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Children After the Shock

Peter R Walker has collected some children’s voices from the Christchurch earthquakes.

“Kids say the darndest things” don’t they? Darndest meaning funny, cute, profound. Sometimes, “from the mouths of babes” comes the most honest commentary, and on such occasions adults could learn a lesson.

In the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, everyone had something to say. For weeks there was little else we talked about. No matter what the circumstances, people who met together, strangers or friends, quickly got on to the subject of the earthquake. In September it was somewhat light-hearted and frequently focused on how fortunate we were that nobody was seriously hurt or killed. We talked about the damage to our houses, the roads, and how long it would be before we could use the toilet again.

After the February earthquake the conversations were significantly darker. In a small town like Christchurch, few people were more than two or three degrees of separation from someone who had died. Everyone knew shortly after it happened that this quake was far more serious. And the conversations reflected it.

Kids, too, talked about it. Even one and two year olds knew something was up and talked about it; something extraordinary had happened. Perhaps they saw it in their parents’ faces, heard it in their voices, and, of course, they could not ignore the fact that every now and then the house moved and the plates in the pantry rattled.

In the shadow of the first earthquake, children bought into the game of guess the magnitude. Joshua (6) would be sitting in his bedroom and, when an aftershock had settled, he would yell “what number was that? A four point two?” He didn’t (I guess) understand about magnitude, but he realised that there were certain numbers associated with the aftershocks. Who says kids don’t listen to what their parents talk about?

One of the most interesting phenomena post-September was not so much the bubbling up of grey/green silt from the depths of the earth, but rather that it actually had a name. Who knew? Now there’s nothing cuter than a three year old throwing the word “liquefaction” into the most mundane of conversations. It just rolls off the tongue and sounds so grown up.

Citywide there are reports of children’s responses to the earthquakes. We would be remiss to think that children, too, did not have real, emotional reactions. On February 22, most Christchurch kids were at school. It was lunch time. Many were on the field. Now, says year 1-2 teacher Maureen Armstrong, the kids play on the field more because they feel it is the safest place. When school returned, she says, many of the girls followed the duty teacher around, making sure she knew what to do in the event of another earthquake.

Christchurch children were asked to write down their stories, their feelings. Many of these have been published online and in the newspapers. Every household with children has stories and utterances that bring smiles to the lips of proud parents everywhere. Gill says, after one aftershock, Amber (2) proclaimed “I was a good girl mummy, I ran under the doorframe.”

Sam (7) looked at the earthquakes two ways. First, he said, “When I grow up and become an inventor, I’m going to invent a machine that stops earthquakes from happening.” But then, in typical seven year old style, he was “glad the liquefaction pushed up our driveway. It’s made good hills to drive my hot wheels cars on.”

At an even more reflective moment, Sam, in a conversation about the Bands of Hope asked what they meant. They mean we care about Christchurch, he was told.
Sam’s mum Karen relates the following: “Sam got all tearful (quite unusual) and said, “I care about Christchurch. Every time I think about Christchurch I feel like crying.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of the earthquake.”
“What part of it makes you sad?”
“People got killed, and lots of buildings fell down, and homes got destroyed.” Then, as we went over a bump in the road, “And the roads are a mess.””

Lara (5) said she didn’t like the earthquake because “it was shaking and the floor was moving. I cried a little bit.”

Jack (5), says his mum, Vanessa, “said to me one night out of the blue (after my cell phone beeped) “is that a tweet about the aftershock?””

Older children are no less reflective and wise. Hope (12) was “terrified and scared… ran to the door frame and screamed.” Now she’s a little more calm, and “still jumpy when there is an aftershock, but I don’t run to the doorway now.”

Mikayla (11) “freaked out.” At Sumner school at the time of the February earthquake, “I thought it was a landslide from the hills. I thought the rocks were going to fall down. I’m still just freaked out.”

Jasmine (13): “Before the earthquakes I felt safe, I could walk the streets without the fear of the earth shaking underneath my feet. I went to school, hung out with my friends and didn’t realise how great my life really was.  I could go home and not expect anything to be different. Christchurch was a place I could proudly call my home.”

“After the earthquakes,” she writes, “everything has changed. I’ve had to move out of my house and try and find one that is safe enough for us to live in without severe damage. It has brought my family closer together and we say “I love you” and tell them where we are going before we leave. I can still go to school but not in the same place. I don’t feel safe anymore and whenever I hear a rumbling sound the next second I can hear my heart thudding.

Christchurch just isn’t the same anymore :(“

Kids say the darndest things. Perhaps the most telling thing spoken by a child recently – although, it has not been verified and may have taken on the status of urban myth already – was by the boy who, sitting at the dinner table on March 19th, and (in reference to Ken Ring’s March 20 prediction of another massive earthquake for Christchurch) asked his parents matter-of-factly “Are we all going to die tomorrow?”

The children who experienced the Christchurch earthquakes will talk about them for the rest of their lives. My grandmother, so I was often told by my mother, was in the Napier earthquake. Every generation has historical moments that affect them profoundly. Whether it’s JFK’s, Neil Armstrong’s or 9/11, there are moments in time we will never forget. The Christchurch earthquakes will be two such moments. We will have constant reminders of them for many, many years to come. Our children will remember and speak of them forever.

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