Eighteen months ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed I would be ticking along the way; I am now. I had experienced a trauma, the effects of COVID had hit me hard, and between the isolation of being in my home more than I wanted to be and our two oldest daughters being 8000 miles away, I had begun to shut down. My world was growing smaller; I had an empty hole inside that I couldn’t fill, and I felt lost.
Last night a neighbor we’ve just begun to befriend invited us to their home. They said their impression of me was energetic and vibrant. They told us they look across the street and see the perfect family, so happy and active with our youngest daughter. They said, “wow, you all really have it together and are like a powerhouse.” I said, “yes! Thank you. We are at a beautiful point in our lives, but don’t be mistaken; we have our struggles and lows too.” I explained how I had gone through a rough patch, as mentioned above, and they told me I was blessed. Yes, I am blessed in the good and the bad, along with being blessed though I had to fight to find my light again. And in that fight things finally started coming together.
I began to move and my world started to expand. One by one, things started happening again, and I started blooming. I began a volunteer role for a mental health coalition, went to NZ to be with all 3 of our girls for five months, started my education journey and am completing a certificate course at the University of Miami, opened my digital marketing company; MKRT Communications (and gained my first client two weeks later), was hired part-time as the administrator for the Leadership Collier Foundation; a fantastic organization within our local chamber of commerce and finally; have been active with old and new friends that make me laugh and feel valued.
For a while, my most significant companion and healer was my written word and the words of others. With the newfound activities that fill my days, I haven’t been blogging as much, and my memoir is on hold. I may have a lot on my plate, but somehow my schedule is perfectly balanced. I’m genuinely content, and my life is coming together.
For anyone who has struggled through a lonely, dark, and painful lull in their life, I have this to say. Give in to the stillness that life has imposed on you for a time if you can; healing rest is necessary before the fight begins. Then fight to climb out of the void. Shout for help until someone, anyone throws you a rope, and then take it! Say yes to everything once you reach the surface and keep moving. Trust the process and be faithful, share all of your gifts with others and be thankful for waking up to another day. Love everyone, forget about the polarization of today’s politics and drop your grudges, take long walks daily and smile at everyone who crosses your path.
These actions have gotten me moving forward again. Sometimes we stall out in life, and that’s ok; as long as you remember your dreams, find the determination to capture them, and help others do the same once you have hit your stride.
I stepped into the ski boots as the outfitter sized me up and made adjustments. Looking around the store, I saw women who looked my age and size and felt confident about trying to ski. Lessons were all booked up, but I knew Paul and Laurel would guide me. We all piled our skis into the rental car and headed to our accommodations with excitement.
In the morning, everyone was buzzing and ready to get their ski on. I was shaking and couldn’t stop talking, saying things like, “Boy, I’m so nervous,” “what’s the worst that could happen? If I can’t ski, we just take them back,” and so on. We dressed in stiff ski boots and layers of warm clothes and made our way out to the powder-covered green trail just behind our townhouse. As a stampede of skiers swished by, I stood looking down the hill and shook with fear. I moved my skis slowly across the slope while Laurel instructed me to pizza and dig in. She was firm but patient and gave me great advice, but my mind wouldn’t let me get past my fear. I needed a less steep hill to learn on, maybe a flat one. Ok, not a flat one but perhaps a tiny bump. I made it across the trail, and now she wanted me to go down. She and Paul called for me, nudging me gently to come on. I drifted back across the trail again towards them and fell into the drift on the side. Like a wounded soldier (who wasn’t wounded at all yet), I told them to please go on without me; I pleaded, “I’ll figure it out on my own.” Paul said, “no, we’re not doing that; besides, how are you going to get up?” He had a point. I popped my skis off and got up to try again. Laurel said, “we’re not leaving you on the slope alone; we don’t do that; now come on, you asked me to help you!” I stood there frozen in fear for a while and convinced her to go on with the family. Paul coaxed me to press on, and once again, I made it across the trail to the drift on the side and FELL OVER!!! I reached my hand up, thinking Paul could easily pull me out, and as he tugged at me, my right little finger and wrist popped. I yelled out in pain but had no idea I was injured. My fingers nestled in the glove were cold and remained that way through the day. I popped my skis off again to get up. Paul could see I was over it. Putting my skis on his shoulder, he skated off down the mountain, saying, “I’ll see you at the bottom.” I was perfectly fine with that, so I trudged down the slopes in my ski boots until I found a seat at the base, where I regrouped and tried to get my head around this skiing thing.
I watched the people on the bunny slopes (which were taken up by the ski school, so there was barely room to learn on your own) and committed to trying again. I walked my skis to the top of the slight slope and made perfect pizza and French fries. Digging my right foot inward, I turned left in a perfect circle, and then, digging my left foot in, I did a perfect circle right. I put my knees together and, in pizza position, came to a stop. I was getting there and had the skills I needed. I was still scared to go down bigger hills, though. There was either the bunny slope that I had mastered or the preview, and I would have to get on the lift to attempt that. I just wasn’t ready, and there was no in-between. I had been battling at it in my mind all day. I wanted to ski so bad and didn’t want to give up. As the sky grew dim and daylight disappeared, I took off my skis, grabbed a Bloody Mary at the bar, and decided to sleep on what I had accomplished and pray for a sign from God about whether I should press on with the skis or trade them in for snowshoes. As I slept, my hand began to throb. I rolled over, catching my small finger that had popped earlier in the day in the blankets. I woke with a shocking pain that shot to my wrist. Unsure whether my finger was sprained or broken, I dozed back off to sleep.
The morning sun shone through the window, illuminating the pines on the snowy hillside; they were dusted glittery white and stood majestically against the cold air. I made myself a cup of coffee, and as I went to grab the handle, that painful electric shock shot through the small finger on my right hand again. I now realized that I couldn’t bend it, and it hurt like hell. The painful finger was my sign from God. How could I hold a ski pole? Snowshoes it was. Paul and I went to the Ski Haus and made the switch, then headed back to the slopes at Christie. I had my shoes and poles still but didn’t need to grip them very tight as I was only walking. With my small right finger pointed straight, I squeezed my other four around the handle of the pole and made my way happily across the snow in my new cool shoes. I could go anywhere, and I did.
I ended up covering a total of 12 miles of the mountain range in those snowshoes. Word of advice, if you can’t ski and the rest of your group can, that’s ok. Don’t sit in the lodge drinking and sulking over your lack of ability! Slap on some snowshoes, take the gondola to the top of the mountain, and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. People stopped me as they skied by saying, “My wife and I have always wanted to snowshoe. How do you like it? How do you find the trails? How far have you gone? Where do I get them?” I suddenly felt like I belonged on that mountain as much as my skiing/snowboarding family members did. I was proud of myself for the steep inclines I had trekked, braving the solitude of the trails and just plain moving instead of caving in. If I had not gotten those shoes, I would have missed so much. I would have been bound to the lodges wishing I could climb into and shake up the snow globe world just beyond the window—what a fantastic adventure. And now I’m hooked on snowshoeing. If I ever get to go skiing again, I will rent skis once more and prebook a lesson. I will ski; I have not crossed that off my bucket list. I want to do it. I may not master it as Laurel or my hubby have, but I will at least gain enough skills to keep up with the pack on a slow run.
Our days were full-on in Steamboat. If we weren’t in the snow, we were walking in town. We rang in 2022 in front of the fire in our townhouse. We played card games, sticks, and seven hilarious rounds of Scategories. We grazed on laurel’s excellent seven-layer dip and drank fizzy water. As the burning wood popped in the fireplace, fireworks exploded with a colorful boom over the mountain visible just outside our window. This trip was perfect. We laughed and played, growing closer by the minute. We were the Bruntons and Satterfield’s, and as two families traveling together, we gelled so well we effortlessly became one. Our time together made for the best New Year I think I have ever had.
We had learned some things about dining in Steamboat Springs. When approaching a restaurant, always ask these three things: 1) Are you fully staffed? 2) Are you serving a full or limited menu? 3) Will WE be cooking our food? Here was our experience with dining out. Restaurant #1 didn’t get a drink of water for at least 15 minutes after being seated. Allan had a feeling we were doomed and said, “man, if I haven’t been approached with at least water in the first 5 minutes, I consider leaving.” We talked about it and considered it but, for some reason, decided to stay. We waited for an hour and a half for our food, and though Allan had the best General Tso chicken of his life, the rest of our meals sucked. We saw people come in the door waiting to be seated and gave them a wave of warning to leave and save themselves from the doom of limited staff and lousy cooking skills. Restaurant #2 We ordered Thai and arrived to pick it up an hour later. I sat inside in a line of 20 people or so long and watched two women work the entire restaurant while three chefs slaved away SLOWLY in the kitchen. Laurel joined me off and on inside as I sat there. More and more people packed the front foyer of the establishment looking for their orders placed and paid for online. We arrived there around 6:45 on our way home from food shopping. Time ticked on, and Laure took the food home for the guys to put away, and upon her return, I was still waiting. The Thai place closed at 9 pm, and being the second to last people sitting there at 9:05 pm, our brown paper bag of food was finally passed to us. I’m not sure about everyone else in our group, but I had waited too long to eat; I was no longer hungry. I drank a few sips and took a couple of bites of my Tom Kha soup, and headed to bed. Restaurant #3 we had a 7:45 pm reservation for this place. It was a western steakhouse. We were hungry and looking forward to a dining experience with superb service. Imagine our surprise when our slow talkin rough and tumble server (who appeared to work in a hardware store by day and waited tables by night) explained that we would be choosing our food from the VISUAL MENU out of the meat case. Ok, first off, aren’t all menus visual? Don’t you have to see the menu to read it? No, he wanted us to eye up our cut of meat, beef, fish, pork, etc., and it would be put on our plate and handed to us at the meat case by a man who has worked it for 26 years. We were all surprised that after 26 years, our butcher seemed to have difficulty understanding how to input our purchase/order on the POS system in front of him. He squinted and asked us repeatedly what we had asked for, making sure to get it right. We grabbed our meat and headed to the indoor barbecue grill. We followed directions on how long to cook our meat off a poster pinned to the wall. We chose seasonings and grabbed giant tongs to cook. THERE WAS NO OPTION FOR A CHEF TO COOK IT FOR US! What? Our group experienced various emotions, shock, anger, confusion, hunger, and delirious hysteria. We gave into this weird and unexpected experience and had fun with it. You couldn’t complain if you didn’t like the food because, well, you cooked it. The restaurant was packed. And we were entertained by those around us as we watched their faces while entering into the ruggedness of this entirely male-staffed western dining experience. We all went home full and confused but happy. Restaurant #4 Allan and I popped onto a patio by the slopes for a quick snack. As we were seated, the server said that only half the menu was available because they were understaffed. We are living in crazy times. Everyone was struggling at the height of ski season with skeleton crews and limited menus. Was this COVID induced? I saw an affirmation posted on Facebook that said, “the world is understaffed at the moment, so be kind to the ones who showed up.” It summed up perfectly what we experienced. We were in a luxury world with minimal instant gratification. Everyone we encountered fell into the pace of things as we did because if you didn’t want to wait, you should stay home and cook for yourself. Or wait, no, we WENT OUT and COOKED FOR OURSELVES. I don’t know, times are confusing, and we keep trying to
find normal, but it seems these minor changes to our expectations are now standard. I didn’t mind it, and it gave us a lot to talk about on our trip.
So despite my lack of skiing skills, the sprained little finger, the below zero temperatures, and near failed meals, we loved it. Because for me, it wasn’t about being the best on the slopes or having a 5-star dining experience; it was about our people. We made unforgettable memories together as friends/family. We watched our kids bond and bloom on the slopes and over a deck of cards. And we thanked God every chance we got for the many blessings he gives us every minute of every day. And that my friends was Steamboat.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Food was delivered, we ate, played online games with Paul and Molly, I stretched and jogged in place. Food was delivered, we ate again, I tidied our tiny box and read some of my books. Exciting right? I haven’t thought about going outside today, but I am longing to move. So Zoe said, “mom get on your bed!” to which I cringed, saying, “no, please, I don’t want to touch my bed till it’s time to sleep!” Zoe replied with excitement, “no, get on the bed and do this with me!” It was bed workouts with Emi Wong! Here’s her link: https://youtube.com/c/EmiWong Normally, in bed, it’s comfy, but Emi has a way of making you burn in bed and not in the way most of us dream of burning in bed. Zoe laughed hysterically at my half moves and inability to crunch and lift like the beasts she and Emi are. It was pretty comical. I’m going to come out of MIQ saying, “I feel like veal! I’m soft and dough-like due to being locked in a box and force-fed awesome food!”
When the reality is I was already pretty blobby and weak before my current situation. Oh BTW! Our luggage was delivered last night! YAAAAAY! So I SHOWERED. I’m sure I’ve lost at least a couple of pounds of globe-trotting dirt after that. The shower here rocks! It water blasts you with the force of a fire hose. You know, the exhilarating kind of blast that hurts and feels amazing at the same time. Mentioning the fire hose actually reminded me of hot firefighters (which I usually have no interest in and still don’t, but my oldest sister and oldest daughter do). One Christmas, my husband gave me a hot firemen calendar as a gag gift. The minute I opened it, I screamed and threw it across the room in total horror. I think I passed it on to another keen female in the family. Does that man even know me? Well, since it was a gag, he obviously does. He just wanted to have a reason to laugh at me. I don’t know why I’m the way I am. I’m sure I would have loved that calendar had I found it in an empty house with no other humans or animals present, for that matter, closer than a 50-mile radius.
I get way too embarrassed if caught red-handed (that’s funny, red-handed, never mind). Anyway, I’m clean and happy with clothes to wear and NOWHERE TO GO! Zoe rotted her teeth out as a toddler eating a particular brand of rice crackers in NZ and has been romancing the idea of securing cases of them upon her return to her birthplace. Well, we got her 14 packs, and she has binge eaten 6 in 3 DAYS!!! Why????? Everyone has their thing, I suppose. Zoe sits there, headphones on, laid back against the headboard of her hotel bed, toes wiggling, watching Disney (yes, she’s 15, so it’s kinda cute), eating one round cracker after another, examining it as if she found gold before she places each one in her mouth. I’ve run out of things to do for the moment here in the box, so I’m laying in the sun on my side of the room dozing off on my bed (which I was trying to avoid touching until bedtime but, well…no).
Well, I’ve now rearranged some of our room; all I really did was move a chair from the corner over into the cubby kitchen so I could put a wall between Zoe and me whenever I wanted. I ended up back on my bed after reading in my new kitchen cave for only 5 minutes because Molly and Zoe were on Facetime talking about music, and I couldn’t resist jumping into the conversation. Time moved slower today than the two days prior. We have heard nothing about booking a walk outside since the announcement last night that someone in our building has covid, and they have to contact trace. So now I feel like we’re just rolling around the room like toddlers in a playpen. Rolling on the mattress, floor, mattress, and maybe not the floor again because it smells pretty rank. I was thinking about how inmates in prison have it pretty good compared to us today. They get to take walks in the yard, play basketball (at least they do in all of the movies), and do fun stuff like making license plates and bread. We aren’t allowed to crack our door open to put our trash out (without stepping out the door) without our facemask on. I’m not complaining. PLEASE DON’T GET ME WRONG! We knew we were headed for this waiting place (I tried to block out what it would be like when we got to NZ isolation, and here we are). We’ve resorted to foot and back massages (note to self, getting a massage from my youngest child is like being tenderized with tiny sharp chicken knuckles). My child laughed every time I yelped in pain. Now that’s entertainment. And finally, we sit and wait for dinner to arrive and then have plans to do a post-meal 10-minute workout (well, skip the work out I just had a glass of wine) and watch a movie. Never a dull moment, and we are spoiled for variety in our box (hmmm, I just realized I forgot to brush my teeth today)!
We did bed bounce exercises (something we made up) after breakfast (which was pretty yummy); it was delivered in paper bags and served in environmentally friendly packaging with a lid of plastic that is compostable. All cutlery and food packaging is wood and cardboard!!! NZ seems to avoid petroleum-based plastics! Good on em!
We were given our blue wrist bands, which mean our COVID tests were negative, so Zoe and I got to go for a 30-minute walk in the 40×60 forecourt.
Back up in our room, Zoe jumped back in bed, and I made a coffee and sat by our window getting fresh air. It opens about 6 Inches. Desperate people have climbed down balconies and used sheets to repel to the ground from open windows, so expansive opening windows and balconies aren’t an option. Last night I got a call from the facility nurse asking me health questions. She wanted to know if I have enough medication for my acute Panic Disorder while in isolation and if I had someone close by I can talk to if the isolation gets to be too much. Then this morning, a nurse came to our door to perform our daily health check, taking our temperature, asking how we’re feeling, and seeing if we had any symptoms.
Here’s something gross I still haven’t showered since I left the US! I have nothing to change into. I’m still waiting for our luggage to arrive. Zoe had her carry-on, but mine is still sitting in Washinton, DC. AirNZ called me today and assured me our two large suitcases would be picked up by the courier at 3:00 pm today and delivered to our room (watch this space). I CAN’T WAIT TO CLEAN UP!!! YUCK!
The hours tick by, and we’ve eaten lunch. I move from the chair to the bed to the chair to standing and looking out the window. It’s a beautiful day today. I can’t wait to be out there. We lay on the bed and do leg lifts, play Mancala, and I contemplate taking a nap but try not to. It’s 10:30 pm back in Naples, Florida, so my body wants to sleep. It’s only 2:30 pm here, though, and if I don’t stay awake, I’ll never sleep tonight.
It’s 3:20 pm, and they announced over our room loudspeaker that someone on our flight, and now in our hotel has Covid and now we can’t leave our room to go for a walk. It’s sad. My girls were on their way into the City to see us outside of the gate. We had to call them and tell them not to come. NZ is diligent and keeping everyone safe. We get it, but boy, what a letdown. We were so excited to see them, even if it was from two meters away through the green mesh and two fences.
I’ve ordered water, wine, and rice crackers from the grocery store and can’t wait till it’s delivered. I ordered water with my lunch but got coke (I don’t drink sugary sodas), and now I’m parched. Zoe and I are each lying in our beds playing game pigeon games on our phones (8 ball, mancala, darts, etc.); it doesn’t matter what we play, I usually lose. The late afternoon sun is shining in on us. I’ve forgotten how much the sun warms the room as it beats through the glass.
Zoe and I jump up with excitement when Sabrina and Molly call us on the phone from the corner below our window. We talk on speakerphone and jump up and down, making sure to be seen. They don’t stay long and head off to meet friends for the evening. I joke in the text on the family strand that it will look like they’re working that corner every night if they keep visiting us this way. After they disappear, I contemplate jumping on the bed again but pace around the room instead, sip a decaf and oat milk coffee, and watch the sun sink behind the Harbour Bridge.
All there is to do now is wait for another meal, eat, read and pace. We would watch movies on TV, but they’re $15 each! We would love to watch them on our own devices, but the hotel wifi sucks. I’m very concerned about this as Zoe starts online school any day now. Oh well, “tomorrow’s another day.”
We arrived in Auckland, NZ, on Monday the 12th of July. Landing at 5:38 am, we went through a maze of customs checkpoints, were cleared to get on the bus, and headed to Auckland CBD. We sat (in the bus) with no toilet, water, etc., for what seemed like forever. Processing us at the airport was at the most an hour so let’s say we left there at 6:45 am or 7:00 am. By 10:08 am, there was still no sign of getting off of the bus, which had been sitting still in the road comically for hours in front of a giant neon sign that read, “WHATEVER”!
Omg, WE FINALLY MOVED!!! 10:10 am. (3 hours on the bus). We made it into our room by 11:00 am. It’s tiny and tidy. The beds are super comfortable. I wish there were drawers to put our clothes in (whenever we get our luggage, that is, it still hadn’t been brought up to us by 7:00 pm). No worries on the food front though, it’s terrific. Within 30 minutes of getting into our room, we were delivered cereal with yogurt, milk, and fruit. And at 12:30 pm, they sent up a beautiful stir-fried prawn dish with cake and coconut water. YUM!!
We were called on the phone and told to come out of our room, face masks on. Yellow PPE gown wearing military personnel with face masks and plastic face shields ushered us to the covid testing room. They administered the brain stabbing PCR test; the first time I’ve had that one, it didn’t hurt at all but yuck, what a gross feeling.
And for the grand finale of our day, Sabrina and Molly, my two sweet babies, delivered coffee and chocolates to our hotel. They left it at the front desk for us. We couldn’t see them yet, so they dropped and ran. We could see them standing 12 floors down on the street corner. We all waved as we talked to each other on the phone. We are so close yet still so far. I can’t wait to hug them. Almost there.
Wow! We have gotten off to a crazy start. We woke up at 4 am and slowly headed to the Miami International airport (it was only 6 minutes from the Hilton Garden Inn). We were checked in for our flight and breathed a sigh of relief, knowing all of the paperwork required for our travel was “A” ok! Paul walked us to the security gate, and we all exchanged kisses and hugs. He walked away, waving to us as we disappeared through the scanners. I watched him as long as I could. Before we got sucked into the crowd, Paul smiled at us with a smile that masked a small amount of sadness. Man, I wish he could have come me with us. I will really miss him (and the dogs). Zoe and I excitedly settled on our flight set to depart at 7:15 am. We quietly waited, blinking the remnants of sleep out of our eyes. We needed to take off on time. Once we reached the second flight of our trip, we were only going to have 40 minutes to go from Gate Z to D!!! (we are not strangers to hoofing it from one gate to the next, so we planned to move at superhuman speed to get there).
The pilot announced something was wrong with the flaps on one of the wings, and we couldn’t depart. Our 7:15 am departure, now a 7:30 am departure, left us 25 minutes to get to our next flight. Then the flight attendant came and told us that the toilets were full to the brim (what the heck?). A neon yellow-vested mechanic got on and off of the plane repeatedly while I, Zoe, and the rest of the passengers waited in anxious anticipation. I looked at my watch and realized that we had missed our connection. Making our flights on time to get to our final New Zealand flight was crucial because we have to arrive there on the flight that matches the flight number given when we booked our managed isolation. If we don’t, they could send us back to the US.
The flight attendants and one of the airline scheduling managers were standing at the plane’s entry discussing our situation as I approached them with concern. They knew we had to make our connecting flights on time, and the manager said he was already searching for new flights for us before I had even said anything. The scheduling manager asked me to follow him off the plane and back into the terminal, so I did. Zoe sat tight on the plane in confusion. There were very few options on any airline. Getting to LA in the time frame we needed was proving to be a considerable challenge. I did my best to be quiet and patient. At one point, I turned my back on the scheduling manager as he searched the screen. Hot tears ran down my face and soaked the edge of my face mask. I didn’t want him to see me crying. All I could think about were Sabrina and Molly and how badly I wanted to hug them in my arms and look into their eyes. It’s been a year and a half. My heart hurt at the thought of not reaching my babies. The scheduling manager was doing the best he could. After many phone calls and deep digging, he found two seats on a totally different airline. I texted Zoe and told her to get off the plane and meet me in the terminal.
We now wait for our new connection. And while doing this, a man with an Indian accent called my cell phone and attempted to steal my checking account information. He had hacked my debit card and gotten the number, but that’s all he got. I was wise to him, and pretty quickly, he hung up on me when I refused to answer his questions. So now the bank is investigating that, and we continue our journey. Ahhhh, day two is shaping up the be a right ripper!!! (pray for us)!
Today I went to my GP for medication refills in preparation for the trip to NZ. Since there is a 70% chance they will cancel our flight again, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of my vital meds. All went well. My favorite Dr and I talked about every little ache, tick, and quirk I have had, and he and his team checked me over from top to bottom inside and out. Not a spot, crack, or crevice was left unexplored. I had blood tests, last a urine test, and even got a stool card (which to me is worse than a red card in soccer because the stool card is just gross and crappy).
We’re packing now. We’ve been digging out all of our winter clothes. It may feel like 103 here, but in Auckland, it will be 46 F the morning we arrive. Auckland winter is damp and frigid. We will have to re-acclimate to the bone-chilling cold. Being a Floridian, we don’t have many warm clothes. I did, however, buy warm stuff in anticipation of our canceled ski trip this past March. We had a ski-themed Christmas where every present was something warm and ski trip-related and then…no ski trip. Just a lot of winter clothes in a closet in a house in subtropical Florida. It will be nice to put that stuff to use.
Our girls in NZ are prepping their tiny apartment for our stay, and my sister-in-law even stopped in to make a list of what they may be missing. We are getting really excited, and our departure is beginning to feel pretty real now. I have received text and email reminders from our airline regarding our departure and COVID travel guidelines. We’ve also been sent a message from the MIQF (managed isolation and quarantine facility in NZ) anticipating our arrival. I woke up feeling a bit shaky this morning and have been on edge the last few days. I don’t fly well and have been on edge, in constant but slight fight or flight mode. I’m feeling pretty raw, and my hands visibly shake. I’ve been taking deep breaths, praying, and focusing on the minute we get out of isolation and hug Sabrina and Molly. I’m working to stay calm, but my body isn’t cooperating. Once we are on the international flight, I am pretty sure I will relax, knowing we are officially on our way to NZ. If that thought doesn’t settle me, my Dr gave me something that will for sure. I am very conscious that I need to be lucid for my 15 yr old travel companion, though, so that’s the last resort. I doubt I’ll even use my little “mother’s helper.” Working to “keep calm and carry on.” 👑 🇳🇿♥️
I’m getting anxious as we get closer to our departure date for NZ. The biggest worry I have is not getting our Covid test results back within the 72-hour window leading up to our arrival. It’s a big deal. Our trip hinges on that one thing. I rebooked our return flights, the last day of August, yet there is still a 70% chance of cancellation. What if we have to stay longer with my babies? Really?! Not a problem as far as we’re concerned. I almost wish they would cancel it to be there for Molly, our middle daughter’s birthday.
I’m starting to miss Paul and the dogs, and we haven’t even left the house yet. Leaving people scares me. I’m always afraid I’ll never see them again (of course, I have abandonment issues). Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about going to NZ in a time when we are emerging from isolation and lockdown; I’m totally excited. I’m just a worrier, that’s all. I think about everything that could go wrong before something significant takes place, and then when I’m in it and get a firm grip on my situation, I start to enjoy it. It’s kind of like when you go into surgery. The Dr says, “this surgery will be the best thing for you, but before we do it, I have to warn you about all of the bad things that could happen, and oh, you might also die.”Yeah, so I’m excited about the coming trip, and at the same time, my anxiety and depression drag me through the “disclaimer before surgery” thought process.
But honestly, It’s going to be fun, very cold (it’s winter in NZ, and we’re traveling there from the deep south of Florida where it’s hotter than satan’s balls at the moment), joyful, heartbreaking on departure, a long journey, and return. But the stories and photos that will come from all of it will be priceless. And the hugs, oh the feeling of hugging my sweet babies who I have not seen for 18 months. Seeing all three of our girls complete, laughing, taunting each other, telling stories of their past, and making memories for the future, my heart will burst with happiness, and I will probably cry bliss-filled tears. We will arrive there exhausted, to the unknown conditions of managed isolation, cocooned in our hotel, patiently waiting for the doors to open so we can emerge into the bright, beautiful, loving arms of family on the other side.
We’re getting ready to leave for NZ. Zoë and I will be in managed isolation when we arrive there for 14 days. We just saw a story yesterday where a woman had 12 hours left of her managed isolation, and her Covid test results came back positive (they test you in NZ isolation every three days). They slipped an envelope under her door telling her she could not leave. Can you imagine! One hundred people in the detained woman’s isolation group also had to stay longer. We don’t know how this will go, but It’s all a part of the adventure.
The airlines have canceled our return flight to the US. So I am rebooking our new return flight for sometime in September, extending our stay. Our original return date was August 23rd. The airlines warned us there would be a 70% chance they will cancel our new return flight. The thing is, they can’t fill enough seats on the jumbo jets to justify the cost of returning to the US, so they wait until they can guarantee a full flight. Because of our uncertain return date, we’ve modified Zoe’s schooling for the first semester of her sophomore year. She is unenrolled from NHS and now a Florida Virtual School flex student. She only has to take three honors classes, and her guidance counselor has assured us she will be able to slot her right back into her regular schedule upon return without missing a beat. She is a well-seasoned counselor and feels that there is more to a teen’s well-being than reading, writing, and arithmetic. She says mental health is critical, and if our stay in NZ with her sisters and extended family gives us peace and fulfillment, that is more important than school structure. I love her. She’s right; life is short and not always black and white. Sometimes we have to live outside the lines to achieve our goals. So today, on day 12 of the count down to our departure, I am rebooking our return flights and beginning to get very excited.
My daughters all, unfortunately, inherited my anxiety. Some of them have it more severely than others. I feel terrible that I have passed my broken bits to my sweet children. It’s enough of a struggle for me to deal with my issues without also having to watch my babies struggle. We’re away on a short holiday at the moment, and I woke up with my husband absent from our bed and on the couch. Our 15 yr old soundly slept next to me, letting out a little snore here and there. She had come in late last night and asked Paul to move. She said, “I’m feeling very anxious at the moment, and I won’t sleep all night. Can’t I please snuggle, mom?” He asked me if I was ok with it, and I said, “sure, why not?” She crawled in and snuggled as close to me as she could. I gave her an anxiety hug. I wrapped both of my arms around her and kissed her on top of the head. She nestled in the crook of my arm. She went from feeling anxious to being sound asleep before the words goodnight left my lips.
When all 3 of our girls were babies, we did skin on skin, breastfed, and often I would carry them in my baby Björn front carrier while I cooked and cleaned. I have always been accessible to them. Being the safe place for my children has always been a priority for me, mamma bear that I am. As Zoë and I slept, she spooned closer and closer to me. I have to admit that this made me sleep very sound as well. Whether you agree with my parenting methods or not, my happy place has always been snuggling my babies, no matter how old they get. So yes, on the odd occasion, our 15 yr old still jumps in bed with her mom, and you know what, I love it. She will be gone soon, and these are the moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.
AUTHOR NOTE: I don’t drink unless I am on an outing with friends or family, and there have not been many opportunities for those outings lately, so I haven’t drunk much and have become a lightweight. Now my story.
I took what I thought was the last sip of my skinny Pina cola. I had only had one, and that was perfect. They weren’t cheap, and I drank every drop. My Niece and I sunbathed by the resort-style pool with her two children; I haven’t seen them for over three years, and it was a joy to be with them, so we were celebrating. After two sips of her skinny drink, my niece was done. She slid her almost full plastic cup over to me, and I happily drank it. The sun was beating down, and as my body became relaxed, I slowly melted into the lounger where I lay. The pool was huge, and the sound of the waterfall began to lull me to sleep. I dozed for a second and then hopped in the inviting clear sparkling water where I floated weightlessly free with mellow content. I noticed my niece shifting the wet towels on the lounge chairs, and I took it as a sign she was ready to go.
I said, “are you leaving?” She looked at me puzzled, “well, we can…, yeah we’re probably going to go soon.” She thought that I wanted to, so she packed up. I did the same and headed for my car. I secretly fretted as we left the safety of the pool. Had I known we were going home so soon, I would never have finished her drink for her (she seemed to really need help disposing of it, though). In retrospect, neither one of us was ready to leave. It seems we got our wires crossed trying to read the hidden messages our body language was sending. Due to our lack of communication, we packed up for no reason. In my car, I sat in the driver’s seat calculating how much food and water I had consumed, my weight to alcohol ratio after two vodka filled skinny drinks and regretted drinking that second one (don’t judge readers, I’m sure there is some point in your life where you have done this or something like it).
I sat in the parking lot patiently waiting for the minimal buzz I had to pass. I drank my two-liter water bottle till it was empty and did some writing, read social media, clipped my fingernails, listened to music, checked my emails, did some writing again, and then decided to head for home. I was not loopy, but I knew the alcohol was present in my bloodstream. (Ok, I wasn’t loopy, but I did feel VERY relaxed!) I called my husband to keep me company while I drove home and he was concerned (loopy Jeri is not often a normal state). I had two blooming drinks; I don’t even think driving with two drinks and two liters of water in your system is illegal, but I felt like a hardened criminal. I was in a part of town I had not ever explored and decided to stop at CVS for dog treats.
I saw a smoke shop next door and peeked in. The shop, stocked with bongs, CBD, Vape pens, and everything “Marijuana” was stoner central (no, it wasn’t a dispensary, that’s not legal in Naples). I quickly walked in and back out again. I walked further along the plaza and popped into the liquor store. A woman greeted me at the door and, noticing my wet hair and dress, said, “did you just come from the beach?” “No, I was at a pool,” I replied. She was a small Indian woman with kind eyes that looked me up and down as If I was out of place, and she couldn’t quite figure me out. I was there for a teeny tiny pack of cigarettes.
I thought If I just had one, It would snap me out of this foggy feeling. The kind woman called her husband to the front to help me. After asking for the skinniest tiniest pack of Virginia Slim menthols anyone could ever smoke (literally, you practically need tweezers to hold these things and a magnifying glass to see them), he asked me if I smoked often? Man, you had to answer security questions to get a pack of smokes; now I truly felt like a fugitive. I didn’t hold back; I told him everything I knew for fear of failing whatever secret test I was taking. In one giant run-on sentence, I said, “OK! I had a couple of drinks by the pool a little over an hour ago and my daughter will be home from school soon If I ever feel tipsy I usually smoke a cigarette and it makes me feel normal again I would never smoke in front of my children so I thought I would grab a quick one here before I head home!”
I stopped talking, and as usual, there was silence as I realized I said more than I needed to. The couple started at me, and then the man looked at me and smiling said in a soft indian accent, “You are a good mom. Be careful driving home.” I passed, I passed the test. There was hope for me yet, so with confidence, I sat outside the store, on a bench drying off and smoking the anti buzz remedy. “You are a good mom” rang in my ears. I had felt so guilty over my morning staycation actions and was so worried that I had not done my day perfectly, but now I could relax. I did snap out of it. I took my time getting home. Overall I spent 2 hours traveling 20 minutes because I was ultra-careful and waiting until it was safe to get behind the wheel. I haven’t touched those cigarettes again since I bought them; that was a few days ago, and I have maybe smoked one pack total in the last four years. I used to drink wine with my mom, and we would have a social cigarette together on the patio, but nothing more than that. Since she has been gone, there hasn’t been much thought of doing it.
This event has led me to wonder about the anxiety I manifest for myself over needing to do the right thing, appear to be the perfect mom, sister, etc. (when anyone who knows me knows I’m not, but I sure do try). I know I’m not the only one who does this. We all have our reasons for wanting to appear perfect on the outside. I understand why I hold myself to high standards. There are reasons I won’t just let go and go wild like my head sometimes tells me I should, but every once in a while, a girls just gotta have some fun, you know.