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Ebola leaf

Diseased grass

Diseased grass

After I’d put the kids to bed the other evening, I was out in the garden raking leaves. Yeah, I far prefer draping myself across the sofa stuffing crackers in my face and watching X-Factor worst auditions on Youtube, but those leaves aren’t going to rake themselves you know.

As for why I hadn’t raked leaves earlier in the day, well, I have two kids. Anyone who doesn’t graciously accept that as the ultimate, tiger-blood, champion all-stars, boss excuse that it is either has no children, and/or is a cock. But ok: Thursday was a chaotic scramble of keeping the children alive long enough to get them to care; editing a 6 page funding application which is one of two part-time jobs I work; massaging my sick dog; exploding hair; collecting the kids and not forgetting one or both; packing Finn’s rugby bag; finalising the application and distracting Saoirse from eating it while I delivered it while Andrew took Finn to rugby; and then the carnage surrounding dinner.

So your general, standard-issue day.

Also: leaves.

All over the lawn.

Shitloads of the fuckers.

There’s a dude at the bottom of our hill who occasionally leaves his floodlight on, and I turned on the outside light, and it was a lovely, still, clear night with loads of stars . . . perfectly suited to lying on the sofa with a plate of crackers, but there I was raking leaves.

I’m thinking: “Jesus H C this literally motherfucking rake is fucking USELESS,” because it didn’t seem to be picking up anything. I’d done about half the garden when I realised the rake was upside-down.

Things progressed much faster once I turned it around.

After about an hour and a half, the garden looked much better (what I could actually see of it).

At nine o’clock, when I went inside to make Husband his dinner, he said, “Nice wellies. So do you know why you’re raking leaves?”

“Because . . . it’s . . . on the task list on the blackboard?”

“Well, I suppose there’s that, yes. But also, if you leave them on the lawn it can cause grass disease. You know, I raked the lawn the other day and it only took me half an hour-”

“Well, you should probably just take care of it in future,” I said, clanging a frying-pan forcefully against the stove-top, “because you’re obviously more mentally and emotionally prepared for raking leaves-”

“No, I meant: you don’t have to rake up every single last leaf.”

“Well, what’s the fucking point, then?”

I mean: OF COURSE you’ve got to get every last single leaf, because otherwise where do you draw the line? Two leaves? Three? Four hundred? Exactly; you never know which leaf has Ebola, so you better get the lot of them

A new record

So I was noodling around on Facebook one evening looking at dancing gerbils and photos of weirdos in Walmart and trying to resist the quick quiz to determine which celebrity is my soul mate – when up popped a message from one of my favourite engineers of all time:

Tony> Hey Niamh, when are you coming over for a visit to Beirut:-) Tony

And I thought, ‘Wow! Gosh, I haven’t heard from Tony in a while’. And of course I immediately stopped what I was doing (browsing artistic representations of electrical appliances rendered in fruit) and messaged him back:-

Me> Hahaha! Hi Tony – great to hear from you! No plans to pass through Beirut any time soon😀 two kids sort of put the brakes on any international jetsetting. How you doing? What you up to? x

Tony> Haha Niamh you made my day:-) It is great to hear from you

Tony> I have two kids as well and I am doing great, still within Company as usual

Tony> But the message you responded to was sent to you 5 years ago :-)

Still relatively unscarred

Still relatively unscarred

Aw do I have to? Whyeeee? Alright alright ALRIGHT! Context, whatever.

So a few months ago I was at the local Toy Library, because now I’m the President I have important stuff to do there. You know, like naming our elk, and quality-testing plasma cars, and supergluing Strawberry Shortcake’s head back on because her neck is impractically flimsy. I also point at things, a lot.

Anyway, Fiona said, “I’ve gotta go soon. I collect Macey from school at three.”

At which point, my thought process went something like this: “Bo collecta! Makin moves yeah on the dance floor – what IS that song? I wish life were a musical. Then I could bust out the tunes and funky moves and people wouldn’t think I was crayzay. Re rewind. When the crowd say bo colleeecta. Crunch. Grindgrindgrindgrindgrind CLICK! FUUUCK!”

Because it was then I realised I’d forgotten to pick up Finn from kindy at 14:30.

I squealed out of the carpark on a dense cloud of burnt rubber. When I flung myself into kindy half an hour late, all the chairs were upside down on the tables and Finn was sitting dolefully on the floor with his backpack on.

“Sorry!” I gasped.

“Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” said the ECEs kindly – but I refused to be appeased. I mean, I bet they say that to all the parents.

He probably had a better time there than at home, where there’s no playdough and he’s not allowed to stand on the sofa- ok look, there’s no way to make it better and I’m going to feel guilty about abandoning my child until my dying day.

So there’s the context: past, present and future.

Last week I was at the Toy Library, when I looked at my watch and it was-

“FUCKING TWO THIRTY!”

“Have you forgotten your child again?” asked Maria. I would have challenged her about the unnecessary emphasis she placed on the last word – I mean, I’d only forgotten Finn once – except I was thrashing it out the door.

I was only five minutes late and trying to gallop elegantly up the path when I met my mate, Maxine.

And her son, Q, said, “Hello, Niamh! What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Q! I’m here to pick up Finn!” I said, as if I were speaking to a four year old – which, in fairness, Q is – but also I admittedly gave Maxine a look conveying that perhaps she should spend more time doing some cognitive development role playing with her son because what the fuck else would I be doing there?

Then Q said, “Finn’s not at kindy. He doesn’t come on Tuesdays.”

While Maxine rolled around the ground laughing, realisation achingly slowly dawned that both my children, Finn and Saoirse, spend Tuesdays – pretty much all of them since Christmas – with their dad.

You think maybe that incident cancels out the other? Yeah no; I’m still dealing with thermonuclear levels of enriched, weapons-grade guilt. I imagine on my deathbed, saying: “Hey everyone listen up because this is my dying breath so it’s obviously pretty important – hey you! Put down the sausage roll and have some fucking respect! Dying breath, here! Ok anyway, look, I won’t draw it out much longer, but I really want to say this: I have no regrets in my life except that time I forgot to collect Finn from kindy: Son, I’m sorry! I’m so very, very sorry!”

<exhale>

<final curtain>

Finn> You’re de most beautifullest mummy in de whooole universe.

Me> Aw! That’s lovely! I’m the most beautiful mummy in the whole universe?

Finn> No. Your friend, Maxine. She is de most beautifullest mummy in de whooole universe. But. She is Quinn’s mummy.

Me> Well, she’s still a mummy.

Finn> Yes. Mummy, if you dressed up you could be like Maxine.

Me> (thinks) Thank you Son, that’s just fucking phenomenal.

Duckface

Duckface

(I’ve asked him several times since but he’s still getting the answer wrong.)

Saoirse> <roaring>

Me (picking her up)> What happened to Saoirse, Finn?

Finn> I biffed her wit da door of my tunnel.

Me> Aw, poor little girl! Finn, that’s not very nice.

Finn> The next time wasn’t so bad.

Me> You- did you hit her TWICE?

Finn> No.

Finn> I biffid her one time.

Finn> Den I biffid her two times-

Me> FINN! Say sorry!

Finn> Sorry, Saoirse.

Blink of an eye

Life is a trickle of days and then you have kids and suddenly it’s a deluge. It sweeps you away, leaves you gasping for breath.

Finn started kindy last week.

It is such a privilege watching my children grow and I love being part of it but god, it makes my heart ache.

It feels like no time at all since I met that tiny scrap for the very first time. I remember the way he used to curl into me; the smell of his fuzzy little head; that gut-wrenching newborn cry; his gorgeous gurgle of a giggle; how I used to anticipate when he’d wake in the middle of the night, even when he was in another room. All the firsts: his first car trip; his first day home from the hospital; his first steps.

Over the course of your life, there are moments you never forget. Some are the obvious ones: your Inter Cert maths exam, the first day you arrive in the Middle East, your wedding day, the first time you whack a major commercial bank.

And many memories are surprising by virtue of their outstanding mundanity. One of the things that falls under this category is from when I was just a little older than Finn is now. The Oakleys occasionally drove me to school, and I still recall being dragged writhing, kicking and screaming, to their car. There are probably still fingernail-marks scored on the gate-post. I don’t know whether it was the same day or another, but I remember sitting on my teacher Mrs William’s knee, sobbing desolately.

The reason for it has not been preserved, but the memory is vivid enough that, even now, I can taste and feel and smell how distraught I was.

So I was anxious how Finn would adjust to kindy.

Well. My son walked into the place, threw off his jacket, cracked open a box of magnetic construction blocks and set into engineering a highway across the floor.

I stayed a few minutes to complete some forms and then said goodbye.

“Bye, Mum!” said Finn.

“Er. Can I have a hug? And a kiss?”

And Finn would probably have rolled his eyes if he weren’t giving me a look that clearly said, “Jeez, some people are so NEEDY.”

Since he’s a kind, thoughtful, considerate little fella, he was good enough to humour me.

There were tears.

I cried all the way home.

Finn at the end of the first day

Finn at the end of the first day

In Auckland for my Father-In-Law’s 70th birthday party, we nipped out to buy some groceries and came back with a new car. It happens. The evidence is parked in our garage at the bottom of the garden.

Since my life isn’t challenging enough, I volunteered to drive it home to Oamaru: 1300km over four days – actually, 1400km with a detour via New Plymouth. It was going to be EPIC: wacky adventures, amazing experiences, vaguely creepy but ultimately benevolent strangers, the thrill of the open road.

Only two things threatened to interfere with that romantic vision: 1/ I was driving a fucking Toyota Prius, not a Ford T convertible; and 2/ my travel companions: two children (mine), one of whom takes entirely after me, which is an awful lot of potentially hazardous high-voltage complaining.

But I’d heard the weather is great this time of year, so that decided it.

My original plan consisted of messaging a friend I hadn’t seen since my wedding twelve years ago to say, “How are you? Would love to catch up! Hey, how about I stay at yours tonight? You can meet the kids!”

I was relieved to have committed minimal time, energy and strategizing to that particular plan when it turned out she had moved from Wellington over a year ago.

After a minor route adjustment, we were on our way to New Plymouth to stay with my Aunt-In-Law.

Exploring Mokau

Exploring Mokau

Ok, yes, sure, we can talk about the Prius, why not? To date, our primary family car has been a 1996 Toyota Hilux Surf, which we basically chose for the dog. Otherwise it has a number of advantages: it’s big enough for the whole family, it can drive over boulders, it has a towbar for motorbikes. On the downside: it isn’t the safest car on the road and doesn’t guzzle gas so much as gleefully wallow in it.

We needed a sensible second family car (Andrew: no, the Celica does NOT meet that description- yes, I know it fits everyone but we have to kind of wedge the dog- no, acceleration speed is not a critical factor in- look, we’ve been through this and- just no. Why? BECAUSE I FUCKING SAID SO) therefore Husband looked into what might suit our my requirements. Which were: size, safety and a minimum of four fucking doors PLEASE.

The Toyota Prius was by far the cheapest circa 2010 model that met all the given criteria with the added bonus that, as a hybrid, it does about 3000 miles to the gallon.

A door-friendly car that doesn’t feature at least eight cylinders is a major concession for Husband; a symbolic farewell to International Mysterious Manliness. I’m not sure he’s as inspired by the car’s ultra-low carbon emissions as the technology behind it. These cars are amazeballs: the battery is charged by the kinetic energy produced by the car. And when I found out the driver’s seat is heated, my toasty ass was just so fully on board.

One minor issue is the main car display, which is entirely in Japanese. According to the navigation system – which bizarrely features tiny swastikas, along with other symbols that wouldn’t look out of place tattoed across a Triad’s forehead – we spent a lot of the trip driving underwater.

The navigation display with tiny swastikas

The navigation display

This was slightly problematic on the first day, since Google Maps wasn’t working on my mobile and, after leaving SH1 at Taupiri, I had no idea where the fuck we were. I navigated by the stars until Andrew’s plane landed mid-morning and he called to offer technical support. He advised enabling the setting to connect to data services when roaming, which resolved the problem.

I’d never driven the SH39 to New Plymouth – Hobbit Country – and it was spectacular. After four hours of solid driving, the kids and I stopped on the coast at Mokau for a late lunch and some exploring.

We arrived at my Aunt-In-Law’s early enough for Finn and Saoirse to fully investigate some heavy-duty Duplo. Later, while the children slept, I looked into the ferry crossings for the following day. The only sailing we could realistically make was the Interislander at 14:45.

The AA Distance Calculator predicted the 353km journey to Wellington would take 5 hours 4 minutes. However, I preferred Google Maps’ estimate of 4 hours and 30 minutes; and I figured half an hour was quite enough time sitting around the Interislander carpark with kids fresh off a four and a half hour journey with – say – an extra hour added on for coffee, snacks, snuggles, dropped water bottles, phantom widdles and nappy related incidents; and – I don’t know – another half an hour for roadworks, detours and flat tires.

I aimed to leave at 08:00hrs, latest 08:15hrs, which meant we were on the road by 08:30hrs.

We just needed to cut down on the flat tires.

There was no paper

There was no paper in the back of the car

After three hours, we stopped at a BP for 20 minutes which somehow ended up being 40 – but not a problem – we were blazing down the SH1 bang on schedule – when Saoirse yarfed in the back.

Well, that took care of the epic part of the roadtrip brief.

I swear: she threw up mandarin segments untouched by human teeth, and an entire cheese stick still in one piece. Might even have been still in the wrapper.

No warning: twenty minutes before she redecorated the back of the car

No warning: twenty minutes before she redecorated the back of the car

I managed to pull onto the verge, put the hazards on, and fished Saoirse out of her carseat. We were an hour out of Wellington and she was absolutely putrescent; I changed her clothes and spent twenty minutes trying to soak up the boke with baby wipes. One and a half packets; a bitter exercise in futility.

By the time we were back on the road, complete with soggy supermarket bag of rancid clothes, we were officially Really Quite Late. At quarter past two and without any warning, Google Fucking Maps adjusted its Time to Destination from 5 minutes to 15.

THE FUCK?!?

Interislander rang again: “Are you nearly-“

“Yes, I’m fiftee-ive- fifive- no, I mean fifive- fuck!- FIVE minutes away. See you soon, byeee!”

I didn’t answer the phone next time it rang.

We were the last car to board.

In the food court, Saoirse recovered enough to eat Finn’s fish and chips as well as her own. Finn and I couldn’t manage much for the throbbing stench of stomach acid.

Fish and chips on the Interislander

Fish and chips on the Interislander

In addition to top-class hospitality, my lovely friend K in Blenheim provided full laundry service complete with folding. Late that evening, I dumped Saoirse’s carseat in K’s bath, chipped off the chunks and attempted to shampoo the padded parts on the straps.

Five days later, it still smells.

From Blenheim, we drove to Rakaia to stay with my friend Sinéad who has two children the same ages as Finn and Saoirse. This was the first time the kids demonstrated anything other than perplexing good cheer in the car, when Finn suffered a psychotic episode:-

Finn> “Stop! Stoppit! Stop saying ‘rabbit’! Mum, Saoirse keeps saying ‘rabbit’- NOOO! She said it again!”

Me> “Er-”

Saoirse> “WABBIT! WabbitwabbitwabbitwabbitWABBIT! HAHAHAHAHAAA!”

You can tell she’s my child.

During one of our daily phone calls, Andrew asked me whether I was enjoying the trip. It was hard to beat a couple of hours sipping margarita with Sinéad in her spa pool; that was pretty good.

But, in fact, I loved spending time with my children. LOVED it. Both responded to having my full attention to talk about the nature of free will and laws of physics . . . only kidding; mainly itemizing all the toys in Finn’s bedroom and shouting beep! beep! at lorries.

Despite having done the trip several times BC I underestimated how massive it was. They were phenomenal; they amazed me, awed me, both of them. Saoirse sat there chortling whenever she saw a tree; and Finn was so considerate – opening Saoirse’s water bottle and raisin packets for her and sharing out snack bars.

Finn (halfway from Picton to Rakaia)> “Mummy?”

Me> “Yes, sweetheart.”

Finn> “I’m happy. This is my happy face.”

Finn> <gurning at the rearview mirror>

I couldn’t have asked for better company.

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