For someone who is holding down four jobs, is a new mother to six-month-old twin boys and helping to parent tween stepdaughters, Jenny-May Clarkson is looking remarkably relaxed.
But it’s better not to actually point that out to the popular sports presenter, because in her typical no-fuss fashion, she quickly swats away any of that talk.
“Nah, you know me, I just get on with things!” she says. “It might sound like a lot, but it’s not really. I work it all in and I have a lot of help. I mean, you get a bit tired, but this is what I asked for. It’s what I wanted. There’s no complaining here.”
Although it quickly becomes obvious there’s one thing that’s difficult to juggle – getting some one-on-one time to talk with Jenny-May and her husband Dean when they’re out in public with the boys.
When the Weekly calls in to see the family in TVNZ’s news building – where Jenny-May returned to work in July – we’re constantly side-tracked by news presenters, reporters and crew. They’re all clamouring to coo over her twins, Atawhai and Te Manahau, who are happily wriggling around on a throw in the atrium and perfecting their newfound ability of rolling themselves over.
“Honestly, they are like magnets!” laughs Jenny-May (42), as yet another crew member turns up, exclaiming, “I knew I could sense babies somewhere in the building!”
But all the attention has become the norm for the couple, who just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.
“Yeah, this is nothing,” chuckles Dean (41). “You should see me trying to get round the supermarket! Everyone wants to stop and go, ‘Whoa! Twins!’ and have a chat.”
Dean, who has stepped away from his job as a truck driver to look after the boys, admits it was even more difficult navigating the shops a little while ago, when he was temporarily without his wedding ring.
Originally, Jenny-May had to take off her wedding band when her fingers started swelling during pregnancy. The pair’s matching rings were made from one piece of greenstone – the same one that Jenny-May had a pounamu made from last year for Dean’s 40th and for his two daughters, Libby-Jane (11) and Leah (9), as well as an extra two necklaces “just in case a miracle happened” – which she was quickly blessed with all at once.
But in a stroke of bad luck, both Jenny-May and Dean watched as their rings fell off and dropped to the floor, snapping as they made a hard landing. While they waited for replacements, neither wore a ring.
“My mum said, ‘People might start talking!’” says Jenny-May, “but we weren’t too worried.”
She laughs as Dean recalls one woman who kept “bumping into him” as he made his way around the supermarket with the boys.
“All the ladies wanted to come and talk to me!” he ribs Jenny-May.
Although their rings had so much meaning, in typical Jenny-May style, she didn’t dwell on breaking them.
“I mean, I loved those rings, but it was the symbol of them that is important. I would have been happy with wearing anything.”
They’re not empty words, either. Jenny-May proudly wore a bread-tie as an engagement ring after the couple discussed marriage just five days after meeting, and Dean suggested he start saving for a diamond.
But she said, “I’d be happy with a bread tie,” which is exactly what Dean proposed with, 11 days after their chance meeting.
Then, seven months later, he slid the greenstone band onto her finger on their wedding day, while Jenny-May was just shy of being three months pregnant with their twin boys.
Now, exactly one year on, they’re still marvelling at their journey.
They spent their anniversary evening, three weeks ago, going through a box of notes with pieces of advice and messages from their wedding guests.
“Sitting there, reading all those messages, all that love, with the boys in our laps while we looked through them all. Man, it was a pretty cool thing,” says Jenny-May.
Since the boys’ birth in March, there hasn’t been a great deal of time to reflect on their whirlwind as it’s been all go in the Clarkson household.
While Dean is primarily looking after the boys, they work around Jenny-May, often moving as a family to attend her work commitments. Besides her sports presenting role on TVNZ 1, the former Silver Fern puts her expertise to work, helping young athletes in her role at High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ), where she is a life advisor to young athletes who show particular promise.
“I’m there to look at everything outside of sport for them – time management, coping with pressures, whether it’s university or any issues that come up.”
It works into her schedule particularly well, as the athletes will often come to her house for mentoring sessions.
Then she’s also kept busy by her role as an assistant coach for the Northern Mystics.
It was at one training where she got the call from her midwife that it was time for the babies to arrive, and it was the first job she went back to in May. Her return to the netball coaching bench, with Dean and the boys in the stands, proved to be her lucky charms as the Mystics won their first ANZ Championship.
“The boys have lots of aunties on that team,” laughs Dean. “I tend to be a bit more protective, at times, of the boys, but I’ll be there and say, ‘Hey, where have the boys gone?’ And Jenny-May will be like, ‘Hmm... they’re here somewhere!’ The girls all want a cuddle and she hands the boys over. They get passed around the whole room.”
The coaching role requires some travel and before the boys turned six months, they’d already been on a number of road trips, including flying over to Brisbane for a match. But the pair opted to leave the boys behind when Jenny-May had a speaking engagement in Fiji last month, giving her and Dean an opportunity to spend a long weekend together, alone.
“But all we really did was sleep through it!” laughs Dean.
Jenny-May’s fourth work commitment sees her return to Whanau Living on TVNZ 1 – alongside one of her closest friends, Stacey Morrison. The last season tracked her pregnancy and she’s enjoying filming the show again, with the boys making an appearance when they can.
After learning te reo Maori five years ago, Jenny-May is making sure the language is passed on to her sons.
“As far as my vocabulary will allow, I only speak Maori to the boys. The primary language spoken in our home is English, but they get the advantage of having both languages around them.”
They’re also dedicated to continuing on Maori traditions with their children and recently took the whenua (placenta) home to Piopio, to bury it on the land where her father grew up. There, they planted a kauri for Atawhai and a totara for Te Manahau.
Honouring their past, and those family members who have passed away who will keep watch over the boys, they visited the graves of Jenny-May’s brother and her grandfather, who were both named Charles, after whom second-born Charles Atawhai Te Waka is named. Then they went north to visit Anthony Te Manahau Maurice’s namesake – Dean’s grandfather’s grave.
“That was an amazing experience,” tells Dean. “Te Manahau had been losing it when we were travelling south, but when my mum was holding him at her dad’s grave, he was calm and had his eyes focused on the grave. He knew where he was and that it was about him.”
While they do spend a lot of time together as a family, there’s still long hours involved for Jenny-May where she’s away, but she admits she was excited to get back to work.
“I did really, really enjoy being at home with the boys, but it was nice to go and be an adult for a few hours when I started back,” she confides.
“Part of it was me being who I am, just getting on with things, but knowing that Dean was at home with the boys – they weren’t in daycare, they weren’t with anyone else, their father was there – that gives me the peace of mind to walk out that door and do what I have to do. To be honest, in those initial stages, I was probably more worried about Dean than the boys because, you know, he’s there at home by himself a lot.”
But the key to making it work, she says, boils down to one thing – communication.
“That’s all it is,” she tells. “It’s making sure our relationship is solid, because we know if we take care of us, we’ll be able to face whatever comes our way. It’s about making sure we’re strong, to be strong for the boys.”
For the couple, it means being mindful of each other’s needs and feelings – and constantly checking in on the other.
“We have conversations around the fact that Dean’s at home and has been for the last six months. Is he okay at that moment?
“I mean, I love being a mother, and I love being with my boys, but I need other things in my life to feel fulfilled too. I love the work I do. And while Dean is okay right now, he also needs to be fulfilled – to know that the yearning inside of him to help people and work with the community will be fulfilled at some point. I won’t always be the one at work – that will change in the future. He knows that opportunity is coming.”
Because for now, they’re both loving the roles they’re in. Yes, there isn’t a great deal of sleep, but they’re tackling everything together – always with a healthy dose of humour.
“Honestly, sometimes we wake up at two or three in the morning, when one of them is losing it, and we just look at each other and laugh or smile, then go, ‘Ha, here we go again!’” smiles Jenny-May.
And Dean enjoys being a hands-on dad.
“It’s a privilege,” says Dean, who for many years worked as a pastor, counselling troubled teens and married couples. “Particularly in a world where there are so many absent fathers – I want to set a better example than that.”
“Honestly, I’m so lucky to have Dean,” says Jenny-May. “He is a man so open to communication – and I know a lot who aren’t. The fact he will let me speak my mind, and me his, means we’re always thinking about one another’s feelings. Yes, things can get tough at times, but we know that pressure is just a moment in time, it’s not something we hold on to. And Dean is more than I ever even wanted in a husband.”
They were sentiments that Jenny-May was reminded of, yet again, when the family got together, along with Dean’s wider family, for a trip to Rarotonga last week.
“Just being there with Dean, watching him with his girls and his boys, I was thinking about the way he treats them all, the way he is so patient with me and so open to communication.
“Honestly, I fall in love with him every single day, more and more and more. I’m pretty lucky and I know it.”