Updated: Sep 28, 2021

We made a few giant bubbles before being told to stop

These last few days in managed quarantine have been challenging, to say the least. I can hardly remember day 8 when I reflected on how surprisingly relaxing it was here. (Did I really say that?!) I felt my mental state unravelling as the days crept by and the lack of freedom sunk in. By day 11 we were all JUST. SO. OVER. IT.

Our final few days were interrupted by the minor event of our electric tea kettle shorting out and melting in one of our rooms while our littlest one was sleeping in there. It had failed to shut off after we'd used it, and when I peeked in on the baby a burning plastic smell had filled the room and the electricity had tripped off. We snatched up the baby, who was fine, and called the hotel reception in a panic with no idea what caused the burning smell.

No one would come up until they had gotten fully decked out in PPE, which was a while. They tiptoed into the room with flashlights and a sense that we were over-reacting. After a few confusing attempts to figure it out, they found the kettle and solved the mystery. We were moved to an empty room across the hall and they put an air purifier in the melted-plastic room. “Who says MIQ is monotonous?” I joked to Isaac. In truth, the excitement of having a new view out of a different hotel window for one night was enough to make the event worth it. The next morning our rooms both smelled fine. We moved back in and resumed our same old life. Make tea, wait for breakfast, wait for outside time, take a nap, eat snacks, wait for dinner, repeat.

As our final week of MIQ crept on, our kids eventually protested by refusing the hotel food (too rich, too salty, too weird) and began living on packaged muffins, fruit, and pickles. I was overjoyed when my toddler ate a cold leftover chicken nugget one afternoon, and again when our little one ate five or six kidney beans that I picked out of a salad (protein!). We are all craving simple, healthy, warm food.

The parking lot eventually got a bit boring (as parking lots can). We managed to get on the bad side of the military security staff here by running around in the hallways for exercise (there are security cameras everywhere), and by putting up a stink when they told us we couldn't have toys or water bottles with us during our scheduled time in the parking lot. After that, I noticed security keeping a watchful eye on us each time we went out. Our usually boisterous toddler started wanting to go back inside or ride in the stroller during our parking lot time.

Shortly after getting on the guards' bad side, Isaac and I discovered how few rights we have here in MIQ. We signed them away by entering New Zealand. The measure they passed to set up the MIQ program takes most freedoms away from those in the program. They can keep us as long as they like, in whatever sort of facility they want. A more dystopian government would quickly abuse that power, and Isaac and I couldn't help but be afraid they would make us stay longer for such infractions as running in the hallway. After all, they could.

It's not long before an environment like this sets to work on your mental state. I looked out the grey window at the warehouses that have been our view for two weeks and wondered if I actually want to be in this country. These last three days dragged on in toxic mixture of homesickness and depression.

I perked up as much as I could for the kids, and continued the “theme days” I'd planned through the end of it all. On "Ice Cream Day" we ordered room service treats and made an ice cream shop out of legos I’d brought. For "Rainbow day" we drew on the windows and did science experiments with coloured water (which I sure hope washes out of the hotel towels). "Construction day" was our toddler's favorite – we pretended kinetic sand was dirt and destroyed plenty of block towers. These moments added a little sanity and excitement to the experience.

But even those moments grew less enthralling as the second week of our quarantine trickled by. We kept the TV on more often, let our toddler watch more iPad than we ever dreamed we would, and cruised through our stash of wine.

In the end, I learned a lot. I discovered how adaptable my kids can be, so long as they have the consistency of mom and dad around. And I was reminded how different New Zealand is from the States, in both positive and negative ways. Most people we interacted with were kind and patient, from the nurses to the hotel staff to the airport workers. The other families we met in MIQ were all delightful too.

But we had moments of frustration and anger at the way New Zealand has handled the pandemic. I'll applaud the country when they do away with MIQ requirements and accept that we live in a world with COVID and need to figure out how to vaccinate and carry on. Quarantine just isn't healthy for families. (And that is as political as I'll ever get on this blog!)

We popped our last balloon tonight over dinner at our makeshift table. "We did it!" Isaac said to me and we all clapped. Our littlest one, who has only said one word in his life, piped up, "did it!" and clapped his hands together. It was one of those moments a parent never forgets. So yeah, we did it. Whew.

Tomorrow we get to take off our masks and walk out into the fresh air, free to go find a playground and run around for as long as want. Our kids haven’t asked for that since day 1 here, but I’m sure once they feel the grass under their feet and the freedom of fresh air,

they will realise how much they have missed it.

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

I never thought I'd say this but...I'm really enjoying quarantine. We are halfway through MIQ and I feel more relaxed than I have in months. The routine of the days suits our kids. We're all getting plenty of sleep. Everyone is pretty happy. I guess it helps to have low expectations – I thought this would be awful. Turns out, it's pretty nice to clear your social calendar and have someone else cook for you and do your laundry for two weeks! Proper preparation has helped a lot too. I read a lot of advice online from other families who had completed MIQ and took tips from them as we packed.

In an effort to help future families who are headed to MIQ, here is a list of the top things helping us thrive in quarantine.

Sidewalk chalk is distributed in biohazard bags

1. A huge duffel bag of toys and books

Isaac kept telling me we were bringing too many toys and books, but it's been worth it. My mom gave me the idea of theming each day (farm day, dinosaur day, construction day, alphabet day), and I have been getting out toys and books from home for the day's theme. I collected some new books, temporary tattoos, or small toys that went with each theme so in addition to the familiar items from home we have something new and exciting to reveal. So far the kids love it, and it's really fun to focus on and look forward to something each day.

2. A vacuum cleaner

I didn't actually bring this, but ordered a small one from The Warehouse (the equivalent of Walmart in the US) here in Auckland, and it arrived on Day 3. They don't give you much to keep your room clean, and staff cannot enter your room at all. We use it multiple times a day. What can I say, kids are really messy. Crumbs. Everywhere.

3. Balloons

Not only have these been a fun toy, but we blew up 14 of them and taped them to the wall. We pop one a day to count down our time here. It made our room look festive and fun, but is also keeping us sane by helping us remember what day it is (they are all starting to run together for me).

4. Masking tape

So many uses, including to tape balloons to the wall for our countdown, as well as to tape menus, hotel instructions, artwork, and other pieces of paper to the walls. (I tried taping our kids to the wall, they didn't think it was that fun.)

5. Kids plates and cutlery from home

Kids just don't eat well out of take-out containers or with awkward compostable silverware. I am so glad I threw in a kids plate and spoon for each of our kids.

6. Bedding from home

It took a lot of space in our baggage, but is totally worth it to have blankets, pillows, and stuffies from home for both the kids so they sleep well.

7. The SlumberPod (and Privacy Pop!)

We would not be as happy as we are without the Slumber Pod. It's a blackout tent that goes over our youngest's travel crib. He feels cozy and safe in it, and we can even turn the lights on and (quietly) move around the room while he is sleeping in there. It's changed our life. Our toddler uses the Privacy Pop, which is a lightweight tent that goes over a toddler sized mattress. He calls it his cave, and it is his preferred hang out spot during the day when he needs to wind down. We brought a travel mattress for it, and set it up on a bad in the corner of the room.

8. Noise machines

A life-saver for living in small spaces. They help block out the random knocks on the door that we get during nap times. And during the day we turn them to the bird song setting to pretend we can hear some nature.

9. Sago Mini boxes

A friend told me about these play kits, so I subscribed months ago and saved them up for quarantine. Each box is about $15 and has 3+ activities in it, all based around a theme. They are mostly cardboard, so the whole thing can be played with and then recycled when you're done. One of them was a tea party kit, which I though Jude wouldn't like, but he loved it! We served tea all day to each other.

10. Storage boxes that fold flat

You probably wouldn't be able to walk through our hotel room if we didn't have these. I brought a few sets of the IKEA SCUBB boxes and use them to hold toys, art supplies, and snacks. We also made a diaper tote for each of the kids (yes, we have two kids in diapers) near their beds to make changing them easier.

11. A travel clothesline

We're allowed 20 items of laundry per person for the whole time we are here. Socks and other little things all need to be handwashed. Enough said.

12. The iPad

Don't know what we'd do without streaming episodes of Bob the Builder, Thomas the Train, and Gecko's Garage. We've found that it actually calms our toddler down, and he needs this down-time in the morning and evening to chill out. The other day we all hit a wall and just gave up and turned on the Olympics for us and the iPad for the toddler. Thank god for screen time.

13. A timer

This toddler timer is the only thing I've found that helps our spirited toddler manage transitions (like turning off the iPad or getting in the bath). We use it most for screen time, and when it goes off he usually calmly turns off the iPad himself and asks when he can watch it next. We've done more screen time in quarantine than we do at home, and the timer helps us and our kid set some limits. It's also great for helping the kids understand things like "we get to go outside in 45 minutes."

14. A routine

Our kids love routine, and so do I. After we got over our jetlag, we settled into the routine below. The kids know what to expect so they've stopped asking for things they know we don't have here (like unlimited outside time, foods we used to eat at home, or a playground). We've even had fewer tantrums than we did back at home!

6:30am – Everyone wakes up, we make coffee and dig up some breakfast snacks from our food stash. I reveal the surprises I have stored away for the day, usually some toys and books from home along with something new that goes with the day's theme.

9:00am – Knock knock, breakfast is here! More coffee and tea for Mom and Dad.

9:30am – Our littlest one has his first nap. Isaac and I take turns playing with our toddler in the other room. 11:00am – Nap's over, we put on shoes and go outside for an hour of parking lot time!

12:00pm – Back inside, we scrounge up some lunch snack for the kids, then our toddler gets ready for his nap.

1:30pm – Littlest one goes down for his nap. If we are lucky, both kids are napping for an hour or so. Meanwhile...lunch is delivered (terrible timing). Isaac and I eat silently so as not to wake the kids, watching the Olympics on mute.

3:00pm – Everyone is up. The kids eat their lunches, which have been sitting there for an hour and a half and are cold by now. Oh well, turns out kids don't mind cold french fries.

4:00pm – More outside time! We get an assigned part of the parking lot and play games. 5:00pm – Back inside, trying to kill time while we wait for the kids' dinners to arrive. 6:15pm – If we're lucky, the kids food is here. Yay! Otherwise it's crackers and fruit for dinner.

7:00pm – Bedtime for the littlest one – whichever of us puts him to bed gets the rest of the night off. Our toddler gets iPad time to watch a show.

8:30pm – Lights out for our toddler, and usually Isaac and I too. (And we pop a balloon before bed – one day less in our countdown!)

It goes without saying that we have also really needed: patience, a good attitude, and a bit of wine. We've had good days and bad ones. Kinda like back at home. Turns out parenting is both delightful and frustrating no matter where you are in the world.

Happy to be outside for five minutes after our COVID test

As most people know by now, New Zealand has managed to stay COVID-free since the pandemic started. They do this by only letting citizens and residents into the country, and requiring them all to quarantine (MIQ) for 14 days in a government-managed facility. It's incredibly hard to secure a spot, since they are limited. Getting one, as we did, is a miracle. Despite being so happy we got a spot in MIQ, I was pretty nervous about what it would be like with a 13-month-old and an incredibly energetic 2-year-old. I scoured the internet for bits of information, only to gather that the hotels are all quite different and you don't know what you'll get until you find out what hotel you're assigned when you land in Auckland. Right off the bat, the agents helping us through the airport and onto the buses were super-friendly in the way Kiwis usually are. We were guided off the back of the aircraft into buses, and then had to walk 20 minutes through empty airport hallways to health and customs screening check-points. Agents took our temperatures and put our toddler at ease by pretending to take his stuffed panda's temp too. And twice people offered to have us cut in the customs line when our kids started crying. I was glad we'd brought snacks and water for the kiddos.

We couldn't get our bags (or our stroller, which we had gate-checked) until we got to the hotel. They ushered us to a charter bus with two dozen other people and we were told we were going to the Sudima Auckland Airport hotel, just a five minute drive away. Phew! A long bus ride would have tipped us all over the edge.

Waiting on the bus outside the heavily guarded hotel

After waiting an hour in the bus we shuffled inside the hotel group by group and were given our rooms – thankfully we had been able to book two rooms. The rooms were tiny but adjoined via a door, and we got to work rearranging the furniture right away. I rotated the beds length-wise along the walls to make more play space in both rooms, and pulled armchairs and a desk together for a makeshift dining table. We ordered room service and then all passed out for a nap. If prison were a five-star hotel with amazing staff and delicious food, that would be quarantine. Everything is heavily guarded and there are a lot of rules. Isaac and I joked that you could never get away with something like this in the States – you'd have protesters outside the facility and belligerent people inside. But here, everyone is very compliant and the guards and staff are incredibly helpful and kind. They pick up our garbage every night, and call to offer us clean sheets and towels every third day.

(Above: Jumping on the beds to burn off energy. The bathroom works to dry laundry in, and for the kids to play "coffee shop" with water. We put 14 balloons on the wall, and each day we take one down to pop or play with as our countdown. Our dining area, kitchenette, and Ari in the high chair we had my sister-in-law drop off.)

It could actually be quite enjoyable...without kids. I had packed a whole duffel bag of toys and books and we set some of them up to make a play space for the kids. My plan was to reveal new toys each day to keep things interesting. Jumping on the beds immediately became a favorite pastime that isn't allowed at home. And one of our rooms has a handicapped shower (I was so happy we got a tub in the other one!!), so we have made it a water play area where our toddler has set up a "coffee shop" to serve us make-believe tea and coffee. Despite delicious food (like wedges and pork ribs, risotto with seared chicken, and eggs on toast), we never know when our meals will be delivered. We wait during a two-hour window three times a day for a knock at the door. Staff knock and then leave. We are instructed to wash our hands, put on a mask, and then open the door to collect what's outside. We are all starving by the time breakfast arrives, and have turned lunch leftovers into dinner a few times for the kids. We don't have a microwave, so we eat any hot food first and store the cold or pantry items from our meals for later. A few times we have answered the door thinking it's food only to find it's our daily health check. One of the (incredibly friendly and loving) nurses comes by each day to take our temps and ask a few questions. We had a COVID test on arrival and both the kids did great, thanks to the staff being so patient! They even let us go outside for five minutes to watch the rain after we were done. And once we got negative results, we were all issued wrist bands that allow us to take advantage of the outside space if we book it in advance.

They've fenced off the parking lot and made a walkway for people to do laps around it. The kids usually want to dig in the plants at the edges of the lot or splash in the puddles, which is fine so long as we stay away from others. Twice a day there are 50-minute "family" slots where they issue each family a large square of space to play in, which is much more our style. We play tag, play with trucks, or dig in the mulch along the edge of the pavement.

We're slowly figuring out how to survive, though we're only on day 3. Isaac and I started alternating who looks after the kids while the other person gets a little break, and it has kept us sane. And having two rooms is a lifesaver since the kids don't nap at the same times. I'm sure we'll figure out more little tricks to make life interesting. Eleven days to go and counting...

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