Whilst I was away a friend wisely said, ‘Take your time in processing all your feelings.’
There was so much to take in, during our whirlwind time away. Old friends, familiar places of my childhood, family reunions, different places, people, cultures, architecture, scenery, seasons and nature… my senses were overwhelmed and bombarded from every angle. There were many times I felt tears welling up – not of sadness – but of emotions too powerful to contain in my being. There were times I yearned for a cocoon to hide in, for a few quiet moments, before reawakening to vivid reality.
My youngest child was equally confused, asking, ‘Where’s the sun gone? Can I go to the beach?’ whilst we were in England (our last week, of our week and a half there, was rather grey overhead) – but she quickly adapted to the seasonal difference of flying around the world from spring to autumn, finding fun in the leaves and splashing in the mud puddles.
There was a journey into London, something I used to do with excitement (never was a commuter – that I couldn’t do – too much of a country mouse even then) that completely flattened me. The noise, the motion of so many people, the perceived threats to my safety – and more importantly, that of my children, as heavily armed police patrolled Waterloo station, bowled me over. My children are so used to freely running around, far away from my arms reach, but this wasn’t the place for that level of freedom.
There were many times I was reminded of just how fortunate my family and I are to live in the relative safety of New Zealand (though natural disasters are of course something we acknowledge as a potential risk to our lives). Landing in Los Angeles the passport control officer asked a colleague to give us assistance with all our baggage, saying, ‘You’ll need your arms free to keep your children close by at all times, you can’t let them out of your sight for a moment here’.
My oldest child, in particular, tuned in to the circumstances and protectively looked after her youngest sister. At London Waterloo the anxiety built up in her to the point of ‘fight or flight’ mode and, as she started to shake and well up with tears, asking to get on the train back to the countryside. We found a relatively quiet cafe and tried to give her the chance to find her inner peace. We were prepared to get back on the train if she couldn’t find her calm space, which she eventually did. The crowds on the South Bank of the River Thames were intense. People boarding ‘The London Eye’ were individually scanned to check they weren’t carrying explosives or weapons. We ended up going into the London Aquarium – which was a wonderful experience. The calming background music and various aquarium exhibits made us all feel a sense of ease and distance from the outside.
We didn’t linger in London long after the aquarium, but paused to notice ‘Big Ben’ before heading back to Waterloo. We waited for our platform number to appear on the giant overhead screens, along with a crowd of others. As soon as it appeared there was a rush of people, like a swarm of bees, zoning in on the target platform to get the best seat available on the train (or at least a seat). And it wasn’t rush hour.
It was nice to get back to the countryside and the autumnal fall of leaves.
In under three weeks away we experienced autumn in three places – San Francisco, England and Santa Barbara.
From city fun in northern California…
Kicking up leaves in the English countryside…
And swimming in the pool in the eternal warmth of southern California, where the sun always seems to shine…
All the while, travelling from one place to the next, I was thinking about our future as a family and where we will be over the next five years. It would be so much easier to just know we were staying put in Wellington and get on with bringing up our three daughters the best we can. Parenting isn’t easy at the best of times, but not knowing where we’ll be in the future throws in another challenge.
This time next year we could choose to live in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, or try and negotiate for Dan to work from New Zealand – but they’ll be quite a lot of trips away for him. If we do leave New Zealand’s shores I wonder how long we’ll be away for – or if we’ll return any time soon – maybe we’ll move on to the UK or Dan’s work will keep us in the US for a while. We have one child turning ten next year with the thought of teenage years approaching… So much to think about, whilst trying to stay ‘in the moment’ and positive day by day in family life.
I’d be lying to say I’m coping – to be honest there’s a part of me that is yearning to hide away in a cocoon. I need to find a little zap in me and it’ll be a lot easier when there’s more certainty on our future. I just want to see the goal posts clearly and then I can take a good aim and give everything my best shot for myself and my children.