A letter to my six year old

How lucky am I that you have now been in my life for six whole years? All those years have been special but right now as this one draws to a close I think there is something about it that is just a little bit extra. Time has slowed and stretched out a little for us this year. I am so grateful for that. Grateful that you being five hasn’t sped away from me in a haze of school drop offs and small stolen family moments. I’m grateful for the big moments we have shared together this year. But also for all the little ones.

The chance to really have the time to be with you is something I don’t take for granted. It’s so wonderful to watch you growing in every way. Six year old you is truly a wonderful person. You love bike rides and beaches, books and still you have a fascination for vehicles of any description. You enjoy nature, often telling me a lake is beautiful or a bird is cute. You love to dance and have the cutest little bum wriggle I ever saw. From somewhere you have picked up a fascination for Michael Jackson, you plead for his songs every time we are choosing music. You are smart my little man, you have learnt to read like it was second nature and you love maths. You also still love jumping in puddles on rainy days, dreaming about finding the treasure at the bottom of a rainbow and imagining pictures in the clouds. Most of all you love fiercely and with so much depth, I hope this never changes.

Now we are a year in to our bus adventure I can see that it truly works for you as much as it does for us. I worried a lot that it was a choice we made more for ourselves but you have thrived on this journey. You have grown in every way imaginable. But I love that in some ways you are still delightfully small and precious. I look forward to where the next year takes us and who you will be when it is over. Happy birthday my little man and happy wandering too.

 

Parenting on the move

Autumn at this end of the country is much more dramatic and definite than it is where we are from. The trees are quickly a riot of all the rich autumnal colours and I can already see that they will fall just as quickly as they changed colour. Perhaps it is a bit more time spent inside on the not so nice days, but something about this change of season has had me reflecting a little on our journey so far and all the change it has wrought in my life. Not just the obvious change that is out there for everyone to see but the little ways that things have changed as well. I suppose it is only natural that big life change has a ripple affect on all the little ways you do things and the way you see things in life. I think perhaps for me some of these things were always going to happen but shifting out of our little comfort zone of house, community and support system I had built for myself has sped up the process a bit. One of the things in my life that has had a bit of an overhaul is the way that I approach and manage my parenting. I thought I would share a bit because I wish I had done some of these things years ago. So if you are just here for the bus and the adventures fair warning this one may not be for you.

Some of the things I changed was a concious thing. I was completely aware that I would now be spending all my days with Oliver. My two days a week where he went to kindy and I had a chance to focus entirely on things I wanted to were over. The weekends he would spend staying at his Nanas every couple of months where I caught my breath and we got some couple time were not going to be an option anymore. Here is probably where I should admit that since being a Mum I have never been good at making sure I get the things I need to keep me happy. I don’t know why because before Oliver I really was good at it, I took the time out for long walks by myself, fed my soul with music I loved, books I enjoyed, did the things that helped me give to the other areas of my life. So why once I had a tiny little human who needed me to give more than I ever had before did I drop myself off that list of people that need looking after? I don’t have that answer really. Perhaps it was partly because when Oliver arrived Wayne’s job had him working 70 hour weeks. I would kiss him goodnight on a Sunday everning and most weeks wouldn’t see him until late Friday night or Saturday afternoon if I was lucky. Out of neccessity I got really good at coping by myself.

Anyway fast forward to us buying the bus. I don’t want to end up stressed out, grumpy and not coping with the close living spaces. My current way of dealing with this is not 100% working for me and it’s got to change now anyway. So I did conciously decide we needed a strategy to try and avoid this becoming a problem. We decided that the healthiest thing would be to plan in times where each of us would have some time out from being with Oliver. As it turns out when we are all traveling together it’s not such a big deal, it tends to happen quite naturally that one or the other of us will take Oliver off to do something alone. It’s when we are stationary and Wayne is working that I really need it. Wayne is a night owl so would much rather take his time out in the form of a sleep in the next morning on a weekend. This works for me as sleeping in just isn’t something I do. But for me the last few months the little outings on the weekends that my boys go on are absolutely life changing. I love them both to absolute pieces but I just naturally like being alone sometimes. That time to read or write or go for a walk or do some baking without a tiny helper measuring my ingredients for me is the best present my husband has ever given me.

So the other things we changed were not such a conscious choice, they have just sort of evolved as we built our new life around the way we were now living. Most afternoons now Oliver will find something he wants to occupy himself with for an hour or so, get some toys out or puzzles. Anything that requires little to no input from me in regards to set up and that he can do entirely on his own. This took a little coaxing to begin with but now he often says himself that it’s time for some quiet time and asks me for what he wants to do that afternoon. My son has always been a helper, loves to do all the household chores with me and now at almost six he is actually a wonderful help. He dries the dishes most mornings, he does a great job of vacuuming or sweeping the steps and is always keen to help in the kitchen or fold the clothes. This is actually a great side to homeschooling, you can develop a real sense of teamwork around the work of everyday life. But that helper drive coupled with the fact that he is an only child mean I do need to make sure he plays independently sometimes.

The other things I do differently now are more about mindset really and I think they flow from the fact that I am taking more care of my mental health so I have a clearer head, more patience, less stress. I work quite hard now to approach everything positively, because it’s amazing how much the way you frame something can influence your experience. And on those days where for what ever reason my beautiful son does not have such a beautiful disposition I try to make the most of the fact that I have the freedom to choose what our days look like and go somewhere or do something that we both get a lot of joy from. For us at the moment in Gore that means a walk to the river, going to the pools for a swim, visiting the aviary at the gardens or a visit to the library. And on the wet days it might mean putting on some music for an impromptu dance party or putting on gumboots to go jump in puddles. Because being in those spaces we both enjoy can make all the difference in the world to how we both feel and interact with each other.

Thanks for reading today’s ramblings, I’m certainly no expert or perfect parent but those are not normally the kinds of parenting stories I like reading either. Do you have any things you’ve found that really work for your family? I’d love to hear what you do that helps your family keep ticking over.

 

A whole year on the road

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Oliver on Himatangi Beach March 2018

It’s hard to believe that this photo was taken a whole year ago. I remember this moment so clearly, so vividly that it just doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed us by. It was the end of our second day of traveling, Easter Sunday and we had driven straight through from Lake Taupo to Himatangi beach just out of Wellington. Wayne was a little bit behind us so Oliver and I made a beeline for the beach to run off some of his energy. It was windy, the beach was big and wild looking. We were still in the midst of figuring out how we fit in this new life of ours, the days leading up to actually leaving home had been hectic, stressful and a bit hard on our little boy. He had lots of questions about where we were going and how long for, questions that no longer had firm, definite answers we could give. Up till this point that hadn’t sat well with Oliver, but I look back and I can so clearly remember him asking me where we were staying that night, where the bus would be with a confused, uncertain look on his face. I looked at him, took his hand and in one of those parenting miracles I found the words he needed to hear. ‘Lets go find Daddy, I’ll show you where we are staying’ Somehow this knowledge that we wouldn’t always know exactly where we were going but that we would always know where to find Daddy and the bus. Somehow this was all he needed to feel safe and secure in our new life. There would be other minor things to adjust to in the following weeks but from this moment on Oliver was 100% on board with bus life.

So the big question is after a year, was it all worth it? The answer is a resounding and definite yes. Even if for some reason we packed it all in tomorrow and settled down again it would have been the best decision we ever made. Our biggest goal when we set out was to see how much time we could have together and in twelve months of travelling Wayne has had over four months off work. And when he has been working it has been largely Monday to Friday jobs where he is home for dinner every evening. Coming from a background of shift work and crazy early starts this for us has been absolutely life changing. Wayne’s relationship with Oliver has really blossomed with all the time spent together. Our marriage has benefited from the changes to, in fact¬† I think our whole little family unit is stronger. It’s been wonderful to discover that our little unit of three can sustain each other when we are miles away from all the other people who make up our lives. All the beautiful places we have visited, the experiences we have had they are all just the icing on the cake to these even stronger bonds we have formed with each other.

But don’t get me wrong we have enjoyed the icing as well! We have seen more of this country in a year than I imagined we would ever get to show Oliver while he was still a child.¬† We’ve seen so much that sometimes I read back through my journal from last year and there are things that already I didn’t quite remember without a little prompting. Perhaps that is just a sign I am getting old however as Oliver has lots of very clear memories from the past year. I really hope his memories continue to be clear and they are something he can look back on happily as he grows.

It seems kind of fitting that our one year anniversary should roll around just as we were getting the bus all sorted with its new COF, all ready for us to finish up our time here in Gore and travel on to new places. Also fitting that just before our one year anniversary we were visited by my parents. It’s probably no secret to anyone that the person Oliver and I miss most is Oliver’s Nana. So getting to spend a few weeks with them was pretty special. I almost feel this was as necessary as the repairs on the bus, a little spiritual top up only time with someone you love can bring you.

I remember this time last year as we were exploring Golden bay it felt like the summer was never going to end. This year in Gore the summer has ended with a glaring finality. The leaves are falling from the trees and already the mornings are starting with a layer of frost to greet you. I have to admit I am far more at home in the endless summer than these cooler climes, but I am bravely telling myself that it will not be as bad as I imagine. We will light the fire and pile on lots of layers of clothing and delight in a nice hot water bottle at the end of the bed and all will be fine. After all that is one of the things that this new life is about, trying new things and pushing out of our comfort zone. If we are not all fine then I guess a drive to the warmer end of the south island is always an option!

Road Schooling- how we learn on the move.

When people find out about the way we are living there are a few questions that are always bound to come up. What we do about school for Oliver is one that we have been asked about lots lately. I have answered this question more times in the last few weeks since school went back then I have in the eight months prior to that. I think that is due in large part to the fact that he has grown a whole heap over the summer break and it’s very clear he’s not a pre schooler anymore. Some people are very puzzled by the whole notion of a school age child not automatically being at a normal school and some of the conversations I’ve had have had me pondering our journey so far with school on the road.

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Hitting the books

Before we decided to buy the bus the plan was for Oliver to toddle off to school after his fifth birthday as majority of children do here in New Zealand. Since school in one fixed place was off the table we were left with two options. Home schooling where we would apply for an exemption from sending Oliver to school and be responsible for deciding ourselves what curriculum to teach. Our other option was Te Kura which is New Zealands correspondence school and because we are itinerant we qualified for Oliver to be enrolled. I opted for Te Kura for a few reasons, one that it makes my life a bit easier. I did not have to research, plan and purchase resources. Also because the plan is to eventually settle back down and then send Oliver to school I wanted him to be following the same curriculum so he will slot right in with no worries. I have to say that now we have six months of learning under our belt and a new year freshly under way I would actually have the confidence to apply for an exemption and go the other route if Te Kura was not an option.

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School at the beach

I feel I have learnt almost as much as Oliver so far in our journey. It has been a marvel to watch him learn to read. Books have always been a huge part of Oliver’s life, he is always down for being read a story, loves a good audio book and we have a bedtime story routine that is near and dear to his heart. It’s been amazing to watch the process through the next steps, from his first eager reading of the simple books they first sent to now just six months of school in where he has a rather impressive amount of words he knows well, some he stumbles over a little and an ever-growing confidence of how to work out new words for himself. There have been several moments with his learning where I can just see a concept click in his brain and a dramatic improvement in something we have been working on, it’s like seeing your child learn to walk all over again in moments like that. And whilst he is busy learning these life long skills I am learning how best to support him and communicate the information to him in a way that he can learn it.

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Te Kura has so far worked really well for us, I have found Oliver’s teacher really good and the amount of work they expect us to complete is more than achievable. The fact that Oliver is doing his work at home with no distractions or interruptions means that the school portion of our day doesn’t have to take up that much time. Whilst Wayne is working we have a loose kind of routine, Oliver is the most focused in the mornings so we try to get his school work done then and most days it takes around two hours to do. Sometimes less if he works quickly, sometimes more if the weather is bad and we are stuck in the bus. After that our days are not to planned out. I do try to go out and about somewhere most days even if it’s just down the road to the playground to burn off some energy for a while. I also try to have one kind of fun activity for the afternoon most days. Maybe going to the library or the swimming pools or getting out some paints or on hot days even just a big bucket full of water, bubbles and a few cups for pouring.

I am a big believer in learning through play and try really hard to make sure it still has a place in his days. This comes really naturally when we are travelling and parked somewhere interesting with natural places to explore. He can spend all day absorbed at a beach or building dams in a rocky creek, these are the moments where I know 100% how great this life is for him. But then this summer he has had a great time getting his toolbox out and tackling a couple of little carpentry projects as well as endlessly tightening any screws he can find in the bus that need tightening. I think this is a great side effect of living a life where we have lots of time, time to let him follow his interests and explore the ideas that come into his head.

Probably one of the biggest things people question about Oliver not attending school is how he copes without other children for company. Personally I am not to worried about this side of things. From the moment he was born we attended music groups, were heavily involved in Playcentre for a few years and then he attended Kindergarten from 3 until just before we left Tauranga. He has had plenty of experiences of being around other children his own age, both with me and without me. He has had the experience of making and having friends. Now he’s having the experience of meeting lots of new people all the time of all different ages and walks of life. And when he does run into some children somewhere that we are staying or at a playground or a swimming pool he makes the most of playing with them. Perhaps the fact that Oliver’s Dad is probably the biggest and most fun playmate around makes this less of an issue for our family. Any one who actually knows Wayne will know exactly what I am talking about. He has always and probably will always be a kid magnet, at a family get together if you want to find my husband just look for the trail of children following along behind in whatever game he is currently playing with them.

So far there is nothing in regards to our way of doing school that I look at and think Oliver is really missing out. Sure there are things that are different. But when making a choice to live alternatively it’s really just about whether what you are gaining brings more to the table for you than what you can’t have. And at the end of the day the things that Oliver is not experiencing now he will one day once we are settled down. Personally I would say that for any one out there contemplating doing something with school age children that would require alternative schooling for a time, don’t let it hold you back from your dreams. You might surprise yourself with how good a teacher you actually are! Children are so much more adaptable than you might think and seeing their parents make their own dreams happen is a pretty valuable lesson in itself. If living his own dreams and making the most of time with those he loves is all that bus life teaches Oliver than I am more than satisfied with that.

 

Time for another pause in our travels.

It had been six weeks since we left Blenheim behind in search of new sights to see and places to explore. Now as we left Wanaka our travels were drawing to a close for a bit as we planned to stop for another stint of work. We were heading for Invercargill as Wayne had a few contacts there he could approach about work. Slowly we made our way along the Clutha river, we found a spot beside the Clyde dam to stay a few nights and enjoy the cool blue beauty of the water. Then we headed on through Roxburgh and then to Gore where we stopped for the weekend before heading in to Invercargill to job hunt.

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One of the first and biggest questions we get about the way we live is how we earn money, how we find work. It is to be honest the part of this whole journey that in the planning stages we just had to confidently tell ourselves we would make it work even though we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to go. Our experience finding work in Invercargill is probably the easiest it could possibly be. Wayne headed out on a Monday morning to start looking for work, by lunch time he was back at the bus having visited a few businesses and employment agencies he had a possibility of a job. By three o’clock he had a phone call confirming he had a job in Gore and would start Wednesday. I now would confidently tell anyone that finding work is the easy part of this kind of life. Not being fixed to one particular town/place is actually such an advantage the fact that the work is an hours drive away is no problem at all and if we are ever somewhere that work isn’t readily available we can simply move on to somewhere that it is.

So now we are settling in at Gore, the funny thing is that this is a town we probably wouldn’t have even stopped at on a normal holiday where time is short. But it is a lovely little rural town, there are plenty of options here for camping and the people here have been incredibly friendly. We even get delivered a local paper twice a week by a nice old gentleman on a mobility scooter flying a pirate flag, nothing says welcome like an old pirate delivering you a paper! We’re also looking forward to plenty of weekends away during this stint of work as there are plenty of places within a few hours drive that we can make it to for a weekend.

The week Wayne started his new job it marked one year since we moved out of our house and in with my parents. I look back now and can so clearly remember how busy, how hard that time was on so many levels, but I also have lots of great memories from that stage of our lives. I’m also so grateful we were brave enough to make that leap of faith, sell up, move back home with my family and then set to work making our big dream a reality. It’s amazing how much a year can change your lives, amazing how much a year can change you.

A letter to my five year old

Five years ago I was lucky enough to become a Mum. It was something I had hoped for and dreamed of for a long time before it became a reality, before you became a reality. And once you were here it was like the missing piece of my life’s puzzle had arrived. The life that Wayne and I had built together was a great one, but it was even better to be able to share it. From the minute the midwife placed you on my chest we were in awe of this tiny force of nature that had arrived in our lives. The love, the wonder that you brought to our lives has only grown from there. It’s almost hard now to clearly remember what life felt like before you were in it, who I was before you were in my life. I know a trip like this at this stage in my life was never on the cards before you came along. But part of my journey as a Mum has taught me that life does not always go the way you had hoped it would. We had never planned to only one have one child, but it turns out this is what our family is meant to look like, the three of us – a tight loving little family.

For a while this was very hard to accept and I still have moments where I am so sad we can’t give you a brother or sister to grow with. But the fact that there is only you is a big factor in what opened the door for this new life and perhaps selfishly, a big reason why a few more years spent enjoying your company is something I am completely ok with. Your life as a five year old will look very different to other children’s, something I know you realise. There have been many questions about what children do at school all day and perhaps a few doubts that you are missing out on something by having Mum as your teacher. I can assure you my love that what ever you do miss out on will be more than compensated by what you gain in our travelling. I was fairly certain of this before we started, now two months in I am completely convinced.

Our life is richer in so many ways now. Our bond as a family is closer than it has ever been, the confined space and so much time spent together has worked well for us all. We are all a lot happier living this way, it is only early days still but there is so much more smiles, laughter and good vibes now. We have experienced some wonderful things together and seen so many beautiful places. The people we are meeting is an experience within itself, both the other travellers and the locals in the places we stay. I know this is still our country but for a little boy who has only ever lived in one place it is great to see different ways that people choose to live and conduct their lives.

Of course like all parents we are only making the choices that sit the best with us and hoping that in the long term these will work well for you. I also now hope that you will remember this time when you grow up and not in a fuzzy background, you were told about it so many times you think you remember it way. I hope it holds enough impact to be a clear memory. And I hope it’s as good a memory for you as it is for me.

 

 

A night in a hut

Before we had Oliver one of our favourite ways to spend a weekend was to find a hut to walk to and stay the night at. There is something about heading into the bush with only what you can fit in your packs, only your own two feet to get you there and back that is just appealing to me on a lot of levels. In the early stages of our relationship I know that the time spent tramping helped Wayne and I build a strong bond, it gave us time out from lives in which we normally worked a lot and often only had the same days off once a month. And when Oliver came along it was a part of our life that I sorely missed. When he was around two, big enough that I knew he would sleep through the night without disturbing other hut goers but still small enough to fit in the carrier on our backs we did a few overnight tramps. But then he grew to tall for that and we got really busy trying to sell our house and organise moving in to a bus. So now that we have the time and before it starts to get to cold we were keen to try an overnight tramp in the south island.

The Abel Tasman track is a a multi day tramp that starts at Marahau and goes all the way to Wainui Inlet past Totaranui bay. Because it’s a coastal track and there are plenty of water taxi’s available it makes it very easy to do just a section of the track. Our plan was to catch a water taxi from Marahau to Torrent Bay, walk to Anchorage where there is a hut that we would stay at for the night, then walk out to Marahau the following day.

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Once again we were remarkably lucky with the weather and as we headed to catch our water taxi we were greeted with a lovely sunny day. After a pleasant little boat ride with a few stops to point out some local landmarks and the seals at Adele Island we were dropped at Torrent Bay. It was low tide, so the boots had to come off and Oliver had to get carried in to shore since the boat couldn’t get in as close. What we hadn’t realised is that striking low tide had other implications to, we had a choice of the low tide track across the mud flats which would take 35 minutes or the high tide track which would take nearly two hours. Deciding that there were lots of other side tracks for us to do from Anchorage we took the easy option and where at the hut well before lunch time. This gave us time to explore the amazing beach a little and get first pick of which bunks we wanted. Oliver was thrilled to get a top bunk with Daddy and I was just as thrilled that I didn’t have a top bunk. The hut at Anchorage is fairly new having been opened in 2013, it has 34 bunks spread over four rooms and a roomy kitchen area with a gorgeous view out to the water. It has quite a few modern conveniences as far as huts go, filtered drinking water, flushing toilets and solar powered lights in the kitchen area, even somewhere to charge your phone. It’s just a few steps off the beach and well used by people doing the tramp or kayaking in the Abel Tasman.

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After enjoying lunch with the resident wekas we headed off for a walk to a lookout. The walk to Pitt head is worth the climb for the glorious view of Torrent Bay and Bark bay beyond it, you can’t quite see Anchorage tucked in around the corner of the headland. From there the track looped around finally coming to another picturesque little bay, the Abel Tasman just seems to have an endless supply of little beaches, most small but perfectly formed.

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When we arrived back at the hut it was to find it and the beach beyond extremely busy. There are some large boats that do tours from Kaiteriteri and in the time we had been away they had dropped off a large school group and quite a few day tripping tourists. Along with them were lot’s of kayakers who get picked up from Anchorage by boat at the end of their days paddling. Certainly you are under no illusions that you are to far from civilization. Oliver decided that a swim was a good idea, though judging by the piercing screams he let out every time he got in over his bottom I would say even he is starting to feel the crispness of the water. We walked the length of the beach and explored the rocks at one end of it as we watched all the people boarding their boats to head home. Then it was back to the hut for dinner and a few games of Uno as the sun started to dip behind the hills. We couldn’t resist one last beach walk before bed and Oliver had a ball with his torch on his head chasing it’s light down the beach. We saw stingrays swimming in close to shore and at the far end of the beach saw glow worms in a sea cave. Oliver couldn’t resist a second look at the glow worms and I found a comfy log to sit on while I waited for them. The moon was up and the stars were just starting to flood the sky, it felt like a perfect moment, exploring a beach at night, feeling the peacefulness that the sound of waves lapping on a beach brings you. It struck me how grateful I am that we took this leap into this new life, it would have been so easy to just let it be a dream, something we thought would be amazing but felt there were to many unknowns holding us back. There are still a lot of unknowns around the corner for us and still some moments where I wonder if we can keep doing this, but those moments are so fleeting. It is easy to chase them away when you have beaches to explore and trails to walk with your family. And whatever those challenges end up being they are worth it for these perfect moments we get to share with Oliver.

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The next day Oliver was up bright and early at 5am, not unusual for him, he has been an early riser since forever. Something I have just learnt to live with, in a hut full of lots of sleeping people it was a bit more challenging. But after breakfast, a few dozen games of uno and watching the sun come up from the beach, everyone else started to stir as well. By 9.30 we had our packs on our backs and were starting the long walk back to Marahau. The suggested time was four hours so we were expecting this to be a big day. The track went inland to start with and climbed quite considerably for a while. Then you dropped down and follow the coast more closely with quite a few beaches you had the option of walking down to and exploring. For some reason Oliver struggled a bit with this walk, he just wasn’t his usual motivated little self, it wasn’t an easy walk and though we explored one of the beaches we simply didn’t have the time to go down to every one of them. This felt like a bit of tease to me and I know it was hard for him to. I feel for me kayaking would have been the prime way to explore this section, that way the beaches and the views would have all been much more accessible. It took us seven hours to get back to Marahau and there were quite a few ‘I can’t do this mummy’s’ by the end of it. But in the end he did and this is probably one of the greatest feelings tramping gives. When you have genuine moments of wondering if you can get there, your feet are sore, your pack is heavy, you feel like your steps are getting smaller and smaller, you are moving slower and slower. But you trudge on because there is no other option and then of course you do make it. You achieve something that you genuinely did not think that you could, you surprise yourself and teach yourself that you are much more capable than you imagined. My hope is that these experiences we are having now will stay with us once life has stopped being quite so exciting. That we will never forget how much we actually can achieve.

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