2 Jul 2023

The Kiwi comedians’ guide to surviving the school holidays

8:40 am on 2 July 2023

By Alexia Santamaria

Collage of Karen O'Leary, Tofiga Fepulea’i and James Nokise

Photo: Supplied

The school holidays have rolled around again and for some of us it feels a bit like they never really ended.

Constant closures for flooding, rolling teacher strikes and public holidays mean we've all had quite a lot of 'quality time' with our whānau already in the last couple of months. This variable weather isn't really helping either.

So, how to get through the next couple of weeks and stay sane when the budget hasn't allowed for a trip to the Gold Coast or a constant rotation of time at theme parks, bowling alleys and indoor playgrounds?

We asked some comedians for their sage advice on surviving the school holidays.

Tofiga Fepulea'i: 'Don't be ashamed to ask for help'

Tofiga Fepulea'i has been a familiar face on screens and stages for over two decades, as one half of The Laughing Samoans, and in his stand-up shows as well as recurring roles on TV and on film.

With three sons aged 11, 13 and 17, plus more than 10 years' experience in running youth programmes, he knows a thing or two about surviving the school holidays.

Tofiga Fepulea’i and family

Photo: Supplied

"Back in my days, holidays was just spending time at home. I was either at my house or my cousin's place. There was no PlayStation or Netflix. I would play with our neighbours because they would have the latest toys! All we knew was to make the most of being outside before we were told we had to go back inside because it was getting dark."

With his own kids, nephews and kids' friends, there can be up to 10 boys at his place over the holidays. Fepulea'i says the day always starts with chores. Once the jobs are done and they've had something to eat, they're allowed to go to the park or beach.

"My theory is if you give them enough chores to do in the morning they will make the most of their free time 'cause they know I can find them more if they say they're bored!"

Fepulea'i says he loves working with kids - "I love seeing them realise their purpose and supporting them to reach their goals" - but acknowledges that the holidays can be a challenge.

"As a parent, having a lot of patience, a sense of humour - and a good left jab - helps keep the kids in line," he jokes.

His advice to parents losing their minds in the holidays? "Don't be ashamed or afraid to ask for help, and when you can, always lend a hand to those families who may need help too.

"Everyone is doing it tough and budgets are limited for so many, but it's a amazing what a bit of a laughter, some food and a lot of love can do to get you through the school holidays."

Karen O'Leary: 'We're all just trying our best'

Despite a 21-year-career in early education - and a lengthy stint dealing with child-like colleagues and ghouls as Officer O'Leary in hit series Wellington Paranormal, Karen O'Leary admits looking after kids is hard work.

Photo: Frank Management

"Before I had my own child [11-year-old son Melvyn] I probably lacked a little respect for parents," she says.

"I used to think 'I can get your kids to do what I want them to do, why can't these parents do the same?"

Since becoming a parent, she's changed her tune.

"Parenting is always going to be a lot harder because generally if you're a nice parent, your kids know you're going to love them regardless, so you will often actually get the worst version of them at home."

Spending more than two decades teaching pre-schoolers taught her a lot about managing small people, and she's learned that kids don't need to be taken to the latest inflatable park or indoor playground to have fun.

If they're old enough, give kids the freedom to go on short solo excursions, she says.

"The local dairy maybe, give them two bucks for lollies - actually that probably only buys them two lollies these days! If you have more than one child and they can play basic board games, play with them for a while and then ease yourself out - 'I'm just going to grab a cup of tea!' they won't even notice…"

O'Leary says the key is committing fully to short periods of time.

"I hate that expression of 'being present' but it's really just that. If you are working and can only spare half an hour - make it a great half an hour. Have fun, be silly with them, have a dance party."

McLeary says she learned many lessons from her dad, who died recently.

"He was the funnest dad ever; when no one else wanted to play cricket with me, he would go to Miramar Park and give me his time."

When you really don't have the time, McLeary says it's okay to let kids get a bit bored.

"That's how they learn to be creative. We don't need to fill up every moment of their time."

And while Karen is all about having fun with your kids, she acknowledges that your own children can push your buttons like no one else. Her advice to parents when this happens is to remember the aggravation will pass.

"It builds and builds and you are like, 'oh my god you are absolutely driving me insane' and then it just drops away straight after. In that time of thinking 'I kind of want to throttle my own child', sometimes you just have to ignore them so they can actually return to being nice.

"The most important thing, for the school holidays, and at all times, is to not be too hard on ourselves. We're all just trying our best."

James Nokise: 'I end up being the last man standing'

Comedian James Nokise doesn't have kids, but he's still highly attuned to holiday time.

James Nokise, a Samoan, Welsh and New Zealand comedian, looks directly into the camera. He is smiling slightly.

James Nokise, producer, writer and host of Fair Game: Pacific Rugby Against the World. Photo: Supplied

"As a non-parent, I always know it's the holidays when you start to see packs of roaming teenagers, it's like the plains of America. You'll see seven kids in mufti outside Burger King and you know it's on."

He says school holidays now are a bit different to when he was growing up.

"There was literally nothing to do - with no streaming, you literally had to wait till 3.30 for your favourite show - not watch Bluey any time you wanted, on loop. In fact when I finally got a bike I would just ride into the forest - now that's like the plot to Stranger Things - or Stephen King's It."

Nokise was often sent to the Samoan side of his family at holiday time, and he highly recommends this as a strategy for parents at their wits' end.

"In Samoan families you go to your aunty's house - it's not a holiday, it's just living in someone else's house for a couple of weeks. When I used to do it, my cousins found the way I spoke pretty amusing and loved to drag me around and say, 'Look, this is our white cousin from Wellington'."

Nokise also reckons there's nothing wrong with sending your kids to holiday programmes - after all, he survived frequent stints at them.

"Looking back, those awkward first-day conversations would be a bit like Hogan's Heroes or The Great Escape, like 'What are you in for?' 'Oh my parents are divorced', 'My dad's in another country' 'My mum left my dad'. 'Both my parents work full time - we're just really poor'."

And if all else fails, just palm your kids off on friends like him.

"I end up being the last man standing - the person they come to see with the kids when parents need time."

He also has some advice for those looking after those kids that aren't their own.

"If you take them to a playground, try and avoid having a seedy moustache. If someone asks, 'which ones are yours?' maybe don't just say 'none of them'. It's never a good look."

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