The Cost of Education

Doesn’t sound right does it?

Teaching our kids, the next generation. Training them, giving them the tools they need not to just exist, to cope, but to grow and develop. More.
Yes, teach the children of the nation to be readers and writers, to support healthy minds and bodies and help them explore and inquire. Yes, up-skill them so a brave new world is not a daunting place, foreign and frightening.
Don’t hinder any or all of the above just because paying for a modern education is beyond the reach of many.

We all know you get nothing for free. The user pays.
Rightly or not, that is how it works in our ‘free market’ society. Yet there are some core tenants to the way New Zealand is set up and run, the bill for which is not supposed to be appearing in the mailboxes of everyday you and me.
All the stuff we need in our day to day modern existence, is taken care of. Apparently. Departments within Ministries, run by committees and overseen by appointed officials, answering to our elected ones. From the office junior, to the intern, to the lifer in middle management and the manicured mouthpiece put in front of the cameras if, low and behold, things should ever go wrong.

These are the mechanisms which bring electricity into our houses, bringing light and warmth. Systems are in place to ensure we have water flowing from our taps. Clean, potable water. Infrastructure like road networks, public transport, footpaths and street-lighting and sewage and refuse collection and disposal and recycling and and and…
It is a huge list, and much of the above is the responsibility of local authorities, let alone at regional and national levels. Just wait until you get to central government and start thinking about mammoth sectors like public healthcare. Like education.
Even in a small country like New Zealand, running these three islands, keeping pace with the needs and demands of an ever growing, ever aging population, is no simple task and every step of the way has to be paid for.

I get it.
We pay.
One way or another, our contribution is made, to the coffers of councils and government. Taxes, levies, duties. No matter the label, our income is siphoned off so the things we expect, demand and want, are there for us when we need, want and demand them.
Education is no different.

A big part of the last couple of weeks has been gearing up One and Two for their coming school year. A stand out in that process has been the expense!
Hundreds of dollars on uniforms alone, still more hundreds spent on stationery, a huge part of which are tech requirements like Chromebooks.
I get that wider society is in the midst of a technological revolution, that the way we communicate and the way we work is changing, so it stands to reason the way we learn must change and adapt also.
But, and it is a big, expensive but…at who’s expense?

We are not poor, however, we are by no means well off. Like many working families in New Zealand, we somehow manage to make one end get close to the other, week to week.
That is the thing though, it is a day to day, week to week, pay cheque to pay cheque process, one which leaves little or no room for error, nor is there room for contingencies. You know, rainy days, saving. That sort of thing.
Yes, our kids will go to school, well fed and clothed after a warm and cosy night in beds housed in a leak free home. They will be carrying with them all the bits and pieces ‘required’ of them.
Single items of clothing with three figure price tags and the tech bells and whistles. Then yes, we will fork out for the extras, which somehow never seem to be in a school’s operational budget or fall outside ministry funding umbrellas.

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Because there will be fees.
Because there will be ‘voluntary’ donations.
Buses will have to be paid for, so kids can get to swimming pools and museums and field trips and sporting and cultural events of all sorts and natures.
School camps will take place and there will be this and that required, to make it the sort of experience the one it should be, the one you remember with heavy rose tinting.
It is all valuable, in terms of what our kids get from it, what is given them in return for the dollar value it all comes at.

We will make the effort to ensure our kids want for nothing as far as their schooling and education goes.
It will be an effort. A costly one but something we will do because we feel we must and because we can.
What of those who can’t?
What about the families who have nothing to sacrifice, budgets stretched so thin a ‘fee’ or ‘donation’ is so far beyond them, it is a stress they don’t need, an extra bill they cannot meet.
It is their kids who suffer.
They suffer in the classroom and on the playground. Kids can be cruel and these kids, their families, will not be invisible because they don’t have a chrome book, because their woolen jumper is several generations old, straight off a second-hand rack. Exactly the opposite in fact.c They will stand out like the proverbial dogs bollocks.
Their pride will be hurting too. Sure, there are families out their who simply do not give a shit and they are lost causes, a s will their kids most likely be. However, there are many more, stuck in a cycle of poverty, wanting and willing to the best they can, just simply unable to.

I know funding is weighted, the decile system in place to balance out the differences.
We could debate the effectiveness of such a system all of one of these hot summer days. Doing so won’t put a Chromebook into the hands of our kids. It won’t put food in their bellies or shoes on their feet or jackets on their backs.
So, if you and I are the user, or even if we are not, we are paying.
What are we getting for our money? What are our kids getting?
What was so wrong with blackboards?

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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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.

 

 

Culture Shock

New Zealand is a great big little country. 

I am too young to really feel like I was ever a part of a cultural identity.
The imagery was still there, when I was a young lad. Black singlets and stubby shorts and floppy hats and keys left in the ignition and long hot summers and obedient border collies rounding up fluffy white sheep.

Iconic characters like Fred Dagg played up to the image New Zealanders had of by-gone days, people like Colin Meads were the real deal. A time when life was apparently better, easier, more wholesome and safer, less complicated. Probably, maybe, life really was all of those things. Certainly sounds like it, when you talk to the oldies who grew up in prior generations.
Even in my time, memory banks are full of long sandy beaches, tall grasses browned off, home to the chirp of crickets and grasshoppers. Rose tinted glasses or not, I don’t recall there being any real drama or concern, certainly not on a global scale and not really at a national level.
Of course, I was young,  so I wasn’t aware of the ‘big’ issues. By the time walls were being demolished in Germany, I was becoming old enough to appreciate and understand what was going on a bit more and that, coupled with the advent of the internet and truly international media awareness, gave not just me, but every Kiwi who cared to, a greater global awareness.

For good and bad, Kiwis were suddenly aware of the world around us and, with just as many pro’s and con’s, the world knew we were here too. If anyone bothered to look.
Tourism was not something I was aware of years ago, despite being raised on the fringes of one of New Zealand’s tourist hot-spots. As a teen, the Southern Lakes District, namely Queenstown and Wanaka, were the party capitals for us Dunedinites, when it came to New Years celebrations and summer fun. A few hours drive and you were into it.
At the time I never looked up and took too much note of the diverse groups and couples and loners moving through that part of the world. I wasn’t blind to it, but the relevance of it meant little. I drank in the sun with my mates, cooled off in the alpine fed lakes and when we had sobered up and as the sunburn settled, we drove back to our lives in Dunedin.

Look up now and it is easy to see things have moved on, beyond backpacking Europeans and bus loads of Far East Asians. Our towns and cities are full of the sounds, sights and aromas of people and their cultures, from all over the globe. No complaints from this guy, no fear that a potential job has been taken away from me, that the price I have to pay for a house has been adversely affected. I like a bit of spice, colour and variety in my diet, so bring it on I say.

I like some cultural variety too. I like the thought my kids can go to school and share the classroom and playground with a genuine mix of all the ethnicities the world has to offer. The food and the music and the fables and legends and traits and habits and all the rest, from foreign lands, virtually all of which have far longer and deeper histories than ours.
But, when does cultural appreciation reach saturation?

You gotta have it. Awareness of the differences of folk and the things which motivate those differences, is a good thing and cool, especially for our kids to be getting at school and not just from their peers. Cultural activity and participation and awareness is an important part of any curriculum.
The same has to be said of New Zealand’s unique cultural position. Our geographical position on the globe gives us a Pacific identity, encompassing much of Island culture. Not to mention, though obviously I am now making special mention, of our Maori culture.

I say ‘our’ because Maori culture is specific and unique to New Zealand. More or less. Therefore, even for no other reason, we should be celebrating that, nurturing and enhancing and supporting and doing all things necessary to keep Maori culture alive and well and right at the forefront of our lives.
It is good to see local schools here getting heavily involved in Kapa Haka. So involved in fact, my kids are sick of it.

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They now dread going to school and I can’t actually recall a time they came home and told me about the academic work they had been involved in for the day. I get that, with a festival coming up, things can get a little competitive and of course each school, their pupils and staff, want to put their best foot forward.
Shouldn’t something like Kapa Haka be fun? A celebration? My older girls loved it at first, have always been into it no matter what school they have attended. But now, the fun has been burned out of them. That’s right, they have reached Kapa Haka burnout.

Such is the ill feeling towards the song and dance routines, I feel there is a greater chance the performance, come festival day, is going to be flat and uninspired. Three full days a week have been committed to the learning of combined lyrics and actions, over the curse of a number of weeks. Now there is talk of attending the regional’s as well, meaning there is little end in sight.
Meaning too, there is little academic learning taking place.

Sure, this is the final term of the year. The better part of a child’s lessons should well and truly have taken place. Now is the time for polishing and refining, maybe revisiting some areas and tackling the weak points. For a pupil like Number One, this is her final year before going on to high school, surely a time to be looking to take that next step, researching how to go about doing so, in order for the transition to be as smooth and complete and uncomplicated as possible.

I’m from down south. Even between islands there can be quite the cultural divide, but not a division so strong I can’t embrace the beauty and joy of a skilled, practiced and well honed Kapa Haka. But, I want to see that joy expressed on the kids faces, not a pained, tortured tiredness. I can’t help feeling it might be worth sacrificing a bit of sloppiness, a missed poi twirl here, a fudged line there, for the sake of enjoyment.
Embracing cultural awareness, participating in it, should be about joy and fun and laughter and a celebration of new and old, a coming together in mutual appreciation.

Something our kids should revel in, should enjoy.
Not dread.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Time Warp

I don’t know if it is a North Island thing, a Northland thing, a Hokianga thing or what it might be, but I like. 

Sometimes it feels a little like time has left us behind. Or maybe, more accurately, we have escaped the clutches of Father Time.

Much of it has to do with place. The country we live in, the region within that country, the locality within that region our our little spot on one edge of it all. Recently our view changed. We traded black mould and rotten floor boards for dry and relative warmth, gave up on multiple natural springs soaking the yard and dangerous decks making a mockery of the view on offer, for a main drag location where the kids are within strolling distance of the library. Read on my lovelies.

The sun shone on my back while I bent it and got the shift done with the aide of a couple of not so keen neighbours. We moved furniture and appliances, including a fridge. One thing that didn’t travel to our new digs was a dishwasher, and not because they are often considered part of the chattels. We didn’t have one in the last haunt, the one before that and in fact have gotten by without one for a while. And here, we will do so again.

I reckon there are many out there in the so called first world, a term I don’t believe applies to this area, who would think it damn near impossible to have a family our size and manage our day, minus the assistance of a machine dedicated to keeping your dishes clean. Fair enough, six of us ensures it is no mean feat to keep on top of the dishes, especially if the cooking gets a little creative, there has been a bout of baking and the motivation slips enough so a load here and there is missed. Dishes pile up thick and fast.

Filling a sink with hot water and bubbling up the suds, scrubbing and scraping to achieve squeaky cleanliness, is a norm for us as a family. More or less, we all chip in, just another one on a list of chores which never seems to diminish and if it does ever seem they are being quietly whittled away, that’s nothing more than a  sure sign the cycle is set to roll around again, right from the very start.

Like the washing. Laundry.

We aren’t heathens. We have a washing machine. I may have taken on the mantle of home management or D.T. (Domestic Technician), but even I have my limits. As keen as I have been to take on the domestics, I am not overly enamoured with the idea of sticking my hands in a tub and scrubbing away for the hours on end it would take to hand wash our family’s laundry. But I am happy to peg it on the line.

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Okay, we live in Northland. It is damp and there is no getting away from that. It can takes days to dry a load of washing at this time of year. Alternatively we could spend a few dollars and pop down to the laundromat. I prefer to be patient. I am not tight, can spend money with the best of them, I just like to embrace some of the ‘old school’ way of life.

For a start it isn’t like I/we don’t have the time. I am aware much of the world is heavily reliant on convenience, on gadgets and gizmos. Stuff which will apparently make life easier. All well and good if you have access to that sort of thing, can afford it and in my case at least, understand how to make it work. But what happens when it isn’t there for you, on demand at your fingertips? There is a balance I think much of the modern, first world, is starting to forget.

I would be concerned if my children didn’t know how to wash a dish. Manually that is, you know, in a sink with water and detergent. It would concern me if they didn’t have the concept of how letting fabric hang in the sun and breeze might, and I mean might, dry it. It would bother me to think my crew couldn’t prepare a feed for themselves from scratch and I would be disappointed to find they couldn’t entertain themselves with whatever might be surrounding them at the time and then applying a little bit of imagination. As for getting around? There is no such thing as public transport here but hey, there is nothing more convenient than two feet or two wheels on a bicycle.

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My kids can google. They can use apps and they love nothing more than watching a movie to drain away an hour or two. My kids can read, can knit or sew. They understand the purpose of a hammer, a screwdriver, nuts and bolts and nails and glue and whatever else. They get it, how a lawnmower works, how a trampoline can be fun and good exercise. They can build huts, inside the house and out. They can play games, with a board and pieces or buttons and a joystick (Do joysticks still exist? Are they still called joysticks?). My kids will do a puzzle, paint or draw, play Jenga, kick a ball or just go for a walk. They bake from scratch, cook meals from scratch and can open a sachet, pour into a cup and stir. They have the basics covered, being the multi-talented bunch they are.

Much of that is to with the environment our kids have largely been raised in. We are not city people, so many of the conveniences a great deal of people take for granted, simply do not exist or do not apply. The power shuts off here often enough we are forced to regularly look for alternatives to entertain ourselves. Non electronic ones. In many ways, doing so helps us bond that little bit better as a family, even while at times I fear our kids are being held back, stuck not quite in the dark ages but maybe not fully illuminated.

Their time to be fully immersed in the technological world will undoubtedly come and I am sure they are more than ready for it, whether I like it or not. Whether I understand it or not. I guess the trick is to encourage them to turn on, without tuning out.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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?