Outward Bound

Almost everyone you talk to about Outward Bound describes it as life-changing. And it is – it’s one of those watershed, monumental moments in life where nothing after is quite the same as before. The closest experience I can liken it to is birth – and, in fact, I did that quite often while I was there. Whenever we made it down a mountain or across an ocean and someone asked how I felt about what my body had just done, I’d joke “well, at least it wasn’t giving birth”. It frequently felt pretty close though.

Both experiences break your life cleanly into before and after. Both involve being overwhelmed and then astounded by what your body can do when put under grinding and inescapable pressure. Both involve finding a new relationship to pain. 

In bringing a person into the world, as in climbing a mountain, you just have to keep going, and going, and going, no matter how much it hurts. And the more tired you get, the harder you need to work, because there’s no service exit with a vehicle waiting to carry you home if you want to quit. Once you’ve started, you’ve committed. You’re going all the way up that mountain, and then all the way down the other side, because there’s no way out except all the way through. And your body does it because it literally has no choice. Even if you think you can’t do it. Even when you’re sure you can’t do it. 

And then, all of a sudden, you have. You’re out the other side. The task you thought you couldn’t do is done – and not only that, but you find you can still keep going after that, too. Spending 48 hours in labour and then being handed a sleepless baby to look after is great practice, it turns out, for running your first half marathon (on trail, no less) and then being handed a long list of chores and realising you’re still not going to get to sit down for hours.

The change in who you are is obviously not as clear as “not a parent” to “parent”. You’re still you. You return to the same house and family and job and life. But you know things about yourself now. You know your own power. You’ve climbed mountains and battled kraken and faced demons both real and imagined. You’ve spent days alone in the forest, hissing at possums and eating apple cores. You’ve been separated from your phone for weeks and realised that your entire soul felt quieter and more connected without it. You’ve walked in forests that have never known people. You’ve sung to dolphins. You’ve jumped into fog-licked oceans at sunrise, and slept inside clouds on a bed of ancient moss.

You’ve touched magic, and by touching it you’ve become a little bit magic too.

I went into Outward Bound with some naive assumptions. I assumed, naively, that Outward Bound was for people who wanted to challenge themselves by trying outdoor activities that they’d never get to do in their normal lives. And maybe that’s true for the younger cohorts. It was definitely true for me. 

But the rest of my masters course hadn’t got the memo. Our “watch” of 14 (Huriwhenua 702, toowit toowoo!) consisted of several casual marathoners, an ex-army arborist, adventure seekers, extreme sportsers, a boxing instructor, a premier netballer, and an honest-to-god outdoor guide. These people had not come to play.

I, on the other hand, arrived fresh from surburbia as a 40-year-old mother of two whose outdoor experience in the last 10 years has consisted mainly of dog walks and school pick-up. I had prepared myself by doing a handful of 3k runs, trotting up Pap Hills a couple of times to “break in” my boots (spoiler: I did not) and borrowing some thermals off my mum, who has not been outside by choice since 1987.

I realised I was in trouble on day two, when our instructors announced that our first activity would be rock climbing, and more than one member of the group promptly asked if they could use their own gear. 

An Outward Bound course is designed to push every member of a watch to their limits, mentally and physically. It won’t break you, but you’ll definitely find the limits of your flex. I don’t know if any of our plans would have been different if we’d had a less-able group, but I know the first week was really, really hard for me. I felt like I was dying when everyone else was thriving. The second day of our first overnight tramp was one of the harder days of my life. I cried my way down a mountain, beset by aches and blisters and the certain, horrible knowledge that I absolutely couldn’t keep going but I also had no other choice.

But somehow I did keep going. My body kept moving. My new friends carried my gear and held my hands and hauled me up and bandaged my aching feet and told me jokes and with their help I made it all the way down that mountain to eat the most enormous and delicious pasta dinner of my life. By the second (longer, harder) multi-day tramp, I’d learned two new things: my body could, and would, keep going for as long as I needed it to; and that good company can make anything not only bearable, but – dare I say it – fun.

That’s the thing about Outward Bound – it’s as much about people as it is about nature. The people who find the physical challenges easier are often pushed to their limits by working as a team in around-the-clock immediate proximity with 13 others. I feel like I hit the jackpot with our watch – but also, I think that nothing bonds a group of people faster than being isolated and exhausted together (except maybe having to shit in the same bucket). The in-jokes and dad jokes fly thick and fast, and within a matter of days it feels like you’ve developed your own language. It’s been a long, long time since I laughed so hard or so often.

Which, in the end, was the biggest lesson I learned. My body can do hard things – but they’re easier when they’re done with friends. Real, true, in-person, human-to-human connection is fundamental. 

Other things I learned:

  • Don’t be scared of cold water.
  • You are much, much stronger than you think.
  • There is absolutely no reason for anyone to climb a mountain – but sometimes it’s worth doing anyway.
  • Sing and dance more often. Enthusiasm counts way more than skill.
  • The secret to running long distances is to start running and then don’t stop.
  • The only song that everyone between 25 and 55 knows all the words to is Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • If you have hot food and hot water and a warm bed you are infinitely blessed.
  • Your standards can always be lower.

Spinning webs

A couple of months ago I did Outward Bound. One of the tasks we had to complete on our solo was to create a gift to give to the rest of our watch. I wrote this.

I’m thinking about the poem that girl wrote, and our reaction to it. It was beautiful, but it made me sad because it’s tragic and terrible what humans have done to our planet and to each other, but to me, the worst part of all is that we think we are the problem but we can’t be the solution.

I read a book once that used the phrase “the revolution is love”, and I’ve thought about it every day since. 

I also used to think that we’d killed our planet, and that humans were a virus or a parasite and that nothing could get better unless there were less of us here to ruin things. 

But then I had a baby, and he was perfect and beautiful and part of both the human race and the natural world. And then another baby, who was the same. And my love for both of these babies was exponential and still is—it only gets bigger and stronger and stronger and bigger. Nothing they do and nothing that is done to them can make my love any smaller, but anything and everything can make it bigger.

I am the mother of only two of the seven billion people here on earth, but imagine if everyone alive today was loved that much. Seven billion perfect, beautiful human beings loving and being loved—a vast, tidal ocean of love that extends beyond the horizon in every direction—and then tell me again that we’re a virus.

Until I had a child, I thought people were born selfish and we had to civilise them into being kind and sharing. Now I think the opposite is true. 

Darwin thought evolution was based on competition, and I think most people are still taught this. But it has since been shown, through evidence I can’t produce while sitting in the bush, that actually we evolved through cooperation. 

To evolve at all, those original single-celled organisms had to decide that it was better to work together than to compete. By nature we all want to share, to cooperate, to love. It makes us feel good. And that’s not selfish either—feeling good for doing good is a feature, not a bug. The problem is we’ve cut ourselves off from this feedback loop, and from each other. 

We believe we are separate.

I was taught to believe that I am me and you are you. I end and you start. But if you go down deep enough there is no end of me or start of you—there’s just collections of atoms vibrating quietly in space. Right now my atoms identify as me, but one day they will be soil, which might grow a tree that develops a fruit that’s eaten by someone else, and then I will be them. 

Some of my cells are already my children. Some of me used to be my mother and my grandmother, and on and on. They say your body regenerates itself completely every seven years, so you could say my seven-year-old is now fully himself; there’s nothing I made inside me left in him. But it would probably be more accurate to say he’s no longer himself—he’s the food he’s eaten and the fields he’s played in and the water he’s drunk. He’s made up of little pieces of everything that surrounds him. 

And so am I. 

And so are you. 

You are literally what you eat, but also what you breathe and touch and drink and do. We are all—people, plants, animals, avocado toast and check-engine lights—made up of the same stuff. The planet is a giant living, breathing web, and we are part of that web.

This is a lot of words written on a rock beside a river, neither of which is as good for editing as a laptop, but I think what I’m trying to say is this: 

Across the road from my old house is a stream. Over the seven years we lived there, volunteers planted the banks of the stream with native trees and bush. In the next suburb upstream, there’s still nothing in the water but algae, and occasionally “accidental” runoff from the industrial area. But on our street, first the pukeko came back. Then the fantails and the tūī and kererū. People walked and rode their bikes beside it, and hung swings in the trees for children to play on. A morepork and a falcon moved into our back yard for easier access to the duckling buffet. An eel lives under the bridge.

The problems we’re facing as a species and a planet feel too huge and overwhelming to bear. But I truly believe that if we’re powered by love, even small actions can make a big difference. Seven billion tiny threads could fix a lot of web.


Nico is seven

It’s been a hard year for my kid, and a hard year for his parents. He took the big stuff in stride – starting primary, moving city, changing schools. The small stuff – eating meals, cleaning teeth, understanding “no” – remains very much a work in progress.

The other day we went to a Pokemon pom pom making workshop. Three different instructors, after being subjected to Nico’s creative process, approached me separately to say “that kid’s going to be an artist when he grows up”. That morning I got to see all the best qualities of my child when he’s in his flow, and it was magic. He’s magic.

The brief was to make a yellow pom pom, and then stick felt circles on it for eyes, and red circles for cheeks, and then two triangles for ears. Nico knew immediately what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t that

In his own inimitable fashion, he went about constructing his own version of Pikachu. He didn’t ask for permission, or check with a grown-up, or look for ideas to copy. He just went for it – drawing prototype ears and tails until he got what he wanted. He put a body on his Pikachu, and then added arms and legs. He played around with cheeks and added highlights to the eyes. Other kids in the room, watching him, started modifying their own Pokemon too. He was 100% confident from start to finish – both that he knew his vision, and that he had the skills to make it happen.

Then he went and inhaled a truly phenomenal amount of lunch, including things that weren’t even beige carbs! He was competent and satisfied, and hungry because he’d worked hard.

That’s the kid I know he is. Smart, fast as lightning, super creative, endlessly personable and entertaining, with such intense focus and control over his body. We see that kid when he’s doing any kind of art, when he’s in the middle of a group of friends talking them into some mad scheme, or anytime he’s using his body at his own limits – riding his bike with one hand, climbing trees, trying to skateboard.

But this year we haven’t seen much of him the rest of the time. He’s always been who he is – determined, volatile, full of feelings. He’s always had amazing control of his body. He’s always been so verbal and so cogent and so quick with his ideas that he seems far older than his years. But he’s also always struggled to name and understanding his feelings, and to contain them when they get too big for him. Which, this year, has been a lot of the time. He’s also always only had two modes: happy and angry. He gets angry when he’s sad. He gets angry when he’s embarrassed. He gets angry when he’s overwhelmed, or ashamed, or too hungry. He gets angry when he feels like he doesn’t have control, or when something doesn’t seem fair – and things seem out of control or unfair a lot of the time when you’re six.

We’ve struggled at home, and he’s struggled at school. The deputy principal has me on speed dial. His teacher is working with a Montessori mentor to gain some new skills, because he’s refused to do writing for much of this term, and “sit there until you do it” will literally result in him sitting there all day. (It’s not a good strategy, especially in a Montessori class – and we didn’t know about it until the last week of term, which be assured resulted in several angry meetings on our part.) You cannot outwit him, and you cannot outlast him. You can’t bully or intimidate him, and you also can’t cajole or bribe him. If he doesn’t want to, he just won’t.

Unfortunately, some of the things he just won’t do are things you need to do to stay alive and live in a society, like eat dinner and have a shower. Diogo and I have read book after book after book and tried strategy after strategy, but all the books and the strategies seem to rely on a kid being motivated enough by praise or adult approval, or capable of seeing consequences, or even just able to express their feelings or share them with someone else.

The most helpful resource we’ve found is the Explosive Child – we haven’t had much success with implementing the solutions because the things he won’t do change from day to day and week to week, and if we can negotiate one he’ll move on to the next (this week we’ve clocked having a shower, but he refuses to leave the house) – but the idea of “lagging skills” has really helped us understand what’s happening in his brain. He’s paying for being able to do maths in his head and draw anything you can name and come up with ideas for scientific concepts that are frequently eerily close to the real thing by being unable to handle transitions, deal with uncertainty or shift his mindset when a plan changes.

(Here’s the list of skills if you want to check it out – Nico has pretty much all of them except for the ones to do with sociability or motor skills.)

It’s hard to be him, and it’s hard to live with him. Diogo and I have both done a lot of crying in private, and far more yelling than we ever wanted or intended. As any parent with a “difficult” or neurodiverse kid will know, the relentlessness is rough. You can parent from the heart and try to always approach your kid with love and understanding, but sometimes your heart will still tell you “fuck him, this time he’ll learn if I take his Pokemon cards away”. Parents aren’t perfect, and as much as we love our children, maintaining your cool when you’re being triggered all day long and it seems like he’s wilfully ruining everything for everyone is hard. It’s hard. It sucks and it’s hard. There’s no great solution or pithy insight here: it sucks, it’s hard, and we’re still in the middle of it. Parents dealing with anything similar, I feel you and I know you’re doing your best.

It feels so precarious and so important – the books often say that parenting doesn’t actually matter that much in the scheme of things, but with him it feels like it does. It feels like he’s balanced on a tightrope with his devils on one shoulder and his angels on the other, and if we accidentally feed the devils we could tip him over. I think school and home have been a reinforcing loop this term of constantly being in trouble and pushing back against it in ways that get him in more trouble. We’re working on that.

Things we know make his behaviour worse: low blood sugar, high blood sugar, too much screentime (particularly games), getting too tired, trying to control him, not giving him any choice about things. We’re working on all of those.

Things we know work: getting outside and moving his body, making sure he’s eaten. Sometimes you can joke or distract him out of a meltdown if you catch it at the right time. But all of the solutions require intercepting him before he goes over the edge, after which nothing helps until he’s worn himself out. He won’t talk to you about it. He can’t bear hugs or being touched when he’s in shutdown. Even being in the same room is often too much. Sometimes he’ll let us sit in the hall, as long as we don’t talk or look at him, and eventually we might be able to come into the room with him.

More than anything, I feel for him so deeply. He’s the most outgoing, hilarious, enthusiastic kid in the world, and I truly believe he could do literally anything he put his mind to. He’s full of mad schemes and wild ideas, and the confines of reality drive him insane (as for example when he decides he needs to make a robot suit at 9:30 at night, and is driven absolutely wild by the fact that we can’t (and won’t) go and buy him art supplies immediately). 

(There’s a demonstration of the rub between the things that work and the things that don’t, too: he needs enough sleep, but he’s at his most creative at night when he’s stopped moving and the house is quiet, so we’re constantly balancing letting him do what he needs to do because a meltdown will last hours and he definitely won’t go to sleep, versus the fact that he doesn’t really sleep in so he absolutely will not be sane tomorrow if he’s drawing until 11pm.)

As a creative, extremely sensitive, non-sleeping child myself, I understand him on a gut level. But I was lucky enough to also be painfully shy and terrified of adult disapproval, so I was sneaky where he’s brazen, and cried where he rages. Both of which are more socially acceptable and easier for adults to handle, unfortunately. I was also a writer and reader, which is easier to hide at school and at home, and I preferred my own company where he would always like an audience.

I worry that he’s carving himself a difficult path, but also I know in my soul that all the things that make being a kid so hard for him are the things that are going to make him great as an adult. He doesn’t care what people think. He’s a natural leader and teacher and great at inspiring others. He throws himself into interests and ideas with his whole heart and won’t give up until his vision is reality. For all that he’s quick to anger, he’s also endlessly forgiving, extremely generous and deeply loving. He’s kind. He loves people and animals and they love him back. He’s the most fun to be around.

He’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. He’s taught me so much, not just about being a mother but about being a person, and I’m so grateful and honoured that I get to be the one fighting beside him while he figures all of this out. I hope I can live up to the challenge, and I hope he always knows how much I love him and I much I just plain like him.

And now I’d better actually go buy the stuff to make pizza tonight, which is what I’m supposed to be doing right now, and then go home and help him build some Lego.



I’m 40 today. To be honest, I’m in a bit of a funk about it. I’ve been joking for years that I was born to be 40, but now that it’s actually here it feels so… adult. I don’t know how to do anything yet! I can’t be halfway done when I’ve barely even started.

I remember waking up on the morning of my 30th with $12 in my bank account and nothing but tomato sauce and wine in the fridge. I was flatting, stone cold broke from blowing all my money travelling, perpetually single, and working a job I enjoyed but that frankly wasn’t going anywhere.

On paper, it’s been an absolute ride of a decade. Husband, business, two kids, house, move across the country, brain work, body work, work work. I’ve come such a long way. I’m really proud of myself, when I think about it. I made human people and birthed them out of my body! My business partner and I have kept our wee business supporting our families for almost 10 years! I found an exceptional human being and had the sense to lock him down and put a ring on it! I suffered the consequences of neglecting my body all through my teens and twenties and I did the work to heal it! I did all that! Well done, me!

I’m learning, as I get older, that real progress is slow and boring. I’ve spent literal decades making wild plans to upend everything and crashing after a day or a week. The changes that stick are the little ones, the small tweaks and half-measures that I can stick with because I enjoy them. I resolved to read 50 books in 2012 and I’ve kept it up ever since. I resolved to go for a walk every day one month in 2019 and I’ve kept that up ever since too. I went two full years without touching a single morsel of gluten or dairy. I still fail more than I succeed, but it’s nice to know I can do hard things when I really want to.

The elephant in my room is my own writing. I decided to be a novelist when I was 12 years old, and here I am at 40, still dabbling. I can call myself a writer – that’s what I get paid to do, after all. I’ve written articles and blogs and a million government websites and several partial (and one complete) novels that are chilling in a box in the closet.

I’ve come back to fiction this year, after almost 10 years away from it. I’m making slow progress, but it’s progress. I give it an hour or two most mornings, and I’m enjoying it, and maybe that’s what really matters anyway. Maybe I’ll be published at 45, or 55, or maybe I’ll never be published, and writing fiction will just be the hobby I tinker with while I have my morning coffee.

And maybe that will be okay.

Maybe that will be more than okay, as part of this incredible life I’ve built with my family where I can swim in the sea and take the time to write and go for walks every day and play with my hilarious, infuritating children and obsess about curtains in my really very freaking nice house that’s more than I honestly ever dreamed of having. 

This morning I woke up 40, and there’s enough money in my account to pay our mortgage, and enough food in our fridge to feed our family, and an amazing family to feed. It’s all more than I ever dreamed of having. I’m very lucky, and very thankful, and apparently also very middle-aged.


Two thoughts about parenting


They say things “skip a generation” – often about innocuous things like having a green thumb or a passion for cooking – but I think it’s wider than that. Life is a wheel, and so is parenting. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how you’re always parenting from your own trauma. We all want to give their kids whatever we didn’t have – but the flipside of that is that we can’t pass on what we’re not conscious of.

Here’s the simple version: my nana was an amazing cook who made everything (soups, pickles, sauces and jams) herself from the vegetables and fruit my grandfather grew all over their half-acre section. 

My mum, meanwhile, is a diabolical cook. Dinner in our house was usually boiled until it was grey or burned to a crisp – but we ate out a lot at actual restaurants, and our lunchboxes were always packed with hideously expensive (and hideously hideous) Eighties health foods like carob-coated rice cakes and gluten-free seed “crackers” with the texture and flavour of damp cardboard.

They both believed that food was love, but because Mum had never had packet foods and restaurant nights out, and I guess because Nana took care of all the cooking so she never felt the need to learn (no one wants to be into what their parents are into) – and maybe even because she saw how much time her mother spent making food instead of working or doing anything for herself – she showed that love by spending money on food rather than growing or making it.

And now the wheel turns back. My memories heavily feature nightly battles over tasteless dinners, and the crushing disappointment of opening my lunchbox to find nothing at all I actually wanted to eat, while all around me my friends tore open crinkly, colourful packets and crunched their way through brand-name biscuits. I love to cook. I’m an absolute nerd about nutrition, and growing and making food from scratch. And although they’re only 5 and 6, so far my boys only care about food that comes in shiny wrappers…

So now the less-simple version. I was listening to a podcast with Dr Becky Kennedy, who was talking about how your triggers with your children are often around whatever you had to learn to push down or ignore in yourself to get love as a child. Makes sense. But it made me think about the opposite, too – how we’re all trying to give our children the experiences that we didn’t have, or to heal whatever we feel was wanting in our own childhoods. But, in doing that, we can’t see whatever we did have, so we can miss out on passing on what our parents worked so hard to give us. It skips a generation, and we accidentally do the damage our parents were trying to heal in themselves as they parented us.

Here’s a concrete example, and a reason why I’m so grateful that my husband and I had different upbringings:

My parents were very typical helicopter parents. They were married a long time without children, and by the time they adopted me at 36 and had my brother at 37, they were determined that we would be and have everything. Mum’s stated goal for our childhoods was that we would be “well-rounded” – which is a noble goal, unless you have a hyper-focused, obsession-prone, socially-anxious, introvert bookworm for a child (me, hi. I’m the problem it’s me) who frankly just wanted to be left alone to read and write in her room until she was old enough for university. 

I found the constant parade of extra-curricular activities and team sports and exams and performances insanely stressful. I hated nearly all of it, and “it” was a lot. A team sport every term, swimming, speech and drama, a musical instrument, sailing, ballet, tennis, Scouts – I only realised in my thirties how tense and stressed out I was basically all the time. And because I was a kid, I thought the problem was me. I felt like there was something wrong with me that needed fixing so I could be “normal”. I felt perpetually anxious, not good enough, and like I could never be myself – or even figure out who that was until well into my twenties.

Diogo is the only child of a social worker single mother. He was, and is, her pride and joy, but she always worked full time so he spent a lot of time alone in their apartment or playing with the other kids in his building. His mum worked her ass off to give him whatever he wanted, and supported him so deeply that he grew up feeling like life often had no guardrails or boundaries. When he looks back, he sees himself as spoiled and entitled and ungrateful of how hard his mum had to work to give him what he had.

He wants our boys to appreciate how privileged and lucky they are, and to have the discipline to see things through and follow the rules – and to have those rules be clear-cut and concrete so they can feel secure in where the boundaries are. I want them to feel free to be themselves, and to always make their own choices.

This is the essential paradox of our family life. You can’t see what you never had. Diogo’s mum was permissive and indulgent, so he has no experience of feeling controlled and judged, which makes it hard for him to see the long-term consequences of occasionally being too strict or inflexible. Meanwhile, I’m hyper-aware of that, but I have no experience of feeling like I have more control of my parent than I should, so I find it hard to see the long-term consequences of being a pushover or letting my kids (Nico, he’s the problem it’s him) negotiate everything with me.

(On the other hand, I believe Nico could debate anyone on the planet and crush them into dust with his absolutely insatiable energy for arguing, negotiation, bargaining and disagreement, so… life skills? We’ve taken to calling him “Do Contra”, which more or less translates as “Mr Contrary”, because there is literally nothing you could say to him that he won’t find a way to disagree with or negotiate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: that kid will save the world or he’ll end it.)

Just something to ponder.


Something else to ponder: I was thinking about boys and girls yesterday while I was watching the boys’ swimming lessons, and wondering how much of the fact that girls perform better at basically all forms of organised learning is because organised learning is by definition not set up well for little boys.

Part of it is definitely socialisation – we still reward little girls for listening and being kind and following the rules more than boys, so they’re very quickly indoctrinated into being rewarded for people-pleasing. Which makes them more tractable and teachable, because they follow the rules better.

But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we also punish boys for being boys. This isn’t really a new idea, but it hit me hard in that moment. Nico was the last to have his turn at “frog kicking”, and his teacher had spent 4 or 5 minutes with each kid before him showing them where their legs needed to be. 

So, he, a six-year-old who has never stopped moving for a second in his life (without Minecraft being involved, anyway) had to wait quietly on his own, IN A POOL, without moving or playing, for upwards of 10 minutes. Spoiler: he could not. He wasn’t disruptive or dangerous, he was just amusing himself by diving under and popping up while he waited – but his teacher made him get out and sit on the side for the rest of the class, and he missed his turn. He actually seemed to take it in stride, but I was fuming on his behalf. I don’t know if I could stay still that long in a pool!

Before Nico was born, I did a lot of reading about how there’s no difference in boys’ and girls’ brains. And I know there’s enormous variation between and among the genders, and biological sex is a spectrum, so this is all a generalisation, but also: hormones exist. Nico has never played with a doll in his life. Luca loves them. They both say pink and red are their favourite colours. But, left to their own devices, they will always decide that the best game involves jumping on and/or pummeling each other. The urge to wrestle and fight and learn by moving their bodies in violent and unpredictable ways seems to be built in.

All kids have that to a degree, but in my experience it is much stronger in most boys. And then we ask them to sit still and be quiet to learn things, and punish them when they can’t. Imagine how that compounds over a kid’s school career. In that swimming class, the girls learned the thing, and the boy both didn’t learn it, and was punished for being asked to do something his body couldn’t do. Next week, the girls will have already had the lesson, so it will be easier for them to try that kick again. Nico hasn’t, and he’ll probably be distracted by being in a pool and trying to keep his body under control, so maybe he’ll fail to learn it again. And on and on and on.

The data show, for the first time, that gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict.

The authors attribute this misalignment to what they called non-cognitive skills, or “how well each child was engaged in the classroom, how often the child externalized or internalized problems, how often the child lost control and how well the child developed interpersonal skills.” They even report evidence of a grade bonus for boys with test scores and behavior like their girl counterparts.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m so thankful (again and always) that my kids are in Montessori environments where they can move their bodies and learn things in their own time and way.


Luca turns five

My baby is five. His birthday was three weeks ago today, and I’m only just getting around to saying anything about it now because that’s how second children work.

I worry about this kid, but in a completely different way than I worry about his brother (about whom my concerns tend towards extreme sports or jail). I worry that other people can’t see how incredible he is, or that he’ll get passed over or not noticed at preschool because he’s so self-contained and low fuss.

That makes it sound like he’s shy or quiet, which for a long time we thought he might be – but it turns out he’s neither. Once he’s comfortable, he’s a tempest of action and wild stories. He’s the centre of all the action in his little squad of boys and an absolute chatterbox at home. He’s figured out how to provoke his brother into an absolute frenzy using nothing but a few well-placed words, and he gets deep and abiding satisfaction from doing it.

He’s a real little dude – always running and shouting and making a mess. But he’s also still my little clingy koala and an absolute mummy’s boy. Drop-offs are still hard for him every morning, and his favourite phrase is still “I want to be with YOU, Mummy”. He needs a back scratch and a face rub and a foot rub and all his stuffies and a thousand kisses to get to sleep, and he’d still vastly prefer it if I carried him everywhere. 

He’s stopped telling outrageous lies, mostly, but he’s still playing with language – he makes up his own words for things, or will spend a week replacing all his nouns with the word “cucumber”. He also has a very well-defined sense of drama that he chooses to employ in just the strangest possible ways. A couple of weeks ago I came home and he’d replaced my bedside lamp with his bunny lamp and put my lamp in his room. When I asked him why, he glared at me and said, “I will NEVER tell you”. And so far he has not.

He’s my little emotional manifestor, so he always has his own stuff going on. (Personality sun in the gate of aloneness; design sun/earth in the gates of skills and focus. (Interestingly, because our birthdays are exactly 9 months apart (yes, I know), I’m the reverse.)) He’s very self-contained, and can play quietly on his own for hours at a time when he’s in the mood (home sick the other day, he asked me to go and work in a different room because he needed “some time alone”). 

The flip side of that is that he struggles intensely with the Monday to Friday routine, and is always an exhausted mess by the holidays. One of our parenting challenges with him is going to be working out how to help him navigate knowing when he needs time out or a rest, and helping him get it.

Our other challenge is that he knows exactly how cute he is, and he plays up being the baby to avoid getting in trouble and to get his own way (which is also, annoyingly, really cute because mostly his own way is cuddles). He is acutely, painfully delicious and I can never get enough of his little face and his sweaty little hands and his giant feet and his bony knees and his soft tummy. It’s shocking that he’s already five, but also he’s more interesting and more fun all the time, so I guess I have to forgive him for getting so big. 

He’ll always be my baby though… possibly literally, since there’s a real risk I’ll still be carrying him into school when he’s 12.


March 2022: In which we are moving and one of us (not me) is a liar

Every month since, oh, January of last year, I’ve planned to post a general life update here. 15th time lucky!

Somehow a third of this year has disappeared already. We made the massive, protracted and very angsty decision at the end of last year to move to Tauranga. Apart from 10 months in equally-grey Vancouver, I’ve lived in Wellington my whole life. The year before, I’d made the (I thought) final call and decided we would plan to stay in our house for the long haul. I hate the cold and the constant wind, but we love the kids’ school, and we’re close to coffee, the gym, old and new friends, ducks and dog walks.

Pretty much immediately, the universe does what the universe does, and upended everything. First, Diogo got a job where he works remotely from home, and I realised that all my client meetings had been online for the past year – so neither of us needs to physically be in Wellington anymore for work. Another big part of our decision to stay put had been about family – my parents are here, and although I desperately wanted to be closer to my brother and his wife, especially once they start a family, we had two of my amazing cousins and my aunt nearby. Then both cousins promptly moved away – one to Tauranga, no less – and my aunt and her partner decided to move overseas.

We’ve spent pretty much all our holidays in Tauranga since the boys were born. My brother has been there for about 10 years now, and his wife grew up there. We love the beach, the sunshine, the relaxed pace, the food. We have friends there and regular spots we like to go. We discovered there’s a Montessori primary school there, right by the beach, and I went and visited it and found it absolutely delightful.

Then I got home and it rained for three weeks straight. On the rare day that the sun came out and stayed out, we discovered our kids are old enough to spend pretty much the whole day pottering around outside without us. They love it. We love it. I realised how much of my time I spend being cold, and how intensely it saps my energy. I realised I want my kids to grow up looking like the kids I saw up there: sun-bleached hair, bare feet and tanned skin, riding their bikes and playing in the surf. There seems to be kids everywhere in Papamoa and the Mount – out playing on the street and in driveways in a way they just don’t in Wellington.

So we decided. We’d do it. We got Nico into the new school and found Luca a preschool, and I took January off work and spent it working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, painting and sanding and scrubbing and weeding. Our aim was to get up there for the term 1 holidays, to start term 2 at their new schools.

Now it’s the end of March, and those holidays are two weeks away. Our house is still on the market – we had an offer, but they dropped out when they couldn’t find a buyer for their own home. This morning we put in an offer on a house, again, after several unsuccessful attempts. This one is probably also likely to be unsuccessful. We’ve managed to absolutely nail our timing and be caught in a perfect storm of bank regulation changes and Covid that mean the housing market is an absolute nightmare. But we’re sticking at it, because we’ve come too far now to go back to everything as it was.

It’s stressful, and it’s frustrating. And it’s exciting and overwhelming. I’m very scared and very hopeful.

Updates hopefully to follow.

I started an exercise in February that I heard about on a podcast – for 30 days, you journal each day under three headings:

  • What filled me with enthusiasm today?
  • What drained me of energy today?
  • What did I learn about myself today?

It’s meant to help you gain clarity about which of your habits aren’t serving you, and where you should be putting your energy. On day 30, you go through everything you’ve written and find patterns. These were mine:

  • Say what you need (it’s okay to say what you need).
  • Have a routine and stick to it; getting rid of the little choices makes the big ones easier.
  • Get outside and do things with friends and family.
  • Play with your kids (but say what you need).
  • Walk a lot.
  • Inertia will eat you; just do something. (Not scrolling your phone. Put it down.)
  • Eat the things that make you feel good.
  • Aim high but go slow – do things well and enjoy the process.
  • Just start writing. It’s always hard until it’s not.
  • Clean your house.

Nico is about to turn 6, which at Montessori means transitioning to primary school. He’s excited but I think also a bit nervous about being the youngest again – being a role model and a leader is a big part of his identity at preschool. He’s absolutely obsessed with drawing at the moment – it’s even eclipsed Lego. He’s discovered YouTube tutorials and will do 10 or 12 of them a day, some of them staggeringly good. He’s grown so much all his pants from last year are up above mid-shin, his limbs suddenly so long and skinny he looks like a little spider.

Luca is four and a half. He’s learned to ride a bike, has a girlfriend in his class, and has discovered the concept of “tomorrow” (a parenting issue I didn’t see coming. One evening, I mentioned something he was waiting for was happening tomorrow. The next day, when he asked me what day it was, I said “Tuesday” and he broke down in furious betrayed sobs, yelling “YOU TRICKED ME, MUMMY! YOU TRICKED ME!”). He’s also a consummate and elaborate storyteller, which is maybe just a euphemism for an out-of-control liar.

His stories/wild fibs have three components: “Did you know”, “Logan said”, and “Right?”. For example, if Nico was to mention that a jellyfish was poisonous, Luca would promptly respond, “Did you know that Logan saw that jellyfish and it stinged him so that means it’s poison, right Mummy?” 

Although he’ll also happily go for something as mundane as “Did you know that today at lunch Logan said he likes carrots the best. He said that because carrots are yum, right?” The line between what’s real and what’s not can only at this point be verified by Logan.

Finally, two really good books that I liked a lot and think you (whoever you are) should read:



I’m boring now. 

I’ve fought it for years, but it’s time to give in and cop on: I don’t have anything to write about because my life – and by extension my very person – is boring. Prone as I am to solitary sports like reading and long walks, I was never the one with a daring story for every occasion, usually ending with one or more participants spending the night at A&E or under a bush somewhere (that’s my brother’s job – no, literally, it’s his job: he spent 20 years in radio), but I held my own. I went places and saw people and collected a funny anecdote or two to share once I went new places and saw new people.

But now so little happens to me that I’ve been reduced to using journal prompts to even have anything to say to myself of an evening. I know I’m not alone in this – the only reminiscing people will be doing about this portion of history is “remember when we all stayed home for two years?” – but I have some exacerbating circumstances that make me even more boring than everyone else.

For the last eight years, I’ve worked from home. For six of those eight years, I’ve also had small children. This combination means that most of the people I talk to are me or were made by me – and although I hold great hopes for the people I made, at this stage they still mostly talk about Ninjago and snacks. I’ve reached a point where I’m living vicariously through my local barista – a 23-year-old hipster with the build of a baby giraffe and some complicated lady problems.

(Do we still call youngsters with man buns and exposed ankles “hipsters”, or is there a new word I’ve missed because it’s not on Ninjago?)

Compounding the issue is social media. As someone who works from home and has small children, I love social media. It’s a lifeline, an escape, and a way to catch up with all the friends I never see because we can’t get babysitters on the same night (and even if we could we’d be obliged to go out with our husbands instead so we could talk about things other than which child gets custody of the Thor minifigure today and how many pieces of apple it’s okay to let them have before dinner).

I can give or take Facebook other than Messenger these days, but I fucking love Instagram. Presently I’m following dozens of shiny-haired American women as they redecorate their enormous, brand-new houses one elaborate built-in at a time. I love it. I’m filled with envy and deeply unsatisfied with everything about our house – but not enough to actually do any of the DIYs they share. Instead I obsessively scroll through them, saving pictures of cavernous dining rooms and enormous walk-in wardrobes and feeling an itchy sense of loathing about my actual surroundings. It’s great.

My point, though, is that social media has made us all boring. Already saddled with a dearth of stories due to a pesky global pandemic, any tiny scrap of interesting content has already been shared online by the time you actually speak to a friend or family member. Conversations that used to start with “wait till I tell you what happened on my way to…” now begin with “I saw your post about…”, and then both parties chortle awkwardly until someone says “but did you see the meme I posted…?”

There are no punchlines anymore; nothing to share that hasn’t already been shared.  Interesting life events are now so light on the ground we’ve collectively settled for sending the group chat a series of coloured boxes every morning and leaving it at that.

I can see two possible ways out of this predicament: go out in the world more often, or get off social media. Frankly, I don’t like either of them. Going out means paying for parking and finding my mascara, and I’ve forgotten how to tell a story in real time anyway – how do you even express emotions without gifs? What if I disappear off Facebook and all my friends forget I even exist? What if Lauren from Instagram tackles her master bathroom and I never get to see whether she goes with lacquered or unlacquered brass faucets?

Maybe it’s better to just stay boring.


For my fellow skeptics

I want to go into a bit more detail about some of the stuff in this post – both to clarify what I’m saying, and to help assimilate in my own brain what I’m learning and what I’m experiencing. So, if this is the magic bullet of perfect health, why isn’t it mainstream?

I think there are a lot of reasons, but here are a few of the top ones:

It’s too new

There’s a knowledge lag of 17 years before new treatments become standard practice. 

In the case of experimental surgeries or pharmaceutical drugs, this might be a good thing – but if there’s no risk of harm, why wait?

It’s too hard to standardise 

The “gold standard” of scientific research is the randomised controlled trial. By definition, such a trial needs to be testing one intervention, with all the other variables held constant. A few of these have been done, but the results aren’t conclusive, because they can’t be

If you trial 100 people on a gluten-free diet, 10 of them might feel better. For those 10, that result could be life-changing, but overall, your trial is a failure because everyone didn’t get better. But the point is that everyone isn’t meant to because everyone is different. 

Five of those 10 might improve further on a dairy-free diet too, or if they eat more plant foods, or heal their gut. Some of the other 90 might have issues with candida, or mould exposure, or their blood sugar.

There’s no single lifestyle intervention that will help everyone… beyond the obvious ones that we’ve already accepted because they really are universal, like stopping smoking, exercising, getting more sleep and eating less sugar.

Unfortunately, instead of the medical community as a whole saying “hey, these things help some people, they’re worth a try”, they tend to say “there’s no evidence for that, so don’t bother”.

(The funny part is that the efficacy of drug treatments are on the whole also pretty crap… for example, people with high cholesterol who may be at risk of a heart attack are prescribed a statin – a drug that lowers the level of “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Usually, you need to then stay on this drug forever.

But the “number needed to treat” (NNT) for statins taken over five years is 104 – which means that for every 104 people put on a statin for five years, one heart attack will be prevented. But the number needed to harm (NNH) is only 50 – “one in 50 people on statins develops diabetes and one in ten experiences muscle damage as defined as rhabdomyolysis”.

On the other hand, switching to the Mediterranean diet for five years has an NNT of 61, with no harms found.)

No one wants to fund the research anyway

Who’s going to put up the money for the kind of massive, intensive trial that would show results in this kind of stuff… Big Broccoli? This is not me digressing into Big Pharma conspiracies – just me saying that research costs a lot of money, and it’s generally funded by those who can make that money back from positive results of the research (like drug companies). 

No one organisation is going to make billions from everyone eating a better diet and reducing their stress.

We think about things in boxes

The way we think about and classify disease is also working against us. We’ve built a system of specialists, classifications and interventions. We think about our bodies as a series of separate boxes rather than an interconnected whole. If you have a problem with your teeth, you see a dentist. If you have a problem with diarrhea and stomach cramps, you see a gastroenterologist. No one ever connects your bad teeth to your irritable bowel.

We’ve made medicine into an assembly line – you get 15 minutes to outline your symptoms, we check them against the way we’ve classified diseases, assign a name to whatever is wrong with you, and then give you the “standard of care” solution. Which is usually a drug, and may have loads of side effects or not even be particularly effective (see the statin example above). 

The dentist might remove your sore tooth, or give you a root canal so you can’t feel the pain anymore. The gastroenterologist might put you on an anti inflammatory or give you painkillers. But if both problems were caused by an imbalance in your microbiome, you might end up in a different doctor’s office six months later, being treated for depression or candida or joint pain.

We see what we want to see

In functional nutrition, if you discover an intolerance to dairy or soy or corn and remove it from your diet for a period of time, while also working on improving your digestion and the quality of your diet, supporting your liver or other organs, and rebuilding your microbiome, you may eventually be able to start eating those foods again. This could be because you’ve healed your leaky gut, calmed your immune system, and/or reduced inflammation. Being able to resume eating a food you were intolerant to is evidence of success.

But to the medical establishment, that’s often seen as proof that the intervention didn’t work, or was all in your head. See! You can eat the thing again – that means you were never really intolerant to it! The fact that you also got better is just a coincidence.

To me, there’s a real cognitive dissonance to this view. It’s not like we don’t know how crucial vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins are to our health. We also know that 60% of the average (American) diet is now made up of processed sugar, white flour and vegetable oil – substances which have plenty of calories, but basically no nutritional value*.

Both of the doctors I saw personally about my lichen sclerosus decided to think of my recovery as “spontaneous remission” rather than accept that changing my diet had anything to do with it. Like, when the science they’d been taught didn’t match with the results they saw, they preferred to believe it had just happened by magic rather than consider new information. It still boggles my mind.

We like to believe the system is the best system

I think we really hold onto the idea that whatever the “usual” way of doing things must be the best way. I can see why – any deeper interrogation of modern society is a one-way rabbit hole that leads straight to an existential crisis. (She says, from inside the hole.)

But… the way we do school isn’t the best way of educating children. The way we farm is definitely not the best way of growing food. The way we work is absolutely not the best way to achieve a healthy, productive society. Most of our systems seem to be at best a series of accidents that built over time until they turned into reinforcing loops. Modern life is now a perpetual motion machine that we can’t figure out how to slow down, let alone point in a new direction.

Mainstream isn’t necessarily mainstream, anyway

I’d like to add one more point here, that’s becoming more and more apparent to me the longer I’m out in the world talking to people about my own health journey. Being a hardheaded, super-skeptical member of Team Science, readjusting my world view to accept that there was this whole field of health I’d never heard about, and that all these chronic diseases and mental health issues we’re suffering from are not only abnormal but also highly likely to be fixable, felt like I had to rewire my entire perspective on the world. It sounds dramatic, but I felt like everything I’d thought was true and solid was revealed to be – at best – some really mushy jelly, and I had to re-learn how to live on suddenly shaky ground.

So I’d assumed that the process of talking about this with anyone else would be similar – I’d either become an instant pariah, or I’d have to provide a full dissertation with footnotes and references in every conversation. But it turns out that just because my doctors don’t believe me doesn’t mean that everyone else agrees with them. 

Every day I seem to talk to someone else who’s experimenting with this diet or that intervention because their doctor couldn’t help them, or they just know in their gut that they should feel better than they do. The problem is that most of them are doing it on their own, without help, in a scattershot trial-and-error way based on anecdotes or Instagram ads.

I feel like I’m still integrating this new model of the world into my brain. I still hold my breath every time I recommend someone makes a dietary change to try and help a health issue, and I’m still gobsmacked every time that change works. Recently I suggested a relative could try a gluten and dairy free diet to see if it helped his ulcerative colitis. I was not only still slightly shocked when his symptoms promptly resolved, but equally shocked (and amazed) that when he later tried a gluten challenge, the bleeding resumed the next day. 

It’s not that it works, because the more I learn, the more the science and the theories make so much sense to me – it’s that any medical professional (let alone basically all of them) would leave fixing the fucking problem out of their arsenal when it’s readily available as an option.

This stuff should not be fringe – but to make it mainstream, we’re not only going to need to change the information we teach to our health professionals, we’re going to have to rethink our entire food system, as well as the way we work, play, interact, sleep, clean ourselves, and more. It’s terrifying, and overwhelming – but also so freaking exciting. 

Some good places to start if you’re keen to find out more

Broken Brain podcast

Doctor’s Farmacy podcast

I’ve read dozens and dozens of books in the last year or two that expand on these ideas – what will speak to you will probably depend on what you’re personally dealing with. I reckon podcasts are the best way in – you can find what you’re interested in and choose to dig further from there.

That said, some of my favourites are:

*I’d go further and say they have negative nutritional value – not only are they not helping you get all the things your body needs to work properly, but they’re actively making you sick. More on that another time!


It turns out rain is just a bit wet

It’s raining this morning. That steady, relentless Spring rain that soaks everything and lasts all day. On Monday and Friday mornings, I walk to the gym for my PT session, and then walk home again via the local coffee shop. I get my almond flat white and wander home along the stream, sometimes stopping to meditate somewhere along the way. Once I get home, I shower, cook myself a big breakfast of eggs and avocado and greens or mushrooms, and settle in to work or study for the rest of the morning. It’s a routine I really love.

I almost didn’t walk this morning. I thought about rearranging our schedule so that I could get a ride – if we weren’t still in level 2, Diogo could have taken the kids to preschool early for a play in the playground, dropping me off on the way. But I love the walk – it wakes me up and warms me up, and I listen to my podcasts on the way. So I put my jacket on, stuffed a spare pair of socks in my bag, and headed out.

And it was fine. In fact, it was really nice. The birds were singing, the kōwhai were blooming. I got a bit damp around my toes and the bottom of my jacket, but otherwise it was more or less like any other walk on a cold morning. 

At some point, I’d started thinking of rain as some sort of insurmountable obstacle –  like having damp socks or wet hair would be a day-ruining cataclysm, an enduring misery to be avoided at all costs. It turns out, rain is just a bit wet. Who knew?

As a teenager, I had to walk from the train to school and back. I didn’t have a car until I was 25, and then promptly moved to Canada where I went straight back to catching public transport everywhere. When I came home, for one reason or another, I mostly didn’t have a car until Diogo moved in with me, bringing his car with him. Then we had a baby and acquired a second car, to “make life easier”.

Our logic was sound but also absolute bullshit – because I got paid by the hour, it made sense to get me where I needed to go as fast as possible, to “maximise my earning potential”. This is also the reason that we ended up adding a cleaner, and a gardener, and a Roomba, to “free me up” to do as much paid work as humanly possible. In our modern society, this is a sound and sensible plan. But over time, it was steadily becoming apparent that I hated it. In theory, I was making more than the car and the cleaner and the gardener cost – but somehow, it didn’t seem like it. We were both tired and stressed and run down, so all the extra money seemed to go on cafes and takeaways and wine.

I was resenting the work, but also, who wants to clean when they don’t have to? Who enjoys commuting on the train?

Turns out, me. I always enjoyed the train. No stressing about being on time – it was all out of my hands. I could read books or listen to music and there was absolutely no way to do anything else, or feel bad about the time I was “wasting”. On the other hand, sitting in traffic fills me with tense and impotent anxiety. I find parking in the city stressful, and I arrive everywhere frazzled and on edge.

We sold our second car about a year ago, when it didn’t pass its WOF and it wasn’t worth paying to fix it. It was originally a bit of a trial, but once it had gone, the adjustment period was actually quicker than expected. We needed to be a bit more organised about who had to be where and when. We bought a bike with a child seat so we could do drop-offs and pick-ups without the car on fine days. I started walking more… and more… and more.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve started taking the kids to school on the bus, even on days when I have the car. It takes longer, but it’s so much nicer as a way to start our day. There’s no rushing, except to get out the door in time to walk to the bus stop, which is about 15 minutes away at 3- and 4-year-old speed. 

We start our day with a walk outside, checking out the river and the birds and the trees. The kids run backwards and forwards and play with sticks (and/or complain and ask to be carried, depending). The bus is more fun for them than the car – it’s big and interesting and there are people to look at and buttons to press (we’re working on at what time and how often). We’re always at the gate on time, so they have a bit of time to run around with friends before heading inside, and then I put my podcast or audiobook on and walk back home, which takes me about 45 minutes if I’m direct about it (sometimes I’m not). Everyone wins.

Is it inefficient? Sure. Is it a waste of time? I really don’t think so. I might even try it when it’s raining.