Polly Greeks: A life lesson that stung

Seven-year-old Zendo gets lessons in courage, caution and comeuppance.

If ever an image is needed to depict the meaning of “confidence”, I propose a photo of me in a bee suit. Being covered from head to toe in impregnable armour provides a level of fearlessness I wish I knew more of in life. Invincible is the only word for it.

There’s context, obviously. Sadly, encasing yourself in acres of mesh and thick white cotton doesn’t defend against many of humanity’s vulnerabilities. Yet, I’m the Queen of Cool in a bee yard, entirely at ease within an enraged mass of viciously armed insects as James and I set about our new hobby of robbing bees of their honey.

Stripped of stinger anxiety, I love peering into our hives and watching the buzzing collective at work. James and I were doing exactly that, taking time out from our sticky thievery to pull frames from brood boxes in search of queens, when a chirpy “hello” sounded by our sides.

Somewhat startled, we took in the sight of our seven-year-old son beaming up at us. Lacking a bee suit, he’d been instructed to stay at the house.

“How’s it going?” Bending nonchalantly over a heaving honeycomb, he examined the agitated throng as we stared incredulously at his expanses of bare skin. Lately, he’s been operating from a sassy and frequently infuriating perversity, but this was a new height of contrariness.

“Er, see what we’re wearing?” James briefly re-explained the purpose of our ensemble. Zendo shrugged unconcernedly in his shorts and tee-shirt. “I’m not scared.”

The glance I snuck James was a mixture of exasperation and admiration. On the one hand, it was a classic case of complete disregard for parental wisdom, but on the other?

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“A bee-whisperer,” I thought, suitably impressed. Our neighbour was such a man, plunging bare hands into buzzing swarms when he taught us how to re-queen. Perhaps Zen’s boldness provided him with the same sort of security? Leaving him to his investigations, we continued our harvesting as the humming cloud surrounding us grew ominously darker and louder.

This was the day our child learnt courage only safeguards to a point. A sudden scream marked the start of the lesson. It was rapidly followed by more, each at a higher pitch and accompanied by a hopping sort-of jig that morphed into a frantic run.

“They’re after me,” he shrieked, hurtling in the direction of home.

“Head for the bath,” James bellowed. Our outdoor tub was conveniently full. Chuckling callously at his speed, we reflected on the moral again being delivered by the universe: that Zendo doesn’t always know best. I rather appreciated that this time it involved no breakages or other household damage. Like a punctured balloon, a deflated child met us when we eventually returned to the house. Lying on the couch, ministered by his 10-year-old sister, he looked small and wan. In place of swagger, he tearfully sported 12 angry welts.

Yet, already, his indomitable bounce was returning. Propping himself gingerly on a stung elbow, he observed brightly, “Good thing I can run so fast.

We nodded affectionate agreement.

Part of the purpose of boyhood is surely to squeeze the maximum amount of sensation from every moment? Life’s there to engage at full throttle — to poke with a stick into action or dissect into parts of its sum. Existence to a child is juicy, with endless meat on the bone. Zen likes to sink his teeth into experiences, tugging and pulling with the enthusiasm of our six-month-old puppy. Neither hound nor son is renowned for considering outcomes.

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Perhaps an apt image to illustrate the word “confidence”, would be of a strutting seven-year-old boy. But it’s a bumpy road these young males travel, the glinting bravado interspersed by juddering bars of comeuppance. As parents, we need to remember the neural pathways linking consequences to actions are still under construction, currently as insubstantial as lines drawn on sand. Our children’s metaphorical bee suits of sensible self-assurance need time, trial and error in which to form.


After numerous offshore adventures, Polly Greeks, her husband James and their children Vita and Zendo chose to put down roots in a stand of isolated Northland forest where they are slowly building a mortgage-free, off-grid home and discovering an entirely new way of life.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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