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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Bad Apples. Bad Man.

Grace Millane. Saddened? Hell yes. Sickened? You know it. Shocked? Unfortunately, no. 

I haven’t been on a date in a long time. Possibly because, as a forty something, hirsute, chubby, balding man with an empty wallet, I am far from desirable.
More likely my lack of recent dating experience is due to my long-term, happy marriage and the four kids produced. Wifey and I are lucky to see a movie on the couch together, uninterrupted, without one or the other of us falling asleep!

It stands to reason I therefore have little I can say about dating apps. Are they safe? No idea, I have never used one and am unlikely to at any time in the foreseeable future. Would I want my girls on one, using an app to source dates? Again, I have no authority from which to answer that question but I will anyway…
No.
I do not want my girls, young woman as they would be at that point, using something as anonymous as a dating app. While I understand that such apps are used as a convenience, rather than being a means purely for the desperate and needy to seek some sort of succour, the lack of real knowledge about who you are hooking up with is worrying to say the least. What on this earth is so wrong with face to face? Let’s get out and about again people.
Should users of such apps, particularly female, cease dating that way? Probably not. For every creep out there there will be dozens, hundreds, thousands of genuine, upstanding, ‘normal’ people.

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We have heard a lot about the hideous killing of Grace Millane. There can be no argument, two nations waited on tenterhooks while the police conducted their investigations and search.
Of course, as a country, we were appalled. It is sad to say though, in this day and age, it is no surprise.
How long has it been since a tourist was killed here? Not one engaged in some adventure tourism, choosing to put life and limb at risk leaping off a bridge or surfing a raging river. The Swedish couple immediately springs to mind, David Tamihere and all that confusion…

So it was coming. Law of averages and all that. We might think we live in paradise and we do, but eventually, we will fail to dodge the bullet. The reality is, this fair nation has it’s fair share of nutters. And when a nutter targets a nice, clean cut, educated, white middle-class young person, the world looks up and takes notice.
Too cynical? Maybe. I can’t help but think if the victim had been a toothless, over weight Maori diabetic with an alcohol problem, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Yesterday’s news.
A jaded old world view makes you think a bit like that, but it isn’t the point.

Get to it then, the point, if indeed you have one?
Thing is, I am not sure I do. The death of Grace and the inevitable opinions and attitudes which have been thrown up (it only takes a moment or two after a body washes up), merely raise a bunch more questions. What’s more, I do not believe I am the person best placed to respond to them.
Because I do get defensive. I do get my back up, as a man, when the finger is pointed.
I know it isn’t pointed at me. Not directly at least. I know it is more about language than accusation. There is no one out there, of either gender, claiming I, as an individual, have done any wrong, committed any crime.
Guilty by association? To an extent, yes. I am a man after all.

Articles by the likes of Cecile Meier do grate.
www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/motivate-me/109320099/grace-millane-women-cannot-live-in-fear

She begins by asserting the idea that we, women in particular, cannot live in fear.
Great, I should hope not. Everyone has to go on with their everyday lives, as if nothing has happened and nothing is going to happen.
Where danger is perceived, exhibit caution and care, be aware, alert and vigilant.
Don’t be scared, paranoid or tentative. Boldly go where women have gone before. Long shall they continue to.

Cecile Meier then goes on to say that men, though she does make the point that it isn’t all men, have to think of how they can do their bit. How they…yes, all men…are part of the problem if they don’t act against a mate at the bar touching up a woman.
Thing is ‘good men’ as they are referred to in the article, don’t have mates who grope ladies randomly in pubs and bars and nightclubs.
Good men don’t yell sexist slurs, don’t sexually harass in the workplace or anywhere and no, good men don’t stand by and allow any of it to happen, even if the chances of getting punched in the face heighten exponentially by stepping up.
Yes, I have laughed at rape jokes. The women sitting around me at the time have laughed along to. After all, man and woman alike purchased tickets to whatever event might have being taking place. You know, a comic for example.
Jokes like that are delivered by comedians working the shock factor, looking to explore limits and test boundaries. Told right, a joke can be about anything. That is the key to humour.
Jimmy Carr, one of my favourite comedians, is a prime example. He has stated that offense is taken, not given and I have to agree. In his way, in the way of comedy, expressing such topics in the form of humour is discourse, of a kind and the more of that, the better.
Does joking about that sort of thing ‘normalise’ the behaviour? Normalise rape?

No.
Because there is nothing normal about rape. Normal people, men, good men, don’t rape and nothing about my behaviour is going to stop a rapist from doing what he does, driven by whatever warped shit going on in his head inspiring him to do so.
Yes there is porn culture, thanks to the internet. Yes there is a throw back against the feminist movement, a backlash, small, isolated but unfortunately, relevant. Yes there is cultural clash, the globalization of nations meaning there is unavoidable difference, there is misunderstanding, there is expectation.
However, me being a good person, the one that I am already, the example I set for my children, will not stop any perpetrator of any bad deeds.
Do I, as a man, sound defensive? Possibly and many a reader (there aren’t many) may chose to interpret it that way. Or, is it more a case of reality. There is a limited sphere one individual can operate in and despite the realm of such good men’s spheres interacting, coercing, co-existing, there is little I or a collective we can do, unless we catch the bastard in the act.

Yes, some men violently attack women. Scummy, low-brow, socially retarded men.
Anecdotally, as someone who was once a young male, I can say the people most likely to suffer physical violence, are men. Males between the ages of say fifteen, through to their mid twenties. That is what I saw anyway and to be fair, not a great deal of it. What did happen and I suspect it is still a truth to this day, was fueled by alcohol.
Cecile Meier can bandy about vague stats, claiming one in two Kiwi women have been physically and psychologically abused by their partners.
I call bullshit.
If I am wrong, put the numbers up to prove it.

And this guy…www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/opinion/109363511/guys-we-need-to-talk-and-we-need-to-listen
Good points, many of them. However, men are not the only ones with locker rooms. Can’t we be different, can’t we ‘take the piss’. Isn’t that very much the Kiwi way?
Maybe the locker room joker is a rapist. Maybe he is making a misplaced attempt to fit in. Maybe he is divided by generational shifts, failing to move and change with times. Maybe he is a creepy jerk. Maybe, just maybe, repeating a line or a joke after a highly competitive squash doubles match or whatever, doesn’t make him a murdering rapist.
Both genders dig at each other. Jest and jibe and rib and whatever other sweet and endearing term you would like to place on the good ole NZ way of giving each other shit.

Things in New Zealand aren’t as paradisaical as many on these shores would like to think, but I am reckoning they are not as bad as is being alluded to. Society would have long since fallen apart if every second woman here was getting the bash.
And men, even these so called ‘good men’, are the only ones actively engaged in physical and mental abuse?
I have been punched, slapped, kicked, bitten and scratched, all the while screamed filth is yelled in my face.
I’ve punched this and battered that when a woman has frazzled me to my wits end. I am no angel. Burn my stuff, slice it to pieces with scissors or any other melodramatic cliched female response to drama…it’s my fault and I should not defend that. Threat and counter threat.

Women, go ahead and reclaim the night and all the rest of it. Best of luck to you. I wholeheartedly support the sentiment.
Sentiment won’t keep you save on the streets at night. The same way me waving a placard or lighting a candle, nodding sagely and wisely to the ‘opinion’ of a Cecile Meier, wiping a tear away as I listen to the speeches from women of influence and power, like Jacinda Ardern, isn’t going to stop the next bashing in the home, the next bit of sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond.
The next rape.

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Ladies, I don’t want you to worry your pretty little heads, but ask yourself this one simple thing…who, as in what gender, has the greatest influence during the raising of our children?
Answer…you. Yes, you. Women. All the good and the bad of you.
Women dominate in our homes. They dominate in our preschools and kindergartens and play centers. They rule in the classroom at schools, right through all the education afforded to our children.
Part of another, wider debate for sure, but there needs to be a stronger, far more present, male influence in our schooling, in the raising of our tamariki. The good men.

We raise our children. You, me, my wife, the dude behind the counter at the local store, the teachers and coaches and the big brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties and neighbours and the surf life saving club and the volunteer this and the assistant that and whomever touches their lives.
As the Blues Bothers said: You, Me, Them, Everybody…

At the top of that list…
Women.
Our Mothers.
Our teachers.

Bad apples.
One of them fell from a tree, probably not too far and took out Grace Millane.
He’ll get his, such is fate. Don’t let the likes of him get yours and especially, don’t let the likes of yours be the likes of Grace Millane. Not that there is bugger all, as parents, you can necessarily do about it. Not, as men, either. There is as much inherent risk swiping right, as there is batting your eyelids across the bar, no matter your gender.
Let’s, as men, the good ones, stand by our women and help them make better people of all of us. And while we are at it, let’s not be afraid, yes afraid, to defend ourselves as the good people we are. Not just good men, but good people.
Because, let us not forget, good men are just like the majority of everyone the world over.

Good people.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.
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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.

 

 

 

 

Teachers Strike Back

Twenty four years, sixteen percent.

Just two of the numbers bandied about in relation to New Zealand’s primary school teachers negotiations. Over two decades since they last took such action, and a pay rise request based over two years.

So far, the demand for pay has not been met and there is a large gap back to what has been offered by the ministry. There is certainly room for movement and that is what mediation and negotiation is all about, an attempt to find some middle ground both parties can commune on. It is clear teachers feel undervalued and I am not in a position to question that. Personally, I value the teachers of my children based on the development of my kids. A teachers value to me, to my family, to my kids, is based solely on how well our kids are learning, how they are growing educationally and how they are developing as young people in our community. From a parents perspective, value has nothing to do with how much a teacher is getting paid.

I understand a well paid employee, in any vocation, is a generally happier one, although cash is not a panacea. That said, I guess it is important to find out about the other complaints from teachers and their union. If you have bothered to follow the media releases, read through the stances of both sides, then maybe you have been able to form a semi educated take on the arguments and counter responses. Or not, particularly if you scroll down to comments sections, getting caught up in the vitriol and heated debate.

The voice of teachers and those who support them have been the louder, more vociferous one. There seems to be a desperate need for our teachers to dispel what they feel are a bunch of urban myths out there, based around the time and effort they apply in and around their working day. Holiday time is a big one and an apparent short working day. Perceptions which I know to be false, but I can also see as being easily validated.

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For a time I served on a school board. I felt it was important to have some investment in what is a major part of my kid’s lives, namely their schooling. After all, good or bad, vast tracks of your school years stay with you for life. During monthly board meetings I saw passion, I saw frustration, I saw desire and will and elation and disappointment and I saw people, everyday normal people, trying to do their best as part of a massive and at times seemingly unwieldy system. I was lucky, as were my two oldest girls, to be attending a great little school, in a rural environment richly supported and a vital part of a caring and involved community. The same probably can’t be said for every community and every school.

Anecdotal at best, but I observed teachers starting their day well before the first of the school buses pulled up or children started to disgorge from a series of SUV’s, people-movers and crowded hatchbacks. Board meetings aside, part timers aside, teacher aides aside, these staff members worked a full day.

The working day for a teacher is not 9-3, as some might like to think. They are there longer, a normal, full, working day and so they should. They are paid to be. Yes, staff were in the classroom over the holiday periods, term breaks there for the benefit of the children not teachers…ever seen a child at the end of a long hard term, dragging their feet to and from school, a look of thunder on their face you as a parent do your best to tip-toe around? The teachers I witnessed prepped for the coming term. No, not necessarily full days and not throughout the whole two week break. But it was rare to see any teacher show up to class empty handed or leave at the end of their day without an arm load of files and a head full of ideas and issues.

Nothing new there really, for any one person in any one job. We all put effort in, we all struggle to leave it behind us when we leave the door and we all face that in our own way. I do have some frustrations about a few demands which have arisen around teacher requests. Namely, more time away from face to face contact, the desired preparation and planning time.

My kids, as an example I can readily turn to, are home by 3pm. They walk home, having left the school gate at around 2:30pm. The school grounds might not be completely empty of kids at that point, but damn close to it. No face to face time required there. That leaves a couple of hours a day too get things done. Ten hours over the course of the week, not to mention the brief time available each and every morning.

Sure, teachers are parents too. They have lives outside of the school gate and demands on their time from their personal lives, just like everyone else. Those ten or so hours might not and will not be available all the time. Particularly if a teacher is involved in any extra-curricular stuff kids are into. Coaching, music lessons, tutoring. But, if the voluntary feel good stuff is getting in the way, then it needs to be put aside. If the extras are affecting your ability to do the core roles of your profession as a teacher, then leave it up to the parents and others who have made themselves available.

Time management. Obviously something which bugs me. Teachers asking for less contact time when all I can think, as a parent, is how to get more. Greater time and contact between my children and the people charged with educating them. To mind, that whole argument is arse-about-face. A teacher should want more and more quality time in the classroom, involved directly with the learning of the children in question. Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that what they signed up for?

Which means better resourcing. Which means a lower ratio of teachers to kids, smaller classroom sizes, greater support and backup for those at the chalkboard (yes, showing my age…I know chalk has given way to the digital age). Does it really mean Special Education coordinators (SENCO) in each and every school?

I have moaned before about a lack of solution based rhetoric in society. We blame, point fingers, highlight and show concern. We don’t offer fixes. I don’t claim to have them, but another bug is language.

Crisis? Great way to attract people to the teaching profession. And after all, wouldn’t more teachers in the classroom be the ultimate fix? I think both parties agree on that, but how to make it happen? Perhaps instead of terminology which sounds panicked, we can voice alternatives. What incentives are there to get people into teaching? And not just remuneration. Could fees be subsidised? Could there be greater cross-crediting of prior qualifications? Are we working at targeting the right members of society to look at teacher training as a viable option? Parents, returning to the workforce, older members of our workforce looking for a change, a new direction? Maybe if you are 45 you can still be eligible for assistance in the form of allowances and loans, fees subsidies, structure it how you like, if there is an agreement to train and commit as a teacher for a set period of time. Free fees if you teach for a minimum of five years?

Get places like Auckland better resourced, so teachers can manage to live and work there. Not just Auckland, but any center facing housing pressure and shortages. Our rural and country schools too. If that means pay more, then so be it. If that means chipping in to cover accommodation expenses, then cool. Incentives for qualified and experienced staff to move to the regions in the most dire need, good idea. But we need to be wary of looking into things like performance based pay scales. How a system like that would be measured I am not sure and I can’t help but feel the risk good teachers would migrate to more affluent, better placed parts of our country, is too high, leaving the areas which need those sorts of people the most, suffering more than they are already.

The above may or may not work, may not make any sense at all. Potential solutions like those, or any other, will chew into existing budgets and that means more pressure on pay scales. It means a ministry, which clearly struggles to cope at any given time already, what with all the myriad of changes in thinking around education and behaviour, cultural awareness and sensitivity and the ever changing diversity of our broader society and its future needs, is going to have a whole bunch of new hurdles thrown in front of it, all of which need to be cleared.

Our education system needs to constantly evolve and grow. From governing bodies to teachers and support staff. That growth needs to be handled in a careful and thoughtful manner and it needs to be done with sensitivity and with an eye on a mid to long term future. Too often, in all sectors of business and industry, we hear words like crisis, shortage, lack of skill or training and development. We don’t have enough truck drivers, years ago it was plumbers and try getting a builder in a hurry, finding specialists in one field or another.

If shortages in teacher numbers and those willing to enter into training has already occurred, what does that say of our future? The future for our kids, trundling off back to school tomorrow morning? The current issues will be fixed, at least patched, one way or another. But, there will be a gap and that will reflect down the track. How do we prevent it from happening again? I don’t know. Maybe, twenty four years from now and sixteen percent later, we’ll find out.

 

 

 

 

 

Be Careful

The two words above are something I do must best to avoid. That is to say, there are plenty of times I take care over my activities and actions. Thing is, I try to care less when my kids are involved.

Pop down to any playground and you will hear those words ringing out, in a variety of intonations and accents. The sentiment is well meaning and invariably accidental. They just come out: When your adventurous little one elects to go up the slide and down the ladder. When your brave warrior engages in a stick battle with little James from around the corner. When your darling he or she is adamant they are a big boy/girl now and ready for the big swing. Invariably, they’re not. Your mouth opens and without thinking, out those two words come. Be careful. Fair enough, you have the health and safety of your little ones at heart. What of the confidence of those precious angels you are so desperate to protect.

Kids don’t realise the consequences of their actions. Only experience teaches that and sadly, there are many who will never learn every action has a reaction, even as they reach adulthood. Fine, those people are responsible for their own problems but we, as parents, have responsibility for and over our little ones. We need to guide them, we need to set limits and boundaries and we need to be there when they fall.

Sometimes that means nothing more than scooping them up after they have crashed over the handlebars. Chances are you saw them teetering, saw the eminent danger and were in the process of rushing over even before they hit the ground. A stumble, a trip, a tumble is all part of growing up, meaning bumps and scrapes and bruises and grazes and all the rest. By the rest, I mean screams and cries and yells and tears and sobbing and definitely, hugs.

We can accept our kids are going to get hurt now and then, through no fault of ours or theirs. All we can do at the point is encourage them to get up, dust themselves off, wipe away the tears and carry on, hoping all the while they have learnt a valuable lesson. Places like playgrounds or even in the great outdoors, it is inevitable. There is going to be a touch of pain and hurt that comes with all the fun and excitement. But what about in the home?

Is your place childproof? Does it have to be?

We are all aware of things like fire alarms and smoke detectors. Life savers and this country, compulsory in all rental properties and mandatory in commercial buildings etc. So, you would think, a bit of a basic step when it comes to ensuring the safety of your family in the home. But, especially when there are little ones in the frame, there are so many other things to consider. You have to prevent access to steps and stairs. You have to prevent contact with heat sources and block off power points and take care to affix tall furniture to the wall to prevent it toppling should your dear little one attempt to climb it. Or, you could do none of that.

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We haven’t. Not in one single house we have lived has myself or Wifey gone around as part of a concerted effort to identify and eliminate any and all hazards potential or real. We do have safety plugs in the wall sockets but it has to be said, not all of them. We did have one of those kiddie proof gates for the base of a particularly steep, winding and frankly quite cool spiral staircase at one property but generally, the other door which lead to the same area was left open. It was a house rule not to leave that door open. As with all rules and regulation, it was broken now and then, mostly by forgetful older kids in a hurry to do anything other than worry about the welfare of their younger siblings.

Having a boy in the mix now has made a huge difference. I don’t know if it has been just our girls, or girls in general, but the Wee-Man is far more inquisitive, far more assertive and far more adventurous than his sister siblings ever were. I am damned sure I can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing, but one thing it is, is different.

He climbs. Everything if he can. He will at least make the attempt. Once at the top, or as close as he can get, he is always keen to fling himself off, whether or not a soft landing can be guaranteed. Is it a male thing, for young ones at least, but he just has to know how things work? If that means putting his face too close to it or sticking his finger in it, whatever it is, then so be it. He runs, jumps, kicks and punches and throws and rolls a whole lot more than his sisters ever did. So far, I say with fingers firmly crossed, it hasn’t done him any harm.

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You often hear it said, ‘it can happen so quickly’. Believe it, because it is true. In the blink of an eye disaster can strike. It wasn’t that long ago I narrowly averted a family tragedy of our own. A simple stroll on the beach, kids paddling and playing, spread across the sand. Just a few paces from me the E-Bomb is in the water, no deeper than her thighs. I look up to see how the Wee-Man is travelling, further up the beach with his sisters. When I turn back to the water, only a handful of seconds later at the most, I can’t immediately see my youngest daughter. My heart leaped, my mind raced but before genuine panic came on, I spotted her.

I will never forget the serenity on her beautiful, uncomprehending face, arms outstretched, as she drifted with the tide, maybe a foot below the clear water.

Two paces and I had her in my arms, safe and splutteringly sound. If the water hadn’t been so clear that day…?

Sometimes, as a parent, you just don’t have control and while you can exert as many checks and balances as possible, shit is still going to happen. I try to look for the balance, make it ‘Be Aware’ as much, if not more, than ‘Be Careful’. Because when a kid is coming down the steps of the slide front on, smiling and concentrating hard on balance, it is done with a sense of adventure, with an experimental curiosity and a challenge. Care hasn’t been factored into it.

I want my kids to be adventurous and experimental and I want them to challenge themselves and I want them to understand that sometimes, it’s gonna hurt. I don’t want a little one to put his hand on the fire place because the flames are mesmerising. Do we have a fire-guard? No. Because we use that word…no. We say Hot, we say Ouchie, we say all sorts of silly little things to discourage and attempt to educate. We also supervise, stay aware and alert and I do my best to dispel any mystique around things.

If a two year old boy is curious about the toaster, show him how it works, tell him it is hot and will hurt, demonstrate if you have to. (Fake it as best you can, just like all those awful health and safety videos we have all seen). Such is the attention span of little ones he will have moved on long before you finish talking.