Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You can't have too much support, but you can have too much baking powder

My husband is a good cook, although he never uses recipes. I think recipes are heaven: there is nothing more interesting to me than pottering around the kitchen with an ancient cookery tome and some bizarre ingredients I have never seen before. When we got married, he presented me with the Edmonds Cookery book, a tome that he assured me was the staple of all Kiwi cooking since the time of Captain Cook. Since at the time I was interested in learning to cook foreign fancy stuff, I raised my eyebrows at the recipes for sausage rolls and bread-and-butter pudding. I put it on the shelf in that polite I'll-never-use-this sort of way. My suspicion mounted when my husband used it to make scones, a dish that turned out to be so full of baking powder it was inedible. (Edmonds make baking powder: I appreciate that they want their book to increase baking powder sales, but surely it is a short-term strategy if it renders all their recipes inedible).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Ants Are Coming

It was a few weeks ago. Late evening, and my eldest shouted out from the toilet. "Mummy, come quickly." Obviously, being the dutiful parent that I am, I ignored him. His rising panicky bloodcurdling screams made me eventually pay attention: I regret to confess that I was not worried that he was hurt so much as panicked the noise would wake his little brothers. So I poked my husband to get off the sofa and see what was going on.
"Oh my God they're swarming," he yelled. I went down the corridor to see what he meant. Good heavens. Er. Yeurk. The loo wall was black with ants. It was like a scene from, um, I don't know, a movie where ants swarm all over your toilet wall. I pretended for the sake of my son that this was absolutely fine and normal, sauntered off, then when I was out of sight ran down the stairs at the speed of light and returned with the anti-ant spray, imported from Australia, that seems to work better than anything else we have found.
It worked.
I hoovered up the ants, shuddered a bit and thought that was the end of it.

"You deserve an Oscar:" no, actually, I deserve some funding

Finally they were here. The woman from the Individualised Funding Trust, here to sort out our respite (personal care) payments. These are distinct from the carer support payments, which will be arranged via another route. These are of course distinct from Disability Allowance payments. Along with the diagnosis they really ought to give you a Master's Degree in Bureaucracy Management and Acronym Decoding. It would save so much time and so many phone calls.
Anyway, this woman took one look at my youngest and said how gorgeous he was. He is, it is true. He has a particularly elfin look, as if an angel just popped by into our lives, somehow losing his way from the dizzy heights of heaven. Then she took a second look, and said "But why haven't you been allocated any hours for him?" At this point, he was assiduously trying to climb out of our first-floor window. If he's a lost citizen of heaven, he seems remarkably keen on finding a swift route back home.
I explained that the Trust thought he was too young. She shook her head. "You need to go back to them. I mean, he is high maintenance, even I can see that, and look, we have a lot of children at his age or younger whose families are receiving support."
It was the nudge I needed. I rang the Trust today. As the Carers Support organisation had advised me to, but I had been wimping out of for a couple of weeks. The woman who got back to me was very nice - they all are, it's not their fault they are the scions of government rationing - and when she took some details about my son's various needs, said "You deserve an Oscar." Since I was begging for more funding, it wasn't the moment to respond honestly: honest responses would have been

1) No, I don't deserve any particular level of praise, you should see some of the friends I have with REALLY challenging children
2) No, I don't deserve an Oscar, are you saying I'm making all this up?
3) No, I don't deserve an Oscar, however I do deserve the funding you are currently denying me, will you stop complimenting me on my ability to cope and give me the resources to continue doing so?
4) No, I don't deserve an Oscar, but you do sound awfully sympathetic, either there is a chance that you will help me or you yourself deserve an Oscar because you really do sound like you care.

I do, do hope that she really does. It's hard to read the nuances, though what with being in a strange country: I was at a support group meeting this week where I couldn't tell if the organisers were being wildly, crazily, insultingly optimistic or just showing some Kiwi can-do spirit. Either way, they completely failed to catch the spirit of the group, which was full of mums who had been awarded Carers Hours and had no one available to employ to use them. Ignoring this salient fact, they bubbled away about taking the first step to getting help being the hardest, ignoring the fact that actually, the first step isn't too hard, it is the seventeenth and eighteenth steps that really grate, you know, when you have been turned down and you have to argue about it, or you do get the funding and then can't find anyone who will spend time with your challenging kids. I do hate it when professionals try to gee up SN parents. Sometimes you have to allow people the opportunity to feel a bit rubbish and say they feel like giving up. Or perhaps that is my pessimistic can't-do English self coming out.

Anyway, to the barricades. Again. I do hope I get something out of this other than praise. It's always a bad sign when people do that, and you don't need a Masters in Decoding Bureaucratic Intentions to work that one out. "You are amazing, superb, I don't know how you manage, what a fabulous job you are doing" are all bad signs. Particularly dangerous is the faux-compliment "You are coping so well." At that, you might as well start writing your appeal letter. It means they've decided to reserve the funding for someone else, who is not.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Smashed Glass

A calm afternoon. My youngest toddled into the lounge in that delightful round-bottomed, waddly manner of the very young on Very Important Business. My husband had left a glass on the floor. He picked it up. "Give that to me, darling," I said in my best nice-calm-parent voice. He shook his head, and toddled amiably towards the door. I followed him. Then he threw it, smash, onto the balcony. Glass bounced everywhere. I shouted, raged, announced that he was sitting on the naughty spot. He refused to make eyecontact, sat on the naughty spot exactly as I asked, signed sorry when requested, and then sauntered off as if absolutely nothing had happened. It was all highly disconcerting. He seemed totally, utterly detached. Eerie, like watching telly with the sound turned off. Yes, he complied, but he showed absolutely no emotion at all, other than a few sobs when I shouted at him (but only because he doesn't like shouting). And the glass-throwing, He couldn't have been calmer, more self-possessed, as he did it. Odd. Reminded me of Margaret Thatcher "Oh look, I destroyed the industrial economy of the English North. Yes, I DID mean to. Now what are you going to do about it?"

Now don't get me wrong, I am not shocked by the behaviour. Most two-year-olds exist in a permanent state of defiance and wrath and senseless self-defeating destruction, the toddler equivalent of nuclear warfare. If I had any delusions on that score, I would have been enlightened by the repair bill for rendering our Yorkshire house lettable again. But usually when kids throw stuff there is an element of frustration, rage, annoyance even. They want a reaction, or to express their fury at something, the relative epistemological chaos of existence in the climate change era, or the fact that you just switched TV channel. This wasn't like that, it was just for the hell of it. And he didn't care, he didn't care that he'd done it and he didn't care that I was telling him off. It was like dealing with a diminutative teenager, "yeah whatever mum so smoking's harmful SORRY can I have my fags back now?" Only I didn't have the comfort of thinking soon he'd leave home and be his girlfriend's problem instead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The earth moved for us this week, and not just when the bed broke. Earthquakes have been on everyone's mind. Where were you when you heard? the newspapers asked this week, on the anniversary of the one that struck Christchurch with such forcible brutality last year. Well, I was in bed, in the darkness of a Yorkshire winter. My husband woke me. This was major stuff. At the time we were both so sleep-deprived that when my eldest woke me up with a nightmare I had to restrain myself from bopping him over the head with a hammer (Sometimes it is good NOT to follow parental instinct). I knew it must be something important. "Hmmh?" I said, eyes shut.
"There's been another big quake in Christchurch."
I sat up. "Oh, God." Then "I'm glad you woke me."
We went downstairs and spent an unhappy few hours waiting for news of the family. They were all safe, although safe is a relative term in the aftershock-and-trauma-land that is the aftermath of a major quake. We saw the pictures of the cathedral, of the TV tower. The distance was terribly hard for my husband, he desperately wanted to be with his family. I remembered the September earthquake, which had caused us to talk about moving back to New Zealand. Now I wondered if we were making a terrible mistake and should change our plans.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Green Pool: or, when your son gets corrupted by Paddington Bear

I have never been so grateful to see cloudy skies. You see, this week has been one of domestic disasters. Not only did I manage to break our bed (no, I was just sitting on it) my husband forgot to test and put chlorine in the pool. Possibly he forgot the weekend before as well. (Notice how I am framing this as an example of HIS failure, rather than castigating myself for not having learnt how to manage the pool myself. What have I been doing with my time?) Anyway, on Tuesday we woke up to a greenish tinge. I threw chlorine into it with desperate fervour, but this lunchtime it seems even greener and cloudier than before. Thank goodness that this is the first really cool week since we moved in, so that the children are not begging to use the pool. A trip to the Great Hole In Our Bank Account, I mean the pool maintenance shop, beckons. I think we probably need algicide, and probably several of the other chemicals they mentioned that we scoffingly discarded as unnecessary a few weeks ago. You live and learn. They're a bit smug in that shop, and I'm rather dreading the penitential trip to explain that we didn't listen and now have a bright green pool. I can imagine the look they will give me, rather like the one you get from mechanics when your car seizes up and you explain reluctantly that actually, you haven't changed the oil for years. Must make sure to blame my husband.

Chemicals have been on my mind a lot this week. One of the most frustrating things about moving here has been that the time difference destroyed my oldest son's body clock. He stopped going to sleep. Now, working in the Church of England taught me a lot about dealing with unreasonable behaviour. So I like to think of myself as a tolerant woman, but there are a few things that really want to make me pull my hair out and feed it to the ducks: developing world debt, JFK conspiracy theories, Parish Church Councils debating Sunday morning parking, and late-night gymnastics from my children.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

SN Top Trumps: Are you being served?

Standing in a bike shop, waiting for a puncture repair. Sons are getting restless, so I move slightly away from the workshop entrance, towards the gleaming rows of new bikes. Immediately, a salesman bounds up. "I'm being served, thanks," I say. "Ha HA!" he says, loudly, to his colleagues. "Did you hear that? I'm being served." He mocks my accent. "Just like an old British television series, I'm being served, what-what?" My sons look at him in mystification, with no idea what he means. He goes on and on about it for a few minutes. I sigh, wondering how precisely this is going to make me want to buy a bike from him. I'm used to this kind of crap in England, but it's the first time in New Zealand. I had wondered what it would be like, being a Brit in Kiwi-land: the answer is, very boring. Like a weak cup of tea. There are so many expat Brits around that my accent is neither interesting nor threatening. No one cares, which is nice. And generally, New Zealanders don't identify my RP accent as particularly posh, which is a nice change from the UK (in Yorkshire I gradually developed a regional accent for shop use, to avoid the funny looks). So it's odd that this guy is so hung up about it: and then I realise - he is British too. Oh, well of course then. That explains it. And the fact that he's an idiot, of course. Maybe they should hang a sign up at Auckland Airport: Immigrants, Please declare any bigoted views at Customs, they will be confiscated unless they relate to cricketing Australians in which case, you need to work on them.

It is strange how we English still prey on each other abroad, I think. You would think there would have been a little solidarity. I hate apologising for myself, about things I can't help, like the way I speak or the fact that my son has just had a HUGE meltdown in Macdonalds, yelling and trying to throw tables. (Perhaps he has read what proper parents have to say about the evils of Macdonalds and is protesting, if we only took him to chi-chi organic cafes he would behave superly. Still, I'm not risking it. At least the MacDonalds tables are nailed down).

Liebster Award

A very kind person nominated me for a Liebster Award this week, which basically means she liked reading my blog and wanted other people to know about it. This award works like a domino effect - you get the chance to nominate five other blogs that you, in turn like. I have picked five that I return to again and again, you know where there is a story unfolding that grabs you, or something that you gain every time you read. But unfortunately I can't do links! Here they are. - Story of a friend of mine who is metaphorically mid-Atlantic, crossing from UK to US and back again with her American partner. - well-known Mumsnetter blog, this, but still worth a mention if you haven't stumbled across it before. Full of good advice about emigrating too. A blog devoted to children's books. What more can I say? Don't read this if you want to see rural Scotland as a paradise. This blogger combats injustice and prejudice and heartbreak: and does it all in beautiful, glorious prose.

And my final one - that I can't post a link to, because it is a private one. But peeps, you know who you are: you know what good friends you are: and you know the blog's name and purpose, even if I can't put it here. (taps nose)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Language Barrier

My eldest's TA meets me at the classroom door. "He has had a couple of real meltdowns today," she says. I feel my face go pale. "Oh, gosh, I am so sorry," I stammer, wondering who or what has been damaged, and whether there will be irate parents seeking compensation from us for little Johnny's broken arm. When she explains that she simply means he spent much of the day crying in the toilet, I look at her in gratitude and relief: it's a language difference, meltdown of a child with autism clearly means something different here from in the UK, where you would expect it to involve hours of screaming and flailing, if not bruises and blood. "Oh, I SEE," I say, trying not to sound too happy about my distraught child. But it is, actually, all hugely reassuring - not just because meltdown clearly means "was very upset indeed for some time and managed to tell us coherently what the problem was," but because the school took it so seriously and were so quick to tell me exactly what had occurred. It turns out it is all my fault - I forgot to explain to him that I was sending him without suncream on because the weather was foul, I forgot to check that he had his hat, I didn't explain fully that he needed to fill his waterbottle up from the fountain: I made him write in the wrong spelling book for homework. These things reduced him to tears for most of the day. Mea Culpa. Bad Mother. Perhaps I should go and cry in the toilets too.

The meltdown mistake makes me laugh ruefully, because I have just got back from two hours of visiting kohanga reo, the Maori language nests or kindergarten, with an eye to the future for my youngest child. Yes, that is right, I am totally insane. As if we didn't have family challenges enough.

"Oh wow, autism is amazing."

It is my first morning at this toddler group, and I am trying to work out the decent interval that needs to pass before I can stop watching my son, go into the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea. (God forbid that it turns out to be one of THOSE toddler groups where they make you wait for tea until the children are having juice and a biscuit). To pass the time, make friends and most importantly dull the tea-cravings, I am chatting to the mother next to me. We swap ages, schools of our other children, have the same eternal conversation about the weather, it always runs like this:
Random Kiwi: "Oh, poor you, what a terrible summer, all this rain, so dreadful to arrive like this."
Me: "No, not really."
Sympathetic Kiwi, certain that I am putting up a brave front and keen to reassure me: "No, no, it must have been awful for you."
Me (looking at blazing sunshine): "No, honestly, if you've been living in Yorkshire this weather is amazing."
Them: "Oh really? Yorkshire, you say? Worse than this?" (dubious stare and momentary glance away, as if they are trying to pretend that the thought "THIS WOMAN MIGHT BE INSANE WATCH HER AROUND MY KIDS" isn't running through their head).

I am doing my usual trick of trying to think of ways not to mention the diagnosis. Then I think, sod it, it will have to come up sometime, and with an unusual level of chutzpah I say, clearly and loudly, "Oh, and by the way, he has a working diagnosis of autism, and yes, I know that he doesn't look like it, I'm just telling you now to get that conversation out of the way."
There is a moment's pause and then the man next to me says "Wow! How amazing!" He steps forward. "You know, I used to work with autistic children. How amazing. You know, it is the most FASCINATING condition."
Now Kiwi enthusiasm is great, and I suppose it is better than shunning me, but I can't help but feel there is something a little weird and inappropriate than enthusing how amazing it is to have a child with autism. Yes, it's amazing, my life is so much richer what with all the extra biting and yelling and hitting. I resist the temptation to snap "You can look after him and his brothers for a couple of weeks, I bet you'll find that REALLY fascinating." Instead, I comfort myself with the thought that this is a worthy entry for my long-planned book "THINGS NOT TO SAY TO THE PARENT OF A CHILD WITH ADDITIONAL NEEDS."
Oh Lord, I think, I am really not sure that this toddler group is worth it, even with the prospect of an imminent cup of tea.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I should not be feeling irritable

I should be feeling one hundred and fifty per cent happy and relieved. Three good things have happened in a row. First, we have been approved for Disability Allowance for all three boys (I initially wrote "awarded," but it sounded too Oscar-like. Imagine the acceptance speech. "I cannot thank you three boys enough! We could never have got this money without your propensity to appalling behaviour in public! I have no words!") It's not a large amount, but times three it is more significant, it will enable us to pay the stonkingly large electricity and rates bills we received this month for starters. Second, we have been given a significant amount of respite, both carers' days (annual) and a weekly number of personal care hours. This will enable my husband and I to go out for an evening together and for myself to get help with getting the children bathed and to bed. The combination of the disability allowance and the respite support means New Zealand is treating my family very generously indeed, to the point where, in writing about it here, a paranoid part of me expects my blog to shoot to national attention, lampooned and vilified as an example of immigrants-taking-our-national-resources in the local press. "Lazy Brits coming over here and nicking our respite centres," that kind of thing. Thirdly, I was complimented on the way my boys played nicely together in a softplay centre this afternoon, which left me glowing (and checking discreetly over my shoulder that the mum in question had not got my kids mixed up with someone else).
This is all, clearly, excellent. So why am I ever so mildly, unreasonably, grumpy tonight?

It's a small issue, but a vexing one. The organisation that assessed my sons for respite decided that my elder two qualified but my youngest didn't, because he was too young, but that he would qualify when he was older. This would be perfectly reasonable were it not clearly stated in their own guidelines that they provide support from birth to 65 years old, and had they not explicitly told me - twice, once in referral process and once in the actual assessment meeting - that he would qualify for some support. So someone has backtracked, or changed policy unofficially, or something.

I should not be grumpy about this. I am very grateful for the help we are going to get. But it always irks me when institutions ration support on spurious grounds, and it clearly irked the non-governmental support agency I asked to clarify the position today, too. They told me that the organisation seemed to be breaching its own guidelines, and would I like them to raise the issue on my behalf with them?

If it was England, my response would be "Yes, too right I would." This kind of injustice is much better to fight openly: you don't get anything without shouting for it, and the chances of your life being made longterm harder by wrangling with the DWP are pretty slim, England has a lot of people in it and the chances of your application being dealt with by the same person twice is pretty low. But here, the population is small and becoming known as a difficult parent in the world of disability support is not a great idea. Moreover, I haven't been here long enough to have a good gut instinct about what is worth being stroppy about and what is not. I don't know the rules. I don't understand the system, and I don't understand the pros and cons of making a fuss. It irks me, but I think I must put up and shut up for now. Shrinking violet time. Because, after all, I am genuinely grateful for the huge amount we HAVE received, even if I am mildly grumbly about the very small amount we have not.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Because New Zealand does not discriminate against barbers

Lunchtime today, and one of my sons has spilled rice all over him. "Pick it off yourself," commands his father. I laugh as he obediently plucks rice strands from his body. "It's like watching a monkey pick fleas," I observe, and add carelessly, "Did you know my dad used to call us all monkeys as children, and say that South Africa was Monkeyland, and that was where my mother came from?" The boys laugh. My husband looks at me with raised eyebrows and I suddenly realise what I have said. "But don't repeat that to anyone, that is just something I say home, don't mention it at school," I tell them hastily, suddenly realising the racial connotations of a seemingly innocent childhood joke, and aghast at the incidental racism I have just accidentally transmitted to my sons. We are often most racist (or sexist, or disablist) when we are blithely unconscious of the fact. I shudder at the thought of conversation at school. "Mrs Cumulus, we understand that you have been teaching your son to consider African as monkeys." "No, no, you don't understand - I was just repeating an old family joke - I had never even considered the inference - " "Hearsay is no defence, Mrs Cumulus. Obviously we will maintain diplomatic relations for the sake of your extremely needy and ill-parented children, but a symbolic protest must be made. From now we will refrain from offering you our staffroom Earl Gray tea."

This strikes me with particular irony, because I have just got back from church where a visiting vicar asked us all to reflect with our pew neighbour on experiences of feeling like a leper in society. (Gosh, it is such fun being an Anglican. I hear wild rumours that some Christians go to church to be uplifted and encouraged).

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Oh, stop worrying, it will be FINE!" and other famous last words of our marriage

Dark days are upon us. The barbarians at the gates. I never thought I would stoop so low. Yes, that's right, I am drinking tea made with local water again. Dear Lord it is disgusting. I hope my tastebuds adapt soon. Perhaps I could purchase some clingfilm and put a protective layer over my tongue. Oh no, hold on, I couldn't, because we're skint, and that is why I'm not buying bottled water right now. Dear Lord, please let my tastebuds adapt soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bad service with a smile: or, revenge is a dish best served with paperwork

"Oh, you had a bad time at WINZ?" [the New Zealand Department of Work and Income] said the smiley lady at the school BBQ tonight. "Don't worry about that, everyone does." She looked across at the Head. "You know I am part Maori?" Oops, I had thought she was just very suntanned. (Hey, maybe I HAVE been meeting lots of Maori in professional positions and I have just assumed that they had been on holiday recently) "I went in to apply for Family Credit and gave my name, and they said to me 'So you've always claimed the dole?' And I said, 'No, I work, and I've never claimed in my life.' So the woman said 'Yes, but you've been on the dole mostly, eh?' And I said, 'No, I have never been on the dole.' And the woman looked me up and down and said 'Yeah, we'll just check that on the computer.'" She and the Head looked at each other in sympathy, as if it was a familiar problem. "So much for diversity training, eh?" They nodded together. They suddenly looked very much like Brits. You know, hacked off, disgusted and depressed. That "it's all dire and nothing will ever change" look.

Now I've heard THAT story, my own experience at WINZ seems quite benign in comparison. No one, after all, racially insulted me. But it was, nonetheless, disconcerting. "You should complain," said the lovely head, who I increasingly think is an angel in human form. "I can't," I said, "we need the benefit." "Wait until you get it, THEN complain," she said. Woah, this is a angel with attitude. Must not get in the way of THOSE wings.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Traffic Wardens and School: A Different World

Walking to school to pick up my sons, and I pass a traffic warden, waving a piece of paper and arguing with a mother. Nothing odd in that, the ticket-crazy habits of traffic wardens are enough to raise fury in anyone, in any culture, I think. The argument is loud, and it is about the precise point at which the pavement becomes a drop-down kerb. My sympathies lie with the harassed mum, until the traffic warden says, wearily and loudly, "Look, will you just move your car, because otherwise I will have to GIVE YOU A TICKET, do you understand?"
I do a double-take. Fuck me, this traffic warden is offering her the chance to avoid a ticket? Is this country for real? Did I miss New Zealand and arrive in Fairyland by mistake?

Monday, February 6, 2012

"I'm sorry, this apple has too much taste."

Moving here from England meant new food, and it also meant losing school dinners. This was not a problem for my middle son, who is hyposensitive to taste and will eat almost anything. Actually, that's not strictly true. In recent months he has developed strong aversions to food that he considers he is eating too often, like lentils, when I was trying to use up the lentils before leaving England, and potatoes, this week when I have a huge sack of potatoes that will go off if we don't use them. If we suddenly had a glut of sweeties and chocolate, no doubt he would take a militant dislike to them too. But packed lunches are pretty manageable. The introduction of packed lunches, however, is a complete nightmare for my oldest, who has very pronounced and eccentric food preferences that change with the wind.

We've done a lot of work on this and now he will try most things, he will eat cooked food well as long as he understands what is in the recipe. But snacks are still difficult. We have near-daily conversations of this kind:
"Can I have some bread and jam? No margarine. Or butter."
"Sure. Here. No butter or margarine."
(intake of breath) "You CAN'T give me bread with that jam on it, you know I don't like it!"
"But you liked it yesterday. You wanted more."
"You know I hate it! You did it on purpose! It is HORRIBLE!"
"Er - "

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blood, Politics and Special Educational Needs: My First Waitangi Day

Today was a NZ public holiday, to celebrate the nineteenth-century Maori-English Treaty of Waitangi that ended the Maori Wars: or to celebrate the twentieth-century New Zealand noticing that this treaty had been comprehensively ignored, and doing its best to rectify matters belatedly: or to celebrate the twenty-first-century New Zealand: or to protest against it all, depending on what newspaper article you read.

We watched the news the day before, where Maori protestors chased Prime Minister John Keys chased off a marae where he was due to meet with Maori leaders. Police and protestors clashed violently, and the camera showed one protestor with blood pouring down his head. "Oh, don't worry, I'm fine," he said to the camera, in a fine demonstration of the famous Kiwi laidback mentality: in Britain the protestor would have been pointing at the blood yelling "Look what this Tory/Labour/Fascist dictatorship has done to me!" Coming from England, where riots involve burning buildings and shootings, this all seemed too gentlemanly to be true. The police had no riot shields, and their method of crowd control seemed to be to hold hands in a field dotted sparsely with protestors, asking them if they would move back in the manner of a weary farmer trying to get tourists off his land before they disturbed the ubiquitous New Zealand sheep, whose field it undoubtedly was.

Because children are not crisp packets: why I prefer inexperienced teachers

So I said to a teacher friend, that I suspected there was a generational aspect at play in the problems we had encountered at kindy. The thing is, the kindy teachers are good at their job. They are well respected in their community. Like many schools who are abysmal with SN, they have a great reputation with neurotypical kids. So - rather than assuming there is a black hole in their heads where the word "developmental disability" is concerned and into which all empathy and intelligence disappears without trace - I am guessing that they are not fully up to date with research into autism, special needs, developmental delay and the like.

My teacher friend was surprised that I found the older generation of teachers to be less helpful. She said that in her view that it is better to have an elderly, experienced teacher who has vast experience of kids than a new graduate with lots of book-knowledge but little expertise in teaching yet. I couldn't agree more - except where Special and Developmental Needs is concerned. It took me several days to work out why I thought this, because it was the opposite of common sense, surely? I mean, everyone knows that the more experience the better?
It's a bit like crisps. Which I am missing, a bit, discovering how much poorer the range of "chips," as they call them here is, than in England. They have them, but they are expensive. I mean, how can an English-speaking country not recognise the importance of cheapo prawn cocktail, sour cream and chive and salt and vinegar on every corner? What do New Zealand parents DO with their whingy children, if they can't nip down to the corner shop and have an argument about which is better, barbeque sauce or tomato ketchup flavour? I digress. Anyway...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Unprepared: volcanoes and small children

We do not live in a very hip and happening suburb. On a Friday evening there is a choice of Pak'N'Save (discount supermarket), a bar promising me GIRLS ONSTAGE, and the late-night closing of our local library. So the library it was. I am currently working my way through the children's New Zealand geography section. There I found a book marked 'Volcanoes.' Leafing through casually, I read with some alarm that our city was in a particularly volcanically active area. All those beautiful shore views of extinct volcanos, I now realise, are not actually extinct at all. They're dormant, or even active. They could go off at any moment. The book had an inset into this page remarking how important it was - for all residents of New Zealand, but PARTICULARLY those living in our area - to have a full disaster survival kit in the house at all times. Hmm. Funny how the estate agents neglected to mention this.

When the carer support and respite woman came yesterday, I had an experience that was somewhat equivalent to discovering that the green and pleasant landscape into which you have just embedded your family and your lifesavings is a seething mass of unstable volcanic activity.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I'm sorry, I don't understand, what do you mean, you don't want a cup of tea?

So today the respite and carers' support woman came to visit. "Do you want a cup of tea?" I said as she arrived, automatically moving towards the kettle. "Oh no, no thank you," she said, and, as I looked a bit puzzled, added "I've just had breakfast."

Fair enough, I thought. Although a bit spartan, surely no one really refuses tea because they have just eaten, surely? Anyway, we started our meeting, which I had been pre-warned would be a marathon (it took three hours, in the end, which was shorter than expected). After about an hour, I asked again. "Would you like some tea now?" "No, no it's fine," she said, and carried on talking. I looked at her dubiously. My mind is still running on science fiction. Was this perhaps some robot impersonating a human being? Or if not, and she was for real, did this mean bad things for my assessment, could a woman who could refuse tea really understand the challenges of life with three differently abled children, I mean if she didn't need tea then what else didn't she need? Oxygen? Sleep? After a few minutes' thought, I realised dimly that possibly this was a cultural difference rather than a REALLY WEIRD PERSON WHO OUGHT NOT TO BE IN MY HOUSE - and then, thinking about it, realised that everyone who had accepted a cup of tea on arrival came from Europe or the UK. (Except the South Africans, who wanted rooibos). New Zealanders, they just don't do tea in quite the same ubiquitous way.

The culture shock didn't stop there.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"But you have to park properly:" Battlestar Galactica at the Kindy

At the weekend my husband showed me the first episode of Battlestar Galactica. I lasted for about twenty minutes, until it became obvious that the entire human race was about to be wiped out in a nuclear attack. I decided from behind my cushion that there were better ways to spend an evening. Because I am a wimp, I spent the next twelve hours waking fitfully, looking at my husband lying beside me and wondering if possibly he was a well-designed robot from another hostile civilisation, which would at least explain his telly addiction, possibly these robots need to remain constantly attached to remote controls to survive. These robots look like people, but underneath they are all machine and no heart. (That's the first episode at least, Wikipedia tells me it gets more complex later, after a sleepless night I am in no mood to find out more)
I am glad I didn't have today's kindy conversation straight after viewing Battleship Galactica, because if so I might have just run screaming into the road shouting "They ARE coming to get us! Save yourselves! The nuclear holocaust is coming! Do not listen to a word they say, they are inhuman machines!" and other sentiments that do not tend to help maintain a constructive working relationship.