Alice Veysey sits down with a busy teaching family for a rare moment of relaxation on the eve of a new stage of life.
Life can be unpredictable when you’re parenting young children. Nothing is guaranteed. At the time of our interview it is school holidays for teachers Josh and Leana Buxton andtheir eldest son, seven-year-old Micah. Twin siblings Theo and Belle are gearing up for their fifth birthday and the start of school.
School holidays are sacred for this teaching family – a chance to get away together. Not this time, however. All three Buxton kids are stricken with chicken pox, quarantined at home. All plans are out the window: no family holiday, delayed birthday celebrations and definitely no photoshoot for OHbaby! Magazine.
Leana and Josh have shared a lot since meeting in their late teens. A combination of mutual friends, art school and church community brought them together. Their relationship began with a strong friendship and that strength is evident today in the way they balance their busy work and family lives, whilst supporting each other’s creative endeavours. With a project or three always on the go, Leana and Josh seem to journey through a multi-faceted life with a certain grace.
Rewind five years and Leana was lying in hospital with her precious newborn twin babies in her arms. Josh had just taken on a new teaching job and was unable to get time off to help. With a toddler at home as well, Leana felt completely overwhelmed by the task ahead. “I remember thinking 'How on earth am I going to do this?'. I felt like I wasn’t in control of anything and said to myself, 'this will be interesting, but what will be will be'.”
It wasn’t an easy road with the twins as babies. Belle had hip dysplasia and Theo had colic so each baby had their challenges. It was very difficult to maintain any kind of routine, or treat them as 'one and the same', as was the advice given to mothers of newborn twins. The early years were a blur of sleep deprivation, nappies and feeding. On reflection Leana confesses “I’m not a natural ‘baby person’. It’s hard when you don’t feel good at being a baby parent. Looking back, I would’ve given myself a lot more grace”.
“I remember when I was at home full time with three-year-old Micah and the twins were one. I was so exhausted and I felt like I had no control over anything. I wasn’t able to achieve great things day after day, and the expectation that I could often left me feeling like a failure. I figured out a strategy that I call 'advance and maintain'. It was more realistic and kinder on myself to have an 'advance' day, where I would get a mini project done or clean the floors or something. Then I would see the next day as a 'maintain' day, where all I had to do was hold down the fort and not achieve too much else. Once I had that structure in place, I felt more in control.”
Leana had to accept that, in the early years of the twins' lives, use of her time was totally dependent on how they were going. Leana is now on the precipice of a new unknown – she will be farewelling the preschool years and with both of her 'babies' starting school at once, it’s more of a game-changer than ever.
The challenge and the beauty of family life is that you have to adjust your expectations and think outside the square. Often your time is not your own. “I feel like I am coming into a time where my strengths lend themselves to the age and stage my kids are at. I finally feel like I have a good balance. I enjoy working, I enjoy my family, and I feel like a good mum” says Leana.
Leana has been working part time as a specialty art teacher at the ACG Tauranga campus since it opened in early 2015. This, along with being a mother of three, would keep anyone busy, but Leana is also a practising visual artist. Her painting practice has functioned in a vacuum of available time up until this point. When the Buxton family bought their Greerton home three years ago, Josh’s dad covered in the carport to create a studio space for Leana to paint in, but it’s been a matter of stealing moments to work on her art. Leana creates abstract paintings with multiple layers and textures that evolve over time. “Luckily my style lends itself to small bursts of creative effort”, Leana laughs.
Since graduating from Wintec with a Bachelor of Media Arts ten years ago, Leana’s painting style has moved from its figurative roots towards abstraction, and she now predominantly creates mixed media wall pieces. When questioned about how she finds the time and energy to create, Leana replies “As an artist, if you wait for the right feeling, the right light, the right moment, the right space, the right everything, you won’t produce a thing”.
“Creative process exists in structure. I have to create my own time structure within which to achieve things. I need little goals and deadlines or I won’t achieve anything” explains Leana. And achieving she is. Leana has had artworks selected and exhibited in each of the past three biennial Miles Art Awards at the Tauranga Art Gallery. She has also completed a number of commissioned artworks for private and public spaces and continues to seek out new avenues and goals for her art.
With the potential of more time on her hands to focus on her art, Leana is feeling like it’s time to kick into gear. “This is a defining moment. I’ve really got to make a go of my art or it will just linger around in the background.” For encouragement and creative guidance, she stresses the importance of mentors. Leana spends time (when she can) with fellow artist and mentor Frances Van Dammen who helps inspire Leana with her style and goals. It’s helpful to just spend time with other like-minded people in your chosen arena. Entering awards and group shows is also great for personal development and peer support. You will often find the same artists entering their work for subsequent awards and exhibitions, so it's inspiring to see the work of others developing over time.
Parenting as teachers
Leana recognises the importance of creating her own artwork in order to be an effective and relevant art teacher. “It’s just as important for me to practise my own art as it is to do my school prep. To be an inspiration to students, you first have to be inspired yourself.” Her children too find inspiration from her art making. The kids love being in the art studio. Leana has set up an extra table especially for the kids so they can work alongside her. It’s evident that creativity runs through the family. During our photoshoot, the kids happily set themselves up with drawing activities, painting, cardboard crafts and outside exploration. It’s what has been modelled to them and seems to come naturally. Josh, who is a high school English teacher and dean, is also a trained photographer and keen video documentarian. Together Josh and Leana have created a family atmosphere where self-expression, inquiring thought, healthy activity, and respect for each other’s differences are esteemed.
“Parenting is a job. We seek professional development in our careers so it makes sense to seek sound input and continually aim to improve ourselves as parents too. The teachers in us tell us to keep learning” states Leana. One of the learning avenues Leana and Josh have recently followed is a Middle Years Toolbox course run by The Parenting Place, which they strongly recommend. The couple agree that to effectively nurture their children, it’s important to glean from people who have gone before them. As high school teachers, they both see teenagers from all backgrounds. When they observe admirable characteristics and personal habits in a teenager, they ask the parents, “What did you do?”. It’s as simple as talking to other parents whose kids you really like. Seeking people who are supportive, encouraging and show themselves to be good role models is key. Josh and Leana are close with Josh’s parents, whom they consider good mentors. “Our generation tends to not want to need the older generation, but they have so much wisdom to offer” say Leana and Josh, who agree that healthy inter-generational relationships are very important.
So how does this busy family craft a life that embraces togetherness, creativity, church, community and sports, and still have time and energy for the daily grind? Leana confesses that neither she nor Josh are naturally organised, but they clearly run a tight ship. They have worked out a domestic job-share: Josh takes care of kids’ lunches and breakfast each morning while Leana fits in some exercise. After school it’s homework and some downtime or outside play for the kids while Leana prepares dinner. Leana and Josh often need to do school prep and marking in the evening. Church and community-related meetings or sports activities fill other evenings and Leana heads out to her painting studio whenever possible.
“Life is pretty full”, Leana admits. “We've figured out that we can’t say yes to everything, even if something is deemed to be good and helpful. Ultimately we only have so much time and energy and we have now decided that if we take on something new, then something else has to give. We have our fixed commitments, then everything else has to be carefully considered. Josh and I have a shared calendar app on our phones to keep track of our engagements. We are also fortunate that we have a great loving and supportive family-and-friend community around us. Without those people helping us fill the gaps, we would often be pretty stuck.”
It is evident this family really value relationships. Those in their extended support network share in their rich life journey. They keep their family and friends close, they accept help when it’s offered and they have a strong focus on their marriage. “Everything is easier when you’re on the same team and your relationship is prioritised.”
And any other sage advice for families? “It’s important to make decisions about what’s a priority for you as a family and focus on that. As a society we often look at what we’re not doing or what we should be doing. We really need to celebrate what we are already doing well and enjoy the little moments together” says Leana. That sounds like a good life lesson for us all.
Alice Veysey lives in Tauranga and works as a photographer while raising her two young children. You can see more of Alice’s work at paperandpearl.co.nz
PHOTOGRAPHY: ALICE VEYSEY, PAPERANDPEARL.CO.NZ