NEW ZEALAND: Travelling With Kids, The Solo-Mum Version

NEW ZEALAND: Travelling With Kids, The Solo-Mum Version

To be honest, it didn’t start well. The 11 year-old’s surfboard channeled too much wind and snapped before we’d even hit the main highway. There were tears at the devastation: his father had given it to him for Christmas and he’d yet to use it. It didn’t help that after moving the surfboards inside the car, I then accidentally shut the car door on his ankle. Calm apologies were made, and eventually accepted. (We bought a new surfboard a few days later.)

 I was resolute. This trip had been a year in the planning: I felt it was the last chance I had to whisk the almost 15 year-old away for a long road trip; the accommodation had been booked for months, and there was a long overdue extended family gathering for Christmas planned.

So now we had three children, myself, all our gear, Christmas stuff and two surfboards in the car. The atmosphere settled and the first three hour drive of the adventure begun. It’s probably an asset that I hadn’t overthought the whole thing. Over 3000 km (A little more than 2000 miles) of travelling in the space of three weeks with three boys who are all respectful and strong-willed, polite and assertive, tall for their ages and cramped, and excited and easily annoyed by each other.

I must have been mad.

The adventures were great: rising at dawn to go and dig holes in the sand where boiling-hot geothermal water rises between the tide lines; roller-coaster rides and rides that made someone’s 48 year-old inner-ear fluid spin for hours; bush walks to see ancient trees, one with the girth of a water-tank; climbing a sand dune to boogie-board down; historic sites and wharf jumping near the two oldest buildings in the country; family and more family; rivers and lakes and swimming pools, and swimming on both coasts and fishing; a 70s party with the shiniest pants and the longest sideburns I’d seen in years; New Year’s in a flash hotel with room service and valet parking; barefoot games of pool in a pub and being invited to compete against the locals; and river rock-sliding on airbeds, including a few epic wipe outs.

The boys tell me it was 80% fun and worth doing, but please let’s not do it that way again.

For me, it was both wonderful and terrible. There were times when it was insanely exhausting. When we arrived somewhere, no matter how ratty we all were, there was a car to be unpacked and food to be found – at the very least fresh milk to be bought for the morning, and it was all my responsibility. There was washing to be done every few days and maps to be read, the car to be filled with petrol on long stretches of road with few service stations, and the budget to be managed, and it was all my responsibility. We took detours we shouldn’t have, had nights with inadequate sleep and we all had tantrums, and I was the only one who could sort it all out.

I had one night of adulting thanks to two wonderful cousins who kidnapped me and took me dancing, and my lovely aunt and uncle who babysat.

It was a one-off adventure, and I’m very aware that we are lucky we had the opportunity to do it. I am pleased I chose to spend the money I saved so ardently on seeing a chunk of our country, rather than heading overseas. We made some great memories and will have stories to retell for years to come. As for the surfing: 3000 kms with surfboards in the car, and because of the waves we encountered, they used them once. Mad. I tell you.

Have you ever traveled a long way with children alone? Was it easier than you imagined it would be?

This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Karyn Willis.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

More Posts

NEW ZEALAND: Christmas Goodbyes

As a single mom, Christmas has become bitter-sweet. This year I had to say goodbye to my children at 10.30am on the 25th and I won’t be seeing them again until early January. They are home for a few days and then they leave for another 10 days or so.

Karyn's Boys

Karyn’s Boys

I’ve always loved Christmas time. As well as the anticipation of gifts and an extravagance of food, for us in New Zealand, it coincides with the start of our long summer holidays. The whole year seems to build to these weeks of swimming, beach walks, late nights and relaxation, time with friends and time with extended family. The time to make memories.

Now I am separated, my kids make many of their summer memories without me.

It’s hard enough to say goodbye to ones children on Christmas Day but, like many solo-parents, I also had to send them off to a situation which is often emotionally fraught and where the dynamics of the extended family are erratic and often volatile. On the other hand, their Dad loves them and they will have plenty of opportunities for fun and adventure, and they will (mostly) look out for one another.

I swing in my emotions around them parenting one another. I would much rather they didn’t have to do so but siblings have looked out for each other for generations, and were possibly closer and more mature for those experiences. I have seen these changes in my boys after other stretches of time away. Not what I would choose but not all bad.

My eldest is not quite 14 and my middle son is 10.5 years-old, like most siblings, they can be pretty awful to one another at home or the best of friends. These two have high emotional-intelligence and with them I have spent weeks, on and off, discussing strategies for managing different scenarios. They can Skype me whenever they want to and have safe people and safe places they can get themselves to, if the dynamics become overwhelming or feel unsafe for them. So, although I would rather they didn’t have to manage without me, I know that they can.

But my baby is only six. He just wants his Mum with him and, if unpleasant situations arise, he is too young to make sense of what is happening. I was with the older boys over previous summer breaks and could decipher situations for them. There were times when they were simply misinterpreting adult conversations, like all children do sometimes. Other times I needed to protect them from vitriol; explain mean jokes; counteract misogynistic or racist comments; or balance out blatant favoritism. I’m not there to do that for him and that is very hard on my heart.

The older boys will do what they can to help him but they are still not fully grown themselves and, quite frankly, there will be times that they don’t want to. On their return, I can talk him through things, be firm around any learned behaviors I am not happy with, and I can hug most of his broken pieces back into place. I can be his safe-place. It’s not ideal but it’s okay.

Big picture – we work better as a family with two homes. My heart hurts but the bigger part of me knows it’s the best situation overall. The reality is, I need this time to rest and be alone; I am a much better parent and person for these breaks. The boys are loved, and they will be having fun and lots of wonderful experiences. But the Mommy – guilt is big all the same and – I miss my kids.

Have you had times of Mommy-guilt? How did you manage it?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of three boys in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet.

Photo credit to the author.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

More Posts

NEW ZEALAND: Innocence

NEW ZEALAND: Innocence

beastvboyOn Saturday night, I had the privilege of hosting three of my 13 year-old son’s friends for a sleep-over. They are lovely boys, and all I have to do is feed them and ignore them. I don’t mention things like showers or teeth-brushing, and in return they pretty much keep to themselves and don’t expect me to converse about Minecraft, Clash of Clans or Team Fortress II.

I teased them a little about not letting girls in while I drove my 9 year-old to a birthday party. I didn’t make a big deal of things when one of them smuggled in cola. I laughed with them, when on my return from the party drop-off, they were trying to stuff MacDonalds packaging into my kitchen rubbish bin. They pushed their limits with bedtime, of course. And they declined the offer of mattresses to sleep on (too much work for them to get them into our lounge) and slept on the carpet…. because, they’re 13 and their bodies still bend in ways mine don’t.

It was both innocent and, I felt, an appropriate mix of mischief and compliance.

Then, on Sunday, I heard of other 13 year-olds who had been in online chat rooms, talking about anal-sex and rape. Not in general terms, but in…. I shall be doing this to you terms…. These are kids who come from great homes and who have very loving families. I immediately thought: there but the Grace of God go I.

Children easily get caught up with what their friends are doing, or those who they emulate. My 13 year-old could have easily been one of those involved and I have no doubt all three of my boys will make stupid mistakes as they move from childhood to adulthood. Just not this time. Thank goodness.

The biggest worry, for me, was that there was at least one unidentified person in the chat-group who could, quite literally, have been anyone. It’s probably another 13 year-old, a friend or acquaintance but it could just as easily be a predator who was scoping for a target. And that makes it all the more scary.

The same is true of a local man who is hanging around liquor stores offering to buy alcohol and cigarettes for underage kids, 14 and 15 year-olds. He does this for a while. Then he offers drugs. Then it’s parties at his house. This is a whole different scenario from the stranger-danger I taught my boys when they were small.

We’re talking about people who are consciously befriending those kids who want to seem older than they are, and who are ready to break rules. They are grooming relationships before they pounce. They are feeding the teenage need to belong and the teenage need to experiment and do things that their parents may not approve of.

So we hit the teenage years, and now I find parenting is not so black and white.

No, I don’t want my kids drinking alcohol or smoking but do I buy them a few beers to take to a party, so that creeps don’t target them and they go behind my back? No, I don’t want my kids smoking pot but if they choose to, should I allow it when they know who grew it, rather than have them turn to those who lace it with P?

No, I don’t want my kids to be suggesting they will rape someone or perform anal sex on them, but I also don’t want them to be excluded from other things their peers are doing.

Suddenly, a conversation about Minecraft seems pretty appealing afterall.

What do you do or have you done to deal with these aspects of parenting?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer and mother of three, rapidly growing boys in New Zealand, Karyn Willis.

The image used in this post is attributed to JD Hancock and holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

More Posts

NEW ZEALAND: Time Out

NEW ZEALAND: Time Out

10719345_718126118276658_2035206874_nOn Saturday, I took a couple of hours out of my day just to be. It’s something I try to do a few times a week but hadn’t been able to, due to my three boys being at home for their spring school holidays. I love all three of them to bits and they are super kids. They are also early risers, full of energy and loud. And, for my sense of wellbeing, I need peace and quiet, at least from time to time.

When they were babies and much younger (my youngest is now five years-old) I didn’t mind so much. Maybe I was just too exhausted and focused on getting through those lovely but long days? Maybe I was satisfied ‘just’ being a Mum and being the centre of their lives? Now they are past those intense years, I have more energy and know they, too, are better off having long breaks from me, with their father, or their grandparents, or their friends. So, I hopped in the car and headed for the beach.

It’s early spring here, in New Zealand. It was a warm day here, in Hawkes Bay. Here, in Napier, there were a lot of people out enjoying the playgrounds, parks and boardwalk. I bought myself a hot-chocolate and sat looking out over yachts and fishing-boats, mountains almost devoid of snow were in the distance. I found a sofa near a window and just….sat.

No-one called my name. No-one climbed on me. No-one wanted food, or clothes, or stories. It was wonderful. Incredibly, to me, though, I struggled to sit for longer than 10 minutes or so. Being on the go, and eating and drinking on the run, has become a habit over the past almost 13 years. I felt compelled to get up and get moving.

I strolled, yes, strolled along the boardwalk for about half an hour until I reached sand and the ocean. There were a lot of people biking and a few jogging. People were walking their dogs and dogs were walking their people. The sailing club had something on; there were a lot of small yachts out on the water. The playground was full. The beach was about as crowded as it gets here.

I took off my shoes, sunk my toes in the cold sand for a few minutes, then wandered down to the water and stood where the waves were washing and receding. I wasn’t there for long but it was enough. Sand, sea, sun, spring-breeze all combined to clear my cobwebs and restore my sense of inner-peace. I eventually wandered back to the car and headed home with a wonderful sense of calm and me-ness.

How do you take time-out from parenting? Do you get to do it often?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Van Der Zwet of New Zealand. Photo credit to the author.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

More Posts

NEW ZEALAND: Silver Linings

NEW ZEALAND: Silver Linings

KarynAlmost three years ago, we had the option of buying a big house in town or an apartment sized house on a small block of land. With three boys who had outgrown the space we had in town, we moved to the countryside. It’s been a great move and I feel very at home here. There is space for energy to be burned and huts to be built. There is mud. A lot of mud. There are fruit trees and a small forest. No, there isn’t enough room inside, especially when it’s midwinter and there are more than our family in the house. (Groups of 12 yo boys take up a lot of space!) I have culled and culled and culled and we still have too much stuff for the cupboards. But all in all, I’m pleased I’m here.

Before the move, one of the things I was dreading was the extra driving I was going to have to do. My boys go to school in a small city 25 minutes from home and I work in the twin small city, 25 minutes drive in the opposite direction.. The boys have friends spread out all around the area, it’s not unusual for me to drive 700km (about 430 miles) in a week and that can equate to a couple of hours each day.

While I don’t mind the actual driving, anticipating what wasn’t going to get done during that time bothered me. And it’s proven to be a justified expectation. There are weeks when the basics are all that get completed. I relish my days when I don’t have to go anywhere and at least some holiday time at home is essential for my mental health. But there has been a major up side to all that time in the car: Time with the boys, either in groups or individually, and time alone.

I get to have one on one time with each of the three boys most weeks; I get to listen to them and their friends yakking about what’s important to them (if you don‘t say anything, you learn all sorts of things); I get to talk to them about life and they get to tell me about life. We laugh, we rant, we sing, we are silly together, we plan what needs to be done when we arrive home. Sometimes we listen to talking books and at other, rare times, there is companionable silence.

I also really value the time I get in the car alone, with my thoughts or listening to cds. I have mentally worked through discussions, organised my day and contemplated the scenery. I have tuned out, sometimes, to the point where the car seems to drive itself.

And, from time with the boys to time by myself, I can see that it’s all been valuable. The silver lining(s), as they say.

Have you ever dreaded something and then discovered that there was magic in the reality of living that experience? How much time do you spend travelling each week?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of three boys in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet.

Photo credit to the author.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

More Posts

NEW ZEALAND: Matariki

NEW ZEALAND: Matariki

NASA MatarikiIt’s mid-winter in New Zealand. The air is crisper than I’ve felt it for a while, the leaves have pretty much fallen and we have had the shortest day of the year.

This week also saw the appearance of the star cluster, Matariki, (The Pleiades), which heralds the Maori New Year.

This was not a festival I had ever heard of growing up but it has been revised and reinstated and there are now celebrations being held all around New Zealand. While different tribes traditionally celebrated Matariki in their own fashion, now it is universally marked by the new moon and rising of the Matariki star cluster with festivities running from 1st June to 30th July.

Traditionally, Matariki was a time of celebration, important for navigation and the timing of the seasons. It was particularly relevant to the preparation of the ground for the upcoming growing season and offerings to the gods, and specifically, Rongo, the Maori god of cultivated food.

Only a few New Zealand schools consistently mark mid-winter and Matariki but for our boys’ school, festivals are an important part of the culture and I have two mid-winter events to attend this coming week.

On Wednesday evening, my youngest son has a lantern walk through a public garden. Imagine a waterfall and a large pond with a bridge over it and a stream running throughout. Imagine 30 or so small (3-6 year-old) children clutching a paper lantern with a candle in one hand and a parent’s hand in the other as we meander through the park in, otherwise, pitch black. We will wander past tiny grottos of handmade gnomes and crystals, we will attempt to sing (although for the children, it’s enough that they manage to walk and stay upright!) and we finish gathered together, munching on a star shaped, ginger or shortbread biscuit.

On Thursday evening, my older sons have their mid-winter festival, beginning with a shadow play performed by their teachers. After the play, the children who are between 10 and 14 gather in small groups amongst the trees at school and the youngest children, guided by their lanterns and teachers, meander from group to group and hear the older children entertain them with a song, or a poem or a tune. The 10 year-olds then follow behind the youngest to see the older children’s performances and the 11 year-olds follow them, and so on. They will finish with their classmates and a biscuit and warm drink.

The magic in these events is heart-warming and the children just seem to absorb the atmosphere; they appreciate the small snippets of light amongst the darkness, the companionship, the quiet musicality of the ’entertainment’ and especially the sharing of food at the end! (So do I.)

Do you celebrate mid-summer and mid-winter? How do schools where you live mark these seasonal events?

Sources: NZ Ministry of Culture and Heritage; Wikipedia

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of three boys in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet.

The image used in this post is credited to Wikipedia images with editing from Dayne Laird (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, NZ)

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

More Posts