Paid parental leave, being angry

So Sue Moroney’s private member’s bill to extend paid parental leave has been drawn from the ballot again. Recap: currently 16 weeks, to be extended to 18 next April, and the bill would extend it to 26 weeks. 

Paid at less than the fulltime minimum wage, by the way. So not overly expensive for the taxpayer. 

The Finance Minister has already made comments suggesting that the Government will once again block the bill. 

The first time it was drawn from the ballot, I wasn’t even thinking about getting pregnant. By the time it had finally been defeated, in a deadlock vote, after the Governement used every stalling technique imaginable and eventually proposed the more modest extension of four weeks in two increments, the little dude was a year old. Yeah, that’s how long it took to shoot it down.  

Meanwhile, women keep having babies, and those babies need to be cared for. 

We carry our children in our bodies, we birth them, we raise them and nurture them. We are members of this society, and so are they. 

They are tomorrow’s citizens, tomorrow’s workforce. 

When they are very small and need constant care, we provide it. We feed them and we change their nappies, we soothe them, we play with them, we tend to them when they are sick. We are the women who take time out of the workforce, unpaid, because 16 (or 18) weeks paid leave is not enough. And we are the women who return to the workforce sooner than we’d like, because we cannot afford to take unpaid leave. 

We are police officers and bus drivers and social workers and lawyers and engineers and doctors. We pay taxes. And we have children.

We are people who are called “breeders”, like livestock, and “leeches”, like pests, for daring to suggest that society value our contribution. 

Our time spent out of the paid workforce is liken to a “holiday” by those who object to the idea that mothers who care for children should receive financial support from society. 

Our children are called “spawn” by those who seem not to realise that children are people. 

We are ignored, politically marginalised, insulted, dismissed and belittled. 

We are told that if we can’t afford to take time out of the paid workforce to look after our children, we shouldn’t get pregnant in the first place. We are told that our value is dependent on whether we have partners, and how much they earn. We are told that if we want to return to the paid workforce before our children are walking and talking, we are bad mothers. We are told that we are emasculating our male partners if they take some time to be at home while we are in paid employment. 

No politician would ever say that caring for babies is unimportant or unnecessary. They might say that it was extremely important, very valuable. But the Finance Minister emphasises that the government books are in a precarious position, blah blah blah blah blah, and we have to be careful about extending social support and make sure it’s affordable given the goal of returning to surplus. 

For fuck’s sake, we’re talking about a very modest level of paid leave being extended by a very modest amount, and a very modest cost to the state, in the context of work that is currently being done but not remunerated. Superannuation costs $10 billion a year and extending paid parental leave would cost $150 million, bringing the total cost to $300 million. It’s not nothing, but it’s not that much in the scheme of things either.

The whole world takes advantage of women’s unpaid labour. Society would crumble if caring work went undone. 

It’s not just that the extra cash from extending paid parental leave would have helped my family out last year, or when number two baby arrives in the future sometime. It’s that money is a tangible way of demonstrating that something is valued. Paid parental leave is the most politically palatable way of starting a conversation about the idea of valuing work done caring for children. 

Next year the length of paid parental leave goes up to 18 weeks. Most daycare centres don’t even accept children younger than six months. The little dude was still breastfeeding every couple of hours at five and six and seven months. It wasn’t until he was about eight or nine months that I could really imagine leaving him in someone else’s care for long periods of time. I know some women go back sooner, by choice or necessity, and if that works for them, all to the good. But this bill extends paid parental leave to 26 weeks, which is still not very long. The reality is that the vast majority of babies are cared for by their mothers for longer than the current period of paid parental leave, which means that every year, tens of thousands of women in this country are working hard, day and night, without pay. 

And caring for a small baby is kinda nice, but it’s also hard work. When people comment that taxpayers shouldn’t fund people to stay at home, IT FUCKS ME OFF. It’s like saying taxpayers shouldn’t fund people to be police officers. Yeah, this is rewarding work, but that doesn’t mean that the people doing it don’t deserve financial recognition. 

“But why should we pay for your children?” Because they will grow up one day and pay taxes themselves and those taxes will pay for things you need! Because that’s how the social contract works you idiot! Because children aren’t indulgences, luxury goods, personal assets, pets or hobbies: they are the future of the world. They are PEOPLE who need to be cared for. How can such a simple concept not be considered politically obvious?! Society needs some people to have children. Hey guess what, there are people who are happy to take on that role. But guess what else, you can’t look after a child and also go to work. So when you are doing the former, you take a break from the latter, but that means you’re not earning money. Yet amazingly you still have expenses! Gee I wonder if there’s some sort of solution, like maybe everyone in the society pooling resources and giving some of the resources to those people who are doing the whole fucking world an enormous favour by physically creating and then bringing up the new people?! 

C’mon, it’s not that hard a thing to understand! 

Here’s the deal. I will have two or three kids. I will spend months of my life feeling horrifically tired and nauseous, feeling weakened, drained, and physically awkward while pregnant. I will go through immense pain to give birth. I will deal with life-long and limiting physical changes from the process. I will breastfeed, for years. I will change thousands of nappies. I will spend countless hours rocking and soothing sick children. I will feel my heart grow. I will hold my babies tightly and whisper to them that they are my precious darlings. I will do this happily, with tenderness and love. I will raise them to be accountable to society. I will raise them to be conscientious and generous, they’re going to be great future citizens. 

Now, National Party MPs, here’s your end of the bargain. Look deep into the government books, and figure out a way to make it so that the people who look after kids get some monetary recognition for their essential contribution to society. 

And stop stalling.

Be gentle

I say “be gentle” a lot. I read somewhere that toddlers find it easier to understand a positive instruction than a negative instruction, and that sounds reasonable, so “be gentle” is becoming almost a catchphrase. 

And it’s good catchphrase, I’m happy with it. 

Be gentle.

We should maybe all be a little gentler.

To ourselves. 

To our loved ones. 

To our colleagues.

Our acquaintances. 

Strangers. 

Everyone. 

Be gentle. 

Be kind. 

This is 17 months

At the beach, the little dude trying to make seagull noises, approaching them cautiously, then waving “buh byyyye” when they fly away.

On my lap on a swing, saying “bup, bup, dowwwn”.

Walking along, he holds my index finger in his whole hand and I wrap the rest of my hand round his, looping my thumb round his wrist.

He loves his Miffy book but before we read it we have to find his Miffy doll.

When I arrive to pick him up from creche he will stand up and point at me and say “Mum! Mum! Mum!” and come over as fast as he can, then he will stop and lay one hand on my arm as I kneel down to greet him, and he will hold up whatever toy he’s been playing with and present it to me and solemnly say “dis.” This is a gift for you mum. I was playing with it but you’re here now and it is for you!

When he gets naked for the bath he loves to play Belly Drums.

In the bath, he tries to cup the water with his hands and is fascinated by the way he can’t hold it.

His word for “food” is “yum”.

He loves to play a game called “Kanikani, kāti!” I say “kanikani, kanikani, kanikani” and he dances by stomping his feet and moving around the room then I say “kāti!” and he stops and bursts into hysterical laughter.

He says “YAY” whenever he’s proud of himself.

When he knocks over a tower of blocks he say “Ahhhhhno”

When he’s finished his food he says “AHHHDON” and then when I try and wipe his hands he seizes the cloth to wipe his high-chair table clean.

Sometimes he comes up behind me and says “bidge, bidge”, which is my cue to open my legs so he can go under the bridge.

At night, we read stories and put him in his sleeping bag in the lounge and then one of us carries him through to bed. On the way to the bedroom he cuddles in and rests his head on my shoulder and then kisses my neck.

A random collection of thoughts on the housing market

  • I remain of the view that “home ownership” isn’t the be all and end all, but a short-cut to the values of a stable and secure place to live, and a means to a comfortable retirement, and a way to establish community. But certainly under our residential tenancy legislation, it’s effectively impossible to have long-term security in a rental. 
  • I lived in Auckland for all my life bar the past 4 years in Wellington. Whenever I go back for a visit, I’m struck by how much scope there is for simple intensification. All these huge flat sections on the isthmus! Compared to Wellington where sections are often small and steep. So much scope for subdivision in Auckland! And so many single story dwellings! It’s not just big developers who are landbanking, it’s everyone on section bigger than about 600m2. Which is a helluva lot of people. 
  • Auckland carries the lead stories about housing prices, and it’s focused mainly on the cost of buying. But there are other housing issues, including the cost of renting in all areas of the country where there is also scope for employment. High rental costs in turn have implications for home-ownership: making it harder to save a deposit for renters who want to buy, and making it more attractive for investors to buy property, or for people to rent out their houses rather than sell them when they move to a different area. 
  • In Wellington, house prices aren’t Auckland-level crazy, but they’re still very high. The averages are pulled down because there are proportionately a lot of small apartment sales, but to buy a family home (even a townhouse), the prices are out of the reach of many. And there are very few listings. And lot of the houses are in terrible condition. Many of them – at least half that we’ve looked at – are currently rented, and the rents are high enough to service a mortgage; which is another way of saying that they are too high for the occupants to save for a deposit. 
  • When my parents bought their first home in Auckland, it was a do-up, an ex-state home that hadn’t been renovated. But it was only 40 years old. The same houses are now 70 years old. Huge difference in condition. There was no massive building project in New Zealand in the 70s and 80s, and then the terrible leaky building clusterdisaster of the 90s and early 2000s means that the current building stock has decades of shortfall from not keeping up with population growth in metropolitan areas. 
  • It’s difficult for buyers to behave rationally in this market. If we lived in central Auckland still, we probably would have taken a punt on ongoing increases and bought anything, no matter how bad, just to get a foot in. 
  • That said, there’s a limit to how far things can sprawl. We would happily live in Blockhouse Bay, but frankly we would rather rent forever than shuttle back and forth from Papakura. That’s not a snobbishness thing, it’s a desire to live all in one place, rather than have a life split in half by a long commute. 
  • It’s difficult to renovate a home if you’re mortgaged to the hilt. This probably partly explains the terrible condition of some of the places we’ve seen at open homes. It’s also a factor that we need to take into account when deciding how much to bid. If we stretch ourselves to the limit on the house alone, then there’s nothing left to pay for putting in insulation or double glazing, and if we end up in another ice-box like this one we might as well keep renting. 
  • I’m puzzled why all the discussion of capital gains tax assumes that the family home should be exempt. We pay tax on our savings in the bank, even though they’re going to be used to buy a house. The tax is only on the gain, after all! So why the special treatment?
  • Ah, the “too picky” criticism… If you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on something, surely you have every right to be picky? 
  • The whole idea of the “first home buyer” is an interesting construct. The idea is to buy something, live in it for a few years, sell it, and use the gain to get into something better. So this assumes that there will be gain, first off. And it also assumes that people are getting their first home early enough that this set of steps is viable. But if you can’t afford to buy until your kids are in primary school – which is pretty common – you’re going to want to go straight into the “forever house”.
  • A mere 300 years ago, the entire country was held in common. The idea that it has always been difficult for people to own homes is steeped in capitalist ideology. Land doesn’t have to be treated as a fungible good. 
  • Not everyone needs to live in Auckland. Where’s the regional development? Instead of sprawl, why not have other cities? Whangarei has a nice climate and a nice harbour and a nice ring of hills, but not many jobs. New Plymouth is nice too. And then there’s a whole island down to the south – plenty of land there!
  • Because Auckland is so extremely expensive, it seems that the public discourse forgets that the rest of the cities in the country aren’t doing that well either. The only areas with cheap houses have few or no decent paying jobs, so they’re not viable alternative places to live.  
  • The whole system of social services is premised on high levels of home-ownership. With home-ownership falling, the Government is paying more and more in the accommodation supplement, and there is a potentially scary situation coming in 30 years when a huge group of people retire without owning their homes.
  • I just checked some stats on the point above. Look at those graphs! Check out the drop between 2001 and 2013! Whoa.  
  • But back to Auckland – speaking only anecdotally, and I would be interested in seeing data on this, there are heaps of people who grew up in Auckland, or studied in Auckland, who have left. Often for overseas. If you’re going to be paying high rents and have no prospect of owning, you might as well bid farewell to NZ. 
  • Homeownership is strongly linked to ethnicity. Pakeha have the highest ownership rates. Maori and Pacific Islanders have the lowest. Put another way, Pakeha are still directly benefiting from colonisation. 
  • Foreign investment in Auckland is likely to be a factor because the gains are so stratospheric, and they’re not taxed. So duh. Of course it’s an attractive investment for anyone with spare money. 
  • But it’s not just foreign investment, it’s also the lay-landlords, the thousands of couples who have one investment property, or two, because it’s considered the safest investment. 
  • In Wellington, lots of properties are marketed at first home buyers but bought by investors. We’ve put bids in on houses only to lose out and see those houses listed as rentals a few weeks later. 

A sonnet by a toddler to a cat

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Rough hands do grab the ginger coat
And yet thou seldom scratch nor bite
Sometime too fast the white feet do run
And often is thou gold complexion timid
Yet when I catch the fluffy tail of thine  
By chance or when thou least suspect my hand
Thou tolerate the pulling that mum forbade  
I hold close possession of thou fair fur
Nor shall I relinquish the grip soon
When in a cosy basket thou dost doze
So long as I can reach the swishing tip
Thou cannot rest for fear I shall catch thee

(nb: toddlers have a patchy grasp of iambic pentameter)

Performance review (for my son)

Weaning: requires development.

Sleeping: inconsistent performance, often requests assistance.

Eating: strong and abiding preference for scrambled eggs. 

Talking: comprehension strong; word differentiation requires a perceptive ear. Many words are a variation on two sounds: “DAS” (this, bus, yes) or “Shhhz” (shoes, cheese, stairs).

Climbing: avid interest.

Gentleness: has recently learnt how to do kisses, but looses points for ongoing biting, pinching, hair pulling, and cat-tackling. 

Hugs: this is a key strength.

Dancing: the next Michael Flatley.

Reading: prefers lift-the-flap books, but also demonstrates enthusiasm for anything with thick enough pages to gnaw on. 

General awesomeness: the best person I know. 

Car songs

I like a big bus and I cannot lie
You other bubbas can’t deny
When a bus drives past
And it’s going so fast
And it’s a whole lot bigger than the cars
I yell BUS!
Give mum a fright
When she’s at the traffic light
Baby likes bus.