A New New Year

Good bye to Hoki Hubby.

As the new year rapidly approaches, Wifey and I split open box after never ending box, setting up our old life in a new environment.
We are still in Northland, not all that far from the place we called home for the last couple of years. The Mighty Hokianga Harbour, only an hour and a half or so up the road, suddenly feels like a world away. Because, it is.

On the outskirts of Whangarei, we are setting up in a house further away from neighbours than we had in the old place. But here, they feel so much closer. Less cars seem to go by, not like they did on the main drag of Rawene, on the hour every half hour. Here, there is no race to catch the ferry, a leisurely chug with or against the powerful tidal currents of the harbour waters, leaving behind the backdrop of New Zealand’s thrid oldest European settlement.
Better yet, approaching it, the joys of the boat shed cafe or No.1 Gallery cafe at the start of Parnell Street, a convenience store conveniently located on poles, balanced out over the ever changing tide, a pub with more history than you can shake the proverbial stick at. For a town with nothing going on, it is all happening.

But this is not a travel blog. I am not here to sell you on the wonders of the Hokianga, as you cruise through Rawene after alighting the ferry, head for the beaches of Opononi and Omapere, go further over the bumps and twists of State Highway 12 and delve into the native forests atop the hills, home to Tane Mahuta.
I don’t need to point out the stunning views, from sweeping sand dunes to glistening waters, the tempestuous Tasman Sea, making its presence felt on the wild west coast. There is no need to make mention of the native flora and fauna and in particular, there is nothing I need say about the dusk after dusk after stunning dusk, full of the most spectacular sunsets.
In it’s heyday, the Hokianga must have been a spectacular spot. That harbour, so alive and vital, surrounded by a crop of native trees the likes of which we will never see again. Because, sadly, crop is what those forest giants were viewed as and like so much of Aotearoa New Zealand.

This isn’t an environmental rant either. Nor is it a dig at the perils of post-colonization. So many wrongs were done, to the place and people of Aotearoa and so many of those wrongs will take multiple generations to put right, if ever. So many good things were achieved too but sadly, much of that either never reached the Hokianga, never took hold if it did, or was resoundingly rejected.
It’s easy to romanticise the region, casting it as some sort of frontier, shrugging off the trappings of a modern world as much as possible. Last of the wild west, NZ style.
The reality is, the Far North in general, and the Hokianga in particular, are forgotten zones, abandoned by central and local governments alike.
There are no rate payers, not many voters. Just miles of sandy beaches, warm blue waters and the homes and abodes of the disenfranchised.

Even that is a stretch. Never ‘franchised’ in the first place. Lost and forgotten peoples. And in many instances, that is just the way they like it.
Life in the Hokianga is maybe best described as relaxed. There certainly isn’t the pressures of city or metropolitan living, no commute from the burbs, no queuing.
The trade off? A lack of infrastructure and what there is, maintained at a bare minimum, if at all. The trade off is unemployment and therefore, poverty.
But hey, it’s the Hokianga. If you can’t afford a warrant on your car, don’t get one. If you can’t afford to register it, don’t bother fretting over it. While it is a shame there is runoff issues effecting the harbour waters, swim in it anyway. Eat from it anyway.
Relax. That is what the Hokianga seemed to be telling us, so that is exactly what we did.

We stayed relaxed about the holes forming in our children’s education. No hokey teams, no volleyball or netball or football or tennis or cricket or whatever other sport an energetic young kid might want to turn those energies to.
However, there were whole new avenues of learning being opened to them. Culturally the kids really swelled, embedded in an old school Kiwi culture and a deeper Maori one.  We stayed chilled about the lack of childcare, the lack of employment options, the near non-existence of extra curricular activities for our kids and for ourselves.
Like the populace around us, we were nonplussed. Maybe not as laid back as some of the locals…we put our kids in car seats and seat-belts, life-jackets and all the rest.
The trade off? Off they went, a little crew, down the street on their own, unaccompanied by adults, Number One in charge. No drama, no fear.
Safe. Everyone knew our kids and they knew most everyone. No motorways to go play on, no concrete jungles to get lost in.

Kia ora, G’day, Howzit, Hi.
Most everyone said hello, most everyone asked after your well-being and most everyone genuinely wanted to know. Maybe the guy asking if you needed a hand was diabetic, maybe he drank too much, maybe his diet was shocking, maybe he fished illegally. The point is, he was offering you a helping hand.
In the Hokianga, you pick people up and drop them down the road. You help lift this, carry that. You give of what you have no need for and people gladly take it. Koha. All that is asked in return, if anything is asked at all.
No one turns a nose up at the next-door neighbour. No one looks up or down at the next person. A handshake and hongi means something.
There is nothing golden, no matter the nostalgia, about the Hokianga and her people. Nothing special, or endearing, nothing wonderful going on the world could learn something from.
In fact, the place is broken, to an outsiders untrained eye flawed, badly in need of this, that and the next thing, to make it even close to ‘normal’.

I miss the place.
I miss the scenery, I miss the vibe, I miss the remoteness and I miss the smiles and laughter and good-natured jesting. I miss the helmet-less kids on bare back horses, the king tides and the pelting rain, thunder storms and lightening and sodden ground, water bubbling from beneath its surface everywhere. I miss the fresh air and the strong, drying winds and the birdsong, from nesting Herons to the silent, reproachful gaze of a perched Kingfisher.
I miss the spontaneity, the freedom, of having nothing particular to do and being able to do it where no one else is. I miss no one caring, no one around really giving a shit what you were doing or why. You just got on and did it, where, when and how you wanted to.
I miss the smiles and the open, gap-toothed, head back laughter.

I miss the sunsets.

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Fix the Hokianga.
Never change the Hokianga.

Gushing

I never wanted to, but the more my children progress, the more they offer me the opportunity to live through their achievements vicariously. 

Prize giving. I am not actually sure the day was called that. But it is exactly what it equated to.
In this ever more prevalent P.C world, every single kid in the school got a certificate. Damn near all of them got a prize of one sort or another. Richly deserved.

Rawene Primary School turned out, among it’s graduates, a bunch of awesome young people. Never matter their ability to read or to write, how they can add or subtract or divide. If I walk into that school, the senior kids in particular, are full of handshakes and smiled hellos. Even a bit of good natured cheek.
The joys of a rural, small town education.
Rawene Primary, where my two eldest have been educated over the last couple of years, is a small school with a roll around the 100 pupil mark.
That means intimacy. It means an unavoidable community influence and involvement. Everyone really does know everyone and in particular, the senior year which numbered only nine students, became a pretty tight knit bunch.
Cool kids and I wish them the best for what is hopefully a bright and promising set of steps on the next part of the journey.

The small Rawene town hall was packed, the entire school in attendance, with parents and uncles and aunties and brothers and sisters and grandparents and whanau from all over enjoying the occasion. Obligatory speeches, then waiata and haka. Stirring stuff.
It was quite an occasion, particularly for our Number One.

I am not one to brag and on this occasion, they are not achievements I have any right to brag about. But, shout it from the rooftops I will. It might be a little pond, but damned if our eldest daughter isn’t the biggest fish in it!
Awards for student leadership and promoting peace, for services to the schools corporate life (read fundraising), academic excellence and throw in a couple of others for good measure.
Add it all up and our girl was top dog, co-Dux and a very proud graduate.
Her mum and dad couldn’t have been prouder either.
With her school shirt signed by classmates and friends, a bit of a tradition, Number One will start her next part of the education journey in the new year.
A bigger pond. No doubt she will be a prize fish in those untested waters too.

Well done Kenny, we love ya!

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Bah Humbug

Great, here we go again! Enforced festivity anyone?

December 1st.
That’s right, for all you international readers, it has already begun for us here in the shaky isles. Christmas cheer, seasons greetings and all that. Time to roll out the decorations, debate the virtues of real or fake trees, start compiling lists of the naughty and nice, stock up freezes and fridges and pantries.
Time for the marketers to bring out the tried and true sales gimmicks, the T.V execs to schedule the feel good factor day after monotonous day, time for parades and the obligatory work do. Time for fake Santa’s at school and Kindergarten’s, dishing out sugary treats and false bonhomie.

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At the end of our street there is a ferry, connecting one side of the harbour with the other. This time of year sees the route trundled by more and more camper vans and glorified station-wagons. There are day trippers, mostly oldies in their hybrid SUV or hatch, taking a jaunt from the other side of the island, where the power of the grey dollar means there is infrastructure, like sewage and electricity and roads without slips and slumps. Where there is employment and houses that don’t leak and aren’t infested with mold. Where there are holiday homes and touristy business and cafes and bars serving on trend craft beers to thirty something guys with tattoos and a beard, trialed by two gorgeous kids, one girl and one boy, accompanied by the wife wearing the hemp top and sarong over bikini bottom because after all, their parents bach is right on the beach.

Before I get too cynical, I should add that yes, my wife is gorgeous, as are my kids and yes, I too have tattoos and a beard. But at forty-five I am not sure if that makes me ‘on-trend’ or a trend setter? I am sure my kids have a firm opinion on where their Dad stands in the fashion stakes though.
And maybe, for me, it is more a case of jealousy, envy, than cynical sneering. While the baby booming holiday maker and their family take in the sights of the stunning Hokianga region, failing to scratch the surface of what life can really be like here for those born and raised to the area, it is the mid-life crises guys that are really starting to annoy me.

I am not talking the quaffed hair, convertible sports car type, demanding latte’s and Central Otago pinot’s everywhere they go. And I don’t want you imagining I am envious of the forty-something independent business owner, through years of hard work, dedication and toil and possibly some creative accounting, able to justify not saving for retirement and instead spending up large on hundreds of thousands of dollars on brand name boats like Stabicraft or McClay or Fyran and then of course, the grunty double cab ute to tow it.
No, the guys irritating me are the motorcyclists, dropping the gears as they reduce the revs, easing down the hill to catch the ferry. Not the Harley guys or the Indian riders or the Triumph’s or any other big thumper you can think of. They are more annoying alighting the ferry and roaring their way up the hill. Anyway, I feel sorry for them, clad in thick leathers, desperately keen to look the part despite the growing heat and humidity that is the north. Good luck to them I say.
It is the fellas on the dual purpose bikes, doing it tough on seats not designed to be sat on forever, battling wet then dry then wet roads on mud tyres, a bundle of whatever strapped on precariously behind them.

Big groups of them. Clubs maybe, a gathering of like minded individuals or just a few mates taking advantage of the warmer weather before the realities of the holiday season kick in and their one chance of selfish, self indulgent, youth recapturing escape, alludes them.
In a semi orderly row, or dribbling into and through town one after another, they come on down the hill, fairing splattered with mud and probably a touch of cow shit, distinguishing marks telling tales of off road adventure and journeys beyond tar seal and highway network.
At low speeds they stand to alleviate tired buttocks, shake hands and feet free to reduce the cramping effects of long stretches at the controls. When the helmets, gloves and jackets are off they want beers and pastry clad treats filled with approximations of meat.
Over their condensated pint glasses, necked in garden bars, flaky crumbs coating their weatherproof layers, the talk is of corners and cambers, of gear and power to weight ratios and holding the apex.
Sure, they are probably a bit whiffy. Despite the manufacturers claims of ‘breath-ability’, these guys sweat. Yes, they probably yell a bit, even the conscientious riders ears dulled by the long term thrum of four stroke engines directly below them something even earplugs cannot dull.
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Back at home there must be indulging wives, quietly plotting their own girls trip, maybe to Bali in the new year, or an island getaway over the winter months. There will be envious work mates and colleagues, elderly mothers who just can’t stop themselves from worrying, mistrusting girlfriends regretting their decision never to learn to ride.
And for me, the whole convoy; from campers to caravans, converted buses with witty and whimsical names like Dreamchaser and Sunset Seeker, to motorbikes and cyclists, represents the beginning of the Christmas, summer and holiday seasons, all rolled into one.
For you it might be the decorations in the streets, the jingles on the radio and in the malls. It might be the smell of the baking and the wrapping and sending of presents. The whole silly season might not hit you until the rellies roll into town and start pitching tents in the backyard or Mum and Dad get stressed one morning, frantically loading the car, dropping the pets off at kennels and boarding houses good and early, in a futile bid to beat the holiday traffic, just like everyone else.
Maybe it the stress etched over the faces of those who simply can’t afford to spoil the kids, let alone themselves. The ones who dread having to take time off as their place of work shuts down, the weight of expectation too much on already stretched budgets. Perhaps this is a time fraught with anguish or loneliness or despair or just a general malaise, around a sense of duty imparted on us because of tradition and religion, ones we may not share, have never shared or have no desire to share in.

But, let’s not forget that there is good in it all, the fuss and the effort. Families can find an excuse to come together. There can be fun in the smiles and the laughter and the excess, whatever and however you make it. We are lucky, here in Godzone; the sun comes out, the days warm, the beaches swell with numbers and the water cools our sunbathed skin, as Dad tends the BBQ, Mum and Aunty do one of those leftover salads they somehow manage to make delicious and Uncle has one too many, falling asleep in a sagging deck chair under the shade of a Pohutakawa .
All good, get into it.

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Somewhere at the back of a wardrobe I have an all weather riding jacket. I have helmet and gloves and pants and all the gear.
What I don’t have, is a motorbike.

Dear Santa…

 

Sorry, How Much?!

Can somebody please explain the ‘letting fee’ to me? 

My wife and I are renters.

A few years ago we sold our home and moved on from Dunedin. A career step for the wife took us up the coast of the South Island to Kaikoura.
A stepping stone move for Wifey and a change of pace for me. A good one, as it turned out. We found an open and welcoming community, good schooling for the kids and a beautiful spot, complete with mountain and ocean vistas. So enamoured were we with life in Kaikoura, we brought another person into the world to share it with us.

The E-Bomb was born in Kaikoura, another home birth. This time, in the second rental property we lived in while we were living and working in that little slice of rugged paradise. Her place of birth, a house we sourced through some of Wifey’s colleagues, was a sort of house sitting situation. The place was on the market and we knew it could sell out from under us at any moment. It did, a handful of months after moving in.
Prior to that we had a lovely older place we found online through an agency.

Despite many of the horror stories out there about rental agencies, we had nothing but a good experience with Harcourts in Kaikoura. We made initial contact online, then via the phone, full of questions and concerns as we were taking the place sight unseen. The property manager went above and beyond, sending a ton of photos through and assuring us the place would be a good fit for us. It was.
Not to say there were no problems. There were leaks and other issues. But with an attentive, communicative property manager and an approachable landlord, nothing was ever a problem.

Life moved on and we did too. Waikato, a little rural spot called Te Mata not far from the equally beautiful seaside town of Raglan, this time on the West Coast of the North Island. Another career move for Wifey and finally, a step towards the type of climate my home town of Dunedin just cannot  provide.
This time we dealt with an agent who did nothing more than vet us and show us the property. From there on we were in the hands of the landlord, a bloody good bugger in the old school Kiwi way.

The first time around we paid a letting fee. The property manager earned it we felt, as it seemed like she as very much in it for us, the tenant, as she was for the landlord, her client.
A few years later and we are set to be on the move again. In those intervening years it seems all the rhetoric around the rental market might be spot on. It seems tight, to say the least, with very few options around even close to suitable. So, with pressure on, the agents/landlords hold all the cards, meaning the likes of myself and Wifey and our crew, are left having to jump through hoops to even get a sniff of a look in.

A myriad of questions to be answered and boxes ticked, much of the information sought bordering on an invasion of privacy, all in triplicate and all done before you are even allowed to view a property!
Why does an agent need to know the names of our kids? Why do I need to provide multiple personal references, when we have written references from previous landlords? Why is our income all that relevant? I could earn a million dollars a month and spend $1,000,001.01 per month.
How about worrying about our ability to pay the rent, when we don’t!
No need to worry, any prospective landlords out there wanting to house our little nucleic family…we’ll pay.

I get that the agent is trying to protect the interests of their client. Understandable, just doing their job and all that. But, there lies the key point. Their client.
A rental agency is engaged by and works for, the landlord. Generally, they will take a percentage of the rent charged. They do the grunt work on behalf of said landlord, ensuring the property is maintained, tenanted, that the rent is paid and the place is looked after.
How come Wifey and I find ourselves doing all the grunting and groaning when searching for somewhere to live, only to end up paying a fee for the privilege?
One weeks rent plus G.S.T, which will work out as a cost of around $550-$600, with nothing to show for it except our own leg-work, our own persistence and perseverance and our own commitment to the process.
Because we need a roof over our heads!

Yes the letting fee is apparently set to be a thing of the past by the middle of next month. Yet, all adverts still state a fee is required, even if a property is not available until later in the month or beyond. I guess the idea is to get you signed asap, thus earning the fee, before handing the key.

Oh well, can’t waste any more time here, I have a home to find. That’s right, a home, not just a house.

Influence

Sometimes it is the people flying under the radar who have the most impact. 

I have made mention a few times over by now of the people who have passed away in the last year or two, the ones who proved so  influential. Not just to me, but to the world.
These were the big name entertainers, the top flight names across the music, literary and screen industries.

For me and possibly people of my age, my generation, recently there was the sad news of another persons death, one who had quite the impact over a number of genres and reaches.
William Goldman did it all. He wrote the stories and brought them to air. The Princess Bride anyone?! Important movies like The Stepford Wives and The Presidents Men, classics like A Bridge Too Far and for me, one of the all time greats and personal favourites in movie making, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
I never knew his name until recently and therefore have never appreciated the role this guy had on the way I think and feel. He shaped much of the stuff I grew up watching and reading, doing it all from under the scope of the radar.

Which got me thinking.
What sort of influencer are you? Were you? Do you still have influence? If so, has how you weld that influence changed?

It is obvious how much say and sway you have over kids when you are a parent. It stands to reason, the more engaged you are with your offspring, the more you will influence how they think, how they respond to situations and how they feel about everything.
Whether or not that is a good or bad influence, is up to you.
Your mood, your attitude, your emotional output, are things children are very susceptible to, particularly little ones. You can choose to have a direct guiding hand, or you you can leave it up to coincidence, indirectly guiding and shaping your children but dint of their observation and because children as sponges, soaking up all that occurs around them.
How you behave will be a vital component of your child’s development.

The same can be said of all the people who have direct involvement in the lives of your children. Grandparents and other close relatives, that really friendly neighbour who you call an Aunt and all the ancillary people; teachers and coaches and music tutors and the family doctor and the smiling convenience store owner who once in a while plies your kids with a lollipop here and there.
How come I never get offered a complimentary bottle of wine?
Not every thing your kids encounter, not every one, is going to be positive. IN the same breath, not all negative encounters are automatically a bad thing.
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Your indifference can speak volumes. Your attentiveness speaks louder.

 

 

Bounce of the Ball

All Blacks give way to Black Caps as the kids turn blue and brown.

Yesterday was the first attack of the beach for the season.
The sun was shining, the day was warm if a little windy, the kids paddled and swam, dug and scampered, all as their dad failed yet again to prove himself provider, coming home with an empty chilly bin.
A big day of the first summer hit out. Consequently everyone was a little frazzled by the evening, not to mention a little red in patches. Even my own flexibility let me down, clear pink delineations marked on my skin where my hands fail to reach.

With a couple of late beers in me it was all I could do to keep one eye on the cricket test between Pakistan and the Black Caps. Not the biggest fan of the game, I do admit to being a bit of a tragic, fond of the longer version. Too long for me after a day in the sun, wind and sand, fruitlessly casting fish food out into the surprisingly warm waters of the Hokianga.  I went to bed not longer after the crew, my minds eye beginning to focus on the All Black’s vs Ireland.

That game came with a lot of hype and pretty much, it delivered.
Perhaps the AB’s were below par but if that was the case, it took an outstanding Irish effort to drive it home. They were belligerent, fired up, accurate and skilled. Everything the All Blacks weren’t.
The Irish defense was outstanding and they targeted our key players brilliantly, shutting down our play before we could gain any momentum. Pressure by the opposition resulted in mistakes by the All Blacks, which of course results in more pressure.
New Zealand were far from their clinical best, some players were off with a prime example being Captain Kieron Read. A poor start at scrum time didn’t help either, against a well coached and well drilled team.

We were beaten at the breakdown. I think right there was the winning of the game for the Irish, with players like C.J Stander and Peter O’Mahony nothing short of brilliant. Gone are the days where not throwing bodies into the ruck is an effective defensive measure. Fanning out flat across the field is one thing, but letting a team like Ireland get on a roll with repeat possession is quite another.
The All Blacks kicked a lot of ball early and I can’t help thing this might be under instruction. However, without the ball it is difficult to get into the game and for large periods of the game our back line in particular, looked bereft of ideas.

Where is the strong man? The hit-up man who will just tuck the ball under one powerful arm and just go, straight and hard? Yes, as a unit and individuals, the All Blacks made mistakes, individual errors and some poor calls. We were soundly beaten by the quintessential better team on the day. Ok, fair calls, but where was the man to wrestle the decision making around, to change tact, to put his hand up, or better yet a couple of guys like that?
We weren’t tidy enough, we weren’t mongrel enough and for whatever reason we didn’t seem to want to attack like we are known for.
Oh well, bugger. Well done the Irish, they won because they were better.

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There was one, if only one, really good thing I was able to take away from the game.
The kick off time.
On the couch, cup of tea, a blanket despite another beautiful Hokianga dawn and the kids starting to stir, making their fuzzy ways into the living room. Pretty much perfect.
8am New Zealand time is as about as perfect a kickoff time as you are gonna get for family entertainment in the weekend. If it was a local game, maybe not of course, but still a whole lot better than 7:30pm on a cold winter evening.

The kids didn’t last long though. Once Dad starts yelling at the television, they find better things to do. Even when we haven’t left the home, I still have the ability to embarrass my kids. Just part of my job.

In closing, Naholo in on the right wing, with Smith returning to fullback. Laumape in the midfield, or to at least come of the bench in tandem with the Lienart-Brown’s of the world and Mackenzie. We had no punch, lacked that little extra our bench normally provides and run Squire in the wide channels instead of Read. Seen that guy in full flight?
I could go on all day but I won’t
The sun is shining.

Marvel-ous

Another one bites the dust.

At 95, it is highly unlikely anyone will be taken by surprise at the passing of Stan Lee. A good knock as ‘they’ say. And what else can’t be doubted is the influence the man had over so much of our modern culture.
One of the key people behind Marvel story-lines and their characters, Lee brought us many of the heroes we see on our big screens in just about every second blockbuster movie release.

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The last couple of years have claimed the lives of a lot of the people who I looked at as the iconic figures in my cultural formation. The Bowie’s and Prince’s and Cohen’s and the rest. I was never a huge fan of comics as a kid, finding more depth and nuance in them as an adult reader, than you might have thought was there originally. So not a fan as such, even of the movies, once they started rolling across our screens. I like them for the action, the comic strip references, am not immune to the hype and will happily watch them with the kids, but pieces of cinematic mastery they are not.
Of course this doesn’t mean I am unsympathetic to the passing of Stan Lee. I watched the very cheesy Hulk television series when I was a boy, was taken to the Spiderman movies, watching graphics and effects which would pale in comparison by modern standards.

The crew who have followed me, Number’s One and Two, the E-Bomb and Wee-Man love a bit of bright, flashy, action packed, non stop craziness flicking across their screen. Big, bold, good looking people doing impossibly heroic things as they do battle with ever more ridiculous baddies. These movies are a fun, wild ride which try not to take themselves too seriously and thank goodness for that.
Stan Lee sometimes got a little darker with the characters and their story-lines than modern portrayals would suggest. Peter Parker could get very introspective and there some touchy bits and pieces of subject matter, current and topical.
maybe not so much for The Avengers, but there can be no doubt the likes of Captain America, Ironman and the Hulk had their demons.

Hulking-out

Perhaps the themes are generally lighter, fluffier, more action packed and less demanding. Maybe this is because I am getting older and need a bit more to stimulate me when I am seeking my entertainment package. I want the challenge of multiple layers in a movie or, god forbid, a book.
One sure sign Stan Lee’s passing is an indication of my own aging, is the fact he has been able to influence the characters who have infiltrated the lives of my children. A tribute to the longevity and success of what Lee was able to achieve, the ability to transcend generations an impressive feat.

They don’t quite get the significance of Lee’s passing, or the import of his wide spread and far ranging scope of influence on the entertainment industry and therefore, culture. But in Lee and his works was a guy responsible for much of my children’s escapism, there fantastical imaginings, even shaping some of their ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. Such a clear delineation between good and evil, those in the right and those in the wrong, would be a great thing in the real world. If only it was all that simple.

For kids, it is. That simple. Things are more black and white, the grey areas less domineering. The good guy might not always win but, he is always good.
Stan Lee gave the good guys a great bit chunk of cool. It makes them, the goodies, attractive, makes them something young kids might want to aspire to being.

Thanks for that Stan, you’ve made my job a little bit easier.

 

Creepy

What to do when your kids get spooky?

Culture has been a bit of a theme of late. The 31st of October does nothing to alter that.

Halloween is a tradition that might date all the way back to the Celts, but it is relatively new to New Zealand, courtesy of the the good ole U.S.A.
American television has made Halloween a thing which has caught on here, something that is growing in popularity year by year while some of the older traditions fade.
Something like Guy Fawkes was the go to in my day and while it is still celebrated, if that is the right word for commemorating the actions of the figure head for a band of terrorists, it is certainly not as popular as it used to be.

Regulation and political correctness and rules have sucked the life out of something as explosively fun as Guy Fawkes. Civil authorities still put on a show in many centers and good on them. For me, Guy Fawkes will always hold a special place as my birthday falls just a day or two before, meaning blowing things up in sparkly detonations takes on a dual importance.

All Hallows Eve doesn’t seem to hold the same inherent danger as igniting tubes full of phosphorous and gunpowder. Despite the lengths some families seem to go to in celebration of a 2000 year old bow to the spirits of the dead, said to return to earth on the 31st, no one seems to be worried enough to put a halt to things.
Now would be the time I could enter into a rant about the Americanisation of the western world in particular. How American culture, delivered to us through the television, is shaping and influencing us, particularly our youth culture.

I could, but I won’t.
Sometimes it is just fun. Instead I will share with you the fun my crew had with a bit of dress-up and some clever face-paint/makeup from their creative Mother.

 You have been warned!!

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zombie 1

 

zombies

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Dad Dilemma

I sometimes wish my girls were butt ugly bush pigs.

Summer is pretty much upon us. The days have lengthened, thanks to daylight saving. The sun is getting higher in the sky, warming the world around us and drying out, mostly, the the damp Northland soil beneath our feet.
All of this is impossible not to notice, given the myriad of bugs and critters seem to have taken note too, busily crawling out of their winter hideaways by ever increasing numbers.
Great, isn’t it? Not really a question, because yes, it is awesome to wake to a bright sunny day, clear skies and birdsong. The promise of a stunning day ahead is alluring. My only issue, my equally stunning children.

Now of course I will say my daughters are stunners. I have to, but in my case, it happens to be true. While there might not be too many modelling agencies banging down the door, there is no doubt the three girls are lookers-it is at this point I very diplomatically point out how much our kids take after their mother-and I am not blind to their looks, as much as I am growing ever more aware how much I would like to be.
It is said ignorance is bliss and, at times, I am inclined to agree. As the season changes and the choice of wardrobe with it, I have to think, being ignorant would indeed be blissful. Perhaps, to the next extreme, being blind would solve the problem too.
What problem, you ask?
A good question and one I can only hope I am able to answer as subtly as possible, as diplomatically as possible, as innocently as possible.

My eldest has not long turned thirteen. She is a babe. Not skinny, not fat, developing into a beautiful, intelligent, inquisitive and vibrant young lady. Developing physically too.
Yes, a young lady in so many ways. And to be frank, it petrifies me.
As a man I am blase to a great deal of the changes taking place with my eldest daughters. Maybe it is due to a bunch of old fashioned hang-ups, but probably more because my kids have an engaging and involved mother.
Her presence and willingness to offer input and sage advice takes the pressure off me, of that there is no doubt. Even though I am the appointed full-time parent, I feel there may well be a bullet somewhere there I managed to dodge. I’m grateful for it, for being excluded from something I would fumble my way through at best, entirely fuck up in all likely hood.

I am of  course referring to the ‘talk’. And when it comes to girls, not just the one about birds, bees and bad boys. Both boys and girls change and grow and develop as the hormones kick in. As a bloke, I can only comment on what it was like for me and might be like for another bloke. And let me tell you, from the little, inadequate and quaint knowledge I have, the whole teenage developmental years seem a lot less troublesome for young bucks.

Not to belittle what it is each and every teenager goes through, no matter their gender. So much is happening, in such a relatively short period of time, it is a wonder anyone involved, even on the fringes like parents, manage to survive. At least, I am on the fringes, right where I choose to be, right where I belong and right where I have been positioned.
I am kept informed, I am updated. As far as I need to be and more than I want to be.

Development aside, growth and changes and all of that, I do not know quite know where it is I am supposed to make my stand.
How much flesh is too much? That is the question, a burning one, sun smart awareness aside, I am not sure how to answer and am even more sure there is no definitive response.
bikini
Some seasonal shopping was done, in preparation for our coming long hot summer on the beaches of Northland (fingers crossed) and damn, my girls look good!
How good are they supposed to look? How good are they allowed to look? How good can I tolerate them looking? Far less than their Mother it would seem. I am no prude and I realize the wisest course of action is to let my girls establish their own taste and style and sense of fashion, or whatever it is they are attempting to do. My girls are not victims of, or slaves to, fashion, yet they do have their own thing going on and have certain expectations, based on what is considered cool or not.
I don’t. As it is, I restrict myself to saying the word cool, because throwing out hip or neat or funky, or I don’t bloody know, is only going to make me sound like the out of date, old school, fuddy-duddy I guess I have rapidly become. Latest trends aside, Numbers One and Two want to look the part, who am I to stand in the way of that?

I am their father. That’s who!  Wait…Father…capital letters!! And yes, multiple exclamation marks required, until the point is well and truly made and completely understood.
But the dilemma, the Catch 22 for a Father, for a man as I see it, is in the very act of making the point. What say my eldest daughter, just turned thirteen, all gorgeousness and stunningness, gets caught up in the ‘beach body’ thing? What say she takes a cooling dip in the ocean, then lays back on a towel to dry off, clad in a bikini some fashionista came up with after a trip to Rio?
If Dad starts commenting about too much of this on display, too much of that catching the eye, he is instantly treading on dangerous territory. Think thin ice, think minefields. Straight off he runs the risk of surfing the gamut of teenage emotive responses. Something you want to avoid anywhere, let alone a chilled day at the beach.
Right there and then I have acknowledged the attractiveness of my child. I am not going to use words like hot, sexy, babe etc…wait…damn it! But that is what has happened, I, as parent, as man, as human, as Father, have noticed how attractive a child of mine is.

And it freaks me the fuck out!!!!!

Yes, again with the exclamation marks. I simply cannot emphasis this crisis enough. I am a dirty old creep if I notice, but I only notice because I am a parent and wish to moderate what I am seeing.
Okay, perhaps that is a little extreme. As a parent, a Father, I have ever right and all responsibility, to tell a child what they are are wearing is inappropriate…too little and light for the temperature, not waterproof enough for the level of precipitation.
Too damn revealing.
I am all for my kids being individuals. For finding and setting limits for themselves. In the same breath, they need, as we all do, guidance and advice and to be surrounded by people who care, because they have their best interests at heart. In the case of parents, their own interests too. I don’t want to be known as the P.P…Prude Parent. My ideals are not old fashioned, my sensibilities are not extreme and not set in concrete.
But I do not want to be guilty of going to the other extreme, being too liberal, too understanding and too giving. Boundaries and all that, if not strictly adhered to, are at the very least acknowledged and respected.

So where are we, at the end of this? No where further advanced, it would seem. Wear something practical for swimming, for tanning, if that is what you must do. Wear what you feel good in and what you feel you look good in. Do it all without incurring the wrath of your father, because you have made him too aware, to sensitive, to uncomfortable.
But, it isn’t about me and my hang ups.

Feel good and look good while you’re doing it.
Maybe I’ll just have to look the other way.

 

Happy Birthday

Well that’s it. Officially old. 

Number One turns thirteen today. A major step for her, becoming a teenager. A sign too, her Mother and I have taken a fair few steps of our own.

Many people tell us this is where it really begins. Parenting. Throw out all we know and think we know. Disregard everything we have learned and been taught. Nothing is relevant, nothing holds true, once those mystical teen years are reached. The best of it and the worst of it, so we are told. Well if it is to be the best, these following teen years, then they are going to have to prove to be pretty darn exceptional.

Don’t get me wrong, Number One is as moody, surly, grumpy and snappy as any other kid her age. Possibly a bit less, she seems to sail on a fairly even keel. The mood swings are no more or less than what you what might expect from any other person on the planet, man, woman or child, boy or girl. Yes, only the beginning you might say, just you wait. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Change is coming. In fact, the ‘change’ has been on us for a while and so far, he says with digits firmly crossed, life has gone on. Maybe that is the key. Not Number One, not her Mother, not me or the other siblings or anyone I can think of, has made any fuss. Barely any comment. After all, what is there to say? What is there to make a big deal out of? A Human Being growing and developing and aging, whatever you want to call it, is hardly a surprise.

Long may Number One continue to sail smoothly but even I can’t deny there is a change in tide ahead for her and consequently, for all of us. High school will play a big part. Her social scene will change, her horizons will be broadened academically, recreationally and socially. There will be more involvement in  this and that and the next thing. She will, hopefully, chop and change, experimenting with the new horizons and directions available to her and all the while, learning.

Teenager or not, all I can do as a parent is listen. Step one. Beyond that, I can be empathetic, try to be understanding and patient and caring and maybe, just maybe, Number One will continue to see me as an option, a real and genuine one, when she is in need. Having said that, I am fairly certain things are going to crop up she will not want to bring to her Dad, go to parent or not. And I know for sure, there are going to be things I would rather deflect, fend some issues and concerns off, send them in the direction of mother dearest. Probably best for all concerned.

As parent’s we are not ones to tip-toe around subjects. Ask a question, we will give our children an open and honest answer. Transparency is a policy we are fond of and the basis of our approach to teaching our crew the things they can’t, don’t or won’t learn at school. There are however, some things, topics and subjects I am not so sure I am all that interested in covering. The ‘Talk’ for example. School touches a bit on the birds and the bees. I have a get out clause, one which I fully intend to invoke. ‘Your Mother is a health professional, a Midwife no less…you want that info, she knows better than I, ask her.’

I am not entirely sure how I will deal with the subject of boys. Not an issue yet and I can only hope I don’t come up with some cliched rubbish about porches and rocking chairs and rock salt cartridges, loaded into double barreled shotguns. I don’t even own a shotgun. Take note though, any would-be suitor…I do own a high powered rifle and we have a loving, caring and protective dog…as old and grumpy as I am.

There is no doubting the introduction of a teenager to the house will mean a shift in dynamic. Numbers One and Two have always bickered and bitched and winged and moaned at each other. They are two distinct and different people, who by and large get on pretty well. Without being aware of it, they are actually fairly reliant on each other. It will be interesting to see the inevitable shift in their relationship. The younger two,         E-Bomb and Wee-Man, turn to their eldest sister more than any of them might realise. She is a source of respite, for both those two little ones and me. An engaging, involved, interested and interesting part of their lives. How much her own life, evolving and burgeoning and all those sorts of words, will impact on those relationships I guess only time will tell.

I must admit, I lean on Number One a bit. I rely on her, to give me some breathing space, so that I am not completely lost as an individual in this family. I suppose I run the risk of alienating her, having her resent the role she plays, fully aware of it or not. As I have said though, she is engaged and engaging, a very active part of the lives of all of us. For that she gets recognition and, both now and in time, finds reward. The adoration of her little brother, the appreciation of her Father.

We have treated and continue to treat all our children like little people, not inferior or incomplete. Just young. People. We communicate with our kids as the individuals they are. Our efforts to do that won’t change just because there is teen at the end of their age’s. I like to think we have been, as parent’s, pretty good listeners over the years and good communicators too. Not ‘tellers’ but talkers and explainers and debaters, as open to what they have to say, as they need to be to what we are trying to impart. I look forward to Number One expanding her thoughts, her opinions, her ideas and ideologies. My only concern is if I can keep up.

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Today is about cake and treats and presents, phone calls from relies, candles and all the rest. We will make a fuss, we will cuddle and tell each other how much we love the person wrapped in our embrace. No matter her age, Number One will be spoiled, because we love her. We love her pimples and her mood swings and her sour tiredness, no matter the length of the sleep-in. We love her growth spurts and her desire for more independence and her failures and her advances and we love her argumentative streak and her stomp out of the room and her sense of humour and her growing intuition and her developing awareness, both of self and the greater, wider world.

You really are Number One.