David:1, Goliath:0

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I’d like to hand my resignation in. From parenting. Is that allowed? Who do I hand my notice to? I’m assuming I’ll get a pay out for all my accrued annual leave? Or gardening leave in lieu of sleeps ins? It’s been two and a half years, surely I’m entitled to something. I know it doesn’t look good to hand in your parenting notice but I’m just being realistic. I’m not cut out for this shit. I lose my rag just about every day – FOR VERY GOOD REASON – the expensive earrings that he purposely pushed down the plughole (whilst looking right at me, grinning maniacally), the purposeful pouring of water into his dinner then tipping the gluggy mess onto the carpet, his purposeful refusal to choose a breakfast cereal which then makes us late and I can’t do a damned thing because god forbid I put ricies in front of him when he belatedly decides he wants cornflakes. A rage fest of spittle, table pounding and burst blood vessels would ensue. Cereal is serious when you’re two. I use the word purposeful a lot there. It’s all on purpose. He is intent on ruining me. I know all that shit about brain development and how he’s just exploring, testing boundaries, finding himself…yadda yadda yadda. He’s trying to annihilate me, quash my spirit, break me down day by day until I cave in and let him stay in my bed 24 hours a day, with 47 matchbox cars, a bedside freezer full of ice cream, and Peppa Pig on a loop on my ipad. His ipad. Let’s get real.

Sure, he’s cute. And there are fun bits. Like tonight when he put his penis into a pencil sharpener which I found amusing for about 700 reasons. Or when he quietly asks me from the back seat if there are any flies on him – as a result of him hearing the ‘no flies on you, buddy’ cliché when I’m in jovial parent mode (happens at least twice a day – the mode, not the cliché, I have thousands of the latter). I also find him funny when he attempts to rule the world, ‘stop talking, Mummy…don’t say good morning…turn that song off….get me ice cream…I don’t like this dinner…don’t touch Big Ted’. Like I want to touch that germ infested saliva sponge anyway. And seriously, I love my son. So very much. And I’m so immensely grateful that I was able to get pregnant in the NHS dictated ‘geriatric mother’ zone; many of my friends haven’t been able to and I’m really aware of that as I whinge away. But (cue the violins), it’s such damned hard work! Parenting a two year old. Single parenting a two year old. Single parenting a two year old in a new country. Single parenting a two year old who is obstructive, obtuse, oppositional and obnoxious in a new country. I could go on.

I sometimes (ok, all the time) wonder if it would be easier if I weren’t single parenting. It’s so easy to imagine couples lovingly enjoying their Sundays together, generously swapping sleep ins and smiling fondly at one another over their beautifully behaved offspring’s heads – ‘look what we made, babe. Isn’t this just wonderful and perfect and fulfilling’. The reality is they’re probably filled with resentment at their lack of freedom too, bored with more mindless swinging at the playground on Sunday afternoon (not that kind of swinging. I find shaking hands exhausting enough these days.) And just as I’m imagining them in happy family land, they’re picturing their friends drinking and laughing at the pub with nothing to worry about except a slight hangover on Monday morning. And those friends are probably weaving their way home, looking around at all the families and feeling somewhat envious of their connection and purpose. Grass = greener, whatever fence we choose to look over.

Parenting can be really lonely. And boring. The routine every single night is the same. Cook him bland food that I swear I’m not going to eat but do, clean up the kitchen mess, bathe him, wrestle him into his pyjamas, clean up the bathroom mess, coerce him to brush his teeth (with chocolate. DON’T judge me), read books about monsters in underpants, or squiggly spider sandwiches or boring bloody roadworks and then clean up all over again. And at 7:30pm, the question I ask without fail: where the fuck is Big Ted? Those precious moments once Sonny is in his cage, I mean cot, and I should be happily injecting wine into my gums, are taken up by the nightly search for stupid Big Ted. We have a fractious relationship at the best of times; Big Ted is the go-to when Sonny hurts himself, he refuses to cuddle me in the mornings unless Big Ted is pretty much between us as some sort of manky barrier, we continuously have to drive back to the house when Big Ted has been forgotten. I swear I’m going to have hip and knee injuries, not from running for the last 25 years, but from getting in and out of the damned car to get water/snacks/library cards (just kidding, we haven’t got around to joining)/jackets/medicine/ipads/fucking Big Ted. He’s got B.O (Bear Odor. Sorry) and his face is all bent out of shape. He almost appears condescending when he looks at me. And yes, he does look at me. He judges my parenting all the time. Sometimes I kick him when Sonny isn’t looking – he saw me once and lost his shit. He’s a damp mound of polyester without feelings for god’s sake. Probably made in a factory with conditions we really don’t support. And is highly flammable. Heeeeey. Flammable…now there’s an idea.

So you see my point. I tried and it’s just not my bag. If anyone wants a two year old, I’ll pop him in an uber and send him your way. And then sit on the sofa and fawn over videos of him, like a total loser. It’s Stockholm Syndrome. I’ll be over to get him in an hour. You can keep that bloody teddy bear though.

 

 

NB: this is (mostly) in jest. Don’t stage an intervention or call social services. Do send wine.

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Torn Between Two Lovers

So Christchurch is your high school sweetheart. Dependable, good looking, reliable income, someone you can take to a work event and have no fear of embarrassment. But in your twenties you start to wonder if more exploration is needed before settling down for good. A fling with London seems like a great idea! Maybe a year, two tops. London is sexy and fast paced though, full of excitement, she lets you down constantly and delivers highs like no other. She’s the antithesis of the high school sweetheart and somehow your couple of years turns into most of your adult life. In a reverse trend of a mid-life crisis, as you approach forty you start to wonder about beautiful, reliable Christchurch who you could happily grow old with, fingers entwined as you toddle down the beach with a flask of tea. Sounds dreamy, right?

One problem with affairs, I would imagine, is that you’re spoilt for choice and constantly compare. When London exhibits testing behaviours, you think Christchurch would NEVER do that; come back to the house late at night with loads of mates and play Horsemeat Disco at speaker busting volumes. Christchurch, ahhh, so lovely and peaceful. Filled with reunion excitement, you fly in and soak up the tranquillity and feel at one with the world. For a day. And then you think, did I say peaceful? More like in a bloody coma. Where the hell is everyone? And so, within months, you return to vibrant, tempestuous, leather-clad London with her pubs, packed cobbled streets and the dynamic cultural pockets of each compass point. Then the voices start; hang on, I just want some space, to be away from people stepping on my heels as I walk down the street. No, I want an anonymous nightclub where nobody judges me for dancing at this age. No, I REALLY want to sleep without ear-plugs, without the sound of sirens and waking up to horrifying news alerts. And I want to drive places, be in my car and not have to deal with body odour in rammed tubes. But then how do I get home after a few drinks? No, I LOVE the tube. And Marks and Sparks. But the food in New Zealand just tastes so outrageously good! Yeah and one supermarket shop costs the equivalent of semi-detached house in Leicester. But, terrorism! But, earthquakes! And so on and so forth until each location has a defence case strong enough to force a hung jury.

The reality is that no location is perfect, no job is perfect, no relationship, no friendship, no family is perfect. Comparing and contrasting instead of focussing on the richness of our circumstance, on the boxes that are ticked, will leave us drinking from a half empty glass. While I miss the pubs and parks of London and the constant buzz of potential excitement, I also thrive on running in the hills looking out on a landscape that encompasses mountains, beaches, coves, plains, rivers and a brave half built city that is slowly arising from the dust clouds. Focussing on the positives isn’t always easy, but I figure it’s the best way to pass through this transitional phase, until one day maybe I’ll find myself just existing somewhere day-to-day, without reminiscing about another life, another location. And far from being conflicted, I feel relaxed that I’ll find my niche somewhere and am incredibly grateful that I made the move back to New Zealand to start a new adventure.

But to save all this emotional roller coastering, maybe we could hand over our geographic destinies to an app, like we do our romantic ones. Plug in your deal-breakers, your essential must-haves and see what it spits out. City Tinder. Left swipe, left swipe, left swipe. Oh, look it’s Wellington! We had that brief fling during our uni days, remember? You’re still kinda cute! Notoriously bad wind though. Oh hey, nobody’s perfect. Fancy a drink?

Let’s Strip the Wallpaper

‘He’ll need to harden up now he’s back in New Zealand’. This phrase is a sad indictment of the pressures on boys (and Kiwis, but that’s another story) to don emotional armour and show strength at all times. The he in question is 18 months old and the ‘harden up’ mentality is one of the first bricks laid in the wall that structures his understanding of being a man. There is a fascinating YouTube clip of a father encouraging his little boy not to cry when he receives his vaccinations. As the boy’s tears spill over and roll down his cheeks, he has a surge of emotion, high fives his Dad and hits his chest, calling out in a strangled voice ‘I’m a MAN!’. Poignant, terribly sad and the early manifestation of the toxic masculinity that deeply damages our boys. Tony Porter speaks brilliantly about the pressure on boys to lock emotion away; he would cuddle his little girl but shout at his little boy when each cried, such was his internal response to seeing his offspring not fit a lifelong expectation of being a man.

Beyond my own desire to do a good job of helping my little man become a big man who can process emotion, seek consent before touching another human being and think carefully about the footprint he leaves on the world, I have greater concerns about what feels like a crucial time when it comes to the limiting implications of gender constructs in society. Recently the New Zealand press covered a story in which teenage boys were screen grabbed saying that you’re not a ‘real Wellington College boy’ unless you take advantage of a drunk girl. We live in a world where Donald Trump talks of grabbing women by the pussy (and THEN gets elected as President), Eminem lyrics brag of choking and raping women, and 88% of pornography features aggression. And that’s the more overt messaging that boys and girls receive, the wallpaper that lines their daily lives is far more nuanced but contributes to a binary idea of gender that insidiously and consistently funnels children towards one of two quite disparate options; boy or girl. Boys are encouraged to aspire but not express, girls the opposite. They grow up in different shaped boxes that limit their individuality and exploration of talent, and therefore, their contribution to society.

Young people are wonderful. Creative, curious, caring and most are keen to be part of a kind and equality-seeking world. The overt negative messaging, i.e. Trump, is easier to critically analyse with kids, it’s the nuance we barely notice that is more difficult to challenge and we will better support young people on their journey to adulthood if we can provide a counterpoint and some critical thinking around this nuance. The rhetoric around manning up, the polarized marketing of boys’ and girls’ toys which funnel children down gendered paths, the language of teachers/parents which reinforce the idea that boys and girls should look and behave in opposite ways, books/TV shows which feature stereotypical characters, pornography, sexualized advertising, misogynistic music, sexist clothing, the list is endless and it all contributes to the pressure that young people feel, to very high youth suicide rates (both in the UK and New Zealand), to boys and men feeling castigated and defensive, to girls and women feeling scared and angry. It’s not insurmountable though; most humans are intrinsically good, most teenagers are kindhearted with a strong sense of social justice. With a thoughtful, wraparound approach that reframes gender and sexuality we can encourage steadfast values and critical thinking in the next generation. We can create wallpaper that focusses on being a happy, expressive, physically and emotionally intelligent human being, rather than on starkly disparate ideas of gender.

 

Recommendations:

  • Introduce Unconscious Bias training for teachers to prevent the hidden funneling of children by gender or ethnicity
  • Be aware of ‘toxic talk’ (man up, boys will be boys) or books/films that reinforce reductive stereotypes
  • High quality Relationships and Sex Education (with no exemptions) inclusive of consent, intimacy, love, different sexualities, and an unembarrassed critical approach to pornography
  • Reduce the social delineation of girls and boys in schools (gendered uniforms, lining up as boys and girls, offer gender neutral bathrooms)
  • Challenge retailers on segregated boys and girls toys – the brilliant Let Toys Be Toys campaign explains the sociological impact of this
  • Teach young people to critically analyse social issues and inequality; they will be our policy makers and leaders of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Family

My Dad has 49 rolls of toilet paper wedged around his toilet. That’s around about 21,500 sheets of paper. On average use of 1 roll per week (from toiletpaperworld.com – wtf), he has enough for a year’s supply. Most people store water and tinned food in case of earthquakes, Dad’s focus seems to be on protecting the toilet if it topples over. He is a quirky man. The walls in his house have 3 inch thick polystyrene and silver foil stuck to them, floor to ceiling. Energy conservation is his raison d’etre. He has been known to paint coke bottles black, sit them outside in a home-made tin foil cone so the sun reflects off the cone onto the black paint and heats the water for his tea. Not quite hot enough for a cup of tea, mind. It then goes into the kettle and is boiled; ‘but only for a third of the time it would take to boil the kettle normally’ he explains smugly when I look bemused by this process. As bemused as he is that I pay someone in a café five whole dollars to make a coffee that he could make for about five cents.

Dad does lots and lots of weird shit. He hangs tea bags out to dry along with empty dog food packets so they don’t smell before they go in the bin. Because you know, the bin cares about stuff like that. He looked horrified when I suggested he take Sonny for a walk in the buggy in light rain; ‘the buggy will get wet and then it goes in the car and the car has no way of getting dry’. Jesus. All these years I’ve been wasting time worrying about gender inequality, the male suicide rate, skin cancer – seriously, nobody told me about wet cars and smelly bins and uncushioned toilets. Thank god Dad is looking out for them.

The reality is though, Dad has coped pretty well with a rough ride. My Mum died twenty years ago this year. It was 1997 and she was 47. They were sickeningly loved up, wore matching track suits and did everything together, including delivering a mortified teenage me to parties. Mum was a tiny whirlwind of energy and love and cooking and providing and listening and positivity and joy. She had a tough upbringing herself; her mum died when she was two and her Dad was a wharfie who tried his best but drunk too much. We often parent how our parents parented us; I have no idea how she was such an empathetic, loving and communicative mother when she had no role model, nobody’s shoes to step into. She sat up and sewed our swimming ribbons onto blankets for my brother and I each weekend for god’s sake. Talk about over-egging the parenting pudding!

Never have I felt the loss of Mum more than I do now that I’ve got my own little sproglet to look after. I really could’ve done with her reassuring words, home cooked meals and proud smile. But I have my Dad – my tea, electricity and humidity obsessed Dad. And Sonny’s face lights up when he sees Grandad’s car in the driveway; Grandad who brushes me aside to pick Sonny up as I’m rattling off babysitting instructions to spend hours with him in the garden, playing tedious games of turn the sprinkler on and off. It makes my heart melt. My Mum might not be here, but my Dad is and Sonny and I are very lucky to have this most precious of time with him. It was worth moving home for that alone. And the comic value of seeing soggy tea bags hanging on the line.

 

Addendum: Dad’s only comment after reading this was that I had it all wrong; the toilet paper is to provide insulation, not cushioning. So he’s keeping the loo warm, not safe. Well I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

From London to Christchurch…

I miss the BBC. I miss the cold, hard, depressing and constant global news and its grave delivery by BBC news readers. It’s so jocular and annoyingly happy here, the news readers sound like they’ve taken half a pill before coming on air. Just because it’s sunny and stuff smells nice and people smile at you for no reason other than to be nice, doesn’t mean the world isn’t completely fucked! Seriously though, last year when I was back for Christmas and the moving home seed was planted, I was relieved to hear so little about terrorism and war. This year, now that I actually live here, I feel frustrated at the lack of Trump-talk and Brexit despair. The grass really is always greener.

The radio is a good gauge of how migrating home after 14 years feels. I’m almost 40 and left as I turned 25 – finally old enough to drive the school mini bus an old teaching colleague reminded me the other day. I felt like a kid. Now I’m a mum, not just a (statistically speaking, bell-shaped curve) normal mum, but a GERIATRIC mum according to the NHS when I gave birth. So I’ve come back to a city I knew when the tunes of the day were by 4 Non Blondes, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Spin Doctors and Bon Jovi. The latter’s Bed of Roses was handjob-in-the-back-of-the-bus music. Not me, of course, but it was at least a 7 minute journey from the Square to school so it’s sure to be more than just an urban myth. So this feels like some sort time warp; radio stations seem not to have moved beyond 1998 and they continuously play ‘High School Hits’ (clearly all the DJs went to school in the 90’s). As I drive down Moorhouse Ave, Montell Jordan and Bryan Adams and Tag Team and Boyz II Men and TLC pour forth, 90’s tune after 90’s tune, memory after memory. I never thought I’d crave a bit of One Direction to plug a decade and a half musical gap. Or for any purpose at all for that matter.

Other stuff: it’s bloody expensive here. I catch myself penny-pinching over the price of milk. Even though I couldn’t tell you how much milk was in the UK. Or bread. Or houmous. Or quorn steaks. I’m sure they weren’t the (appalling exchange rate) equivalent of $13.99 though. Heavens to Murgatroyd. Maybe when I have a job I’ll stop exchanging back to pounds and thinking ‘wtf, that’s only 17p at Tesco’. It certainly costs more to buy food here but the check out folk are friendly, you can park within metres of the door, and fruit and veg come in all the odd but natural sizes and shapes they’re meant to (and my god, they taste good!). The jury is out, but maybe it’s worth the extra few bucks at Countdown.

Many places don’t have websites, they just chuck signs up on fences; ‘give up smoking – call 021 234 5678’ or ‘plumber wanted, please knock’ or the best one yet; ‘cheap dentist on weekends’ (I’m assuming s/he is exorbitant Monday through Friday). They (we) call contactless, ‘paywave’ which made me laugh but then I realized it’s two syllables compared to three. That’s a second saved, right there. And for friendly people, Kiwi drivers don’t seem too keen on letting old people or parents with buggies cross the road. Cars rule the road here even though cyclists are everywhere. Pedestrians aren’t – you look like you’ve been done for drink driving if you actually walk somewhere. Time for a campaign I reckon. Hey, maybe I could set up a charity!

English moaning over. Kiwi optimism time. It is truly idyllic here. Birds that can only be made of crystal fill the air with pure, perfectly pitched and delightfully cheerful song. The smell of hot pine saturates endless tracks through the playground that is the Christchurch hills. The sea air leaves dried salt on your upper lip after a windswept and sandy day at Taylor’s Mistake. There is a constant juxtaposition in the horizon between sky and grass; the clearest delineation of anywhere in the world, so sharp are the colours blue and green. My boy is happy running up and down hallways, lawns, beaches; each with much more space than could’ve been afforded in London. And the vital ingredient, the icing on the cake of life, is always, always people. The people here are simply wonderful; fresh, friendly and lycra-clad fit. They bend over backwards to welcome you, to learn about you, to introduce you to like-minded people. They laugh easily and can make a joke out of just about anything. Mother Nature has tested the people of Christchurch beyond measure in recent years and yet, they still smile and make jokes. I cried this week, reading a book about the earthquake; not just because of the deaths, the trauma, the damage caused to this beautiful sea-side city, but due to the comradery, the arms that extended to create a circle of protection for each other, the hope and the optimism they seemed to find even though the city as they knew it had become rubble. Now it’s a re-start city; a lot of decisions still to be made, foundations to be built, a lot of potential energy waiting to find its niche – not unlike migrant me, really. Who knows how this particular story will end, but for now, there are more good days than bad, flip flops have become jandals again, and goddammit, I caught myself singing along to Ace of Base today. Without irony. Forgive me, London.