Friday, 5 February 2016

The Last Toilet Training Adventure

In this latest episode of where-the-hell-did-my-baby-go, apparently Miss Olive is no longer using nappies. 

Like most working parents, this was not so much a conscious discussion as me walking through the door one evening to find her in pants.

Blue Minions pants in case you wondered.

Not that I think you will be overly concerned with the design of my daughters underwear, this is more of a forewarning that the next time you see her, you will be presented with a view of blue Minions knickers.

In reality it was Olive who decided that her time had come – as it should be, it’s her body after all – and like her sister before her, she announced that she wanted to use the potty and the rest, as they say, is history.

On the plus side, it’s summer, which means that puddles and washing dry pretty fast. On the down side, it’s summer, so if you don’t get to the puddles quickly enough then you have to play “hunt the whiff” until you find where she was caught short.

In less than a week, she has learned that “I need the toilet” needs to be announced ahead of time in order to be effective, and that there is a never ending stream of fist bumps and sibling adoration to celebrate her achievements.

While it’s heart-warming to see the older two be so excited and supportive, part of me is also slightly concerned that the first time someone free climbs a cliff, or recites The Lord’s Prayer in Cantonese, or gets accepted into NASA, they are going to lose their collective shit.

Now at this point, I'm sure you have a mental image of smiles, and easy times at our house; but Miss Olive, as with all her enterprises, is very set that there is a time, a place and indeed a way in which to go to the toilet. For the most part, they run something along these lines
Me: Olive, do you need the toilet? 
Olive: Yes I need poo
Me: Ooh OK, sit down here and do your poo
Olive: I do poo 
Me: Yes Olive, you do poo now. 
Olive, grinning: I do POOH FAHT!! 
Me: Sure, if you need to do a poo fart that's OK. 
Olive,  jumping up: POO!!  
Me, looking at the tiny nugget of poo in the potty: Well done Oliebollen, why don't you sit down and see if more poo comes? 
Olive: Need more poo.
 Me: Well sit down then!
Olive: No, poo touching!
 Me: So you want me to clean the potty
Olive: Yes, poo touching. 
**brief interlude while I go and tip the teenie poo down the nearest toilet ** 
Me: Sit down then and see if some poo comes 
Olive: I do poo 
Me: Yes honey, you do poo
Olive: I do FAHT!!!
Me: Yup
Olive, jumping up: MORE POO!!  
Me, looking at the mere smear of poo in the bottom and wondering whether it was left over from last time
Olive: Poo touching.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Great Outdoors

I have come to the conclusion that going camping is one of life's great exposers of truths.

Camping has never been a part of my family vocabulary; growing up we stayed with relatives, or rented cottages and caravans, so my experience of camping was reserved for my twenties and consisted exclusively of visits to sporting events of varying kinds. My sleep was made possible by alcohol, high octane fumes and dancing until the early hours, and I viewed anyone who chose to go camping without these accoutrements with a healthy degree of suspicion.

I still do, even though I am now one of them.

I try very hard to see the benefit of sleeping under canvas, but after several nights of trying to persuade my over tired children to indulge in some sleep, while the radiant summer sunshine beams down and turns our tent into a giant glowing uterus, I have to admit I come up short.

I appreciate that there are people who feel grounded having nestled into mother earth for a solid 12 hour stretch, but after three nights of discovering every rock, twig, gradient and puddle on the forest floor, my eyeballs begin to itch, and I am not much fun to be around.

No really it's true.

I hate being too hot, too cold, being coated in dust, but the clincher for me, the absolute deal breaker, is the nightly internal dialogue between my nailed-to-the-pillow overtired head, and my overfull bladder. I'm not overly fond of playing russian roulette with my internal organs, but not am I keen on the ballache of getting up, finding my shoes, a torch, the toilet paper and then hoping I don't lose my balance over the long drop.   

I suppose the logical question at this point would be to ask why I put myself through this drama if all I'm going to do is complain.

Well, the answer would be threefold:

First; I am British. We are nothing without complaints.

Secondly, because of moments like this  

and the rope swings, and the campfire curries, and the adventures, and the climbing, and the "smarshmallows" and importantly - no, vitally - the fact that I get to make memories with my amazing whānau.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Our Homeschooling Exemption

So we're a home schooling family now: I know, check me out just casually throwing that in there! Yup, we do a bit of unit learning, some workbooking, mix it up with a bit of un-schooling, y'know, just keeping it casual.

Ahahahahahaha! I jest with the casual. This is me, I'm not good with the casual. I'm good with the planning and the writing and the documenting and, yes, even the over-analysing, and stressing, but casual? Not my forte.

This is one area in which Keith and I compliment each other very well, and after three months of this home schooling game, we are starting to find out how each of us fits together to make the perfect puzzle.

But I have started at the end: Let me rewind to a time, about six months ago, when my stress levels were through the roof and all manner of shit was being lost over the little matter of our exemption.

Down here in Aotearoa, any child who is not attending an established school has to be granted an exemption by the Ministry of Education. I have no idea why this has been tolerated in a country where such a healthy dose of self determination usually exists, but that's a rant for another day.

The point is we had to get one before Alfie turned six, and while there is an awesome amount of peer support, you have to tread this lonely path for yourself. I'm pretty sure it's fundamental to you ability to call yourself a home schooling parent; like a badge of honour, or AURYN in The NeverEnding Story.

Like all good quests, we all choose our own paths to reach The Oracle; some people write an essay and riff on the theme of education. Some people - that would be me - turn it into a full scale annotated and referenced report.   

If you have neither the time nor the inclination to read the whole thing, I can help you out with a brief summary: I copied the key subjects and disciplines listed in the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and then went through and wrote some stuff about how we would meet each one. Because my poor, overwhelmed brain needed me to do that, even though it took nine fucking pages!

A few weeks after sending my missive in to the MoE we got a letter asking for more information.

When I read the letter now, I'm all "sure, no problem, check out my riff on on the theme of education". 

At the time, I was all ATRAYUUUUUU!!!! .... FALCORRRRRR!!!! ... ATRAA ... you get the idea, I was on my quest and free falling into the Sea of Possibilities.

Just checking in; anyone still with me on The NeverEnding Story analogy?

Luckily, the additional information that the MoE requested was around how we planned to teach Science and Technology so once I got over my "minor wobble" I rolled up my sleeves and sat down to share with them the song of my people.

Oh yes, my friends, for I am a woman in STEM and if there is one area in which I can riff the shit out of education, it is science and technology.

If you want to read my letter (case worker's name redacted) then you can find it here.

I don't know if it comes over but I had an absolute ball writing that letter because it showed me that even in those few months between ERMIGAHD WE HAVE TO DO TEACHINGS!!!! and that precise moment, Alfie, Keith and I had already started to work out how to do this learning thing in a way that really works for us.
Where before I had seen only curricula and rules and fucking Pinterest posts on how to manage the perfect home classrooms (who has that much time to colour code and file?!?!?) now I was seeing this for what it truly was; a lifelong journey we were all on together. 

Our exemption became a reality thanks to a lot of amazing people feeding me wine and courage. Special thanks goes to you Lynn, without you I would have never made it past The Trials ... or indeed this NeverEnding Metaphor. 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Onwards and upwards in 2016

So a long time ago, when I was writing updates every week and before life got crazy, insane, busy, I posted about doing something called the Dusty Bookshelf Challenge.

“What could be so hard?” I thought naively, “it’s not like you have much in your life right now, what’s a few more challenges?”

Not long after that, shit got real and I'm genuinely surprised I got through the rest of the year alive. I long ago learned from Dooce’s mistake about talking shop on the internet, but seeing as it’s all good things, I'm going to take the chance:

Not long after we came back from the UK, I was offered an amazing opportunity at work to manage a project that will deliver an important piece of software to every hospital from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington. The budget is huge, the pressure is huge, and every day is like herding chickens with a stick of dynamite. The really weird thing is that, despite feeling like I am only ever one volley away from utter disaster, the chickens seem to be heading in vaguely the right direction. 

The downside of this amazing opportunity was that it has had an impact on the 16 non work hours of my day; I barely made my last deadline for the last issue of The Natural Parent, I stopped writing on here, I was getting stressed with the family, my support of the local birth centre project waned … it all felt like very hard work for a while. 

And it was hard work, but it was also worth the effort and while most days I still get home and feel utterly cabbaged, I also had the sense to take my own oft given advice to “be kind to myself” and now that I feel like I have glimpses of brain power to spare, I want to get back into writing on here. 

I miss it. I miss everything about it. 

So anyway, I promise there will be no catch up post. Over the next little while as I get back into things, I will write whatever it is I want to write about by recapping on the HALF YEAR I have been AWOL and then carry on like nothing ever happened. 

Because I'm British, and we long ago turned “Carry On Regardless” into an art form. 

Anyway, the Dusty Bookshelf Challenge. Long story short? I failed. I did manage to read some of the books though, and I have a few thoughts about them to share:

The Snow Child

This was inherited from my family with a glowing recommendation, and I will be taking that up with them when next we meet. Is it a fairy tale? Is it reality? 

Genuinely I have no idea, nor did the author.

Like the main characters I was just grateful for the distraction from the unrelenting misery of Alaskan life. 


I have no idea why this book terrifies me; but between the themes of loss and anger and how easily hardship strips the ability to hold a shred of empathy for your fellow human being, it does.

There are so many themes to this book I could write an entire thesis on it - in fact some have - but what sang out to me, that I could relate to most closely, were the discussions around motherhood and at the nature of female friendship.

Thinking about them took me to dark places I try hard not to acknowledge in myself.

This is a world where a mother burns her son to death, and where a daughter stands by curiously while her mother writhes in agony: These are not things I could ever see myself capable of, but it challenges you, as a reader, to look at how far removed from dispassion each of us really is.

There are no easy answers offered by Sula, and no glory either, not is her rebellion, nor in her friend’s conformity.


It took me a while to get into this book, in part because of the author’s determination to end every paragraph with a witty statement and in part because it was shaping up to be a back-slapping, rose tinted, wallow in the “good old days” of one of New York’s most violent neighbourhoods.

I’ll admit it, I came to this book cold. I didn’t read the blurb, I didn’t notice the words “True Story” on the front cover, and I was swayed by the black and white cover image of four smiling boys.

Damn you smiling boys and your false promises!

This book is dark, I mean serious dark. It is a look at life in a young offenders’ home in the 1960s and it will give you nightmares. If you have sons, you will read this and fight the urge to sneak into their rooms while they sleep to wrap them protectively in your arms.

Slightly surprisingly, the last quarter of this book takes an engaging, if morally contrite, view of what constitutes “justice”. And I concede that there was no need for me to spend hours navel gazing over it, I could have, y’know, just read the book and moved on with my life like a normal person.

But I didn't.

A Certain Smile

You know how long it took me to read this book? About the same time as it takes an average teenager to decide the answer to the eternal question of “does he like me?”, which is handy because the entire book is basically a treatise on that exact question.

STOP ALREADY!! Yes he likes you, but not in the way you want him to like you. He just wants sex, which is what you said you wanted too, before you accidentally went and fell in love with him and became best friends with his wife.

This book is getting mailed to the next person who pisses me off as a kind of passive aggressive revenge.

The Fast Set

This was actually my pick of the year, which came as a huge surprise because it is a factual account of the lives of the three greats of British Land Speed Records: Henry Segrave, Malcolm Campbell, and John Cobb.

It could have gone either way; it was either going to be like reading a library catalogue or it was going to be all about the drama and the violence of shoehorning several tons of truculent iron to ungodly speeds.

It was the latter, not just because the actual record breaking stuff is a pretty stunning read, but because the author spins a bloody good yarn. Setting aside the fact he has now ruined my view of Malcolm Campbell forever, he was also able to strike exactly the right balance to make the characters compelling, but flawed.

I can see now why this was the book that sparked an unhealthily expensive obsession with LSR memorabilia in our household. 

McCarthy’s Bar

In 2003, Keith and I took our first holiday together; a 10 day trip around Ireland on our motorbikes. 

I had already read McCathy’s Bar by this point and it strikes me that it must have somehow woven itself into my subconscious because it turns out we did a similar trip to the one described in the book, including a trip to Dingle:
“The bicycle shop that is a pub also sells vegetable seeds and items of hardware. I go inside for an inner tube and some cabbage seeds, but I don’t really need them, so I have a pint instead.
I take a seat at the tiny bar, on a stool next to two conspicuously veined old Kerymen.
“How are ye enjoying yer holiday?” one of them asks me
“It’s grand thanks. I’d say the town’s changed since I was last here though”
“sure it has” He takes a sip of whiskey. “I blame that feckin’ dolphin”
Poor Fungie the Dolphin, so little respect from the locals. 

Like Pete McCarthy, we too stayed in Virgin Mary adorned rooms attached to half shop pubs and got frequently and gloriously lost on all the unlabelled roads along the way. Reading this book was like reliving my own holiday in all its comic, messy glory.

So, I missed a few off the list, but considering the way 2015 panned out, I don’t think I did too badly.

I also managed to sign myself up to do a video review of a water repelling T Shirt. If you want to see how that went, you can check it out here

I don’t think Sir Peter will be quaking in his boots at my cinematic prowess just yet.
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