31 December 2015

Summer in the city

People leave Wellington en masse at the end of the school year. But I like it here, especially over the summer holidays. It's like this place gets a massive people enema just when it is at its most appealing.  For a few days, there's no work to think about, little chance of rain and even less chance of running into someone you don't like very much. Even the wind has disappeared and that's something to celebrate. It has been calm four days running, so our windless day quota has been met for this decade but put a wine in my hand and let's call it summer. The quiet too is something to appreciate when you're a parent of children who like to yell at each other all the time. I try to be Calm Mum and the irony is not lost on me that it almost always ends up with me yelling the loudest of us all so I can be heard over their yelling just to tell them to stop yelling. We had no neighbours for a few days and I conducted a test to see if their arguing would eventually stop on its own if I didn't intervene. One child will eventually come into the house to find me to help sort out the problem/dry some tears. What I learned is that I need a better hiding place. After a period of thinking that I am getting redundant as my children grow up, it turns out I am still needed for some things. Paying school and activity fees, conflict resolution and being Santa.

Speaking of which, Christmas lists are not worth the paper they are written on, are they? Knowing my children as well as I thought I did, I got them to write their wish lists one week out from the big day because a) I hadn't had much time to think about Christmas before then and b) it would give them less time to change their minds. Ha. Ha. HA! It's most pleasing to spend hours scouring the internet, trawling through listings, ringing all the local sports shops and venturing into crowded malls to find a pair of elusive roller-skates that your child has been non-stop begging for ever since she went to a friend's roller-skating party six months ago, only to hear your beloved child say after a Christmas breakfast of a mouthful of a stodgy marshmallow snowman that she wanted rollerblades. The very ones that her sister got for Christmas. She loved this book though. Partial win.

We spent a couple of days over Christmas up at my husband's family's block of land, far enough away from Wellington to feel like you've gone somewhere but not so far that we are bereft of all conveniences like a hospital which, as it turned out, was required 30 minutes after we arrived. After a few decent attempts already, one child finally fulfilled her year-long ambition and broke her arm in spectacular fashion falling off the trampoline. So that's a fun way to start the summer holidays and to end the year, in a full arm cast, with not much for a one-armed bandit to do except to turn it into a game to keep her cast clean and dry. We stayed long enough to enjoy a lovely Christmas with family but not so long that we'd end up being the last to leave so we could avoid having to clean the toilet.

Here's a picture of my husband and children returning from hauling one very large and least Christmasy-looking tree up to the shed because it's not Christmas without a tree to decorate in plastic baubles and our children's handcrafts.
The offending trampoline is in the naughty corner
Happy New Year to you all wherever you may be and however you choose to see it in. Thanks so much for reading and leaving me comments or just reading then clicking out, whatever your style. I'm honoured you chose to spend that two minutes on me. Truly. See you again in 2016.

22 December 2015

The Day the Crayons Quit

Three days until the gift-bearing big fella comes and I'm still out there pounding the pavement on his behalf. He gets all the kudos while someone else does all the legwork, it hardly seems fair. Until you meet Bret McKenzie in Iko Iko, which is what happened to me today. Technically, I didn't actually 'meet' him. He was standing in the middle of the shop looking quite normal and not at all famous when I saw him and stared for longer than is polite trying to work out why he looked so familiar. We didn't speak to each other and I didn't even think to take a surreptitious photo of him which was completely a missed opportunity. It's quite reassuring to know that even famous people who happen to be one half of the world's fourth most popular folk duo also leaves his Christmas shopping till the last minute.

So, did he buy anything, you ask? No, but I did. I found this book, which half of the world already knows about anyway, I am sure, given it was sold out in quite a few places already. I can't believe it's already been out for a couple of years and I've only just heard about it. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt is a delightful story that injects distinct personalities into different crayon colours. It will have children seeing their crayons in a completely different light.
Pink crayon got some sass
Perfectly pitched for boys, the central figure is a little boy named Duncan who likes to draw pictures of dinos and other animals but I think any child will absolutely love it, especially if you have a little artist in the family, as I do. Oliver Jeffers' accompanying illustrations are cleverly child-like and humorous. This book is destined to become a favourite in this household. I just wish I had thought of writing it first.

18 December 2015

The space in between

This post has taken such a long time to compose, mostly because the words just wouldn't come. This time of the year always makes me feel contemplative and instead of staring at a blank screen as I have done so many times since my grandmother passed away six months ago, at last the words are coming.

Even after a dicky hip reduced her mobility and melanoma claimed part of her nose two years ago, she continued to live independently but we all knew there would be no coming back from her declining health that eventually forced her into a rest home. The matriarch of a sprawling family, she was a binding force that would bring us together from far-flung places to celebrate her milestone birthdays. We'd all had time to prepare and go and say our goodbyes before ill health could take its toll and reduce her to a frail, white-haired woman with a whisper of a voice.

Born at the tail-end of WWI in Hawera, she died just half an hour away from her birthplace, with a few of her most treasured family photographs and images of her beloved Saviour dotting the walls in her tiny room that backed onto a lake. Even with round-the-clock care and family coming and going, she died alone, as it happened. Strong-willed, determined and always one for not wanting fuss, maybe she designed it that way. 

When I think about what a treasure our family has lost, it helps me to look instead at the dash, the space in between her birth and her death. Although it is hard to forget how she was the very last time I saw her, reflecting on the space in between brings so much comfort. We'd jokingly refer to her sometimes as the Queen. Ever the Royalist, she followed all of the news out of the Palace with great interest. We all really hoped she'd be able to reach her 100th birthday to receive a telegram from Lizzie.

Hers was a life lived through great change. She grew up through the Depression, raised her own family on rations through World War II and witnessed huge advances in technology. Regardless, she had simple tastes, preferring to listen to the horse races on the wireless and peeling potatoes for her evening meal in front of the fire while she directed her outrage at someone's scandalous behaviour on Coro. 

The youngest of six children, she lived her life on her own terms. At a time when most girls her age were accepting marriage proposals, she went on a roadie with her brother riding his motorbike over shingle-covered backcountry roads. Even when it came time to settle down, she took an unorthodox approach, stealing one of her friend's boyfriends. His Protestant parents didn't approve, not because she was a boyfriend stealer, but because she was Catholic. In an era when marrying outside of their own religion was shunned, Grandma told his parents "I am marrying Bart, not you". That was Grandma, she was not one to conform or mince her words, and you could always be sure of an honest opinion even if you didn't ask for it.

She and Granddad moved into a house not far from Parihaka and raised their three sons and a daughter, my mother, on a farm against the backdrop of Mount Taranaki. When Granddad died suddenly in '78, the light in Grandma's eyes faded a little. As stoic as that generation is, she picked herself up and carried on, packing up her life and making a fresh start in Opunake. She loved her children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and there have been many over the years - and she never forgot a birthday. Her mind was sharp and her soul was young, too young to be rattling around in an old woman's body. She was the proof that you can live a long life on a sugar and salt-laden diet interspersed with the odd cheeky shandy.

A woman of strong faith, she had waited 37 years to be reunited with her great love, and was laid to rest alongside Granddad in their beautifully peaceful spot with a view of the mountain. Together at last. We'll miss you Grandma, place a winning bet for us at that big racecourse in the sky.