parent opinion

The children of the floods, the lost years and the stories we're not being told.

I live in the flood zone. Our region has just experienced a massive trauma.

In one night, thousands of people in our community lost everything they have worked for, all that was precious. 

Their personal possessions lie heaped giant piles outside what used to be their safe place, what used to be their home. 

Their loss is raw and it’s very public. It’s a visceral experience to be witness to this profound grief, in the stinking graveyard of ruined possessions, of what was once precious.

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In one pile of rubble, I saw a kid’s beloved teddy bear soaked through with mud. 

The teddy that a child clutched at bedtime, that provided soft comfort, was gone. It hit me in an instant, we have been talking about our loss as adults, but our kids have been hurt too. 

I want to talk about the children. About what they have lost.

My home was not impacted by floodwaters. But my child has been hurt by this too. 

Ivy is in her first year at high school at Trinity Catholic College in Lismore. She had been there for one month and was so excited about all the opportunities her new school offered. 

Her school got smashed. Floodwaters went through two storeys – up to the roof. 

Image: Supplied. 

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In Lismore, The Living School and Richmond River Secondary School were so severely affected they are unable to operate on their previous sites. 

They have had to find alternative locations to accommodate the education of thousands of students. It means that many school communities have been separated and kids dealing with the grief of losing their school are also dealing with awkward transitions.

They’re the ‘flood’ kids.

I have heard from a teacher at one of these schools that her students are ‘devastated’. 

Many of them also lost their homes. The school they loved, where they had forged a place in their community was gone. 

The teachers and the school administration have been extraordinary in finding solutions for their students, but it’s a profound loss. 

On the back of COVID, and the closures and subsequent online schooling, these kids are going to have gaps in their learning that is going to impact them their whole life. But it’s bigger than that, these kids are grieving.

They have seen what loss looks like. They have lost the innocence of childhood.

The story that we tell them that we can keep them safe feels like a lie right now. Climate change is no longer abstract, it's here. It’s the real monster, and we have done nothing to stop it.

My friend Jen is a single mum of two kids. 

She worked hard to buy her home, an almost impossible feat where I live. The assessors told her that her home will need to be demolished. 

She is staying in temporary accommodation with her daughters. It’s a fancy holiday rental which they only have for a few weeks. 

She was putting her six-year-old to bed when she asked, "Mummy when can I go back and sleep in my bed?"

Our children's bedrooms. Their safe places. 

For our flood-affected kids, the rooms full of scribbled notes and collected rocks, of LEGO constructions, of preschool paintings, of birthday cards and school bags, is gone. Their tiny history lies buried in the putrid rubbish. 

Image: Supplied. 

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Upper Main Arm Public School is a historic small school in our region. It is currently closed by the education department with the school community uncertain when it will return and if they can save the buildings.  

Finn attends the formerly colourful primary school, where the kids wore rainbow tie-dyed t-shirts instead of standard uniforms. It was a beautiful school. He now has to travel by bus further into the valley to another school. 

He told his mum Harriet: "I miss my school because it's my school and I’m sad that it got wrecked. I want it to be fixed so I can go there again and not have to be on the bus for so long where the seat belt cuts into my stomach and it really hurts."

Whole families have been displaced and separated. 

One young person in Year 12 in Lismore lost his home and he and his mum has gone to live with his grandmother. 

His little sister was flown to New Zealand to live with her Dad for the first time. 

He told my friend: "Mum said I’ll never live in the family home again because it won’t be ready for years I’ll never live in the family home again, because I finish school this year, so will move on."

Another mum told me: "My girl just wants to go home. Our things are all piled up moved by the landlords in higgledy clumps. Her room empty save the bed on a cold and wet concrete slab."

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Another mum, a mother of three kids and a dear friend of mine, lost her home. 

They have been in temporary accommodation and are one of the lucky ones who have found a new home to move to. But the high school her daughters go to is still being cleaned and assessed for safety.

"My son who got to go back to primary school last week was beginning to settle and I could see his resilience kicking in with a little bit of structure of school to go to and friends to hang with. But then he caught COVID and is now recovering," she told me. 

"My older girls who didn't get the opportunity of school and routine are struggling. 

"I feel this week the reality and the lows have set in. Homeschooling was hard enough in COVID, but add in losing home and in temporary accommodation and it is just very hard. And I feel their sadness at life."

GP and SES volunteer Dr Amanda Cohn believes children react differently to each other and may not be able to express what they are feeling directly. 

"Trauma responses can include a whole variety of symptoms including irritability, changes to sleep and eating habits, difficulty concentrating, or even physical symptoms like tummy aches," she said. 

"It’s important to give kids comfort and reassurance during a disruptive period - for them to know they are being looked after, and trying to re-establish some daily routines can be helpful, for example around mealtimes. 

"For prolonged or significant distress, a GP, counsellor or psychologist can help kids and their parents."

The sadness is hitting us this week. Our kids are hurting. Our kids just want to be ‘normal’ again. But it seems normal is gone.

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This comment from one mum really hit home.

"My 13-year-old's school in Lismore got completely destroyed and it won't be up and running again for the whole year. They have to go to a different high school. I hate to use the word 'resilient' but I guess they don't have a choice. I'm thinking this is probably the first of many times in her generation's lives where major climate events are gonna happen and they won't have any other choice but to just 'survive'."

What have we done? Climate Change is hurting our kids. Is this our legacy? 

It’s time we recognise how our government’s lack of climate action is impacting our kids. And if we don’t, then they will. This Friday, kids all around the country will be participating in the School Strike for Climate.

In my region, many of our kids no longer have a school – because of climate.

So when you hear someone criticise kids for not attending school to protest, please remember, there are kids in this country who no longer have a choice.

There is a generation right here who have lost their innocence.

They deserve better.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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