You’ll always be a kiwi if you love our Watties sauce

When my son was born we were pretty sure we would only live in Canberra another year or so. We used to joke about where we would move to. What accent should we pick? Should we stay in Australia? How about the UK: possible work opportunities in Leicester – bit Midlands: back to Cambridge – so he could pronounce ‘th’ as ‘f’? What aboot Canada?

It is actually a serious question for us. Where will our children belong? Where will they find turangawaewae?

Will it be Denmark? Hard to say, probably not. Not forever. And being an immigrant in Denmark is not the same thing as being an immigrant in NZ. Or the child of immigrants.

I know I’m not particularly qualified to write about that experience. But I’m also not entirely unqualified. I was born in NZ, but actually lived the first four years of my life in Germany. We can tell you about turning up in a school environment where the only thing children know about Germany is WWI and WWII. So I know NZ is not perfect. (This is an excellent article on life as a Chinese New Zealander)

It’s hard to deny though that NZ isn’t better at dealing with immigrants than many countries. During my language classes I was the only person in the class surprised to learn that there is a specific term used for the child born in Denmark to immigrants, even if the immigrants have become Danish citizens. It seemed bizarre to me, that the country of birth of your parents can determine your place in society. I sat there, pregnant, and realised that even if we stay, in the eyes of Danes my children will never really belong. My daughter, born here, will always be called ‘efterkommer’. That, even stranger, my son’s children would be ‘efterkommer’. That only a child who was born in Denmark to a parent born in Denmark, can call themselves a Dane.

Sometimes I can feel that we spend so much time trying to assimilate to life here, trying to fit in, trying to just get by outside our doors, that we can forget who we are. My children are New Zealanders. Officially. Even if one of them has never actually been there. Sometimes it can be sad, and even slightly daunting to think that if we don’t take them back, take them home, they will not be New Zealanders in the sense that R and I are.

I miss home. I miss watching the light fall on the Orongorongo ranges. I miss the noisy tui and the darting fantails, the kererū whomping as they land heavily in trees. I miss fish and chips, and lamb chops. I miss walking down a street and seeing foods from a multitudes of cultures, skins in a multitude of colours in this country which is white, white, white. I miss all the intangible things. A love for a place that I cannot put in a box and give to my children. It is a love that grows from familiarity. I miss familiarity.

One thing, I haven’t had to miss is the Rugby World Cup. We have managed to watch nearly every game via (legal) streaming. M was at first baffled, as we hardly watch TV with him around. Suddenly there was this ‘rugby’ on all weekend. It’s been lovely to introduce him to what was such a mainstay of my childhood. Just listening to the on-field play takes me back to watching the Hutt Old Boys with my father. M got the hang of the game pretty quickly

‘The men and women jump into piles, and then the referee blows the whistle.’

He is quite taken with the referees. I’m not buying him a whistle.

He does have an All Blacks t-shirt that he loves to wear now he knows what the All Blacks are. He likes to check what the women’s rugby team is called (Black Ferns). He liked seeing some games played in Gloucester, as we have a book about the Tailor of Gloucester. He likes to watch the Haka, he asks every game if they will do one, even though we try to explain only the Pacific Island teams have them. He likes to haka with his father, but ‘only the bit I know…He!’. He likes to watch goal kicking, as he can understand that bit. He likes to eat his tea watching a game, yup television dinners have entered his world. Rather sweetly, he cannot comprehend what ‘winning’ means.

On Saturday night the All Blacks played early enough for M to watch. I made my Grans signature ‘toasties’. M put on his shirt. I tried not to rage as the game was being played, while A slept on me. If you knew my father, you’d understand how hard I found it. At 72min I sobbed ‘we’re going to lose.’ At 76min I woke the baby. At 80min R and I were on our feet. There are New Zealanders who don’t want their country to be defined purely by our ‘rugger thugs’ as they are wont to say. But when a stadium and a nation come together, that collective holding of breath, then the joy of victory, I find that to be a beautiful thing. Watching the cup has bought us pleasure, a sense of home to our life here.

Now, if only they played ads for Cydectin at half time.

Here’s an easy game to play/ Here’s an easy thing to say

Independent play. The holy grail of parenthood. That sometimes feels so near, and yet can never quite be attained. I’ve got drawn into a few debates over it recently. Obviously it is a heated issue in the internet mummy-sphere.

For a child his age M actually has a reasonable concentration span. He loves being read to. Though we don’t necessarily think he has to sit still for this. Or even sit. He’s enjoyed more than a few books while doing downward facing dog on his bed, or jumping on the couch. And he is paying attention, because if you get tongue-tied by Dr Seuss he will helpfully point it out.

Since adding to the family his ability to play more or less independently, more or less supervised, has become more, not less, of an issue. Something that will be familiar to many families. As I’ve seen happen on internet forums, if you dare admit that you are struggling to keep your older child entertained while you indulge in the frivolous activities of caring for your newborn, there are plenty of parents willing to judge you for it.

You let them watch TV? Their eyes will literally go square, and their brain is rotting.

Read to them. Holding a book whilst simultaneously breastfeeding a newborn is easy.

Just tell them ‘No. I’m busy’. They won’t mind at all that this new person in the house suddenly takes up all your time. I’m sure they’ll understand and happily play quietly on their own. The seething resentment they feel is normal, and I’m sure they’ll find an age appropriate outlet for this emotion, such as hitting or biting. Oh no wait. Hitting and biting are bad. Um. Maybe just tell them you understand, and you’ll have time for them later. Like when the baby is sleeping. Or as the baby never sleeps, when it’s ten. You’ll probably have some time then. If they’re lucky.

M hasn’t been overly resentful, and never violent to his sister. We’re lucky, that’s pretty normal behaviour actually. Mostly I’ve been the target of his resentment (lucky me!). But the reality is, there is only so much I can expect from him in terms of entertaining himself. Even when he does, he ends up doing stupid annoying shit. All The Time.

Twice recently I’ve let him have unsupervised water play while I feed A. I sit on the couch, while he splashes in the bathroom sink; I can’t see him, but I can hear. Both times we started well. Then I heard quite a lot of water running.

‘What are doing?’
No response
‘Stop running water!’
No response.
Frantically interrupts A’s feed, gets to feet, into bathroom, just in time to see the water lap over the edge of the sink onto the bathroom floor.

Or the second time, I heard a lot of suspicious splatting noises. Again I yelled out. M happily replied
‘I’m throwing the dirty water in the toilet.’
Yup, he was using a cup to throw water from the sink, in the general direction of the toilet so he could flush it later.

Not much had made it into the toilet.

On neither of these occasions was he being naughty. They were just interesting ideas he got and decided to explore. At three he genuinely is not able to foresee the messy outcomes, and doesn’t really care much about the cleaning up. Yes I got him to help wiping up with a cloth, but that’s sort of fun too, and he is ineffective so I have to do it after him anyway. I wasn’t mad, bud it adds to the generally harassed sense of never ending cleaning-washing-nagging-exhaustion-not-sure-I’m-doing-this-quite-right.

The internet is full of helpful suggestions for play; awesome ideas to keep your littlies entertained for hours. I don’t think I’m the only parent to find many of the suggestions intimidating, and the ‘play’ rather stressful. Coloured rice, paint, glue. It all gets everywhere. M would love it. He’ll spend an hour at børnehave playing with these beads. But it isn’t something I can cope with at home. It’s messy enough as is, add those beads and I’m in trouble. That’s now, just imagine what it’d be like in a couple of months when A will have approximately two skills: crawling, and putting things in her mouth.

Maybe other kids are different. Maybe their playing never results in unintended mess. Or parents yelling at their kids when they really didn’t plan too. Maybe they are a better parent than me.

Maybe their kids are dull…

Truth is, three year olds have plenty of energy, but little experience of the world. Their job at this age is to experiment, and to learn how to regulate their emotions. God knows, enough adults struggle with that. Learning to play independently takes time. Some kids take longer than others. Add in any additional stresses to the mix, family illness, moving house or daycare, new siblings or whatever, only makes it harder. So let’s stop judging parents whose kids don’t play independently ‘enough’

the night’s in a paper cup / when you want it to last

I pick my son up off the floor, no damage done but tears rack his body. He buries his head against me as he howls, and I kiss his hands and elbows ‘Oh dear.’ I say.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out’?

And suddenly it is me who is bereft.

Because in the long fourteen months since my mother died I’ve wanted to hear those words so badly. In that first haze of grief. On my return to this land that is my home, that I don’t belong in. As I tried to cook meals for my son whilst retching at every smell. While finally getting to hold my daughter for the first time, attached to IVs and monitors, still shaking from shock. During all those long night feeds. When both my children need me, and I only have two arms.

Even though I have a husband who has been beside me every step of the way. Holding my children when I couldn’t. Feeding my daughter when I couldn’t. Feeding me when I couldn’t. Getting up and down in the night. Providing our son with shoulders to climb over, and our daughter a beard to pull.

Even though I have a father who has supported this crazy decision we made to move our little family to the other side of the world. Who looked after our son alone for six nights while we both stayed at the hospital.

Even though I have my sisters, the two other people I know who lost my Mum. Who’ve had to balance that with raising their own young children.

Even though I have my uncles and aunts, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

Even though I have so much, there is no-one left on this earth who can hold me like my mother could.

My son begins to squirm, the shock has subsided. I lower him, and as soon as his feet touch the ground he is off again. He pounces on his sister, and they smile at each other.

Everything is Awesome

We visited Legoland Billund with my sister last week. This is the first photo we took DSCN0026 It pretty much sums up M’s reaction.

Summer finally arrived the day we left. Unfortunately we were slightly unprepared in terms of summer clothing, and even worse we had lost M’s much-loved sunglasses. Luckily I’m a paranoid traveller, and we arrived at the train station much earlier than we needed to. Early enough to pop into the large supermarket nearby and buy the only pair of sunglasses in his size: pink Hello Kitty glasses that he was absolutely thrilled with. Also early enough to buy a coffee for the train trip. Not early enough to compensate for the panic of trying to board a packed carriage with four kids, three suitcases, and two prams, before realising it was the wrong carriage and having to get off and start again. But after one train ride, and one sweltering bus ride we arrived.

We stayed in the Legoland Holiday Villiage, where they took the name ‘Pirate Cabins’ very seriously. Skull and crossbones shower curtain, a lego parrot, and a treasure chest full of duplo to play with. DSCN0136 Once there everything is made from Lego. Everything. Even the animals. 0245

0246And (I can’t believe I don’t have a photo) even the chips are shaped like blocks.

Considering Legoland is free for under-threes, I was a little worried there might not be enough geared towards M to justify the trip. It turned out to be the most magical place for him. He enjoyed minitown, in particular the airport, and these whales, that revolved in the water and spouted water as they breached. DSCN0133 He got to ‘drive’ cars, and trains. He also got to steer a boat, for real, albeit on a rather restricted track. It took R a moment to realise why they were bumping into the walls, as in every other ride the controls were fake.

He rode in a monorail

DSCN0105And a ferris wheel, DSCN0118Great for a boy who is currently obsessed with photos of the London Eye (nope, he’s never been to London).

I have a sneaking suspicion his favourite was flying these planes. It was so amazing he was too excited to get in the queue, he had to stop walking to watch the planes flying. DSCN0080

The low points (pre-schooler meltdowns aside): the aquarium had a three minute long intro film. Did I say three minutes? Because it felt like forever. It wasn’t helped by the fact every line was spoken in three different languages. M was completely baffled, even though he speaks two of those three languages. Also I had mistakenly called the aquarium a ride, so he spent the three minutes asking when we were going to go ‘ride a fish’. He did enjoy the aquarium once we were finally allowed in.

0247We also watched a show full of physical comedy to appeal to a multilingual audience. Sorry, did I say physical comedy? I meant people shouting ‘oh ho’ before falling over, in a tedious, repetitive, unoriginal show that my sister and I sat through for the sake of her oldest because it had a princess in it. (Note to A, skip the princess thing please).

We were pleasantly surprised at the food options. There was even fruit on sale. But we had ice-cream instead.

0248Little A was pretty oblivious to it all. Now I know what my Mum meant when she said she breastfed her way around Disneyland with me. She did go on one ride though, this revolving tower (no it doesn’t drop!). DSCN0064I’m not so great with heights or enclosed spaces, so I felt pretty brave going on it. The views over Legoland were good. DSCN0075

Unsurprisingly, M is keen to go back. I’m not sure we’ll manage, not unless we stay longer than currently planned. It was a fabulous two days, seeing our little boy so excited made it pretty special.

Nu er det Jul igen

It has been an effort to prepare for Christmas this year. Well, Christmas usually takes a lot of work, it is just this year I have struggled to motivate myself, and feel the Christmas spirit. Not that that’s surprising. We will be having a winter Christmas, just the three of us. And it is my first Christmas since Mum died. And I’m pregnant so I can’t even drink, or eat fancy cheese. For much of the last couple of months it has felt easier to bury my hand in the sand and pretend it would just be an ordinary winter day.

Then Christmas lights started to appear, on shopping streets, and in neighbourhood windows and balconies. My son loved them. Then they had a Christmas party at his daycare, with a tree and Julemand (Santa). Sure, I’d picked up a few things thinking we’d give him some presents. I hadn’t planned to skip Christmas entirely, I just sort of hoped it would come and go of its own accord. Now it became clear that M had some idea that ‘Christmas’ existed. What exactly he thinks it is we don’t know, but what I did realise was that while he is young, Christmas will be what we make it.

So this year I’m giving him Christmas.

We’ve bought a tree and decorated it together. The first Christmas tree R and I have ever had (pot plants don’t count). Mum loved decorating the tree every year. It was bittersweet, enjoying M’s delight over the process, knowing how much Mum would have loved seeing it. M loves to switch the tree lights on in the morning, and when he gets home from vuggestue. And to pull decorations off, and put them back on again.

Last Friday I finally baked a Christmas cake. I’ve bought a leg of lamb, and sweet potato, even though I know it won’t be anything like proper kumara. I’ll make pavlova, stuffing and gravy. And just to prove I’m not doing things by halves, I’ve even made an attempt at the traditional Danish rice pudding, risalamande. M and I will make cheese straws for nibbles. Lunch will be late and M will be overtired and hungry by the time I get a roast on the table. I’ll drive R mad by playing terrible music; it’s not Christmas without Boney M.

I know this year I’ll miss Mum terribly. We all will. Although he is only little, too little to really grasp events, this last year has been tough on M too. He is going to have a great Christmas day, and then we’ll do it again next year, and the year after. Because traditions, and celebrations aren’t something that just magically happen. My parents made them happen, even when times were tough. Now it’s our turn.

Happy Christmas everyone.