I stand outside my rented flat looking up at the stars shining in the clear sky as they float over Devonport. The Southern Cross hangs in the cool crisp air, and the streets are quiet. I’ve been writing all day. After walking 10 miles, I listen to jazz, sip wine and work on my book. I’ve gotten a lot done. I’m able to collect my thoughts and settle into the stillness that surrounds me. My youngest daughter sleeps on the pull-out sofa in the living room. A man walks past briskly, taking his Australian shepherd for its nighttime walk under the street lights. Dim light glows in the windows of the homes that surround us, and everything is still. The sound of music, conversations, and footsteps in the house above us fill the night air.
I am at peace knowing that I’m making progress on my memoir and want to continue but have to get some sleep because I have 2 Zoom meetings with the US in the wee hours of the morning. The COVID cases here looked terrible today, 45 in the community. I’m not sure whether we will go to level two or not when they re-evaluate this coming Tuesday. I walk up and down the hilly sidewalk along the empty street just outside the fence of our flat and wonder if I should ask my hosts to extend my booking for yet another week. The thought of living on top of my girls in their one-bedroom flat makes me anxious, and this peaceful place I have found would be hard to leave if we are all isolated together with no end in sight. This lockdown is an unusual situation and one everyone in Auckland has to accept and get through together for the greater good.
I make my way back inside and decide to shower and settle in for the night. I have found a calm place in all of this isolated stillness which is maddening. The long walks, runs, rented flat, volunteer online marketing for the mental health coalition and writing have been my saving grace. The icing on the cake is my visits with my girls. Just knowing they are a few blocks away and happy in their space makes me feel good. I want everyone to be comfortable during this stressful time. Mental health is hard to maintain in isolation. It’s hard to stay sane when you can no longer tell what day it is without checking the calendar, and there is no definitive light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I am blessed to be where I am, where I’m supposed to be at this moment. I am productive, healthy, and happy. I have gotten what I asked for, time with my girls, time to write. What more could anyone want.
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 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.
There’s something to be said for spending two weeks in isolation with a 15 yr old who doesn’t often initiate conversation or can’t hear you when you start one (thanks, Apple AirPods). I don’t watch TV, and we’ve had ours on over the last 11 days for maybe a total of 2 hours. Zoë watches stuff on her phone or our laptop and snaps her friends and sisters for entertainment. I tidy, tinker, read and write (and now do my 5-minute on-the-hour alarm exercises as of two days ago). We are as different as chalk and cheese, but it works. We have had about 3 minutes of friction through our stay, and that is an accomplishment! You would think placing a 15 yr old girl and 53 yr old menopausal woman in a box together for two weeks would be a cat-scratching, bitch (female dog) howling, disaster. When in fact, It has been a delight to be penned up with my baby G.
The long periods of silence in any given space force me to reflect on my external and internal life. While I’m excited about walking out the doors of #NZMIQ on Monday morning with 100 other people (socially distanced and a single file line, of course), I am also thankful for the time I’ve had to be in this environment where I’ve had the chance to focus and reflect. There have been no distractions of daily life. No dogs to feed and walk, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, gardens to water and weed, no pressure to socialize, worry about what I look like, and no guilt over being an unpaid writer (at the moment). I’ve been here being all that I am in one tiny bubble.
Since we arrived at #NZMIQ, my mind has run a gamut of emotions:
• 😃ahhhh, we’re finally in NZ!
• 😃AHHHHH This room has the softest bed and best view.
• 😃Spoiled for choice with Indian and Asian food, yum!!
• 😃Let’s jump on the bed for exercise!
• 😃We’re having a blast playing cards and mancala!
• 😃I’m super stoked to blog about our daily happenings.
• 🙂Wow, the meals in here are pretty nice.
• 🙂Awesome, we can sleep as long as we want!
• 🙂I’m so excited that we’ve booked to go outside for a walk!
• 🙂The healthcare and military workers here are very upbeat and friendly.
• 🙂It was nice to see my babies through 2 fences and mesh after not seeing them for 18 months.
• 😌We’ve got our exercise routine down to a science; we’ll be so fit when we leave.
• 😏Ugh! We’re in NZ, and it seems like we will never get out there to enjoy it.
• 😒I don’t want to know what day or time it is.
• 😒This room smells musty, and the carpet reeks of damp dust.
• ☹️I’ve been in bed so long I’m sore! I can’t stand sitting or lying on the bed anymore.
• ☹️I don’t even want to touch the bed!
• 😳Everything out the window looks surreal, and it’s hard to believe we’re going out there.
• 😐I can’t be bothered to go outside and walk in a 40 x 60 oval for 30 minutes (or more if we want, but we don’t want).
• 😐Sabrina and Molly shouldn’t bother coming to visit us through the fences and mesh. We can see them better on FaceTime, and they don’t get rained on that way.
• 😐What’s the point of exercising? I’m sleeping until our release day!
• 😠”Zoë, I will end you if you use the chair on my side of the room!”
• 😠”No, I don’t want to play cards or mancala Zoë! You keep kicking my ass at everything.”
• 😠I don’t want one more plate of curry or pad thai! And please, no more breakfast in bed.
• 🤔Yes, my blog is reaching into some deep personal territory at this point. My inner space is all there is to explore!
• 😵💫I feel manic and can’t stand sitting still anymore.
• 😵💫I have no idea how I will handle the simulation of the world beyond these doors. Maybe I should ask to be institutionalized?
Despite my progression of thoughts, I have begun learning how to put into place the outline for the novel I have been planning and am to the point where I can define my characters and settings and the premise of my tale. This stillness has gifted me that, and I realize now that to finish, I’ll need more isolation. Honestly, positive and enjoyable things have come from this experience.
We are looking forward to the unknown of the days to come.
Zoe sits across the room, learning songs on her Ukulele. I’m in my chair, feet up, bed made, the last book I read finished, laying facedown dead on the table next to me. Outside the picture window, through the grey of the day, window cleaners repel from the building across from us, motor vehicles crawl like tiny ants across the harbour bridge. At the same time, boats skim across the icy Waitemata. Damp clothes hang on racks on the balconies to our left, stacked 16 stories high. Rain pats and splatters against the window, and the wind whistles through the window left cracked just a sliver to create an even balance between dry heat and fresh air. There’s a chill in the room I can’t seem to shake, no matter what I set the heat on. It’s not that cold outside; my body just isn’t acclimated to this hemisphere yet.
Aotearoa – the land of the “long white cloud.” Clouds that hang heavy in the air, unbudging this time of year. Sometimes a solemn silver hue and others a cotton candy sunset you could stare at for hours, complete with rainbows and fantasies of unicorns (ok, maybe just the rainbows).
Day 8 was a wash. We’ve given in to our isolation and have chosen to have pajama days, sing along to karaoke and Zoes ukulele playing, read, write, talk with friends and family back home or across the harbour on facetime, and sleep. We’ve lost the desire to jump on the bed, follow our exercise routine or even book to walk in the 40 x 60 oval of the forecourt. Sleep has taken over. We are on the downside of our isolation, and as we wait to be released, we talk, eat and play less and grow softer by the minute.
But all is not lost. I’ve had a new idea. I’ve just set my alarm for every hour to remind me to get up and do some leg lifts or march in place. Come on! I can’t simply give up, or I will be jelly when we leave here and have to slowly work up to all of those great hiking treks I hope to hit. So I’m on my feet in my blue-grey tie-dyed sweatshirt and cropped sweats, knees up, toes pointed (remembering my high school marching band days), and doing circles around the room as my teen lays there fit and cozy watching yet another blockbuster movie.
It was a bit heartbreaking to write my blog post about day seven yesterday, and then I lost it before I posted it. I’ve had over 234 compromised passwords on my international travels. UGH! So I reset all of them, including the monster of all passwords, my apple account, and BAM! Stuff disappeared, never to be seen again (Yes, I did a backup to the cloud before signing out). After hours of damage control, I found that all I really lost was yesterday’s blog writing. This situation is funny in a way because I not only lost the story, titled “NZ MIQ Day 7,” but we found out we also lost a whole day!
Funny story: (unless you’re in isolation in one room where you have to get permission to go walk in an oval outside, which you can’t stand for more than 30 minutes because, let’s face it, you’re walking in a 40×60 oval with others behind you in hot pursuit and the whole time your walking to the left you want to yell “ok everybody switch” but I don’t want to make any waves so I dont). So as I was saying, funny story, Zoe and I answered the door yesterday to be greeted by our perky healthcare professional clad in insipid yellow PPE and round pillbox hat and, of course, their face mask. They were rolling door to door to take temperatures and survey how people cope with their intense one-room isolation. Our visitor asked how we are getting along, and in all actuality, we cohabitate exceptionally well together. Zoe is 15 but pretty laid back. I am too (just saying). You could see our visitors smile through their eyes, and they had a happy disposition (seeing they are the only visitor we get daily, you would hope they would be at least slightly entertaining). Zoe and I shared with them our excitement over the fact that we are halfway to our release date; yaaaaay, it’s day seven. They laughed, “No! Ha, Ha, Ha, it’s only day 6! We don’t count day 1!” Wait, what?
You know that’s not funny. I replied, “I’m sorry I’m trying to get my head around what you just said.” I suffered a tiny invisible seizure felt only in my little universe (Zoes too, I’m sure). Zoe and I stopped smiling and laughing and started having them fact check our release date and time, and sure enough, we were well and for true life only on DAY 6!!!! (Ground Hog Day, 50 First Dates, lather rinse repeat, lather rinse repeat…) anything repetitive that could exist ran through my head (oh, and the fact that we are in real-life Hotel California). And then I had to let it go; we’re powerless (safe, comfy, well-fed, warm, and only 5 miles from Sabrina and Molly). Just deal with it.
Fun fact: I got outside for an evening walk, and Zoe and I decided to take some space from each other, so she hung in the room (the space was nice for both of us I’m sure). How small is NZ? Well, I’ll tell you. I have now met two people here in isolation that is either a family member of one of my dearest friends or works directly for one of my family members. It’s a known fact that there are only 2 degrees of separation between people here in NZ (well, It used to be a fact, maybe it still is).
While I was walking in my oval (on day seven which was really day 6), I had a friendly chat with two young NZ Air Force guards. They watch the gate and observe all of us walking to make sure we DON’T TOUCH THE FENCE or move to an authorized area (which I’ve done several times because I am not non-compliant; I am just too lazy to read the signs they’ve posted EVERYWHERE, five inches apart from each other). Some signs say, no photos, social distance, designated smoking area only, please don’t touch the fence. Hanging on the barrier gate are pictures of people, dogs, cities, art, and thank you notes from people who have stayed here in isolation . I like the thank you notes. The letters are from people humbled by the experience and thankful for the steps taken to keep NZ Covid Free. I’m sure they’ve gotten some pretty nasty notes too.
I noticed yesterday that there is no lock on the bathroom door. I think the staff has taken them out for safety reasons. What if someone is in their room isolating alone and has a heart attack or stroke or worse, can’t handle the isolation, and takes their life? I suppose they need to be able to get to people quickly. I also thought about the people here who chain smoke, are alcoholics or drug addicts returning home to NZ and realized that while Zoe and I are having an almost enjoyable time here, this could be hell for someone else. There are limits on the amount of alcohol sent to a given room and trust me, they check delivery bags. If you chain smoke, you have to book to go down for a smoke (back in the day, when my oldest sister chain-smoked, she would have killed someone if they got between her and a cigarette, well, that and food). So yes, being here could be very heavy for some and a good rest and time to write for others. No two human universes are the same or experiencing the same things.
It’s over! 31 days in a row of trying to blog something meaningful, with depth and heart that isn’t just fluff and stuff. Only you can be the judge of how I did on capturing your attention. I know I did my best. It was tiring trying to keep up with a 31-day blog challenge. My husband got a little frustrated at times that my nose was in my iPhone notes or computer every day, and he made several comments about how obsessed I had become. But hey, as I told him, “blog challenge or no blog challenge, I have found my rhythm, so get used to it; I’ll often be writing and for long hours sometimes.” I missed 6 out of the 31 days; that’s not too bad. I didn’t write on the days where I honestly had nothing to say. I gained about 100 new followers on my @jerisbraindump Facebook page alone. Thank you to all who have followed and are engaging with sharing and comments on my stories. I have gained 54 new WordPress.com community followers and about 100 more between Instagram and Twitter. I enjoyed reading the stories of fellow bloggers in this challenge, and I’m sure we will all keep an eye on each other from this point on. I think the story I loved sharing the most was “Mother”. It contains memories close to my heart, and I had a chance to bear my vulnerability. You all shared and commented and showed support as fellow parents, and again I thank you. I will continue to blog while working on my memoir. I haven’t forgotten, at one point, someone asked when I would post me singing; here you go (find the link at the end of this blog). I enjoyed having a blog family. Keep in touch.
NOTE: I don’t own any of the writes to the music I’m singing. I used to sing this song for my girls when they were little. I just recorded it on my phone with an app for you all recently. Enjoy! Part of Your World (from The Little Mermaid) https://www.smule.com/sing-recording/1826154647_3755224429
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.
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.
I have always noticed clear discrimination between skinny or athletic people and overweight/fat people. I am built like my mom was. Voluptuous, curvy, buxom, whatever you want to call it, I’m it!! I watched my mom my whole life struggle with her weight. She went to the gym; she tried every diet anyone could ever be on. She read countless books and fasted; she did it all. For short periods she would have unsustainable success. She would look thinner, but not ever skinny, for about six months, and then the weight would come back, and the battle would begin again. It was hard to watch her as she struggled with her emotions over feeling unloved because of her size.
Carole Sue was a beautiful woman, yet her self-esteem was shattered. She had the glamor of Elizabeth Taylor, with striking brown eyes that had a light blue ring around them and a smile that would light up a room and, oh my God, her laugh! That amazing jolly joyful laugh was infectious. She was strong and worked hard. She did have her demons, though, drowning her pain of abandonment with wine or Manhattans and focusing on her battle with the bulge. She always dressed stylishly even though plus-size clothes had not always been readily available until recently. Now fashion has begun to truely embrace the human body’s diversity and is slightly sympathetic to the fact that not all women’s dress sizes run between a 2 and 12. (Sometimes 14 in the less discriminating designer stores).
My mom told me that sometimes she thought she was unloveable because of her size. That’s sad! She said men always said to her that she had a beautiful face and nice legs. She thought they were saying that because they found the parts in between undesirable. When she died, I felt relief for her as she lay in the hospital bed. She looked peaceful, light, and free from her uncomfortable body. But, this story isn’t about my mom. I’m simply saying I get it, and I have experienced the same fat-a-phobia as she and other voluptuous women have.
As defined by Merriam Webster, it’s called: “fatism noun fat·ism | \ ˈfat-ˌi-zəm Definition of fatism: prejudice or discrimination against fat people.”
I used to be insecure about it and, at one period in my life, struggled with anorexia (a story for another time). Now I am secure and just keenly aware. Coping with a large body size takes up a lot of headspace. You feel it when you move, when you’re out in public, when you meet someone athletic or just plain skinny. You feel it even when your shopping for an outfit to “knock em dead” in. It weighs heavy on your mind. Yes, that was a pun. And darn it, I know it’s not punny.
I love the moment in Pitch Perfect when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) Is asked about her name,
I get it. I can relate. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve said it too. I’ve felt it and heard it. I also point out my imperfections before anyone else can.
I’m stunned at how shallow some people are sometimes. One evening a mother, of our middle daughter’s friend, came to pick up her child, and I invited her in for a glass of wine. She was a small, attractive, tennis-playing woman who hung with the gossip moms of Naples. There is definitely a defined group, trust me. They know who they are, and I’m pretty sure I’m not a member of said group. Anyway, I tried to develop a relationship with her because our two girls were so close. She sat at my kitchen table while I cooked, with a glass of wine in hand, and began to spout out the local goss. She told me about a mom she knew who was going through a divorce. She said, “she is really nice, but she is overweight, kind of fat.” This was not the first time she’d made comments like this to me. I thought, what the fuck does that have to do with ANYTHING?! Was she insinuating that this was the reason her husband was dumping her? Then she said, “she’s a kind of large woman, but I’m friends with her.” My jaw dropped. I am 5’7” and 224 lbs. what about me? Why is she sitting in my kitchen? I’m a large woman!! I must be really nice?! I’m not a violent person, but I suddenly went red. In my mind, I went full Yosemite Sam from Loony Tunes on her ass. I wanted to punch her little tennis skirt-wearing body through the kitchen wall and certainly didn’t want to share my wine with her!! I could reverse it “she’s a tiny woman, kind of skinny,” but I wouldn’t be adding that she was a nice person. Yeah, switching it doesn’t quite have the same sting. I am afraid I could only say she was an ignorant, shallow woman. And that was the end of that friendship endeavor. WOW!! What the heck!! I fed her and kept smiling. I shooed her out the door the minute she took her last sip of wine and breathed a sigh of relief that she was gone.
Fat, fat, fat, fat. Man, the word echoes in my ears. The first time I ever felt conscious of this state of being was when I was at my sister Robin’s wedding. It was around 1977. She was 18, and we were out on her husband’s family farm having a field wedding. At the reception, I sat on my oldest brother’s lap, happily eating a big spoon full of icing off of the wedding cake. I was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. My brother said, “you know you’re getting pretty fat.” I don’t remember what I said but I remember him slapping the spoonful of icing out of my hand. He looked so angry. I felt so stupid, ashamed for eating that horrible treat and being happy about it. I ran into the house crying and had no idea that this would be the first of many times I would feel this shame and sadness over my body or relationship with food.
We moved to Florida right after the wedding. My mom and I drove there from Ohio. It was a lonely time. I felt like my whole family was gone. Robin was married and gone; I’m not sure where Tami was; Bobby stayed in Ohio with my dad and, well, my Dad, yeah he was well and truly gone. It was clear I was not a priority for him. He had someone new to love, and it wasn’t us. Florida was hot, and I didn’t have any friends. I played a lot with my niece Shawn who is 5 yrs younger than me, but I always felt anxious being at her house with my older brother. Yes, the spoon of icing slapping brother, a real peach. He drank a lot. My mom had to work, and she was trying to find her way in this new environment.
Our TV became my friend. It was cool inside on the couch, and my new friend talked to me, made me smile, and took me away from the new life we had. I was a couch potato, eating frozen pizza, hotdogs with cheese melted on them, candy that I rode my bike to 7-11 to get, and any snack food that was lying around. I was like any other kid who liked to snack and watch TV. It didn’t have a good effect on me, though. I was at that age between 10 and 12, where you gain a bit before you reach puberty, and I was; as a result, a chubby girl, just as my brother had said. My mom struggled to find me clothes that fit at Sears, Kmart, and sometimes Goodwill. I wished I could squeeze into the thin girl sizes. But they never quite fit my shape. When I got to Gulfview Middle School, I wanted so badly to wear Levi corduroys, Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, or Jordache jeans as all the popular girls did, but they weren’t in our budget, and they didn’t fit me. Every young girl wanted to look like Brooke Shields in her jeans on the pages of Teen Magazine or extensive billboard campaigns, just teasing us with the flirtatious line: “Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
A critical moment that scarred me was when a couple of football-playing boys in middle school called me p-p-p-porky repeatedly. I was ashamed again. I felt ugly and less than the skinny girls. Anyone would. Enough was going on at home that made me feel bad without having to deal with this too. I had found my singing voice by this time, and the band and choir teachers made me their pet project. They allowed me to use the practice rooms during lunch, and there I would sit quietly, alone at the piano keyboard, and eat my liver worst with mustard (not the most popular kids lunch) or PB&J sandwich. I was scared of the world inside the lunchroom and even more afraid of the courtyard where everyone gossiped or played when they were done eating.
At one point, I had made a friend, a good friend. She, too, was a chubby, loving girl. She talked me into eating with her and her friends in the lunchroom, and I did. It was so exciting having this newfound confidence and the feeling of belonging to her friend group. She had one friend, in particular, Renee, who was a small girl, shy and soft-spoken. These two girls made me feel like I belonged for the first time. And then one day, my pudgy fellow friend didn’t come to school. Renee showed up, distressed, quiet, and without her sidekick. She was hurting inside because Jurine had tragically died. She had been sitting on the easement grass near her house playing, and a drunk man ran her over. It was a hit and run. They say he didn’t stop because he thought he had hit trash cans. Our friend was dead, and our hearts were so heavy. I couldn’t cope with the loss and talked less and less to Renee. I went back to the practice rooms. Music teachers and music remained my friends. I ate my food there in peace and didn’t feel ashamed because there was no one to mock or judge me. I didn’t mention this to anyone at home.
I have told my girls about this sad and shame-filled time in my life. I told them a story about some football players sticking me on top of the school lockers, just outside the gym. The buses were lining up on the backfield loop, and everyone was leaving. I didn’t have a bus to catch because I could walk home. We lived on 7th street near the school in apartments that NCH owned. If you were an employee there, you could live in the apartments with a discounted monthly rent. My mom was a bookkeeper at NCH, so we qualified. Anyway, I remember making light of being put on top of the lockers to minimize the shame, but I honestly was afraid to climb down. It seemed so high off the ground. I lay up there helpless as kids walked by laughing on their way off Campus. The halls emptied. It got quiet and time ticked by. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I couldn’t send a text to my mom or sisters saying, “Hey! I’m at the school stuck on top of a locker; save me!!! No, I just laid there and looked at the ceiling in defeat. P-p-p-porky played over and over in my ears. And then I heard a voice. Coach Stevenson was locking up the gym. He lived in our apartment building. I thought, miracle of all miracles!!! He said, “Hey, who is that on top of that locker? Climb down from there”! I said, “it’s me, coach, Jeri Moore, I’m stuck”! He couldn’t believe his eyes and seemed pretty compassionate as I told him my story while he helped me down. I rode with him to our apartment building. I knew his girls; they were my age. He seemed to be a good dad, and he had just recently divorced. He had struggles too. I knew this because I heard those good old gossipy Naples moms talking. My mom would be getting off work soon, and I just wanted to get home.
I wouldn’t say I liked school. And for the years after my dad had left, home felt like shaky ground. Nothing was secure, people’s emotions and actions felt unpredictable, and there were times I didn’t feel safe there either. But the TV would always have the same shows at the same time each day and night, and even if no one came home, I could count on my favorite TV friends to be there, along with the frozen pizza or hot dogs from the fridge. They were always there to give me a feeling of comfort and warmth. I would settle in and skip my homework. In fact, for many years, I didn’t even bring my school books home. I felt it didn’t matter if I got bad or good grades. My sister Tami was the only person who asked about my report card anyway. She’s the only one who would scold me about my grades and make me question my ability to learn or have common sense. Besides that, it was pretty safe to say I could settle In front of the TV, and there would be no threat of being pulled out of my safe, comfortable world of imagination (unless I had a voice lesson or performance). Everyone had their own lives to concentrate on.
In the fall of 2017-2018, our youngest girl, Zoë started 6th grade at Gulfview. She was so excited to be attending her mom’s school. On the night of the open house, she had so many cool things to show me, but there was one crucial thing that she wanted to share. Remembering my story about being put on top of the lockers there, she pulled me to the hallway where her locker was and said, “Mum, look, they made the tops of the lockers slanted so no one can put anything on top of them.” I said, “that is wonderful, Zoë.,” She replied, “don’t you remember what happened to you”? Of course, I remember it. Tiny scars fade, but they rarely, completely disappear and are forgotten. Then she said, “yes, well I guess they can’t do that anymore.” In her mind, it was a small victory. I am sure there were several reasons for putting a slant on top of the lockers. To us this an excellent feature to add. I remember those days and those kids and and have forgiven them. I even look back and chuckle to myself about how stupid it all was, yet i still feel a slight hint of sadness for that awkward middle school girl.