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 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.”
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 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.
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.
If I had a theme song, what would it be? Boy, that’s a hard one for someone who loves music as much as I do to answer, especially if you’re asking me to choose just one. My theme song would have to be a music mash-up. I would pick a song that might say I light up the room when I enter it, only because that’s what my mom used to tell me. I loved that woman. If my theme song were to honor how she thought of me, I would choose the song I played the piano and sang in my first solo performance at Naples Park Elementary School in my 4th-grade choir class by Debbie Boone, “You light up my life.”
Or maybe my theme song is what I hear in my head as I perform my duties as a mother. I shout out orders to my captain/husband while leading and keeping my little soldiers in line like Wonder Woman in 1984, fighting the war to end all wars. Picture me walking down the hallway slamming the doors on my children’s messy bedrooms and kicking toys, school books, and clothes out of my path, turning my back on the evil mess. I walk in slow motion shaking my head with a cocky grin followed by a pyrotechnic explosion erupting in a blaze at the end of the hallway behind me! That theme song would be by Hans Zimmer composed for “Wonder Woman 1984”.
My theme song could also show my tender side—the side of me where I love deeply, wholeheartedly, and with lifelong devotion. My husband is a happy lovable teddy bear but not big on saying constant sappy I love you’s. I’ve grown accustomed to his minimalist expression of the L-word, but every once in a while, I pull out the big guns and play the song that we did our first wedding dance, too, to see if I can get some mushiness out of the man. Now that I think of it, maybe this is more of a theme song for our marriage, not me. Anyway, honey, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”
Then there are those times when I want to be with the girls, my sisters, nieces, and friends. This domestic Goddess still contains a lot of party energy that rarely gets tapped into these days. When I get to let my hair down and jettison some of what’s left in this pent-up party tank, I dance like no one is looking (or at least I hope no one’s looking). Yeah, that’s right, one glass of wine or two gin and tonics, and I’m a madwoman dancing on the lowest coffee table I can find (because I just can’t hop up on a bar as I used to and I would be doing this in a living room at this point because I can’t stay awake long enough to reach the rowdy wee small hours of the morning at a raging night club where you would actually see people dancing on a real bar). Come on, just picture me all punked out and off my face tearing it up to my fun side theme song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper, or better yet, “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse (RIP). (It’s hard to imagine, but this really happens, maybe once every ten years).
And finally, there’s my day-to-day Jeri theme song, one that keeps me going, boosts my confidence, and reminds me that I am all that I need to be for me and no more. The song that I can sing scream and cry out all at once, and it awakens any part of me that may feel weak or need a helping hand. Yes, this is my newfound anthem and real-life theme song. I love the chorus,
“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ’em out I am brave, I am bruised I am who I’m meant to be, this is me Look out ’cause here I come And I’m marching on to the beat I drum I’m not scared to be seen I make no apologies, this is me”
Yep, the song that suits me and my life most at the moment is “This is me” sung by Keala Settle and The Greatest Showman Ensemble. And on that powerful note, I drop the mic, and I’m out.
You can find my music mash-up songs on YouTube by clicking the bottom links.
My children have inspired me to grow as a person, caregiver, friend, healer, disciplinarian, and nurturer. Thank you.
I put off having kids until my early 30’s. I was scared to become a parent. I was afraid I wouldn’t do it right. It always amazed me that you had to get a driver’s license to drive a car or operate heavy machinery not to harm yourself or anyone else. Still, any idiot could have a child and totally destroy a new untarnished soul or have the means to crush their hearts with little to no training. Not everyone has role models to mirror their parenting skills after. Not everyone grows up with two parents; some children have no parents. In my eyes, parents were complex, broken, sad, confused, sometimes scary people who loved you fiercely or chose to ignore your very existence. Sometimes parents may be your best friend and forgot they’re supposed to be parenting, sometimes the child has to be the parent, and that’s what I had to do from time to time.
I watched my mom struggle, love, escape, evolve, regret, search for joy and find herself as a parent. Torn, she made her children a priority and tried to define herself, cutting out a patch of freedom from her burden of parenthood with limited means and no real support. My example of love came from someone who desperately wanted to be loved but struggled to show it. She had no model to go off of herself. She wanted to be close but felt confined and smothered by the clinging nature of those who needed her or depended on her. She wanted to be fun and was but didn’t know where to draw the line. She wanted to be the mother everyone could talk to and adore and at the same time needed someone she could lean on and talk to, and in her world, that was hard to find. The family was important to her, and keeping relatives close was imperative. My mom took pride in keeping in touch with her siblings and needed to feel that never-ending connection. My mom’s parents had died well before she was out of her teens, and she craved that bond; having it strengthened her and gave her a sense of home and belonging. Mom and I made the journey to be with her siblings several times in my childhood; It was paramount that we have those family connections. Whether there was family around or not, my mom was lonely, and watching the pain she struggled with made me uneasy and unsure about becoming a parent myself. It seemed to bring her more sadness than joy. And my dad was no parent to me; he just plain left.
I didn’t have babies around me growing up. I didn’t have a lot of cousins, nephews, and nieces, or minor siblings to hold. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was petrified. Would I be a good mom? I wasn’t ready. Paul and I had gone to a picnic, and there was a newborn there. The glowing mother asked me if I wanted to hold him to practice a bit. She gently put her baby in my arms, and though I seemed comfortable and cooed Into the sweet baby’s face, every fiber of my being was screaming to give the baby back. I was afraid I would drop it, break it, or squish it. No good could come from holding that tiny miracle. I smiled, said thank you, and handed him over almost as quickly as she placed him in my arms. Paul took a turn next. He is the baby whisperer. The minute my husband touched that baby boy, it relaxed, having been crying from the jostling of being passed around like a hot potato between his mother and me. Paul made faces at him, and he rocked him gently in his hands. Paul was secure and comfortable, and the child felt safe in his arms, you could tell. A smile crossed my face as I watched this and listened to the mothers surrounding us saying what an amazing father Paul was going to be. Inside I was crushed, though, I couldn’t pretend to love holding that baby, and I felt jealous that Paul had more ability to nurture a little soul than I had in the tip of my pinky finger.
Later, Paul and I drove home in silence. I broke out in tearful sobs and said, “I can’t do it! I can’t have this baby; I don’t even know how to hold one. I’m going to mess everything up. There’s no way I can do this perfectly.” Paul listened as I freaked out and declared impending doom on our baby due to my lack of ability to mother. I couldn’t imagine ever holding a child and feeling at ease like Paul did that evening at the picnic. I had anxiety over the possibility that it would all fall apart, and I, without the proper training and a parenting license, would crash and burn, killing everyone along for the ride. Paul reached across the car and put his hand on mine. He spoke gently in an attempt to calm my nerves. “Jeri, when you hold your baby, it will be easy. You’re carrying the baby now inside you, and it’s safe, and your both fine.” he said, “you don’t have to know how to do it all right now; motherly instinct will kick in.” I didn’t feel immediately better, but there was truth in his logic, which gave me comfort. He gave me hope that somewhere in the fiber of my womanhood, I would understand my role as a mother when the time came. I played his words over and over again as we made our way home and locked them in my heart as my pregnancy progressed, hoping that I would instinctually fold my newborn child in my loving arms and it would feel natural, meant to be, and beautiful. Maybe my mom had the same fear I had before the birth of her children. Perhaps she always just wanted to do it right but, in the end, did what she could. She was an unlicensed driver carrying her kids on her journey over every bump, dip, and pothole in the road. She stayed true to her role as a mother with the skills she had acquired, not skills that someone had taught her. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
As I realized this about my mom, I decided to educate myself on parenting and childbirth. I felt that the most significant and crucial step in becoming a good parent was to be true to who I was and be sure of myself so that it was clear to my baby or babies that they were planned and loved from the moment we realized we wanted them to conception and birth. My next step was to surround myself with solid parenting role models. I found them at church, at the Park where I volunteered, and in my women’s writing group. I gobbled up the wisdom of seemingly healthy moms and dads who came across my path. I prayed that God would guide me, and I leaned on Paul. He knew how to do this.
It was Paul who one day, while sitting at a stoplight on Westend Ave in Nashville, TN said to me, “it’s time for us to have a baby” I was shocked at the suggestion. We had been together for 5 yrs and married for 2 of them. “I’m not ready; I’m still working on my music career,” I said nervously.
Paul shrugged and let out a frustrated sigh, “You’re always going to be working on that! It’s time; I want to have a baby.”
Begrudgingly I said ok and started processing the idea the only way I knew how; I set a firm date on my calendar. If it was in writing, I couldn’t back out. I think I still have the calendar with the date in it.
On the official “day to get pregnant,” I went to a girls’ luncheon. I naively told my girlfriends, “I’m supposed to get pregnant today.” they looked at me in surprise and offered me good luck, fertility, support, advice, and lots of food as if I was already eating for two. When I walked into our old brownstone apartment that afternoon, I felt like a nervous virginal bride entering territory that was mysterious and frightening. I shook as I entered my bedroom, knowing Paul was in bed. I had the feeling a big part of me was about to be sacrificed and offered up to the God of fertility and life. I laid down and found that Paul was sound asleep. I nudged him and said, “hey are you having a nap?” he said, “ yeah, I had a couple of beers this afternoon.” Already I was worried that this was a bad day to get pregnant. What if the beer tainted our unborn child? I was a confused mess, but a plan is a plan. I laid there next to Paul and tried to quiet my mind. I, too, dozed off after a while, and when we woke up, I reminded him of our commitment for that day and made good on it. We had made love a million times before, but this was different; we were now on a mission to bring new life Into the world. It changed the way I approached Paul and the way I saw sex between us. It was now not just a physical act of love and release but a spiritual right of passage. Like so many others, we were attempting to join the ranks of parenthood.
We didn’t get pregnant right away, but it wasn’t too long after we began trying that my breast became sore, and I felt a shift in my hormones that caused me anxiety and made me glow. We had taken a vacation with my mother, the childhood road trip we had taken to visit my mother’s siblings and hometown so many times before. Paul and I continued our efforts to get pregnant in every place along our journey on that trip. We discussed getting pregnant with the family members we visited. We made love in a tent, bed and breakfast, hotel room, aunt and uncles houses, and finally under a waterfall in Shenandoah national park. There that day, in the trees among the rocks with the smell of earth and moss all around us, there was a magic that touched us. We knew something special had just happened, and we even documented it with a selfie, well before the cellphone selfie had become a thing. The next day we packed the car to return home to Nashville. I was tired, moody, and my breasts felt tender.
I had all the signs of being pregnant. I took a store-bought pregnancy test, and it came out positive (I saved it and still have it in a ziplock baggie in my hope chest). Our baby journey had begun, and the road ahead was unfamiliar. We were about to become unlicensed parents, and it was all at once exciting and scary. Admittedly I was apprehensive at the start. Having the first baby seemed impossible, and there was no way I would have predicted that Paul and I would have three beautiful girls or how much they would mean to me. Paul was right; my motherly instinct did kick in. I have gotten so lost in my children that I can’t remember what it’s like not to be a mom/mum, and that’s ok. I am happy to give myself to them fully in the short time we have together. Snuggling them is my happy place (whether they’re 2 or 22). They are my everything, inspiration, pride, joy, and love, and I wouldn’t trade being their mother and all of the lessons we’ve taught each other for the world.
I dedicate this story to my dear friend Susi who, like me, has become an expert international mover. (She may even do it better than me). And also, my friend Mindy who once had a self-storage company in her basement but didn’t know it.
DISCLAIMER: Moving is stressful for the entire family. Moving across town or to another state has its difficulties but let me assure you, moving overseas is not for the faint-hearted. There will be fighting, yelling, tears and frustration even in the best circumstances, trust me! Never take relocating lightly, and make sure your marriage is strong and YOU pack your parachute before you jump out of the plane.
We packed our bags for a six-month stay in NZ and arrived there from Nashville on October 20, 2002. I will never forget that date because it was a day that changed the course of my life, marriage, and the amount of time I had left to share with my family and longtime friends. If you are in a bi-continental marriage, you will understand and maybe even relate to this story. My husband and I primarily decided to go to NZ on an extended visit to make memories with his mother, who had dementia. Paul had been away from his homeland and family in NZ for about ten years, and I had encouraged him to take this bold adventure with our children and me. My husband needed to connect and spend time with his mom toward the end of her life, and it would also give me a chance to know his family better. What I didn’t realize is that I was about to become an expert in international moving on a budget.
Since we were only going to be away for six months, we rented out our house in Nashville furnished. We even left our cats in the care of our renter, who thankfully was very loving and kind to them. While preparing our three-bedroom house for our departure, we placed all of the personal items we wanted to keep safe in one of the bedrooms and put a lock on the door. The next step was to take the oversized items in our house that we didn’t want our renter to access and put them in storage. We were fortunate to have a friend with an enormous basement who let us store it all there for six months at no cost. If you don’t have a friend like this, I suggest finding an inexpensive U-Store-It place. They used to cost $125 a month for a 12 x 12 back as far as 2014, but I’m not sure what the price for one is now; you’ll have to make some calls. We then packed for our flights (yes, you read that right, FLIGHTS). We were allowed one large suitcase and one carry-on each. We ended up taking eight bags in total since there were 4 of us traveling. We needed to take as much as we could for our six-month stay in Auckland. We packed the girls’ favorite blankets (or silkies as they called them), toys, and a variety of clothes.
Auckland NZ can have four seasons in one day, and we weren’t sure what to take or not take, so we took it all (this wasn’t necessary). You will be wise always to check the weather patterns of your destination. Knowing what you need will help you to pack the correct items and leave unnecessary stuff behind. We took three flights and traveled 29 hours to Auckland, with one 8 hour layover in LA and two toddlers in tow. (CRAZY!) Oh yeah, speaking of crazy, if you take prescription medication, make sure you talk to your Dr. before traveling for an extended period and ask if you can pick up extra pills to take with you. Sometimes they will let you get up to 3 months worth of prescriptions filled for your time away.
Personal Note: (this whole how-to blog is actually a personal note). My husband’s family welcomed us with open arms and had thoroughly planned for our visit. They found us a house to rent down the road from his sister, and the whole family had worked very hard to make it feel like a home for our six-month stay. It was furnished with odds and ends that everyone in the family had donated, and the kitchen was stocked right down to cleaning products and trash bags. The refrigerator was full of food, there was a loaner car in the garage, and they even put up a crib in the baby’s room. Bear in mind; not everyone has such a smooth transition when moving for a short time 9,000 miles from one home to another (you will have to source all of this in preparation for your arrival at your destination). I, on the other hand, am incredibly blessed with awesome in-laws (these are some special people). We were and will always be so very thankful for the way they rallied together for us.
Four months into our visit, someone decided we would now MOVE to NZ. Like most big coordinating jobs in our married life, the responsibility fell on me to make most (no actually all) of the arrangements. To make a move like this a success, here are some of the tasks I completed. Personal Note: not all International moves fall into place the way ours did (and even at that, it was rough).
First, we had to sell our house (the house my babies came home to when they were born). As luck would have it, a friend of mine had mentioned wanting to buy our house someday, and the same week we had decided to make this move, someone had offered to buy her small home. She was looking to move to a more significant place with her husband and two toddlers. She made a few phone calls; I made a few phone calls; we called each other back and abracadabra; both houses were sold. I booked flights back to Nashville, where we were for ten days closing the deal on the house and preparing everything for our final departure from the US.
Personal Note: Things to think about if you need to leave your two toddlers in another country with people you hardly know. At the same time, you “wrap it up” in your home country (of course, my husband knew the people, they were his family): Any time you take a long trip overseas and have children your leaving behind, you should always make sure your Will is in order. Yes, your Will. There’s a lot to consider while shuffling stuff and things from one continent to another, and while people are some of those things, there is always the possibility that the worst could happen, so be prepared. In our Will, we made provisions and left instructions on what to do with our children should we get hit by a bus, crushed under a moving piano, and the unspeakable died in a plane crash. We also left medicine behind for the kids and a long list of dos and don’ts for those caring for our precious babies while we were taking this nerve-wracking journey. On your list of do’s and don’ts, make sure you leave Dr’s phone numbers, note any allergies, suggestions for soothing your upset children, favorite bedtime stories and lullabies, and instructions to kiss and hug them every 3 seconds (ok, ignore that last bit). If multiple people are caring for your littlies in your absence, make sure you supply everyone with a calendar and a list of phone numbers so they can easily coordinate handoff and support one another. Lastly, make sure you leave your travel itinerary with the caregivers along with your overseas contact numbers and emergency contacts in case they need to reach you urgently, and you are temporarily off the grid having a nervous breakdown because you’re insane and have agreed to make such a rash move! (Again, ignore that last bit).
Once we arrived in Nashville, it was time to get organized and move overseas on a budget. My husband’s way of moving on a said budget is just to get rid of everything, and that is almost what we did. Personal Note: if you have an attachment to stuff and things, you won’t after trying the Paul Brunton method of packing for overseas moving, It is the cure for the worst of hoarders, and I highly recommend it if you have no feelings and place no sentimental value on anything. Personal Note: If the saying, “he who dies with the most toys wins,” is accurate, we’re not even in the game because we keep giving our things away. (on a serious note, we decided as a couple that family and relationships were worth more than being stationary and collecting STUFF, don’t get me wrong, though, stuff is fun to have). Here is the proven Paul Brunton method:
• Have a yard sale or just let everyone walk through your house, making offers on everything in it and then sell it to them because this is a one-day-only sale.
• At sundown, start giving everything away, dressers, beds, artwork, etc. (my husband would have had to pry my books and CDs out of my cold dead hands though, those babies were coming with me!)
• Take apart all children’s tables and chairs, small bikes, and scooters and, wrap them in linens and towels you want to take overseas. Put this stuff in luggage to be checked on. Seriously we have actually done this. We learned really fast that this kind of stuff in NZ is expensive, and again we were trying to do this on a budget.
• Take anything that doesn’t fit in the luggage or has not been taken away for free to Goodwill. Yes, kiss it all goodbye and be thankful for your friend who still has some things in her basement that were only supposed to be there for six months. (She stored our most precious items for 12 years in total, that is one patient and loving friend).
• (This last one was partially my idea. If you only have an hour to get to the airport and have packed everything but the clothes hanging in your closet, and time is moving so fast you can’t see straight, try this method). Take all of the dresses, coats, etc., that are on plastic hangers, or any hangers for that matter, fold a stack of them in half and shove them in your suitcase. You will need a couple of people to sit on the bag to zip it shut, seeing that there is now a tiny bike and the entire contents of your closet inside. Taking your clothes on the hangers works wonders because when you reach your destination, you open your suitcase and hang your clothes right up! Also, if you have waged war against plastic, like me, you will be helping the environment because you are continuing to use what you already have if your hangers are indeed plastic. “Make do use it up, or do without!” (My kids hate when I say that).
Personal Note: be conscious of what you’re giving away. On one of our overseas moves (because we did this twice), my husband gave a box full of what he thought was random books to a charity, who then passed it to a church, who then put said books in their spring carnival sale and discovered that my 60 yr old family bible and all 3 of my children’s baby books were there, complete with newborn handprints and photos of ultrasounds! Lucky for my husband (who is still breathing), someone found our name on Facebook, messaged me, and after some arranging reunited us with said NOT random books. (Remember the DISCLAIMER at the beginning of this story? Yelling, tears, frustration, not for the faint-hearted, secure marriage, I think you understand).
After we took care of our stuff and signed away our house, we kissed my American family and friends goodbye. I had no idea when I would see any of them again (make sure you have several packs of tissues in your purse or backpack; I prefer a backpack). When we got back to NZ, we were so happy to see our two baby girls we decided to make a 3rd one. We have moved many times over the years. Sometimes more than I would like to look back on, and here are the main takeaways for me:
• Unless you’re moving to a third world country, you don’t have to pack and take the kitchen sink (however, if you are moving to a third world country, you may need the kitchen sink and more)
• Remember, there’s no (I) in moving, oh wait, yes there is, anyway moving overseas as a family is brutal and its a team effort, make sure you’re thinking of the WE, not the ME while going through these significant life changes.
• IF you’re a control freak, are about to move overseas, and still want your husband to love you, consider trying hard not to be a control freak, and don’t forget those advanced medication refills I told you about earlier.
• And finally, remember that change is scary for everyone involved. You will leave family, friends, and jobs (and a stray cat or two) but try to focus on one day at a time. You will build new relationships and grow from this worldly adventure. Try to embrace the change as a family and be gentle with each other. Remember that old saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”
• Oh, and try not to leave things in your best girlfriend’s basement for six months to 12 years! IF you do, however, and you are fortunate enough to keep being friends with her, you now owe her your life and eternal love.
I hope you found my experience helpful. If you have any questions about moving overseas, send me a Twitter message. Please do not send me marketing material, or your luggage will go missing next time you fly (I can’t really make luggage disappear, I’m just putting it out there). And watch out for my next story on dealing with immigration in a new country. Of course, this will be my limited expertise between the US and NZ, but it’s all I’ve got.
Today I got my new MacBook Air! I am so excited. I kind of went online and bought it for myself, in silver for our Silver 25th Wedding Anniversary! So It’s from me to me, from Paul. He knew about it, well he knew after I bought it. I called him and said, “hey were you thinking of buying me a MacBook Air for our anniversary? It is, after all, the perfect gift since I have been writing so much lately!” My dear husband stumbled over his words a bit and wasn’t sure if he had said he would or not. No, he didn’t, never, not once, actually he didn’t even know I wanted one. I pulled the stop lever on his confused train of thought and exclaimed, “surprise, well you DID! I am so excited! I just ordered it! Thank you so much!” And THAT, my ladies and gentlemen, is how you get it done!
So, I dedicate this little blip of a story about my new MacBook Air to my amazingly understanding and patient, although sometimes oblivious and loving best friend and husband of 25 years, Paul Anthony Brunton. I can’t imagine life without you, well I can, but I don’t want to. You are the PB to my J, the cherry on top, the gravy on my potatoes, blah, blah, blah…. I love you plain and simple, even when I don’t.
Did I say you’re still pretty hot for a 56 yr old man? Well, you happen to be trending right now. Dad bods are so in. With those brown, gold, grey curly locks of hair, dreamy blue eyes, and that sexy, now almost American, but still a slight bit New Zealand accent, you still do it for me. Also, did I tell you how proud I am of you?
You are an amazing dad; your daughters love you more than Harry Styles, Chemistry, Running, Ice Cream, and their friend groups, but not more than me. Sorry, I can’t say that; I would lose street cred. However, I know the truth, and they secretly love you most! AND, did I tell you I adore your hardworking, dedicated nature? You amaze me. No matter what happens in our lives, you always find a way to provide for us and enjoy it while doing so. You hardly ever complain. AND you have really been killing it lately, and good on you! It’s about freaking time; all of your hard work in life should pay off.
Being married to you has been like one never-ending 25 yr long rollercoaster ride. Thank God I love rollercoasters!! Oh, Hey, remember we took that trip to Atlanta and went to Six flags after our wedding just to ride all of the rollercoasters? Well, I suppose that set the tone for the years to come. It was a blast, scary, exhilarating, gave me a tremendous headache, and I think once made you puke or almost puke (no, that was the motion master 360). The best part of the rollercoaster rides is that I had you to hold on to for dear life as we dropped from 0-60 in a blink. Our hearts raced, and I thought I would have a heart attack (funny that a person with an acute panic disorder loves roller coasters), and our stomachs would rise to our throats as the bottom fell out. As we rode through the more intense twists and turns, we would scream, and towards the end of the day, we just felt numb by our one-millionth ride as we fell into a breakneck pace along the winding track. We rode those steal beasts for the thrill similar to the thrill of being newly married and all of the years to follow. Yes, this marriage of ours, the Brunton Coaster or Kiwi Rooter, has given me moments where time would stand still, and I wanted to freeze those forever (hence my obsession with photography and why I have always had a camera in my hand). Our wild ride has caused me panic, pain, and at times I’ve wanted to kill you and hated you, but let’s be honest, what married couple doesn’t experience that? You married me for my passion, and baby, you got it, all of it. You married every range of emotion known to man. One minute I needed you so badly I thought I would die without you, and the next wanted to run as far away from you as I could. Yet here we are, in love, happy to boot with so much good to show for our journey together.
Paul, ma man, I am looking forward to another 25 wonderful years with you, God willing. Though time has battered us a bit, and we may not be the babes we used to be, I see you, I mean YOU, just as I did the day I took your giant hand and promised to love you forever. I’m thankful for you, and I think there’s a pretty awesome ride waiting for us ahead. Happy Anniversary!
PS. A MacBook Air and Rollercoaster have nothing in common. Except for the fact that they excite me and have cogs, gears, stuff, and things. ♥️
Every once in a blue moon, one of my close friends or the child of a close friend will fall in love and decide to get married. Yaay them. I love love, being in love, falling in love, and all that good stuff. It’s well, in a word lovely! Before I relay this story, a small disclaimer: If you’re looking for some literature with deep meaning here, don’t. This entire piece is jibberish, but I felt a bout of verbal puking coming on again this morning and had to dump it. Also, while reading this, remember I was not born with a filter, and I’m pretty sure my brain was put together by Mr. Potatoe Head.
So my story, when someone who is bright-eyed and in love asks me what it’s like to be married, I look at them square in the eye and give them the God’s honest truth. I say, “Do you have a favorite sandwich?” The usual response is, “wait, what?” And then I say, “I need you to picture your favorite sandwich. The best one you’ve ever had. Ok, now, the way I see it, being married is like eating the same sandwich every single day. Of course, you better make sure you really like that sandwich! You will choose your sandwich and eat that SAME sandwich every day of your life, every day until the day you die.” People usually stare blankly at me, looking for more. Some may even think I’m having an aneurysm. That’s when I say, “and that’s what it’s like to be married.”
This morning, my dear old friend Bryan and I talked about marriage (not about us getting married, we’re both already happily married or living with other people), and of course, I shared my sandwich theory with him. His response to the repetitive sandwich eating theory was, “well, the cool thing about sandwiches is that you can change the toppings; you’ve got spicy mustard, mayo, lettuce…”
“WHOA WHOA WHOA.” I had to stop him right there. “NO, YOU CAN NOT CHANGE THE SANDWICH! The sandwich doesn’t change! You eat that exact same freaking sandwich forever!”
“But I’m sure you can cut the crust off….” he replied. To which I emphatically corrected him, having had decades of life experience under my belt, “NO! THE SANDWICH NEVER CHANGES; THE SANDWICH IS ALWAYS THE SAME!!” “Fine, you can change the way you eat the sandwich, the plate, paper towel, or cutting board you eat it off of, but I’m sorry there is no changing the sandwich,” at least in my experience.
Bryan has some definite feelings about marriage, and now that I had left no doubt in his mind that I am indeed “one sandwich short of a picnic,” he changed the subject.
Sadly this wasn’t the end of this train of thought for me. I hung up the phone, got up, and made my decaf espresso, which is a total oxymoron in itself. Who drinks decaf espresso to wake up!? I do. Anyway, while I was frothing my oat milk, yeah, that’s right, oat milk (my coffee alone is a clue to the twisted entanglement that is my mind), I took the sandwich theory to a whole new level. The startling similarity between marriage and that sandwich began to become clearer and clearer to me.
Mortified, I realized that I’ve been cheating people with my advice. If it wasn’t enough that the singular sandwich theory could put someone off the thought of marital bliss on its own, it occurred to me that I had forgotten to share the many complications that come with caring for the same sandwich for eternity. The sandwich will get stale, soggy, and even worse, moldy! And what happens if someone sees you eating your sandwich and gets food envy? What if one horrible day you think your sandwich is safely sitting in the fridge with a sticky note on it saying, “Don’t touch Jeri’s sandwich!” and some nitwit pretends they didn’t see the note, flicks the little sticky piece of paper off of your beloved and takes it for themselves? And then what if your someone who doesn’t even like sandwiches? No, now that is just too much to think about.