Privilege and Inequalities…

New Zealand is an incredible place to live and raise our family, but the income and wealth inequalities we have here make me queasy and uncomfortable.

Over the past two decades, New Zealand has had the greatest inequality of wealth in the developed world. This inequality has been steadily increasing over this time – someone in the wealthiest 10% used to earn five times as much as someone in the poorest 10% – now they earn eight times as much.

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Inequality matters because the people at the lower end often struggle to have reasonable quality of life. The quality of life of every person in our society matters, if we all want to feel safe and happy. Inequality erodes trust and appreciation of others, and destroys our connections with others – which is a fundamental human desire.

It matters because it is unfair – that people working equally and incredibly hard can be rewarded so differently. The CEO racking up 70 hour weeks in a high stress job taking home hundreds of thousands, or millions. The cleaner and fast-food chain worker on minimum wage, equally stressed through holding down two jobs, caring for their family, and watching their children go to school without managing to scrape together some breakfast for them.

Inequality threatens democracy, risks the potential of some of our most talented children, and is perpetuated through generations.

Most of my friends and family are beautiful, kind and caring. We are mostly middle class, balancing work which we enjoy with enough income to eat well, stay warm and healthy, and recreate freely. We think we are fair to and considerate of those of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and those wealthier, and less wealthy than ourselves.

But have we recognised the privilege and advantages we have, just by being who we are and being brought up with the influences we have?

A young person from a wealthy family may work hard and succeed. They may or may not have been given more tangible benefits than someone from a poorer background – university paid, rent free living, car insurance and registration covered, flights home. Perhaps they were fed well each day; perhaps they were given an interest free loan for their first business enterprise – or perhaps they weren’t. Whether or not they received any of these tangible benefits, they have still been moving through the world in a position of privilege. People look to whom they are surrounded by, and this forms their goals and aspirations. The people around someone teaches them what is possible, and what is not. It reinforces their sense of what they deserve and where they are headed in life.

Part of resolving inequality is recognising it, and caring. I could sit in my comfortable house and think of my fulfilling job, healthy well and fed babies, and the ways I recreate, and believe I got here under my own hard work. I could believe that any other New Zealander should do the same (if they just stopped the alcohol and credit cards and junk food, I mean how stupid). I could think like this, and miss the frightening and uncomfortable fact that I have benefitted from New Zealand’s ugly inequality, just through being privileged and subtly influenced by the people and communities who have surrounded me.

I have been thinking about what inequality is and why it matters, however I don’t have the answers. Here are someone else’s ideas. I would love to see all our children receive equal opportunities to flourish – however this is impossible in today’s New Zealand. It is election year and I think this is a massive issue: so get thinking, get uncomfortable, and feel challenged.

 

#Facts collected largely from closer together.org.nz and inequality.org.nz

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Little People Update, Ages 4 & 2.5

When I read back over old blog posts, my favourite ones are stories of adventures we have had, and the Little People Updates. I already feel like I am remembering less of Toby than of Alyssa, so I need to make an effort to write about them more regularly.

 

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Recently I have realised that Alyssa is truly a little girl, and she feels different to me. She gets herself dressed and undressed, changes independently at the pool, washes her hands and cleans her face, packs morning tea for herself when we go out, and alerts me if something isn’t as it should be. There are still plenty of things that she is capable of that she doesn’t yet do such as putting her clean clothes away, but on the whole she is her own independent wee person.

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Her confidence has grown hugely over the last few months. I think Toby helps a little with this, as he is so confident talking to strangers. Also she is now one of the oldest in her preschool room, and adopts a leader type role in this setting and when she plays with friends at home. She loves to organise people and make sure everyone is engaged in her imaginary games in the appropriate way.

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She continues to love babies, real and pretend, and is asking Santa for a baby, dummy, bottle and lid. She doesn’t seem to be so interested in reading and writing at the moment – I suspect she is consolidating what she knows and ‘bam’ in 6 months time will just decide to start reading chapter books. That’s the sort of way she does new things, anyway. She can read and write and sound all the letters, is an ace at ‘eye spy’, and tries to read along with me by guessing what the next words might be.

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I’m not going to label her eating patterns, because labelling children is something I abhor, but she is a bit hit and miss. Often miss. She eats plenty of carbo and fruit, about one variety of vegetable, no meat unless it’s processed, and plenty of dairy. Our approach is to be totally nonchalant and trust that she will eat what she needs and at some stage be a bit more adventurous. We just dish up whatever we are all eating, and if she goes to bed after having only had half a mouthful, so be it.

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Our Mr Toby Toblerone is almost 2 1/2, and he is cheeky, entertaining and engaging. I often say his main purpose in life is to make people laugh. He still has a voracious appetite and will consume vast quantities of home grown kale, spinach and silverbeet which does make me quite cheerful.

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Toby is being a bit challenging with his sleep at the moment. He still settles well for his hour long day nap, but often takes 1-2 hours to fall asleep in the evening and usually wakes up a handful of times in the night, needing to be tucked in again. He’s pretty wriggly so he always gets out of his blankets and ends up cold, and he’s also developed a whole lot in his language recently so that might account for being a bit unsettled.

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Toby is talking in full sentences, although he doesn’t quite get everything quite right. He hasn’t got his ‘hims and hers’ sorted yet, and he’ll do things like fart and say “did you see that, Mummy?” (I hope not!). He is constantly asking “what are you doing, Mummy?” – and in fact will quite happily ask any random person what they are doing.

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Toby is just getting the hang of his balance bike and is utterly fearless on it (to the detriment of his knees, hands and head), is super confident in the pool splashing and going under the water, and loves to have running races with his big sister. He does not like to be called a baby, or in fact a little boy: “me a boy! me a big boy!”. He has just started initiating his own imaginary games rather than just joining in with Alyssa’s, for example building caravans or planes in which they go to visit their cousin Matthew (who they last saw a year ago in Auckland!).

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Alyssa and Toby are great self entertainers, and I am happy to report that television is not needed to enable adult sleep ins on Sundays. They can get themselves up and sort their breakfast provided I’ve put the milk into a smaller jug, and quite cheerfully play for one or two hours while we snooze. We just have to be relaxed about the house being in rather a state when we finally emerge, with a selection of apples scattered in every room with just one or two bites out of each.

For a sleep in, that’s a small price to pay.

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Learning happiness from the Little People

Alyssa and her preschool class have been rehearsing their Christmas show for a couple of months now, and she has been loving it. In the evenings she asks “Can I go to daycare tomorrow to practise our show?”. She wanted the items to be a surprise for us so she didn’t share any details, but she couldn’t avoid singing a few excited verses when she thought we weren’t listening.

The big day arrived earlier this week, and Alyssa was excited to have her costume ready and made sure Antz, Nani and I would be there to watch. When we turned up, she was busy playing in her fairy outfit, with her hair done in a ballet bun complete with sparkly hairspray, and was resplendent in her fairy face paint.

She walked confidently onto the stage, assumed the starting position, and completed the first 10 seconds just as she’d been practising.

 

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Then she caught sight of me (I really shouldn’t have sat in the front row), her face crumpled and she ran to snuggle into my lap for the rest of the performance.

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The following day before we got up she had painted her and Toby’s face as fairies (with a piantbrush and some moisturiser), and happily told me how much she had enjoyed the performance. She was genuinely stoked about the whole deal.

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I will be honest – as hard as I tried not to be, I had to initially camouflage a little disappointment amongst my unconditional love. She had worked so hard, had so much anticipation, and been so excited about the show! I wasn’t entirely surprised; we know that our Alyssa isn’t a performer, but she has really grown in confidence over the last few months.

However, on reflection I think this whole situation highlights what you miss out on if you are outcome focussed. Children are naturally process focussed – their drawings don’t have to ‘be’ anything, their walks are meandering explorations rather than to ‘get somewhere’, their everydays are their lives rather than ‘growing up to be something’. As challenging as it can be for adults, if we aim to be focussed on the process and on the journey, there is much extra happiness to be found in every wee corner of life.

The Christmas show was a process, and when I ask Alyssa what part was her favourite, she replies ‘everything’.

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Proud of her summer bouquets (to match our wedding ones in behind)

 

 

Upcoming challenges

Two months ago I sustained a nasty knee injury while playing netball. I landed awkwardly and tore my anterior cruciate ligament (the ACL – the main stabilising ligament inside my knee), my meniscus, and also managed a couple of small fractures. The most problematic part of all that is the ACL as it doesn’t heal by itself and means my knee would be permanently unstable without surgery.

Next week I am booked in to have reconstruction surgery, which will replace this ligament with a graft of part of my hamstrings. I have almost finalised the logistics of life for during my immediate recovery – childcare and managing the house etc.

It feels a little like when a new baby is imminent: the freezer is stocked with meals, everyone’s sheets are on the line, the bathroom is due to be cleaned this weekend. Family and friends have been notified of possible incoming requests for transporting children and helping out.

I expect to have about six weeks off work, and hopefully will be able to ride an exercycle and do some exercises in the pool after 3-4 weeks. It will be about 9 months before I can do things like play netball or ‘proper’ mountain biking, but I should feel pretty comfortable with easy biking and kayaking over the summer.

The main silver lining is what great professional development this is – I have learnt a lot about recovering from a significant injury and how it fits into the bigger picture of somebody’s life.

Alyssa says to Antz: “after mummy’s surgery, you should make her a cup of tea and I will make my own breakfast”, and Toby says “mummy feel better soon”. Yep, that’s the plan.

Little People Update

Yesterday morning I was at the swimming pool and a little class of five year olds came in for lessons. I watched them and found it a little too easy to imagine Alyssa amongst them. She is very keen to be five.

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Alyssa continues to be very caring and maternal. She and her close friend at daycare spend the bulk of their time looking after the toy babies. She adores her tiny cousin Ryder and is very gentle with him.

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At home, she doesn’t have quite so much interest in helping me in the kitchen as she used to, but is usually busy immersed in complicated imaginary games. Today, she invited all of her imaginary daycare friends to visit her imaginary swimming pool in the living room, and they had imaginary swimming lessons together.

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Recently she has been most interested in letters and reading and writing. She loves to play a modification of eye spy – “what is in the trees that starts with P” she asks, and eventually has to help me out with the answer being Possum. She likes to think of as many words starting with a particular letter as she can. However, although she can write most of the letters, and sound out all the consonants in words and usually get the vowels, she balks under any remote pressure of writing much apart from Alyssa, Ally, Toby, Mum, Dad, Angus and Nani. The more adult-goal oriented encouragement Alyssa receives, the less she engages. She is not a performer.

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“Ally”, self portrait. Note the plaits and necklace, and you can just see an arm coming out at about ear level.

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Toby celebrated his second birthday last Thursday, June 30th. His wee personality continues to develop along the same themes. In contrast to Alyssa, he is a bit of a performer and loves to make people laugh.

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Last few moments of being a one year old

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He is courageous and brave, and is eager to give anything a go. This is probably contributed by him adoring his big sister, and being keen to join in with whatever she is doing. Remember how Alyssa ignored the toilet until she was 2 3/4, and could use it entirely independently. Toby, in Toby fashion, is just keen to get involved and give it a go now. He likes to get on it between each nappy change and concentrates very hard until he does a little wee or fart. Then toilet paper, flush and hand washing.

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He has a fairly extensive vocabulary but is really only just starting to construct sentences. At times he strings about four words together, other times it’s just a couple. Alyssa is very helpful at interpreting what he is saying, although often this is just an exact mimic of what he has said which isn’t as helpful as she thinks.

Toby continues to have a voracious appetite and often eats adult quantities of things. He also isn’t remotely fussy and tucks in to what ever he can get his hands on.

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Overall, there is just something about him that is absolutely delicious. It might be the way he says ‘oh’ in a perfectly agreeable fashion, or the way he articulates things like ‘darling mummy’, ‘please mummy’, and ‘love you’; or maybe it’s the little patch of soft skin on the nape of his neck. Perhaps it’s that he is at this incredible age where any things that frustrate him only do so in an endearing fashion, and aren’t remotely tiresome. Or possibly, it’s just that he’s mine and thus I love him so.

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GODZone 2016

It’s already mid June, so GODZone is now old news – but here is the write up of a very incredible experience.

As well as all the obvious reasons for it being quite tough, I had missing my babies to contend with. I’d been away from each of them for the occasional night previously, but never for 12 days, and never for a full week with no contact. To make it a little easier I wrote them a wee story as the team and I drove up to Nelson before the race started, illustrated it and posted it down so they received it mid week. At the time of writing the story I didn’t know the course but obviously managed a pretty good guess on what it was going to be like!

When our mummy goes adventuring – A special story for Alyssa and Toby Longman

In the Kahurangi Hills is an event called GODZone
Where teams of four are never alone
For around them are mountains, lakes and tuis in trees
Powelliphanta snails, whio and kiwis
Seventy teams racing in this adventure like no other
And in one team is Alyssa and Toby’s mother

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Megan, Andie, Sophie and Sue
They can do anything that boys can do
Brave and fit, strong and fast
They race with strategy and watch the kilometres go past
They trained together back in Queenstown
For hours trekking uphill, and many kilometres biking down

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The trek stage is hilly, hard and long
When spirits flags Andie leads us in a song
Darkness falls and it begins to rain
Sore feet and shoulders – everyone’s in pain
Sophie navigates and says “I know just where we are,
The transition and hot food aren’t very far”

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The team keeps moving, steady and strong
With a transition to bikes not before long
At the TA they don their helmets and change their shoes
“Let’s go team, not a moment to lose”
Tired legs get the wheels going ’round
And the next checkpoint is quickly found

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Megan loves her bike but is starting to miss
Her favourite little people, Toby and Lys
“It’s ok Megs, keep pushing through
You know they’ll be sending love to you
Everyone’s watching and tracking our dot
And we are in the most magical spot

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Spirits are strong and the team moves forward
With the incredible scenery, no one can be bored
The team hit the river and pump the canoes
Then set off downriver for a bit of a cruise
Rapids and rocks on a cold blue river
Waves and holes, what and adventure!

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Up next is a sea kayak stage
Sue’s got the course book, with details on each page
This stage is complex, with islands to find
Make sure no checkpoints are left behind!
The team is tired and want to sleep and eat
But continue on through the sunset and don’t miss a beat

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Finally the girls see the finish is near
They share wide grins and begin to yell and cheer
“We have done it, we said we would
It was super tough but we knew that we could”
When things are hard, never stop trying
And through life’s challenges you’ll be flying.

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PS: I am aware that my creativity is more aligned towards the written word rather than the accompanying visuals… But there was time pressure!

A Toby Mis-Adventure

Remember in my last Alyssa and Toby update I said “Toby leaps in and delightfully gives anything a go without much consideration for the consequences or whether he’s actually capable or not”?

A month ago he did exactly this climbing on a high curved ladder at the playground. Even though I was standing right beside him spotting he slipped and fell, resulting in a fractured fibula and tibia – leg bones at his ankle.

So then we had this:

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Didn’t slow him down much, we had cherry picking assistance and plenty of climbing:

And when his cast came off his friends signed it with him at daycare:

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New Blog – check it out!

I have been busy developing a new blog for our GODZone team, so that we can share our training trips and give our sponsors some promotion. Check it out, and follow our adventure by subscribing by email (link at the bottom of the pages). Over the next couple of months as Life is GODZone I’ll probably be mostly writing on that site.

Perhaps there will be a return to sewing, gardening and recipes after April! Actually, our vege garden is ticking along well and I’m pretty much only buying carrots and the occasional capsicum at the moment. Along with the abundance of local free-to-source stone fruit at the moment we are eating very sustainably. I peered at the label of pears in the supermarket today and decided conscientiously that we don’t need to eat fruit which has travelled from the states. (Still buying bananas though. Does anyone with children survive without them??!)

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Our team website: https://visitqueenstownadventureracing.wordpress.com

Training Trip Report: Thomson’s Gorge

GODZone is going to involve long kilometers, many meters of elevation, unfamiliar environments and missions through the night.

Thomson’s Gorge last week had all of this – in fact on this trip we managed a 5th of GODZone’s probable distance and elevation, which is some comfort!

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Discipline: Bike
Distance: 100km
Elevation: 2200m
Pace: 11.5km/hour

Claire and I got dropped just out of Omakau at 6.45pm last Friday, after a full day at work for Claire and a morning of hill walking then childcare for me. Her Dad who drove us was wondering what possessed us to do this trip, and whether we actually expected to enjoy it.

I explained that for some people, the “not-enjoying-it” becomes the reason why it’s enjoyable. The more painful, tough and challenging an activity, the more delicious is the achievement of completion. (Remind me of that in the first week of April, please). Claire fortunately is this type of person, so she is great fun to mission with – we share some joy in suffering together.

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The first few hours had plenty of suffering as we combined the most horrendous head wind with the hilly Thomson’s Gorge. Thomson’s Gorge carves through the Dunstan Range in a Nor west direction, so is perfectly placed to optimise a howling nor’wester.

However, we were rewarded by the most incredible light at the saddle – a dark and stormy sky with a vividly golden sunset touching the hills.

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Darkness descended and it started to rain as we dropped down into Bendigo. Navigation looked straightforward on our map as it only showed a couple of roads. In fact there were dozens and there were a number of occasions where we peered out into the darkness trying to figure out which contour line we sat on. Had it been light I’m sure it would have been a piece of cake.

We did some interesting learning on how challenging it can be to keep moving – over perhaps a half hour period we stopped for food, for lights, for jackets, and then for a navigation check. Room for improvement with that sort of inefficiency.

The road ride to Bannockburn was fast and flat and Claire drafted me in our top gears the whole way. We had a brief re-fueling stop at her house in Bannockburn then got back in the saddle to ride the Pylon/Hawksburn track home to Alexandra. A police car cruised alongside us, curious as to what two girls were doing on the back roads of Bannockburn at midnight.

I pulled into our garage at 3.30 am (saddle sore and desperate for bed) and checked my strava to find I’d ridden 99.2km. So back on the bike and around the block to clock 100…

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GODZone 2016

I’m always one for challenges, and as they go GODZone Chapter 5 is going to be epic.

For the past year or so I’ve thought, in a semi theoretical sense, that competing in GODZone is something I’d like to achieve in my 30’s. You know, because I sorted the degree, marriage, house, children combination in my 20’s, I need something pretty neat for the next decade.

Just over a month ago a colleague mentioned that her GODZone team had lost a member due to training/time commitments. She knew I was (theoretically) keen. My immediate response was the sensible one – too much money ($2k entry each!) and not enough time to train with a young family – I’ll do it in a few years instead.

However, the concept ticked away in my periphery and temptation steadily gnawed away at that sensible response. It wasn’t long before Opportunity and Epic Challenge won over, and after an honest discussion with my more-supportive-than-he-should-be husband: I committed to the team.

So there we have it – just under than four months filled to the brim with the most challenging biking, trekking and kayaking missions we can think of, to prepare us for an Adventure Like No Other – up to seven days continuous exploration of the Tasman region.

So far…

Family Walks on the farm

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Moke Lake to Queenstown via Ben Lomond

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Quality Time with hubby bagging summits

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Children Assisted Training – bike trailer and pram walking, up to 5 hours is their limit…

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Skippers Saddle to Moke Lake via Stony Creek

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Poolburn réservoir to Alexandra via the Serpentine Church, Lake Onslow and the Knobbies

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South and North Branch Wye Creek

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And many more little trips too!

Antz and I are seeing each other for a coffee before work and the occasional lunch break, and otherwise we are tag-teaming the children as we both fit in the training we need to be doing (he is doing the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon in a month).

So, I shall endeavour to keep the blog a little more updated with loads of interesting adventures.