little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: mothers and daughters

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.

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.



Cracking open the cage

P1080487I’ve been tending to my back for about six months now. I’m an editor, so I spend WAY too much time in front of a computer and not nearly enough doing yoga. I get massages from a bodywork therapist who has an uncanny ability not only to find any lurking knots but also to tap into whatever emotional shit you might have stored up in your body. I’ve cried in front of her more than once, but she seems to cope okay.

Anyway, things amped up in the last week or two, starting with a visit to an osteopath. “Oh,” said the therapist, “I think he’s a bit more than an osteo, actually.” I don’t know; it’s all Greek to me. He pointed out that my ribs are very tight, along with my back, shoulders, neck, everything. He cracked a few joints, told me to get some weights and build up my muscles, and sent me on my way. When I told my dear, dear friend about his rib comment, she said, “Well, of course. They’re protecting your heart. Think of how much you’ve loved and lost in your 30s.” She’s like that, and I also hold her responsible for the mist that descended about the hilltops as we walked and talked.

The next day I went back to the therapist, fully expecting to turn into a small sad mess at some stage during the massage. But everything went pretty smoothly, we got some stubborn knots out and my shoulders felt pain free for the first time in, well, decades. I was congratulating myself on my ability to simultaneously LET GO and HOLD IT TOGETHER when she did some Reiki-type move over my head and all of a sudden my mum, my grandmother and my great-aunt were right there in the room, watching over me and telling me I was safe with them. So, that was the end of that, except that I then had ten minutes to get back to the valley and pick up my kids. I tell you, the 5.30pm red wine came not a moment too soon last night.

P1080488And then — I swear I am not making this up although I am probably reading way too much into natural phenomena — I walked into the kitchen to make breakfast this morning, noticed the sunrise flooding the sky and then saw, due west, the most goddamn perfect rainbow I’ve ever seen. I went outside and stood looking at it and thinking, “You have got to be kidding me, Mum.” At which point it started to rain, very gently. Regular readers may have noticed that I am highly suggestible in the rain.


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.



The river mouth


From the Otago Daily Times

From the Otago Daily Times

My family has a crib at Taieri Mouth; sometimes I think it’s my one true place. It’s where I go to wear jerseys and drink tea, where I go to slip into the old stories of people no longer here, of the child I once was and sometimes still am.

The house sits on the hill below the bend of the river, facing not to the light and the open sea, but upstream, turned to the dark green hills narrowing the river, to the bush and the water and the gentle birds of mud and tree. It’s a simple house, a rectangle slowly falling into the hillside, with concrete steps to a wide, dusty veranda, rugs, floorboards, speckled windows. Nothing matches much, although a faded, pinkish red seems to be a theme — the red and the deerskin brown of old wood and a limey yellow.

bridge and mudflatsThe house came by the river, well, the bits of it did, floated downstream on a raft from Waihola by my great-grandfather. I write that sentence and I realise that I might have all the details wrong, but I think that’s okay. This must have been before the first bridge was built. There’s a new bridge now, built in the 1980s, an efficient slice of concrete curving out of and into the road on either bank. The old bridge was wooden and as rickety as you might expect, with gaps between the boards through which you could see the slow, deep water. Things went into that river and were never seen again: crabs collected from the mudflat, an old bed, a car that would now be vintage, but then was just worn out and heavy. I think that’s what happened to the car. That’s the story I have in my head, anyway.

paddlingDad taught us to kayak on the mudflats. When the tide was in, we had plenty of shallow water to practise in, and you could look down past your paddle to the river bed. When I got bigger, I went further up the river or over to the other side, but I always came back to the mudflats, cool and squelchy, with the crab holes opening and closing like eyes. It’s quiet out there, in a kayak on a slow river. Just the soft dip and lift of the paddle, the ripple where you trail your hand in the water. Dad built his own kayak, a sweet, sturdy craft of canvas and wood. It was just big enough for two people, two smalls or a big and a small. It’s still there, and one day I’ll take my boys out in it.

It wasn’t all good though. One day we drove out to find the house full of dead rats — in the beds, the vacuum cleaner, under the table. There’s no rustic charm in the rats; they’re plain disgusting. The possums I can handle, their scratching on the roof, their yelling in the night. But the rats are a problem.

cabbage treeThe water is always a bit of situation too. We have rainwater tanks, and I would happily drink rainwater — two such lovely words — but the rain passes through the leaves in the gutters on the way to the tanks and then it all sits there fermenting between visits, so the water is often brown, with a pong of leafmould. We don’t drink the water, but we shower in it if it’s not too bad, and after a few days we all smell faintly of leaf, so that the first shower back in the city is a miracle of clean, white water, a bleaching back into adulthood and the everyday. I always crave that first city shower, yet it saddens me too to wash off the mud and the sand and the leaves, to stop being grubby and clearheaded and sunsleepy and happy.
brothers boys birds upstream volcano castle sweeping steps spoonbill and oystercatchers sleeping by the river sisters rocks rockpool minigolf hole


Channelling my mum

So, I’m getting older. And some things are starting to come out (not just in me, either). If you ever see me do any of these things, it’s just the inheritance, okay?

  1. Stab food with just a little too much gusto when dividing it onto people’s plates. Particularly likely when it’s fruit for dessert.
  2. Proclaim that the Southern Hemisphere spring starts in August. Just look at the ground, if you doubt me. Those flowers? They’re doing spring right now. How you divide up the other seasons is entirely up to you. I go for two months of winter, four of spring, three of summer and three of autumn. But in Dunedin, sometimes the summer is just a few weeks squished between spring and autumn.
  3. Snuffle my children. What can I say? They smell good. Particularly in that wee corner between cheek and ear.
  4. Bacon.
  5. Or a sprinkling of salt.
  6. Not cucumber though. I’m leaving that one for my sister and the kids. Unless it’s in yoghurt. Or a diced salad. Or pickle.
  7. Cry easily. Then resent the film or song that made me do it.
  8. Bask in the sun. Window, coffee, book.
  9. Worry about my double chin. Then get over it.
  10. Pick flowers for people.
  11. See the funny side. Not always appropriately.
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