Your once and future Auckland

The Auckland I grew up with doesn’t exist anymore.

It was already on the way out when we moved to Wellington five years ago, and now, house prices being what they are, it’s more memory than reality.

Four children, climbing a fence line, on the way to raid a neighbour’s loquat tree, plum tree, blackberry bush, grape vine, fejoa tree. Grey Lynn has something to offer in any season.

Barefoot in the park eating a blackforest icecream scooped from the dairy, or maybe a cream bun from the bakery at the shops.

Living in Pt Chev, driving past Western Springs, rain on the harakeke, pūkeko stalking in the muddy grass, everything is so green. Dad has a t-shirt that says Pasifika 1995, and we remember before it was crowded and we could run off and explore the stalls, and the same is true for Grey Lynn fair.

On the bus to school, in an AGGS uniform, an old lady tells me that she went to AGGS when she was a girl, there were trams along this route then.

Mt Eden, climbing in the crater and sliding down on cardboard, of course that was before everyone realised it was probably not a good idea to destroy an important geological feature and cultural site.

Bastion Point, flying kites, dad telling us about the protests before we were born, how he came in solidarity, asked some of the old guys what Pākehā fellas could do to help, got told that when he had kids he should make them learn te reo.

Karekare, the black sand stretching forever, my brother and I darting in and out and of the waves like oyster catchers; then a bit older, surfing on our body boards.

A school camp at Huia, swimming in the river first thing in the morning.

Long Bay, there was a flying fox there but it’s gone now (safety), it was the best flying fox – or was the best one at One Tree Hill? They were both pretty awesome.

In the Auckland of my childhood memory, we’d sometimes drive to my mum’s aunt in Clevedon, and we saw it as a visit to the country.

My husband and I, before we were proper grownups, too cheap for a cab, walking from the King’s Arms back to his parents’ house in Three Kings at 3am, chatting about how maybe when we were lawyers not students we’d buy in Sandringham, halfway between his stomping ground of Roskill/Three Kings and my stomping ground of Grey Lynn/Pt Chev.

Moving to Wellington, hearing snide comments about Auckland all the time, openly scathing of the scale and the buzz, feeling like Wellington is soooooo white and soooooo middle class; loving the compact geography, missing the warm beaches, missing the summer nights, missing the diversity. Thinking one day we might go back home. Writing this.

But when we visit now, well, even if we could afford to buy something in the suburbs we know, they’re no longer the diverse, mixed-income, mixed-background examples of city life that we loved. Primary schools that were decile three are now decile nine.

I love living in Newtown though. We’ve found Wellington’s mini version of central Auckland in the 90s, there’s even a dairy that does scoop icecream and a bakery that does cream buns.

When I was at home with the little dude on my last stint of maternity leave, I felt like I was stranded. We lived down a whole lot of stairs from the road, and there was a steep hill between our house and the nearest shops. I thought at the time about urban planning issues and small children, and I read this piece  and thought hmmm, yes. A fulltime caregiver has a very different perspective on planning issues compared to a commuter.

Yesterday I was pushing my buggy along the street and passed a woman pushing her buggy in the other direction, and we gave each other the “hello fellow mother” smile of acknowledgement. She was a stranger, but I’ll probably see her again, which is a nice thought. I love that, walking the streets with the buggy on a weekday and seeing people. Popping out to a cafe just down the road. Taking the double pushchair out sometimes, the one we got of trade me, a bit rickety but perfect for a quick jaunt. Perfect for when the little dude is sick and we need to go to the doctor.

We don’t often use the car. The supermarket is walking distance. The library is walking distance. It has children’s books in lots of different languages, reflecting the multicultural community.

We can bus to the beach, I did that last week with the two kiddies and it was pretty successful.

We can go to the park with bub in the buggy, and if the weather packs in we can go to the library instead. Living in a dense suburb means you can go to one place on foot, bail, and go to a different place still on foot.

I remember when I went overseas to a city with good public transport for the first time, and realised that there are places where you don’t need to memorise the bus timetable, because busses come all the time. A brilliant result of a lot of people in a small space.

One Monday a few weeks back, I got the bus into town and went to yoga while my dad looked after bub in his lunch break, then I picked the little dude up from creche on my way home, still on the bus. Being able to go out without a car is great when you have a baby and a toddler. They’re not like adults or older children, who just sit  down in their seats and wait for the car to reach the destination. It’s a major logistical battle getting them both into the car. I have lot more flexibility without the car. It doesn’t matter if bub is asleep or awake, just pop him in the buggy and we’re golden. Little dude can meander along looking at things on the street or looking out the window of the bus, it’s easy breezy.

This level of density and service by public transport is really rare in New Zealand. There are only a handful of suburbs as dense as this. While Auckland is in the midst of a fullblown housing shambles, prices in Wellington are rising fast now too. Going “further out” is viable for house hunters in Wellington because the prices on the outskirts aren’t too bad yet and the train system is good. But, whether inner city or outskirts, living somewhere with a proper dense community hub is FANTASTIC. It is making this year a hundred times better than my first year of maternity leave. Our house is not an island.

In discussions around the Unitary Plan, there’s a well publicised resistance to higher density “ohhhhh, it’s going to wreck the place”, “ahhhh! I’ll have to look at a highrise!” And, like, that’s not, I mean, that’s not what it says in the plan. No-one is going to build Hobson Street style apartments plonked randomly among the stately villas of Mt Eden. But how great would it be if that big stretch of road along Arch Hill was given over to three storey units, instead of all the car dealerships? Unobtrusive, well designed townhouses like the ones in the new development down the road from us near the zoo, places for young families to live.

By all means, build more townhouses in my suburb, welcome, welcome. More people means better use of amenities. More frequent busses, bigger libraries, better supermarkets, all the good stuff. And please build more in Auckland, higher density is necessary, the city can’t keep going out, because no matter where you draw the line on the map, at some point it turns into Hamilton.

I’m hopeful for Auckland now, the Unitary Plan looks pretty good. I tipu ake au i Tāmaki Makaurau; nō reira, ā tōna wā ka hoki au, ākene pea.

 

Another small musing on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy

When we had the little dude, I started to notice among new friends and acquaintances an assumption that my husband was “the career one”. People hadn’t assumed that previously. We’d gone through law school together, and at law school no-one would have seen him as out front of me academically.

I was at his work function, pregnant with the little dude, making awkward chitchat with one of his new colleagues, and this guy said “so you went to law school to find a guy who’d earn lots of money one day so you could stay at home and have babies?”

Tight smile. Game face. Composure. False laugh.

“Not quite, I went to law school because I didn’t think my philosophy degree would lead to a stable job.”

Feel pleased at coming up with a light, slightly snarky retort, one that would hopefully put him in his place a bit, but in a non-confrontational way.

Tight smile.

The more successful a man becomes, the more people assume that his wife (if he has one), is there to bask in his glow. If she is also successful in her own right, that garners him extra kudos, because the assumption is that in a hetero relationship the man will be the more professionally accomplished person.

If a woman, like my mother, has times in her career when her job is clearly higher status and higher earning, it will be spoken of as “role reversal”. I remember my dad being asked how he felt about it. Like he might be cowed and unmanned. Like she was lucky to find a guy who felt ok with it.

She tells a story of her priest, back when she was a Catholic teenager, instructing the girls that men were rightfully the heads of household, and that they must find a man they were willing to follow, a man who was their intellectual better.

When I saw Hillary Clinton say “standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come”, I thought of my mother. I thought of her outrage when we were travelling around Europe when I was ten and a British tourist at a cafe in Italy leaned over and asked my dad “what do you do for a crust to be able to swan about with the family like this?”

Like I’ve said before, Hillary isn’t my ideal candidate. My ideal candidate would never win a US election though. A candidate who is critical of the very idea of military supremacy and harbours open socialist leanings and sees climate change as a more significant challenge than terrorism would come in with maybe 5% of the vote, so it’s pointless to discuss that alternative. I see criticising Hillary for being a hawk and a capitalist as akin to criticising a National Party politician for supporting the dairy industry. Like, well, yeah? And? Par for the course, moving on? Let’s bundle together all the criticisms that are generic to the political environment, put them aside to tackle at a cultural and systemic level, and focus on the person running and what it means that she’s standing at that podium. It shouldn’t mean anything to me – I’m in a different country, a country that’s already had a woman head of state. Yet it does, it means something really significant. It would be deeply heartening to have someone in that job who knows that personhood doesn’t stop when motherhood starts.

 

Further confessions of an accidental cosleeper

Cosleeping has been in the news a lot lately because of the revelation that the Ministry of Health is being numbskulled and refusing to fund Pepi Pods and Wahakura.

I’ve seen lots of outrage over the Ministry’s decision, and lots of comments defending it too. Things along the lines of “just don’t cosleep! It’s dangerous! Why are we so politically correct and ridiculous?! Let’s not pander to stupid dangerous cultural customs!”

Cosleeping isn’t unique to Maori. In the UK, parent surveys found about half of babies sleep in their parents’ bed on a semi-regular basis.

But also, cosleeping is important in Maori culture and that’s not nothing. I was told as a child that the hongi evokes the mother and baby nuzzling together, forehead and noses pressed, which is such a gorgeous image isn’t it? Could there be a more beautiful greeting than one which evokes maternal intimacy? 

When you’re the cultural majority, you get the privilege of invisibility – you don’t see your own customs as cultural. Though of course they are. A cultural minority has to defend the way they do things in a way that the majority doesn’t.

Most babies want to sleep next to warm bodies. It makes sense – they’re tiny mammals. We give puppies hot water bottles wrapped in flannel to make them think they’re next to a mama dog, but our own babies should be put in a cot with nothing around them? They don’t wanna be there!

We’ve basically given up on bub’s cot for now. He doesn’t like it one little bit. Right now he’s asleep in his buggy in the hallway.

He also has a cold at the moment. I do too. Winter eh. Yuk.

On Sunday night, bub woke every 1 – 2 hours for a feed. He seemed a lot better on Monday morning, but then in the nighttime he still wanted to feed a lot. Sick babies need frequent feedings, and there is some evidence that breastfed babies recover from low-level viruses more quickly because of the antibodies in the milk, so from bub’s perspective this is all perfect.

The little dude also woke up in the night. He’s on the mend from the same cold.

So Mr Daddy joined the little dude in his bed, and bub was next to me, and that’s how we slept last night, each child sharing a bed, each getting night time parental attention close by.

I have no ideological commitment to cosleeping as part of a broader parenting philosophy. Parenting philosophies make me cringe, even when I agree with many of the things they suggest. I think we all try and find what works for our families, and we all hope that the end result is good enough, and  what works for me might not work for you, and that’s fine.

Cosleeping works for us because bub is breastfed and the house is smoke free, and I’m happy to abstain from alcohol for now, so I’m comfortable with the risk profile in our situation. It also works for us because he doesn’t want to go down in his cot and I’m too knackered to make a thing of it at the moment. If I put him next to me in bed, I can piece together a good enough night’s sleep. I honestly wish I’d coslept with the little dude from earlier (I didn’t because I was paranoid I’d smother him) – it’s made night time parenting much less onerous. He feeds, I roll him away, pop his dummy in his mouth, doze off, don’t have to get out of bed, don’t have to worry he might wake up when I put him in his cot, don’t have to worry about his crying waking the little dude. It also makes two kids much more workable. On the little dude’s home days, I don’t get that much time to attend to bub, and having him close to me at night makes me feel better about that. Mr Daddy is sleeping on the couch for now, so he gets a proper night’s sleep most of the time and goes into the little dude’s room whenever there’s a nightmare.

I think if I wasn’t cosleeping I’d be a complete wreck of sleep deprivation because this baby sleeps very very lightly and needs a lot of night time attention. It’s not cosleep vs cot, it’s cosleep vs I don’t fucking know if we even really have a choice with this kid.

There are so many reasons to cosleep aside from it being the way your people have always done things, and the main one is that parents need to sleep and babies need to be tended at night, and cosleeping allows for both.

But it’s dangerous in some situations. If the baby is exposed to tobacco smoke, either in utero or once born. If the baby is sleeping next to someone who’s had a few drinks or  has smoked tobacco or marujana or other drugs. If the baby is sleeping next to someone other than the breastfeeding mother. If the baby is under thick blankets that could cover the face. If the baby was low birthweight. If the parent is large, or the bed is too small. All of these things are more prevalent among Maori, especially smoking rates – almost double the non-Maori rate. Babies with these risk factors are extra vulnerable and those are the ones that are dying, at a rate of about 50 a year.

The Pepi Pod or Wahakura is a useful compromise solution in these situations – no breastfeeding access, but a lot of physical closeness for stroking their little heads and singing to them, without the risk of accidental smothering. After they were introduced, New Zealand had the first drop in rates of babies dying since the “no tummy sleep” advice was rolled out. You’d think that funding them would be a fairly open shut case.

Except the Ministry doesn’t want to, because it goes against the “no co-sleeping” message. Yeah, kinda obviously stupid huh?

There’s a petition to get them funded, here: https://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/keep-our-sleeping-babies-safe

Winter soup that feels like spring 

I’ve started making vast amounts of just one thing each weekend now that our freezer is fairly full. This week was green soup!

Ingredients 

2 leeks, washed, chopped 

2 broccoli, washed, florets broken off

700g agria potatoes, scrubbed/peeled, chopped

8 cloves crushed garlic 

2 litres vegetable stock 

2 lemons, zest and juice 

Large bunch parsley, rinsed

1 cup walnuts, toasted in olive oil 

2 tins white beans e.g. butter beans, drained and rinsed

Method 

Fry leek in batches until it’s all soft and caramelised. Add garlic and lemon zest to the final batch nearly at the end.

Par-boil the potatoes until almost soft. 

Blitz walnuts and parsley in the food processor.

Drain potatoes, then put everything except parsley walnut pesto in a large pot and bring to the boil. Cook until broccoli is a bit soft. 

Blitz it all in food processor or with a stick blender until it’s semi-smooth, but still has some nice little chunks of broccoli and leek.

Serve with a swirl of the parsley walnut pesto, or blue cheese, or yoghurt. Mix remaining parsley walnut pesto through before freezing.