Hey, World, Leave Our Kids Alone

Wifey and I are pretty open with our kids.
There is not much we keep from them, no subject we consider taboo and no questions we are not prepared to answer.

Of course we moderate the things our kids have access to; what they view on television and the internet, what they hear when listening to music or podcasts or anything of the like and, as old school as it might sound, what they read.
There are themes and theories and ideologies and images and thoughts espoused through a myriad of media platforms, all of which are readily accessible on a multitude of devices, many of which can be housed in your pocket and held in your hand.

We have good kids, children still in every sense of the word despite the wide scope of information they have at their fingertips. As a reasonably cohesive unit, the messages from Wifey and I have been fairly consistent over the years, our delivery relatively level and our availability assured.
Yes, I could spend a bit more time involved with their homework, delve deeper into their interests or passions.
Yes, we could be stricter on some things and show greater leniency on others.
Generally, we have a fluid household, plenty of noise and activity always under at least an element of control. To quote Madness and their hit Our House ‘there’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud’.

Like I said, good kids. No real dramas or concerns, outside of the myriad of things you might expect from a growing family with working parents.
When things go wrong, we are there for them. Open and honest and available. Wifey and I don’t have an explanation for everything and nor can we always find a solution. However, with a little reasoning, there isn’t much which can’t be worked through.

Every now and then, the big things come along.
Those moments you cannot be prepared for. Those times which catch you by surprise, no matter how organised and aware you might think you are.
You can’t have your finger on every pulse.
But, and what a big pause it is, there are some things  as a aparent it is almost impossible to explain, to find reasoning in. Because, simply, you don’t have the answers.

How do you explain pure, unfettered evil?
How can you help a child understand the hate fueled ideology which drives a person to perpetrate such horror on a community, on a people?
You can’t.
Especially when you don’t understand yourself.

Tears have been shed in this house and will continue to be for some time I feel.
Good. We are crying as a nation and as a people. Tears for those who lost their lives, their families and friends and tears for all they knelt and prayed for in the place they went for solace, reflection and the place they went for hope and love and all the rest.
Number One cried today, the enormity of it all finally striking at here heart.
The pain was there on Number Two’s face when she first asked what was going on Friday evening. There isn’t a full level of comprehension for her and for that small mercy, I am grateful.
E-Bomb and the Wee Man are too young to comprehend anything beyond the vibe emanating from their parents. They get it. Something is wrong.
Something is very very wrong.

I have struggled to keep the language of hate out of my own words.
My voice has crackled at times, close to breaking, when I speak of these events. It is hard, particularly when you have to look a thirteen year old girl in the eye and see the realisation dawning in her that this world we live in, the one we all share, can house people capable of being despicably wicked, people capable of visiting hideous acts of cruelty on others. Innocent others.

I am glad they got this bastard alive. I realise it is what he wanted; his platform, his moment of infamous immortality. I hope he gives us the answers, even though we all know they will be the deluded ramblings of a crazed mind, little more than a jujmbled rehashing of the various messages of hate brought to us over generations of evil thinkers and doers.
But I need to hear it, as awful and insidious as it might be. Because I don’t know what to tell our kids.
I don’t know HOW to tell our kids.

We don’t shelter our four children.
There is no cotton wool enveloping them, they do not view the world through the shimmering haze of a bubble.
The temptation is to put the walls up, bring down the shutters, erect the barricades.
We won’t. There will be open and honest discourse as long as there are questions.
Our kids will be watched, a eye kept on them in the same way I hope all parents are watching over their children at the moment.
Kids see and feel, sometime more they we do.
Kids hurt.

All I can ask of my Wife and myself is that we do the best we can to raise well rounded children, ones we can send off into the world as well prepared as we could make them. Happy and healthy and open and honest and caring and loving and genuine young people, armed with open minds, good hearts and a smile.
We want them to see the good, in everything they do and see and all the people they meet. We want them able to cope, to have them ready for the big bad world.
Because yes, some of that world around us is bad. So mind-numbingly bad. And that bad world is no longer surrounding us, it has visited us, come to our shores and bought an extreme example of its evil with it.
Let our kids be together. Let them play, let them sit and chat and let them mingle and let them laugh and cry and do whatever it is they feel they need to cope.
Youth are doers and they will want to be active and vibrant over this issue.
As such, we will visit the Whangarei Islamic Center on Friday and we, as a family, will watch over our local Muslim community as they bend in prayer. We will bring nothing more than a smile, carry nothing other than hugs and strong shoulders, ready to be leaned on.
Will we see you there?

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In the meantime, to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall…Hey, World, Leave Our Kids Alone!

 

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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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Play Time

 It’s not called Play Time any more. Is it still called Interval even?

When I was a kid, way back when, the breaks given during the day, for morning and afternoon teas, was called Playtime. As we got older and advanced through schooling, our get of class and let off some steam moments became known as Interval. I have no idea what they are called now, these release valves, designed I am sure with the sanity of teachers in mind, as much as any benefit which might accrue for the children.

Put whatever label you like on it, play time is what it always was and, I am sure, largely still is. Be it ball games, re-imaginings of favourite movies and programmes, competitive encounters or crafty get-togethers, or just rampaging around on any and all of the equipment provided, play is essentially what is going on. And, it is not something we do enough of.

There is plenty of evidence out there on the benefits of play. A quick google search will reveal screeds of material. And, it isn’t just for the young.

I have to admit I don’t play with the kids enough. The older two are able to entertain themselves and to a lesser extent, the same can be said of their younger sister and brother. The whole play thing stands out to me so starkly at the moment as we are in the throes of the mid-winter holidays. There are sniffles and sneezes floating around and week one started with bad weather. A combo like that has meant cuddling up with movies and hot chocolates but that can only be sustained for so long…two year old boys are not noted for their attention spans.

So when the movie ends, and sun threatens to poke through, I urge the crew to get up and about. It is cool to witness just how quickly they will fall into something inventive and fun, something entertaining and joyful and full on. Our eldest is nearly thirteen and I am proud to say, even as the sullenness of the teen years rapidly approach, she is still able to play. I wish I still could. To extent I can but I just don’t and at times I wonder why.

Imaginary settings with fanciful events taking place. A faked, realistic backdrop, with everyday things occurring, each child and character all of their own making. It might appear frivolous, innocuous or just plain silly but to me, it is a key indicator of just how much our kids are picking up incidentally as they live their lives. Play also seems to be a good indicator of their personalities, how they interact socially and what sort of levels of patience and tolerance they have with one another. A mix of ideas and plans and theories all pool together to find ways to interact with surroundings. Toys and play equipment are to the fore but no more than kitchen utensils, furniture, clothing or whatever is available to make the game, the fantasy, the representation, go to the next level.

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Eventually there is a disagreement and argument. There is a yelling match and verbal altercation. However, it is highly unusual such jousting and jockeying for position will curtail the game. Cafes serving all manner of wondrous concoctions stay open, school still holds classes, farm animals are still fed, including rainbow farting Unicorns. In the vacant, overgrown section next door, huts are made. How and from what, I am not sure. I’m not brave enough to go and find out. When the weather and the ground beneath allows, bikes are ridden and trampolines spring the kids to ever greater heights. There is mud and scratches and bumps and bruises

All well and good. Exercise and laughter and activity. Inside blocks are stacked so they can be knocked over in ever more imaginative and destructive fashion. Books are read, silently or to each other. Screen time is not a thing. They feed and water themselves and I have to assume, go to the toilet actually in the toilet. Again with the laughing, again with the frivolity and the silliness and fanciful and the plain crazy. Fun.

I can’t help feel I am missing out.

 

 

C’Mon

Embrace your inner hooligan. Just keep him inside and quiet. 

I love a bit of sport. Some of it I am deeply engaged in. Certain teams and the men and women who represent them, seem to be able to grab whatever it is which makes me passionate. Otago’s 2013 Ranfurly Shield win was enough for me to shed a tear, and the Highlanders 2015 securing of the Super Rugby crowd had me hollering my delight into the cool air of uncaring rural Waikato. Brendan McCullum scoring a triple century, Usain Bolt smashing sprint records, Beckham bending it…the list goes on.

If on either of those occasions my team had lost, I wouldn’t have assaulted my wife. For a start, have you seen her? It is always the small ones you have to watch!!

Sadly, domestic violence statistics leap when the All Blacks lose. I don’t think the same can be said of a Black Ferns loss. So, a sad inditement on some men and their inability to cope with their emotions. Watching the aftermath, and some of the vitriolic reaction at the current FIFA World Cup has left me wondering how the ‘Beautiful Game’ can be followed so fervently by some of the world’s ugliest people.

Shedding a quite tear is one thing. Scenes of grown men blubbing as if their lives are over is a different matter. Maybe fair enough if you are one of the players involved. All the blood, sweat and yes, tears, has come from them after all. Years of effort all pushing for the one thing, just to have it gone in a few heart wrenching moments is surely justification to let go a little. I am all for males showing a little more passion and I am certainly keen to see sports fans in this country displaying a lot more verve at venues around the country when the big game is on, whatever sport they follow.

I have had the privilege of being at a couple of stadiums in Europe. I have watched football in England and Spain, Rugby at Cardiff and the Stade de France in Paris, cricket at Lords. Even Wimbledon, that bastion of non neon undies, had a vitality about it, a buzz in the crowd and when the ball wasn’t it play there were chants, shouts, barracking and singalongs. 80,000 Welshmen who all know the words and can all hold a note is stirring stuff.

Fine displays of passion. Examples of how to support a a team or a player or how to just get into the moment, or even create the moment, without having to succumb to excess. We, as a sporting nation, could learn a lot from continental sports fans, yet we get so much of it right. I have never walked into the middle of a riot, caused by so called fans, in this country, as I have done in England. Hooliganism is an extreme for sure, but it exists as an example of all that is wrong with sports support.

I think it is likely the man who bashes his Mrs after the referees final toot on the whistle, was likely to at some stage anyway. The result was just the catalyst, all the excuse a weak mind and man needed. Put that against images of a drunk German, snot running freely from his nose, tears streaking his reddened cheeks, leaning on a rail for support as his mates wonder around disconsolately behind him, fodder for the media, and maybe the excessiveness of his release is a good thing. My only wonder though, particularly when it comes to Kiwi men…where is that passion when it is needed the most?

What you reckon might be achievable as a society if all the men in this country, in any nation, poured their hearts and souls and energies and intellect and care into the things which make the world go around? I do not mean to belittle sport in any way and the following various codes receive. Many a time I have heard rugby described as a religion in NZ, which must make football the Catholic church. Think of the reach and influence the people who have put their efforts into institutes like religion, agree with it or not.

There is nothing worse, for mind, than referring to sports stars as role-models. While I accept once someone has made it into the public eye, for whatever reason, there is a level of responsibility which must be accepted with that, I don’t believe the ability to catch and pass, kick or your level of athleticism and natural born physique is any reason to put people on too high a pedestal. Sure, admire the determination, the dedication, the commitment. Surely it is the same when Dad, uncle, big brother and their mates get together and put on a display. Right there is an example, a series of actions and behaviours which is going to be perpetuated by the next generation of budding sports fans. If we are wanting to show following generations how it is done, then we need to keep it cool, keep it clean and dear I say it, keep it real.

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Because really, it is just a game. It is a bit of fun, a glorified past-time and it really is possible to take it all too seriously. By all means get into. Scream and sing and shout and chant. Wave banners and flags and paint your face and wear your team colours and blow your vuvuzela or ring your cow bell. Just don’t going throwing beer over a reporter, as happened to LLoyd Burr before the conclusion of the World Cup semi final between England and Croatia. He was then threatened, and all before the game had actually finished. Don’t beat the wife, don’t throw coins or bottles or cans, don’t burn and riot and loot and cause mayhem, all in the name of sport.

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Sport participation is a healthy thing and an important part in any culture. It promotes comradery and endeavour and fitness and teamwork and competitiveness and how to be gracious in both defeat and victory. Yes, sport is about participation and yes it is about winning. Sport is about identifying with something aspiring, something admirable, in the athletic pursuit of the bigger and the better, the higher and the longer and the stronger and the greater. For some it might be a vicarious thing, for others just a damn good time, an excuse for a get together, a few beers and some fun. Isn’t that what it should be for all of us? And more importantly, isn’t that what we should be extolling to our children?

Tell them to get into it, tell them to love each and every moment of it.

Tell them, it’s just a game

 

 

 

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

‘It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses’

There is nothing more for me to do. My work here is done.

Early this afternoon I sat down with me crew and flicked through Netflix in search of the impossible. In the midst of all the dross, all the unknowns and all the stuff one or the other, or all of us, had seen before, there it was. Like a magpie attracted to something bright, shiny and new, a deep green oasis in a tawny desert, the title stood out like a beacon, luring me in. Surprisingly, there was little objection and before you knew it, we were watching the best movie ever made.

I am sure the title will elude many people, as there is no way of ever agreeing on what is the greatest movie ever. Steve McQueen and co in the Great Escape, De Niro in Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or any other of the many brilliant movies he was a part of. Apocalypse Now, Stand By Me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Deliverance, Basketball Dairies, The Breakfast Club, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (by far the best of them), Bad Lieutenant, E.T, Cool Hand Luke…Just a few of the titles which have grabbed me over the years.

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We could all compile a list of the movies which have moved us, shocked us, informed us or simply entertained us. The real hardship is knowing when to eliminate a film here and there. But, what makes me laugh, cry, sing out or along, think, consider or contemplate, are not the same things which will float your boat. Okay, so we can all agree liking or loving a movie is a very subjective thing. There is no accounting for taste.

For me, there is one movie which ticks all the boxes. Well okay, many of them and even if it doesn’t manage that, I find it pure fun to watch. Over the last few years Wifey and I have tried to introduce our kids to the movies which struck the right chord with us in our younger years. We were motivated by a desire to find films that were just that, not animated, where real people were acting and were therefore more relatable, where story-lines were based around the actions and reactions of people, where the scenery could be your back yard or just down the road.

They didn’t particularly take to E.T but loved The Goonies. Star Wars was lapped up, as was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The Gremlins were a hit, Honey I Shrunk the Kids too, went down well. The Never Ending Story or the Labyrinth, not so much. So there is the subjectivity, there is no pleasing everybody and kids as an audience are possibly the most discerning, hard to please mob you are ever going to encounter in front of a screen. Their displeasure is immediately obvious and they will switch off almost instantly if a movie fails to grab them, not all that long after the opening credits have rolled.

The greatest movie ever made, in my most humble of opinions, is not something my wife has much appreciation for. I can understand why, not everything is for everyone, as we have established. The thing is, you only have to run through a few of the names in the cast and surely you are sold. Carrie Fisher, John Candy, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklyn.

Ok, from that line up you can assume it is a musical number and, more or less, it is. Let me assure you though, the movie is so much more. For a start it contains scenes which even to this day stand as the second highest amount of cars written off in the making of the one movie. Yes, a musical with car chases. Not just smoking tyres and screaming sirens. Oh no, so much more.

Think cheesy one liners to explosions and gun fights and characters such as jilted lovers and Nazis and nuns and tales of excess and ex-cons. People lie and cheat and scheme and rob and con and that is just the two main characters, so deftly played by a sadly gone to soon John Belushi and an in his prime Dan Akroyd.

Guessed it yet? Yes, that’s right. The Blues Brothers.

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Apart from the lineup of outstanding musicians, people like Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve Cropper and all the rest, the guest appearances from the legendary likes of John Lee Hooker and James Brown, providing class and divine intervention, there are smatterings of brilliance all through the movie. A movie that can make you laugh and make you boogie, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It will not move you, except for maybe out of your seat for a twist or a Watusi. Over the top silliness, Tom Foolery, Joliet Jake E. Blues and Elwood J Blues and the adventurous they are a part of whilst conducting their ‘mission from God’ is simply entertainment at it’s best and a movie which hasn’t yet, and may never, shown any signs of aging.

Yes, there is an expletive uttered here and there. Yes, there is the occasion reference to themes, perhaps more so in my younger days, youths might not as yet have been exposed to. Generally though, the Blues Brothers is a good, fun watch, packed full of lighthearted goodness. At the same time the movie delivers a killer soundtrack, perhaps the driving point behind the cult status it is revered in and all the while does not get bogged down in heavy moralistic tellings or swampy deep and meaningfuls. Accidentally a masterpiece of modern culture.

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Ward off the winter chill with a good watch. That is all. No pressure for kids to learn, to develop or to grow mentally or intellectual. Just throw a bit of culture their way and kids will do all of that on their own.

Helps if they can stamp their foot, click their fingers, sing along and have a laugh.

Don’t you think?

 

 

All in the Name

Are Labour, our governing party, considered a soft touch?

It seems to me, at the moment, every time you turn on a news bulletin, read an article, switch on the radio, you hear the same thing. One group, body or another, threatening industrial action due to the inability for negotiations to reach an outcome either side view as favourable.

I better state, here and now for the record, I firmly believe there are a number of our public services which are grossly underfunded, undermined and under appreciated. Think police, nurses, teachers and I have to say, for fear of a the cold shoulder given what my illustrious wife does for a living, midwives. And by that, I mean far more than just the wage they receive. Much of what these good people are trying to achieve is near impossible given the constrictions that seem to be inherent when you work for and in the public sector. But hey, who wants to pay more tax?

That is what it will take to get services like these better funded and as a part of that, those who work in these roles, better remunerated. A higher percentage of your hard earned dollar gone before you see it. And while I appreciate many enter such positions because of a passion for what they may be able to achieve, calling if you will, it doesn’t stand that such verve for what you occupy yourself with should be done for chips, simply because you care.

It wouldn’t be hard to wax lyrical about police being the thin blue line, nurses as angelic celestial bodies, teachers as molders of our youth and therefore our future. Therefore, it stands to reason, most people would approve of a union standing up for their members in the hunt for a fair deal for all. Justified, surely, the fight to have our very public servants, well paid so that they may be able to do their jobs comfortable in the knowledge they can feed and cloth and shelter their families, can pay their bills and maybe, just maybe, have a modicum of a life. Like in many jobs, I am sure there are perks and privileges which come with nursing, policing and teaching etc. Of course, these will sit alongside all the trials and difficulties that accompany such a role.

A couple of things leap out at me. Ignoring for now the debate around pay reflecting performance for our teachers, but focusing on them, due to their apparently imminent industrial action and the fact their approach will have a direct influence on this household. I want to ask, was their a collective dissatisfaction to the fore, long before our current government was elected? Was there a case, building, when National were at the helm? I think yes, certainly around funding and how it was applied to infrastructure and maintenance. Our schools are managed more or less independently with Board of Trustee system, but that does not mean central government can wash their bureaucratic hands of the day to day.

As for pay, sure, I am all for our teachers being remunerated to the extent their wage better reflects the current cost of living, as I am for every working man and women and youth. And if ‘sticking it to the man’ is the only approach left, then go for it. Please though, be aware of the effect, however minor, such action will have on the average family.

A couple of days ago the local school conducted a meeting among staff and I suppose, representatives of their union, presumably to discuss what lies ahead for them and their fight. As that stands, fine. I don’t know how every school operates in such a situation and I am sure coordination of such an undertaking is no mean feat. But, before any real and meaningful action has even taken place, there has been an immediate impact on the education of our kids.

Numbers One and Two attend the local primary. They came home the other afternoon with a far from usual response to the ‘What did you guys get up to today?’ question. Made popcorn and watched a couple of movies was not what I was expecting to hear. Movies! Not documentaries, not an art and craft afternoon, not some sport, not some time reading or perhaps taking part in some grounds and buildings maintenance, like weeding and window washing. Sat in front of movies! Under the watchful eye of untrained and unqualified parents and other ring ins….because that was who was in attendance.

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Yep, the logistics of roping in helping hands in a community like this is never going to be easy. At the local school, the final bell rings at 2:30pm. That leaves a lot of day, gainfully employed day, to sip coffee and feel collectively wronged about the situation education and educators find themselves in. So beforehand, our tamariki are getting a full days learning in, their futures are not being maligned because of the perceived injustices of the here and now.

Sure, industrial action is designed so that it has as much impact as possible. running the risk of alienating a wider public, I guess the idea is to put the plight at the forefront of the media and therefore the public. But I ask, how much do you feel it should cost you, your family and household, your kids, so that teachers are free to fight the good fight? Because, if time has been missed, valuable learning time, from the classroom before anything has actually taken place, what is it going to be like when the placards are waving and the chanting starts?

How much time can you take off work when your kids are forced to be at home? How many hours of valuable pay are you willing to forgo? We will cope, because I am at home anyway. If our situation was different it would be damn near impossible. My wife has a job which doesn’t just stop because the rest of the world does. She can as an expectant mother to cross her legs all she likes, a baby will come when it is damn good and ready and no amount of industrial action will put a stop to that! So where would that leave her? Where does that leave the ferry operator, who so many rely on just to get around? What of the hard working folk in any role and position? People will manage because they have in the past and will again. The real question is, how much disruption is too much for our children and their education.

It won’t be a lot. Let’s be real about that. It may not be a thing at all, if a resolution is found good and early. A day here, a half day there. So what you might think, if it achieves a greater good? True, kids catch up, the good ones anyway. Those who are struggling might always be destined to do so under an education system many might find fault in. I have no fear Numbers One and Two will be anything but fine and will most likely enjoy the interlude should it eventuate. If or when it does, I can only hope those already struggling on fixed or low incomes, are able to wear the shortfall which could well come about if the above comes to fruition.

So perhaps we, as parents and members of a concerned and caring public, should have our hands up now, our voices raised. If we are supportive of our teachers and education staff, and we should be, then let’s weigh in on the debate, stop our traditional Kiwi apathy and have our say.

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Something Every Day

There were some ‘learnings’ over the weekend, a weekend with ‘two half’s’ and which contained much I can gain ‘going forward’. 

Firstly, I discovered, when my wife puts on a mid-winter Christmas, a casual invite turns into days of prep, dressing up, decorations and all the rest. Took me by nearly as much surprise as it did the guests. My own fault for making the throw away suggestion. Lesson learned.

I learned too, the All Blacks lacked exactly what I have been telling everyone silly enough to listen to me over the last few weeks. Punch. The selection of Sonny Bill Williams gave the AB’s attack just what it needed…a big body to bend the line, take on the opposition midfield head-on and draw defenders. Perhaps Laumape would have been just as effective in the start but SBW played well and was a huge difference in the quality of performance in comparison with the prior two tests.

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With no Liam Squire or Fafiti, guys I would like to see running wider and freer, looking for physical mismatches here and there and better utilising their size, pace and skill, it was nice to see the French defensive line genuinely tested. Also, it was obvious the French perceived a genuine threat in the form of Naholo and rightly so. He may not have been at his dynamic best and the game may not have played into his hands, but it was clear to me, with Ben Smith returning to the 15 jersey, that the best back three combination currently available to Steve Hanson was out there under the Forsyth Barr Stadium roof on Saturday night.

Over the course of this French series I have learned that Jordie Barrett is a good option for the future, as are Hemopo and Frizell, that Cody Taylor is capable of being a top flight hooker at that level, that Scott Barrett is playing the best rugby in his family right now and my tolerance for coaches testing and experimenting has increased. Great to see the depth being developed at 10, nice to see how many options are there at 12 and 13 and good to have a few things identified well out from next years world cup in Japan.

I have discovered that I care less about the outcome of All Black rugby than I used to and consequently do not rue our decision to let our Sky subscription subside. If there is not a decent stream to be found I can watch live then I no longer give the rat’s proverbial. Prime it is, adverts and all and who really cares. Though I still strongly feel sport is an integral part of any nations culture and our ‘national’ sports should be freely available…an argument for another day perhaps.

I also learned, these past three weekends, my kids only ever showed any interest in rugby because, really, they were interested in me. It was trying to discover what made their Dad tick, what it was they could share with their Father, even if a little on the fringes, which had them interested. The game itself is irrelevant.

My display of verve and passion and outlandish outbursts fired their interest and coupled with the attractions of a potential late night, some nibbled junk food, the drama of the Haka and national anthems, the whole scene and setting is too irresistible for young imaginations. Sure, their attention spans wane in no time, they slip away in their minds, falling asleep or giving up and shuffling off to bed on their own accord. Depending on the match up, I love it. Cuddling up with the kids for an extra snuggle or two is never a bad thing but they soon grown tired of their Dad’s manic mood shifts and swings, if the result hangs in the balance or there is some silverware on the line.

Number One has long since stopped paying any attention, diverted to a good book long before kick off rolls around. At the other end of the spectrum, Wee-Man has yet to feel the infectious attraction of sport, still finding more entertainment and pleasure in his mother’s nipple (and who can fault him?). Number Two will flit in and out, curious at times about results and if there is a favourite player or two involved but I can sense these days, it is a little forced. As you can imagine, E-Bomb is little more than a cute irritant. Sometimes a lot more.

The fact my kids are not interested in the All Blacks, not captured by the saturation of rugby on our winter TV screens, does not bother me. I would love to see my children involved in sport as their lives go on, particularly team sport. The health aspects, the social interaction, good things for people, certainly young ones. For now, the fact my kids are tolerant of their Father ranting and raving at a screen depicting images of men he doesn’t know but is freely offering advice to, particularly the one in the different coloured shirt tooting on a whistle, is enough for me at the moment. If, however, none of my children show any interest in sport I don’t think I will care. If they get their exercise through other means, their social contact and interactions from other quarters, then all good. As long as they are happy and healthy and all of that.

So, it was good to have a fella or two over in the weekend to enjoy a game with. Even if we had all partaken in more out of season festive cheer than our belly’s could cope with. Even if the rugby ‘product’ has been at or beyond saturation point for at least a few years now. It was good to have an, somewhat contrived, excuse to have a few drinks and an extravagant feed. It was good to socialise a bit, good to let respective sets of kids mingle a bit, to push them to the point of tired grumpiness. Ok, maybe I awoke the following morning the tired grumpy one, but there is not much different about that.