The school year begins in February in New Zealand, so Easter marks the end of the first of four terms and the beginning of a two-week holiday. All those things that had made our life seem so busy recently – bi-weekly Playcentre visits, playgroups, and music classes – stopped. Most of our close friends on the island were either on vacation or sick with Covid, which made these two weeks feel remarkably like our life did when we first moved here and were friendless and in lockdown. To top it off, we ran out of framing timber shortly after Easter and were in a holding pattern again with our building plans. “Where should we go today?” became the question I posed each morning to the kids. “This beach or that beach?”
Bored with our usual haunts, Isaac suggested I take the boys to a beach on the other side of the island that none of us had ever visited. Twenty minutes later I was pulling up in front of a picnic table surrounded by twisted old-growth trees and lapping water that looked like a big chilly swimming pool, all to ourselves. For three hours the boys and I explored this new place, our senses awoken as they always are by something new. My oldest son found a big white shell he wanted me to take home for him, and our youngest found a hole in the sand to hide in. They both stripped off their clothes to splash in the autumn water and roll on the sun-warmed sand. When they were wrapped back up in dry clothes, we carried blankets and towels from the car up into a tree and made a “cozy spot” for them to snuggle up in (their favourite game lately) and they asked me to tell them stories.
It wasn’t Mother’s Day quite yet, but I imagined it was and that this was my celebration – a tantrum-free gorgeous day at the beach with my boys, ages 1 and 3 and as cute as ever. When I imagined motherhood before actually entering it, this idyllic scene was perhaps what I pictured. It was nice to bask in it for a little while.
When it was actually Mother’s Day, both boys woke up way earlier than usual, cutting off our sleep too soon. The house was a chilly 59 degrees, there was laundry to do, rats to empty out from all of our rat traps, and dishes in the sink because we had run out of hot water before finishing them the night before. This is our life, and life for any parent really – equal parts drudgery, exhaustion, and joy.
Our new lot of timber arrived at the end of the school holidays; our pace picked back up again quickly. Isaac handed over drawings for our last two full-height walls, and I jumped on the drop-saw to cut and assemble them. The shape our our house was finally really coming together and I couldn’t wait to finish it. With help from Isaac’s parents, and with our two kids in tow, we raised the last two walls and secured them in place. I could hardly believe I had built nearly all the framing on my own – and that it all fit together! It is dreamlike to walk through the shell of the tiny house we designed.
Starting in a few weeks, we’ll make a mad dash to close the house in, which basically means getting the roof and external cladding on, along with doors and windows. We plan to hire help for this part so we can get it done quickly. Most houses on the island are clad in plywood – something I’d never seen much of back in the US. Battens are nailed to the vertical seams between the plywood sheets, with a metal runner along the horizontal seams to keep water out. Roofs in New Zealand are almost all corrugated steel so rain can run easily into water tanks for storage. These styles of building all seems so normal to me now that I have to remind myself that nearly every home back in the states has a shingled roof.
At this point in our move here, there are many things that have become like that – so familiar that I have to remind myself that they seemed odd (or at least remarkable) to me when we first arrived. Like driving on the left side of the road (which is now second nature), or calling peppers “capsicums”, zucchini “courgette”, and arugula “rocket”. We’ve planned a five-week trip back to the US in late July, exactly a year from when we moved away. It’ll be interesting to measure how we’ve changed when we stand in the world of our previous life. Already, I know that coming back to New Zealand at the end of it will almost certainly feel like coming home. We'll have this house, and all the remaining tasks for finishing it, to return to.