Yesterday I felt terrible. I walked around my neighborhood and felt rubbery and disoriented. I was trying hard to stay awake until at least 8 pm. Jet lag didn’t seem to hit Zoe, but for some reason, I always suffer more coming back to the states than when I go to NZ. Man, we were away for a little over 1/3rd of a year. That is crazy.
I was satisfied with the length of time I got to spend with my girls while away so much that none of us even cried when Zoe and I left for the airport. I found it unusual because I’m most of the time a blithering bawling mess. I know we will be back, though. I’m back in sunny Naples and so happy to sleep in my bed, snuggle my husband and play with our dogs.
Zoe’s friends have not left her side since the first day we returned. It’s fantastic to see. We are blessed with love, family, and friends on two continents. We travel between two of the most desired tourist destinations in the world. Both places are beautiful and have beaches and that, my dear, is a must for me. I am, however, really missing the hills, views, and random hiking trails of NZ. I woke up this morning wondering where I can drive to jump on a great hiking trail to explore but can’t be bothered traveling. SERIOUSLY! I am all traveled out at the moment.
Today I’ll unpack my bags and store my luggage until next week when we head out for another wee adventure. Watch this space.
Since I’ve been in NZ, I have grown accustomed to taking 1/2 marathon length walks and hiking every trail I come across. This is reminiscent of my early days in Nashville, before our big move to this country in 2002. With every step, I’ve explored and found places my husband hadn’t even been to, and he grew up here. The bushwalks and urban hiking have been the highlight of my time while visiting the City of Sails. My walks are most enjoyable because it’s been with our daughters and my close NZ friends who share my passion for the outdoors. With all of my recent activity, I have firmed up more than ever in the last five years, and my endurance has grown very strong. My current fitness has made me more positive about myself and my ability to get back into fighting-fit shape.
One morning about three weeks ago, I was looking at Facebook, and a photo of a friend popped up. She is someone I admire for her work and strength as a single mother. And I always felt body-positive beside her because we were both beautiful, voluptuous women. Her face popped up in my feed, but I had to enlarge it to make sure it was her. I haven’t seen her for over 18 months, and she has changed. She is THIN; I mean, she doesn’t even look like the same person, thin, but in a stunning happy, healthy way. I scanned my friend’s Facebook account photos to make sure it was her. I went back a year and found the voluptuous version of her and then flipped through her images, watching her shrink as time progressed to the present day. I Read posts to see if she had been Ill, and there was no indication of anything sinister. And then I realized she had made some changes to the way she approaches food. I sat in silence and overwhelming jealousy, envy, and self-pity. Very unattractive character traits that probably contribute to weight gain. I had the wind knocked out of me for some reason. I was disappointed in myself despite my recent progress and personal fitness success. I thought, “shit, I want to lose weight like that! I eat healthy! WHYYYYYYY!!!?” I pondered that I take meds for my Panic Disorder that make me happily put weight on, and I accepted that. It’s a thing I have to live with; I get it. But I didn’t stop there.
I messaged my friend and said, “wow, you look wonderful. Keep up the good work!” She responded with, “Noom aided by Covid shutdown, which kept me from restaurants.” Noom? This is the third incredibly shrinking friend I have heard of using this method to make healthy changes in their life. I did some research and after finding info on NOURISH by WebMD ( https://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/noom-diet) which stated, “Noom’s Healthy Weight Program is a comprehensive wellness plan, with food, exercise, and mental health aspects built-in. The idea is to change your behaviors so that you not only take off the weight but maintain the weight loss long-term.” I committed to trying it; what do I have to lose besides 75 lbs or 34 KG, right?
Well, I’m exactly 14 days in, and I’ve lost 4 lbs; That’s 2 lbs a week. I feel good, and it’s not stressful or restrictive. It’s output = input with support and a course to reprogram your psychological approach and relationship with food. Anyone who knows me knows my shape has been a battle, and just when I decided that it didn’t matter if I was slim just as long as I was fit, my friend popped up and reminded me to try harder.
So I am. The reason I want to weigh less is so that I’m agile and move easily and quickly. I want to live a long mobile life and be able to roll on the floor and hike mountains with my someday grandchildren. I also owe it to myself to feel and be the best version of myself I can be for myself. So, Noom? At the moment, hell yeah, Noom. Watch this space as this is another attempt in many.
It’s crazy to think about how long we have been in NZ. We had intended to stay six weeks and instead planted ourselves here for four and a half months. The thought of going home at this point feels strange. Our youngest girl and I have gotten into a rhythm here in our home away from home, and we can’t imagine being without my middle and oldest daughter. I’m in two minds over returning home to America. Not because I don’t want to go home to my lovely husband, extended family, dogs, and bed, but because it will be hard to leave Sabrina and Molly here. When our three girls are all together, they seem to complete each other and at the same time make each other crazy. It’s a family thing; most people get that. I keep picturing us packing our stuff, driving to the airport, and kissing them goodbye as we depart. It’s a depressing thought. I will, however, leave with the peace of mind that they are thriving in school, their friendships, and work. And they are surrounded by family that loves them in a beautiful, safe land across the water. The Pacific is calling Zoe and Me home, and it’s time to get my head around it and accept the fact that we are leaving.
This visit has given us so much as a family. Our youngest needed her sisters, and my heart needed to feel them close. I needed to heal my mind and recalibrate. The 18 months we were apart were gut-wrenching. The following separation won’t be for so long, and we know now that we need to make plans for the future where our complete family unit is involved. This trip has allowed me to formulate a clearer picture of how we will manage the logistics of our bi-continental family.
I am incredibly thankful that we have spent time with my father-in-law and the girls’ granddad. He is precious to us, and every memory we can make with him is priceless. I only wish I could have brought his son with me. Paul is dying to get over here to visit his father and extended family. He’s keenly aware of his dad’s age, and he is feeling the weight on his heart of not being able to get to him. He has been busy working while we have been having fun. I owe my man big!
Anyway, in the last 12 days here, I will be taking stock of the priceless friendships I have here and the memories I’ve made with the girls and limited extended family. We wish we could have seen more are of the people we love and miss but, well…COVID. In reality, the primary goal was to be with Sabrina and Molly, and thanks to the COVID isolation, we had their undivided attention. I can’t complain about that!
It’s been two weeks since my last post as a blogger; that’s a big gap between writings for me. It’s been a strange time. It is for everyone here in NZ and around the entire globe. The covid lockdown has left me in a mental fog and, at the same time, opened my eyes. I’m finding that the lack of stimulation from others in the world outside my family unit is stifling my creativity yet forcing me to think deeper and longer. I’m inspired to write by new conversations or activities; there has been little of that. Despite this, I have been amazingly fortunate to be with all 3 of our girls. Many of us cling to our birth or chosen families. And some have been torn apart. I’ve found the stillness and time to bond on a deeper level than ever with mine. We have watched movies, grabbed coffees, lounged around, celebrated, studied, laughed, cried, walked, and ran. We’ve been fortunate to hash out and begin healing lifelong issues that the chaos of the world’s continual stimulation masks. Forced to face the head-on problems that may have pulled us apart in the future, we have grown together.
Stillness forces us to look at ourselves with nowhere to run or hide. It allows us to check-in and acknowledge ourselves, run a physical, emotional, and mental diagnostic. I have been in a prolonged state of stillness on this visit to my home away from home between NZ and the US. A handful of scattered socially distanced outdoor encounters with those I love leave me feeling thankful and emotional. And though our interactions have been limited and short, the energy of being in their presence has been much needed. Just seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those outside our bubble offers rejuvenation and an opportunity to share and plug into someone else’s world and connect to their physical presence. I have had baking left at my doorstep by my ever-kind Airbnb hosts. And even the gift of an unexpected warm croissant, sourdough loaf, or pineapple cake gives me pause for gratitude and joy.
Stillness is healthy; yes, we need it to heal, understand, listen and grow. I would be kidding myself, though, if I said stillness was all I needed. Stillness is a portion of our existence. The same as socialization, touch, exercise, nourishment, and shelter, all of these are equally necessary for fulfillment, joy, and peace. At the moment, our world is complicated, and obtaining all things needed to feel whole and human is not easy to come by without restrictions or anxiety over what we lack. Humans need humans to survive and thrive. We bounce off of each other’s energy, take what we need, and pass it along. Everyone keeps saying, “when we go back to normal…” I don’t even fully remember normal, and to our youth, this is normal. We can view it as good or bad, yet it simply IS.
I have found solace in not dwelling on what was or what will be, how great things were, and how much better they’re going to be. I wrestle with the arms of our new reality, and I’m pinned to the mat. I try to tap out, surrender and give up; I think a lot of us have. I give in to my downtime and consider my next move into the unknown, trying to make choices that will allow me to hit the bullseye of a moving target. And while I’m aiming, I focus, draw in a deep breath, and find that right now, the living is in this single minute, hour, and day.
Today is my new normal. I sit still and silent and check-in with myself. I acknowledge my feelings. I am still here; I’m alive, loved, healthy, fed, sheltered, and safe. And that should be enough.
I stand outside my rented flat looking up at the stars shining in the clear sky as they float over Devonport. The Southern Cross hangs in the cool crisp air, and the streets are quiet. I’ve been writing all day. After walking 10 miles, I listen to jazz, sip wine and work on my book. I’ve gotten a lot done. I’m able to collect my thoughts and settle into the stillness that surrounds me. My youngest daughter sleeps on the pull-out sofa in the living room. A man walks past briskly, taking his Australian shepherd for its nighttime walk under the street lights. Dim light glows in the windows of the homes that surround us, and everything is still. The sound of music, conversations, and footsteps in the house above us fill the night air.
I am at peace knowing that I’m making progress on my memoir and want to continue but have to get some sleep because I have 2 Zoom meetings with the US in the wee hours of the morning. The COVID cases here looked terrible today, 45 in the community. I’m not sure whether we will go to level two or not when they re-evaluate this coming Tuesday. I walk up and down the hilly sidewalk along the empty street just outside the fence of our flat and wonder if I should ask my hosts to extend my booking for yet another week. The thought of living on top of my girls in their one-bedroom flat makes me anxious, and this peaceful place I have found would be hard to leave if we are all isolated together with no end in sight. This lockdown is an unusual situation and one everyone in Auckland has to accept and get through together for the greater good.
I make my way back inside and decide to shower and settle in for the night. I have found a calm place in all of this isolated stillness which is maddening. The long walks, runs, rented flat, volunteer online marketing for the mental health coalition and writing have been my saving grace. The icing on the cake is my visits with my girls. Just knowing they are a few blocks away and happy in their space makes me feel good. I want everyone to be comfortable during this stressful time. Mental health is hard to maintain in isolation. It’s hard to stay sane when you can no longer tell what day it is without checking the calendar, and there is no definitive light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I am blessed to be where I am, where I’m supposed to be at this moment. I am productive, healthy, and happy. I have gotten what I asked for, time with my girls, time to write. What more could anyone want.
I am lying here writing on my phone in a bed, a real queen size bed. I have been sleeping on a twin trundle bed for nine weeks in the one bedroom with our three girls. We were laid out like sardines in a tin, snuggled side by side on our mattresses. It has been cozy, and we have had some good times in the flat. We’ve also had some tense and challenging times. Not many but a few. On the whole, though, I am so proud of how the 4 of us have managed to be in lockdown in that one-bedroom flat. We are a great team.
So, now I’m lying here in a different flat just a few blocks up the road from their place. A place opened up, and Zoë and I moved there for seven nights. It’s adorable, and we are so comfortable. We are delighted to give Sabrina and Molly a break and their space back, even if it’s only for one week. When we walked into this quaint little garden cottage nestled on the bottom floor of an old Victorian villa, freshly baked bread was on the counter with a sweet note from our host. He had baked it for us before we arrived. It’s quiet here and peaceful. I’m an empath, so I tend to feel everyone around me and become overwhelmed with too much stimulation. Taking this break from our crowded space has relieved me of the feeling of soaking up the emotions of every person at the flat. The girls are also exceptionally sensitive, and we had gotten to the point where we were bouncing off and draining each other. Even with the best intentions and hearts full of love for each other, this happens. So now my mind is quiet, and I can write and revel in the calm of feeling nothing but peace. I will cherish this time and look forward to continuing to share space with our girls at their flat again with renewed energy and hopefully fewer lockdown restrictions. The minute we hit level 2, we are hitting the road for a hike for sure.
After five weeks in level 4 lockdown, we have finally moved to level 3! We still have to stay in our homes going out to exercise and shop for essentials. But we can expand our bubble to close family or friends, keeping it “small and exclusive.” It’s incredible how a tiny bit of progress gives me fulfillment. The highlight of this level is that we can now order contact-free items for pickup and order from Uber Eats. Sushi! I want Asahi Sushi! I craved it at home in America, and I’ve craved it all lockdown. Oh, and Flying Rickshaw INDIAN, yummmm! There’s excitement and mixed emotions among the girls. They can return to work and are essential for contactless pickups of items at their place of business. I think they will be happy to have some breathing room and a change of scenery.
In my little universe today, we’ve proudly launched a CAREGIVERS webpage I have built for the Collier Coalition for Healthy Minds. I filmed testimonials and wrote content for this, created the social media accounts and all content and edits of photos. I spent my time in NZ isolation learning to develop this digital piece to deliver on my promise as a volunteer to contribute to this fantastic and vital cause. CCHM is a community response to mental illness and substance abuse. This page is a crucial resource spot for caregivers who need support as much, if not more at times, than those who are ill. I have first-hand experience here because I suffer from an acute panic disorder and depression, I have since my early 20’s. And though I have loving support from my husband and daughters, I often feel they need someone who can support them. My issues can be draining and, at times, scary. The CAREGIVER page we launched gives tips and schedules for support groups of all kinds! I am so proud to be a part of this and happy that the board has allowed me to participate. I needed this win.
There is peace and calm in the flat as Molly, and I bond over cookie baking, and the laidback quiet life of Covid lockdown continues on another level. There isn’t too much to report, no house fires, breakdowns, or medical issues. I’m getting ready to leave for my daily walk under the long white clouds. It’s drizzling, and I’m happy to have another day with our girls and another day in NZ.
Steps in a positive direction are being taken all around the world. Many of our military soldiers have left Afghanistan ending the 20 yr war, Inspiration4 the first entirely civilian crewed SpaceX mission, has successfully launched and is orbiting the earth. And on a smaller scale, I achieved my first of many 3.15 mile/5 km runs probably since 2008. To say I was excited is an understatement. If I could do back handsprings to celebrate, I would have, but even in the best of shape, I’ve never been able to do those.
We are sadly still in lockdown here in Auckland, which means everything but grocery, gas, pharmacy, and utilities are closed. We are in the 5th week in isolation (additional to the two weeks Zoe and I spent in MIQ). Our three daughters and I have been holding up in their tiny one-bedroom flat. The only option for escape or sanity is to exercise outside. That, for the most part, means walks, runs, and biking. So I have been walking and walking and walking. First 3 miles daily, then 5 or 7. I got to the point where I ran out of land to cover unless I doubled back. Last week I decided to make myself run on any area flat or downhill. To my absolute amazement, on the second attempt at this, I forgot the flat and hills and just kept running. My legs are heavy, and I may run as fast as the tortoise racing the hare, but I got into the zone I used to get into as a young runner and did what I thought was no longer possible for me. I have watched my daughters run over the last 13 years and dreamed of running again. With failed attempts to get back into it, I’ve often tried to convince them that I used to be a runner, and I’m not sure they believed me. On my first run of 2 miles/3.21 km, Sabrina and Zoë walked behind me. As I pulled away from them, they doubted my ability to get very far. I forgot about what they thought, though, and kept peddling my feet along the pavement through the cool air. Man, the freedom of running can’t be beat.
There’s also something empowering about knowing that you may someday be able to outrun a hungry predator if needed, something I had decided I was beyond in my previous blob state. I figured I would inevitably be gator bait sometime in the future. At the end of my first attempt, the girls caught up with me. As Sabrina walked beside me, she said, “I’m proud of you, mum. You can talk a pretty big game, and I have to admit, I didn’t think you would do it, but you did. Good on you!” So I’m charged up and feel like I’m getting younger. I’m heading for a new pair of Hoka’s instead of a walker and triple X spandex covered by an even larger T-shirt to cover my bits. Being here with my girls has empowered me; I call it the power of 3. They encourage me, push me and cheer me on, then celebrate my wins with me. They make me feel special, and I’ve needed that. I’ve needed them, their energy. So between running, I am blogging, chipping away at my memoir, and developing the social media presence and website pages for my favorite non-profit. I’m in isolation yet more productive than ever. We live on a postage stamp, yet I have been moving and stretching myself wider than I have in over a decade. Who knows what ill achieve next! In the profound words of Neil Armstrong, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” or in my case, woman and womankind.
I have got to stop endlessly scrolling on my phone. It’s chilly in the house, and the laundry is piling up. I haven’t gone for a walk for two days (at home 48 hr birthday celebration with our middle baby). My bottom is sore from sitting so long, eating white bread, chocolate, cheese, and drinking champagne. The celebrations are over, and it’s raining off and on. Sitting in the window seat, I aim to work on my book but end up looking for chemist shops that sell Tucks or Preparation H wipes in NZ. No one does. I’ll have to adapt. Eating a piece of Vogel’s toast with Nutella and bananas, I wonder what the fiber content is.
Man, I’m getting old. I just flashed back to me interrupting a conversation between my mom and her brother (they were in their early 60’s). I asked why they talked about their bowel movements and crap so often? Fast forward to right this moment; I get it. I am my mother’s ass (take that however you want). Yeah, we’ve been here for 20 days now. You know you’re getting cabin fever and tunnel vision when your world shrinks and your interests become limited to scrolling on your phone, your bathroom habits, and the apple supply on hand—still confused about what day it is between following the US/NZ calendars and waking up to the same morning over and over again with no clear view to anything that might vary my schedule with a bit of mood shifting excitement. The birthday was a good diversion. At this point, you start to wonder whether you even need to shower. I mean, who’s going to see you? You don’t need to change clothes and survive going back and forth from walking outfits to pajamas. I do have to force myself to be on top of my hygiene at this point, though. Others in the one-bedroom may find my smell offensive. I don’t want them to feel “yuck” about my presence.
We have days now where we go through waves of silence, false starts of activity, walking on eggshells around each other, walking in circles outside aimlessly (just to be outside), and celebrating and making the most out of the little things. Two items must be in the house and seem to keep everyone calm, apples and pasta (there’s more that I could add, but those are the staples). I’m planning on doing some online volunteer work today and will walk to the store after I wander around the hood searching for something new to see (all of the sites here are beautiful, so no complaints there).
I have learned while being here in the cold that I am genuinely HEAT INTOLERANT (we’ve had our suspicions, Paul and I). If it gets too warm in the flat for even a second, I have to stand out on the cold patio. It hits me with a sudden paralyzing weight, agitation, hot skin, sweating, and just an overall feeling of burning in the unforgiving fire of hell (can I say I am not looking forward to returning to the heat of Florida? Yes, yes, I can.) By the time we get out of lockdown in NZ, I may have built a transporter; yeah, I think I have time to learn how to do that.
Wouldn’t that be awesome? Then I could pop back and forth from my husband, sisters, dogs, and home in the US to my children in NZ at the flick of a switch. I could maybe benefit from having my DNA scrambled with each passage. A setting on my transporter could allow me to pick a gene rearranging feature on each trip with choices ranging from high metabolism, weight reduction and redistribution, best post-pubescent skin, hair texture (ooh, there could be a hair color feature to cut out transports to the salon). Heck, the transporter could be a cure-all for cancer, diabetes, mental illness, disorders, COVID (no face-masks on this flight), the common flu, and freakin hemorrhoids! The sky’s the limit. Let’s get real, though. I don’t need a transporter at the moment. I need to stop scrolling, put my phone down, shower, and get outside.
Eighteen days and we’re still here. There isn’t much to do. We have started to forget what day it is because none of us here in the flat are working so why should we remember? Yes, online school is still happening, but it’s all become very routine and familiar at this point. We’ve walked so much that the girls signed up to run a half marathon if we’re out of here in time, and I’ve gone from being able to walk 3 miles a day of the very hilly terrain of Devonport/Stanley Bay to 6 or 7 miles a day. It’s just hard to get someone to want to walk that distance at this point. We walk by cars parked down by the waterfront with people inside enjoying the view and past others taking their daily stroll, jog, skate (inline/roller/board), or bike ride. The repetitiveness of it is making it feel forced at times. Wait, really? Did I seriously say that? How can it feel forced when we walk among the beauty we are surrounded by, in the fresh air looking out over the clear blue Waitemata Harbour? Come on. Let’s not take the stunning environment we are in for granted. Admittedly It does feel like groundhog day, and isolation (absolute isolation where nothing is open except grocery, pharmacy, petrol, and utility) is starting to mess with our anxieties and personal issues. It seems a bit of a heavy feeling is creeping in as we go through our daily routines. We watch YouTube, laugh at Cody Ko’s Couples react (pretty funny), watch classic comedy, have drinks, squeeze together on the tiny back patio to lay in the sun, and dream.
We dream of what we want to eat when we can order takeaway food, Chinese, Indian, Sushi, and Pizza. We think about places we want to go when we get to level 2 (God willing, that happens before our time is up here). Places we would visit like Cape Reinga, Wellington to see family, and any excellent hiking place. Heck, we’ll be happy when we can go inside the house of our family down the road! The closest we’ve gotten to family visits since lockdown began 18 days ago is, of course, Zoom and Facetime. And we’ve been fortunate to have the ability to stop in front of the “other” Bruntons house, a bit up the road, on our walks, and yell hello up at them on their balcony. We have had some great breakfasts while isolated together, and man, our Molly, can cook some splendid authentic Italian from scratch. And Sabrina is replacing any dreams I might have of popping into a cafe on release. Who needs a cafe when you have a personal barista who rocks!
Who knew? Who knew we would travel 8000 miles to NZ where there was no community covid, and this would happen? We did our time in Managed Isolation (MIQ). In fact, between that and this level 4 lockdown, we have now spent 4.5 weeks of our eight weeks here IN ISOLATION. There is, however, a beautiful silver lining; the undivided attention of our three girls. I will not leave here feeling like we did not have enough time together (well, I can never have too much time with my girls; in fact, I never want to leave them). Having all 3 of them together is like holding a completed Rubik’s cube in your hand. All color, everything in its place, leaving you in total awe. Yeah, isolation sucks, to be honest, but when things open up again, EVERYTHING WILL BE OPEN, and there will be no cause for social angst or fear of getting covid from someone who just refused to cooperate. Community cases are decreasing daily, and I’ve got my eyes on that yummy sushi place down in the village.
We’ve lasted pretty well so far. The one-bedroom apartment is cramped, of course, but the 4 of us are putting systems in place that work. We’ve been in our family bubble in lockdown since August 18th. And on Tuesday, August 31st, the NZ government will reevaluate the country’s isolation situation.
Zoe and I knew there was a possibility this would happen when we set out for NZ to be with Sabrina and Molly. Thank God we extended our stay, moving our flight from August 29th to December 1st! Our original departure date was August 23rd. We would have been back in the US by now with Paul. And though we all miss him terribly, I would not have been satisfied with the short time I had with our girls.
So here we are in intense togetherness—all 4 of us with our little quirks and tasks. Zoe has online school and gets very anxious before DBAs and tests. Molly and Sabrina are also studying online. Molly is used to her alone time, and Sabrina, like me, can’t settle her mind and body unless every item in the house is in its place. Almost all of us have issues with overstimulation which triggers, anger, tears, anxiety, and confusion. So the more I am helpful by endlessly tidying and cleaning, the more anxious it makes the people who seek solitary moments.
On the other hand, when we let things go and chill, let things lay around and pile up to minimize movement, more anxiety and feelings of fight or flight build up in those who seek absolute organization. We understand each other and the issues we each have. We talk through the tough stuff and make plans to minimize discomfort.
In our small space, we have decided to assign areas. Each person keeps their area clean. Molly has the couch, I have the window seat, Sabrina has her bed, and Zoë has Molly’s. We decided yesterday that from 10 am – 12 pm each day, we will go to our stations to have space inside the apartment, a quiet time we can look forward to while being together but separate, and much-needed study/work time. This sounds like a perfect plan; however, there’s one little mouse we can’t keep out of our pantry and in their space. That’s the one with the inability to stay still (ZOE! I admit that her mother has the same issue, but as I’ve aged, I’ve developed a bit more self-control, I said A BIT!).
There is no perfect solution to any situation, but we can try and do our best to respect each other’s space and reduce triggers.
The girls sit on the couch bunched together, laughing at the TikTok videos they’ve just made. I have done my typical Monica from friends thing and cleaned to the point of being unable to think of anything else to clean at the moment. We’ve been in a level 4 NZ lockdown since Wednesday the 18th. Today is day 4. Zoe and I escaped the red septic state of Florida, sat in Managed isolation for a fantastic $3575 for 14 days; were free as birds for two and a half weeks, and then, BAM DELTA in our backyard and SLAM lockdown.
The fact is, we don’t mind being locked down here in NZ. I rather be in Deltaport (Devonport) then the septic south of America. I watch people on our peaceful morning walks and think, no New Zealander knows how it truly feels to sit in the middle of the shit storm of covid and politics back in the good ole US of A. I sit here in this cooperative, compassionate country and look across the water towards my home. I see the madness that is my community. The “land of the free” has gun carrying, one-percenters, and right-wingers who say, “we will not vaccinate or mask! You weak people who are taking action, getting vaccinated, and wearing masks are Karens (and maybe Dicks too). We are out freely spreading and helping the mutation of COVID TO DELTA, and if you don’t like it, stay home!” It’s weird. Half of the nation is not free but being held captive in their homes by the diseased masses.
Covid has exposed the true colors of many of my capitalist neighbors, friends, and some family. People scream, “down with socialism,” and have never left their backyard to see the things that do work for more forward-thinking multicultural peaceful countries. My eyes have seen the glory of the growing of discord, and it ain’t pretty. Selfishness abounds where the masses are too vast to legislate to honestly and safely. Social media has scrambled good helpful information and poisoned minds on a deeper level than could have ever been reached in decades before. I used to be so proud to be an American. I trusted our politicians and hoped that they had their countrymen’s best interest at heart. I felt utter disgust for anyone who talked badly about Americans when I lived here among my NZ family and friends. Yet now, as I sit here cooperatively in complete isolation with them, with our daughters who have their feet on both continents by birth, I am ashamed. Now when someone says stupid Americans, I, without reservation, agree with them. What purpose does all of the discord and division over COVID/DELTA serve any of my fellow Americans? PEOPLE ARE DYING, HOSPITALS ARE AT 98 percent capacity, and now children and adults are deathly ill.
Shame on us! Our children have been sent back to school maskless by choice of their parents. If you’re reading this thinking, “well, if you’re so ashamed to be an American, stay in NZ,” shaking your head and cursing my words, then you may be part of the problem. There is always someone to blame in the US. Those who don’t feel accountable for the damage left in the wake of their boat weekends, parties, concerts, school events, unprotected travel, and family gatherings. I am sad that my husband couldn’t be with us for this extended visit. I pray every day that he protects himself and his environment.
I am so thankful to be in this small pocket of the world with sanity, compassion, and cooperation. Understandably NZ citizens will get mad about being in lockdown and closed businesses will suffer greatly. But they won’t implode and take hostages in their rage. The essentials are available; no one is marching on the capital with guns crying, “give me liberty or give me death!” or hanging nooses outside the Prime Ministers’ window and threatening to track her down and kill her! No, that’s what Americans do.
Here there is grumbling behind closed doors, because well shit, COVID and now DELTA. We will all be isolated until there are no community cases, and we will all slowly emerge from our homes. The businesses will fully open, students will go back into schools, people will party and gather free of disease, FREE to capitalize on the fact that EVERYONE can roam safely. And while COVID may be threatening to enter, there are guards at the gate protecting the masses. There is shortsightedness that my people in the US have that they don’t have here in NZ. They see the prize and forget who they trample to grab it. It’s sad and inevitable that there will be a collapse at some point because no one saw the big picture. God bless America; we need it. Anyway, yay NZ, doing Covid right.
I was holding my phone when the alert alarm went off. It scared the crap out of me. I was reading an online book, and out of sheer reaction, I almost threw my device across the room. Once the noise stopped, I started laughing at myself, and then I read the message that came with the alert and thought, “Bummer!” And also not a bummer. So now I will get to be really close to our girls for seven whole days. We won’t be entirely couped up in their one-bedroom apartment. We will take heaps of walks, I’m sure, and just imagine the organizing we could get done! In reality, we will take heaps of walks, and then all of us will come home and get on our devices. All three girls will now be doing school online, and I, of course, will be watching and writing as usual.
I stayed home all day today and cleaned so we could enjoy being out and about for the rest of the week. So now I can say I did an extra courtesy day of quarantine to make up for all of the uncooperative anti-masking, anti vaccinating of my fellow countrymen (and women) in Florida, USA, which by the way, is now the epicenter of the delta variant! Yes, good old Florida, the sunshine state and the home of the fountain of youth. My home town Naples, Florida, declared by Forbes to be 2019’s “happiest, healthiest city in America to live in.” They are so healthy and happy and resistant to protect each other (like they do in NZ) that 75% of our hospital is housing covid patients again and only scheduling emergency surgeries. (I could be off by a small percentage but not by much, I’m sure).
Poor Paul, I hope he is protected and safe. He’s a Kiwi (New Zealander) that is pretty chill. In times like this, his “she’ll be right mate” attitude doesn’t always serve him well. My dear hubby is surrounded by many of “those” people I talked about in the previous paragraph. So, let’s all pray for him (and my sister, she works with him).
After hanging my last load of wet laundry on the drying rack in the living room, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Cars, buses, and grocery delivery trucks whiz past. Molly and Zoe have run to the store to grab items from a list I gave them. Molly said, “mom, l may no be able to get wine. It may all be gone.” Adding, “Devonport moms ya know.” I didn’t even think to ask her to get toilet paper. I had to limit my order, we are without a car now, and they are carrying the bags up “Hell Hill” on foot.
Yahoo, I get to experience my first absolute level 4 lockdown Kiwi style!
I stand on the patio of my girl’s victorian villa flat. Rangitoto sits out beyond me across the water in the night. I look up and close my eyes. “Thank you, God, for bringing me to my home, my girls.” I take a drag off my cocktail cigarette. I breathe out the charred smoke and then breathe back in the cool, moist air of the north shore. A long white cloud hangs over me. Spits of rainfall on my face, and I glance at the towels drying in the fresh air being laundered again by the rain. Inside, the girls are watching Woody Allan’s “Midnight in Paris.”
I think back to their childhood. Waking up on a Sunday morning, An empty wine bottle sits on the dining room table surrounded by the girl’s drawings and cards from playing Wally, dress-ups sprinkled across the floor. The morning sun shines its rays through our front door windows, regularly covered in chalk pen drawings. They could be seen from the street by every passerby. I stand on the patio out the French doors of my girl’s flat in the present and think of the hints of bohemian Gypsy life they have had. The way it shaped their free-thinking, style, and creativity. It rains harder, and I stamp out my cigarette leaving half of it for later.
We have moved from NZ to America and back, and no matter where we are, the only time I am genuinely home is when I am with my children. Each beautiful girl is a perfect one-third slice of a particular part of me. Yes, I see Paul in them too. I can spend 100 percent of my time in bliss with each of them individually, and though they are sparkling originals in their own right, I fit perfectly by the side of every one of them. I love them and feel complete. My world, the cool air I breathe, the complexity of me that I question when I’m in their presence. I sit down on the warm $10 college girl couch inside the villa and write as I listen to the movie in the background. Others move around the room, getting on with their business and preparing for bed. I spent the day snuggling in my pajamas, drowsily watching formula 1 with Molly. Zoe and Sabrina walked in after a long day in Auckland. The room filled with light and smiles. The commotion of my family fills the room. Sabrina says, “hi mom, we’re home.” And silently, I think to myself, “yes, we are.”
The first time I went to castings was when I was around 12 yrs old. If it wasn’t for the local playhouse, it was for dinner theater or jingle work. So when my girls were born, it seemed only natural that all three of them have an agent. Sabrina had her first agent at 18 months. She got a couple of jobs, but we weren’t too involved as 2 more children were born following her. Her sisters were in commercials on their own or with her, and they had fun. Molly and Zoe never had showbiz fever, though. Not like Sabrina. She wanted to model from the first time she watched America and NZ’s next top model. She was signed to her first agency at the age of 17 and left home. I’m happy that she has followed her passions, but it has been hard to lose my baby to NZ and the international fashion industry. The industry seems glamorous and exciting but it doesn’t pay unless you’re one of the well known models. So much of what she does drains everyone financially, and only now at the age of 22 can she be picky about what jobs she takes and demand the pay she deserves.
NZ fashion week is coming up. I’ve only seen her walk in Miami Fashion Week, so I’m excited to be in NZ now. I’ve taken her to castings a million times and played Mammager. We’ve walked the streets of New York, Miami, and now Auckland, bouncing from one designer to another. I don’t go in with her. It’s not cool to drag your mom to a casting or into your agency (well, not the NY agencies). Paul went with Sabrina to Greece and played poppager, walking here from casting to casting, waiting for her in cafes, and drinking Greek coffee. He loved it! Paul had even been offered a lead in an ad campaign (as a model) had he been able to stay in Greece longer he could have been a contender.
I love the conversations Sabrina and I have when we go for walks. We can wander on for miles and hours and never run out of things to say. These walks are when we bond the most. It’s exciting to be a part of her day and feel the buzz and excitement of her preparing for another modeling job.
Among a row of white gowns, I spy Sabrina in a sparkling wedding dress. The designer is talking to her about seeing her in the casting videos for NZ fashion week. Sabrina blushes and smiles in her sweet way. She is humble, gentle, and kind. Beautiful inside and out. She has modeled for this designer before, and the wedding dresses she has worn in the past are top-notch. Sabrina has very high standards for wedding dresses at this point, and finding one for her magical day will be a challenge. I wonder what kind of person my future in-law will be as I look on dreamily and my angelic girl in white. In reality, she will probably want a dress that’s as comfortable as her Pyjamas, just like her mom wore.
After castings, we wander in and out of shops and hike the city until our feet are throbbing. We turn into a small alley and down a flight of stairs. We have only eaten coconut ice cream all day, and I’m starving. We are the only ones in Renkon, and I order teriyaki salmon and rice. I guzzle water and a bottle of green tea with honey. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I took a bite of my food. Heavy greasy, not the heavenly Renkon I romanticized while away in the US.
We end up walking 9 miles in total! I’m training for an inner-city walking marathon (I’m not, but I may as well at this point). In and out of shops we go until my feet can’t take anymore. We hop on the ferry and head home. The sun sinks below the Auckland harbor bridge and disappears behind the hills. It’s been a long casting day. I enjoy these moments with my big girl. These are the days I’ll remember.
I haven’t written for several days! My God, how time flies when you’re having fun with the three best girls in the world. We’re a bit cramped here in their one-bedroom apartment, but honestly, none of us seem to be bothered by it too much yet. My role here (while visiting) is to do what I’ve always done, shop for food, do laundry, dishes, make beds, and vacuum. An almost empty nester is supposed to do this for their kids. Look, they’re working, going to school full-time, trying to squeeze in moments with me, and attend dinners with old friends that I keep arranging (that they can’t make). It’s a lot! There is no time for them to clean and do homework on top of all of that. So homework comes first.
Admittedly I’m exhausted. Auckland is one hilly place, and we walk and walk and walk!!! Yesterday we walked 12.12 miles (a half marathon). For you, kiwis, that’s just over 19 kilometers. Today we had some errands in town, and after the 4th mile of walking, I just couldn’t anymore. My old legs are beyond tired. So I’m snuggled under the duvet in bed. There’s a chill in the old Victorian flat, and a cold wind blows through every crack and crevice. Days like today stick out in my mind. I remember our life here—trying to shake the damp winter cold that follows you everywhere. My least favorite chilly NZ feeling is jumping out of the steaming shower and gritting your teeth as the frigid air envelopes your wet body. You quickly towel off and get dressed, shivering and covered with goosebumps; after the Florida heat, though, I am enjoying these cool days.
Everything is different here compared to home. Both places have their pluses, each a paradise in their own right. NZ has something so special, though, my girls. It’s hard to imagine when all 5 of us Bruntons will be on the same soil again. And trust me, the wheels in my mind are spinning. I can’t decide whether I need a time machine, transporter or 10 million dollars to cure our NZ/US family logistics issue. It’s not easy being in a bicontinental family. Each moment we get to be with those we love on either continent is precious and cherished so much. I’ve missed my NZ friends and family, and catching up with some of them so far has been an absolute joy! You know a good friend when you haven’t seen each other for YEARS and the minute you’re together, you gel again as if you never missed a beat. Love it.
We’re just taking one day at a time here in NZ, reconnecting, walking, watching, listening, and loving every bit of it.
The first time I approached the Piha waves was over fifteen years ago. The rolling fold of water with its white spray is powerful and humbling. We drove the long winding roads and sang old familiar songs along the way. We walked through the black sand, and the memories of our babies running at our feet in days now gone rushed in and out with the crashing tide. I heard childish laughter in the cry of the birds above, imagined their tiny eyes looking up at me in excitement, and saw footprints in the sand. I imagined Nick running free and thought of how Binx and Ollie would love it here. They would be living their best lives. Picture our dogs chasing the birds into the water, tearing off across the beach, kicking up clouds of earth in their wake. Paul and I felt joy watching our children play with nick, growing and thriving in this wholesome grounding environment. It feels good to be here. It feels good to see our girls, now young women, find their way among this beautiful piece of earth and sea.
We have hiked city sidewalks, trails through Island wine country, and sandy beaches. It amazes me how in one day you can take a boat ride, hike a mountain, pop in and out of shops and cafes in a small seaside village and dip your toes in the sea; all in one afternoon. The best of every world in one tiny pocket down under.
I love walking and could do it for days. There is nothing more beautiful than the freedom of roaming on foot in a kind climate. I miss this. We are enjoying our home away from home.
The cold NZ wind slides across my face, and a slight chill touches my body. I look out across the balcony of my girl’s flat at the NZ sky. The familiarity of moments like this float back to me, a ghost of my past life in NZ. The Matariki sky has just faded with the closing of July, and I take a drag of my Virginia slims menthol (I’ve had that third glass of wine that calls for a smoke). The light below glows a dull yellow and white across Stanley Bay Point. I close my eyes and say thank you to God and my mother for bringing me to this place to ring in my 54th year of life. I swallow the last sip of my rose, and there is a buzz of peace that fills me. My three girls are lying inside, warm, safe and close. Joy fills my heart, and I listen to the old familiar sounds of a north shore NZ Friday night rising through the air. Trees sway in the gusts of wind, and voices howl in song as a group in the distance party’s, their voices ringing, rising to the stars.
I remember the days we lived here on the shore, in Belmont. The navy housing overflowed with young people. Drinks circulated with high energy, and the sound of laughter, loud voices, and music spilled across the road to our sleepy ears. I hushed them in my mind hoping they wouldn’t wake my girls, young at that time.
I put my cigarette out in my last drop of wine, flick the butt off the balcony, and head inside to my girls, no longer babies. The house is warm and still. Formula one practice races flicker on the TV as everyone lays sleeping. I’m weary from our day of hiking at Piha and Bethels beach. My birthday has been a three-day celebration.
I’ve had dinner and drinks in Devonport township with Mark and Fiona this evening. We’ve caught up on so much and so little in our short time together. I bask in the love of their lingering presence and remember how much they meant and still mean to me; my NZ family. I left the restaurant locked arm and arm with my friend and sister-in-law and watched my brother-in-law as he leads us to the car. I felt an endearing enthusiasm for them that they may never truly understand. Over dinner, we connected with honesty and intently listened to each other with tender understanding. We took in every word, not wanting to miss a single moment of the days and years that passed between us. Moments forgotten memories and feelings revealed, we share smiles that have grown softer with age framed by greying hair and faded glistening eyes. There is love among us, not always spoken, but it is felt and apparent.
I am in a beautiful place, missing my lovely husband. The man who introduced this world to me, took part in creating our children and blessed me with my NZ family. I will climb in bed tonight, my world complete (-1) and my heart full. I am home, yet far from home. I am 54 and looking forward to another beautiful year and the days to come.
We’re here—the final day. Isolation seemed like it would feel like forever yet passed by in a blink. All of our days started running into each other, and with little variety in our activity, every morning felt like groundhog day. We’ve driven by car, flown two flights, taken one bus, and stayed in two hotels over 16 days to get to where we are now, and still, our NZ adventure is only just about to begin. We have eaten, slept, eaten, played games, slept, read, written, and binge-watched. We have laughed, thought deeply, jumped on beds, stared for hours out the window, and snuggled in front of the TV. We had repeated Covid tests and daily health checks. And dreaded the ringing of our phone in fear of that call, saying, “surprise, you’ve come back positive, and we’re moving you out of this hotel to Jet Park for an extended stay!” Our tests have all come back negative every time. We were aware that Covid could be lurking anywhere. And as it happened, a woman on our exact flight and in our hotel tested positive for Covid. They moved her on day two of our time here. We wish her well.
At 7 am Monday 26 July Zoe, and I will walk out the doors of our safe, friendly, quiet waiting place to the open and loving arms of family. All we will leave behind at Rydges MIQ is the essence of our presence. Every nook and cranny will be washed, scrubbed, sprayed, and ultraviolet light sterilized. And our organic and inorganic rubbish disposed of carefully.
We thank all the staff at #NZMIQ #RYDGES #AUCKLAND who have been so kind, careful, and patient. Thank you, #NZ for looking out for each other and having the smarts to make your country a safe, healthy place to roam freely. Thank you for welcoming us home with protection. We were more than willing to sacrifice 14 days of our lives in quiet reflection so that we can jump back into Kiwi culture and protect our friends and family.
We are packed and ready to head out. And we are looking forward to experiencing and embracing everything in our down under home to the fullest, freely and fearlessly. 14 hours to go.
There’s something to be said for spending two weeks in isolation with a 15 yr old who doesn’t often initiate conversation or can’t hear you when you start one (thanks, Apple AirPods). I don’t watch TV, and we’ve had ours on over the last 11 days for maybe a total of 2 hours. Zoë watches stuff on her phone or our laptop and snaps her friends and sisters for entertainment. I tidy, tinker, read and write (and now do my 5-minute on-the-hour alarm exercises as of two days ago). We are as different as chalk and cheese, but it works. We have had about 3 minutes of friction through our stay, and that is an accomplishment! You would think placing a 15 yr old girl and 53 yr old menopausal woman in a box together for two weeks would be a cat-scratching, bitch (female dog) howling, disaster. When in fact, It has been a delight to be penned up with my baby G.
The long periods of silence in any given space force me to reflect on my external and internal life. While I’m excited about walking out the doors of #NZMIQ on Monday morning with 100 other people (socially distanced and a single file line, of course), I am also thankful for the time I’ve had to be in this environment where I’ve had the chance to focus and reflect. There have been no distractions of daily life. No dogs to feed and walk, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, gardens to water and weed, no pressure to socialize, worry about what I look like, and no guilt over being an unpaid writer (at the moment). I’ve been here being all that I am in one tiny bubble.
Since we arrived at #NZMIQ, my mind has run a gamut of emotions:
• 😃ahhhh, we’re finally in NZ!
• 😃AHHHHH This room has the softest bed and best view.
• 😃Spoiled for choice with Indian and Asian food, yum!!
• 😃Let’s jump on the bed for exercise!
• 😃We’re having a blast playing cards and mancala!
• 😃I’m super stoked to blog about our daily happenings.
• 🙂Wow, the meals in here are pretty nice.
• 🙂Awesome, we can sleep as long as we want!
• 🙂I’m so excited that we’ve booked to go outside for a walk!
• 🙂The healthcare and military workers here are very upbeat and friendly.
• 🙂It was nice to see my babies through 2 fences and mesh after not seeing them for 18 months.
• 😌We’ve got our exercise routine down to a science; we’ll be so fit when we leave.
• 😏Ugh! We’re in NZ, and it seems like we will never get out there to enjoy it.
• 😒I don’t want to know what day or time it is.
• 😒This room smells musty, and the carpet reeks of damp dust.
• ☹️I’ve been in bed so long I’m sore! I can’t stand sitting or lying on the bed anymore.
• ☹️I don’t even want to touch the bed!
• 😳Everything out the window looks surreal, and it’s hard to believe we’re going out there.
• 😐I can’t be bothered to go outside and walk in a 40 x 60 oval for 30 minutes (or more if we want, but we don’t want).
• 😐Sabrina and Molly shouldn’t bother coming to visit us through the fences and mesh. We can see them better on FaceTime, and they don’t get rained on that way.
• 😐What’s the point of exercising? I’m sleeping until our release day!
• 😠”Zoë, I will end you if you use the chair on my side of the room!”
• 😠”No, I don’t want to play cards or mancala Zoë! You keep kicking my ass at everything.”
• 😠I don’t want one more plate of curry or pad thai! And please, no more breakfast in bed.
• 🤔Yes, my blog is reaching into some deep personal territory at this point. My inner space is all there is to explore!
• 😵💫I feel manic and can’t stand sitting still anymore.
• 😵💫I have no idea how I will handle the simulation of the world beyond these doors. Maybe I should ask to be institutionalized?
Despite my progression of thoughts, I have begun learning how to put into place the outline for the novel I have been planning and am to the point where I can define my characters and settings and the premise of my tale. This stillness has gifted me that, and I realize now that to finish, I’ll need more isolation. Honestly, positive and enjoyable things have come from this experience.
We are looking forward to the unknown of the days to come.
⚠️Caution this story contains information about mental illness issues and could be disturbing to some readers.
I never imagined I would grow tired of breakfast in bed, someone else making my food, and getting to lay around every day, until now (wha wha privileged rant). I spent the latter part of yesterday popping up and marching or doing some lifts and crunches every hour after my exercise alarm went off. I have decided if I have the alarm set 7 times a day and I do 5-minute workouts each time, and I will have gotten 35 minutes of exercise in for the day. I think this habit could carry over to post quarantine life. All I need to do is throw a walk or two in there (outside of my alarm workouts), and I’ll be fit all over. Eureka, I’ve done it! I’ve cracked the isolation or writer sitting at home writing all the time fitness code!!!
Sabrina (our journalism and film daughter) came up with an idea for a short film and a very excellent article due to our stay here in #NZMIQ. She’s so talented, and I can’t wait to see what she creates. She wants to cover some services that help people get through #NZMIQ in a healthy, comfortable manner (and they do, the healthcare workers are very attentive). She got me thinking about the mental health aspect of being in here and the effects of long-term isolation as it applies to me.
Mental health and illness are something I think about daily as I am constantly aware of my battle with an acute panic disorder, coupled with intermittent bouts of anxiety and depression. It became apparent that once we leave the relatively small space of #NZMIQ I will need to be conscious of overstimulation on the outside. If you’ve never dealt with a panic disorder, overstimulation can occur due to being in a room with too many people who are talking and moving around or walking down a street where crosswalk signs are telling you to walk. At the same time, the sound of rushing traffic zooms by, a busker is blaring their guitar over against a wall on the sidewalk, and a group of people walks by laughing loudly! These two scenes are regular everyday occurrences, but my brain (sometimes, not often) has a hard time keeping up with and categorizing all of this activity and sound at one time. As a result, my brain and body start shutting down. My legs feel heavy, and it feels like I’m dragging my body behind me; my eyes track in slow movie frames (as my brain can’t keep up), and I begin to shake first in my hands and then if I can’t get a handle on things, all over (similar to a mini seizure). My saving grace is that I have been taking my medication FAITHFULLY, and my Dr and I anticipated everything that could trigger an attack on this trip. He prescribed me a little safety net in a little brown bottle just in case, on top of my daily meds.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m personally opposed to prescription medication, so my Dr and I worked together as I attempted to stop taking the drug that has helped me for over 30 years. I was free of my prescription from September 2020 till March 2021. I got my medical marijuana license, and with my Drs help, we tried the natural route. NO! That is what my body and brain said to that experiment. I had suicidal visions, my body became paralyzed, and on my back, randomly unable to move or speak (it wasn’t because of the THC because my dose was only .4ml at bedtime). A couple of times, I was going through my day and suddenly appeared to be drunker than a skunk, and man, my head hurt so bad on occasion. I was disoriented daily, unaware of time, and worst of all, any suppressed memories I had all came flooding back in tsunami-sized waves that were powerful enough to kill me. NO! Medical Marijuana is not for everyone, and as much as I wanted it to work for me, it was driving me down a very dark rabbit hole that I may not have escaped with my life had it not been for the love and lifeline my family and friends threw to save me.
So I go back on my medication, and poof! I function like a normal human being again. I look at that tiny pill every morning before I pop it in my mouth and am amazed that my life hangs in the balance of that little 20 mg clump of chemistry. Here’s something I learned about Medical Marijuana and mental illness: 1. It is nothing to play around with without the guidance of your Dr. and a sound support system of counseling and love. 2. If you have ANY schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in your genetics (and our family does), it will exacerbate existing symptoms or trigger them if you didn’t have them before. So while I enjoyed dropping 22 pounds while off my medication (because it
suppresses your metabolism), I didn’t enjoy falling further and further away from my loved ones and desire to live into deep dark space floating into insanity or, worse, death. Everyone I loved begged me to retake my medication for months. Some were genuinely worried about how close I was to falling off the edge of
life, and some were unaware but knew something was a bit off. I’m thankful for my Dr, my daughter Zoë and my husband Paul, my sisters, and my friend Mindy for retrieving me from that scary place. I’m not happy that the minute my meds kicked in, the weight packed back on with a vengeance, but who cares? I’d rather be fat and happy than a skinny psycho, possibly dead bitch (I was pretty bitchy without my meds due to being in constant fight or flight mode).
So, back to day 10 of isolation in #NZMIQ. When the healthcare workers come by for our health check, they ask about our mental well-being daily. And they’re not just asking out of curiosity; they’re asking because they have staff here on hand who are ready to help if you are struggling. I wonder how many people out there in NZ know how hard the healthcare teams and military are working to make travelers transition into COVID-free NZ an easy and safe one.
So while I’m excited to be back home in New Zealand, I am aware that in 3 days, I will be going from virtual silence, stillness, and the safety of isolation to the hustle of the city, family asking a million questions with excitement, the close quarters of our one-bedroom accommodations with Sabrina and Molly and the stimulation of being alive. Wish me luck.
Zoe sits across the room, learning songs on her Ukulele. I’m in my chair, feet up, bed made, the last book I read finished, laying facedown dead on the table next to me. Outside the picture window, through the grey of the day, window cleaners repel from the building across from us, motor vehicles crawl like tiny ants across the harbour bridge. At the same time, boats skim across the icy Waitemata. Damp clothes hang on racks on the balconies to our left, stacked 16 stories high. Rain pats and splatters against the window, and the wind whistles through the window left cracked just a sliver to create an even balance between dry heat and fresh air. There’s a chill in the room I can’t seem to shake, no matter what I set the heat on. It’s not that cold outside; my body just isn’t acclimated to this hemisphere yet.
Aotearoa – the land of the “long white cloud.” Clouds that hang heavy in the air, unbudging this time of year. Sometimes a solemn silver hue and others a cotton candy sunset you could stare at for hours, complete with rainbows and fantasies of unicorns (ok, maybe just the rainbows).
Day 8 was a wash. We’ve given in to our isolation and have chosen to have pajama days, sing along to karaoke and Zoes ukulele playing, read, write, talk with friends and family back home or across the harbour on facetime, and sleep. We’ve lost the desire to jump on the bed, follow our exercise routine or even book to walk in the 40 x 60 oval of the forecourt. Sleep has taken over. We are on the downside of our isolation, and as we wait to be released, we talk, eat and play less and grow softer by the minute.
But all is not lost. I’ve had a new idea. I’ve just set my alarm for every hour to remind me to get up and do some leg lifts or march in place. Come on! I can’t simply give up, or I will be jelly when we leave here and have to slowly work up to all of those great hiking treks I hope to hit. So I’m on my feet in my blue-grey tie-dyed sweatshirt and cropped sweats, knees up, toes pointed (remembering my high school marching band days), and doing circles around the room as my teen lays there fit and cozy watching yet another blockbuster movie.
It was a bit heartbreaking to write my blog post about day seven yesterday, and then I lost it before I posted it. I’ve had over 234 compromised passwords on my international travels. UGH! So I reset all of them, including the monster of all passwords, my apple account, and BAM! Stuff disappeared, never to be seen again (Yes, I did a backup to the cloud before signing out). After hours of damage control, I found that all I really lost was yesterday’s blog writing. This situation is funny in a way because I not only lost the story, titled “NZ MIQ Day 7,” but we found out we also lost a whole day!
Funny story: (unless you’re in isolation in one room where you have to get permission to go walk in an oval outside, which you can’t stand for more than 30 minutes because, let’s face it, you’re walking in a 40×60 oval with others behind you in hot pursuit and the whole time your walking to the left you want to yell “ok everybody switch” but I don’t want to make any waves so I dont). So as I was saying, funny story, Zoe and I answered the door yesterday to be greeted by our perky healthcare professional clad in insipid yellow PPE and round pillbox hat and, of course, their face mask. They were rolling door to door to take temperatures and survey how people cope with their intense one-room isolation. Our visitor asked how we are getting along, and in all actuality, we cohabitate exceptionally well together. Zoe is 15 but pretty laid back. I am too (just saying). You could see our visitors smile through their eyes, and they had a happy disposition (seeing they are the only visitor we get daily, you would hope they would be at least slightly entertaining). Zoe and I shared with them our excitement over the fact that we are halfway to our release date; yaaaaay, it’s day seven. They laughed, “No! Ha, Ha, Ha, it’s only day 6! We don’t count day 1!” Wait, what?
You know that’s not funny. I replied, “I’m sorry I’m trying to get my head around what you just said.” I suffered a tiny invisible seizure felt only in my little universe (Zoes too, I’m sure). Zoe and I stopped smiling and laughing and started having them fact check our release date and time, and sure enough, we were well and for true life only on DAY 6!!!! (Ground Hog Day, 50 First Dates, lather rinse repeat, lather rinse repeat…) anything repetitive that could exist ran through my head (oh, and the fact that we are in real-life Hotel California). And then I had to let it go; we’re powerless (safe, comfy, well-fed, warm, and only 5 miles from Sabrina and Molly). Just deal with it.
Fun fact: I got outside for an evening walk, and Zoe and I decided to take some space from each other, so she hung in the room (the space was nice for both of us I’m sure). How small is NZ? Well, I’ll tell you. I have now met two people here in isolation that is either a family member of one of my dearest friends or works directly for one of my family members. It’s a known fact that there are only 2 degrees of separation between people here in NZ (well, It used to be a fact, maybe it still is).
While I was walking in my oval (on day seven which was really day 6), I had a friendly chat with two young NZ Air Force guards. They watch the gate and observe all of us walking to make sure we DON’T TOUCH THE FENCE or move to an authorized area (which I’ve done several times because I am not non-compliant; I am just too lazy to read the signs they’ve posted EVERYWHERE, five inches apart from each other). Some signs say, no photos, social distance, designated smoking area only, please don’t touch the fence. Hanging on the barrier gate are pictures of people, dogs, cities, art, and thank you notes from people who have stayed here in isolation . I like the thank you notes. The letters are from people humbled by the experience and thankful for the steps taken to keep NZ Covid Free. I’m sure they’ve gotten some pretty nasty notes too.
I noticed yesterday that there is no lock on the bathroom door. I think the staff has taken them out for safety reasons. What if someone is in their room isolating alone and has a heart attack or stroke or worse, can’t handle the isolation, and takes their life? I suppose they need to be able to get to people quickly. I also thought about the people here who chain smoke, are alcoholics or drug addicts returning home to NZ and realized that while Zoe and I are having an almost enjoyable time here, this could be hell for someone else. There are limits on the amount of alcohol sent to a given room and trust me, they check delivery bags. If you chain smoke, you have to book to go down for a smoke (back in the day, when my oldest sister chain-smoked, she would have killed someone if they got between her and a cigarette, well, that and food). So yes, being here could be very heavy for some and a good rest and time to write for others. No two human universes are the same or experiencing the same things.
Yesterday was pretty uneventful. However, there’s not much difference between today and yesterday other than my mindset. Yesterday I woke up and did some volunteer work for https://CollierHealthyMinds.com and got to add a different face to my bubble with a quick Zoom meeting (without even getting out of bed or hopping out of my PJ’s). For some reason, I was drained yesterday and didn’t feel like following the quarantine routine I’ve set for myself. I felt a bit blue, to be honest. To be expected, I’m sure. There was this massive build-up of excitement to get to NZ and be with the girls, and I am genuinely excited I’ve seen them once or twice through the fence. But (and there is a but), I cope with things by shutting down and going into a place of feeling numb until I get through it. I developed this skill as a child, and it comes in handy when I’m in a situation like isolation, and I don’t want to think about the passing of time, try to block out what day it is, or I’m trying not to block out my reality. It’s like mini hibernation for my brain. Sometimes my protective shell becomes a bit too heavy, though, and I feel like I just need a day in bed. And what do you know, I was totally in luck because we’re locked in a hotel room with nothing but beds!
I did get my carry-on finally. It was a highlight of day 5. I now have my favorite tooth flossers, tweezer, and shaver. Now I have some hygiene tools to keep me occupied (it’s the little things in life that count the most sometimes). My carry-on looked like it had traveled the entire globe. It was finally delivered to me after four emails to 3 airlines, six phone calls, one text, and three filed reports! The final call I got about my bag was from a rude airline baggage person who said, “we have your bag; when are you coming to get it?”
To which I replied (calmly), “I’m in managed isolation and was promised by everyone I’ve emailed, texted, and talked to that it would be delivered to my room at the MIQ facility!” He said, “no, you are being penalized because you couldn’t fit it in the overhead in America, so you have to come in and pay for it. When will you be released from isolation?” I said, “NO! I was promised it would be delivered, and it will be!” we played verbal tug of war for a couple of seconds, then he said he would call me back. A few hours later, a baggage manager called me and said, “due to the times we are in and to be sympathetic to your current situation, we will deliver your carry-on this evening free of charge.” Well, thank you, AirNZ!
So today, on day 6, I woke up and felt like my reset button had been pressed. I gave in to my sluggish mood the day before. I paid bills, tidied up, and followed my MIQ box routine. Zoë and I got to have a visit with Sabrina through the fences too. It’s always so lovely to see my girl’s faces. Sabrina came alone and had waited in the cold, windy rain for over half an hour for the security team to clear us to walk in the forecourt. I think it took that long to clear us because they forgot about us. The first woman I called said, “you can’t book specific times to come down, and I’m not sure how full it is at the moment; I’ll call you back when you can come down.” She didn’t, and she knew my daughter was dropping by. So after 30 minutes, I called down again and got a different guard who said, “oh, you want to come down now? Sure no problem!” Poor Sabrina was soaked to the bone, but she’s a trooper, and her visit made my day.
Zoë and I walked in a 40-foot oval for 30 minutes after our visit. It was wet and windy out, but OMG, it was so nice to breathe fresh air, feel the wind and rain on our face and see other people (very socially distanced, of course). No one out there talks to each other. There is a tiny walking section and a smoking section, and when we’re down there, we stick to our walking mission. We aren’t allowed to get close enough to talk to anyone outside our bubble (Zoë and I are the bubble). Part of the walking area has a small smoking area at one end. It struck me as funny that you have to book in to either stand in the space to smoke and kill yourself or walk in the one next to it to be fit and stay alive. I think a lot, too much maybe.
Our late afternoon had some spontaneous moments. We played mancala (I lost to Zoë as I consistently do), but then we played cards, and it turns out Speed is a winning game for me (sorry Zoë, not sorry). At one point, we decided to play Speed with no thumbs allowed (only using our four fingers) and agreed that thumbs make life more fun. Somehow I moved from cards to standing on the bed bouncing. I looked out the window from our 12th-floor room and, cranking my Apple playlist, sang from the tallest stage in the world out to all of Auckland. It was enjoyable till Zoë decided to shut down my show and replace me with Master Chef Australia!! Ohhhhh, SHOTS FIRED!!!
As our day comes to an end and we are coming up on the halfway mark of our MIQ stay, I feel that in our rooms, aside from our daily door to door health check, 3 Covid tests, and three-time a day meal deliveries, we’ve been deposited here and forgotten. I only say that because when you try to book to go outside, the security teams (working for three different military branches) don’t seem to have their procedures together as far as people are concerned. It feels like we are safe and fed well, yes, but sometimes you get the wrong person, make a request, and in their voice or eyes, the reaction comes across as, “oh, do you really have to ask for something?” Anyway, it’s just a thought that has occurred to me. Another day down.
“Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch….” The sound woke me. I opened my eyes slightly to a dark, chilly room. “crunch, crunch, crunch” the sound was coming from Zoe’s bed. I dozed for a second, then again, “crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.” It must have been 6 am. I thought, “Those damn rice crackers!” then I fell back into a sound sleep.
We had waffles with berry compote and bananas for breakfast. I’m trying not to think about the outside world. If I pretend it doesn’t exist, I won’t want to be out in it. We are both surprisingly chill and don’t appear to be too bothered by our current situation. Zoe talked to Molly on FaceTime for hours. They gamed, exercised, and laughed together, making plans to get Zoe a small tattoo. I followed my new routine, tidied my side of the box, dressed in exercise clothes, did my calisthenics (ancient Jack Lalane word for exercise, lol not really Jack’s word), made a coffee, and sat in my chair reading.
“Ring, ring-ring, ring” time for our day 4 COVID test. When we left our room, I noticed people dressed to go outside. WHAT??!!! I looked at the guide in PPE and said, “We have not gone outside for two days! We haven’t gone outside since you announced there was COVID in the building and to STAY PUT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE!” Their response was awkward, and they avoided eye contact, all the while trying to be cheerful. “Oh yeah, you can book in anytime to go to the forecourt or ramp for a walk.” I replied with an edge of WTF in my voice, “stay put until further notice; there was no further notice.” And then they left me gobsmacked (that’s a word for you, kiwis) by saying, “we decided NOT TO TELL ANYONE.” And, “yeah, we’re still trying to figure that out.” Zoe told me to be quiet, so I did. We’re powerless. Then we had a further low. I think Zoe’s rice cracker eating marathon has caught up to her. She’s feeling slightly unwell at the moment.
Also funny( but not really), they gave Zoe a gift today to keep her busy. It was kind but weird. It was a box of school supplies, a ruler, pencils, paper, and NZ 8-10th grade lesson books. As they handed it to her, they said, “here, this will keep you busy” (um, thank you…no). Zoe’s FLVS (Florida Virtual School Flex) for US 10th grade/sophomore year begins August 10th through her high school schedule at home in FLORIDA. Pretty exciting stuff, right? Zoe looked at the books and said, “this stuff is too easy; I did this in 7th grade.”
I’m so excited. Later on, our day took a positive turn. We visited with Sabrina and Molly for 30 minutes in the forecourt! (HALLELUJAH). The sight of them took my breath away. We spoke and laughed, and I just wanted Inspector Gadget arms so I could reach through the fence and cuddle them. The military guards were so accommodating and made sure nothing disrupted our fence visit. They even seemed caught up in the joy of our reunion. All we needed was Paul, and the pod would be complete. I am still reeling with delight and smiling inside and out after seeing their bright shining eyes, soft skin, and mannerisms live. We were speaking to them with a distance of 8 feet between us instead of 9000 miles. Nothing else that happens today can top that, so I’m signing off now.