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.