Sometimes Motherhood is Sweet

There are plenty of disadvantages to being the primary care giver for kids, but a few days ago even I had to admit that I had a pretty sweet deal.

It’s school holidays right now, the two week break between each quarter of the school year.  It’s always a juggle with working parents, but this time some friends and I decided to take a day or two off, pack up the kids, and head into Rod Donald hut for an overnight.

It’s a hut that you have to book, so we took a gamble on the weather.  Last time we walked in there it was wet and misty, but the hut has a nice cozy pot-belly stove and the walk is so short that we could bring luxury food and games; even a hut-bound overnight is fun.  And these two friends happen to be English, where any weather is good weather, so I knew we’d be ok.

Look at that blue sky! We “lucked out” with the weather. That’s a term I never really contemplated,, but the Kiwis find it really confusing….and for good reason. I don’t mean that I was out of luck, but rather that I got lucky!
It doesn’t look like we’re on our way to a hut in the hills, but we kinda are. We stopped at Birdlings Flat on the way to Little River, where we admired the stones and searched for agates.

Sally is a geologist, so you can see why she’s happy.
The little gem and mineral museum at the end of the dead end road is really worth a stop. The book there said that agates are formed in the voids left by gas pockets in lava. Water laced with minerals finds its way into these bubbles and slowly deposits crystals. The resulting agates wash up at Birdlings Flat as they are eroded out of the mountains, washed down the Rakaia River and tossed up on the beach. I love them almost as much as the kids do.

The hut is perched on the side of a hill overlooking the town of Little River, but the track to it actually starts above, at the pass. Since we were driving past the hut access road on the way there, us mommies hopped out of the car and carried the bulk of the overnight gear up the steep drive to the hut. That way the hike with the kiddos was really more of a stroll through pasture than a tramp.

Look at these hooligans! We were three moms and six kids, a passel of noise to be sure.  The boys walked along brandishing sticks at imaginary zombies and kicking a rugby ball, while two girls tied themselves together with a tow rope and sauntered along in a pair.

The hill top trees are warped by the prevailing wind into grotesque shapes, nice to contemplate on a pleasant sunny day, but fearsome if you were faced with the prospect of an exposed overnight in bad weather.

There’s our hut. Such a lovely site.

The kids made themselves at home with games….

…and with drawing

The mommies played on the slack line.  It’s a funny thing when I stop to think about it–why do I find this balancing game so fun?  I’m not sure.  Balance is a skill, it takes practice, and every time I make it to the other end I feel accomplished.  Yeah, I probably just crave gratification.   

What a friendly view. Last time we were here we just had to imagine it, swathed as we were in mist. This time the kids played hide and seek for hours in the grass outside the hut.

It’s interesting sharing kids with other moms, watching their styles. Milo spent–no joking–45 minutes trying to get this 2 meter long domino train of cards to work. They’re very touchy, and he kept knocking them down before he was finished. Emma took pity on him and used a pencil to make a safety stop so he wouldn’t lose the whole thing if a section fell over, a well as fended off the rest of the gang from coming too close and accidentally setting them off. I was ready to call it an exercise in futility and move on at the 15 minute mark, but both Milo and Emma were determined, and they eventually got it. Boy, are they pleased with themselves!

Failed attempt number 572:

Success at last:

School holidays end this weekend, and Naomi’s sojourn at school starts on Monday.  The times: they are are a-changing.

 

The End of an Era….and beginning of the next

Naomi turns 5 in a matter of weeks, and the Kiwis have this charming tradition of sending kids off to start school right on their 5th birthday.  There are school visits once a week for three Tuesdays before The Birthday.  Then they dress up in the school uniform and start regular attendance on their birthday, or there abouts.

Naomi is very proud of her uniform, and was excited to wear it to Playcentre to show it off.

Tuesdays are our normal Playcentre days, another charming Kiwi tradition in which we’ve partaken since Milo was a baby.  Playcentre is a parent-run preschool with a philosophy that parents are the kids’ best teachers, and kids learn best by self-directed play.  A little like Montessori with a messier twist.

I’m not much for pageantry or ritual, but I was quite impressed with how special the send-off was at playcentre. Steph, the coordinator who has been there since Naomi was a new born, gave her a thorough “feel like a big kid” send off. She got to wear the special Maori feather cloak (symbolism a bit lost on me, but special nonetheless), and show everyone through her learning story journal. We all sang happy birthday in English and Maori, and she chose five “fairy claps” from the group.  She was presented with a certificate and a Playcentre cup before the admiring eyes of her peers.

A couple of the kids made her playdough cakes with candles. She moved her photo from the “waka” (big Maori canoe) to the school poster. And in the end she exited the building under a tunnel of hands to the tune of a special song.  She ate up all the attention, and then didn’t look back.  My kids aren’t nostalgic, that’s for sure; they seem to only look forward, towards the future, not behind.

There will be a leaving ceremony at her other preschool as well, the Montessori school where she attends while I work.  That one won’t involve a feather cloak, but she’ll still find it memorable.

Naomi’s birthday is during the end-of-term school holidays, so her school visits started three weeks before the end of term.  A school visit is 10-12, so we bring Milo at 8:30, then go home for a few minutes, then back to school.

The first school visit morning I wasn’t sure it was actually going to happen.  She had started out wonderfully excited to don the new uniform, but I had scolded her for driving her bike too close to a parked car and scraping it with her handle, and when we got home she was cross and uncooperative.  I offered to have her help me bake muffins.  “I don’t like muffins!”  Then would she like to grate carrots? “I don’t like carrots!”  We can put one of the muffins in your school lunch.  “I’m not going to school!”  Ok, I said, feigning indifference, while wondering if I was really willing to let her skip out.  Would you like to lick the batter?  A nod.  Then her sun came back out, all was well, and we traipsed back to school.

Here is the New Entrant classroom at Halswell school. Tuesdays are new kid visit days, so the parents of all the soon-to-be-starting kids are present as well.

Parents hang around for an hour of the visit, “settling in” their children….or, in my case, with a child who is confident and happy to be launched, just staring at the sea of red and wondering which one is mine.

New kids are paired with a buddy in the class room to show them the ropes (and the toilets, more literally). Her buddy is also shares her name, a fact which they both seemed to enjoy.

She’s starting with 12 other new kids, a huge intake for one week.  The teachers’ ability to learn faces and names is absolutely incredible.  Her teacher is starting back at school the same week she is, having been a New Entrant teacher at Halswell some years ago, then taken a break to be a librarian and a professional actress at the local theatre.  She was wearing a pink polka dot dress with a teal ruffle, pink bobble bead earrings, and red lipstick.  Her bubbly actress persona is infectious.  She’s any little girl’s dream teacher.  Heck, I want to go back to kindergarten!

While the kids are adjusting to the classroom, the parents are taken away to the staff room for tea and a talk.  The first week the talk had something to do with the reporting system, stuff I should have known having had Milo in the school for years now, but which I only vaguely recalled.  Another parent asked me about the weekly sausage sizzle, but I was clueless since we have never purchased it for Milo.  I felt more competent during the second week talk, revolving around feeding your kid for school–fruit break, morning tea, and lunch.  Apparently little misunderstandings like eating your sandwich for morning tea can be enough to derail some littlies.  Oh, and make sure they wear shoes they can do up themselves, and that they can get their own clothes down to toilet themselves.  I spent the hour being thankful that my kids are pretty rugged when it comes to transitions.  No credit to me, it’s just their confident personalities.

I’ve been trying to plan some fun stuff with Naomi on Thursdays before she starts her 8:30-3:00 school drill. Last week we went to Hagley park with friends; here we are being silly.

Every spring we ride or walk down Harper Ave in Hagley park, under the frilly cherry blossoms.   There was the spring when I just had Milo in the jogging stroller, then the next one where I was pregnant with Naomi.  Then I pushed a stroller and Milo rode his balance bike, then his pedal bike.  Now Naomi’s zooming along on her pedal bike while Milo’s at school.  Other years I’ve been desperate for the spring to come, but this spring has been so busy that I almost forgot to make the annual pilgrimage.

Cheeky cheerful Naomi.  Tomorrow is her third and final school visit, then the school holidays happen, then–hey presto–she’s a school girl.  Two kids at school.

Get Used to Disappointment

I’m not an optimist.

Truly.  I am not.

But occasionally I catch myself thinking like one….

Like when I balance the hummus on top of three leftover containers as I’m fridge foraging and expect to catch it in mid air if it falls….  I end up spooning hummus off the floor.

Or like when I decide at 8:24 that I can fit a week’s grocery shop in before the store closes, only to realize upon arrival that 9:30 is 30 minutes AFTER closing.  I sprint through the aisles, making it to the register in time, but have to return the next day for the forgotten parmesan.

Or when I thought my parents might move to NZ.

Optimistically, it IS possible.  I currently have the only grandkids on offer (the lure).  There is one work visa that isn’t age capped at 55 (the legal option).  My parents have been known to make big moves to be close to family before (the motivation).  And them coming here would solve so many problems, not leastwise my guilty conscience ones.  Then the kids wouldn’t be lacking grandparents because of my decision to leave America.  I wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to parenting strong-willed children.  And when my parents get old I can mow their lawn for them.

Their most recent visit was in July, the dead of NZ winter, to investigate the worse part of the year in anticipation of relocating here for a stint.  We used their visit as a deadline to buy a house, knowing that winter in the old place would not be a good marketing strategy, and we bought a lovely little place within walking distance of the school, with big windows facing the sun; insulated, with double glazed windows and two heat pumps.  June weather was rainy and uninspiring, but July really played ball, with quite civilized sun and glorious winter days.  But for various reasons, some Visa related and some not, it was not to be.  Omi and Abi aren’t shopping for a place to live around the corner from us.

Considering that I’m a pessimist primarily to avoid disappointment in life, I was surprised at the depth of the let-down.  It was a long shot to begin with; rationally, I KNEW that.

Inigo, Get Used to Disappointment.

So I finally need to post some pictures from their visit, to celebrate the time that they DID have here.

My most enduring memory of their three weeks here was how much time they spent playing with and reading to the kids. “Want to play Uno?” Yes! “Let’s read a book.” Ok! Grandparents have lot of love to go around. That, and they’re fantastic at helping with the dishes.

It was end of school term while they were here. They went to a show-off-to-parents day at Milo’s school and attended Naomi’s first ballet recital.

They went to playgrounds….

And to the Gondola, (with our friend Summer)

And to more playgrounds!

We took them to a Crusaders rugby game, only to have their hosts fall fast asleep on their laps! We had parked blocks and blocks away, and as the crowd tromped down the bleachers and my too-big-to-carry children snored away on their grand’s laps, my Dad looked up at me. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he stated, in some consternation, as I wondered if Uber drivers would pick up cargo from the stands. In the end Milo woke up enough to walk, and by the time we reached the car even Naomi was chirping away on my back completely capable of moving her own legs ( though opting not to do so).

Even Jenny cat basked in the unusually high level of affection.

During the second week of school holiday we drove up to the Marlborough Sounds via Kaikoura.

Milo was miserable during this Kaikoura walk–you can see it in his “I won’t cooperate with you even for a photo” expression. Not that there was anything physically wrong with him, but lousy attitude is enough to ruin a walk. “Milo is getting away with utter disrespect. He’s acting like he’s a little prince, and it’s working for him.” My dad, with the benefit of a fresh viewpoint, sees the situation and calls me out on it. We spent that walk strategizing how to turn a corner with Milo. I sometimes feel as if I’m parenting a uniquely difficult child, but of course there is nothing new under the sun, as those with the benefit of distance and experience can attest.

Weather was superb in the sounds; look at that glassy water! Remember, July is mid winter in NZ, and this is the ocean of the “Roaring 40s”.

Laura and her two kids, Audrey and Noah, joined us for a few days of our Marlborough holiday. Here we are tramping a portion of the Queen Charlotte track.

And we are particularly excited about the gummies at the end of the walk!

As tantalizing as the idea is, Grandparents are not going to be living around the corner. I have mourned, and now I must move on.

We love you, Omi and Abi!

 

Oh momentous day…

It was still dark when the knock on the door woke us up.

“I have something very important to tell you!” Our son’s voice was earnest.  “My tooth fell out!”

“That’s great honey.”  I was vaguely pleased that we had mustered up a civil response at that hour.  “Put it on the counter and go back to bed.”  Miracle of miracles, he retreated obediently, and presumably tucked himself back in.

“Dentally retarded,” my dad calls us. Slow to get teeth, and slow to lose them. I was relieved to see the manky old baby tooth quit the scene and make way for a clean adult tooth to emerge.

Hours later I was admiring the gap when I asked Milo what time the tooth had fallen out.  “5:52,” he replied, with the proud precision of a new parent announcing the birth of their child.

A proud Harro tradition is writing the tooth fairy a reminder note. In case you need help interpreting, it says: “To tooth fairy. $2 for Milo please. Thanks.”  He handed it to me with a twinkle.  

Bubble me rainbow

Birthdays–theirs and others–are a highlight of the childhood years. These giant bubbles were at a recent party. They are so alluringly strange; quivering iridescent blobs floating genteelly about the yard until pounced upon by little girls in fancy dresses.

The humid winter conditions were perfect, and Naomi got the hang of bubble creation, as well as the destruction of popping.

Amelia’s Ballerinas

Floaty pink dresses, spins, sparkles, high pitched voices, and a teacher addressing you as a ballerina.  What could be better? (Hint: imagine you’re a four-year-old girl.)

It’s all a bit much for me, but this activity isn’t for me after all.  It’s for Naomi.

Still, it’s interesting to watch.  Miss Amelia, the teacher, pitches her voice a constant octave above normal, reminding one of a tinny barbie doll (in sound, if not in look), but she’s no pansy.  There is a set of twins that don’t focus very well and are often off in left field, so-to-speak, yet she handles them with grace, charm, and command….and all in falsetto!  The girls don’t even realize they are being managed.  She’s brilliant.

Every week Miss Amelia brings a new prop to dance with. This week was kitty cat ears.

“Alright Ballerinas, we’re going to pick up our knee, and make a bubble!” She has the whole mob of pink dainties doing her bidding, even if one has decided to wear her tutu as a bra. I’ll say it again: She’s brilliant.

 

This is motherhood?

Look at this child. She’s smiling. She’s helpful. She’s charming. I’m having a good motherhood moment.

The misty rain stopped and the sun peaked out.  I had borrowed entertainment for Milo in the form of a play mate for the afternoon, so that hazard was sorted.  On an errand to the garage I spied the tray of plants I brought home from work yesterday.  THAT’s what I needed.  Some peaceful weeding an an opportunity to mull over the last chapter of the book I was reading.

“Can I help you plant those flowers?” Naomi asked as she watched me collect my tray.  I hesitated.  I really just wanted an escape….but I OUGHT to enjoy her company.  “Ok,” I consented, bowing my shoulders.

“I can put the plants in the holes,” she offered.
“I’ll pick up your jersey and hang it here on my scooter so it doesn’t get grassy,” she continued, thoughtfully.
“I’ll get the green bin for those weeds,” she enthused, as she trundled a wheely bin twice her size up the driveway.

In short, she was a joy to have around. I felt guilty for wanting solitude in the first place.

It’s amazing how the situation can feel the exact opposite that self same morning.

“Milo, stop!  Don’t grab from Naomi!”  He finishes the lego-recovery-mission he had embarked upon as if he was deaf.  Naomi howls.  Milo swats.  Naomi kicks.  “STOP!” I yell, grabbing his arm.  “SIT BACK DOWN AND FINISH YOUR OATMEAL.”  “YOU sit back down and finish your breakfast too,” I command Naomi.  She sits next to Milo.  Milo crawls over the table and sits at the other end.  She moves again to sit next to him, dribbling milk along the way.  He walks over the table top, grinning at me.  Then he and his oatmeal get banished to the porch, where he sits and bangs on the window.  Going to work is so much easier, I think, rubbing my eyes that feel tired and old.  I take a sip of the cup of tea which I never manage to drink hot and wondering how to break this miserable cycle.

There are good times and bad times to parenting. The trouble is that the bad times are so much more memorable than the good ones.

 

When siblings go right

Milo has decided to play the part of caring big brother after Naomi got a bee sting.

There are plenty of times–memorable times–when siblings go wrong (more about that below).  But this is one lovely time when siblings went right.  Naomi got stung by a bee while we were biking at the Halswell Quarry, and we had to turn around and come home.  “You know,” I told Milo, as he complained about not getting to finish his ride, “your sister is TOUGH.  There aren’t many four year olds who would bike home after getting stung by a bee.”  He must have taken it in, because later I overheard him repeating this boast to Jeremiah.  He also switched from “little sister got in the way of me doing what I wanted to do” mode to “caring big brother” mode, even reading his school book to her.

Other days, it can be more like this:

“It’s school crossing!” Naomi informed me.

I glanced out the window in time to see Milo run down the driveway with his friend Cameron on his heels.  His mom and sister rounded the bend.  This looked official.  I opened the front door to field the inquiry.

Milo rushed at me: “Can Cameron come over this afternoon?” he demanded, before darting off on a circuit of the yard.

“The boys were hoping for a play date.”  Clare stated the obvious.  “Milo could come to our house.”

“We want to play in the tree fort,” Milo put in.  Hum.  There’s no tree fort on offer at Cameron’s house.

“Ah, yes….well, Cameron can stay here,” I offered.

A couple minutes later Milo came raring around the corner, brandishing Naomi’s new stickers in triumph above his head while she squealed in protest.  “Milo!  What are you doing?  Give that back to Naomi!  One…TWO…..!  He threw the sticker sheet in her general direction, then stepped on her container of beads, spewing them down the hallway.  “Milo!  In your room!” I pointed menacingly and took a threatening step toward my son.  He sprinted to his doorway and stood there, grinning.  I gave him a few minutes, then went to talk things over.

“Milo, I won’t let you be a bully.  In order to come out you have to say you’re sorry to Naomi for snatching her stickers, then you can pick up the beads and put them in this container.”  I thrust a plastic jam jar into his hands.  He tossed it on the floor.  “Well, that’s what you have to do; say sorry to Naomi and pick up her beads.”

After several unsatisfactory attempts at a sorry I let a cursory attempt stand, reminded him about the beads, and retired to the living room.

“Naomi, I’m going to put your beads out the window,” I heard his gleeful voice taunt from the dining room.  I ignored the threat.  Often he’s just angling for attention.  The noise crescendoed, and upon investigation I discovered beads in the weeds below the window.  Incredible.

“Is he like this when he goes to your house?” I asked Cameron, shaking my head.

“No.” Cameron widened his eyes.

I thought of the studies of social structure with chimpanzees where dominant males tear around the group, chasing their comrades up trees, tossing sticks into the air, beating their chests and generally making a miserable racket.

That’s exactly what Milo has been doing this afternoon.  Asserting his dominance on his home turf.

Disgusting.

We’re no better than apes.

 

Dommett Lodge

“On Guard!” Don’t mess with the hooligans, they clearly mean business.
We spent last weekend with the Trick-Pendle family at Dommett “Lodge,” a traditional Kiwi bach on farm land in Kurow, in rolling hills south of Christchurch by about 4 hours. The kids spent the entire weekend happily killing each other with nerf guns. “I got you in the heart, you’re dead!” “Missed me, only got my leg!” Better them than me; I have absolutely no tolerance for being shot at, even in pretend.

The bach is on a private farm, which you access on a four-wheel drive road past a locked gate. I brought my new spiffy mountain bike and biked in from the gate. The day we arrived was thick fog and I couldn’t see anything, let alone how long it was to the top of the hill. But the next two days cleared up.

Emma and Ian have a real four-wheel-drive truck, but our Rav4 made it ok.

Because the weather was so foggy we spent the first afternoon shooting at a wine box target from the front porch of the bach. Emma and Ian are English, so they haven’t had a lot of experience with firearms; shooting a gun was a real novelty.

The bach was a rustic affair; pieced together from relics of other homes, the side of the house you see here is made of a garage door–open at this moment in time.  Thankfully the sand flies weren’t bad.  The wall in one bedroom even had an electrical outlet–not connected to anything (as the thirteen-year-old video game addict found out when he tried plugging in his tablet).  The true bach style does mean you don’t have to be too precious about the carpet. 

There’s a “kitchen” inside, but that’s just a sink (with hot running water!), so we did all our cooking on the grill on the porch.

We nearly burned the place down when the grease trap caught on fire!  Notice the fire extinguisher Ian is proudly holding–we used it. 

Ian’s goal for the weekend was to build a dam on the little creek that runs past the bach.

Dam builders in action! The small creek was perfect–low enough that you don’t have to worry at all about the kids, but wet enough for water play. Had the weather been warmer I think we would have spent more time in the creek.

As it was, we spent a bit of time in the hot tubs. It was misting that first night and I don’t like getting my face rained on, so I pulled out the umbrella, much to the amusement of the others. Makes perfect sense to me.

The valley with the gravelly river is where the bach is situated, and the second day I took a bike ride up a four-wheel-drive road to this saddle.

From there I walked up to the next knob and squinted at the view.

But I admired the tough little alpine flowers hunkered down among the tussocks even more.

Jeremiah did a little hunting on the station, but despite the lush grass he didn’t see any deer except one on the neighbor’s property, which we were strictly warned not to touch.

“Bring me back a hare,” were Emma’s parting words. So when Jeremiah saw the telltale ears poking up among the grass he took the opportunity. The kids were fascinated.

Ian was fascinated too. On the right are the hare legs wrapped in bacon (the ones that set the grease trap on fire!).

The kids liked the hare, but they liked the marshmallows even better. What makes a good marshmallow stick in a country without trees? Speargrass.

They’re just too cute!

When the kids get along well it makes for a good weekend for the grown ups too.

Cheers!

Mission: Wharfedale by bike

This doesn’t look like Wharfedale hut, does it? There are some NZ huts in lovely settings, but this, alas, is not Wharfedale. It’s the beach at New Brighton where we started the day, with Jeremiah and his friend Ben cutting up deer meat after the previous week’s successful hunt, and me bringing the kids down to the beach for a play.

Actually, nothing really went wrong. The track was just a little bumpier than the kids are used to, it was a warm day (read that as fatiguingly hot to Mr. Red-faced Milo), and as the afternoon wore on the lollies had to come at progressively close intervals.

Naomi was at the point of stopping and sitting on the ground when we hooked her up to Daddy’s bike, after which her demeanor changed completely. “Let’s go, Dad!” she shouted, cracking the proverbial whip as she bounced cheerfully along.

The four-wheel drive track crossed the river at various places, but as it was a warm day, wet feet weren’t a bother. Naomi waited at the river’s edge like a princess, reaching up her arms for her lift over after the bikes had been transported.  She was wearing her “biking skirt,” which means it was short and poofy enough not to get dirty on the tire.

Milo did really well, even through the last bit of uphill single track that required lots of bike pushing, but I could hear the desperation mounting as we rounded every corner: “Are we there yet??” “Almost,” I kept saying, as I inserted gummy candies into his mouth and pushed his bike from behind. Finally we heard voices through the trees and knew we were well and truly almost there.

Upon reaching the hut they both completely revived, swinging on the ladder and noisily claiming bunks. The glorious people with whom we shared the hut just smiled and tolerated the mayhem, even chatting back at times.

For some reason Milo was convinced that salamanders lived in the stream at the hut, and even fancied he saw some as he reached down for skipping rocks. We spent a pleasant few minutes aiming stones at a rock while Daddy cooked dinner.

“When can we get up?” they inquired at sun-up, in a resonating whisper. “Shh! Everyone else is sleeping!” we admonished them. Rustle, rustle. Giggle, squeal. Those wonderful people on the bottom bunk didn’t even voice a complaint.

The bike out was slightly down hill, and therefore easier. We managed to pause from swatting sand flies for long enough to get a group photo before we set off.

The water looks nice, doesn’t it? It was “fresh,” as they say here. Translation: COLD. Jeremiah gamely jumped off the rock three times before I got a suitable photo.