I buckled our youngest into the infant carrier on my back, shouldered a massive tote bag filled with towels, spare clothes, snacks and shovels, and held my toddler’s hand as we made our way down the beach and around a rocky outcrop to our favourite little bay. We are almost always the only ones there. Not today. As the kids played, I counted the people on the beach and out in the surf, giving up when I got to 100. I could hardly believe it.
I’ve always thought of January as a fly-over month – a collection of damp, boring weeks after the excitement of Christmas. Not so in New Zealand. Christmas is summer’s kick-off. Offices close through mid-January and schools are shut until February, so everyone flocks to the beach. During this bustle, our local airline stopped bringing freight like groceries for us locals despite doubling their number of flights, packing their planes with tourists and holiday home owners instead. We were ready for it though, and shipped ourselves 12 boxes of groceries from Auckland before Christmas.
The change to the island during this time is remarkable. The tiny beach parking lots are filled with cars, there is a line at the cafe, and the roads buzz with rental cars and scooters. Spotting a familiar face at the gas pump or in the local shop felt reassuring among all the strangers, and our small talk always included something like, “it’s so busy!” or, “these tourists don’t know how to drive worth shit on these roads!” Isaac loves this crowded time of year. As a child growing up on the island, he recalls how all the new faces around summertime were an exciting change.
Summer is also the season of tents-on-the-lawn in New Zealand. I have always known Kiwis to have an incredible sense of hospitality. Every time Isaac and I have visited a city near someone we know in the past, they’ve offered to host us – even if that means giving us their master suite to fit our kids’ travel cots in, or moving their infant out of his room to give us somewhere to crash. And if there isn’t space indoors, Kiwis offer their yards. Right around Christmas, tents popped up beside many homes on the island, no doubt extra sleeping quarters for guests. Many of houses in New Zealand also have what they call a “sleep out”, which is a teeny shed with a bed or bunks in it for guests. One of our neighbors had 12 family members visiting for two weeks around Christmas, sleeping in a combination of sleep-outs and tents all around their house.
We’ve been no exception, gleefully sharing space with Isaac’s brothers’ families for weeks at a time during the past month by way of a massive two-room tent on the front lawn. Being married to Isaac has taught me how to embrace the chaos of visitors and bask in the kind of communal living that used to be so natural for human beings. Life is noisier with four kids, four adults, and a dog all living together for weeks on end, but it is also so much easier. We switched off cooking meals for each other, the kids always had a cousin to play with, and there were more hands to help out with childcare and all the rest. When our parade of visitors ended this week, so too did the busyness of the tourist season on the island. I miss it, a little.
But with the holidays over now, it’s time to get to work. We managed to bang together a wooden frame to mount our solar power system over Christmas and had eight gleaming panels installed a few weeks ago. By running a massive extension cord down to where we’re living, we have doubled our electric power overnight.
And just in time too – these months have been some of the hottest and driest on record here, and I had been dying to run an AC unit (or even just a fan) in the kids bedrooms to help them nap during the day. It was 86 degrees in our son’s room the other night as we tried to put him to bed. The A/C unit brought it down to a tolerable 75 F and we kissed him goodnight, praising the wonders of solar power.
Despite having solar panels installed and electricity to run power tools on the building site, we didn’t have any timber to build with until just this week. Shortages and supply chain disruptions globally have made it an incredibly hard year to build a house. But Isaac is a go-getter who believes anything is possible. After calling lumber yards all over Auckland, he finally located some joists and framing timber (probably not the technical terms but I'm learning!) for us and managed to get it delivered on the ferry. A huge truck backed up our driveway this week to dump the packets of timber on the cracked soil in front of our building site. It was the best (late) Christmas present ever.
To top it off, the container of items we shipped from our home in San Francisco finally made it into the country and will be delivered to the island this weekend. Living for 6 months out of what we could fit into suitcases when we moved here has been enlightening, and truth be told we are absolutely fine with what we have right now. But I can’t wait to get our bikes, the kids books, and some of our summer clothes and shoes. And oddly, I can’t wait to get our can opener (the ones I’ve bought here just don’t seem to work as well).
The past decade of living in small spaces, both with and without kids, has helped me grow out of any materialistic tendencies I once had. I’m not attached to stuff. But I have always thought I’d have an emotional reaction when we open up our container and see the trappings of our old life piled inside. Will the towels still smell like our apartment? Will my old clothes remind me of how much I’ve changed? Who knows. There’s no way to tell what a moment will feel like until you’re in it.