Greener on the Other Side?

What do you do when the differences are bigger than the little things?

We are all different right? We are all individuals, each and everyone one of us a sum of our environment and experiences and how we face it all.

Each of us have our thoughts and our secrets and our wants and desires and we all express ourselves our own way. We all wear our labels and fit inside our own individual pigeon holes, whether or not we have attached those labels to ourselves or have flapped our wings and landed in those pigeon holes by choice or chance.

And that is about as philosophical as I ever get. For all our individualism, we are all more or less the same at the end of the day. What set’s us apart from the person next to us are the decisions we make. The choices we mull over, routes we head down, both as individuals and as collectives. Groups like families.

I have a mate who, with his Mrs, bundled up two kids under the age of ten and headed off for a sojourn through South East Asia. A bold move many might think. A brilliant one I reckon. Still, the travails of travelling in a part of the world like that could do many in, let alone having two little ones to look out for. Apart from that, many might think two kids in tow could well prove an impediment to a good time. But hey, if you are travelling in your 40’s, you ain’t hopping the Contiki bus in a hurry or heading out clubbing.

But a bold move like that was obviously reached as a consensus. Same way as entering into a mortgage, buying a new car, choosing a mattress or deciding which Netflix series you want to feast on for the evening.

So when change is on the horizon, when options are made available and you are forced to look at where you are now, where you fit in that here and now, and where everyone slides in and around you, neatly or otherwise, the thinking cap goes on and one of those decisions, or a series of them, need to take place. I am not referring to the little things, the everyday things. Standing in a supermarket isle and choosing between toothpastes, making a call over one brand vs another, whether to mow the lawns or get the washing in, Chinese or Pizza.

Everyday we are faced with the minutiae, the bits and pieces. Most of those calls are made with little or no thought. Sometimes we get it wrong and often, in a family dynamic, even those seemingly inconsequential things can lead to more debate and argument than might at first seem necessary. I prefer clove honey. I am the only one in the family it seems. We don’t eat clove honey. I prefer Tasty cheese. We eat Mild. I like to walk under a bush canopy, we end up walking on the beach. Inconsequential stuff and easily enough worked through. There isn’t much course for things to go too far wrong.

But, what of the big calls? What, when things arise meaning big change, big differences, to the way you are living your life at present? Quite apart from needing to think things through rationally, especially before opening your mouth, you also need to be aware of all the nuances that can trip you up. It is impossible to tick every box, to have thought of every little thing. And, it is impossible to look at a major change completely impartially. I say, don’t try to.

Our time in the north is coming to an end. No secret, as far as the future of our kids go, this ain’t the place. Even if the next level of schooling was up to the task, what then? Where is the career pathway, where is the solidity and dependability needed to nurture youth into the bright young things of the future? Done that subject to death you are probably saying and you are probably right. So come the end of the year, we are moving on, like it or not.

I don’t like it. I mean to say I do like it. I like it here. I like the climate, I like the scenery, I like the harbour and the wildlife it attracts and I like the locals and I like the quiet and the night sky and the laid back lifestyle and the warm rain and the relative isolation without having to be far from anywhere.

So there we have it. Opportunity calls for the other half, the extras that can and will provide for our kids and here is me, stuck in the mud (literally at times in a good old Northland winter). The calls in life Wifey and have made to date have led us here. This place, this time, this space in our lives. We are happy enough, as settled as we ever get.

I am 45 this year. My wife is rapidly approaching forty, far quicker than she would like I think. Thing is, I can’t remember a place we have settled for than a year or so since we left my home town. My wife’s feet itch more than if she was standing atop an ant hill and the word settle, for her, is a foreign language. But this old boy needs to take root. I have not felt truly part of a community in years. I have no social standing, no grounding in the sanctity of mate-hood. No sense of belonging, no true knowledge of my surroundings. Life has been all about fleeting glimpses, snatched views and shuttered glances.

Not working, being the stay home parent is a part of it. At times it really does feel like my life is on hold and while there is no resentment, no regret, it would be good to get back on the horse or the bike or the wagon or whatever it is I am supposed to ride off into retirement. In a community like here, it is possible to survive on one income. Survival is all it is though, week to week, pay cheque to pay cheque. There is no getting ahead, no saving, no rainy day slush fund. No fancy extras like island holidays, just concern over how much of a stretch it will be to fill up the fuel tank. it is a lifestyle choice more than anything else and one which would most likely fail in a city like Auckland where the cost of housing alone would be too much of a burden to carry.

That is of course, if you like a modicum of that same said lifestyle. We eat quite well, can have a drink, always pay the bills and there are things like internet and phones and the kids have presents and are clothed and so on. We don’t dine out, we don’t go to the movies and we don’t do anything that could remotely be termed as extravagant. In this household there are sacrifices made around the bigger things, so that the little, everyday bits and pieces bring a level of comfort to our day to day.

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But, and for me it is a big but, is the grass any greener elsewhere? And how much sacrifice is too much? When does giving up a little of yourself for the greater good become an impediment to your own well-being? I guess I am not far off finding out. Time to weigh up the options, put them against opportunity cost. The good old pro’s and con’s list, personally and then as a family group. Identify the common ground and look for compromise.

I don’t want to go.

We’ll be on the Gold Coast by the new year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Ambiguity

How ambiguous, how off-hand, are you with your children? 

We all do it. And not just when dealing with our children. We obfuscate, we employ delaying tactics, we brush off and disregard and we block. In using everyday, throw away language, the potential impact of which doesn’t even really cross our minds before the words come out our mouths, we are shutting down our children with little or no thought multiple times a day.

‘In a minute.’

‘Not right now.’

‘I’ll think about it.’

It is going to be longer than a minute, if at all and you know it. Never is closer to the mark than ‘not right now’ and there is very little chance, unless you are reminded, as you probably will be, repeatedly, the idea will ever cross your mind again.

‘Maybe later’ never comes. It is a fleeting moment you abandon almost instantly in your quest to get on with a busy day which may or may not lack variety, outside of weather patterns and just when the youngest may fill his nappy. At best it is dismissive, at worst neglectful. ‘Soon’ is a long way off to a young mind, an eager and searching, inquiring mind desperate for stimulation. Folding laundry does not fixate a child’s imagination for long. All the mundane, everyday things we have to do as parents, domestic managers, child development facilitators, hold only the most fleeting point of interest for children.

‘Get out from under my feet’ is a bit of a go to for me. In my mid forties I have developed a far better sidestep than Waisake Naholo can ever hope for. The trick is not to second guess the random movements of those still learning how to operate their own feet. But in saying that I am not being dismissive. It is a command, issued for the health, safety and protection of those small enough, ignorant enough and random enough to get themselves tangled up in somebody’s legs. ‘Be careful’ are two words which fit the same category, a combination I try and avoid if possible but which do come in handy when kids are on the coffee table having a boogie to the Arctic Monkeys, crawling across the bench in pursuit of something sharp or careening down a bank at full sprint, rapidly gaining terminal velocity.

Thing is, more often than not, the little ones don’t let you forget. They don’t want to move on, get on, and damned if they are going to let you either. Children haven’t turned old before they will no longer let you off the hook so easily, when your tried and true distraction tactics begin to become nothing more than dismal failures. When your frustrations are peeked. Frazzled might be the word.

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Long before a child develops the ability to speak full sentences they have long since mastered communicating. Getting across their dissatisfaction with your desire to be doing something else, somewhere else, becomes an art form they rapidly learn and master. Grunts of displeasure, whines and screeches of frustration, attention seeking tugs on the hem of your top or bold leaps at your legs, arms wrapping hips in a toddler tackle, headbutting your genitalia in an attempt to ensure there will be no more siblings to compete with for attention. Impossible to ignore.

‘In a minute’ becomes ‘I’ll think about it’ turns into ‘We’ll see how things go.’

Still they come at you, your failure to satisfy their urging not allowed to pass without comment and ever more pressing insistence. Soon enough it is you who is frustrated and bingo, we are on the verge of argument and tears and tantrums and toys being thrown from the proverbial cot. And just think how the kids feel.

Are we really that busy, in this modern world of convenience and technological advancement, to spare a few minutes for the interests of our tamariki? Is what we are doing at any given time, in any given place, so important we can’t put a halt to it, however temporarily, to get down on our haunches and engage.

Nonsensical rambling it might be, inane nothingness which might come at you from somewhere completely random, blindsiding you with it’s sudden appearance. Whatever it is, from imaginary friends and their interactions with your child, to hands being pulled, leading you to witness something you may never fathom the meaning of, none of it is painful. There will be no pain, no hurt, you will loose nothing, no more than a few moments of your oh so precious time. In fact, the opposite might well prove truer. In the vivid, wild, rambling of your child’s mind there just might be that gem of inspiration, that moment of pure levity. Your child can inspire tears, of joy, can put a smile on an otherwise grumpy, preoccupied face, can surprise and delight and entertain with their irreverence. All of it so sweetly unintentional.

The reality is, perhaps it is best to pay more attention to their surprise, attention seeking, attacks. Rather than a frustration, the distraction can be your friend. A refreshing moment of light-hearted, low impact, vital nothingness too many of us have long since forgotten how to enjoy. The dishes can wait, the dusting too. That report will still get written, the laundry can be folded later, you can eat half an hour later without any harm to anyone. Who knows, you may learn something and you will surely recapture a little of that which you lost whenever it was you stopped acknowledging you were imagining, inventing and creating and drifting inside the wonder which is a youthful mind. Go back prior to the moment you decided you were all grown up, back to the time when the imagination ruled, when observation was a wonder, when youthful exuberance was the norm.

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If nothing else, it is usually quicker to spend that moment of time enshrined in the world of your little ones than trying to dodge, duck dive and weave your way around it, a sad attempt to avoid something which it is simply impossible to. You’ll get back to that vital whatever it was quicker than you might think and your children will think you a part of it all.

Because I said so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Shift

I’m grumpy.

Okay, I am a white, middle class male, in and around my middle years. So of course, I am prone to bouts of dissatisfaction and I like to think I am articulate enough to express those feelings. Whether or not anyone is interested in hearing me rant and occasionally, rave, is not my concern.

As the season begins to turn, the sticky, at times oppressive heat and humidity giving way to the cool and damp of the Winter-less North, I can feel the invasive spread of SAD…Seasonal Affliction Disorder. Much like the creeping spread of mold, in our beautifully positioned, but sadly decaying, Hokianga slice of paradise, I can feel myself starting to shut down for the coming season. I am at risk of stagnating, if it wasn’t for the kids.

One and Two head off to school. Their outlet. For seven or so hours a day, keeping them entertained, informed and inspired, is not my problem. That falls to the lovely ladies and gents at the local Primary, all passionate and inspirational people I am sure. Thing is, when those big kids get home, to join the E-Bomb and Wee-Man, we’re all left virtually twiddling our thumbs.

Summer means hours of lazy days on the beach. It is sprinklers and water pistols and afternoons dodging the sun, reading to the back drop of whirring fans, moving heavy air from one side of the room to the other. Not hard to drain the kids of their seemingly endless energy.

Without the bright hot sun, the damp clings to everything. That will at least take care of the flies and the fleas, even while a few crickets are still clinging to the promise of a summer which has abandoned them. Spiders know, creeping into the house in ever greater numbers, looking for a nook or cranny to curl up in and while away the winter drag. A sure sign winter is coming. An unwelcome one.

A sense of malaise sweeps over me and it’s partly because I can’t be drawn into the types of things which entertain the kids with such ease. I’m not a television watcher, outside of sports and I am certainly not a gamer. I get down on the floor with the little two, engage and join in, clambering about making out I am the type of tiger Katy Perry could only dream of being. I draw and scribble and meld play-do and read aloud and fill the basin with suds and all the rest of it. It is fair to say, before long it is me who is bored.

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Bored stiff. Not from a lack of interest or a failure to engage. Stiff because joints and muscles find it difficult to get up off the floor. But yes bored. Repetition is the killer for an adult imagination it seems, mine at least, but is the fire for a young burgeoning one. Maybe they see a new and exciting thing every time, maybe they are excited by the familiar and the comfort of the known. I have lost count of the times I have read the same books, had half an eye on the same movies. It is a frightening thing to open your mouth in the shower and find you are nutting out a Disney classic you had no idea you knew the words to.

Therefore I don’t buy into the premise having kids around keeps you young. It is even possible they age you quicker. There is no hiding the fact I am less tolerant now than we we first started breeding but back then, I had distractions of my own. I worked and I played. I was still young enough and dumb enough to be involved in sport more actively. I went out the door each morning and stayed out until the evening rolled around, gainfully employed. I had the outlet afforded to number’s One and Two, if not quite as educational. And now I find, the more the we are forced, as a unit, to stay in each others space, to permeate it, invade, the less likely I am going to be such a big, fluffy, friendly tiger.

The capacity to force it never ceases to amaze me though. Especially where the kids are concerned. Fake the smile and the laughter as much as you fake the tiger’s growl. It can be extra tiring, putting up the facade for your kids, while all the time you wither and die inside, curling and browning at the edges like the autumnal leaves giving up and dropping to the ground all around. Okay, maybe that is all a bit too melodramatic, a touch too melancholic, and in truth by the time I reconcile these feelings of low and slow festering, like the mud and quagmire our yard is becoming, the sun will start shining again, the mercury will rise and I will wonder what the hell the problem was.

Some people put on weight over the cooler months as they tuck into ‘comfort’ food. Others just shift their patterns, opting for different pass-times, alternative activities. It may be seamless, it may be a conscious shifting. Our kids don’t seem to notice it much, not directly. They don’t dress appropriately for cooler weather any more than they did for the heat. Their desired choices of activities don’t change either, still fixated by the idea a movie will provide all the excitement and mental stimulation their growing brains are craving. From Number One down they are not asking for the beach as often as they used to, only a week or so ago. There is even the occasional, wary inquiry ‘What is the day going to be like?’

The day is going to be what ever you make it. Just like the one before, or something entirely new, exciting and different. No, we are not going to the beach. No you cannot watch a movie.

While I pray for greater flexibility and wonder just why it is kids have to yell at me when I am right next to them, as I snatch moments to achieve things over the course of days which should take no more than an hour, when the rains come and I manage to convince the kids to brave the elements, squashing them into last seasons gumboots and rain coats, readying them for a torrential downpour the last drops of which dry up just as the final zip is fastened, I may take a moment to rock back and breathe, mind fading to a sunny summer day now gone, not forgotten, and one I know will return.

It is amazing, when you have to force and fake the smile, how readily it can stick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Just the Roadie

For me, a song should be heard on the album first. That way, you hear it played exactly the way it was intended to be heard.

You get the mix, the fullness, of all the combined visions and imaginings from producers, the artist themselves and those playing alongside. It is a sum of all the collaborations and shared experiences and abilities. A bit like parenting.

You will often here a musician describing an album they have created or are in the process of creating, as their ‘baby’. They are referring to the all consuming, passionate, dedicated love for what they are doing. How creating that baby takes up all their time, dominates all their thoughts, beginning to grow and evolve under their guidance.

Track by track the album grows, song by song developing into the image the artist is trying to create. There will be singles, moments of standout perfection when everything coalesced into a pure moment of understanding. There will be misses, stuff in moments of reflection, the artist wishes had never made it onto the album, that no number of retakes and cuts or polishing in the sound booth is ever going to make right.

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Once the artist has given birth to the process of creating an album, a set of songs that will undoubtedly and hopefully take on their own persona and personality, it will become a being in and of it’s own right. What started out as snatched moments with a guitar and a note pad, time behind a keyboard with an old school eight-track, grows and blossoms and begins a life all it’s own. Once that album has been completed, when all the finishing touches and nuances have been laced together, then the artist has to ask, can this all be recaptured live, on the stage, in front of an audience.

Perhaps, by then, the album has decided it needs a horn section to flesh out their sound. Perhaps the album turns to cellos and violins to add authenticity or a certain feel. Maybe the album will add some electronica, to develop and grow. At times the album will rock and it will roll, then sink into soulful melancholy. There will be blues and then a show of jazz hands and there will be epic numbers stretching forever, reaching and yearning and striving. At times the album may be stripped back, raw and emotive, a return to that guitar and notebook, a solo voice, free of band and back-up singers.

Despite how well you think you know your kids, how well you think you might know anyone, people are always going to surprise you. Children more than most. You can never be too sure what direction they are going to take, just like a live, rambling, epic version of your favourite track, that cherished album. Because once your children, your album, is free of the studio, you can no longer peg it, no longer put it neatly into a box and seal it with a label.

Every time you see that album it will be bursting free, growing  new tendrils, a new root. A new note. Today is the first time you have seen it, heard it yet it is the same song you started humming some time ago. Different, fresher, grown and growing. Another song for the album. Another verse, bridge and chorus.

Sometimes the kids are like London Calling, the scratchy old (not Hipster) vinyl; played to death, as a soundtrack to my life. Angry yet comprehending, understanding yet questioning.  Between the four of them they become the Rolling Stones’ Tumbling Dice, a compilation but a stand alone work of art in it’s own right. A family of music. I know the verses, the rhythm, the beat and the choruses, yet there are layers and always a little something new, something previously undiscovered.

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So many nuances, so many new and updated versions of the same song. Melded by the influences surrounding the artist at the time. A new artist now, creating their own songs as they compile their very own album. All you can hope for is that somewhere, tucked away on a B-side, maybe never to be released, is an homage to you.

Perhaps, for your budding artist, the world will be their stage. Massed hordes of adoring, screaming fans, hanging off every chord, every riff. Larger than life, popular, influential, admired and set to be heard for years to come.

Perhaps your artist is content to stamp their foot on the battered deck of a flatdeck truck, parked up somewhere in the middle of a sunny domain. Families on blankets are munching trailer food and sipping craft beer as their kids, future artists themselves, are bopping along. Maybe no one is paying any attention and the album is banged out regardless, raw and true and happy and back to work on Monday.

Perhaps that album never leaves the notebook, never comes out from behind the guitar or keyboard. It has been played all the same, heard all the same.

However that album seeks to manifest itself it is important to nurture it, let it grow and develop and find it’s own way to the stage of its choice.

The key is to play, hear and listen to the album your kids are creating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delegation

How do you prevent the ‘everyday’ from becoming mundane? How do you stop normal from being boring?

It is difficult not to lose a bit of yourself when you are at home with kids. For me, it is partly environmental and a big part the climate. I turn to the outdoors for entertainment and as a means to entertain my children.

Tough though, when one is a little bomber, delighted by a muddy puddle, the other a little princess, disgusted my a splash of mud on a gumboot. The older two have their own ideas on what it means to fend off boredom. Ever increasing demands for greater screen time, or heads buried in books and here is their Dad, worrying they don’t get enough fresh air and exercise.

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But as for my own level of excursion…everything at the sedate pace of a three and a bit year old. The E-Bomb is an amazing walker. She can cover an incredible amount of miles with little or no complaint and is fully engaged with what is going on around her. She is questioning, full of inquiry and inquisition. The Wee-Man is the same, never more content than when the wheels of his buggy are going round.

As I have gotten older, I have felt the desire to be on my own more. It is not that I am shunning anyone, family included, or that I have become sort of grumpy old man recluse. I have always been grumpy, so I guess it is just an aging thing. Not that I am by any means old, it is just that while I am the same man I used to be twenty or so years ago, I can’t help but notice I am an older version of that person.

Never a patient guy, I seem to have even less tolerance these days. I am far more likely to comment on everyday little annoyances I would previously have let go and boy, can I rant if I get my heckles up. Partly it is because I pay more attention to the ‘issues’ of the day but a big bit is because I make an issue out of things that just aren’t. All in all, not a great recipe when the school holidays roll around.

This time the term break seems to have coincided with a blast of wet and wild weather, not something conducive to finding ways to keep four children of varying ages entertained. There have been dress-ups already, forts have been built, readily converted to planes or submarines. There has been a bedroom dance party and there will be baking and crafty stuff and whatever else it takes to keep them happy and at least a little quiet. Yes, that means there will be screen time. Not quite the last of the summer blast I was hoping for.

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It won’t be all that long, if this weather continues, before the kids get a bit of cabin fever. Me too. Fresh air in their lungs, sunshine on their faces, running around whooping and hollering and imagining and planning and building and deconstructing and thinking and plotting, all of it helps to get them to sleep at night. Me too. It also helps to prevent headaches. Mine. But there is another problem I am going to have to face.

As proud as I am of Number One, for earning a placement on a leadership course at a nearby marae, run by Nga Puhi, I am going to miss our unofficial surrogate parent over the next few days. It is a great sounding scheme by Nga Puhi, exactly the sort of thing communities around here need and credit to my girl for being there. Her absence, however, has put the pressure on me.

It isn’t fair on a twelve year old expecting too much of her when it comes to looking out for her siblings. It’s just that she is so damned good at it. Of course there is a fine line between getting Number One, or any of the kids capable of it, to help out now and then, and abusing the privilege. Having a useful extra set of hands around is invaluable at times but I have to be aware not to put all the kiddie care work load onto someone still a kid herself.

She brings a lot of it on herself anyway. Every single time the Wee-Man reaches for her, with that little pleading sound of his escaping that adorable ‘help me’ face he uses to such great affect, Number One scoops him up. It has gotten to the point he will side step me altogether and aim straight for his big sister. As cute as that is, I can see it grates on her sometimes, especially when she has just walked in the door after a day at school. Try as I might to convince Number One not to pick the Wee-Man up on demand, encouraging the idea he will eventually lose interest, she is some sort of sucker I guess. I know how that feels.

Having someone around with a bit of creative flair, some extra energy, a sweet and nurturing nature, someone who can cook and bake and wash and clean or at least help out in the kitchen, is a godsend. Number Two is right up there and when One and Two combine to use their mystical powers with their siblings, I am just about rendered redundant. But it is school holiday time. While extended time in each others company is great for all, I can already see the cracks starting to appear. The dynamic will eventually end up fraught and fractured, even while there will be moments of pure joy and bliss.

Maybe I am being selfish. Maybe I need to learn to be more creative and crafty and arty and a little more understanding that three girls don’t always want to pass, kick and catch, might not be so interested in hacky-sack, can’t be bothered wandering down to the water’s edge just because we can. Perhaps I need to let the imagination free, the way it goes when you are nearly four, see things the way you do when you are not yet two, attack the day like you can when you are not far off ten and nearing thirteen.

Just maybe, I still have a lot of learning to do. I guess these holidays might end up anything but boring.

But, please, come back soon Number One.

 

 

You

Just be yourself.

So easy isn’t it. Once you know how. But self-awareness, and the ability to identify and be comfortable in that awareness, is not an easy thing at all.

It takes a heck of a long time to try and figure out the person you are. Not the one you portray to the world, or the person you want to be, the person you feel others are expected, the one everyone is saying who you should be.

I’m talking about that guy or gal in the mirror, the one you catch a glimpse of just before you realise someone (you) is watching. A snatched, corner of the eye moment when the guard is down, when there is nothing going in your mind about from all the things that need to go in order to sort you out for the day.

You all know that face. Your face. Slightly disheveled, straight out of bed hair, puffy ‘I don’t want to be open yet’ eyes, mouth agape in a yawn which releases the breath of rotten seal, wrinkling your nose as your nostrils are tainted by your own foul stench. You are probably scratching your arse at the time, on the way to the bog for that morning, clockwork, constitutional. Maybe you are itching at your nutsack, knowing any minute a stretch will attack your entire body, creaking and cracking you upright in preparation for the day to come.

Many of us are used to seeing ourselves like this, all of us. Some don’t care, give their appearance no further thought, are comfortable with how they look regardless of time of day or state of undress or lack of manicuring. Others would never be caught dead until showered and product in their hair and faces on and moisturised and teeth sparkling white and all the rest. For a lot of us, putting the face on each and everyday has not so much to do with how others might see us, but how they perceive us.

Wee-Man is not all that far off turning two. He is a robust little bomber of a boy, covered in all the scrapes, bumps, abrasions and bruises of a young dude furiously and fastidiously exploring his surroundings. The youngest of our mob, it is not a case of him trying to keep up with his older siblings, more a desperate attempt by them to slow him down.

And if he wants to do all of it in dress and tiara, then damn it he will.

His sister, E-Bomb, Weapon of Mass Interruption, has developed a fairly particular style and sense of fashion in her tender years to date. With two older sisters, I have seen all that play out already and outside of the odd individual quirk, there are few surprises. At her age, practicality isn’t always high on the list so a trip to the library on a hot summers day in gumboots, isn’t out of the question. Singlets and vests in the rain, tights to the beach. None of it matters. She is happy and is allowed the freedom to pick and choose. We have a climate here which let’s her get away with most of it and let’s be honest, I am not really the best person to judge whether or not stripes should be matched with hoops.

So if the Wee-Man sees a dress he likes, damned if he isn’t going to wear it. If that printed shirt several sizes too big, resplendent with pink roses, is going to be his thing for the day, or at least until such time as he makes a banana stained, muddy, tomato sauced mess of himself, then all I need to ensure is that he rocks it.

The only time you will ever see the fella uptight and concerned about what he’s wearing is when a sleeve gets caught, hampering his progress at whatever task he has placed all of his short attention span into. He may get frustrated at a full nappy, or having to wear one in general. He may want to wear boots and shoes which haven’t for fitted him for a while or are unlikely to for several years.

Wee-Man looks snappy in a cycle helmet while having a book read to him, debonair in a life-jacket bouncing on the trampoline, and positively sharp in his Mother’s heels in the vegetable patch. No doubting the little dude is a trend setter extraordinaire and there is not a moment when he doubts himself (in fact there are many…realising the heels are not much good on steep grassy banks has been a rolling, tumbling, learning curve).

There is no pretension. No pressure, external or otherwise. There is no mask, no facade. Nor is it freedom of expression, or self fulfillment or an abandonment of society constraints. It is freedom, at it’s truest and most earnest. What the Wee-Man decides to wear he just does, from felt-tip fingernails to crayon lipstick, top and no pants, pants and no top. Not a stitch.

It is the freedom to express himself beyond what he wears that is the true magic growing older forgets. Random yelling, growling at a fly on the wall, pointing at one thing or another which have no bearing or relevance.

Jumping. Just because he knows how to jump.

 

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Like everyone, Wee-Man can get frustrated when he isn’t understood. He has several words in a rapidly expanding vocabulary. Stringing them together is an art which still eludes him. He gesticulates widely and is very adept at getting his message across,. He is also quick to move on if he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t care.

Of course Wee-Man doesn’t care. He isn’t yet two. He is fed, clothed (sort of) and nurtured and loved and stimulated and all the other things that are supposed to be happening for him at this time in his life. What on this big fat Earth is there for him to worry about?

Hopefully, in the fullness of time, bugger all. Ideally, my son will cruise through life ticking all the boxes he has identified as in need of checking. All my kids will succeed in the manner they identify as appropriate, in the things they recognize as success. I wish them luck.

And I hope too, when they catch that morning glimpse of themselves, they don’t take a snatched second look. I hope my daughters and son don’t give that person in the mirror another moment’s consideration. I hope they scratch and poo and brush their teeth and get on with their respective days. Because I don’t want them to be searching for themselves or the person they want to be.

The only way to identify with yourself is to forget the person you are, as you see yourself and certainly as you think others might. And while you are at don’t try and recapture that Wee-Man left somewhere in all of us. Don’t force it, don’t try and make yourself spontaneous. A search for freedom is the biggest trap.

Just try painting your lips with crayon, coating your finger-nails in felt-tip, donning your favourite flowery shirt, stripping off your nappy, slipping into your Mum’s high-heels and go yell at a spider.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donations Gratefully Accepted

There is more suck in an octogenarian with pneumonia, than there is in our vacuum cleaner.

A fourteen year old school boy pulls harder than our car. More cushioning on a fat girl’s thighs than on our sofa.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh on the sofa. It is lasting pretty well, considering the inconsiderate attentions of four children and a Dad, who falls asleep there after too many attempts to sit through late night rugby games he isn’t invested in or watch movies which struggle to hold his interest.

I’m sure you  get the point. We are at the stage in life where it all needs an update. From the knife set which will no longer hold an edge, the mixer which smokes every time it is operated, the rusted this, bent and barely operational that. Almost everything we have, the bigger ticket items, were purchased all those years ago when Wifey and I first set up house. We met in London, a story in that chance encounter in itself, while both on our Big O.E’s. The two of us eventually arrived back in New Zealand with literally little more than packs on our backs. Starry-eyed lovers, keen to get about setting up our love nest.

Credit this, hire purchase that. Tables and chairs and couches and desks and beds and mattresses and a car and dish racks and utensils and towels and pillow cases and some of it wears out in time, replaced as a natural course of things.

The bits and the pieces. Easy enough, grab it at the supermarket or the Warewhare or a seemingly never ending Briscoes sale. But you don’t go out and just grab on the fly the dining set you have outgrown, which happens to be occurring at the same time as the car is dying. In collusion with the television and the sometimes functional but no longer loud sound system. The lawn mower smokes like a reggae musician and drops more oil than a careless Saudi sheikh.

Our bed squeaks an unjustifiable amount given the lack of activity it receives.

I’m not bad with a spanner, can handle a screwdriver. A mixture of brute force and ignorance can get you further than you might think. Coercion and patience saw a washing machine limp along years passed it’s used by date, but I can’t make the dryer warm. Well maybe I could, I know it is just the element after all. But, as much as I fancy myself with a tool or two, I am better suited to pulling stuff apart as opposed to putting it back together.

So here we are, surrounded by next to worthless junk. A pile of virtual crap best loaded into a trailer rapidly succumbing to the ravages of time, and hauled off to the tip.

The big ticket items. As decrepit and broken as the guy who owns them. Better management when we set up would’ve meant we might not be in this spot right now, drip feeding non-existent savings into fanciful ideas we can have bigger and better. Or even just operational. A chest freezer to replace the dead, smelly one. A fridge we can actually fit a week or two worth of groceries for six in. Time to rebuild and restructure. A daunting prospect.

Wifey earns well and we don’t have the expenses many others face. I’m the day care, though quite possibly I come at a much higher cost than your average Kindergarten. Our lifestyle is far from extravagant, because it can’t be. As good as the dollar my wife slaves for is, with a crew of mouths to feed, the bills we all have to dig deep for, we are a hand to mouth, pay cheque to pay cheque operation.

We don’t have 9 cents a litre to spare.

 

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La la la

You can say everything needed with la la la. As long as you mean it.

I sat myself down on occasion of late, diligently displaying the best of intent. However, while the day gets warmer, muggier and eventually wet, I realise I needn’t sweat. Even as I sit here chaffed and dripping.

But enough imagery of a chubby, balding, 40 something bloke wallowing in pools of his own drenching. I was wanting to, as I swam the pond of sweated quagmire, put something out there others might want to read. Something light and comical, or satirical, or darkly observant, witty and wordy. Perhaps a challenging blog, striking at the virtuous core of a middle New Zealand, or prodding those below to rise up. Maybe I could open the shutters on the cloistered, but sweetly air-conditioned, non-sweaty one percent, an expose so shocking, so revealing my balding mug, sweated brow and all, will most likely feature on Time Magazine.

Flustered and flummoxed. Like a middle aged woman, recently divorced, spying her first ever male stripper at her nieces hen’s night. Hot and wet. The weather has everyone a little frazzled, a fine sheen of ‘Christ when is it gonna stop’ smeared across each and every brow. Today is a blazing glory, but does that mean I am blazing with it. If I couldn’t manage an oppressive pall over my masses of followers and associated readers, then how am I going to leave vapour trails of glory across azure skies?

I’m not. Plain and simple, I don’t need to have my name in lights, my words written in the sky. I don’t blog for fame and fortune and I don’t seek notoriety.

I certainly could. There are plenty of subjects, big and small I have decided, since I began this caper, to intentionally neglect. There are issues, from controversial to first world, localised idiosyncrasies or a splayed big picture problem, all of which I have left by the wayside, as I rocket through the world of home husbandry. Even as paradise surrounds, the raw reality of the big bag world never fails to present.

Our stunningly gorgeous location may look the part from the inside of the window pane. Looking in can be a different story. My wife, privileged to have unfettered access to peoples homes, an intimate months long snap shot of their lives, can come home with horrendous tales of the things, the situations, the people, she encounters.

At the small local school, yet to be treated to the modern idea of how a school should look and feel, thankfully, my kids have encountered racism. Mild, lower end of the scale stuff and technically, reverse. Yes, that is right, our sweet and innocent little whities have been treated differently, adversely, because of the lack of colour in their skin. There has been bullying, particularly directed at our eldest, because she is a cool kid, a popular addition to the place. Jealously has reared it’s ugly head and she has been shunted and shunned.

No biggy. We worked through it. People concerned were open and honest and proactive. That doesn’t take care of the proliferation of weeds, noxious and invasive.

The neighborhood and indeed the greater region, is strewn with Elephant Grass and Wild Ginger. There is the obligatory Gorse and Blackberry and wilding Pines and there are flame trees, with their thorny warning. These plants line broken footpaths, a drainage swale full of stagnant water, battling for supremacy against escapee bamboo. Verges are infrequently mowed, if ever, sprayed quarterly at best…which is worse.

Poke your head into the scrub, to confirm that identifiable object is in fact the discarded mattress you thought it might be. Cars break down and are burnt, shunted off the side of the road, to rust where the paint has been scorched free. Stray dogs take care of most of the rubbish, house hold disposables, that don’t make collection.

Have I painted a pretty enough picture of paradise yet? Yes, I can go for a fish basically from my doorstep. But I can’t eat the shellfish and sometimes they tell me I can’t even swim. That information, courtesy of a randomly placed, faded yellow sign, too small to garner a great deal of attention, does not go down well with my kids. I can bundle those same kids in the car and drive us all to some of the most picturesque, uninhabited, un-visited, coastal and forested spots of beauty and cultural significance.

The roads are bumpy, winding, tight and skinny and bouncy and unsealed and potholed and generally no exit. Just the way I like them. Many tourists don’t seem to be so fond. Can you pick the ones who have traveled the east coast first, the Bay of Islands, with all it’s grey retiree dollar and escapee Aucklander investment? All their vehicles are registered, warranted and are road worthy.

So do I get controversial? Tell a joke or two, to lighten some shock tactics? Do I mine the depths of substance abuse, wreaking stumbling havoc on a community? Do I battle the abusers, both of those same said substances and the men and women abusing each other and the brood of children they have created together. Do I stand up and yell it, the wrongs that I see being perpetrated, the often harrowing results of which can bee witnessed on the worn features of my tired wife at the end of a working day.

We can be a cynical bunch in this country, but we do like a laugh. We will happily poke fun at ourselves and others, often liberal with the threat of offence. But, as I have said before, offence is taken, not given and if you are offended by the things you see and hear, perhaps it is because those things; that abuse, that degradation and poverty and systemic failure, trouble you and the infinity pool world you like to think you swim in.

Sometimes, when you are hot and flustered, flummoxed and frazzled, light hearted poking and prodding just doesn’t cut it. And who needs another white, middle-class, in this case un-educated, keyboard warrior telling it like it is. For a start I don’t really know. I am a kept man after all. And sadly, people like me don’t really want to know. We may snigger and snicker and righteously comment our agreeance, but we offer nothing in the way of solution. So I for one, should shut up. No stomping and shouting, no raising a grumpy, disenfranchised placard waving mob, Hoki Hubby at the head, megaphoned voice waxing lyrically poetic, the strain of tortured passion ringing from my lungs.

Instead I sip a commercially produced craft beer, meat sizzling and spitting on a BBQ over looking the water from our habour side deck, women inside making salads, 90’s alt-rock backing up the waffle I share with my council of local whities, putting the world and it’s woes to rights on the back of an unlabeled red wine or two, a toke here and there, while our young men are killing themselves. We are all killing each other every time we pop out for a drive and we are ignoring the mentally ill, in the hope they will go away.

They will.

One by sad, miserable, lost, disconsolate one. Cracks in systems, as wide and deep as the holes and dips and splits in State Highway 12. Not swallowing them whole. Nothing that comforting. Like a cat, the mentally unwell are toyed with a little first, teased, dangled.

I can smoke a hooter and get quietly pissed under a sun umbrella, kids streaming around me, confident in the knowledge we will not be visited by an agency, a service. People like us don’t get visits from units like that. We don’t need it. Our lives and those of our children might be mildly dysfunctional, but who’s isn’t? Local body authorities are not going to trim the verges at the top of our drive, regional administrators are not going to monitor those polluting our waters. Central bureaucrats are not got to fill the pot holes, feed and house the poor, clothe them and protect them from the elements, treat their illnesses and educate them, detox them, unify and strengthen them. So each and everyone of us appears to be on our own.

And if we are all alone, then we are all in it together. Aren’t we?

So I will sit here and sing la la la. All the while hoping there is someone out there with greater, more in-depth, more analytical lyrical content to offer. The same old chorus I can do, like everyone else, members of a mass choir. If the western Mid North is the tune, the Hokianga the verse, then who is going to play the lead break?

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Boss Baby

Is it possible to rule the roost and rule the country? Our Prime Minister thinks so.

Jacinda Adern is clearly a very ambitious women. She has become the darling of the political world, both nationally and around the world, in relatively rapid time. Her rise through the Labour Party ranks may not have been as meteoric as the media might have us all believe, but her ascendancy to the top job, elected or not, came on a rocket-ship.

And thus, Jacinda Adern was thrust into the limelight. Prime Minister. Leader of a political party, leader of a nation. Our nation. My country and the one I am raising four children to live, love, grow, work, fade and die in.

Now our Prime Minister and her First Man, Clarke Gayford, will shortly be doing just the same; raising a child to grace these shores with it’s beautiful presence. Congrats and all that are due. Never mind whether it is appropriate or not for the leader of a nation to be taking some time out for the birth of a child. Don’t worry over the rights and wrongs of not informing the populace, effectively her employers, of any pending pregnancy.

Adern will stand by her right not to have to divulge that information and on principal, such a stand has to be accepted and applauded. She must have faced quite the dilemma, discovering her pregnancy at a time when the political whirlpool was in vortex, sucking everything and everyone in, as the last election seemed to do. She made her call, it can’t be changed now and to my mind, Mark Richardson’s abilities as a clairvoyant aside, the point is kind of moot.

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Richardson got lambasted in all this, complete with stern, unhappy teacher face and waggling finger, and while it is important to avoid the temptation to make cricket analogies, it seems our First Man has been left out of the playing XI all together.

Clarke Gayford should be offended . Miffed at the least. The question keeps getting raised, time and again, in our mainstream media, in opinion pieces and blogs, in twitter rants and wherever…will the Prime Minister will struggle to do both jobs.

Damn right she will. She is clearly an ambitious and extremely hard working woman and must come with the verve, drive and energy required to get to the position she is in. It is going to take all of that and more, to get through the next year or so from here, relatively incident free.

But, I ask from the cloistered confines of full time fatherhood, why is it we seem to be neglecting, no…failing to herald, Clark Gayford’s role in this?

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Hasn’t the man put his hand up, stating his intended lead role in the raising of the Clarke/Jacinda bub? Are his abilities so doubted we have to question his wife and hers?

Let’s get real here, it ain’t easy raising a child, no matter who you are, what gender you have assigned yourself (that’s how it’s done these days isn’t it?) and certainly no matter what you do for a living. I don’t imagine the Clarke/Ardern household is struggling financially, I can’t see them being under a great deal of pressure in providing all that is needed to give their little one every opportunity. I would also like to think they have a nurturing, close and supportive wider family and social network. Our nations Prime Minister will not be flying solo.

And neither will  Clarke. If nothing else, a rapt nation will be kept well and truly over informed on the progress of bubs, Mum and yes, maybe, just maybe, Dad will get a mention too. Breakfast show TV will be all over it, Mark Richardson or not. But in reality, this baby is going to spend the first few years of it’s little life, essentially without a strong Motherly influence.

Adern will be busy running the nation, a task I am sure does not leave a huge amount of time for full nappies and rolling over and sitting and those all important first steps. Not to mention teething. I wonder how much time it leaves for breast feeding. Are we going to see our P.M. with a baby on the breast in parliament? Not for the first time and bloody good to see being accommodated and readily accepted, just as it should be.

So, to my mind, there is no question of whether or not Jacinda Adern will be able to cope, juggling motherhood and the leadership of this nation. She is only going to be doing the one job full time. The one with the paperwork and the negotiating and the press conferences and the pressure and stresses. The pressure and stress her husband will be under are far different, but you sure as hell won’t catch this guy belittling them.

The real debate is who is going to be working the hardest. I reckon I know the answer.

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