My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


It’s Not too Much to Insist the Kids Bring Their A-game to the Dinner Table


Visiting my Great-grandmother, well in her nineties in the 1950s, in Auckland was always a highlight in our childhood. She set her dinner table each night with starched white linen, matching china and silver cutlery. Food was presented in serving dishes. Grace was said. We children sat quietly, ate the food on our plates and spoke when spoken to. We stayed at the table until we were dismissed. Later, we helped with the dishes. I remember her showing me how to dry a fork properly by drawing the tea-towel through the tines. I have wondered how she learned these domestic arts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, like most girls, I studied Home Science as a school subject. In preparation for our housekeeping roles in later life, we learned to cook family dishes using a variety of foods. We were exhorted not to be wasteful and we followed kitchen cleanliness rules. We were shown how to place cutlery and meal items nicely on a dinner table. The social expectation was families ate together.

Certainly our family did. Dinner was served at 7.00 p.m. once Dad returned to the house and had washed up after he had finished farm work and settled the cows after the evening milking. If there was a roast dinner, Dad would sharpen the bone-handled carving knife with the steel and slice meat onto our plates. Mum dished vegetables from the saucepan. There was less dining formality. The table was covered with an easily laundered, colourful seersucker cloth. The cutlery was stainless steel. Dishes were still done by hand.

If left to and with their own devices, seven grandsons, ages 9 to 16 years, would eat, sleep and live in their own gaming worlds. Virtual worlds in which characters function in perpetual motion, in which no-one eats or sleeps or goes to school. Real world matters such as doing homework, eating meals with your brothers and parents, reading only before lights out, getting ready for school can be at times the stuff of epic battles. 

Dinner time is still family time.  Typically the reminder, “ten minutes to dinner. Wind up your game. Devices off. Wash your hands. Get to the table.” is an invitation to argue. Perhaps it is the multi-faceted instruction that is too much for the boys to handle. “I’ve just … (take your pick of any gamer grandson excuse).”  Houston, we have a problem!

Sons have matured to become the adults at their family meal tables set with mismatched crockery and cutlery, and no tablecloth. They are firm and make a stand,  resolute and show determination to hold on, emphatic, and brook no argument. “Which part of NO don’t you understand?” You might think it a simple matter for these tech savvy boys to load and operate a smart dishwashing device. But, no. That remains a mystery. A problem beyond their realm of competence, or comprehension.

Himself and I have to laugh. At times, we hear ourselves in our Sons. We have now lived long enough to enjoy nature’s revenge. How long ago was it when we expected our Sons to bring their A-game to the table? To use cutlery for its intended purpose. To eat the food served to them. To talk about their day. To use table talk manners. Family eating together at the dinner table? Even now, it is still not too much to insist.


She Flies Out Next Week to Enrol for 2018 Academic Year


The 1970s was a defining decade. Births of children. Stay-at-home parenting. One income household. Mortgage. A traditional, well-trodden life-path. It is what our conservative families expected of Himself and I. It was what our siblings, cousins and friends did. Noises about civil rights and Vietnam War protests channelled into our home in the early years of that decade.  Oil shocks lead to carless days in New Zealand. Politicians geared the economy towards think big projects. Change was happening.

Meanwhile, a message closer to home was being heard by young mothers.  I belonged to a babysitting club with a friend who had a PhD in Science and who worked in a lower paid job than her husband, also with a PhD in Earth Sciences, at the local university. I had had no joy finding child friendly hours working in my former career as a registered nurse. “Why don’t you retrain? Get a degree and go from there,” were her comments. Immediately I named all sorts of the barriers, no childcare etc etc. Could I do it? What about Himself?

Bless him. Himself said words to the effect, “what have we got to lose?” He was able to adjust his hours to glide time. In 1976, youngest son was at kindergarten each morning. The oldest was at school. I had the credentials for free entry into university. Off I went as a part-time adult student. That was scary. At that time, no married adult I knew did what I was doing. I mixed with school leavers, or  younger single people as it were for the next four years. Some of the baby sitting club Mums worked part time jobs in the deli at the new supermarkets.  It was a lonely path at times.

I grew in confidence. I studied fulltime. I achieved A’s. Perhaps it was too easy. I recall one lecturer telling me that younger students did not have the same work ethic. I did not have the luxury of failing papers, of having social timeout. Always, I had to get back for the kids. I had a guilt trip once when my mother worried about Himself having to cook the dinner after coming home from work. Life moved on. I learned how to put issues into perspective. With both boys at school and increasing interest rates, I needed to bring a second income into the household. I qualified to become a secondary school teacher specialising in English and History.

How was I to know during my first, tentative, part-time year at university, that I would spend the next thirty years in education, do postgraduate studies and research. Then, it seemed such a brave thing to do, to break a social pattern. Last week, my granddaughter and I discussed her second year Science and Maths papers  for 2018. It was hard for her to understand what the fuss was all about for me in the 1970s. I am excited about the scope of the options available to her and her ‘varsity friends. Her academic pathway is well-counselled, well-funded, well-socialised and has promising career prospects. She flies off to ‘varsity next week to enrol.


We wound back time on a school morning

Single-parent of three, Son had a 5 a.m. workday start. Grandparents were left in charge of getting the boys ready for school. Easy. We know what to do from when Daddy and Uncle were boys.

8.00 a.m. “Aren’t we taking the boys to school this morning?” Poppa and I swing into action. I don’t think we slept in this late when Daddy and Uncle were boys.  Throw some clothes on. Splash water on my face. Run fingers through my hair. Ready!

8.10 a.m. Make wholesome multigrain bread cheese and other filling sandwiches, add a pottle of yoghurt, packet of raisins and fresh fruit to the lunchboxes. “Dad lets us have pretzels in a snackbag” “We’re allowed Snax biscuits.” “I don’t like bananas.” “Don’t want raisins.” “I just had jam sandwiches when I was a boy,” announced Poppa? “Just put your lunches in your schoolbags”.

“All boys need to eat breakfast brain food for learning. Especially as it’s a cold wet morning – I’ll warm the milk”. “I want cold milk”. “Why can’t I have sugar on my cereal? It tastes better.” “See that word sucre on the nutrition information label – it means sugar and there’s 10 grams already in the cereal in your bowl” (7-year old has advanced maths and language skills).  Lesson over. “Yes. You can have a toasted muffin with strawberry jam on it.”

8.20 a.m. “No! You can’t play a game on the computer. Turn it off. Now!” The clock ticks on. The boys are reminded to clean their teeth, to make their beds and to get their shoes and jackets on. It’s pressure time to get to school before 8.45 a.m.

8.25a.m. “We need a dollar today. There’s a Talent Show at lunchtime. A crumpled school notice found at the bottom a schoolbag informs us that ‘it will be a gold coin donation to watch’. I haven’t any loose change but Poppa says he had two $1 coins and four 20 cent coins! “It has to be a gold coin,” argues 9-year old. Conversation  dissolves into the meaning of ‘donation’ and the value of the lower denomination coins. He remains convinced that younger bro will not be allowed in to watch. 7-year old is happy with the arrangement. Of the three boys, he’s most able to argue his way past the doorkeeper.

8.30 a.m. The rain is relentless as we drive down the road. I focus as  while demister clears the windscreen. Then I realise 11-year old has left his Science Fair project display board at the house. “Don’t need it till Tuesday”. “How are you going to work on your project in class then?” “I’ve did my title printout on the colour printer in the classroom.” Memories of 11-year old’s Dad and 11th-hour school projects flash through my mind.  “What about the report on your data? Can you ask your teacher to help you how to write it? Teacher said it’s to be done for homework.”

8.40 a.m. “Have a good day, boys. Love you.” “See’ya, Nana.”

8.43 a.m. Text from Son. ‘How were the boys this morning?’

9.03 a.m. Reply to Son. Okay. Got off to slow start. Learned 11-year old has to finish SF at home. Said he doesn’t know how to write the report. Sounds like kids more interested in designing coloured title printouts.’

Later. Sitting at the table, staring at the remains of the boys’ breakfast with coffee and toast in hand, still dressed in my scruffy gardening work clothes, I’m thinking, what has changed? Nothing really. Those beautifully coiffed and coutured senior citizen couples who flit across our screens and pages adorned with perfectly ordered households and grandchildren aren’t real. Sigh! It’d be nice to step into that picture for a moment in time. But this morning we wound back time but not our biological clocks. No matter what, we’re Nana and Pop. And that’s a precious thing.