book first; unless I hate the book, then I'll watch the movie in the hopes that it will spark my interest in the book!

But with Gone Girl, the book came first.

It's a story that haunts you, will stay with you and will provoke a strong reaction in you.

Have you read the book? Have you seen the movie? I'd love to know what you think!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

French Food

One of the things I absolutely loved during my week in Noumea, was the French Food.

Nobody ever told me that the French Sticks they sell in the grocery store in New Zealand are nothing compared to the real, genuine Baguettes! You can eat those things just by themselves, they're so light and fluffy. We enjoyed the pastries of France last week too, from Pain au Chocolat to Croissants, little sweet tarts, strawberry and chocolate mousse and ham and cheese with the Baguettes.

This was the best pastry shop we found in downtown Noumea. We were attracted to it by the aroma's wafting down the street as we shopped.

See..... even at McDonalds.

To be sure, it was expensive to buy food in New Caledonia in some places, but it was so tempting to try out the different tastes. One of my great loves in life is cheese, and nobody does this better than the French. This was a little packet of Feta with herbs and spices on the top. We ate this with a baguette one afternoon in the city park.

Most of their dairy is imported from France (except some of the milk comes from New Zealand). Here we were at the local grocery store early in the week, choosing our cheese.

The cheese is out of this world - like the best, creamiest, most expensive cheese you would find here in New Zealand.

The Butter Shelf.

We did have a wee chuckle at this - wine in snack-sized disposable containers!

While out shopping, we went into a little chocolate shop. It was quite expensive so we didn't buy too much, but ohhhhh, what a feast for the eyes!

I did buy these Calisson. Unique to the south of France, I believe. They had a sweet, slightly almond flavour, with a fine texture. A little treat.

One of the highlights for me, would have to be our night out at the Crepe Restaurant, Creperie le Rocher. If you ever get the chance to go, remember to phone and book in first, as it is very popular.

I had a cheese savoury crepe to start with, which I didn't finish because I was desperate to try the desert crepe. I chose the Paysanne.

Caramalized apples, creme fraiche, caramel farm house butter with Apple Brandy poured over in flames. Could anything be better! It was amazing!

Tasting and experiencing different food is all part of going to a foreign country. There were things I bought and tasted and didn't like much, but mostly I enjoyed it all. The French certainly are the best at this!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ten Things To Love About Kate Sheppard

Today is election day in New Zealand.

I voted yesterday, in the midst of my busy schedule. It is a privilege I will never take for granted.

In 1893 Kate Sheppard petitioned the government for the right for women to vote, and won. She sent a ripple round the world and other countries soon followed.
But New Zealand was the first country to grant this for women. That is something to be enormously proud of.

Photo Source
Kate won this for us. We remind ourselves of her valour and courage and New Zealand's ability time and time again to lead the world in human rights by having her face on our $10 note. So today, in honour of the woman who fought for my right to vote, I thought I'd list ten things about Kate that I think are interesting and noteworthy.

1. Kate helped establish the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union. It was from this that she and her supporters formed the petition for the right to vote.

2. It took three petitions to the government to get the vote for women passed.

3. Kate was a devout christian.

* I note that as an important fact, because I do believe, in spite of many people these days mocking it and abusing it, that christianity is behind much of the beliefs and freedoms of the western world, and is the only 'religion' where women are on an equal footing with men.

4. She married a grocer, and had one child, a son.

5. Once the right to vote was passed, Kate only had 10 weeks to get as many New Zealand women over the age of 21 as possible to register. In spite of the short notice, nearly two-thirds of women cast a vote. 61%!

6. Kate was born in England, but emigrated to New Zealand when she was a teenager.

7. She made some pretty amazing statements. This being the most famous,

"All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome."

8. My oldest daughter shares a birthday with her. March 10. That makes me smile.

9. After winning the vote for women in New Zealand, she travelled to America, Canada and England to meet with the suffragettes in those countries and encourage them in their fight for social reform.

10. She died in Christchurch and is buried in the Addington Cemetery.

Her obituary in the paper said this of her:

"A great woman has gone, whose name will remain an inspiration to the daughters of New Zealand while our history endures."

So, I hope that if you are a kiwi you will get out there today and do what Kate and those women who went before us fought for. The right and the privilege for women to have a voice in political matters.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Neurological Pathways and Epilepsy... our journey

As many of you know, who have followed us on this journey, when our boy Teddy was 4 years old he was diagnosed with epilepsy.

We were sitting at the dinner table one evening finishing off our summer salad when I looked over towards him and noticed his head turning ever so slowly to the left, his eyes following. It was such an unusual action for him, that I patted him on the hand, which was resting on the table, to get his attention.

There was no response.

We called his name. We waved our hands in front of him and still, no response. That is when I jumped up from my chair and ran for the phone and called the ambulance.

By the time they arrived he was coming out of this absence seizure, but bless their hearts, the paramedics thought it would be a good idea to send him into the main hospital for a check up. When we arrived it was a quiet night. We all gathered in a little room, with our now bright and cheerful son. There were about 3 paediatricians chatting with us, along with two nurses. Teddy was sitting on my knee when he suddenly raised his arms above his head and I felt his whole body stiffen.

I shouted to the doctors to come and get him, and they laid him down on the table while his little body was racked with the shaking and convulsions of a full-blown grande mal seizure.

It was horrible and ghastly, but looking back on it now, one of the best things that could have happened at the time. As one of the paediatricians said to me that night, it's not often they actually get to witness something like that. They are usually called in after the fact.

Teddy having had this massive seizure in front of so many experts meant that he was fast-tracked through the system. And because I was 37 weeks pregnant with Miss A, they took pity on me, wanting to get all the hospital procedures out of the way before our next baby arrived. With an overnight stay, Teddy had blood tests, CT scans and most importantly, a neurologist referral. Everything came back clear, but our journey was far from over.

It took nearly 18 months to get Teddy stable on his medications. Sometimes during that time, he would have dozens of absence seizures over a matter of minutes. He would be playing outside in the long grass when he would disappear from sight and we'd run up and find him seizing. One horrible day he had seizure after seizure. One seizure would exhaust his little body, and he would go into a deep sleep for about 40 minutes following each one. Then he would pop up from the couch where he was lying with a smile on his face. Then half an hour later..... down again. I didn't want him growing up and knowing that it was a handicap - I wanted him to experience life just like any other kid, so that meant getting in the swimming pool with him, it meant standing under him on the playground in case he had a seizure while on the monkey bars. It meant switching from baths to showers. It meant teaching my older children emergency procedures - how to turn him onto his side before even calling for help. We learned how the tongue-choking myth is, mostly,  just a myth. We learned that disorders like this are not environmental, and sometimes the brain won't tell you why it's doing this. We learned how to value each day.

It was a horrible and torrid time. He had lots of prayer from our church family. He had an amazing neurologist who was gentle with him and his approach to medications. He started him on a very mild anti-seizure drug until we found the one that was just right for him. In the end, he was on a high dose of Epilim and a low dose of Ethosuxymide. But at last the seizures were gone.

Finally, we had them under control, and our lives began to return to normal. Teddy was able to go to school, but he had started late. To this day, we are unsure whether the delay in his learning is because he lost a year of crucial milestones - the age of 4 years old when a toddler's learning curve is huge, or if it was due to the toxicity of the medications. Teddy would often talk about feeling 'foggy' in his head. Teddy struggles to follow instructions that are not of the most simplistic. This is something that 4 year olds learn during that formative year. Instead of 'go to your bedroom and bring me your shoes' they learn more complicated instructions like, 'go to your bedroom and put your socks on and then bring me your shoes and your jersey." Teddy missed this development during that year.
He struggles to concentrate for longer than a 5 minute period at school or follow complex instructions.

Thankfully, he is now off all medications. It will be nearly 2 years since his last dose of Epilim. Every day we thank God for this blessing and every day we hold our breath. Thankfulness and fear running on the same tracks.

With teacher aide help and getting him into a good school here in our local town, he has come a long way with his learning. He is just managing to keep his head above water academically, but we have been looking for ways to increase his abilities so that as he grows and merges into the more senior school, where the work is harder and faster, so he will be able to cope and grow and succeed.

This year, he has a young, newly qualified teacher who has been amazing with him. And we have sought expert help outside of school to assist him. We have ruled out dyslexia and ADD and ADHD. He has no behavioural issues, is a social boy with lots of friends, but for some reason he just gets stuck when it comes to executive skills and academia. Sometimes it is hard to know if it's just a boy thing (you know, boys hate sitting still), but we have discovered that it is more than that now - there is a definite delay, not disorder, just that he has a lot of catching up to do.

We have been learning that the brain, no matter how old, can learn new pathways. Our greatest need at the moment is to extend our boy's concentration, so the expert advised getting him book activities that he can work on at home, that spark his interests.

Teddy has an obsession with cars at the moment. Every day he asks me some technical question about 4-wheel drives, or Bugatti Veyron's, and every time I say to him, "I know nothing about this. You're asking the wrong person! Ask Dad when he gets home." But he doesn't give up.

So I did some searching on Amazon and found several books that I hope will help him, and thrill him.

Exotic Cars by John Lamm.
A beautiful, full colour book with written detail about each car. It will be a challenge for Teddy to read this - even though the written portion on each car is minimal, the print is small, but I know he will be keen to read this, and I can see him sitting on the couch reading to us every night. There are facts about each car including the history, the price, the speed, the type of engine, the interiors.... he's going to love it!

And I found him some colouring-in books that also encourage reading and concentration.

Luxury Cars and American Muscle Cars by Bruce LaFontaine, and another soon to arrive on how to Draw Cars by Doug DuBosque. I know he's going to love these books, and hopefully, it will be a small step into extending his concentrations times that will help him at school, and on the way to giving his brain a new pathway.

In learning about these new brain pathways, I have found the book Smart but Scattered really interesting and valuable. It teaches about the importance of structure and environmental security and predictability, helping your child get organised, to follow through on tasks, learn from mistakes and stay in control of emotions.

Some of these books are available through my Amazon Associates link on the side bar, if anyone is interested in them.

If you know of something similar that you think Teddy would be interested in, please let me know! I am always on the look out now, for things that might help extend his learning neurological pathways.

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