Bah Humbug

Great, here we go again! Enforced festivity anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Santa…

 

Sorry, How Much?!

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

My wife and I are renters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Creepy

What to do when your kids get spooky?

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

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

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

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

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

 You have been warned!!

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zombie 1

 

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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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?