Cooperation, Control, Confidence

Three weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane to our first (campground management) conference. I was seated across the aisle from The Campground Kid and Campground Papa, which meant I could read for the whole fight (and when I say read, I’m talking my OWN book, not reading the whole entire safety card to a very curious kid). Three years ago, that was normal. Now it’s like heaven.

I finished the book I was reading, and flicked through my Kindle looking at unread books. I opened a couple, and eventually decided to go back to a book I’d started a while ago, but had lost steam with – No Contest: The Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn. I don’t know why I lost steam however many months ago, because this time I started highlighting as soon as I started reading, and pretty much never stopped.

The basic premise of the book is that co-operation is better for us than competition. Better for our self-esteem, better for our productivity, better for our happiness. It’s a radical thesis in our current society, but I found the arguments compelling. My mind was instantly whirring with ideas on what could be improved through a shift in mindset from competition to co-operation (pretty much EVERYTHING, except Game of Thrones and Suits) and how I could achieve that shift.

“Pious admonitions about not getting carried away in competition, however well-meaning, are just exercises in self deception. If we are serious about eliminating ugliness, we will have to eliminate the competitive structure that breeds the ugliness.”

(Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition)

The book stayed at the back of my mind all through the conference, but I was distracted by the logistics of conference + pre-schooler + new experience (an equation that only balanced because of a very generous Campground Uncle who came along to hang out with The Campground Kid for a good chunk of the week). I hadn’t even had the chance to really let the book’s ideas sink in before something else started my mind whirring.

Taking a break from the conference to hang with The Campground Kid

The whole conference got my mind whirring, actually. The talks were about balancing, about how our business needs to be positioned for the future, and what potential threats lie on the horizon.

But the real star of the week for me was the conference’s keynote speaker. Mike Ashby runs The Breakthrough, and is one of NZ’s top speakers and advisors to small businesses. If I had to summarise, I’d say that the key message was “if you’re not running [X], [X] is running you.” (through his talk [X] was mostly “your business”, but it was easy to extrapolate and generalise to other [X]s that were more relevant to me.) This advice obviously relies on a level of control and choice that mostly applies to those with a fair whack of privilege, but was appropriate for the audience (me included), and helped me to realise just how much my life is “running me” at the moment.

We are all pulled in many directions, free-time is a luxury that we don’t get enough of, and self-care has been sorely lacking for the grown-ups, which flows down to the poor Campground Kid. SO MUCH has changed in the last year (a year ago, we were just starting to pack up to move back to New Zealand), and all the change has started piling up on us. We don’t really have a solid medium/longterm plan for various reasons, and the short term plan is pretty much just to get through each week. Long story short, The Campground Family is stuck in reactive-mode right now, and this talk reminded me that we don’t necessarily have to be.

After some discussion of how and why we should work towards a better balance, the topic turned to making the choices to regain control. Most importantly, how this necessarily involves making change, and how all change involves loss. With the amount of change I’ve opted for in my life, you may think that I love change. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But still, making change is scary. Scary and hard, and (for me) anxiety-inducing.

Ashby summed it up perfectly with one quote:

“The past is desirable because it has been drained of fear.”

And that quote wedged itself firmly in my mind.

When the talk was over, it was straight into pinning tulle to a dress for the 1950s themed gala dinner. Then it was goodnight for The Campground Kid, who had a” kid party” while we went to our “grownup party”. Then it was winning an amazing spot prize, eating an amazing dinner, and dancing with new friends. Then it was waking up with a hangover, packing up, and flying home. But through it all, my mind kept coming back to this idea of time draining fear. It’s obvious, perhaps, but it stuck with me.

The day after the conference, I received a copy of the invoice from the hotel. I hadn’t checked it in detail, and when I looked through, I noticed a couple of charges that weren’t ours. I called the hotel, and queried them, and they said it was all sorted. I checked the next invoice – another mistake – and called again. It all got sorted and I got an apology.

This is totally basic adulting, I know. But it’s basic adulting that used to make me hella nervous. It got worse in Brunei because it was often hard to make my accent understood over the phone. If there was an email/online option where I could sort it out without a phone call, I always always used to take it.

But part of being a campground manager is talking on the phone quite frequently, both making and fielding similar queries.

And it turns out that doing it over and over again really HAS stripped it of fear. I sometimes even choose to call when there’s a way I could avoid it.

This is not huge in the grand scheme of things, but it was a timely example that proved and reinforced the maxim for me.

And if I can now make phone calls confidently and easily, maybe I can make some other changes my life needs right now too…

Maybe I can quit (or at least reduce) competitive thinking?

Maybe I can make some new habits or lose some old ones?

Maybe I can make some different choices to regain some balance and control?

Maybe I can even figure out how to wash my kid’s hair without the people in the next room thinking I’m torturing her…?!

(Or maybe now I’m just getting too bold!)

Seasons (revisited)

A week ago, it was the shortest day of the year. We have had frosts almost every morning this week. The other morning I forgot to set the heat pump timer, and The Campground Kid and I had to snuggle under a blanket for the first half hour we were up because it was so blimmin’ cold. It is most definitely winter. Our first winter since 2012.

And I love it.

I don’t love trying to convince The Campground Kid to wear enough layers to stay not-freezing. I don’t love it being dark at 5:30pm and at 6:30am.  I probably don’t get outside enough some days. But I love it.

View of snowy mountains from an amazing chilly bush walk.

I love the crisp mornings and the sunny cool afternoons. I love cuddling up in the warm with the rain outside. I love soup and hot drinks and roasting everything. I love scarves and boots and woolly jumpers. I love walking through the cool bush and seeing my breath against the cold air.

I have missed winter.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about Brunei’s seasons (or lack thereof.)  And I thought that once I was actually confronted with another winter, I would change my tune.  But NOPE. Even here in winter, I love seasons.

Living on a tropical island is so often touted as paradise. But it definitely wasn’t my paradise. My paradise has variety. It has changes that mark the passing of time. It has the cold that helps us to appreciate the warm.  It has a warm hot-tub against a freezing night and a dark sky full of stars. It has cold noses and woolly hats on frosty mornings, followed by a hot cup of coffee and woolly slippers.

(It also has good insulation and a heat pump. The winters of my student-flatting days? I definitely don’t miss those!)

Frosty mornings.

The grey-middle

I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.

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I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds).  We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.

Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.

I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.

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Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.

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And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)

It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.

 

Some things I miss.

It’s safe to say that in the last four months, we have completely changed our lives. We’ve gone from an Engineer and a Stay at Home Parent in a small town/expat community in Brunei to a team of Campground Managers in a tourist village in rural New Zealand.  The Engineer’s Baby has changed from a little baby 2 year old to a full sentences and complex ideas full on Campground Kid. We have a new house, a new routine, new habits, new everything.

Overall, we’re really happy with the change. Working as a team for a common goal suits our little family, even though it’s occasionally pretty full on.  We love love love New Zealand, and the climate, and being back home. We’re doing well at the job, learning new things, meeting new people, and getting a whole new set of experiences for our toolkit.

But as with any change, even the positive ones, there are things I miss.

One of the big ones is my toddler/parent groups and all the great friends we met in Brunei. We had a great routine going, and having a more-than-full-time job really interferes with my ability to find anything similar here. I miss hanging out with my friends watching my kid play with her friends. I miss having the time to see our friends so very often.  I miss coffee mornings and play dates and the whole full-time parenting deal.

Our last time at The Jungle House

Our last time at The Jungle House

In the stay-at-home parent vein, I also miss just hanging out with The Campground Kid one-on-one. We still spend a lot of time together, and we still have a great relationship, but it’s just not the same as being the one at home with her all the time. In many ways, I wasn’t a great stay-at-home mum, and in many ways I enjoy this relationship more (not to mention I love that she gets more time with her Papa), but I still miss the little adventures. I miss moseying off to a playground, wandering around town holding hands, and our random little chats. We had a little coffee date last week while Campground Papa was doing some shopping, and it was a good reminder about how much fun one-on-one time can be. (Goal 1: do this more often).

Visiting the kittens at our favourite Brunei food stalls/playground.

Visiting the kittens at our favourite Brunei food stalls/playground.

I also miss having a housekeeper. We went from all the time in the world (apart from the whole toddler thing) and someone to clean twice a week to no time at all and no help around the house. Our house is small and the chores are pretty manageable, but boy was it nice to not have to worry about them!

And speaking of no time at all, I miss my afternoons off. In Brunei, The Engineer (now Campground Papa) had Friday afternoons off work, and that was always my time. I used to write or read or watch crappy TV or go out for a coffee or get a pedicure or a massage. It was a few hours a week, but it was a really important few hours a week. With the change in pace, adjusting to new things, and a busy holiday season, it just hasn’t quite found a place in our new routine. But I miss it a lot. (Goal 2: do this more often too).

Afternoon off; writing, coffeeing.

Afternoon off; writing, coffeeing.

One more: I miss predictable weather. I didn’t like the weather in Brunei much, but I really really liked it being the same every day. I didn’t have to wonder what to wear each day, or how to dress The Campground Kid. I always knew that it would be too hot, and the only variable was how much it would rain (which didn’t make too much of a difference to most of our decisions). Here, the weather is all over the map. Hot, cold, wet, dry, all in one day. I change clothes and shoes in the middle of the day, I have to carry layers, and I’m just a bit confused by the whole thing after three season-less years.

I’m not writing any of this to moan. Life is good, and we feel very lucky to be here. But writing this list has made me realise a few things that I really want to get into our routine as soon as possible. And in fact, the two goals mentioned above are perfectly covered by a tip that I heard on an old episode of  World’s Okayest Moms (which, as an aside, is great;  you should definitely have a listen, especially if you’re a mum)  The tip was to have a day or two a month, planned in advance, where each parent has half a day off, and half a day alone with the kid(s). This is not rocket science, I know. In fact, it’s just basic family routine stuff. But it’s family routine stuff that I think would be great for us all. Some time hanging with The Campground Kid without distractions; and some time for me to be me outside of work and parenting. Win win win.

Conclusion: change is hard. The grass really was greener over here for us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss that slightly-less-green Brunei grass and the lifestyle that went with it.

PS – I also miss roti and year round watermelon and iced coffee without all the trimmings and cheap takeaways. But I definitely don’t miss humid heat.