Kin-keepers: I see you. People like me: the card-senders and list-writers and picnic-packers of the season.
Kin-keeping is all the stuff we do to maintain strong bonds with friends & family. It’s the name given to the invisible raft of tasks that supports the rich social connections required for optimal health.
It’s thinking ahead to get the ingredients for your dad’s favourite birthday dinner. It’s remembering to call your mother-in-law on the day of her medical appointment. It’s about making a list and checking it twice.
This is often invisible work, but it deserves to be a separate line-item in the imaginary time budget of our lives, but because it tends to morph itself into the general busy-ness of family life (pack the swimming bag, unload the dishwasher, soak the collars) even those of us who facilitate the lion’s share of the kin-keeping underestimate the demand it places on our resources: time, energy, funds.
Ideally, kin-keeping is a joy. With a little bit of breathing room about it, a gift for a friend can be a loving creation (I love making smart-arse cross stitches for my significant ladies) and preparing a casserole for an ailing relative can be a lovingkindness meditation. But when time is short and energy is stretched, buying the gift or making the meal can feel more like pressure – even resentment – than love.
At this time of the year, when New Zealanders are preparing for the whole world to shut down for a few weeks, with school prizegivings and work dos, let alone a massive feast to cater, it can be really hard to find that breathing room to create a joyful kin-keeping heart.
I find it much easier to take the advice about slowing down, being mindful, practicing gratitude if I identify kin-keeping for what it is. Give it a name. Recognise what a vital function I am performing for my family when I remember that Little Girl will need a gift for Olivia’s 5th birthday on Sunday. (CRIKEY that’s tomorrow. No worries. Zero panic. She’ll be right, etc.)
How about this for a cool name: te ahi kā. I am told that this is what the first New Zealanders would have called the person who (quite literally) keeps the home fires burning. There are hunters, there are gatherers, there are gardeners, and there is te ahi kā.
I salute your work all the year round, but I especially honour you now, 8 days from Christmas with kids rattling around hereafter. All that food, those bathroom wipe-downs, the gift-wrapping: it all happens in the service of family relationships, and that makes it such noble work.
Someone has to keep the meals chugging and the laundry flowing, and I sing a song in your name.
Arohanui, keepers of kin, ahi kā ma.