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Thank You Mamas

In the isolation of my own home, in November, faced with last year’s swimsuit, pale thighs, and unmanicured forestation, I am invariably nervous about the impending summer of swimming. When during the winter months I’ve seen an overrepresentation of svelte figures acting in Netflix/HBO/ABC shows, my mind is tricked into believing that my figure is an anomaly, and one that should be hidden.

Always, I fall back on my own mantra “no one is too fat to go swimming” and I jam all the other frequencies in my head until, the swimsuit on, I head out into public. Sometimes I message friends and say, “help me out, I need a pep talk” and they send me links to awesome blogposts like this one. And you tube videos like this one.

Then, at some point, I’m at a popular beach, and there are women everywhere in swimsuits, and they span the broad continuum of figures, and I fit somewhere along that, and I feel part of a sisterhood of women who don swimsuits and swim and in this gigantic, heroic way rebel against the bullshit on our screens that tries to tell us that women need to be skinny.

And in this way we show our daughters and sons that our figures are real, and they are just, life – not good, nor bad, not something to tame nor beat into submission – they just are.

I want to thank that sisterhood of women, especially mamas, who stood, sat, swam on the beach with me, enjoying the sun and surf, and were part of the revolution to claim our bodies exactly how they are. I want to hold onto that feeling so that next November, when I pull out the swimsuit again, I don’t even have a second thought about the figure that’s going into it.

#mamasintogs

Camping Smells

I need to write a blog about smells. Anyone who knows me knows I have a nose worthy of drug detection agency employment. I was unprepared for the onslaught of odours that camping would unleash. I now stockpile vinegar, baking soda and lemons at every Four Square I encounter on the way.

  1. Fish Sauce. Fish sauce really smells. I will quote my husband here: “Who the fuck brings fish sauce camping anyway??!!??!!” when he discovered that the bottle of fish sauce had emptied itself through the fridge, over the floor and into the weird carpet stuff that covers the vertical surfaces in our camper. Fish sauce, smells. I responded with: “do. Do you enjoy my cooking??? Huh?? Well shut up.” While I emptied an industrial sized bag of baking soda over it, then cut up some onions then cut up some lemons. So then, instead of our camper smelling like rotting fish, it smelled like the alley behind a Thai restaurant. It got rid of it though.
  2. Toilets. Fuck, the toilet just, well, it’s just a pain in the arse. The toilet has been an ongoing… challenge in our camper vanning life. The toilet was installed in a ridiculous manner. We brought it back to the guy we bought it off and he “fixed” it, and then about a month later it was broken again. By broken I mean the toilet bowl wasn’t fixed to the platform well so the effluent oozed out and SMELLED. So, this time last week Ron and I were team-working up a storm dismantling the toilet and pouring silicon onto every available surface in an attempt to make it impermeable. We have been high fiving ourselves until today, when we arrived just out of Opotiki and there’s the ooze again. So tomorrow (I need to work myself up to it) I’m going to investigate where I missed. Baking soda and vinegar have been liberally sprinkled in the toilet vestibule.
  3. Dog food. We switched Isa to dry food for the trip (previously she’d had a diet exclusively of raw food which needed to be frozen, and we just don’t have the space for that) and we soak it before we give it to her. Somehow her bowl got knocked over and the contents seeped all through one of the underneath lockers, soaked into that weird carpet, and then took a week to start smelling like road kill. I actually thought it was road kill – I’d been unable to avoid squishing an already-dead possum that day so I thought I’d brought some with us and went a bit nuts trying to hose the underneath of the camper van. Turned out it was Isa’s food. Cue baking soda emergency run and spending $10 on two of the smallest packets in the world.
  4. The grey water. About the third time I dumped the grey water I thought, ‘Oh wow, we need to not put the poached egg water down the drain.’ Thinking that was why it smelled like rotten eggs. But, when I dumped in Gisborne at the business of a veteran camper vanner and plumber (a great mix) he told me in no uncertain terms that it was a “Health Risk” and I needed to use this stuff he calls “Blue Loo.” Now, I don’t use shampoo, so using something that ends in the suffix ‘dehyde’, as in formaldehyde really is against my beliefs. But, I got bullied into it, and sure enough the sulphur smell went. I was very worried about how many fish we were killing though. Anyway, every time I don’t use the bloody blu loo, the grey water stinks again, and smells surprisingly like road kill, and the smells just permeate everything. I need an earthy option – any ideas?
  5. Christmas Trees. The joy of living in an enclosed space is that the tiny wildling pine that our new friends gave us as a Christmas Tree did a magnificent job in helping the camper van smell like Christmas. I had visions of creating Christmas-on-wheels amazingness this year, but the seven decorations I made didn’t really cut it. The fairy lights I bought were too long and we couldn’t hang them anywhere they wouldn’t get in the way. The old pillow case I brought along to write Merry Christmas!!! on never saw the light of day. But, we had a Christmas Tree and the first night we had it on board I rolled over and caught a whiff of the pine sap and smiled. Smelt like Christmas.

We have just arrived outside of Opotiki and have relief from the sun by way of rain and grey skies. So it’s been a day of showers (last time I showered was in Gisborne – about two weeks ago – so, let’s be honest, I probably smelt too), laundry, and inside activities. And internet. And no awful smells. Yet.

PS, photo is of the Kina hunting expedition this morning. Yield: one Kina tried only by Ron and our culinarily adventurous neighbours.

Gaming Our Life.

Louis can be quite… exuberant. When he decides he wants to do something not much will dissuade him nor alter his straight-line path to his goal. I keep pivoting away from exasperation at his determination towards celebration of it. Sometimes all this pivoting leaves me a dizzy, crumpled mess on the floor. Somedays, I pirouette like Fancy Nancy.

One of the things it was really important to me to bring along on our travels this summer was a surf board. A lifetime ago I surfed with boyfriends and friends, using boards they had lying around, and since then I’ve had a couple of stints in various places around the world but I’m not really a surfer. I’d love to be though, so this summer I wanted to bring a surfboard along.

So, about 10 days into our trip, we were skimming the coast on our way to Mahia. The surf was gigantic, and there was a pod of about 20 surfers sitting off the coast catching the waves. We pulled over to watch them and Louis kept asking me, “Mama!! Can we get out and surf?!! Can we? CAN WE????” These waves were ginormous. Louis had spent exactly 20 minutes on a board at this point. And I just kept saying, “No, they’re huge!!” But he didn’t really get it and thought his mother was just being a curmudgeon.

I hate being the ‘No-Mama’ and most of the time do my best to avoid it. But sometimes I fall into old habits and we find ourselves grumpy and snipey and generally disconnected.  I really wanted to break free of it and sensed that surfing was going to help us.

A while ago I read an article about gamification in education (and I just spent about 20 mins trying to find it on the internet but couldn’t, so I’m sorry there’s no link) and what it said was instead of grades – which don’t really have any meaning for children – being able to progress to the next level is extremely motivating. I managed to remember this, and decided I was going to implement it with the surfing.

Luckily, the waves where we eventually camped in Mahia were tiny and perfectly formed, so we went down to the water and I said, “Now, there are different levels to surfing, and you can’t just go skipping straight to Level 5. You’ve got to start at Level 1, and then when you’ve completed that level, you go up to the next one.” He was immediately engaged, “Right, so what’s Level One?” I had to quickly think of something, “Catching a wave” I said. “And what’s the next level?” “Standing up” And off we went. He was totally into it, and is still taking it very seriously. Level 3 was catching a wave and standing up by himself, and Level 4 is catching a wave before it breaks (up until now he’s been mostly doing this in the white wash). Level Four’s what he’s working on at the moment.

He is totally rocking the surfing, and because he’s so freaking goal oriented the “levels” are perfect. He’s getting a feel for what sized wave he’s comfortable with, he’s enjoying the challenge of doing something that he can’t quite get yet but has the sense he will eventually – soon. He’s managing himself and his expectations, and we’re both really enjoying it. I’ve stopped being Boring Say No All The Time Don’t Let Me Do Anything Mama and all of a sudden we’re on the same team again.

That’s a really nice place to be.

Back before I had kids, when I knew a lot about having kids.

I thought there'd be bedtimes and after-hours times when I could watch TV and eat chocolate and have adult conversations in full-sentence exchanges. 

I thought I'd go to sleep at some point, and wake up in another, refreshed and renewed and revitalised for the day. 

I thought I'd still have a career.

I still thought I'd be brilliant - at something - not quite sure what. 

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How did we get here?

Buying a camper van and taking off for the summer is the latest in the long list of weird and wonderful ideas we’ve had. I thought I might take you on a trek down memory lane to see just how we got to be in this space.

In 2001, Ron and I met in Taupō. Two days later he left the country and I didn’t see him again until Boxing Day, some three months later. That day, he flew into Brisbane, having spent hours and hours on the internet trying to score cheap tickets to fly back to see me. I’m embarrassed to tell this part of the story now, but, at this point I totally ditched my travelling partner and went on a three week whirl-wind tour of Australia with him. After that he went back to the Netherlands, and I went back to NZ.

Nobody really thought we were going to be a thing. One of Ron’s friends repeatedly told him to just forget about me – long distance was too hard, too complicated, too messy. But, we became a thing. In fact, in June of 2002 I went to the NL on a one year visa and moved in with him.

So, it’s quite clear that we’ve been crazy for a while.

We moved back to NZ in 2005 and I started my training as a homeopath in 2006.

We got married in 2008, annoying a lot of people by having a teeny-tiny wedding in my teenage stomping ground of the Tukituki Valley.

By the end of 2008 I was pregnant. I had been doing the first year of Med School. I totally flunked the interview by trying to hide my baby bump. They probably wondered why I couldn’t sit up straight.

I had not been expecting to be expecting, so felt overwhelmingly under-prepared. I had a lovely friend who’d had three home births, so I decided that’s what I’d do (anything to avoid the medical profession, with which I had no love lost.) And I did what I always do: I read books. A lot of them ended up being used as missiles launched at the nearest wall and Ron learned to duck. I was bemoaning this to a friend of mine who ended up giving me The Continuum Concept, (TCC) which actually changed my life. Here was finally a book that didn’t set the baby and the parent up as adversaries from the first moments. It suggested honouring the needs of everyone, of understanding a baby’s helplessness as just that, and not some master plan to take over the world via mind control and manipulation techniques, it showed a culture so different from my own and that was exactly what I felt I needed.

So, we parented along TCC-lines, which meant we were kind to our baby. We gave him what he needed, when he needed it. We respected him, and taught him from the first that his autonomy was important to us. We co-slept, breast-fed, baby-wore, did elimination communication, and went about our days in a new rhythm which brought the baby along with us.

This may not seem like a massive departure from society, but society has become, paradoxically, quite child-centred. Even though our children spend a lot of time away from us, the time the do spend with us is so hyper-focused on them, their performance, their milestones, that they are not really given much space to be.

TCC is most easily understood and implemented in what is known as the In-arms Phase. The period when a baby doesn’t move yet under their own steam. After that, things get a bit hairy. We don’t live in a Tribal Setting. We don’t have Aunties and Uncles and Nana’s and Grandad’s to help in the middle of the night when you’ve given the 152nd feed and the baby still isn’t settling. I longed for those people and that tribe.

It was difficult to remain faithful in TCC when my child would lose the plot, be difficult, fussy, uncooperative, argumentative. I knew I was doing something wrong – my child, so clearly needed TCC-principles, was telling me vehemently that I needed to get back on track. So, I enlisted the help of a TCC-based Parenting Coach, Alexsandra Burt. I had a few sessions with her, and it was only then that I saw the difference between how I’d been implementing TCC, and how it was intended. Alexsandra set me straight, repeatedly, like a car with a bent axle trying to navigate a straight road. I started to see shifts – like cooperation.

By this stage, Louis was about four years old, and “school age” was looming. Here in NZ, five is the normal age to start school. Legally, you don’t have to start til you’re six. So, I put off the decision for a year, and told people “he isn’t ready yet.”

I could not see myself in the role as Teacher-Mama. For one who had striven her whole parenting life to not be the Police-Mama, Teacher-Mama ranked not far behind in the I absolutely DO NOT want to do that. But, sending Louis to school didn’t really feel like an option either. I knew that all the “Management Techniques” I had for helping him navigate life, would not be available to him in a school setting. I had seen what happened when those management techniques were not holding the space for him – it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t think he needed to go to school and be told there was something wrong with him.

So I was in a conundrum for about a year. I didn’t want to send him to school, because I didn’t think his autonomy and, well, just him would be honoured there. I didn’t want to homeschool him because – well, because I thought it would irreparably damage our relationship. Yelling, “Louis! have you done your book work yet?? Turn off the TV! Where’s your story you were meant to write?!” All day every day didn’t seem like a great way to nurture a loving and respectful relationship.

And then… Well, then I found Sawyer Fredericks, which is a whole ‘nother story, and one I tell you if we’re ever sitting having a wine together. But, the point is, I got introduced to unschooling. It was Radical Unschooling – an approach to life that respects the child’s innate desires in every aspect, not just learning. And I fell in love with how these parents were with their kids. How the kids were with their parents. I fell in love with the possibility of enjoying spending time together, of enjoying each other.

And I wrote an application for exemption from school with a decidedly unschooling bent and it got accepted and there we were.

Like a lot of people, Ron and I had dreams and fantasies about owning a life-style block, being semi-self-sufficient, having space for the kids to run around, build huts, fish, swim, climb trees… Instead, we live on a 400sqm section about two kilometres from the sleepy metropolis of Napier. Our back yard is divided in two by a concrete path that used to be a drive way. By the time we added four apple bins for growing veggies, three citrus trees, a feijoa tree, a plum tree, a sand pit, an outdoor table and a barbecue, it was getting quite full. But we were living on a single income which is sometimes unreliable, and options for moving somewhere more rural weren’t really overwhelming us.

I was going nuts in the small-feeling four walls of our house and the prison-like feeling of the fence around our property. So, we decided to renovate. Like all nuts-going people should in order to feel more sane. We cobbled together money, resources and favours and started the long, stressful, crazy journey of making a warm sunny home from the 100-year-old uninsulated home we started with.

Last year we were still looking at lifestyle blocks. We thought maybe we’d done enough renovating to boost the house price enough to buy somewhere closer to our dreams. We hadn’t. The properties we could afford were over an hour from town and over two hours away from our most regular meet-up point with our unschooling friends. The thought of me, in my sometimes vulnerable mental state, being that isolated with the kids, was enough to put us off. So, we went back to the drawing board. We looked for community-living type situations. We found one we thought we liked, said we’d move there, and then  didn’t. We read the book Beyond Civilisation and I realised that I could create a tribe anywhere I was. And I relaxed a bit.

We started thinking about things we could do as a family. things that we’d all enjoy, that would use all our talents, and that would earn us some money. We went through a lot of permutations of that. Some of which I still hold in my “One Day” file.

I don’t remember the exact moment we thought “We should buy a camper van” I don’t even remember whether it was me or Ron. But, one of us said it. And we started investigating getting a loan to buy one, renting our house out on AirBnB, making a list of the things that would still need to be done to do that.

So, Raising a Revolution was born. It was a way for the kids to have adventures, for me to write, for Louis to film, and me to edit, and Joss to perform and Ron to take photos, and have ideas, and for our house to be paying for itself – for us all to be getting out from under the heavy yoke of the fucking mortgage.

And now, next week, we set off on our adventure. The camper van is currently getting some last-minute repairs, we’re pruning off how much clothing we need, ditching recipe books, buying bbq’s, surfboards, wetsuits… All the essentials. And then, we go. And I hope  we’re about to give our kids a summer filled with adventure, and fun, and family, and cooperation, and earth, and trees, and sea, and sand… and many more things I can’t possibly know will happen.