New Zealand is often accused of being behind the times, usually by people who have never been here, who don’t know anything about the social innovations throughout our history, who think (mistakenly) that their country is at the cutting edge of everything, or that the way they do things is “modern” and the way we do things is “old-fashioned” despite any evidence to the contrary, or based on anecdotes from the 1960s or 70s! (Don’t get me started on specific examples I’ve encountered over the years.) However, in the last couple of years, we have been blissfully behind the times. As you know, we’ve been living largely pre-COVID lives, with crowds without social distancing, and largely mask-free.

That was until we had an outbreak of COVID in the community in August. After a relatively brief lockdown, outside of Auckland the rest of the country is almost back to normal. We’re in our Alert Level 2, which means we are under restrictions that will seem very familiar to so many of you, even though there are no known cases in Wellington. There are limits on the size of gatherings indoors (50, increasing to 100 at midnight tonight), and for the first time, given the arrival of the delta variant, there’s a requirement to wear masks everywhere. It’s something I’ve watched on international media over the last year and more, and have marvelled at how strange it seemed. Yet now, it is something we’re getting used to seeing and doing, surprisingly quickly.

You will, no doubt, laugh at the next few paragraphs. My thoughts must seem so 2020 to my overseas friends! Until this latest community outbreak, I had worn masks only a handful of times – a few times to visit my father-in-law in his retirement home last year before he died, once to see my doctor, and once on a bus. 4-5 times in 18 months. But the last few weeks I have been out wearing a mask, and have decided I don’t mind wearing masks (too much). There’s even a major advantage to it, I discovered. I don’t have to wear make-up if I’m just dashing to the shops. No-one will see my face anyway. Mascara only may be necessary if I’m going to see someone I know (I have pathetic eyelashes), otherwise my face goes bare. And I love it!

But there are downsides. Masks with ear-loops and ear-rings do not mix. I discovered this today, and have probably worn a mask and ear-rings together for the last time! There’s the danger of hurting my ear, or losing my ear-ring, or becoming entangled at an embarrassing time. A small stud might be easier, but as my hair has now grown over my earlobes, I know I can skip the ear-rings and not commit a fashion faux pas. The hardest thing is that masks are so hot! They’re fine outside if it is cold or windy, but inside they get steamy. I remember my friend Cee (from DC) telling me this last year. Sorry, Cee, I never quite realised how bad it can be. And it’s not even summer here. I don’t know how people with hot summers have coped. (Yes, I can “hear” the collective eyeroll from my US/Canadian/European/Asian friends, and I’m sorry!)

I also hate the thought of wearing a mask for long periods of time. Yes, I know many of you have had to do this for a long time already, and I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who has had to do this. But we’re thinking of going to a movie tomorrow, and I’m not particularly thrilled about the idea of two hours wearing a mask! Likewise, the thought of wearing a mask on a long-haul flight – 12 hours with no relief – makes me shudder. But I’ll have to get used to the idea if I ever want to escape these shores.

Fortunately, there seems to be a high level of compliance here, perhaps because we still have the chance to kick COVID’s butt one last time. Restrictions are lifting. Case numbers are falling. Our measures are working. Early next year, and once our vaccination rates are high enough (the government is aiming at a rate of 90% of those eligible) we will be opening our border restrictions, letting the outside world back in, and along with that we will probably have to learn to live with COVID here in the community. But for the next few months at least, I can sit in a restaurant – as my husband and I did today, taking advantage of the restarted Wellington on a Plate burger festival – and feel confident that no-one in the restaurant is infectious. We’re all hoping for one last Christmas and summer free of this, at least, before we face the inevitable. And if achieving that means I have to wear a mask to see an amazing Surrealist exhibition as we did today, then I’m fine with that. Even if I’m behind the times, and I’m still mourning (in anticipation) the loss of our previous lifestyle. I’m going to suck it up. I hoping everyone else here will do that too. For one last COVID-free summer. That’s our hope.

A No Kidding dilemma

This week is World Childless Week. You probably didn’t know that. You may not care. It’s World Childless Week because a childless woman called Stephanie Joy Phillips who possesses (it seems to me) endless energy and foresight, made it so! There is a week of activities – webinars, publicity, articles and blogs. If you are childless, or if you have relatives or friends or workmates or acquaintances who are childless, go and have a look at some of the topics they are covering this year – everything from men’s perspective, to the legacy we leave when we don’t have children, to the old perennial, guaranteed-to-raise-an-eyeroll “have you considered adoption?” You might not feel quite so alone. You might learn something. Or it might give you insight into the lives of those who don’t have children, but had once hoped to do so. Maybe you’ll change the way you see them, question your assumptions or unintentional judgements, and maybe you’ll change the questions you ask or the way you talk to or interact with them in the future.

I have two pieces featured on their website – the first is here, and the second is to come on in a day or so (which I’ll link here too), along with my I am me picture.

I’ve been very torn about how much to publicise this. I’m being more active than usual on my No Kidding blog, because I know how important this is to the no kidding community, how it helps so many newly no kidding people who think they’re alone and that no-one understands, and how it helps us decide what is important. But talking amongst ourselves isn’t enough. Educating the rest of society is important, and that’s why I’m posting here, today, and have written about this before, most recently in April here. The more we understand about all our differences, the kinder we can be to both groups, and the more we will ALL benefit.

The reason I am torn though, is because I am much more than my childlessness. I don’t want it to be the first thing people think about me, and I don’t want it to consume my life. But I do want it to be recognised. It’s finding the balance which is always tricky. So I write here, because the people who read are interested in more than just a meme. But I’m torn over posting on social media (except my nokiddinginnz instagram page), because a meme becomes a label. And labels are complicated. I don’t like childless, for example, but use it sometimes in the absence of anything else. It’s the LESS part I don’t like. Equally, childFREE is relevant at times, but definitely not always. I guess we’re all much more than one label – my friends who are mothers are not only mothers. They are smart, and creative, and motivated, and ambassadorial, and managerial, and dedicated, and interesting, and funny, and much much more.

So I’m still figuring out where I’ll share this. In the meantime, I’ve included a photo (meme? heaven forbid!) that is essentially a brief version of the 100 things about me that I wrote seven years ago. (I updated it on my other blog in 2019, but this reminds me to do it here too.) Not having kids, and the work I do in that community, features in these lists, but in no way dominates. That’s the way I like it.

A couple of New Zealand icons

I can’t believe I haven’t done a Tree post since July. I know it’s long overdue, but I’m going to come back to an old favourite of mine, the Ti Kouka or cabbage tree. In fact, just this morning on my lockdown walk, I whipped out my phone and snapped a cabbage tree. I might keep that one for another day, because I wanted to show you these trees, nestled away in remote Milford Sound. Mitre Peak, the mountain in this shot, is an iconic sight in New Zealand, featuring in tourism brochures, and adorning many biscuit tins and chocolate boxes in my youth! Tourists to New Zealand will recognise it too, even if their visit to Milford didn’t really show the mountain due to the high rainfall the area gets (about 6.5 metres or 252 inches per year)! I didn’t get to see it on my previous visit to the fjord* either.

It was just starting to rain (of course) when we were there, but Mitre Peak was visible right to the top. I was thrilled to see the cabbage tree on the banks of the Sound, knowing I could capture this uniquely NZ view.

Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, and ti kouka or cabbage tree in the foreground.

*Even though it is called a Sound (a river valley filled with sea water), it is actually a fjord (a glacial valley filled with sea water).

Another in the Thursday Tree Love series – find all the other bloggers doing it here.