I know.

I’ve been having many thoughts and feelings in the last wee while, centred around the slew of sexual assault allegations against powerful men. Some of those allegations are from men. Most are from women. And that’s what I’ve been having thoughts around especially.

And then this morning, my friend Jessica was talking about how a person doing one act of sexual violence is no more deserving of redemption than a person in whom this behaviour is patterned, or consistent.  That these behaviours, no matter how often they occur, are all the same to the victim.

This led to me to thinking about how that’s related to domestic violence, in that some abusers only ever do it in one relationship, whilst other do it in all their relationships.

We forgive those people in the former category very easily don’t we? Even though their violence in all it’s forms is restricted to one relationship, it’s not just one act. It’s many. Many many many acts. And yet, we treat men – and I’m only talking about cis men in hetero relationships here – who commit one act of sexual assault that’s thought of as the “lower end” of the scale (groping, flashing) the same as men who commit many acts of violence against one partner.

Let’s remind ourselves what violence against women looks like, shall we?  It’s useful to know.

Words, actions. Abuse.

A lot of people get nasty at the end of their relationships. Say bad things, do bad things. Are they bad people? I don’t believe that there are many absolutes in this life. That somebody can be shit to one person, but generally good to everyone else. This doesn’t make them a bad person.  They never do it to anyone else, they’re never shitty to anyone else. Just that one person. So we don’t get to know about it. Nobody knows about it, unless the person who’s been hurt decides to talk. And once again, because nobody knows that her ex partner has been like this, he gets away with it. Because it’s likely she won’t talk about it. She won’t be believed, anyway. She, in fact, will be reviled for “trying to spread stories”. It was a nasty breakup. Of course she’s saying these things.

But the people who hurt them need to own that. And the people who are his friends need to acknowledge those truths.  Because it’s abuse. Plain and simple.

And I think that’s how all these men – the men who “only” did it once have been getting away with it all these years. Why they’re forgiven by their friends, and family. Given the benefit of the doubt.  Why some very well loved people have a very dark side, and only their ex partners know what that dark side looks like.

I’m talking about this because I want you to know, if you’re one of those men, that I know. Your exes have told me their stories. While women friends have stood by you, I know what your dark side looks like. I know what you’ve done.

And I won’t forgive you.

I won’t ever forgive you.

Until you own it.

 

Dear Minister – a guest post by MB

Dear Minister,

I want to tell you about my little boy, he’s 4, he’s gorgeous, and he has Autism.

He currently attends a local Free Kindergarten, he has an Education Support Worker for 6 hours a week. I am told this is the maximum time allowed for him.

His support team include, his family, kindy teachers, his ESW, a Speech Therapist and Special Ed teacher. They all work incredibly hard with him and for him.

Minister, do you know how the process works? Let me give you a brief outline of what happens, and how his IEP is set.

1 A meeting is set with his Special Ed teacher
2 Together we go through our day, hour by hour, I have to describe our routine, from waking up, to going to bed.
3 Then I have to prioritize the things that my son struggles with the most, and the things that I struggle with.
4 Then we figure out which of those things transfer to kindy, this is when we set the IEP.

As you would expect, with a hard working support team my son has made good progress. I have been assured he will continue to make progress. I have also been assured that his Autism will never go away, he will never be Neuro Typical.

I have been told that when my son turns 5 and starts school, there will be little/no chance of support for him at school. I have also been told that his ESW is not allowed to help with his transition to school.

Minister, I want you to imagine something for me, lets pretend you broke your leg, you had a cast for 6 weeks, after that time your cast comes off and your DR says to you “Walk Minister” now imagine that you don’t feel comfortable walking unsupported, you would like some physio or perhaps a walking stick, that you could use for a short time, until you could walk unsupported.

You can see where I’m going with this Minister. Thanks to YOU, my son when he turns 5, will be left in a new environment with no support. Because he is Included in the classroom, YOU believe he has no other need.

Minister, he has a need, do you know what Autism is? He struggles to build social relationships, he struggles to voice his opinion. He doesn’t learn the way a Neuro typical child does. YOU believe this is ok, he’s included, but not supported.

Minister, how is his teacher supported? He/she will need to assess my sons knowledge. This will take time, as the guidelines YOU have in place are not suited to him. Minister, how are the other children supported? Maybe there will be other kids with Autism or a learning difference in my sons class, YOU believe this is good, they are included, not supported.

The school will try to help, Maybe my son will be put together with other kids into a remedial group? Making children who struggle socially work together in a Neuro Typical way. – Included, but not supported.

Minister, I suggest you look at giving these kids a fair chance at a decent education. Increasing support for new entrants and teachers is a way to go, building on the ECE support, and giving kids a good start to school is only going to help right?

What do you need?

Almost four  years ago, I rang someone from a local women’s refuge.

She came to get what I had. I told her I had a wide social media network and asked her: what do you need? Her face lit up, and out it spilled….

It was a simple question, and it has led to enriching relationships, valuable insights and my heart’s passion.

 

I’ve been an Aunty all my life. I come from a blended family with much older siblings, so from an early age I was not only technically an Aunty, but an active one. I helped to raise one of my nieces, and I have always been a source of advice and love for my many nieces, and nephews.

As I have grown older, those things were less needed, and I found myself being the “naughty Aunty” – the subversive one, swimming naked and encouraging my nieces not to be ashamed of their bodies. But I saw them less and less, and they’re all adults now anyway.

What’s an Aunty to do?

Well, fabulously, also as I’ve grown older, I became a source of Aunty wisdom to the families of the children I teach. I’ve always taught in communities where néed was great – refugee and migrant communities where people live on very little and hold much love and respect for the Aunties in their lives. And as I worked in these communities, it dawned on me very slowly. It wasn’t the kids who were in need of an aunty figure, it was the mums. Struggling, some unsure of where to turn.

The other thing I’ve always had a big heart for is social justice, and in my work these concepts of advocating for young mums, and looking after them, intersected.

I had always advocated that kids come from families and if you don’t look after families then social problems deepen.

And so back to that simple question.

What do you need?

 

Because it has been my experience, that we don’t ask people what they need. We often don’t ask them anything. We give. We assume. We judge.

We walk past a homeless person on the street – do I give them money? Won’t they just spend it on drugs?

We give money to an organisation, a charity, not often to individuals because we can’t be sure that money will go where it SHOULD go. Education, food, shoes. Whatever.

But nobody ever asks a person: What do you need? Ask for anything, and I’ll try my best to get it for you. I don’t care why you want it, I don’t care what you do with it. If you say you need it, I believe you. That’s the basis of the Aunties. No judgement, all compassion. Just doing the do.

 

At first, I used Twitter to relay needs to my social media networks and initially I was helping out just one woman who was resident at the refuge. I went to the refuge for the first time and one of the women said to me “Thank you for being our friend”. I was taken aback. Of course! These women needed a friend. And then my best friend of 33 years died. My world exploded, and as I took time to lick my wounds, I knew that if I was to support the women in any sustainable way, other people had to be involved. And the Aunties (Twitter Aunties, now The Aunties) were born.

 

Why Aunties? At first, I used the name because I’m not a mum, and my role in life seemed to be that of an Aunty. A friend, an advocate, a mentor, listener, adviser, a shoulder to cry on. Not interested in why, more invested n how. Big heart, big compassion, practical know how. That’s what an Aunty looked like to me.

So I actively sought out people – and they actively sought me out – who fit this criteria. I would have conversations with people I didn’t know and ask them – do you want to be an Aunty? Sometimes the answer was no, sometimes the answer has been an overcoming yes! Not everybody is cut out to be an Aunty. I have always recognised that, for whatever reason, for some people it’s just too big an ask. Always when I’m asking, I know that the question I’m really asking people is: what do you need? It’s okay not to need my brand of social justice. And it’s okay to need to do what you can, when you can, as you feel able to do it.

 

So the last few years this group of people – the Aunties – has expanded in number. And as each new person gives something – clothes, shoes, money, a heater – the heart of The Aunties has grown. More and more people aren’t just offering things to me, they are asking: what do you need?

 

I ask the women when I go to the refuge: what do you need? And they tell me.

I ask the refuge staff: what do you need? And they tell me.

I ask people who I can see need something. What do you need?

 

And they tell me.

 

In my experience, if you just ask people what they need, and you follow up on that, they come to trust you. They may not know exactly what they need right at that moment, but it’s the start of the conversation.

When they trust you, and if you tell them that they can ask for whatever they want, they are more likely to tell you exactly what it is that they need.

And so it goes.

 

And in the asking of that question to other people, I’ve learned to ask myself that question, and found that what I needed was to do more Auntying. Because the thing about need, and building relationships in order to meet it, is that you come to realise that, at base, we all just have some basic needs. To be loved, to be listened to, to be seen.

And so in striving to fill need, I have myself answered my own question of what I need.

I have sold my house.

I have quit my job.

I’m going to be a full time Aunty.

Te Puea Big Day Out

i am just home from the most wonderful day and I’m still just processing it all, but I wanted you all to know about the amazing people I spent today with.

It’s no secret that I spend a very little time at Te Puea Marae. Sometimes they tell me what’s really needed that’s a bit unusual – stuff that nobody would think to donate like rubbish bags, that sort of thing. And so, what’s happened, is I’ve started to build up relationships with some of the people down there who are all, it should be said, volunteers, and who are using their Marae as the front door to social services for people who otherwise wouldn’t access those services or have difficulty getting a foot in the door. Homeless people. Living in cars. Most are families, some small, some large.

The people who work regularly at the Marae are themselves beautiful people, and so when I suggested I take all the whānau on the trip, they were more than willing to allow that to happen. I had never met any of the whānau living at the Marae.  Because of this, I’d also asked Marae staff if they would come, at least 2 or 3 of them so that the whānau wouldn’t feel too shy, and at least have familiar faces along for the ride.

So this morning, I went along a little early so I could meet everyone, talk to them a bit beforehand about what was going on, and together we waited for the bus to arrive. I finally met a few people from the Marae I hadn’t yet met – Huri, the backbone of the whole thing, a gentle and lovely man, gracious and kind. Moko, who I had talked to for quite a while via social media, and who I would consider somewhat of a sister. The mood was upbeat, though the older kids were putting on a bit of a front. But I saw them, the way they cared for the younger children, how solicitous and gracious they were. We seemed to be waiting a long time, so I rang the bus driver, and I mention this only because he was to become a very important part of the day. Finally, the bus arrived, we all got on, found our seats and I got talking to Nanny L, a retired social worker who volunteers at the Marae 3 days a week. A woman who knows her stuff. We had a really great chat about her career, about working with kids, and about how using kaupapa Māori had been a really important and effective part of her practice. I sat with a little tiny girl who had the sweetest smile and loved being able to see everything out the window.

We went to Kelly Tarltons, and the staff there were so kind and lovely. And we changed the timetable – I went to see Barry our bus driver who was waiting for us the entire time and asked if we could go to a park and eat lunch. He was incredibly flexible, and accommodating with everything I asked of him. Lovely man.

Lunch was had, a veritable feast put together by the Marae staff and parents the night before. I got talking to a few of the parents, we watched the kids play touch, it was all so lovely. We went to Mission Bay. We ate icecream, and we got on the bus and Barry took the long way home so that the kids could see a bit more of this big city.

And then, home.

I am left with this. I have never,  in twenty years of teaching and knowing thousands of parents, ever seen such gentle, mindful and peaceful parenting. Such love and grace. I was stunned by it. They have, all of them, lived in dire circumstances for prolonged periods of time – I had thought they would be stressing, and factious. But all I felt from them was the most extraordinary peacefulness. Calm. Unharried. Some of the kids were arguing as kids do. There was only hugs and love, and reminders to be careful of one another’s feelings. I’m sure there must be times of distress and where that grace is tested, but I never saw it all day. What extraordinary people, and what a privilege to spend time with them. As I said to them, I show you some light, you show me some light, we all benefit.

And we did.

I won’t forget today or these people for a very long time, and I’m determined that we do this again. Spend time with each other, just being. What a pleasure.

Thank you all for the chance to do this – Gloria, Alec, Kelly Tarltons, James, The Aunties, the whānau of Te Puea Marae, Huri, Johnboi, Moko, Martha, Whitiao, Lorna, Jenny, Mata, Tom, Mona. All of you.

We built something today.