little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: mothering

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.

Mothers’ day song


This year’s Mothers’ Day post comes with a theme tune, lists and links. It was that kind of day.

Previous instalments
Non-ideal, but better than expected
Much improved

Rough timetable
5.30am: Wake to smoke alarm. No smoke, but alarm has to be dismantled to get it to stop. It’s on the hall ceiling, so the dismantling involves two children waking, a stool on top of a chair, and Ian’s long limbs. Awesome.

After that: Not much sleep.

Later: Rabbit comes in. Ian goes to make breakfast. Rabbit stays in bed to “keep mama warm”.

7.30am: Croissants and coffee in bed. Also, children in the bed. Cards and flowers. Lots of cuddles. Not too many crumbs.

Too much of the morning: Getting organised and doing stuff.

11am: Gorgeous outing to Pūrākaunui to collect cockles on a wide-open mudflat. Birds everywhere, and the water coming in.

20160508_141624_resized1pm: A feast of pasta, homemade tomato sauce and steamed cockles.

Afternoon: Idle parenting by the fire, chores, digesting.

6pm: Probably the last BBQ of the season.

Evening: A deep, hot bath. Bed.

Overall rating: One of the best.



International Women’s Day

Lucy of Lulastic and the Hippyshake is hosting an International Women’s Day 2016 Blog Link Up. You should check it out immediately. It inspired me to write about this woman’s day.


6.40am: Alarm goes. Do not want to get up. Curl up for just five minutes more.

7.15am: Ooops. Stumble to kitchen and find that partner has made the school lunches and put the coffee on. Domestic equality winning. We get through breakfast, tidy-up and have showers, then the boys leave for school.

9am: Beautiful Women’s Day text arrives from one of the most inspiring women I know. Think of the women I love, the ones I miss, the ones I look forward to seeing every day, the ones I want to hang out with more.

9.10am: Head to the gym. Struggle with feelings of inadequacy and middle-agedness, but smash the rower, nonetheless. No longer give a shit what I look like in gym gear.

11am: Stop on the way home for groceries. Forget the chicken food. Listen to an interview with a terrific bonsai expert on the way. She sounds about 80, and when Kathryn Ryan asks her what the deal is with air bonsai, she says, “Well, if anyone would like to find out more about that, what they really need to do is Google it.”

12pm: Lunch, coffee and a chapter of the book of feminist essays I’m re-reading.

12.30pm: Attempt to work, admit to self that day is something of a write-off. Am distracted and irritated by a Facebook discussion about training girl children out of shyness. Try five times to articulate anger and pain caused by discussion, decide it is all based on white capitalist patriarchy, delete all drafts. Send love and solidarity out into the ether and hope they will reach all my favourite shy people.

1.30pm: Find out that a woman has been shot in Seacliff. My friend’s mother lives nearby, my partner is being called out to report on it, and it just never, never stops, does it? Do the things women do: get in touch, cry, look out the window, write.

2.09pm: Receive invitation to a Cilla McQueen book launch. Respond YES with whole being. Put event on calendar and discover it clashes with partner’s return home from Australia and elder son’s futsal match. Can vaguely appreciate the irony, I suppose.

2.10pm: More work.

2.35pm: Decide to walk to school. Fresh air’s gotta help, right? Smile at every woman I pass, lean into the hill.

3.00pm: Exchange comfort, hugs and stories with the mothers and grandmothers at school. Embrace my boys. Join the girls’ team in the after-school soccer match. We lose, but with a strong sense of solidarity, y’know.

3.40pm: Walk home with my boys, feel tender towards the world.

4.10pm: Enter the afternoon tea, animal feeding, chores, dinner vortex. Decide to be cheerful about all the domesticity in a kind of “Making the World Go Round” way. Remember my favourite exchange along those lines.

Friend: What makes the world go round?
Me: Curves.

6.51pm: The afternoon went much better than I expected, which might have been the walk home — or perhaps the sisterhood is even more powerful than I imagined because the boys put stickers in a space book together, did their screen time, had afternoon tea and then put away their dishes and set the table with nary a scrap or grump. My approach of deliberate good cheer seemed to work too, although the glass of wine and feminist reading while stirring the risotto possibly worked better.

Ian came home and we debriefed the day. The Rabbit made himself a homework book while the Cat checked top goals of the week.

7.30pm: Update blog while supervising the Rabbit’s photocopying. He is making alphabets for the kids in his class.

7.40pm: Publish post. There’s more of the day to go, but I’m done. I mean, I’ll update if anything REALLY THRILLING happens, but it’s not that likely.

An island, a mother, the rain

family portraitIf this blog could be said to have any kind of theme, it might be mothering. Or rain. This year, as with the last, it looks like my Mothers’ Day post is doing the combo, not that it rained on the day, but that it takes a day or two of settling and the clouds to open before I can sit down and write it out. At the opening of the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival last week, Witi Ihimaera asked us how we might define New Zealand Literature, and all I could think of was that in a New Zealand book it will usually rain somewhere along the line. More on that in another post.

It’s a lamps and fire and rain on the windows kind of day here, some gold still in the trees, the house firm and old and quiet. It’s a pondering sort of day, and I do like to ponder.

Mothers’ Day was a bit *different* this year. I woke to the alarm at 6.20am, which is about my least favourite way to wake up, then had breakfast on my own. When I opened the cupboard to get the coffee, I found a postcard of Paris from Ian, who was away for work. I’m a total sucker for that sort of thing: coffee, Paris, loving words in black ink, an empty kitchen, a solitary breakfast — it was a pretty zen start to the day.

It became more of a scramble at 8.15am when I had to get the boys out of bed and out the door by 8.30am, but thank god they were going to my sister because I could shove a pack of crumpets and a pile of fruit in a lunchbox with no qualms whatsoever. The Cat gave me a card covered in soccer drawings (a number 10 jersey with my name on it, a soccer pitch with me scoring a goal, a Barça shirt, etc), with the message that I should “keep being awesome”. I put the card in the cupboard next to the postcard and I see them whenever I’m looking for coffee or honey or butter.

I dropped the boys, collected my father and took him to a talk on tramping in New Zealand. Afterwards, I found my sister, her partner, their baby and my boys playing soccer in the park. The sun was warm, the grass was wet, everyone was in good cheer. The Squirrel-baby is learning how to hug; he reaches towards you with his arms out and leans on whatever bit of your body he lands against. It’s basically the most excellent thing ever.

P1010791.JPGThe afternoon was more soccer, the library, a quick walk in the Gardens. We got home a little too late, with too many chores to do, dinner to make and everyone losing it at 5.30pm. Ian sent messages from Stewart Island, where he was tracking —of all people — Prince Harry. He managed to spend some time at the place where Mum’s ashes are, and I was caught out by the thought of him being there, of the Mothers’ Day I wish I could have, of the pull of that beautiful, honest, gentle place.

P1030017.JPGSpaghetti with prawns and peas smoothed most of the feathers, a glass of wine a few more, cuddles most of the rest. But my dear old Cat was still a bit spiky. It took all evening, but he finally told me that he was feeling bad because he’d realised that I’d only done things they liked on Mothers’ Day, not the things I would probably like to do. I held him close and told him about how happy it makes me to see him and his brother doing the things they enjoy, about the struggle it is to get dinner on the table when I’m tired and my children are fighting, about how touched I was that he’d thought about what the day might have been like for me.

He hugged me back, tight and warm, and that was the best of the day, right there.



Marmalade days

The llama made marmalade, marmalade jam.

Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam, Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Illustrator)

P1070335Well, I did it. I made marmalade. It’s like I joined the matrilineal mafia in one long evening of chopping, stirring, sugaring, boiling, testing and bottling. When I say “I”, I’m lying. I did the chopping, slicing grapefruits, a couple of oranges and some lemon into fine golden slivers, and I added the sugar and water and turned it all on. I washed the jars and put them in a low oven, and I poured the final product into the jars, screwed on the lids and wiped down the benchtops, but Ian led the charge on the stirring and testing regime, which I nearly fucked up by removing a pile of cold plates from the fridge at the tail end of the process when we were both hot, tired, frustrated and TOTALLY OVER IT ALL. And then, BOOM, we had a beautiful collection of jars filled with glowing, softly jellied, sweet, sour goodness. Jam —and all its kin — is magic.

When Mum died, I thought we’d finish the last jars of marmalade, then never eat it again. I couldn’t imagine making my own, and store-bought seemed like a sacrilege. My childhood was filled with marmalade, with the hunt for pulp in the freezer section of every supermarket, with weekend afternoons in the kitchen, the sweet, steamy smell of sugared citrus all around me, with a pantry full of agee jars, with toast and marmalade at the sticky heart of every breakfast.

P1070339Then a little while ago, I inherited my grandmother‘s marmalade jar, one of the few remnants of her rich, full life to pass to our side of the family. It sits in my cupboard, pushed back out of the way of clumsy hands, and comes out each morning, bringing a little grace and history to our bright, battered kitchen table. I’ve been buying marmalade, trusting in a facsimile to carry the past for me, which it does, a bit, through the alchemy of an old jar, sunlight, butter.

P1070337But now I’ve made the real thing, and how much more powerful that alchemy is when you add effort, love, a mess created and cleared, the lessons I should have learnt while I still had the teachers. I’ve been making oatcakes too, a sort of light, crisp, aniseedy alternative to the stock-in-trade porridge and toast I grew up on. Put butter on one of those babies, add a spoonful of marmalade, pour fresh coffee, sit in the sun, and you’ve got a fine breakfast on your hands, my friends. A fine breakfast, some gentle ghosts, a lick of the past.



Peaks and troughs, y’all

I read an article the other day that talked about how parents are generally about as happy as non-parents (although way more worried, stressed, and angry), but experience higher highs and lower lows on a daily basis. Which seems pretty accurate to me. The emotional roller coaster of parenting often leaves me feeling wrung out and bewildered, and I can only imagine and dimly remember what it’s like to be a little person in the middle of that maelstrom. I guess the best I can do as a parent then is to be the steady base, the centre they can return to or hold onto when their feelings get too big for comfort.

Yesterday was a case in point, and I can tell you, the wine bottle came out pretty damn fast once dinner was in the oven and the fire was on. The Rabbit is generally a sweet and thoughtful child, but there’s some three-year-old thing going on that’s got me and Ian fully on the razzle. All of a sudden, he’s Very Particular about how he’d like to do things, what crockery, cutlery and glassware would suit him, which socks, undies, trousers, shirts and jerseys meet his aesthetic requirements for the day. Life has become a steady round of negotiation and boundary setting, letting go of our own preferences when his wishes are possible, explaining limits and the capacity of our clothes-washing system when they are not. I keep finding myself hard up against my own stubbornness, frantically searching for the chinks in a conflict where I can offer him a solution, a helping hand, a madcap plan, then step back long enough for him to tear down the walls of his own obstinacy.

Yesterday, I took Rabbit to the supermarket while the Cat was at soccer practice. He’d agreed to the plan earlier in the day and we desperately needed a stock up after the pre-payday scrimp, so I foolishly ignored the signs of his mounting tired-and-crossness (refusing to get in the car and running away from me down the hill really should have tipped me off) and sallied forth. We had five minutes of him crying in my arms on the bench outside the supermarket, then a relatively good run round the first aisle where all I had to do was carry him, push the trolley, remember the grocery list, and choose fruit. By aisle two, he was in the swing of it, putting things in the trolley for me and consulting over whether to buy the olives with or without pips. By aisle four, he was choosing crackers and getting excited about having yoghurt in the house again. By aisle five, he was wanting to push the trolley and his pants were drifting down around his nethers. By the turn into aisle six, I was encouraging him to pull his pants up, while a helpful lady shopper counselled me about the advisability of braces. At the same time, Rabbit couldn’t push the trolley, but he yelled at me every time I pulled it back into line. By checkout, I was alternating between 1). holding Rabbit while he yelled and whacked me as I loaded groceries onto the counter and 2). letting him down only for him to stand in front of all the checkout counters with his pants around his ankles as he surveyed the world with grim, exhausted fury. Bizarrely, in the middle of all this, the checkout operator asked me how my day was going, and all I could do was laugh with a kind of hysterical edge. I’m sure she thought I was mad, but one of the other operators asked me if I needed help getting out to the car, which made me feel both grateful and deeply embarrassed. Anyway, we survived, although I fear this may be the beginning of a protracted Pants War.

Soccer got us back on the upswing, fresh air and a bit of a kickaround, a cuddle in the falling dusk while the Cat got in his final run. By 5.30pm, we were home — cold and tired, but with the kind of solidarity that holds a mother-son team together after they’ve weathered meltdowns and mayhem and scored a few goals and lugged groceries inside. Then I threw dinner in the oven (an unexpectedly successful combination of leftover rice, chicken, tuna, roasted fennel, carrots, olives, and peas, drizzled with olive oil and baked until it was crispy and hot), set the fire, and poured wine, while Rabbit methodically unpacked all the grocery bags in the hall and one by one carried items into the kitchen, asked me where they belonged, and put them away.


Writing in the rain, part II

I’ve been here before, rain on the roof, a muddle of thoughts in my head. I should put the fire on, the lamps, the music too. Soon I will, but I’ll write a bit first, stir the muddle, sift for one clear thought or two.

Yesterday was such a good day. We all gave the best of ourselves, me, my partner, the children. It was Mothers’ Day*, and it was a happy one. Last Mothers’ Day we were in Paris (yelp!) and it started well, but deteriorated when we took the kids to the Musée d’Orsay: one of them was grumpy, bored, and got lost; the other one wanted to spend an hour looking at a (very attractive) stone owl and nothing else. But, still, we were in Paris, which is so mind-blowing in itself that a bit of kid-drama is just fine. Particularly in retrospect.

Anyway, this Mothers’ Day was at home. Ian and the Cat got up to make me breakfast, and the little Rabbit burrowed his way under the covers for a cuddle. He’s a very good cuddler; he wraps his whole body around you, squeezes, then sort of holds you in an emphatically relaxed way that says “I love you and I want you to feel that and let’s just hang out here and breathe together.” And then he pats the back of your neck. Adorable, so I let go of sleeping in.

Breakfast in bed often worries me — the crumbs, the wriggles — but I think we nailed it on this one. If you need to know, I think the vital ingredients are: trays and small tables, settled children, one adult being willing to sit on rather than in the bed and handle the pouring, spreading and passing, croissants, coffee and hot milk in jugs, orange juice, and a willingness to get up before it all turns to the bad.

IMAG3233And in the afternoon we went to Purakaunui, which must be one of the loveliest places in the world. It’s an inlet over the hill from Port Chalmers, all dinghies, boat sheds and cribs, mud flats and cockles, hills and bush, birds and warm afternoon sun. It has that simple little combination of sounds, too, that makes me so happy: the splash of an oar dipping into water, a child’s voice, bellbirds and oyster catchers, footsteps on a leaf floor.

We walked along the track to the playground, kicked the Cat’s soccer ball, played in the swings, sat on the rocks, took off our shoes to feel the mud and the water. I took some time to myself, thought about my mum, missed her. I thought about other griefs that sharpen on Mothers’ Day, about those for whom the day ramps up feelings of loss or fear or exhaustion. I held my children and my partner, let myself be warm and loved and grateful.

IMAG3240When I got back to the car carrying the Rabbit, Ian said that the Cat was being a Yellow-Eyed Penguin. Sure enough, he was nesting in a flax bush. The Rabbit wanted in too, of course, and there they were, my boys, wedged in together, squawking, protecting their patch.


* We had some discussion on Facebook about the position of that apostrophe, and my preferred style lost the day, but I’ll make a place for it here. I like Mothering Day better anyway; could we switch to that?

We’re all in this together, it seems

Ian and I have been reading a parenting book lately, as you do, looking for ideas, inspiration, anything to give us more of the calm, quiet, joyful bonding stuff and less of the nagging and the crossness and the tiredness. And actually this one’s been working nicely — it makes sense, it’s very specific and clear, and it gives me enough of a feeling that I know what I’m doing for me to be able to let go and trust my intuition and heart too.

Anyway, we must have been talking about it because the Cat asked to read the book the other night. He read four chapters, then declared that it made quite a lot of sense. Now he’s quoting it back to us and chipping in with his thoughts on how we could handle particular situations.

Is that how parenting manuals are supposed to work? You give them to your children and they talk you through it all? Is that knowledge safe in their hands? Is it wise to let them know that parenting is a thing you do, and not an immutable, essential state of being? Should they know that we’re trying to figure this stuff out? That we’re winging it?


I like it when my kids give me a whole new view of the world, sometimes with just one word.

Last night I was talking with the little Rabbit about his day. “Worms,” he said, “are quite nice.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Did you see some?”

“Two,” he said. “With Daddy.” A pause. “I had one on my hand.” He held out his hand to show me, fingers slightly curved, as though they still held a worm and it might escape.

“Wow, that’s exciting!” I said. “What did it feel like?”

He thought, his body remembering the experience. He looked up at me, a trace of smile.

“Like honey.”

Being small

I was not at my sparkling best yesterday. I was tired from a late and stressful meeting the night before, we’re ten days into the school holidays, work is piling up, we’re buying a house, and I am completely and utterly over cooking weekday meals for five. No disasters, but not much lightness and joy either. I felt like I was swimming through concrete most of the day.

And then two sets of arms reached out and pulled me to shore. At lunchtime, the Rabbit woke from his nap and saw me looking sleepy beside him. “Let’s just sleep some more,” he said. We curled up on the sofa together and he arranged the blanket over us, carefully tucking it around my toes. Ten minutes of letting myself rest with my baby, and I had enough energy for the next bit of the day.

Then later, the Cat spotted me looking probably utterly pathetic. “You look like you need a hug, Kits,” he said. And those two boys wrapped their arms around me, and we breathed in each other’s softness and warmth, squirming gently in our little triptych. Maybe I needed to let myself be small to garner the strength to be big.

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