Christmas has come and gone and the exhaustion after rushing around to get everything tidied up before the end of the year has abated.

I am always amazed that even though Christmas Day is always on the 25th of December each year, it still somehow creeps up on you very quickly.

This whole summer school holiday period gives us a great break, but it’s not really until well after Christmas that you truly start to relax.

This is a very special time for our family, and no doubt yours, because it’s the one time of the year when the phone doesn’t ring too often, and there isn’t the endless round of children’s commitments like cricket practice, ballet lessons or Swimtastic for toddlers.

In our family dynamic we range from having to factor in Singing Rainbows for the 3 year old to school discos for the teenager, so the year is pretty full on.

That’s why we really treasure this period where each day dawns with an open schedule and we can do glorious things like sleep in, go for family bike rides, play tennis, hunt out the board games or go to a movie together. It is such a shame that this unique ‘family time’ seems to last for such a short time. Sadly I almost dread getting back onto the hectic term-time treadmill.

The cost is unfortunately becoming prohibitive these days, but I think it’s fair to say that most kiwi kids love going to the movies. And ours are no exception. The real highlight for them (and us) is when we can find a movie that suits everyone and can all treck along together. Part of the fun too is chatting about it afterwards and listening to everyone’s favourite bits.

Just this week we had a fantastic time at a great family movie called A Night at the Museum, which featured a down on his luck Dad, trying to convince his young son that he could get a real job and hold on to it. The dad becomes a night security guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York and discovers that, due to an Egyptian Pharaoh’s curse, all the exhibits in the museum come alive between sundown and sunrise.

So you have the dinosaur playing fetch, the lions, tigers and zebras all wandering around, the displays of cowboys and Indians, and the Roman battles all springing to life, Neanderthal man trying to figure out how to light a fire, and one very confused Night Security Guard in the form of Ben Stiller.

It is a lot of fun and one of the wonderful features is the inclusion of two great stars of our youth – Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney play slightly wayward security guards who are about to lose their jobs due to their age. Both actors are in their 80s and our children have a particular fondness for Dick Van Dyke as he starred in two of their favourite videos, Mary Poppins and Chitty, Chitty, Bang! Bang!

Our 8 year old Molly, when she first saw Dick Van Dyke in this current movie, was amazed at how they could make him look so old! Not realising, of course, that it’s 40 years since both “Mary” and “Chitty” were made.

One of the treats was during the end credits of A Night in the Museum, they played some rap music and had shots of Dick Van Dyke dancing – even as an octogenarian he still had the silky smooth movements of a consummate dancer.

As we face 2007 there are so many exciting challenges. On the work front we are having some success in selling our TV programmes to Animal Planet in Europe. So Wonder Dogs, and our Guide Dog documentaries are currently being watched from Africa and the Middle East to the United Kingdom and Europe.

I am also really enjoying being part of a new radio station in Auckland, 93.4 The Breeze. It plays music that I relate to and as an easy listening station it lives up to its name by being a very easy and enjoyable place to work.  We have attracted a considerable audience since going on air in June but the challenge for the year is to keep that audience and build even greater numbers.

On the family front, our son Paddy is about to embark on the next stage of his education. He begins secondary school next week.

It is that continual cycle, that we have all experienced, where you end the year as a big boy (or girl) at your primary school and begin the next year as a junior with all its fears and confusions.

Paddy left his primary school, Saint Kentigerns in Auckland, after 8 fantastic years – the senior school prize giving was a very special occasion. It was made more special by the end of year address from the Prinicipal, Geoff Burgess.

He suggested in his opening that he could drag out last year’s speech and just change the dates, or he could speak glowingly of the successes the students have achieved or the educational advances the school has made, but instead he wanted to focus on one boy, who probably was the school’s greatest achiever.

This young man suffered a stroke as a 3 year old but began at the school as a 5 year old. In the early years Craig was able to walk, with difficulty, while in his latter years was confined to a wheel chair. Now he has the coolest mobility scooter that most boys, even some of the teachers, would just love to have a ride on.

While you could suggest that the school was magnanimous in accepting Craig, Principal Geoff Burgess said that, on the contrary, the school and its boys were the lucky ones having Craig as a student.

He said Craig, from day one, had shown true courage and strength of will in endeavouring to be the equal of his able bodied school mates.

While he couldn’t compete in the sports arena without assistance, he would always have a go and the most valuable lesson the other boys learnt was empathy and encouragement.

Whenever the running races or long jumps were on, there would be boys urging him on, helping him achieve his wish to be treated normally.

As a Father I was always there capturing the school sports day or swimming sports on my video camera. One of my most valued pieces of footage is a shot of Craig as a 7 year old doing the long jump with his father and another father on each arm running up and hoisting him into the sand pit. The look of sheer delight on this little boy’s face is priceless.

He has played such a huge part in teaching our boys how to deal with disabilities and to understand that if you are disabled you can still play an enormous part in life.

Parents at the School camp were amazed at how gutsy and determined he is; but equally at how the other able bodied boys just accepted Craig as being Craig. For them it seemed that was no big deal and they just got on and took turns at helping him reach his goals.

What a lesson for us all.

So Craig is now 13 and, like my son, is about to take on the challenges of Secondary School.

As he sat on the stage at his school prize giving, and as his Headmaster spoke so eloquently about his massive contribution to the school, and as the wonderful photos of his progress through eight years were displayed on the big screen, you could only be left with a feeling of pride that you had been involved in a school with such great values, and gratitude that your own son had hopefully gained a life long understanding of what being different is all about, and how each of us has a role to play in the lives of those who are travelling a harder road.

 

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Mark Leishman is the devoted dad to three children- Paddy, Molly and Rosie. His children span 10 years in age so he has plenty of experience in everything from sleepless nights to teenagers.

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