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Gardening, Parenting, Composting

I’m reading another amazing parenting book. I’m not even up to Chapter One yet. That’s how good it is, I’m still reading the introduction, and I’m highlighting like mad and writing notes in the margins.

The book is The Gardner and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik. I can’t even remember for sure how I got onto this book. I think I went on Amazon to order Between Parent and Child, (the most absolutely awesome parenting book I’ve ever read), and down the bottom under the heading “Other books you might like” this book was listed.

The thing is, a few months ago, the fabulous Alexsandra Burt (who I call my Continuum Concept Coach) and I were toying with the idea of writing a “Continuum Concept in the Modern World” book. We started off by really drilling down on adversarial relationships. For some reason, the parent-child relationship seems to be fraught with adversarial attitudes – first on the part of the parent “Why can’t I get my child to sleep/stop breast feeding/not suck their thumb” etc. And then, on the part of the child ,“No! I don’t want those scrambled eggs!!”

I had asked her, “When did we first become adversarial?” Because in the continuum, there’s cooperation uber alles. And in nature there is so much more cooperation than competition, but what we focus on (at this period in human history) is the competition, aka adversarial relationships. So, before our continuum got screwed up – we assume that we were all about cooperation. What changed that? I asked. And her immediate response was, “Agriculture.” When we moved from a subsistence lifestyle to a cultivation lifestyle, we were in competition with the weather. We wanted the weather to do xyz for our crops to survive, so we survive. Prior to this (in theory) we were much more “Oh, it’s raining!” and then moving on. In fact, in another part of my writing life, I have been researching Te Ao Māori, and learned that they have a proverb:

He ua kit e pō, he paewai kit e ao.

Rain in the evening, eels in the morning.

in other words, there is always a silver lining. In other words, continuum living.

So, after this conversation with Alexsandra, my eyes were primed for the title of this book, and I read the blurb, and thought, OK, I’ll get that one too.

And this is what I’ve loved so far. I’m going to paraphrase here.

To be: I am, you are, she/he is, they are etc.

We are comfortable saying I am a wife/husband/partner, I am a daughter/son, I am a sister/brother, but we somehow are uncomfortable with the “being” part of being a parent. To be a parent, has become parenting. We’ve made it into a verb. We haven’t verb-ed wifing, husbanding, sistering, brothering etc. You get it, right?

A parent has become something you do.

Which, on the surface might just seem like semantics. But bear with me.

Probably about six months ago our family delved into the world of composting. Like a good little unschooling family, we went to the library and got out some books on the topic. One of them, the name of which I never recorded (sorry) said, there are two types of gardener: the type that gardens for the flowers, or the fruits or the veggies (ie, the outcome), and the type who gardens for the soil (ie, the experience of creating the environment). Be the second type.

Gardening for the soil means putting in all the unseen, back breaking, poo shovelling hours, and foremost, making compost. It means making habitats for all the good bugs to thrive, and other stuff that good soil has. It means you’re getting enjoyment out of the creation, without really focusing on the outcome. Which reminds me of this absolutely amazing stick-in-my-head blog post from Ben Hewitt.

And that gardening-for-the-soil is the analogy that this book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, uses for being a parent (so far, again, I haven’t even hit Chapter One yet!) Be a parent like a gardener who gardens for soil health. Create the conditions, the environment, the support, the nutrients, the space, for children to grow to be whoever they are.

That’s the being of being a parent.

As opposed to the doing of parenting which looks a lot more like Do this, so that you’re child won’t have a tendency towards axe-murdering. Don’t do that, or your child will be unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Do this so that your child won’t get left behind at school.

There is a lot more shaping and “getting your child to” involved in the doing of parenting. Which brings us back to parenting as an adversarial relationship; somehow bending the very being of your child in the hopes that you can have some kind of influence on the outcome. The outcome being a productive, connected, securely attached, able to operate in the world – take your pick – adult.

Alexsandra used to talk to me a lot about being “on the same team” as my children. I don’t know how many hours I spent on Skype with her, trying to get to the bottom of my, often extreme, irritation with my children. Somehow I’d turned into this fractious, annoyed, grumpy, unstable Mama. I hated it. Ok, let’s not act like I’m cured. I hate it, present tense. It’s still something I grapple with. And Alexsandra tried a few different ways to get me to see what was going on – one of them was talking about adversarial relationships. But, I was still grumpy, I was still not being the parent I wanted to be, that I knew my children needed me to be. So, I did what I always do – I quested for the answer – hence my addiction to parenting books.

And, with Between Parent and Child, and The Gardener and the Carpenter, I feel like I’m getting close to the answer. I feel like all those things that Alexsandra was trying to get me to see have primed me for seeing what these books have to offer.

I’m close, but I still wrote to a friend yesterday who asked me how I was:

“Grouchy. And trying not to be.”

How do we afford it?

We’ve had a disappointing week.

Part of our home education vision has always been to have a bit of land where the kids can build tree huts, have bon fires with their friends, learn about raising pets and growing vegetables, run around to their hearts’ content.

We have a rather long list of what we want in a property. One of the things is it needs to be close to the beach. Especially now that Louis is surfing, but even before that, one of our favourite things to do is pack a picnic and head to the beach for the day. In Hawke’s Bay, property near the beach is difficult to come by on our budget unless you head north to Wairoa or south to Pourere. Another thing on our list is that it needs to be within an hour of the airport for Ron’s commute. That puts Wairoa and Pourere out of the equation.

We are lucky enough to have bought a house eight years ago in an area of Napier that is seeing ridiculous growth in sales prices. We often have real estate agents knocking on our door asking if we’re in the market to sell. We climbed onto a false assumption that on the basis of that we might be able to afford our lifestyle block.

And we found one that fit nearly all our criteria. And we got excited. And we did all our due diligence and got to the point where we were going to put in an offer, only to get told by our mortgage broker that we couldn’t service the loan. What that means in everyday language is that we can’t afford to make the repayments on a week-to-week basis. According to the bank’s calculations.

This was a short, sharp drop back down to the reality of our financial situation. The one that we find ourselves in largely because we home-educate, which means we’re on one income, which means we’re limited to what Ron can earn.

We drive a 1992 Honda CRV with paint peeling off and a boot door that only shuts sometimes. I buy most of my clothes from op-shops. I buy most of the kids’ clothes off trade me. If you see them and they look tidy, they’ll be wearing clothes my mum or sister bought them. We spend a shit-load of money on food. And health; choosing alternative health practises, like osteopathy and homeopathy and acupuncture is freaking expensive.

We borrowed a crazy amount of money to buy the camper van. We worked in a frenzy to get the house ready to go on AirBnB so that that would pay for the loan. That paid off. But we’ll need to do it every summer to keep that up.

Sometimes it seems like the easiest thing would be to put the kids in school and go and get a job. But, then I remind myself that money is just one aspect of our lives. Healthy, well adjusted, thriving children far outweigh that. Children who are independent thinkers, who have a strong sense of who they are and where they fit in the world, are more important than what car we drive. A family that has fun together, and spontaneous days at the beach, and glorious mornings in the sunshine learning to ride bikes, is more important that me being at work and picking them up from school with extra cash in the bank.

For us.

This is how we afford it, by pivoting back to what matters whenever we get the money-wobbles.

Life on the Edge

We’re in the quicksand of coping.

Ron has been doing the HB Arts Festival (and yes, I love that when I shorten that to #hbaf it seems like I’m saying HB as fuck. Because, when you think about it, it’s really fucking apt) for, like, everrrrrrr. He’s gone most mornings at about 8:30 and back at midnight or later. The kids are missing him. I am missing him. I am missing him so much I had to blame him for the fact that I broke the window on Sunday. It’s that bad.

I am teetering on the edges of not-coping-anymore due to the sheer length of my to-do list. These are things, like scraping, sanding, painting windows, that are better suited to doing without kids around. At the moment I don’t have that option.

Except yesterday my friend came and took them for the day. I filled, sanded, undercoated, sanded, 1st-top-coated the shit out of the window in the kitchen all while cooking a curry in the slow cooker and breathing regularly. Fleetingly, I felt like superwoman.

Sometimes, friends are what sanity looks like.


A Reflection on Fathers’ Day

When we went to ante-natal classes, they had one session devoted to The Father’s Role. One of the things that stood out for me was that they dealt with the father’s feeling of useless-ness during the birth; the desperation they felt when listening to their partner in pain and not being able to do anything. The midwives taking the course flipped this on its head to make it about honouring the process, giving the mother and baby the space they needed, focussing on the fact that our body is made for this, it’s natural, it’s what needs to happen.

My husband’s super power is that he has taken this on board and used it throughout our family life. He is deeply respectful of the relationship between mother and baby and he does everything he can to support it.

When I was breastfeeding hungry infants throughout the night, he would get up and make me hot drinks, cut up apples, get me hot-water-bottles. When I was at the end of my tether with tiredness, he would take on another chore of mine, to free up my energy to be with the baby. When I was crying because the baby was crying he was there, sometimes crying too, which was all I needed. He made me countless cups of tea so that I could sit in the kitchen arm-chair with a sleeping baby on my lap and not have to move. He’s brought me the lap top to watch movies on, books to read, socks to put on, and cakes to eat, all so that I could keep still enough as to not wake the baby.

As the babies have grown into toddlers and children, his support has changed, but never wained. He’s taken all of my theories in his stride. Every time I read a new parenting book I’m sure he disappears to do a quick meditation to cope with all the new ideas I will have about what we’re doing. And then he takes on board what I’m saying, and we try it out to see if it works.

His role with the kids has changed too – evolved is probably a better world. Just as I no longer breastfeed all night long, he no longer needs to cut up apples in the middle of the night. He is home for weeks at a time and for many intents and purposes just steps in and takes over the home making roles, and I get to take a back seat, stay in bed til 10, write blog posts, theorise more. I am grateful I have a partner in this parenting journey who shares the responsibility so naturally.

Ron and I were talking about Fathers’ Day last night, and I brought up that ante-natal session, and about how he was really good at just getting the fuck out of the way and supporting in a back-stage kind of manner the natural process. He laughed and said that Getting the Fuck Out of the Way was an interesting way to celebrate fatherhood, and one he thought men might not have considered. 🙂

Here’s a shout out to all the fathers of small babies out there. Keep up the support!! In a few years you’ll be their sun and moon and stars all rolled into one.


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