Here’s the dream

In another five years, bubs will be starting school, and we’ll have had all the babies we’re going to have, and we’ll pick a city and pick a suburb and stay there for at least the next 20 years, in a house we can call our family home. We’ll get to know our neighbours, our kids will play with other kids on the street, they’ll go to the local school, we’ll put down roots.

We’re in no great rush to buy a house before then. I get a headache thinking of the prospect of yoking ourselves to a mortgage while we still have twenty grand of student loans between us to repay, and while I’m facing a few years of on-off maternity leave/part-time work, especially given the cost of childcare. And besides, we might not stay in this shimmering harbour capital, we might be drawn back north to our hometown, where we can sit in traffic for hours but also climb volcanoes, swim at wild beaches, and wear t-shirts all year round.

Either way, the best time for us to buy a house is a few years down the track. Or it would be, in a functional market. Instead, my father-in-law says “the best time to buy is always last year, the second-best is today.” Then there’s the government deposit subsidy (both actual and proposed), maybe we should buy a house while our income is below the cap? Maybe we should buy something that we don’t plan to stay in for more than a couple of years, just to get a toe-hold? Or just because it’d give us secure tenure for the next four years, which is worth the premium?

Maybe that sort of thinking is contributing to ridiculous house prices in urban centres.

It’s obvious that the market is completely distorted because all buying decisions are predicated on the distortion. You can’t pay too much for a house in central Auckland, it’s sure to be worth twice what you paid for it in another ten years. Buy now, even if your repayments are crippling, better than waiting.

The only real winners are the banks. It might look like those who bought good thirty years ago have done well, and sure, they’ve been personally lucky; but when housing becomes as much about making money as having a roof over your head, communities suffer, and everyone bears that loss. You knew your neighbours, but then they moved, sold up for a million dollars; you love your house but you know how much you could get for it and that opportunity cost weighs over you. Your new neighbours are renting, they’re not making the effort to get to know you, they’re only going to be there a couple of years.

My opening vignette conjures up the romantic notion deep in our national psyche, but it’s not really how things are likely to play out, I know that already. I’m living in my ninth house. Three houses my parents owned, two they rented, four my husband and I have rented together. In two of the homes I lived in as a child, I had that neighbourhood coziness, but most of the neighbours in both those places have moved on now.

Are politicians cynical when they talk about home-ownership building stable communities, or are they living in a bubble? The fact that the family home is a sacred cow excluded from a proposed capital gains tax is telling. An acknowledgement that the houses people own and occupy will one day be sold, a dash of doublethink to undercut the idea that owning a house is about making a home, not just a matter of property.

Which brings me back to where I started. It’d be nice, one day, to own a house – but what I’m really interested in is making a home for my kiddies, nestling them into a little village where they can feel they belong, where the connections to place and people are strong. Home ownership is not an ends in itself, it’s just the means. The housing market militates against this, both through prices to buy and structures for renting. I’m not wedded to buying a house. The dream isn’t home ownership, it’s a stable community.


Breastfeeding tips

An acquaintance who is currently pregnant asked me for some tips on breastfeeding, and she’s suggested I post the list. I don’t imagine it’d be universally applicable; but it’s stuff I wish I’d known. 

1) Breastfeeding is a learned skill for the baby, as well as the mother. Some babies learn more quickly than others, some mothers learn more quickly than others, some baby-mother pairs struggle more than others. If breastfeeding is really important to you but it’s hard at the outset, don’t despair: get some help

2) The exaggerated latch and breast compressions are great tricks!

3) There are some things that I’d suggest buying while pregnant. A breastpump (manual is fine, mine is this one but I think they’re all basically the same. I had to get one 3 days postpartum to clear blocked ducts and prevent mastitis, wish I’d had it beforehand so it didn’t have to be One More Thing when we were in newborn haze), breastpads, a good nipple balm, fenugreek, a comfortable night nursing bra, and a large stock of your favourite snacks. 

4) As much as possible, arrange to have other people helping out in the first few weeks so you don’t have to do anything except feed the baby, and rest. You really shouldn’t be expected to do anything more than that. 

5) Discuss breastfeeding with your partner in advance, so that he or she knows how important it is to you. Your partner’s support is a make or break if you have a rocky road at the beginning. 

6) KellyMom has answers to everything (blocked ducts, nipple thrush, milk blebs, etc). 

7) If you have difficulty with latching, but want your baby to be exclusively breastfed, the most important thing is to protect your supply. This is one reason to have a pump on hand.

8) Don’t worry too much about strictly remembering to alternate which side you feed on, and foremilk and hindmilk, and length of time feeding at a session, and numbers of feeds during the day. It makes it sound more complicated than it needs to be. Trust that you’ll soon get to know the rhythms of your body and your baby’s appetite.

Six months

Worst things:

– Social isolation. Catching up with friends who work is so very difficult, weekends are too short, weeks are too long.

– Not being able to finish tasks, ever. No windows of uninterrupted time anymore.

– Feeling like mothers are taken for granted by society and like my work in caring for bubba is invisible.

– Mr Daddy’s long working hours, knowing that this is hard for him too, but that there’s nothing we can do about it because his job security is essential at this stage of our lives.

– Difficult physical recovery from pregnancy and childbirth, and feeling like I can’t talk about this much because it’s not generally part of the public discussion around new parenthood.

– Poor sleep

Best things

– That it gets easier. Every month it gets easier. The realisation that hard stuff passes, and moments of joy can leap out at any time.

– Making new friends with other parents. Feeling like part of a new community. Feeling closer to my own parents.

– When bubs laughs and my world is engulfed in his huge grin.

– When he falls asleep cuddled snugly on me and for a brief moment I feel like I have my tiny baby back.

– Loving my husband in a whole new way when I see him play with our son, feeling blessed beyond blessed that this is my family.

– How ridiculous and wonderful bubs is, with his chubby thighs, his goofy smile, his emerging interest in grabbing the tail of the cat, his acrobatic leaps on the jolly jumper, his endearing trill of a coo, his insistence on removing my glasses whenever he can reach them, and his intense interest in the world around him.

Hopes and dreams

I read this today, it left me cold a bit (seriously lady?!), and reminded me of a diary entry I wrote to my baby while pregnant that I intended to type up at some stage. I still think it’s an ok list. Here it is:

What I want you to be

Compassionate, considerate, brave, conscientious, a person of integrity, honest, loving, joyful.

What I want you to do

Enjoy the outdoors, cherish relationships, have adventures, strive to make the world a better place, enjoy music and books.

What I want to be as a mother

Patient, thoughtful, present, creative, involved, relaxed, organised, fun, adventurous, kind.

What I want to do as a mother

Teach you values and skills, have fun with you, let you learn, give you space to do your own thing, make your life special.

Ka whawhai tonu ratau

Note: I wrote this last week, before the first ceasefire was announced, then didn’t post it because I woke to news of the ceasefire. But then, the fighting goes on. I thought of the title today. 

I can’t stop thinking about this story. I read it on Monday, and wept, that young woman, not so different in age from myself, never getting to meet her newborn That tiny baby never getting to know her mummy – but, blessedly, still alive. Today I read a follow up, the baby has died. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m crying as I write this. It feels like the very definition of wrong. It’s so wrong.

I should go to bed, I should go to sleep, it’s late, my husband is asleep – annoyed at me for keeping him up just to tell him how upset I am at things happening hundreds of miles away, things that we don’t have to deal with, here in a peaceful country. Annoyed at me for wanting something more from him – what, condemnation? Of course it’s bad. For him to cry as well? It doesn’t work like that. To be one of the internet people who post things on facebook about how bad Israel is? He’s not that person. And yet, I can’t stop dwelling. Feeling like there must be something I can say, but there’s not. There must be something I can do, but there’s not. There must be some glimmer of hope to cling on to, but there’s not. I don’t know. That is the worst bit, the feeling that this could go on for another generation, another two generations, or longer. Babies are dying. Babies just like my baby. Why the hell shouldn’t I cry at that?

If my son had been born in Israel, like his daddy, he’d be a forth generation Israeli. Instead he’s a seventh generation New Zealander. I want him to feel connectedness to this land, a sense of belonging. I want him to appreciate that it is a sacred thing, to be of this land. When he’s a little boy, I want to take him tramping through our national parks, and read him Hone Tuwhare’s poem “Papatuanuku”, and I want him to feel its truth. I want him to stand strong on a marae and give his mihi, he tangata tiriti au, kua tae mai toku tipuna ki Aotearoa i tetahi waka, ko te Emma Colgen, i te tau o 1862. I want him to understand that a bicultural state can foster a multicultural society. 

But if he was born in Israel, my wants would be more modest. All I’d want is for him not to have to go to war when he grows up. 

Breastfeeding in public

It’s Breastfeeding Awareness Week this week. So, rather than blog about Gaza, or finding a creche for next year, or the role of trust in parenting (and life generally), or inconsistent baby sleep advice, I’ll do another breastfeeding blog and leave those topics waiting in the wings. 

Bubs isn’t great at breastfeeding in public. Even breastfeeding at home with a guest round can be a bit much. He gets distracted. I like to think he assumes that he can always eat later, but there’s something else interesting going on now. And now that he’s a bigger baby, his grizzles don’t always mean that he wants to feed – so I might offer him the breast, thinking he’s probably hungry, and he’ll refuse. Then also he does this adorable thing where he comes off after a few suckles just to smile and coo. Cute when we’re at home. But when we’re out, it’s awkward. 

This means that breastfeeding in public now proceeds like this:

1) Is he hungry? Hmm, hope he’s hungry so I don’t flash everyone for nothing. I’m pretty sure he is.

2) Where can I sit to feed him? Found a chair, phew. 

3) Ok, ok, ok, I know you want to eat, I’m just lifting my top up and uncliping my bra and trying to hold your wriggly self, calm down.

4) He’s not going for it, is he just distracted or is he not hungry?

5) Ok, he’s latched.

6) And… now he’s off and grinning at me. Hey little one, you’re super cute, but mummy just needs to quickly try and cover up exposed nipple/catch leaking milk in breastpad rather than dripping everywhere.  

7) And now he’s trying to get on again, quick, uncover the boob so he can have more food.

8) Ok, nobody make any sudden noises for the next five to ten minutes!

A few weeks back, I was feeding him in a chair outside a clothing shop dressing room (you know the ones, the “waiting for my friend who is trying on an outfit” chairs). I was feeling chuffed at having successfully completed steps 1 through 7, and was sitting there stroking his head and enjoying the moment while he guzzled. It wasn’t a spot I’d used before, but I was pleased because it was really discrete and quiet, and the chair was comfortable, and surely no-one would mind because I was so out of the way. Just as this thought was going through my head, one of the staff walked past and said “isn’t there somewhere better you could do that?”