Happy 2014! I’m celebrating — and missing — the year behind. I wrote most of this post in my head two weeks ago from above the Tasman Sea… the beginning of a long route home, and of another new life.
If you ever get the chance to visit New Zealand, you should plan to stay awhile. Maybe a year or two. It will still never be enough.
The last time I was this sad I was at the SeaTac airport boarding a flight to New Zealand after we answered the call to move there (literally) on a whim and a prayer. We were just taking off and I stared out from my window seat at my home further and further away in the distance. I cried. I put my head back and cried like home just broke up with me on prom night. Even when you’re sure of a decision, it doesn’t make the hardship about it any easier. I cried every day for weeks when I first got to NZ missing everything I know.
New Zealand is the very hardest and very best parts of my life — like college and boyfriends and climbing that dumb mountain but on a totally legal version of LSD. For definitely a year I hated it. I hated living away from home and family and boxed cake mix. I hated missing birthdays, and first baby steps, and scones from the Fair. I hated paying 24 dollars 50 for an individual pizza and eating lettuce that tastes like it was pulled right from the ground to my plate. I hated ‘camping’ in someone else’s tiny apartment for $400 a week without my pots and pans. I hated most of all that I had no one to talk to, no one (in my timezone) to share in the hole home left in my heart.
People told me living and getting adjusted to a new place takes at least a year. But we’re so awesome I knew we could nail it in maybe six-seven months. #wrong
Our first year actually caught up with us. We came back from Christmas and the next month turned into another year. I found my own Timon and Pumba. I decided to get over myself. I stopped waiting for everything to happen to me. I learned the (probably very timely) lesson that you can choose your happiness, and when you’re happy and content, you’re better at everything — you’re a better employee and wife and friend (“amen” said my husband twice before I kicked him in the shin for being rude).
We traveled. I went a few places like, I don’t know, a dozen odd (and some very hot, some very poor) countries. Living in New Zealand, whatever. Stacking up the Qantas points as a world traveler, NBD. Husband applying for jobs behind your back (and denying he ever told you he was doing this), WTF! Good thing I believe in the motto of the #yolo and that I decided one fine August day I’d be with this man forever… because otherwise he’d be cut off from this fortune. But I don’t do well alone so here we are…
In October Colin got a “too good to pass up” job offer in Seattle. Naturally I gave him the silent treatment the whole weekend, ate a pizza, and cried to a friend because I knew it was time to go home. Not just because he got a job or he’ll hate me forever if I don’t oblige (and that’s not the sort of resentment I can live with!) He’s just so nice). But because it’s what we’ve both wanted. It’s just that now, I wanted both — to keep my home here and have my home there. We have to make decisions that suck and this one is at the top of that list, but I believe in it as much as I did the decision to move down here.
So it’s happening again — another big life-changing move with promises of adventure (aka: hard stuff that you’re better for a long time from now). I have barely had the chance to process this crap. I have done good with procrastinating all the anxiety and sadness to the end, for which the pinnacle of is this exact moment. I like to cry when I give speeches so that’s happened a few times. But I haven’t truly had a massive sad over this whole thing until now. My Kiwi world has been fragile; my entire (NZ) life I’ve been holding up like a house of cards these last few weeks with the impending doom of leaving it behind. The magnitude of this has been a mean shadow following me around since the day we decided to move back. I’m leaving so much of what and who I love with no date of when I’ll ever have it back.
New Zealand has been everything to us the last two years. It’s been more than a place to live. It’s been our entire life. The people we’ve met have been our colleagues and friends, they’ve been our late night chats, vacation partners, fellow bootcamp haters. It was their phones we texted and their houses we crashed. Lindsey, Conor, Laura, Jamie – you’ve been our family when we didn’t have family here.
I think the older you get the better friends you make because you start to understand yourself. Your friends are who you’ve become and who you are, rather than who you used to be. When there’s nothing for your personality or history to cling to, you get to start new. New Zealand showed me all sorts of who I am as me. Not as who I was in high school, or who I was at church, or who I was at World Vision U.S., or who I was struggling to be but wasn’t.
It’s been a whirlwind two years. In the 22 months we lived in New Zealand, I travelled to 22 places by airplane in 12 different countries (and spent time in another three country’s airports). Colin and I got to go to Australia and Fiji together. We safaried in Tanzania, holidayed in Zanzibar, Ramadan-ed in Dubai, rode elephants in Thailand, and peace-signed in Korea. We saw the most remarkable mountains and we stood on the coast where oceans meet. We went to the top of the tallest building in the world, and we swam with sharks! (just kidding. I would never!). And we had the very, very best of friends to share all these memories with.
I know now that life sort of happens when you’re not looking. The thing about living away from home and family and everything you know is that it gives you eyes to see. You’re always looking because there is nothing familiar to pass up.
Here’s what we saw in New Zealand: Teal waters and blue skies, a sunshine that never stops even when it’s falling down in drops, trees and flowers and rolling hills, people who fish and bike and aren’t quite sure how to go the speed limit, sheep as common as birds. Palm trees and uncrowded beaches, girls with see-through shirts on, guys and children walking down main street without shoes on, lots and lots of Asians. Bakeries and itty bitty cups of coffee at every corner. Fush and chup shops that also make Chinese, Indian, and European foods. Posters everywhere (because aint no #digitalage gonna take away the paper here). The tallest mountains and the purest lakes. Rugby players with thighs the size of tree trunks. Terrible, terrible ice cream ads. Outdoor markets open year-round, a surfer Santa, swarms of road bikers in lycra suits. A city that packs a tiny, little but powerful punch now deeply rooted in our hearts forever.
We committed to living in New Zealand for a year…”we could do anything for a year”. That “year” turned into two and I so wish we could stay for another 10. But no home is permanent without family, and so we knew we’d come back to the Pacific Northwest sometime in the future. Turns out that when you’re busy living life “future” turns into today.
New Zealand will have ripple effects on my life and my kid’s lives and my career forever. I know I’ve learned more about myself, marriage, love, sacrifice, friendship, comfort, anxiety, strength, and hard work than I ever have. In New Zealand I found importance and purpose. I found sisters, and best friends. I figured out priorities and balance. I learned that relaxing and caring aren’t polar opposites, and you can have both in your job. I didn’t know so much about myself before coming here. I didn’t know the impact my attitude could have on my husband, my house, my work. I didn’t know opportunities were plentiful rather than few. And I didn’t know that life is so much better spent caring about the 10% that really matters.
I guess I get to come back to Seattle more me, more us. I know much better my strengths, my weaknesses, my passion, my faults, where I’ve cared too much, and where I’ve cared too little. This seems like the ultimate grown up experience… to know that everything in life can surprise you, even New Zealand, even home away from home, even 35sq. meters of an apartment and an easy bake oven. While you’re sleeping, it changes the course of your entire life.
Last time I wrote a post like this I talked about what “age” was teaching me — that I absolutely need consistent change in my life. Age has, more recently, taught me more on this topic… and it’s that change isn’t fun. Maybe it’s necessary but it’s not fun or even exciting. It’s actually just really tiring and expensive. But no matter the change, we can take it on together. Age is teaching me that everything I cry for matters — but usually less or more than I thought it did at the moment it’s happening and hurting. Crying when we moved here, it mattered. Crying now, it matters.
So we’re on our way back to the rainy homeland taking the long route through somewhere sunny and spendy since it could be a pretty long while before we see the sun or vacation again. I get to spend the next eight days in an in-between reality — New Zealand behind us and Seattle ahead of us. We’ll be somewhere in-between making sure our skin burns from the sun, eating pad thai for $2, getting massaged by small, tiny but very strong fingers of a woman whose age could be 25 or 55. And I can think about all this because I’m going to savour every moment.
I’m most afraid now that life is going to move on without my piece of the land down under, and it’ll become “that place we lived for a little while a long time ago.” My new years resolution was going to be to never “move on” from NZ. Now I can see I get to live with New Zealand as the biggest part of me today.
And as our plane was in the air and I could look back at the beautiful coastline of Aotearoa, all I can really think to say over and over in my head is… thank you.