Mother-me, fly-on-the-wall.

“You should be glad they call you a nerd,” the older one says.  The strain of his emotions twists his face all out of shape.  “Trust me, you don’t want to be called a dumb-ass like me!”  He whirls around and sets his eyes on the road, fighting the swell in his throat.

The younger one is silent for just a second.

“But you’re popular!  You’re the most popular kid in the school,”  he says.   His voice begins to wobble.  “I don’t have any friends, you said that yourself.  You said I was a loser!”

“You’re not a loser, idiot.  I just said that because I’m jealous, don’t you get it?  You’re brainy, you’re ahead in everything.  The highest maths set, the highest literacy set, the highest spelling set.  But what about me?  I’m the lowest, nothing but a stupid dumb-ass.“  Two fat tears bolt free and sprint down his cheeks.

Again there is silence.  The younger one stares out the window on his side of the road, his face stained red from the tracks of his own tears, minutes earlier.

“You’re not dumb,” he whispers after a minute.   The words don’t come easily.  He is not used to giving an inch.

But it is a shocking thing, to see his brother in tears.  Hasn’t he always been the tough one, the one with the freedom and confidence to go wherever he pleases and do whatever he pleases, never once giving a thought for how he looks or what anyone else might think of him?   Doubt is not a word in his vocabulary.  He walks through the world as if all life is a play and he wrote the script himself while he, the younger one, spends hours trying to deconstruct the social world so even the most banal of  interactions make sense to him.

He remembers that summer when he was 5 and his brother 8.  They spent weeks traveling around in their parent’s house bus, making friends in every new camping ground they called in at.  It was a seamless process.  Pull up,  walk over, start playing.

The younger one thought his brother must have known those kids from some other place, met them some other time, the way he just slotted into their games like a missing piece of jigsaw puzzle.  But he worked out later that there was a process, a normal pattern of events.  First, he remembers thinking, you say hello.  And then they might make friends with you.

Yet here he is now, this bullet-proof older brother who faces down school yard taunts with laughter and a flick of his silky fringe, crying because he isn’t immune to doubt, after all.

“You’re not dumb,” the younger one says again.  Louder this time.

The older one feels the tension in his shoulders giving way.  He sighs and wipes away the tears.  It’s not his brother’s fault.  He knows it isn’t.  It would be easy if there was someone other than himself to blame, but there isn’t.  His brain just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.  He forgets things like times tables and commas and methods for solving long-division.

But he can recite extended passages of audio books.  And exact turns of phrase used in picture books he read when he was three.  And what people were wearing the first time he met them.  His mother thinks it’s amazing and is always getting him to do recall tricks for fun, but inside he’s raging.

Why couldn’t he have just had a normal brain that remembered the things it was supposed to remember instead of things that have no purpose, no reason to even be noticed, let alone stored up using what limited brain capacity he has in supply?

It’s not like he would have asked to be the brainiest.  Just smart enough to avoid the labels.  Dyselxic.  Dyspraxic.  Delayed.  Dumb-ass.  He acts like he doesn’t care and that it doesn’t hurt, but it does.  The labels don’t wash away.  They stay embedded in his skin and in his thoughts and come floating back to him every single time someone puts a test paper in front of him.

“Believe me,” he says, kicking the dashboard with his feet.  “It’s better to be called a nerd and be brainy than be poplar and dumb,”

The younger one looks across at his brother, his brown eyes hard as steel.  It is an unfamiliar sight, to see his emotions so exposed like this.  People say they are similar, with their sandy-brown hair and similar heights, they get mistaken for twins all the time.  But they are not alike.  At least, not in the ways that people see.

When he was born, the older one rushed into the delivery room expecting to find a fully-fledged brother, standing up, ready-to-go.  He lifted the blanket of the tiny little package, frantically shouting “Where are the legs of him?  Where are the legs of him?!”

Perhaps that was why the younger one learnt to walk at just 9 months.  He’s never been one to keep people waiting.

“It’s pop-U-lar,” he says now, doing his best to sound neutral.

“What?” says the older one, frowning.

“You said poplarPoplar is a type of tree.

He is a smart-arse, sometimes, the older one thinks, gritting his teeth and trying to ignore the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.  But it is no use.  Laughter is a slippery thing.  If you step anywhere near its edge it will suck your feet right out from under you.

The younger one falls first, a little slip, just a chuckle.  The older one follows, shoulders shaking with the weight and energy of it, even as the tears still flow.

Their laughter fills the back of the car, loud and full and ridiculous.

I drive on, mother-me, fly-on-the-wall.

=====

Here’s a video of the same boys on a different car journey, a few years ago.  Different range of emotions, but the same closeness.  It’s a beautiful thing, albeit noisy (and complicated and affecting and raw and wonderful), having a brother.

Dear Teacher, I don’t care about my kid’s grades.

Dear Teacher,

Hi there. Glad to meet you.

I wanted to take a couple of minutes to let you know that I don’t care about grades, targets, inputs, outputs, data, graphs, averages, national standards or any other fashionable way of measuring my kid’s so-called achievement. I especially don’t care about these things if it means producing such paperwork is sapping your inspiration and leaving you tired and stressed in the classroom.

I want you to have sufficient time to plan lessons that are relevant to the class and the students in front of you today. I have confidence in your ability to recognise when a particular style or method isn’t working, and to adapt the lesson accordingly. Every kid is different, we all know that. I also know that the rigid policy pushing you to prioritise the particular method or theory that is popular today, is not the same method that was popular yesterday.

I know that you have a wealth of experience working with children and I value that experience for the nuanced, unique and practical wisdom it has given you. Use it. I want you to be adventurous and spontaneous in the classroom, even if it means… no, especially if it means doing things outside the square. When you discover, for example, that one of your student’s parents knows someone who can come and talk about their first hand experience of the topic you’re studying – a standing MP, a refugee, a former Olympian, I want you to have the flexibility, flair and above all management support, to totally re-work the term calendar to fit that opportunity in.

I want you to lead as much by instinct for what you can see is working right in front of you, as by your training. You will come to know your students well during the year; what is likely to interest and motivate them. Do that. I want you to teach my kid how to learn, not solely what to learn. Moreover, I want you to inspire him as a lifelong learner, not to turn him off by studying topics or reading books that you yourself find boring.

I want you to be part of the reason my kid goes to school in the morning with a spring in his step. It’s a cliche to say that teachers should be inspirational, but what’s so wrong with the cliche?

When kids play up and frustrate the hell out of you, or lack respect for your authority, I want you to know that I trust your judgment on the best way to deal with it. I’ve got your back. I want you to be firm – but fair. On the other hand, when a kid is acting out and you can see through his/her behaviour for what it really is, I want you to be generous enough to keep on trying and never give up on that kid.

I want you to be paid well. Your remuneration should reflect the value that we place as a society on education – which is to say there is no more important job (except perhaps mine!) The hard work, patience and dedication teaching demands needs to be given proper recognition.

By the same token, I want to know that you’re not there just for the holidays, or because you thought teaching would be a convenient profession, or because it was the cheapest and quickest degree on offer at university and only required a C+ average for admittance. I want to know that you were selected from among the best of the best. I want to know you’re not going to turn up to school merely to tick boxes and tow the line, but because you love the job and believe in what you do.

If you’re worried about my kid, you can speak to me directly. No need to wait for the end of the term, have a quick word with me at the end of the day. If I could be doing more to support you in the classroom, tell me. On the other hand, if I come to school and say my kid didn’t do the homework last night because we went for a bike ride, or to hang out with the grandparents, or we stayed up late reading a book together, I want you to say “cool.”

And in the end of year reports, you should know that I’m less interested in how my kid did in the tests than I am in what you think of him as an individual, what sort of learner he is, how he relates to you and to his peers. I know that after all those long monotonous hours of marking is done, that’s all that really matters.

Because in 25 years time when I’m rummaging through my boxes of old memorabilia, it’s not the numbers in the column I’ll look at, but the words that you wrote,

Signed,

A Parent.

***As we draw to the end of another school year and look forward to the next, this post is dedicated to all the hard working teachers out there writing reports and marking exams. It’s inspired by my experience of a teacher who embodied the very essence of this letter and more, as you can see in this tribute video made by his students at the end of the year.. Thank you, teachers, for all that you do.

Let this space be a reminder of how much I Hate Love You.

no more minecraftSix months ago I downloaded Minecraft for my kid, the 10 year old.

Five months ago I imposed time limits on it.

Four months ago I drastically reduced those time limits.

Three months ago I reduced those limits again.

Two months ago I reduced them once more.

One month ago I banned the computer altogether.

Yesterday, I packed up the computer and put into storage.

Then I said to my kid, “When you look at that empty space, let it be a reminder of how much I love you.”

To which he replied: “And let it be a reminder to you of how much I HATE you!”

But drastic times call for drastic measures.

Once upon a time I cursed the sound of scraping Lego in the box, I lamented the holes in my feet caused by trodding on bricks littered about the carpet. But until yesterday I hadn’t heard the sound of Lego in months, my heels blissfully smooth. Because when the kid wasn’t playing Minecraft, he was sitting on the couch wanting to play Minecraft. He was sullen, moody, agitated and completely lacking in motivation and imagination.

And then I realised: He was addicted to the thing. Minecraft was like a drug and he’d get his fix even if it meant sitting on the couch watching the clock tick. The other two aren’t like that – they self-moderate to a large extent. Screen time gets boring eventually. If it’s taken away, they find something else just as, or even more interesting, instead. But the eldest kid is different. Enforcing moderation, I realised, was not only futile but it was also kinda cruel. Like taking an alcoholic to a bar and saying “Now, you can have just ONE drink.” The computer was always there, as soon as he came home from school, as soon as he woke up in the morning. It represented potential. Opportunity. The fleeting chance that Mum might, just might back down and let him on it (not a misplaced hope since in moments of weakness or guilt I sometimes did relent.)

The night before I packed up the computer I had the same wrenching feeling in my gut as I did when I held him back a year at school. The same bread-knife-raking feeling I’ve had at other times in my life too. The feeling you get when the Right Thing to do is also the Hardest Thing to do. Anyway, I digress.

The point is, The Pied Piper had stolen my kid and I had to bring him back, by whatever means possible and before it was too late. I needed to breathe life back into the 10 year old boy who once built a go kart out of scrap wood and a broken push chair (well, it was broken after he took it apart, anyway). The same kid who could find a flat white 5 piece in a bucket of lego bricks faster than a gun slingin’ cowboy. The kid who wrote and performed his first song on the guitar at 7, who couldn’t read until he was 8 but could recite whole passages of books before he could properly pronounce the letter “D”. The kid who never came across a cardboard box he couldn’t use.

If it means he hates me, it’s a price I’ll pay.

 

*Postscript* There were tears, there was hair-pulling (his, not mine), there were outrageous accusations that didn’t exactly not-hurt. All of it inevitable. But then, life went on. There wasn’t enough milk for the cereal in the morning. The post came. The cat from next door shat all over the doorstep. The boys scrapped with their sister about a rubber dinosaur. They played on the trampoline. And then, the kid dug out his skateboard. He got down a recipe book and made pancakes. He sat at the empty desk and spread out, drawing pictures all over my expensive printer paper, leaving pencil shavings all over the floor and felts without lids. Then I stood on a staple. And it was bliss.

Minecraft = 1 Mum = 2

*** This post was written a long time ago but was recently reblogged and as a result has attracted a lot of new attention, most of it negative and some even quite aggressive – something completely foreign to me as a blogger. Apart from the offensive or anonymous comments which I have and will continue to remove, I have tried to reply to all of the comments.  It is, however, proving an impossible task… not to mention repetitive!  So I’m going to stop responding – instead, here’s a summary of what I’ve said to detracters below.

In taking away the computer and Minecraft, my intention was only to teach my son moderation in the long term. I had played Minecraft and I have a good understanding of what it’s about. My only goal was to ensure that he developed interests in other things as well. I am not scared of technology in fact, I’m pretty sure the kid inherited much of his love and fascination with technology from me. I’m always making cool stuff on the computer – building websites, videos, photobooks and slideshows etc.   So there wasn’t a huge divide between us – but as an adult I know it’s important for me to do other stuff as well; that reading books, socialising, working etc, are also necessary and enriching life experiences.

So We had a clean break from computer life (even for me) and made an effort to do a whole lot of other things: some of them old school (card games and the like) some of them sporty, we even began watching cool technology documentaries on netflix and old Steve Jobs talks, as well as seeking out YA fiction about IT and online life (there are some great novels on these subjects coming out now).  He read Steve Jobs’ biography (the kid’s version) and walked me through his life blow by blow, which was hugely entertaining.  So you can see, even when Minecraft wasn’t around I still found ways to support and endorse and share in his passion for everything technology.

Then, after about 6 months we reintroduced the computer and Minecraft.  The kid’s interest is still as keen as ever, but he’s much calmer and moderate with it. Time limits aren’t stressful to enforce. He willingly and of his own accord goes off to do other things.

All I ever wanted to teach him was the importance of moderation. It’s hard for a 10 year old to work that on their own – I felt like it was my job as a parent to try and show him.  A clean break to begin may have seemed harsh but we had exhausted all our other options, and I guess my post was simply a shout out to other parents out there like me…. because all of us, at some point, come to a crossroads and know we must do the hard thing, the difficult thing, in order to do right by our kids in the long run.  It aint easy, but no-one said parenting would be.   You may not agree with the approach I took and you are entitled to your opinion, but what I can tell you is that the solution worked for us.  Life is better, post Minecraft-wars.

Cheers.

Learning the local language: “What Can We Do?” (or: seatbelts, milk powder, and rain in the desert)

Dubai was moody yesterday.  The sky was dark and threatened rain, a promise rarely made good in the desert.  I stood outside the hotel, the air thick with a coarse mixture of sand and humidity. The very worst of bad hair days.

A bell-boy flagged a cab down for me, but I ushered it on when I saw it had only two seat belts in the back.  The next taxi, similarly lacking, informed me I was wasting my time – all taxis in Dubai have only two seat belts in the back seat.  I held out, not wanting to choose which of my three children would travel without a seat belt on some of the world’s most dangerous roads.

Four taxis and as many frustrated drivers later, we clambered into a car with the required number of seat belts.  I smiled across at the driver, pleased with myself.  Just then, a voice from the back seat.  “Mum!  I can’t plug my seat belt in!  I can’t find the thing!”  I asked the driver to pull over to the verge while I thrust my hand into the bowels of the dirty seat searching in vain for the clicky-thingey.  My fingers came back with crumbs and hair.

“Not working madam.  Only two seat belts in the back.”

We drove on.  When we were finally settled, the driver looked at me in the rear view mirror and smiled reassuringly.  “Don’t worry madam, I am take it very slow.  I am very safe driver, very safe driver.”  I returned his smile, grateful for his kindness.  We now appeared to be reconciled.  I had swapped places with Cormac, my eldest child, giving him the front seat instead.   I reasoned that the airbag in the front, with a seatbelt, was a lesser risk than no seatbelt at all.  This was a view the taxi driver appeared not share, as our tangle of arms and legs pushed through the gap between the seats.  “He is too young for to be sitting in the front madam!” he had protested.

This led to an inevitable discussion about the traffic in Dubai.  The difficulty navigating the complex maze of arteries sweeping back and forth, to and from Sheikh Zayed Road, tying the city up in knots.  “Driving is not any problem, it’s very easy to drive in Dubai,”  the driver said as he answered his phone.  “Unless there is accident happening.  If accident happening, pwoof,” he said, swishing both hands, palm up, in the air.  What can we do? he meant, in local body language.

It was true that he knew the roads well though.  We took a back route towards Dubai Mall, joining the end of a slow, snaking queue that led towards the gaping mouth of the Trade Centre roundabout.  We came upon the junction slowly, passing three cars jaggedly stalled across the centre lanes.  A motorbike lay on its side at the nearest exit fork, its rider’s helmet sitting incongruently pretty on the curb nearby.  The rider, nowhere to be seen.  From the front seat, my eldest strained to see as we drove by.  “A pizza delivery bike, Mum” he said.

The taxi driver elaborated.  “Always hungry, bring me the food hurry hurry, the people say.  This is why the motorbikes is driving like this.  They are coming through the middle, so you don’t see them.  Then smash!”  he used a hand-to-fist action to illustrate.  “This is very dangerous job, very dangerous.  People want the food too fast.”

We came onto Sheikh Zayed Road and picked up a little speed.  We passed time by exchanging the usual pleasantries.  Where are you from?  (Bangladesh/New Zealand).  How long have you been here?  (Three years/Two years).  Your country is very good at cricket! (Thank you/Not really, but thank you also!).  It was when we were talking about his son, three years and 9 months old who he’d seen only twice since he left Bangladesh, that I noticed the cars had stopped up ahead.  The Dubai Mall exit was at a standstill.

I assumed heavy traffic inside the parking building, and we continued to talk.  The driver told me he qualified as a lawyer, but had been so dispirited by the corruption of the justice system in Bangladesh that he’d looked for work elsewhere.  But times are difficult in Bangladesh, he explained.  “Very dangerous” he said, “Same Afghanistan.  Not safe.”  Then, in 2008, tragedy struck.  His first born child, a son, died of food poisoning.

“Food poisoning?”

“Yes madam.  Very sad.  Very very sad.”  He looked across at Cormac who was kneading his fingers in his lap in the front seat, eyes downcast.  His listening posture.  “He is big boy, like him.”

What I managed to clarify is that if his son had survived, he would be a big boy by now.  But the baby had lived only 39 days.  The contaminated baby formula that had affected thousands in China, had also killed this man’s son in Bangladesh in 2008.  “His stomach is getting very big, very fat, and his skin is coming a white colour.  Very painful for him.  Very very painful.”

I googled it later.  Reports are sketchy, but there were at least 4 children reported dead in Bangladesh as a result of melamine poisoning, and several hundred more were hospitalised.  The taxi driver’s voice was hoarse as he told his story.  “It was the doctors.  The companies is paying them to say it is good milk.  Better than my wife’s milk.  It is corruption, always corruption.”

Inside, the car was becoming hot.  I noticed groups of people, presumably other taxi passengers, trudging along the shoulder towards the mall on foot.  Straining to see up ahead, I spotted the bowed elbow of a tow truck hard at work.  Behind us the tell-tale siren announced the arrival of another emergency vehicle.  “Pwoof.”  The driver said with his hands.  “Too much accidents today.”

When it became clear we might be there for another hour or more, we shook hands and bid the driver farewell.  My excessive tip did nothing to assuage my feelings of guilt – for what, I am not sure.  On the shoulder I made the children form a line and marched them along the highway as close to the barrier as I could.

The wet heat loomed like a weight on my shoulders as we walked.  The weight of my own thoughts loomed even heavier.

This town is tough.  Relationships with people outside your social or cultural grouping tend to be transactional.  I thought of Morshed, also Bangladeshi, who looked after our floor at the hotel where we stayed for three months when we first arrived to live in Abu Dhabi.  I thought of how he cried when we moved out.  He cried in a strangled voice that made me want to look away.  Bobbie was the same age as his daughter.  They both had short brown bob hair-cuts.  As the glass lift descended the 23 floors we watched Morshed push his trolley back along the corridor, his shoulders still shaking.  With wisdom beyond his years Cormac had said “Why did you make friends with him Mum?  You just made it harder for him.”

Distances are always hard to judge on foot.  It took us at least twenty minutes to reach the crash site.  By the time we passed, there was nothing to see, thankfully, except a scattered rainbow of glass and scrunched metal.  We stepped over the debris, and continued to walk.  The children, for once, did not complain. Sweat gathered under our eyes, a natural adhesive for the gusting sand.  Below us, the twelve lane highway of Sheikh Zayed pulsed.  Above us a thundering overpass announced each car with a muted pe-dung, pe-dung.

Up ahead, I realised with a sinking dread that we would have to get across a three lane motorway on-ramp to reach the safety of the mall entrance.  I tightened my grip on the kids’ hands, barked at Cormac to stay close.  I approached the curb, rigid with fear.  Cars flashed by in a blur, one-two, one-two.  I felt my breakfast turning to liquid inside.

A young couple, hand in hand, fell in beside us, gazing confidently into the distance for a gap in the traffic.  The woman had dark black hair and smelt of cigarettes and rich, opulent perfume.   She smiled across the top of the children’s heads, raising her hands in that familiar What can we do? gesture.  She noticed I was struggling and offered to help.  Like a taxi in want of seat belts, my two hands were insufficient for three children.  Later, she apologised for her poor command of English, which was infinitely better than my command of Arabic.  She told me she was from Tunisia (“Yes, we are famous now!”) visiting Dubai on holiday.

When they punted across the road with Liam between them, a moment’s hesitation on my part kept me rooted to the spot.  Now they were there, and we were over here.  Bobbie began to cry and clawed up my arm so I might carry her.  Cormac’s face was white.  My courage to cross the road was evaporating.

Then, out of nowhere, a big black SUV with tinted windows threw on its hazard lights and slowed down, the ripple effect causing others to follow suit.  I noticed the driver was in local dress, waving us across with a look of concern on his face.  When we made it to the mall the Tunisians laughed in their cheerful manner, hugging and kissing each of us in turn, before heading to a nearby bench for a quick cigarette.  The sweet smell of the woman’s perfume gave way to the overpowering stench of freshly applied manure.  A line-up of workers in green overalls were massaging the dank mixture into the soil of the perfectly manicured flower beds leading up to the the mall’s entrance.

An unusual smell, safety.

On the way back to the hotel, we got a taxi with three seatbelts and a driver whose knowledge of the back channels of the city suggested he was no stranger to Dubai’s roads either.  We didn’t trade pleasantries though.  I think Cormac, whose brow was still furrowed, was relieved about that.  Making our way through the hotel car park, a big black SUV with tinted windows pulled out suddenly, nearly ploughing into us.  “These local drivers!” the driver said with exasperation, blaring the horn.  “They don’t look.  They don’t care.”

That night, driving home to Abu Dhabi in the relative safety of our own car, the rain came after all.  Great white cracks appeared in the night sky and the rain escaped like shattered glass, lacing the windshield in silver rivulets.  The kids whooped with surprise and delight.  I looked out into the inky black night, thinking about milk powder and dead babies, and lawyers who are taxi drivers and housekeepers in faraway lands, and taxi drivers who have no patience for black SUVs with tinted windows, and locals who stop for unexpected highway pedestrians, and Tunisians who are famous for being Tunisian.  And I think about people who have the luxury to worry about seat belts and bad hair days.  And I wonder: What can we do?

Farewell Mr Pearce, The Best Teather Ever

A few weeks ago we had to farewell, in Cormac’s words, the “Best Teather Ever” (even if he never did teach him how to spell).  The video above was put together by all the many students whose lives Mr Pearce not only touched during his four years at Al Muna school in Abu Dhabi, but probably changed as well.  You see, Mr Pearce was no ordinary teacher.  pearceHe’s one of those rare breeds; a vocational teacher who isn’t in it for the money (such that it is), the holidays or the so-called convenience, but because it’s what he was born to do.  Even if he wasn’t a teacher, he’d be that guy at the family picnic organising the kids (“sit down”, “don’t do that”), laughing with them and playing some invented game and telling stories and talking to them, while all the adults talk to each other.  In some ways, having observed him a lot over the years, I think he’s just a big kid himself.  He has a sense of the ridiculous and the absurd and the hilarious in a way that most adults train themselves out of.

Of course I can’t speak for Cormac because obviously I wasn’t in the classroom. I can only relay the things that he has said and share my observations of the changes in him as the year progressed.  For a start there was his enthusiasm in general. Like a kindergarten kid, he started taking all manner of things to school for “sharing”. “You’re 10!” I reminded/reprimanded him. “Give the teacher a break” I said, embarrassed for him as he carried his giant 6 pointer deer skull proudly through the gates, or yet another lego creation he considered to be highly original and not just another tall building made of blocks.

Cormac with Mr PearceBut instead of being tolerated politely by Mr Pearce, C came home with awards – so many, in fact, a younger sibling had Mr Pearce up about it in the playground. “How come C gets so many certificates even though he’s the naughtiest person in our family?” And there was fun too. Apparently Mr Pearce was all about ambience in the classroom, and let the kids complete their maths sheets while humming away to “Party Rockers in the House Tonight”.

“He’s funny”, C said almost every day when I picked him up – which everyone knows is a compliment of the highest order for a kid. “He tells us stories,” by which I took to mean he read books aloud in class. As it turns out, what he meant was that Mr Pearce regularly devulged scandalous stories from his trove of childhood memories growing up with 5 brothers and 1 sister in rural Australia.   His Mother would probably have a heart attack if she knew.

Best TeatherAnd by all accounts, Mr Pearce is damn good at his trade too. During the Rainforest topic Cormac came home with stories of how Mr Pearce drew the curtains, turned the lights down, ordered shoes off, and sprayed the kids with water. With closed eyes, he encouraged them to imagine being in the rainforest and to observe how they felt – “Does the hair on your neck stand up like soliders standing to attention?” he asked. “That’s how he taught us what a simile is” C told me later.

When C’s handwriting was indecipherable, Mr Pearce put a rubber band around his wrist and hooked it on to the tip of his pencil so that he would maintain the correct grip. In so doing C’s pitiful handwriting was fixed almost overnight. I said to Mr Pearce “you’re a genius!” and he said – “nah, not really – you know that’s just a placebo, right?”

IMG_0546Our other children are moving through the school at different stages and everywhere there are traces of Mr Pearce’s influence. From the Great Australian Sleepout to the Click Photography unit to “Tribal day” – all of them sprung from the depths of Mr Pearce’s limitless imagination. He once said to me “If I don’t find at subject interesting, why would I expect the kids to?”

It makes you wonder, in all the debate that always rages about standards and testing and funding and responsibility, if somewhere along the way we haven’t lost sight of the basics.

IMG_0574And the kids know it too. When I learned Mr Pearce would be leaving in the new year I felt I should do my best to prepare C for the bad news. I said “you know that one day Mr Pearce might want to move on, don’t you – maybe he’d like to become a Principal one day for example?”. C looked me dead in the face and said without hesitation “why would he want to do that? He’s too good a teacher for that to happen to him”. Because by a kid’s logic, only the best teachers (best teathers) earned the right to stand in front of the class, right?  Putting a teacher behind a computer in a big flash office on his own, far away from children, was clearly a demotion.

Mr Pearce has been gone about a month and his absence is definitely still felt.  Take a look at the video and you’ll see why.  It isn’t just your average teacher that inspires this sort of reaction in kids.

Goodbye Mr Pearce

Bringing Halloween to New Zealand: A pioneer remembers.

I don’t know what’s going on. Yesterday I found myself beseiged by a group of possessed children waving plastic, fake-blood-drenched fingers at me in the aisles of the supermarket. They were my kids. And what’s worse, I not only proceeded to buy them a pack of aforementioned fingers, but I also threw in a fake ball and chain, a blood-soaked axe, a good-for-nothing-broom, and several bags of the cheapest, most toxic-looking lollies China has ever produced.

And why? Because it’s Halloween again. You know, that glorious time of year where we get into the spirit of a tradition we know nothing about by spending money we don’t have on shit that will have disintegrated by Monday.

And I suddenly found myself wondering: “How did this happen?” Because, you see, I come from New Zealand. A place where, when I was growing up, the only thing a pumpkin was ever good for was eating. And even then only if it was on special. The idea of carving scary faces out of it, or pumping dry ice out from under your garage, or worst of all, scabbing food from the neighbours, was simply unthinkable.

Or was it? Thanks to a timely post by my trusty school-girl friend Lara on the subject (actually I think the article was more specifically about sex and Halloween) I was given pause to reflect. Had I not also, as a child, marvelled at the idea of Trick or Treating? Of dressing up and charging into the streets in search of free food? Of course I had! What 10 year old wouldn’t? Maybe I should give my kids a break. Buy them those goddamned costumes and stop being a drag, I thought to myself.

But then again….Halloween in MY day didn’t involve my parents doling out cash like it grew on trees. Ha ha ha! As if they would have! In fact, with Lara’s help, who by the way has a memory like a steel trap for these things (and usually the photographic evidence to prove it), I was able to recall in some detail the events surrounding the first ever Halloween expedition our neighbourhood had ever seen.

Here’s how we remember it. The year was 1987.

Kathryn was wearing a paperbag with nothing but knickers on underneath (an allegation yet to be verified), while I had adorned my head and face with a pair of my mum’s thick opaque tights. Over my nose and mouth. Bank robber-style. Lara’s parents apparently loved her more than Kathryn’s and mine, because she was wearing a home-made cat-suit complete with little ears and whiskers. Bitch. We set off in search of treats, or as we called it back then “scabbing”.

I remember that very few people opened the door to us. Those that did asked us to repeat the question. Were we selling something?
“No, give us lollliessss!!!! Trick or Treat!!!”
“Yeah! Like on Who’s the Boss!”

They brought an older kid out to translate, and then when they finally understood what we were on about, roared with laughter and shut the door in our faces. Most people, however, pretended not to be home. The worst ones pulled back their orange curtains and stared at us from their lounge-room windows, as though we couldn’t see them. We stared back. They tsk tsk-ed their lament of wayward children like us and retreated from view. We moved on, undeterred. I’m sure one old biddy threatened to call the police. Ha! Never mind us worrying about the kind of homes our kids might go up to when they go trick or treating today; back in our time, it was the householder who felt victimised. Children demanding food like that? The shame of it!

I do recall that we got a packet of biscuits though. Maybe not the whole thing, maybe three vanilla wines each. And Lara reminded me there was also a can of tinned fruit, though I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t used on us as a weapon: “Go on!! Get!! Or I’ll throw this tin of peaches at you dammit!”. She also mentioned that poor Kathryn lost much of her costume and had to limp home in shreds when the neighbourhood boys threw a bunch of double-happies at us on our way past. Yeah, double-happies, remember those? What kind of parents bought their kids fireworks and let them go unsupervised? Our generation’s, apparently. “Here you go darling, go and terrorise the neighourhood kids will you? Especially the girls.”

On our last stop we called into my own house. My mother was on the phone when she opened the door, a pretty important call as I would later learn, but at the time all I registered was a woman shrieking foul insults at me and my friends. Standing, as we were, in our cats-pajamas and paper-bags and gangster get-ups. Her arms weren’t arms, but axes, chopping us up bit by bit. You think a bit of dry ice is scary, try catching my Mum on an off-moment. She grounded me and sent me to my room. I hope I managed to keep my score of wine biscuits. (PS, no hard feelings Mum).

Anyway, as I stood there in the check-out today recalling all these bizarrely comforting memories, it struck me. We were pioneers! We broke in that virgin land that had never before heard of a thing called “Halloween”. And we paved the merry way so that our own children could one day enjoy the occasion as they will.

But at what point in my efforts to bring Halloween to New Zealand, did I say “I’m going through this torment so that when I’m 35, I can spend 100 dollars on crap and junk for my own kids. Every year?” When did I resign myself to listening to ungrateful brats console each other that my house always gives out the crappy lollies from China that will probably poison you? Smarmy buggers, I want to yell at them. Smarmy little buggers in your warehouse costumes!! Bring back home-made costumes! You insult your forebears with your lack of imagination, your total absence of originality and determination!

To be able to rock up to someone’s house and see the dry ice in the hall, to be met by a kindly old lady whose focus for the entire week has been what type of lollies to stock this year. Do you think that stuff just “happens”? Where’s the appreciation for our sacrafice? For our burnt ankles and shattered spirits and empty stomachs? Where’s your knickers and tights and paper bags? You want Halloween? How’s about you taste tinned fruit on the backside! And hear that? That’s the sound of double happies snapping at your ankles! And then I’m gonna ground your ass! How do you like that eh!? You want Halloween, om gonna give you Halloween!

But you know what, as I tucked the kids up into bed I realised something very, very significant. Actually, I didn’t realise it at all – it was my kid, the ten year old, who pointed it out. He said: “Mum, I don’t know why you always get so grumpy about Halloween. You always take all our lollies away and eat them yourself anyway.” Which is, in fact, the truth. I confiscate Halloween hauls every year under the pretext that it’s bad for their teeth, only to gorge myself silly on “candy” for a whole week straight. He’s right. I just love Halloween.

So from now on, when I put my feet up with my bags of hard-won goodies in hand, I will do so guiltlessly. I will raise my wrappers to my 10-year old girl-gang in a solemn salute. Because we brought Halloween to New Zealand. Hoorah!!

The Best Thing About Leaving (A Movie)

I am an expert at leaving. Airports are my thing. I grew up close enough to one to feel like I could actually see those smug passengers through the windows of the jumbo jet, sneering down at me as the wings of their plane cut across the sky.

I was ten before I took my first international flight but I was at the airport every other week thanks to the endless inward-outward flow of holidaying relatives. I loved and hated the 30 minute journey in equal measure. As I sat squashed in the backseat between Aunty This One and Uncle That One, a 12 kilo carry-on bag deadening my thighs, I would pretend that it was me who had the tickets to Outtahere, not them. I’d devise my destination and be halfway across the Atlantic in my minds-eye by the time the terminal came into view.

My daydreams could never be maintained long enough to provide any lasting satisfaction, though. There were photos of miserable people embracing by the departure gate to take. Cigarettes to be chain smoked. And then of course a female traveler would lose the boarding passes and blame it on the male traveler and bickering would ensue.  Finally, a brave (or bored) person would give the cue.  Damp hankies would be scrunched and arms untangled. Promises made to write. Then, as whoever it was strode away, swept along on a tide that seemed only to go in one direction, I would be overcome by the uncanny sense that I was shrinking.

If my parents would indulge me, we’d make our way to the observation deck where I would press my face to the glass as they plane took off and marvel at just how much it sucks to be the one left behind.

And so that’s how it is.  I have been leaving my patria, often for years at a time, ever since I managed to get my face on a passport. And I will probably continue to catch that outbound tide so long as I can keep shaving my possessions down to the required 23 kilos. But if leaving is inevitable, why also is homecoming? The tide always comes back in, after all.  And why is that?

In trying to answer this question, I got snagged on the cliches. The contradictory labels just don’t stick, however much I may like the sentiments. If home is where the heart is, for example, then my heart is out there in the world. It lures me with promises of adventure and new words for familiar things.

Some say, on the other hand, that there’s no place like home, a statement which hints at the importance of genealogy and culture. True again; what is home if not the place where your heritage and very identity is reflected in who you call family, how you speak and dress, what you eat, to whom you relate. But to embrace this idea fully you must forgive the hint of arrogance that is implied (“your place is nice, but my place is better”).

Perhaps the saying to which I most identify is home is not a place, but people. Or as the Whakatauki states: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata!  

I don’t go running through those arrival gates to hug a packet of pineapple lumps, after all.   But what then, of all the the friends I’ve made around the world?  People who I count as family?  By that logic, home could be anywhere; anywhere my people are.  It belies the significance of landscape and culture and how intricately those things shape us.

Because there is something about New Zealand which is uniquely me, and something about me that is uniquely New Zealand. I am not a staunch patriot, but I am proud to call myself a Kiwi.  I don’t want to get caught up trying to define what that means, I just know that whatever it is, it is a quality is deeply rooted in people, place, geography, language, history, family, politics, education, and yes, even sport.

I realise that I am not constructing my own definition of “Home” here so much as deconstructing everyone else’s.  So why then, if I love, appreciate and miss this place I call home so much, why do I keep on leaving?

Louis de Bernieres knows the answer:

“Additionally, the doctor believed that the pleasure of homecoming was more than recompense for the pains of setting out, and that therefore it was always worth departing.” Louis De Bernieres.

In other words, the best thing about leaving, is coming home.    On a recent trip back to New Zealand I attempted to capture this sentiment on film.  The way it feels to make that long, long journey home.  So long it feels like a pilgrimage.  You never really appreciate how remote our country is, till you try to get back there from the opposite side of the world.

By the time you arrive, you’re awash with anticipation and exhaustion.  The immigration guy says “Welcome home, where’ya been?” and the brutal kiwi accent causes your throat to swell with emotion.  The “Kia ora” sign does too.  When you finally clear customs and round that last corner, the glass doors suck open and you’re like a rock star in a sea of fans.  Thank god you have a trolley to hang on to, the attention’s too much.

You search but it’s just a sea of colour out there.  The crowd of expectant faces all ask the same question “is it you?”.    But you don’t recognise anyone.  They’re all anonymous.  Did anyone even come?  Did you tell them the right time?

But then you hear it.  A whoop from somewhere in the back.  Or a wave.  Or a smile or a wink.  People win the lottery in airport arrival halls every single day.  There are hugs.  Tears that spring from nowhere as you hold on, and hold on.  You leave your  trolley right where it is, and make everyone walk around you.  Bugger it.

Yep.  Homecoming is sweet alright.

(And then you go to the supermarket and buy a packet of pineapple lumps.)

So here it is folks.  My audio-visual meditation on home that attempts to overcome the contradictions of sweeping generalisations and depict the place and the people exactly as I experience it.

Apologising to your kids: If. When. How.

Last week I forgot all about Bobbie’s Ballet recital that she’d been practicing for for the last several months.  While the other Mums woke early, ironed costumes, pulled hair into tight buns, I yawned and snuggled down with a hot cup of tea and my book.  While other little girl’s hearts fluttered with excitement as they peeked out at the crowd from behind the big red curtains, Bobbie was play fighting on the carpet with her brothers in front of the saturday morning cartoons.  And while other parents will have that wonderful first ballet recital recorded on video forever, we will have to make do with this:

How could I forget such an important thing?  I would like to say it’s the most impressive display of neglectful parenting I’ve ever had the honesty to admit to, but I fear there are bound to be worse examples to come.  Just that same day I went to pick up Cormac from his friend’s place but drove off before he could even get in the car.  I’d said to the other Mum “send him down now [from their apartment on the 6th floor], I’m outside”.  Which I was at that precise moment.  But no sooner had I hung up the phone than I put the car into gear and drove off.  Without him.  I only realized when I got up to the traffic lights and turned around to ask Cormac how his weekend was only to find he wasn’t in the car. That classic, cartoon-esque double-take. Brillliant, Nadine.

But mindless parenting aside, there’s something else I wanted to throw the light on. And that is – apologies.  When I realised that Bobbie had missed her recital – some 3 hours after the concert had concluded – I couldn’t have felt worse if I’d just been made to eat my own vomit.  I felt sick, quite literally.  I replayed the lazy morning in my head and didn’t so much as kick myself but head-butt myself.  How could I forget this, how??  But in all of this, how was Bobbie affected? What did she do?  As it happened, we found out we’d missed the performance together at exactly the same moment (the wonders of speakerphone), and such is the great power of empathy, that the disappointment that crossed her face was so fleeting it was like it hadn’t even been there at all. “Don’t worry Mummy!!” she said brightly, forcing a fake smile.  As my eyes stung with the tears of my own uselessness, she put her hands on my cheeks and said, with a warmth and tenderness that belied her 5 years “it’s fiiiine, Mum, it’s ok, don’t be sad about it”.  This was before I’d even had time to apologize.

And it got me to thinking about a blog-post I’d written (but never posted) more than a year ago titled Apologies.  It was all about one of those ill-fated road trips where the kids drive you so mad you actually consider throwing open the door and hurtling yourself onto the pavement.  Here’s a quote from that post, which sets the background.

“We were driving to Dubai in dense traffic, lost, hot, and stressed, while Cormac jiggled around hysterically in the back, feigning effort to contain his bladder.  The hilarity did not go unnoticed by his siblings, who roared with encouragement every time clutched his privates in a display of agony.  But let me paint this picture more vividly.  Dubai is a city famous for its spaghetti motorways; complex interchanges that fold back on themselves in loops and tunnels before leading off into the desert (if you’re lucky) or otherwise, an unfinished bridge 60 meters up in the air.  The GPS couldn’t help us, because IT can’t hope to keep up with the speed at which new highways are built in this country.  Add to that the fact that we were 20 minutes late to a function H.E. the Ambassador was meant to be playing a key role in, and you have a picture of the atmosphere in the car that day.  At precisely the point at which we missed the same turn off for the second time, adding another 20 mins to this now circuitous journey, Cormac decided he could hold on no longer.  With nowhere to pull over on this unforgiving motorway from hell, Malcolm threw him an empty water bottle while sending me a reassuring glance that said “it’s ok, it’s been done before”.  I’ll spare you the details – except to say that we spent the latter part of the evening driving around the same city in search of a car-shampoo valet service…”

The blog post that I wrote following that episode was not about how Cormac needed to apologise to me for his appalling behavior, rather about how I had to apologise to him – for completely losing my cool and saying things I dare not recall again even a year later.  Really nasty, hurtful stuff that I seemingly had no self-control over.  At the time I didn’t apologise for what I said immediately.  It took me about three days to actually work up to it.  Partly because I was still mad. Partly because I was quietly ashamed of myself.  In fact I could easily have gotten away with ignoring it altogether  – only parents have that kind of unquestionable authority to pretend like shit just never happened.  While procrastinating, I even looked up the Wikihow manual on how to apologize – 13 detailed steps.  I considered making a stop-motion animation using lego mini figures – you know, something where the Mum is thrown in the city jail after beating her kid over the head with a two-brick.

In the end I didn’t want to be a parent incapable of admitting fault, more than I didn’t want to admit fault.  So I wrote Cormac a letter. As I wrote it, I remembered how it feels to get an apology that begins “I’m sorry, but…”.  In other words, I resisted the temptation to list the many justifications for saying what I did, instead opting to write a list entitled “reasons I really like you”.  It was an easy list to write; of course.  In fact, the whole thing was much easier than I thought it would be and Cormac was gracious (in an 8 year old sort of way) in his forgiveness; i.e. when Dad came home from work that night he ran out to greet him waving his letter in the air victoriously like a golden ticket.  An apology from his mother?! Who would have thought!!   A year later that letter still holds pride of place in the middle of his noticeboard.

So here I am, thinking about apologies again, and why they’re easy sometimes, and other times not.   I’m not talking about the public apologies so popular in politics at the moment (those which, Lisa Belkin points out, only cause more outrage).  Nor am I talking about apologies that are really non-apologies. I’m talking genuine expressions of regret, even if the insult or injury was caused indirectly or unintentionally.  The only thing worse than no apology, is a botched apology:

“When an apology fails, two things are lost — the victims are not asked for forgiveness, nor are they given a chance to grant it. Being asked to forgive restores dignity to the injured. Granting forgiveness is a step toward moving on. A botched apology not only taints the act of apology but the ability to accept an apology as well. And that is unforgivable.”

And I guess that’s the nub of it.  An apology is not a one-way street.  Maybe that’s why it’s hard sometimes.  Sometimes you’re ready, and the other party isn’t.  Sometimes the other party is, and you’re not.  But if an apology is to be genuinely given, and genuinely received, you both have to be in the same place, at the same time.  The brilliant thing about apologising to little kids is that they’re so generous.  They always want to be where you are, all the time.  So it’s easy.  It doesn’t matter how you apologise – with pen and paper, lego animations or blog post.  Or as Bobbie demonstrated, you don’t even necessarily have to physically verbalize your apology.  You just have to be sorry.  And the rest will surely follow.

The perils of Spring Cleaning

I woke up one day recently and thought “how nice it would be to listen to some podcasts while spring cleaning the kitchen”.  So I went to iTunes to refresh and download my lastest podcast subscriptions, but when I tried to load them onto the ipad as opposed to the ipod, I discovered that the ipad was associated with a different iTunes account (because unbeknownst to me once upon a time I had created two).  The solution is apparently as simple as authorising one account to read from the other; alas, it wasn’t – I couldn’t remember either of the passwords and promptly got myself locked out of both accounts.  Re-setting passwords required me to hack into my decade-old yahoo address (65,000 unread messages later), a password which miraculously I did remember, in order to find the password re-set link which iTunes had duly sent to said back-up account.  At this point I forgot what I was doing and took a break for a cup of tea.

While drinking my cuppa, I pondered that maybe the solution to all this manual refreshing and updating was to move all my stuff to the “Cloud”.  Goodbye to checking this and checking that, apparently when you look/like/tick/move/despise something in one place, it’s automatically and wirelessly synched everywhere you might look/like/tick/move/despise anything in future.  Not just music and podcasts.  But photos, videos, calendars, to-do lists, even, imagine – email!  Folders that look the same on every computer; that miraculously sort themselves; that compose your reply before you’ve even had to think of a response.  It makes my knees weak just thinking about it.

Settling myself down again, I began researching the Cloud.  Within seconds I was sold – they had me at the slick grey words in bold font assuring me my life would henceforth be “automatic and effortless”.

Except.  Apparently I can’t use the iCloud unless I have the latest operating system.  So over to the Apple Store I trudge (for the second time today), to download Lion.  Unusually enough, in parting with the $36 for something I only wanted to buy in order to buy something else, I encountered absolutely no obstruction whatsoever.  Not the case when it came to actually using the facility.  In my quest to migrate everything skywards I was dismayed to find I shouldn’t proceed to Step 1 (hello?), unless all my other devices are also operating the latest software.  How do I know what operating systems the Ipad and Ipods 1, 2, and 3 are running?  Click here.  How do I update them?  Click here.  Want to learn more?  No, goddamit!

Must be lunchtime.

As the clouds grew dark, excuse the pun, I returned to the computer with all my “devices” in hand (kitchen trashed and no closer to an empty dishwasher let alone a spring clean) in order to proceed with the task of mass-updation.  But with hardware apparently prepared to receive their benediction (Step 1, you will recall) I suddenly became aware of an awful, sinking feeling – you know, kind of like when you jump into the pool only to remember mid-descent that your phone is in your pocket.  The iCloud equivalent of that scenario is realising you are about to populate your brand new virtual wonderland with swathes of unlabeled photos; essays you wrote at 1am 13 years ago, contact lists where 22 entries go under the name “Emma”, songs with unassigned genres, a gazillion playlists called “untitled playlist”.  What’s the point in all this brilliant technology if you can’t find Meatloaf when you need him?  There’s absolutely no substitute for Meatloaf after all.

Dinner.  Takeaways.  Bugger the dishwasher, I’ll unpack it tomorrow.

But lets get down to the nitty gritty.  Suddenly I’m not concerned about podcasts anymore – the urgent and demanding task obsessing me now is a desire to sort out those 35 junk emails I get a day.  I don’t care that I signed up for those deals, I’ve decided I don’t want three brazilian wax treatments for the price of two with “the strip” thrown in for free.  And it’s unlikely I’ll get the time off for a quick trip to Bermuda either.  Small wonder that around mid-afternoon I found myself possessed by an unsubscribe, unattach, unassociate filter-demon; assigning categories and labels to any combination of words likely to ever find their way into my inbox, all in a desperate bid to never see another email ever again.  In my fury I even found time to write an email to Oxfam telling them, and I quote, “You send too much spam.  You email me more often than my own mother, and the guilt trip you give me is worse as well”.  Ouch.  Sorry Oxfam (sorry Mum!).

Around about midnight, thoroughly pissed off, I retired for the evening only to be pursued in my dreams by giant contact lists running around with meat cleavers shouting “merge and delete!… merge and delete”!

=====

Many many days later, reporting from the other side of the iCloud, I can say with some degree of authority that, rather predictably, the whole exercise was a complete waste of time and money.  Every single function within my iCloudia settings is currently switched to the “off” position.  Here’s why:

1) If you use gmail there’s no point using iCloud to store your contacts because it doesn’t sync with gmail.

2) If you use gmail there’s no point using iCloud to write emails because it doesn’t sync with gmail.

3) If you use gmail there’s no point using iCloud to manage your calendar because it doesn’t sync with gmail.

4) iTunes Match (i.e. store all your music in the cloud – “available wherever you are, whenever you want”) is actually only available in the U.S.

In summary, it’s a gimmick and the moral of the story is you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, ever attempt something so rash as a morning spent Spring Cleaning.

This year, 2011, was brought to us by…

  • The Letter “A” – For Abu Dhabi
  • The Number 218 – The quantity of boxes our lives were compressed into on departure, not including one bus)
  • The Regret – Of Goodbyes
  • The Excitement – Of starting all over again (“Additionally, the doctor believed that the pleasure of homecoming was more than recompense for the pains of setting out, and that therefore it was always worth departing” – Louis De Bernieres)
  • The Saying – “Insh’allah”
  • The Temperature – 50 degrees
  • The Book – “When God Was a Rabbit” By Sarah Winman, on account of it succeeding in making me cry and laugh at the same time, literally.
  • The Song – “My Happiness”, by Powderfinger (a few years late with that one)
  • The Anxiety – Of taking 3 kids half way around the world, dropping them off in a foreign classroom and reassuring them as they stand there all alone holding back tears, “I know what I’m doing, trust me you’ll be fine”
  • The Pride – Of watching 3 kids excel, half way around the world in a foreign classroom, running off into the distance with friends, not even pausing to glance back at you
  • The Appreciation – For the enormity of the task Malcolm has undertaken
  • The Admiration – For his talent and dedication in pulling it off
  • The Achievement – Of furnishing an entire house at Ikea in under 24 hours (which was my sole contribution to aforementioned task)
  • The Sadness – of friends and family departed, somehow even harder for the distance; Grandma Painter, Uncle Harry, Evs; Neville; Amanda.
  • The Disappointment – Of being told off in a public car park not once, but twice in one year (and it wasn’t for stealing shopping trolleys either)
  • The Venue – The Corniche, 8kms of blissful rollerblading waterfront.  This is where I do all my serious thinking; for example “Life it too short, I’m going to the wedding” and “One day I will find the right words” and “God I miss the 90s”.
  • The Sentiment – Whatever’s there to feel, feel it – the riddance, the relief, the fright and freedom, the fear of forgetting, the dull ache of your own mortality. Get with someone you can trust with tears, with anger, and wonderment and utter silence. Get that part done – the sooner the better. The only way around these things is through them (Thomas Lynch).
  • The Mission – To get all the kids’ homework done in under 17 hours per week
  • The Shame – Of having become dependent on a weekly visit to the manicurist for no other reason than because everyone else does it, and hey, I quite like it so why not?
  • The Guilt – Of discovering that “cheap tasty food delivered to your door” is a way of life here and subsequently declaring I will not cook until further notice
  • The Surprise – Of earning the title of “3rd best Goodreads reviewer in New Zealand” on the week of Christmas
  • The Concern – That perhaps I’m taking my geekiness just a bit too far
  • The Mentor – W. Moloney, for constantly reminding me what a coup it is to have the title “stay at home mum” and to damn well enjoy it while it lasts
  • The Inconvenience – Of having the principal account holder (i.e. Malcolm) receive immediate notifications every time a purchase or withdrawal is made (yes Girlfriends, think that one through!).
  • The Fun – Of being the only kiwi parent I know in Abu Dhabi who got their kids out of school to watch the All Blacks play in both the Semis AND Finals of the RWC, certainly the only parent to bowl my way into the classroom wearing pom poms with her face all painted black.
  • The Horror – Of a Cocktail party with no alcohol
  • The Double Horror – Of a Cocktail party with no food OR alcohol, and a programme that goes on for 3 hours, not including speeches
  • The Pain – Of heels that look good
  • The Wonder – Of blue skies, every day
  • The Wonder – Of Snow in Wellington
  • The Relief – Of having reconciled with my brother
  • The Pleasure – Of watching him marry the love of his life
  • The irritation – Of declaring how much I hate Facebook only to use it without shame nor restraint all year

And finally, 2011 was ALSO brought to us by….

  • A Job – Thanks Te Rau Matatini, from your 20-hour-a-week senior researcher based remotely (lets not calculate the precise distance ok?)
  • A Family – With no children under 5 anymore, hooray!
  • A Husband – Who loves me, despite my moratorium on cooking
  • A Husband – Who I love, despite (or perhaps because of) his inability to get excited by 5 star hotels with giant pineapple-shaped chandeliers, my carefully manicured hands and feet, or 7-story shopping malls in Dubai
  • An Anniversary – Ten Years
  • A Comfort Zone – In no particular order, Nicky, Soph, Fi, Chlo, Amelia, Sheryl, Jo, Becs, Sarah (my shout Wednesday at the Yachtie)
  • A Holiday – On Safari in Kenya
  • A Computer – On which I spend too much time, case and point

And for 2012 I have…

  • A Hope – That I would Be Good
  • A Mission – To understand that to be a good mother/person/wife, I need to spend more time doing, and less time talking
  • A Goal – To read books at the same pace at which I buy them
  • And A Wish -To Write.  Full stop.