It was what we British would refer to as "lovely spring weather" - sunny skies, T-shirts and regular showers. I decided that we weren't going to dodge the raindrops in the park, and when we'd picked up my boy from school took the three of them off to McDonalds. They darted through the door and towards the indoor-playground section with shrieks of delight. It was an idyllic moment, if you ignored the elder child holding the younger one down whilst he punched him repeatedly in what they still term in a strong Yorkshire accent to be the "noots."
I separate the warring parties, whilst dealing with the inevitable mother-rush of guilt that they are overhyped, and this is before I have fed them junk food in McDonalds. But then I pull myself up. Truly, I thought, I have many things in life to be thankful for. There is the fact, for example, that modern nappies come with so much front padding. And as well, there is the relief of seeing my eldest jumping around, leaping up and down on the playground just like everyone else, after a week of persistent and severe pain that really, really, frightened us all. I am sharing a bench with another mum. Something I have noticed on arrival in NZ is how friendly and approachable most mums are, you end up chatting to in the park supermarket or by the bouncy castle at Mitre 10. So in that casual striking-up-a-conversation-with-a-fellow-mum-in-the-trenches way, I mention how relieved I feel to see my son walking again, and how much I have to be thankful for this week. She says "uh-hmm," and returns to her book. I peek over her shoulder to see what it is. It's a self-help tract on Positive Thinking and Looking For the Inspirational In EveryDay Life. Well, obviously there's no reason why she would be interested in my story about a small boy learning to walk again, then.
Because I am feeling a bit rubbish and stressed, I take a second peek to see the gist of the book. Wow. Apparently what you need to do to get what you want in life is Make a List of Your Wants and then stop focusing on the fact that you don't have them. You are however allowed to make a list of the conditions in your life that are preventing you achieving them, but then you have to Reject those Conditions and no longer think about them.
I look at the little boys climbing assiduously up the slide, despite my years of religiously inculcating the mantra "up the ladders, down the slide." I open the door to the playarea and use my best childrens-TV-presenter voice: "Superheroes, what do superheroes do? They go up the ladders and down the slide." All the children stop playing and look at me. Then my boys continue to climb up the slide. Sigh. Parenting Fail. My boys are incredibly literal. "No, you are the superheroes," I explain patiently. "I mean you. You can't climb up the slide." They look at me with mystification. Why didn't I just say that then?
I return to my seat and ponder my List of Wants. Well, really I'd like to be a well-respected vicar and write several best-selling plays and novels, with perhaps a few academic tomes under my belt as well. Oh, and to be the kind of parent who does wholesome afterschool activities like mosaic-making and a dinner of homegrown vegetables, rather than McDonalds softplay and the cheap-snacks-menu. And the conditions that I must ignore, that are preventing me achieving all this? I look at the three giggling boys sneaking up the slide in front of me. Hmm. So I need to ignore them, their needs and their behaviour. If I just ignore them then they will stop preventing me achieve what I want. Sure. No problem.
Only - of course - life is never quite as easy as it seems in the self-help books. For example, there are needs that just cannot be ignored, conditions to self-fulfilment that cannot be rejected. I may not be doing what I wanted with my life right now, but if I did so it would be at the expense of others. This is the essential difference between Christianity and the self-help culture: one demands you find yourself, and the other that you stop what you are doing and take the time to help someone else. I have received a huge lesson this week in what it means to be helped. The OT who has bust a gut to start getting us the mobility equipment we need, urgently. The church who gave us a parcel of frozen food, because they didn't think I would have had much time to cook. The friend who has offered to help with childcare one morning a week, so I can get to appointments. Kiwi hospitality at its best. Superheroes of the Spirit. I have been humbled by the open-heartedness of people here.
And such gifts have an educational value, as well as a practical one. They remind me of the importance of caring for others, and the times when caring for others means we put our own needs, desires and dreams aside. I turned down a job a couple of months ago, a creative one I would have enjoyed and was well-qualified for, that would have brought us more money and me some recognition and sense of value outside the home. But I didn't feel I could do it well without bringing less of myself to the home. Longterm of course I want to have a work identity again. But that's self-esteem, self-realisation, self-care. It's not unimportant, but it can wait for now. Because right now there are other people who need me urgently. Specifically, I have a small boy who asked me at bedtime "Why doesn't the paracetemol and ibuprofen work any more?" He needs pain relief urgently, whatever the diagnostic treadmill churns out in due course. One day I shall be able to be theological, put all of these experiences into the elegant thoughtful prose or sermon-speak that I am trained for. I hope to avoid the easy recipes of the self-help books: Christian writing can also be full of pat pseudo-remedies, trite non-solutions. But that can keep. For the time being my creative juices have been bled dry by writing a pleading letter to the head of rheumatology at our local hospital, begging her to ensure my son is assessed soon. I like writing, I like being passionate on paper, but never before have I used that skill for such an important task: my son is hurting, and he needs you to see him quickly, to find out what is wrong and how to stop the pain. I want you to see him so that he can walk easily and confidently, so that he can spend afternoons climbing up the slide and punching his brothers in the nuts. Well, all right, I didn't precisely say THAT.