little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: family

Orlando, Orlando

In my 20s, I came out as bisexual. I didn’t come out very far — and possibly not very accurately given that my mother decided based on my explanation that most of us are probably a bit that way inclined, or maybe she’s right — but it was a milestone in a long journey of worry and confusion and fear. It was also a milestone that opened up some space for joy and community and understanding. And dancing. Always, there was space for dancing.

I’ve been in a relationship with a man since then, so it all feels a bit academic or something now, something I don’t really have the lived experience to claim. It’s easier in this world to play the straight card, to fit in and keep quiet. Quiet when activist, feminist friends edge towards transphobia, quiet when conservative relatives, colleagues, random strangers make bad jokes, quiet when my interests are assumed to be political and not also personal.

Well, it doesn’t feel academic this week. It feels like I’ve been quiet too often and for too long. I look at this beautiful next generation we’re raising and I cry for the ones for whom we needed to change the world and whom we have failed. I don’t want them to have to seek out safe spaces; I want the whole world to be safe for them, to celebrate who they are and who they love.  I’d thought we were getting there. But this week, this terrible, gut-wrenching week, it feels like nothing has changed at all.

Matariki and midwinter, again

Matariki started last week, the sisters rising, the year turning. It’s been a gathering, quietening time, a waiting time too, with all the tension and patience that demands.

The valley is marking the season with a festival today, and I saw the fire of the hāngi rising into the early morning air as I drove to Barre class this morning. We’re celebrating in our own way this year: the Rabbit is laid low with a cold, the Cat is reading 25 books for the 40 hour famine, Ian and I are planting trees.

On the hill, the hens are splashes of gold, and so are the trees around us. It’s unseasonally warm, and we make nervous jokes about climate change as we scan the sky for the storm clouds that must surely come. The music from the festival drifts up the hill, and I throw a smile down to meet it, send a flicker of greeting from my quiet patch of this earth.

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Another birthday!

20160527_121520The short version: 41 is just as good as 40, but with waaaaaay less angst.

The long version: Dad came over for dinner the night before my birthday, and there was much furtive scurrying in bedrooms and sneaking back and forth for pens and scissors and such from the boys.

The birthday was a school day, so we had a joyful breakfast with presents and homemade cards, then the usual ratty scramble to get everyone out the door. The Cat gave me vouchers for 15 sleep-ins, and Ian gave me an electric blanket. I don’t know if it’s age or personality, but both presents filled me with joy, and I intend to make full use of them.*

20160525_114453I went to the gym after that and my trainer had a hellish circuit ready for me, which was both exhausting and the best kind of birthday present.

I walked through the Gardens to meet my sister for lunch, and it was a cracker day. Clear and sunny, with gold still on the trees and some warmth in the air. Sisterly lunches are basically the best thing ever.

Dinner was cheap eats at the Khmer place at the bottom of our hill, then a brisk walk up the steps to home.

Sun, air, bird song, solitude, company, light, smiles. It made for a pretty good day.


* I put the blanket on in the evening, and it was superb. I cashed in a voucher the next morning and got a bit of extra sleep, then was woken with a small Rabbit face peering at me.

“Hey, baby fruitbat,” I said, “would you like to give me a kiss, then go and get some breakfast?” “No,” said the Rabbit, “what I would like is to get into a warm bed with a mama and have a proper cuddle with her.” Hard to refuse, that.

















Hitting my stride

I’m not sure what the deal is with exercise and plateaus and progress and all that, but it’s been a hard slog for the last month or two and then this week I think I turned the corner. I’ve been fighting low-level colds and a sinus infection for weeks, off and on, sometimes winning, sometimes feeling like shit.

I kept going to the gym and barre class during that time, but more sporadically and with variable energy levels. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, was struggling with everything and getting cross with myself. Rest felt more urgent, something needed rebuilding.

At the same time (and probably relatedly), I hit a work, identity and relationship jag. The details don’t matter too much — what am I doing with my life? what happened to my creativity? why the fuck am I logisticising everything around my partner’s work again? when do I get to throw myself into work? do I really have to spend another afternoon doing chores and cooking dinner while being a rubbish mother? will my brain ever work at full stretch again? blah, blah, blah — but the feeling was the same: stasis, frustration, emptiness.

But, you know, little by little, things shift. I started to nail chin-ups, took my cardio right back to a manageable level then built from there, kept warm, walked lots, cried a bit, gave it my best shot, did some thinking, had another look, a gentler look, at my partner and kids.

And this week I went to the gym four days in a row, kept my temper, firmed up some boundaries, let myself play, wrote a bit. It was better. Maybe I’m on the up. I hope so.

On the island

Rakiura | Stewart Island is one of my homing spots. My family has been coming here for many years; slipping into the bay on the ferry — the boats, curved beaches, quiet bush all around — always makes me feel like dropping anchor and staying put for the rest of my days.

The proportions are right here — lots of birds, few people, fewer roads, more boats, and everywhere the water and the trees. We walk everywhere, avoid screens, sift through our memories and dream of new beginnings. We take turns cooking and test relationships with epic games of Monopoly. The Cat rejoices in the birds, the Rabbit and little Squirrel get sand everywhere, an uncle builds boats, an aunt reads stories and gives cuddles, a grandfather lends a gentle hand, and we walk through the rain and the sun and the grey and blue and green of it all,  not talking much, just taking it all in, breathing it all out.

We are also fairly silly, as you will see.

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Taking stock

The holidays are over, and I’m ready for this new year. The boys have one more week of holidays: the Cat is at soccer camp for four days and the Rabbit is hanging with Ian in his last week before he turns five and starts school. I’ve booked a Mama–Rabbit day for Friday, so have four days to get myself organised for the year and start working out the patterns and routines that will carry me through. And I should tidy my office. And get things for two birthdays. And weed the garden.

I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’ve got a fair idea of what the building blocks need to be and mostly need to work out how to fit them all together.

Slightly odd choice for my number one concern, but one of my big lessons of 2015 was that regular exercise makes a big difference to my mood and ability to cope with shit. By shit, I don’t mean big stuff like deaths and discord and disaster, but more the mundane things like cooking dinner, folding the laundry and getting the kids to bed.

I had a break after Christmas and was a bit nervous about going back this morning, but I survived. We did lots of walking with hills and steps over the holidays, which probably saved me, but it will be ‘interesting’ to see how I go with resistance work tomorrow. I reckon I need to go three or four times a week and I don’t know when to fit that in. My favourite times are in the morning after breakfast, around 4pm, and in the evening. The morning is probably the most practical option most days, but needs to be early enough that it doesn’t cut into my work day too much. Am open to suggestions from people with experience in juggling all the things, but please don’t suggest early early morning or any time before I’ve had something to eat. That ain’t gonna happen.

I guess the other thing to do more of would be walking to pick the boys up from school and more family adventure outings at weekends. Oh, and we’re hoping to walk the Rakiura Track in a year or two, so we’ll need to practice with longer day walks and some overnighting in huts.

A few changes this year. I’m done with Critic, so it’s back to building up the business and keeping a wee eye out for a dream job. I’m pretty excited about having more time when Rabbit starts school, although not really ready to lose all those extra hours with my baby. But one lot of pick-ups and five clear days a week will be AMAZING. My main aims are learning how to be more productive and focused, running more workshops, finding a few more key clients, doing most of my work during ‘work hours’ and not in evenings or weekends, and honing my editorial chops.

I kind of wonder whether I might start reading in my thesis area again. I was doing a PhD taking a postcolonial look at contemporary settler writing from Australia and New Zealand when I had the Cat and gave it up to find something that fitted better with family life, but there are days when I miss it bad.

Yes, well. A bit like the exercise, I’m aiming for regularity here and for gradually building up my skills and capacity. One focused hour a day is my goal, and I guess we’ll just have to see how that goes. Sometimes it’ll be the blog and sometimes … other stuff.

Look, this one is always the same. I want to be calmer, less grumpy, better at resolving arguments between the boys and to have more time to play, listen and understand. I’m also on a ‘reclaim the evening’ mission, and it would be great if everyone cleared their dishes and kept their clothes in order.

And that’s me. What about you?

Summer of the little red pen, Part 1

P1070964The story of my summer could be told by rendering the tables I worked at. I had a proofreading job, a biography dense with carefully harvested details, a picking up of the surface of a man’s life, fragment after fragment after fragment, to slowly reveal the soul beneath. I was irritated a lot of the time, sometimes amused, glancingly charmed. There was a quote at the end so lovely and apt I cried and forgave all.

A man! A competent man! was the subject’s frequent cry. Find a man and he can sort everything out, untangle, organise, catalogue, guide. The irony bit deep — look around the publishing team and you’ll see mostly women cranking this thing into shape, chipping, shaping, squaring and burnishing until the light refracts in lean, arrowed lines. I snarked, moved on.

P1070930I started in Wellington, in a small apartment at the top of a villa on the edge of a terrace. Every day we climbed up and down the hillside, dropping into town for outings and supplies, goat-tripping back up when it was time to go home.

We kept the windows open, and the boys made a hut in the living room every morning. We battled over the tv and ate gelati and found our way to the water.

It was almost Greek, but not — too grey, humid, careworn. The wind was always there, ruffling, blustering, making me grumpy. Clearly I still have feelings to work through where Wellington is concerned. I had a revelation about this last weekend, as it turns out. The water is the wrong colour, too much rock, not enough mud. Does it need to be said that all this is just my shit and I fully tautoko all you Wellington lovers?

Anyway… Ian worked early every morning — in the studio at 5, on the air at 7 — and every second evening. I worked when he came home, sitting at a desk on the landing, a tall window to my left, or at the kitchen table, with the buildings and the harbour and the hills to my right.

The Cat remastered the transport system and the Rabbit went a little wild. We ate Japanese, and I got my hair cut. The fruit was dire. I missed the light, the gentle, still warmth, the dark stone of home. Near the end, I softened a little; the bush and the absolutely positivity won me round. We saw old friends, heard each other’s stories. Our hearts were open, and full.

IMGP4909We had a couple of nights at home, then a long day’s travel to Adelaide. It was an extended family thing, Ian’s side, three generations in two houses near the beach, children scattering and knotting in small, shifting clusters. I spent long days in a dark room at the back of the house, a makeshift table, a lamp on the paper. I drifted in and out of the kitchen, grazed on fruit, cuddled my boys in brief, distracted moments. In the evenings we ate together, drank wine. We slept well on firm single beds, the boys peaceful in the quiet and the dark.

IMGP4927There was something of the monastic about it all, and on the last day the tumbling joy of the sea. The Cat and I took boogie boards out together, launched ourselves into waves, grinned and egged each other on, sun hot on our skin. When I got into the shower, my body was covered with leaves and seaweed. I washed it away, but the happiness stayed.

We came home, and our house felt like an old friend. The Rabbit went back to day care, and the Cat did a soccer holiday programme. I worked in every gap, through a sleepover and a birthday and too much of too many nights. I used every table in the house — in my office, the bedroom, commandeering in the end half the kitchen table. Ian parented around me, keeping the wheels turning as I wrestled this bastard job to the ground. I got lost in my head, tunnelled deep among the words and the people and the referencing intricacies of the book. I’m not sure how I did; it feels too close. I liked it though, the brain work, the focus.P1070970

I couldn’t work like that all the time, not without more childcare, but it was a good summer and I’m drawn to it, this editing gig. If I have a vocation, it’s here.

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French night

P1070366A few weeks ago, we decided to institute French night. Ian and I get to hankering for Paris every now and then, and the boys like any event that involves planning, participatory preparation, and eating.

P1070371We started by getting out recipe books and my old French course books. The boys wrote out French food words and stuck them to the kitchen wall where — I now realise — they remain. We scoured fridge and pantry to work out what we could cook with what we had, and we thought about what we could watch as after-dinner entertainment.*

P1070391I took on potato galette, cauliflower in olive oil and lemon juice, and a lamb, olive and preserved lemon stew. Ian made apple tarte tatin and put out bread and olives for starters. The boys made a salad and the Cat picked flowers.

When it all got too much, the Cat ran a soccer academy in the hallway for the Rabbit. In the middle of everything, we shifted firewood from the driveway to the side of the house, and I think we cleaned the bathroom and vacuumed, although God only knows when or why.

P1070405Predictably, it was all both more wonderful and less relaxed than the event I had in mind when I first broached the idea. My vision of us talking quietly with each other while slowly eating our way through a well-paced and elegant little feast was tempered by a few scraps, a bit of mess, some ratbaggery, and the usual appalling table manners, but it was a celebration of our own making — a wordy, colourful, mayhem-adjacent, not-too-fancy, delicious little party.

* We ended up with a Top Gear episode set in France, which culminated with a bridge that set off my vertigo big time. One day, we’ll be classy.

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The kitchen table

I just looked at our kitchen table and realised that it almost always has at least one book on it. The Cat and I are the worst culprits; we sit at the ends of the table, read through meals, and leave our books for next time. Sometimes a book will migrate from one end of the table to the other, and sometimes the Rabbit will fetch a book too, for company. He astounded us the other day by “reading” Fox in Socks out loud — he got a surprising amount of it right. Poor Ian thinks we’re a bunch of heathens. But I notice that there are three books about magnolias in my space this week, and I didn’t put them there.

It’s an incidental, grazing sort of reading that goes on at the table. The Cat can afford to fully immerse himself in the experience, devouring soccer biographies and Calvin and Hobbes cartoons with the same comprehensive determination with which he eats, but I need to be somewhat alert to the needs of my children for food and of my partner for conversation. So I’m more likely to have a copy of the Listener beside me, or a recipe book, or the Lonely Planet France guide. Things I can dip into, things I can skim. And as I look at the table again, things I can dream with. Isn’t that what we all do with books? Dip our toes into other worlds, imagine ourselves into travel, soccer stardom, outrageous childhood, new ideas, a garden, a banquet. Little dreams to sustain us through the pattern of our days, like the food we share, like the stories we tell.

Election 2014 live blog

Well, here we go. We’re having a party with two old friends, their children, my sister, her partner and baby, and us lot. That makes one tv, five children (only one of whom is over five), a laptop, snacks, a cat, and dishes to do.

I’m going to help with the dishes, but would just like to note that Linda Clark kicked things off by referring to “voterland”. That’d be the country, I guess.

7.17pm We now know John Key’s pizza order. How enlightening. Now we’re finding out about the menu at David Cunliffe’s house. Sausages and rocket salad.

7.18pm off to check on children and do dishes.

8.02pm Half the dishes are done and we are eating chips, dip, fruit, cheerios and tomato sauce. The children have had a few scraps, and now they’re building a train track. The Cat is working on ways to bring soccer into the conversation, and the McLaughlin sisters are well pleased to see that our friends made soup mix dip. Our childhood was built on that stuff.

I’m trying to avoid sugar, so I bought coconut milk instead of soy milk. It’s okaaaayyyy.

8.07pm The Cat is covering the tv with a Green party sign, which would make for a more cheerful, but less informed evening.

8.11pm I’d like to straighten Matthew Hooten’s jacket collar. Is it his posture or his tailoring?

8.12pm “We felt that Epsom was always going to go Act’s way.” Well, no shit, Joyce.

8.14pm Wild camera work. Blue lights. Disco politics.

8.16pm The Cat is calling a typo at 8.11pm. Damn, he’s right. I’m going to edit it now. This is getting very “meta”.

8.17pm Three children playing with a fire engine, one on the iPad, and 31% Green in Wellington Central. This may be the high point of the night.

8.20pm Fudge and cake. Sugar is in for the night.

8.21pm Act ate the vegetarians. Hang on…

8.26pm Hone and Laila looking safe-ish. Laila for PM!

8.28pm Just watched someone talking for three minutes before realising it was Trevor Mallard. Can’t see him without remembering the Cat’s comment when we passed his electorate office on the bus: “Is that a man or a duck?”

8.32pm My brother-in-law is entertaining his baby with a green tie. God, it’s adorable.

8.46pm I just realised that the NZ First vote is tracking about the same as the Greens’. I’m 85% confident about that apostrophe and 100% dismayed at that result.

8.59pm Ian is reading Olivia stories to the Rabbit, Essy is putting her children to bed, the Cat is reading Calvin and Hobbes (building his master plan for familial domination) and National is looking to have a healthy lead. And Te Tai Tokerau is closing between Hone and Kelvin Davis. Might be time to go home soon.

9.53pm One child asleep, one on the loo, and the news getting steadily worse.

10.00pm Winston stonewalling a reporter. What an unusual sight.

10.04pm Winston and the Greens giving their speeches. Te Tai Tokerau looking like it’s gone for Hone. Lots of the Māori seats going to Labour. I need a hot water bottle and my pyjamas. Might even be time to start drinking.

10.24pm Cointreau.

10.28pm David Seymour re-defines the word poodle. Apparently.

10.30pm Laila Harre is ignoring INANE questions from reporters. I do like her jackets.

This is so depressing. Three more years without progress on poverty or climate change. Without care of our rivers or for our people. With narrow and box-ticking educational objectives for our kids and no hope for our students. With our sovereignty being steadily eroded and with a complete lack of vision for a country that values all its citizens, its land, its water, its wairua. Damn it.

10.42pm Is Bill English shorter than I thought or is Patrick Gower standing on something?

10.44pm A lot of barracking from the Cat. He doesn’t seem to like John Key.

10.47pm Cunliffe arriving. Gotta love the party faithful. A few too many adverbs for my liking. What does he mean “put aside political differences and work for the good of this country”????

11.07pm A haka for Key? Why???

I’m going to need more Cointreau.

11.14pm I like Duncan Garner’s graphics, but he doesn’t know what “decimation” means. Should have studied Latin.

11.22pm Linda Clark pointing out that almost every party except National believes that National’s approach to poverty is wrong. Yep.

11.24pm No more to say. Gotta turf a Cat out of my bed.

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