The End of an Era….and beginning of the next

Naomi turns 5 in a matter of weeks, and the Kiwis have this charming tradition of sending kids off to start school right on their 5th birthday.  There are school visits once a week for three Tuesdays before The Birthday.  Then they dress up in the school uniform and start regular attendance on their birthday, or there abouts.

Naomi is very proud of her uniform, and was excited to wear it to Playcentre to show it off.

Tuesdays are our normal Playcentre days, another charming Kiwi tradition in which we’ve partaken since Milo was a baby.  Playcentre is a parent-run preschool with a philosophy that parents are the kids’ best teachers, and kids learn best by self-directed play.  A little like Montessori with a messier twist.

I’m not much for pageantry or ritual, but I was quite impressed with how special the send-off was at playcentre. Steph, the coordinator who has been there since Naomi was a new born, gave her a thorough “feel like a big kid” send off. She got to wear the special Maori feather cloak (symbolism a bit lost on me, but special nonetheless), and show everyone through her learning story journal. We all sang happy birthday in English and Maori, and she chose five “fairy claps” from the group.  She was presented with a certificate and a Playcentre cup before the admiring eyes of her peers.

A couple of the kids made her playdough cakes with candles. She moved her photo from the “waka” (big Maori canoe) to the school poster. And in the end she exited the building under a tunnel of hands to the tune of a special song.  She ate up all the attention, and then didn’t look back.  My kids aren’t nostalgic, that’s for sure; they seem to only look forward, towards the future, not behind.

There will be a leaving ceremony at her other preschool as well, the Montessori school where she attends while I work.  That one won’t involve a feather cloak, but she’ll still find it memorable.

Naomi’s birthday is during the end-of-term school holidays, so her school visits started three weeks before the end of term.  A school visit is 10-12, so we bring Milo at 8:30, then go home for a few minutes, then back to school.

The first school visit morning I wasn’t sure it was actually going to happen.  She had started out wonderfully excited to don the new uniform, but I had scolded her for driving her bike too close to a parked car and scraping it with her handle, and when we got home she was cross and uncooperative.  I offered to have her help me bake muffins.  “I don’t like muffins!”  Then would she like to grate carrots? “I don’t like carrots!”  We can put one of the muffins in your school lunch.  “I’m not going to school!”  Ok, I said, feigning indifference, while wondering if I was really willing to let her skip out.  Would you like to lick the batter?  A nod.  Then her sun came back out, all was well, and we traipsed back to school.

Here is the New Entrant classroom at Halswell school. Tuesdays are new kid visit days, so the parents of all the soon-to-be-starting kids are present as well.

Parents hang around for an hour of the visit, “settling in” their children….or, in my case, with a child who is confident and happy to be launched, just staring at the sea of red and wondering which one is mine.

New kids are paired with a buddy in the class room to show them the ropes (and the toilets, more literally). Her buddy is also shares her name, a fact which they both seemed to enjoy.

She’s starting with 12 other new kids, a huge intake for one week.  The teachers’ ability to learn faces and names is absolutely incredible.  Her teacher is starting back at school the same week she is, having been a New Entrant teacher at Halswell some years ago, then taken a break to be a librarian and a professional actress at the local theatre.  She was wearing a pink polka dot dress with a teal ruffle, pink bobble bead earrings, and red lipstick.  Her bubbly actress persona is infectious.  She’s any little girl’s dream teacher.  Heck, I want to go back to kindergarten!

While the kids are adjusting to the classroom, the parents are taken away to the staff room for tea and a talk.  The first week the talk had something to do with the reporting system, stuff I should have known having had Milo in the school for years now, but which I only vaguely recalled.  Another parent asked me about the weekly sausage sizzle, but I was clueless since we have never purchased it for Milo.  I felt more competent during the second week talk, revolving around feeding your kid for school–fruit break, morning tea, and lunch.  Apparently little misunderstandings like eating your sandwich for morning tea can be enough to derail some littlies.  Oh, and make sure they wear shoes they can do up themselves, and that they can get their own clothes down to toilet themselves.  I spent the hour being thankful that my kids are pretty rugged when it comes to transitions.  No credit to me, it’s just their confident personalities.

I’ve been trying to plan some fun stuff with Naomi on Thursdays before she starts her 8:30-3:00 school drill. Last week we went to Hagley park with friends; here we are being silly.

Every spring we ride or walk down Harper Ave in Hagley park, under the frilly cherry blossoms.   There was the spring when I just had Milo in the jogging stroller, then the next one where I was pregnant with Naomi.  Then I pushed a stroller and Milo rode his balance bike, then his pedal bike.  Now Naomi’s zooming along on her pedal bike while Milo’s at school.  Other years I’ve been desperate for the spring to come, but this spring has been so busy that I almost forgot to make the annual pilgrimage.

Cheeky cheerful Naomi.  Tomorrow is her third and final school visit, then the school holidays happen, then–hey presto–she’s a school girl.  Two kids at school.

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Snowshoe excursion

“That’s not our track!” I protest, as Jeremiah veered off the road to the gravel parking bay.

“Rough Creek Track, that’s it,” Jeremiah affirmed.

“No it’s not; ours must be a little further ahead,” I insisted, dogmatically.  Admittedly, I find the planning and mapping stages of a hike a necessary nuisance, so I hadn’t actually looked at the map all that closely…..  But I thought we were going on a proper track.  When I had relayed our plans to Emma, her exact words were “oh, you’re not going on Rough Creek track, are you?  That’s a gnarly track.”  I wasn’t feeling gnarly.

“What do you want?” Jeremiah demanded.  “Do you want to turn back?”

“No…..no, I want to go on a hike.  Can I just look at the map for a minute?”

It was Rough Creek that we had planned, marked right there on the map.  Darn.

As we climbed though the green beech forest, I kept waiting for the gnarly to appear.  Track wash-outs, blow-downs, thick scrub….. but nothing.  Just a steep relentless climb up rocks and roots to the bush line.  Oh well, I suppose gnarly is a relative term, and Emma had been running the track, downwards.  It certainly would make for a hairy run down, and a breathless scramble up.

The track had started in the middle of that green valley, where Lewis Pass Rd runs through the mountains.

We had planned a different hike for this weekend, but there had been new snow fall in the Mt Potts area, and the avalanche risk was “moderate.”  “Moderate” is too much for us avalanche rookies, especially because our whole planned track was under steep slopes.  So we had switched plans to Lewis Pass late Friday night after dropping the kids off with our friends.  There was very little new snow here.  In fact, when we popped out of the trees and looked up at the open alpine, I thought we had carried the snow shoes for naught.  I could see patches of bare rock all the way up.

Turns out those snow shoes were essential.  Just the ticket in fact, and we were feeling quite smug about having the right gear for the soft snow exposed to the afternoon snow as we trudged up to the saddle.  We paused at the saddle to send Emma a message, saying that we were, in fact, at Rough Creek.

The amazing thing about winter hiking in New Zealand is that hardly anyone does it. We saw one set of old foot prints on our way up, and the decent down the other side was pristine. Pristine, crisp, and fast on the hard cold show of the south side of the mountain—it’s quite the feeling of power, zooming along on top the crust, gravity assisting on the decent, with snow capped mountains quietly standing in every direction.

We left our snowshoes at this pole just where the snow abruptly ended; no need to carry them down to the hut and back up again the next morning.

We reached the intense green of the beech forest again, and descended just as much as we had climbed on the other side, down to Cristobel Hut.

It’s a nice little DOC hut in a clearing on the river, and no one else was there.

We lit the fire, made some coffee, spread some mattresses on the floor, and broke out the chocolate.

The next day we retraced our steps up through the woods, but took a different line through the snow to the saddle. The sparkles on the snow were big, maybe frost crystals that had grown over several nights, more like stars than I’ve ever seen before in the snow.

At the saddle we again marveled at the expansive view, appreciated by us alone, and crunched down the now-hardened snow to the bush line.

It probably sounds stuck up, but it’s an amazing feeling to get out into the mountains where no one else is.  It makes you feel strong, intrepid.  The open physical space somehow facilitates a better head space.  It’s a potent antidote to the ease of suburban living, to the numbing routine of vacuuming and squabbling kids and asphalt.  We’re so lucky to live in the sparsely populated country, always close to the mountains.  

Get Used to Disappointment

I’m not an optimist.

Truly.  I am not.

But occasionally I catch myself thinking like one….

Like when I balance the hummus on top of three leftover containers as I’m fridge foraging and expect to catch it in mid air if it falls….  I end up spooning hummus off the floor.

Or like when I decide at 8:24 that I can fit a week’s grocery shop in before the store closes, only to realize upon arrival that 9:30 is 30 minutes AFTER closing.  I sprint through the aisles, making it to the register in time, but have to return the next day for the forgotten parmesan.

Or when I thought my parents might move to NZ.

Optimistically, it IS possible.  I currently have the only grandkids on offer (the lure).  There is one work visa that isn’t age capped at 55 (the legal option).  My parents have been known to make big moves to be close to family before (the motivation).  And them coming here would solve so many problems, not leastwise my guilty conscience ones.  Then the kids wouldn’t be lacking grandparents because of my decision to leave America.  I wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to parenting strong-willed children.  And when my parents get old I can mow their lawn for them.

Their most recent visit was in July, the dead of NZ winter, to investigate the worse part of the year in anticipation of relocating here for a stint.  We used their visit as a deadline to buy a house, knowing that winter in the old place would not be a good marketing strategy, and we bought a lovely little place within walking distance of the school, with big windows facing the sun; insulated, with double glazed windows and two heat pumps.  June weather was rainy and uninspiring, but July really played ball, with quite civilized sun and glorious winter days.  But for various reasons, some Visa related and some not, it was not to be.  Omi and Abi aren’t shopping for a place to live around the corner from us.

Considering that I’m a pessimist primarily to avoid disappointment in life, I was surprised at the depth of the let-down.  It was a long shot to begin with; rationally, I KNEW that.

Inigo, Get Used to Disappointment.

So I finally need to post some pictures from their visit, to celebrate the time that they DID have here.

My most enduring memory of their three weeks here was how much time they spent playing with and reading to the kids. “Want to play Uno?” Yes! “Let’s read a book.” Ok! Grandparents have lot of love to go around. That, and they’re fantastic at helping with the dishes.

It was end of school term while they were here. They went to a show-off-to-parents day at Milo’s school and attended Naomi’s first ballet recital.

They went to playgrounds….

And to the Gondola, (with our friend Summer)

And to more playgrounds!

We took them to a Crusaders rugby game, only to have their hosts fall fast asleep on their laps! We had parked blocks and blocks away, and as the crowd tromped down the bleachers and my too-big-to-carry children snored away on their grand’s laps, my Dad looked up at me. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he stated, in some consternation, as I wondered if Uber drivers would pick up cargo from the stands. In the end Milo woke up enough to walk, and by the time we reached the car even Naomi was chirping away on my back completely capable of moving her own legs ( though opting not to do so).

Even Jenny cat basked in the unusually high level of affection.

During the second week of school holiday we drove up to the Marlborough Sounds via Kaikoura.

Milo was miserable during this Kaikoura walk–you can see it in his “I won’t cooperate with you even for a photo” expression. Not that there was anything physically wrong with him, but lousy attitude is enough to ruin a walk. “Milo is getting away with utter disrespect. He’s acting like he’s a little prince, and it’s working for him.” My dad, with the benefit of a fresh viewpoint, sees the situation and calls me out on it. We spent that walk strategizing how to turn a corner with Milo. I sometimes feel as if I’m parenting a uniquely difficult child, but of course there is nothing new under the sun, as those with the benefit of distance and experience can attest.

Weather was superb in the sounds; look at that glassy water! Remember, July is mid winter in NZ, and this is the ocean of the “Roaring 40s”.

Laura and her two kids, Audrey and Noah, joined us for a few days of our Marlborough holiday. Here we are tramping a portion of the Queen Charlotte track.

And we are particularly excited about the gummies at the end of the walk!

As tantalizing as the idea is, Grandparents are not going to be living around the corner. I have mourned, and now I must move on.

We love you, Omi and Abi!

 

Oh momentous day…

It was still dark when the knock on the door woke us up.

“I have something very important to tell you!” Our son’s voice was earnest.  “My tooth fell out!”

“That’s great honey.”  I was vaguely pleased that we had mustered up a civil response at that hour.  “Put it on the counter and go back to bed.”  Miracle of miracles, he retreated obediently, and presumably tucked himself back in.

“Dentally retarded,” my dad calls us. Slow to get teeth, and slow to lose them. I was relieved to see the manky old baby tooth quit the scene and make way for a clean adult tooth to emerge.

Hours later I was admiring the gap when I asked Milo what time the tooth had fallen out.  “5:52,” he replied, with the proud precision of a new parent announcing the birth of their child.

A proud Harro tradition is writing the tooth fairy a reminder note. In case you need help interpreting, it says: “To tooth fairy. $2 for Milo please. Thanks.”  He handed it to me with a twinkle.  

Bubble me rainbow

Birthdays–theirs and others–are a highlight of the childhood years. These giant bubbles were at a recent party. They are so alluringly strange; quivering iridescent blobs floating genteelly about the yard until pounced upon by little girls in fancy dresses.

The humid winter conditions were perfect, and Naomi got the hang of bubble creation, as well as the destruction of popping.

People soup

“Yikes, look at that car park!  We had better carry that tent!”  Carrie counted a dozen cars as we rolled into the muddy paddock that was the start of the Toaroa valley track.    And the group just organizing themselves to set off was about 10 college kids debating whether they needed two or three liters of marguarita mix, on top of the Raro and vodka that was already packed.

Of course, it WAS a holiday weekend (God save the Queen! And keep those birthdays rolling), and the east coast forecast was miserable drizzle and cold rain for three days straight.  West Coast, uncharacteristically, was meant to be blue skies.  We were also headed to a well known hut within 4 hours of the road that was famed for its hot pools.  Blue skies + long weekend + accessible hut + good hot pools = popular.

On the way there Carrie and I indulged in some much-needed womanly communion, covering the gamut of husband-dreaded topics (relationships, pregnancy, woman in careers, mama guilt….).

Just before the hut is the longest wiggliest swing bridge I’ve ever crossed. Not that I’m complaining! It sure beats wading the river, and we saw a pair of whio (rare NZ blue ducks) from the vantage point of the bridge.

Much refreshed in mind (though ready for a rest in body), we arrived at the hut just in time for afternoon tea.

The hut residents looked us over and quickly.  ‘The hut is FULL!” they declared cheerfully.  “Absolutely chocker!”

There’s an old historic hut that sits right next to the modern hut at Cedar Flats, a two-bunker… it had five people already in residence!

We set up our tent in the field, then sipped our tea before strolling up to the hot pools, which were on a side stream above the hut.  “People soup!” Carrie chuckled, as we tried to guess how many of our fellow trampers were already thronging the pools.  As it turned out, we got a turn in the pools while they were quiet.  When we got back, the whole field was covered in tents.

The hot pools really were FANTASTIC.  I have been roundly disappointed with natural hot springs many times before.  In my imagination they should be like my childhood pop-up book with Japanese macaques calmly poking their heads up and down though the clear steamy water, snow encrusted mountains surrounding the serene pools.  In reality all the natural hot pools I’ve visited have been ankle-deep in slime (bacteria like the warm sulfury water) and swarming with ravenous blood-sucking sandflies.

But this spring was more silty than slimy, the water mysteriously satiny with swirling black particles.  The sulfur water turned by bracelet from silver to bronze in a matter of minutes–ah, the power of chemistry!  It really was good and hot too–steam rose all around us, only slightly obscuring the view of the snowy peaks.  It must have been too cold for the majority of the sandflies, and the college kids didn’t pile in until we were finished.  The hot water was seeping from a spring on the opposite side of the freezing creek, but with the good hot soak we could bank enough body heat to bolster us during the splash back, rinsing, and reclothing process.

Clear starry skies delivered a hard frost in the morning.  The water from our breath had frozen inside our tent, and was snowing down on us by morning.  I wore every scrap of clothes that I had, and was warm enough.  We crowded into the hut with the rest of the gang for breakfast, then set off for a day-hike quest to find snow.  I had carried my snow shoes and was determined to use them.

The trail was a no-nonsense shortest route to the a mountain saddle.  Read that as STEEP.  When you go straight up it’s amazing how fast you gain altitude.

Low down we crossed this stream that joined another and went through a gorge. Can you see the blue of the water? The color of the water is amazing.

The big trees ended just at the first patches of snow, and Adventure Biv greeted us, cheerfully orange.  What a spot!  We almost wished we had carried our stuff up the hill last night to be able to perch there.  Almost….except the climb was really steep and the water at the bivvy was all frozen.  The exit sign on the inside of the door cracked me up….as if you could exit that structure any other way!  Government regulations I suppose….

We ate our lunch in the sun, feeling like sultans, then moved up into the snow just as cloud cover obscured the sun.  I had really wanted to get to Zit saddle, but the going was slow with the soft snow hiding the path and pockets of air beneath the tussocks.  It was still fantastic though; the snow brings back good winter hiking memories from the Adirondacks.  In the end we just went a little ways beyond the bivvy, looked at our watches, and decided to play it safe with day light and go back to the hut and the hot pools.

Couldn’t resist trying out this tree perch.  A rata tree, I think, that was hosting lots of other species of greenery in its branches.

The next morning on our way out we decided to try the flood route.  Most people walk the river bed, as we had done on the way in, but there was a marked (if not as well maintained) trail higher up the bank in case the river is too high to walk.  The boulders had been slick and icy on our way in and we decided to try our luck with the flood route on the way back.  It was quite vertical!  But the tree ferns were amazing, and I kept trying my hand at IDing the big podocarp species NZ is known for–rimu, totara, miro, as well as others like kamahi and rata.  If you didn’t know better, this place would look tropical.  Certainly exotic, if not warm.

As we drove back over the Alps towards the east coast the clouds got thicker and the roads got wetter.  It was still raining, same as when we had left Saturday morning.  I’d like to say that we were thinking compassionately of our husbands who had been minding the kids on their own over the long wet weekend, but….

 

Amelia’s Ballerinas

Floaty pink dresses, spins, sparkles, high pitched voices, and a teacher addressing you as a ballerina.  What could be better? (Hint: imagine you’re a four-year-old girl.)

It’s all a bit much for me, but this activity isn’t for me after all.  It’s for Naomi.

Still, it’s interesting to watch.  Miss Amelia, the teacher, pitches her voice a constant octave above normal, reminding one of a tinny barbie doll (in sound, if not in look), but she’s no pansy.  There is a set of twins that don’t focus very well and are often off in left field, so-to-speak, yet she handles them with grace, charm, and command….and all in falsetto!  The girls don’t even realize they are being managed.  She’s brilliant.

Every week Miss Amelia brings a new prop to dance with. This week was kitty cat ears.

“Alright Ballerinas, we’re going to pick up our knee, and make a bubble!” She has the whole mob of pink dainties doing her bidding, even if one has decided to wear her tutu as a bra. I’ll say it again: She’s brilliant.