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.

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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.

CW: childbirth, moping

I’ve read a few blogs by other mother bloggers recently about the challenges of finding simpatico mum friends in real life. The internet fills a big void – it’s one of the reasons I blog and one of the reasons I read other mum blogs. I’ve been lucky with our antenatal group, we still catch up periodically and we were a great source of support for each other last year. I’m grateful for that group, but we still have a “most neutral self presented” vibe, and we talk mainly about kid stuff. I am more honest on the internet than I would ever dare to be in person until a firm friendship had developed. Yet there are limits to the conversations had with childless friends. I wish mainly that some of my pre-existing close friends had children; instead almost all of them are overseas gallivanting.

There are lots of other mothers at my work, and we get on well, but they are a bit older. My pre-existing friends are unlikely to all end up having kids at the exact same age as each other, but I’m clearly going to remain an outlier. Sometimes when I mention that my younger brother is in Europe people respond “ah, that awesome period of life when you just travel and enjoy being a young adult”, and part of me feels wistful for what I never had. Another part of me knows that this is a petty first world problem, that I have no right to feel sad at not upping sticks and doing a big open-ended overseas trip before having a baby, that I’m lucky and shouldn’t complain and I’ve had more overseas travel in my life anyway than 95% of the world could ever hope for, and I should just shut up. But then it feels super rough when one of my closest friends is running marathons in Spain and I’m changing nappies and doing futile pelvic floor exercise in the knowledge that one day I’ll need corrective surgery and even then I probably won’t be able to take up long distance running again ever, and I used to love running before… 

I try to remain philosophical – there are much worse things in life, people used to die in childbirth. But when my childless friends ask about the labour, I don’t know what to say. It was horrendous. It was absolutely horrendous. I still feel angry and hurt that Wellington hospital wouldn’t admit me sooner (I wasn’t dilated enough, despite having had contractions regularly for 14 hours), and that when they did admit me eventually (after 23 hours), they wouldn’t give me an epidural straight away because I still wasn’t far enough dilated. So my only pain relief option was pethidine, and if I didn’t want pethidine then I would have to go home again because (you guessed it) I wasn’t enough dilated. I had the pethidine, but then when the little dude was born and couldn’t breathe for himself, and had to be taken away from me to NICU, and hooked up to all the machines, I always wondered was the pethidine partly to blame? And when I eventually got the epidural, and had a bit of a rest, and then they finally decided to start me on syntocinon, and I thought – well fuck if I was going to be having an epidural and hurry up hormones anyway, couldn’t I have had this a day ago and spare me the misery? When it came time to push (33 hours), the epidural was still going too strong for me to feel the contractions and work with them, and the little dude’s head wasn’t at the right angle, and I couldn’t move around because my legs were out of action, and I wonder whether that was a factor in the pelvic floor strain? I wonder whether I would have needed such a whopping great big long episiotomy if I’d been able to move around and get gravity on my side instead of pushing with my feet in stirrups like something out of a movie about how bad childbirth is. Remembering all this still makes me sob. Remembering that when the little dude emerged (36 hours), I held him only glancingly before he was taken away, and then I had to wait and wait while they stitched me up, and I had my phone next to me and my husband rang because the nurses in NICU wanted to know whether I could come in and feed him or whether to give him formula. And my midwife made me eat a piece of toast before I could go.

All these things, I can write them here, that feels ok, but I haven’t said them to anyone apart from my  husband. I haven’t said these things to my friends without kids because what could they possibly say in reply? I’ve alluded to some of it, but that’s all. I haven’t said these things to friends with kids because I don’t want them to pity me, and I don’t want to hear about their 6 hour labours and how they run to work every day.

So I say them to the internet, because somewhere out there, someone else feels the same. Somewhere there’s someone else who is 28 and wants to punch people in the face / burst out crying when they say how “having a baby young means that at least your body bounces back more quickly!”. Somewhere there’s someone else who knows that the joy of pregnancy with a second baby will be marred with the fear, the fear of how it’s all going to go next time. If I write this, I can imagine a reader, and I can imagine that if we ever met we would be firm firm friends.

Acculturation

There was a thing in the news about another cafe banning kids. It’s one of those issues that crops up every few weeks, and you get some people saying “I’m a parent but I wouldn’t take my kids to a fine-dining restaurant, there are plenty of cafes that are more set up for kids” and other saying “kids should be allowed anywhere, they’re people too”, and other saying “kids are annoying and should just not be in public”. 

My family has experienced our share of all the following experiences when out at Wellington eateries with the little dude: 

  • he’s charming and his presence at the cafe is a non-issue;
  • he’s fine for a while but then starts to get over it, but we can distract him enough that his behaviour isn’t too disruptive;
  • he reaches his limit and we decide to bail;
  • he was grumpy at home but he’s fine once we’re out and about and there are things to see and do;
  • he was fine at home but he’s grumpy once there’s noise and bustle;
  • he is interested in being at the cafe but he’s not keen on sitting still in a high chair while mummy and daddy eat;
  • other patrons engage with him and think he’s cute;
  • other patrons give us dirty looks;
  • waitstaff give us free fluffies;
  • waitstaff tell us they don’t have fluffies on the menu but they could totally make a small cup of froth for a dollar, no worries. 

We like going to cafes for several reasons. First, they are a place that is not our house. A place that is not our house! Those are some of the best places! Second, it’s easier to meet up with friends at cafes than anywhere else, because no-one has to cook or host or clean up. Third, they serve food there. A place that is not our house, and you can buy food?! That is basically the ideal place to go! So yeah, we go to cafes for the same reasons that people without kids go to cafes. And now we’re back on two incomes, we have a bit more money and a bit less time, and sometimes going out is just the thing we need to perk us all up on a Saturday when there are too many chores and when we’ve both got job-work we need to do from home after the little dude goes down for his nap.

This weekend we went to Chocolate Fish, which is a 10/10 for child-friendliness, and because it is set up to welcome kids, it didn’t matter that the little dude fell over in a puddle and cried and needed a change of clothes, it didn’t matter that he wanted to explore and run about, it was all fine.  

The owner of the cafe that’s just banned kids in the story above was quoted as saying "We’re not child haters, we’re not anti-children. We just want those who can’t control their kids in a public setting to go elsewhere”.

That’s a telling turn of phrase, “can’t control their kids”. We’re not opposed to children per se, we just want them to be controlled. Like, can’t you train them better? Get them a muzzle perhaps? Don’t they come with an off switch? Are they always so noisy?!

The idea that children are unwelcome in some cafes bothers me only a small amount. At the end of the day I’d prefer to take my custom somewhere like the Goose Shack where the guy behind the grill plays peek-a-boo with the little dude and they provide blocks and colouring pencils.  You don’t want my kid, well, we don’t want to frequent your establishment. And we only go to cheapish low-key places anyway, and they’re mostly pretty ok with kids. If we went out to a fine dining restaurant by ourselves, would we want to be exposed to someone else’s screaming child? Hahahahaha, go out to a fine dining dining restaurant, that happened once ever on our honeymoon. And no-one takes kids to those places, duh, straw-man much?! 

Anyway… 

The justification bothers me a big amount. 

The owner of No Kid Cafe goes on to say "someone has to stand up to the parents who think it’s OK to have a kid running around screaming in a small space with other members of the public there".

Hmmm.

Look if he said “kids will be kids, and sometimes it’s nice for adults to have time away from them, and that’s the sort of restaurant we want to work in, and there’s a family-friendly cafe down the road”, I’d be “meh, yup, whatevs”. But that’s not what he said. He thinks that parents need to control their kids or not take them out into public places. There’s nothing in what he said that distinguishes between a 14 month old and a 5 year old, if the person is small and noisy the parents are being rude to other adults and overly permissive, which makes them a target of social opprobrium. 

When the little dude was a baby, I didn’t worry about being judged – I figured babies cry sometimes, and babies need to be fed and need their nappies changed, and parents need to leave the house, so if I’m trying to comfort or feed or change a baby in a public place I’ll meet any dirty look with a fierce look. I am more aware of the potential for social shaming now, because of the frequency with which sentiments like the above are expressed. Control your child. Make sure they don’t bother other people. Frown. Frown. Frown. 

He’s not even quite 17 months old, he’s very new to this whole social etiquette thing. He’s doing his very best to learn and we’re doing our very best to teach him, but could you maybe give us a fucking break? 

Because it’s not just about one cafe saying no kids, it’s about a culture that expects small children to be brought sharply into line, and to fit in with an adult world which doesn’t give them much space to be themselves. 

There were two stories in the news this week about children dying at the hands of their caregivers. A fourteen-month-old boy from Christchurch and a six-month-old girl from the Kapiti Coast. 

I reckon we live in a child abuse culture, the same way we live in a rape culture. This is a culture which talks about “controlling children” rather than “teaching” or “guiding” or “helping them to learn” or “engaging with them” or “responding to their needs” or “accommodating their developmental capabilities” or “making spaces work for them”. 

When I hear “controlling” children, I hear an implied threat of force. To control someone is to make them do something against their will. Inevitably, all parents have to play the Stronger Than You card sometimes, we have to hold their little bodies still while they get their vaccinations and we have to wrangle them into carseats and we have to pick them up and carry them when they’d rather climb the stairs slowly but we’re all running late. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the idea that children should be compliant all the time – the idea that their autonomy exists only to be broken. That’s the idea that comes through when someone says “We just want those who can’t control their kids in a public setting to go elsewhere”. 

That statement says to me, you actually are anti-children. And you’re anti-children in a way that is also strongly anti-parent, and that can make parents turn against their children. You’re endorsing the idea that parents should make their children act a certain way that  you think is better, even when the “offending” behaviour is exactly what kids that age and stage are supposed to do, even when they’re doing nothing really wrong, even when what they want and need is reasonable, even when all they’re doing is being a small human in a public place. You’re rolling together actual misbehaviour (like that older child who pushed my son over when he was trying to get into the whale heart at the level two discover centre at Te Papa) with just kid stuff (like a toddler being a bit rowdy).  

And it really matters, because child abuse, like any crime, exists in a broader social context. The uncompromising attitude towards small children doing their thing in public is part of that context.

Postscript:

So a few weeks after I posted this, a story hit the interwebs about a restaurant owner in the US who yelled at a toddler. Whose parents may or may not have misjudged the crucial call of “Fuck, should we bail? She’s crying. This is a disaster! Do we leave?” (Whatever, that is a very difficult call to make!) But who yells at a toddler for crying?! A stranger’s toddler! There’s a poll on the nzherald website and 48% of voters think that the restaurant owner was right to yell, 41% said she was right but probably went too far, and only 22% think yelling at a stranger’s toddler is a no-go. WHAT THE TOTAL FUCK?!