It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Lissa who’s sharing her unique journey through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Lissa and her husband left the comfort and familiarity of their home in Vermont for a life of adventure and uncertainty in New Zealand. Did I mention that they made the move shortly after their son turned one? Did I mention that they knew no one in New Zealand when they moved there? Lissa is brave, delightful, thoughtful, intelligent and insightful. We’ve developed a lovely friendship online, and today, it’s an honor to share her adventures in mothering abroad. Enjoy, friends! Lissa’s story is equal parts interesting, exhilarating and inspiring.
Two years ago, my husband and I decided to leave our home in Vermont for a life-changing adventure. My husband, who was self-employed, had a job offer in New Zealand and the timing seemed perfect… except, we had just had a baby.
Our son was born in 2012 and at that time, I was going back to work and graduate school, while attempting to figure out the new mama thing. Trying to balance it all was not working and I didn’t have the energy to try to fake it. So we decided New Zealand was the place for both of us to achieve our dreams— for him to work for a dream company and for me to be able to stay at home with our son while focusing on my writing.
Six weeks after my husband accepted the job, not just our house was sold, but also our two cars and several of our belongings. The rest was tightly packed into a shipping container for the three-month sail down under. For the next few months, everything we needed was found in three large suitcases. Hard, yet through it all I was confident about this next step in life.
Hauling our bags, a stroller, a pack and play, a car seat, a guitar, a dog crate, and a dog around the airport and later, the train stations, our adventure had been birthed. On the 12-hour flight to New Zealand from Los Angeles, our son who had just turned one, slept most of the way (I would later discover that traveling that far with a two-year-old is much more difficult).
Looking back on that moment, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding the transition…but I didn’t notice. Always a mama first, I was too focused on making sure my son’s daily needs were met. I was diligent with his routine. I had to stay in the present moment with only minimal planning for flights, taxis, and train schedules. If I had thought any further ahead than getting my son to sleep at his usual times, I’m sure it would have got the best of me. My perseverance lied in the certainty that we were doing the right thing for our family and that this opportunity was something we couldn’t disregard.
It was July when we arrived in New Zealand, the middle of winter. Getting used to the ‘seasons’ has been an adjustment. Winter means rain and strong wind, and the feeling like snow is imminent. When no white falls on the ground, the Minnesota girl in me gets homesick. I’ve no complaints about Christmas at the beach, but it does make me homesick in a different way. Still, New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking. We were overjoyed to tears on our train ride from Auckland to Wellington.
The first major task in our new country was to find a house to rent. We did, but it was bone-chilling cold. No insulation, lots of windows, but single pane. The first night in our rental, there was a huge storm with southerly winds off Antarctica whistling straight through our house. I had to dress my son in sweaters and three pairs of pants for the night. The heat from the wood stove was sucked straight out through the gaps in the windows and walls. Housing in New Zealand is, for lack of a better word, depressing.
On top of that, within our first month of arriving, New Zealand had a string of rather large earthquakes. There was a 6.5 magnitude quake that made our abode feel like a bouncy house at a carnival. Luckily, the house structure consisted of wood, which sways instead of collapses. Even in the moment of the quake, the three of us huddling in the doorway on our knees, waiting for the amusement park fun to stop churning our stomachs, I didn’t doubt our decision to move. I certainly complained, but I didn’t doubt.
Life seemed to get easier as we, and the earth, became more settled. I enrolled our boy in swim classes, took him to playgroups, explored the botanical garden, and met several other women who graciously took me under their wing. Without those women, I don’t think I could have made it as long as I have here. They are some of the truest, most genuine women I’ve ever met. Of course there are unkind people everywhere, but I feel blessed that I have found my tribe.
As much as I love the country and the people, the ‘adventure’ hasn’t been easy. In my son’s first two years of life, I’ve not questioned my role as mama. Motherhood was something I always wanted to experience. Through all of the changes we’ve endured thus far during his existence, not once did I question if I was doing this well. I followed and trusted my instincts. I knew that I was a good mama. I knew that God gave me a gift. Just like the certainty surrounding our move, I was confident as a mom.
But now the “trying twos” stage has shaken our home. Our boy has realized he’s separate from us and with that independence comes very loud, unwavering opinions. And no matter how many times I remind myself that a two-year-old having tantrums is expected as a part of their development, these tantrums wear me down.
Through all that we’ve faced in our move over here: the awful housing, driving on the left side, a lease that favors the landlord, loved ones deaths, the endless homesickness, the earthquakes, the severe wind, the mold, the rats, the sheer loneliness, and the tarantula-like spiders; nothing makes me feel more uncertain than when my boy is kicking and screaming.
During those fits of throwing toys, I long for something comfortable— something familiar, so that I don’t feel as though I am entirely alone. Social media has become a big part of our lives. I’m ashamed to admit that, but if it weren’t for the Internet, I don’t think I would feel as connected as I do to my friends and family across the Pacific. I’ve come to depend on logging in to inform me of what’s happening in my loved one’s lives. No one emails any more and certainly no one calls. But I don’t think my family and friends realize how much it means to me when one of them ‘likes’ a post of mine or writes a comment on a picture. To me, it’s the equivalent of them checking in on us down here. It took me awhile to get used to the idea that any big event in our loved ones lives would be learned via the Internet, but now I’m grateful to have that connection.
My son has had to form his relationships with his grandparents through the computer. I’m the first to protest and say that’s unhealthy, but I’ve been amazed at how much of a bond he has formed with them that way. Obviously, it helps that he has spent time with them and gets along with them in person, but now he tells me to “go away” when my parents are on Skype, so that he can have them all to himself. It’s different, and it’s our life now.
When we decided to trade in our life of comfort for a life of adventure, what I didn’t think through was that my husband and I were already on an adventure in parenting. People gave us advice before we moved, and we researched and made lists to help us prepare. But what no one told us was just how knackered we would be. Sure, when you have a baby, everyone knows sleep is absent, but no one explained that moving halfway around the world from your dear ones, with a toddler, would make every bone in your body beat from exhaustion. There is never a break.
When we pictured our move here, we imagined exploring the islands and maybe a trip to Asia. But my husband and I are lucky if we have one date night a year. Everything is that much harder. We make it a point to be sure to have dinner together every night as a family. That might seem odd to some, but it’s a ritual that has become important to us. The three of us are really all we have down here.
With all that said, and with tears in my eyes as I write, I don’t regret for one second that we made this move. It has shaped us for the better and my son has had rich experiences already. One of my son’s favorite birds is a Kiwi that he visits up close at the local zoo. He has pure joy on his face when pat-patting a native Pohukatawa tree and his playgroup consists of friends from all over the world.
As we near the end of our second year here, however, there are moments when I feel utterly broken. All my energy goes into taking care of our son and finding my way through the uncertainty of not only motherhood, but also a new country.
While we can’t predict how long we’ll be able to live here in Godzone, for now we’ve traded our familiarity for affordable health care, barefoot walks, jaw-dropping landscape at every turn, and friends who we love like family. Our adventure has become our life. And with everything in life, even in the uncertain moments, I trust that love will be there near and far.
Lissa Waller Carlino is originally from Minnesota where she grew up performing in local and professional theatre. She moved to Vermont in 2004 where she met her husband and the two have been married for seven years. They have an almost three-year-old son and now live in Wellington, New Zealand. Lissa enjoys writing Women’s Fiction and is currently on the quest for publication of her first novel. She writes a personal blog called “Where’s Joe Wellington?” that is a true story of her search for a long-lost Kiwi friend and also chronicles life in New Zealand. To hear more of Lissa’s story, you can find her blog at whereisjoewellington.blogspot.com, LIKE her Facebook blog page at facebook.com/whereisjoewellington, follow her on Twitter @EWallerCarlino, or subscribe to her blog.
This post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!