Weather, School, and Ditch-Digging

December 20, 2005 – 7:00 pm

It’s been an adventurous week, weather-wise. Being away for so long, I’d forgotten the misty mornings that are classic New Zealand fare. We had a front parked over us for four or five days, with what the weather forecasters discreetly refer to as “scattered showers” but which really means occasional heavy rain and light spitting the rest of the time. Useless for drying laundry, but not an impediment to getting out and about.

I’ve been nervous about how much to write about our dealings with the local school. I’ll err on the side of honesty. We’ve had meetings with teachers and principals, and seem to be “in the same waka, paddling in the same direction” (waka is Maori for “canoe”). The school’s digging itself out from the reign of a crappy principal who was ejected at the end of 2003. They’ve made internal and administrative progress, but that’s not the stuff that I can see. In 2006 they’ll be coming up with a new charter for the school, with goals, objectives, and all that good stuff. I’ll be in the thick of that.

I’m a bit worried that all this drama is how I’m being coopted, so I’m trying not to lose sight of the ultimate goal of having William and Raley be safe and happy as they’re educated. As Dad puts it, we want Leigh to be a “world class school”–somewhere that parents queue to send their kids to. But in the meantime, I have to be vigilant so that the kids aren’t damaged while we’re getting there. It feels weird, so either I’ll get used to it or something will give. Watch this space.

Anyway, so now I’m reading up on other school charters, talking to the principal of William’s US school about issues like bullying and homework, and generally trying to study up to get involved. Speaking of getting involved, Jenine and I organized the Leigh Christmas Tree Party, which went off quietly because we came into it at the last minute. It was a good dummy run for next year.

My Dad was Santa. William and Raley didn’t seem to cotton on to this, that Santa was Grandpa. William drove home with my Dad, and the following conversation happened.

William: (cautiously) “Grandpa, Santa was about your age.”
Dad: “Oh?”
William: “Yes, and he called me by the name that you call me.”
Dad: “What was that?”
William: “W.”
Dad: “Yes, he did, didn’t he.”
William: “And his hands are like yours.”

Dad was a fisherman and has well-beaten hands. William had figured it out almost immediately but wasn’t sure whether it was okay for him to know. The boy is bloody smart. We think he goes through life with his head in the clouds, but he has his eyes open.

Raley, on the other hand, never got it. I thought she’d have been prepared to see through disguises: at her pre-school party the previous day, Santa had been played by Cate’s Dad, and Cate had told Raley. “That’s not Santa,” Raley told me over a chocolate cookie, “that’s just Cate’s Dad.” As Grandpa-Santa was handing out presents at the Christmas Tree Party, Raley leaned to Jenine and said, “now that’s Santa”.

Which is all by way of saying how much I’d forgotten the small rituals of small town life. The Christmas Tree Party is an annual tradition. I’m proud as punch that I kept it going, even if on life support. Next year it’ll be back as I remember it: lots of kids, a community gathering point, and worth the occasional nut-out that Jenine and I had getting it together.

Today I dug ditches. Well, dug crap out of existing ditches. That was hard work for this cubicle slave: straddling the ditch, scraping crap off with a spade, then pulling out individual root systems with my hands before gathering them into a pile and lugging it to the compost pile, before going back and doing it all over again to the next six feet of ditch. I was filthy by the end of it: spattered with this foul fetid stinky mud, shirt stained, arms covered with it past the elbows. But I did it: there’s nothing quite like the sight of a clean ditch, in the background a compost pile heaped with the ditch weed, and knowing “I did that.”

I did my Christmas shopping and bought some seedlings: two passionfruit and one blueberry. I put the passionfruit into the garden on the deck, scraping away my grandmother’s pebble garden and breaking through the plastic sheet underneath the stones. I was peeling away at the plastic when I saw something move, something pallid, with feelers and legs and bulbous suckers that drink human blood and feast on human flesh …. okay, I made the suckers up, but it was about 2 inches long and utterly scary when I wasn’t expecting it. I went to wash up (I’ve noticed that handwashing is a protective gesture for me–I had an overwhelming desire to shower when I found the weta on me) and told Jenine, “I’m not being paid enough to work in this garden!” William had a nosy at it, poked it a bit with a stick, then I chopped it into the soil and planted a passionfruit on top of it. I don’t care what vital role in the foodchain it plays, I sleep tonight only by virtue of knowing that, whatever it was, it’s fucking dead now.

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