This is an area to discuss the things I've done to support my relationships with my two children, things I've discovered about different forms of school in the United States and New Zealand, and any other random things we've done together.
Ever taken your kids to a movie? For some of us, it can be anything but relaxing and fun. I spend most of the time making sure they really are behaving, sitting still and not disturbing other people at the show. My son is really no problem: he has always vegged and zoned out like a champ when a movie is on. My daughter, however, is a movie-goer of another breed.
She cannot sit in one position for a long time. At home, it's not a big deal: she doesn't bother anyone. In a theatre, she spends her time draping herself from side to side, stretching her arms forward and back and standing up in the chair. She doesn't seem to even notice she does it. And she asks questions and makes comments constantly. She is at that age where one begins to unravel the complexities of subtext in cinema. So she asks for clarification a lot. I must admit, even at home this tends to get on my nerves. And we've been shushed enough to make me panic a little everytime she does it. I admit: parenting has given me a weird combination of the most banal PTSD issues I never imagined.
I went through my normal paranoia while the movie started. Make sure drink bottles are open and next to the right kid. Open up packages during the opening ads so it doesn't happen during a crucial scene. Turn off our devices. We were all good. Movie started and it was just like most we go to. Some shifting about, a few stage whispers. But, when the scenes on the Amazon island started and little Diana ran out to watch the warriors train, the cutest thing ever happened. A group of 5 girls close to the front (about 4-5 years old) stood up in their seats and gave this crazed war-cry. I braced myself for those poor girls and their poor mom about to get yelled at.
No yelling happened.
Almost the entire theatre giggled or cheered approvingly. I felt so much love in that one moment that I admit I was a little overwhelmed. Those girls cheered for a strong female character that they loved and an entire theatre approved. Let them be kids and geek out.
Other kiddos started cheering and clapping throughout the movie. It wasn't annoying: it added to the experience. My daughter joined in. Hell, I joined in a few times. I saw a few other random adults doing the same. There was also one particularly cute time when the 5 year olds in front got very expressively grossed out by the kissing scene in the movie. I've never heard so much laughter during a kissing scene.
Yes, this movie is good. Yes, I'm glad a strong female lead from comics got her own movie. Most importantly to me, it is the first time in quite a while that I fully relaxed at the theatre with my kids. It's rare that you feel a moment of bonding with everyone in the theatre at once. I love that this movie gave us that moment.
Literally. My kids started music lessons recently.
After moving, we didn't force the kids to join anything or jump into any programs because we were just so focused on finding a place to live and making sure we could find work and food. Now that we are a bit more settled and have a routine down, we've started poking the kids to find out where their interests might lie. We were pleasantly surprised to find out they both wanted to do something other than sports. They wanted to learn how to play instruments.
Music and the arts are a big part of school life in New Zealand. Sports culture (mostly around rugby and cricket) exists, but it isn't quite the factory of kid's programs that you find in the US. As a matter of fact, I have really struggled to find information on sports programs in general for kids. But music, acting and voice lessons are a dime a dozen. And the kid's school, Balmoral Primary/Intermediate, has a strong music program they are very proud of. And my kids both told me they want to try out for bands next year. So, lessons started up.
My daughter chose the clarinet as her instrument of choice (she wants to try out for Orchestra) and my son chose the drums (he wants to try out for Rock Band). I was a little wary of the squeaky clarinet noises, but the drums aren't purchased (yet). He just practices on a pad for now. However, I haven't really been annoyed by it. As a matter of fact, every time they start practicing, Keith and I just kind of smile at each other and enjoy the moment. It's just good to see them passionate about something and enjoying them selves.
There are a lot of things I really like about living in New Zealand. Affordable Health Care. Laid back school systems. The fact that even though it's close to Australia, not every living thing surrounding you will kill you. However, it's humid. And with humidity comes bugs.
Bugs freaking everywhere. Ants all over the place (picnics are a bitch). Cockroaches chilling on the sidewalk. Cicadas twerking in the trees and giving me headaches (I honestly wonder if they killed all the birds. I actually miss the birds). Flies and freaking mosquitoes. Daddy long-legs hanging over your head in every structure that you can imagine. And people are totally chill about it. Like freaking hippies livin' and lettin' live. And I'm a psycho for twitching out every time I feel a hair touch my bare skin on my shoulder and start swatting the air with a broom everytime I go into my garage to grab my bike. I also don't care if I spray every mother f*ing bug I see with whatever will kill it fastest and cackle in delight as they die.
I honestly don't understand how so many of the Kiwi homes I visit are totally fine leaving their un-screened windows wide open and living as one with the bugs. Every once in awhile we get a fly or two in the house and I go on a psycho manhunt with the flyswatter it took me half a year to find in this country (aka my best friend). And I go to a friend's house and they have spider webs in their bay windows and eat right next to it, with some gnats hanging out around the food in their kitchen and act like it's cool. It's not! It's gross! I'm flummoxed.
Our latest issue with Kiwi lifestyle has been in the form of the kid's checkups at the beginning of the school year. I was asked by the GP if I've de-wormed my kids. To which I looked at her and said, "Like a dog?" She calmly explained that because kids in NZ walk around barefoot all the time, it's a good idea to de-worm them in case they picked up something walking around. Not too worried about that: my daughter likes her bare feet, but she still wears her shoes a majority of the time and my son still can't do the bare foot thing. However, she also asked if we've been doing our weekly lice checks and washes. I said no and she warned me that it's fairly common for lice to go around the schools. A lot. I said OK and went on with life.
Guess what? My daughter got lice. I found it because she wanted to cut her hair in a pixie cut and I was playing with her hair while we were waiting around in the mall for her appointment. And a bug crawled out of her hair. I flipped my shit. Cancelled the appointment, ran to the closest pharmacy, got a family-size bucket of lice shampoo and went home. And, if any of you are a nurse, you know what happened next. That's right, I sanitized the hell out of my house.
I know, lice aren't bedbugs. But they might as well be.
I couldn't sleep for two days. I actually think I gave myself a migraine from using too much lice killer spray in our house (warning label says too much can cause "neurogenic side effects"). But I can guarantee that there are no freaking lice in this place. No sir.
Doesn't mean I'm not sitting her itching my head like crazy just because I'm writing this. F*ing bugs.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I've had lots of frustrations surrounding school work and my son over the past several years. It was getting to the point that if we didn't leave the country to try a different way of schooling that I was actually debating leaving work to home school my kids. I understand the importance of socialization, but I was beyond frustrated with how heavily homework and testing were being stressed in the schools around us. And my son, especially, did not respond well to this stress.
He was lying constantly about having homework and not doing it. And the teacher's websites (which were supposed to be updated constantly) never were updated so that I could help him keep on track. To top it off, he hated school. Not in the way that he would get nervous then be fine once he got there. Actually loathed going--and had logical arguments as to why. It was increasingly difficult to find holes in his logic and I started agreeing with him. Thus, our search for something different.
Fast forward to his new school: rather than daily homework, the teacher's assign a project around one theme for the children to work on each term and they can present what they learned to the class in a format of their choosing at the end of the term. He chose to do the history of video games and decided he wants to present it by creating a You Tube video. And I've found him randomly researching and prepping in his spare time to prepare for it. No prompting. No nagging. He just chose to do it. That. Is. Huge.
Another win: he came home last week and told me he had entered a speech competition. In order to practice speaking well for his video. Because he wants to do a good job. There are no words for how happy I am that he is doing so much better and enjoying school. None. But I did shed a few happy tears over it.
Kiddos started school last week. End of July, doesn't seem like a big deal. Except that it is the middle of the school year in New Zealand and my kids just got out of school about two months ago. Yes, the whining was epic. Trust me.
However, a few days in to the new school and the kids are raving. I'm not even joking. I've NEVER heard them happy to be at school. They have always hated it. And this, right here is reason number one I wanted to leave the US. My kids hated school.
A little background here: I'm a huge nerd. I loved school growing up--and as an adult I still love learning. As a matter of fact, I'm friends with several of my teachers from growing up on Facebook still. I learned things through school that have helped me throughout life and helped me become a critical thinker. And it absolutely crushed my heart over the past several years to see my kids grow to hate school more and more. And they are 9 and 11.
Soapbox moment: schools in the US need to figure some stuff out. The system is broken. We focus way too much on test scores and training kids to be good test takers. My kids haven't been learning diddly squat about practical application of knowledge in the past 6 years of school. And we moved specifically to areas with good school rankings, good funding sources and happy parents. We put them in public schools and we put them in a charter school. And, before our move to another country, I was debating pulling them out of school entirely, quitting my job and working on educating them full time myself. Because I was that fed up with finding them a system that works.
I think we may have found it here in New Zealand. It makes me want to cry from happiness. I had no idea how much my children's reactions to education were tearing me up in Colorado. I know it's only the first few weeks, and maybe we're riding on a high from it being new, but so far the results are drastically different from any I've ever seen from them back in the US.
How is it different? Days are shorter, and if you look at their schedules, they are actually in class more and have less breaks. However, the kids keep reporting that they are playing all the time and outside almost all day. Huh? I come to find out that the two "breaks" they have during the day are tea time in the morning (for 30 minutes) and lunch (for 45). Both are outside, but kids are able to hang around their classrooms if they desire. Basically, the teachers open their rooms, say it's time to take a break, be back when the bell rings, and that's it. Kevin feels like they have so much more freedom here that it's making him more productive. And class time isn't set to lectures: they actively participate in activities and help each other learn concepts. Both of my kids come home chattering away about the activities they did all day and what they learned--and they're having so much fun, they have no idea that they are actually learning things. It's a beautiful thing to see.
Another thing that's different: New Zealand also performs standardized testing as they have (like crazy) in the US. However, rather than planning for it and freaking everyone out about it (I'm not even joking, my son had a panic attack last year. An honest to God panic attack. I was furious) and making them mandatory for all, in Auckland, kids only take the exams if you go through a process to sign them up for them. And they aren't held during normal school hours--they are on a day off. No stress, no mess. And you can bet your ass I'm not taking them in for that crap. Been there, done that, left the country.
It hurts that we really couldn't find what we needed closer to home. But I'm glad we have found it. And I'm so glad that we moved.