On growing

It's... amazing, actually, to see myself live through this time now, and grow.

Sometimes I've gone through periods where I've felt that although life has moved on - jobs have come and gone, houses have come and gone, different towns, different circumstances - I have remained... static. I haven't grown much, personally.

But now almost every day I've had music on. Instead of listening to TED talks, podcasts and Radio New Zealand, I've listened to music instead; listened to music and have felt myself grow.

I've sang out loud to John Mayer's 'Why Georgia', car windows down and speakers blaring, and cried to his 'Free fallin'', curled up on a sofa. And what's with this fascination with John Mayer anyway? I don't know.

But I know that his music speaks to me at the moment.

When The Kid has had enough of listening to Why Georgia, Who Says and In Your Atmosphere (all by John Mayer), he has demanded either "racin caaa!" (yuss! It's Route 66 also by John Mayer ;)) or "dig a hole, dig a hole!" (Jericho by Brooklyn Gospel Singers), so we've sang or danced together to those.

It's been a tough week, with The Girlie spending a day vomiting and now The Kid screaming with a mighty infection of strep throat, all between meetings with therapists and social workers, amidst keeping up with such simple ventures as grocery shopping, doing laundry and dishes - hello parenthood - and yet I still feel myself growing.

It's my brain putting in new paths of understanding, learning to view things differently to how I've viewed them before, and that's part of the reason I've got up every morning yearning to just go back to bed and sleep and sleep and sleep, but... still.

It's amazing to see myself live through this time now, and grow.

The smell of summer

From a kid's perspective, I think it's great to have a parent who, when mowing the back lawn, puts in a maze. (PS. I even considered doing the front lawn the same, for halloween trick-or-treaters to enjoy, but I didn't have enough space in the organics bin this week to do both front and back. Oh well.)

Snippets of wisdom

Just a list of some interesting stuff I've come across or wondered about, in no particular order.


Daniel Amen has given two TEDx talks worth listening to.


Every time I hear someone talk about saving the planet, I think about George Carlin. He, in his comedian genius-ness, hit right on the nailhead with (it starts at about 1:28):

"And the greatest arrogance of all, save the planet. What!? Are these fuckin' people kidding me!? Save the planet - we don't even know how to take care of ourselves yet! We haven't learned how to care for one another, we're gonna save the fuckin' planet? /.../ The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great! Been here 4.5 billion years. /.../ We've been here, what, one hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? /.../ The planet isn't going anywhere - we are!"

Sure, Carlin also says a whole bunch of other things which I don't agree with, but in a nutshell, this is what the environmental crisis thingy is about, and it's not about the planet - it's about the environment getting to a point where it will be very hard for not just bees and snails and whoever else Carlin talks about, but humans.

We are. We're going away.


It's been... six? Six years now that a conversation about a possible book has been going backwards and forwards between me and my publisher. I've put two very... intense periods of work into it - one right before my son was born, and another when I hadn't yet got pregnant with my daughter - and the result of those periods are three measly little chapters which I doubt will ever see the light of a printing machine.

However: I feel that there is a third period welling up inside me, and I think I am going to give it a one more go. It's... bubbling in there. I can feel it.

It's like with blogging: I rarely sit behind the computer because I tell myself I have to; usually it's the other way around: I do it because I feel like I cannot not do it. I blog because it's too hard not to blog.

When Marie Forleo interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, Gilbert said at one point something which I found very amusing, but also very... encouraging. She said:

"I said out loud to all my future critics at that moment, "If you don't like it, go write your own fucking book! And you know what? You won't! Guess what, you won't! You won't. And guess what, I did, and therefore I won. Because mine is finished and yours doesn't even exist.""

Check it out if you'd like, it starts at about 33:30.


And last, it is going to be a bit of a, khm!, long array of quotes now, but I was reading a 1985 Playboy interview with Steve Jobs and, man, there are some golden nuggets there, in the midst of general talking rubbish ;). Things like:

"We’re living in the wake of the petrochemical revolution of 100 years ago. The petrochemical revolution gave us free energy—free mechanical energy, in this case. /.../ This revolution, the information revolution, is a revolution of free energy as well, but of another kind: free intellectual energy. /.../ Computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours."

"People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare."

In 1985 Jobs probably had no idea that one day he, too, was going to be booted out of Apple just like Edwin Land had been booted out of Polaroid years before.

"Dr. Edwin Land was a troublemaker. He dropped out of Harvard and founded Polaroid. Not only was he one of the great inventors of our time but, more important, he saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that. Polaroid did that for some years, but eventually Dr. Land, one of those brilliant troublemakers, was asked to leave his own company—which is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of. So Land, at 75, went off to spend the remainder of his life doing pure science, trying to crack the code of color vision. The man is a national treasure. I don’t understand why people like that can’t be held up as models: This is the most incredible thing to be—not an astronaut, not a football player—but this."

"When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back." (Psst: when I read that bit out loud to The Man, he scoffed with, "He's obviously never been to New Zealand then..." :D)

Then there's a bit that reminded me of... me. It reminded me of how, in sixth grade, a teacher called my mother to complain to her how I had argued with this teacher after class (she had wanted to punish two boys who I knew had not done what that teacher thought they had done), and my mother after patiently listening through her whole story replied with, "Thank you for telling me that. I am very proud that my daughter is growing up to be a person who isn't afraid to stand up for others." (That was, like, probably the biggest SCORE! moment I had with my mother, ever :D.)

"I grew up on a block with lots of kids. My mother taught me to read before I went to school, so I was pretty bored in school, and I turned into a little terror. You should have seen us in third grade. We basically destroyed our teacher. We would let snakes loose in the classroom and explode bombs. Things changed in the fourth grade, though. One of the saints in my life is this woman named Imogene Hill, who was a fourth-grade teacher who taught this advanced class. She got hip to my whole situation in about a month and kindled a passion in me for learning things. I learned more that year than I think I learned in any year in school. They wanted to put me in high school after that year, but my parents very wisely wouldn’t let them."

"When I was 12 or 13, I wanted to build something and I needed some parts, so I picked up the phone and called Bill Hewlett—he was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. He answered the phone and he was real nice. He chatted with me for, like, 20 minutes. He didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett-Packard on the line, assembling frequency counters. Assembling may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter; I was in heaven.
I remember my first day, expressing my complete enthusiasm and bliss at being at Hewlett-Packard for the summer to my supervisor, a guy named Chris, telling him that my favorite thing in the whole world was electronics. I asked him what his favorite thing to do was and he looked at me and said, “To fuck!” [laughs] I learned a lot that summer."

And this bit reminded me of New Zealand:

"This was California. You could get LSD fresh made from Stanford. You could sleep on the beach at night with your girlfriend. California has a sense of experimentation and a sense of openness—openness to new possibilities."

And I could just keep copy-paste'ing, but instead I am just going to mention that about two thirds down there is a very amusing incident with a Hindi holy man and Steve Jobs getting his head shaved. longform.org/stories/playboy-interview-steve-jobs

So yeah, that's about it for the day. :)

Well that was stupid!

I can never remember what toilet paper to buy; some are so thin that kids rip right through the paper when they try to get a piece, others so thick that they're hard to rip, so kids end up stripping down half a roll when all they are trying to get is 3 pieces.

So recently, when I managed to get a pack that was just right, I thought, "Yay, no more toilet paper guessing at the store! I'll just have to remember which pack to get and we're golden."

Uhm... yeah. Good luck with that, Maria.

Because here's the thing: I looked at the pack, there was a cute little puppy printed on the front, and so I cleverly told myself that next time I am at the store, I need to get toilet rolls with a cute little puppy printed on front.

And it seemed like a totally good idea - except, when I stood in front of the toilet rolls in the store, it started to feel like an exceptionally stupid idea, because...


Jesus christ...

The joys of parenthood

To step in the living room in the morning and to discover that someone's pooped on the floor.

Awesome. :P

On neuroplasticity

Only a month ago I wrote about neuroplasticity. I didn't know it back then, but less than a month later that knowledge was going to save me, on so many levels.

Because... a week ago I got a late evening call from The Kid's paediatrician. I'd been expecting it.

A few days before that I had been in the hospital for The Kid's next set of leg casts and a conversation with a physiotherapist had filled me with a premonition. She had been explaining to me that both the soft tissue and the bones in The Kid's legs are clear of any malformations and as she was still strapping a new cast around his leg I went, "But... if both the soft tissue and the bones are fine, where's it coming from then?"

"You need to talk to your paediatrician."

I paused. Breathed out, then in again. The nurses kept working on the leg. I was still standing there, looking at the physiotherapist. I knew she had seen the leg MRI - but had she also seen the brain MRI?

"I understand you may not know or may not be allowed to tell me what was on that brain MRI, but... do you know what was there?" I held my breath.

"Yes," she replied, "but I can't tell you, I'm sorry. You need to talk to your paediatrician."

And that's when I knew.

The whole way back from the hospital I cried, both of the anxiety and of relief. I knew it was likely going to give us a final diagnosis on what was going on, but I also knew that I wasn't going to like it.

And then when the paediatrician called me late in the evening, after she'd tucked her own kids in bed, I talked to her and cried some more.

A few days later I cried yet more. We met with The Kid's paediatrician in a room full of tables, chairs and children's toys and for two hours we talked.

About MRI scans.
About developmental milestones.
About support networks and schooling options.
About the importance, beyond any schooling or support networks, of maintaining our family happiness which is the cornerstone of children's health and happiness.

Then I tried writing something on the blog. After writing and deleting and writing and deleting, I switched on the camera and simply took a photo of what I was looking like, spread out on the sofa trying to write a blog.

And now I am back on the blog.

I don't write in too much detail because I feel that I am treading on another person's territory - it's not entirely my story to tell any more.

But what I do want to share is this: the fact that I know about neuroplasticity and the way people's brains change as they do things, helps me. It helps me understand that whatever happened during that goddamn labour and birth (link), it's not the end of the road.

People used to think that once damage to a brain was done, that was it - that there was no way back or around it - but now we're fortunately smarter than that.

People can go through their entire lives not knowing they haven't got a corpus callosum, the "George Washington bridge" between two brain hemispheres. Some have stroke-damaged areas without knowing it. Kids that do well academically can discover, later in life and by coincidence, that they owe some of their brilliance to subtle or sometimes not so subtle changes in the brain. Savants - you ever heard of savants?

Some can even have entire hemispheres removed and live to tell the tale.

What I am getting at is, I guess, that for the moment I am just processing and giving myself time and grieving. I read and laugh and cry when need be - and whoever tells me not to cry will be told to go packing - and once some of the processing is done I will just move forward.

Because, like the paediatrician said: it is an old injury. It's been there for over four years. It's been there the whole time that I've known The Kid; he's never changed.

I will process and read and laugh and understand and cry - if need be - and then I will just continue supporting him, supporting my whole family.

I am lucky enough to live at a time when people are smart enough to understand that if someone doesn't have a part of a brain or has an injury to it, information can get re-routed. Just like when there's an accident on a major highway and drivers are asked to take a de-tour through rural backroads - a brain can do the same. It can try, try, try, try again - and then at some point, bang!, a neural pathway gets put in.

Neuroplasticity - the fact that brains change. All the time.


PS. Be kind to yourself today. I know I will be.

PPS. My family is cool. :)

The week gone past

Last week's photos to the tune of John Mayer's Free Fallin. Live.

The little social creatures.

"Reading" books on the kitchen floor whilst I am cooking.

What, mommy, I'm just reading here!

The ducks who, I think, get fed by some of the neighbors because as soon as they saw us opening the curtains in the morning, they set themselves up on our lawn and demanded something loudly.

Food, I think.

They are learning to share space.

Pasta in hand, in mouth and on the spork. Just in case.

And our bedtime routine where The Man has already finished reading the books to our kids, but then our kids "read" the books back out to The Man.


Missing freedom

Sometimes being an adult sucks. Today I've sat and looked through hundreds of photos of when I was... I'd like to say younger, but that's not the point - it's more that the photos were from before I had kids, before I'd met The Man, when I pretty much just had to take care of myself and that was about the extent of what I was having to take care of.

I mean, I still think I need to take care of myself, even now, but it's that now I have to take care of myself first and then I have a whole bunch of other people to take care of.

And today I just really, really miss that freedom. Like, really miss that freedom.

I miss when I didn't have to argue over parenting decisions.
When I didn't have to discuss what school to send any kids to.
When there was constantly an array of plans on where to go and what to do, and now I've looked at prices of plane tickets either to Estonia or Nepal, and I've gone, "Dammit."

I sure do enjoy having a little more brains than I did back then and grace not to look at my younger self and berate her for some of the stupid stuff she did back then, but... I do miss the freedom.

I miss friends who know me from before New Zealand.

Yeah, it's definitely been a long week this week.
It's been a long week.

*That* feeling

Oh man...

Do you know that feeling when you're eating a carrot and just as you're about to swallow a mouthful of carrot, a sneeze comes, and you end up sneezing lots of little bits of carrot into your nose?


On fear and doing it anyway

How about this for a quote of the day? (Courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert..)

"The only genuinely fearless human beings I've ever met are psychopaths - and toddlers!"

I'd say let's dedicate this quote to The Girlie today - to the determined little human being who came down a concrete step face first and is now carrying around a blue bump on her forehead. Because - and I'd take the liberty to suggest that I am right on this one, this time - she did not have fear for that concrete step, huh no, sista'.

And let's also dedicate this quote to her big brother who is learning that though he has fear, sometimes he can do the stuff anyway, regardless.

It's a thing I very often tell myself, probably on a daily, if not multi-daily basis:

"Do it anyway."

Knowing stuff

When The Man wants to share with me something interesting he's recently learned, his sentence usually starts with, "I read on the BBC website that..."

When I do it, I often say, "Hey, I heard on the Radio New Zealand that..."

But a friend of mine, apparently, mostly starts with, "Oh, Maria said that..."


Down the Avon, in rafts

Even when it is a small trip - the kind where two friends go on water for three hours and pack little else than water, a snack and a camera - it is still loads on fun. Loads and loads of fun.

Thank you, Treena!

The evening before: sorting through rafting gear.

Up bright and early.

(Photo by: Treena)

Paddling at preschooler speed - my family followed us for over a kilometre!

I didn't count the broods of ducklings, but there must've been at least a dozen we passed.

(Photo by: Treena)

And to think that this is shot within Christchurch's central city? 

(Photo by: Treena)

Whitebaiters trying their luck further down the river, in Christchurch's residential "red zone", where instead of housing there is now wasteland and in not so distant future probably beautiful parklands instead.

Done it!

The day after: cleaning, drying and sorting gear.

The realities of rafting in Christchurch

There are two rivers in Christchurch: Avon and Heathcote. One of the tributaries to Heathcote runs, literally, behind my house. It's our "backyard" river.

Because I am planning on going rafting soon, I figured, how about I raft down Heathcote first? I could launch in here, at home, and do a leisurely three-hour journey to where the river starts running into the tidal estuary at which point I would clamber back out - I don't fancy much rafting in mud.

Except, as soon as I started googling, something suspicious caught my attention: there were no previous accounts of people having done it. At all.

At first, I couldn't figure it out. The river is deep enough for paddling, there are no restricted areas and very few obstacles, and it runs through lovely neighborhoods. I have walked and biked on its banks numerous times, and it looks lovely.

So why aren't people paddling it?

And then I found the answer: water quality. I don't know what the numbers are at the moment (I have called the council but I haven't heard back yet), but a year ago the Heathcote's rating was "Very poor" and it is basically the lowest rating a river can even get. "Very poor" means, don't swim in it.

And then I kind of went... oh.

I keep forgetting that I am living in a post-earthquake city. I keep forgetting that there are still miles (and miles) of unrepaired stormwater pipes everywhere; and sewerage! I keep forgetting that the old sewerage is designed so that when the system floods (or as they call it politely, "is under pressure"), it empties into rivers. As in, raw sewage empties into rivers - or put even more simply, human poop empties into rivers.


And so it did not occur to me that although the suburbs surrounding Heathcote are mostly repaired and looking like a "normal" city again (no tarpaulins on roofs, no collapsed chimneys, only occasional houses surrounded by construction fences), the river itself is still, how do I put it... pooped. E. coli bacteria is still at way, way higher levels than is safe for recreational use, let alone eating anything caught from it, so...


I think I am going to raft down the Avon river instead. (There's an interesting account here, if you're interested. A reporter from The Press, Charlie Gates, walked and kayaked the Avon from its beginning right down to the estuary, and it's a fun read.)

Words of wisdom passed down from her father

The Man puts playdough back in the cupboard and it is not a popular decision with The Girlie: she first whinges and screams on the floor beside the cupboard and then starts following The Man around the house, still whinging and screaming.

Me: "You do know she's gonna keep following you around like that, don't you?"

The Man: "Yeah. She's gonna make someone a great wife one day."