Heads up, Parenting Required

I don’t normally think to check the browser history, but this particular afternoon when I sat down to the laptop, there was a Google ad that made me curious what the person before me had been reading.  And Jeremiah was away on a work trip.

Milo’s internet history 8th April, 2021.   

First I laughed—my son has inherited my bad spelling, and apparently he couldn’t figure out how to spell “vagina.”  I’m sure that “virginia” was disappointing, and v-gina was probably puzzlingly devoid of the detail he wanted. 

Second, I realized that we’ve been launched into puberty, unawares.  At 10, Milo is barely taller than his 7 year old sister, but his mind must be where all 10 year olds eventually wander. 

Third, I reflected that I needed help.  Clearly Milo was curious about sex, and I’m all for supporting curiosity, but I want him to bring those questions to ME, not to Google.  He understands the basic mechanics of baby-making; we’ve been watching nature videos since he was a tyke.  Last year was the first sex ed unit at school, but his only real comment when queried about the class was to wrinkle his nose in disgust: “You guys had to do that twice!” We just nodded.  I didn’t feel ready to explain that in humans, the number one function of sex is not baby-making.

So I did what I always do when I need to decide a course of action.  I queried various groups of friends and relatives whose kids are a bit older than mine. 

First I emailed my Aunt and Uncle whose two boys are now young adults, and whose Christmas letter of many years ago had included a memorable episode about the oldest boy’s education on the subject of baby-making.  They suggested two books both by Robie Harris, the first of which is titled “It’s So Amazing,” followed by “It’s Perfectly Normal.”  They are matter-of-fact, colourfully cartoon-illustrated books with cheerful pun-loving characters.  Not available at our library, but available through Amazon. 

Second, I talked with an American friend who works with Jeremiah, and whose kids I think have “turned out” well.  The husband actually said that his wife had handled basically all of those conversations, and that he’d lend us their books.  The books that came home with Jeremiah the next day were the Robie Harris ones that I had been looking for, which was quite handy. 

I previewed them myself one evening, then presented them to Milo.  To my surprise he squirmed in embarrassment.  I thought he’d devour the books, but instead he just blushes and goes quiet.  Clearly he’s curious, but somehow he thinks he shouldn’t be. 

I decided I should normalize talking about body and body changes so I started to be chatty on the subject, inviting questions and comments.  Milo hit his balls accidentally while playing in the garden and was writhing around in pain, so I took the opportunity to talk about gonads.  It wasn’t much comfort to him to learn that his testicles aren’t even making sperm yet, in contrast to Naomi who has all the eggs she’s ever going to need already tucked away inside, waiting until puberty to finish their development.  Naomi, swinging on the ropeswing, was listening intently and piped up “But I’ve already pooped about a thousand times!”  “Pooperty” has become our standing family joke. 

In the end the only conversation that I was able to elicit was with Naomi.  For her part, she has realized that Milo feels squeamish about the subject and has taken it up as ammunition, declaring “I have a uterus!” in a loud voice whenever she feels she needs a one-up on her brother, who then turns red and disappears into his room. 

My other Great Source of Knowledge is my Tuesday night craft group ladies.  With a simple question I can survey the opinions of half a dozen women, their husbands, children, grandparents, friends, and distant connections.  The hostess has two boys, roughly 11 and 12 years old, and she told me about a series of podcasts that they listened to with each boy when they turned 10.  The format they used is to buckle father and son in the car, drive an hour south to Ashburton, then turn around and drive back.  The podcast series lasts for 2 hours, and the drive is timed to complete them all in one go.  It’s a series done by The Parenting Place called Big Weekend.

I love a good podcast, and these ones are really well done.  Part one has topics ranging from self esteem to forgiveness, while part two has topics about sex and body changes, each one a discussion between the two cheerful and surprisingly wise hosts that last 5-10 minutes, followed by one question for the adult and one for the kid.  I feel like taking notes, they’re that good.  Milo and I can sit and draw at the kitchen table while we listen to them, and I can tell he’s listening though he’s not very talkative.  The main limiting factor is I don’t have much time with just Milo (not Naomi), so we aren’t all the way through them yet. 

So now, we’re officially launched into “pooperty,” a new phase of life for parents and kids alike.  Milo has changed our names on the Netflix login to Poo 1- Poo 4, because……well, because poo is so terribly amusing for pre-teens. “Pooperty,” after all, seems a surprisingly accurate name for the phase of life we’re now entering.

Education for Life

Milo’s year 6 class is learning a practical life skill: managing personal finances.

The classroom economy works like this: Each student automatically gets $150 “classroom bucks” at the beginning of the week (nice classroom society, eh?).  They can earn $100-150 more by doing classroom jobs.  Good behavior at various points during the day is worth $1 per incident.  Good behaviors include tidying up, being “sensible” during silent reading time “showing 5” (all 5 senses at attention) when sitting on the mat, and demonstrating good values (care, resilience, respect, honesty).  Like I said, it’s the idealized classroom microcosm; I have yet to see good behavior lead to monetary reward in the real world.  Wifi, internet, furniture rental, and electricity are overhead expenses, costing $85/week.

Excess classroom bucks are mainly used to purchase free time or screen time, valuable commodities among the year 5/6 block.

They have even been doing job interviews for the various jobs in the classroom, some of which are worth more classroom bucks than others.  Putting chairs up and taken down, charging computers, cleaning out the cubbies…  There’s a CEO for each classroom service business, who get paid more for, in Milo’s words, “doing the exact same thing.”  If there’s an extra organisational component to the CEO job, the lowly worker Milo is unaware of it. 

He thinks he’s too cool these days to smile for a photo.

We were in the car the other day when Milo commented “I think Jack might get the job instead of me, but that’s not fair.”  I was aware that he was talking about his classroom economy, but I needed a bit more explanation.  He continued, “His friends are the ones doing the hiring, and he exaggerated on his job application.” 

I hesitated for a moment.  “That doesn’t feel very fair, does it?  You’d like to think that the best qualified applicant would get the job….but let me tell you something (here I adopted the deep measured baritone my own father used with me all those decades ago): The World is NOT Fair!”  

Mentally I added the “Princess Bride extension:” ….and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something! 

I continued my sermon: “In real life, having friends in a company does help you get a job, and apparently everyone exaggerates their skills on applications.”  I sat glumly for a moment, wondering what inspired pearl of wisdom I could impart to my son. 

Nothing came to mind.  I just shook my head, reflecting on my own frustrating job search. “It’s worth maintaining good relationships, isn’t it?” 

A week or two later Milo returned to the classroom economy.  “I’m the only one doing the chair putting-down in the mornings, because I’ve done the whole job by the time the others show up.” 

“Oh yeah? Do the others still getting paid for the job?” I queried.  It’s not easy to fire employees in New Zealand, and I wondered how the classroom economy would treat shirkers. 

“Yeah, they get paid less, but they’re still paid, because they still do the afternoon chair picking-up.” 

Turns out Milo gets $150/week in recognition of him doing the morning job on his own plus joining in the afternoon shift, and the other team members get $100/week for doing just the afternoon shift.  At the moment Milo seems content to get only $50 for the morning job, which would normally cost a CEO several hundreds of dollars in labour.  I’m curious what will happen in the classroom economy if Milo decides to be less industrious. I did not suggest this, as tempting as it was.

I’ve been trying to instate a household economy, with admittedly less success than the school’s. They earn a pompom to put in a join “account” jar whenever they do a job without having to be asked (brush teeth, empty dishwasher, take out compost, etc). In this economy, when the pompom jar is full, we go out for a family treat. Naomi is the motivated one. Despite the reward being a cafe treat which they are both clearly excited to enjoy, Naomi earns 90% of the pompoms in the jar. Not sure if this means that she’s highly food motivated, or more agreeable…..probably both.

On Aging…

I’ve finally left age 38 behind, good riddance.  2020 was hardly in the running to be anyone’s favorite year.  Now I’m 39.  A much more pleasing number, but we all know what looms next. 

As I’ve been pondering aging, there have been a few incidences that pull my self-image one way or the other….aside from the obvious mirror, which shows my first grey hair and the deepening furrows between my brows (stop frowning, Molly!). 

Old #1: Milo turned 10 last week. 

In his typical ultra-confidence stance, he’s calling himself a “pre-adult.”  Whatever.  We all know he’s only half way to adulthood, at the most.  But still, he’s a decade old, and no one would term me a “young mother” anymore.

Young #1:  We went to Jellie Park, a Christchurch Council swimming pool, one recent hot day before school started.  So did half the moms and kids in Christchurch. 

I’ve never seen a public swimming place in NZ this busy before.

We all wore our swim suits to the pool to avoid the changing rooms, me in my new pink-lined speedo which recently replaced my old sagging togs.  I staked out a section of grass by spreading out our towels, and went to swim a couple laps while the kids did the hydroslides.  Milo gets cold easily, and I found him back on the towels warming in the sun.  He glanced up at me in surprise as I plunked myself down next to him. “Oh, I thought you were some teenager,” he exclaimed.  Having spent the morning in close observation of body types of all ages, I’ll take that as a compliment. 

Old#2: I recently hiked to Lake Morgan on the west coast, and my quads were sore for a week afterwards.  Either I’m less fit than I used to be, or my body’s recovery time is increasing with old age….or both. 

I went with two friends, Carrie and Julia, who are both experienced trampers.
Mt O’Shanessy is marked on the map at 1462; not that high, objectively, even when considering that we were starting from only 200m above sea level. Carrie looked at trip reports from Remote Huts and DOC, and we estimated that the route would take us 6ish hours on the first day (pink line) and maybe a bit longer on the second day (yellow line).
We forgot that our experience is mostly with relatively “well-formed” tracks, not a luxury that the west coast enjoys much of. In typical rugged west coast style, the rough track went straight up the hill, and we were careful to always be on the lookout for the elusive markers.
Once above the tree line the markers disappeared, but visibility was excellent across the grassy alpine zone. The tops travel wasn’t as effortless as it sometimes is, and we were relieved to catch a glimpse of the hut on our way up Mt O’Shanessy.
We quickly scuttled the plan of getting all the way to Cone Creek the first day, and enjoyed the warm late evening light at Lake Morgan hut while we ate dinner.
Next day we set out at 7:00, made our way up and over into the next catchment (this view is looking backwards to Mt O’Shanessy).
I took a few opportunities to rest my legs while trying to get an up close picture of the sundews. I don’t seem them catching many insects.
This view is looking back up towards the ridge we just crossed. The cairn is marking the start of a cut trail through the bush; Lake Morgan is on the other side of the ridge under the cloud.
Then down, down, DOWN a long steep unstable scree shoot to Cone Creek Hut. I had been looking forward to a friendly loose slide, but instead we got a quad-burning skittery descent through angular schist. 

Fun fact: “greywackle” is the grey sedimentary sandstone I’m familiar with from much of the southern alps.  When it is deeply buried and heated, greywacke is converted to a flaky rock called schist. The western side of the alps has been uplifted more than the east, so the deeper layers that contain schist are revealed there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trudging out through spectacular forest whose floor was made up of large boulders (up, down, up, down!), along with some kilometers of river travel, finishing around 5:30.

“My legs aren’t too bad,” I stated, optimistically massaging my quads.  “It’s the down that gets me.”  Even as I said it, I remember my grandparents saying the same thing, a fact that as I child I found frankly implausible. 

Young#2:  One day recently I was rounding the corner to meet the kids on their way home from school. 

I reached out to give Naomi a hug and she punched her head into my stomach with some force.

“Hey, careful with your old mazzer!” I protested.  “You’re not old!” Naomi rejoined, exercising her appreciation for precision and love of contradiction at the same time.  

“Thanks, hun.”

Old#3:  Milo was reading his library book when he picked his head up and fired out what seemed like a random question:

“What’s a phonebook?” I paused, speechless for a moment, visions of the ubiquitous sagging yellow and white volumes that used to live in every home next to the….landline….which, come to think of it, have gone extinct in most homes nowadays.

“Back when I was a kid—in the days before the internet, and before we all had cell phones—we used to have a book that you could use to look up people’s phone numbers by their last name.”  Describing it that way, the phone book days seemed very very long ago.

“Could you tear on in half?” he asked, and suddenly I understood the context of the question in relation to the comic book.  “No, not me, they were massive.” 

Young #3:  Actually, I can’t think of one.  I suppose that puts me squarely in the middle of old and young.  Embrace middle-age, baby!

If my teacher was a witch….

I picked up a flier at work a while back advertising a writing competition for kids.  A local author was launching a book on Halloween had organized it, and we handed it to Milo one evening.

“A competition….what would I get if I win?” he asked.  He’s Mr. Competitive.  You’d never get him writing a story just for the fun of it, but if given a challenge, he might rise to it….if the incentive was strong enough.

We read the flier more thoroughly.  “You’d get a book, and a book for your school library,” Jeremiah informed him.

“Hum,” he shrugged.

“I’d buy you pizza if you won,” Jeremiah offered.

“And I’d buy you ice cream,” I countered.

We both figured the chances were remote.

He perked up.  He likes pizza and ice cream.  He got several big pieces of scrap paper, folded them in half, stapled them like a book, and got to work.  For the next several afternoons he worked.  It’s amazing what incentives will do.

When he was finished Jeremiah suggested that he could type it.  He was surprisingly keen, and laboriously got to work.  A page in I offered to transcribe if he dictated, and that same evening he sent a Google Doc link to the author.  Such a Gen Z.

Here’s the story he produced (imagine colorful formatting added):

If my teacher was a witch

By Milo Shaw.

I was walking to school when I saw my best friend william. when we got to school I found a broomstick and a cauldron next to it and there were foot steps that lead to a cat. On Mrs Adams’ desk i saw lots of potions I reminded william that we had a reliever today. I took a piece of paper and drew a picture of the broomstick, the cauldron, and the cat. 

“I think that our reliever is a witch,” I said. 

“A WITCH!” shouted william. “I hate witches!” said william.

“What was that you said, Mr william?” said the witch. 

“um, no ma’am. I said that witches are cool, not ugly or anything like that,” said William.

“So are you the reliever?” I asked.

“Yes, I am,” said the witch. “We are going to learn how to make potions.”

I had one more look around the  room to see if there was anything else different about the room today.  “Hey, look at the witch’s evil grin on her face,” I said to William. “I saw a bottle of  frogs on a shelf.” 

SHE’S GONNA TURN US INTO FROGS!!!”  said William.

set off to work.

When I was trying to catch them I remembered something that my dad told me.  He said “If you ever meet a witch, use its spells against them.” Ok, I will.  And then I quickly snatched the witch’s wand.

“No, you thief!” said the witch.  “Why should I have ever trusted you?  Please don’t curse me with bad luck forever.”

“Ok,” I said, “but you have to put my friends back to normal.”  “What was that you said, little boy?” and she turned him into a frog.  Then she turned everybody else except me into frogs.  

“I wonder what she’s going to do with me,” I thought.

“Hey you, with the brown hair,” she said.  

“Me?” I said.

“Yes you, come over here.”

“Um, ok,” I said.

“Would you like to be my assistant?” said the witch.

“Oh yes, please! What are we going to do next?” I asked. “Make a potion to heal my dad?”  

“Yes, yes we are, you read my mind,” said the witch.

“So what do we need?”

“Lots of frogs,” said the witch.  “Catch all of them!”

“But those are my friends,” I said.  

“It doesn’t matter about them,” said the witch.

“Ok,” and I set off to work.  When I was trying to catch them I remembered something my dad told me.  He said if you ever meet a witch, use its spells against them. Ok, I will!  Then I quickly snatched the witch’s wand.

“No, you thief!” said the witch.  “Why should I have ever trusted you?  Please don’t curse me with bad luck forever.”

“Ok,” I said, “but you have to put my friends back to normal.” 

And with that she clicked her fingers, and my friends were back.  

Just then the principal walked in and said, “Oh my word, how did I not come here first.”  He got his phone out and dialed 911. Two minutes later the cops came and arrested the witch, but no one knew that the witch had an extra wand.  With that, she turned the whole world into a giant frog. It kept moving, so when I fired the wand, the frog would move, so it hit something else and made that a frog.  One hour later the cops finally caught the witch and got her into prison so that she could not get her wand, because she accidentally left it in the car.  

The End. 

The writing was due 25th October, and he was immediately keen to hear if he had won or not.  He is an optimist, his father’s son!

It wasn’t too many days later that the momentous email came–he HAD won in his age category.

Milo: “I was surprised that I writted four pages,” he reported.  “I like writing.”

The competition was a book launch for the author, so she came to the school to present her new books to Milo and to the school library.  Quite a proud moment for an 8 year old.  He was chuffed!

Turns out the publicity of winning a writing competition–the author visiting one’s classroom–was almost as good as the pizza and ice cream. Almost.

 

 

Sometimes you’re the windscreen; sometimes you are the bug.

“Sometimes you’re the windscreen.  Sometimes you are the bug.”

I contemplated the truth in that old Dire Straits refrain as we drove back to Christchurch Sunday night after a weekend trip in the back country.

I knew which one I felt like.

In the back of my mind I knew I was being melodramatic, but why, oh WHY, did trips with the family always seem like such hard yakka?  And how could I change that for next time?

There’s a three day weekend in October to celebrate Labour Day.  [That’s right, this story is a month old already.]  Since it had been a while since we took the family on a hike, we decided it’d be good to go on a family adventure together.  We weren’t very proactive with plans, for various reasons, and the very week of the holiday found us still looking through maps and bouncing ideas around.

Part of the problem with weekend plans is that we all have very different ideas of what constitutes a good weekend.  The kids want to watch cartoons in the morning, see their friends all day, possibly at a playground or a skate park, and eat lots of candy.  Mom and Dad want to adventure in the back country, climb some hills, work up a sweat.  Mom wants a break from cooking, Dad wants to eat meat; Mom wants to make impromptu plans, Dad wants careful planning and execution.

West coast weather wasn’t looking too promising, and we wanted to limit our driving time, so we chose a trip out the back of Hanmer, at one end of the St James cycleway.

Jeremiah got the gate combination from DOC, and we decided to drive in as far as the Rav4 would go, then bike the rest of the way to the hut.

Turns out the car made it all the way to the hut, which was already occupied by teenage boys, but the weather was nice and we set up tents in the grassy paddock nearby.

“What do you want to do this afternoon?” I queried Jeremiah.

“Let’s bike up over the saddle to the Waiau River,” he suggested.  I looked at the hill.  The kids would most definitely be walking their bikes, but maybe that would be ok….I hoped. [this photo isn’t of the pass, just the cool bridge that crosses the river before the pass]

Turns out it wasn’t ok.  Not only did they NOT ride their bikes, but they whinged and carried on, even when I walked their bikes for them.

So we left their bikes by the side of the road, caught up with Dad, and told him we needed a change of plans.

We walked a little bit up a ridge line, but first one, then the other decided that walking up hill wasn’t for them.

We left them to stew in their whiney attitudes and eat the rest of the candy in their bags while we walked up a little higher.

Then we turned around and walked back down.

Back at camp we decided a foray to the local hot pools was in order.  Natural hot pools aren’t usually the vision of paradise on earth that one might dream of, what with the bacterial slime, the sulphury smell, and the sand flies, but this particular set of pools was about as good as they get.  People have built up the edges around the hot spring seep, so the water is contained and lots of people can fit in the deepened pool.  Sand flies can’t swim, we told the kids, put your shoulders in the water—but not your face or ears, or you might catch a protozoa that swims to your brain and makes you DIE.

Kids don’t mind muck, or the threat of brain parasites, so they quite liked the pools.

Jeremiah’s not much of a hot spring fan, so he cooked sausages, which we ate while reclining in the water.  Not a bad way to end a day.

“Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger, baby; sometimes you are the ball.”

Yep, that evening we were the slugger.

During the night the Norwest picked up, rattling the tents and putting boundaries on the plans for the next day.  Until you’ve experienced a New Zealand wind you might not appreciate how much of a show stopper it can be.  We hunkered in the shelter between the two tents for breakfast and thought about strategy.  No exposed hill walks for us.

We decided to go for a leisurely valley walk, Jeremiah with his gun and binoculars, kids with an eye for rabbit highways.

In the end that part was brilliant—we found rabbit highways, state roads, back lanes, condominiums, porches, porticos, and no shortage of rabbit toilets.  The kids were amused imagining the bunny dramas, while Jeremiah scanned the hillsides for bigger game.

Back at camp for lunch, we took stock.  The wind was, if anything, increasing, and the clouds were starting to look suspicious.  We decided to break camp, hit the hot pools one more time, and head home that evening.

On our drive out we were passing the best 7 km stretch of the whole St James cycleway.  Cognisant that we were ending the “biking weekend” without doing much biking, I suggested that we drive to the hilltop, park, and bike down the easy grade decent to the homestead.  My memory of that stretch was a sweet hardly-push-a-pedal glide with a smooth surface and effortless speed, just the kind of ride kids would like.  I’d have to bike back up to get the car, but that seemed a small task.

The catch was that the westerly had really turned into a gale.  We parked the car and felt it rock in the wind.  “You really want to bike with the kids in this weather?” Jeremiah queried.  Yes, I wanted to.  “I’ll just run back up, it’ll be easier than biking in this wind,” I offered.

Near the trail start the track turned sideways down a hill, so the wind was at our elbow, and at the same time there was a slight up-hill grade.  Naomi slowed to a stop and the whinge started.  Milo and I plowed along, laughing at the gusts, but Naomi wasn’t restarting.  I left my bike and jogged back.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea to bike with the kids in this weather,” Jeremiah posited.

“The wind’s at our back, it’s all downhill, and we have rain gear—how freaking easy can it get?! Let’s go!” I commanded.  So we went.  Whenever we got to the slightest incline, I heard Milo behind me moaning about the hill.  Naomi basically checked out and coasted the whole way, underneath her waterproof hood I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying it or not, but I thought it wise not to stop her and find out.  We reached the bottom, I parked my bike with the food basket, and turned around to run back into the wind.  After 10 minutes I glanced over my shoulder to see if I was making any headway, and there was a full arched rainbow stretching over the valley, through the flinging raindrops.

“Sometimes it all comes together, baby; Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all!”

 

Revelatory night’s sleep

I stood at the kitchen counter and the unfamiliar suggestions crept into my conscience.  “Whole wheat waffles might be nice this morning.”  I opened the flour cupboard…. “cinnamon roles, haven’t made those in a while….or a nice loaf of oatmeal bread?”  I paused, reflecting.  I haven’t felt like cooking or baking in years.  Was I carb starved?

I looked at the forecast.  Nice and warm and overcast until afternoon rain comes in.  “Hum, I could take the kids walking at the quarry….we have some beautiful white rocks we could paint first, then we could hide them for other kids to find….that would require sharing my new paint pens, and potential mess control….that could be fun.”

What?!  My new unwashable paint pens in the kids’ hands?  Am I going crazy?

Maybe not.  This is how I used to be.  Energetic.  Project-oriented.

The night before I was bushed.  I put the kids to bed at 7:00, then went back out into the garden to attack the bed I’d started earlier, but I could barely keep my eyes open.  It was only 8:00, but I called it a night, took a shower, closed the curtains against the still-bright sky, and crawled into bed.  Two minutes later I reached for my phone, thinking that with a quiet house I should at least read a chapter of my book….but gave it up after 10 minutes, squirted nasal decongestant up my sinuses (I’ve had a stinking cold all week), and turned out the light.

The next morning I stirred and looked at my watch.  6:00.  I turned over; a luxury of a Sunday morning is that I don’t have to get up early.  But I didn’t sleep again.  I wasn’t tired.  It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. yet, on a Sunday morning, and I got up, made a pot of tea, emptied the dish washer, then started on the strangely energetic thoughts.

Revelation:  At 37, maybe I’m not old.  Maybe I’m just chronically tired.

In the end, we did the rock painting. I’m fascinated by eyes. Naomi loves color. Milo came to the game late.

And we did the Halswell quarry walk as well. Here’s lookin’ at ya!

Grr! Not sure why the aggressive pose, but she did just place her pink for to be found by the next lucky passer-by.

School holidays

School holidays roll around remarkably quickly–the kids have 2 weeks off at the end of every 10 week term.  I take some days off of work, I trade kids with friends (I have theirs when I’m home, they have mine when I’m working), and we send the kids to some holiday programs.  It’s always a bit of a juggle, but this time it was enjoyable too.  On days that I’m home we step out of the normal routine and see friends that aren’t in our regular school-time loops anymore–friends from preschool and family friends.

One day we went into the Hagley Park and met Naomi’s friend from preschool.

Another day we met some family friends at Halswell Quarry. There are lots of painted rocks hidden around public parks in Christchurch–“Chch rocks.” They are for finding and rehiding for the next kid to discover, and Milo got right into the game.

One day we went into the new city centre library, multiple stories of books, kid activities, and cool architecture. We happened upon a free workshop on making rope from cabbage tree leaves, and Milo went a bit fanatical that afternoon, twisting a rope that reached almost around the house.

Another day we went into the big city centre playground. “I’m bored,” Milo whined, “can you buy me a slushy?”
What?! Kids can be simply soul-destroying. “I’ve taken you to the Biggest Playground in the Southern Hemisphere (as they say), AND brought along a friend for you. Your boredom is NOT my problem.”

That afternoon we came home and had a couple hours of intensive drawing–that’s my style school holiday!

Naomi has been counting down the days until her birthday for a few weeks, and the long-awaited event was the culmination of the holidays. Here we are making her cake–marshmallow cake, as requested.

Naomi chose ice skating for her birthday party this year, a fortunate choice since the weather that particular day was rather rainy. She’d never been skating before, but she loved it.

And she liked her cake–essentially chocolate covered candy, what’s not to love?

We got her rollerblades for her birthday. She’d been asking for them consistently for some months now. I was a little bit worried that she’d take one fall and decide they weren’t for her, but she stayed in them for almost the whole day. I’m looking forward to hours of happy skating in our future.

Today was our last casual morning, making Sunday pancakes with Dad. Tomorrow the routine returns.

Winter blue skies

Broom and gorse are invasive species in New Zealand, so I know I’m supposed to despise them. But I can’t help but admire the brilliant egg-yolk-yellow flowers against the saturated blue winter sky, so blue that it feels alien.

I was biking the Kennedy’s bush track to the summit road on the last official weekend of winter.  The flowers give off a heavy scent, warm and musty-fruity; they SMELL as yellow as they look.  I remembered the first time I saw broom, in Argentina; masses of yellow flowers with red highlights.  I don’t suppose introducing that crimson genetic variation in the New Zealand population would be a popular move….

“Here, I’ll get up.”  The man move stiffly as he vacated the style steps, and I hefted my bike up and over.

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” I inquired.  The face and cultured accent triggered a memory of a conversation at the style on top of Kennedy’s track from months before.

“A long while ago I used to bike up here.”

“Ah, I used to run up here, and now I bike.  I guess it’s the age progression.”  I laughed, ruefully, remembering the former days when I had trotted agilely up and down this track, training for a marathon.

“Yes,” he chuckled, “and now I’m sitting here, getting up the energy to walk back down.”

“Down’s easier than up; you’ve got gravity on your side,” I countered, cheerfully.

“Yes, and I have rather too much help from gravity these days.” He patted his ample stomach.

I continued along my route.  It wasn’t early, but almost no one else was out.  I had the Flying Nun trail to myself, and feeling bolder than normal, I swooped around the cobbled corners and even tried a tiny jump or two.  With no one riding my tail, I felt zippy all the way down the Loess Rider trail through the forest in the Adventure Park.  “Maybe I’m finding my groove,” I said to Jeremiah later.  “Or perhaps I’m just getting over confident and am cruising for a big fall.”

“That’s what a negative person might think,” Jeremiah retorted.

Oh well, maybe so; I think that all the same, I’ll still enjoy riding.

The next day was Father’s Day, and Jeremiah’s choice of activity was to take the kids on a mountain bike ride.  I pondered the difference between my perspective on Mother’s Day, when I wanted a BREAK from being a mother.  “It’s called not called ‘Mothers’ and Children’s day,’ after all,” one of my friends had quipped.

But Jeremiah is made of different material, it seems, and he wanted to spend the day with the family.

The kids really haven’t been excited about biking since our Christmas trip last year, a 5 day ride on the Otago Rail Trail.  In face, they’ve been on what amounts to a bicycle strike.  When Jeremiah announced the plans for the day, they moaned and grizzled.

They only started to resign themselves to the idea of a bike ride when I let them pack their candy treats for the outing.

They bickered all the way there in the car, but surprisingly, when we launched down the gravel trail at Bottle Lake Forest, they were cheerful.

And stayed that way for the duration of the trip!

Maybe the hills were easier, because their legs were a year older, or maybe the lure of the self-chosen lollies kept Naomi’s spirits up.  Whatever the reason, Naomi rounded the last corners of our 90 minute ride bubbly and cheerful, and announced:  “I love my bike!”

“Zoom, zoom!”

That sounds like a win to me.

 

Transformed by white

We’ve had two days of strong southerly rains in Christchurch, making me think with sympathy of the emperor penguin dads huddled in the dark on the antarctic ice, where the weather system originated. This morning a hard frost covered the garden but the sky itself was clear. NZ is a commonwealth country, and, God Bless the Queen, we had Monday off today.

We refurbished some old pairs of gaiters and waterproof pants for the kids, and headed for the white hills.

“How much longer until we get to the snow?” Naomi wasn’t thrilled with riding in the car fully clothed in her outdoor gear. “We’re not sure, hun, we’re just going to drive until we get to snow deep enough for sledding.”

We reached playable snow by lake Lyndon, so we peeled off the main road and drove a little bit around the lake to a mostly smooth hill that didn’t end at the road or pricker bushes.  The snow was crusty and our flimsy plastic sleds weren’t up to the task, but we turned them around and rode them backwards after the fronts had broken apart. 

The highlight of the day wasn’t actually sledding, it was building. As the sun spent time on the snow it became a bit more malleable, and we could cut building chunks. Naomi is posing, but the wind break was really Milo’s project.

Yesterday someone else had been up there and built a major igloo out of snow blocks, most of which was still intact.

Jeremiah occupied the igloo much of the day, making hot chocolate and doling out sandwiches.  The wind was brisk and inside the fort was much more cozy than outside.

Our dear friend Mr. Kennedy has recently shared some photos from our childhood, and among them was this one, a snow cave we made at Sunnymeade circa 2002. The top layer of girls is Jennifer, Sarah, Susanna and Rebecca.  

Another ancient picture of a pair of cheesy grins, just for sh__s and giggles. Today I strapped on my snowshoes and trudged up the hill, eliciting a friendly comment from a woman that “I must be from somewhere cold.” She had never seen snow shoes before. Yep, there’s much fun to be had in the snow.

Girly plaits

When we were expecting Naomi, we didn’t find out by ultrasound if she was a girl or a boy. We had known Milo would be a boy, and the second time I wanted to experience what it was like to be surprised.

When the midwife handed her to me I had a quick peak at her nether regions. “A girl” was confirmed. I had believed that I didn’t really care if the second was a girl or a boy, but my first thought betrayed me. “A girl! I’m going to do HAIR!”

I’m from a family of 4 long-haired girls, and our close family friends had three more girls. Imagine the fantastic hair dos we came up with.

Since Naomi was a baby I’ve always braided her hair to keep the whispies under control, but we are just coming into the time where Naomi herself is liking fancy hair dos.  Yay!

This morning Naomi put on her newly repaired Anna dress and asked for a fancy hair “plait.”