Wednesday, April 27, 2011

El Rancho Easter Camp 2011

Paul and Sam waiting for their turn on the go-karts

Sam confident and comfortable in the driver's seat

Paul after passing Sam

Abby waiting at the gate

Madeline, Violet, Abigail

Madeline and Abigail on the ponies

Sam and Madeline with their Dominos Train

Sam with his shooting target

Abigail's chalk art self-portrait

Madeline's chalk art: Portrait of Abigail

Madeline collecting shells at the beach

Wobbly Wagon at the carnival

Faces painted

My girls joining in the dancing at the show

Violet on the pony

Sam at the beach in Waikanae





Determined to have a break from all things technological and equally determined to be "unconnected" for a change, I had to journal the old fashioned way at Easter Camp and took along pen and paper. Imagine that! I actually got a sore wrist from writing so much, keeping track of our activities and taking notes in the teaching sessions. But now that I am home, I am happy to transpose my thoughts into my most comfortable medium: my blog.

We arrived at El Rancho on Thursday at around 3:30 pm, after a brief stop at a poorly designed New World in Waikanae for chickens, buns and milk. The children helped Paul unpack the car in record time while I set up our kitchen with food and stocked the fridge with contraband (a bottle of wine). We were in Elm 5, rooms a, b and c, leaving d unoccupied. I think the idea is that two families of maximum five each could share the unit, but we had it to ourselves. We took the children to the camp playground to enjoy the last of the afternoon sun and true to form, Sam found a putter and ball to play his own game of mini-golf. Then we decided to take the children for a walk down by the river which heads to the beach, but only as far as the suspension bridge. We observed that Violet and Abigail were much stronger and had more endurance for a walk than last year. Heading back, we took a detour through the horse paddock, dodging "piles of poo" as the twins exclaimed. Walking past the stables we rediscovered the confidence course where Sam excelled himself, mastering all the ropes, a grin a mile wide on his face. The girls did well too. Thoroughly famished after our late afternoon of exploring, we headed back to our unit for our roast chicken dinner and a glass or two of the contraband. Ate some chocolate and headed to bed with our books for an early night. An excellent start to our mini-holiday.

On Friday morning we were woken with the sounds of "our door is locked and the key is inside!" Oh bother. We enjoyed a nice breakfast of cereal and toast and while the children played independently with our Dominoes, Paul went for a run to the beach. He returned with a key for the locked room and then we all headed off to the welcoming at Kauri Hall with Rob Namba. We noticed it was a much smaller crowd than last year with only 1/2 the chapel being used. After the welcome we headed back to our unit for coffee and brownie while Paul went to the morning tea with Rob. They chatted for quite some time and Paul shared with him about our experiences from camp last year. Rob remembered my letter!

Then it was my turn for a power walk to the beach while Paul and the children made lunch. It's a 2 km path along the river to the water's edge, but then I just kept walking along the beautiful shoreline and finally sat on a piece of driftwood watching the people and listening to the waves and enjoying the sunshine. While walking I had my i-river on with my favourite music but the Indigo Girls "And I went in seeking clarity..." kept ringing in my ears. I wasn't sure if it meant I was supposed to seek clarity or claim it, but I knew that was the key word for me this weekend.

Back at camp, a lunch of chicken sandwiches was followed by family fun camp activities. Sam and Paul lined-up for the go-karts and then all of us had a go at archery. When the girl said, "aim low" she really meant it: all my arrows ended up in the trees! Dead on target, but way too high. We also enjoyed some sidewalk chalk art, the flying fox, ice creams from the cafe, and Sam enjoyed rifle-shooting and managed to score a 7. A little bit of time out in our unit was followed by pies cooked in a Pinewood kitchen oven. Then our first session started at 7 pm, so Paul and I dropped the children off at Elm with the Runrig crew (excellent children's programme) and headed off to Kauri Hall hand in hand to listen to the speaker, Paul Windsor. Fantastic. Lovely to be together on our own for an hour and a half. Picked up the kids at 8:30 to hear they'd had a great time, the theme for the week was Loco, and not only did Sam sing some of the songs, he did the actions! High-5s all around and then we went to Redwood Hall for supper. Biscuits and green juice for the kids and a cuppa tea for me, accompanied by live acoustic guitar and a singer from Wellington. Even Sam enjoyed it! And for the first time it felt like camp, with all the people milling about, mingling and enjoying themselves.

Saturday morning was much the same with adults and children going off to their sessions. Paul managed to see the end of the kids' session when he went to pick them up and saw Sam dancing and fitting in with the other children. I had another walk to the beach during lunch and then back for a bowl of soup. The weather was inclement, but holding off so far despite the miserable forecast. The afternoon was full with a free carnival for the families: face-painting, wobbly wagon, carnival games and prizes, candy floss, pony rides and a show--all absolutely free. We felt truly blessed, and then enjoyed dinner out at the camp cafe, fish and chips for the children, lasagne for me and cheese cake for Paul. It was a fun time, followed by another session in the evening, dropping the kids off and seeing them all delightedly and confidently joining their groups before heading off to Kauri Hall. Family together again for supper before bed, a little more tired than the night before.

Sunday morning dawned gloomy and although it had rained in the night, the morning was dry. We all got up at 7 am and headed to the field for the dawn service around a bonfire. It was lovely to gather with like-minded people, to sing songs and share communion on this Easter Sunday morning. Back for showers and breakfast before another session. Lunch and it was still not raining so we got in line early for the pony rides, which we all enjoyed as a family. More time in the go-karts for Paul and Sam while the girls and I enjoyed meeting another family at the flying fox. At 3:30 we joined several other campers for a walk to the beach where there was a scheduled sand-castle competition. We decided not to join the competition but just to enjoy the beach for as long as the children would last. Windy and cold, but plenty of logs and shells to play with so we had a good time. How could we come all this way and not take the children to the beach?! Tired and sandy, the walk home at 5 pm was laborous, but we made it and popped the kids in the shower while I cooked a monster meal of Sizzlers and noodles. It was scoffed in record time! Our final session that night and then our final good-byes to the Runrig team, after promising to try to bring them up to Inglewood in the school holidays. Fingers crossed on that one. Our last supper with more live music and then the rains came. No one complained however.

Monday morning dawned and it was still raining but it was just a matter of packing the car, cleaning the unit and heading home. All went smoothly and we enjoyed listening to two of the Runrig CDs in the car. Lunch at Subway in Wanganui and then we were home by 2:30 in the afternoon. The house had that cold unlived in feeling, which was quickly remedied by a fire. I went into conquer mode and unpacked all the bags, throwing the towels in the washing machine and getting the next load ready to go. We'd only been away five days but it felt more like a couple of weeks. It was a great break for our family. And I think some clarity was achieved: on a simple level, that Easter Camp is good for our family. There was some clarity on a more complex level too but that will require some more pondering. Perhaps for another time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Skill for the Dominikovich Girls

Abigail, Violet and Madeline



Pretty sure that's Abigail under there

Somehow we went from telling Madeline that she was going to be playing netball this year, to showing all the girls how to do a headstand. Perhaps it was because we were trying to explain to her how strong she is and that she should start to put her skills to good use. Or maybe it had something to do with the backwards rolls from the other night and their father's subsequent crooked neck ("You canNOT do a backwards roll," said I. The challenge was laid). Either way, I showed them and helped them the first time, and then they were searching out every suitable wall to practise against. I had to censor the first photos when they were in their skirts. Pajama bottoms were much more suitable for such an escapade. Giggles aplenty.

The End of my First Paid Working Week

As I sit here in the Saturday morning sunsine sipping freshly brewed coffee, I contemplate the week I've had. Obviously, it was exhausting, and a little less obviously, I grieved for the things I've come to love lately: being able to hang my washing out to dry, walking my dog while listening to Op Shop and Snow Patrol, popping into my local for a flat white, and most importantly, taking my kids to their classrooms in the morning and helping with the children I love at St. Pat's. But it's been a good week for clarifying a few things for me:
1. I should not work full-time (qualifier: at least straight away or not in an environment I don't enjoy.)
2. My days as a high school teacher are numbered due to workload and environment
3. Having said 2. above, I still have what it takes
4. I can teach 5-year olds
5. Tutoring in the evenings is easier on the family than working during the day.

It's been a week worthy of a blog but of course I haven't had the time or mental space to do it. I'll admit I struggled with the sudden change in our lives, going from stay at home mum to working all week in an environment I simply was not used to. The ugliness of the high school was glaringly obvious from my first step on the premises--the language, the innuendo, the apathy, and the arrogance. After a bit of soul-searching on my second day I decided as the mother of four little children who still needed positivity and sheltering, I did not want to get used that ugliness. Having said that, by Thursday my last day, I was already developing some positive relationships with some of the kids and was starting to feel like I was getting somewhere and could make a difference. However, knowing that I couldn't be their teacher full-time, there was no point investing much of myself at that point.

The best moment at I.H.S. was with my year 9 remedial reading class of 9 kids (7 boys, 2 girls,). Easy teaching you might say because of the numbers. Not so easy when you have five other classes which demand so much more planning, assessment and marking. I know for a fact that these remedial reading classes are in name only and that the teacher would just give them some books, some worksheets and leave them to it while they worked on something else. Cold hard truth because of time pressures in teaching. So the first time I met them, they would not engage with me other than to be rude, referred to themselves as cabbages, and just wanted to sit there. That's what they were used to. My second class I was more prepared and had some storyboards for them and asked them to write their own story (adapted from my St. Pat's HPP training). They all did it and asked at the end of it, "can we do another one?" I admit, that was the moment I faultered in my resolve not to be there next week. If only I could just teach those kids! One of the boys in particular wrote a whole page and it was a fantastic story. Cabbages indeed!

And then it was Friday and I had to switch gears entirely to relieve at St. Pat's and teach the new entrants: sixteen 5-year olds. I was nervous and so very grateful for good planning by the teacher and the assistance of a trainee teacher's aide. The children knew the routines well so I needn't have worried about that side of things. It was more hands-on demanding than what I was used to, but also a lot of fun and I loved it. There were no catastrophes and I even managed to avert the tears of one little boy who discovered someone else had eaten his banana at brain food. There was another very nice looking banana sitting there, but his had his name on it. I knew what was coming, saw the tears well up in his eyes and was inspired by an old half banana sitting there and an even uglier banana peel to make a joke out of it. He got the joke, managed to laugh and while he was throwing the peel in the rubbish, I wrote his name on the banana that was left. Problem solved and he even opened it himself. My only other challenge was a little girl who simply could not keep her hands to herself. That was wearing thin by the end of the day! I did discover that if I told her she would have to sit on her hands she would manage to keep them in her lap for a few minutes at least. The things you don't learn in secondary teacher training! I even had duty at lunch and managed to find 3 ice packs for 3 different bumped heads. An everyday occurence apparently. Duty at primary school is a lot more interesting than duty at secondary school. The last hour of the day was much more relaxed with Buddy time. I was very pleased with myself for getting the children to march out to the verandah in excellent order and to sit so well while Mrs. Pryme explained the activity. I suspect it had nothing to do with me but everything to do with the routines already established, but I felt good anyway. And that was also the first time I thought to myself, "oh! I'm actually a teacher here today!" And the highlight of the day was when Sam come out with the widest smile on his face, so glad to see me there as a teacher. That was a moment for me.

The big question on everyone's lips should be, "how did you manage teaching Violet and Abigail?" I was worried that Violet in particular would dig in her rebellious toes in at some stage and that all the other children would follow her lead. I was wrong, they were both fantastic and I rewarded them with lollies at the end of the day. A bribe, did I hear you say?

I loved teaching primary school, much more than high school. But I still know that the time is not right for me to consider working full time. Hopefully I can get more relieving and will pursue tutoring for the time-being. My first student starts next week and I already know what to do as I've been teaching him this week. I will still relieve at the high school too, but I've told them I can't do more than two days a week. A block like that was too hard on our family. Too hard on me as I considered my HPP kids at St. Pat's, the PMP I've been helping with, dropping the kids off at school, my walks, my coffees, my shopping with my friends. I think I've said this before: the good life. Why on earth would I give that all up?

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Good Day at Work but Completely Exhausted

The day dawned early for the Dominikovich family, due to Daylight Savings going back the day before. Handy timing since it was my first day back teaching and we had to be super-duper organised. Four school bags were all packed and sitting like soldiers by the back door, each with a pair of shoes and a school jersey ready to go. We had oodles of time but at least there was no stress. The children took it all in their stride and didn't even fight over where they would sit in the van. The hardest part for me was dropping them off at the school gate in the misty rain, knowing that I couldn't go in with them in order to see them each settled into their rooms. "It's just short-term, only 2 weeks," I kept reminding myself through gritted teeth. I missed saying hello to all the other children I've come to know at St. Pat's as well. And then there was the too-short drive up Kelly Street to the high school. I found a park easily enough and walked confidently into the staffroom to find that morning briefing had already started. It didn't really matter though because most of what they said was a jumble to me . Found my keys from the HOD and made my way to room 19 to greet my first class, Year 11 Communication English. A small class and on the whole nice kids so it was a good start. They were followed by Year 10 PL, a top academic class who are working on creative writing. Some cheek in that class but really good kids and I was delighted to hear the exclamations as they exited, "I actually learned something today!" Morning tea was followed by the mixed ability Year 10 and again, good kids who shouldn't cause me many problems. I had a free period before lunch so slipped away to have lunch at home and let Buster around. Feeling rather pleased with myself I went back for fifth period: a mixed ability year 9. Hmmm. Mixed ability with a very low end. All my management techniques will have to come into play with this class, although I am hoping it was a bit of a fifth period blip. The teacher's aide encouraged me with, "You did well! They were much better than usual." Really? My work is cut out for me. And that was my day. Not bad really. Oh, and then it was home time for a chat and cuppa with Jen who had picked up the kids for me. And after she let, well, that's when the real work started: dinner, homework x 4, bags packed, lunches x 4, kids to bed, on-line grocery shop, dishes, prepare for tomorrow's classes as well as my volunteer work at St. Pat's. I'm about half-way through that list so better get to it so I can actually get to bed. I haven't been this exhausted in a long time. And it's only Monday. Good grief.