little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: children

A little bit more of this

I read an Enid Blyton story to Rabbit last night — a morally saturated tale about a girl who missed a trip to the seaside because she stopped to help a boy who fell off his bike while her friend ran on to get the bus and didn’t tell the teacher to wait, but it all worked out because the boy’s mother was both grateful and had a sports car so she took the girl and the boy to the beach anyway and they got there at the same time as the bus even though they had to stop and clean up the boy’s knee because sports car and morals and then the boy and the girl became friends and played happily together every week because they were both kind.

So, cheers for all that instruction, Enid, but it did lead to a conversation with Rabbit about kindness. First, he declared that he would definitely stop to help the boy and take him to his (the boy’s) house and if they didn’t have any bandaids there, he would bring the boy to our house and one of the adults would fix up his knee. And then he told me about how his friend was riding his bike and the front wheel hit a rock and the friend fell off and got a cut on his knee and Rabbit took him to the sick bay. “How did it work?” I asked. “Could he walk or did you have to help him?” “Oh, we held hands and walked together,” said Rabbit.

And it’s sappy, but I actually think that would be great, if everyone took the time to hold their friend’s hand and walk with them to the sick bay when they fall off their bike.

Each of us, together

20161126_192610Well, that was a week. Ian went to Kaikōura to cover post-earthquake things, and all manner of bollocks descended on me at work.

Home was good, though — our new after-school childcare person is a footballer, so the boys are well thrilled. He is also a jolly good cleaner, so I am well thrilled too. The boys are used to being journo kids — they missed their dad, but flicked straight into helping-out, getting-on-with-it mode.

I kind of enjoyed the quiet and calm of the week, but realised within half an hour of Ian being home that the volume in the house had quadrupled and I had slowed to snail’s pace. I guess we had all been managing and looking after each other and that was good, but we need Ian to relax us and let things go. It was a good reminder of the ways we balance each other, of the dance we do as opposites.

The boys were pretty scratchy, but by the time we had eaten bento, driven round the harbour, played soccer, made a sandcastle, conducted watery experiments on the sandcastle, snuggled on the sand, driven round the best inlet in the city, seen baby stilts and a kingfisher and got home, we seemed to have made it back into ourselves again.

20161126_192514And then we each found our own peace. Ian tidied up and did chores. I planted 40 zucchini seedlings out, picked a salad of baby leaves and flowers, and cut back some lupins and sorrel that had gone to seed. The Cat watched soccer videos. And the Rabbit made things.

He started by cutting back sorrel, but was interrupted by his bowels, which we only knew about because he left the bathroom in a less than ideal state. Then Ian found him in the workshop with a large piece of wood in the vice with the words “side 1” written on it. “What are you doing?” Ian asked. “Making a run for the guinea pigs,” said Rabbit.

Later, we were having dinner. Ian was drinking wine, eating pasta and talking to me. I was drinking wine, eating pasta and reading a book. The Cat was calculating the value of our car relative to the weekly income of a professional footballer (low). The Rabbit was drawing circles and cutting cardboard. Five minutes later, he had finished a set of traffic lights.

20161126_190707“What’s your plan for the lights?” we asked. “I’ll shine a torch on them,” he said. Damned if it doesn’t work, too.


Keeping warm

Yeah, so I might spend all winter writing about heating sources.

When we get up in the morning, the house is not particularly warm. We put a fan heater on in the kitchen and start a coffee pot going on the stove. Ian puts away the dishes and I make school lunches. We coax the boys out of bed and go through a great deal of unnecessary rigmarole to extract breakfast orders from them. Somewhere in there, we eat our own breakfasts and have showers and make beds and clear the table and let the chooks out.

So, when the boys have made their way to the kitchen — bleary-eyed, soft-skinned, looking for cuddles — they fight over the heater. They both want to sit right in front of it, which means that they are completely in the way as Ian and I do all that other stuff above, and they want equal shares of any radiating warmth. It’s not a big heater, so there’s a lot of disagreement about where the midline is and who’s been there the longest and whether small or young or big people have more need for heat. NONE OF WHICH MAKES BREAKFAST HAPPEN FASTER. The other day, we ended up drawing a line on the floor with a toy snake, and still they argued.

Our next strategy was to put the heater under the table and tell them that it would warm the room and they could sit in their chairs and eat breakfast like, well, adults, I suppose. You can probably guess how that went.


Telling it like it is

It’s 8.30pm and we’re eating dinner. This is not some sophisticated European thing. This is a long day with too much frazzle, a fishing trip that consisted almost entirely of line disentanglement, the end of a long weekend, dwindling parental energy, the rigours of the supermarket, the complications of catering for one child with allergies, one who has decided he is now a vegetarian who eats seafood and mince, and two parents who want a simple French tart every now and then, and also it’s the sort of late you get when you start behind time and everything goes just enough wrong to really collapse the schedule. Probably, in sum, it’s bad parenting, or maybe it’s just the way life rolls sometimes.

So, here we are, eating our mince, pea, apple and olive pie and our leek, tomato, olive, goats’ cheese tart, relaxed and comfortable with each other at last, some of us playing Uno, some of us with our noses in a book. Ian is trying to convince the Rabbit that it’s time to go to bed, that there will be only a little bit of story time tonight, that a bath is not going to happen. I’ve chipped in a bit but — truth be told — I’m nearing the bottom third of a wine glass and I’m reading essays by Helen Garner and I still have to cook a lasagne tonight before I can go to bed, so now the conversation is swirling in the space around my head, but nothing’s going in my ears.

Until we get to this bit.

Rabbit: “Do you know what I’m doing?”

Ian: “Um …”

Me: “Procrastinating?”

Rabbit: “What I’m doing is I’m not listening to you.”


While I was cooking dinner, the Rabbit came into the kitchen and collected a pair of scissors. He made some modifications to his hut, then I lost track of what he was doing. I caught sight of several bits of paper and the stapler, and I told him how to spell “home” and “work”.

After a good 15–20 minutes, he came in looking upset. “I’ve stuffed it up”, he said. He’d made a book and written “Rabbit’s homework” on the cover, but he had done it so that either the text was upside-down or the staple was at the bottom.

Trying to be helpful, I suggested several solutions: using the book with the staple at the bottom, changing the name to “Rabbit’s upside-down homework”, etc — overly complicated ideas which Rabbit swiftly let me know would NOT DO AT ALL.

Tapping into my Better Self (International Women’s Day at work again), I stopped what I was doing and got down to his level. “Well,” I said, “let’s look at all the things you’ve achieved. You found some paper, you stapled it together and you wrote a cover. I’m sure you can solve this problem.”

His face brightened immediately and he said, “Of course! I’ll just take the staple out and put it in the other end.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest things.

Checking in

In a group I’m part of, we start and end meetings by checking in. We’re chatty, self-reflective types and also good listeners, so this process can take quite some time, but it’s always worth it. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening in your life, and having a good ramble about it can reveal surprising patterns and responses.

I think this check in is going to focus on birds.

We put the birdfeeder up a few weeks ago, and the birds started coming to it last week. I can see the feeder from the kitchen window and from my office; typing or washing dishes while keeping an eye on a green-flecked bunch of birds flickering around the feeder is quite a few steps up from typing or washing the dishes without the birds.

So far, the customers have mostly been waxeyes, with chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes patrolling the ground below. But I think a tui did a fly-by a few minutes ago, so maybe she’ll come back soon.

It’s all very happy, except for the washing line situation. As mentioned in my previous post, the birds like to perch on the washing line while they psych themselves up for feeder negotiations. Then they poo on the washing and I have to re-wash it. This is sort of doubly frustrating because I already have trouble reaching half the washing line, so I’m already pretty grumpy about laundry duties.

Anyway, I guess we’ll move the line because I’m enjoying the birds too much to move them.

In other news, a youth group in the Valley is fundraising for a ski trip and I got them to dig over the vege patch yesterday. It was hilarious and wonderful in all the ways you might expect when you ask a group of teens to dig your vege patch. Two left after ten minutes when they realised the job was going to involve strenuous exercise and coordinated effort. The path is considerably muddier than it was before they started, but the patch is clean and fresh looking. They broke a pane in the glasshouse and left behind three shoes and a bucket. Some of them worked diligently and hard; some did flying leaps off the bank into the garden. The youngest and the skinniest and the biggest were the best workers. No-one stabbed anyone else, but it looked close a few times. A clump of lilies disappeared, but I wasn’t that fond of them. Maybe they’ll bloom in the compost heap. One boy did a beautiful job tidying the glasshouse and washing it down. The trays in it are neatly stacked and the mint has room to breathe.

I kept a quiet eye on the kids from my office as I worked on a copyedit, and I have to say, my feelings about them were almost identical to my feelings about the waxeyes. I loved them, but it was a rueful, charmed kind of love.

Strangely, while I was writing this, a bird flew past the window and I could swear it was a heron. I’ve never seen such a thing in suburban Dunedin, but it had a very heronesque bodyline and  it sure as shit wasn’t a seagull. It circled down towards the Gardens; maybe it’s gone to catch a fish.

Getting out of the kitchen

IMAG4086We had a little revolution in the kitchen this week. First of all, the boys worked out a menu for the week, which meant that I didn’t face the daily trauma of figuring out what to cook, what to buy, what to use up, etc.

Ideally I would saunter down to my local shops of an afternoon, basket in hand, select the freshest and most delicious vegetables, fish, meat, breads on offer, then whip up an elegant little feast in my calm and orderly kitchen. Unfortunately, very few of those adjectives apply round here, I can’t afford the nouns, and the verbs aren’t really how I roll. So the menu was helpful, decorative, and came in at budget.

Hooray for you, my boys.

Then, last night, the boys offered to cook bruschetta. We had a rocky start, with both children pushing past their screen-time limit and then demanding hallway soccer before cooking started. I sliced and oiled the bread, which would have been easy if it hadn’t been frozen — cutting frozen bread makes me crankier than a bear in a beehive. The boys started well, washing their hands, putting on aprons, getting out toppings. But it all fell apart at cutlery, with separate disagreements over forks, knives and spoons. The Cat stormed off, the Rabbit asserted moral superiority, and I started thinking about beer.

My next move, however, was a rare and delicious moment of parenting genius. I offered to get out of the kitchen and leave them to it. And, behold, that was all they needed. I sat in my office and finished my book, and the boys put out all the toppings, cut up carrot without losing any fingers, made a pot of hot water (covered with a tea cosy), set the table, and called me in time to toast the bread and help open cans.

And I guess it was a reminder to get out of the way more often. To step back from the refereeing and the negotiation and see what they can do. To let their relationship find its own ground, its own workings. A reminder to trust and a reminder to make space. And a reminder to tend to myself too, to read, to complete, to breathe.

The mouths of babes

The necessary context: It’s our 15th anniversary and I forgot for the first half hour of the day, then remembered only to realise that we have no money for presents, no babysitter for a date, no time to relax, and I was going to be parent help at Rabbit’s childcare all morning. I was unhelpfully Eeyore-ish about all this through most of the day, but rallied enough to buy flowers and tuna, sweep the kitchen floor, chill a bottle of white from the “fancy” collection, and get out the flash cutlery.

I made an old and sentimental favourite for dinner, poisson cru, a raw fish salad served on rice. I should tell you how to make it because it’s a happy and bonding meal, with little heat required and not too much fuss. You start by marinating chunks of tuna in lemon or lime juice, and when I say chunk, I mean something that you can pick up in your fingers and pop in your mouth without either dropping it or doing that embarrassing thing where you can’t chew effectively and look like a gerbil until you either spit or swallow. Because that is not the look you are going for on anniversary night, or indeed on any night involving loved ones and the fancy wine. So then you have your tuna marinating for about 20 minutes and in the meantime you can put on the rice and start preparing the vegetables. I’ll leave the rice to you; we have our method and it’s foolproof, but no doubt you have yours too. I do think jasmine is best for this — you want a little bit of sticky.

Next we come to the vegetables. The cucumber is fun. I use a whole cucumber if I’m feeling rich and generous, and the first step is to peel strips lengthwise to give a stripy effect. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you’ll probably know if you’ve got it right, and if you haven’t, you’ll have something anyway and I’m sure it will be useable. Then you need to cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. I find this easier in shorter lengths, but it might depend on your prowess with a fork. You really want to scoop with the fork rather than scraping; it’s a textural thing. Once you have your stripy, scooped cucumber, slice it into half circles, a couple of millimetres wide, again about the size you’d want to pick up with your fingers. The garlic is easy — just finely chop a couple of cloves.  Tomatoes are also straightforward. Quarter them and cut out the stalky bits, then push out the seeds. I know no tidy way to do this; you’ll have to use your thumbs, so if you’re a bit on the hygiene-sensitive side like me, wash your hands first. Of course, you’ll have been washing your hands throughout this whole scenario anyway. You probably just did it, hey? Cut your quartered, de-seeded tomatoes into chunks — you know the drill. The last thing is spring onion. Slice it. Diagonally, for class.

So somewhere in the middle of all this vegetable finangling, you should have drained the tuna, tasting it first to make sure it’s “cooked” to your liking. And then you just mix the tuna and the vegetables with a can of coconut cream, decanted, aber natürlich, and then you serve the salad over the rice and pour the wine and have a jolly old time.

And that’s the context: poisson cru, fancy wine, a significant anniversary for which I am totally unprepared and under-resourced, plus (which I forgot to mention) two slightly cranky children, a not-very-pristine house, a strong desire for everyone under the age of ten to go to bed without any fuss, and actually, now that I think of it, the miracle of sharing my life from my early twenties to my nearly forties with the same long-legged, enthusiastic, kind, hilarious man. WITH TWO CHILDREN AND A CAT. Eight houses and as many gardens, hundreds of books, countless reeling conversations, walks and meals and nights and mornings and days, estuaries and mountains and beaches and cities, Paris and Melbourne and Tahiti and Dunedin, kisses and all the rest of it, collapsing laughter and tears and the occasional grump and stomp, all of those things that brought us together, that keep us together.

All of that, and at the bottom of the first glass of wine, Rabbit announces that he got himself a lolly this morning. I don’t understand; I question logistics and mechanics, get him to demonstrate his technique, express disbelief, incredulity. For the record, he pulled a chair over to the bench, climbed onto the bench, pulled down the lolly box, and extracted his prize. We watched him demonstrate; he was perfect. I still don’t know when this happened — he says this morning while I was in the shower, which seems incredible as Ian and the Cat were faffing around getting ready and the house isn’t that big and the chair takes a bit of shifting, so he must have been both quick and sneaky. Anyway, I’m trying to get my head around this small, determined, independent child, who — apparently — is mine, and so Ian tries to explain that the second-borns just are like that: they don’t need parental approval and they want to sort their own stuff out and they go ahead and do what they need to do to achieve the ends they want to achieve. And from the corner, the Cat lifts his head from his book. “Shite,” he says, “that’s so unfair.”


Hello, dear one

IMGP9423 Well, I am undone with love. This little fella arrived a couple of weeks ago and proceeded to enthral us all. He’s a snuggly wee bundle of hope and fire, a dragon lad, a soft-furred lion, a squirrel boy. He brings out the tender in us, gentles us, quiets us to a slow and rhythmic sway. He has us in his sway.

None more so, of courIMGP9357se, than his parents, my sister and brother-in-law. They’ve stepped into parenthood — this crazy, wonderful world where you’re one minute bug-eyed with exhaustion and the next brought to your knees in adoration — with grace and courage. It’s such a fundamental shift in identity becoming a parent, sudden too, with sleep deprivation and hormone mayhem and blood and milk and tears thrown in, all part of the mix with the wonder, the wonder and the fear and the marrow-deep love. To watch someone close to you take all this on is a miracle, and like all miracles it invokes a shiver and a gasp and a sigh.

IMGP9416So, here’s to you, little Squirrel. Here’s to a long, happy, healthy life for you. Here’s to your strength and your softness, your glorious head of dark hair, your wide eyes, your beautiful mouth. Here’s to your growing and to those who hold you. Here’s to you.




Block by block

P1060885In the past couple of weeks we’ve weathered death and the extended family, work changes and drama, the tip past solstice towards the Return of the Light, cold, flu, nits, money woes, boredom, and a dwindling supply of firewood. None of it unmanageable, but taken together, it’s got me and Ian in a state where we eye the coffee pot at dawn, the wine bottle at 5pm and bed at 9pm. The Rabbit has been joining us in said bed most nights, and while he’s usually small, warm and soothing as a night-time companion, in his current condition he’s wriggly, unsettled and coughy. We’re going away at the end of the week; we’ll be limping all the way to the airport gate, but dear lord is it going to be good to fly out of here. My to-do list never seems to get below 30 items, no matter how many times I sit on call waiting or write an email.

However, we are also making progress. We’ve weeded the whole garden and trimmed most of the hedge. We’ve booked flights and buses, we’ve chopped wood, we’ve planted bulbs. We’ve kept the children warm and fed, and we’ve done puzzles and watched a lot of soccer. We remember to hug each other often, to say thank you, to celebrate small achievements. The boys have been playing together, kicking a ball around, building carriages for the trike. They found a huhu grub, roasted it on the barbecue, and ate it. That felt like a milestone, but of what sort, I do not know. The toilet does not smell of boy pee more days than it does. I’m getting more exercise and reading more books. The little things and the big, carrying us through.

P1060888The Rabbit is having one more day at home today, getting over a virus and resting his wee self. He got out the Duplo and built this vehicle, and I don’t think it’s just motherly pride that makes me love it. The colours and the patterns make me happy, the punctuation of blocks with wheels. It has all the order and sweet calm that I love in him, that he seeks under the surface of his frustrations and stroppiness, that bend his arms around my neck in the night, that make him smile when he wakes and sees me — make him smile and kiss me good morning even after the most restless of nights.

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