Wednesday, October 14, 2020

All Good Things

September was certainly a long, difficult month, with the kiddo needing 24/7 care while his broken arms healed, but I’m delighted to have some cheery news to share this time.

First and biggest, the kiddo is now cast free! The doctors have been very pleased with his progress. His bones are healing well, and now he’s out of casts and bandages, he’s been regaining his range of motion. Regaining his strength and fine motor control will take longer, but he’s doing physical therapy twice a week and improving every day, which is wonderful to see. Kids’ ability to heal truly is amazing. (I sure wish we kept that ability as adults!)

Hooray for hands!

He’s not back to fully normal life quite yet. No sports or running or biking allowed for 6 more weeks, lest he fall and damage his still-healing bones, and in a few months he'll need to get the titanium rods removed from his right arm. Currently he is able to swim and kayak and do easy hikes, hooray!

Enjoying an evening stroll alongside Otago Harbour

View of Dunedin from Signal Hill

Learning some science at the Otago Museum

On Monday, when Term 4 of the NZ’s school year began, he returned to school full time, which means I finally have time again for both working and writing. It’s been great to dig back into my drafts. I’m doing some revision/editing on the Shattered Sigil short stories, and pushing farther forward on The Dreaming Sea. Okay, and also doing some hiking outside in the glorious spring weather...

Enjoying a local track alongside the Clutha River

Spring in New Zealand means lots of blooming rhododendrons (seen here at Dunedin Botanic Gardens)

The second chunk of good news I’m celebrating is not just specific to my own little family. New Zealand is once more COVID free! In case you didn’t hear, right about the time my son broke his arms, the virus escaped the managed isolation facilities for Kiwis returning from overseas and got into the community again in Auckland. This wasn’t a wholly unexpected event; the government had been warning everyone that flare-ups are inevitable, even as they worked to ramp up testing and tracing capabilities.

But then came the real test. NZ eliminated the virus before with a super strict country-wide lockdown and a large amount of government financial support to make sure people could afford to stay home and businesses afford to close. Could we eliminate COVID again with only a limited, less strict single-city lockdown combined with rapid testing, tracing, and isolating? Had the government done enough to prepare during the precious months of normality the first lockdown bought us?

The answer is yes. As I write this, community transmission within NZ is back to zero, Auckland is no longer in lockdown, and we’re all back to “Level 1” normal. Everything open, no distancing, no masks required (though strict border controls remain, as before: nobody is allowed into NZ except returning citizens and residents).

Looking at the horrifying death tolls overseas, life as normal feels more of a gift than ever. Yet it isn’t a gift, it’s the result of hard work, on the part of both government and the people. PM Jacinda Ardern and her government have followed the advice of scientists and public health experts. They put people’s lives, not short-term economic gain, as their highest priority; and in response, the majority of Kiwis have done all they could to follow the rules and keep each other safe.

It’s been interesting to see the economic results of that. Yes, the economy contracted sharply during NZ’s first lockdown. But when normality returns, it brings a big bounce-back. People are happiest going out to eat, traveling, shopping when there is no COVID to catch. NZ’s economy is now doing better than forecast, and business confidence has undergone a "remarkable" positive turnaround.

NZ’s success has come from going “hard and early”—doing short, sharp lockdowns at the first sign of community transmission. That strategy is no longer possible for countries who have allowed COVID to run rampant. (Oh America, my heart breaks thinking of you.) The more of a foothold COVID gains, the longer restrictions must remain in place to get control of infections, as Melbourne’s recent struggle in Australia has unfortunately shown. Yet Melbourne’s numbers also show that control IS possible, even with high infection rates beforehand.

I feel such frustration and fury whenever I think about the utter incompetence of the US response. As the scathing analysis by the usually apolitical New England Journal of Medicine says, “The magnitude of the failure is astonishing.” But that brings me to the final good news that I’m celebrating: at last, at last, the US presidential election is almost here, bringing the possibility of change.

I don’t love Biden. But by God, I’ve voted for him, and if you are American, I hope you will too. Even in the case where Biden wins and the Democrats also take both House and Senate, the stark divisions polarizing the US and the lack of public trust won't be easy to fix. Yet as is true for the larger, even more daunting problem of climate change, it is never too late to take actions that will save lives and reduce damage.

NZ is also going through an election right now. Here, you don’t have to be a citizen to vote; residents and permanent residents are also allowed. (Not just allowed! Required to register.) Today I cast my very first ballot in my adopted country, and I feel pretty darn happy about that. PM Jacinda Ardern has done a terrific job handling COVID, and I hope she gets to continue.

But as NZ is a parliamentary democracy, you don’t vote for the PM. Under NZ’s MMP system, you get two votes: an “electorate”vote, where you vote for a person to represent your local area, and a “partyvote” that helps choose how many seats in Parliament each party will have. Usually, no party gets enough votes to govern alone, and they must form a coalition with other parties to gain a majority. Last election, a small party called NZ First ended up as “kingmaker” because their choice of coalition partner would determine which of the two major parties had enough seats to rule. NZ First is on the conservative side, yet they chose to form a coalition with Labour party and the Green Party, which meant Labour’s leader Jacinda Ardern became PM (and thank God for that!).

This time, Labour is coming into NZ’s election carrying huge popularity, since many Kiwis are as happy as I am with Jacinda’s track record on COVID and other crises. Labour may even win enough seats to rule alone…but personally I hope they’ll still need the help of the Greens, who always push their coalition partners to address climate change issues. For that reason, my party vote went to Green, not Labour, despite how much I like Jacinda Ardern. It feels both weird and good to know a small-party vote isn’t wasted here.

With both my US and NZ ballots submitted, all I can do is pray that the country of my birth will join my adopted country on a better path. Maybe there's only a slim hope of that, but after the last four years--and especially the last few months!--it feels good to have any hope at all.  

Hoping for a wave