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One.

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And just like that, he’s one. A whole year old. Yesterday I looked at the first photos we took of him — that wrinkled, purple, cone-headed little beauty with his treacle-slow limbs and his crooked stare. He looks exactly the same and nothing at all alike.

A year on, he needs a haircut. His hair is blonder than expected, and curling from the bottom while the top still sticks straight up, waving in the wind like down. He has seven teeth. He’s working on running and jumping and dancing and clapping. This morning, Diogo rubbed my arm and then Nico reached over and rubbed it too. Last night we discovered that if we give him the cloth, he’ll try and wipe down his highchair himself.

He doesn’t say anything but “mama” and “dada” and they both mean all sorts of things, but he’s having a concerted effort at “hello” (because everything from the remote to a stray sock is a phone this week), and it’s obvious he understands at least some of what we say now. (“Take that to Papai” is my new favourite phrase, especially with the most painful of his books.)

He’s happy pretty much all the time and almost all of his favourite toys are books — both these things make me feel like we must be doing something right. He loves people, animals, his two days at daycare, climbing onto and into anything dangerous, and pointing at things and saying “da!”. He’s hilarious and exhausting and charming and exasperating in equal measure.

Every night we lie in bed and say to each other “I want him to stay this big forever” and “I can’t wait to see what he does next”.

He’s pretty much a total fucking delight.

Happy first birthday, Nico pico bumble bum. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

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Hard work

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Lately I feel like I’ve been hearing people say “it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding” a lot. Or “it’s hard work, but it’s worth it”. Maybe it’s because I’m (for obvious reasons) talking to a lot of mums about mumming. But I’ve also heard it about writing, about sport or music, about craft and hobbies.

It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.

But.

Does that say something about our culture, that we think hard work and reward are somehow mutually exclusive? Has anything ever been truly rewarding that wasn’t also hard work? I’ve enjoyed watching The Crown this week, but I wouldn’t describe myself as having been rewarded by it. Entertained, yes. Occasionally charmed or delighted. Even educated, on the occasions I felt compelled to look up what really happened and acquire myself some history. But I don’t feel like it could reward me, because I didn’t put in any effort.

It occupied me. I wasn’t occupied with it, or preoccupied by it — I was occupied, in the passive tense. My eyes consumed pretty dresses while my mouth drank tea.

Why don’t we say “it’s hard work, so it’s rewarding”? So it’s worth it?

Surely everything that’s worthwhile is hard? Takes work? Have we broken down somewhere, with this idea that leisure should be easy, and that hard work and responsibility outside of paid work are to be avoided at all costs, or prefaced with “but”?

Is it because so much of the paid work we do feels worthless?

Children are hard work, obviously. So are dogs. If you want to look at it that way, so is baking. Creating. Writing. Gardening. Exercising. Cooking. All things we’ve made easier with technology and outsourcing and money used to be hard work. (And that’s awesome, believe me. I’m eternally grateful that I can tell a machine to wash our clothes, instead of spending all day scrubbing at the side of the river.)

But without hard work, what’s left? What are we doing now with all the time we’re saving buying pesto in a jar and hiring people to mow our lawns? Watching more TV?

My buddy Brock and I were talking the other night about what our lives will look like once the robots take our jobs. Not about the UBI or how we’ll work (for those who will), but what our leisure time looks like. Do we take the opportunity to do uniquely human things — invent, explore, create — or do we keep barrelling down the track we seem to be on, consuming more and more stuff with less and less effort? Do we return to playing and making and building things for ourselves, or do we spend our time playing VR war games while the robots (or the very poor) clean our houses and make our processed food tubes?

Brock made the great point that the way we work now — exchanging our time for cash that we spend on things that save us time — is a blip in history. This model has only existed for a couple of hundred years, and far less for women and minorities. That’s not to say there was some golden age of meaningful work (except perhaps for white dudes who own land, but that’s been true throughout history), just that the system is new, and we’re not tied to it. We can reinvent it, like work and family have been reinvented countless times before.

I think a lot while out in my garden about the ridiculous inefficiency of spending my time trying to grow food. If, as I’ve read on the interwebs, we should take our billable value at work and apply it to chores at home in order to decide whether to outsource them, I’m baking bread and growing carrots at hundreds of times the cost of a trip to the supermarket.

But although my time is valuable, I don’t believe my time is money. That seems, to me, to be the most insidious end point of our everything-is-a-business culture. My life is my life. My time is my time. It has value, but that value should surely be in how I choose to spend it: in the effort and satisfaction of accomplishing things (work or personal) and in my relationships.

I can absolutely pay a supermarket for a loaf of bread and save myself the effort of making it myself, but in return I spend the time I would have spent kneading and mixing in thoughtful (or, more often, deliciously thoughtless) contemplation sitting in a metal box, and then walking through a bigger metal box, to give someone money I had to spend time earning in order to save myself the time I’m now wasting in the car and at the supermarket.

I worry that the world is trying to convince us that things that are not only simple but enjoyable are too hard to contemplate doing for ourselves, while anything that’s actually hard — no matter how worthwhile — is a drag or a burden on our lives, rather than the whole point of them.

Anyway. Goals for 2017: watch less TV, buy less stuff, and work harder at things that aren’t work.

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Rogue One

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Dear Hollywood:

I enjoyed Rogue One. It was a good time. But, yet a-fucking-gain, can I just say: making your main character a woman doesn’t mean you’ve met your quota and don’t need to include any other women in your whole movie.

How is this still so hard for you? 52% of the population are women-people. We’re really everywhere now — just all over the place, doing all sorts of things. Your movie is set in space, in the future. It’s probably safe to assume there are some women-identifying folks in future space. They probably even do things like fly planes and shoot blasters, because you don’t really need a penis to operate either of those.

Of the thousands of people who appeared in that movie: in crowds and villages and bases and meetings and squadrons, I counted 11 who were discernibly female. 11. And that includes the main character, her mother, and the cameo at the end. Other than them, I saw two rebel leader types, two rebel pilots, and four others in the background of the big resistance gathering.

Everyone on the side of the empire appeared to be male. Admittedly, you can’t tell a stormtrooper’s gender, but every visible officer/bureaucrat/worker was a dude. All the engineers were men. Everyone who volunteered for the rebel crew. The six visible women in that big resistance gathering is not equality or representation: it’s the most pitiful of token efforts. In order to make crowd scenes with so few women, you surely have to really be trying. We are, again, 52% of the humans. We tend to just sort of crop up when humans are gathered.

And apart from the little critter with the glasses in The Force Awakens, have any of the non-human characters been women? And, while we’re at it, why do all the robots need to sound like dudes?

In a movie that did a great job with casting minorities and generally being a good time without being batshit insane, it’s disappointing. And frankly, I want to watch a movie where I don’t have to do this. It’s distracting and it makes me angry, and then I hiss things at Brazil under my breath and ruin the mood for everyone around me.

It’s not that hard, surely. Just look at all the people you’ve got standing around and talking and doing stuff, and unless their genitalia is actively necessary to the plot, make half of them women.

Seriously. Just do that. Please. Because half of us are.

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Follow-up

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My last post was pretty depressing, so I thought I might follow it up with a summary of the things we’re doing now to lessen our impact on the planet, and where I think we can do better.

General

I’ve been guilty lately of getting too hung up on doing everything right, and that’s silly. If everyone made some better choices, we’d be in a much better position than if a handful of people disappear off the grid and stop washing their hair. So I do what I can, when I can, and try to be mindful of what I’m buying.

In general, we try to:

  • choose brands that are made locally or in New Zealand. This supports jobs here, and the profits stay within NZ, instead of ending up in the pockets of the 1% overseas
  • choose fair trade options whenever possible
  • choose products that aren’t full of chemicals or made of plastic when there’s an alternative
  • choose products made of recycled or sustainable materials
  • choose organic when there’s an organic option — the science still seems to be confused about whether organic is much better for you, and the weird rules of what qualifies as organic mean it’s often still contributing to soil depletion and nitrogen leaching, but I’d rather put my money towards increasing demand for organic methods than towards supporting current commercial practises.

Buying free-range, fair trade, local or organic is more expensive, but as folks on a decent wage, I feel like we have an obligation to pay for it. Not only is that what things actually cost when the environment and workers aren’t being exploited, but they’ll get cheaper and more abundant as demand for them goes up.

That said, we can afford it. I understand if you can’t. But I’d ask you to consider whether paying an extra $2 for a packet of bacon is really unaffordable, or if perhaps you could just eat less bacon? Or sacrifice a packet of biscuits for the pleasure of eating really good food that didn’t cause appalling suffering?

(I’m talking here to people in roughly the same social position as us — the appalling poverty levels in NZ are a whole other conversation, and I’m certainly not asking anyone raising a family on minimum wage to do anything but whatever they need to to keep their household fed.)

Food

I know people don’t like hearing about the treatment of commercial food animals, but I think if making the choice to eat meat, you should have to be aware of what you’re choosing. The way pigs and chickens, in particular, are raised for food would be an actual crime if done to a cat or a dog. You’d go to jail. Their lives, conditions and deaths are HORRIFIC.

And if that doesn’t convert you, how about this: they’re also sick. Their conditions are so appalling that producers pump them full of antibiotics to keep them alive and functional enough to get to the age of slaughter. You’re eating all those antibiotics too.

Cows in New Zealand have better lives than beef cows in the US, but intensive dairy and beef farming is still destroying our water and wasting untold amounts of resources. There are a lot of places on this planet that aren’t suitable for growing crops but can be grazed by ruminants, so I’ve decided that I’m comfortable continuing to eat meat that’s been ethically farmed — but I want to eat a lot less of it.

What we’re doing now:

  • starting our grocery shop at Commonsense Organics and Moreish for meat and going to New World for whatever’s left over, rather than the other way around (this is a bit more expensive, but since we don’t really buy processed food, it’s not a huge amount more)
  • eating at least two vegetarian meals a week, and only one involving red meat
  • only ever buying free-range (and organic if possible) pork, chicken and eggs
  • using the BestFishGuide app to choose more sustainable fish
  • taking our own bags to the supermarket
  • composting (we have regular compost and a worm farm)
  • make everything we can ourselves (I bake our bread, make our muesli and do all our baking. We don’t really eat anything from a packet except chocolate… this does take time, but a) I love to cook and I’m at home anyway and b) it actually doesn’t take THAT long, and the taste and nutrition benefits are more than enough to make up for the effort)
  • working on expanding the garden and improving the soil, planting lots of bee-friendly flowers and looking after the fruit trees I planted this winter.

What I want to do next:

  • start getting an organic vege box delivery until the garden is producing better
  • get the garden and fruit trees to the point where we’re growing most of our fruit and veges
  • increase the amount of vegetarian meals we eat until meat is a treat rather than an expectation
  • start only ordering free-range meat when out (I’ve been intending to do this for ages and always seem to be able to forget it when it comes time to order… mostly I think because I’m scared it’s going to stop me getting bacon at most of my favourite cafes)
  • get chickens to provide us eggs and fertiliser
  • have a crack at ordering raw milk
  • add yoghurt and fresh cheese into the regular baking repertoire
  • take my freaking reusable coffee cups with me when I go for coffee in the morning!

Baby

What we’re doing now:

  • using cloth nappies at home during the day (I bought Pea Pods based on my research before Nico was born, but my favourites are Snazzipants and the generic pocket nappies they sell at Baby Factory)
  • using the best eco-friendly disposable nappies and wipes we can find
  • breastfeeding (except if circumstances mean I won’t be around for a feed, in which case he can have formula, for reasons I will explain at length another time but boil down to WILL EVERYONE JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN)
  • trying to buy wooden toys and dissuade family from buying plastic junk.

What I want to do next:

  • have a “toy in, toy out” policy — every time Nico gets something new, he has to donate something he already owns
  • implement a donation/charitable volunteering Christmas present policy and focus on homemade or activity presents rather than vast heaps of toys
  • figure out cloth nappies that won’t leak overnight
  • stop using wipes or compost the ones we do use.

Cleaning and beauty products

What we’re doing now:

  • using planet-friendly cleaning products (best things: Eco and Deco laundry balls, and the steam cleaner I bought for floors and carpet)
  • using olive oil for eye makeup remover (trust me, it’s better than anything you can buy) and coconut oil as moisturiser (ditto)
  • checking makeup and personal products on the Think Dirty app (lots of things look like they’re not full of chemicals but they are, eg Natio, Body Shop)
  • using Ethique products (the deodorant is FANTASTIC — I’d previously given up the idea of being able to find non-chemical deodorant that actually worked — and I’m really enjoying their body bars and conditioner)
  • alternating non-chemical toothpaste with the industrial whitener stuff (because as said above, sometimes I’m okay with better rather than perfect)
  • trying to buy fewer clothes, and from retailers with better scores on the ethical fashion report (sometimes I feel like I use good causes to exploit my own consumer desires… is it still charitable if, between us, the Johnston-Freire household has 10 pairs of Toms?)
  • using Honey Wraps instead of gladwrap.

What I want to do next:

  • kick my Body Shop habit
  • find mascara and good makeup that’s also good for me and the planet (recommendations, anyone? Currently I’m using a lot of Honest Beauty, which I quite like but I have to YouShop it here and it’s not GREAT)
  • start making some body and cleaning products myself.

So there’s a rough summary of how we’re approaching stuff at the moment. Conundrums for another time: transport, power, water, etc.

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In a state about the state of things

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The more I read, lately, the worse it gets. The more in-depth, well-researched and holistic the article, the more terrifying the conclusions for our planet and our species. If you think that’s being hysterical or dramatic, I would absolutely love for you to prove me wrong — but I’m going to need to see your evidence.

If your answer is “just stop reading things”, I sincerely hope you’ve figured out how you’ll explain that strategy to your children when they ask you how everything got so fucked up.

Because this is not about the world our great-grandchildren will live in, or even our grandchildren. Our children will deal with this. We will probably be alive to see it. We’ll definitely be alive for them to call us to account and ask us why we sat here, now, and chose to do nothing.

I started looking up the latest general climate change science, but it’s just too depressing to even continue. I just read an article by one climate scientist who said that, as a generalist looking at the big picture instead of focusing on one area of change, he’s concluded we’ll probably all be dead within 10 years, so there’s no point in even worrying about it anymore.

Things that are not the answer:

  • telling everyone to stop having children, especially if you don’t want children or have already had your children. We have too many people right now, but we do need some humans to continue our species, and if no one gets to have kids then we may as well be fucking extinct because what’s even the point anymore, am I right? If the meaning of life is to watch TV and eat burgers, we do not deserve this planet anyway.
  • hoping the government/the “market” will solve this by itself. That has never worked and never will. We need to actually be informed and agitate for real change.
  • saying “one person can’t make a difference” like the world isn’t made up of individual people. You personally can’t solve the whole problem, but you can sure as shit stop making everything a fuck-ton worse. Recycle. Stop buying plastic crap. Vote. Eat less meat. Do your own cooking. Buy sustainable, organic, free-range and fair-trade. Support local business. Talk to your kids about compassion and empathy and the issues. The power you have, as one individual person, is your vote and your dollar. Use them.

I’ve given myself a thumping headache and, as Brazil points out to me six times a day at the moment, my personal distress isn’t actually helping anyone, so I’m going to wander off.

Anyway. Here’s a list of books I’ve read over the last year or so that I would thoroughly recommend:

  • This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith (good counterpoint to Eating Animals, but gets a bit too out there in places)
  • Postcapitalism by Paul Mason
  • The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
  • Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White

If you have any further recommendations to add to this list, I’d love to hear them. Also any ideas for what we can actually do, here in NZ, to get past the wishy-washy left-right political BS and start having some actual conversations about things that matter.

Also, if you disagree with me, I would love to hear from you. Please, please tell me I’m wrong, or crazy, or being too dramatic. Just also tell me why.

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Seven

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My baby is seven months old today. We had a Plunket check this week — our Plunket lady is a perfunctory box-ticker of dire warnings and pointless, prescriptive rules (one day let’s talk about whether Plunket is actually helpful, or just adding more this-way-or-else pressure to mothers who are already under enough of it) so we generally just tick her boxes, lie when she asks about co-sleeping or solids, listen to her standard lecture about Doing Breastfeeding Right and skedaddle as fast as poss.

This time she was like “is he rolling?” and when we said yes, went to move on to her next box. Hold up, lady. This little firecracker is also sitting, crawling, creeping and cruising. He’s pulling up on everything from his cot to chair legs, and yesterday he climbed me like a ladder to get onto the couch. He’s a tiny ball of motion and chaos, and has the proportional strength of ten grown men.

He says “mum mum mum mum” all day long, just not necessarily to me. He can chase a ball and look at something for up to 45 seconds before he puts it in his mouth (on a good day). He plays games. He has opinions and mood swings and two stubby wee teeth. He laughs with his whole fat little body, his head popping up over coffee tables and sofa arms to blow smug, drooling raspberries. He is definitely the best and most wonderful baby ever to have lived, and I find myself wanting to stop people in the street and demand they look at him — look at him! — look at this delicious little human person who grew inside my body. Has there ever been anything so incredible?

To which all the other parents say, with conviction: yes. Each one, until the next one. Yes.

Yesterday he pulled over two bins, the laundry basket, the cat’s bowls (twice), a lamp and his toy basket. He occupied himself with licking chair legs all over the house, climbed into our wardrobe and pulled himself up on a heater (which thankfully wasn’t on, unlike last time he did that in the lounge and I thought he’d burned his hands and both of us cried).

I also tried out my serious angry-mum voice for the first time and he laughed at it. So that’s encouraging.

Every day he can do ten things he couldn’t do the day before. Every day he’s more independent and interactive. (And every time something about parenting him becomes easier, something else gets harder.) The growth curve is exponential. I look at photos of him seven months ago and can’t fathom how we got here in those short months, even though at times every hour of it has felt like years.

It’s incredible, and it’s also terrible: I thought I’d have longer. I can already see the baby slipping away to make room for the boy, and it’s too soon. I love that he’s bold and brave and strong and determined to do everything now, but part of me feels like he’s cheating me out of his babyhood, like we’re going straight from newborn to toddler, and I’m never going to be able to get enough of the chubby, gummy, cheeky little nugget he is right now.

Everyone was right: it goes so fast. Too fast.

And, with a roar, he’s awake. Off we go again.

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We’ve been trumped

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Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. A reality TV star real estate tycoon sleazebag, the actual, literal epitome of the smug white male, who ran on a platform based on division and fear, has been elected to be the most powerful person in the free world. And, despite the fact that Clinton technically won the popular vote, he didn’t just squeak in — he cleaned up. Republicans took the house and the senate as well as the presidency.

I’m not disappointed — I’m devastated. I’m crushed.

I woke up this morning and took my baby for a walk in the rain. Then I deleted Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I can’t spend the coming weeks like I did yesterday — staring at my phone in a haze of nauseous disbelief, wondering how we got here as a species.

I have to believe this is a sign of wider progress. It’s a last-gasp knee-jerk of a disaffected, worried population who feel that the system as it stands is broken. Millenials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. People of colour voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. Progress always happens — it’s just that sometimes it takes a while, because it’s harder than the alternative.

It’s easy to be generous and kind within your own family or your community, and I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone on earth believes that they are. People vote for things like Trump and Brexit because they believe they’re protecting the interests of their loved ones (and themselves). White people voted overwhelmingly for Trump because they see the end of the great white majority barrelling towards them. Men see their generations-long free ride coming to an end. Mix it up with economic inequality, looming climate disaster/robot apocalypse, ISIS and the Kardashians, and it’s easy to see why people feel that the status quo is failing them.

It’s hard to care about people who are different to yourself. It’s not just hard — it’s actively against human nature. We are designed to divide ourselves into tribes, and to work to secure resources and protection for those we see as like us. Tolerance and inclusivity are difficult. They require constant thought and work. They require acting against our base instincts and digging deep for our better natures. They require accepting that there’s enough to go around — and if there’s not, that what there is is still worth sharing.

Those things are a tough sell on a good day. I read a book a long time ago that talked about our “culture of scarcity”. Our system of economics and government is based on the fact that there’s a finite amount of resources to share out, even as that system requires constant growth just to maintain itself. This idea seems so ingrained in us now that I’m constantly dumbfounded by my garden — I’d forgotten, somewhere in this haze of modern life, that food not only grows in the ground, but from seed that the food itself creates in huge numbers. A tomato, given sunshine and water and time, will create a whole crate of other tomatoes. Everything in nature cycles and recycles, contributing to the growth of other things. Meanwhile, we fill vast swathes of landfill with single-use plastic straws that will be plastic straws forever, and eat deep-fried chemistry experiments because they’re cheaper than vegetables.

We forget, I think, that we live inside of an epic, wonderful system, where everything works together and nothing is wasted. (I think we also forget that it’s a closed system. There are no new inputs once we’ve turned everything into straws.)

Trump’s trumpeted policies (such as they are) are based on protecting “us” at the expense of “them”, like life is a zero-sum game. There’s not enough to go around, so if we need more, we have to take it off someone else. I can get a job if we take your job away. Your rights come at the expense of my ability to say what I like without being made to feel bad about it (which, even if true, is not remotely equivalent).

The system is broken all the way down, left and right. I just don’t think Trump can — or wants to — fix it. Governments act in the interests of corporations and CEOs rather than people, and tell us that because that helps the “economy”, it helps us. Meanwhile, the economy can grow without the average person getting any better off, because the economy is now based on punting money around as corporate profit or interest on debt, rather than on actual humans doing actual work.

The political left isn’t offering an alternative to this system — they’re offering tweaks and reality checks. Hillary’s platform was basically that the system is complicated and difficult and doesn’t work very well, so there’s only so much that can be done because compromises must be made. It’s a shit platform, and it’s not enough.

But Donald Trump is promising to take the system apart in the wrong direction. To annihilate women’s rights and minority progress. To throw out the flawed but better than nothing healthcare system Obama has fought for and replace it with… something unspecified, but “better”. The problem is that Donald Trump’s version of “better” still sees neoliberal capitalism as the answer. The market will still save us, it just needs even less regulation and even more competition.

This isn’t a new way — this is the old way, but without the marketing layer that pretended it wasn’t racist and sexist and designed to fuck over everyone but whoever’s on top.

Corporations have proven they can’t be trusted to act in anyone’s interests but their own. The environment, workers’ rights… these things require the intervention of government to make sure they are protected. Corporations don’t have moral compasses, despite the fact that every corporation is made up of people who should. Capitalism, neoliberalism, democracy, money… these are all systems we invented, as human beings, to help us live and work together. They’re not ends in and of themselves. They won’t be here after we’re gone, because they don’t exist without us — but it feels like we’re now serving them, instead of the other way around.

“Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years”

Some interesting ideas: