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.

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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

All in the Name

Are Labour, our governing party, considered a soft touch?

It seems to me, at the moment, every time you turn on a news bulletin, read an article, switch on the radio, you hear the same thing. One group, body or another, threatening industrial action due to the inability for negotiations to reach an outcome either side view as favourable.

I better state, here and now for the record, I firmly believe there are a number of our public services which are grossly underfunded, undermined and under appreciated. Think police, nurses, teachers and I have to say, for fear of a the cold shoulder given what my illustrious wife does for a living, midwives. And by that, I mean far more than just the wage they receive. Much of what these good people are trying to achieve is near impossible given the constrictions that seem to be inherent when you work for and in the public sector. But hey, who wants to pay more tax?

That is what it will take to get services like these better funded and as a part of that, those who work in these roles, better remunerated. A higher percentage of your hard earned dollar gone before you see it. And while I appreciate many enter such positions because of a passion for what they may be able to achieve, calling if you will, it doesn’t stand that such verve for what you occupy yourself with should be done for chips, simply because you care.

It wouldn’t be hard to wax lyrical about police being the thin blue line, nurses as angelic celestial bodies, teachers as molders of our youth and therefore our future. Therefore, it stands to reason, most people would approve of a union standing up for their members in the hunt for a fair deal for all. Justified, surely, the fight to have our very public servants, well paid so that they may be able to do their jobs comfortable in the knowledge they can feed and cloth and shelter their families, can pay their bills and maybe, just maybe, have a modicum of a life. Like in many jobs, I am sure there are perks and privileges which come with nursing, policing and teaching etc. Of course, these will sit alongside all the trials and difficulties that accompany such a role.

A couple of things leap out at me. Ignoring for now the debate around pay reflecting performance for our teachers, but focusing on them, due to their apparently imminent industrial action and the fact their approach will have a direct influence on this household. I want to ask, was their a collective dissatisfaction to the fore, long before our current government was elected? Was there a case, building, when National were at the helm? I think yes, certainly around funding and how it was applied to infrastructure and maintenance. Our schools are managed more or less independently with Board of Trustee system, but that does not mean central government can wash their bureaucratic hands of the day to day.

As for pay, sure, I am all for our teachers being remunerated to the extent their wage better reflects the current cost of living, as I am for every working man and women and youth. And if ‘sticking it to the man’ is the only approach left, then go for it. Please though, be aware of the effect, however minor, such action will have on the average family.

A couple of days ago the local school conducted a meeting among staff and I suppose, representatives of their union, presumably to discuss what lies ahead for them and their fight. As that stands, fine. I don’t know how every school operates in such a situation and I am sure coordination of such an undertaking is no mean feat. But, before any real and meaningful action has even taken place, there has been an immediate impact on the education of our kids.

Numbers One and Two attend the local primary. They came home the other afternoon with a far from usual response to the ‘What did you guys get up to today?’ question. Made popcorn and watched a couple of movies was not what I was expecting to hear. Movies! Not documentaries, not an art and craft afternoon, not some sport, not some time reading or perhaps taking part in some grounds and buildings maintenance, like weeding and window washing. Sat in front of movies! Under the watchful eye of untrained and unqualified parents and other ring ins….because that was who was in attendance.

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Yep, the logistics of roping in helping hands in a community like this is never going to be easy. At the local school, the final bell rings at 2:30pm. That leaves a lot of day, gainfully employed day, to sip coffee and feel collectively wronged about the situation education and educators find themselves in. So beforehand, our tamariki are getting a full days learning in, their futures are not being maligned because of the perceived injustices of the here and now.

Sure, industrial action is designed so that it has as much impact as possible. running the risk of alienating a wider public, I guess the idea is to put the plight at the forefront of the media and therefore the public. But I ask, how much do you feel it should cost you, your family and household, your kids, so that teachers are free to fight the good fight? Because, if time has been missed, valuable learning time, from the classroom before anything has actually taken place, what is it going to be like when the placards are waving and the chanting starts?

How much time can you take off work when your kids are forced to be at home? How many hours of valuable pay are you willing to forgo? We will cope, because I am at home anyway. If our situation was different it would be damn near impossible. My wife has a job which doesn’t just stop because the rest of the world does. She can as an expectant mother to cross her legs all she likes, a baby will come when it is damn good and ready and no amount of industrial action will put a stop to that! So where would that leave her? Where does that leave the ferry operator, who so many rely on just to get around? What of the hard working folk in any role and position? People will manage because they have in the past and will again. The real question is, how much disruption is too much for our children and their education.

It won’t be a lot. Let’s be real about that. It may not be a thing at all, if a resolution is found good and early. A day here, a half day there. So what you might think, if it achieves a greater good? True, kids catch up, the good ones anyway. Those who are struggling might always be destined to do so under an education system many might find fault in. I have no fear Numbers One and Two will be anything but fine and will most likely enjoy the interlude should it eventuate. If or when it does, I can only hope those already struggling on fixed or low incomes, are able to wear the shortfall which could well come about if the above comes to fruition.

So perhaps we, as parents and members of a concerned and caring public, should have our hands up now, our voices raised. If we are supportive of our teachers and education staff, and we should be, then let’s weigh in on the debate, stop our traditional Kiwi apathy and have our say.

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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.