Happy Birthday

Well that’s it. Officially old. 

Number One turns thirteen today. A major step for her, becoming a teenager. A sign too, her Mother and I have taken a fair few steps of our own.

Many people tell us this is where it really begins. Parenting. Throw out all we know and think we know. Disregard everything we have learned and been taught. Nothing is relevant, nothing holds true, once those mystical teen years are reached. The best of it and the worst of it, so we are told. Well if it is to be the best, these following teen years, then they are going to have to prove to be pretty darn exceptional.

Don’t get me wrong, Number One is as moody, surly, grumpy and snappy as any other kid her age. Possibly a bit less, she seems to sail on a fairly even keel. The mood swings are no more or less than what you what might expect from any other person on the planet, man, woman or child, boy or girl. Yes, only the beginning you might say, just you wait. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Change is coming. In fact, the ‘change’ has been on us for a while and so far, he says with digits firmly crossed, life has gone on. Maybe that is the key. Not Number One, not her Mother, not me or the other siblings or anyone I can think of, has made any fuss. Barely any comment. After all, what is there to say? What is there to make a big deal out of? A Human Being growing and developing and aging, whatever you want to call it, is hardly a surprise.

Long may Number One continue to sail smoothly but even I can’t deny there is a change in tide ahead for her and consequently, for all of us. High school will play a big part. Her social scene will change, her horizons will be broadened academically, recreationally and socially. There will be more involvement in  this and that and the next thing. She will, hopefully, chop and change, experimenting with the new horizons and directions available to her and all the while, learning.

Teenager or not, all I can do as a parent is listen. Step one. Beyond that, I can be empathetic, try to be understanding and patient and caring and maybe, just maybe, Number One will continue to see me as an option, a real and genuine one, when she is in need. Having said that, I am fairly certain things are going to crop up she will not want to bring to her Dad, go to parent or not. And I know for sure, there are going to be things I would rather deflect, fend some issues and concerns off, send them in the direction of mother dearest. Probably best for all concerned.

As parent’s we are not ones to tip-toe around subjects. Ask a question, we will give our children an open and honest answer. Transparency is a policy we are fond of and the basis of our approach to teaching our crew the things they can’t, don’t or won’t learn at school. There are however, some things, topics and subjects I am not so sure I am all that interested in covering. The ‘Talk’ for example. School touches a bit on the birds and the bees. I have a get out clause, one which I fully intend to invoke. ‘Your Mother is a health professional, a Midwife no less…you want that info, she knows better than I, ask her.’

I am not entirely sure how I will deal with the subject of boys. Not an issue yet and I can only hope I don’t come up with some cliched rubbish about porches and rocking chairs and rock salt cartridges, loaded into double barreled shotguns. I don’t even own a shotgun. Take note though, any would-be suitor…I do own a high powered rifle and we have a loving, caring and protective dog…as old and grumpy as I am.

There is no doubting the introduction of a teenager to the house will mean a shift in dynamic. Numbers One and Two have always bickered and bitched and winged and moaned at each other. They are two distinct and different people, who by and large get on pretty well. Without being aware of it, they are actually fairly reliant on each other. It will be interesting to see the inevitable shift in their relationship. The younger two,         E-Bomb and Wee-Man, turn to their eldest sister more than any of them might realise. She is a source of respite, for both those two little ones and me. An engaging, involved, interested and interesting part of their lives. How much her own life, evolving and burgeoning and all those sorts of words, will impact on those relationships I guess only time will tell.

I must admit, I lean on Number One a bit. I rely on her, to give me some breathing space, so that I am not completely lost as an individual in this family. I suppose I run the risk of alienating her, having her resent the role she plays, fully aware of it or not. As I have said though, she is engaged and engaging, a very active part of the lives of all of us. For that she gets recognition and, both now and in time, finds reward. The adoration of her little brother, the appreciation of her Father.

We have treated and continue to treat all our children like little people, not inferior or incomplete. Just young. People. We communicate with our kids as the individuals they are. Our efforts to do that won’t change just because there is teen at the end of their age’s. I like to think we have been, as parent’s, pretty good listeners over the years and good communicators too. Not ‘tellers’ but talkers and explainers and debaters, as open to what they have to say, as they need to be to what we are trying to impart. I look forward to Number One expanding her thoughts, her opinions, her ideas and ideologies. My only concern is if I can keep up.

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Today is about cake and treats and presents, phone calls from relies, candles and all the rest. We will make a fuss, we will cuddle and tell each other how much we love the person wrapped in our embrace. No matter her age, Number One will be spoiled, because we love her. We love her pimples and her mood swings and her sour tiredness, no matter the length of the sleep-in. We love her growth spurts and her desire for more independence and her failures and her advances and we love her argumentative streak and her stomp out of the room and her sense of humour and her growing intuition and her developing awareness, both of self and the greater, wider world.

You really are Number One.

 

 

 

 

Teachers Strike Back

Twenty four years, sixteen percent.

Just two of the numbers bandied about in relation to New Zealand’s primary school teachers negotiations. Over two decades since they last took such action, and a pay rise request based over two years.

So far, the demand for pay has not been met and there is a large gap back to what has been offered by the ministry. There is certainly room for movement and that is what mediation and negotiation is all about, an attempt to find some middle ground both parties can commune on. It is clear teachers feel undervalued and I am not in a position to question that. Personally, I value the teachers of my children based on the development of my kids. A teachers value to me, to my family, to my kids, is based solely on how well our kids are learning, how they are growing educationally and how they are developing as young people in our community. From a parents perspective, value has nothing to do with how much a teacher is getting paid.

I understand a well paid employee, in any vocation, is a generally happier one, although cash is not a panacea. That said, I guess it is important to find out about the other complaints from teachers and their union. If you have bothered to follow the media releases, read through the stances of both sides, then maybe you have been able to form a semi educated take on the arguments and counter responses. Or not, particularly if you scroll down to comments sections, getting caught up in the vitriol and heated debate.

The voice of teachers and those who support them have been the louder, more vociferous one. There seems to be a desperate need for our teachers to dispel what they feel are a bunch of urban myths out there, based around the time and effort they apply in and around their working day. Holiday time is a big one and an apparent short working day. Perceptions which I know to be false, but I can also see as being easily validated.

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For a time I served on a school board. I felt it was important to have some investment in what is a major part of my kid’s lives, namely their schooling. After all, good or bad, vast tracks of your school years stay with you for life. During monthly board meetings I saw passion, I saw frustration, I saw desire and will and elation and disappointment and I saw people, everyday normal people, trying to do their best as part of a massive and at times seemingly unwieldy system. I was lucky, as were my two oldest girls, to be attending a great little school, in a rural environment richly supported and a vital part of a caring and involved community. The same probably can’t be said for every community and every school.

Anecdotal at best, but I observed teachers starting their day well before the first of the school buses pulled up or children started to disgorge from a series of SUV’s, people-movers and crowded hatchbacks. Board meetings aside, part timers aside, teacher aides aside, these staff members worked a full day.

The working day for a teacher is not 9-3, as some might like to think. They are there longer, a normal, full, working day and so they should. They are paid to be. Yes, staff were in the classroom over the holiday periods, term breaks there for the benefit of the children not teachers…ever seen a child at the end of a long hard term, dragging their feet to and from school, a look of thunder on their face you as a parent do your best to tip-toe around? The teachers I witnessed prepped for the coming term. No, not necessarily full days and not throughout the whole two week break. But it was rare to see any teacher show up to class empty handed or leave at the end of their day without an arm load of files and a head full of ideas and issues.

Nothing new there really, for any one person in any one job. We all put effort in, we all struggle to leave it behind us when we leave the door and we all face that in our own way. I do have some frustrations about a few demands which have arisen around teacher requests. Namely, more time away from face to face contact, the desired preparation and planning time.

My kids, as an example I can readily turn to, are home by 3pm. They walk home, having left the school gate at around 2:30pm. The school grounds might not be completely empty of kids at that point, but damn close to it. No face to face time required there. That leaves a couple of hours a day too get things done. Ten hours over the course of the week, not to mention the brief time available each and every morning.

Sure, teachers are parents too. They have lives outside of the school gate and demands on their time from their personal lives, just like everyone else. Those ten or so hours might not and will not be available all the time. Particularly if a teacher is involved in any extra-curricular stuff kids are into. Coaching, music lessons, tutoring. But, if the voluntary feel good stuff is getting in the way, then it needs to be put aside. If the extras are affecting your ability to do the core roles of your profession as a teacher, then leave it up to the parents and others who have made themselves available.

Time management. Obviously something which bugs me. Teachers asking for less contact time when all I can think, as a parent, is how to get more. Greater time and contact between my children and the people charged with educating them. To mind, that whole argument is arse-about-face. A teacher should want more and more quality time in the classroom, involved directly with the learning of the children in question. Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that what they signed up for?

Which means better resourcing. Which means a lower ratio of teachers to kids, smaller classroom sizes, greater support and backup for those at the chalkboard (yes, showing my age…I know chalk has given way to the digital age). Does it really mean Special Education coordinators (SENCO) in each and every school?

I have moaned before about a lack of solution based rhetoric in society. We blame, point fingers, highlight and show concern. We don’t offer fixes. I don’t claim to have them, but another bug is language.

Crisis? Great way to attract people to the teaching profession. And after all, wouldn’t more teachers in the classroom be the ultimate fix? I think both parties agree on that, but how to make it happen? Perhaps instead of terminology which sounds panicked, we can voice alternatives. What incentives are there to get people into teaching? And not just remuneration. Could fees be subsidised? Could there be greater cross-crediting of prior qualifications? Are we working at targeting the right members of society to look at teacher training as a viable option? Parents, returning to the workforce, older members of our workforce looking for a change, a new direction? Maybe if you are 45 you can still be eligible for assistance in the form of allowances and loans, fees subsidies, structure it how you like, if there is an agreement to train and commit as a teacher for a set period of time. Free fees if you teach for a minimum of five years?

Get places like Auckland better resourced, so teachers can manage to live and work there. Not just Auckland, but any center facing housing pressure and shortages. Our rural and country schools too. If that means pay more, then so be it. If that means chipping in to cover accommodation expenses, then cool. Incentives for qualified and experienced staff to move to the regions in the most dire need, good idea. But we need to be wary of looking into things like performance based pay scales. How a system like that would be measured I am not sure and I can’t help but feel the risk good teachers would migrate to more affluent, better placed parts of our country, is too high, leaving the areas which need those sorts of people the most, suffering more than they are already.

The above may or may not work, may not make any sense at all. Potential solutions like those, or any other, will chew into existing budgets and that means more pressure on pay scales. It means a ministry, which clearly struggles to cope at any given time already, what with all the myriad of changes in thinking around education and behaviour, cultural awareness and sensitivity and the ever changing diversity of our broader society and its future needs, is going to have a whole bunch of new hurdles thrown in front of it, all of which need to be cleared.

Our education system needs to constantly evolve and grow. From governing bodies to teachers and support staff. That growth needs to be handled in a careful and thoughtful manner and it needs to be done with sensitivity and with an eye on a mid to long term future. Too often, in all sectors of business and industry, we hear words like crisis, shortage, lack of skill or training and development. We don’t have enough truck drivers, years ago it was plumbers and try getting a builder in a hurry, finding specialists in one field or another.

If shortages in teacher numbers and those willing to enter into training has already occurred, what does that say of our future? The future for our kids, trundling off back to school tomorrow morning? The current issues will be fixed, at least patched, one way or another. But, there will be a gap and that will reflect down the track. How do we prevent it from happening again? I don’t know. Maybe, twenty four years from now and sixteen percent later, we’ll find out.

 

 

 

 

 

Be Careful

The two words above are something I do must best to avoid. That is to say, there are plenty of times I take care over my activities and actions. Thing is, I try to care less when my kids are involved.

Pop down to any playground and you will hear those words ringing out, in a variety of intonations and accents. The sentiment is well meaning and invariably accidental. They just come out: When your adventurous little one elects to go up the slide and down the ladder. When your brave warrior engages in a stick battle with little James from around the corner. When your darling he or she is adamant they are a big boy/girl now and ready for the big swing. Invariably, they’re not. Your mouth opens and without thinking, out those two words come. Be careful. Fair enough, you have the health and safety of your little ones at heart. What of the confidence of those precious angels you are so desperate to protect.

Kids don’t realise the consequences of their actions. Only experience teaches that and sadly, there are many who will never learn every action has a reaction, even as they reach adulthood. Fine, those people are responsible for their own problems but we, as parents, have responsibility for and over our little ones. We need to guide them, we need to set limits and boundaries and we need to be there when they fall.

Sometimes that means nothing more than scooping them up after they have crashed over the handlebars. Chances are you saw them teetering, saw the eminent danger and were in the process of rushing over even before they hit the ground. A stumble, a trip, a tumble is all part of growing up, meaning bumps and scrapes and bruises and grazes and all the rest. By the rest, I mean screams and cries and yells and tears and sobbing and definitely, hugs.

We can accept our kids are going to get hurt now and then, through no fault of ours or theirs. All we can do at the point is encourage them to get up, dust themselves off, wipe away the tears and carry on, hoping all the while they have learnt a valuable lesson. Places like playgrounds or even in the great outdoors, it is inevitable. There is going to be a touch of pain and hurt that comes with all the fun and excitement. But what about in the home?

Is your place childproof? Does it have to be?

We are all aware of things like fire alarms and smoke detectors. Life savers and this country, compulsory in all rental properties and mandatory in commercial buildings etc. So, you would think, a bit of a basic step when it comes to ensuring the safety of your family in the home. But, especially when there are little ones in the frame, there are so many other things to consider. You have to prevent access to steps and stairs. You have to prevent contact with heat sources and block off power points and take care to affix tall furniture to the wall to prevent it toppling should your dear little one attempt to climb it. Or, you could do none of that.

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We haven’t. Not in one single house we have lived has myself or Wifey gone around as part of a concerted effort to identify and eliminate any and all hazards potential or real. We do have safety plugs in the wall sockets but it has to be said, not all of them. We did have one of those kiddie proof gates for the base of a particularly steep, winding and frankly quite cool spiral staircase at one property but generally, the other door which lead to the same area was left open. It was a house rule not to leave that door open. As with all rules and regulation, it was broken now and then, mostly by forgetful older kids in a hurry to do anything other than worry about the welfare of their younger siblings.

Having a boy in the mix now has made a huge difference. I don’t know if it has been just our girls, or girls in general, but the Wee-Man is far more inquisitive, far more assertive and far more adventurous than his sister siblings ever were. I am damned sure I can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing, but one thing it is, is different.

He climbs. Everything if he can. He will at least make the attempt. Once at the top, or as close as he can get, he is always keen to fling himself off, whether or not a soft landing can be guaranteed. Is it a male thing, for young ones at least, but he just has to know how things work? If that means putting his face too close to it or sticking his finger in it, whatever it is, then so be it. He runs, jumps, kicks and punches and throws and rolls a whole lot more than his sisters ever did. So far, I say with fingers firmly crossed, it hasn’t done him any harm.

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You often hear it said, ‘it can happen so quickly’. Believe it, because it is true. In the blink of an eye disaster can strike. It wasn’t that long ago I narrowly averted a family tragedy of our own. A simple stroll on the beach, kids paddling and playing, spread across the sand. Just a few paces from me the E-Bomb is in the water, no deeper than her thighs. I look up to see how the Wee-Man is travelling, further up the beach with his sisters. When I turn back to the water, only a handful of seconds later at the most, I can’t immediately see my youngest daughter. My heart leaped, my mind raced but before genuine panic came on, I spotted her.

I will never forget the serenity on her beautiful, uncomprehending face, arms outstretched, as she drifted with the tide, maybe a foot below the clear water.

Two paces and I had her in my arms, safe and splutteringly sound. If the water hadn’t been so clear that day…?

Sometimes, as a parent, you just don’t have control and while you can exert as many checks and balances as possible, shit is still going to happen. I try to look for the balance, make it ‘Be Aware’ as much, if not more, than ‘Be Careful’. Because when a kid is coming down the steps of the slide front on, smiling and concentrating hard on balance, it is done with a sense of adventure, with an experimental curiosity and a challenge. Care hasn’t been factored into it.

I want my kids to be adventurous and experimental and I want them to challenge themselves and I want them to understand that sometimes, it’s gonna hurt. I don’t want a little one to put his hand on the fire place because the flames are mesmerising. Do we have a fire-guard? No. Because we use that word…no. We say Hot, we say Ouchie, we say all sorts of silly little things to discourage and attempt to educate. We also supervise, stay aware and alert and I do my best to dispel any mystique around things.

If a two year old boy is curious about the toaster, show him how it works, tell him it is hot and will hurt, demonstrate if you have to. (Fake it as best you can, just like all those awful health and safety videos we have all seen). Such is the attention span of little ones he will have moved on long before you finish talking.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bad Man

I’m not the man I like to think I am.

For a start I wake up and the first thing I do is check the weather. Fair enough you say, a lot of people do the same thing. Outdoor conditions can be particularly important to all sorts of people. Think gardeners and landscapers, greenkeepers, civil engineering crews, road marker, aborists, fitness buffs who like to jog, fishermen and all those who prefer to walk or ride to work. Even just making the call on what to wear or whether or not to swing an umbrella.

I open the curtains and look to the sky in order to gauge the suitability for putting on a load of washing or not. A family of six means pretty much a load a day. It sure piles up if you don’t get around to it or the weather holds you back. We don’t own a dryer, preferring to let nature do the job for us. Most of the time it works out fine, a lot of the time, it doesn’t. We live on the edge of a harbour and not far from the coast. Rain is an ever present threat. Worrying over a load of two of washing, however, is not how I picture myself, as a man, in this world. At least not how I used to. Reality came crashing home this week.

Our car has issues. Nothing major and certainly not anything I felt was beyond me to rectify. So, I dutifully dig out some tools, half of which I find have started to rust from lack of use. No drama, everything seemed to be working fine and I was sure I had everything I needed. Everything,  that is, apart from know how and skill.

I haven’t ever professed to being a mechanic. Not even a backyard one. You know, the guy who pulls everything apart, only to find he has no concept of how to put it all back together. I don’t want to be that guy. In the same breath I don’t want to be the guy who hands over the keys to another man, clad in overalls, grease and oil and other manly stains and all. My reticence has nothing to do with pride. I know my limitations and am big enough to admit them. The decision to have a go at the repairs myself was more one of budget.

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We ain’t broke. But we sure would be if we ran off to the mechanic every time there was an issue. Problem is, I haven’t had my hood under the bonnet of a car in many years and the problems we had with our car, didn’t even come from there. If you had asked me a few days ago what exactly was wrong, I would have fumbled my way through a garbled response designed to make you think I knew what I was on about but really, would be a series of terms vaguely related to cars, maybe even automotive engineering, just not necessarily anything to do with the problem at hand.

So before I delved into the world of nuts and bolts and circlips and calipers and hubs and stuff, I had to admit my failings. All I can say, is thank goodness for the modern internet age. YouTube was invaluable, a few geeky car forums and boom, at least was I soon able to sound like I knew what the hell was going on. But, as I quickly discovered, knowing and being able to do a thing about it, are two very different things.

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At least I was able to get a suitable amount of grime, dirt, oil and grease on my hands. And half way up my arms. I might have been clueless but with the car jacked up, the wheels off, bits and pieces I didn’t recognise and had no idea the purpose of strewn about, I certainly looked the part. I undid this, loosened that and in all honesty, made some progress. Somewhat surprisingly.

Problem was, I could get only get so far. Skills, ability, knowledge, put all of that aside. I didn’t have the right tools and even if I did, probably wouldn’t have known how to use them. Specialty equipment. The stuff of the trade, tools your average bloke doesn’t own and below average ones like me don’t even any use for. If I did, rush out and get this tool and that, I would be lucky to get one use of them, before I learnt them to a neighbour. You know the one, the guy who never returns it, then months later denies all knowledge, leaving you second guessing yourself that you didn’t just lose it in the first place.

What disappointed me as much as it elated me was the nature and scope of what I did achieve. Okay, whatever I did manage took much longer than it should have, without a result. I was able to do a couple of things I set out believing were well beyond me. Intricate, technical things the YouTube boffins told me anyone can do in their garage. Our car doesn’t even fit in the garage. Frustratingly it was some of the easier, simpler things which managed to foil me. This was the stuff any self respecting bloke should be able to do, and good keen man can turn his meaty hands to without a thought. Luckily I hadn’t gone so far as to not be able to put everything back where it belonged. Maybe time for a real man to sort it all out?

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In the end I threw my soft, delicate, dishpan hands up to the sky and admitted defeat. The skies above mocked me, letting me know it had been a good day to get the washing dry.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Appreciated?

At the start of the week my wife barely got settled in bed before she was up and out of the house. 

She didn’t return until virtually dawn. It was the same thing last night. Well not quite. It was just after midnight when the phone went and she disappeared out of the house in a fuzzy eyed blur. Once again, she didn’t grace us with her presence before any of us had risen, let alone the sun.

My wife is a Midwife. She does it because she is passionate about the welfare of the unborn child, the mother, healthy happy birth and care of newborns and their whanau.  She sure isn’t in it for the hours and she doesn’t do it for the money.

That isn’t to say my wife is not well paid. Hers is a decent salary, if not brilliant. She gets an okay recompense for what she does but sadly, however, it is far from a true reflection of her value. Even a glance at her role reveals just what sort of demand is placed on her and those who operate in a similar or same capacity. As a Case-loading Midwife, she will do ten days on, four off…hopefully. Many a time she has to cover for illness or staffing shortfalls or is needed to attend if there are multiple births taking place and it is a case of all hands on deck.

During those ten days, my wife is on call. 24/7. She must have her work phone on her at all times, needs to have reception at all times and cannot be more than twenty or so minutes from the hospital who employ her. This includes her living arrangements for those hours. In her day she can cover well above 100km in order to attend ante and post natal visits, all the while being available for a birth should one occur.

Every baby, every mother and every whanau she deals with is and are different as is every birth she attends. There are separate requirements and necessities and a multitude of this and that’s she has to deal with on a case by case basis. My wife does it all with a proficiency which is only matched by her smile and her purposeful stride. And as you can imagine, quite apart from the pressures and stresses of her role, she always has in the back of her mind the impact of what she does on her family.

So why do it you ask? If the money isn’t fantastic, the job seems to be overly demanding and the scope is often beyond the remit?

Because my wife loves what she does. Because she recognises the value of her efforts, her experience and her care. Because, as liberal wishy washy as it sounds, she can make a difference.

She does. My wife has been in her role long enough to bring a great deal of qualification and experience, particularly as a primary Midwife, in a region which badly needs the type of integrity, skill and ethic she is blessed with. But, I am not here to blow smoke up a part of her anatomy the sun is yet to see. Becasue as great as she is, and she is, there are many out there just like her. Not just Midwives. Nurses, so topical right now, Doctors and Radiologists and all the rest. Kind, caring, hard working, highly qualified and skilled, passionate people.

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We have all heard and read the stories of over worked junior Doctors. Now, after some thirty years of silence, we are having our eyes opened to what our nurses are up to, the stresses and pressures they face and the help they need. So much more than simply a question of money. Here it is a small though widespread catchment for the health services to attend to and here also, is a system which offers so much more than the average. Hokianga Health and the Rawene Hospital have something quite special going on and while, like any institute and system, there are faults, there is no doubting good things are being done. The community benefits from the steps taken and the systems put in place and, I can only assume, there are maybe not the same pressures for many of the staff as might be faced in denser population bases.

None of that really helps my wife or other Midwives around the country. Yes, a Midwife can make the choice to operate independently, pick and choose her clientele and weigh up her work/life balance as she sees fit. All well and good, if there is a population which will sustain such practice. In rural environments and small towns, that is not feasible. There are simply not the numbers, therefore the money to be able to stay in business. Which is where people like my wife come into the equation. Alternatively, a Midwife can be employed by a District Health Board and do her shifts, like a nurse, and go home when the day is done with work supposedly out of sight, out of mind.

Can that happen when you work in such a role? Can someone just switch off? To an extent, yes. Experience in any job anyone is passionate about will teach that. But there are elements which can never be walked away from, indelible moments that will stick forever. Shocking, sad moments. Beautiful, harmonious moments.

People like my wife make sacrifices. Many of them. She chooses too and the reward she gets from doing so might not be a financial one, but it carries a worth much greater. Her family must make sacrifices too. We do so because we appreciate what the woman in our lives is doing and why she does it.

Recognition needs to come from elsewhere though. It needs to come from the top. From DHB management and at governmental level. Many of the best and brightest of our nurses and Midwives stay and ply their trades here in NZ, because of circumstance, because the dollar does not rule everyone. But many choose to move on, to earn the bigger pay cheques. Because it gives them a much vaunted leg up. Because a pay cheque, to an extent, can reflect appreciation.

Our nurses and Midwives need our support. Because when we reach for support, it is them who offer it. Gladly, willingly, tirelessly and passionately, and I for one, appreciate it.

 

 

C’Mon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/105435407/newshubs-correspondent-lloyd-burr-attacked-by-angry-football-fan-live-on-air

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

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

Tell them, it’s just a game

 

 

 

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t you think?

 

 

Success

Maybe a long way from what one might consider and author or writer, but the journey has finally taken its first tentative steps.

A few years ago Wifey came to me, having eavesdropped the off the cuff bedtime stories I told the children at bedtime, suggesting I write them down. Her idea was, as a stay at home Dad, I might be able to find the time to formalise the whole thing, get those random story-lines and characters onto the page and maybe, if the gods of literature and publishing smiled on me benevolently, I could make something from it.

The concept of being a paid, professional author was not necessarily the immediate idea and certainly was not something either Wifey or I envisaged would happen in a hurry. But I duly did some study, earned a qualification while learning a lot about the process, about myself, my abilities and my wants and desires. There was no way I could have known going in that the average author takes about ten years before they are published in the traditional manner; not self published or an e-book.

So the first hurdle was going to be perseverance, let alone finding my ‘voice’ and identifying a readership and all the rest. When I did sit down in front of a keyboard, what came out was unexpected and largely, unstoppable. Three or so years have gone by and I can see I will never refine what I try to do adequately, will never be fully satisfied with what I have done and will never be able to completely identify with myself as a writer.

Today is a bit different. Some strides were taken, some boxes ticked, progress made. Yes it feels good, yes it feels right and yes, it feels a little like justification, both in the belief placed in by my wife and in myself, for sticking with something, no matter how piecemeal that has to be around the kids and life and all the etc etc.

Today something I wrote was published.

As it eventuated, the finished article, for that is exactly what it was, is not remotely close to the type of thing I would have thought it would be. I wrote an opinion piece related to what I blog about here, for a website owned by a multinational multi media conglomerate. Not a novel, not a short story, not a competition winner, just a rant like so many I have punched out here. Not paid. There was an option to make a contribution so I did, as I thought I might have something to offer on the topic at hand and as it stands, so did the staff at Stuff.co.nz

So, I guess first and foremost a thanks to them and their publication. But that isn’t right is it. Thanks has to go to my Wife (yes with a capital), long suffering and all of that. She is the one who sowed the seed, pushed me in the right direction and set me up with a computer and a blog and said ‘Right (in that way only a short woman can) off ya go”. So, off I went.

And here I am. It isn’t much and is highly unlikely to lead to anything but it is one thing…a boost. It feels good. To see my smiling mug, my name on top of my work, digitally visible for all to see. My work is officially immortalised.

Okay, maybe immortality is a bit of a stretch but I will take this small success as a sign that there is something I might have of note to say now and then, that people are prepared to read it and more, might even like it, if just a little. It goes to prove too, how far a little tenacity can go, a bit of stickability. Every journey is made up of small steps and I suppose I have managed to stretch out for a moment. And if I keep coming up with cliches like that, it won’t last much longer!

Vindication? Yes. A return on promise? Maybe. Certainly a small pay back for effort and determination and paying attention and yes, a bit of self belief. Might not look like much, because it isn’t. But it means a lot.

If you are interested, the article is here to peruse. Hope you like it, don’t care if you don’t. Just wish I was flexible enough to pat myself on the back…

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/parenting/105213974/in-2018-people-still-think-its-weird-im-a-stayathome-dad