Naomi has obsessed with monkey bars recently, and one weekend she wanted to show me her stuff. Honestly, I was very impressed. I remember being agile on the monkey bars when I was a kid, but now when I swing my weight on my arms, my palms scream their protest, not to mention the gripes from my shoulders.
This afternoon Naomi showed me a new trick. Again, I was impressed.
Milo always greats the announcement of an impending family trip the same way: “NO. I’m NOT going.”
I’ve learned that it’s no use to argue the point head on. He’s angling for an argument and arguing plays directly into his hand. “Why do we have to go away?” “Why can’t we just stay home?” “I hate going on trip with you.” No logic applies at this juncture. It’s useless to remind him of past family trips (camping, rafting, tramping, all of which he enjoyed) or recall the many weekends we have spend at home facilitating play dates with William and trips to the skatepark. Nothing snaps him out of his funk. The switch is not just turned off, the power is turned off at the breaker.
I battle with him to get his own clothes packed, never mind helping with any of the family gear or food. He hinders progress as much as he can, until I heartily look forward to the day when I can leave his misery behind. Jeremiah and Naomi sit with the car running in the driveway while I adopt my stern no-nonsense mother persona and admonish the lump hiding under the covers that he can come with his shoes on or go without shoes for the weekend, but he IS getting in the car NOW. And I take away the e-reader. By the time I buckle myself in, I’m exhausted and frazzled and the whole idea of having a holiday with the family seems ludicrous.
Then the whinging during the car trip begins…..the length of the journey…. it will be no fun…. he is so hard done by, having to spend time with his horrible family. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.
Our first ski trip of the season started just like any other one, and as usual, I was fed up with the whole concept of family enjoyment. But when we finally arrived at the Amuri ski field out back of Hanmer, Milo quickly put on his gear and went out to the slope. He skied happily all day, tenaciously mastering the “nutracker” lift, dropped into bed, and repeated the routine for the next two days solid. Happy as a clam. However, we had barely launched on our return journey to Christchurch when the moaning about future trips started.
But THIS past weekend, hopefully I don’t speak too soon, but we might have experienced a breakthrough.
A couple months ago Jeremiah had booked two nights in a casual accommodation near Arthur’s pass called Forest Lodge, in the hope that there would be skiable snow during the school holidays. His optimism paid off, and the blast of wintery rain and wind that we experienced in Christchurch earlier in the week translated to a good base dump of snow at the ski hills, just in time for our holiday. Weds afternoon I was pulling together food and handing the clothes packing list to the kids, but I wasn’t getting cheerful cooperation, to say the least. However, by Thursday morning, Milo had snapped into gear, and was in the car, dressed for the ski hill, before our planned departure time.
The ski fields in NZ are small, and the parking areas are smaller, but we were in time to get a prime spot at Porters.
Our accommodation at Forest Lodge was friendly and comfortable, and the next day we headed up to nearby Mt Cheeseman, a club ski field.
There was a gentle rope tow at the learners area, and two “T-bar” lifts to higher up. This ski field had less groomed areas than the commercial one at Porters, and the snow conditions off the groomed paths were difficult due to a crust that had formed on last week’s new snow. Also, the clouds were rolling in and we found that with white all around us and white beneath our feet, we really couldn’t see where we were going at all. Time for a lunch break.
During lunch big fat snowflakes began to fall, and the snow continued even while the cloud lifted, coating all the surfaces with a fresh soft powder. What a treat! It was the first time the kids remember experiencing snow actually falling on them from the sky, and they went out with their mouths open and tongues extended. Milo pointed excitedly at his skis which he had left on the ground before lunch, and now were covered with a fresh dusting. The snow changed again and became perfect six-sided flakes to admire on our coat sleeves.
The T-bar at Cheeseman has the friendly feature of having several places where it comes close enough to the hill below to grab an empty and hop back on, so we looped our favorite spots again and again. Some bits easy with smooth u-shaped trails, floaty with the new snow. Others were more challenging, with snow piled into moguls as more competent skiers had pushed it around on their decent. Naomi and Stella rode the lift on their own, gaining confidence in their independence. Jeremiah is by far the best skier in the family, and he could go up higher and catch us up on his way down. I had a great time skiing with Milo—we’re close to the same level of skiing, which makes for good comradery. Again, we didn’t pack up until the last T-bar had stopped. It is a new level of family holiday, when each of us is enjoying the activity at our own level, sometimes independently and sometimes jointly. If one of us needs a break (or throws a wobbly), the others can just continue. It must be what it’s like to have older kids.
The last morning Milo was so keen to get going that he came back into the kitchen and said the magic words, “Mom, what I can I do to help?” Breakfast dishes would be helpful…. “Is there anything else I can do to help?” he asked. Dishes was a stretch too far, apparently, but he did ferry bags of supplies out to the car and fill the water bottles, all of his own accord.
The next morning, back in Christchurch, was the most astonishing development of them all. We all slept in, and when we finally emerged from our rooms we were greeted by a sign on the kitchen door. “Do not come in! Work in process. Go back to bed.”
We were finished sleeping, but Naomi brought us out cups of tea and coffee in the living room, and behind the closed doors we heard discussions about pan temperature and batter consistency.
I’m not naïve enough to think we’re entering an entirely new era of parental appreciation and the dark days of entitlement and bad behavior are over, but it certainly was a welcome change. Perhaps he is recognizing on which side his bread is buttered….
A few months ago, Milo declared that he wanted to get pet fish. I admit I was not thrilled. It’s not that I hold a particular grudge against fish, but I just have no desire to increase life maintenance tasks at this point. I have enough to do with feeding and cleaning up after my family of humans as it is.
However, Milo is persistent, and as I thought about it, he is the one who feeds Jenny the cat, and he does take care of his paper route with admirable independence. Maybe a fish would be ok, if he understood fully the maintenance he was signing up for.
I tasked him with fish care research, and he turned to the internet with gusto. Turns out that the Internet says that keeping gold fish in a bowl is cruel now-a-days, and a fish needs 1 litre of water per centimeter of body length, other fish to school with, and a filter, and a heater, and points of interest in their habitat in which to develop their brains…..whatever happened to the good old days of a cheerful gold fish in a bowl with a few pebbles on the kitchen counter?
Milo’s anti-fish-cruelty campaign dictated that a bowl was unsuitable, and I didn’t want a tank that was going to require an adult’s help to clean, so for some weeks we were at an impasse.
We went to the fish store for inspiration—Visit Number One. The smallest model fish tank that suited his criteria was too big for my taste on the kitchen counter. After I rejected the argument that it should live as a centrepiece on the dining room table, Milo offered his bedroom, and compromise was in the air. 28 litres was bigger than my original vision, but it was where we landed.
Fish stores charge an exorbitant price for a new glass aquarium, but they’re sold by the scores on TradeMe with all the extras, because other people got tired of maintaining their fish. However, Milo scorned the idea of a used tank…..and since he’s spending his own money, I guess I don’t really care. On Visit Number Two to the fish store we carted home a new aquarium, but the fish, according to the store attendant, would have to wait. The water needed to “condition” for a week to be ready, and she sold us the appropriate colourful bottles of stuff to add. I guess fish these days are too fancy for straight tap water.
Milo dutifully added the potions for a week, then we got Covid, so it was two weeks before we got back to the fish store for Visit Number Three, water sample in hand, ready to choose pets.
But it was not to be. The water indicators weren’t right. Blue, Yellow, and Yellow. No ammonium, no nitrite, but also no nitrate. “That’s good, right?” I asked, hopefully. No, it was not suitable. We were told to keep up the conditioning regime and come back next week. I gathered this time that it was a bacterial nitrogen cycle we were supposed to be establishing, presumably just like the soil one, so I ventured a question: “What if there isn’t enough ammonium to start the cycle, and we’re adding these bacteria into a starving wasteland, so to speak?” The store attendant looked at me. The colours on the indicator strips weren’t right. The water simply wasn’t suitable. We had to come back next week.
In frustration I drove down the road to their pet store competitors, muttering under my breath about uneducated salespeople, and we tried again. Same answer of unsuitability, but this time with a satisfyingly nerdy level of detail, so I believed him. We might have all the bacteria ready to eat ammonia and nitrate, the toxic waste products fish excrete, but because we weren’t detecting their end conversion product (nitrate) we couldn’t be sure. He shared pictures of his own aquariums, gave us some bacteria-laden stones from the store aquarium filters and his twitter handle, and sent us on our way for another week. I was disappointed, but pleased to have encountered such a knowledge base. Unfortunately that store branch is not particularly convenient to home, so we were cast upon the regular pet store attendants for all subsequent Visits.
Jeremiah took a turn for Visit Number Five, but again, no go. No ammonium (good), no nitrite (also good), but no nitrate either (no proof of bacterial processing = bad). They sold us a new potion to sprinkle in the water, advised us to sprinkle in a bit more fish food, and packed us off for another week. I was losing patience and noted that if that potion was required among the bewildering variety of potions to choose from, they should have said that when we asked on Visit Number Two. Milo apparently wasn’t fazed, and took the opportunity to stock up on brilliantly colored plastic plants to decorate his fishless tank.
Jeremiah also performed the fish store taxi run for Visit Number Six. This time he called me while in the store. “They won’t sell me a fish because the pH isn’t right!” he announced in disgust. We finally got nitrate, but the pH was 6.4 which, according to the fish store attendant, would “make the fish’s scales fall off.” It needed to be higher, 7.0. Jeremiah offered to sprinkle in a bit of bicarbonate from his brewing kit, but that was most definitely unsuitable. Personally, I was ready to sacrifice a fish to the bacterial hordes and hope that the pH would balance itself in the aftermath of the feeding frenzy, but the store attendant couldn’t with a free conscience let a fish out of the store in our hands. It would be fish cruelty. Milo came home with a $4.00 fake shell made out of something white and porous to buffer the water, and a thoroughly put out father.
The following week it was my turn on the fish store attempt, Visit Number Seven. The attendant tested the water again. The pH hadn’t budged. It was still unsuitable. “But last time we were here we were told to buy that white shell thing to bring the pH up!” I protested.
“Oh, the Oxishell?” she queried, “that doesn’t change the pH at all, you’ll want some clam shells.” I was ready to wring the poor girl’s neck, and only my responsibility to be a decent parental model in front of my son saved her from a rant about misinformation and ineptitude among salespeople. I squeezed out a “thank you,” turned on my heel, and quickly exited the store. My patience isn’t long at the best of times, and it was decidedly frayed at this point.
Jeremiah was the one to perform the last visit, Visit Number Eight, which finally ended in success. This time they didn’t bring a water sample, figuring if you don’t test it, it can’t be rejected. They also went to a store branch that wouldn’t recognize us from one of our previous seven visits.
Jeremiah sent me a snapshot of the delighted young fish-parent riding home with his 6 tiny neon tetras in their plastic bag, which he proudly installed in his new tank, where none of their scales are falling off.
Now Mr. McCave has six fish and we call them all Dave.
I was standing at the side line of the rugby pitch, reciting yet another group of boys’ names and reflecting on how much harder it has become to retain names as I’ve aged. It’s been six years since Milo started this sport with Ripper Rugby, and I swear my memory at 34 was zippier than it is now at 40. It’s extra tough when parents insist on giving their kids traditional names like Matt or Sam. Give me an Aotea or a Manav and they stick, but the Tims and Georges get lost in the swarm with the Johnnys, Coopers and Bens.
A whole group of new parents to meet as well, with the same conversation starters as always: “Which one is yours?” “Mine is Milo, the little one over there.” I’d point to the smallest striped jersey on the field, weaving and dodging energetically. It’s fun to point out your kid when they’re performing well.
I remember that first year, watching him stick out his jaw and set his sights on his target ball carrier from across the field, dig deep with his sprint, triangulate correctly and nail his target. Milo is competitive. Competitive, driven, focused, strategic. Aggressive, unempathetic, relentless, determined…. you get the picture. It’s in his DNA. Half of which is from me, I get the irony of my complaint. Watching him on the sports field was an epiphany. Right there in front of me I was watching the up-side of all those challenging personality traits.
At the first game this season he was awarded Player of the Day for his relentless tackling. “Why does Milo always get player of the day?” Naomi commented. The coach overheard and asked, grinning “This isn’t a rare occurrence, then?” No, it is not.
It is the 6th season Milo has played rugby, and each year as the boys around him get bigger and bigger, I think it might be his last, that he might get sick of being flattened by kids that are literally twice his weight. But he loves it.
Other parents say he’ll probably hit a growth spurt eventually and rocket out of the 5th percentile, but I’m not so sure. After all, someone has to occupy the 5th percentile; that’s mathematically how percentiles work. I have occupied the 5th percentile in height for my entire life, and I’ve been imparting few tips for him to be comfortable in that space.
“It’s a lot more comfortable for small people when we ride on planes.”
“When you’re small, your height to weight ratio is favorable. That means you can climb easier and run faster than big people.”
“I watch you, ducking and weaving out there; being small you can fit through that maze of other players really well.”
“You know, Milo, it’s not all bad being small. People will initially judge you based on your size, and then you have an opportunity to blow them out of the water.”
He grins. He likes blowing people out of the water.
“Figure it out. Use your BRAIN,” she directed, as she flipped her hair over her shoulder and flounced out of the room, secure in her position of power.
“Ha!” I thought, as I listened to the exchange. “His little sister is providing him a good education about relationships…..maybe I should try that angle……”
Milo had returned home Sunday even to a massive stack of circulars on the front doorstep, and he was angling for some assistance with his job. He has had a job delivering these adverts weekly since last September, and he’s good at it. He always remembers when they’re due to arrive and is conscientious about getting his deliveries done before the Wednesday night deadline. He’s entirely self motivated on this project. The pay varies widely week to week, depending upon the number and weight of the papers, but over the months he has amassed a few hundred dollars, of which he has hardly spent a penny.
The stack of circulars was going to be a big job to collate and deliver this week, and his brain immediately began to churn with ideas of how to ameliorate the workload. He first plea for help fell on unsympathetic ears (mine). “No, sorry Milo, that’s your job.” His second try was to his sister, who is generally excited to be involved in her big brother’s paper route. She is also a good, energetic worker.
Monday before school the job share negotiations started at $10 on Naomi’s side, and $7 on Milo’s side. Jeremiah opined that $7 was an unfair proportion of the $30 Milo was getting paid for this week’s deliveries. I stuck in my own oar in with a comment about how the job expected had to be clearly defined beforehand (unclarity around that issue was the root of last week’s debacle). Negotiations were noisy and belligerent. They were not complete by the time I hustled the kids off to school.
Now, Milo really wants help with this job, so after school the debate continued. The price hovered as high as $10, and the deal was almost clinched. Then Milo employed his typical power tactic, startling Naomi when she was washing her feet in the tub, and shoving her as she tried to leave the bathroom. That behavior led to the exchange I overheard, much to my satisfaction. Having to deal with a big brother like Milo will make Naomi a strong character, that’s for sure.
Milo thought for a moment. I thought he might be pondering how bullying wrecks relationships and doesn’t get him the cooperation that he wanted…. “Hum, I guess I’ll try bribery,” he said. Not quite the strategy I was hoping for.
“Milo’s going to buy me a chocolate bar at the dairy if I help him with his papers,” Naomi announced, returning to the kitchen.
“That doesn’t sound like a very good deal, chicky,” I advised, disheartened that she was so easily swayed by food. “You don’t know if the chocolate bar he buys will be a little one, or a big one.”
“Mom, don’t tell her that!” Milo was annoyed that I was interfering his negotiations when he had nearly pulled off a lucrative deal.
Naomi thought for a moment, recognized the truth of the statement, and went back to the drawing board.
Shortly Naomi came back to announce THE DEAL: Milo would buy her anything she wanted at the dairy for up to $7.50, in exchange for help with stacking, folding and delivering the papers. I tried to tell her that payment in money was better, and that if she got money, she could go buy herself what she wanted at the dairy and probably have money left over. She wasn’t having a bar of it. Clearly, the lure of being able to command Milo to buy her what SHE wanted was worth more than actual money to her.
I’m sure that point will not be lost on Milo, astute as he is in the ways of money, if not in the ways of healthy relationships.
Incredibly, the rest of the afternoon has passed in industrious, cooperative activity.
“Mom, I’m being responsible; I’m washing the dishes.”
Naomi was cleaning up from her cake baking without being asked, but wanted to at least make sure that I noticed.
She had mixed that carrot cake after finding the recipe in my book and doing all the measuring and grating herself. Bravo, you capable girl!
Naomi certainly IS competent, and independent. Both the kids are, to be honest. They get their own breakfasts, make their own lunches, walk to and from school, manage their personal hygiene. They’re usually not big on clean-up, especially the voluntary type, which makes Naomi’s effort with the dishes even more impressive.
Though sometimes I might feel that nothing gets done in the household apart from MOM doing it, OBJECTIVELY, the work load MUST have gotten less since they were babies. No diapers to change or wash, no spoon feeding, no wiping snotty noses, no mid-night wake-ups. That means that OBJECTIVELY, I must have more free hours in my week. Probably I do have….not that I can figure out where they all go.
Or ELSE it could mean that my general productivity has gone down as I’ve gotten older…..which is also entirely possible. I call to mind a comment my father made some years ago, watching our active young toddlers. “There’s a reason you have babies when you’re young.”
More than a year ago my sister Rebecca sent me words she wrote for kids book, for Emerson, our nephew. It was to be a potty training book. A hip-hop potty training book with animal characters….seemed like plenty of scope for fun illustrations!
I thought we’d be in plenty of time for the training period, but I underestimated the time it’d take to do the illustrations. He’s 2 and a half right now, so we’re done none too soon!
Tuesday evening we were seated at the dinner table when Jeremiah read the news announcement—There was a single unexplained community case of Covid19 Delta variant in Auckland, so at midnight, the whole country would be entering 3 days of Covid lock-down.
The news didn’t come as a complete surprise. NZ had a travel bubble with Australia that had closed a few weeks before because of Covid outbreaks in Oz, and Kiwis were still straggling home on repatriation flights. The government had indicated that this time, if there was a community case, there would be a swift lock down, as to date only about 1/3 of kiwis have been able to get vaccine, and the Delta variant is so very contagious.
I sighed, thinking about the Rogaine I wouldn’t be doing on Wednesday night and the work trip to Nelson I wouldn’t be taking….but really, lock down isn’t that bad for us. Besides, we had plenty of flour and toilet paper already on hand, so the only preparation we really had to do was to run to the bottle store for some of our favourite Malbec….and queue up along with every other kiwi in Halswell, apparently!
Day 1 was really frustrating. The kids were “feral,” to use the kiwi term. Both Jeremiah and I were trying to continue working, which makes for a situation where I’m neither a good worker nor a good parent.
But by Day 2, the troops seem to have settled down nicely, playing independently and relatively civilly.
Government news announcement Friday afternoon confirmed that more cases have been found in Wellington and Auckland, with close contacts of those cases also in the South Island, so lock-down would last at least until next Tuesday. We kissed goodbye to the planned weekend at Hanmer.
It’s been 16 months since we had our last Covid lock-down in Christchurch, and we seem to have slipped resignedly into our lock-down routine much more smoothly than last time. This time I’ve not got the angst associated with being a “nonessential worker.” I’m still nonessential, but I can continue doing my non-essential role, at least partially, from home. And this time it feels more like a snow day to me—an unexpected and (we hope) short hiatus from regular life and commitments. A time to be treasured rather than fought against.
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.