What happened to June?

It’s been a long time since we hiked with our friends to Rod Donald Hut.  What happened to June?

It rained.  It was cold.  My back turned bad again, suddenly and for no reason.  We prepared for our month-long trip to the states.

This is what Zealandia Horticulture looks like on a foggy winter’s morning. I puzzled my boss by quoting the old nursery rhyme that seemed appropriate to the day: “One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather, I chanced to meet and old man, all dressed in leather. All dressed in leather, with hair upon his chin. “How do you do?” “How do you do?” “How do you do again?”
The grow lights for the hydroponic plants look cozy, which is not an empty promise. The biomass boiler keeps that part of the greenhouse at a comfy 18 C.

Other parts of the greenhouse are unheated, and the frost decorates the glass. A frosty morning promises that a good sunny day will follow, far better than a slightly warmer but grey day.

Winter is a good time for fire-building. One of the hunting brotherhood set this competition up–because what is a gathering of guys without a competition? They had identical lathe-smoothed logs to start with, which they reduced to piles of kindling with axes. Fires were to be started with flint, and the winner was the first one to burn through their string. Jeremiah won. It’s good to be married to a pyromaniac.

The last of the leaves fell from our Japanese maple trees. I procrastinated raking them, and in the end the wind blew them off the grass and into the nooks and crannies of the porch.

Milo had rugby practice at 4:00 every Wednesday. Look at that, there WERE a few sunny days in the mix, as documented by photography.

Luckily for little siblings, there is a playground near the rugby field. Naomi is fearless in her climbing. Fortunately, she’s also quite capable.

Luckily for little siblings, there is a playground near the rugby field. This picture was taken on the winter solstice. I guess winter is not so bad after all.

This is the classic Kiwi way to spend the winter, in full puffy attire sucking on hot drinks INDOORS. We’ve been shopping hard for a house that we can buy and make warm, but haven’t succeeded yet.

Speaking of Naomi, we celebrated a major accomplishment with a flower-topped cafe treat–the end of night time diapers. Hurray! No nostalgia over the diaper phase.

Naomi has started the birthday party circuit–this one was princess themed. Parents were encouraged to dress the part as well, but I didn’t see any other dresses among the adults. My garb wasn’t queenly enough to be blatantly a dress up, so I spent the party feeling awkwardly unfashionable for either group.

Even Milo got into the dress-up mode. This will be a good picture to pull out on his 21st birthday.

Here’s Milo in his normal clothes, proudly bringing his school classroom’s tuatara on a trip to the grocery store.

A week before our flight to the USA my back got all tight, and I spent a couple days laying on the couch hoping it would resolve itself peacefully. It didn’t, and instead developed into the same squashed-nerve pain as last year. Jenny cat appreciated the quiet day I had at home, the first time I’ve ever sent the kids to school and stayed home myself.

It was an interesting experience, staying home without the kids. Milo walked home himself at 3:00, and Naomi even got the preschool bus home at 4:15. I’ve craved alone time without the kids home for ages, but when it actually came down to it, I didn’t like it. Not that laying-on-the-couch time is that desirable…but it was a good reminder that I do like the kids and their company after all, and I should cherish the last year+ that I have Naomi home before she starts school.

A tramp with our Weatherproof Brits

“I know a really great hut, up on the Banks Peninsula, an easy walk in for kids–want to book it for a weekend with the families?” It was probably three months ago that Ian suggested the plan. This particular DOC hut is so enormously popular that it has a booking system, so you must lock in a weekend trip well in advance, and you can’t reschedule in the event of rain. Good thing we were going with the Weatherproof Brits. Come rain, hail, cloud or shine, they will cheerfully follow through with the plan.

First off, one must wear one’s best pink attire for hiking. Fashion makes for happiness.

It doesn’t matter that the pink gets covered up in red wet weather gear–it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
These totara trees aren’t flexibly blowing in the wind. They are permanently deformed, buffeted by near constant wind until only the shoots that emerge on the leeward side survive.

It was only an hour’s walk to the hut, but the blustery sky was starting to glower and spit, and it was good to duck inside–still warm from the previous residents.

The kids carried in fire wood and we stoked the pot belly stove all afternoon, watching clouds envelope the hut until it felt truly remote.

It turns out that logs make good fort building materials, and the kids contentedly set up shop. Adults drank coffee, I knitted on a hat.

I baked rolls for dinner. I like the Pittsburgh stove, a little reminder of home, and warm winter houses. I like New Zealand, really I do, but the home heating is furnaceless, mired in the dark ages of single pane windows,and uninsulated floors.. It was a treat to make a room warm enough to comfortably wear short sleeves.  The windows in the hut are better than those in our house.

Jeremiah baked ziti for dinner. Our English friends had to google ziti during our email planning to figure out what it was. “Lazy man’s lasagna,” we described it. It was yummy, again done on the Pittsburgh stove.

The composting toilet was very civilized, and didn’t smell, despite heavy usage. The only improvement I’d suggest would be to turn the window to the view side.

Bed time for Bonzo. We put the younger kids to bed in the top bunks and took out a deck of Quiddler and a bottle of beer for the evening.

Emma said we were the noisiest family she has ever shared a room with. Jeremiah snores (clearly), and apparently Naomi and Milo talk in their sleep. I slept through nearly all of it.

The stars came out during the night and the next day “dawned clear and fresh as could be, blue sky and never a cloud, with the sun dancing on the water.” Now we could fully appreciate the view from the hut windows.

A short walk into the hut means we can really go luxurious with the breakfast. Sausages and eggs with cinnamon rolls (again, complements of the wood stove).

Here’s the whole gang, ready to roll out in the morning.

A family weekend, enhanced all-round by the company of friends.

Capable kids

It’s fun when your kids are good at stuff.  I mean, I spend so much energy worrying about how my kids are BAD at stuff (manners principally) that it’s a relief to be happy about something.  Proud of something, even….though I know that their skills have little to do with my influence.

Still, I’m proud that our kids are damn good bikers.

Naomi is 3.  Three!  Plenty of her peers are wobbling around on training wheels.  She’s negotiating hills and turns for 10 kilometers of trails around McClean’s Island bike trails, out by the Waimakariri River.  Milo made it an extra 5 kilometers.  I think we’ll be doing some multi day family bike trips next summer.

I’m also proud of Milo and his rugby.

I complained bitterly (in my head) about the start of the sports era.  “I’m NOT a soccer mom!  I’m not a good cheer leader.  I don’t want every Saturday consumed with sports.  I don’t bring orange slices and granola bars to practices.  THIS IS NOT MY ZONE!”

But actually, it has not been all that bad.  I’ve met a mom that I can exchange a few pleasantries with on the side lines.  I’ve even enjoyed watching the kids run around the field.  They’re funny.  They sometimes run the wrong way.  Do you know how confusing it is to switch end zones half way through the game??

And it turns out that Milo’s good at rugby. He’s focused. He’s competitive. He’s coordinated. And at this age, that makes him good.  He won Player of the Day after one game, and Player of the Month last month.  

Go kiddo.

Chill out, Mom

The sound of heavy items being dragged over the wooden floor made a small blip on my consciousness, but no big waves.  The kids must be getting into something.  What’s new?  One thing was for sure, emerging from my warm cocoon of down bedding was not going to improve my peace of mind.  I stayed put.

Eventually little giggles were heard at my door, then the bandits broke into my sanctuary.  “Let’s jump on her feet!” Milo suggested gleefully.

“No!  DON’T get on my bed!” I commanded, kicking my feet vigorously under the covers to discourage boarders.

“Come see what we’ve done!  We’re really strong!” Milo boasted.

“Yeah, we’re really strong,” Naomi echoed.

I pulled on my pants and made the bed before leaving my room.  It sounded like it might be a while before I was finished “admiring” their handiwork.  Thankfully my door opens inwards, because the hall way was choked with dining room chairs.  I clambered over the green stuffed chair to reach the bathroom door.  The dining room table sat squarely in the kitchen, blocking the way to the kettle.  I sighed.  Then I thought of Kyla.

We define normal by what is familiar.  Not what is good by some higher standard of truth, but just what we have experienced.  That’s one of the things I find the hardest about parenting.  How do I know if I’m doing it right?  Whether I’ve been strict enough, or too lenient….the very subjectivity makes I impossible to be sure my approach is good.  The second-guessing and uncertainty is draining.  And besides, I don’t often get the chance to watch other parenting styles in action.

“Hi Molly.  Just wondering if you would like to come to ours for a playdate this arvo.”  Kyla had texted me one Thursday morning inviting Naomi over to play with her preschool friend Summer.

“Sure, we’d love to, what time suits?” I had responded.  I was interested in Kyla.  She had had her children a bit later in life than I had mine, and she genuinely seemed to enjoy them.  Before kids she had been quite athletic with tennis and biking, but seemed unembittered that those days were over.  Despite her career being put on hold with the advent of the kids, she didn’t seem to be resentful.  So different from myself.

When we arrived the girls had quickly disappeared into Summer’s bedroom, and I waited for them to emerge dressed to the nines in pink and sparkles.  Kyla and I sat sipping some tea, talking about work, our families, and what to make with minced turkey for dinner.  Faint noises could be heard from Summer’s room; no squabbling, so things must be going well.  A few gentle bumps indicated some activity or another.  “I might just go check on the girls,” Kyla murmured, tipping her ear towards the rustling.

She didn’t come back immediately.  I glanced around the living room; it was a sparsely decorated house, new and modern with neutral colors.  Not very interesting.  I decided to go see what was up.

Kyla was just gathering an empty laundry basket and a cardboard box, and heading out the back door.  I followed her around the side of the house to a giant pile of bedroom debris heaped under the open window.  Blankets and pillows, infant clothes and socks, puzzle pieces and picture books all in a giant mound.  Kyla calmly started gathering up handfuls, pushing the bigger items back through the window and scooping the smaller ones into the boxes.  I followed suit.  “Come on girls, let’s get these things picked up,” she said.  The girls just stood there and tittered, obviously revelling in the mess they’d made.

“Naomi, here!” I thrust a pillow into her arms.  “Bring that back to Summer’s room…”  “…Please.”  I added, as an afterthought.

Kyla proceeded without hurry and without any visible annoyance.  I glanced at her.  Was she on extra good mommy behavior because we were present?  Or was she genuinely not incensed that the girls had purposely emptied the entire contents of Summer’s closet out the bedroom window into the rain?  I certainly couldn’t get growly with Naomi in the presence of a saint, so I bit my tongue and in pretend calm sorted out at least 10 separate puzzles whose pieces had all been mixed.

The clean-up took the remainder of our visit time, and it was with relief that we departed to collect Milo from school.  I needed some time to think.

If Naomi and Milo had pulled that stunt at my house, they would have been told in no uncertain terms how disgusted I was with their behaviour.  Every item tossed through the window would have been confiscated, even if it meant that they slept with no pillows or blankets for the next week.  There would have been tears and gashing of teeth, because that’s what remorse for such a sinful act should entail….right?

Or did Kyla have it right?

Who was enjoying their motherhood experience more?

Kyla, obviously.

Then whose parenting technique was working better?

Perhaps I had better work on chilling out.

“How did the play date with Summer go?” Suzie asked at preschool the next day.  It’s one of the fantastic things about the little Montessori preschool the kids attend; the teachers are so good at remembering details.

“Good,” I said automatically, then my memory caught up.  “Actually,” I said, conspiratorially, “Naomi and Summer were super naughty.  They emptied every item they could reach out of Summer’s closet and dumped it through the window onto the ground outside!  They even shook the puzzles out of the boxes!”  Suzie’s eyes widened and she drew in her breath.  Gemma paused to get an earful of the juicy story.  “Kyla didn’t even bat an eye!” I continued, betraying the debate that had been fermenting in my mind.  “She just calmly gathered up all the stuff into boxes!  If Naomi had done that at MY house I’d have been LIVID!  I would have said “NAOMI!” “  I smacked my palms together, indicating vindictive action.  Then I asked the snoopy question that had been on my mind: “Is Kyla really that chill?”

“Kyla is the most chilled out person I know,” Suzie admitted.  “But don’t feel bad, I would have been as angry as you.”  That’s some consolation, I thought.  Suzie is still a good preschool teacher.

“Yes, we can’t be who we aren’t,” Gemma added.  Not such good consolation.  We all have room for improvement.  We can reframe our “normal.”  Maybe my normal should be more relaxed, slower to anger, quicker to see the humor in a situation.  Maybe I’d be happier that way.

“Thanks for the idea of turkey pumpkin soup.  It was delicious.  Kids loved it J” Kyla texted later that evening.

“Yay, good for you!” I texted back.  “Thanks for having us over today, and I’m sorry for the naughtiness the girls got into.  That was likely a Naomi move.”

“No worries at all.  They are just being kids.  Pretty funny.  Totally should have taken a photo J”

Yeah…I need to chill out.

So this morning when faced with a tangle of chairs baring my way to the toilet and the teapot, do you know what I did?  I chilled out.

“That’s quite a project you’ve been doing, Milo,” I observed.  “Why are the chairs in the hallway?”

“We wanted the dining room to be empty so we could play round and round,” he informed me.

“Well, did you find that missing game piece under the rug when you moved it?” I asked, hopefully.

“What game piece?” Milo said.  “We were really strong to move all that stuff, weren’t we?”

“Yes, you sure were,” I agreed.  “While the floor is clear maybe I’ll vacuum, and we could take the opportunity to rearrange the furniture.  But we have to do it before you go to school.”

“Alright, the chairs feel even easier to move on the way back because I’m getting stronger!” Milo announced, all confidence.

The chairs, tables and rugs were moved back with no tears. No gnashing of teeth.  No punishments.  I still got a cup of tea, and I never sit down to eat my breakfast anyway.  Maybe there’s something in this chilled out thing after all.

The world keeps turning, turning

School holidays have once again come and gone. I coped better this time. Other moms talk about the relaxation of the school holidays, a break from the scheduled life, contented home days….it all sounds so nice. Except that it doesn’t work for Milo. And what doesn’t work for Milo won’t work for me either. You see, a bored Milo very quickly becomes an incredibly naughty Milo. And a mother beset by a tyrannically rude six year old quickly reaches the end of her tether. This time I made a plan for every day that he and I were home together. We were lucky that the weather cooperated, so our plans involved some nice outtings.

This was our Hagley Park day, with friend Stella (and her little sister Nina). The leaves were perfect, sun dappled and dry.  The girls hatched out of their egg nest repeatedly.

Japanese maple, in fall glory. I once when I was in college I sent a pressed Japanese maple leaf to my grandmother, and she wrote back wondering if I had sent her a marijuana leaf. The subsequent letter included both a maple leaf and a marijuana leaf (it doesn’t take much figuring to guess which classmates to ask for said leaf). I still giggle every time I admire these frilly maples.

Naomi and Stella tucked themselves away in the tree crevice to hide. The botanical garden has some great specimens.

We basically spent the whole day roving from one climbing tree to the next, occasionally adding to our collection of pretty feathers and leaves and petals while stopping frequently to eat peanut-butter-honey sandwiches.
As we were heading at last to our car we passed an elderly couple strolling along. “Four?” the old lady asked. “Yes, but two are mine and two belong to a friend,” I responded. “Oh, that’s easy,” she gloated. “I had five.” I smiled and nodded, but inwardly fumed. What was that snide comment meant to accomplish? Does it make her feel more respected to make me feel less so?

One day we met friends down at the water-side walk near Govenor’s Bay. Low tide exposed the rocks, and Milo turned those rocks to expose hundreds of little crabs. Imagine the six-year-old’s joy in terrorizing the hapless critters, listening to their frantic scuttling to safety every time he lifted off their roof.

I’m sure we have posted a picture of this rock before, an ancient specimen from the time that the Lyttelton harbor was the center of an active volcano.

We splurged on treats from She Chocolate after our walk, always a nice ending to the morning. The only problem is that it leaves an electronic banking trail betraying to Jeremiah that we’ve been having decadent sweets.

We did get a tour of Daddy’s office recently, and learned that he has a machine that can make him hot chocolates or barista coffees any time he wants at the touch of a button. There are some perks to being an engineer, apparently.

Naomi and I crowned the holiday with a trip to the cushion theater (Oz was playing). Milo was a bit sad to miss out on the theater trip, but he was busy earning player of the day at his ripper rugby match, which brought him great satisfaction as well.

Actually, the real crowning of the holiday was the last rainy Sunday afternoon where I set the kids up with paper mache on the bit of lino that we keep under our dining table, then left to do a bit of shopping.  When I came back the lino had been rinsed but the carpet around it bore loads of gluey flour footprints.  I knew I should have waited for an outside day to do paper mache.  The kids were sent to a much needed early bed.

The gender divide

“The girls did a play today,” Milo said, wrinkling his nose. “They put on dresses and twirled and called everyone over to see. The second time only the girls came.”
“You could watch and clap and tell them they’re pretty,” I suggested, thinking I had a teachable moment for future relationships.
“When girls do a show, they don’t actually DO anything. They just get up there and talk. It’s SOOO boring!”
Girls think that “just talking” is the stuff of life. Boys think talking is purely a means accomplish something tangible. It’s an unbridgeable gulf, it seems.

“Come give me a kiss, I’m going to work!” Jeremiah called out, donning his jacket.

Naomi: “Why?”  Yup, she’s into the WHY phase these days.

Dad: “To earn money.”

Naomi: “I’m going to earn money.”

Dad, amused: “Oh yes, what are you going to do to earn money?”

Naomi:  “Mommy work.”

For a split second my brain makes a wry commentary about the lousy pay rate of “mommy work,” but swallowed it.  Instead I ask her:  “What is mommy work?”

Naomi:  “With plants.  And Milo can do daddy work, designing bridges.”

It’s interesting.  At three years old she has already decided that there are “girl jobs” and “boy jobs,” based on what she sees grownups doing.  Why this propensity to split the world into male/female??  And she’s happy to be a girl!  And do “girl jobs”!

The days of our lives

Our lives consist 99% of ordinary stuff, the unexciting tasks of mundane life.  Occasionally there’s enough humor in an exchange to prompt a giggle, a tiny tidbit of normality that’s worth celebrating.  Below is a random collection of a few recent ones.

“Mom, can you cut my nails? It hurts when I put my finger in my nose.”
The request comes from the back of the car on our way home from preschool. I guess she’s been doing some nose excavations while at school….

Jeremiah and I were brewing a batch of beer Saturday morning when the kids came out asking for lunch. “Right, I’ll get you a sandwich in a minute,” I promised, as I checked the pH of the cooling wort. I must have said “just a minute” a few times before they disappeared, prancing back with fully laden plates, pleased as punch with their independence (and their chocolate cookies).

Here’s one of the many forts Milo’s building these days. Hurray for removable couch cushions–they’re the main structural element for most of the creations. “You know, when I was your age, I used to LOVE building forts too,” I told Milo. “Were you good at it?” he wanted to know. “Yes, I was good at it.” I don’t objectively remember how good at it I was, of course, but that’s besides the point. Milo seems to think that daddy’s good at building things and mommy’s not, an unfair judgement which I’m doing my best to shift.

It’s the fate of the second born, to be always one step behind the older sibling in doing new stuff.  The advantage (though she doesn’t know it yet) is that nothing is REALLY new.  She’ll have been going to this massive classroom filled with 70 rapidly moving red bodies for two years before it’s her turn to don the uniform.  

Why did the pre-schooler cross the road?

Attention Milo’s mum, your pre-schooler is at the school crossing.”  The loudspeaker cut through a bike repair conversation with a New Entrant teacher.

“Oh, that’s me!” I exclaimed guiltily, rudely ending the chat about bent sprockets and setting off at a trot towards the school gate.

To tell the truth, I was too busy talking to even hear the announcement—the other New Entrant teacher had to repeat the message.

I peeked over the fence and saw Naomi standing with the principal on the OTHER side of the road crossing.  Highway 76.  Whoops, Parenting Blunder 101.

“Thanks, Mr. Topham!” I said, as I took Naomi by the shoulder and pulled her aside.  “Remember, you can NOT leave the school gates without Mommy,” I reminded her, strategically loud enough for the principal to hear.  To tell the truth, I’m not sure I had ever thought to tell her that before.  I had been lackadaisically searching for her though the year 1 and year zero classrooms before the announcement, realizing that she had done a runner but thinking she was probably playing with some cool toy in a nook somewhere.  Or maybe out waiting at the school crossing, since my subconscious realized that she was bold enough to do that, but every other time that she has beaten me to the crossing she has waited on the school side….

Mr. Topham (the principal) was gracious, but goodness knows what he was actually thinking.  These American parents, don’t they teach their kids road safety?”  or perhaps “These mothers spend so much time jabbering that they don’t even keep an eye on their kids.” 

I have, however, been working on bike safety on the way to the library. Do I earn bonus points for that?

Naomi’s latest social development is play dates–both hosting and being invited. They’re entirely more peaceful affairs than Milo’s play dates; no wrestling, no racing. The biggest controversy is over who wears the pink dress-up. I left Naomi at her friends’ house for two hours one afternoon, while I worked cozily on the computer and sipped a coffee. I used to have interludes of quiet like that EVERY DAY while Milo napped. It really is true that you don’t know how good something is until you lose it.

Every night Naomi tucks Nina and Scarlett into the safe wall-half of her bed, while she sleeps precariously on the outer half. Strangely Milo, who has never been very affectionate to his stuffed animals, has started to copy her.

Gardening is a patience-testing activity for a child. Just a week after Milo planted his lovingly-watered carrot transplant he was asking if it was ready to pick. Thankfully, he soon forgot about its existence until this week, and it really WAS ready to pick. There’s a very proud gardener.