Happily ever after.

15 years we’ve known each other this year, and 12 of those married. It’s one of those occasions where it feels time does that funny thing; it only seems like yesterday that we met and at the same time it feels like we have known each other forever. I can’t imagine life without him.

We met in the days before social media, the days before smartphones; we met on a mutual friend’s birthday night out and when we said we were dating everyone seemed surprised. I still don’t know why they were so surprised really. It had never crossed our friends’ minds to introduce us to one another apparently, but we feel like we were made for one another.

That first evening we smuggled him into a basement club which had a strict “nae trainers” rule (we were in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and these rules were normal) but of course he had trainers on. It seems daft now to think he would be wearing anything else out. He still wears the same clothes as he did back then; a jeans, t-shirt, trainer kind of guy. Suit and shirt for work, of course. We chatted all night in the cheesy club, the kind where you stuck to the floor when you walked, and apparently I was the one to make the first move (I finally admitted to this at our wedding three years later, to be fair). At the end of the night I handed him my Nokia phone to put his number in.

We texted for a week and the following Sunday we had a lunch date, then a dinner date, then met our friends for a movie date. True story: our first date was 12 hours long. And that’s how it began. We were best of friends pretty early on and I think that has been key to our success. We went out with all of our friends a lot and my best friend, who only lived round the corner, loved him too. When a relationship starts surrounded by others who love you both, I truly think it helps a lot.

We were in the early stages of our careers, but just out of uni. It was the best of times; the independence of youth and first salaries, the energy and time to burn the candle at both ends. We didn’t grow up fast, we were silly, we had fun, we were reckless, but it was great. Pre-loading in my flat before we got the bus into town, hanging out at house parties, country drives around Northumberland on Sunday afternoons. Eating space cake before going to see a subtitled movie and thinking we could all of a sudden speak Spanish, me getting locked in his flat by his flatmate after he had gone to work, him waiting to meet me for an hour in town because my phone battery was flat. These were the early days of our relationship and we had so much fun.

I still look at this man and remember these times and they make me smile, but we have been there through good and bad; tough times at work, family bereavements, we held each other tight through them all and still do today.

I told him that I loved him by writing it in a crossword puzzle. He asked me to marry him as we crossed the road in New York on the way to the jewellery quarter (but that’s another story). We decided to emigrate to the other side of the world because he trusted my opinion on New Zealand without him ever having been here. We talked about having a family, and when we realised it didn’t look like it would happen we started planning our travels around the world. We cried with joy and disbelief at the positive pregnancy test only a month after that discussion. He let me squeeze his hand until it was white as our first child was born. He held our second child in his arms while the medical team all rushed in as I started to hemorrhage. Thick and thin…always there for one another.

Moving to the other side of the world will either make you or break you. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Thankfully it made us. Nearly a whole year of not really knowing anyone, our first year of marriage was spent playing scrabble and exploring our new home. I truly think it was the best thing for our marriage. We basically had a year long honeymoon with no interruptions from friends and family. It’s a good job we liked each other’s company!

We have always been equals and that stands as true today as it did 15 years ago. We discuss everything and make decisions together. I trust his judgement, and he trusts mine. We are both stubborn, but to be honest, we rarely argue. I respect him too much for that and we kind of have an unwritten rule that if other one of us is being a dick, we say so. It works. Trust me.

He is a wonderful father and husband, but bottom line is, he is my best friend, and for that I thank him. Are we lucky to have this relationship? Maybe, but I’m happier to say we work at it and never give up. And yes we’ve grown up, but we haven’t forgotten our younger selves. They are still there everyday, they just sometimes have to be reminded to come out and play.

 

One term down…going back to work wasn’t so bad after all.

It’s been a busy three months, so busy I have once neglected writing but here I am with a little update.

Basically: I survived.

No, that’s being hard on myself. I did more than survive. I was bloody awesome.

I guess when I look back to this first term back at work teaching part time I can break it down in to four parts: my children, my house, my teaching and me. So, here goes.

Part time is great. I am at work Monday, Wednesday and Friday which means the girls go to before school care and kindy early on those days. I drop them off at 7.30am and then drive 15 minutes to work. My first week back, I had to creep into their room and wake them up in the darkness. For six and a half years I have been striving for them to sleep longer and here I was waking them up. It all felt so wrong. A couple of weeks in and they were naturally waking up. They know on “quick days” as we call them that they need to get up and get dressed while I’m in the shower, and they will have breakfast there, not at home. For the most part it’s working. They love seeing their friends in the morning and I’m lucky that where we are this is affordable ($21 for each child for those three days before school). The only problem was last Monday (school holidays) when the youngest demanded she still wanted to go to kindy at 7.30am!

In the afternoons I’m fortunate enough to have my mum pick them up, bring them home and give them afternoon tea. I’m home by four at the latest and pick up from there. I’m so grateful she can do it and the routine is working well. 

So, check to number one on the list. The children have survived…with smiles on their faces.

Next up, the house. It’s still standing! That’s the main thing and for the most part it is still in order. I do like order in my life. It’s important. A month or so in, we decided to start getting My Foodbag and it has been life changing. Yes, I no longer have to plan meals and do the shopping at the weekend but more importantly we are eating a much wider range of healthier food than we we before. No more Friday night calls to Hell’s pizza to deliver! And here’s the weird thing, the kids are eating it without complaint. I’m pretty sure there’s some weird psychology going on here but basically because the lady at My Foodbag is choosing what we eat (their words) and not mummy they will eat it! Win win. 

The laundry is a pain but I’m getting into habits that I can sustain when I go full time next year (more about that later). I stick it on at night before bedtime (electricity is cheaper then too) then hang it out to dry in the morning. It seems routine and organisation is key in this blog post.

Okay, my teaching…I was nervous about going back. Could I remember how to teach? Would they run circles around me? The usual Sunday night dread and fears, but instead of two days away from school, six plus years. But you know what? It was fine. Absolutely fine. In fact, it was awesome. I love it. Like, really really love it. Being a classroom teacher and no longer a middle manager, all of my time at school is spent on teaching, planning and marking. I’m trying new stuff and the kids are responding well. I’m remembering my knowledge of literature and my teaching skills and it’s an absolute joy. And teenage boys? They are amazing. They get such a bum deal sometimes but their energy, wit and spirit is worth going to work for. Remind me next year not to say yes to any responsibility outside of the classroom though. 

Being a parent I have clearly learnt how to get things done quickly and multi-task. I have got nearly all of my planning and marking done at school, rather than bringing it home. I have made a real effort to communicate frequently with the parents of the kids I teach (because I can appreciate now how important that is). It’s like I’m the teacher I was before, but a better version. 

And so yes, I have been offered, and accepted, a full time permanent role at the school I’m teaching at. I didn’t have to think about it for long and it feels good to have that security. There’s a lot of changes happened at the school but maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog post sometime.

Finally, me. I have survived. I am here to tell the tale. The gym has gone out the window unfortunately and there is less time to do the things I love but thankfully I do love what I do, and I think being away from it for so long and coming back to it has reminded me about that. It has also meant that time with my own family feels that little bit more valuable. Weekends are a premium now; mornings are a lot more lazy with cartoons, cuddles and crumpets, but that would have happened anyway with them both being at school as of this November.

I enjoy earning my “own” money (even though it all goes into a big pot that we share) but more importantly I enjoy having stuff to talk about other than the kids. I enjoy having grown up discussions (about what’s on Netflix or what so and so had for dinner last night) and I love the intellectual challenge of teaching. 

So there we go. It is all going swimmingly, and I know people do this all the time, that some people go back to work when their kids are babies etc…but I’m talking about me. We chose as a family for me to stay home with them as long as I could and it was most definitely the right decision for us. I would not change that for the world, but this is the start of a new phase and I, for one, love it.

So brave. Not.

I took my youngest to the local pool this morning. It’s just opened and is all shiny and new. Completely aimed at families with large changing areas, a slide, water sprays etc…it’s all the business. And at a cost of $1 for both of us, this is the second time we’ve been, in fact, we are going to try to go every week. But while I was there I was reminded of something that was said to me over the summer at a friend’s house; something that really annoyed me and has clearly stuck with me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this, which kind of makes it worse. My friend has a swimming pool and with my kids being only 4 and 5, at the time, I of course was going to get in the pool with them. Not just to keep them safe, but to have fun with them. There were a handful of families there, people that I had only recently met. As I got the kids changed and then pulled out my swimming costume to go and get changed, one of the mums said to me, “Oh, you’re brave.” At first I wandered if she meant because the water would be cold. It was a warm day, and I seriously asked the host “why, isn’t it heated?” But the mum in question, said “No, I mean getting in with them and putting your swimsuit on.” I was flabbergasted.

I am no supermodel but putting on a swimsuit so my kids and I can have fun is not brave in my book. Maybe it’s because I was meeting these people for the first time, but yes, I judged them as the conversation continued as they got their husbands to sit on the side of the pool and watch their kids. I seriously don’t get it.

What message are we sending to our kids if we refuse to put on a swimsuit to get into a pool to play with them? What are we saying about body image?

So this morning as I looked around the pool and saw mums, dads and grandparents of all ages, shapes and sizes in the water having fun with their kids I didn’t for a second think any one of them was brave. I didn’t think how courageous they must be for wearing the necessary clothing for the situation, a swimsuit in a swimming pool (shock, horror) and having loads of fun with their kids as they splashed and played.

Seriously people, get over yourselves. It’s a body. Be grateful for all it can do. Show your kids how amazing it is to be alive. Don’t worry about what other people may think and have some goddamn fun with your kids.

Days 14/15/16/17: 30 Day Music Challenge

I seriously don’t know where the week has gone. Time flies so quickly around here, so here I find myself doing a catch up on the 30 Day Music Challenge. I have been updating the Spotify playlist as I’ve been going along so click here if you would like to listen: 30 Day music challenge

Day 14: A song that you would love played at your wedding

The creator of this list clearly thought none of us old married people would do this challenge, oh well. The song that we did have played at our wedding for our first dance was God Only Knows by The Beach Boys. Our music tastes are like some huge Venn diagram with only a handful of similarities in the middle. His circle is full of “too cool for school” bands that get played on student radio. Mine is pop, grunge and rock. There in the middle The Beach Boys and several other classic acts sit nicely so it seemed the obvious choice for our first dance nearly 12 years ago.

Day 15: A song that is a cover by another artist

I do love a good cover. I’ve discussed this on Twitter before and one day we even came up with a collaborative playlist (feel free to add to it) Cover Songs. But for the purpose of the music challenge I have chosen Bridge Over Troubled Water by Elvis Presley. Only The King could make a cover better than the original really.

Day 16: One of your favourite classical songs

I’m not a big listener of classical music but I do like to have it on in the background if I am working. It’s a lot easier to concentrate when there are no lyrics. For day 16 I am going to have to choose Sergei Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets. I have used this while teaching Romeo and Juliet in the classroom and then, more recently, a certain Mr Williams has used a sample of it on Party Like a Russian.

Day 17: A song that you would sing a duet with on karaoke

I’m a bit confused by this one. Does it mean your favourite karaoke song or favourite karaoke duet song, because I have no issue standing to do karaoke by myself!! So to save any confusion, if I’m doing it by myself it’s Never Ever – All Saints…but a duet to do at karaoke has to be Islands In The Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, after all this playlist needs some country on it.

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Find your tribe

When I first became a stay at home mum I was the first of all my friends, everyone else was still at work. It can be a lonely time and the internet became a vital connection to other mothers, both locally and in other countries.

Although that connection is a god send at times it was easy to become swamped by opinions and information about how to be a mother. There are umpteen blog posts about this problem already I am sure. But what I’m going to write about today is how I eventually found my tribe and they made me feel normal.

I went through stages of following mummy bloggers who were very ecologically friendly, very hands on, expert cooks. I found perfectionists who have the ability to organise creative activities everyday for their kids. Instagram led me to the lunchbox mafia who can make sculptures out of carrots and cucumbers you can’t possibly imagine. It all seemed like a competition and an impossibility.

Hats off to these folk. If you can do it, great. But what I soon learnt it that it is not realistic. It can’t be. And with the arrival of my second child I pretty much decided that it was near on impossible to keep up those levels of creativity and involvement, and more importantly I realised what was the point?

Kids teach you amazing things and the most important thing is at the end of the day they just want to be loved. They need to be fed and cared for. They need to be played with, given opportunities to experience the world around them, but they don’t need the most expensive designer clothes, organic artichokes or every second of their day scheduled.

This is how I found my tribe: The warriors who, like me, found humour in these unrealistic, unattainable ideals. The strong men and women facing the tantrums of two year olds, counting down the hours and minutes until bedtime. The parents declaring it wine o’clock on social media once the tearaways were finally asleep. The families who are imperfectly perfect and filled with love in messy houses around the world.

Thank you all for keeping it real and holding my hand. 

Day 9/10: 30 day music challenge

Day 9: A song that makes you happy

You just know that there will be a disproportionate number of Take That and Robbie songs in this list, but it’s my list so I don’t give a damn! So a song that makes me happy has to be Love My Life by Robbie Williams.

There are the obvious reasons; the lyrics are happy, meaningful, and it’s a bloody lovely song. But then there are the less obvious maybe. Knowing that he is writing this from a happy point in his life is enough for a long term fan like me. Just like Come Undone had elements of an autobiographical nature, this does too and it just shows how much his life has changed, and how far he is come. And you know what? That makes me happy too. The two songs are the antithesis of each other but I love them equally.

And then there is what this song means to me as a mother. The sentiment behind it has made me cry on more than one occasion. All you want as a mother is for your kids to love their life and I am doing the best I can possibly do to make that happen. They, at 4 and 6, also LOVE this song. They request it in the car, they know the words and sing along. That’s the next generation of Friendlies right there. Makes me proud.

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Day 10: A song that makes you sad 

Seems like I was meant to miss yesterday and have these two songs on the same blog post. A song that makes me sad is November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. This song really reminds me of my dad so it is fair to say that it make me happy and sad. Dad loved Guns N’ Roses as much as me and took me to see them play at Milton Keynes Bowl on the Skin N’ Bones tour in 1993. There are enough stories about that day to fill an entire blog post so maybe I’ll write about it one day but being 15 and your dad taking you to a gig like that is pretty high in the cool stakes, if you ask me. I got to recreate some of those memories with my husband last month at Western Springs in Auckland and the song still has the same effect on me.

Dad sadly passed away from cancer in 2007 and prior to that spent quite a bit of time in the hospital having numerous treatments. One day the hospital radio guy came round and asked Dad if he had any requests. Dad insisted on the album version of November Rain…all 8 minutes and 58 seconds of it. You see, that was my dad all over; subtle with his humour, quietly spoken, but knew how to get his way. He was very happy when they played it, and apparently the DJ was too, he got an extended break.

Anyway, when it came to his funeral he picked Sailing by Rod Stewart for the time his coffin went behind the curtain. So, like the dutiful daughter I am, I  went and bought a CD with it on. Now, your average song is what, two minutes thirty, three minutes? Oh no, not this one. This version? Nearly five minutes. Now I don’t know if you’ve been to many funerals but it really doesn’t take that long for those curtains to close. It was like dad was having the last laugh. This is the song he used to sing after a few too many whiskeys, the song he used to rewind and play on repeat on car journeys. I can’t believe that it was coincidence that he chose such a long song again. So as the extended middle eight played my mum, my husband and I couldn’t help but snigger. The family and friends behind us why on earth we were laughing at his funeral, but well played dad, well played.

So both of these songs have happy and sad memories about Dad for me. And for the record, we chose November Rain for the end of the funeral because you know, it really does take nine minutes for everyone to leave a crematorium.

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“She’ll let you fall asleep then eat you whole…” The truth about parenting.

I was going to write a warning here to stop reading if you don’t have children yet, or if your kids are babies, or if they are already grown into big strapping teenagers, or even adults, but what would the point of that be? I guess I’d get this thought off my chest but more importantly it would defeat my purpose today. Yes, I have a purpose in this post and that is to discuss the phrase “it’s only a phase.”

‘Refute’ is too strong a word but what I am trying to say is it IS just a phase but it will be followed by another phase, and another and another…it’s all just one BIG phase.

I remember when my babies wouldn’t settle themselves. Just a phase.

I remember the biting. Just a phase.

I remember when getting the youngest into a car seat was like wrestling a drunken octopus every time. Just a phase.

I remember when they would be picky eaters. Just a phase (that continually returns every few days or so depending on mood, phase of the moon, direction of the wind or colour of their socks).


They grow up a little and the phases change, but they are still there.

Currently there is the phase of stamping of feet, doors or anything with a hinge.

There is the pouting and shouting and telling your parents that you “hate them” (I’m expecting a resurgence of this phase in ten years or so).

There are lies creeping in…quickly followed by the admittance of them. Hopefully just a phase. Who am I kidding? Just a phase. It will pass…at least I hope so.

And so it all shall pass, but it is hard especially when you have two or more children going through their various stages at the same time. It is exhausting but all I can try to be is consistent and as understanding as I can be, which, believe me is not as easy as it may sound. It is frustrating and upsetting, and I know these current phases will pass only to be replaced by some other ‘phase’ or challenge.

Is it helpful to hear that “it’s just a phase”, a sentence that is bandied around in coffee groups, playgroups, playgrounds, family dinners? My gut reaction is no but with a little more thought I think maybe yes. If it is said kindly with a cup of tea being poured without asking, it is helpful. If it is said while someone puts an arm around your shoulder then yes, helpful again. Most helpful is when it is the last words you hear as they wander off to the playground with the child going through “the phase” to allow you to sit for five or ten minutes in relative peace and quiet. It is helpful when the person saying it is just reminding you on those difficult days that it shall pass and they are helping you.

Now, I’ve only mentioned a few difficult phases. Let’s remember those more positive times.

When your baby would only fall asleep on your shoulder in the middle of the day, all warm and snug and breathing like a little hedgehog. Just a phase.

When they would try to suck any nose that came near them when they were hungry in case it was a nipple. Just a phase (a very funny one).

When they would learn a new word and say it over and over again. Just a phase (borderline annoying but mainly cute).

There are many more. So what’s to come in this parenting journey is many more phases; some challenging, most fun. Each phase means your little people are developing, changing and dealing with those changes the best they can. 

I could end this with a flourish of clichés; these things are sent to try us, what won’t kill us will make us stronger etc etc…but I won’t. I’ll end by saying the truth about parenting:

It doesn’t get easier. Don’t believe them. The challenges just change. 

The joy of siblings

And if you need four words to simply live by:


I hope this helps. It helped me to write it. 

J xx