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Is it five years yet?

Ok, where to start? Another coffee: yes, great plan. Right, let me just push aside the dark mists of Time – there we go – wait; oh that’s Weather not dark mist – and revisit 2011, when we decided to move to Oamaru.

When I say ‘we’, alright alright FINE it was mainly me. Although when Husband points this out (admittedly not as frequently as I would were our positions reversed), in all fairness: I have no idea what he was thinking, letting me get away with it. I was foetus-afflicted and hormone-riddled and in a penultimate stage of epic broodiness; clearly in no fit state to be dictating such momentous life-choices.

The only condition Husband imposed on relocating was a term limit of five years. At the time, I huffed:

“OMG why do we have to put a timeframe on it? Why can’t we live there as long as it works out, vis a vis indefinitely? This just sooo doesn’t align with my free fucking spirit. Pass me that croissant – yeah just brush the coffee grounds off it – that’s grand mmm.”

Fast forward to 2015, and I’m all: “Say Husband, is it five years yet?”

And so we started thinking about where we wanted to bring up our children. For a while we considered Picton, but rejected it as too far away from Her Goatiness and Agent of Death; we also spent some time skulking around Queenstown but decided it was too . . . you know . . . too . . . Queenstown.

I’m not sure why Wanaka wasn’t an obvious choice; maybe because Agent of Death frequently and apropos of nothing growls, “Who the fack would want to live in Wanaka?” I’m not sure what I’ve ever responded, but given my cultural imperative to please, probably something along the lines of, “Yeah, Wanaka with its stupid lake and stuff, hurhurhur”. Until instead the answer was, “Um, maybe us?”

Towards the end of 2015, we started scouting real estate in Wanaka. We spent several weekends looking at pricey and vaguely preposterous properties before realising there was little to nothing that accommodated two people working from home. My job is part-time and flexible and, although I can work leaning against the kitchen bench with a spatula in the other hand, I’d prefer to gainfully employ myself at a workstation in between the scary parts of Turbo The Snail.

However, since Husband runs his business from home, he needs an office which can accommodate Excessive Technology™ (a recent upgrade from Enough Technology™), and nothing we viewed offered anything appropriate for Husband’s office that wasn’t acoustically compromised; or tucked under a stairs; or didn’t feature a stunning vista of the neighbour’s bathroom.

The situation was further complicated by Husband not liking any of the houses I did.

Eventually we decided if we’re going to ransom our children’s education for a house, it needs to tick all the boxes, and the only way to achieve that is to build our own. Coincidentally this plan aligns with Husband’s life-goal to build a house, which he presented in detail supported by a feasibility study, strategic case and realistic contingency plans on our second date. You can see how I knew he was A Keeper.

So last year we bought a section in Wanaka.

Christmas 2010

Thermonuclear guilt

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>

Driving underwater

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.

La Leche

She invited me to the monthly meeting and said there would be snacks. Obviously, as a committed snack-whore, I was fully IN. I was so busy wondering about doughnuts that I didn’t think very hard – or even at all – about what format a La Leche League meeting would take.

Since Saoirse was born, she had problems nursing. She suffered from reflux, a condition aggravated by taking on air during feeding. For the first six weeks of her life, she existed in two states: asleep or roaring, punctuated with epic chunder. Saoirse’s feeding didn’t improve after treatment for level 4 tongue-tie, and when the Plunket Nurse finally referred us to LLL it seemed less drastic than asking my father to exorcise her.

We met up with the local LLL Representative – let’s call her – Bess half an hour before the meeting.

Oh, she was LOVELY. Much prettier than she sounded on the phone. She gave me a mini shoulder massage, and you know the way most amateur masseurs attack you like they’re trying to beat bears out of a bush? They don’t feel they’ve demonstrated their credentials unless you’re in agony for two weeks afterwards and your neck makes a strange ‘click’ whenever you walk up stairs? Well it wasn’t anything like that; it was WONDERFUL: light but confident.

And- AND! Bess was HELPFUL. She observed Saoirse nursing and suggested that since the latch looked fine and Saoirse was happy slurping away like a trainee alcoholic, that I should just go with the flow, as it were. Which may sound simple, but effectively vaporised the mental block I’d been banging my head against for weeks.

It was the first time I’d ever entertained a girl-crush on someone who smells of ylang-ylang and I was just reflecting on the mysteries of the human heart and where the snacks were stashed, when the rest of them arrived.

Now, honestly, I wanted to like these women. I mean: free food, including an insanely delicious cake with the perfect distribution of moist, sharp rhubarb glowing greenly against a backdrop of rich butter sponge DROOLZ.

And at first they seemed nice.

No, wait; don’t get me wrong; they WERE nice. Certainly much, much nicer than me.

Also, worthy.

But then I made the mistake of talking to them.

I’m not sure how we got on to sleep training – you know: establishing good sleep habits and teaching your baby or infant to fall asleep by replacing negative associations with positive ones. Yeah, I read a book. Can you tell?

Anyway. I wasn’t trying to be controversial – no, really – but I might as well have suggested they vaccinate their children.

“Well, I think it’s cruel,” bristled one woman, defensively cuddling her son as if she feared I might traumatise him by proposing he take a nap.

That’s probably only one of the reasons her three year old still co-sleeps with her and her partner.

Ok, right. Let me just flex my fingers and I’ll tell you what’s cruel: when Finn hasn’t had a mid-day nap, he turns into a two-year-old terrorist skilled in the arts of interrogation and psychological warfare. Seriously: when he’s sleep-deprived, my child could give Damien lessons on how to ride a tricycle. (I suspect he takes after me in this respect.)

Also cruel: Husband’s armpit variation on a Dutch oven. It’s ghastly; he waits until you’re fast asleep before snapping his pit over your face like a vice, and I would NEVER subject my child to that level of abuse.

But what the fuck do I know? I’m cruel.

I’d kind of run out of words anyway, but suffered a state of severe speechlessness when I noticed that several of the women were nursing their children. And we’re not talking about babies here; one was hotwiring a tricycle in the corner before he came over and demanded milk.

Let’s be fair: these kids looked rip-snortingly brawny. In comparison, Finn looked a bit, well, runty (sorry Finn! Thank goodness you can’t read yet! But you’re very clever! And great at roly polys!). But regardless how much boob juice I squirt at him, Finn is never going to be an international weightlifter.

I’ve spent a lot of time since the meeting contemplating why I am so actively uninspired by someone breastfeeding her toddler. ‘Repelled’ is too strong a word – I mean, I’m not about to come around and set their garage on fire or anything – but my feelings are approaching that general neighbourhood.

It depresses me because I want to be encouraging of fellow women and mothers, but in this instance the only support I can offer is recommending a good maternity bra.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve nothing against mammaries. In fact, I think boobs are brilliant. They’re fragrant, squishy and accessorised with buttons: what’s not to like? I’ve loved nursing both my babies. I still feed Saoirse on demand, often in public.

But there comes a point when breastfeeding is not ‘beautiful’ and ‘the most natural thing in the world’, but just a whole world of hell no. Or more specifically: WHAT and EW NO and WHAT ARE YOU- STOPPIT- MY EYES MY EYES! in various combinations.

When a child can walk and speak in whole sentences with complex grammatical constructs, they’re too old for nursing. They’re not babies! They’re little people!

And if you want to infantilise your child in the privacy of your eco-friendly wattle-reinforced home, then knock yourself out – but why do you need a meeting to do so?

There is rarely any reason to nurse a child in public after the age of (I’m feeling generous) one. “I’m hungry”? Here’s a banana. “No! I want miiiiilk!” Well, you’ll have to wait. When Finn wants raisins, he doesn’t always get them. I appreciate that setting boundaries might be trickier if I could fire raisins out of my nipples at will – but perhaps even more necessary. Put your boobs away! It’s been fun, but they’ve had their time in the sun!

I don’t think I’ll be attending the monthly La Leche meetings. Here’s how one of the women introduced herself: ‘I was a member of La Leche in Dunedin and I’m looking for a new tribe.’

And I thought: YES, that’s EXACTLY IT.

Although I think she might have meant ‘cult’.

I just don’t understand the whole attachment parenting thing. Personally I think bringing up children is challenging enough and anyway, I don’t  have time for the free-range yoga and weeing on apricot bushes. Well, I used to wee on my apricot bush.

It died.

Even my widdle is cruel.

I’m confident my children know the vasty reaches of my love for them, without wearing them on me. And despite calling Finn runty – oh, and referencing The Omen and The Exorcist in relation to Finn and Saoirse respectively.

“Here at La Leche,” said Bess during her welcome, “we put our children first.”

As opposed to me, who worships my dark lord and master first.

Oh no; wait; that was a phase I went through and I’m pretty sure I’m over it now.

You know, for an organisation that puts children first, some of the kids were dressed in savagely hairy jumpers. I mean, those things must have been fucking itchy.

I’m just saying.

Pubic talk

A few weeks ago, I was asked to be the guest speaker at Plunket’s 100th Anniversary Dinner in Oamaru.

I had a number of questions, which distilled down to one: could I swear? When they responded in the affirmative, I was totally in. I mean if there’s anyone in the world who would turn down Plunket-sanctioned swearing, that person is certainly not me. I fully support any grassroots movement to bring profanity to the masses.

In full cry at Plunket 100th Anniversay Dinner, Portside Oamaru 7/9/13

In full cry at Plunket 100th Anniversay Dinner, Portside Oamaru 7/9/13

It’s been many years since I’ve spoken pubically – apart from a talk I gave at the Oamaru Public Library back in March. There was a terrific turn-out, since it was entitled ‘The Filthy Business of Romance Writing’ and I think people expected me to talk about porn. It went well. At least, nobody complained about the shortage of smut; everyone liked my shoes; and afterwards one of the library staff offered me a biscuit.

Both filthy business and romance writing are subjects about which I have in-depth knowledge. However, Plunket asked me to speak about ‘Parenting’, a topic I find ever more incomprehensible the older Finn gets.

The dinner was last Saturday 7 September and I was scheduled to speak between the main course and dessert. Presumably Plunket wanted to ensure people really wanted meringue.

Shortly before I was up, I remembered to visit the bathroom to check for dental garnish. None of the dishes served for dinner included spinach, but you never know with that stuff.

I figured if my talk bombed, people might be impressed – or at least distracted – by my ability to stand and operate my lucky pubic heels while heavily pregnant. This ploy was relatively successful, although I suffered a wobble when I tried to illustrate a point with a karate-kick and pulled out at the eleventh millisecond. It was a tense moment since I had kind of committed, but hopefully everyone assumed I was referencing a Celine Dion dance move.

I decided prompt or cue cards were unnecessary, but I did blank on two occasions (once during the aborted karate-kick above). However, I successfully garnered sympathy by blaming pregnancy brain.

Following are some of the highlights from the presentation. The photos are by my talented mate Maxine Shea of Captur8 Photography – although I am disappointed she didn’t make me look thinner.

 

Mr Right
I always thought my Mr Right would be called something like ‘Phoenix Gash’ or – I don’t know – ‘Strike’. As it turns out, his name’s Andrew. Nothing wrong with Andrew; it’s a fine name. All I’m saying is: life never turns out the way you expect.

Life plan
According to my detailed and very specific life-plan, I was going to reproduce at the age of thirty. On my birthday.

Dogs and children
Andrew used to suggest that I shouldn’t compare raising a dog to raising children, but now that I have both, I can’t see why not. The similarities are striking.

Parenting: nothing to it
One thing friends did emphasise was how ‘hard’ it is, parenting. Of course I listened and commiserated; but inside I’d be thinking, ‘Oh, come on. If it was that fucking tricky, the human race would have died out eons ago’. And then I had Finn and . . . well, it really is dead fucking easy, isn’t it?

Definition of success
As far as I recall – because it’s a bit hazy now – I spent the first couple of months of Finn’s life trying not to get his head stuck down a drain. If I came to the end of the day and Finn’s head wasn’t stuck in a drain, that was my definition of successful parenting.

Parenting through the ages
Reading between the lines: after I was born my parents basically stored me in a box under the stairs until I’d housetrained myself.

The Answer to Everything
If Finn ever challenges me about my own ‘parenting skills’, I have a response prepared. I’ll say, “He‎y. You didn’t ask to be born!” And when he says, “Wait- that’s my line!” I’ll say, “Oh yeah, right like so fully WHATEVER, dude. Look: at least I never left you in a fucking gazebo.”

I’m pretty confident there’s nowhere left for that conversation to go.

Amazing expanding snot
I have suffered prolonged exposure to Amazing Expanding Snot – and that knowledge can’t be stuffed back into Pandora’s Box. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Andrew and me
Andrew and I have been together for fifteen glorious, happy years. Sure, we’ve faced our share of challenges; nothing too dramatic: extortion, murder, arms dealing, IVF, etcetera – just the usual relationship ups and downs.

Cyanide muffins: deadly
If someone stuck a gun to my head or threatened me with a cyanide muffin, I would have to admit that Andrew is the love of my life. To quote The Boss – that’s Springsteen, not Finn – I love him ‘with all the madness in my soul’. That there’s an awful lotta crazeballs.

How parenthood changes you
After you have children, both of you change – but as a full-time mother, you change more. It’s cataclysmic. When I had Finn, I spontaneously turned into an anti-social, seriously sensible, tediously responsible funsucking killjoy. All: “No, you can’t set the dog on fire until you say please.”

And – bless him – Andrew thinks his life has changed because he occasionally has to buckle someone else’s seatbelt.

The difference between fathers and mothers:
Andrew gets to lock the bathroom door. Oh, I’ve tried that. Yes. Which results in either a tiny tyrant trying to kick the bathroom door in FBI-style; or he infiltrates the bathroom and stands there staring psychotically at my arse as if it’s the most mesmerising piece of kit he’s ever seen. Which it may well be, given his limited life experience.

Status update: intestines
My bowels haven’t unclenched for twenty months. That’s a long time. I try not to be resentful – and I haven’t exactly checked recently – but I’m pretty confident Andrew’s bowels are just the grandest.

Turn-on
These days, my idea of hot foreplay is Andrew putting the baby to bed and folding the laundry. Or anything I can sleep through.

Mystery unlocked
Now I understand why parents park their shopping trolley in the middle of the supermarket aisle. BC (before child) I had no idea; I just thought parents were selfish and entitled. I suppose I could have asked some harried parent, but there’s an awkward conversation. You know: “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question? What is that perfume you’re wearing – it’s quite delicious – and also, why the fuck do you have to stop your fucking trolley in the middle of the fucking aisle?”

And then one day, Finn swept all the spices off the shelf in New World and I’m standing there in a swirl of cinnamon thinking, “EureKA!”

Mystery still locked
Even after having a child, I still don’t get ‘Baby on board’ stickers. Because I can think of no occasion – not one – where I’ve been driving along and seen someone without a baby on board, and thought, “AW FANTASTIC! I’ll just rear-end that sucker at the next red lights!” I’m pretty sure my insurance policy doesn’t cover that.

One of the things you learn as a parent:
Sleeves are multi-purpose.

One indispensible top tip
When faced with a problem, it’s always useful to think: “What would Madonna do?

She could have photoshopped my waist

She could have photoshopped my waist

I made a little girl cry but that three-year-old was so totally asking for it

Over time, I’ve learned how to successfully navigate the treacherous doldrums of the social milieu.

Drunken relatives, flashers, pukers, puking flashers, men with sinister moustaches, people who address me in pidgin Leprechaun: I’ve stared down them all and emerged from each encounter with – variously – enhanced awareness, self-restraint and/or lexicon of expletives.

Then I had a baby and was introduced to a whole new, entirely foreign social protocol.

Basically the problem is: parents.

Or more specifically that, as a parent, you are directly and fully responsible for an irrational, arbitrary, vicious, Hulk-smash werebeast in miniature.*

7/6/13 - Going mountain biking

7/6/13 – Going mountain biking

I mean: what do you do when someone’s child gouges another’s eye out with a sawn-off spoon? Or reverses repeatedly over some baby’s head in a tonka-truck? Or dismembers a teddy bear with a chainsaw?

I can handle the situation when Finn is the aggressor. What do you mean, HOW? I – ah – right. Yes – well – er – the key – I think – is anticipation and prevention. On the occasions Finn slips past my vigilant defence and robs some kid’s toy with a rugby-style high-tackle, I – ah – assess the severity of the transgression allied with the degree of damage to person and/or property. After separating the children and confiscating unlawfully relocated possessions and stanching any blood, I apologise profusely to the associated parent in between expressing how terribly embarrassed I am and I SWEAR HE TAKES AFTER HIS FATHER.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

And as long as Finn’s still breathing, I’m ok when he’s attacked by someone’s child and his/her parent swoops in to apologise profusely and express how terribly embarrassed they are and I SWEAR THEY TAKE AFTER THEIR FATHER. I mean, these things happen. Kids will be kids. Life is full of hard knocks.

But I’ve been – let’s say – taken aback by the number of parents who appear not to notice their lovable little scamps staging a violent coup in the north annex of the playcentre. (I’ve noticed the lack of interest appears closely correlated to their number of progeny.)

Under such circumstances, I’m not sure what acceptable procedure is. I’m particularly uncomfortable disciplining someone else’s child, allied with a primal terror of offending people. But where is the line between my cultural heritage and my duty of care towards Finn? And what message do I give him by standing by and letting him getting hurt? And how much am I being over-protective as a first-time mother? After all, the majority of other children are still in possession of most of their limbs and they can always be sewn back on . . . so perhaps I’m being melodramatic. It wouldn’t be the first time, you might agree.

The other day, I took Finn to a playcentre for children ranging from newborn to age seven or eight. There are two distinct play areas: a room with a playpen for the babies and an adjoining gym with slides and trampolines and cars for the older kids.

Finn has been able to blast his way out of any industrial-strength playpen for several months now, so although he’s a little too small for the gym that’s where he spends most of his time.

When we arrived, a three-year old girl took an interest in Finn – perhaps because he was precisely 50% of her body mass. If Finn had a toy, Katy wanted it. Then she started pushing him.

The third time she did so – with no evidence of any supervision or parental intervention – I crouched down in front of her and said, ‘Ah, now. Would you mind awfully – er – not doing that please? It’s not – um – very nice. Ok? Good girl.’

The look she gave me was so chillingly disdainful I actually felt a piece of my soul shrivel and die. Then, while I peeled my weeping son off the floor, she sauntered off to temporarily terrorise some other child.

Everyone was standing around gathering up coats and bags when I noticed Katy stalking Finn again. Unfortunately, it was too late to alter the course of fate. Thrusting both her hands squarely in his chest, she hurled him into a chair.

I was standing slightly behind her out of her line of vision, so I suppose from her perspective it was something of an ambush when I pounced on her. However, I was gentle but firm. In other words, I stuck my face in hers and barked, ‘NO! PLAY NICELY! NO PUSHING OTHER CHILDREN!’

Look, at least I didn’t call her nasty names.

As she stared tremulously into my slightly bulging eyes, her shocked face quailed and her little bottom lip quivered. Then she burst into noisy tears.

And it was like a stack of dominoes, detonating an explosive chain reaction of wailing. Finn’s friend** Max was so overcome with misery he flung himself on the floor and sobbed inconsolably.

Imagine your worst visualization of Hell, only about ten times noisier.

Next time I’ll ensure there are no witnesses.

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

* Before you ask: not only do I include Finn in the assessment above, he was in fact my primary case-study in formulating and refining this theory (I’m in NO POSITION to discriminate here).

** I love his mother and Max doesn’t routinely fire Finn into furniture, so at this stage that’s a BFF as far as I’m concerned.

How to apply effective pointy finger

I hope everyone is looking forward to a surpassingly excellent Christmas and brewing up an extra-strong cup of kindness for welcoming in the new year.

Wait- one moment please- I’m getting some breaking news from my online feed. Oh. It appears I’m a little belated. Seriously? Is it 2013 already? Are you SURE? Doesn’t feel like it. Never mind; at least I can throw out my extra-strong cup of kindness, which smells like composted grass.

If you didn’t get a Christmas card from us, it’s because the dog ate it. Also, my new android phone is obviously too high-tech for postal addresses, since it dumped them all when I imported my contacts.

Better get on with compiling new years resolutions. Starting with:

1. Better excuses.

So, how is everyone? Sorry it’s been ages since my last update-

2. Blog more frequently.

But in my defense-

3. Less excuses; quality not quantity. Refer to resolution (1).

-after hangin’ with John Key, it’s hard to write a sequel.

4. Meet a(nother) national treasure e.g. The Topp Twins.

(Although should we ever bump into the yodeling lesbian twins specializing in comical country music, I might never blog again because I’d know such an experience could never be surpassed. Maybe I should aim to meet Dave Dobbyn – or simply stick to three resolutions. That’s plenty.)

We have enjoyed the most amazing, exhilarating, thrilling year and I’m quite exhausted – but I can’t wait to see what treats 2013 has lined up for us.

Our little boy turned one last week and it’s difficult to recall what our lives were like before him.

I love his squidgy baby feet

I love his squidgy baby feet

 

29/12 Intrepid explorer

29/12 Intrepid explorer

Watching him grow is a remarkable experience. In the space of only six months, he has progressed from lying on the floor punching himself in the face to- well, mainly punching me in the face, instead- but also: rolling, crawling, standing and chortling – especially when swinging in the playground.

Finn swings

4/12 Finn swings

He never stays still and changing his nappy is a writhing, squirming, flailing conflagration of legs and hands and bottom.

Unfortunately, the way he expresses love can be somewhat violent. At the moment, our family catch-phrases include, ‘No biting, just kissing’ and ‘Use your gentleness for good not evil’. Also: ‘GAH NOT THE GLASSES!’

Finn now puts his arms around my neck and plays with my hair while snuggling – which is lovely until he concludes cuddles by sinking his teeth (all two of them) into my shoulder.

I had no idea how babies got around to speaking, but subconsciously I rather expected Finn to turn around one day and say, “While you’re at the fridge, Old Girl, would you mind passing the Roquefort?” Months ago, his adoring grandmother claimed Finn had an extensive lexicon, but it’s only been relatively recently he credibly says ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘dog’ and ‘uh-oh’.

He’s a sociable little fella, ready with a smile and pointy finger for everyone. A keen and talented grocery shopper, Finn flirts shamelessly with the check-out assistants.

1/10 Finn kicks back in New World

1/10 Finn kicks back in New World

He adores his father and practically leaps out of my arms to get to Andrew to confide how I beat and starve him.

However, it’s comforting that I’m still his favourite person upon whom to wipe his nose.

29/12 The family at Lake Tekapo

29/12 The family at Lake Tekapo

It is such a privilege to love him. Finn is a funny, joyful, generous little boy and caring for him is a gift. I still can’t quite believe how fortunate we are to be able to share his life.

27/10 Finn with some woman suckered onto his face

27/10 Finn with some woman suckered onto his face

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