Six months in – here are the highlights

This week our family will hit two important milestones. First up, Olly turns 40 (gasp). And second, it will be six months exactly since we got on a plane and travelled 12,000 miles to our new home.  It feels like a long time since then. When we left, Belle was a crawling baby, still on the boob who we could just about squeeze into a bassinet on the flight. Now she’s a walking, almost-talking toddler. We arrived in the heat of summer and when I think back to those first weeks in our temporary accommodation I just remember us sitting around in very few clothes sweating which seems another world from the brisk albeit sunny days of midwinter.

During those six months we’ve come to feel quite settled. Our house kind of feels like our home – OK, we still moan about the disgusting carpet and other things we’d change if it were actually our house.  And the streets of our neighbourhood and beyond are coming to feel more and more familiar. But it’s telling that our plans for the second milestone of the week, Olly’s 40th, are quite muted. After some thought we decided it would feel less sad to pretend it’s not an important birthday than attempt a party lacking in old friends and family. Instead we’ll have a nice family day and a meal out and have the mother of all parties when we get home.

It’s not that we don’t have any friends here. We’re lucky that we already knew and have been introduced some lovely people  but I think I underestimated how important the social networks you’ve built up over many years are and how long it takes you to get anywhere close to those in a new place. I mentioned a similar thought to some friends in the UK recently and they said they felt the same way about their recent move to Hertfordshire, which (I think) was a comfort.

Anyway, rather than dwell on the fact that WE REALLY MISS EVERYONE STILL and sometimes-I-get-quite-lonely-actually, I thought I’d celebrate the highlights of the first 6 months of our New Zealand adventure. So here they are:

  1. The quality of life – it’s undoubtable that life in central Auckland is more pleasant than life in central Tottenham. The air is cleaner, I see the sea every day, the sun shines a lot and whilst I occasionally have to tell Elsie to avoid some dog poo, the streets are not strewn with it and I certainly haven’t come across any human excrement yet. It’s quiet too. I don’t think I’ve heard a siren once from our house. And I know the ‘Nam has many things Auckland can’t offer – like affordable, good humous for one…and yes, I know it’s unreasonable for a white middle class person to moan about poverty and deprivation in an area they’ve bought a house, whose value is rapidly appreciating on the back of their dreamed-of gentrification…but drudging around tough urban streets with a buggy and two kids was hard, even though my life was far more cushioned than many of the people around me.

    Bridal veil falls near Raglan. = Queen is Dead ear-worm.
    Bridal veil falls near Raglan. = Queen is Dead ear-worm.
  2. The holidays – we’ve had three long weekends away now to Coromandel, the Bay of Islands and Raglan on the west coast. All have been lovely – stunning coastline, gorgeous forests, incredible waterfalls. It’s fantastic to have these places two or three hours drive out of the city. Plus living in a different place and only for a finite time gives us the impetus to explore more. Each time we’ve gone away from Aukland  we’ve made a point of travelling in a different direction. Given that Aukcland’s located on an isthmus, it’s probably not possible to do this many more times but it’s been good for the first six months.
  3. Elsie’s kindergarten – or ‘kindy’ as it’s inevitably shortened to here. The kindergarten system is a cherished part of kiwi life. Lots of New Zealanders I’ve spoken to have very fond memories of their time there. Elsie’s is just round the corner and she loves it and asks excitedly every day, “Is it kindy day today?” On paper, there isn’t so much different from the nursery she went to at home – the kids are free to roam between activities and there’s no formal learning. But there’s a huge sense of empowerment given at kindy, really encouraging children to have a go and be independent. I’ve heard the teachers offering  kids advice on dispute resolution for example rather than stepping in to break up trouble. Or my favourite, some days a carpentry work bench is put out with REAL TOOLS and children are left to play at it UNSUPERVISED. Whilst i found that fairly petrifying at first,  I now think it’s brilliant. I mean, talk about allowing kids to learn their own boundaries.
  4. Work – in the last month I’ve landed a freelance contract with a UK organisation I used to work for. It’s only a couple of days a week for a few months but it’s a start and has possibly saved me from going a bit bonkers. I can say unequivocally now that being a stay at home parent is not for me, especially in a new place where I don’t have many friends. I’d like to write something witty here but the huge sense of relief I’m still feeling about not having to look after the kids every day is way too serious to joke about.

    Yes people - THAT is what colour a cuppa should be.
    Yes people – THAT is what colour a cuppa should be.
  5. Visitors – as some readers will have seen on Facebook, we had our first family visitation this month. Woohoo! My parents were the most impatient relatives and so did the schlep first. It was so lovely having them here. So good in fact that I barely felt irritated by them in the whole three weeks they stayed. Plus they brought us tea bags which, like for so many British ex-pats across the world, has become our entry-tax on guests. Saying goodbye was not as hard as I’d imagined and in a couple of weeks a dear old friend of Olly’s is coming for a short visit. I’m not sure he realises yet that he is Olly’s big birthday night out. Good luck Pete!

This is why mums drink wine

Olly and I have made it to the end of our first working week. Him at Greenpeace and me looking after the kids. I was expecting the week from hell but surprisingly had quite a nice time. I’m not predisposed to the role of stay at home mum and don’t intend to be one for much longer (work, please – anyone?) but definitely felt I was doing a much better job of it this week than I have been in London. So what’s different? Well, a few things. (Surely a great opportunity to do a list? That’s what you do on blogs, right – lists?) So here it is –  my five things which make being a full-time mum more bearable. And I’ve resisted putting wine as number one, despite overhearing a mum making the comment, “This is why mums drink wine.” to a disobedient toddler the other day.

1, Sunshine – sunshine makes everything good, so that’s a no-brainer.

2, A car – there, I said it. A car makes your life easy. One little move to the other side of the world and I have become climate criminal No. 1. I can’t deny it though, bundling children into a car instead of drudging around pavements and on buses is much less hassle. A friend sent me an email today about sitting next to a smelly man on a London bus  and I thought, thank god I don’t have to do that anymore.  Not that I use the car everyday. Today we walked to a local park because I want Elsie to remember she’s got legs but when I got home I was absolutely exhausted. Cream-crackered. And I wondered how much of the last year’s tiredness has been because I’ve been pushing a bloody buggy and buggy-board around? Anyway, this is merely an observation and not an endorsement of fossil-fuel use. Ahem.

3, Sleep – no shit Sherlock. But I thought it’s still worth stating for the record in case any parents reading this are humming and harring about sleep training. Getting more sleep makes you a better parent – fact. The move to NZ has jigged B out of her ludicrously early mornings and it’s made a huge difference to my demeanour.

4, Open plan living – yes, I was surprised too. I thought having fewer gates, barriers and doors would be a pain in the arse with two small people but actually it works quite well. The girls cause merry havoc but at least I can be doing something useful in the kitchen whilst they do.

5, Slowing down – maybe I’m in holiday mode but I’m feeling pretty relaxed and therefore spending better time with my kids. It helps that I have no friends to meet, so don’t mind that it takes Elsie 15 minutes to walk 200 yards. Plus my new phone’s too big to fit in my pocket, so I no longer fiddle with it absent-mindedly whilst ‘playing’ with the girls. And generally am just being more ‘present’ nstead of trying to get other stuff done. I’m sure that’ll change as life gets a bit busier but still, I feel like I’ve learnt a bit this week.