Raise our taxes

Three years ago, in a cold cold July, I wrote this piece. Our house when D was a baby was freezing. It cost so much to heat it. When I was pregnant, we tried to save as much of my salary as possible, to fund the year out of paid work. We definitely needed the fund for winter power bills that year. Whenever we dipped into the savings we felt glad we had them, but worried that we were eroding our house deposit. The following winter I wrote this piece, on a friend’s blog. Childcare costs and the salary reduction of part-time work was a shock when we went back on two incomes, and while I knew we were going to be comfortable and financially secure a few years down the track, it felt like a long track yet. We were still in that icebox of a rented house.

Just six months later, we bought a house! And I was pregnant again. We were anxious about paying a mortgage and rates and insurance while on one income – babies are hard enough without extra outgoings and reduced income. But we were enormously relieved to be moving somewhere cosier before the baby came.

And now, we’ve been back on two incomes for six months and I’ve just paid off my student loan. I PAID OFF MY STUDENT LOAN! It’s the biggest financial milestone of all!

Pretty much overnight, we feel an entrenched part of that comfortable class. I couldn’t have known two years ago how close we were! I got a big pay rise when I started my current job last December, and the sense of security from owning our home is huge. The largest contributor is being on two incomes – our individual salaries are fine, but combined, it’s a salary very few individuals could earn. Creche fees are huge, but in another two years D will be at school and B will be eligible for the 20 ECE hours, so it doesn’t have that heavy burden feeling it had when I returned to paid work from parental leave the first time. 

The instant my student loan was gone and my pay packet expanded, the tax portion started to seem shamefully low. In the piece I wrote after we bought a house, I said “In theory I support a universal student allowance, but in practice paying $320 a week for childcare while still paying off my own student loan makes me not super keen to pay more tax just right now… Maybe later… Definitely later…” Later has come, and contrary to what people like to tell left-leaning young people, I feel this even more strongly now. How can our taxes be this low, when there is such an enormous social deficit – more and more homeless people every week it feels like. The gulf between the lives our kids lead and the life of some of their peers is getting wider and wider. How can anyone on top 10% incomes, owning a home, and without a student loan, begrudge paying more tax to mend the holes in the fabric of the social welfare state? It’s unconscionable.

If people on lower incomes knew how nice the lives of the top income earners were, they’d be rioting in the streets. 

And it’s not just the comfortable lifestyle, it’s that we have money leftover. We could still have all the nice stuff, while paying A LOT more tax. The real kicker is that I checked just now, and we’re not the top 1% or 5% or even 10% of households with two adults and two kids. We’re the top 15%. What the hell? There’s a HUGE group of people swanning about with hundreds of spare dollars a week and they have the gall to criticise policies to raise taxes?! Where do those people even begin to get such a monumental sense of entitlement despite already having more than they need?! 

I can understand the people in the lower-middle of the income curve wanting to hold on to everything they have. They’re doing ok but they don’t have a whole lot extra and we all want nice lives and tend to prioritise ourselves before others, whatever, I get that. And a single income earner supporting a whole family would rarely feel well-off. These issues could partly be addressed through a universal child benefit paid to the main caregiver, and funded by a more equitable tax system.

Because the upper-middle and the top income earners, we’re a big minority of taxpayers and we’re shirking our fair load. Our only justification is selfishness. There are literally kids living in cars in this country and parents lining up at foodbanks to put food on the table, then being criticised for their financial choices – while at the other end of the spectrum, you can spend money on buying lunch in town every day, and having a cleaner come every week to make your house nice and tidy, and going on holidays every year, and still pay all your bills, because you have so damn much to begin with. And no-one criticises you even a tiny bit for how you spend your money. It’s an obscene double standard.

Raise our taxes. Build a society where the standard of living for the kids in the council flats just around the corner is about the same as my kids. Don’t you dare try and cut my taxes when there are kids in the hospital down the road with rheumatic fever.

Small attempt at fan fiction

I’ve been sick today and binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale. My other recent shows have been Dear White People and Brooklyn 99, and having that depiction of the USA at the front of my mind makes it seem even stranger that The Handmaid’s Tale skirts over all race issues. Seems kind implausible that there are black handmaids? If the USA was taken over by these sorts of fundamentalist groups, they’d be white supremacists, surely? In the first episode we find out that June is married to a black man, and I thought there’d be a whole exploration of her as a “race-traitor”, etc, but nope.

Short fan fic / riff follows:

They gassed the men in prisons, early on in the revolution. The women’s prisons were turned into surrogacy centres around the same time. The Personhood Act mandated that viable frozen embryos with valid citizenship be immediately homed; so it was the obvious solution.

Women were given a star rating – I am what is known as a Pure Triple Star. White, viable eggs, hospitable womb, previous live birth. Unless you are the wife of someone high within the movement, a Pure Triple Star is the best hand to be dealt. On the back of my robes, the symbol of three bright white stars arranged in a triangle, visible for everyone – like a target but reversed. Don’t touch this one.

I live in relative freedom. I take the hormone pills, and submit to the egg retrieval process once every three months. It used to be once a month, but they have dialled it back. You want your prize breeding stock to have longevity. Four times a year, unpleasant, risky, but mostly bearable. We are reminded constantly that it is only a stroke of luck that separates us from the Bearers – women of colour, or white women whose eggs are unviable or undesirable, impregnated once a year like cattle used to be, in the days when there were cattle. Women in surrogacy centres have it worst. Not only the ones that used to be prisons, but newer ones too, purpose-built. Illegal immigrants forced to repay the debt to the society that hosted them, by becoming the hosts to the next generation of our society. And anyone who can’t be trusted to be a responsible Bearer on the outside.

Bearers get remuneration for their contribution, as do we Donors, set at the market rate of course. Outside the surrogacy centres, no-one is forced to be a Bearer. It is simply the only livelihood available. No-one is forced to be a Donor either. But the privileges are too high to turn down; and besides, women are barred from employment unless we are part of the reproductive programme. The Wives find it easy to justify. They are supporting young women to gain independence, by trading the only thing we have of value. It is all transparent, supply and demand. They have the resources to raise children, we have the resources to produce them. Everybody wins. The world is facing a unique challenge, there are too few babies – more specifically, too few white babies – and too many undesirable and unnecessary people, people who have nothing to offer, polluting the air, destroying the natural resources, bleeding us dry and making things worse for everyone. It is said that this has to be remedied, first in our own nation and then beyond.

You still see women of colour, pregnant bellies, a single brown star on their backs, or older women with no stars, looking after children, cleaning houses, making food, all the roles that the Wives do not want to do themselves. You never see black men anymore. Before the revolution, there was consternation about the alienated working class white men, struggling in the new economy. It was decided that the simplest solution was to cull the competition. After all, who is this country for?

I am privileged as a Pure Triple Star; but privilege is another name for complicity. They need us to enact Project Gilead Pure Forever, and we comply. Handmaids of the patriarchy, handmaids of white supremacy. They must have known we would comply. They would never have tried otherwise. 

Reflections on women in public life

I read Holly Walker’s book last week, but first I read Deborah Coddington’s review, and I think we must have read different books.

Deborah would approve of my choices. Had first baby at 26. Took a big chunk of parental leave. Went back into a mum-track job part-time. Got a promotion, quickly had another baby, more parental leave, then a new job with equally family friendly conditions. If you subscribe to the idea that women should have babies first, and keep a career on a steady simmer before roaring to a boil once kids leave the nest, I’m doing everything right.

But I reckon there must be a way to change how we work so that a steady simmer is the maximum setting. We don’t need anyone to be at a roaring boil, at risk of flooding over and drenching the flames and ruining the whole thing. It’s actually inefficient, really risky, and it means that some of the people at the top get there based on whether they can put in total life commitment long hours – not on other more important criteria.

Holly writes of her time as a politician “what did I know about how plumbers, gasfitters, and drainlayers should be regulated?”, and I had to grin because, well, there are people whose job that is, and I’m sort of one of those people.

Last night, my previous six months’ work on some very complex and technical regulations came to a close. It was my home-with-the-kids day, so I dropped them at my dad’s work in the late afternoon, then went in to sit in the Beehive waiting to see if the Legislation Committee had questions of the legal and policy team. They didn’t, which was good but anti-climactic, so instead we all went out for a drink, and it felt awesome, we had got the work done – this multi-agency team, thousands of emails, long meetings, a million intricate issues nailed out into a result that had finally crossed the finish line!

In our current roles, Holly and I are part of an enormous cadre of civil servants who combine motherhood with meaningful careers. We make a hellava contribution but get modest recognition at best. Mid-tier public sector roles can be fantastic for working parents, and it’s almost a guilty secret just how much of a non-issue the parenting/career juggle can be when the workplace culture supports it.

My current team manages a huge output with not many people, and a third of us work part-time. It runs smoothly because the workload is arranged so that no-one is ever sole charge on something both urgent and important. It becomes self-reinforcing, everyone buys into the culture of making space for life outside work, expectations around deadlines take that into account, and yet the work gets done!

I saw today that 13 new Queen’s Counsels have just been appointed. Only three are women. That’s so bad you almost gotta laugh. Three? Three of thirteen? When judges are pretty much always drawn from that pool?! THREE?!

The private legal sector, and of course politics, does not have vast cadres of women. Holly writes that she fancied herself entering politics from an early stage in her career; for me, that flight of fancy was about entering the top ranks of the legal profession and maybe becoming a judge one day. And I’d be damn good at it! But there’s no way I can see myself increasing my hours any time soon, no way I can see myself re-entering a working environment with onerous expectations of constant availability. It’s not compatible with the amount of time the kids and I need to spend together. I can’t squeeze the kids into the small part of my life leftover after work eats almost all of it, that’s not the life any of us want.

Which is fine, like, that’s totally fine. Could I become the first Solicitor General to work a 30 hour week? Maybe but probably not! Could I find my life is happier and more fulfilled remaining at a moderately senior level which provides interest but not too much pressure, while having the main focus of my life located outside paid work? Almost definitely.

I can think of literally dozens of extremely talented lawyers in exactly the same position as me. Dozens and dozens of women I’ve worked with who have fabulous minds for legal analysis, who would be brilliant on the bench, but who’ve consciously made career choices that step away from the track that would end in a position of top influence, and toward the track that gets us home in time for cuddles. And we’re in great jobs, don’t get me wrong. Interesting jobs where you can make a big difference. Sure, you’re name isn’t in flashing lights, but you can point to things you’ve achieved, and credit is overrated anyway.

But, y’know, also, three of thirteen?! 

 

If we don’t smack kids, maybe they’ll turn out like this

Tonight, B hit D on the head with a stick, and D cried and came to me in another room demanding cuddles and sympathy. B followed in his toddle toddle way, husband put the stick out of reach and did a little “for show” lecture of B that was way too advanced for a 15 month old’s understanding, but placated D.

And about ten minutes later, D turned to me and said with a huge beam of pride “Mummy! Mummy! I didn’t wetaliate! When he hitted me, I didn’t wetaliate! That is so good Mummy! I need to go tell Daddy too!” Off he went to tell his dad, just absolutely stoked with himself for not hitting his brother despite being provoked.

 

Another year gone

We shared a birthday, Jacob and I. The 14th of June. He would have been 32 today. And every year, every year it seems stranger that some people’s lives go on and some end so abruptly. It’s completely random, floating on the globe with our sense of entitlement to a good 80+ years, head in the sand as to the impermanence of being, ignoring our total lack of control.

Jacob was a friend of ours from university. We also worked together after graduating, and I imagined keeping in touch with him for many more years as we moved on and did different things. He died in a freak accident while living in London. It was a complete shock. He was one of those rare people who seem innately good and kind, and it is still hard to believe he’s dead and not just continuing to live his life in London. Though, he might have come home by now. He might have been a dad by now – he would have been a really great dad. Our kids could have been friends. He and my husband could have been dad buddies.

D’s middle name is Jacob. I felt like it was a blessing to pass on that name, a protective spell for a generous soul.

June is also the month my colleague Lecretia passed away, two years ago, can’t believe it’s been two years already. She was so witty and so clever. Formidable, but one of the most gracious people I’ve ever encountered. An unquestionably remarkable woman, who faced death from a brain tumour with a strength of character and a fierce love for life that has left a lasting impression on me and I suspect everyone who knew her.

Today I turned 30 and Jacob should have turned 30 before me, but he died at 27.

The baby who was conceived the same month Lecretia died is walking and talking. His molars are coming through, and on this clear June day he was crying as we arrived at the park. I lifted him out of the buggy and said “life is pain, Highness”, thinking of how baffling it must be for the baby, suddenly experiencing pain with no context for what comes next.

Later, his dad (who took the day off work for my birthday, lovely love), took him to get some Bonjela from the pharmacy, and my older one seized the chance for one-on-one time and asked to have a snuggle swing. A snuggle swing is when we swing together – we did it once and it was lovely, and now it’s a thing we do. He climbed onto my knee on the swing, cuddling up, and we swung gently together for a while. He snuggled so tight that I told him it was almost like he was trying to get back in my tummy, and I rubbed his back the way I used to rub the belly full of baby. I was singing to him when I realised his breathing had slowed and he’d fallen asleep. We sat for a while, then I carried him home – just a hundred metres down the road – and lay him in my bed. First, I took a photo of us on the swing, every time he is asleep in my arms now I want to remember it, and today especially, remember the bright blue winter day and the trip to the park.

A sunny sky in winter. A blessing, unexpected, and brief. Life’s like that.

Go-to activities

I wrote a list of activities for Wednesdays, now that B is keen to join in on stuff. Many of our regular places were easy when B was in the buggy but are suddenly much too hard now that he wants to run everywhere, with no sense of self-preservation. The central library, for example, surprisingly hazardous, as I found when they sprinted in different directions and I couldn’t see either of them among the book stacks.

You don’t need many go-to activities though. Kids like the same places over and over.

Sunny day go-to list for Wednesdays

  • The park around the corner
  • Island Bay playground
  • The zoo (D has a zoo pass)

Rainy day go-to list for Wednesdays

  • Chipmunks
  • Te Papa
  • Tiny Town
  • Active Fun Play at ASB stadium (mornings during school holidays)
  • Local library

(the rainy day list is longer because it’s June)

Figured it’d be good to do this for weekends too, add in a few favourites that are difficult during the week for some reason:

Rainy day weekend activities 

  • Tot Shabbat (monthly, Saturdays)
  • Capital E (Saturdays)
  • Active Fun Play at ASB stadium (Sunday mornings every week)
  • Southern Cross – a good one for after Tot Shabbat
  • The swimming pool (though less so in deepest winter, because the kids always seem to get sick afterwards)

Sunny day weekend activities

  • Vege markets
  • Mt Victoria – they have an amazing outdoor nature play area which is IDEAL if you have one adult per child but VERY STRESSFUL if you have one adult per two children
  • Oriental Bay, Lyall Bay, Island Bay
  • “Fying Fotz Park” (Central Park, in Brooklyn)

There are so many areas of parenting where things make complete sense now I’ve got kids myself, like going to the same places over and over again, and preferring places that are very close by. More than a 10 minute drive feels far away. Walking distance means something very different to what it used to. Maximum outing length is only a couple of hours. “We went dere a yong time ago” means last month.