One of the joys of parenthood is seeing your kids enjoy the same things you did – skipping rocks in Grand Marais, learning to ride a bike, playing in the ocean for the first time. Parenthood is one long déjà vu. The difference is that you really have been here before, but you played the role of the kid.
When I was nine years old, the same age my son is now, my dad got a job in Bangkok for a year, and it was the most memorable year of my childhood. I had always wanted to take my kids to another country for an extended trip, but I was beginning to think it would never happen. My haphazard career path hadn’t given me any marketable skills to speak of. It was looking like Diane, who recently became certified as a nurse midwife, would find a job close to home and we’d be settled in until the kids finished high school. But when a couple job opportunities fell through, she started looking in New Zealand, where most women have their babies with midwives, so there’s a high demand.
When the job offer came, we couldn’t say no, even though it meant turning our peaceful lives upside down. Diane had two weeks to get there. I’d follow with the kids in a month, after getting my things in order and letting the kids finish their summer activities.
That month was the craziest ever. To summarize, it went something like this: Clean 10 years of junk out of your moldy basement, ten years of garbage out of the barn, have a garage sale, sell as much as you can, take the rest to Goodwill, find someone to live in your house while you’re gone, get your financial affairs in order so you won’t be in the poorhouse when you return, take your wife to the airport, pack up the kids’ stuff, clean their rooms every day for three weeks because they just keep getting them messy, spend a week at the Messenger filling in for the editor, play music at a wedding, lay out the 60-page magazine you volunteered to do for some friends, find someone to fill in for you as advisor to the school paper at your old job, prepare to teach two online classes (which you’ve never done before), get the kids ready for camp in California, arrange them a ride to their grandparents’ house in Iowa, so their grandparents can fly them to California, take seven students to the Boundary Waters for a week, come home and hang out with friends visiting from the coasts, attend a goodbye party, play another gig, stay up too late, say more goodbyes, stay up too late again, clean the house one more time, pack, ship stuff off to New Zealand, rent a car to drive the dog to California where she will stay with your sister-in-law, forget your credit card so you can’t rent the car, buy a plane ticket for you and the dog instead, buy a dog crate, take the dog to the vet, have one more late night with friends, get to the airport by 4 a.m., fly to Vegas, get picked up by your in-laws, drive to the camp where your kids have been staying, and sleep for two days.
Monday finally comes, and after a two and a half hour drive, we find we’ve beaten the LA traffic and arrived six hours before our flight leaves. To waste a little time, we get off at Manhattan Beach, a place I know from a Beach Boys song (all over Manhattan and down Dohini way, everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ USA). We buy some ice cream, walk to the end of the pier, and take in one last dose of America — people of all races fishing from the pier, holding hands, splashing in the waves, stuffing their faces with every kind of junk food imaginable. So long, Yanks. I’m gonna miss ya.
Below: The four of us at Lake Te Anau on one of our first days in NZ. We’d end up spending a lot of time in Te Anau, “the tramping capital of the world.”