Chapter 6: 17 Time Zones
Three planes and over 24 hours later, the North Island of New Zealand came into view as the plane made its way down through the clouds and circled for a landing. Excitement began to tilt the scales of anxiety as I disembarked and made my way through customs. Robyn, a member of the conference planning committee, had planned to meet me and escort me to the hotel. I scanned the group of people awaiting loved ones. I assumed that Robyn would be holding a placard with my name on it. No such luck. I milled around for about five minutes, before I heard a woman’s voice calling me.
“Dib?” her New Zealand accent changing e’s into i’s. Her cheerful smile and mom-like warmth were exactly what I needed to see,
I hugged her like a long lost friend.
“I can’t believe you came all this way to speak at our little conference!” she exclaimed, brushing her hand through her pageboy light brown hair.
“How could I turn down such a wonderful invitation?” I answered.
Robyn’s generosity along with that of the other conference planners was pleasantly overwhelming. The initial invitation to speak at the conference came from Marianne, the founder of the Hospital Play Association in New Zealand. Via e-mail, without ever having met me, she made an astounding offer. Not only were they going to pay my way to come to New Zealand, but she had heard that I was writing a book. She owned a house at Lang’s Beach on the North Island and asked if I would like to stay on for a month to do some writing. The dream of this house had been a rallying point for me during medical treatment. I would lie on the linear accelerator table receiving daily doses of radiation and picture my toes in the sand and a journal in my lap.
My hotel room on the upper floor overlooked the city harbor, where fleets of sailing boats graced the waters. A gift basket of New Zealand teas welcomed me as I entered the room. I unpacked and fell happily into the king-sized bed and slept.
Marianne was a wonderful host in Auckland. She supplied me with a list of places to go and things to do. She picked me up at the hotel the morning after my arrival and we toured some volcanoes, along with Robyn’s Hospital Play department at the local hospital.
The volcanoes were lovely and afforded great views, but nerd that I am, I loved seeing the lay of the land in Robyn’s hospital even more. In New Zealand, hospital play specialists have different training than American child life specialists. For the most part, they have backgrounds in early childhood education, and certification through the Hospital Play Specialist Association. Their departments are funded by both the Department of Health and the Department of Education, and their programs must meet the curricular requirements of early childhood education. This allows for an approach steeped in a thorough grasp of child development and how children learn.
I was pleased to see that every one of the hospital playrooms mirrored best practice in early childhood education. Each playroom recognized the bicultural nature of the country, embracing literacy and cultural objects from both the tangata whenua (people of the land – Māori) and the tangata tiriti (the people there by virtue of the Treaty of Waitangi – non-Māori). A huge handmade sign welcomed visitors in several languages, including English, Maori, Samoan, Hindi, and French. Beneath it stood a table laden with baskets. Each basket held items from nature, shells, rocks, pinecones, inviting exploration and touch. Continue reading