A leaf the colour of a sunset. A rock shaped like an L. Taonga. (Illustration: Toby Morris).

Together, apart: Keeping kids connected under rāhui

In the first part of a new series sharing the stories of families learning from home during lockdown, Emily Writes watches her sons hold on to connections in isolation. 

I think when I look back on this time as a parent one of the things that will stick with me is my seven-year-old son desperately reaching for his friend through a white picket fence.

We had raced down the hill from our house to drop off a gift for a birthday missed due to the rāhui. As I chased the boys I said that we would just be leaving the gift, we would not see their friend.

The gift was carefully wrapped in paper – a handwritten letter, probably some rocks, found treasures, little taonga from one little one to another.

As soon as we got to their fence he began yelling for his friend. He was immediately greeted with the most enormous grin and his friend yelling his name as we parents stood and smiled a mix of happiness but sadness too.

They rushed to touch then stopped as we reminded them of the rule. Despite that, they kept involuntarily reaching for each other through the fence. He sang happy birthday to his beaming friend. Then we saw his teacher aide walking up the hill. She stopped two metres away, waved at my son and said she was just coming up the hill to drop off a gift too.

Clay wrapped in paper. She put it on the road and stepped back. He ran toward it and stopped wanting to run further, into her arms.

Later, we walked together and he burst into tears. Before I could ask what was wrong he yelled: “I don’t know what’s wrong!” We cuddled while sitting on a tree trunk hauled onto the beach in the storm. He asked: “Can we even hug in level three?” and “can we even hold hands?”

I didn’t have the answers but I thought about everyone in our neighbourhood I’d seen on our walk – all of us trying our best, facing questions from our little ones we can’t answer right now. We are all trying to have as much faith as we can, not just in this rāhui but in our abilities to help our children through this unprecedented thing. We are being called on to face our fears and theirs, to feel our feelings and theirs too.

It feels as if we are alone but we’re not. As I write this my son is crawling over me, waiting for a call from his teacher. He adores her. He spent all morning excited to see her face. My son is playing with the clay his teacher aide gave him and he’ll have a call with her later.

I will call my workmates with children later. We will laugh and cry and probably have a wine or two together. I will snuggle up later today with my husband. He will watch some rubbish on TV and I will scroll my phone and press little hearts on photos of lessons being learned at home.

Lessons for our children in a pandemic are different. They might start with Karen’s House on TV – peels of laughter echoing through the house as she goofs and makes jokes in a way that seems to make the children feel as if it’s all a secret just for them. They might include a taonga hunt – find a leaf that’s the colour of a sunset. A rock shaped like an L. 

The whole whānau watching Lego Masters – last week it was to build a bridge so we built it together. Lessons are māmā and daddy are too busy today, your grandad will be on Skype and he’ll be reading to you for a while. Lessons are also that we all need quiet sometimes and if someone goes into the bedroom with the door shut we give it to them.

We read stories. They play Minecraft. They talk about Minecraft incessantly.

During walks, every time we see a truck or a car the children wave wildly. If someone is in their yard the children yell hello. They cuddle more. My oldest boy sits on the phone to his best friend and they’re quiet for a long time but when I say “shall we hang up” they yell “NO”. They feel close, through the phone. They are in walking distance and are used to seeing each other every day, even on weekends. Now they just want to be together in whatever way they can.

Their greatest lesson right now might be that the village was there even when you couldn’t physically be part of it. That we gave up hugging, and we gave up holding hands; we gave up playdates and we gave up birthday parties, to protect each other. We gave up these things but we didn’t give up our connections. We didn’t give up our friendships.

We cancelled parties but not birthdays. We cancelled swimming but not jumping on the trampoline. We cancelled dancing with friends but we danced in the lounge. We cancelled camp and sport but we didn’t cancel hope. We kept that.

We found things too. Not just leaves shaped like hearts and shells that shone – we found courage within us all. We found that friendship exists in our hearts and not just in touch. 

These are the lessons my children are learning. That our children are learning. 

We hope our children won’t struggle with reading, writing, or math – but manaaki is the greatest thing they can learn. Manaaki as a practice. We care. We’re not alone. This lesson they’re learning is being taught to them by this village of connections that a pandemic can never take away from us.



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