Thoughts: A Quick Roadtrip with my Kids

Every year around this time I have taken my kids camping. It’s been something I instituted post-marriage with the aim to broaden their horizons somewhat and maintain a good bond with them.

It’s worked.

This year was a little different owing to a few changes and uncertainties that came about in 2018, so we only had three days to make something happen.

I decided to take them up North. They’ve actually been around Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri a lot (their mother’s dad has a timeshare they’ve been able to make use of).

I wanted to show them some of New Zealand that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see. My daughter expressed that she wasn’t particularly interested in New Zealand and it’s history. She loves the Romans (but hasn’t read Asterix – go figure). I guess it’s her age and the education she is exposed to.

We based ourselves in Kerikeri. The campground there is well appointed. Enough trees to cope with the 32C heat. It borders a river and it was fun cooling off. And trying not to kill myself by slipping on algae-covered rocks. I’m not really great with ‘outside’. I’m sure I used to be, apparently not now.

I enjoy getting them involved in cooking. Deciding what to buy at the supermarket then taking responsibility for its preparation. They complain of course, they’re teenagers after all, but they do do the doing. I also like them to see me interact with other campers. These places are magnets for tourists and locals alike. My kids are fairly introverted and shy so I feel it’s important to show them how to socialise.

One of the people I talked with was a Maori guy, one of four. He politely asked if he could share the BBQ I was using (of course he can) because he was cooking up a feed of mussels for himself and his three mates. I asked if he’d gathered them. “Yes” he said. “From Countdown”. Sigh. He also didn’t have any cooking suggestions I could learn – “I just put them on until they open and they’re sweet eh?”. He gave me one to try. His approach to cooking worked just fine.

As a side note, everyone has Bluetooth speakers and personalised playlists. This group had a particularly excellent Soul, RnB thing going on and were having a bit of a singalong.

The next group I talked to were Indian. A family. They were cooking corn on the cob direct on the gas hobs. But for me the interesting thing was the seasoning they were going to use. A mix of chilli pepper, salt, and then a squeeze of lemon. Spectacular. It was fun being able to talk to them about their cuisine.

Day Two was the core of my plan. Now, my kids aren’t that interested being taught stuff, learning, when they’re in holiday. Tough dad eh? We got on the road early to drive from Kerikeri to Cape Reinga. It’s an interesting drive, very different landscapes, interesting fauna (we saw cows, sheep, hawks, turkey, emus and more). Actually, we were lucky and saw some shepherds with their dogs working a flock from one paddock to the next, across the highway. Was something pretty special to witness.

As we drove, I pointed out to my kids, the small communities anchored by a church and graveyard and maybe a shop. How NZ was and still is.

Note: Telecommunication coverage is appalling in the Far North – given the potential for tourism there I think it needs to be looked at.

I loved seeing how many people make the trip to see the Cape and its surrounds. It’s quite something being at the top of the North Island.

We headed home, stopping off at Te Kao for an ice cream. (Do it, it’s obligatory). We detoured through Totara North as it’s where my kids maternal grandmother grew up. (There’s literally nothing there so it didn’t take long). We visited a site where gumdiggers worked in terrible conditions locating and digging up kauri gum. I actually got interest from my son. He now knows why gumboots are called gumboots and not Wellingtons in this country.

Next stop, also obligatory and totally worth it, was Mangonui. They have the best fish and chips there. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Given the lack of feedback one gets from teenagers I can only assume that when they’re in their 20’s they’ll look back to the day they saw the Lighthouse…

Day Three. We packed up the campsite and got on the road. (I have to add that as they are getting older they are getting much more useful and helpful).

I wanted to take them West to see Opononi (pretty, nothing much there, had a dolphin in 1955/56 that was friendly) on the way to the Waipoua Forest.

It was good to show them how people live in the Far North. Either by choice or through circumstance. There are small communities dotted on the road. Shanty’s. Lean-to’s. Derelict. Rundown. Deserted and abandoned. It’s certainly not Howick. I was interested to see that despite the ruination of the buildings around, the churches all were in quite good condition…

Then we arrived in the Waipoua Forest. I wanted to make sure they saw Tane Mahuta whilst they have the chance to. (It’s no guarantee that access will be for ever).

All up, it’s been a great few days. Good company, good food, good conversation, good music. I am very grateful that my kids like to spend focussed time with me. Now to plan the next.

Thoughts: Dealing with Annoyance

It’s sure been an interesting time in my life.

Processing the passing of my birth mother has been a bit of a big deal for me. I was able to be in the moment as well as being somewhat out-of-body at the same time, dealing with the various stages of grief that one goes through.

And now I’m in the stage of Annoyance.

Annoyance is the feeling you get when someone or some thing makes you fairly angry or irritated.

My mother has annoyed me. Yes, it’s a purely selfish response but I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed that she’s gone. And what’s worse is that she hated to annoy anybody. Which is partly why she is now gone. She didn’t want to be a bother so didn’t call her doctor for three days when she should have. Sigh. Lessons learned.

So how have I been dealing with this particular annoyance?

Well, I recognise that the source of it is completely out of my control so all I can really do is focus on the good things. The little time we did have. The memories. The fact that I was able to meet her and that she was able to meet her grandchildren. This is pure. And it is healing.

On reflection, I have learned over the last few years that I have an incredible resilience. I don’t get stressed about things. I don’t really get angry. I have learned to keep my mouth shut and listen (mostly). And consider my response to stimuli rather than react.

Yes, I have been living through the consequences of decisions that I made in the past – owning it, accepting it, growing from it, moving forward.

Yes, I have been impacted hugely by the actions of others. But I recognise that I have no control over other people and what they do or what they say. I don’t necessarily know their stories. Their pain. Their stressors. All I can do is look for the good in the situation.

This approach prevents me from burning bridges or removing people from my life on an emotional whim. Don’t get me wrong though – I am very good at recognising and understanding when a person is toxic for me and I have no energy in my tank to continue to give to them. Thankfully this doesn’t occur very often.

Someone once told me that their approach is to ask themselves ‘Will this actually matter in five years’? It’s tough to do when you feel the red mist starting to swirl but it is worth making the attempt.

Take a step back. Breathe. And get on with your life. You only have one.

S.

Thoughts: RIP Mum

What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been. Out of nowhere I got news that my birth mother, Rachel, had passed.

It’s been a lot to process.

I have known my whole life that I was adopted. It has never really been a self-defining part of my life, and I always had in the back of my mind the motivation to track down my origins and see if I could get to know my biological family. Years came and went. Every couple of years I’d get motivated to progress things. I obtained my original birth certificate, located a name, located a home address from the 60’s. Then I’d hit a roadblock and have to park the search. Over time, the Internet evolved and around 2007, my mother (well, someone with her name and broad location) popped up on a genealogy website.

I had confirmation. She (I thought it was her) was alive.

I found someone with her surname in the local telephone book, and one night made the call from Auckland to Somerset, UK. I finally had a current address.

I had actually forgotten over the last decade who the person on the end of the phone was, and was delighted to meet him at Mum’s funeral. He’d kept the secret.

So around Christmas 2007 my mothers life irrevocably changed. As did mine. I met her for the first time in 2011. The memories from that occasion flood back with such clarity.

And now I find myself in Somerset, saying goodbye. It’s been hard. The grieving process has been brutal and now the healing begins. I am so grateful to my cousin who has been handling everything – I think we’ve helped each other get through this time.

The funeral was lovely. In a setting steeped with history and legacy. I was proud to be able to address the congregation with some thoughts. I have posted this below for posterity.

So now I continue to sit, and to think, and to process.

 

 

Pieces of the Puzzle

Good morning everyone,

We are here today to celebrate the life of Rachel, my mother.

Everybody here has memories of Rachel. Each memory is different, each memory personal. Each memory is a piece of the puzzle that when collected together presents a picture of who Rachel was.

That’s the great thing about life. People, all of us, have the opportunity to impact others and leave behind a lasting memory.

My story is a little different to most here and I’d like to share some of it.

Rachel was an adventurer. She went to New Zealand to have an overseas experience decades before that became a common thing for young people to do.

I was an outcome of that adventure.

Growing up with my adoptive family, I always felt… different. I think differently to them. I see the world differently to them. I certainly have a mischievous streak and a wanderlust that did not come from the nurture I received. It was always in the back of my mind that I needed to find out more about who I was.

It was around 2007 I think, that I tracked Rachel down. All I had was a name on an original birth certificate and a very basic Internet. I remember finding a Somerset Sealey (I can’t remember who it was) and making a telephone call to locate Rachel’s current address and to ask if he thought it would be ok if I wrote.

Mum received that letter shortly before Christmas Day. And I know her world changed. I like to think for the better.

It wasn’t until 2011 that I was able to come out here to meet her for the first time, and meet many of you here today. My blood relatives. I remember arriving at London Heathrow and seeing her in the arrivals hall quite clearly.

Thank you Mo for being there at that time also.

That moment in 2011 was a time where some of the missing pieces of my own puzzle were located. And placed.

Rachel and I were able to get to know each other as adults without the angst of a parent-child relationship getting in the way. She was desperately proud of her family here and she loved telling me about all what you were doing. She was delighted to get to learn of her grandchildren, my son Aidan and daughter Caitlin, their strengths and interests, and to see her heritage passed on.

Rachel and I realised early on that I am definitely cut from the same cloth as her. My extreme curiousity comes from her. My off-beat sense of humour comes from her.

At this time I would like to acknowledge my birth Father, Phil. I am so grateful to him as he made it possible for Mum to come to New Zealand in 2016 to see me in my habitat, and also to meet Aidan and Caitlin and give them an opportunity to meet and get to know their grandmother. He sends his condolences to us all.

Rachel reflected to me that she felt that she and Phil were incredibly selfish when they gave me up for adoption. I told her that far from being selfish, her actions at that time were completely selfless.

Because of her, I have had a good life, raised by great parents, knowing nothing but love.

And now Rachel is gone.

But she also continues.

In me, in her grandchildren.

I know that she wouldn’t be comfortable with all this attention but I also know that she would be ‘right chuffed’ as to what is happening here. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to ensure that this connection grows and strengthens. That this connection endures.

The puzzle that is Rachel may be completed today, but there are more puzzles to complete.

More pieces to find and to place.

I hope that you will help me as I honour her memory through living and in some way, perhaps, I can help you also.

Thank you.

 

Thoughts: Whoa! Studios – Henderson, Auckland

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This is new to Auckland. Very new.

We visited Whoa! Studios to celebrate the birthday of a Mum as it promised good food, wine and lots of great distractions for the kids.

This place is fantastic. Seriously great.

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It was heaving with families despite the weather being a tad unhelpful. Our first distraction was the urban playground – fabulously thought out and executed. The centerpiece being this phenomenal Whoa!Web crochet construction which took two years to create.

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The Grounds:

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We were put up in a private room which had great ambience – perfect for our family group.

The service was superb (they were able to adjust for our needs – i.e. feed the kids first so there is more room for the adults once they vanish) and the kitchen catered for a variety of dietary requirements easily.

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The food was outstanding. We were served Asian-fusion Tapas – from kimchi to kingfish to steak. Absolutely perfectly cooked and the flavours were perfect. My understanding is that there is a strong focus on seasonal ingredients, and as close to local as possible. Apparently the tomatoes we ate were from the garden of an elderly local woman. This is just awesome in my book.

I loved the decor. It’s a beautiful room.

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Then there’s the whole theatre and show experience for the kids. Probably aimed at the under-10’s but Miss 13 enjoyed it. There were layers of humor that would fly over the understanding of children but would entertain the parents.

The lobby and entry to the show is great. It really sets the scene.

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Everything about Whoa! Studios has been thought through and executed to a really high standard. I’m super-impressed.

I have no hesitation in recommending this for a fun family experience. I will definitely return.

Thoughts: Camping 2017

For the last five or so years, I have instituted a bit of a ritual: taking my kids away to a campsite somewhere in New Zealand for a week. The idea is simply to get closer to them and to expose them to what this country has to offer outside of hotel rooms and big cities.

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They do look forward to it and we have successfully found that necessary balance between device-time and interacting with each other and the surroundings we find ourselves in.

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This year was a bit different. I decided to book a site at the Waitomo Top 10. The idea was to explore the glow worm caves and several others. I’m a bit mean actually: my daughter (11) hasn’t ever been all that comfortable in underground tunnels (for example, those found on North Head in Auckland) so I thought this might be a good way to encourage her to deal with her fears.

 

What I hadn’t considered is that her fears weren’t limited to tunnels. It turns out that her list includes tunnels, caves, dark, bugs, wetas, sounds of water, drips… and we managed to find all those things in one tidy package.

 

So when one of our guides told us that he did things that no other guide did, such as turning off all the lights, the look of betrayal my daughter gave me was quite special. I laughed.

 

She coped admirably and grudgingly admits that there were aspects of the adventuring she enjoyed. Stalactites and stalagmites made the list.

 

Katherine and her daughter joined us for two nights which was fun. It created a change in our usual dynamic which isn’t a bad thing. Change is good as they say.

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Waitomo. What can I say? Majestic natural wonderlands underground. And more to to point, the organisations overseeing these treasures have created something great. I have harboured a default position where I suspect New Zealand tourism businesses do things a bit on the cheap and end up with an overpriced experience for tourists that ultimately is a bit shit. I’m happy to say that in the case of Waitomo, this perception is dead wrong. I felt pride in what we (Kiwis) are showing people here.

 

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I also love getting off the beaten track a bit. We went to Marokopa on the West coast (47kms West of Waitomo) to see what was there. Not that much in truth, but there is a seaside community, great fishing off the bar, coffees available en route and some beautiful scenery. I loved it. The kids… well, not so much.

 

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That being said, I love seeing how my kids are growing and maturing. Each year they’re a little bit less useless and more autonomous. They’re not requiring my help with keeping them entertained quite as much. They’re able to (and actually take personal responsibility for) their showers, doing dishes, hanging togs and towels etc.

 
The Waitomo Top 10 is also pretty cool. It’s not as big as other campsites we’ve visited, and the population is more transient. There’s not much to do beyond visiting the caves. In hindsight I think perhaps 2 nights there and then somewhere else may have been a better option.

 
It was so good seeing close up how important tourism is to our country. In the course of the week I’ve had decent conversations with people from France, Germany, Australia, the US and more. All are here with a sense of wonderment. All are here to experience something quite unique in the world, and they were getting it.

 
An aside: I note that Mercedes pretty much owns the campervan market. They’re doing something right!

 

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All up, a very good week. A chance to reconnect with my kids and spend time with them outside of routine. It’s valuable. And there is nothing better than getting just a little bit feral before addressing the new work year.

 

That being said, I am ready for it now!

Thoughts: A Quick Return Home

In January I headed to Palmerston North for a family wedding. 
Palmerston North is my home town. I haven’t actually been there for about six years, and before that there was at least a ten year gap between visits. 

It was interesting to see my childhood home. The schools I attended. Driving around my old paper route and noting little change in the houses I used to deliver to. Seeing the lawns I used to mow relatively unscathed by the passage of time.


I was struck by a sense of malaise. 

There’s a gradual deterioration that those living day to day in this place don’t seem to notice, as it happens under their noses. It seems that house owners are neglecting their assets. Homes that I remember being quite lovely in my youth are now run down. This may be the curse of absentee landlords taking advantage of student rents? 


Perhaps arriving in to town on a rainy, bleak day coloured my perception. Palmy is quite lovely on a good day. 

In January there is also an absence of students, which would account for a lack of vibe and the low energy ebb.

I also do not understand the non-sensical paid carparking at the Plaza. It serves little purpose and it’s badly organised.

There are some good things to note. I was impressed with a bar called Brewers Apprentice (their playlist included Wang Chung). I loved the short travel times between destinations. I love that it’s really, really flat (perfect for running and cycling) and I love that there is a low cost of entry to home ownership. I found that people were friendly and conversational.

The wedding service was in Feilding. I was impressed with that town. It seems to be starting to get ‘gentrified’. Wide streets, nice shops and eateries and still only minutes from Palmerston North airport. 

Feilding triggered a fun memory. I remember riding my bike from PN to Feilding to see a girl I liked. She worked in a dairy. I bought a milkshake. I was too shy to say anything about that, so I rode home. 

I really didn’t do my teenage years right in retrospect.

It was nice to get back there, on balance. I don’t think I’m going to rush back anytime soon though. I think the myopic optimistic memories of youth are best left intact.

Thoughts: Fathers Day and Family

I’ve been percolating and processing a little bit over the last couple of weeks.

I didn’t have my kids with me on actual Fathers Day which I am kind of ok about. I’m used to it now I guess. The sum total of contact was a ‘Happy Fathers Day’ text from my son and a ‘Happy Farters Day’ text from my daughter.

I did find it a bit hard seeing the outpouring of happy dads across all social platforms, but I took comfort from the fact that I’d have my kids the following week to make up for it.

On the actual day I popped in to see my 84 yr old dad. Gave him a card which reflects my sense of humour. I even wrote some lovely thoughts inside.

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A week later I took my kids over to visit, and I noticed that of all the cards he’d received for Father’s Day, my card was the only one not displayed. He was worried that it might offend my sister. Cool. Boring Simon from here on in I suppose.

A few other things occured at that visit that got me thinking that family really isn’t that important to me.

On Sunday, I lay in bed anticipating a little bit of celebration and attention from my kids. Nope. Maybe my expectations were too high. OOMA made a great effort but it was like pulling teeth to get my kids to do anything.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually a good father. Do I do a good job? Do my kids actually care? Or have they been put off me a bit through changes in circumstance (both with me and with their mother). I don’t know.

It’s very disconcerting that they’re getting to the age where they need me in a different way.

I guess I can just steer the course.

Watch this space.