January 2021

25 Jan “Darling, you don’t have to talk ALL the time” and other things we say to children.

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 25.1.21


Schools and early childhood centres are so close to re-opening, you can probably smell the freedom from here. This is not because we don’t love our kids, or don’t love having them around. It’s just… ooh, a bit of quiet between breakfast and dinner would be terrific wouldn’t it?

The best description I’ve ever heard of what it’s like to be a parent is that it feels like part of your heart is now living outside your body. So there’s that visceral drive to protect them, wrap them up, keep them safe and close. But also, they’re loud and messy and outrageously bossy, plus expensive and needy, and they climb all over you and nick your sandwich when you’re not looking, and it is so hard to find a moment to complete a thought process you will occasionally resort to locking yourself in the loo for a bit of Me Time. 

It all came flooding back to me this summer when, for a week, I had my seven-year-old granddaughter to stay. We had a terrific time and I loved every second of it – even though in some of those seconds I would catch myself gently suggesting to her, “Darling, you don’t have to talk all the time”. I’m pretty sure I might have said this on occasion to her mother when she was little, too. Certainly, I can clearly recall that my mother had reason to say something very much like it to me. “You go on,” she would say (sweetly, but you could tell what she was feeling) “like the clatter end of goose’s rump”. I can’t help you with a literal translation of this phrase, but it was accepted family code for making an incessant noise.

All this “come closer so I can bury my nose in your hair” happening alongside a deep wish that they would please be in another room so I can Get Something Done is perfectly normal. Once you are a parent, you can never experience one emotion at a time. The trick is finding the balance – which is why we invented grandparents and aunts and uncles, and sleepovers at friends’ houses. Sure, some of it is about socialising our kids and encouraging independence, but also it’s just so we don’t go mad.

I read a piece recently that quoted a parenting expert who opined that you don’t need a break from your baby in the first two years – an idea that made me snort-laugh the green tea I was drinking in the short lull between cooking breakfast pancakes and scraping breakfast pancakes off the furniture. I’m not an expert on anything, but I’m pretty sure no-one should do any kind of thing round the clock for two years without regular breaks and the chance to be other versions of themselves, no matter how much they love being that thing. I love being a mother, and a writer, and a performer, and a partner, and I wouldn’t survive if I could only be one of those things 24/7. It was being happy and fulfilled in my work that made it more likely I would come home and be a present and engaged parent. Plus, it paid the bills. And being a parent gave me things to say when I went out in the world, and taught me all kinds of things about patience and empathy and negotiation and care.

Every parent feels that tension between the need to be at home, and the need to provide a home – again, there are only moments when any of us feel we’ve got the balance right. What we need less of is being told we’re doing our parenting wrong, and being judged for the choices we make. What we need more of is actual hands-on help – from our partners, from wider family and friends, and from government and businesses – and more real choices. Better access to affordable childcare, and workplaces that understand most of us will be parents as well as employees. And fewer kids and their families living in poverty, which offers no choice at all.

We had many moments to treasure, my granddaughter and I. Sunshine and beach swims and the zoo. Movies on wet days – one at a theatre where they have couches and blankets, and where we were the only two there. It was, we agreed, like we lived in a huge house with a massive television, and she could wriggle about and give her usual running commentary on the action without disturbing any strangers.

And then she was gone – back to her mother and brother, and the peace was extraordinary, measured in the absence of noise and endless questions and things being knocked over and demands for food that was not fruit or vegetables. And I simultaneously revel in the quiet and cannot wait for her to come back.


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19 Jan Hurry up and relax! It’s the holidays!

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.1.21

The title for these two pages is “Watercooler Chat” because I hope that, now and then, you will find something here to talk about in whatever your version of a break-room is. But right now I hope you are a long way from the usual run of things, enjoying a summer break from your daily routine.

I like to picture you (I don’t think this is creepy) languid and liquid of limb, lazing about with a magazine (this one, obviously) and maybe a cocktail or cool soda with cucumber and mint, sporting a stylish sunhat and freshly painted toenails, making the place look good.

I appreciate some of you, though, will be working through, staffing the places we need to keep open year round. Hospitals, restaurants, call centres, shops. In which case I hope you get a decent break before too long, maybe next month when everyone’s kids are back at school and the weather is more certain about itself anyway.

Or maybe you don’t go to a separate workplace and you are raising new humans fulltime, and this “holiday” nonsense feels like it doesn’t apply. I remember as a new mother 27 years ago getting to my first Friday and thinking, thank goodness it’s the weekend, before realising I wouldn’t get “a weekend off” for a couple of decades. I promise you, it’s lovely when you get here. Your knees are a bit stiff and you can never find your glasses but, other than that, empty-nesting can be its own much-awaited reward.

However you are doing January, I hope by now you are into the swing of things. I have a theory that holidays are only ever one-third as long as they should be – we spend the first third getting into the right frame of mind to enjoy them, and then spend the last third worrying that very soon we are going back to work. There is an element of “Hurry up and relax!” at the beginning, and then “Tense up! It’s almost over!” near the end.

I’ve found some ways to switch gears. Try disconnecting from the usual stuff that occupies your attention and drags your focus out of the present. Quit watching the news for a day or three – chances are nothing is happening and the journalists who caught the short straw for summer coverage are desperately filling bulletins with cats up trees and shark sightings. You don’t need to know about any of this unless the sharks start getting stuck in nearby trees.

And it is easy to get the feeling from social media that the sun is brighter and the cocktails bigger wherever other people are. Likely, this is nonsense and they’re using some kind of camera filter, plus something ghastly is probably happening just out of frame – so don’t torture yourself with Other People’s Lives.

Go to bed when you’re tired, not when the TV show finishes, and get up when you wake up (or the kids do) but not with an alarm. Hide all the clocks. And the mirrors. Dress the way it feels good from the inside, not looks good from the outside. I suggest togs and a sarong on the off chance there will be a swim.

Distract yourself with the new – throw yourself off a bridge and scare yourself (nothing like it for shifting your mind-set) or visit places you always recommend to visitors to your town but have never been yourself. And if that’s too adventurous, just try a new breakfast cereal and give the start of your day a fresh flavour. Stop reading about Trump. Make your world smaller – be interested in what happens in your house, your garden, your bit of beach. It’s slower where you are, and it is yours.

But also, don’t expect it to be idyllic. As much as we all look forward to a summer break, it is weird being thrust together with people you usually say goodbye to at 8am and catch up with at the end of the day during the breaks between Netflix episodes. Sometimes you don’t know how busy you’ve been till you stop being busy, and then you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Plus you’ve suddenly got time to mention how much you don’t like wet towels left on the bathroom floor. So there may be tears, tantrums, nagging, sulks, and fights to deal with. Plus whatever the kids get up to.

So give yourself credit if you haven’t entirely lost the plot during this season of familial over-familiarity. You will be released back to the office soon enough. Pour yourself another soda, tip that sunhat forward and pretend you’re taking a nap. In a moment, you might be. And you know what? Exuding calm and peace like that? You make your bit of the world look good.


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