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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Acceptance

It is a hard enough job teaching the next generation what is considered acceptable, when we still don’t know what to accept in and of ourselves.

 Sex and sexuality.

Just by  banging two words like that down, you can garner a headline or two. Start questioning gender, gender roles, take a look at something kinky or a fetish or delve into fantasy and before too long, you find you might have fired a few people up. In more ways than one.

Dominatrix and Submissives  and all that, so de riguor for a moment there, what with the Fifty Shades fixation. As tame as those portrayals were, they were at least a vessel for opening a few minds and mouths, starting conversations around cafe and dinner tables, in our main stream media, which might not have happened so readily otherwise. I succumb to the hype around that story. The fact I found it a dull, forced, passionless, prescribed read unable to drag me passed a handful of chapters, doesn’t preclude the fact it grabbed the worlds attention. Question is, did it need to?

 

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Tame and lame. Fifty Shades titillated the press and in a country like New Zealand, so open and forthright and honest and earnest on the one hand, a book like that took many things out of the bedroom and placed them firmly in the limelight. Apparently, as we were told, our eyes were being opened, our minds expanded.

One the other hand, while some New Zealanders flirted with the idea of wild, crazed, mad passionate love making, testing boundaries and opening now pathways to pleasure, others were handed a gilt-edged opportunity to huff and puff for a whole bunch of different reasons.

To many folk, topics like sex and sexuality are controversial. For all the enlightenment a country like ours displays, there is no getting passed the fact we have an aging population and with that, an inherently conservative one by modern standards. That isn’t to say the old and elderly are not as willing and capable as the next person of changing and adapting. I like to think attitudes to all manner of things ‘new’ or at least more widely and openly viewed,  are fluid. That as a supposedly better informed populace we are more open to sensible, intelligent, questioning and debate.

LGBT and what ever other labeling letters are thrown in the mixing bowl, the cake mix of life. We are handed those labels. Fed them. Perhaps some are derived directly from the communities they are intended to be descriptive of. More likely they are catchy little phrases and terms heard and leaped upon by a scribe here, a journalist there, a blogger or opinion piece writer, an internationally best selling author.

The questions and so called issues around sexuality and sex, around gender and all the rest, are deemed controversial because we are told they are. Articles and opinion pieces roll hot off the press as if they are scheduled. “Time to wind the populace up again”. A cynic might have you believe it was a deliberate attempt to divert and obfuscate. A conspiracy theorist might make you want to consider the concept of an agenda. Driven and motivated by who or what I have no idea.

The thing for me, the ‘every-man’, is I would never give these things any thought at all. Not a moment of contemplation, not a time to pause and reflect. The sexuality and the sexual practices of others has absolutley no bearing on my life, the lives of my family. Until it is force fed on a regular basis by mainstream media outlets. Paraded as such, like a winged, hairy legged fairy on Auckland’s man drag once a year.

We are told we need to accept. Told we need to be more open and tolerant, less judgmental. Quite apart from the fact it is human nature to judge the actions of others, why am I having it dictated to me what it is and isn’t I should have opinions on?

I could care less if you fancy a hook up with another woman, another man, two men, two women a whole bunch of them all carrying whips and chains and wearing masks made out of natural fibers (read leather) or slick shiny synthetics. If you like to tie people down, be tied, strangle them, tickle them, be tickled, humiliated, exposed, damn near tortured before you cast your mind back for that agreed upon safety word, then woohoo for you.

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If I am into any or all of that, or none if it, isn’t relevant to you and nor is it going to feature in any part of my life if you are. Writing it down in newspapers and flashing it across our television screens robs people, the young in particular, of the opportunity to learn, explore and develop their own thing or things, in their own time. We moan about the porn culture, then offer a softer version we are told should be socially acceptable. We tell people they are prudish and close-minded, then tell them what they should be thinking and feeling. By trying to open up everyone’s minds to the realities of what goes on, or not, behind closed doors, we are removing the mystique, the fantasy, the taboo. We are taking away the titillation and normalising all the things which apparently what set us apart. In our rush for mass acceptance, we are categorising everyone and the things they do, forming a great big lump of mild-mannered numbness.

Go mow the lawns. Wash the dishes, scrub that ring off the bathtub. Mundane tasks which allow the mind to wonder. If you end up mentally counting keys in a bowl or musing over how many colours gimp masks are available in, cool. If you are worried about the price of petrol or Myrtle Rust, that’s cool too.

I don’t care.

Neither should you. Because I told you so.

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs, Rods and Paddles.

We made memories the other day. 

There could, if you are an extremely positive person, be a memory a day, every day.

Wifey and I did that very thing at the weekend, one of those summer days which is going to stick. With a bit of luck,  and the effort on our behalf, a day like last weekend’s will go a long way to forming how our kids look back and see their childhood summer.

We followed some rules. We were prepared.

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There was shade. There was shelter. There was food. There was water. There was company. There was participation. There was entertainment. There were the dogs splashing around, having just as much fun, if not more, than anyone.

Opononi and the Hokianga Harbour provided the majority of the latter. Natures playground at its finest. At about midday, no need to hurry after all, we were unpacking the sun shade thingy, erecting it, unloading kayaks from the roof racks, flicking a frisbee, making lunch, baiting rods, throwing sticks for the dogs and of course, swimming. Everything and everyone was free of stress and drama. There was no bickering or belittling, there was no animosity or petty jealousies.

The kids all had a smile on their sandy faces. And when your kids are smiling, you are too.

Impossible not to smile along with a toddler’s delight, when he discovers his first washed up jellyfish. Only the heartless couldn’t find joy in all the shrieks and hollers and yells, as a bunch of kids splash about in water warm enough to keep them occupied, happy and content for long periods of time.  It is contentment for Mum and Dad too, knowing that your kids are playing and have fun in a natural environment, engaging with the country around in the best possible way. Literally diving in.

Sunscreens and hats and life-jackets and supervision water and food. Nurtured in nature

I get a slightly dopey looking little smile on my face when I am content and happy. The way you look after a big feast; leaning back in your chair, rubbing a full, protruding belly, eyes nearly closed and lips slightly upturned in the smallest of smiles, looking for all the world like I am about to doze off.

The kids are happy. They are running free and wild and getting stuck in to it all, sun on their backs and wind in their hair, framed by sparkling sea before a backdrop of golden dunes.

Are Mum and Dad smiling because they are? Or, are the kids smiling because Mum and Dad are?

Either way, it’s infectious.

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