Here’s an easy game to play/ Here’s an easy thing to say

Independent play. The holy grail of parenthood. That sometimes feels so near, and yet can never quite be attained. I’ve got drawn into a few debates over it recently. Obviously it is a heated issue in the internet mummy-sphere.

For a child his age M actually has a reasonable concentration span. He loves being read to. Though we don’t necessarily think he has to sit still for this. Or even sit. He’s enjoyed more than a few books while doing downward facing dog on his bed, or jumping on the couch. And he is paying attention, because if you get tongue-tied by Dr Seuss he will helpfully point it out.

Since adding to the family his ability to play more or less independently, more or less supervised, has become more, not less, of an issue. Something that will be familiar to many families. As I’ve seen happen on internet forums, if you dare admit that you are struggling to keep your older child entertained while you indulge in the frivolous activities of caring for your newborn, there are plenty of parents willing to judge you for it.

You let them watch TV? Their eyes will literally go square, and their brain is rotting.

Read to them. Holding a book whilst simultaneously breastfeeding a newborn is easy.

Just tell them ‘No. I’m busy’. They won’t mind at all that this new person in the house suddenly takes up all your time. I’m sure they’ll understand and happily play quietly on their own. The seething resentment they feel is normal, and I’m sure they’ll find an age appropriate outlet for this emotion, such as hitting or biting. Oh no wait. Hitting and biting are bad. Um. Maybe just tell them you understand, and you’ll have time for them later. Like when the baby is sleeping. Or as the baby never sleeps, when it’s ten. You’ll probably have some time then. If they’re lucky.

M hasn’t been overly resentful, and never violent to his sister. We’re lucky, that’s pretty normal behaviour actually. Mostly I’ve been the target of his resentment (lucky me!). But the reality is, there is only so much I can expect from him in terms of entertaining himself. Even when he does, he ends up doing stupid annoying shit. All The Time.

Twice recently I’ve let him have unsupervised water play while I feed A. I sit on the couch, while he splashes in the bathroom sink; I can’t see him, but I can hear. Both times we started well. Then I heard quite a lot of water running.

‘What are doing?’
No response
‘Stop running water!’
No response.
Frantically interrupts A’s feed, gets to feet, into bathroom, just in time to see the water lap over the edge of the sink onto the bathroom floor.

Or the second time, I heard a lot of suspicious splatting noises. Again I yelled out. M happily replied
‘I’m throwing the dirty water in the toilet.’
Yup, he was using a cup to throw water from the sink, in the general direction of the toilet so he could flush it later.

Not much had made it into the toilet.

On neither of these occasions was he being naughty. They were just interesting ideas he got and decided to explore. At three he genuinely is not able to foresee the messy outcomes, and doesn’t really care much about the cleaning up. Yes I got him to help wiping up with a cloth, but that’s sort of fun too, and he is ineffective so I have to do it after him anyway. I wasn’t mad, bud it adds to the generally harassed sense of never ending cleaning-washing-nagging-exhaustion-not-sure-I’m-doing-this-quite-right.

The internet is full of helpful suggestions for play; awesome ideas to keep your littlies entertained for hours. I don’t think I’m the only parent to find many of the suggestions intimidating, and the ‘play’ rather stressful. Coloured rice, paint, glue. It all gets everywhere. M would love it. He’ll spend an hour at børnehave playing with these beads. But it isn’t something I can cope with at home. It’s messy enough as is, add those beads and I’m in trouble. That’s now, just imagine what it’d be like in a couple of months when A will have approximately two skills: crawling, and putting things in her mouth.

Maybe other kids are different. Maybe their playing never results in unintended mess. Or parents yelling at their kids when they really didn’t plan too. Maybe they are a better parent than me.

Maybe their kids are dull…

Truth is, three year olds have plenty of energy, but little experience of the world. Their job at this age is to experiment, and to learn how to regulate their emotions. God knows, enough adults struggle with that. Learning to play independently takes time. Some kids take longer than others. Add in any additional stresses to the mix, family illness, moving house or daycare, new siblings or whatever, only makes it harder. So let’s stop judging parents whose kids don’t play independently ‘enough’

the night’s in a paper cup / when you want it to last

I pick my son up off the floor, no damage done but tears rack his body. He buries his head against me as he howls, and I kiss his hands and elbows ‘Oh dear.’ I say.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out’?

And suddenly it is me who is bereft.

Because in the long fourteen months since my mother died I’ve wanted to hear those words so badly. In that first haze of grief. On my return to this land that is my home, that I don’t belong in. As I tried to cook meals for my son whilst retching at every smell. While finally getting to hold my daughter for the first time, attached to IVs and monitors, still shaking from shock. During all those long night feeds. When both my children need me, and I only have two arms.

Even though I have a husband who has been beside me every step of the way. Holding my children when I couldn’t. Feeding my daughter when I couldn’t. Feeding me when I couldn’t. Getting up and down in the night. Providing our son with shoulders to climb over, and our daughter a beard to pull.

Even though I have a father who has supported this crazy decision we made to move our little family to the other side of the world. Who looked after our son alone for six nights while we both stayed at the hospital.

Even though I have my sisters, the two other people I know who lost my Mum. Who’ve had to balance that with raising their own young children.

Even though I have my uncles and aunts, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

Even though I have so much, there is no-one left on this earth who can hold me like my mother could.

My son begins to squirm, the shock has subsided. I lower him, and as soon as his feet touch the ground he is off again. He pounces on his sister, and they smile at each other.

Welcome home, see I made a space for you now

Today I have no jokes. No pithy remarks about my life as an immigrant. I’m not sure I can add anything to the debate surrounding the current ‘migrant’ crisis that can change the mind of anyone who hasn’t had it changed by those photos. I’m not the person to tell you about the crisis in their homeland, and the journey they take.

But, I have something to say about who these people are, to anyone whose fear of the ‘others’ holds back their better natures.

Those others – they really are just like you.

I know this because I am an immigrant in a non-English speaking country. I went to language school. Those others? They were my classmates.

When I started last year, about half of my class would have been migrants from the middle east. The biggest single group – Syrian. Nearly all men, though many had wives in another class, it had just worked out that way. Some had children. One who I got to know well had young daughters who had spent two years of their short lives living in refugee camps.

There were times in the classroom that showed we came from different worlds. Like talking about our families: ‘I’m the youngest of 12 children. But five of them are dead’. That’s not something many twenty somethings in the west would say.

But that didn’t happen often. Mostly they were just like me and you. Laughing at the same bad jokes. Struggling to learn Danish. Working hard, because unlike me, they don’t have the luxury of leaving if it doesn’t work out.

They weren’t terrorists. They weren’t misogynists. I’m a vocal feminist, and if you think I’d be silent if I saw sexism, then ‘Hi’, because obviously we’ve never met. They treated all the liberal western females in my class just fine. Showed interest in all our diverse cultures, and in our families – both to the married mothers, and the unmarried ones.

They were family men. Educated men. Men who worked hard. Men who liked to watch sport and play chess. Men who would laugh as they handed me pens I dropped once my pregnant belly got in the way. Who’d chat about how their families were adjusting. What their kids’ school was like.

I’ve moved around the world. I’m not stupid. I know I’ve been able to do this because I’m the right sort of immigrant. Because of the colour of my skin. My nationality. Because we are educated. Because decades ago my father-in-law was born to New Zealand parents in the UK. Because of quirks of fate.

There are no easy solutions. Many of our leaders are right when they say taking in more people won’t solve the root cause. Maybe they should think about what might. Maybe that doesn’t matter when children are drowning while trying to reach safer shores.

Last year New Zealand celebrated winning a seat on the UN Security Council. This was John Key’s response:

“We have worked very hard on the bid for close to a decade because we believe that New Zealand can make a positive difference to world affairs and provide a unique and independent voice at the world’s top table…It has been more than 20 years since New Zealand was last on the Council and we are ready to contribute again.”

Now is a time to contribute. Our way of life is not so fragile a few hundred people can threaten it. But closing our doors, that black-mark on our humanity. That’s the real threat.

Sign a petition to increase NZ’s refugee quota here.