Family

Jenny-May Clarkson on motherhood and her family's big move

The sports presenter and her family have found their castle!

By Alice O'Connell

The trouble with fairytales is we never actually get to see what happens next.

Once Sleeping Beauty finds her Happily Ever After, we’re not privy to the next chapter where she and the prince navigate the stresses of finding and moving into a new palace, juggle work commitments, household chores, bills, children and perhaps even a blended family, all while trying to keep their relationship intact.

Plus, they now have the exact opposite problem when it comes to sleep – neither of them can get enough of it!

At the Weekly, we’ve followed the fairytale romance of TVNZ 1 sports presenter Jenny-May Clarkson right from her love-at-first-sight moment with her beau Dean, and their subsequent lightning-fast engagement, wedding and then the delight of surprise twins – all happening in the space of little more than a year.

Jenny-May (43) is renowned for keeping it unflinchingly honest and real, so while her life has certainly resembled a fairytale lately, she freely admits that although this next chapter has been everything she ever asked for, it’s also been “bloody hard”.

Yes, it’s the realisation of all her wildest dreams, but it’s also had its challenges, stresses and absolutely zero sleep.

This year she and Dean (42) have been house-hunting, moved out to a rural setting and juggled a number of work commitments, all the while tending to the needs of their blended family, including rambunctious 16-month-old boys Atawhai and Te Manahau, and shared care of Dean’s girls, Libby-Jane (12) and Leah (10).

It’s fair to say they have a lot on their plates. So, how are they both doing?

Dean, who is feeling sleep-deprived, immediately erupts into laughter, while Jenny-May pauses a moment before telling a little story: “The funny thing is, I had one of my colleagues say to me lately, ’One of my mates, he’s 47 and he and his wife have just found out they’re having twins!’ And I just looked at him and I went, ’Mate. It’s hard yakka. Just tell him, good luck, and tell his wife to join a multiple birth group.’

“So, to answer your question, yeah, we’re good. Well, we’re surviving, aren’t we, babe?”

“Yes,” responds Dean slowly, looking up from a large, long black coffee. “Surviving is a great word.”

Running and climbing are favourite pastimes for the boys, so quiet time with a book is treasured.
Running and climbing are favourite pastimes for the boys, so quiet time with a book is treasured.

We’re catching up with the pair today in their new home, which is about 45 minutes out of Auckland’s CBD, where Dean and Jenny-May have bought a house with Dean’s parents, who occupy the top level of the home.

When we open the front door the house is unusually quiet. Their boys are down for a nap, Nan and Pop are pottering in the garden, while Jenny-May’s parents, who are up from Piopio for a visit, are making tea and sandwiches in the kitchen.

Jenny-May’s already in the make-up chair and tells us Dean’s gone for his daily trek up the maunga – the huge hill near their home that has become a place of refuge for them.

He returns, with his lungs still screaming, in time for a shower before the two boys wake. And you can certainly tell the exact moment they’ve opened their eyes. The home goes from zero to a 100 on the serenity scale in a matter of minutes.

Dean and Jenny-May have just returned from a visit to see his sister in Australia during the school holidays. “And I’ll tell you what,” he says, “since we’ve got back from Australia, these two have gone next level.”

Perhaps you mean next level in a good way, we ask, hopefully. “No,” he shakes his head. ”Next level bad.”

“The thing is,” adds Jenny-May, matter-of-factly, “they’ve gone cray-cray.”

And within a few minutes, it’s evident what they’re talking about. Little Te Manahau and Atawhai are tearing around the room, each going in different directions. You need only blink and they’ve already scaled the furniture. You daren’t take your eyes off them for a second.

“We’ve had to move all of our furniture,” explains Dean. “We’ve moved the couches away from the walls, shifted the tables, everything. We put locks on all the drawers in the kitchen, then they started turning the oven on and we can’t let them in there any more. We’ve had to put gates up around it – oh, and the fire too.”

At eight months, the pair began walking, but they’ve quickly moved on to climbing and running as their favourite ways to get around.

“They want to be running, grabbing, exploring and learning,” says Jenny-May.

“And as parents, that’s what we have to provide for them, to keep extending them. But, mate, it’s hard.”

The twins have been busily working out how to get around the safety measures put in place, which Dean says is frustrating, but also pretty impressive.

“It’s a constant battle as a parent, feeling like, ’Oh, that’s frustrating because I’m trying to get a meal cooked here, or sort something out while you’re tearing things apart,’ but you also have to step back and acknowledge, ’Hey, that’s cool. You’re figuring that out, son. Well done.’”

For the past 16 months, Dean has been a stay-at-home parent. “You’re always busy, tired or distracted by something, and sometimes their antics are an inconvenience or just bloody frustrating, but I want to be present. I don’t want to miss all the little milestones that are happening.”

Dean’s been getting some downtime from the boys since their first birthdays in March, when they enrolled them at their local kohanga reo, the Humarie Kohanga Reo in Takanini. Jenny-May speaks exclusively in te reo Maori to the boys, and Humarie extends their education, as well as giving them some social time with other young tots.

While the twins are going through a period of rapid development, their cheeky personalities are also going “next level”.

“I’ll give you an example,” says Dean, part proud dad, part exasperated. “My sister, who we stayed with in Aussie, has Foxtel, which is like Sky TV, with a box, and Atawhai goes up and pulls out the card.

So my sister tapes it up and says, ’Ha-ha, Atawhai. That’s what you get!’ And he stares right back at her, then goes up to the box and hits the off button and just walks away. So cheeky! They’ve gone to another level. It’s very cool, but it’s very busy and I’m very glad the holidays are over so they’re back at te kohanga reo for a few hours!”

Atawhai and Te Manahau are non-identical twins, and their rapidly developing personalities make that very obvious. Te Manahau is named after the husband of Jenny-May’s best friend Stacey Morrison.

“I constantly say to Stace, ’Your godson...’ and she interrupts, ’I told you when you named him that he was going to be a handful, so don’t even start with me, sister!’ And he is.

He’s a firecracker. He is hilarious, a showman. He does everything with a smile on his face and is going to be our challenge. We can see that already.

“Then there is Atawhai, who is completely different. He’s very measured and calm. He’s very stubborn, loud and very strong – he’s the bigger of the two.” Adds Dean,

“He’s a beautiful boy. He’s the one who will see a flower and pick it up, and take it to someone. What 16-month-old boy picks daisies to give to people?!”

Physically, they’re certainly alike, though. So, amongst the business of bringing up these two loud and energetic little handfuls, how are Jenny-May and Dean staying sane?

“The maunga!” they both quickly offer, gesturing behind their new dream home.

After they first floated the idea of buying a house with Dean’s parents – it seemed to make sense, because they were over each day, anyway – they fell in love with the sprawling country home.

Te Manahau and his brother Atawhai (right) wear toki made from the same pounamu as their parents’ rings.
Te Manahau and his brother Atawhai (right) wear toki made from the same pounamu as their parents’ rings.

“It felt like the house chose us, really,” says Jenny-May. It was big enough to give Jenny-May, Dean and the boys their space – plus Libby-Jane and Leah, who live there every other week – while having a completely separate living area for Dean’s folks.

Besides being the ideal house, the quieter pace of living in a small town appealed to them.

“A rural lifestyle, that’s what I’m used to because I grew up in a very, very small town,” reveals Jenny-May.

“I was always determined to raise the boys – and give the girls, too, an opportunity to grow up in a smaller community. I love the city, don’t get me wrong! I love the hustle and bustle of it, but I also love getting out as well.”

So, after the house appeared to choose them, they found a hidden gem – a nearby maunga with a walking track. It’s roughly a five-kilometre walk and takes around an hour to get through.

“To keep sane, we walk it,” says Jenny-May. “We walk up the maunga together.”

“Well,” laughs Dean. “We start together, but we don’t necessarily finish it together. We get to the stairs and I say, ’Bye, darling! See you at home!’ She’s a lot fitter than me.”

Atawhai (pictured) is calmer like his dad, while his brother Te Manahau is “all over the show” like Mum!
Atawhai (pictured) is calmer like his dad, while his brother Te Manahau is “all over the show” like Mum!

But Dean, who was given the hard word by his doctors to improve his health, has made huge leaps and bounds in his fitness since he began walking the maunga every day. The couple recently bought backpack carriers and have been taking the boys up with them.

The twins each weigh around 13kg, so it’s hard work, but Jenny-May reminds Dean that it’s roughly about the amount of weight he has lost since he started doing the walk.

“I nearly died going up the first time,” admits Dean. “But that’s why I do it. And as I go up, I remind myself that’s what it’s for.”

His voice catches as he looks at Jenny-May. “It’s to stay alive for my wife and my children. I know I have to keep doing it because I want to walk up there with them when they’re older.”

He composes himself as he talks more about the walk. “I see so much up there too – and as much as my lungs scream, I notice more each time. I saw a koru last week and it reminded me of new life and opportunities.”

Jenny-May smiles and adds, “Y’know, it’s like we could be talking about our boys, right now. That’s Atawhai, taking time to notice things. Atawhai has a beautiful soul like his father, and Te Manahau is all over the show like his mother. Atawhai notices things. Dean walks up the maunga and he’ll say, ’Wow! Did you see the nikau?’ And I’ll be like, ’What nikau?’ I’m on a mission to get to the top and I don’t notice anything – that’s Te Manahau.”

Sleep is a much-needed commodity for Jenny-May and Dean, but the loving couple are “surviving” well.
Sleep is a much-needed commodity for Jenny-May and Dean, but the loving couple are “surviving” well.

But as the couple learn more about their children, they both acknowledge the biggest challenge so far is their own relationship.

Jenny-May says she has become more patient since becoming a mother and is constantly upskilling for all four children, trying to make sure she has the skills to help them with their different stages of development.

“It’s easy to invest time and energy into your children, but I’d say that investing time in us – Dean and I – has been the toughest thing.

“Dean is a saint for putting up with me. I can be very matter-of-fact and not always as gentle as I would like to be. But he keeps putting his hand on my back and saying, ’It’s okay.’ Then when I take time to self-reflect, I go, ‘Actually, Jenny-May, that wasn’t very nice at all.’ I need that time to self-reflect, then talk to him.”

It seems like the pair have always been very good at communicating. “Not always,” confides Dean.

“Things got to a point where we realised we’d overlooked one another. Now we check in regularly – one of us will say, ’Time for a check-in?’ It’s a work in progress, but it’s something we need to get better at – making time for this relationship, because if this isn’t working, none of it works. We need to schedule in ’us time’.”

Jenny-May adds, “We do. And I’m looking forward for the next stage where Dean will get to do some work now and do the things that light his fire. I’m very aware Dean has been the one at home with the boys. We made that decision as a family to have a parent at home, and Dean is better at that than me.

“It’s been beautiful to see the relationship he has with the boys. I’ve been able to work, which lights my fire but we need to let Dean get that for himself – which we can now that the boys are at Humarie and we’re lucky to have family to help with the boys.”

Dean, who formerly worked as a pastor and a truck driver, is looking forward to getting into some work, helping others, over the next month. But while they continue
to work on their relationship, he says, the way they met is never far from his mind.

“Just last week I was driving and remembering the night we first met, how that first conversation unfolded, talking about the girls, and then I look at us now. We’ve got a house and these two little troopers. We can’t forget how magical that is in the busyness of life. We can’t forget to stop and remember that story. That we know the two of us are meant to be.”

Just like Sleeping Beauty and the prince – only better, because this is real life. Complete with its challenges, sleeplessness and a whole lot of love.

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