I am lying here writing on my phone in a bed, a real queen size bed. I have been sleeping on a twin trundle bed for nine weeks in the one bedroom with our three girls. We were laid out like sardines in a tin, snuggled side by side on our mattresses. It has been cozy, and we have had some good times in the flat. We’ve also had some tense and challenging times. Not many but a few. On the whole, though, I am so proud of how the 4 of us have managed to be in lockdown in that one-bedroom flat. We are a great team.
So, now I’m lying here in a different flat just a few blocks up the road from their place. A place opened up, and Zoë and I moved there for seven nights. It’s adorable, and we are so comfortable. We are delighted to give Sabrina and Molly a break and their space back, even if it’s only for one week. When we walked into this quaint little garden cottage nestled on the bottom floor of an old Victorian villa, freshly baked bread was on the counter with a sweet note from our host. He had baked it for us before we arrived. It’s quiet here and peaceful. I’m an empath, so I tend to feel everyone around me and become overwhelmed with too much stimulation. Taking this break from our crowded space has relieved me of the feeling of soaking up the emotions of every person at the flat. The girls are also exceptionally sensitive, and we had gotten to the point where we were bouncing off and draining each other. Even with the best intentions and hearts full of love for each other, this happens. So now my mind is quiet, and I can write and revel in the calm of feeling nothing but peace. I will cherish this time and look forward to continuing to share space with our girls at their flat again with renewed energy and hopefully fewer lockdown restrictions. The minute we hit level 2, we are hitting the road for a hike for sure.
After five weeks in level 4 lockdown, we have finally moved to level 3! We still have to stay in our homes going out to exercise and shop for essentials. But we can expand our bubble to close family or friends, keeping it “small and exclusive.” It’s incredible how a tiny bit of progress gives me fulfillment. The highlight of this level is that we can now order contact-free items for pickup and order from Uber Eats. Sushi! I want Asahi Sushi! I craved it at home in America, and I’ve craved it all lockdown. Oh, and Flying Rickshaw INDIAN, yummmm! There’s excitement and mixed emotions among the girls. They can return to work and are essential for contactless pickups of items at their place of business. I think they will be happy to have some breathing room and a change of scenery.
In my little universe today, we’ve proudly launched a CAREGIVERS webpage I have built for the Collier Coalition for Healthy Minds. I filmed testimonials and wrote content for this, created the social media accounts and all content and edits of photos. I spent my time in NZ isolation learning to develop this digital piece to deliver on my promise as a volunteer to contribute to this fantastic and vital cause. CCHM is a community response to mental illness and substance abuse. This page is a crucial resource spot for caregivers who need support as much, if not more at times, than those who are ill. I have first-hand experience here because I suffer from an acute panic disorder and depression, I have since my early 20’s. And though I have loving support from my husband and daughters, I often feel they need someone who can support them. My issues can be draining and, at times, scary. The CAREGIVER page we launched gives tips and schedules for support groups of all kinds! I am so proud to be a part of this and happy that the board has allowed me to participate. I needed this win.
There is peace and calm in the flat as Molly, and I bond over cookie baking, and the laidback quiet life of Covid lockdown continues on another level. There isn’t too much to report, no house fires, breakdowns, or medical issues. I’m getting ready to leave for my daily walk under the long white clouds. It’s drizzling, and I’m happy to have another day with our girls and another day in NZ.
Steps in a positive direction are being taken all around the world. Many of our military soldiers have left Afghanistan ending the 20 yr war, Inspiration4 the first entirely civilian crewed SpaceX mission, has successfully launched and is orbiting the earth. And on a smaller scale, I achieved my first of many 3.15 mile/5 km runs probably since 2008. To say I was excited is an understatement. If I could do back handsprings to celebrate, I would have, but even in the best of shape, I’ve never been able to do those.
We are sadly still in lockdown here in Auckland, which means everything but grocery, gas, pharmacy, and utilities are closed. We are in the 5th week in isolation (additional to the two weeks Zoe and I spent in MIQ). Our three daughters and I have been holding up in their tiny one-bedroom flat. The only option for escape or sanity is to exercise outside. That, for the most part, means walks, runs, and biking. So I have been walking and walking and walking. First 3 miles daily, then 5 or 7. I got to the point where I ran out of land to cover unless I doubled back. Last week I decided to make myself run on any area flat or downhill. To my absolute amazement, on the second attempt at this, I forgot the flat and hills and just kept running. My legs are heavy, and I may run as fast as the tortoise racing the hare, but I got into the zone I used to get into as a young runner and did what I thought was no longer possible for me. I have watched my daughters run over the last 13 years and dreamed of running again. With failed attempts to get back into it, I’ve often tried to convince them that I used to be a runner, and I’m not sure they believed me. On my first run of 2 miles/3.21 km, Sabrina and Zoë walked behind me. As I pulled away from them, they doubted my ability to get very far. I forgot about what they thought, though, and kept peddling my feet along the pavement through the cool air. Man, the freedom of running can’t be beat.
There’s also something empowering about knowing that you may someday be able to outrun a hungry predator if needed, something I had decided I was beyond in my previous blob state. I figured I would inevitably be gator bait sometime in the future. At the end of my first attempt, the girls caught up with me. As Sabrina walked beside me, she said, “I’m proud of you, mum. You can talk a pretty big game, and I have to admit, I didn’t think you would do it, but you did. Good on you!” So I’m charged up and feel like I’m getting younger. I’m heading for a new pair of Hoka’s instead of a walker and triple X spandex covered by an even larger T-shirt to cover my bits. Being here with my girls has empowered me; I call it the power of 3. They encourage me, push me and cheer me on, then celebrate my wins with me. They make me feel special, and I’ve needed that. I’ve needed them, their energy. So between running, I am blogging, chipping away at my memoir, and developing the social media presence and website pages for my favorite non-profit. I’m in isolation yet more productive than ever. We live on a postage stamp, yet I have been moving and stretching myself wider than I have in over a decade. Who knows what ill achieve next! In the profound words of Neil Armstrong, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” or in my case, woman and womankind.
I have got to stop endlessly scrolling on my phone. It’s chilly in the house, and the laundry is piling up. I haven’t gone for a walk for two days (at home 48 hr birthday celebration with our middle baby). My bottom is sore from sitting so long, eating white bread, chocolate, cheese, and drinking champagne. The celebrations are over, and it’s raining off and on. Sitting in the window seat, I aim to work on my book but end up looking for chemist shops that sell Tucks or Preparation H wipes in NZ. No one does. I’ll have to adapt. Eating a piece of Vogel’s toast with Nutella and bananas, I wonder what the fiber content is.
Man, I’m getting old. I just flashed back to me interrupting a conversation between my mom and her brother (they were in their early 60’s). I asked why they talked about their bowel movements and crap so often? Fast forward to right this moment; I get it. I am my mother’s ass (take that however you want). Yeah, we’ve been here for 20 days now. You know you’re getting cabin fever and tunnel vision when your world shrinks and your interests become limited to scrolling on your phone, your bathroom habits, and the apple supply on hand—still confused about what day it is between following the US/NZ calendars and waking up to the same morning over and over again with no clear view to anything that might vary my schedule with a bit of mood shifting excitement. The birthday was a good diversion. At this point, you start to wonder whether you even need to shower. I mean, who’s going to see you? You don’t need to change clothes and survive going back and forth from walking outfits to pajamas. I do have to force myself to be on top of my hygiene at this point, though. Others in the one-bedroom may find my smell offensive. I don’t want them to feel “yuck” about my presence.
We have days now where we go through waves of silence, false starts of activity, walking on eggshells around each other, walking in circles outside aimlessly (just to be outside), and celebrating and making the most out of the little things. Two items must be in the house and seem to keep everyone calm, apples and pasta (there’s more that I could add, but those are the staples). I’m planning on doing some online volunteer work today and will walk to the store after I wander around the hood searching for something new to see (all of the sites here are beautiful, so no complaints there).
I have learned while being here in the cold that I am genuinely HEAT INTOLERANT (we’ve had our suspicions, Paul and I). If it gets too warm in the flat for even a second, I have to stand out on the cold patio. It hits me with a sudden paralyzing weight, agitation, hot skin, sweating, and just an overall feeling of burning in the unforgiving fire of hell (can I say I am not looking forward to returning to the heat of Florida? Yes, yes, I can.) By the time we get out of lockdown in NZ, I may have built a transporter; yeah, I think I have time to learn how to do that.
Wouldn’t that be awesome? Then I could pop back and forth from my husband, sisters, dogs, and home in the US to my children in NZ at the flick of a switch. I could maybe benefit from having my DNA scrambled with each passage. A setting on my transporter could allow me to pick a gene rearranging feature on each trip with choices ranging from high metabolism, weight reduction and redistribution, best post-pubescent skin, hair texture (ooh, there could be a hair color feature to cut out transports to the salon). Heck, the transporter could be a cure-all for cancer, diabetes, mental illness, disorders, COVID (no face-masks on this flight), the common flu, and freakin hemorrhoids! The sky’s the limit. Let’s get real, though. I don’t need a transporter at the moment. I need to stop scrolling, put my phone down, shower, and get outside.
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.
We’re here—the final day. Isolation seemed like it would feel like forever yet passed by in a blink. All of our days started running into each other, and with little variety in our activity, every morning felt like groundhog day. We’ve driven by car, flown two flights, taken one bus, and stayed in two hotels over 16 days to get to where we are now, and still, our NZ adventure is only just about to begin. We have eaten, slept, eaten, played games, slept, read, written, and binge-watched. We have laughed, thought deeply, jumped on beds, stared for hours out the window, and snuggled in front of the TV. We had repeated Covid tests and daily health checks. And dreaded the ringing of our phone in fear of that call, saying, “surprise, you’ve come back positive, and we’re moving you out of this hotel to Jet Park for an extended stay!” Our tests have all come back negative every time. We were aware that Covid could be lurking anywhere. And as it happened, a woman on our exact flight and in our hotel tested positive for Covid. They moved her on day two of our time here. We wish her well.
At 7 am Monday 26 July Zoe, and I will walk out the doors of our safe, friendly, quiet waiting place to the open and loving arms of family. All we will leave behind at Rydges MIQ is the essence of our presence. Every nook and cranny will be washed, scrubbed, sprayed, and ultraviolet light sterilized. And our organic and inorganic rubbish disposed of carefully.
We thank all the staff at #NZMIQ #RYDGES #AUCKLAND who have been so kind, careful, and patient. Thank you, #NZ for looking out for each other and having the smarts to make your country a safe, healthy place to roam freely. Thank you for welcoming us home with protection. We were more than willing to sacrifice 14 days of our lives in quiet reflection so that we can jump back into Kiwi culture and protect our friends and family.
We are packed and ready to head out. And we are looking forward to experiencing and embracing everything in our down under home to the fullest, freely and fearlessly. 14 hours to go.
There’s something to be said for spending two weeks in isolation with a 15 yr old who doesn’t often initiate conversation or can’t hear you when you start one (thanks, Apple AirPods). I don’t watch TV, and we’ve had ours on over the last 11 days for maybe a total of 2 hours. Zoë watches stuff on her phone or our laptop and snaps her friends and sisters for entertainment. I tidy, tinker, read and write (and now do my 5-minute on-the-hour alarm exercises as of two days ago). We are as different as chalk and cheese, but it works. We have had about 3 minutes of friction through our stay, and that is an accomplishment! You would think placing a 15 yr old girl and 53 yr old menopausal woman in a box together for two weeks would be a cat-scratching, bitch (female dog) howling, disaster. When in fact, It has been a delight to be penned up with my baby G.
The long periods of silence in any given space force me to reflect on my external and internal life. While I’m excited about walking out the doors of #NZMIQ on Monday morning with 100 other people (socially distanced and a single file line, of course), I am also thankful for the time I’ve had to be in this environment where I’ve had the chance to focus and reflect. There have been no distractions of daily life. No dogs to feed and walk, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, gardens to water and weed, no pressure to socialize, worry about what I look like, and no guilt over being an unpaid writer (at the moment). I’ve been here being all that I am in one tiny bubble.
Since we arrived at #NZMIQ, my mind has run a gamut of emotions:
• 😃ahhhh, we’re finally in NZ!
• 😃AHHHHH This room has the softest bed and best view.
• 😃Spoiled for choice with Indian and Asian food, yum!!
• 😃Let’s jump on the bed for exercise!
• 😃We’re having a blast playing cards and mancala!
• 😃I’m super stoked to blog about our daily happenings.
• 🙂Wow, the meals in here are pretty nice.
• 🙂Awesome, we can sleep as long as we want!
• 🙂I’m so excited that we’ve booked to go outside for a walk!
• 🙂The healthcare and military workers here are very upbeat and friendly.
• 🙂It was nice to see my babies through 2 fences and mesh after not seeing them for 18 months.
• 😌We’ve got our exercise routine down to a science; we’ll be so fit when we leave.
• 😏Ugh! We’re in NZ, and it seems like we will never get out there to enjoy it.
• 😒I don’t want to know what day or time it is.
• 😒This room smells musty, and the carpet reeks of damp dust.
• ☹️I’ve been in bed so long I’m sore! I can’t stand sitting or lying on the bed anymore.
• ☹️I don’t even want to touch the bed!
• 😳Everything out the window looks surreal, and it’s hard to believe we’re going out there.
• 😐I can’t be bothered to go outside and walk in a 40 x 60 oval for 30 minutes (or more if we want, but we don’t want).
• 😐Sabrina and Molly shouldn’t bother coming to visit us through the fences and mesh. We can see them better on FaceTime, and they don’t get rained on that way.
• 😐What’s the point of exercising? I’m sleeping until our release day!
• 😠”Zoë, I will end you if you use the chair on my side of the room!”
• 😠”No, I don’t want to play cards or mancala Zoë! You keep kicking my ass at everything.”
• 😠I don’t want one more plate of curry or pad thai! And please, no more breakfast in bed.
• 🤔Yes, my blog is reaching into some deep personal territory at this point. My inner space is all there is to explore!
• 😵💫I feel manic and can’t stand sitting still anymore.
• 😵💫I have no idea how I will handle the simulation of the world beyond these doors. Maybe I should ask to be institutionalized?
Despite my progression of thoughts, I have begun learning how to put into place the outline for the novel I have been planning and am to the point where I can define my characters and settings and the premise of my tale. This stillness has gifted me that, and I realize now that to finish, I’ll need more isolation. Honestly, positive and enjoyable things have come from this experience.
We are looking forward to the unknown of the days to come.
⚠️Caution this story contains information about mental illness issues and could be disturbing to some readers.
I never imagined I would grow tired of breakfast in bed, someone else making my food, and getting to lay around every day, until now (wha wha privileged rant). I spent the latter part of yesterday popping up and marching or doing some lifts and crunches every hour after my exercise alarm went off. I have decided if I have the alarm set 7 times a day and I do 5-minute workouts each time, and I will have gotten 35 minutes of exercise in for the day. I think this habit could carry over to post quarantine life. All I need to do is throw a walk or two in there (outside of my alarm workouts), and I’ll be fit all over. Eureka, I’ve done it! I’ve cracked the isolation or writer sitting at home writing all the time fitness code!!!
Sabrina (our journalism and film daughter) came up with an idea for a short film and a very excellent article due to our stay here in #NZMIQ. She’s so talented, and I can’t wait to see what she creates. She wants to cover some services that help people get through #NZMIQ in a healthy, comfortable manner (and they do, the healthcare workers are very attentive). She got me thinking about the mental health aspect of being in here and the effects of long-term isolation as it applies to me.
Mental health and illness are something I think about daily as I am constantly aware of my battle with an acute panic disorder, coupled with intermittent bouts of anxiety and depression. It became apparent that once we leave the relatively small space of #NZMIQ I will need to be conscious of overstimulation on the outside. If you’ve never dealt with a panic disorder, overstimulation can occur due to being in a room with too many people who are talking and moving around or walking down a street where crosswalk signs are telling you to walk. At the same time, the sound of rushing traffic zooms by, a busker is blaring their guitar over against a wall on the sidewalk, and a group of people walks by laughing loudly! These two scenes are regular everyday occurrences, but my brain (sometimes, not often) has a hard time keeping up with and categorizing all of this activity and sound at one time. As a result, my brain and body start shutting down. My legs feel heavy, and it feels like I’m dragging my body behind me; my eyes track in slow movie frames (as my brain can’t keep up), and I begin to shake first in my hands and then if I can’t get a handle on things, all over (similar to a mini seizure). My saving grace is that I have been taking my medication FAITHFULLY, and my Dr and I anticipated everything that could trigger an attack on this trip. He prescribed me a little safety net in a little brown bottle just in case, on top of my daily meds.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m personally opposed to prescription medication, so my Dr and I worked together as I attempted to stop taking the drug that has helped me for over 30 years. I was free of my prescription from September 2020 till March 2021. I got my medical marijuana license, and with my Drs help, we tried the natural route. NO! That is what my body and brain said to that experiment. I had suicidal visions, my body became paralyzed, and on my back, randomly unable to move or speak (it wasn’t because of the THC because my dose was only .4ml at bedtime). A couple of times, I was going through my day and suddenly appeared to be drunker than a skunk, and man, my head hurt so bad on occasion. I was disoriented daily, unaware of time, and worst of all, any suppressed memories I had all came flooding back in tsunami-sized waves that were powerful enough to kill me. NO! Medical Marijuana is not for everyone, and as much as I wanted it to work for me, it was driving me down a very dark rabbit hole that I may not have escaped with my life had it not been for the love and lifeline my family and friends threw to save me.
So I go back on my medication, and poof! I function like a normal human being again. I look at that tiny pill every morning before I pop it in my mouth and am amazed that my life hangs in the balance of that little 20 mg clump of chemistry. Here’s something I learned about Medical Marijuana and mental illness: 1. It is nothing to play around with without the guidance of your Dr. and a sound support system of counseling and love. 2. If you have ANY schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in your genetics (and our family does), it will exacerbate existing symptoms or trigger them if you didn’t have them before. So while I enjoyed dropping 22 pounds while off my medication (because it
suppresses your metabolism), I didn’t enjoy falling further and further away from my loved ones and desire to live into deep dark space floating into insanity or, worse, death. Everyone I loved begged me to retake my medication for months. Some were genuinely worried about how close I was to falling off the edge of
life, and some were unaware but knew something was a bit off. I’m thankful for my Dr, my daughter Zoë and my husband Paul, my sisters, and my friend Mindy for retrieving me from that scary place. I’m not happy that the minute my meds kicked in, the weight packed back on with a vengeance, but who cares? I’d rather be fat and happy than a skinny psycho, possibly dead bitch (I was pretty bitchy without my meds due to being in constant fight or flight mode).
So, back to day 10 of isolation in #NZMIQ. When the healthcare workers come by for our health check, they ask about our mental well-being daily. And they’re not just asking out of curiosity; they’re asking because they have staff here on hand who are ready to help if you are struggling. I wonder how many people out there in NZ know how hard the healthcare teams and military are working to make travelers transition into COVID-free NZ an easy and safe one.
So while I’m excited to be back home in New Zealand, I am aware that in 3 days, I will be going from virtual silence, stillness, and the safety of isolation to the hustle of the city, family asking a million questions with excitement, the close quarters of our one-bedroom accommodations with Sabrina and Molly and the stimulation of being alive. Wish me luck.
Zoe sits across the room, learning songs on her Ukulele. I’m in my chair, feet up, bed made, the last book I read finished, laying facedown dead on the table next to me. Outside the picture window, through the grey of the day, window cleaners repel from the building across from us, motor vehicles crawl like tiny ants across the harbour bridge. At the same time, boats skim across the icy Waitemata. Damp clothes hang on racks on the balconies to our left, stacked 16 stories high. Rain pats and splatters against the window, and the wind whistles through the window left cracked just a sliver to create an even balance between dry heat and fresh air. There’s a chill in the room I can’t seem to shake, no matter what I set the heat on. It’s not that cold outside; my body just isn’t acclimated to this hemisphere yet.
Aotearoa – the land of the “long white cloud.” Clouds that hang heavy in the air, unbudging this time of year. Sometimes a solemn silver hue and others a cotton candy sunset you could stare at for hours, complete with rainbows and fantasies of unicorns (ok, maybe just the rainbows).
Day 8 was a wash. We’ve given in to our isolation and have chosen to have pajama days, sing along to karaoke and Zoes ukulele playing, read, write, talk with friends and family back home or across the harbour on facetime, and sleep. We’ve lost the desire to jump on the bed, follow our exercise routine or even book to walk in the 40 x 60 oval of the forecourt. Sleep has taken over. We are on the downside of our isolation, and as we wait to be released, we talk, eat and play less and grow softer by the minute.
But all is not lost. I’ve had a new idea. I’ve just set my alarm for every hour to remind me to get up and do some leg lifts or march in place. Come on! I can’t simply give up, or I will be jelly when we leave here and have to slowly work up to all of those great hiking treks I hope to hit. So I’m on my feet in my blue-grey tie-dyed sweatshirt and cropped sweats, knees up, toes pointed (remembering my high school marching band days), and doing circles around the room as my teen lays there fit and cozy watching yet another blockbuster movie.
It was a bit heartbreaking to write my blog post about day seven yesterday, and then I lost it before I posted it. I’ve had over 234 compromised passwords on my international travels. UGH! So I reset all of them, including the monster of all passwords, my apple account, and BAM! Stuff disappeared, never to be seen again (Yes, I did a backup to the cloud before signing out). After hours of damage control, I found that all I really lost was yesterday’s blog writing. This situation is funny in a way because I not only lost the story, titled “NZ MIQ Day 7,” but we found out we also lost a whole day!
Funny story: (unless you’re in isolation in one room where you have to get permission to go walk in an oval outside, which you can’t stand for more than 30 minutes because, let’s face it, you’re walking in a 40×60 oval with others behind you in hot pursuit and the whole time your walking to the left you want to yell “ok everybody switch” but I don’t want to make any waves so I dont). So as I was saying, funny story, Zoe and I answered the door yesterday to be greeted by our perky healthcare professional clad in insipid yellow PPE and round pillbox hat and, of course, their face mask. They were rolling door to door to take temperatures and survey how people cope with their intense one-room isolation. Our visitor asked how we are getting along, and in all actuality, we cohabitate exceptionally well together. Zoe is 15 but pretty laid back. I am too (just saying). You could see our visitors smile through their eyes, and they had a happy disposition (seeing they are the only visitor we get daily, you would hope they would be at least slightly entertaining). Zoe and I shared with them our excitement over the fact that we are halfway to our release date; yaaaaay, it’s day seven. They laughed, “No! Ha, Ha, Ha, it’s only day 6! We don’t count day 1!” Wait, what?
You know that’s not funny. I replied, “I’m sorry I’m trying to get my head around what you just said.” I suffered a tiny invisible seizure felt only in my little universe (Zoes too, I’m sure). Zoe and I stopped smiling and laughing and started having them fact check our release date and time, and sure enough, we were well and for true life only on DAY 6!!!! (Ground Hog Day, 50 First Dates, lather rinse repeat, lather rinse repeat…) anything repetitive that could exist ran through my head (oh, and the fact that we are in real-life Hotel California). And then I had to let it go; we’re powerless (safe, comfy, well-fed, warm, and only 5 miles from Sabrina and Molly). Just deal with it.
Fun fact: I got outside for an evening walk, and Zoe and I decided to take some space from each other, so she hung in the room (the space was nice for both of us I’m sure). How small is NZ? Well, I’ll tell you. I have now met two people here in isolation that is either a family member of one of my dearest friends or works directly for one of my family members. It’s a known fact that there are only 2 degrees of separation between people here in NZ (well, It used to be a fact, maybe it still is).
While I was walking in my oval (on day seven which was really day 6), I had a friendly chat with two young NZ Air Force guards. They watch the gate and observe all of us walking to make sure we DON’T TOUCH THE FENCE or move to an authorized area (which I’ve done several times because I am not non-compliant; I am just too lazy to read the signs they’ve posted EVERYWHERE, five inches apart from each other). Some signs say, no photos, social distance, designated smoking area only, please don’t touch the fence. Hanging on the barrier gate are pictures of people, dogs, cities, art, and thank you notes from people who have stayed here in isolation . I like the thank you notes. The letters are from people humbled by the experience and thankful for the steps taken to keep NZ Covid Free. I’m sure they’ve gotten some pretty nasty notes too.
I noticed yesterday that there is no lock on the bathroom door. I think the staff has taken them out for safety reasons. What if someone is in their room isolating alone and has a heart attack or stroke or worse, can’t handle the isolation, and takes their life? I suppose they need to be able to get to people quickly. I also thought about the people here who chain smoke, are alcoholics or drug addicts returning home to NZ and realized that while Zoe and I are having an almost enjoyable time here, this could be hell for someone else. There are limits on the amount of alcohol sent to a given room and trust me, they check delivery bags. If you chain smoke, you have to book to go down for a smoke (back in the day, when my oldest sister chain-smoked, she would have killed someone if they got between her and a cigarette, well, that and food). So yes, being here could be very heavy for some and a good rest and time to write for others. No two human universes are the same or experiencing the same things.
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 daughter and I headed out to grab something sweet at the same place I had always taken her and her sisters for a special treat after school. We pulled up to the drive-through, and I rolled down my window. It was 92 degrees out and the humidity 74%, so the wind swept through the car and felt just like the gush of hot air you feel on your face when you open an oven door. We needed a cooling pick me up.
“Welcome to McDonalds. Can I take your order?” Said the voice over the intercom.
“Can I please have two hot fudge Sundays?”
The voice gave us our total and told us to pull up to the first window.
Zoe sat in the passenger seat, taking odd selfies and snapping them to her friends. I paid, then passed a Sunday over to Zoe and put mine in the drink holder between the seats.
We drove to the beach and parked right up against the edge of the sea oats so we could look through them at the rolling waves while we ate. A McDonalds Sunday, a simple, cheap dessert with soft serve vanilla ice cream (not even the best quality ice cream at that), and warm hot fudge hit the spot nicely on this blazing hot afternoon.
This dessert is one of my favorites, and trust me, I’ve tried many. I‘ve had authentic Tiramisu in Italy, homemade Pavlova in New Zealand, and the best Gingerbread in Germany, so I know a thing or two about great desserts. The MacDonalds Sunday is a favorite for us because it carries with it memories of youth, my three girls and me carving out joyful moments at the end of a hard day’s work and making the best of the difficult times we had once experienced. If there was a day in our life when we were struggling with money and the cabinets were almost bare, we could still find enough change around the house to get McDonald’s Sundays. I’d gather the loose change in my pocket after scouring the drawers, couch, and innards of my piggy bank, then yell for the girls to get in the car. I would say, “come on, let’s go get some ice cream at Mackers,” and the girls would light up with excitement. Those Sundays taste the exact same no matter what McDonald’s you visit anywhere in the world. It has never been the top-notch ingredients that made us love those cheap little ice cream treats, but the moments we shared while enjoying them in the car together.
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.