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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.

Catching Lunch

Yesterday we kind of caught a fish. Ron saw something flapping about on the sand and a seagull circling overhead. He went in for a tentative closer look and saw it was a fish. He grabbed it and brought it back to the camper van – this was to be lunch. Once he did the deed.

I did worry about the health of a fish that had lost its way so fatally, and it had a suspicious looking bulge on its undercarriage. A bulge which made me wonder if in fact it had swum all the way from Japan bringing with it a radioactive tumour. Luckily, I have in my possession a copy of Mobil New Zealand Nature Series Marine Fishes 1 and a quick reference to those pictures determined that what we had was a Red Cod, a hoka, and the bulge was a normal feature.

I have never gutted, nor filleted a fish in my life. But, this was my task. Ron looked in every cook book I had to see if they offered any guides, niks. So I went on the instinctive knowledge of one who has grown up on a farm and seen animals killed and butchered, and made my first incision. Which sounds way more precise than what actually happened. You see, my knives were not really up to the task, and fish skin is pretty fucking tough. So, what I did in reality was hack at it, and hope for the best. Louis was watching while springing about the place with excitement.  He literally could not sit nor stand still. Then he said, “Actually, Mama, do you know what the professionals do?” “What?” “They make lots of little cuts, not big ones.” And whaadddya know, when I started to do that, it was a hell of a lot easier!! Yay for hours of watching fishing programmes.

When I’d finished my fillets looked like they’d been extracted with the use of a high powered chainsaw, but we had lunch. I boiled some potatoes, made a salad of spinach, cucumber, marinated onions and avocados, and fried the fish in butter, garlic and lemon zest. It was delicious.

Then, to top it all off (I know this is almost too good to be true, but it did happen, honest) Louis asked for paper and pencils to DRAW A PICTURE about the fish. It was pretty fucking home educated perfect.

Drawing Red Cod

Finding Our Groove

This morning I walked along a sandy beach just as the sun came up.

I woke up in our warm cocoon of a camper van. Joss was sleeping next to me, her tussled hair and light snoring are two of my favourite things. I could hear the birds chattering, the waves breaking, and the stillness in between. I slid down from our bunk, let out the dog and from the pile of yesterday’s clothes dressed in the muted light peeking underneath the curtains.

The dog and I walked up the beach, watching the waves breaking, the waves lapping, and my feet getting submerged then released, submerged then released.

For what has seemed like forever, this has been a dream. One of those dreams that sits in the back and eats away at you. I have been bored, disenchanted, grumpy, uninspired, and worried about the future of the world.

I recently read the book Beyond Civilisation by Daniel Quinn. I highly recommend it to fellow questioners, despairers, and those wanting to live a different life.

It seems like homeopathy, unschooling, and now living in a camper van for the summer are threads in a cloth of wanting to see positive change, wanting us to do things better, wanting to be aware, conscious, connected to our environment and each other.

Homeopathy is about taking the control of my health out of the hands of people who have never met me but stand to make millions off me, and resting it in my lap.

Spending the summer in a camper van is about busting out of the four walls of our house. Giving our kids access to wide open spaces, to the unique, earthy smell of New Zealand bush, to beaches and rivers and paddocks of waist-high grass.

Unschooling isn’t about not sending our kids to school. It’s about giving them this gigantic world and all it’s possibilities, then mixing it together with their passions and interests and curiosity to see where it all takes us.

All of these things are about getting out from under the gaze of civilisation for a bit. Maybe a lot. Trying to see a way Beyond it. Trying to find the little groove in this record where we sing.

Walking along a sandy beach in the dawn light is definitely the right key.